Bios and stuff

I was thinking about updating my website, and thought it would be good to review a couple of sites that I admire.

I started noticing that folks had bios.  For example:

Stephenie Meyer graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in English. She lives with her husband and three young sons in Phoenix, Arizona. After the publication of her first novel, Twilight, booksellers chose Stephenie Meyer as one of the "most promising new authors of 2005" (Publishers Weekly).

Ah, to be a best-selling author...  There's also the biography of the lovely Joy Marchand:

Joy Marchand holds a B.A. in Classical Studies from the University of the Pacific. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts, where she takes photos of odd signage, churchyards and the occasional roadside shrine. Joy's poems and short stories have been featured in Bare Bone, Writers of the Future Volume XX, the Elastic Book of Numbers, Modern Magic, Time for Bedlam, Polyphony 5, Interfictions, Talebones, Apex Digest,Interzone, among others. Joy has also worked as an editor for Shimmer, a small magazine packed with quality short fiction and stunning artwork. She is currently at work on a road novel set on Route 66. 

If I convolve the two, mine would read:

Meg Stout holds a B.S. in Physics from George Mason University and a M.S. in Product Development from Naval Postgraduate School.  She lives with her husband and daughters in Annandale, Virginia.  She is currently at work on a novel about the Saint Margaret of Scotland.

 Alas, my job and formal training don't *go* with writing fiction.  However, I know that the scientific method and cultural analysis I learned informs my writing method.  So perhaps a better bio would be:

Meg Stout graduated from George Mason University and the Naval Postgraduate School with scientific degrees.  As a novelist, she applies the scientific method to true stories, uncovering startling possibilities.  She is currently at work on a novel about the Saint Margaret of Scotland.

So do I mention the novel about Elvira Cowles, plural wife of Joseph Smith?  Hers is the story that compelled me to take up the craft of writing in my dotage, I mean maturity.  Do I mention my husband and daughters?  My home in Annandale, Virginia?  My job at the Washington Navy Yard?  The fact my parent's marriage was "void and prohibited" at the time of my birth in the state where I was born?

Probably not, but time will tell.


Rejoining the Connected

I'm at the Narita, Tokyo airport, sitting in the Red Carpet Club.  This is actually the first time I've ever flown business class, so it's a new experience.  Quiet, comfortable seats, power, internet, munchies, free beverages.  If I actually imbibed anything more alcoholic than orange juice, I could get beer, wine, and hard liquor for free too.

This morning I ate breakfast at a Vie de France in Yokosuka, Japan.  It's amazing how well one can get on without spoken language, just a big smile, nodding and bowing at the appropriate moments.  The food was heavenly, but the memorable thing was the little old lady sitting across from me.

My grandmother was a little old hunched Asian lady before her passing.  And this little old woman sitting across from me picking at her pastry was so like my grandmother that I started to tear up.  I could never talk to my grandmother.  She spoke a dialect of Mandarin that was incomprehensible even to the Taiwanese folks she ended up living amongst after fleeing from Mao Tse-tung's communist regime.  Her only window to the world was through her husband and children, who learned to speak the language.

My dad resented the way he was treated as a foreigner, so he decided to liberate his children from racial discrimination by making sure we were as American as possible.  He refused to teach us Mandarin.  In fact relatively few people now even realize we are 1/2 Chinese (thanks to the genes of our tall, blond, european-stock mother).

So I never, ever, had a conversation with my grandmother that extended beyond smilling and nodding and bowing (and hugging) at the appropriate times.

A few years ago my Taiwanese sister-in-law moved in next door.  I was so excited.  Now I could have my sister-in-law write a letter to my grandmother, and grandmother could read it and write back to me.  I asked my dad for Grandma's mailing address.

"Why?"  he asked.

"So I can write to her."

He looked at me funny.  "But Grandma can't read."

"I know.  J--- will translate my letter into Chinese."

"English, Chinese, it doesn't matter.  Grandma can't read."

It was like my world turned upside down.  Dad must have seen how upset I was, for he leaned in, as though to confess something.

"Meg, Grandpa was a soldier and can read, but he was dogmatic - rigid.  Grandma might not be able to read, but she was the one who was creative, she was the smart one."

Dad tapped his forehead.  "I, you, we take after Grandma."

So I sat there in the Vie de France, crying, thinking about Grandma, who has been dead now for almost 6 years.  Then I got up and bowed and smiled and nodded and went out into the sunlit street.


Prop 8 and Hate Crimes

I don't partake of news if I can help it.

But I came across the factoid that some young Polynesian men allegedly attacked some gay rights activists who were picketing the Mormon temple in Oakland, CA.

Since the Polynesian men were caught on camera ripping posters off the temple gates one would assume they are Mormon.

However, since they were screaming epithets (and allegedly swinging punches off camera), they were not acting Mormon.  Whether Mormon or not.

I think of my first husband.  His drill sergeant found out he was Mormon.  Called him into his office.

"I'm going to break you, boy."

First husband had seen the sergeant working over a fellow Mormon, a rather scrawny young man.  The sergeant had ordered the rest of the platoon perform standing push-ups until the Mormon private agreed to smoke a cigarette.  The private stopped coming to church after that.

The man who would become my first husband stuck his chest out and drew himself to full height.

"Sir, I smoke, I drink, and I whore around.  But I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. You can't break me, sir."

This is hearsay, of course.  After all, I wasn't actually there, nor do I have this incident on tape.  But it goes to illustrate the point that people from your group, whatever that group may be, can act in ways that make you absolutely squirm.

Since the Polynesian men who are alleged to have attacked the gay activists were caught on tape, they will doubtless be brought to justice.  Since they were attacking gay activists rather than random hoodlums, they will be accused of having committed a hate crime.

But in the media, an entire church is being tried in the court of public opinion.

Alas, we read the Sermon on the Mount tonight.  And so I've been reminded of His commandment:

"...behold I say unto you, love [all mankind, including] your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you..."

And so tonight our family's prayer was that the people in LA [and California] will all be safe and treat one another with respect.


I've got Voice Recognition working...

It's not easy. I was so excited when I bought Dragon NaturallySpeaking and the digital voice recorder. I thought I would be able to record while commuting and walking and exercising, then be able to hook up the recorder to the computer and walk away.


Alas, background noise and other factors prevent Dragon NaturallySpeaking from transcribing directly from the digital voice recorder with acceptable accuracy.  So it didn't work that smoothly, but I have found a way to make this work. 

What I have discovered is that I can be playing the voice file on my speakers, and speaking the text into my headset. In a way this gives me an opportunity to revise the raw speech that I may have uttered on the fly, so the speech that gets transcribed by the computer.

It turns out that when I am commuting or walking, I'm able to talk relatively quickly. Going over the recordings from the last couple of days, I had in excess of 10,000 words. It is perhaps taking me twice as long to get the computer to transcribe the information as it would if the digital voice recorder files would get transcribed directly. But 10,000 words across two days is much faster than I would be able to do if I were merely sitting at the computer typing.

The other thing that is absolutely thrilling is to sit at the computer talking at a regular rate and see the text get transcribed as I'm talking. And that is something I would miss if I were merely plugging in the digital voice recording or walking away.

So I've got my method now. And I am happy.


Nanowrimo approaches...

It's that time of year again - New writers will chomp at the bit to start writing at 12:01 am on November 1, 2008, signing up to do the literary equivalent of a marathon by writing a 50,000 word novel in a single calendar month.

As one who "won" Nanowrimo in the past, I'm invoking the Zokutou clause (http://www.zokutou.co.uk/theclause.html):

"If you have already attained the status of Winner, you do not need to start a new novel, as your main aim is now to finish one. You can now consider yourself a winner if, by midnight on the 30th of November, you have either:

1. Written 50,000 words on one or more previous works. 2. Completed your novel's first draft."

I'm in the throes of actively working on my historical fiction novel about Saint Margaret of Scotland, with an outside of Nanowrimo deadline to finish something that will be judged by *other people* on 15 December.

I'm meg.stout at http://www.nanowrimo.org - see you in November!


Technology... is

After a week on the other side of the world, I've now had a long weekend to play with all my new software and techno toys.

The good news is that I can talk at the itty bitty Olympus digital voice recorder, then plug the sucker into my USB port and have Dragon Naturally Speaking (ver 10, Preferred) make sufficient sense of my noises that I can go on to edit it to a clean draft.

On the path to this achievement, I've decided I very much love Ubuntu (which unfortunately can't run Dragon) and I very much dislike Windows XP (which unfortunately is required for Dragon).

Total cash outlay:

Computer equipment - free to me
Ubuntu - free to me
Open Office - $35 for 3 year registration
Internet - already "own"
XP - $76 off eBay
Dragon - $89 off eBay
Digital Voice Recorder - $32 off eBay

So $232 all told (includes shipping) plus a lot of time I probably wouldn't have spent writing anyway.

Ah, the time outlay. Did I mention that I very much dislike Windows XP?

But there it is. I am now without excuses. I even did a lot towards outlining my historical fiction novels - the basic shell is there in both cases with 85% or more of the amazing complications that make my characters very unhappy (and me very happy).

In completely unrelated news, my girlies (10 and 12) both were video-taped for upcoming episodes of Astrocast.TV . Sometime in the future you and your star-loving friends around the globe will be able to see said girlies asking 1) the age of Jupiter and 2) when will the sun subsume the orbit of the earth, along with the answers from GMU's Dr. Harold Geller.


LDS Temple to be Built in Rome Italy

President Monson just announced the location of five new LDS temples:

Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Cordoba, Argentina
Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States


Rome, Italy

So the joyful screaming you may have heard at 1215 EDT today was from Annandale, VA.
[I was an LDS missionary in the Rome, Italy, mission from 1984 to 1985.]



Creativity and technology

First - I love gmail. I know I've mentioned that before, but I really, really do love it. One of the things I love is the ability to create groups, made sweeter by the fact that gmail will proactively suggest the name of contacts and groups that fit what I'm typing.

If I want to e-mail all my family members, I type "chiuf," hit return, and all the addresses I've added to my "chiufam" group show up. If I want to post to my blogs (at blogger and livejournal), "bl" is sufficient. And so forth.

Anyway, creativity. Fortunately, unfortunately, my job gives me lots of opportunities to be creative. Save the world creative. I love it.

Alas, my novels suffer. It's like I have a finite amount of creativity per day. Some days the paying job sucks down the entire allotment.

However, I am committed to writing a new novel this year, as well as writing a new from scratch draft of my 2006 Nanowrimo novel as soon as possible. I just reviewed my notes from the novel-writing workshop I took with Dave Wolverton, and I'm jazzed. Great stuff. Motivational.

[FYI, he's offering two new workshops next April - one for writing outlines and another novel-writing workshop. For more information, the link is at: http://www.runelords.com/journal/?p=68 ]

I'm all fired up to get cracking on my writing again, and I'm hoping that I can bring technology to bear. I have the little ASUS Eee laptop(s), which allow me to type in many odd moments (commuting on the metro, riding planes). A good (but insufficient) first step.

Now I'm going to see if I can increase my production using voice recognition software. Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred is looking really good, which would allow me to either talk at my computer or talk into a digital voice recorder (letting the computer parse it into editable text later). I've got most of one novel composed as a detailed outline, with a paragraph or two for each of the 75-90 scenes that I envision in the work. The hypothesis (to be tested) is that I can get my first draft in the computer by:

* Reviewing the scene description
* Telling the scene out loud to the recorder
* Having Dragon Naturally Speaking convert the audio file to text
* Editing the text
* Reviewing the next scene description, and so forth.

I know there are several best-selling authors who "write" this way. I tried doing the audiotape/transcription (e.g., true cheapskate) way of doing this, and it was sufficiently successful for a first draft. Alas, the transcription part was too labor-intensive for me to continue.

I have a few days before I'll be able to test Dragon Preferred and the recorder, since I'm unwilling to pay the money I'd have to fork over to buy these things new at a brick and mortar store. So I plan to spend the next few days while product is enroute completing the detailed outline for the first book and starting/completing the detailed outline for the second book.


I miss spam...

Once upon a time there was no spam. It was back in the old days when hardly anyone had e-mail.

Over the next several years spam exploded. I think the first spam e-mail I remember was a plea from someone from another country, for my help to access a fortune, for which I would earn a hefty percentage. Then there were the sex and porn-related spam messages. This past year the amount of spam made e-mail maintenance a major chore. It was like trying to weed the Amazon basin.

Then I switched to gmail. All traffic to my multiple mail accounts come in via gmail's spam filters. Where I had been getting dozens, if not hundreds, of e-mails a day, now I was only getting e-mail from people with whom I really wanted to correspond.

I was thrilled.

But now I have the habit of touching my e-mail several times a day (required in the spam days).

Usually nothing new is there.

I realize that spam gave me a mission, it was a dragon that needed slaying on a constant basis.

Now the dragon is dead. Scaly and uncouth as he was, I feel the lack.

There are other dragons I need to slay. But spam was the dragon that crouched at a critical gate to my world, the dragon I could not lock behind a door or cover with a sheet. Spam was a dragon that implied humans outside my own circle, who I could revile freely. My other dragons are either caused by me or people I like to love, so I cannot loathe with utter abandon.

There's no parting phrase that I can use, since they all signal a desire that the departed return or be blessed or go with God.

So here's to spam, gone now. To the dragon I loved to loathe.


I'm in love... with Ubuntu!

I love technology that works, particularly when it is free.

I typed "Ubuntu download" into my browser, and up came the link to download the CD image. Copy that to CD, then install.

It takes some time, but everything works well. In this case, "everything" is a Dell 4550 with a 80 GB hard drive that was being thrown away.

The internet works, documents work, all the ports and drives work - I'm a happy camper.

Now to go and do something with the technology...


I like easy

I do family history. Easy is not a term I usually associate with family history. But this week is different.

As background, let me explain why an organization would go to such pains to make family history/genealogy easy. The LDS Church (aka Mormon Church) has this doctrine that we have until final judgement to choose our eternal fate. Therefore they perform saving ordinances (e.g., baptism) for folks who didn't get around to accepting these ordinances during their mortal lives.

A major problem in recent years has been folks around the world repeating proxy ordinance work. The thing is it takes 17 manhours (between travel, proxies, helpers, etc.) each time ordinance work is done for a single individual. If we pretend that people's time is worth $20/hr, that's $340. So it's just plain wasteful to be repeating work.

The second major problem is Church members not doing their genealogy because it's hard. That's actually a more pressing problem than the waste.

Anyway, the Church has invested in multiple server farms, software algorithms, and complex databases to reduce duplication and make things easy. It's being rolled out at new.familysearch.org in stages, starting with outlying LDS congregations, finishing the LDS "deployment" in Utah, then eventually opening this stuff up to everyone.

New FamilySearch became available to Church members in the DC area this week. One "that was easy" experience happened with a young mother who had asked me to help her. In an hour I'd gotten her registered on the system, and we had her family tree extended out four generations, including confirming the dates she had already on hand with references now available on the internet.

The other "that was easy" experience was on Tuesday, when I went to the temple. I took the ordinance sheet I had printed at home (like how you can print an airplane boarding pass at home). The nice little lady at the counter simply put the paper under the scanner, and the printer immediately spit out the slips we use in the temple to track what ordinance work has been completed. It was the first time this lady had used the system, and she laughed out loud, it was so easy.

Easy is good.


Later High School Start Times

Do letters to newspaper columns count as literature? I don't know, but here's one I'm sending to the Washington Post.

At issue is the question of whether Fairfax County, one of the largest school districts in the United States and serving one of the richest per capita constituencies, will shift high school start times to almost 9 am.

Recently one of the 15% of parents who prefer the current schedule over the proposed later schedule wrote up her view that "Early Bedtimes Work, Too, for Sleep-Deprived Teens." She cited studies claiming later high school start times lead to no statistically significant improvement in academic performance, bright computer screens that make it harder for students to fall asleep (a non sequitur in my opinion), and that a schedule change alone will not solve the problem of tired teenagers ("High school students need 2.25 more hours of sleep than they get now. The new schedule would make up about half that deficit.")

She sees the glass only getting filled halfway and declines to consider that a benefit. I disagreed. We'll see if my view gets published in the Post.


I'm glad you published Patricia Velkoff's letter about the other side of later start times. But I notice she didn't mention any of the studies that show a substantial and tangible benefit to starting later.

I myself analyzed data on the impact of later start times on incidence of teenage car accidents. In the fall of 1998, Fayette County, Kentucky, changed the high school start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. In the year following this change, students averaged up to 50 minutes more sleep per weekday night. The additional sleep appears to correlate to fewer auto crashes involving teenagers, a >20% reduction if one controls for the trend seen in surrounding school districts that did not change high school start times. [Original research presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies' Annual Meeting in June 2002].

But I don't care about later start times because of a 20% reduction in teenage car accidents. I care about later start times because of the potential to help individual at-risk teenagers.

My daughter was an extreme example of the teenager who is helped by later start times. She always tested at the 99.9% level on standardized tests. Yet she was failing in her high school. We comforted ourselves that she could always take an extra year to graduate or, failing that, obtain a GED.

Happily, we were able to shift her to a school that started at 9 am. Her grades turned around, and she got a perfect score on the English SOL. This wasn't some elite school. It was Fairfax County's own Landmark Career Academy. After graduation, my daughter was able to qualify for a scholarship of more than $12,000 per year directly because of her improved grades (and her SAT scores).

I have two younger children who have yet to enter high school. Their teenage years will no doubt be tempestuous no matter what time high school starts. But I would be happier if they can be made 20% less tempestuous...

M. Stout Annandale, VA


I Love Lexi's Lounge (crossposting my blogs)

I finally discovered how to crosspost to my livejournal account and my blogger account!!!

Check out:

Lexi's Lounge: Publishing your blogs to Blogger and Livejournal

Life is sweet..

Of Pain and Beauty

Kosmo wrote a post on his blog, Genes and Demons, describing "a pain so bad your skin gets cold—sweat rising in a clammy sheen... Pain apocalyptic. Pain so many and so much that it is a color seen, red-black, at the edge of your vision. Pain like an organic mass inside you, a dead rabbit festering in your gut..."

It's a beautiful post, and turns out (horrifying though it is) the post was an actual journal entry.

I read the post, and it reminded me viscerally of the pain I'd first experienced two weeks after giving birth via VBAC, on a day when I had unwisely returned to work for a few hours to participate in a VTC.

I lay writhing on the floor that day, scaring my husband to death. I don't remember how long the pain lasted that first day - long enough for folks to get scared, call the ambulance, load me into the ambulance, take me to the emergency room, and get me installed in one of the ER rooms, covered with warmed blankets.

It was only then, lying in the ER room, that the pain began to ease. The doctor (a female, for what it's worth) came in and glanced at me from the doorway after checking her clipboard.

"Female. Fat. Fertile. Forty. The four Fs. It's your gallbladder."

There is a phenomenon that occurs in women after pregnancy. They tend to forget the pain their body has experienced. They remember that there was pain, but it becomes an academic recollection. My gall bladder experience fell within that blessed window of forgetfulness. I remember thinking at the time that this pain ("a dead rabbit festering in your gut") was worse than the transition contractions I had experienced only two weeks previously on an instant by instant basis. In addition, the dead rabbit pain lasted long minutes stretching into hours, where contractions only lasted a matter of seconds (90 max). Was my dead rabbit pain ever the four hour ordeal Kosmo describes? I can no longer remember.

Anyway, go read Kosmo's journal entry - it's stunning.

Holidays and a Memory of Joe Biden

You may remember that there was a shift in congressional power during the spring of 2001. Thanks to google, I was able to find the following succinct explanation online:

"According to numerous press reports, Vermont Senator James Jeffords plans to leave the Republican Party on May 24[, 2001]. His switch to independent status would give the Democrats a 50-49 majority in the Senate, shifting control from the Republicans to the Democrats. This would be the first time the Democratic Party has controlled a house of Congress since 1994."

I was taking a marketing class at the Naval Postgraduate School at that time, and my group was pretending that we were trying to identify new markets for the AN/AQS-20 Mine-Hunting Sonar. As part of that exercise, we were identifying which senators and congresspeople to court. So we were paying close attention when the Jeffords party switch altered the congressional calculus. Joe Biden became head of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on that day. He immediately had a new website up - a glossy polished thing back when polished websites didn't come easily. I just remember being amazed that he was so prepared.

I don't know why I'm thinking about that May 2001 website tonight. Maybe because all this political stuff reminds me of the Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat (SWOT) analysis technique that I learned during that marketing class. Every strength, I observed, is the other side of something that was also a weakness; every opportunity involved a threat and threat involved opportunity. With the four individuals we currently have before us seeking the White House, there's a lot of Strength and Opportunity. They are all excellent individuals who would lead us firmly in particular directions.

[The cynical side of me wonders how much power the US President actually has, anyway, hemmed in as he/she is by the checks and balances the founding fathers put in place. Amongst all of us given the opportunity to cooperate (or not), I suppose the President and his/her running mate have a larger portion of governmental influence than any other single individual is granted by charter. If I consider us all as ants moving the country along, the President would be a particularly big ant.]

So this public servant is thinking about how politics overturned the congressional world back in May 2001. I'm glad that my job is insulated from the changes in the executive office. I don't have to prepare two sets of websites or viewgraphs or life plans to poise myself for the aftermath of the new President's inauguration in January 2009.

In fact, not only will I not have to be poised to jump based on the outcome of this election, I remembered that, as a public servant living near DC, I usually get an extra holiday when the new president gets inaugurated. Since January 20 (the traditional inauguration date since 1937) falls on a Tuesday in 2009, I really do get an extra holiday.

Now to turn off my TV and radio to concentrate on writing my fiction, where people's decisions about their leader had life-altering repercussions, tearing my protagonist's family apart. As I contemplate the mild political isometrics involved in our quadrennial examination of our national leadership, I remain grateful that my family will hardly notice the 2009 change in leadership in any substantial way.


Palin - Cool Speech

Before too many pundits have a chance to twist my head around, I just want to say I thought Sarah Palin delivered a very nice speech tonight. She didn't pull jabs, but they didn't seem mean (perhaps since I wasn't the target). I look forward to the spectacle that will unfold as we watch the four individuals running for President/Vice President over the next several months.


Points of View and Historical Fiction

How many points of view does one need in a novel?

I love the fiction of Lois McMaster Bujold. With few exceptions, she only presents one viewpoint character per novel. In her recent books dealing with couples she presents the POVs of both the man and woman, and in "A Civil Campaign" she stretched to include five different points of view. But all of Bujold's work with which I am familiar is speculative fiction (e.g., science fiction, fantasy).

So we come back to my current works in progress. Now that I've written my first draft of "Daughter of Heaven," I know the world and history of my main character, Elvira Cowles. She was one of Joseph Smith's wives. I have spent the past year researching the world and history of her husband, Jonathan Holmes. But I initially shied away from actually using Jonathan as a POV character because I didn't trust myself to achieve tension/suspense when looking into the minds of people who end up as husband and wife.

Then I thought about adding John Bennett as a POV character. This past week I finished reading "The Saintly Scoundrel," a recent biography of Bennett. Given the detailed model I have developed of the workings of 1840s Nauvoo (and the eternal marriage saga generally starting in 1832), I was fascinated. Prior to reading the biography, I wanted to have Bennett react with sorrow to news of Joseph Smith's death. I am pleased that the facts of Bennett's life make that plausible, perhaps even probable. And now that I know more about Bennett, certain other factoids really start to pop. Excellent.

Now to see if I can actually fit these three POVs into a workable novel-length treatment....


Meg's book - the wanderer returns

I didn't realize it had been over seven months since my last note (31 August) where I said I was off to finish my book.
A lot has happened since then.  Perhaps the biggest was my decision to go to a novel-writing workshop taught by Dave Wolverton, (aka Dave Farland) a NYT Best-Selling author of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Wolverton's approach is to produce art that is going to yield the highest return on investment, with the idea that if your first novel is a best-seller, your art will reach a wider audience.
So even though I have a prospective agent for Elvira's story, I'm putting that aside for now to write the story of Margaret of Scotland (working title "Pearl of Alba").
For those of you interested in writing, I highly recommend the Wolverton workshop.  First, it is something you can just do - the only "audition" is having enough faith in yourself to pay the tuition ($400 for a week workshop), travel to St. George, and put your novel (5-page synopsis and the first 25 pages of the novel in manuscript format) in for critique.  Wolverton's perspective is that it is much more about determination and professionalism than raw "writing talent."  He's taught dozens of authors who are now established novelists (besides being a best-selling novelist himself), so he's got a proven record of mentoring success.  It was a particularly informative and supportive experience.
Wolverton (author of 50+ novels, many best sellers) told us about the year he won the "Writers of the Future" Grand Prize.  That same year a convention held a "Writer with No Future" contest.  The winner was one Kevin Anderson, a man who had accumulated more rejections by weight than any other contestant (some 750 rejection slips).  The prize was a toilet seat, with "Writer with No Future" painted around the rim. Kevin mounted that toilet seat on his wall and kept writing.  Anderson is now the author of over ninety published novels, 43 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists, with 20 million books in print in thirty languages.
So if any of you are facing your own "toilet seat" of discouragement, take courage.  As for me, it's back to writing.


Freecycle and 1-800-JUNK-USA

Spring has arrived, and it's time to start cleaning.

eBay is always an option for stuff we feel could fetch enough $$ to make it worth the hassle of posting (and monitoring e-mails and shipping...).  And we've always had the local charities (e.g., Salvation Army).

But what's a body adverse to excessive waste to do when unloved items aren't worth the eBay hassle?  Enter Freecycle.  You post a note, such as "OFFER: Computer monitor."  Within a few hours e-mails come in from interested parties.  Voila, the excess computer monitor is slated for a new home.  [I've heard Craig's List can function in this manner as well, but the one item I've posted there never moved...]

And for those items we can't even give away, there are now several options for getting rid of things.  I recently checked out "College Hunks Hauling Junk" (www.1800junkusa.com).  They come, haul away what you tell them to, and dispose of the 'junk' in the appropriate manner.  Up to 60% of the stuff they haul away gets recycled.  That's cool.  If your junk fills their 11' x 8' x 5' dumpster, you could pay upwards of $600.  But they provide a free estimate, and the charge could be as low as $110 (up to 1/8 the dumpster - that's as much as 50 cubic feet of junk removed from your home).  I know from past experience that even if I had a truck and the time and muscle to do it myself, I'd still have to fork over a fair amount if I take it to the county dump myself.

Now to figure out how to entice the rest of the family to go along with my scheme to rid the house of the detritus that reduces our functional living area by 30%...


I heart iGoogle and Todoist

It is the year of "i" -


And now we have iGoogle.  I'm in love.

The best thing for me about iGoogle is that I can have widgets for all the web functions that I previously accessed by

1) going to Google.com
2) searching for what I wanted (e.g., dictionary)
3) selecting the link I wanted from the list of search results
4) using the function.

With iGoogle, everything I use frequently is there on my start page.  Instead of the cumbersome multi-step process, I can get what I want in one click.  I can move things around to suit my fancy.  I can minimize things I use infrequently so they don't "clutter" my world.

Since I work at a place that blocks certain sites (like gmail...), I am absolutely thrilled that there is a gmail widget that lets me preview my gmail subject lines.  This way I can glance at my screen, notice any messages that are time critical, and take action when appropriate.

So in all this beauty, I decided I wanted to upgrade from the limited "sticky note" widget to a more formal "to do" list.  I didn't hold out a lot of hope, because to do lists don't work for me.  I have too many balls in the air and nothing had worked for my "style."  I searched for "to do" in the widget finder, and selected several likely candidates, one of which was called todoist.

Upon reviewing the list candidates on my home page, todoist was a clear standout - I find it fundamentally aesthetically pleasing.  With a couple of clicks I was watching the explanatory webcast.  The structure is elegant and adaptable to a wide range of needs.  I can do recurring tasks (type something like "ev weekday" in the "due by" field), I can create flat task lists or hierarchical task lists.  I can create "chains" (append !chain to a task) to see if I've been consistent on those quotidian tasks.  I can create a task for filing taxes (ev 15 apr) or scheduling my annual physical (ev 8 Feb) , knowing it will show up quietly and persistently when it needs to happen.

I can assign priorities (1-4) to tasks to affect how they present/sort on my screen (important for the widget with it's reduced display area).  I can move tasks from one category to another.  I can capture notes (prepending "* " in front of the note text to differentiate it from a task).

I went through the notebook I've used for notes and taken all the starred items (my manual symbol that it's an action item) and transferred all that to todoist.  I had a recent shift in job responsibilities, and the todoist list for the area I'm relinquishing made turnover painless (for me - the younger man assuming my former duties is still shell shocked...).

I'm a day into it and todoist is tracking 48 action items for me - and that doesn't count the dozen or more that I've retired during that time because todoist helped me focus.

Here are what other (more coherent) people say about todoist: http://todoist.com/Help/viewBuzz

The free version is fantastic.  And for just $3 per month you can upgrade to take advantage of additional features that the serious net-savvy, mobile "to do" lister could use to make this sweet little tool even more useful in cutting through life's clutter.


Where the heart is

All too often of late I have either been at work or I've been on the computer.

Fortunately, I have a family.  Unfortunately, they all too often feel as though I'm absent, even when I'm sitting within feet of them.

Today was family day.  We cleaned together, we ate salmon and potato chip sandwiches, we played a game my youngest designed and produced.  Then this evening we celebrated a child's birthday a day early by going to see a movie and eating at Chuck E. Cheese's.

It takes a while to get rid of 100 tokens, but we did it.  We actually had a really great time.

I'm blessed to have a wonderful and sweet husband.  I've had the other kind.  Not recommended.  Our girls are at a golden age right now, and we've managed to develop a family culture that is very gentle and loving.  I'm a very lucky person.

Ten Year Journal

A few weeks ago I came across a ten+ year journal - a lovely book that allows one to keep over ten years of brief journal entries all together.  I ordered one for my family and it's fabulous.

But I ordered a second (third and fourth) that started in 2007.  One I gave to a woman who has a small child, so she could (if she wants to) go back and record her earliest memories of him.  The second I gave to my daughter, who last year started dating the man she will marry this summer.  The third book I've kept, for me to write about my writing.

From a purely practical standpoint, it is a central place to keep all the notes for when I buy writing-related stuff.  But I look forward to seeing what happens over the years as I continue on this journey.

As for last night's writer's block - I climbed the wall.  I don't know how good it is, but I have an appointment to sit down with Orson Scott Card for an hour on Monday.  I've done this once before (with the opening chapter) and came away exhilarated but severely humbled.  This time I'm bringing a 900 word synopsis as well as the prologue.


Writer's Block... or Not?

There is a problem being an LDS writer. There is a concept in LDS theology that the Spirit will help you discern that a thing is wrong by giving you a stupor of thought.

So if I can't write, is it because I shouldn't write the thing I was thinking of writing? Gah!!!!

I've thought of dozens of ways to write the prologue of my historical fiction novel about Nauvoo polygamy, but I just can't... get... any... of... them... on... paper...

Crumple, crumple, toss.

Tonight I go back to the wall. I will write. It may be complete garbage, but I will write.