Month: April 2011

Projects in Process

Stepping Stones book project:
I opened up my book project today for the first time in over two weeks. It feels like it has been longer because my brain has been working double time in the interim. I spent a couple of minutes reorienting myself in the project and figuring out where I left off. Everything about it felt stupid. I could not find any sense of inspiration or flow. I allowed it to all be awful and pounded out some words anyway. I have only one more essay to re-draft, then a bunch of data entry for the hand-written edits in the margins of the print-out. So close, yet not quite done.

Pretty Dresses:
I have now removed all the bits which did not fit my vision for what the dresses will eventually be. Evidence of this feat is strewn all over the family room floor in the form of tiny bits of thread. Gleek was fascinated with the project and did some of it for me. Next comes the more fearful parts. Seam ripping can be undone, cutting can not. However I can not shorten sleeves without scissors. That part will have to wait until I have a few hours available. Nylon chiffon frays badly if the edges are left raw for very long. (I feel cool for being able to attach the right name to the fabric. I know lots of fabric names and lots of fabric textures, but I would badly fail a mix and match test. I intend to fix this as my project continues.)

Raising Children:
My most important and long-term project. I didn’t do anything critical on this today except feed them at intervals and dole out a band aids or two. Sometimes it is nice to have a day when they’re around, but I’m not much required.

Cleaning house:
No progress today.

Ground covered in snow, wind cold. No progress.

Schlock books:
I can’t do anything else on EPD until we get page proofs late next week. I’ve sorted images for the next 4 books. I’ll do preliminary layouts starting on Monday.

Between my writer’s group, a friend putting himself through an intensive short story writing course, and another friend posting chapters to be read, critiquing has turned into a project. I’m almost caught up with short story friend. Might finish that later this evening. The others I’ll get to.

1 post today. You just read it.

Tulips and Dresses

Yesterday was sunny. It was the only truly lovely day we’ve had in about a week and a half. During those same chilly gray days I was swamped with work and stress. But I’d sent off the book files and they’d arrived. Howard had departed for his convention. The kids were all at school. For the first time in almost a month I had a day to claim as my own. I intended to use it touring the Tulip Festival at Thanksgiving Point. I dressed in the springiest shirt I own and bounced a little as I descended the front steps. Then my cell phone rang. It was Patch complaining that his stomach didn’t feel good. Motherhood responsibility settled back on me like a wet winter coat.

I managed to have a good day despite the rearrangement of my plans. A friend kept me company and we had a really good talk for hours on end. But I mourned the loss of being free to do whatever I chose. The sadness returned full force later in the afternoon when Patch fessed up that he had not really felt sick. I know that experimenting with deception as a method for manipulating the world is developmentally appropriate for an 8 year old. I just wish he’d picked a different day. So did he once he saw how sad I was about missing the gardens. Neither of us could give the day back to me.

This morning was gray and blustery, much too cold to enjoy walking in a garden. But the book was still done, Howard was at his convention, and the kids were all off at school. I claimed the day as mine and headed to Decades Vintage Clothing in Salt Lake City. Browsing through fabrics, colors, and styles feeds some of the same portions of my brain which enjoy flowers. The primary purpose of the trip was to find a formal dress. I searched Decades for dresses last year, but nothing was perfect. This year I wasn’t looking for perfect. I was looking for a dress I could alter. I was looking for dresses that filled me with thoughts of what they could be with only a few changes. The store was full of dresses like that. I browsed, tried on, and spun plans. Eventually I came home with three. None of them are presentable at the moment, once they are I’ll write up whole posts about how I made them so.

It was a lovely day, partly for the dresses, but mostly because it was completely mine.

Taking a Spin in the Hugo Happy Fun Anxiety Barrel

In a recent blog post, John Scalzi described being nominated for a Hugo award as taking a ride in the Happy Fun Anxiety Barrel. I read that and I laughed out loud because it is so true. I am in an odd place in relation to the Hugo awards. I am not the one nominated. It is not my work out there for scrutiny. Except that it is. What ever happens to Howard also happens to me. If he gets on an emotional roller coaster, I am along for the ride by default. This is one of the things about loving someone that is by turns wonderful and hard. Also it really is my work. I spend as many hours on Schlock Mercenary as Howard does. Mine is supportive work rather than creation, but I still care deeply about it.

This is the third time we’ve been nominated for a Hugo. This is our third year in a row we get to ride in the barrel. We knew about this nomination two weeks before it was announced publicly. For two weeks we felt light, happy, honored. It was particularly fun that we got to share the joy with several close friends who were co-nominated with Howard for Writing Excuses. Then the full nominee list went public. My first look at the list was a quick scan for familiar names. There were many, and I rejoiced. Then I focused on the two categories where Howard is nominated. My stomach just about sank to my shoes. There was no way we could win. Ever. Not against those amazing people. And I was sad, because I feel like Howard’s work is worthy of a rocket ship trophy. I know the fact that he made the list means that lots of people agree with me. I know I should be able to bask in the glow of nomination, but I remember. I remember what the award ceremony was like these past two years and I can’t deny that I care about winning. It would be so nice if I didn’t. I try very hard not to care, which is something of a paradox really. I try to train my brain by chanting “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” It is a good mantra, because it is true.

It is the quavering between possibilities which causes the trouble. If I could abandon hope completely, then the glow of nomination would be plenty. At the moment of seeing the list, hope is quenched. But then from some dark corner of my brain a small thought sneaks onto the stage. “maybe this year it is our turn.” It is a strange little thought which assumes that the concept of “turns” has any application to the Hugo awards. It doesn’t. The Hugo award is a gift given by the voting fans of the World Science Fiction Convention. They may bestow it where ever they wish regardless of who has had it before. Knowledge of this leads to the neurotic post-Hugo-loss funk. Coming home and going back to work can be very hard if one spends too much time thinking about how one was not worthy enough. It is a patently ridiculous set of thoughts. The nomination itself is evidence that others found the work worthy. And yet these self doubting thoughts are even more difficult to eradicate than the sly hopeful thoughts in advance of the award ceremony. It is as if the award ceremony transforms the hopeful thoughts directly into self-doubt. Knowing this, I try to stomp out all hope. Yet hope persists and I find myself made anxious by every hopeful thought I detect. The only defense I have against the anxiety is to not care. Which brings me back to trying very hard not to care. Round and round I go in the barrel.

Sometimes I spin in a different direction as well. I genuinely like many of the people with whom we share a category. I love and admire their work. I want to be delighted and happy for them when they win. I had that once. When Phil and Kadja Foglio won in 2009, I honestly felt nothing but delight and relief. The worms of self-doubt came later, after we returned home. Unfortunately my mental landscape regarding the Hugos has become more self aware since then. Other emotions will be present as well as delight. Then there is the horrible/hopeful possibility that we might win. This would obviously make us very happy, but it would also mean that these other people whose work I admire have to suffer through the transformation of hope into self doubt. I don’t want that for them any more than I want it for us. Yet I wouldn’t wish any of us off the nominee list. Because being nominated is truly an honor and a joy. It is a validation of all the hours of hard work. I want to have that. I want these people I like and admire to have that. I am also very aware that I have other friends who would give up much to be on this ride. Many of them do work which is more worthy than ours, I must not be ungrateful for the gift of this trip.

Mary Robinette Kowal once wrote a marvelous post about auditions and rejections. In that post she said:

Granted, every person is different, but for the most part the mentality going into an audition is that it doesn’t matter. I mean, you want it. You want it badly sometimes, but there’s this mental adjustment you have to do in order to survive the audition process…I’m a normally rational person, around auditions I get very skittish and superstitious about jinxing things by talking about it. As I said, my brain is not rational about this. There’s this whole variety of things that I have to do to convince myself that the results of the audition don’t matter when, of course, they do… Just don’t wish me luck for an audition. It will make me think about landing the part. It will make me hope. I can’t afford that.

The emotional arcs and mental hi-jinks that Mary describes are spot on for my Hugo mind state. The primary difference is that the polite wishing of luck is actually positive for me. I can say thank you and move onward knowing that this person counts in the score of people who believe the work is worthy. I tuck the kind thoughts into my pocket and use them later to deflect the inevitable barrage of self doubt. What is really hard is when friends or fans give detailed and logical reasons for why Schlock Mercenary or Writing Excuses ought to win. Also hard is any sort of analysis which explains why the other nominees have an advantage. I know these analyses are part of the fun for Hugo voters. They love to get in and argue for their favorites. They love to crunch numbers and talk probabilities. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but I don’t want to see it. Faced with an analysis of our Hugo categories, I want to shout the Han Solo line “Never tell me the odds!” These sorts of analysis feed and multiply the hopeful thoughts. Too many hopeful thoughts accumulated together can make me believe that we are somehow entitled. I don’t want to be that person. Howard does not want to be that person. And neither of us want to be swamped by despair when all those hopeful thoughts are transformed into self doubt.

Mostly we’re trying to think about other things between now and August. Fortunately we have many things planned. We have plenty of things to focus on besides our ride in the Happy Fun Anxiety Barrel.

Addendum: It is worth noting that the emotional trip triggered by Hugo nomination has many similarities to trips triggered by the usual submission and rejection process for writing of all kinds.

Full Stop

It was 11:30 yesterday morning when I clicked the final button to upload Emperor Pius Dei to the printer’s FTP site. My computer threw up a progress bar which told me it would take 23 hours to complete. A full day of uploading time, and nothing more for me to do but wait. I had dozens of other projects waiting on me. I had plenty of things to do. Instead I stopped.

Stopping was not a conscious choice on my part. At first I jittered about trying to get things done, but it was all scattered and fractured. The deadline fear which kept me moving at top speed for the past week had vanished. The only thing I could do was watch an extremely slow progress bar. I actually did that for awhile. Or rather my eyes watched the bar, my brain went larking through fields of thought without bringing a thing back. When I attempted to gather thoughts, they slid away from me and vanished.

Usually when I achieve that level of mental burn out, I give up and watch television episodes for awhile. Except my preferred method is streaming through Netflix, which uses the same internet connection through which I was trying to upload. I ended up buying a very fluffy book for my kindle instead. It was the literary equivalent of a sugar wafer cookie, filled with sweetness, sameness, artificial flavors, and prone to give me a headache if I get too much. I switched over to Enchanted April, which I discovered free in the kindle store. It is a story about women in gray and rainy Britain who escape for a month to a castle with warm breezes and wisteria in bloom. While there they discover things about themselves which they can take home to make their lives happier. The thought of lounging in a chair near blooming wisteria sounds lovely to me. It sounded lovely two decades ago when I first saw the movie based upon the book. That lovely thought led me to plant wisteria along my back wall. It has not bloomed yet this year. The weather has been too cold. When it does bloom, I need to remember to lounge next to it in a chair. Then I could close my eyes and pretend I’m in a castle. I’ve barely started the book, but I look forward to the escape it represents.

This morning my computer tells me that the upload will take another two hours. Fortunately my brain is in better gear today. It began composing a blog post. Or rather it began throwing ideas at me. This is the topic, and this should go in, also this, and this, and that. So now that the kids are off at school I need to sit down and assemble the loose notes into a coherent train of thought. Perhaps by the time I’m done the upload will also be done. Then Howard and I will go out for a celebratory lunch date.

Poised on the Brink of Printing

I am currently exporting all the pages from Emperor Pius Dei (EPD) out of InDesign and into a PDF. This process will take 20 minutes during which I can not be working on editing. I’m snatching the break like a drowning swimmer grabs a life preserver. I know that in a very short while I will be out of the water, but I’m still holding tight.

This morning my desk had a printed copy of EPD which was sporting a forest of paper tabs. Each marked something for me to fix. It was the fourth time I’d faced a forest of tabs. Set 1 was from our copy editor. Sets 2 & 3 I generated for myself by paging through carefully until my eyes could no longer focus. Set 4 was provided when good friends, family really, came over for a proofing party. They gleefully marked anything they could see which might have been the slightest bit wrong. Which is exactly what I told them to do. They were my spotters-of-wrong-things. I paid them in pizza.

I stared at the multitude of tabs this morning and nearly cried. My brain and eyes are so tired of this book. I went to work anyway and soon discovered that the majority of the tabs indicated things which only took me seconds to fix. They were all the kind of thing that the average reader is unlikely to ever notice, but which I would feel bad if I left. In under an hour I mowed the forest flat. It was much easier than the previous sets of fixes.

Next I export to PDF (waiting on it now.) Then I page through the PDF on a last error check. Then I export and upload to our printer’s FTP site. At that point I am done until the first proofs come back for approval. If you had asked me 10 days ago, I would not have believed we would be shipping files this week. I expected mid-May and it had me panicked about getting books before the Summer conventions. If you had asked me last Thursday I would have said “maybe by April 30th.” Howard worked amazingly fast. 40 margin art pieces in five days. The test printing, two rounds of it, took a single day instead of three. (Yay Alphagraphics). My work all went faster than my previous estimates told me to expect. I half expect the FTP process to be miserable to make up for all the good fortune.

Hugo Award Nomination

This was written two weeks ago, but I could not post it until after Hugo Nominations were publicly announced:

Through the joys of caller ID, I knew it was Howard calling before I picked up the phone.
“Hi hon. How is Canada?” I asked, cheerful to hear from him while he’s off at a convention and I am home with the kids. He was out in the world, giving presentations and promoting the comic which pays our bills.
“Canada is good. Email is better.” He answered. I could hear the smile in his voice and I knew what was coming next before he said the words. “Schlock Mercenary Massively Parallel was nominated for a Hugo.”
I smiled through my sigh of relief. The comic has been nominated for this Science Fiction award for the past two years, but it came in last place both times. Howard had all but convinced himself that he wouldn’t even make the ballot this year. The fact that he did, that we did, is a boost. One that apparently doesn’t get old.
“Yay!” I said into the phone. It doesn’t say enough, but Howard knows what I mean.
“Know what else? Writing Excuses made the ballot too, best related work.”
My smile inched into a grin. We’d been hoping for this. The wording on the best related category had changed so that podcasts were eligible. I could think of nothing more worthy than the weekly podcast Howard did with Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells.
“Oh wonderful!” I said. It was just as inadequate as yay, but words really can’t express the rush of good feeling I was trying to send to my husband so far away from me. It seems we’re always sharing the Hugo nominations over the phone. The second weekend in April is popular for events which involve Howard.
I thought ahead to August and the award ceremony which would be held at the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno. During the nomination period I’d silently told myself that if Howard made the ballot, I would get a new dress. He’d made the ballot twice. I’d stick to one dress, but my feet fairly danced with joy. I would have friends with which to share the emotional crucible of award nomination. Instead of feeling slightly misplaced at the pre-Hugo party, I would have good friends to stand with. If the nomination ended with an award, we could rejoice together. If not, group commiseration was built-in.
But all that was in the future. Standing in the kitchen, pushing the phone to my ear, and grinning, I could only feel the joy and honor to be nominated. It meant that out there in the world of Science Fiction, people liked Howard’s work enough to put his comic on the ballot. That truly matters, because we love this genre and we love the people in it. The fact that they love Schlock is heartwarming.
“The hard part,” Howard continued “Is being here at a science fiction convention, with people who would love to rejoice, and not being able to tell them yet.”
“So call Brandon and Dan. You can all be glad together.”
We talked of other things for awhile before he had to go, both of us smiling more than the conversational topics called for. Then we hung up and my feet did another cheerful little dance as I walked over to return the phone to its charger. In two more days he would return home and we could celebrate together.

Congratulations to all of the Nominees!

Word Sketches of the Tayler Family on Easter Sunday

Howard stood in the kitchen holding his phone. He’d had a hard week, not because of external events, but because the work load he had assigned to himself was crushing. Through a super human feat of will and endurance, he’d gotten the work done. Yet the next week still had huge quantities of work to do. In that tired evening amid all that work, Howard wanted a hamburger. It wasn’t just about food, he also wanted company and I could not go. He made several calls, but others were busy. He scrolled through his list of contacts and said with a sigh “My phone is full of awesome people with whom I’d love to go out for burgers, but most of them live too far away.” This is the shape of Howard’s life, full of work and friends.


Kiki’s pencil moved across the paper as the words of the speaker filled the chapel. She was creating a comic labeled balance which featured a burning candle. I could not see much else from where I sat, but I suspect that she was trying to capture on paper the experiences she’s had lately with finding direction and purpose in her life. I watched her hands move surely, directing the pencil and eraser with precision. In mere weeks she would be 16, old enough to date according to long-standing family rule. This birthday marker would arrive after prom was over. “I’m kind of glad.” She confessed to me quietly “I didn’t want to deal with all that yet.” I was glad too, for many of the same reasons. Dating was coming along with driving, a first job, and countless other grown up things. I watched her confidence with the pencil and knew she would find the same sureness in other areas of her life as well.


Link was taller than me. It happened several months before, but still startled me every time he stood close. Somewhere in my mind he was still the toddler running across the lawn to hand a broken-stemmed blue flower to me. Back then I could scoop him into my arms and carry him. Before too much longer he would be able to carry me if he chose. Link’s new size and strength regularly startled him as well. He kept bumping into things, accidentally damaging his surroundings and sometimes the feelings of those nearby. “I’m not good at words” he said as part of an apology. It was an apology he made grudgingly, not quite understanding why his earlier words were wrong. Words would come to him, as will grace and confidence in his body. He had already begun learning the things he needed.


Gleek looked up at me. Howard happened to be in my field of vision and looking in my direction as well. For a moment I could see that they had the same eyes. Gleeks are more brown and smaller, but the shape was the same. They also shared the same impatient spark that drives them toward excellence and the pursuit of new things. Gleek looked away and the moment passed, but I tucked it into my memory.


I scooped Patch into my arms, he wriggled uncomfortably and I realized that he’d grown too big to be scooped that way. I put him down and we walked up to bed together. Patch was quite calm about being bigger. It fit his plan. He could picture himself getting bigger than me because his older brother had already done so. In the fall Patch would be headed for a new school. At first the thought of it has sent him into a crying panic. I told him he did not have to go. Then we visited the school and talked about what it was like there. It allowed Patch to picture how things would be. He decided that going was something he wanted to do. There would be tears in the process of adapting. I knew that, but I also knew how to help my son plan. Planning helps him feel happy.


Writing a word sketch of myself is tricky. I can only see myself in mirrors, reflected by my surroundings. I know that I often ask too much of myself. I am frequently stressed and anxious and I struggle not to spill these things onto anyone else. However I am also blessed with a clear sense of purpose. This has not always been the case in my life, but it is true right now. I am glad of it all.

The End Stages of Editing

The last stages of book production always fry my brain. I page through the entire book staring at only the comic frames to make sure that none of them are cropped funny. Some of them are. I mark them. I page through the book looking closely at all of the footnote frames to make sure everything is aligned correctly. Some of them aren’t. I mark them. I page through the book and compare each strip with the online archive to make sure that none are missed, duplicated, or out of order. If any are, I mark them. Then I page through the entire book making all the corrections I’ve marked in the digital file. I print out a clean version without marks and repeat the process. There are also copy edits and Howard edits to enter. All of it requires tightly focused attention and leaves my brain too exhausted for much else.

Despite the fact that my brain is fried by book editing, life goes on. It continues to be full of little stories and thoughts. My blogging brain is well trained to collect these and hold them for future use. Unfortunately editing makes my brain so tired that I don’t get around to wrapping words around the ideas, nor to I manage to file the ideas so they’re not interfering with other things I need my brain to do. It all jostles about together and I feel quite cluttered. So here are the things my brain has collected in the last few days in no particular order.


Link and Patch had an argument in which Link said something that hurt Patch’s feelings. It was not deliberate. Link was trying to find words which would let him play video games with just his friend. There were tears and I required Link to apologize. Link told me he didn’t want to because Patch would hurt his feelings. In the course of reasoning with Link, I described apologizing in a way that I want to remember. I said that an apology is a gift. You give it to someone with no expectation of return. You can’t thrust it upon them and require them to accept, nor is it a time to argue over fault, nor explain your position. You offer the apology because you owe it. If the other person forgives, that is also a gift. It is a separate gift from the apology. Sometimes the other person is not ready to forgive. If that happens, even if the other person is mean or hurtful in answer to the gift of apology, it is your responsibility to just walk away. Anything else makes resolution farther away rather than closer. If you are not ready to give an apology as a gift, then it is not yet time to speak. It is entirely possible to separate out pieces of a conflict and apologize for only a small part. This gift often opens the path to further communication. An apology can be as simple as “I did not mean to hurt your feelings. I’m sorry.”


Kiki had a reality check about the difficulty involved in becoming a full-time freelance artist. The whole thought of supporting herself on her own work was quite daunting. She talked with me about it, and I think I made it a little better. She talked with Howard about it and walked away feeling like she could conquer. Then she had further inspiration and feels strongly that no matter how hard this path may be, it is the right one for her right now. I love seeing the calm confidence and resolve she is carrying around this week.


On Tuesday I became a parent who pulls her kids out of the local school to put them into a different one. Gleek’s space in the new school is assured. Patch’s is not yet, but is probable. I have mixed feelings about doing this. I used to feel strongly that it was important to keep my kids in the neighborhood school and to spend time volunteering there. Somehow I’ve arrived at a very different place. My feelings are less mixed now that the decisions are actually made rather than pending. I hope it all goes well.


The tulip festival at Thanksgiving Point Gardens has been extended by a week because of the cool wet weather. I may not miss it after all. If I can get the book shipped off by Wednesday, as I hope, then I am claiming Thursday as mine. I will see flowers.


I propelled myself into Monday on a wave of nervous energy. I knew when entering the week that it would be a watershed. The work and decisions of this week determine the shape of things to come. It was important to get it right, so I made a list. The list was my focus. Task by task I was going to get through. I arrived at Monday evening with my list still long and my reserves exhausted. Most of my reserves were expended on emotional management rather than task accomplishment. Tuesday was a complete loss at getting work done. The list lay idle while my attention fractured across dozens of small fears and frets.

Wednesday is the fulcrum of most weeks and this week in particular. Today we can see that Howard will get all the margin art done before the end of the week. The cover is already drawn and out for coloring. I filed paperwork which will transfer my youngest two children to a different school. Now I need to settle my mind about these things. The settling is important because while this week determines new directions, the results of these shifts will not be clear until August. I am afraid of August. It is full of tight deadlines and big events. I have no idea how I’m going to fit a book shipping around the August conventions. I’ve only got a vague idea how I am going to manage the 36 hour turn around from the end of Worldcon to the first day of school. During those 36 hours I have to transport all of us and a load of booth supplies across 8 hours of desert while post-convention exhausted. I don’t even know if the youngest of my kids will be transferred to the new school with his sister, and probably won’t know until the week I’m away at Worldcon, because the schools won’t make their final lists until then.

But at least the decisions are made instead of pending. I’ve mixed enough metaphors for one evening. Time for bed.

Photos from Arches

Arches National park is a place of stunning beauty. It has been photographed with far more technical proficiency that I am able to produce. Yet there is something about my photos that speak to me in a way that the professionally taken photos do not. I remember standing there. I remember the feel of the camera in my hands and the way the wind whipped my hair as I looked up and up at the spires and arches of red rock.
We were dwarfed and humbled by the sheer size of the place.

We walked trails and contemplated the pathway ahead.

But this I think is my favorite picture. It is not technically beautiful, but it proves that I win at meta picture taking. At least for this trip.