Thursday, May 6, 2021

Pandemic Creativity or Lack Thereof

So many parts of "pandemic living" are actually welcome. There are fewer commitments and nowhere to go. Curbside pickup grocery shopping is lovely. But constant noise and being endlessly in the same space (yet never alone) has definitely taken its toll on my writing.

It's hard to explain why. Some of it feels obvious, but there's something nameless about why the cumulative effects of the changes over the last year don't leave me the time or energy to have complete thoughts, let alone put them on paper. Summer has always been the hardest time for me to write, and this year has been like being stuck in a perpetual summer. Is that a bad thing? Yes and no. Sitting down to write is impossible when everything around me needs to be cleaned all the time. Do I clean all the time? No. That's why everything needs to be cleaned all the time. Food production is another constant. It's hard to sit down to write when I check the clock and realize lunch needs to be ready in 20 minutes to fit the gap in the remote learning schedule.

Image by Mote Oo Education from Pixabay 

Writing aside, I'm able to work on so many other creative projects. I learned how to macramé a few hanging pots. I burned through a pile of cross stitch projects I've had stashed in a drawer. I finished the pair of a knitted slipper I've had sitting around for years. I've been playing around with art journaling. I sewed hats and chair cushions and fixed pants. I did some acrylic painting. I painted a backyard table to look like a watermelon. I learned some new video editing tricks to help publish the Space Mantis Podcast my group of writing buddies has been working on putting out there for years. I've been having a blast with some of the new things I've been learning to do.

Experiments in Art Journaling

I even managed to blast through 150 hours of classes to keep my teaching certificate current. As soon as trainings shifted online, I was finally able to fulfill so many requirements that were alluding me. The pandemic has been a blessing in so many weird ways. Why can't I squish in just a little more writing here and there?

Of course, social media is another toxic wasteland these days, so it's hard to drag myself over there to post anything, which is death to a self-published writer. Plus, when I'm not writing much, and my Twitter is primarily writing-focused, what do I post about?! I can kick myself forever for not finding a way to self-promote more effectively during a year when people were trapped inside, but that's not going to get me anywhere now.

Image by ijmaki from Pixabay 

My heart really goes out to those who are truly struggling, either with their mental or physical health or barely surviving financially, or all of the above. I understand why this was truly a hellish year for many, especially all those extroverts out there. I love you (from a distance) and will never really "get" you, extroverts. I should probably have put all that at the top of the blog, because I doubt you made it all the way to the end without throwing tomatoes at your screen.

All I can really do is to keep hanging in there, keep trying to do a little better than I did the day before. I'm ready to get back to writing, but real summer is almost here, so it's probably going to be a while before I get back into a groove. Until then, I'll take up my 83rd new hobby and create something else!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Spaaaaace Mantis!

Hobby Blog Part 3 was supposed to be for graphic design, but then Covid-19 upended everything, and I forgot I had a blog. Long story short (?), I took some online classes on how to use PowerPoint and was gifted an old copy to play with. I realized pretty quickly that just because a person CAN throw pictures onto backgrounds and change colors willy-nilly doesn't mean that person SHOULD, so I took more online classes about the fundamentals of graphic design, like typography, color, and whatever category the rule of thirds and that spiral fall into. Drawing and graphic design complement each other nicely, so that helped. I learned a lot about choosing a focal point and really directing people toward what I want them to look at. Can I always execute this? No. But I do know I should be trying to think about it, and that's a start.

Phew, blog part 3, done.

Now forget all that, because this blog update is about the Space Mantis Podcast, written by my co-writing pal Laura Morrison and voice acted by a big group of our writing buddies. Space Mantis started as a fictional space opera from one of Laura's novellas, Come Back to the Swamp. The fake show quickly took on a life of its own, making its way into other books we were writing. Laura even started working on scripts that incorporate her Come Back to the Swamp character into the show. (For the 2 and a half people reading this the day I hit publish, that's technically still a spoiler).

The premise is that a Space Mantis superfan receives a box of DVDs after her favorite show is cancelled, and she starts a podcast to share the audio of those DVDs with the Mantis-starved fandom. Pretty quickly, she gets a little more involved in the story than she was expecting. I got to voice act that Narrator character, which was a blast, (even for Episode 11 where I think she talks for 10 solid pages). Our writing group divvied up the parts of the regular crew, and Laura took her Come Back to the Swamp character.

The production quality of the episodes is mind-boggling to me. We have a lot of talented people pitching in their time and effort. There are sound effects, and the dialogue sounds like...I mean, dialogue. Considering we recorded separately and in pieces across the span of years, that feat alone is incredible.

I may say more in the future about the ins and outs of recording such an involved podcast, but there are a few episodes already released, so you should definitely go listen to one. You can listen to them on YouTube or any podcast app.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Hobby Blog, Part 2 -- Sewing

Do you see that even when I have a concrete idea for a blog, I blink and a month goes by? If you also tend to drop into black holes for indeterminate lengths of time, and you missed Hobby Blog 1 on drawing, you can find that here.

For hobby two, I wanted to focus on sewing, specifically machine sewing. For some reason, I despise having to get out a needle and thread to sew cloth together, although I do enjoy embroidery projects like cross stitch. I can make no sense of my targeted aversion to hand sewing. One time, I had an idea to make bears out of old clothes, so I found a blogger's pattern with how-to pictures and turned pair of my husband's old camouflage pants and khakis into an adorable bear.

 The ears in particular were magical the way they sewed together:

Just take my word for it. The ears seemed impossible, yet they worked just like they were supposed to.

99% of this bear was machine sewn, and it went great, and I had visions of making them as Christmas gifts, but then I had to attach the head to the body with a needle and thread, and it all fell apart. It only partly literally fell apart. Mostly, I just lost motivation.

All I needed to do was buckle down and learn how to do the correct stitch so the seams wouldn't show, but it just wasn't fun and I didn't want to. The head is attached, and the bear looks nice if it's sitting still. Projects that involve hand stitching to finish are not for me.

So, for my birthday, a wonderful friend of mine (who probably took the time to read this blog) gifted me a craft class. Machine sewing is one of those things I "can" do but have never "learned how" to do, so I jumped at the chance to walk through the most complicated travel bag of all time.

This thing must have consumed its own weight in thread with the number of times each piece was sewn and resewn and attached and sewn again and sewn at least two more times in the binding stage (the most heinous of all the stages.) I did basic quilting and worked with pockets and mesh and zippers.

It has a slip pocket underneath a zippered pocket. That's a crazy amount of pockets.

Once I finished that behemoth project, other bag patterns looked more doable, and I found one that felt reasonable to make as gifts. The project below was a nice toiletry bag size with a single zipper and two handles on the sides. Plus, I was able to use old batting, fabric, and zippers, including parts robbed from old clothes, which always makes me happy.

This one that I made for myself consisted of an old skirt I used to love. The lining, zipper, and handles came from a light sweater jacket, because I enjoy creating impossible sewing challenges like attaching cotton and heavy knit fabric together. My sewing machine did not appreciate punching through that metal zipper.

This one is very floppy due to the heavy zipper and the bulky knit fabric. I love it.

I managed to make four of them as gifts along with the one for myself, which is excellent project persistence for me. I have trouble making the same thing twice under normal circumstances.

After Christmas, I took a break from sewing, but I may be able to talk myself into making a few more of these or tackling a similar project. I really enjoy making bags and containers, especially when I can cobble them together from hoarded materials.

I have one more hobby blog planned, but I won't pretend like it's going up next week. That one will (hopefully someday) cover graphic design.

I'll end with my hastily-blanket-covered-photography-background chair mere seconds after I put the bag away:

That cat is black, not some odd shade of brownish-green, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Hobby Blog, Part 1

"I should blog more often," I always say to myself, and then I come up with 100 fun, recurring blog ideas that I don't write down. Months later, when I realize I haven't written anything current to put up, I try to remember all those brilliant ideas I thought I had and come up with nothing.

The Void where all good ideas go

The last time I sat down with a notebook, I started scrawling about current hobbies, so I figured I'd do a 3-part blog on some of the creative projects I've been dabbling in.

First up...Drawing!

I've always been convinced I can't draw, so I started watching a few YouTube tutorials on drawing basics to get started. Basically, I learned that a large part of drawing is reproducing real objects on paper using shapes, light, and shadow. Now, copying art styles has always been something I've been good at, so with a few tips and techniques on shading and what drawing pencils do, I've been able to draw some real life objects I'm pretty proud of.

These are objects around me that I used to try out different drawing pencils:

I was supposed to set up a still life, so I tried these:

I ran across a book that recommends doing a few passes with a black colored pencil to get true blacks in a drawing, and it's really interesting what a difference that can make:

Space Mantis fan art:

  The two below are my attempts to add texture to step-by-step drawings:

These are recreations of photographs:

For the willow tree, I wanted to see if layering twisty lines on top of one another gave the impression of leaves, rather than drawing something more detailed over and over or leaving large patches without detail. I mostly like how it turned out.

Hopefully with practice, I'll develop more of my own art style, so I can draw things that aren't right in front of me, but starting from a reference point is going well. The next thing I'd like to phase in is color, but that's a whole new world.

Stay tuned next week for another hobby-of-the-minute--sewing bags.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Current Projects: An Update

These days, time feels like it flies by without me getting anything accomplished, but every time I make a list of things I want to work on, I do seem to have three more projects in progress. Something must be getting done somewhere.

image of me lost in the sands of time by annca from Pixabay

Since "blogging more" or "blogging at all, actually" is habitually on my to-do list, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and post a writing update.

Current Writing Projects:

Destiny Detour - The Black Pearl Series, Book 3

In November, I finished up posting Destiny Detour over at Royal Road. Royal Road has been a great home for casual serial writing. I get quite a few views, and I've had a smattering of uplifting reviews/comments, but for the most part, people are quiet. I assume if I put any effort into being a part of the community and/or reading other authors' work, I might be able to generate more useful chatter. I miss they heyday of JukePop and its active community.

Currently, I'm not going to bother turning Destiny Detour into a print novel and/or polished e-book, but I could easily do so if there was enough interest. The Shrilynda short story that follows is currently over on Wattpad, a much fancier (but less welcoming) place for serial writing.

Bermuda Lake
I love this story! It's the right length for a fast-paced, upper middle-grade story about a group of quirky friends transversing portals to other worlds, but no agents or kid-lit publishers were the slightest bit interested. Since none of them read it, I can't even be sure there was anything wrong with the poor story other than being the wrong type of story at the wrong time. So I'm left with a finished book I could do anything with: overhaul, self-publish, serialize, burn for fuel. According to my spreadsheet, this poor novel has been sitting around for almost 3 years now. Hang in there, little buddy. Maybe someday someone will read you!

Vaylia's Magical Mess
This is my most recent finished project, a YA fantasy adventure, except it grew into a series rather than one book, and half of me feels like I need to finish the sequel before I can query it effectively. I did throw it into PitMad today and I've received an unexpected request, so fingers crossed.

Vaylia and Dawlin are friends who run away from their cushy town rather than getting punished for cheating on their magical exams. They try to start a life of crime to survive out there in the gritty real world, but they're not great at being criminals. They land a job to steal back a mysterious item from the royal treasury, and the adventure story snowballs from there. Also, I threw in a key-hoarding dragon at the end on a whim.

image by cocoparisienne on Pixabay

Odessa's Sea
I have barely started writing this project, but it's been on my mind forever, and it is a blast to write. It's basically a modern "retelling" of the Odyssey, except with high school students in the Seattle area. The best part is that some Seattle landmarks are so strange, I just have to describe them for them to feel like fiction. I got pretty lost in ferry schedules and Gas Works Park last week.

Co-Writing Projects
Laura and I got a great response to our summer camp murder mystery with Felicia and Emily--not the murder mystery duo you'd want to call in if you want investigators who are consistently on the right track. Although we had quite a few agents request the project, they consistently said they didn't connect with the characters, which is hard to read to much into, since it's one of those generic catch-all things agents say nowadays. Like Bermuda Lake, this is a finished project I'd love to do something with. It deserves a home. And a series that is eventually ghost-written and showers royalties down on us. And launches a TV show and a disappointing movie adaptation.

Anyway, we're currently working on a fantasy story with two mom protagonists. The working title is Coffee Story since it revolves around a magical brewed bean that unlocks special abilities when consumed. It feels like exactly the right project for us, if only we had consistent time to work on it.

Current Podcasting Projects:

Laura Morrison's Space Mantis podcast will be pretty fantastic when all the voice-acting is in. I've read narrator lines for the first seven episodes so far. The project started out easy for me, because I was reading rambling paragraphs of lines all grouped together and not speaking to any other characters, but in the last few episodes, I had back-and-forth dialogue, which is a bear to record by myself! JA Waters produced the first episode for us a while back, and it sounded fantastic. I hope we're able to get the first season put together someday soon.

The Creativity in Chaos Podcast is on hold. This comes as no shock, but it would be fun to record if I could devote more time to it. Laura and I recorded the first episode, and played an amazing writing game where we co-wrote a mini story blind. I have so many ideas for topics and creative parent guests, but finding times when our schedules overlap is less than feasible most days.

That's a smattering of the projects in progress over here, not to mention all the pesky life stuff that gets in the way.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Creativity in Chaos Podcast

Coming soon--
Laura and I have been kicking around an idea for a low-key "creativity" podcast where we talk about the drive to be creative in the middle of, well, life. In our cases, life involves kids and momming, so that's going to be an important part of the podcast.

This is going to be a huge learning curve for me as far as working with audio files. We'll see if I'm up to it!

Here's the empty SoundCloud page! More links to come!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Blog About Co-Writing - Part 2 (The Benefits and Drawbacks of Co-Writing)

If you missed Part 1 on the bare bones history of my collaboration with Laura Morrison, go check it out. I can wait for you. I’m just words on a screen.

All good? On to Part 2…

Benefits of Co-Writing

1) Somebody else cares (about your current project)

At least for me, and I don’t think I’m alone here, the most exciting writing phase is the idea phase. The idea phase is impossible to share outside of cryptic social media posts people will either ignore or pretend their hardest to be excited about. But a co-writer is automatically excited about your ideas! A co-writer has the context to understand your ideas! A co-writer is coming up with her own ideas! This is my favorite part. In some ways, having a co-writer is like being in a fan fiction community of two.

Plus, a co-writer can read a first draft and see the potential. Readers are lovely, but they only come in after a few layers of polish when the mad excitement of a new idea has already been muted to socially acceptable levels.

2) Accountability

Somehow, Laura and I finished a 91,000 word novel in a year where we barely found time to breathe, let alone write. Halving the responsibilities helped, sure, but there was something motivating about knowing somebody else needed me to finish my part before she could continue on. Plus, the sooner I finished, the sooner I could share my new writing. (See Point 1)

3) Unexpected twists

Imagine driving to Denver and handing your buddy the wheel around Omaha while you take a nap. Maybe when you wake up, you’re in Fiji. Suddenly, you get to explore a Fiji plotline you never could have touched in Denver. Or sometimes you need to stop the car and request a boat and a detour to Minneapolis on the way to nearby New Zealand. Co-writing is exactly like that.

4) Keeping the smallest bit of distance and objectivity about the project

Objectivity makes the revising and editing process that much easier, and distance helps an author absorb or blow off criticism as needed. Maybe this is the equivalent of a mom throwing up her hands and declaring, “You sure are your father’s child.” I mean, I love my project, but sometimes it’s going to cut its own hair right before picture day. It happens, and it usually makes for a better story.

Drawbacks of Co-Writing

Most of the “drawbacks” I could come up with are those fake ones a job hopeful would give in an interview to make themselves sound better. “My weakness is that I work too much!” Nobody needs that, so I’ll try to avoid selling you on flexibility and added pressure and constant communication as drawbacks when they ultimately force writer growth.

1) Coordinating schedules

Sometimes Laura had the ball, but she was out of town for the week. Sometimes Laura needed an answer right away, but I had no cell service for the day. Sometimes we missed messages. Sometimes we were inspired to work but couldn’t carry on with the next part on our own. Sometimes summer break* happens. All of this leads to inconsistent writing progress, sometimes to the extent where one or both of us would forget plot points or what we were working on.

2) Shared disappointment

If you’re in the “misery loves company” camp, I guess this might be a benefit. In that case, I lied about the fake drawback thing. But for me, when a project doesn’t take off, it’s so much harder to handle the disappointment for two people instead of just my own. It’s always worse to feel like you’ve let someone else down. The Co-Ed Files couldn’t find a home, and that was disappointing. This time around, the “prequel” is getting quite a few requests to be read by the agenting community. It’s a great feeling, but if they all decline, then what? Since we share the project, we can’t very well take it in a completely different direction without both of us agreeing and understanding what that looks like. We ended up taking a lengthy break between Co-Ed and this latest project, even though be both had plenty of ideas.


Obviously, I can think of plenty of drawbacks based around co-writing with an incompatible author. Perhaps matching another author’s writing style would be nearly impossible, or I’d snap the 800th time another person rewrote an entire section for me. Maybe Laura and I should co-write a story about two horribly mismatched authors trying to co-write a story**. Even though Laura is particularly easy to work with, having our own distinct point of view characters and splitting chapters was a must for my sanity. Every team is going to function differently.

Overall, co-writing is amazing, and I’m sure will do more of it in the future. If you have any questions about the nuts and bolts of the tools we used to write a book at the same time, feel free to ask!

*To stay-at-home moms, “summer break” is code for “see you in September.”

**Note to self: do this.