Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Next Big Thing Author Meme

As part of my effort to try to make this blog a bit more of my official "author blog" and a home for my creative stuff in general, I've decided that it's the perfect place to post this Q&A, which is part of an ongoing blog meme for authors. I was tagged by the lovely Tanita, who posted about HER next big thing here. It's meant to pique interest about what I'm working on now or next, and so I'll be posting about my upcoming book release Underneath--and then I'll be tagging five authors whose work I admire (and hoping they don't want to whomp me for giving them yet another Thing To Do...)

Anyway, here goes!

What is the working title of your next book?

Underneath is the official title, and it was the working title, too--lucky me to keep my title!

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started it during a long-bygone NaNoWriMo, and I'm not entirely sure what made me start writing this one, except that I wanted to write something about psychic abilities and I also was interested in how those abilities would have practical ramifications for a real-life person in a contemporary setting. Also, there is a strong thread having to do with friendships, and the making and breaking thereof, and I feel that is always a relevant topic not only for YA readers but throughout life (sadly).

What genre does your book fall under?

I would call it sort-of-paranormal, I guess, and sort of realistic.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I think Chloe Moretz  (of Kick-Ass and Hugo fame) would make an awesome Mikaela, even though she's maybe not, um, Latina. Is Kal Penn old enough to play a dad? Could he be Sunny's dad? That might be cool. Or Naveen Andrews. Naomi Scott, who was the teenaged daughter in Terra Nova, I always thought would make an amazing Asha for The Latte Rebellion, and I could see her as either Sunny OR Shiri, really. I don't know of very many half-South-Asian actresses, so that one's tough! As for Cody...hmm...maybe Logan Lerman, who played Percy Jackson? He'd need a major dye job. At first I though Robert Pattinson, but then I thought nah, too obvious.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

16-year-old Sunny develops the power to hear thoughts in the wake of a family tragedy, and it turns her life upside down.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm represented by the fabulous Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and the book will be published by Flux in June. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I started writing this during National Novel Writing Month in, oh, something like 2005 or 2006. I started late, I didn't get to 50,000 words, and I got partway in and had no idea how to end the story. I was immensely frustrated, so I put it away for a year or more before finishing the first draft. Then I got frustrated with it all over again, and put it away AGAIN before rewriting. So it's been kind of a difficult project. I'm so pleased and proud that, with plenty of advice from others, I've managed to get it to the publication point!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Phoo. I don't know. Um...Wake by Lisa McMann, perhaps...Tighter by Adele Griffin...Hold Still by Nina LaCour (though it's not paranormal)...Replay by Robin Brande.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In 1998, when I was 21 years old, my stepcousin Janet killed herself, and I was left with a lot of questions, of lingering doubts and guilt and other complicated emotions. Sadly, though, this is not an uncommon situation for young people to find themselves faced with. At a certain point, I felt that if I could work it into my writing and create something that was in some way not just cathartic for me, but could help readers feel less alone, I wanted to do that.

On a less somber note, I also was mulling over the idea of a character who was willing to believe in supernatural powers, and what that would mean for my narrator. I had a friend when I was in high school and college who believed in auras and past lives, and that was always intriguing to me. That trait ended up forming the basis of a lot of characters in the book, as I thought about who would believe in Sunny's powers or to what extent someone might be skeptical.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

A lot of people have asked me if my next book was also going to feature mixed-race characters, and I can tell those people YES, Sunny is also half South Asian, but it's not a part of the plot in the same way as it was in The Latte Rebellion.

***

I've email-tagged five writers, and while I can't guarantee they'll participate, you should definitely check out their websites!
  • Fellow blogger Gail Gauthier of Original Content has said YES and will be telling you about her next big thing. She's the author of The Hero of Ticonderoga and the Hannah and Brandon books, among others.
  • Robin LaFevers is a blog bud, writing pal, and fellow introvert who wrote the fab Theodosia books as well as the very exciting Grave Mercy and its upcoming sequel Dark Triumph, which I can't wait to read--check out her blog here.
  • Beth Kephart is also a blogging and writing friend whose books are all amazingly lyrical and touching--her most recent is Small Damages, which I need to read already, and I look forward to finding out more about what's on the docket. Her blog posts are always thoughtful and thought-provoking.
  • Colleen Mondor of the redoubtable Chasing Ray wrote The Map of My Dead Pilots, a truly fascinating memoir. I know that whatever else she's got coming next, it's going to be wonderful--if she can take a break between book reviews.
  • Lastly, I wanted to tag Sarah Beth Durst because she is always so thoughtful about remembering me for review copies of her new titles, and because I absolutely loved her latest fantasy novel, Vessel and want to know what's coming next. Her blog is here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Official Cover Reveal for UNDERNEATH!!

Look! Look at it and glory in its awesomeness! Soon I'll be updating my author website with more details and information about the book, but for now, I'll tell you all I know, which is that it's scheduled for release in June 2013. The story: A girl develops the power to hear thoughts in the wake of a family tragedy.
I'm pleased with this for SO many reasons, but reason #1 is that the girl definitely looks South Asian--important because the story again has a mixed-race protagonist.

So today I'll be happy-dancing and probably peeking at the cover repeatedly instead of working.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

On Looking Young

I realize that there are many of you who do not want to hear me complain about this topic, so for you, I suggest you go here instead and look at these cute pictures of animals.

If you're still here, I have a new story for the Sarah Looks Freakishly Young file. Today I went with Rob to an art gallery reception for one of his retired former colleagues. After we went around and looked at all the paintings, we went up to the former colleague and congratulated him on his show. He greeted Rob. Then he turned to me and said something like "And who's this young lady?"

I immediately assumed that he had mistaken me for a student. Hey, that happens sometimes if I go to a college campus. And the man in question is older. Fine.

Little did I know it was actually much worse.

At this point, Rob introduced me and said "Have you met my wife Sarah?" There was some handshaking and greeting and then the former colleague said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but you look like a junior high girl."He then went on to say I looked young enough to be Rob's daughter, which is verging on the ridiculous.

When people say stuff like that, I find myself wishing I routinely carried around a selection of photos of myself at various ages so I could have them compare how I ACTUALLY LOOKED in junior high with how I look now. So, for your amusement, I offer this photo of myself from the University Heights Middle School 8th grade class of '89 yearbook (right).

See? I have, in fact, aged considerably since then. Well, maybe not considerably. But I'm a couple of inches taller. And at least 30 pounds heavier. I do still own a jean jacket, but now it's delightfully retro. (At least, that's what I tell myself.) I think I'm probably just as much of a nerd, if not more so. In fact, in 8th grade I was on the drill team, which I thought made me way cool. Oh, it's picture time again! Bottom row, 3rd from the right!

Yeah, I was probably cooler back then.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tribulations of Revision

So, I'm in the midst of revision for Underneath, my next YA novel. I'm gradually discharging various finite freelance projects so that I can focus as much as possible on rewriting with a minimum of distraction. So far it's going OK--the part about keeping freelance work under control, that is. I did a reasonable job of saying no to new things for the duration of this month, and asking for help on some stuff where it was possible to do so. I don't find it very easy to ask for help, in general, so I'm trying to see that as an accomplishment.

And, just this morning, I finished one freelance writing project which I can now cross off the list. That will earn me some extra hours for the next few weeks. Another freelance project, some Illustrator vector images, will be finished probably tomorrow, so that will be another thing to check off.

But I'm not making great progress on the revision. It's going slowly. Every time I look at it I think how incredibly amazing it is that they want to publish it in the first place. I'm at an awful point where I read it and all I can think is OH GOD IT'S TERRIBLE AND EVERYONE WILL HATE IT. I'm having horrible visions of reviews that say stuff like "After a promising debut, Stevenson has come out with a truly lackluster sophomore effort, trite and mediocre."

I have to keep reminding myself that this is just one of the stages inherent in revision, and that this project in particular is liable to prompt negative thinking because of the fact that it's been far more challenging to write this story at every step of the way. Not for any particularly exciting or emotionally charged reason (at least, not that I'm aware of consciously)--just plain old blockage. Halfway through the first draft--which I started, by the way, in something like 2006--I stopped and had no clue where the story was going. I put it away. Then I took it back out a few years ago with renewed energy, finished the first draft, and promptly went UGH again and put it away. Last year I did a massive rewrite, sent it to my publisher, and amazingly they liked it. But now I'm back at the point of looking at it and going UGH.

I'm actually more annoyed with myself than anything else because I'm having so much trouble giving myself the support I need to work on this one. It was easy with The Latte Rebellion because I was pretty much in love with that project every step of the way. This one's been much more of a love-hate relationship.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Few Things I've Done While Dithering on my Revision

I'm supposed to be sitting here working on my revision of Underneath. Before actually doing so, however, I did the following:
  • Updated the Recent Reads column on Guys Lit Wire
  • Wandered throughout the house at least five times
  • Did a 10-minute breathing meditation
  • Futzed around on Facebook
  • Updated my Goodreads
  • Went in search of the perfect pen for taking revision notes
  • Made a halfhearted attempt to tidy up the mail area
  • Wrote this blog post
Damn, I am good...at procrastinating.

Monday, August 06, 2012

WFMAD Day 5: Pulled from the Headlines

Today’s Prompt: Go to the Washington Post or the newspaper of your choice and choose a story from the front page that, for whatever reason, really strikes a chord in your heart. Read the story through twice, then put it away. Don’t look at it again.

Write a scene connected to that article. Put your character in the middle of the action. The character can be someone who was actually mentioned in the article, or – more interesting! – make the character someone who has a strong emotional connection to the people in the article. Or insert yourself into the middle of the action and write a scene.

I really have no idea what's going on in this scene. I picked an article on the landing of the latest Mars rover Curiosity, so it's kind of a sci-fi piece, although any "science" is pretty much made up by me on the fly. The quote at the beginning is pulled from the end of the article.

***
“We’re going to nail it for Neil,” Grunsfeld said.“Curiosity will set us up for the day when men and women will land on the surface of Mars, and it might not be that far away.” 

The famous quote that got it all started. The quote from Chief NASA Scientist John Grunsfeld, back in the 2010s, the reason our team is called the Nailers. One reason, anyway. The other reason is simple and obvious: we're the building team, the first ones, the ones who leave the landing module every day, nail guns and riveters in hand.

We're the ones building the Neil Armstrong Memorial Research Laboratory. The first permanent structure on Mars. It's 2076 now and we know what tools and methods work in this Martian atmosphere, and we're almost done.

I lift my nail gun and quickly drive in the tenth and final nail attaching the plaque bearing the laboratory's slogan to the outer wall, just above the main doors.

Nail it for Neil, that's what it says. It's supposed to symbolize how we're all workers, scientists and builders alike, even those first poor bastards who died up here before we got the suits and equipment fully figured out. Each one of us is a cog in the machine, that's for damn sure.

Me more than most. I'm twenty years old, and I'd planned to be one of the scientists working in that shiny new lab. I was going to be a terraforming specialist. I was an artist, a designer, a creator, living things my media. One mistake, one little screwup, and instead I was sent into service, and now I'm the lowliest member of the construction crew. This job, this last humiliating job, is supposed to mark the end of my service sentence and put a shiny exclamation point on the monument to the glory of science.

It should have been my glory. But they'll remember me. They don't know it yet, but they will.

I finish attaching the sign, breathing heavily into my helmet. Then I get out my heat torch.

Under their quiet little machine-made plaque, the expanse of smooth metal doors is my canvas.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

WFMAD Day 4, A Little Late

Today’s Prompt: Quickly write a paragraph about what your days were like in second grade (around age 7).  Then choose a fairy tale from this list. Pull one of the elements from the fairy tale and write about who you would have reacted if it showed up in your life when you were in second grade. For example, what if your new babysitter had been Cinderella? Or the giant from Jack in the Beanstalk?

This one probably took a little longer than 15 minutes. The first two paragraphs are pure fact. The rest are mostly imagination with a few memories woven in for fun and verisimilitude. The story I chose was The Frog Prince.

***
When I was age 7, when most people were in second grade, I was starting my first day at public school as a fourth grader. I had just finished up at a rather strange ungraded private school, and we were getting ready to move to a new city, and I was taken to a psychologist to test me for grade level and for the gifted program. My mother reported, later, that he told her it was up to her how high to place me in my new elementary school. I didn't know that last part at the time, though. I just knew that I was going to be put in the 4th grade, in a 3rd/4th-grade combo class, and that I was going to be new in school.


I made friends. My best friends were in the 3rd grade, closer to my age. That year I got acquainted with a question I'd be asked over and over in varying forms over the years: "You're seven and in the FOURTH GRADE?" The answer to that one was easy. The question I hated was the frequent follow-up: "Are you smart?" I would generally answer along the lines of "I dunno. I guess so." Most of the time, though, I was a pretty normal kid and my classmates treated me as such. I loved my teacher, Mrs. Read. She was from Mexico, and she taught us a little Spanish. She read aloud to us every day, from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and from Kon-Tiki and from The Twenty-One Balloons.

That week, she'd been reading us fairy tales. The Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Anderson. World folk tales, too. My head was spinning with witches and magic beans, giants and elves. But ultimately, it wasn't any of these that I found...or that found me.

I was outside during recess, playing off by myself under the big pepper tree near the bars, the tree we sometimes pretended was a castle or a hideout, climbing its gnarled roots and throwing the pepper berries at each other. Nobody was around. I'd checked out a ball to play with and was bouncing it idly. It bounced toward the tree and disappeared between two of the giant roots.

I went to retrieve it. The tree seemed bigger than it had before, as if I could walk right into it. There was a hole I hadn't seen before, and I could just see the yellow rubber ball at the bottom of it. What was I going to do? The teacher on yard duty would yell at me. It was the mean one, Mrs. DiMarco, the one who told me not to hang upside down from the bars or I'd break my head open. Tears welled up in my eyes. I didn't want to get in trouble. I was the good kid.

Suddenly, I heard the strangest sound. It was a voice, or like a voice, but it sounded rough and wet, a voice that came from moist places and growled and grumbled alone in their depths. I trembled, and one of my tears spilled over.

"Why are you crying?" The voice said. It came from below me, but the only thing I could see was a rubbery little tree frog, clinging to one of the roots.

"M-my ball. It fell. I'll get in trouble!" More tears gushed out, even though I didn't want to cry like a little baby. I kept thinking about Mean Mrs. DiMarco and what she'd say to me if I told her I'd lost the ball. Would they call my mom?

The frog cocked its head at me. Was it really talking to me?

"I can help you," the frog seemed to say in its squishy voice. "But what will you do for me in return? Will you take me home with you, let me eat from your plate? I'll bet your mom makes a mean mac and cheese."

I thought again about the trouble I'd be in. Would I have to stay after school? Would my name go straight onto the board with two ticks next to it? I wasn't sure, but I didn't want to find out.

"You can have all the mac and cheese you want," I said desperately. Having a frog for a pet wouldn't be so bad, would it? It wasn't as great as a dog, but at least it would be something. Heck, the frog probably wouldn't even remember I'd made the promise. It was a frog. There were frogs everywhere. And kids all over the playground. I'd probably never see it again.

The frog plopped into the hole, and a moment later, the yellow ball flew out, bouncing harmlessly away and rolling to a stop next to the high bar. I quickly gathered it up, yelled "thanks!" at the frog, and ran to the equipment room just as the bell rang.

I barely heard the frog as it croaked back: "I'll be seeing you."

Friday, August 03, 2012

WFMAD Day 3: Not Quite Following Directions

Today’s Prompt: Yesterday you let rip with strong emotions as you fantasized and wrote about what you would love to say to the toxic person in your life. Today you are going to build on that dialog.
Craft a scene based on what you wrote yesterday. Fill in the setting and the narrative action. Remember to put in sounds and smells. What else – other people? Interruptions? If the scene feels dull, add a twist. Make yourself or the toxic person do something completely unexpected half-way through the scene.

I didn't quite follow the prompt directions today, although I did write for fifteen minutes. Thirty, actually. I woke up this morning with the beginning of a story taking shape in my head, and after I got dressed and brushed my teeth, it was definite enough for me to write some notes down. Later, I read the prompt, and decided to try to incorporate some of the emotions and details of what I wrote about yesterday into the new story. The story was so new that it needed some emotional complications, some tension to spur the main character along. I'm not going to reprint the whole story here, just a piece which was particularly inspired by yesterday's writing. Oh, yeah--the piece is spec fic, some kind of post-apocalyptic something I haven't quite settled on yet.

***

Tonight, like every Midsummer evening, there are the lights of nightfires scattered here and there across the Keepers' land, but, as always, Old Sella has the biggest crowd. Star used to sneak away from his family's fire to join ours, just every so often, but often enough for me to wonder and to hope. He began to sit next to me more often than he sat next to my sisters—Rosyn, the eldest, and Eos, two summers older than me. I used to blush when my father would clear his throat, watching us closely as we ate, leaning toward one another but not touching.

But this year, it has been different. Star has been different. He no longer favors me over my sisters. On the rare occasions he joins us, he spends time with all of us sisters, and he always makes excuses to go home early instead of sneaking off with me into the dark, up our special tree, to talk and dream. He scoffs at the things I like. When I make a silly joke, the kind that used to make him snort and rumple my hair, he only smirks, rolls his eyes knowingly, as if laughing at me along with some invisible companion. An invisible companion he likes more than me.

And I can't help wondering if it's because, the night before his test, exactly a year ago today, I kissed him. He'd leaned into me, clung to me and answered my kiss with more ardent ones. It was more than I'd ever thought possible. I was flying. And then, the next evening, when he and the other new adult Keepers had returned from their journey to the glass ocean, he acted like I didn't exist. When I asked him about our kiss, he grew angry and said never to bring it up again. 

***
So. There's about a page of writing before this section, and this is as far as I've gotten in the story. But I'm hoping to finish it this week. I'm not sure where it's ultimately going, although I have a vague idea of what happens next.  As usual, I'm hoping if I just keep writing, something will come to me and I'll figure out how to end the damn thing.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

WFMAD Day 2: Exorcising Old Demons

Today’s Prompt: You know that toxic relative or former friend who makes (or used to make) your life miserable? Write out dialog in which you finally tell that person what you think of her and why. Do not hold back. Do not edit yourself. Do not worry that anyone is ever going to see it. Just write!

Today's Write Fifteen Minutes A Day prompt is a huge challenge for me with respect to my decision to post my 15 minutes publicly, on this blog. It has to some degree affected my choice of person, and I will be keeping that person's name anonymous. The "do not edit yourself" is a tough edict, too. I hold back all the time. I edit myself all the time.

Enough justification and procrastination, I suppose. Here goes my imaginary dialogue with someone, a former friend, who devastated me emotionally a number of years ago. We will call this person Irving, since I don't actually know anyone of that name and I have no particular associations with it.

It's actually more of a monologue. Oh, well.

***
So much time has gone by, Irving, that it almost feels pointless to open this up and let my feelings back out. I was young, probably too young to realize what was going on and too inexperienced to make the right choices about our relationship. Too inexperienced to realize that things went too far and would ruin our friendship. So I accept some culpability for what happened, for not stopping things when maybe I should have known better. And I try to understand, from the perspective of years, why you acted the way you did, why you pushed me away when all I wanted to do was help and be there for you.

I was so angry with you for years. I was devastated, gutted, furious. I knew I'd done the right thing in ending the conversation, our last conversation, with the words "I guess that's all we have to say to each other, then." More or less those words, anyway. I didn't like the way you'd made me feel, were making me feel. Like it was my fault. Like I was, in a sense, the other woman and our friendship wasn't what I'd thought it was. I shouldn't have let you kiss me. I shouldn't have been so credulous, so willing to believe that it was okay to do what we did because I thought our relationship was something special and that this was just a part of that something special.

But how could I not believe? I was so confused that summer, so tentative and anxious and you reassured me, made me realize I had reason to feel good about myself, made me feel self-worth. You encouraged me. You made me feel stronger. And then you broke it all down, you stopped caring, you didn't want to hear about it when I was depressed and things started to get difficult to take and I needed my friend so badly. And I knew that you were having problems too, and I wanted to be there for you during that but you wouldn't let me. You said, "you won't hear from me for a couple of weeks, and don't try to call." But I was worried. I did call. And you got angry. You got pissed at me for caring.

Part of me, a loud part, is saying Who really gives a shit? It was 17 years ago. We were both basically still kids, barely into adulthood. I don't really know if that gives you a pass, though. Sometimes I have dreams about you where things are okay, where we're friends again, but a part of me is still angry. Not just angry at you, but angry at myself for letting me lose myself in someone so much. Angry at myself for believing some of the wild things you said because I trusted you too much. You made me want never to trust anyone to that extent again. From my perspective, it was a betrayal, no matter the extenuating circumstances. I wish we'd both done things differently.

***

Before I finish, I just want to note that my friend and fellow writing group member Yat-Yee is also doing the challenge. Yay! Go, us!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

WFMAD Day 1: Getting In My Own Way

Today’s Prompt:  What things do you allow to get in the way of your writing? Be specific, detailed, and brutally honest.

Today is the first day of the Write Fifteen Minutes A Day Challenge. I'll be posting my fifteen minutes on this blog. I need to post here more (and I promised to do just that several weeks ago, after which I failed miserably to keep up with my promise). I need to do more regular writing and in order to both of these things I need to get over my fear of posting personal writing in public.

It's not just the normal fear of having other people read my writing. I always have that. You just get over it, more or less, or ignore it. It's the fear that nobody is going to care what I have to say. It's the fear that I'll regret having posted something too personal, that it will feel self-indulgent or too revealing. That I'll be boring. That not even my friends will care about what I write. That I compare unfavorably with other writers--I spend a lot of time comparing myself to others and coming up short. Hey, the prompt said to be brutally honest.

A lot of these same fears apply to my writing in general. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up planning to become a writer, didn't grow up knowing that was in my future, but I often feel like an impostor. I didn't think of myself as a writer, just someone who enjoyed writing stories on occasion.

So, yes, fear. Fear gets in the way of my writing--all kinds of fears. And really, when I think about all the other things that get in the way--procrastination, time management issues, failure to prioritize, not having time, not having energy--I begin to realize how many of the things that get in the way of my writing are related to fear, at least at some deep-down level. Fear that if I embrace being a writer, I'll cease to be an artist. Fear that my efforts will ultimately never live up to my expectations and hopes for myself. Fear that I'm not going to earn enough of a living simply by writing and making artwork. Fear that I don't have what it takes, that I'm not disciplined enough or devoted enough. Fear that I don't want this writing life enough, or that I want it too much.

I wish I were the type of person who could let go enough to embrace the artistic, creative life wholeheartedly. But I'm just not. I can't leave behind practical issues. Issues of money, of survival, of fairness in our household. There is a simple joy and relief at having a partner who understands what it is to be an artist at heart, because he also is one. But I also feel tension at the inherent inequity that results from one of us having the "real job," and I end up feeling like the opportunity to do my creative work is a luxury, rather than the gift that it is.

I need to give myself this gift once in a while.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge: One Book Many Brisbanes 6

Title: One Book Many Brisbanes 6 by Various Authors
Time: 3 hours 10 minutes
Total Time Reading: 7 hours 10 minutes
Total Books: 1.5
TIME TOTAL (Including Blogging/Networking Allowance): About 8 hours. SIGH.
Total to Donate to RIF: $10.00 (I'm rounding up.)

Notes: As I mentioned in the previous post, One Book Many Brisbanes is the 6th volume in a series of anthologies of short stories related to Brisbane, Australia, and the product of a short story competition put on by Brisbane City Council and Queensland Writers Centre. My half-sister in Australia sent me this one, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her hometown through the medium of fiction. You get a very different sense of a place when you read stories set there, stories in many voices, as opposed to a travelogue or memoir or Lonely Planet guide.

What really impressed me about this collection was its variety, and the fact that it was overall pretty solid for me in terms of quality and enjoyment; I find a lot of anthologies to be hit-or-miss, but there were few misses for me in this one. From post-WWI struggles to coping with modern-day floodwaters, from rural to city life, from aging actors to young punk rockers to Japanese exchange students, from plot-driven stories to character studies, this book reflects the diversity of life in a city that has grown and changed and yet retains a certain character, a certain flavor. And now that I've experienced it through fiction, I can't wait to actually see it in person. (We hope to visit within the next few years, if we can afford it.)

SO. To recap my 48-Hour Reading Challenge. I foresaw 2 days where I thought I could squeeze in at least 12 hours of reading. I was wrong. Emergencies materialized, my husband and cats somehow became more distracting than ever before, I was tired and cranky. Though I could wish for a better outcome in terms of actually sitting around and reading and putting in the hours, I am happy to have at least attempted to participate this year, and I've loved the support and encouragement of my co-participants and having the excuse to go look at a lot of blogs I haven't visited in a while.

And that's that.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge: A Quick Update

Let me admit this now:  I'm pretty sure I'm going to fail miserably at my attempt to reach 12 hours of reading time. This has been quite a weekend for random emergencies and rearrangements of my time. It seems like my life has been like this for the past year and a half, approximately. Unless I physically leave the region, it's not actually possible for me to take a lot of time out for myself. And no! Amazingly, I have no kids! If I did, I'd probably be lying under the coffee table groaning miserably like Tina in Bob's Burgers.

Anyway, I thought I'd still post an update on my reading today. As of now, I've managed 1 hour and 40 minutes reading One Book Many Brisbanes 6, a collection of short stories related to Brisbane, Australia. I can't find an online picture of the cover for you, as it seems to be a limited-edition publication by the Brisbane City Council and the link to the official page for the series seems to be broken.

My older half-sister, who lives in Brisbane, sent me this book for Christmas, and I've been meaning to read it but it was languishing in my TBR pile. So far I'm enjoying the variety of stories, including a few with young/YA characters and even one about zombies. There's only been one so far (I'm about half done) that I'd characterize as being too "regional fiction" for my taste, perhaps a bit too nostalgic and quiet. I liked that speculative fiction is represented, not just with the zombie story but even a dystopian piece. And I do enjoy literary short stories, albeit not all the time.

My running total is now 5 hours and 40 minutes. I'm hoping to fit in at least another hour before going to sleep tonight and, if I don't sleep in, another hour in the morning. My 48-hour period ends at about 10:10 a.m.

Friday, June 08, 2012

48 Hour Book Challenge: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Title: Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours
Total Books: 0.5

Notes: Here's my first official check-in for the 48-Hour Book Challenge. I finished reading Insurgent, although it only really counts as half a book for the purposes of the final count--I started it a couple of days ago, which was not great timing on my part, because then I really couldn't put it down for a few days to read other things. No! Of course not. No reading interruptus in this instance.

From that, you can probably guess that Insurgent was as un-put-down-able as the first book in the trilogy, Divergent. Although the main character, Beatrice/Tris, is not necessarily the most sympathetic or "nice" character, the action and suspense in these books is nonstop, and if you like dystopian thrillers like Hunger Games you'll probably enjoy this one. The minor issues I had with characterization pale in the face of the plot action--and it's definitely a plot-driven book. At the same time, though, it's thought-provoking in terms of its premise. In this book and the first one, I constantly found myself thinking about which faction I'd choose, if I lived in this society, and I couldn't stop questioning the entire time about what was real and what wasn't, about what lay outside the fences of their rigid world.

Presumably in Book 3 we'll find out...

48 Hour Book Challenge, Or How I Rekindled My Romance With This Blog

Hey, have you heard? I'm doing MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge this year. It involves a LOT of reading and a lot of blogging, too, so I thought it would be just the thing to get myself going again with this blog, since I've been sadly neglecting it. I'll be reading mainly adult books during the 48-hour period, so this is really a better place to write about them anyway, rather than the YA blog.

In addition, this year, participants are being encouraged to sponsor ourselves for every hour read and donate the total amount (the hourly rate being up to us) to Reading Is Fundamental and their wonderful Book People Unite initiative. I will be donating $1 for every hour that I successfully read during the 48-hour period from Friday to Sunday...starting more or less NOW.


My goal is to actually make the 12-hour minimum to be competitive. I know a lot will come up during the 48 hours--it always does. So I think that's a realistic goal.


I'm starting off by finishing a book I started a couple of days ago (I know, lame, but I MUST FINISH IT). I plan to count that in my total time but NOT in my total books read except maybe as 50% of a book, since I'm about half done. Sorry, but it will drive me crazy if I put it aside. You'll find out more when I blog about it.


Right--off to leave my link at the official starting line.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Too Much Information


--commence infodump--

Today is International Women's Day. What are you going to do about the increasing disappearance of colossal megafauna? Drink 8 8-ounce glasses of water every day. Don't drink too much water during meals as it may upset your digestion; drink the water between meals instead. Don't ingest too much caffeine or you'll have trouble sleeping. Don't ingest too much alcohol or you'll have trouble sleeping. If you have trouble sleeping, try these other pills instead. Or meditate. Meditating can promote habits of mindfulness in your daily life and positive emotions like compassion and forgiveness. If you have trouble getting your thoughts to focus on loving kindness toward yourself, change your thoughts. If your thoughts focus too much on negative interpretations of events, change your thoughts. Your thoughts are not you. Also, too much telling is bad for your fiction writing. Too much description is also bad. Social networking can help increase traffic to your blog or website. But don't make your search engine optimization efforts too clumsy and overt. When Savonarola ruled Florence he perpetrated the Bonfire of the Vanities. You only need to know 3 chords to play "Rock This Town" by the Stray Cats on the ukelele. There is a cat version of Prozac and it is basically the same as regular Prozac. The giant Pacific garbage patch is not the only gigantic patch of decomposing plastic in the ocean. Boxwood hedges can smell like cat pee, and not necessarily because a cat peed there. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Dick Dale, and Brian May started off as ukelele players before taking up the guitar. The Sassy Gay Friend stereotype is SO over. Dystopian fiction is also over. Or it's just getting started and will replace zombies, which were the new vampires. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. That line is from "Me & Bobby McGee," which was written by Kris Kristofferson, who has been a prolific songwriter as well as an actor. Oh, and there's going to be a Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover comic book.

--end infodump--

This glimpse into the chaotic inside of Sarah's brain was brought to you by Stress: Causing Insanity and Burnout in a Brain Near You.

Friday, January 20, 2012

How to Make Pizza Without the Crust Sticking to the Parchment Paper

I'm writing this post for two reasons. 1. So I don't forget that this method worked incredibly, amazingly well, and 2. Because I couldn't find adequate information online and had to do some experimentation based on what little information I did find, and I'm trying to save others a little guesswork.

Okay. So you're having issues making homemade pizza because the crust sticks to the parchment paper, regardless of how much flour you use. When you try to take it off after baking, bits and pieces stick to the bottom of the pizza. But you don't want to bake directly on the stone because often there is topping leakage. (I know, I know; that "seasons" the stone. But let's say your husband really doesn't want to clean the stone afterward when it's got baked-on toppings.) Well, thanks to some suggestions by Gnancy on The Baking Circle, tonight I came up with a method to try. And, lo and behold, it worked perfectly.

Here's what I did:
  1.  Preheated the oven to 500 F, with the stone inside and in position. Then after about 30 minutes, I reduced the heat to 450.
  2.  Once the pizza dough was ready (depending on your dough recipe) and stretched into shape, I set it on a floured cutting board and brushed it with oil. 
  3.  Then I put the crust on a nonstick cookie sheet that I had sprayed with plenty of cooking spray.
  4.  I pre-cooked the pizza crust for about 4 minutes--putting the cookie sheet directly onto the baking stone. While it cooked, I prepared the pizza peel with a sheet of parchment paper liberally sprinkled with flour.
  5.  I took out the cookie sheet, dislodged the pizza crust using a plastic spatula, and set the crust onto the floured parchment paper.
  6.  I put the toppings on the pizza, slid the parchment paper sheet onto the baking stone, and then baked it for another 10-12 minutes or so.
After I removed the pizza (on the parchment) using the pizza peel and let it cool for a minute or two, I used the spatula to dislodge it from the parchment and slide it onto a cutting board. It just slid right off. I have never had such an easy time getting the pizza off the parchment paper. And the texture was just fine.

I think the issue stems from the fact that the parchment paper sort of "bakes into" the bottom of the crust and doesn't hold up well at high heat.

In case you're curious, I made an experimental pizza from James McNair's New Pizza cookbook--Tandoori chicken pizza. I was afraid it might be weird, but it was REALLY good. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nerd Nightmares


Last night I dreamed I was back in Berkeley and getting ready to graduate. It was graduation day that night, but earlier in the day I needed to turn in one last paper for a psychology class by 2pm or it would be considered late. The professor would not accept any late papers and would fail anyone who didn't turn their paper in by the deadline. Back in my room, I got distracted by packing my clothes and things and when I looked at the clock next, it was after 3pm. I panicked, and called the office number I had written down for the professor. He was still there, but was adamant about not accepting late papers no matter what. 

I cried and wailed that I had been an A student all that semester, hoping that would sway him to make an exception. He said that it would have been fine if I'd arranged an extension in advance, but I hadn't, so too bad. He said I could still drop the class if I didn't want a failing grade on my record. I was terrified that this would mean I wouldn't graduate, and all because I'd just lost track of time. Also, I wasn't sure what it meant for the graduation ceremony itself, because I was supposed to speak during the ceremony and had my speech all prepared and ready in a folder.

I went to campus to pick up an add/drop card from the building where they kept the forms and such. There were people everywhere, on and off campus, milling around—students and their families parking and heading over to the stadium for the graduation ceremony. For some reason I was with a couple of people I'd gone to high school with. We walked down to the building where I picked up the add/drop card and then over to the building where the professor's office was, so I could try to give him my paper one last time and, if that didn't work, get him to sign the drop card. 

I can't remember what happened at that point, but later, I was walking toward the graduation ceremony because I knew my family expected me to be there to speak. I was desperate to keep my dad from finding out what had happened. He kept talking proudly about how I was a salutatorian, and I had to explain to him, no, I'm just a speaker, but maybe if I'm lucky they'll announce the salutatorian list and I'll be on it. I was starting to wonder if the people running the ceremony would even let me speak, given the circumstances. I put my things down in a seat and went to use the bathroom before it got too crowded, but the wall/door between my stall and the audience seating area kept popping open or getting opened, much to my chagrin. Plus, I hadn't had time to change my clothes to wear something nice under my graduation robes, so I was wearing some kind of polka-dot pants and a ruffly sleeveless blouse. I decided I didn't care about that part; I'd just have to forge ahead even if I was wearing weird clothing.

Later, my dad was holding a graduation party for me at his house. We were in some kind of huge upstairs room. I was still freaked out about whether I'd actually graduate or not. At first, there weren't very many people there, and then suddenly, when the musical entertainment went on—a young woman singer—the room grew crowded. I went to get something to eat and drink and sat down in the back next to the wall. Suddenly I noticed what I was eating and drinking: wine, although it tasted like juice; and various slices of pizza with pork products on them—pepperoni, Canadian bacon, etc. I was shocked my dad would decide to provide pizza with popular pork products on it for his non-Muslim guests, and then I got terrified that he'd see what I was eating, or some other guest would notice and be appalled.

That's all I remember.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Just One Resolution.

"Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." - Mark Twain (source: this WebMD article)

I don't know if I'm going to make any resolutions this year. I'm not sure resolutions are a great idea for me. Not just right now or this year, but in general. You see, I have this problem, which is that I tend to set unrealistic goals for myself ALL OF THE TIME. Then, inevitably, I can't accomplish them, and the less progress I make towards the goals, the worse I feel. And I don't seem to have a good sense of what's realistic in the first place. I'm forever making to-do lists I can't complete—I'll start with a short, achievable list, and then I'll tell myself that this or that MUST get done, or that the short list of tasks is lazy and unambitious, and the list will grow until it's not something I can actually do in a day, or even a few days. And I tend to blame my inability to do all the things on myself rather than a faulty list, and so I feel bad about it.

So perhaps I ought to have one resolution this year and one only:

TRY TO SET MORE REASONABLE GOALS. 

Corollary #1: Do not disparage small, achievable goals, or belittle their accomplishment by piling on additional work into my justly-earned free time.

Corollary #2: If I fail to achieve a goal, consider whether the fault lies with me or with the goal as stated (e.g. an unrealistically long to-do list).

Corollary #3: Don't underestimate the time it takes to do things—but don't beat myself up over how long it takes, either. It takes as long as it takes. That doesn't mean I'm slow or lazy.

So. That's where I am when it comes to this year's resolution. We'll see how it goes.