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summer day

We counted today in thunderstorms, as regular and as constant as a belltower. I took a nap on the couch when the internet went down, and I took another nap on the porch during an afternoon shower, when the rain tapping on the leaves matched so perfectly with the cool breeze it almost seemed engineered.

In between naps, I went down to the lake for possibly the last lake bath of the year. I river-bathed a lot growing up, so it seems both ritually wonderful and absolutely natural.

Thunder was already rumbling as I finished up. I made an unwise move with my razor, and scraped my thigh badly, just above the outer edge of my knee. The sacrifice for this year's lake baths has been made.

I got out before I spied lightning, then stood on the dock while the water turned green and aquamarine, and grew choppy with the oncoming storm, and the sky darkened to petrel gray. Directly overhead, the sun beat bright and warm; in the twenty minutes I was down at the lake, I got enough color to refresh my tan lines.

I wished I had my camera, but I knew would have spent more time trying to convince the camera to capture the color range I saw than I would have spent enjoying the weather. So I stayed where I was, dripping stone-scented water while blood welled and ran on my leg and the wind tried to whip my towel away from me.

I've always loved slanting golden light shining on grass while dark skies roll in; it might be my favorite single sight in the world. But paler yellow light from high above making jewel patches in water while dark skies roll in--probably a close second.

Now we have night bugs, and I think a tree frog or three.

Summer, I wish you'd never leave me.


The kid just got into her car and drove off to ride a horse.

I mean, I knew she had her license, but I hadn't had to watch her drive away yet.

So, that was weird.

It gives me a vague replay of the sense of freedom that I got when she was finally potty trained, but there was no bittersweetness to losing the diapers at all.

*squinty eyes*

I am only slightly puzzled by co-workers who signed the sympathy card for my grandfather's death asking me today "how was your vacation?"

Ah, well. Without the ridiculous, how would we recognize the sublime?

Am here...

Feeling a little quiet. Working hard on my book. Dealing with a death in the family. Secondarily, trying to declutter and keep the house cleaner. Lots of stuff going on at my dayjob. Wishing for some quiet on that front, actually.

I tweeted a few days back: "After drawing the Tower for 6 months, I drew the Star and freaking kissed the card." (OR something like that.) This is partially a metaphor, partially a truth. The Star is hope, though.

My book comes out in one month and one day.

It's a weird summer. I hope it's a good autumn.

a hazard to myself

Oh, professional envy, you're freaking hilarious.

Someone I've known since at least the 7th grade, the guy who sat next to me in senior English, has been nominated for an Emmy for writing.

I had that whole "THAT'S AMAZING, I'm so happy for--Oh my god, what am I doing with my life?" reaction one expects to have.

Well, at least, that's what I expect to have.

I started to laugh my rear off at myself almost right away, though.

Good thing. :)

Can't talk, snowed under.


In the positives column, finished my book and saw a rainbow. Not concurrently, but within 7 days. So it was totally a book rainbow, right?

In the also-positives column, I finished the book, knew I had muffed the ending, and talked to Kate at lunch and realized how to *actually* end the book, so now no one has to read the crappy muffed ending, and I'm pretty happy about that. And Kate earns herself a place in the acknowledgments for the second book in a row. This is the problem about not talking about books while you write them, but the good news is, I can talk about them afterward? I am so jealous of vidensadastra's writing process sometimes, I could cry.

I do not want to hit this close to my deadline again, though. A month is not enough time for a good rewrite. Even though this is a Haskell Quality Clean Draft (TM), that doesn't mean it's not full of weirdnesses.

On the other hand, have not blown deadline in the least, so that's cool.

Measure Twice

I keep thinking: I remember when this was a whole lot harder. This book-writing thing. When I didn't know if a scene had low tension or even a purpose.

It is also strange to me that I write on intuitive auto-pilot these days, and only have to pause now and then to take a compass bearing. It's not as hard as it once was to find my way out of the middle of a novel. Now, granted: it helps to write MG novels of significantly less complexity than a George RR Martin spectacle. But you know. It's not the only thing I write, and I still don't struggle like I did.

I just don't know when it all changed. When I stopped floundering and realized that I could a) notice problems; b) analyze them; c) fix them. While I still need editors, copyeditors, beta readers, and critique partners, they are more there to speed up the process. I could probably get to a Pretty Good Book now, on my own, given five, ten years to really think it through--and that's without skill increases! (Thank god for editors, copyeditors, beta readers, and critique partners!)

When I was a kid, and I wrote both for fun and for the emotional outlet, I didn't worry much (any) about craft. I let intuition guide me in every particular. I copied what I liked from writers I read often. When I first tried to become a working writer, I tried to expurgate the fun and the emotional outlet, and to Write Properly. I think I saved me from myself pretty early on in that process, but I think about how many intellectual stories I lunged after, that I had no real connection with, I think: "What was I doing?"

But it was part of the learning process. It was requisite for me that I intellectualize the process, so that I could learn how to make it effective for other people to share in my fun and in my emotional outlets.

So, I had a big dither over a scene tonight, and had no forward motion on the book for pretty much two nights in a row because of this scene, and I finally wrote at the end of it: [Reconsider this scene; either cut or punch up. Can the horse jump over the wall without ripping off THE BLUE SWORD too much?]

The scene is boring, as is, but I think it might be necessary to have a similar scene right here for the pacing. And for my character's growth. And for certain kinds of tension. But I'm not sure how to rewrite the scene so it is not boring, and has character growth and just the right amount of tension (I think I've got the pacing part figured); and the only thing I've thought of to happen is something Robin McKinley thought of 23 or more years ago, so that's just out. You've got a wall and a girl and a magic horse. She wants to get inside. How do I not rip of McKinley, specifically when Harry jumps Sungold over Jack Dedham's fort wall? (Or maybe Sungold just does it. I don't remember. I refuse to go read the scene, either.) --I'm not actually asking anyone but myself, btw. I know how. I just don't know how yet.

Thing is, as I stared at the scene where my girl is on the horse outside the cloister walls and just waits patiently last night--and wrote around it, and edited some other stuff, and did some spot research--I didn't even have the "ripping off McKinley" option in my head. So, that's forward progress. Right? I mean, my brain is moving.

I'm not frustrated. I know it will come to me in time. I might not need the whole scene anyway, since it really shows the internal power struggles of a group of characters who are seriously non-essential to the story I'm telling. I mean, the reason my main character is stalled at the gates is because they're arguing inside about whether or not to send aid with my character. (Just like THE BLUE SWORD, I freaking guess, yay, I'm already so close, no wonder this occurred to me.)

In the end, it probably needs to wait until I see the rest of the shape of the book, even though it pains me to leave a scene so completely wrong and have to come back to it. It's not the scene itself that bothers me, it's the ripple effect of what might change as we go forward, if I have this scene too wrong, too off the anticipated future mark.

Anyway, there it is. This weird confidence: It struck me, the weirdness, today. That I can analyze something that I'm so attached to, and not mind analyzing it. And I'm okay with it not being perfect, though I want it as close to right as it's possible to get--begin as you mean to go on, and all that, and measure twice, cut once.

I've had this confidence a lot lately, and it freaks me out. The angry little Puritan inside of me says, "You should be suffering more." And the angry little Fitzgerald inside of me says the same thing. There are a lot of voices that insist on suffering in exchange for pleasure, success, or art. Sometimes I think: well, maybe I already suffered a lot, so I'm getting a pass, for now, for this one thing. Then I also think: do I even believe those voices? I don't, so much. Maybe in my core beliefs, more than I should--I did some time among the Puritans--yes, that's a metaphor--but I work every day to change my core beliefs, to challenge my assumptions of the world.

So maybe, the work is the work, and it's rewarding. Maybe that's all there is to it.

Well, that went pretty far afield from "Hey, it feels weird that writing competently is so much easier than it was when I started."

Clearly, "measure twice, cut once" only applies to novels, not journal entries.



I spent a ridiculous amount of time coloring with my niece and nephew when I was visiting them last week. Ridiculous. To the point where I was like, "Will! Em! Let's color! Don't you want to color? Let's color!"

To the point where I bought the 150-count Crayola Telescoping Tower of crayons, which includes 16 glitter crayons and 16 metallics, OMG, and have been hunting all over for coloring pads that don't involve Dora or sharks. (I guess I want coloring pads just like my niece's, which would be Melissa and Doug brand coloring pads. Fortunately, Tree Town Toys carries those, and how. I'm heading out after lunch to nab one. $5.99 for immersive happiness? OKAY.)

I don't think I need to point out that this might be a sign of stress. That all I want to do is color. With glitter crayons.

On the other hand, it's a cheap hobby, and the things I was itching to do when I was coloring with the kids... are slightly more complicated than just coloring. I was coloring in a castle, and I wanted to draw minute scenes in every window. I wanted to draw detailed designs and second worlds on princess dresses, shark fins, and flower petals. I want to Color with Complication.

But I also want to color.

My favorite colors, btw, are "Illuminating Emerald" and "Deep Space Sparkle."

I defy you not to be excited about glitter crayons once you try them.


I had one of those dreams again, the kind where you wake up exhausted and tired, red-faced and crying. I think I freaked my husband out when he came in and saw me. I know I freaked myself out in the course of my dream. I had the full gamut of sleep paralysis, and the fear that I was going to wake up in another time (this time, 1984), and at one point, my jaw muscles started chattering uncontrollably.

But this post is not about the weird sleep or the fragments of the dream I still hold onto.

This post is about childhood.

I know that, for myself, childhood was a long, extended period where I felt I had no control over anything, and that many of the petty things that I did as a child are direclty related to that lack of control. I see what I assume are examples of this kind of behavior all the time in the children I know. Some of it is the issue that the brain--you're making new pathways, you're dealing with how to handle the chemicals that wash over those cells, and the chemicals just get more intense as you approach puberty.

You are a child, and you're not in control, and you want to be and nothing makes sense. There are problems you see when you're a new person that you can't believe the older persons let exist. I remember the first time I learned what "rape" meant--we were watching the evening news, and the announcer said it, and I asked my mom, and she said, "It's when one person forces another to have sex." I remember the first time I saw the KKK on the news, and I asked my mom, "Why is that legal?" And she didn't know. And that was just the beginning, and I feel incredibly lucky that my first knowledge of some of the most horrible things in life came through the news and not something more personal that affected my own body or someone I loved.

I have a friend who--I hope this isn't saying too much--has imprinted strongly on Doctor Who, and this friend has been examining the reasons for the imprinting. The things jumped out at me in that analysis: the Doctor knows something is wrong, and then he tries to fix it. He believes the problem exists. It's an important first step, you know? But he also takes action. Those are the two things we want our parents to do. That we want the world to do.

And while my friend was talking about this, I realized that the one and only thing I've had that gut- and heart-connection with lately is Avatar: The Last Airbender. Which is about kids confronting evil, kids saving the world. And I realized that was a big theme in my childhood reading, in my childhood longing: I wanted to save the world. I wanted to do it as a kid, because the adults sure weren't getting it done.

And I've watched all of this cartoon and I'm thinking strongly I might sit down and watch all of it again, because there is such a longing inside of me, inside of the child that's still inside of me, to save the world. To notice the problem. To believe it exists. To take action. To do something.

I don't see a lot of options anymore, for saving the world. I don't have the ability to do much for political action--I vote in every election, I write my congressman, but I'm not going to run for public office. I should probably go vegan or at least vegetarian, and I'm working on that. I try to reduce my carbon footprint, but I know I need to do more there. Most of us do. I don't write well thought-out explanations of the evils of the world for the education of the internet because my brain doesn't work like that. And what else is available to us, to those who notice the problem? We rescue cats, and we raise our kids the best we can... but there's no Firelord to fight, is there? I mean. If there is, let's go fight him.

So. What's left for me? Art? Yeah, probably art.

As a writer, and particularly as a writer for children, I feel like it is my job to illuminate the present, the past, and the future, to show the problems, to show people trying to solve the problems. That's about all I can do. It does not make me a woman of action, by a long shot.

Does it help?

In my dream this afternoon, during my teeth-chattering nap, when I thought I was going to have to go back to age 9 and relive my life up to now... All I could think was, "This time, I'll do everything right."

And that's why I was crying when I woke up. I was thinking in the dream of all the things I would do differently in my life: spend more time with my grandparents, try harder to have a relationship with my father, give my mother less of a hassle, save more for college, be nicer to that friend in junior high....

After I'd been awake for about an hour, after I'd been playing with my 7-year-old nephew for an hour, I looked at him and realized he's only 2 years younger than the self I was dreaming about. How unfair am I being to my 9-year-old self? I wondered. You were just trying to learn how to live in the world. How could you possibly also have saved it?

For a good chunk of the dream, I knew if I held on, I could stay in 2011, and if I let go, I would end up in 1984. And I had to keep convincing myself to hold on. My husband. My book--I just spent a day in Manhattan working with my editor. And there was a voice who was telling me it'd be okay, I could still have my husband, and my book. It was just a matter of dedication.

(Like time travel is that easy or something.)

But I didn't believe the voice. So I held on.

But the other thing I didn't believe, and this was something I've been struggling with my entire life: if time travel were possible, I would be able to go back and make things perfect. I woke up crying because I was also remembering all the times I suppressed rage and hurt and disappointment in an effort to make things better with my dad, or to spend time with my grandparents, or to be less of a hassle to my mom. I already tried all of that, and it wasn't good for me. I'm still learning how to have emotions like a human, not a Vulcan (though the Vulcans always made perfect sense: you suppress the emotions because emotions are just too devastating otherwise).

So, what I have--all that I have--for this world-saving thing is: my memory of the problems I could see so clearly as a child; my compassion for my nine-year-old self, and all the other nine-year-olds out there, no matter how old the shell surrounding them is; and a publishing contract.

That's it. No conclusion but for that. I suspect I should have something more.

Idea Resurrection & the Lunchtime Book

I find it fascinating that the ideas I had as a teen for novels that I dismissed a decade later for being too silly are things I'm re-considering 20 years later.

I mean. When I was 16, there was no idea that could be too dystopian. When I was 26, not so much. Now I'm about to turn 36, and I think I'm going to revisit at least one of those really insane 10th grade ideas and actually turn it into a book I'm going to try to sell.

Now, mind you... this isn't just personal growth on my part, it's looking around at the market. And maybe the leading edge of dystopian YA is actually too far past, I don't know. But I would enjoy writing this book, so I'll do it, even if it's my lunchtime book.

...my lunchtime book, you ask?

I started writing a book that required little research so I could work on it a) without the internet; b) kind of randomly; c) as a break from my heavily researched historical fantasy. I tend to produce about 500-750 words on a lunch break, and I realized that even if I only write every other lunch break, I can easily produce another MG/YA novel a year, beyond what I work on at night and over weekends. And it's nice for my brain to have a break from the other book. REALLY nice. And it seems to boost my productivity on my main book, to have this little outlet for other words and ideas.

Plus, without the required research books and stacks of notecards, that makes the lunchtime book a good travel book. It'll be interesting to see if I can work on it when I go visit my mother, head out to a con, etc... even just at 45 minutes a day while traveling. It's nice to feel like I'm not being totally unproductive when I'm away from home.

I've only been doing the lunchtime thing for a month, so I don't know how sustainable it will be--will I be able to keep up with the book once it gets to the unwieldy stage, or will I have to move on to another book beginning, and what will the fallout be if I end up with a half-dozen first 10k starts on novels but nothing gets finished?--but on the other hand, I have 7,000 words I wouldn't otherwise have, AND there's no detriment to productivity on my contracted work.

I find it interesting that I have no impulse to write short stories for my lunch work. I guess I'm really just about finished with trying to be a short story writer. I mean--never say never. But I am having a very hard time thinking of any stories to tell that take less than 45k to explore.

Growing pains, maybe? Some day I might turn around and be a real short story writer?

Doubt it.


Picture Pages, Redux

I did this meme a couple years ago. I have more images now.

1) Post ten of any pictures currently on your hard drive that you think are self-expressive.
2) NO CAPTIONS!!! It must be like we're speaking with images and we have to interpret your visual language just like we have to interpret your words.
3) They must ALREADY be on your hard drive - no googling or flickr! They have to have been saved to your folders sometime in the past. They must be something you've saved there because it resonated with you for some reason.
4) You do NOT have to answer any questions about any of your pictures if you don't want to. You can make them as mysterious as you like. Or you can explain them away as much as you like.

Images, yeah. And I'm 90% sure there are no dups with the past iteration of the meme.Collapse )

Decades Meme

Still living on the outskirts of Ann Arbor with my husband and his daughter, and I am 36. Kayla is now 16, and looking seriously at colleges and her future career path. At work, I'm in the midst of promotions, myself and people under me, and reorganization. It's the first real movement in my dayjob career in 5 years. However, in December 2009 I sold a novel, and have been waiting (and working) on it since then--my book comes out in September of this year. My mom has moved to Michigan (via the circuitous route of Montana then Seattle, Providence, San Francisco and LA). She's about 3 hours away now, which is the closest we've lived to each other since 1993.

Have moved to the outskirts of Ann Arbor with my boyfriend and his daughter. Kayla is in first grade, and we chose this small town turned bedroom community because of the excellent schools and the location. We almost moved another half hour down the highway for a cheaper house, but my boyfriend's father advised us that moving closer to work was worth a slightly more expensive house. (He turned out to be right.) I'm working at the University and have been since 1995. I have started taking classes again after a financial snafu forced me out of college in... 1995. I got promoted quickly to a pretty high level that I will not advance beyond for ten years.

Living with my mother in Durham, North Carolina; attending the new high school, and generally being an overworked-by-self 17-year-old. Choices, man, choices. My sense of youthful immortality wasn't manifested in the "do dangerous things" vein, but more in the "I can do EVERYTHING!" vein. Being run-down via overscheduling became a prominent theme of my life for some time. (I think this choice was a reaction to living a relatively quiet and secluded childhood; as soon as I obtained any degree of control over my own whereabouts and activities, I went crazy.) I spent a fair amount of time in those days hanging with my best friend, Chaitra, but we were drifting socially; I spent a lot of time with a wider social network that I felt less close to. I was co-editor of the school lit mag that year, and wrote and costumed and stage managed and acted for local children's theater, and babysat a LOT (three school evenings a week from 5-10PMish), and was taking AP classes, and, and, and.

Living with my mother in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I was six. It was the first time we'd lived more than an hour away from my dad (my parents had been divorced for 2 years) or my grandparents. I was incredibly lonely, being so far from my bevy of adoring cousins and aunts and uncles; realizing that I only had my peers to socialize with regularly was sort of a nightmare. We were living in family housing at Lake Superior State, while my mom finished her bachelor's in nursing. I did enjoy the random collegiate adults Mom associated with. One of them held fondue parties and owned an Afghan dog. I am partial to fondue and Afghans to this day. I went with Mom to night classes on occasion, and began my love affair with college campuses, I think. It was my first time living in a college town, but I've never left college towns since, not really.

Alphabet Meme Sheep

via the hockey mom of punk rock.

A - Age: 35

B - Bed size: Queen.

C - Chore you hate: Cat litter boxes

D - Don’t eat: uncooked tomatoes, mainly.

E - Essential start-your-day item: breakfast, a shower, a podcast on the way to work.

F - Favorite board game: old school, Clue; new school, Word on the Street

G - Gold or Silver: Gold

H - Height: 5' 4"

I - Instruments you play: none

J - Job title: Information Resources Supervisor Intermediate-Moving-to-Senior; Novelist

K - Kid(s): stepdaughter K, 16

L - Love or lust: a little from column A, a little from column B...

M - Mom’s name: Beverly

N - Nicknames: Mer

O - Overnight hospital stay other than birth: besides 2 sleep studies which only barely count? numerous nights in the hospital as a daughter of a single nurse when the power went out in ice storms or I had an illness so bad I couldn't be left alone or with a babysitter. I can only readily identify six or seven of those events, except I'm sure it happened in times before I could remember, too.

P - Pants or pantyhose: PANTS. Pantyhose are the devil. Tights are okay now and then.

Q - Favorite Movie Quote: Er. I don't really think in quotes.

R - Right or left handed: Right.

S - Siblings: 3 half-sibs, only one of which I ever knew more than passingly.

T - Time you wake up: 7, 7:30. Ish.

U - Underwear: Yes, please!

V - Vegetable favorite: Probably a good Brussels sprout. I like things that are layered, bitter, and that others find challenging.

W - Ways you run late: usually, stopping to check my email.

X - X-rays you’ve had: One ankle (sprain); one foot (soft tissue injury); one foot (bone spur). Nothing else, but I have had an MRI of my head (hearing loss).

Y - Yummy food you make: enchiladas?

Z - Zoo favourite: well, frankly, zoos kinda depress me. But if you said, "what non-domesticated animals do you like watching?" -- I find olive baboons absolutely fascinating.

Eating by Color

After years of trying to get my 5-7 a day of fruits and veggies and feeling as though I was consistently failing--in part because my mind could not parse a giant apple as 2-3 servings, and in part because, whatever I do, I don't think in numbers* in any way that makes counting servings rational...

I recently came across the notion of eating your 5-7 a day according to color. It's actually from a book called Getting Ready to Get Pregnant, since, you know, that's what I'm getting ready to get ready to be--and the nutrition advice in that book makes the most sense of any book I've ever read. Maybe because it's in easy-to-memorize gotchya lists? I really don't know, but it's really working for me in a way nutrition advice usually doesn't.

Anyway, the fruit/veg advice is so simple, so in tune with my brain: eat a rainbow every day. Have something orange, something yellow, something green, something blue/violet, and something red. The theory is, each color family has a similar set of good benefits--orange usually harbors beta carotene, or something like that, and so on.

Yesterday, amongst the many things I ate, I had green from spinach, guacamole, and beet greens; red from salsa, red peppers, and beets (or maybe beets are violet--I probably should re-read this section of the book, since this violet thing seems to be a stumbling block); orange from an orange and a small yam; yellow from a delicata squash; blue from blueberries. I also had some mashed potatoes, meat loaf, almond butter, peach jam, two slices of whole wheat bread... and some decadence, since I was out with friends, in terms of grits cakes, bacon, and a little bit of brownie and ice-cream. I'm sure I was excessively caloric because of said being out with friends, but I know I didn't suffer from a nutritional deficit!

Today was harder, being a work day, but I had red from apples, yellow from bell peppers, green from guacamole and green leaf lettuce... Tonight, I'll have at least a serving of prunes to fill in blue or purple or whatever it is prunes are for. Orange--well, sorry orange, buddy, you're screwed today. But at least I know it, and will correct for it. Tomorrow I should be able to eat the full color suite easily again, since I'll take my lunch to work, and I have leftover beets, squash and yams to take.

Anyway, it's a thousand times easier to manage my servings as I'm choosing what to eat, and not try to keep together some count throughout the day. I aim to get at least a serving from each color. It's easy to see where I'm missing something and fill in the gap.

I wish I would have figured this one out 20 years ago! When I made my tostada this evening, overflowing with lettuce and yellow peppers, I realized: this is a far prettier way to eat.

Anyone else have similarly fun ways to keep track of nutrition?

* No, I don't think in numbers, but I am not opposed to numbers. I'm good with short-term memory of 7 digit numbers--in part because of my job--and I can memorize phone numbers like very few people I know, unless they don't make sense to me, which some numbers just don't, like splash_the_cat's home number. (On the other hand, I still remember mrgeddylee's number from when we were in college. It was a really good number. Ending in 1348, which is a really easy number.) I'm good with mnemonics, I guess. And weird memory tricks. And if I say the page number of the book before I close it, I will be able to remember what page I was on when I come back to the book. But do not ask me how many servings of grain I ate today. It does not compute AT ALL.

Book Meme

Swiped from dsudis.

'cause it's been a while since there was a meme.

The book I am reading:
The number of reading platforms has multiplied the number of books I read at once. On my Kindle at the gym, I'm reading Mira Grant's Feed. In paperback, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. On my phone, The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson. On my Kindle but not at the gym, The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace, who is probably the pro writer I've known longest, since she was friends with my roommate in college. (Let me commend that last book to you, because you may not have heard of it: the prose is simply gorgeous, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it.) And about a thousand research books simultaneously. Okay, actually, I only have 59 research books checked out and about 12 in my personal collection relevant to my time period, but it feels like a thousand.

The book I am writing:
So, I'm working on (actively) two books, the awayfromhome book which I shall refer to as The Disenchanted Castle book, and the athome book, which is all Rhine River valleys and dragons and princesses and knights and Evil Horses Being Reformed. I dunno. That's all I can really say about them at the moment.

The book I love most:
Love is such a funny word. And love is fluid, too. In olden times, I might have said Pride and Prejudice or The Blue Sword, but those are more perennial favorites. Love is different. What I love the most right now, the book that gives me the shivers when I think about rereading it, is probably Graceling.

The last book I received as a gift:
Um... er... I got a lot of books at Christmas, you know? And I couldn't tell you which order I got them in at this point. So I'll point to Feed by Mira Grant which I got from iuliamentis. I'm pretty sure I got it after Christmas.

The last book I gave as a gift:
I gave splash_the_cat the four Megan Whalen Turner Thief of Eddis books for Christmas, and since it was such a debacle of giving (basically, Amazon just FAILED), that I know I gave them to her most recently of anything I gave. Because it took like a month to solve the problem.

The nearest book on my desk:
The Medieval Dragon: The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature by Joyce Tally Lionarons is open on my desk, as is A Natural History of Dragons and Unicorns by Paul and Karin Johnsgard, T.H. White's The Bestiary, and Ernest Ingersoll's Dragons and Dragon Lore.

Closed and piled nearly as close are also The Nibelungenlied, a children's book in German about Hildegard of Bingen, Old and Midlde English c.890-c.1400: An Anthology, Wheelock's Latin, Newman's Sister of Wisdom, and a guidebook to castles in Rhineland-Palatinate.

It is a very full desk, and everything is very handy. And spread out nearly equidistant from me.

Media Consumption

I went to a movie! For the first time in like ever. The first time since the last Harry Potter, in fact. I saw Vision, which is the movie about the life of Hildegard of Bingen. I had no quibble with any of the facts in it, which probably means I'm still not well-versed enough in my Hildegard history, but maybe not? Other than the Rhine didn't look properly Rhinish in the tenth of a second distance shot of it, and maybe it was all supposed to be the Nahe delta leading up to the confluence of the Rhine.

Anyway, my only problem with the movie is that a few of the scenes were working too hard at showing too much at one time, to the point that they felt quite forced. But that's okay. Otherwise, it was dreamy, involving, absorbing and quite compelling, and it was totally great inspiration for the book I'm currently writing, which has a bit of Hildegard in it.

I also used this weekend (and the snowday that struck today) to take in Downton Abbey, which I feel like everyone already watched on PBS like four months ago, but it was really good and I enjoyed it. Though I felt like it also ended up with a bit too much crammed-in-itis. Like, "we're going to explore American heiresses saving British noble houses PLUS entailment PLUS women's suffrage PLUS The Titanic PLUS the difficulties with being gay in that time PLUS those awkward old views on menopause/hunting/medicine PLUS the rise of the middle class PLUS feeling adrift with new technology (telephones, electricity, typewriters, AND cars)." I mean. It was only 7 episodes! That was a lot of stuff for 7 episodes, and really, I wanted tons more of the Old Lady War between Professor McGonagall and Harriet Jones of Flydale North, plus as much Mister Bates and Emma's restrained romance as possible. On the other hand, it was pretty satisfying a lot of the time. Until the end. The end was basically a huge cliffhanger, if you ask me.

And, I haven't done a reading post in FOREVER, which makes me feel like I've fallen down on the job SO MUCH, but allow me to rec a book. Ally Condy's Matched was surprising, because I picked it up thinking it was more a romance than a thoroughly and creepily satisfying dystopian novel. The Society seems quite nice on the surface; things are clean and everyone is well-fed and well-educated, and there is a certain plausibility to the tidiness of it all. I don't think you spend ten pages in 1984 being lulled into anything; it seems horrible from the get-go. In Matched, the creepiness seeps slowly in: you see it all through a fourth- or fifth-generation member of the Society, a product of breeding experiments and indoctrination, and it all seems to make sense. I'm trying to think of a dystopia that did such a good job lulling me. Not coming up with one.

Now, finally, a smidge of self-promo. My book has a page on the publisher's website, and is available for pre-order all over the place. You know this already if we're connected on Facebook or Twitter, but some of us aren't connected there, and I just wanted to get that out there. :) Awesomely, Rae Carson's book, Girl of Fire and Thorns is also available for pre-order. I am totally excited about both of these things!

Snow: we're doing it wrong

I have been trying to embrace winter for a long time now, and the two things that have helped the most have been my HappyLight and my Vitamin D supplements. I actually have not been deeply offended by this winter in comparison to past winters, and I absolutely do not mind the snow on the ground right now, other than it makes me feel tremendously guilty that I did not try harder to get to work today. (The flip side of that being the days when I slide through stop signs and otherwise take my life in my hands, and I scream, "Why did I try to come to work!??! I shoulda just STAYED HOME.")

Oh, there might be a third thing for my well-being, and that might be the new furnace I bought back in August. And if there's a fourth, it's that we're on year 2 with our friend, the electric blanket. Warmth is key.

Coldness and darkness: my two foes.

Anyway, what gets me the MOST about winter is the Snow Protocol.

I do not like the hype. It makes it very hard to tell when you are supposed to rationally stay at home, and when you are supposed to try to go somewhere. A little less hype, and we might actually be able to tell when it's really dangerous out there, and when it's actually not.

I do not like how badly people drive. From the simplest things like "turning your lights on in a near white-out" to "don't tailgate when there's ANYTHING on the ground."

I do not like how inefficient the plowing situation is in this town. Budget cuts ruining our children's educations? Bad. Budget cuts that don't take into account snow? Unbelievable.

I do not like the snowblowers. All the charm of snow is completely taken away when there are fifteen hours of snowblowing afterward. I understand that the efficiency of a snowblower is waaaay above shoveling. I believe you should have a snowblower, if you want one. I'm not the snowblower police. But in the 20 minutes that there weren't neighbors out blowing, I really got to enjoy the noise of the wind in the trees, and the quietness that comes with snow, and I thought, "Yeah, snow isn't so bad!" And then the blowers started up again.

In conclusion, I must buy a Subaru.

Letters to my past selves

Dear Mers 1994, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003:

Sit down. In the chair. Finish some stories. Submit them to the highest markets, and when they are rejected, go second-highest. Keep submitting. Or, don't--write some novels, if that's easier. Submit those, too. Stop wasting your time gaming. You know that other people are fulfilled from gaming, but you aren't, so get on it. Also, stop believing that just because you haven't done X, you're unqualified to get on with life. So, go. Seriously. Go now.

-Mer 2011


Dear Mer 2005:

If you don't WRITE, you won't get better. At this stage in the game, it's all about the PRACTICE. No amount of career navigatory planning is going to get you the practice. GET ON IT.

-Mer 2011


Dear Mer 2007:

Remember how all those authors said that you should enjoy your time before the deadlines hit? That is not something authors say because they're trying to make YOU feel better. They are JEALOUS AS HELL of you, that no one is going to yank your WIP out of your hands to turn around the galleys.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be a working writer. But still. Time to call your own is precious.

-Mer 2011


I can't decide if the time for long, introspective blog posts is at an end for me, or if it's just a phase. I vote phase. I've been doing this for eleven years, seven on this platform. It'd be weird to stop, wouldn't it?

Wouldn't it?

Maybe I'm leaving more of it on the page. You know--more actual writing. And that wouldn't be a bad thing, now would it?

Let's go with phase for now.

Kristina's Chili Lime Chocolate Cookies

Have I posted this before? There is no way to explain their awesomeness. These cookies JUST WORK.

Chocolate Chili Cookies

Kristina says: "This recipe is from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate
Desserts. I tried to give the cookbook away to a friend who loves
to make chocolate desserts but he forgot to take it home. Then I
discovered the Chocolate Chili recipe, and this book’s not going
anywhere now. I was in search of the perfect chocolate/lime
combination in a dessert, and by adding lime juice to the
cookies, I think I’ve found it."

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, pepper, cayenne, and
cinnamon and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric
mixer cream the butter. Add the vanilla and sugar and
beat to mix thoroughly. Beat in the egg, then on low
speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients,
scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating
only until mixed.

Shape the dough into a cylinder about 10 inches long and
about 2 inches in diameter.

Wrap the dough in wax paper and place it in the freezer
until firm. Or it may be kept frozen.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With a sharp, heavy knife
cut it into slices 1/4 inch thick.

Bake 10 or 11 minutes, reversing the sheets once during
baking. Watch them carefully to make sure they do not

Let them cool for a few seconds on the sheets until firm
enough to be moved. Then, with a wide spatula, transfer
cookies to racks to cool.

Rub the top of each cookie with lime juice.

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks sweet butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 egg

It's the lime that makes the magic happen--it ties the chili and the chocolate together in a way that I find lacking in every other combo of chili and chocolate (with one exception: the Cacao Royale at Espresso Royale--that doesn't need lime).


Back to the Rhine

I've been up and down the Rhine four? five? times this weekend. In pictures, in Wikipedia entries, in bad Google translations from German, in tourist brochures, in maps hoarded from my Germany trip, in maps discovered online...

I very nearly have a working map for my novel. I would even call it "largely accurate." It is more likely to be missing places than to have wrong places added in, I think, so that's cool. So, from Bonn to Bingen, I know my 1133 Rhine valley. Woo. Hoo.

In addition to the map, I have index cards for each place along the way, including founding dates and important happenings and my best etymologies. I have not yet decided if I'm using German names or evocative English translations of German names or some of each. (The problem is that for every "Cloud Castle" there's an untranslatable word like "the Wied River." Wied, apparently, goes back to the beginning of time or something. Because no one anywhere I can find knows what it means. Possibly if I were fluent in German I could find an etymology.... But I'm not. How on earth was Romanian easier?)

And so, that's what I did with my weekend.
Seems like I'm supposed to have something to say, but I can't quite think of what.

So, a meandering about writing.

My book is going. It is not going as fast as I would like, but I'm getting bogged down in research on occasion. Which sounds maybe not ideal, but it's actually part of my process. There are certain things I could just leave as a blank and fill in later; writers do that, I'm told. But it never works for me, because those little details end up being the foundations of theme, foreshadowing, and all the je ne sais quois that adds up to having a tapestry of detail and texture. If I can't feel the texture as I go, it's just no fun to write. And if it's no fun to write, I don't keep going. And there's my process--or, that piece of it.

The other side of the piece is picking and choosing which textures to focus on. I think it was on Jordan Castillo-Price's podcast I heard this, where she talked about taking a cue from visual arts in learning how to focus detail in writing. It's like depth of field on a photograph. You foreground the important stuff, keep it sharp and in focus, highlight the details... and blur out the background, so it's there in general, but not the thing in the picture that the eye will return to.

Something I'm reminding myself as I go.

First drafts are my favorite thing about writing, but that doesn't make them easy.


A Year Comes to Town, A Year Leaves Town

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
Well, I sold a book.

Read more...Collapse )

Should old acquaintance be forgot

Happy New Year, folks! I plan to ring in the occasion with writing and sleep--I woke up with a grumbling sore throat and a powerful tiredness, and I won't be crawling far from my computer unless it's to bed.

It is very handy, therefore, that I decided not to throw a party this year. Between my stepdaughter's upcoming sweet sixteen, and the eventual book launch party in October (yes, I have a launch month, though not yet a date, have I mentioned?), I decided to dial back the partying.

As for the rest of New Year's activities, I did go so far as to chill the bottle of champagne I had purchased for the occasion, which I may have tonight if I'm feeling up to it, or perhaps mixed with OJ tomorrow. And as for resolutions? Nah. Further ratcheting around of some life-style changes, perhaps, and I want to settle in with a good solid writing schedule for the new year, but I think calling them resolutions perhaps... puts a karmic hit out on them.

See you in 2011!

TV isn't on my Bucket List

Dann and I were listening to a podcast we both enjoy on the way to dinner last night, and there was a mention of adding a TV show to a bucket list.

I pointed out I have no TV bucket list. In fact, there is no TV on any bucket list I have. There is nothing I can't live without watching. (This is not a dis on TV, because TV is a fundamental source of pleasure in my life, and frankly, a lot of it is quite good these days. I could live without TV, but I don't have to, so why would I?) But in my world view, bucket lists are about learning and doing and experiencing authentically, for oneself, not through the lens of someone else's eye and experience.

There are no books on my bucket list, by the same token, nor do I have a book bucket list. I read for the same reasons I watch TV, plus research. There are books I need to read to keep up with my genres and to write what I need to write, plus books I want to read for pleasure, so putting some musts and shoulds down on top of that just to say I've read them is no longer a possibility. I did stuff like that when I was younger. I'm over it.

I'll be 40 in 4.5 years. I'm starting to think about things I'll want to experience before then. There are things I've been trying to do for a few years that I'd like to get to: See Niagara Falls. Get back to the Grand Canyon and ride a mule down into it. Attain fluency in Spanish, at least to my French levels.

Add to that, visit South and Central America. Actually learn how to play chess, instead of poking at it. (If there were flowcharts for chess, I'd learn it a lot faster.)

But the goals are kind of nebulous, and a lot of things that were once on my life bucket list (that I wrote when I was 14) are either accomplished, or I learned enough to know I don't actually want to do them. And then there's writing research. I do so many things based on writing research, that it almost seems moot to have a list. I'll get to everything I need to get to, eventually. Right? Maybe?
Diabetic Cat looked at us as we walked out the door today, lifting her head from the fuzzy blanket she was using as a pillow, and blinked prettily at us.

"You know where I have to be today guys? Right here."

Head down, contented sigh.

Jerk. She's a princess, but she's a jerk princess.

Lost: One Science Fiction Story

Okay, not really lost. I remember the green-blue sky and dim sun of the world I wormholed to; I remember the thought processes and conversations ("We call it a wormhole, because that's a convenient term, but it's not one," and "Well, if this weren't a safe enough world with a breathable atmosphere and liveable pressure, we'd be too dead to notice.")

It was one of those magical dreams where your subconscious far outpaces your conscious imagination. The humidity, the slightly off air pressure, the over-saturated colors, the techno-babble of the other people (someone I was with, someone who came through the wormhole with me, which we had activated in an Indiana Jones/Stargate-style shuffling of stone mechanisms somewhere in either Germany or Ireland--that someone was an astronomer, and he was convinced he knew what star we were orbiting, and that sisters to the planet we were on had been discovered and named by humanity)...

The inhabitants of the planet were humans living in stone edifices somewhat between Mycenaean palace and Norman castle. And they spoke English. So that's where my imagination failed--or did it? They spoke English because they fell through the wormhole at some point in the past, right?

Anyway, I woke up before I could do something plot-like. But it was a great travelogue until then.

Easily the best dream I've had in a year. Better than the lost fairy tale, even.

Sorry to make you suffer through a dream report, but you know. I never promised not to.

Meh and meh

My memory card is corrupt. The one with all the pictures of Europe. Now, fortunately, I loaded 997 pictures (yes, really) onto Flickr in Romania when I had a good net connection and a long evening on my hands, but there are about a hundred, hundred-fifty lost pictures of Christmas markets and decorations that I would kinda like to have. (Also, getting all the pics onto my computer from Flickr would be a time-consuming hassle.)

On the other hand, paying to get the data off the card is also probably not really worth it.




Okay, no, no synthesis. I got up at 3:30AM local because I was just done sleeping, and that's wall there was to it. Maybe tomorrow I'll make it to 5AM.

I feel like there was something I learned on this trip--maybe many somethings--but I'm not going to be able to articulate them in a blog entry.

As it is, I've been working on my book like mad, so maybe the synthesis will all be there, in the spaces between the words. Actually, I'd count on it.

In short, some non-detail things (because I learned a lot of details) I learned from my late autumn vacation to Europe:
  • I feel like I connected in new ways with my (deceased) German grandmother on this trip. I've summoned my inner hausfrau. We'll see how that goes, but I have this itch for cleanliness I have not previously really had.
  • As usual upon returning from a vacation, I feel a slower pace of life would be in order. We'll see if I find it.
  • I don't think I'll ever go anywhere on such short notice again unless I've already been there once. I really needed six months to plan this trip, not three. Also, they were not three months of easy living; I had rewrites and copyedits plus over-the-top dayjob. The biggest issues were languages: I wish I'd spent more time acquiring languages for this trip, even though I obviously muddled through.

I have voyage vertigo. I feel like if I turn my head to the right, I'll see Sibiu spread below me. I think I'm a little tired, still, even though I can't sleep.

oh, snow!

warning: German keyboard. This may get wonky, as I am a touch typist.

I left Rothenburg after a nice walk through town this morning and some shopping. Tat: acquired. I blame Jaine Fenn and the rest of the Milford '05 crew for making me lust for tat now. I used to not buy silly little touristy items until they made me see the glory in them. I did not buy a cuckoo clock magnet, though, which I may regret. Nor did I buy a cuckoo clock at all, even though I thought about it very hard, to the point of pricing them and then actually looking at them all in earnest.

The thing is, a tasteful cuckoo clock just seems pointless.

I dropped my luggage at my hotel and then drove the stupid summer tire car off to the airport, where I left it with Hertz. Then I had lunch at a, believe it or not, taco stand. The other choice was McDonald's. Nice vegetarian tacos of dubious Mexicanness, indeed.

While I was eating, a man pointed at my other chair and asked if he could have it (in English, accented). (I was tweeting at the time, which on my old school phone is like a 6-minute chore, minimum.) At first I thought he wanted the chair for another table because he had a large group, but no group was forthcoming, and he sat down instead of taking the chair. Cue uncomfortableness. I continued my tweet rather than make conversation.

The fellow looked increasingly agitated, finally stood up and said, "I go now."

"Uh, sure, bye."

"It's better for me. It's better for you, too, maybe... I don't cheat you."

Say what?

I had that brief spurt of fear, wondering if he'd managed to take something from me and I didn't even notice. But everything I owned was back at the hotel or buried under three layers of clothing, except for a handful of euros in my pocket and the phone in my hand. And my tacos. GOOD LUCK, BUDDY. I'm not that easy a mark. Which was clearly what he was telling me, so maybe I won. I know I'll be extra careful at the airport with all my stuff tomorrow.

I finished up, called the hotel shuttle, waited inside on super alert for more criminal activity for ten minutes... waited outside in the SO COLD OMG for ten minutes after that, and came back to my still unclean hotel room. I'd checked in early, and my room was not cleaned, but I thought, "Hey, I checked in early." But it was still not clean more than two hours later. I went down to use the free internet... and here we are.

back in Germany

I was supposed to go to Munich today and spend the day there before training to Frankfurt tomorrow, but when I really started thinking about walking a 3/4s of a mile from the train station to my hotel with my giant suitcase in the slush and the cold, I thought, "You know what would be great? If I just rented a car and went back to Rothenburg ob der Tauber and got that place out of my system. I really didn't get to stay long enough last time."

I don't think I'll regret missing Munich simply from a logistical point of view--I'm not backpacking through Europe here, and pretending like I am was a huge disconnect. Of course, from a "when am I going to be in Munich again?" point of view, I'm a little sad, but all things considered, it's far more worth my while to be in Rothenburg.

Germany is restful compared to Romania. Or maybe the phrase is actually "more like America." I'm sure it is. On the other hand, it is not as nice because it's colder and snowier. In point of fact, when I went to pick up my car today at the airport (which I reserved before I left Germany, which is when I made the decision about my last day in Germany), they said, "Oh, we don't have any cars with winter tires, so it will be a two hour wait."

Uhm, what?

I went to a few other counters, and everyone was out of winter tires. What the hell were they doing, one might wonder? After having a rather lengthy conversation with my original reservation holder again, I asked what the difference between summer and winter tires was, you know, from an American's standpoint. Because quite frankly, I live in a snowy state, and I don't swap out my tires seasonally. The counter person didn't really know, but she assured me that the summer tires were completely not up to the task of any sort of snow, while I'm standing there wondering if the difference is snow tires and regular tires, and growing more frustrated and doing everything I can not to show I'm frustrated, because obviously, this is just stupid, not evil, that they have these absurd(ish) rules about tires and yet the rental companies are not swapping tires as cars come in when the season turns.

Finally, once I agreed that I wasn't going to Austria--because it's illegal to drive with summer tires in Austria now--and once I discussed the predicted amounts of precipitation and made my peace with God, I took a summer-tire car, and headed out of the freaking airport. There's a 20% chance of snow tomorrow until I get to Frankfurt, where it goes up to 40%; then I'm in for the night and there's an overnight chance of 70% ish... and then I have to drive 5 minutes to the airport the following morning. I'll risk it. Let's hope these are not all famous last words, eh?

So, frustrations aside, I have a mint green something. A Corsa? I don't know. It's more fancy than I'm used to, with all these 1 touch controls, and a hugging seat, but it's okay. I kind of liked the crappy little thing I was driving before better.


Just got back from dinner. Verdict: spatzle with cheese is just mac and cheese. German food names are exotic sounding lies. Lies! And you know what schnitzle is? The foulest lie: it's veal.

Anyway, the waitress was concerned that I wasn't having beer or wine with dinner. This is not the first time I've frustrated and confused my waitstaff this trip, but frankly, drinking alone is not something I want to do in a foreign country; I'm a social drinker at best, and take no real joy out of beer or wine on its own merits 85% of the time, so trying new beers or wines is actually more like torture than fun.

But I did want some gluhwein after dinner, but the waitress misunderstood/misheard/thought I was crazy, and brought me what I suspect was a Riesling with my spatzle. Also, my plate of food was enormous, was nothing like anything I'd gotten in Germany before, and certainly nothing like what I'd gotten in Romania. It was even gigantic for America. I ate about a third of it (salad and spatzle) before having to cry wimp and getting it taken away.

In the meantime, I had discovered that the Christmas carol playing in the restaurant--which I had enjoyed at first, and was at least partially a round of "Gaudete" plus something else mixed with it--was on infinite repeat.

Plus, half way through the glass of wine, I remember that, appearances aside, I'm a lightweight in the realm of alcohol. The world started to blur around me. I started humming along to the "Gaudete" parts of the song, then outright singing them, before remembering where I was, and just cramming more spatzle into my mouth. "Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus, oh, crap, I'm singing. Again."

So, as I confronted this enormous plate of food--and let me just say, eating a third of what was presented was like winning a food challenge, and I was not picking at the food--and the endless loop of music and my own inability to process alcohol like a normal person, I began to consider that I was in Jolly German Christmas Hell. Especially when the waitress came by to ask me for the third time how I liked the spatzle.

Fortunately, at that point, I realized I had to stop eating and just get away from the music. Which I did.


The only other thing to note about today is that at 6:30 AM Romania time, I locked the night manager out of his hotel. He had carried my luggage down to my cab, you see, and left the door ajar; I so helpfully closed it. As I was closing it, but too late to stop: "No, no, don't close it!" But it was done. "I don't have a key," he said. (WHY? I didn't say.) He stopped and stared. "It's all right," he said. And then, "OH, GOD!" under his breath. I expressed concern. "No, it's all right, I can call," he said philosophically, and waved my cab over.

Me and that hotel's main entrance: doomed from the start.

Out of things

...to say.

What's the thing where you're so far out the other side of culture shock that you just stop being, well, surprised? Is that really acculturation or just fatigue?

I'm pretty sure what I have is the fatigue. I also have "I'm going home in 4/3/2 days (depending on how you count)." (You can't count today. You can't count the day you leave. So it's 2 days, right? Except it's 4.)

Sitting with my window open. Hearing the wind moan and rush over the rooftops, the laughter of people in the square, the squeak of some window or sign's hinges, and distant motors doing who knows what (midnight renovation projects seem to be big; don't know why). Doors slam. I'm afraid of sleeping through my alarm tomorrow but that doesn't put me to sleep. There's writing to be done, and breezes to be felt.

I'll say this about touring in winter: old cities don't stink. There's no post-rain cobblestone stench to rise up and remind you of the last hundred years of feces that have sunk between the stones. Or is that just France?

I'm tired. I miss my husband, my cats. This chapter I'm writing is boring. Something has to change. My character has been happy for almost 300 words. That has to end.

I'm grumpy like this man:


Click through for more. I can't promise more grumpy men, but pigeons, yes.

Good night, see you in Germany...

Oy, my feet; or--Romania!

I spent the day tromping around an open air museum--or should I say, the open air museum, since this is considered the pinnacle of open air museums in this country, and was a large part of the reason I came to Sibiu.

(The other parts were: I needed an airport, I didn't want to do Bucharest, I needed a place I might set The Queen of Thonos or parts thereof, and the city itself had to have a lot to offer. Unfortunately, if I'd known how much harder it is to get around inside the country (well, okay, let's say I knew, but I was in denial, which is pretty much the truth), I'd have chosen somewhere else--somewhere closer to my cousin's sister, and with better rail service. But--bygones. I have a feeling this won't be my only trip to Romania.)

I can't really guess how far I walked today but it must be further than I've done since being in Europe, since el bone spur is unhappy with the distance I walked for the first time in months--and let's recall that three miles does not really bug it--and my legs were tired coming up the stairs to my room. Note that I was not winded, but that my legs were tired, straight up three flights. (Guess what? I get to come in the front door of the hotel now. But not before I took pictures of the whole process of the labyrinthine way.)

The museum was fascinating. They've moved dozens of different types of buildings into this park and reconstructed them just as they were in situ. Presumably they only removed things that were going to be destroyed anyway, but I don't actually know... Anyway, these things range from a beekeepers' family compound (charmingly described as "beeskeepers" on the trilingual sign), to Danube delta fishermen's cottages, to wooden churches, to inns, to small shrines. Lots of fulling mills--wool-processing--aka houses of fullers. And windmills!

Links to:

the bare bones Romania pics at Facebook

the full Germany (thus far) album at Flickr (but no descriptions or titles yet)

Notes for Another Time

* travel days are almost always a bust
* stop inserting so many travel days in your trips, Mer
* two weeks is not enough time to put in four major travel days (besides your arrival and departure days, I might add), I'm just saying
* four is okay for for a 3 week trip, but not two
* three travel days in a row is dumb, btw

So, I was a bit of an idiot when figuring out where I wanted to go on this trip. I foolishly thought: "Germany's one of those small countries, not as small as Britain, but they have less windy roads and higher speeds so it's probably easier to get from place A to place B."

And that was how I ended up driving five hundred kilometers over the previous two days and eating the hearts out of said days so completely and making them touristically non-viable. (Rothenburg was a little saved by the fact that it has a night tour, so arriving at 3PM wasn't such a kick in the pants.) Likewise, I flew to Romania today, pretty much getting here too late to do anything but snap a few pics out my hotel window. And then, I'll have the travel day back to Germany, which will not be as busted because I have to catch the plane at 8 AM and the time change is in my favor in that case.

When everything closes by 4 (tourist spots, not shops) and it's dark by 4:30... well, that's the penalty of traveling in the low season. I suppose the other penalty is that I'm not really willing to do a lot of travel in the dark, either, when traveling in the dark means me driving down unfamiliar roads in the dark in a foreign country ALONE. So, there is me, hampered by my own rules and by traveling in the off season.

Every trip, I learn something more, I guess.

On the other hand, the internet makes things better. Better/worse. I don't know. should I be so reliant on contact from back home? Well, it kind of doesn't matter, because I *am*. And I don't think any travelers from long ago would have done anything any differently if they could have. Eh? Eh. Thinking about all the long letters that people wrote to each other when they could afford to--is that really any different than our internet access, in intention, anyway?

I had a lot of anxiety about coming to Romania alone, in part because I knew it would be SO different from what I'm used to. But it's actually not that different after all. I had a pidgin conversation with my cab driver about cauliflower. I've been pounding vocab lists like mad in Romanian, and they're sticking because there are so many cognates with Spanish and French. I don't even know what to think. I'll have to let the culture shock bowl me over, and see how I come out when I can stand again.

My FB album is here. I don't have many pics yet because I arrived shortly before dark, and didn't take any pics on my cab ride from the airport. I exited passport control shortly after 4PM, and walked immediately into a branch of the tourist's office, who told me where to find an ATM ("to the left") and suggested I take a bus to town and then walk a kilometer. I asked if a taxi were doable, and she said sure, don't let them charge you more than 5 euros...

I walked around a bit and couldn't find an ATM, and finally, a kindly looking man was standing there watching me, so I asked him where the ATM was in what I would like to believe was very convincing Romanian--so convincing that he started in with a whole spate of Romanian and I had to back off and say that I didn't actually understand the language very well. This happens to me a lot. I am better at learning to speak and smoothing out my accent than I am at cognition for the first parts of language learning. Sometimes, a little too good at smoothing out the accent, I think, because like I said, this happens to me a lot.

Anyway, I caught the gist of what he said, which was that he was offering to drive me wherever I liked in his taxi. Yes, please--once I confirmed he'd take Euros because the darn ATM wasn't "to the left." I got into the car, and we drove--to the left. For quite some ways. And pulled up in front of an ATM. Where I laughed, got out, got money, got back in, and he drove me off toward the city center. He asked if I'd come from Munich. "Yes, but I'm American." Yay, vocabulary! Oh, America? Did I know Arizona? And so on.

People do tend to know Arizona. Or Florida or California. Because they're warm?

I plopped out of the cab at Piatsa Mica, spotted my hotel immediately, paid the driver, all that... and couldn't figure out how to get IN to my hotel, since there was someone tiling what would be the entrance. We stared at each other, the tiler and the tourist. My Romanian deserted me, or rather, I never learned the words for "Why are you tiling the hotel entrance when I want to go in there?" I stuttered along with "hotel" and "where is" and some other words in random order, and thankfully, a woman showed up who assessed the situation on the spot, conversed with both the tiler and the tourist, and told me I might have to enter through the grocery store.

The... Grocery store?

The tiler flipped open his cell phone and started talking into it. Then, without a word, he picked up my suitcase and led me and the other woman down a tiny alley, onto a street, into a door next to a grocery store, up a flight of stairs, down a corridor, up another flight of stairs, through a door, possibly through someone's house, through another door, down a flight of stairs, around a corner, through some doors and... into a hotel reception area, where he dropped my suitcase and disappeared.

The other woman--blonde and beautiful, I might add, also disappared--a guest? A hotel worker? Don't know! And a man and a woman appeared, discerned I was a guest, explained the breakfast hours, had me fill out a form, and took me up two more flights of stairs to a cozy hotel room, where I took a picture out my window, used the bathroom, and lo, the sun had set, so I attempted the internet, and found it was working.

Well. There you go. My first two hours in Romania.

Oh, did I mention I drove through a snowstorm to get to the airport this morning, and had to scrape ice off my window? No, I did not mention it. It is positively balmy in Sibiu in comparison.

Back from the Crime Museum

Last night was my last night in the Rhine Valley. I'm slowly making my way towards Munich so I can catch my flight to Romania. (I'm stopped over in Rothenberg ob der Tauber tonight, and going to take off in an hour for dinner, then take the Night Watchman's Tour.)

While I miss the Rhine already, there is something very pleasant about being in a town that caters to tourists. No, hear me out. More people speak English. There is English AND German on the menus. There are cafes every three feet, and they aren't hidden. The stores in Germany as a whole always seem, well, closed, until you try the door and find out if they are or not. But here, the stores are well lit and welcoming to folks trained in American retail psychology. No wait, that's not fair: it was not this hard to tell if a store or restaurant was open or closed in France or Britain, either...

My camera's upstairs, so I'll have to load pictures later. They're on Facebook in case you are impatient to see what I did yesterday (I drove up the Rhine to St. Goar and visited a castle or two). (I also went to a pharmacy and got some frikin' help for this cold.)

Right now, I'm sitting in the cafe that's part of the hotel I'm in (it's super-duper quaint and taverny, and I totally love it), listening to church bells while I debate with myself over where to eat. (While I sip tea and snack on "Oma's Kaisekuchen"--i.e., a nice cheesecake. Also, all black tea here is Earl Grey. Well, not really. But most of it.) It's a bit cold out there, though at least at one point on the drive here I thought it was easily 10 degrees warmer than here/now and Bingen where I was. I must've been in a valley, and we've since climbed higher again. Going south here is no guarantee of warmth, between distance from the sea and higher elevations. Things to remember.

My layering plan has mostly worked (I have up to five layers available for my torso and two for my legs, should it become necessary, plus wool socks and winter shoes). However, no hat! Doh. I may have to buy a hat. The hood to my sweatshirt is not enough.

Uhm. This has been a very pedestrian update. I did see the Crime Museum (aka, the medieval torture museum). I learned some... things. It was actually less creepy than I feared. Mostly. I spent less time in the torture sections and more in the jurisprudence sections, looking at papal bulls from the 1300s and big wax seals all danglifying from different kinds of documents. And in relation to my book, I got the win picture of all time: iron shoes.

Okay, time to go find dins.

All's well in Allemagne

Doing well in Germany. Finally have found a rhythm to the tourist life--it helped that I did not succumb to sleepiness, but rather scurried out of the hotel as soon as protein was ingested and clothes were on.

I spent two hours driving about 25 miles--well, no. I took two hours to get to a destination 25 miles from here, but in fact, I probably drove 70 or 80 miles of back roads and crap, getting "lost" in my own special way. I only had to backtrack about 5 miles; I kept forging on through, down cowpaths if I had to (and if I saw a sign that had words on it I thought I recognized). I did spend about 10 minutes trying to find a MediaMarkt to buy a camera cord and an ipod output cable for the car, but the sign was deceptive and no MediaMarkt was found. (As it turns out, I don't need the camera cord, and I'm rocking out to Armed Forces Radio stations so much I don't know if I care if I get the ipod cord. How is it that "the Eagle" or whatever is better than 99% of all stations in America?

I also spent about 10 minutes snapping pics at a scenic overlook, and maybe another 15 minutes wandering a German grocery store, buying candy for home. So, 1.5 hours to go 25 miles. Not as bad now, huh?

You can click on that pic to go through to the Facebook album. By far not the full suite of pictures, though I must say my pic rate is slower than I'd've expected. I still have room for 2500 more on my memory card. Pshaw.

The ruins pictured above are Disibodenberg, where Hildegard of Bingen spent her life from age 8 to about 42 or so. Before she founded her abbeys. I really liked it--possibly because moss-covered ruins are kind of a Thing for me. I'm pretty sure that's where the opening chapters of the next book take place. To that end, I came back to a cafe and rewrote the opening chapters of my book so that they take place there. Haha!

Also, it took me only 25 minutes to get back from Disibodenberg, but a large chunk of it was on highways with speedlimits of 130 km/hr. So. That helps. Cowpaths: not so fast. Though there are some fun slower roads. The country roads in the valleys here curve and twist, but not too much. So you can see about five miles ahead and know if you can really start speeding (because they are narrow country roads, in spite of everything). Those are fun.

Other than drinking a super decadent hot chocolate, writing a whole bunch, and actually eating dinner for the first time since I've been in the country, not much else to report for the day! I've gotten used to being a crap German speaker. My biggest problem is that French tries to horn in on almost every conversation. I literally have to shut my mouth on it.

Oh, yes, my sore throat has dwindled to a soreish throat, and sniffles. And I have a lump under my tongue. Possibly a blocked salivary gland brought on by the dehydration of the flight. Oh, joy. This led to some midnight googling and all sorts of weird stories about squeezing out the little salt nubbin. "Rice krispie shaped" (I don't know why "rice shaped" never shows up in these discussions) is the very vivid descriptor of extruded salt lumps. I am passing on extrusion. However, the lump is rice krispie (or just rice) shaped.


More than you wanted to know, I'm sure!

the best laid plans...

...sometimes change for their own good.

I managed to catch a cold. So far, it's a medium-mild sore throat. So maybe half my exhaustion isn't so much jet lag as cold-catchingness. In any case, my innkeeper's mother and sister gave me menthol drops and found me an apotheke open on Sundays, and I'm going to take it pretty easy today, writing and resting and studying enough German to have a nice dinner somewhere tonight.

I extended my stay in Bingen for two days, and am ditching Aachen. Aachen was a nice idea (thermal springs! Charlemagne!) but realistically, it was already going to be a haul to get up there and then back down to Rothenburg ob der Tauber two days later, and my book probably isn't going to go there anyway. (People in my book go there, but off screen, so. Thin thread at best.) Rothenburg is a "medieval paradise," and on my way to Munich, which is where I catch my flight to Romania. So it's still on the list.

There's so much to see in the Rhine valley, I will embrace another two days, and the hoteliers here are just fantastic. The owner's little sister is K's age, and a voracious YA fantasy reader, so we chatted books after breakfast. In the meantime, I will be able to catch that lunch at the Hildegard Forum, and get to all of Hildegard's sites, including looking up her reliquary. And hopefully, manage to keep this cold as low-grade as possible.

The Traveler Alone, Day Two

Anxiety: gone. I seem to have settled in to this. Maybe there's an increased amount of time for "are we doing this? ARE WE DOING THIS?" that happens when you get older, or when it's been a long time since you've done [this]. Who knows?

As with everything, I've figured out how to put that in a story.

Long rambly travelogue; still no pics.Collapse )

The Traveler Alone

I was going to write up a semi-serious post about how hard I've been ducking anxiety about this whole trip, including all last night on the plane and a large part of the day, but that's a serious post for another day. I'm in far better shape now, post nap, post learning the phrase "Ich spreche wenig Deutsche" (I speak LITTLE German), and post obtaining the internet. Traveling alone is hard; connectivity makes it easier.

I'm holed up in a pleasant hotel built on the cloister grounds of Hildegard's abbey (well, one of 'em; she founded two). I've bonded with my innkeeper, which makes me feel less lonely, too. Actually, he's wonderful, and copied for me a map of the original cloister (the hotel is on the cloister's old grounds), which is something I've been looking for!

Things I quite like about Germany:

Driving is FUN here. Traffic is so well regulated and the drivers are so good, that the break-neck speeds were not intimidating. People are impatient with hesitant driving (or bad driving), but you know, that's okay. I felt about a dozen times safer driving out of the Frankfurt airport than I do, say, on 696 heading out to Troy at home. I'm actually looking forward to the next Autobahn trip. My rental car is nothing to write home about, but it's tiny, and zippy thereby, so it's fine.

Coming out into the Rhine Valley was a revelatory experience not unlike the first time I saw the Yorkshire Dales. Only, with castles and monuments. Seriously, I came into the valley, and was like, "RHINE!" And it was all wide and pretty! I ended up in some crazy nature-preserve/orchard/cow pasture area, and walked around by the water, enjoying this happy accident, and thought THAT was cool before I drove onward to find this gorgeous, steep rocky hillside (does it qualify as a mountain?)--terraced, with puffs of white smoke billowing up in places, and dotted with a giant statue and a couple of castles. It was so randomly Gothick, and I totally fell in love.

I don't like not knowing the language. It bothers me far more than I'd have imagined, to be so hampered. I didn't think phrasebooks were so bad, but, no, they are. I wish I'd prepared more... but at the same time, I wasn't willing to prepare on a maybe, and that was the rub. And once I decided I was really coming over, I poured my concentration into Romanian, because there are fewer English speakers in Romania.

Hey, look, The IT Crowd in German! (Yes, I've had the TV on all evening while enjoying my connectivity, in hopes that I will absorb some German. I can pick up more than I could, which isn't saying much, and it's not helping me speak it, but oh, well. Es tut mir leid.) The thing I like most about all this dubbed TV is how close the voice actors match the original voices. It's stunningly good at times.

I was accosted by a little old lady in a parking garage today who went on a tirade in German--she was obviously confused about something, and I haltingly tried to tell her I didn't speak German, but I think instead I just asked if she spoke German, which she obviously did. She continued to pelt me with questions and observations while I stood there and stared at her, until my brain kicked into gear. I asked her in German if she spoke English. No! Well, a little, but no! (I understood this, at least, and she said it in German.) I asked her in French if she spoke French. "A little!" --she replied in German. We were both so flustered at this point, that the next conversation was a complete mishmash of English, French and German and I still have no idea what either of us actually said (except at one point she said, "stage 3" which actually helped clarify the whole situation). The gist of it was that she'd parked on level 3, and couldn't find her car. "C'est deux," I said, waving around us. The lightbulb went on over her head. She was on the wrong level! Her car was not missing!

I like seeing Heidi Klum advertising stuff in her native language. I don't know why.

I find it weird how many people who can identify me on sight as an American (or at least an English speaker)--and how many who can't. I would expect it to be all one way, but perhaps it's actually a learned skill to identify in that fashion, and not something that's so super-obvious.

Anyway, turns out the cable for my camera and my Kindle? Is just the cable for my Kindle. So no pics for now.

More later, and we can hope for more coherence at that time, as well!

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