Archive for April, 2009

City Mouse

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Josh and I have been trying to become more “green”. The city of Pittsburgh has now deemed recycling a mandatory affair, which was just the push we needed. We purchased our little blue buckets, emblazoned with the arrow symbol, and now happily fill them with glass and plastic and metal and paper things. I am thoroughly enjoying it, since it is a chance to more fully involve my love of Tetris — sort, sort, sort — into my every day life. Our plan is to eventually have more recyclables than landfill garbage. I know, I know, we hippies should probably cut our hair and get jobs.

Also part of the plan: a more extensive vegetable garden. I tried a small garden last year with what I’ll call “moderate success”. Out of six plants, three were decimated overnight by a rabbit, and the remaining yielded about 1.2 million yellow pear tomatoes and a single green pepper.

A friend came up last weekend bearing a large bag of vegetable seed packets and we spent part of Saturday planting them. It was during this time that I realized, while she poked holes in fresh potting soil with a kabob stick and I delicately delivered little seeds into said holes, that I am such a city mouse. Good grief. We giggled like little girls that got a forbidden Ouiji board into a fourth grade sleepover.

Look. I spent weeks at my aunt’s farm for several summers during my childhood. I’ve helped bale hay and performed other farmly duties. I’ve collected items from my grandparents’ garden. Planting seeds should not have been as silly as it was, but I felt like I was performing 7th year Hogwarts magic. Classic quotes from the afternoon included:

“How will they know to wake up?”

“Augh!” (There were bees)

“Oh, right. Yes, well, I guess pea seeds would, of course, be… peas.”

That’s just embarrassing. There is also the issue of where I am going to put them all once they begin growing, but I’m still not convinced I did it right or that anything will come from the little things. I saw them when I put them in. They did not look alive, I tell you.


And, yes, they are spending their formative time in a cut-off Yeungling box. Because that’s how we do it here in Pittsburgh (yinz).

Too short

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

There’s nothing like a death in the family to make you re-evaluate your priorities.

Josh’s grandfather passed away on Tuesday. He was 86, a veteran of the second World War and one of the happiest, optimistic, cheeriest men I’ve ever met, even as his body slowly failed him. He is the reason Josh loves the Cubs, why Josh insists on scoring every baseball games we attend. The last time we saw him, over Thanksgiving weekend, he drove himself to lunch and we had a great couple of hours, him wheeling his little oxygen tank behind him to and from the salad bar, weeks before having a leg amputated. He will be missed greatly.

Life is too short, and I think am on a path to burn-out. I’m taking the summer off for personal projects. So there.

What’s in a name?

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

flower-rose_5xv.jpgJosh and I had a funny conversation the other day.

I have known for a while that Josh is not a particularly huge fan of the fantasy genre, and we tried to figure out exactly which parts turned him off. Is it the magic? I ask. No. Weird powers? No. The creatures? No, those are cool. The differing social structures, maybe? No.

“None of those,” he admits. “I think it’s mainly the names.”

The names?

His complaint is that you’re beebopping along in a story. You’re happy and familiar with the current characters, and then you’re being introduced to some new characters and of course none of them are named George or Bob or Roger or Amanda — they’re each an Aragorn or Akbar or Severus. I’ve heard this complaint before, and I’m somewhat guilty of the same thing. My brain’ll gloss over something if I deem it too bizarre or unpronounceable.

Actually, a group of us were all reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series in high school, and one of them asked how I pronouced one of the words. It was an important word, one I’d seen hundreds of times on the page, but even deep into the fourth book, I was at a loss — my brain had been pronouncing it something close to ‘blah’ in my head for months.

Josh read and enjoyed The Sum of David, but hated many of the names. Bear he could handle. Thor was not common, but doable. But Holder, Jameela, and Tanece? I believe his words were “Those are stupid. No one can remember that!”

And Calemadestes, a name and character of which I’m particularly proud? Totally made him want to strangle someone.

Meanwhile, if and when we get a pet in the future, we already have a name picked out: Polly. Which is short for Polamalu. Go figure.

The Problem with Fantasy

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

p-p-z.jpgI’m not a voracious reader, by any means. I usually have a magazine (design! science!) or some kind of fantasy novel in my Bag Lady bags. I’m trying to read more, however, with a focus in the genre I’d like to be published in one day.

I just finished up two classic fantasy novels and found them both underwhelming. Granted, one was published in 1970 and the other was translated from German, but one was also a Newbery Medal winner, and both were made into movies. The writing is fine, the stories are interesting, the lands fantastic. The characters? Generally Meh.

Which is a shame. The cool thing about Fantasy is you get to make everything up. The possible pitfall is that you have to make everything up. You have to set the ground rules of a world, a society, whatever.

Those bonus perimeters include the characters, and can allow for some great added drama — for instance, Pride and Prejudice would have been a different book if Elizabeth were a vampire or fairy or… zombie?

But while the unique aspect of a SF/F setting can be a roller-coaster ride, it shouldn’t be the only engaging aspect of a story, with the characters you’re supposed to care about simply being shuffled around. I’ve never connected emotionally with a mountain, coastline or swamp; but give me a character I can love or hate or root for and I’m yours. Speaking as someone who’s created some different environments, I know it’s challenging to keep that world from becoming it’s own entity, and perhaps in some cases that is appropriate, but after seeing it crash in spectacular fashion (or am I the only one who thinks so?) I have a hearty interest in making sure I did not, will not, make the same mistake.


Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Remember when I used to blog? Wasn’t that fun? I was young and shiny-eyed, full of things to say. Now my life is a shell of its former vigor, beaten down into a murky obedience. That light in my eyes has gone out.

Just kidding. I’ve just been busy.

I have all sorts of things to share, too. I took a roadtrip with my dad around West Virginia last weekend, visiting relatives I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. This involved a lot driving, a lot of fun and a lot of food… including the Appalachian beauty that is Granny’s biscuits and chocolate gravy. Speaking of which, if you’ve heard of chocolate gravy, please tell me. I’d love to find someone familiar with it that isn’t a part of my family tree.

I went to see Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis, speak at Carnegie Music Hall, which was both engaging and educational. I respect anyone that says “shit” while in that marble-y, gilded-to-the-hilt establishment. The Q&A session was particularly interesting.

I’ve been working my butt off in freelance land, but I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to share in that vein, since they are secret things, GOVERNMENT* things. Between freelance and 52ills, Adobe’s Illustrator is my best friend. I just upgraded to CS4, so that’s nice, but it has yet to buy me a beer.

I’ve got plans for my studio that involve a redesign and a mural. AND I’ve started making pretty extensive notes on the conclusion of my current trilogy. I’m also reading some classic YA fantasy novels, inspired by the .50 rack at Half Price Books — I covered The Neverending Story, and I’m currently reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising.

I have made no progress on submitting query letters, because I don’t WANNA. This is the most current juvenile reason in a long line of excuses I’ve made to keep myself from tasting rejection.

And last, but certainly not least, Val and I have discussed resurrecting an old idea that could potentially engage the mind and excite the eyes. You know, because we don’t have other stuff going on.

*Not really. Geeze, I’m full of lies this morning. They’re just not ready.