Read my story “Alpaca Tricks” in Fictionvale

My short story “Alpaca Tricks” is out in Fictionvale‘s December issue.

Kylie is determined to win an alpaca obstacle course competition when a strange, suspiciously well-trained alpaca arrives at the barn, with an owner hiding a secret that makes him just as determined as Kylie.

I’ve been intrigued by alpacas since I interviewed a family who owned some for an article back in journalism school, so I’m delighted to see this story out in the world.

You can buy the Fantasy/Mystery mashup issue directly from Fictionvale (you get a zip with Kindle, ePub, and PDF files), or from Amazon.

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BLTTs and Fall Fun

On the way home from work the other night, I was grumbling about having to make tofu for dinner. I keep looking for good tofu recipes, but we always end up falling back on stir fry. I didn’t want to do all that chopping only to end up with a meal that’s only ok.

Luckily, when I walked into the house the bowl of tomatoes caught my eye. I’d been meaning to have BLTs ever since the tomatoes started getting ripe. I ended up slicing the tofu into thin slabs and frying it in the bacon skillet once the bacon was done (best tofu ever). The bacon, lettuce, tomato, and tofu sandwiches turned out quite tasty.

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I still plan my life in semesters. Here’s what I’ll be doing this fall:

• Writing, of course. I’m working on a short story to be finished this month, I plan to write a novella in November, and I have various things in various stages of revision to finish up and send out.

I also have a new story coming out in November: Fictionvale is publishing “Alpaca Tricks” in their mystery issue. This was a fun story to write. I watched a bunch of alpaca obstacle course competitions on YouTube.

• Tennis. I rejoined the singles league I was in a couple years ago. I’ve been playing doubles all summer, and the Thursday workout we go to is mostly doubles, so playing singles is tough. Tennis courts get really big when you have to run back and forth across them for over an hour.

• Painting. I signed up for an introductory acrylic painting class. Then it was canceled because no one but me registered. They moved me to the second session. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll either try to switch to a drawing class or find some tutorials online.

• A Coursera class called Designing Cities that covers the history of cities, current urban issues, and possible future cities. In addition to being interesting, it might be a good source of story ideas.

Some recent posts from my writing group’s blog:

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Places I Slept on My Vacation

1. The plane from Newark to Heathrow, for maybe two and a half hours. I tried to watch Divergent but gave up because the sound from my headphones wasn’t loud enough, and I’d already read the book. Since we’d already been traveling for 12 hours by the time our plane took off from Newark, it was time to sleep anyway.

2. The Peugeot my dad rented to drive from the airport to Somerset. We stopped at a random pub along the way for an excellent fish-and-chips lunch.

3. North Cadbury Court, our home for the weekend and the site of my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday bash.

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Specifically, the Kinnordy bedroom

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and the library.

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I didn’t take many photos of the interior because they have a gallery on their website: http://www.northcadburycourt.com/house/rooms-house

The owner gave us a tour one evening and told us the history of the house. His brother showed us how they make cheese and gave us some samples. The Dean & DeLuca store in DC and Zingerman’s online sell their Montgomery cheddar.

We also watched a movie version of Persuasion, parts of which were filmed there.

I spent a few hours over three days drawing the front view. I got impatient with all the windows.

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I didn’t do much sketching on the trip–it would have taken too long.

There were some great views from the roof. Cadbury Castle (the site of Camelot, possibly) was less than two miles away to the southwest. We walked up the hill and had a good view of the house.

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Cow Arthur defended the walls of Camelot.

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Glastonbury Tor was farther away to the northwest, barely identifiable by St Michael’s Tower on top.

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4. The buses to and from various places (put me in a moving vehicle and I fall asleep):

A. Glastonbury, where we walked up the Tor.

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On the way up, we missed that this was the correct footpath to take, despite the very clear signage.
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We also visited Glastonbury Abbey, where there was an annual Catholic pilgrimage. It was neat to see the destroyed building in use, though it made for a crowded visit.

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B. Cheddar Gorge, where we saw some cool caves and climbed 274 steps up to a walk around the top of the gorge with some great views.

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I bought a variety pack of real cheddar cheese, including one that was actually aged in a cave.
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C. Bath, where Jeremy and I managed to squeeze the Roman Baths, a walk by the Circus and the Royal Crescent, the Jane Austen Centre, Victoria Art Gallery, and a peek into Bath Abbey into just over four hours. The baths were a great feat of engineering.

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D. Stonehenge, which we stopped by on the way to Heathrow.

Me at Stonehenge

5. Dulles airport and the plane to St. Louis. We had an afternoon flight out of Heathrow, and I had working headphones, so I stayed awake for that flight. I watched a couple documentaries and three movies I’d been wanting to see: The Great Gatsby, Her, and Frozen. Our flight out of Dulles was delayed by an hour, leaving shortly after 11pm, which felt much much later given our jet lag. (We had a hotel in St. Louis and drove home Saturday.)

When I wasn’t sleeping or running around with a camera, I was hanging out with a large number of people in my family.

Photos with people in them are on Facebook and photos without (easily recognizable) people are in my Somerset 2014 set on Flickr.

It was a fabulous week. I’m so glad Jeremy’s sister came up with such a wonderful idea to celebrate her birthday and that she was able to bring so many of the family together.

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Summer Garden (Spoiler: It’s Mostly Zucchini)

My garden is going well. I’ve picked a ton of veggies lately. The lettuce is almost done, the carrots are growing, the tomatoes are getting ripe–at least the yellow cherry ones are–I’ve pulled most of the beets.

The green beans have been much more productive than expected. I have bush beans, so the plants are pretty small, but heavily loaded. I tried beans once before and the plants hardly grew at all. I’m not sure what’s different this time.

The zucchini have been getting blossom end rot, so I’ve been picking them small.

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However, some of them are clearly doing just fine. Someday I should set up a regular watering schedule for my garden instead of “whenever I remember because the plants look sad.”

Also in the plan for next year: planting the zucchini next to the lettuce and beets, not by the chard, beans, chives, and parsley. Those little plants are getting shaded.

The raspberries ripened and disappeared as fast as they did. Next year, the plant will be much bigger, and we should get berries on some of the very tall canes. Maybe we’ll have better luck getting some berries for ourselves.

My purple coneflower is blooming. Saturday I spent an hour or so in the yard sketching my garden.

Purple Coneflower, Zucchini, and Red Admiral

The lines on the flowers are too thick (I need more practice with my brush pens), but I like the way the zucchini leaves turned out. And yes, I planted my coneflower in my vegetable garden. It’s sunny there.

Speaking of sun, a few months ago the city took out a tree in strip of our yard between the driveway and the neighbor’s yard. The ground underneath it used to be mulch, daffodils, and a few small weeds that were easy to keep under control. Now, with the extra fun, the weeds are going nuts, to the point where we have to mow them.

I’m waiting for the city to plant a new tree before I do anything, but I’ve been thinking about my options. Other than planting grass. When it was shady I’d been thinking of more hydrangeas and Japanese painted ferns. Now I’m considering forsythia and some shrub that will turn bright red in fall. A native wildflower garden is also tempting.

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Yes, I’m Still Here

It’s been a busy couple months, but at least it’s finally spring. My garden is going strong. We’ve eaten a lot of radishes and lettuce, and a few carrot thinnings. (Did you know the leaves taste like parsley?) The chard and beets struggled to sprout but seem to be doing nicely now. The zucchini, beans, tomatoes, and pepper are flowering, and the carrots have lots of leaves. The volunteer raspberry in the backyard has little green berries that I’m sure will delight the squirrels in a few weeks. Last month I added a potted lingonberry, which has a few small flowers.

In April, I took an introduction to drawing class, which was awesome. This month I’m taking landscape drawing. The first class was (obviously) pretty basic, but I learned a lot. Even with the parts I’d read about before, having the instructor there to help makes a huge difference. We’ve only had one week of the landscape class, and it made me appreciate charcoal. We’ll also be using ink (with a brush and bamboo pen) at some point. Of course, I’m just happy for an excuse to sit around outside.

I posted this to Twitter et al when it happened, but if you don’t follow me elsewhere, my story “Pictures in Crayon” went up at Cast of Wonders. It’s really neat to hear my words read by someone else.

Some recent-ish posts from the All Rights Reserved blog:

Finally, a great post on persistence from James Clear: How to Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working Toward Your Goals

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Parks, Outside, and Pretentiousness

I used to volunteer with the local park system regularly, but it’s been a while. A couple weeks ago seemed like a good time to get back into it, so I pulled my bike out of the garage, knocked off the spiders and pumped up the tires (it had been a few months), and headed out to presumably hack down some honeysuckle. (Getting rid of this invasive species seems to be the most common activity. I’ve also pulled garlic mustard and collected seeds.)

They’d canceled the work day, but I got a nice walk out of it. I sat on a bench by the creek and did some sketches of a tree along the bank before going on a walk through the prairie. The redwing blackbirds are back, screeching constantly from the trees along the edges of the prairie. (Story title for anyone who wants it: “The Redwing Blackbirds Cry Good Morning”)

In places the path was covered in ice. Sometimes it was thin sheets suspended in air where the water beneath had vanished. Other places, it could support my weight. The grass sounded like it was dripping.

The past two weeks I’ve planned to go on a bird walk run by the park district. I changed my mind last weekend when snow was forecast, and this weekend when an hour disappeared in the middle of the night. I went out this afternoon and walked around. It was a balmy 45 and the park was crowded. For a while I sat on a bench and sketched some grasses. (I ordered a proper sketchbook that arrived Friday, and sitting out in public with it and my set of pencils made me feel pretentious.) I found an interesting tutorial for drawing grass, so later this week I might go back to my favorite of the sketches and turn it into a drawing.

Pretentiousness aside, drawing is a great excuse to just sit and soak up the outside-ness for a while without feeling guilty for doing nothing.

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250*365

Last Thursday, I wrote 289 words. Nothing special about that, except that it was the 365th day in a row that I wrote at least 250 new words of fiction. In that year, I wrote big chunks of two different novels and all or part of 15 or so short stories.

According to Wolfram|Alpha, that’s at least almost half of the Origin of Species.[1]

Why did I do this? The best answer to that, I suppose, is that I started trying to write 250 words every day back in August 2012, but it took me until the following February to not miss a day. I wanted to see if I could write every day for a year. 250 words isn’t much. If I know what I’m writing, it takes less than 10 or 15 minutes.

That’s a big if, though. One of the challenges was what to write when my main project was planning or revision. That’s how I ended up with a big chunk of that second novel–my novel-planning process involves writing lots of snippets. Some of them, most of the early ones, are getting thrown out because they ended not being appropriate for that book. But I’m keeping enough that I had half a draft of the book before I started actually “writing” it.

In that sense it was a success. But I’m not continuing with the challenge. My new goal is to write 100 new *good* words of fiction a day.[2] There weren’t many days where I just blurted out words to check that day off on my calendar, but there were enough. Besides, going with the concept of deliberate practice, it’s quality of effort that counts.

[1] The first time I did that calculation, I left off the units, which gave me this:

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So, had I written these words at a rate of one a day, while lying on my back outdoors, it is likely that a bird would have pooped in my mouth. Good to know.

[2] That’s for the whole year. Right now I’m finishing that novel so my word count goal is much higher.

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Podcast sale! And writing post roundup

I sold a podcast! Cast of Wonders, the YA speculative fiction podcast, will be running my story “Pictures in Crayon”. I’m looking forward to hearing it.

Recent things I’ve posted on the All Rights Reserved blog:

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ConFusion Schedule

This weekend, I’m off to ConFusion, a Detroit SF convention. (Actually Dearborn. Close enough.)

If you’re going and you want to find me, or if you’re just curious, or if you don’t care at all, here is where I’ll be, trying to rein in the sarcasm:

Worst. Advice. Ever.
John Klima, Aimee Carter, Elizabeth Shack, Howard Tayler, Catherine Shaffer, Doselle Young
10am Saturday – Southfield

Everything I needed to know about writing I learned by reading slush
Ferrett Steinmetz, Sarah Gibbons, Elizabeth Shack, Nancy Fulda, Patrick Tomlinson, C. C. Finlay
1pm Saturday – Erie

What makes a shorter fantasy “epic”?
Christine Purcell, Sam Sykes, Elizabeth Shack, Bradley Beaulieu, Brigid Collins
2pm Saturday – Erie

What does rejection Mean?
Ian Tregillis, Elizabeth Shack, Mike Carey, Amy Sundberg, Nancy Fulda, C. C. Finlay
5pm Saturday – Rotunda

Don’t write what you know
Brian McClellan, Elizabeth Shack, Stina Leicht, Tobias Buckell, Catherine Shaffer, Mike Carey
11am Sunday – Erie

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2013 Writing in Charts

Back in 2010 I started logging all of my writing time, which means now I can have nifty pie charts.

So here is 2013, in charts.

Projects

I spent big chunks of time on three different books, and a bunch of short stories. While I got a lot done, it sometimes didn’t feel like I was making progress because my time was split up a lot more. I knew that already, but it’s nice to see my impression confirmed. There were good reasons for my jumping around, but I don’t want to start any more novels until two of these are done.

Some notes: These titles bear little resemblance to what the books will actually be called. About 2/3 of my logged time was spent actually working on projects. The rest includes things like critiquing, sending stories out, writing classes or books about writing, and reading slush, most of which falls under the “None” project.

The next chart breaks down how much time I spent planning, writing, and revising each project. (With all short stories lumped together, because that’s easier.)

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You can’t compare one ring to the next in absolute numbers. (For example, I spent less than an hour on the Arcology book all year, but since it’s on the outer ring it looks like a lot.)

I’m happy to see a large proportion of actual writing time on most projects, since that’s the fun part of the work. Between parts of two novels and several short stories, I wrote more than 100,000 words last year.

This would be a fun chart to do for a single project or set of projects over multiple years.

I also have bar charts! (I’m sure you’re all as excited by this as I am. This is what I did on my New Year’s day holiday last week.)

Monthly

That dip in July is from my two-week vacation. The spike in September is a combination of two deadlines: the Strange Chemistry open submission and a novel contest on the Codex writers forum (careful inspection of November and December will tell you that I changed my mind about which novel to enter in the contest). And despite my comment at the beginning of this post, although I worked on three different books, I mostly didn’t work on all of them at once. The only project I worked on in all 12 months of 2013 was my catch-all “short story” project (and no, it was not the same story all year).

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