Month: May 2011

Attending a Regency Ball

One of the events at Baycon was a Regency Ball. Mary loves the regency period and had two dresses, so we dressed up and went to the dance. I found the process of dressing in period style fascinating. Mary told me all about the reasons for the various undergarments and what look the regency ladies were trying to achieve. It was fascinating. The look is very different than my instinctive preferences. I like looks that accentuate waists. But I felt lovely in the regency dress and am now thinking differently about the period styles.

The evening was fun from start to finish. They had a dance master on hand to teach everyone the steps. Since there were far more ladies than gentlemen, many of the ladies paired up as partners. Mary and I took turns in the gentleman’s position. I’ve read Austen books and after having attended a period ball many of those dancing scenes make far more sense to me. I’ll probably also be more interested in the dancing scenes in movies as well. We only danced twice. The second dance was quite fast and during the course of it, Mary lost one of her shoes. We found it again when the music finished, then made made jokes about the wild regency party. I kept being a little afraid that I would accidentally step on the lace trim of the dress I was wearing. Mary is taller than I am. Even though I was wearing 1.5 inch heels, the back trim kept threatening to get caught. I really did not want to damage Mary’s lovely dress.

I am now eyeing the dances at Worldcon and pondering the possibilities of costumes. I’m not certain I will follow through, life is busy and Worldcon is hectic, but I had enough fun that the idea really appeals to me.

Thoughts in the Wake of the Convention

The trip home from a convention always feels much shorter than traveling to get there. The oddness of this phenomenon is increased by the fact that I spend the trip out reading and generally trying to keep myself occupied. On the trip home I spend most of the time staring at nothing with only my thoughts to entertain me. Conventions are a serious overload of stimuli, new situations, new people, new ideas, and new information. On the trip home I begin to sort it all, rarely do I get the sorting done before the end of the trip.

As we were leaving the hotel room on the first day of the convention, I saw Mary take out two dollars and leave them on the bed for the housekeeping staff. It was one of those “of course I should be doing that” moments. Housekeeping staff often changes from day to day, and each one does helpful tasks. I happened to come up to the room about an hour later just as the cleaning cart was about to get to our room. The tiny woman pushing the cart nodded and smiled at me asking “I come back later?” I smiled back and answered that now was fine, I was just grabbing something. She smiled and nodded several times to me. She had a beautiful smile, it made all the wrinkles of her face into joy lines. Throughout the weekend our room was always cleaned first. She smiled and greeted us every time she saw us. Mary says there were even little thank you notes in broken English. So much gratitude to be purchased at the low price of $2 per day. Sometimes little things make a huge difference.

The whole weekend was remarkably free of guilty moments. In the past I have always received a phone call from a child who is having some sort of emotional crisis. The child cries, I attempt to figure out what happened and to problem solve over the phone. Usually I can only help things calm down some and I have to hang up without knowing how it will all be resolved. Then I feel worried and guilty for an hour or the rest of the trip. This did not happen during the weekend.

I liked the lack of guilt and have been trying to deconstruct why it stayed away so that I can repeat the experience. It is possible that everyone was focused on letting me have a break and so they made extra efforts to solve their own problems. If this is the reason it means that I have been assisting in the creation of these crisis moments by placing myself in the center of every crisis resolution. I need to be stepping back more so that they can learn to work things out for themselves. I must think on it further.

Time to Go Home

In about an hour I’ll catch a cab to the airport. As I sat on my bed this morning contemplating my upcoming travel, I realized I was feeling homesick. The odd thing is that I was feeling homesick for California not Utah. California is where I grew up, and usually when I come here I have a strong “not my home anymore” feeling. This time I found myself watching the palm trees, ground ivy, and the architecture. I think it is a reflection of a longing for childhood or a simpler time. The feeling is a very quiet one. I’m only sensing it this morning because all of my usual thoughts are packed away. Indeed the minute I opened my laptop and saw my email, my mind dashed back to Utah and the interesting projects which are ahead of me.

However I am a little haunted by a conversation I had with Mary.
“I miss palm trees.” I said.
“Obviously you need to plant a palm tree in your yard.” she answered.
“Palm trees don’t grow well in Utah.” I answered.

As soon as the words were spoken I could see the potential meta-ness of them. My mind set to work trying to parse out the symbolism of the palm tree. There may be some there, or there may not. Either way I’m glad I’ve seen it and written about it. This way I have a link to that quiet feeling, a thread I can follow even when the trappings of my regular life flow in to fill up most of my emotional space.

Having described the homesickness feeling, I discover that I am also looking forward to going back to Utah which is my actual and emotional home. I will slip back into it like a warm and familiar coat. As I understand it, having a coat will be useful as the weather there continues to be cold.

Introducing Myself

I’m still working on figuring out how best to introduce myself to new people here. The focus of who I am shifts depending upon the social circumstances of the introduction. So far I’ve been introduced as a fiction writer, a blogger, Howard’s wife, the manager of Schlock Mercenary, one of Mary’s alpha readers, and as Mary’s guest. It has been a fascinating opportunity to watch how I am treated based on the framing of the introduction. Unfortunately the usefulness of the experiment is somewhat foiled by the excellence of the people to whom I’ve been introduced. I’ve been uniformly spoken to with respect and interest. The shape of the respect and the follow-up questions is different, but if the conversation lasts for any length of time the other aspects of who I am also get touched on.

The one major role in my life that has not been my primary introductory lead-in is being a parent. Again, that gets mentioned but often much later. Once again I’m having the experience where I mention the quantity of my children and people are a bit startled. I’m still sorting the experiences and trying to rehearse so that I can introduce myself comfortably. The process is surprisingly similar to writing an elevator pitch for a book. I now have two sentence introductions for my blog, my Schlock Mercenary work, and my book. Having the pitches is really useful so that I don’t have those deer-in-the-headlights moments when someone says “And you are? What do you do?”

This convention is perfect for playing with the introductory options and pitches, because I’m not actually trying to pitch anything. I have no goals to forward, no people I need to seek out in order to advance my career. I am able to just meet cool people rather than seeking out people because I am hoping for something from them. It is a very pleasant way to attend a convention.

And now, to breakfast.

Three Snippets from the Second Day of Baycon

I was sitting at lunch with Mary and Kimmi. For them it was a discussion about Mary’s upcoming GoH interview with Kimmi as the interviewer. I was along for the food. The con was not in full bustle around us, but there were lots of interesting distractions. This was when my phone rang. The kids at home had locked themselves out of the house. I directed them to our backyard neighbor who has a key. I also spent several minutes calming a distraught Gleek, who was afraid that she would have to spend the night without the backpack full of security objects which had been locked in the house. They got the key, liberated the all-important back pack, and the kids went off to their aunt’s house for a sleepover.

I’ve gotten phone calls from home mid-convention before. I have one pretty much every convention I attend. It is often quite hard for me to stay calm because the calls bring out into the open whatever guilt I may be feeling about leaving the kids to attend the convention. This time I was not rattled at all. While the fate of the backpack was in question, I knew that two responsible adults were right there to help the kids deal with whatever outcome there might be. It was more amusing than anything else and gave me a story to tell when I got back to the table with Mary and Kimmi.


Mary’s signing here at the convention was pretty much the antithesis of the perfect signing. It was held during the dinner hour, wasn’t in the program book, the dealer’s room had already closed (so no one could buy books), and she was tucked away in a corner room far off the beaten path. Mary was cheerful and amused about it. She and I sat and talked for an hour. We were joined after awhile by a member of the convention staff with whom we had a lovely conversation. He took notes about how things should be different in other years. As Mary said it, conventions always have troubles of one sort or another. Things get mis-communicated, double booked, or overlooked. The key is for everyone to learn from the errors. And the Baycon staff have been wonderfully attentive in every interaction I’ve ever had with them.


I sat at a table in the lobby next to the bar with an ever-shifting group of authors and editors. I’d been there for several hours already and never once been bored. As people came and went I always had someone new to speak with and learn about. I had several quite-extended conversations with people I’d never met before, but with whom I hope to keep in touch. The night extended into early morning and I was still in my chair half from inertia, I finally pulled myself from the group and made my way upstairs. Tomorrow I have plans for tracking down my new acquaintances and visiting more.

Traveling, Baycon, and Getting Settled at the Convention

I meandered through the San Jose airport looking at shops and pausing to admire several art installations. I had no one to mange but myself. It was odd. I counted back through my memories and came to the conclusion that I have not traveled solo since I was 19 years old, single, and a college student. Even then my parents came with me to the gate and Howard met me at the other end. (We were dating, but not yet engaged.) I was not afraid to be in an unfamiliar airport by myself. I’ve done enough traveling to know what to expect even when I don’t know the exact locations of the things I expect.

San Jose is a mix of things familiar and things new. I grew up only 45 minutes from here. I see the palm trees, ground ivy, yellow hills, and part of my brain says that I’ve come home. Right outside my hotel window is the Great America amusement park which was the cool place to go when I was a middle school kid. I was looking at the architecture as I rode in a taxi to the hotel. It is quintessentially California with all those early spanish influences. The colors and red tile roofs would be exotic except that they are so familiar.

Baycon itself is also a mix of things different and familiar. Other than Mary Robinette Kowal, with whom I am staying, and John Picacio, whom I’ve met briefly on a couple of occasions, I didn’t know anyone. I do now. Conventions are like that. After the Mingle with the Guests event, I have new blogs to look up and people with whom to keep in touch. The feel of convention hotel is very familiar. The vibe of the attendees is comfortable. Yet everything has a slight spin which reflects the local aesthetic and zeitgeist. The most different part is being completely at my own disposal.

On the first evening I discovered yet another small adjustment I need to make professionally. The very first moment I was called on to introduce myself I said “I’m Howard Tayler’s wife.” It was a useful hook because the other person then connected me with where they’d seen me before, unfortunately it also emphasized the wrong part of who I am. Here at Baycon I’m trying to be Sandra Tayler, writer rather than Sandra attached to Schlock Mercenary. Mary helped me rehearse a better introduction and has flawlessly introduced me to many people in ways that make me sound interesting. There was a moment at breakfast this morning where someone I’d been talking to for an hour finally connected me to Howard and lit up with delight. It made me happy, in part because having someone be delighted at you is always a positive experience, but also because it meant that the respect I’d been getting before was all earned by me rather than bestowed upon me by my association with Howard.

I was at the Mingle with the Guests event and Mary introduced me to a friend. I ended up telling about my writing for a little bit. In a moment when the friend was distracted by something else, Mary leaned over and said “Do you realize that you keep stepping backward like you’re trying to flee?” I looked down and realized that I was indeed at least two feet from where the conversation began. I had been slowly moving the conversation because I’d take a tiny step back and others would step forward to keep within good talking proximity. It wonderfully expressed the tentativeness I feel when presenting myself for my own works rather than the associations with others. I think I shall also find comfort in it because they did step forward so that we could continue to talk.

Thus far my conventioning without Howard experience has been a good one. There are edges of missing home and kids, occasional moments when I feel odd or misplaced, but on the whole I am having a great time.

Facing Blogging Fears or Joining Amy Sundberg’s Backbone Project

One of the hard parts about making a living in the publishing industry is our complete dependence upon the goodwill of people we’ve never met in person. Most of the time our interactions with fans bring us joy. Other times are hard. Whether the words arrive as an email or a blog comment, my stomach sinks and I am afraid. The missive is from a person who is declaring that Howard or I have offended them and that they will no longer support us in any way. Most of the time the person is obviously trying to be polite despite the fact that they are upset. It would be easier if they were unreasonable and I could dismiss what they have to say.

My first reaction is always to try to make it better. I want to erase the offense, particularly if I feel it was in any way merited. My back brain churns into overtime composing and re-composing possible responses. The truth is that, at best, I can sometimes smooth a little of the anger or hurt. I can not change their mind. Sometimes all I can do is sit frustrated because as far as I can see the offense has to do with something in their head and nothing we did wrong. Even if wea are not at fault, it lingers in my mind. I’m left to wonder who else we have offended who did not take time to email or comment. In my mind’s eye I can see all of the fans packing up and quietly spending money somewhere else and leaving us without an income.

This is my fear and it is antithetical to being a daring blogger. Every time I post, or Howard posts, I know it is possible that someone will be offended. So I phrase myself carefully. I try to make sure that the posts are balanced and see all sides of whatever issue I am discussing. It has become second nature to me to see multiple sides of any issue. What is truly terrifying, and what I rarely do, is to take a stand. The minute I do, I know that I have alienated the people out there who disagree with me. I don’t want to alienate readers, in part because I like being able to afford things, but even more because I honestly don’t want to hurt anyone. Yet people can not grow if they are not challenged. I am truly grateful to the writers out there who are willing to blog their thoughts because through them I can begin to see the world in new ways. Some things are important and being conciliatory will not get them noticed or changed. I do myself, my readers, and the world no favors if I stay silent out of fear.

I was thinking about all of this when I read about Amy Sundberg’s Backbone Project. Amy intends to write three posts in which she will not be wishy-washy. I think she has offered a good challenge and I shall try. I will write three posts where I dare to address something I’ve been afraid to write. I will try to address it in such a way that readers are encouraged to participate in a conversation on the topic. Then when disagreements arrive, I will attempt to keep the comment conversation open rather than deliberately choosing responses (or non-responses) which discourage further comment.

My fears of creating an internet brouhaha are not unjustified. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve also read stories about how internet notoriety spilled over in life-destructive ways. Every day bloggers discover that things said online have real world consequences. Lena Chen recently wrote an interesting article in Salon magazine talking about the consequences of her fearless blogging and how she learned to be much more cautious about the things she wrote. She jumped into the deep end and made her way out. I’m starting from the other side, dabbling my toes in the water and contemplating swimming out to the dock. But I will swim. I j ust need to space out my daring posts. I expect this challenge to be somewhat anxiety inducing and I’ll have to carefully time the posts for days when I have the time to hover over comments. This post represents a beginning.

Packing for the weekend

When Howard goes on a trip, packing is always a source of worry for him. This is not because packing is complicated. Packing just ends up as the focal point for all the various stresses ahead. When Howard gets within a day of departure and his bag is not yet packed, he gets anxious and cranky. He needs the physical representation of being prepared.

Last night I sat in my chair after writer’s group and stress descended upon me. Howard saw it and asked if I was all right.
“You know that feeling you have when you’re leaving on a trip and you’re not packed yet?” I answered. “I feel that right now and I think it is focused on the childcare situation.”
My statement was a tightly controlled response, deliberately calm in opposition to how I actually felt. Odd that I can feel that everything will be fine and also want to jitter in panic at the same time.
“Sounds like making childcare arrangements is first on tomorrow’s list.” Howard said.

And so it was. I now know where the kids will be while I am in California and Howard is at CONduit in Salt Lake. I have the framework upon which I can build meal plans and instructions for the kids. I will arrange things and then I will let go.

I am not the only one planning for this weekend. Several weeks ago we pondered the logistics of Howard managing a dealer’s table by himself and determined that he needed a minion. We mentioned the job to Kiki along with the possibility that this might be a paid gig. There was a road block in that she would have to miss school on Friday. I set the problem aside to think about a different day, but Kiki did not. She talked to all of her teachers. She made arrangements to take a final exam early and to turn in homework assignments. She calmly and responsibly cleared Friday from any conflicts. She is going to CONduit with Howard and is quite excited about it.

Working a table is not the only source of excitement for Kiki. She is also putting some of her work into the art show. Yesterday included a last-minute scramble to select pieces and matte them. There were difficulties, matting is a skill which neither Kiki nor I possess at expert levels. But the job got done and the show is prepared. Whether or not her pieces sell, the experience of preparing for a show is a good learning experience for her.

Other preparations for this weekend involve Patch and Gleek. I have been working with them so that they are more independent at bedtime. For years our bedtime routines have been heavily dependent upon me being present. The structures were rigid. First snack, then reading with snack, then reading in bed after snack, then talking with mom, then a dozen excuses and delays, eventually sleep. A week ago I declared that they needed to practice putting themselves to bed. It was their job to track the time and get everything done. The results have been mixed. I’m still heavily involved in keeping them focused, but bedtime has been more fluid and they are beginning to step up and take responsibility rather than shouting at me if I try to skip steps due to the late hour. I don’t know how well bedtime will go when I am removed from the equation, but they have better ground work for success than they did a week ago.

The preparations are coming together. The pieces are starting to line up. My clothes are not yet in a suitcase, but I am beginning to feel packed.

What Works in Blogging

In one of my online writing forums I have been following a discussion about what works and does not work in blogging. I found it fascinating that as the discussion developed everyone assumed “working” to mean “attracting traffic.” It is a valid discussion to have. In fact it is a critical discussion for a fiction writer who is using her blog as a promotional tool. However I found myself feeling a bit defensive about the whole thread, because for me traffic is not the primary measure of what makes a good blog post.

I’ve noticed a trend in blogging, it has become an established form. The blogger writes something interesting or insightful and then ends the post with a series of questions. The purpose of the questions is to engage the reader. It is an attempt to invite comment and hopefully make the blogging experience interactive. Unfortunately for me the questions often have the opposite effect. They feel like those Chapter In Review questions at the end of a textbook chapter. They say “This is what you should take from this post.” I never liked answering chapter review questions and so questions slapped on the end of a blog post often feel alienating to me. Often, but not always. Sometimes the whole shape of the post builds up to the questions and they flow organically from everything that went before. Then I am engaged, sometimes even enough to lure me out of my lurker mode.

This is why writers need to realize that blogging is its own form. It has demands and structures which need to be learned. Then you can blog in ways that engage with the intended audience rather than boring or alienating them. Fiction has genres, so does blogging. Using the structures of a mystery novel when writing epic fantasy results in a broken novel. Using the structures of an informational reporting blog when writing a personal blog makes the posts feel disjointed. Ultimately blogs which understand and use the appropriate structures will end up gathering an audience.

So how does a writer learn these blogging structures? This is trickier because blogging is a relatively new form. I know there are informational books out there which teach blogging. There are blogs about how to blog. Even the forum I read was full of useful information about when and what to post in order to draw more traffic. Ultimately the answer is the same as for any other form of writing.

1. Read lots of the kind of writing that you want to do. This teaches the structures to your subconscious.

2. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t be afraid to let it be awful at first. Everyone goes through the early awkward stages. Consistent practice will teach you what your voice needs to be, and your voice will be different from anyone else.

As for me, I’m trying to overcome my defensiveness about discussions of blogging among the genre circles where I hang out. Not everyone needs to love blogging for its own sake. It is perfectly valid to keep a blog as a news feed or promotional platform. I just love it so much that I want everyone else to see how beautiful and wonderful it can be. I’m still not perfect at it. Not by a long shot. I need to learn those deliberate “engage with the audience” tools which I saw under discussion. Engaging is scary. There is the possibility that contention or conflict will result. I don’t like that. There is also the awful possibility that my attempts to engage would be answered by virtual crickets. Yet I can see the power of a blog post when the post generates a conversation among those who read it. So here is my experimental attempt to engage without getting all Chapter-in-review-y. What are one or two blogs that you read which you feel are excellent and why do you feel that way? (Please include links. I’d love to expand my reading list. And yes, you can tell me about yours.)

Taking Apart a Computer Monitor

A few years ago Gleek’s school class sent notes home advertising a “Take Apart” day. They wanted old appliances or technology which was broken so that the kids could take things apart and see how these familiar objects looked inside. We happened to have a broken laptop to send with Gleek, which thrilled her. She had the coolest take apart item in the class. Since that day, Gleek often requests broken things so that she can take them apart. I figure there is no difference between recycling the thing whole or in pieces, so when I have something I let her.

On Sunday Gleek and Patch took screwdrivers to my broken flat screen monitor. It was fascinating to see all the layers that go into making a monitor run. The kids loved unplugging the circuit boards and pulling loose the screws. We were fascinated to discover that the monitor screen had five layers. There were three thin sheets of various refractive qualities, one liquid crystal board which had electronic inputs, then a thick polycarbonate sheet which also refracted light in interesting ways. We examined the tiny florescent light bars before recycling them as possibly toxic when broken. Bits of metal and plastic went into the bin as well. I must admit I was as fascinated by the process as the kids were. I have a better idea of what makes monitors work. We kept the circuit boards and the interesting refractive sheets. I’ve got my eyes open to figure out what broken thing we can take apart next.