Archive for the ‘#amwriting’ Tag

Staying on Track   2 comments

What tools do you use to organize your writing life? Keep track of deadlines, blog appearances, guests appearing on your blog, etc.? What have you tried that didn’t work for you but might work for someone else?

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Calendar ImageI am not a huge “tool” writer. I think simplicity is an overall good thing in this way-too- complicated era. It’s not that I don’t know how to use technology, but that sometimes I just feel it complicates the process. I don’t, for example, use Scrivener, even though a lot of writers swear by it. Word works for me and keeping it simple means I have more time to write … in my opinion.

But I do have a few tools that I rely on to keep myself organized.

A calendar. I used to have a wall calendar that sat on my desk. It included kids’ appointments and writing events and deadlines. But these days the calendar is on my phone because that goes with me almost everywhere and it is similar to the calendar that rules my work day.

Sticky Notes“Sticky Notes” is a Windows’ program that allows you to put virtual “sticky notes” on your desktop. This is really useful for me because I leave all sorts of notes for myself where I will be confronted with them every time I open my computer. This “in sight, in mind” approach works really well for me.

So what hasn’t worked for me that might work for someone else? One Note seemed like a great idea when I first heard about it, but it’s not worked out for me. I’m not sure why. I just prefer to open a Word document and keep notes there. But it does have a lot of functionality that I suspect would be really nice to use if I hadn’t already gotten into the habit of using Word for that function. I think other people might get more out of it than I do.

I know … kind of boring and low-tech, but it works for me. I bet my fellow writers use more entertaining tools. Go check them out.

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Posted September 24, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Practical in All Ways   8 comments

What’s the best purchase you ever made and why?

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ponchoI’ve bought a lot of things in my five decades of living from cheap $1 items to a house now inexplicably worth nearly a quarter-million dollars.  It’s hard to inventory all the purchases of my life and come down to “the best” and for what reason. Some things just give me joy. I like the look or feel of them. Other things are practical or were a great investment with a good return on value. It would take a great deal of soul-searching to narrow that most-worthy item down from the thousands of purchases I’ve made in my life. In fact, I am overwhelmed at the prospect because Brad and I are known among our friends as not being very consumer-oriented. Most of our “stuff” is second-hand and we are frequently asked if we ever plan to put furniture in our family room. Maybe … someday … if some neighbor in our garage-friendly neighborhood is looking to sell a sofa for cheap. Does a family room really need furniture beyond a bunch of bookcases and some cushions on the floor?

But not answering the question would be disingenuous, I suppose. Let me tell you a story.

Thirty years ago this summer Brad and I were working for a company that thought it needed our undivided attention, but we needed our annual salmon catch, so when they let us go for three days for the 4th of July holiday, we scrambled to load what we needed into the car and get headed on the 600-mile journey to Chitina Alaska and the red gold that are Copper River salmon. And, I couldn’t find my raincoat. I determined I would do it in a sweatshirt if necessary, even though I knew that would mean a miserable wet weekend.

Brad stopped on our way out of town to buy Meals Ready to Eat — military-issue rations that often find their way into the local military surplus stores. While he was deciding which of the menus to buy this time, I spied a shelf of Army ponchos. Jokingly, I said “These would make great tents.” Brad thought I was serious and he grabbed one and threw it on top of the box. Cost? $10.

The closer we got to Chitina, the darker the sky got. O’Brien Creek was running so hard we decided not to risk driving over it. I donned the poncho before we headed out. Except for the hood, which consisted of a Velcro closure under the chin to keep the rain out and a bill over my forehead to shed it to either side of my face, it fell shapeless to the tops of my Xtra-Tufs. The sides could be left open or there were grommets to hook together by any means desired. I had run lengths of 550 cord through them to form some sort of closure. It was so large on my tiny frame that I put it over my backpack to keep it dry.

We hiked in 2 1/2 miles to “the glory hole” and we caught 45 salmon in 2 1/2 hours. By pulling the 550 cord this way and that, I configured the poncho so that it kept my clothes dry while I clubbed fish to death as Brad was catching them two at a time. And meanwhile, it poured buckets of icy rain from the sky, flung sideways by the glacier wind out of the Wrangell-St. Elias ice fields.

When the fish had been caught, Brad began to load them into his “moose bag” backpack and it quickly became clear that he could only take half the load. I weighed less than the remaining fish. I would have to stay behind with them while Brad hiked the first half to the car.

It was dark and growing darker and I didn’t really feel that brave out there in the forbidding wilderness, but I told him I’d have tea ready for him when he got back. We both knew it would take two hours for him to hike out, at least a half-hour to pack the fish in the ice in the coolers in the back of the car and another hour to hike back to me. A part of being an Alaskan woman is not turning into a clingy suburbanite when your husband suggests he leave you in the rain-soaked forest beside one of the deadliest rivers in the world with 20 salmon and, possibly, grizzlies in the forest. Nope, I’d be fine. I’d have tea ready for him when he got back. I watched his Helly Hansen fisherman’s coat disappear into the darkness and didn’t ask him to come back.

Despite the monsoon-like ice bath occurring in the outside world, it was dry under my poncho. I could do this.

As anyone knows who has ever spent time in the woods, the key to building a fire is dry wood. Did I mention it was pouring and had been for several hours? I hiked around the cluster of wind-tough cottonwood trees, looking for twigs and leaves that weren’t soaked and I found some. Under a cut-bank near the river, I found a sheltered cluster of roots that I could hack off with my knife. Up in the forest, I found a spot sheltered among three trees that was less wet than the surrounding forest. I piled up my fire-starting treasure, sat down on the ground with my back against one of the trees and pulled my legs up into the sheltering tarp that was my poncho, protecting my treasure hoard from the deluge.

Rain dripped off the bill of my poncho, dropping onto my covered knees and rolled out into the wet ground. I dozed, buying time. Occasionally, the tree behind me would bend, groaning in the wind, and I’d be pelted with icy droplets, but my poncho didn’t move and my hoard stayed dry, warmed by the heat of my body. Time passed and stood still. My watch told me two hours had passed. Time to act.

I tied one end of my poncho to one of the three trees, pulled my head out of the hood and tied the other end to my back pack, creating a slanting roof. I knelt under the shelter to scrape sand together into a makeshift firepit and create a little nest of grass and leaves. Using strike-anywhere matches from the chest pocket of my poncho, I started a little fire, feeding dried twigs into it until it wouldn’t blow out at the faintest gust of watery wind. I warmed my hands over its tenacious warm. Smoke rose up to slap into the underside of my poncho and then seep away into the night. I filled the little tea kettle with rainwater as it ran off the edge. I sat with my knees drawn up to my chest, watching for steam to rise and listening to the steady drum of rain on the makeshift roof. Time passed and stood still while my socks dried above the little fire in the shelter of my poncho.

I was kneeling by the fire, preparing two cups of tea when I heard boots scraping on gravel near the trail. I was alone, a woman in the wilderness on the edge of one of the most deadly rivers in the world, guarding 20 salmon in grizzly country. I held my breath until Brad emerged out of the gray dawn, water pouring off his Helly Hansen coat.

“I have tea ready, just as I said.”

We sat on opposite sides of the fire, my poncho as our roof, sipping our hot beverage and eating a breakfast of pilotbread slathered with butter. While Brad caught an hour’s nap with his back against my tree, the weather broke, the rain stopped and sunlight spilled from heaven like liquid gold, sparkling through the wind-tough trees and casting the world in watercolor hues. I knocked the rain off my poncho and bundled it up loosely on top of my backpack. Brad stretched and groaned. I carried the camping gear and he carried the salmon and we turned toward our car that was 2 1/2 miles away, both of us dry and comfortable … because of my poncho.

That chance purchase 30 years ago still lives in my outdoor wardrobe. It is a constant companion, always packed for every expedition, though used only when necessary — as a coat, as a tent, as a tarp, sometimes a blanket to sit on. Once we bundled one of the kids in it on a canoe trip when she got cold. It’s kept backpacks dry, provided some protection from the damp dog that insisted she join us in the tent and been used as a bellows for building a bonfire. It still doesn’t leak and the only maintenance it’s required is replacing the 550 cord closures occasionally. And, thus it is the most useful $10 I’ve ever spent.

 

“Day’s End” Cover Reveal   Leave a comment

Front Cover of Day's EndWatch for Book 4 of Transformation Project “Day’s End” on Amazon in the near-future.

Meanwhile, catch up with the series.

Stay Tuned for the Cover Reveal   Leave a comment

Days End 3rd Reveal

Stay Tuned for Cover Reveal of “Thanatosis”   2 comments

Book 4 of Transformation Project is in the last days of rewrite before heading to betas and editing. And, the cover is ready.

Cover Reveal Brown Wrapper for Thanatosis

 

A Study in Grays   8 comments

Who is your favorite antagonist/bad guy/villain in your books and why? What makes him/her tick?

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This is actually a hard post to write, as evidenced by the fact that this is the third draft. I don’t really like to write villains. I prefer pitting my characters against difficult situations. In Transformation Project, it’s a world that is falling apart after an apocalyptic event. In Daermad Cycle, it’s a vengeful Celtic goddess and the characters who serve her. For the most part, I don’t write negative characters as villains, though I suppose they serve as antagonists at times. They are people challenged by their times, doing what they deem best in the situation, but they aren’t necessarily evil. They’ve just chosen a negative path in a dark situation. I like giving “villains” a reason for their villainy and things that they love. I want you to almost like them and to believe that if things were different, they could be your neighbor and you might not utterly hate them. And I believe in the ability of redemption to change people, so it’s hard for me to write true villains.

TP Cover Montage

In Transformation Project, Paul serves as the primary antagonist against Shane who, while the “hero”, is hardly a night in shining armor. Paul is just one of those small-town guys who likes to push people around and Shane has hated him since the 9th grade. But Paul used to be in love with Jazz, who is Shane’s at-arms-length love interest, and the two have a complicated history that is going to eventually cause a clash. But Paul isn’t written as totally evil. He likes small children and dogs. He’s a thief, but there are lines he won’t cross. And ultimately, he just wants Jazz to love him and he even wishes Shane didn’t hate him. There may be a little bit of a theme here because Gilyn in Daermad Cycle has the same basic motivation … trying to find love when you’re the villain just never seems to work out.

Daermad 2 Book Compilation

The only true villain in Daermad Cycle is Talidd, but he is far from my favorite villain because he’s too evil to redeem. I don’t enjoy writing him. You can assume he’s going to do evil things because that’s how he is written and that really limits what range I can use with him. And I so hated having written him that way that he now plays a substantial role in the historical sequences because it shows how he got to be the Black Master. This gives me an opportunity to show how any of my characters with similar gifts might be tempted to use them for what they suppose are beneficient reasons, but are ultimately for an evil result.

I suppose Gilyn, also an antagonist in Daermad Cycle, is my favorite “villain” because he is redeemable. Or at least I’ve left him with hope of redemption. He’s done some awful things because he’s being driven mad by a Celtic goddess. Currently, he is building a coalition of antagonistic races against the Celdryans (humans) and the  Kindred (elves). His mother was Celt, his father Kin. Why would he choose to do such horrible things to the people who gave him life? He once loved a half-elven lass (Ryanna, who is one of the heroes of the tale), but he did horrible things to her too. He knows the rules of society, but he doesn’t really care about them and never did. When he breaks them, he cares more that it might ruin his scam than that someone might get hurt. And, yet, he does want to be accepted and loved. That’s what makes him tick. He just wants to be loved and feels that he isn’t. To earn the “love” of the Celtic goddess, he’ll do anything … even make war on his own peoples.

I suppose that’s what makes him my favorite. He is complicated which makes for complex writing. And he could go either way … become the true villain he seems destined to be or finally find redemption and surprise everyone, including himself … and me. I love it when my characters surprise me, which might explain why I don’t really write villains … because what is the fun of writing a character that you know is going to act a certain way?

Posted August 6, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Alaska Chic   8 comments

Featured Image -- 57641July 23, 2018
Let’s talk wardrobe. Do you gravitate to one color? What is your go to style? What shoes do you prefer?

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Alaska is still a frontier and so, like many frontier folks throughout time, we tend to dress casually, in keeping with the lifestyle we lead. In fact, my office is so casual that we have dress-up Mondays because a Jeans Friday would look like any other day. There’s really no place in the Interior where there’s a dress standard – no restaurants that require you wear a tie, for example. Such a restaurant wouldn’t have any customers, so they wisely don’t think too highly of themselves.

Glacier ChicWhich is not to stay that we don’t dress up if we feel like it. This week is our version of Founders Days – we call it Golden Days, and men and women both dress in the clothing that was fashionable in the 1910s when Fairbanks was founded. I am walking in the parade tomorrow and will probably wear my Golden Day dress, but I’ll wear tennis shoes under my shirt. That will be the most dressed up I’ll go all year … probably. (We woke up to the brightest and hottest day of the summer so far and so I wore shorts and a sheer blouse because, much as I celebrate our town’s past, I celebrate not getting heat stroke more).

I really am not a big “style” person. I’m small for one thing, so finding clothes that fit and don’t wear me instead of the other way around is a challenge. I’ve never understood some women’s obsession with shoes. I own about three dozen, but that includes summer shoes (can’t be worn in winter), hiking boots (two pairs), and winter boots (five pairs, including bunny boots and muck boots). My dress shoes might have a kid heel, otherwise I prefer flats or a slight wedge. I made peace with being 5’1″ a long time ago and decided to be kind to my spine, knees and phalanges.

Bunny bootsI have two very different styles for work and leisure and they vary by season because we have real winter and real summer here and transition seasons that last about a week each. Additionally, my job interacts with the public, so though the office culture is casual, I feel personally responsible to present a professional appearance. In the winter, that means business casual suit jackets over a nice top and slacks. In the summer, that means a dress or a nice top and a skirt. I dress these up with scarves. But I do relax my standards for Fridays, though I doubt more than my coworkers notice because I basically dress like they do. On dress-up Mondays, they dress like I do on a standard day.

Fabrics are important in a town where there is always construction in the summer — so even my officewear is machine washable. It’s just too expensive to dry-clean outfits every week. We do have a couple of women in the office who do that, but I prefer to spend my income on something that doesn’t need to be done again next week.

During my off-hours, I wear jeans (or shorts in the summer) and t-shirts with sweaters or fleece over that for the winter. I generally wear this casual attire everywhere — including church because I feel I’ve done my time with dress-up at work and Alaskans are so casual about clothes that people in three-piece suits will sit non-judgmentally next to someone in jeans. My favorite color is green, but shades of orange are a close second and blue is a close third. Often, I mix these colors together and I like bold shades to offset the prohibition against ruffles and strong patterns that overwhelm small people.

Fox trappers hatRounding out any Alaska woman’s wardrobe is outerwear – coats, hats, gloves, etc. And we really have three seasons for that — summer, fall/hunting and winter. I don’t have a distinction between work and casual in this gear — except for fall. I would refrain from wearing my blood-stained hunting jacket to the office — though some of my male coworkers would not. In the summer, I usually carry a sweater or light fleece jacket with me because even on hot days, you just don’t know that the weather might turn or that a public building is overdoing the air conditioning. The sun is up most of the night around here, so you can go to a movie at 7 o’clock and it could be 90 degrees out. Inside the air-conditioned theater, you need a sweater. Then when you come out at 9:30, it’s still 75 degrees, so you take the sweater off.  In the fall, that sweater gradually gets layered with another sweater or maybe a water-resistant jacket. And then winter comes and it’s time for the heavy coats – usually hollofill coats to my knees with hoods. But I also have a Carhhart coat for outdoor work and my own pair of bunny boots.

But no Alaska woman’s wardrobe would be complete without fur. I do occasionally wear the mouton parka I inherited from my mother (pretty heavy), but my fox trapper’s hat is only appropriate when it’s really cold out, I’m going to a dog mushing event or I want to tweak the political sensibilities of people who really need to mind their own business.

Now for a funny Alaska story – too bad I don’t have a photo.

We went to an orchestra performance one really cold January. Cold to us is -20*F (-29*C). It was colder than that, maybe -40. I wore a green woolen dress, fancied up with an ivory scarf. Under it, I wore my thermals and a pair of my daughter’s leather boots with wool socks (because her feet are two sizes larger than mine so I could actually get the wool socks in the boots and because it was COLD). There was this woman down by the stage dressed in a glittering red sequined evening gown. She really looked the part with a fur coat and jewelry. But during the interlude, we met in the bathroom and I looked down to realize she was wearing bunny boots. She blushed and laughed and explained she’d left her shoes at home by accident and so it was either wear her outerwear boots or go barefoot. To which I said “It’s Alaskan chic. We should have the consignment store feature it as a hot new trend.” Apparently she told that story enough that it got around because a local boutique actually did feature that as a display the next winter with the caption “Alaska Chic.”

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