Thursday, July 14, 2011

I'm Ready for Readers!

At the start of August, I'll be printing off copies to hand out to my readers. If you're interested in making The Jinn Bride a better-than-ever novel, let me know. I will have two copies available for blogging friends who are serious about writing and reading.

In other news, I've since moved to a new apartment, taken up running, and am currently visiting my family in Denver (hence the reason I've been able to finish up my revisions and another reason why I have not blogged in AGES).

Love you all,

Amber

Monday, May 2, 2011

The End of Naps, and Other Things

My son is awake and about to tip over a small vase, so this will be short:

We've cut out naps. It's not that my son doesn't nap anymore, but that when he does, he won't go to sleep at night. So now he's awake.

It's new, and interesting. What do I do now that I can't get work done during "nap time?" Or can I? Today we hit the grocery store. Long time coming, too. And now we're going to sit together and chill on the couch with a LeapFrog video. And then we might go outside and blow bubbles, if the rain lets up. Or we'll do laundry together. Or we'll sort out the attic.

That's something we really need to do because we're moving YET AGAIN. For those of you who know me personally, you'll remember that we moved across the country in 2007. Across town in 2008. And then to New York State in 2009. We got a break last year, thank goodness. This year we must purge, pack up, and move our stuff from one house to another. AGAIN. We're staying in the same town. Same neighborhood, even, but renting a whole house has become too expensive, so we're getting a flat. It'll be exciting. Like in Coraline. Remember how she shared a house and the guy upstairs had that rat circus? And in the basement were those ladies who were stuck in their theatrical pasts? Maybe we'll have incredibly interesting housemates who will change our lives forever. (You should say that in your best Eddie Izzard voice.)

[Note: LeapFrog's Math on the Moon is cheesy, but my son isn't moving and wide-eyed. Either it's fantastic or his brain is getting fried. What if there was some sort of subliminal message in the video aimed at getting kids to disobey their parents? Don't Eat Your Veggies. Or Poop in Your Pants.]

There is water spread all over the coffee table from that vase and I don't even feel like cleaning it up. I'm going to lie down on the couch and pretend I'm at some tropical resort and have just finished my massage and Henry is playing happily with his sister and daddy in the tide.........



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tess!

Look! I'm over here today: Tess.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter: It's always new


Easter = Spring, in many minds. And here in Syracuse, it's overdue. But it's here now! All is forgiven!


For the first time ever, Henry decorated Easter Eggs. Elizabeth had done it last year and instructed him how. Jim and I had to hover over him like hens because at any second he could knock over a jar of egg dye, or worse, try to drink the brightly colored "juice." He tried, but it didn't happen. And we got some fabulous eggs.



Then, yesterday, Jim and the kids continued their work on the Space Rocket. I was at oratorio practice and came home to find this in the middle of the living room (without the kids). I think they plan to decorate it and include more rooms.



It's more space station than rocket, but try telling a four-year old that.



And now, off to visit a farm. In the rain. Because my son is dying to go see baby chicks and bunnies.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Three New Things

I'm supposed to be writing, so I'll make this as brief as I can....And I apologize for the absence of pictures.

Saturday's new thing: Wrote in my neighbor's cozy little office while she watched my kids downstairs. Also, came up with a new opening scene that introduces three antagonists (three!) much earlier in the story line.

Sunday's new thing: The family and I (and some friends) checked out the dollar theater. We saw Knomeo & Juliet, which was better than expected. Plus, it was cheap.

Today's new thing: Reading the Newspaper.

Yes. It's sad, but true. Reading the NY Times is something I've never really done. I mean, I've looked at newspapers, but read them? When I was in college and at Intelligence school, the professors and instructors always mentioned (i.e., nagged) us about reading the paper. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. It took time. It was depressing and boring, all at once. I'd rather be reading something real, like novels. But today, to keep myself from playing Backgammon on my cell phone while drinking coffee, I read a bit of the NY Times.

If I keep this up, I'll have to actually get a *gasp* subscription to the Times!

Friday, April 15, 2011

New Vessels

For some ungodly reason, I felted today instead of worked on novel revisions.

I made these little guys:




And then some eggs:


And then this:

The pictures aren't that wonderful, but it's the best I could do at night with my phone camera. They were fun to make, and I found out I really enjoy making holes in vessels. I made another egg and another, smaller vessel, but I made the mistake of making them lilac. So they've been "acquired" by Elizabeth. Oh, and these were made with the wool I dyed the other day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New, Day Two

When you're out of ideas on what to do that's new, change up the bedtime routine, I always say.*

Or in this case, let the kids take lanterns to bed. With toys.

Remember when you were a kid and you'd pull out your flashlight after your parents put you to bed? You'd tip-toe to that spot your mom put the book you're reading, snitch it, and crawl back in bed. Sometimes you'd pull the sheet over your head and prop the flashlight on your shoulder so it'd be more comfortable to read until you fell asleep. Or finished the book. Or in my case, until my mom came back ten minutes later to take the book away again.


So tonight I let the kids take lanterns to bed with them. The kids needed a distraction because one was screaming on the top of her lungs for marshmallows (can't have that at bedtime, now can we?) and the other was playing cutely with his little ambulance and robot and wasn't in the least bit sleepy yet. So I did what all parents do: I came up with a diversion. Lanterns!

They fill up the bed with golden light orbs, little stages on which to play with your toys (or in my daughter's case, draw). It's bedtime magic. And we didn't even have to argue about how many books we were reading tonight. One was enough once I mentioned lanterns.

My daughter turned hers off within minutes and fell asleep. (That marshmallow tantrum really wore her out.) My son, on the other hand, played until 9:30. It was worth it, hearing his happy robot-EMT noises, even knowing that tomorrow he'll clamor for another night of lantern light.

* I don't always say that. But that made the phrase sound better.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Something New

Spring has gotten into me. I want newness.
I want freshness. I don't want soggy brown leaves or crusty, dry soil.
I want to feel, be, taste alive.

From now on, I will do or try something new every day. Little things, mostly, like getting out of the other side of the bed. (Which I refused to do today, when prompted by my 4 y.o.) Or rearranging the books into a new order (for us, any sense of 'order' would be new).

Today, in preparation for becoming a felting teacher and selling kits on Etsy, I tried dyeing wool roving for the first time. (New Thing #1)

I started off with the purest, softest, still-smells-like-sheep merino.

Then I dyed 3 oz lilac and 1 oz 'golden straw.' (I use Dharma Acid Dyes.)


Here's the golden straw, just after its dye bath. It's dripping wet in the sink.


Hanging up to dry, the lilac roving. It's dripping a bit, too, and you can see where the colors saturated more heavily in some areas than in others. I prefer that, although some people want a uniform color throughout.

Dyeing wool roving is very, very different from dyeing silk. It's more delicate. I don't want the wool to felt during the dyeing process. It forces me to be present, another new thing for me. I cannot rush off, or skip steps, or let it sit and boil. I have to stand there and gently fold the wool over so that it takes the dye evenly (if that's what I want). I have to wait, patiently, for nature to take its course.

This is very hard for someone like me, who always likes to force things a bit, to suit her own timeline.

And now, I am going to work on subplots...not new, but maybe the end result will be.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Donating help to Japan

Today, I went swimming and my imagination scared the wits out of me. I thought of the people run over by the tsunami (fittingly, we use the Japanese word here), and what it would have been like to be sucked into the water. That was scary enough, but then when I got out of the water, I thought of the families who are still alive, but have been without electricity, clean water, or anything else for four days now, in freezing temperatures. Not only are they devastated and in shock, but they are starving and dehydrated beyond what I want to imagine.

I took a warm shower, dried my hair, and went back to my child who was safe and happily playing with his friend. Fortunate to be in New York, even where there is snow still on the ground in March.

As some of you know, I grew up (partially) in Japan and have a strong connection with the people on the islands. None of my friends have been hurt, but one of my friends there now (Emi Yamada) works for the UN and used to work for an NGO called JEN, which provides aid in Japan and elsewhere. She said that her old HQ at JEN is scrambling around trying to find bottles of water, sanitary napkins, diapers, etc. to hand out to people but are having an awfully hard time finding anything available. Personally, I feel helpless. I want to help, but I don't have much to offer and don't have the funds to go over there and help in person. So I'm doing what I can by emailing you and hoping that at least one of you will be able to donate to JEN or the Red Cross or someone else who is helping out.

Here is a link to the donation site for JEN.

I know that here in Syracuse many people are sympathetic but still say, "Well, it's Japan. They can take care of themselves just fine. Look at how they bounced back after WWII and Kobe." It's true. They did bounce back. But they didn't do it alone. No island, no group of people, no matter their history or their religion, should have to overcome an earthquake, a tsunami, a volcanic eruption, and a pending nuclear meltdown by themselves. Japan is suffering.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan

All I can say today is that my heart is torn apart for Japan. My thoughts are there, my heart is there, and I wish to God I could be there to help. (Not that I'd be much help. But still.) Thank goodness my personal friends are safe.

Here's a good link to see the before/after of the Tsunami: HERE

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finished.


I've waited a week to write this post, just to see how my emotions would look like at this point. And they're the same, for the most part.

You see, I finished my book.

And it's a little depressing. Or disappointing. And such a wonderful relief. At any rate, when you write The End, you expect some sort of fanfare from the Angels or whoever has been watching over your shoulder. But instead, you quietly smile around the cafe you've been writing in and see that all is as it has been. The man with the stack of textbooks about Ancient Rome is still typing away at his dissertation. The scruffy man with headphones the size of dessert plates is still tapping away at his computer, and the gaggle of college undergrads, with their Clique-esque straight blonde hair, skinny jeans, and designer boots are still sipping at their lattes and talking about whatever those kinds of girls talk about. (I wouldn't know.)

No fanfare. No trumpets. Not even a kazoo. Instead, you close your laptop and smile a bit wider, to yourself. Because, really, does it matter to anyone more than it does to yourself? That book you've just finished----in all honesty, you wrote it for yourself. Not for your future fans. Not for your family. Not even for that English teacher who raised an eyebrow when you said you'd write novels one day. You wrote it Just. For. Yourself.

And so you should be the one pulling out the French Horn right in the Barnes & Noble cafe. (If you were brave and knew how to play such an instrument, which I do not.) Or you can pack up and wander the YA Fantasy shelves, spotting books written by friends/acquaintances/people you follow on twitter. And find your spot, just where this book that you've finished will fit.

Then you take a month off and do something completely different. I, for instance, got invited to participate in an art show at the local art museum. Can you believe it? Just when I finish my book and must take a month off, I am invited to sell my scarves among real artists and their wares. And I conveniently have time to make the scarves!

Also, I've been making myself a lot of chai, to deal with the chill in the house.

(Hmmm...My son isn't napping and is currently crying about something....*goes back upstairs* Well. He wanted his space rocket in his crib AND wanted to go ride on an airplane. A real one. Those aren't great for naps, and so he's crying again. Hopefully, he'll go to sleep. I've got scarves to make...)

So, back to finishing books... the world hasn't changed. It's the same as it was when the book was yet unfinished. And yet, inside myself, something's changed. Something's warmer, and more certain of itself.

There's lots more work to be done on this book, including a complete revision and some critiques to get from newer readers. Then another revision, and if I think it's as good as I can get it, I'll send it to my agent. And then....and then....the Future.

For now, I'll continue to daydream that I get whisked away by Dr. Who while I make stuff and play with my kids. And maybe try to clean the house a bit. And wish for Spring because I am really, really getting tired of having to swipe the snow off the car nearly every morning while trying to get the kids in, before 9 a.m., when all they want is to run off from me and get into the really deep snow in the middle of the yard. Or eat the gray icicles off the car (blech!).

So here's my late-Winter/Spring-better-come-soon plan:
March----make many, beautiful nuno-felted scarves that people will be desperate to buy at the Everson Museum of Art Greenhouse Art Show (there's a real name, but I've forgotten at the moment). And somehow manage this while the kids are home during their school break and hubby is in L.A. for a week-long conference, the lucky man.
April----REVISE the jinn book, which is in need of a title. (Incidentally, what do you think of The Jinn Bride???)
May----Give copies to readers, get critiques back, REVISE AGAIN. Make the book as perfect as can be. Then give to Super (and Very Patient) Agent.
June----Try not to fall completely apart. And start planning for new book (which I am so so so giddy about, you have no idea).

And finally, here's a little video of the best parts in life:

video

Friday, February 18, 2011

Endings

What's the most important part of a book? It might be the beginning--that needs to be exciting, mysterious, and pull the reader in. Or it could be the long middle part--that's the meat, where the reader falls in love with the characters and lives their lives right beside them.

But I think it's the ending. Because, really, when you finish a book and walk away from it, what do you carry around in your head? The beginning? Sure, it was nice. Like an appetizer. But it doesn't stick. And although the middle is (hopefully) the satisfying, fulfilling part, it's the end that needs to be genius. It's the end that wraps it all up, bends the mind, and makes characters immortal.

And I'm right there, right now, in my novel. It's horrifying. I'm seriously hours away from wrapping it all up, and I've detailed out what happens at "the end," but I'm not sure. Is it the right ending? Would another Amber, in an alternate dimension, come up with a more perfect ending?

Last night I was going to finish my book, but it didn't feel right. So I gave myself half an hour to list out ten possible endings. Which turned out to be fifteen different endings. Even one listed as: Everyone dies and the bad guy wins. (How Post-Modern of me.)

And I am still not sure. But then...it needs to get written. And it's not like it's going to print tomorrow. Things can change, endings can be edited, and that "perfect resonance" I want can be worked out in the next pass.

So what does one terrified writer do?

She blogs. ;-) And then she sips at her coffee and goes back to work. (And maybe splurges on some chocolate.)

I've got 2 hours before I have to pick my son up from preschool. Let's go.......................

Friday, February 4, 2011

Memories of Japanese School


* My friend Andrea Eames recently posted a memory on her blog, which got me started...

A memory from Japanese school:



(not a picture of my school; this is similar to what it looked like, though)


It’s my first day of fourth grade, in Japanese School. Mom is going to walk with me and the other girls, who I don’t know yet. Our neighbor, Yoko, is coming also, since she’s the only one we know who speaks both English and Japanese.

The walk is long.It goes across a busy street, through a neighborhood and up a steep hill. We pass bright green sakura trees on the way and I wonder what they will look like in Spring. The other girls chatter to themselves. I’m sure they’re talking and giggling about me.

I’m wearing my most Japanese-looking outfit. It’s a brown tiered skirt and a white blouse with lace collar. Very cutesy. My sister had worn a pair of khaki shorts and a florescent-pink shirt to her school, the American one, but I’m pleased I planned ahead. The other girls are wearing skirts, too. I even have my socks pulled up almost to my knees and have on Mary Janes. But it’s not quite right. My socks aren’t long enough to really reach my knees and my shoes are clunky next to theirs. Mine are generic. American.

Yoko and mom talk as we walk. My mother asks her more questions. She thinks I will regret choosing to do this, but she doesn’t say so out loud. I know from her questions and how much more she is talking that she’s worried.

The power lines reach up and up, and they buzz. They’re as loud as the girls. Emi, one of the girls, laughs and says something and then they all giggle. I glance at them, but they aren’t looking at me. Mom and Yoko are ahead, the girls are behind me, and I’m in the middle, alone. I look up and watch as a bird lands on the power line. It flies off when we get closer.

Other children have joined our walk and now we are a parade of kids with backpacks. The first-graders have red or black patent-leather packs and yellow hats. Yoko says it’s because others will know they are young and will take care of them. I want a red patent-leather backpack, but I have my nylon Eastpak one. It’s plain, and American. Emi doesn’t have a backpack. She has a messenger bag slung over one shoulder. Her skirt even has a lacy trim. And so do her socks.

The school is a four-story cement block building with windows streaming across it. Most are open already. It’s September, and the school doesn’t have air conditioning. The air is starting to warm up, but I ignore it. My blood is already hot today.

We go through the gates and my heart thumps in my chest. I’m really doing it. I chose to come here. I am just like Indiana Jones. I will learn this language and some day, I will speak them all.

We part from the girls and go into the shoe changing area, which smells like feet and leather. We are told to take off our shoes and put on slippers. I brought my new school ones; they’re white canvas with red racing stripes on the side. The girls wear red and the boys wear green. Mine are big, bigger than the others ones I see on the shelves. Even bigger than the boys’.

The school principal bows to my mother. She bows and says her one Japanese word,

“Konichiwa.”

I’m embarrassed that my mother doesn’t know the language already. I know how to say more than that. I can say the names of the months, count to twelve (which is the same thing, really), and say hello, good evening, and good morning. That’s more than my mom.

They tell us via a combination of Yoko and an electronic translator-calculator that the children are all assembling in the gymnasium for a welcome-back orientation. Watanabe-Sensei will be my Sensei, they also say. He is a man with poofy black hair and a scowl. Then they take us out of the main school building, across the dirt-and-gravel play yard, to the gymnasium. It is filled. Every inch of the floor is covered by children, all sitting or kneeling in neat rows in order of grade and then class and then height. Someone shouts and every pair of eyes turns to look at me.

I see the girls I walked with sitting with their fourth-grade classes. They are looking at me with the same expression as everyone else. There is no sense of recognition.

One boy, probably a fourth- or fifth-grader, calls out,

“Harro!” and half a dozen other boys laugh. I smile at him, but he wasn’t really trying to speak to me. He is grinning at himself.

The principal goes to a microphone on the stage, on the other side of the gymnasium, and says something in Japanese. He speaks for what feels like forever while mom and I stand in the back corner with Yoko and the assistant principal. I try to stand still, but I can’t. I shift from foot to foot, wishing I could go and sit with my class. At least then I would be in the middle of them.

No one is looking at the principal now. They’ve all turned to look at me, and the principal had his hand out to me and bows. The whole school, all four hundred children, bow at me and say konichiwa in one loud, wobbly voice.

I bow back at them. My face is hot and I want to run away. Maybe I should have gone to the American school instead. I would have been in fifth grade. I would have been in the TAG group.

But I am here in this high-ceilinged gymnasium and everyone is looking at me.

Yoko says the principal would like me to speak to the school. I tell my mother I can’t, but she says of course I will. She walks with me to the front, up the stairs, and someone beckons for me to go to the microphone.

“What do I say?” I whisper to Yoko. She says I should introduce myself. “I don’t know how in Japanese.”

“Just say it in English. The will like to hear it,” she whispers back.

I nod and turn to the children. They are completely silent. I go to the microphone and hold on as if it might fall over. And then I say, in English, who I am. And that I’m glad to be there. Although it’s a lie. I want to be anywhere else right now.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Blizzard? Yes, please.

Does the view from your window look like this?

Or this?


Or this??


Isn't it gorgeous? It's like the Snow Queen grabbed onto my roof and melted down the sides.

Speaking of which, the "Blizzard of 2011" hasn't hit here yet, but it's nice to know it's coming. Ahem. It's nice to know before it gets here, so one can prepare. But honestly, I'm excited. I LOVE the snow. Granted, I'm getting a wee bit tired of Winter, but it'll end eventually. It's not like it's some snowpocalypse (as my friend @Mike_Jung just joked about on twitter) and won't ever go away.

In Syracuse, we've had over 118" of snow so far. It's a bit much. And we're expected to get another 8-12'' tomorrow. Hopefully all at once, so I can see what a "white out" is like. As long as I and my family are comfortably inside drinking hot chocolate. (Dang. We're out of it, actually.)


Monday, January 31, 2011

End of January

And it is, really. This is the fortune cookie message E got in her cookie on New Year's Eve. We have this tradition of going to Chinese restaurants for New Year's Eve. It's funny...since they have their own New Year's, later in the calendar year. Plus you get fortunes. And E's is true: it really is enjoyable to talk with her. She's bright, curious, and creative.

My other one, The H, is also fun to talk with. Here we are at our favorite store:

A view from our porch. Winter has set in for the long haul.



A few weekends ago, I went to Massachusetts for a felting class. (It was awesome.) On the way back, I ventured to the middle of the earth all by myself (and with a group of strangers) for some book research. Since nearly half of my book takes place below-ground, I couldn’t rely on my decade-old experience at Carlsbad caverns. I needed to be inside a cave and turn on my character screen, in which I try to see everything as a character in my book would see it.


It was amazing! Howe’s Caverns has an underground stream (they call it The River Styx...ha ha ha). One of the rocks has created a natural dam, building up an underground lake, and the owners of the cave let you ride on a mystical boat* and cross the river! How awesome is that?!


I was taking a picture with my cell phone, musing about how awful it would be if I dropped it in the water, when a bunny fell into the water. It flowed downstream until it got caught in some foam**. The guide climbed down and saved the bunny (and the parents). I had to take a picture because, seriously, how often do you get to see a stuffed bunny floating down an underground river?




Look at that river. Seriously. It’s cold, it’s flowing fairly quickly, and it’s coming from outside, flowing through the cavern, and then flowing back out again. If a frog or fish washes in during floods, they make their way out, because there isn’t anything living in the caverns. (Except for a fair bit of moss that grows wherever they’ve put up lights.)



I wore my valenkii from St. Petersburg; they kept me warm and provided excellent traction***. (Thank you so much, Val!!! They’re gorgeous!)




I emerged, after an hour and a half, with a mind chock full of details (textures, sensations, emotions, images, etc). It was totally worth it. Plus, now I know of a great place to spend Halloween.


The absolute best part was when the tour guide turned off all the lights. I’d never been in such complete darkness, in such a large space, with such a large group of people. (Agatha Christie would have had someone murdered and tossed into the knee-deep water during that moment.) It was perfect because the very last scene I’d written in my book had one of my characters walking deep into a tunnel, in the middle of the earth. In the dark.


Status on my book: I’m 2/3 or 3/4 of the way done (it’s hard to judge, exactly). My critique partner Emma is hoping to finish hers by mid-February, when she has February Break (a strange NY school tradition). So it’s my goal, as well. I need to keep up with her so we’ll stay on track and be able to read each others’ completed draft at the same time.



* Ok, so it was a cranky old barge.
** Seriously, what is foam doing in the middle of a cavern? The tour guide said it's chemicals and other things from outside that have run in with the water.
*** While valenkii are great for trudging through snow/slush/over slippery rocks, they tend to fall of while walking upstairs, so beware. But really, they're the best!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

a mood change

You can bet that if I don't post for quite a while, many things are going on. Like, the holidays, spending time with the fam, and writing. But on some days, nothing happens. Nothing is accomplished. And when I've finally gotten the kids to bed and now must face the tornado of laundry/toys/dishes/whatever-that-sticky-stuff-is, you can bet I'm not in the highest of spirits.

Today is one of those days, and I can't figure out why. The house is relatively clean (other than a few piles of laundry to be put away). One child is at school and the other is sitting quietly beside me watching Veggie Tales while I type this. (Ok, now he's playing with the plug to the computer and asking me what I'm doing. The Veggie Tales people need to beef up the enterprise.) I don't know what started this sinking feeling. The book is going well and I should be done soon. Felting is going well, although I have nothing to put on my Etsy store yet. I've been exercising, even.

So what is it? Is it Stay-at-Homeitis? Or Winter?

What I can do is forcibly change my mood. I can tell myself to suck it up and look at the bright side: we have a warm home, the snow is falling down like sifted sugar, and we're all healthy. The rest shouldn't matter.

If I make myself be happy, I will be. If I let myself feel sad, then I will be.

And if I make myself finish my book, I will. ;-)