Month: February 2012

Howard’s Birthday

At some point this year I’ll have spent half my life hanging out with Howard. It’s been the best half. Happy Birthday honey! Let’s go have some sushi.

Remnant Population, Hearths, Transformation, and Travel

Last week I re-read Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. It is a book I’ve loved for years. This was the first book that taught me being old could be interesting and wonderful in some ways. The book examines the ways that the elderly are de-valued and why they should not be. It also has fascinating things to say about the responsibility to nurture regardless of race, creed, or species. Nurturing is what I do. I spend three quarters of my energy on tasks which are for the benefit of those residing inside my home. I work at house cleaning, earning money, managing homework, being a chauffeur, and dozens of other things, all in an effort to create a space in which growth is maximized. In the parlance of Remnant Population, I do my best to be a Nest Guardian for my family and friends. The role of Nest Guardian is separate from the role of Mother. The Mother feeds and tends the bodies. The Nest Guardian is post-mother, a grandmother or aunt whose responsibility is to feed and tend the minds. Children have one Mother, but many Nest Guardians. I first read this book when I was in the midst of the diaper and toddler stage of parenting. I think it seeped into my consciousness and helped me to see that feeding one end and cleaning up the other was not the point.

This week brought me an article in our church magazine which spoke of being Guardians of the Hearth. The phrase immediately brought Remnant Population to mind, particularly since I’d just finished my re-read. I like the idea of a hearth as a central gathering place of heat and light. People gather round the hearth and a closeness is created out of the shared experience of gathering. My home is a hearth. I try to make it a place where people can be safe, laugh, eat, and learn. Howard shares the hearth keeping responsibilities with me. Now that the kids are older they are also participating in tending the hearth. Thus our home becomes a mutual creation.

When I was a senior in high school I went on a week-long trip to Washington D.C. It was very different from my home in California. I tromped with a group of peers through the capitol building, saw the Vietnam Memorial, looked up into the giant stone face of Lincoln, spoke with demonstrators outside the white house, participated in debates, and wandered through the Museum of Art. The week was transformative for me. I came home with my horizons broadened and everything was new. I promised myself I would go back one day. I went to college, got married, and had kids. I wanted to take my kids to Washington D.C. I wanted to show them all the things I had seen, tell them what I had learned.

When the possibility was raised that I might go to the Nebula Weekend with my sister, one of the deciding factors was that it takes place in Arlington, Virginia right outside Washington D.C. In fact the Nebula programming includes options to tour the Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I’m going back to Washington D.C. Not for as long, nor as thoroughly, but still I am going. Without my kids. I had to think about that. I’d always meant to take them. But the truth is that they will have their own transformative experiences. I can’t give them mine. Even if I hauled them to every location where I went as a teen, I can’t guarantee they’ll gain what I gained. Part of my transformation was being nearly-adult, out on my own, away from my parents. I pondered this and realized that my intention to take my kids to Washington D.C. was a smoke screen. The core truth is that I want to go back. I want to see those things again, to see what else those places have to teach me. The only way I could justify it in my mind was to make the trip be for the education of the children.

A hearth exists not just for the children. Adults are not beyond the need for nurturing. We are all of us growing and becoming. Or we should be. If I want to be a good Nest Guardian, a good Guardian of the Hearth, I have to nurture my own growth as well as the growth of those around me. Taking a trip so that I can learn and grow is just as valid as taking a trip for the purpose of teaching the children. Fascinating that I did not see it before. I have my tickets and I’ll fly in May.

Three Quick Updates

On Wednesday we’ll be running a sale in our store to celebrate Howard’s birthday. We’ll be discounting deeper than usual and featuring the numbers 11 (the number of birthday’s Howard has had), 29 9the date on which he was born), and 44 (how many years he’s been around.) This means that today and tomorrow will include preparatory work for the sale.

The lovely essay I wrote yesterday is still true, but less exhausted conversation with Kiki clarified that her dance experience was more complex than the essay implied. This will not surprise anyone who has experienced adolescent relationships. The dance was a very good experience. I can tell because of all the new thoughts she is thinking. This is one of the purposes for adolescence, to begin to figure out what you want in relationships both friendships and closer ones. I’m glad that Kiki is willing to sit with Howard and I to talk through all of her thoughts.

Last week I booked plane tickets which will take me to the Nebula Awards weekend in May. This will be a solo trip where I leave Howard and the kids to take care of each other. The thought of this trip makes me happy because I don’t think my sister Nancy and I have ever had three days in a row to hang out together without our kids. I don’t think we even had this sort of focused time when we were teenagers. We were too absorbed in our regular lives. I’m also excited that I’ll get to go back to Washington DC and do a couple of tours. I haven’t been there since I was a senior in high school. So nostalgia and photography are incoming the third weekend in May.

After the Dance

Kiki came home smiling. The boy walked her to the door, both to say goodnight and to retrieve his suit jacket which she was still wearing. She gave him the jacket and apologized for the silver glitter stuck to it. Her shining dress had an infinite supply of sparkles to shed on every surface it touched. He assured her that he didn’t mind and gave her a hug goodnight. The door closed behind him and my daughter’s first formal dance was done.

“Can you help me take down my hair?” Kiki asked slumping on one of our kitchen stools.
“Sure.” I answered. I stood behind her and pin by pin removed the twists and curls I’d helped her put up only a few hours before.

My mind was aswirl with memories of my own formal dances, times when I got to wear a boy’s suit jacket, lovely dances, awkward dances, dates in which the whole evening was like flying, and dates which ended in tears. Formal dances are fraught with possibilities both good and bad. I wanted to know which sort of experiences had come to my daughter. I hoped for her to have happy ones. Yet I was strongly aware that these were her experiences, not mine. They were hers to share or to tuck into her heart like treasures. All these thoughts, hopes, fears distilled themselves into bland words.

“It looks like your hair stayed put.” I said
“Yeah.” I was surprised.” Kiki answered. “It even stayed when I flipped it around.”

I pulled out the last pin and Kiki’s long curls tumbled down her back. Those curls represented thirty minutes of effort, mousse, and hairspray.

“Sounds like you had fun.” I said.
“I did. But the dance was loud and crowded.” Kiki smiled, then slumped forward to rest her head on her arms.
I smiled and ran my fingers through her hair, freeing it from its twist. What ever difficulties or awkwardness attended the evening I could tell they had passed, leaving Kiki with an exhausted contentment. I breathed thoughts of gratitude to the boy who’d helped make the loud and crowded dance a good place for my daughter. She generally avoided noisy crowds. I also sighed relief that this date had gone so much better than the one last Fall with a different boy. That one had been filled with stress and awkwardness in larger measure than enjoyment.

Kiki and I walked together up the stairs. She was too tired to talk much. I helped her change out of her fancy dress and into pajamas, just as I used to help her change when she was little. One last cloud of glitter drifted to the floor as I hung it up. After an evening dressed up and grown up, Kiki was glad to come home and be young again.

I was glad to have her home too. That final waiting hour before she walked in smiling had not been hard or worrisome, just aware. My daughter would be home soon. Then I would know what sort of an evening she’d had. During that waiting hour, Howard and I stood in the kitchen together, participating in the parental cliche of waiting up for a child who is out on a date. We were waiting to see the results of this small flight into independence. Her flights will take her higher and farther. Before long our house will become a place she visits instead of the heart of her existence.

At quarter to midnight our patience ran out. Howard sent her a text.
“Tick. Tick. Tick…”
We laughed as we sent it, enjoying the irony of Howard pretending to be an over-bearing, curfew-demanding father, when we knew it was unnecessary. We had not set a hard curfew and she would be home as soon as possible after the dance. We trusted her. If something had gone wrong she would have called for rescue. Yet there was a core of truth to the text too. We wanted our daughter home so we could lock her safe inside, so we could sleep easy.
Howard’s phone chimed with an answering text.
We laughed. She was fine, humor intact. She entered, smiling, only a few minutes later.

I tucked the pajama’d Kiki into bed and Howard delivered our cat to sleep with her. I walked through the house once more before turning out the lights. Silver glitter sparkled on the kitchen floor, like dust from a vanished fairy. I turned out the lights and all was well.

Events of the Day

Today I:

Waved to my neighbor of six years as she drove her boys away from the house next to mine, which is no longer hers. She paused long enough for us to exchange a hug through the window of her car. I felt bad that my day had been full of things which did not include helping carry things from her house or scrubbing the fixtures which are staying. We’ll still see them. They haven’t gone far yet, but it is different.

Packed a bag full of cosmetics, curling irons, hair products, and bobby pins. Then I went to the house of one of Kiki’s friends where four girls were getting ready for a formal dance. I assisted in creating beautiful hair until I was coated with a layer of hair spray and my hands were sticky with mousse. The results were lovely.

Took a call from Howard in which he informed me that his Volkswagon Beetle had been rear-ended. The damage is minor, but will definitely have to be repaired. So come Monday morning I’ll be taking over communicating with insurance companies so that Howard can focus on work. By evening Howard was feeling stiff and had crashed down off of the adrenaline from the accident. I stood in the kitchen and listened to him as he sorted the thoughts in his head.

Did not get nearly as much done as I’d intended to do. I mailed packages and began laundry. I did a little computer work and sprayed bleach on the mildew attempting to colonize a corner of our bathroom. I did none of the de-cluttering I’d intended.

All that remains is waiting up for my daughter to arrive home and then getting to bed.

In Which I Share My To Do List

This week and next week are filled up with deadlines. Many of them are self imposed, but sticking to them is important because some of them aren’t. Some things I have to get out of the way so that I can focus on other things. Other things need to be done so that we have money to pay bills. Then there are the things for the kids, who are the point of all the bill paying. All of this leaves little space for leisurely blog thoughts. Instead I present a list of things I need to do in the next seven days:
Create panel layouts, tag, catalog, and pack up art for the Lunacon art show.
Mail those packages to Lunacon
Determine if there will be a vendor at Lunacon to sell Howard’s books
Pack and mail books to that vendor
Fix broken images in the latest iteration of Sharp End of the Stick (SEOS)
Comb through SEOS making copy edits and evening out the strips
Put pipe boxes around all the SEOS footnotes
Place margin art in all of the SEOS white spaces
Assemble the SEOS cover
Test print SEOS
Clean my house
Do all the laundry
Plan for two birthdays next week
Scan art for ebay auctions
prepare ebay listings
Prep store for Howard’s 24 hour birthday sale
Monitor homework times
Help a gaggle of girls do their hair for a formal dance
Update Accounting
Take my 5th grader to a city council meeting
Critiques for writers group
Meet with my presentation partner and plan for our master class in May
Spend social time with family and friends

Things which almost certainly don’t fit this week, but need to happen as soon as possible:
Learn options for shipping software
Layout family photo books
Layout my annual One Cobble book
Layout a blog sampler book and design an actual cover for it

I’m hoping that by the time we get Howard on a plane to Lunacon SEOS will be off to the printer, the buffer will be building back up, the house will be clean, and all my other projects will be moving along nicely.

Stationery Box for Correspondence

I’ve been really enjoying participating in the Month of Letters Challenge. So much fun, that I have every intention of continuing to write letters even after February ends. However I did find that I needed a better way to store and manage my correspondence. I needed to be able to pick it up and carry it anywhere in the house because the availability of flat surfaces is highly dependent upon the activities of the kids. I needed a box.

This is my correspondence box fully loaded with supplies. You can see my set of colored fountain pens sitting neatly on top of a stack of stationery and next to the matching envelopes. The pink box surrounding them came with my stationery and is useful for keeping things separate. I have a second stack of note cards and envelopes. This leaves just enough space to tuck in a printed address list and a roll of stamps. Off to the side you can see the letters which were tucked on top of everything else and waiting for me to answer them. I can pick up this box and sit down anywhere with all my supplies. The hard surface of the lid becomes my writing desk. This is quite handy when I’m sitting on a couch or in a comfy chair rather than at a table or counter.

I made this correspondence box myself out of supplies I had on hand. In the end I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by heading over to The Container Store and buying a letter box. However I also quite enjoyed the process of creating one, so in the end I’m happy with the result.

I began with one of the label boxes we have laying around because I use these labels to ship merchandise.

I then coated it with modge podge and covered it in brown packing paper.

I didn’t think the box was deep enough, so I used some extra cardboard to add height to the bottom of the box.

I covered that in brown paper too. Then I coated the outside of the box with modge podge to make it more solid and water resistant.

The finished box is nothing special to look at, but I’m pleased that I was able to create it to answer a need without spending any money.

A Morning of Good News

My sister, Nancy Fulda, has been nominated for a Nebula award. I’m so glad because Nancy works really hard and the nominated story is exceptionally beautiful. I hope that Nancy has a lovely time at the Nebula awards weekend and really wish I could be there with her. However I know she’ll be just fine because that Nebula nominee list is full of amazing people who will welcome her warmly. Besides, I get to have Nancy come to my house later in the summer, so I’ll not feel jealous of a single weekend.

In separate news, my story “The Road Not Taken” is featured today on the Mormon Lit Blitz at One way to really understand a culture is to study the stories they tell to each other. Over the past week and through the end of February, Mormon Artist will be featuring new stories, essays, and poems written by Mormons to a Mormon audience. Feel free to stop by, either to study or to participate in the community. Once all the stories have been posted, there will be voting for a prize. I know the good folks at the Mormon Lit Blitz would love to have as many voting participants as possible. Participation is why they’ve spent so much effort putting this literature blitz together. I am grateful for their hard work.

Weekend Gifts

Went on a walk a week or more ago and took my camera with me. There was a bed full of dried up plants, weedy and broken. When I stepped closer, I saw this.

Add one to the count of small lovely things in the world.

In other news, I spent the weekend hostessing for my brother and his family. With nine children and four adults, most of my days revolved around cooking and cleaning up after cooking. Everyone pitched in to help, but for the most part I handled it. This is fine because sometimes I get to land on my sister in law with all of my kids. It is rather nice to be able to give a break to a pair of stressed parents who don’t often get one.

LTUE Panel notes: Schmoozing 101 / Learning skills for networking, blogging, social media, and self-promotion

In writing up my panel notes for LTUE I become very aware of how much simply can not be conveyed in a text-only medium. This panel was a two-hour interactive lecture run by Mary Robinette Kowal and me. There is real power in a live lecture. It allows a group of people to build a shared context about a topic. A stray comment at the beginning of the panel would be referred to later in a way that would illustrate a point or provoke shared laughter. Trying to capture that would require paragraphs of exposition to describe exactly how tone of voice, facial expression, and body language conveyed a message which is not at all apparent in the words alone. This is particularly true of the segment of lecture where we were discussing body language. Demonstration can show in seconds what description takes a long time to say. All of which illustrates exactly why having in-person meetings with other professionals in your field can be so incredibly valuable. Most of the information here was gleaned from other professionals in conversations both on and offline.

In our presentation Mary and I began by talking about the skills necessary to help these in-person interactions go smoothly. We are both of the opinion that these skills can be learned by anyone at any stage of life. Mary picked up many of them from her mother as a child since her mother worked in a field where schmoozing was necessary. I carefully went out an acquired them when I finally realized that depending upon my husband Howard in all social situations would sometimes leave me floating in deep water without a life preserver. I chose to learn how to make conversation with strangers rather than to stay safe at home. In the second half of the discussion, Mary and I talked about how these same skills translate online and into deliberately self-promotional venues.

Because I can’t properly convey the flow of conversation and story which wrapped around these topics, I’m going to have to resort to a bullet-pointed list. I’ll put in illustrative stories where I can remember them and where I can make them short. I fear this post is doomed to be long. Each section ended with a Q&A session. I don’t have a record of those questions and answers.

Conversations and Introductions

  • Remember that everyone is interesting. More importantly, the person you are talking to is more interesting than you are. Try to make sure that the bulk of a conversation is focused on other people, their interests, their work, etc. The sneaky truth about this is that people love to talk about their interests, which means conversing with you will make them happy and will make them believe you to be interesting. It is perfectly acceptable to try to steer a discussion of the other person’s interests into an area where you can also be interested. IE: If the person you are talking about loves cars and you love design, steer the conversation into the aesthetic design of cars.
  • Have some standard conversation openers. Asking someone where they are from can be too personal, asking them where they arrived from opens up a conversation about travel. If you’re at a shared event like a convention, ask them about panels they’ve seen. Ask them what they’ve been working on lately. Complement an article of clothing such as a watch or jacket. Many of these things have stories attached. As the conversation continues, pay attention to small details which can be used to redirect a conversation or to fill a lull. IE: The person says they got their bracelet in New Mexico, you can jump back to that to mention that you’ve also been to New Mexico and found the weather there stunningly hot, but the landscape gorgeous. And the conversation can continue from there.
  • Rehearsed stories. Just as there are standard conversation openers, there are some fairly standard questions you can expect to be asked. Know what you answers are going to be ahead of time. In particular, be prepared to answer the question “what have you be working on.” (I’ll admit to a massive fail here. I arrived at LTUE, was asked that question and completely blanked on what to say.) It is okay to even prepare an amusing anecdote, just be aware that you may not get to deliver it if the conversation goes a different way. Also be aware that because the same questions get asked over and over, you may find yourself in the uncomfortable situation of not knowing if you’ve already told this story to this group of people.
  • Provide context. It is a great kindness to others if you manage to include in the first few sentences of conversation where you’ve met before and when. “Hi Mary, it is good to see you. I haven’t seen you since Worldcon last August when we talked about wombats.” This provides enough memory tags for Mary to locate the memory of you. Alternately, if Mary does not remember you, it provides enough information for the two of you to have a lovely conversation anyway.
  • Have a change of topic prepared. If you’ve been talking about your own work, be ready to change the topic off of yourself. This is where that attention to the bracelet purchased in New Mexico gives you a chance to redirect the conversation. Being prepared to change the subject means that you are ready to come to the rescue should something awkward happen.
  • Performing introductions. When introducing two people you know, it is a kindness to them to include, along with their names, two pieces of information which either provide context or potential points of common interest.
  • Tag Teaming. Having a wing-man at professional events is incredibly helpful. You can introduce each other, speak glowingly of each other’s work (thus dodging the “don’t talk too much about yourself” stricture), and help each other escape should a social escape become necessary.
  • Promote the work of others. It gives you wonderful topics of conversation. It is a gift to those whose work you’re promoting. It makes you classy.
  • Be yourself. It may take you a while to figure out who “yourself” is in a professional setting, that is okay. The key is to find your own way of relating rather than believing you have to do things the way someone else does.
  • The conversational dismount. This is a close relative to having a change of subject prepared. Be ready to close a conversation and walk away. If the other person does not want the conversation to end, they will ask a question, make a comment, or otherwise extend the conversation. It is better to leave them wanting more. This is particularly true of agents and editors with whom you hope to someday work. Some good dismounts: “It was lovely seeing you, I hope we run into each other again.” “Thank you for your time, I enjoyed talking with you.”

Body Language

This is the section that suffers most from translation to text. Mary used her puppeteer training to explain and demonstrate. I’ll just give some generalized information.

  • Aggressive movement. This is any movement toward something. It can include turning to face something. It indicates engagement or interest.
  • Regressive movement. This is any movement away. It indicates that the person wants to detach or distance.
  • There is also open posture, which indicates engagement and closed posture which indicates disengagement.

The key here is to pay attention to the body expressions of the people you are talking to. If you see regressive movements or closed posture, dismount the conversation gracefully. It may have nothing at all to do with you or with what you were saying. They may have an appointment, need to go to the bathroom, or just feel tired. By walking away you indicated respect and that person will be quite willing to talk to you again at some other time.

This section included a lot of discussion and demonstration about how to enter a conversation, what to do about those who lurk physically, and solutions to the invasion of personal space. It is okay to lie if someone breaks the social compact. If you’ve indicated both by body motion and by conversational dismount phrases that you’re ready to be done talking, but the other person still is not letting go, then make something up and exit. “I’m sorry. I have an appointment.”

Personal Presentation and Basic Marketing

  • Dress for the job you want. This includes both your actual dress and grooming and your web presence. If you want to be a full-time writer then your personal presentation both online and in person should indicate that you are professional. This does not exclude quirkiness and individuality. Some writers dress in costumes, have pink hair, or wear Hawaiian shirts. Just be aware of the impression you are giving. You do not want to seem clueless or unreliable.
  • Express confidence and remember the wonder. When conversation does turn to a point where you are describing your own work, make sure you talk about it with enthusiasm. This is hard. Very often writers will offer up their work as if it is a dead mouse, or something else embarrassing. “I have a story in Asimov’s, but it isn’t very good. I made a mistake in the math.” Stop and remember how you felt writing the story. Think of the cool central idea. Then create a rehearsed conversational statement about that. “I have a story in Asimov’s! It is about living rainbows.” Sharing your excitement and enthusiasm allows your listeners to feel sympathy and interest. It is hard for someone else to be interested in something which you are treating as embarrassing.
  • Tailor your message to your audience. Agents have different interests than readers. For both you’re hoping to convince them to read your work. The agent wants indications of solid writing and marketability. A reader you’ll wants to know what kind of a reading experience they’ll have. An editor wants to know all the twists and turns. A reader doesn’t want spoilers.
  • Repeat your marketing. People need to see something three times before they remember it. They need to see it seven times before they’ll buy. This is true both when you have a physical object to sell, or just if you want to be remembered by your dream agent. So if you’re at an event and want to leave with an agent or editor remembering you, you’re better served by three brief conversations than a single long one. (From a marketing perspective, it would make much more sense for me to break this giant post into a dozen small ones. It would probably be easier for readers to absorb information and it would keep them coming back to my site. I’ve decided not to do that because I want to clear my mind for other things.)
  • Give out useful information. This goes along with praising the work of others and making sure not to talk about yourself too much. It is also particularly true online. When you give out useful information, people link to you. Mary wrote an excellent post about this exact topic. In fact it was the post from which we drew lots of the topics discussed during the presentation. Linked from that post are all of Mary’s Debut Author lessons, which are also worth a read. (I know that after reading 1800 words of panel notes you totally wanted MORE reading, but there you go. Enough to keep you busy for quite a while.)
  • It is okay to have multiple motivations. When attending a conference and meeting people, or joining a forum online, it is okay if part of your motivation for doing so is to promote your work. This is actually expected. The key is to make sure that it is not your only motivation. You should also expect other people to have multiple motivations for wanting to talk with you.

Socializing online.

  • Know the community. There are dozens of social media sites out there and they all have their hidden rules and social norms. Posting ten times in an hour is expected on twitter, it is annoying in facebook or Google+. Each community has its strengths and weaknesses. Each has a different appeal. Use the ones which feel comfortable to you, skip the ones that don’t. Give popular social media a fair shot before deciding they are not useful to you. Twitter seemed ridiculous at first glance and has turned out to be a social media powerhouse.
  • Share wisely. When you share things with your social media streams be sure to put something of yourself into the things you send. Make sure that your social media stream does not turn into noise for the people reading it. You can not fascinate everyone. People will follow and unfollow, don’t take it personally.

All of the social skills discussed in the first three sections can be applied online. The conversations are just virtual instead of in person. As a fun exercise you can pick a skill and pick a venue on the internet and then think how the two relate to each other.

Running a Promotional Push

We reached this topic with a mere ten minutes left to our two hours. It is a topic large enough to be a class all by itself. Perhaps I’ll write up a blog post devoted specifically to it, but not today. Instead I’ll just reiterate what I told the class:

The most important thing you can know about promoting your work is to alternate periods of push with lulls. Link your push to an event, a sale, an award season. Send out your message 3-7 times in 3-7 ways, then give it a rest. The rest is critical. It means that you do not turn into noise for everyone around you. More important it gives you space to relax, write more things, and rediscover your life balance.

With that, our time was up and Mary had to dash away for a reading. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this class. The audience was great. As a result of Mary’s knowledge, and audience questions, I learned a lot. Which brings up a last point I want to make to those who feel overwhelmed by everything above.

We’re all still learning. Even people who have been schmoozing for decades are still learning and adapting. You don’t have to get everything right all at once. Just pick one or two things to practice until they become as natural as walking. Then you can work on something else. Bit by bit we are all becoming who we want to be.