Monday, April 27, 2015

Set Productivity Levels to 'Maximum'

I was super productive yesterday.  Super productive.  Here's what I did:

1. Slept in.

2. Went to church.

3. Went to a post-church fellowship lunch; took cookies I made the night before.

4. Read my Devotional, Faith's Checkbook, by Charles Spurgeon.

5. Met Dad and Ben for an early-ish dinner at Nona Emilia.  Such pizza!

6. Accidentally found Faith Bible Christian School, where I attended pre-school; used their parking lot to turn around when I had to make a wrong turn.

7. Relaxed by playing my favorite computer game, Civilization III, for about an hour and a half.

8. Practiced my guitar.

9. Did one piece of Publishing Lab homework.

10. Did a second piece of Publishing Lab homework.

11. Did a third piece of Publishing Lab homework.

12. Reflected on how glad I was that I had done the remaining piece of Publishing Lab homework on Thursday after class.

13. Remembered a fifth piece of Publishing Lab homework; did it.

14. Did Fiction Writing homework.  This one involved a good deal of procrastination by way of checking email and facebook and reading the news.

15. Wrote in my journal.

16. Read my Bible.

17. Went to sleep.

Not bad, eh?

Today was a pretty good day, too.  I went to campus early, used the computer lab for a bit, then met up with Ben at Contrary, a nice little coffee shop right in the midst of campus.  I brought some books with me for Ben to take out to Indiana with him when he visits our brother Steven; a few picture books for my nephew Ezekiel's birthday and an old Greek New Testament for Steven.  Ben brought a piece of music written by German composer Alban Berg.  Together we worked out the meanings of all the musical notes that were in German - it was a lot of fun!

After the translation exercise and conversation, Ben left and I headed off for my four hours of classes.  I stopped by Barbur World Foods on my way home to get some tzatziki and ended up getting a bunch of other stuff, too (it happens).  It was 80 degrees today* so the freshly baked flat bread and nice cool tzatziki made for a refreshing dinner.  I don't mind saying I took an after-dinner nap** before tackling my poetry homework for tomorrow.

My poetry class is pretty good.  We have a poetry writer's journal in which we're supposed to record our thoughts about poetry and writing poetry.  Then we have in-class poetry writes every day, plus a weekly out-of-class exercise, plus a weekly poem for workshop.  So I write 3-4 poems each week for that class.  Not bad.

Token Blog Photo: The notebook in which I currently write all poetry.

Anyway, I feel very productive, all-around.

*In April.  In Oregon!  That just doesn't happen...^

**Because you don't get that much done on a Sunday without staying up a couple hours past your bedtime.

^After two or three days of moderately chilly, damp weather.  And tomorrow is supposed to be rainy with a high of 58.  I ask you.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Off the Shelf: Coin Collection

As I recall, it all started when my cousin Kevin was in the Navy.  He wrote a few letters to us while he was at sea, and one day we got letters from the United Arab Emirates.  Included in the letters were a coin and bill from the UAE:

I was little at the time, but I kept them even though I didn't really understand what they were.  When I came across them again I realized that I held foreign currency from halfway across the globe in my hands.  I also had a Norwegian coin from a friend of ours in Sunriver; I had a collection.

I was hooked.

And so it began.  I got, in the early days, a few other foreign coins by using some spending money at a coin shop once or twice, but that was too expensive.  So I started collecting US coins, beginning with wheat pennies and bicentennial quarters.  We went to the Sea Lion Caves and the souvenir I chose was a treasure chest (because how cool is that?) and decided it was the perfect place for my little coin collection.  I still have it:

It's a little beat up, but there it is!
Now the chest is pretty full of coins.  I have those few I got early on; the rest were gathered in various travels overseas, or given to me by family and friends when *they* got back from trips overseas.

Most of my foreign coins are from Canada, Germany and the UK.
I wish I could brag that my coin collection is worth a ton of money, but I just don't have anything worth more that its face value.  Maybe a hundred years from now.  I'm not a serious collector - I just tuck away interesting coins when I run across them.

These days I keep the US coins separate from the foreign coins for organizational purposes.  I have a handful of 1965 quarters, which I think is odd - they must have made a lot of quarters that year.  I've got a bunch of the state, national park and other new quarters.  Those are a lot of fun, but since I'm not a serious collector, I have no idea how many I'm missing.  I just tuck away new quarters that I don't have yet when I find them.

I also have a small collection of smashed pennies.  You know those smashed penny machines at touristy places?  You put in a penny and a couple of quarters and select the image you want and crank the handle and your penny gets flattened out and the image pressed into it?  It's fun, and it's the cheapest souvenir you can get, along with postcards.  I was never very into it - I only had a couple - but then I did some traveling with my brother Ben.  Everywhere we went, he carried pennies and quarters in case they had a penny smashing machine.  I jumped on the bandwagon and now I'm the proud owner of 16 or so smashed pennies, which I keep in a smashed penny book that I got as a souvenir at Diamond Caverns.

Anyway!  That's my coin collection.  Do any of you have coin collections?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday Review: The Real Boy

Hello, everybody!  Welcome to another edition of the Wednesday Review.  I'm reviewing another children's book today:

Introduction: The Real Boy is a middle grade book (approx ages 8-12) about a boy named Oscar who works as a shop boy for a famous young magician.  Oscar is a bit different from everyone else - he's shy and doesn't know how to interact with people socially, but he's good at his job working with the plants the magician uses.  But things begin to change - something is out there, leaving behind destruction wherever it goes.  With the magician gone traveling, Oscar is on his own, with only Callie the healer's apprentice to help him.  When children begin to fall mysteriously ill, Oscar discovers a secret that could destroy them all.

My Review:  This was an excellent book.  Author Anne Ursu portrays Oscar so well.  Unfortunately I can't say much about his character without giving away All The Things.

The story is very inventive, which I always like.  It's a nice fantasy book that takes a good look at magic and what it is and what it can be and how it should or should not be used - there are some real philosophical questions raised without slowing down the plot or feeling educational - they're woven neatly into the story.  It's a rich, rich tale with excellent characters.

This book is a great read.  It doesn't shy away from a little darkness in the plot here and there, but it's mostly a character story about Oscar, and he's a great character.  The book has some nice full page illustrations in it, and some good twists and turns in the plot.

Copyright: 2013
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Length: 341 Pages
Genre/Age: Middle Grade

My rating: 5 stars

Monday, April 13, 2015

Weekend? What Weekend?

Well that was some weekend.  That Faith and Culture Writer's Conference was all day Friday (I was there for 13 hours), and most of the day Saturday (11 hours).  Then after the conference on Saturday I went and had dinner with Dad - didn't get home until late.  Needless to say, I didn't get any homework done, and I had quite a bit of weekend homework.

But that's alright!  Because the next day was Sunday.  So I slept in (needed to), went to church, had lunch with the Young Professionals group at Olive Garden,* then I headed to campus to do some homework in the computer lab.  Three formatted articles later, I zipped off to my church Care Group (and was only half an hour late getting there!), then back home for more homework.  I did the rest of it on the bus commute to class this morning.  Not exactly my M.O., but it was worth it - that conference was fantastic.

I'll be working hard this week to catch up and get ahead, because this Friday and Saturday...?  I'm going to an apologetics conference.  Yep.

Who needs weekends, anyway?

Meanwhile, I just discovered that Google has an awesome Pony Express game going!

*Would you believe they're not serving Italian sodas anymore?!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Is This Real Life?

It's late, it's been a really long day, and it's gonna be another really long day tomorrow, followed by a really long Sunday (because I'll have had no time to do my homework until then), but I'm going to write this blog post anyway.


Two reasons: 1) I missed Wednesday's post and I feel bad.  2) I love Christian writer's conferences.

I really do.  I always think I won't - it's a weird situation where Christians of all sorts (aka not like me) who are writers of all sorts (aka not like me) congregate all in one place to discuss God and Writing.

The potential for Uncomfortable Things to occur is pretty high.  Of course, occasionally an Uncomfortable Thing does, in fact, occur.  Like when the speaker has you all hold out your hands, curl them into fists as you visualize the things that get in the way of your writing, then open them to let those things go.

If you're a kinesthetic learner, or a Feeler in the personality tests, perhaps this is a useful exercise.  If you're an audio/visual INTJ-er, it's just strange.*

Anyway!  The potential is there.  By all rights, it should be manifesting itself all over the place.  But it doesn't.  Instead: Christian unity.


I don't know what it is about a Christian writer's conference that's just so darn satisfying.**  It probably has to do with the fact that we have two things binding us together: our faith and our identity as writers.  But it's late and it's been a long day, so I won't speculate.

Suffice it to say, it's not just the fact that these things usually have a time of corporate worship in the form of singing.  It's not just the fact that everyone is a bit more interested in poetry than your normal crowd.  It's not just the fact that there's praying.  It's not just the fact that two or three are gathered in His name to support each other as artists.  It's not just the fact that they have high-quality, helpful workshops.

The Christian writer's conference is more than the sum of its parts.

So where have I experienced this?  June 2014 at the Glen Workshop (which is an artist's retreat).  October 2014 and March 2015 at the Oregon Christian Writers Conferences.  And today (and tomorrow) at the Faith and Culture Writer's Conference.

This is good stuff, people.  Good stuff.

*The visualization exercise is not a make-or-break kind of thing, so no big deal - just illustrating a point.

**Aside from the unity aspect.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Evolution of a Poetry Book

I was going through a bunch of papers a while ago, and I realized that I still have all the printed materials that I used in the process of self-publishing my book.  I thought: Wow, that would be a great blog - I could post photos and explain the process from getting an idea and writing a first draft of a poem, all the way to published book!

So here it is (sorry about the photo quality...and color):

It all starts here. I think every single one of my poems has started out handwritten. I used to turn my nose up at poetry. (I know, right? Irony. Right there.) I was only interested in writing 'books', and I used 8 and a half by 11 spiral notebooks (college ruled). I discovered the joys of the smaller steno pads when I was deployed, and I now write my poetry just about exclusively in these highly portable, poem-sized notebooks.

You may notice all the rhyme notes. It's a strange thing to write rhyming poetry. You're balancing rhyme with content (hopefully with an emphasis on the content). But even if I'm writing a free verse poem, I still have various word choice options scribbled on the page, just not as many. Also, this is a pretty scribble-heavy draft - some of my rhyming poems find natural rhyme/content harmony and I hardly have to do any work to figure out what direction I want to go. I chose a messy one to post here for your entertainment.*

Once I've finished a handwritten poem, the next step is to type it up! I usually do light edits as I type, so you'll notice a few differences from the original draft (in this case, I actually went and changed the original to match a change I made while typing it!). Sometimes I'll go back to it later (much later) and make some additional edits, but you can't see the progression because I save the updated poem over the previous typed version(s).

Once I decided to publish, the first thing I had to do was decide what poems I wanted to include in the collection. I knew I wanted poems related to faith, but beyond that I had no idea what to include. So I printed out every single poem I'd ever written about God, four to a page, and cut them so I could see them all properly.

My first organizational step was to lay each and every poem out on my dining room table. They fit pretty much perfectly! I had over 100 poems there, including those two note cards that you see.**

I initially rated my poems (in red colored pencil) with Roman numerals from one to five, based partly on content but primarily on quality. Poems rated one were pretty much shoe-ins to be included in the book, and wouldn't need much work. 5-rated poems either didn't seem to quite fit with the others for content, or would need some major re-writing to bring them up to publication quality (or both). As I continued in the selection, revision, and categorization process, the status of some poems changed, but for most, my initial rating rang true.  I went through the poems and made initial edits right on the page.

The categorization and revision processes were not one-time things. They were on-going from the moment I printed those poems four to a page, until I approved my manuscript proof for publication.

Having made my preliminary decisions about how to categorize the selected poems into sections (Prayers and Praises, Calling, etc), I put them into a downloaded template for the size book I wanted, and printed that off on full-sized pages to get a clearer picture of what that would actually look like. I think if I self-publish again, I may skip this step - I didn't do much with it.

Later, once I settled on my initial organization of poems within their categories, I printed the proof pdf again, and this time I cut away the excess paper so that I could see my poems in actual book size.  This was much more useful.

At the same time, I also ordered a hard-copy proof, with my place-holder cover design, and sent it to my brother Steven for his notes.

Thankfully, he typed them up in emails - can you read his handwriting? He's my brother and even I have trouble with it.

Armed with Steven's feedback, I made more edits-on-the-page, and reorganized these sheets more times than I would like to recall.

Once I was finally satisfied with the content, I turned my attention to cover design. I'd discussed it a lot with Steven when I was at his place in September, and he'd even shown me the basics of how to design my own cover (he's self-published a couple of books, himself). I even drew a sketch:

When I returned to that task in December, it didn't take long before I gave it up for lost. I am not a designer. Instead, I chose a template I liked, fiddled with the elements that I could change, and that was that.

Or so I thought!  I became concerned that the copyright info on the cover art wasn't correct, and I couldn't figure out how to find out for sure, so I did an emergency switch just to be safe.  The final book uses a photograph my Mom took on our trip from Indiana to Oregon, when I was moving:

So there you have it! That's how I created this material book. Of course, I'm leaving out the creative process behind writing the initial poems and doing major edits, including all the reading and music that influences me, and all the praying I did about this project. But those are the mechanical steps I took in actually taking a poem from notebook to codex.  Now you can buy it here!  Or here!  Pretty amazing, really.

My main takeaways are as follows:

1. Self-publishing is time-consuming.

2. You really, really need to be as critical and objective with your work as possible if you're not hiring an editor - be ruthless.

3. Follow-through. Once you've published, a completely new type of work begins: selling your book. I'm still in the early stages of that one.

4. Publishing your book, even self-publishing, is extremely satisfying, especially if you've put in the work to make it as good as possible.

5. Take a course (or do research) on intellectual property law before publishing your book.

6. I want to do this again!

And the rest is (future) history.

*Sometimes I go back and do some edits on a finished first draft before I've even typed it.

**I had written those two poems after printing all the others out, so I just jotted the titles down on the cards. Being new, they were very fresh in my mind and I didn't need to see the complete poems to know whether they fit the collection or what quality they were.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Weekend

Well, I don't know about you, but I had a fantastic (and exhausting) weekend.

On Fridays I don't have class, so I slept in.  Always very important.  Later, I ran some errands and went to campus to do some homework in the computer lab.  Then I talked Dad into going fishing with me the next day, and had him spend the night.

On Saturday, Dad and I went Steelhead fishing.  My friend Erica's husband Joel is a pretty serious fisherman, and he graciously took us to one of the coastal rivers* to try for some fish.  Joel has a really nice fishing raft for floating the rivers.

Dad and I got up at 4:00 (in the morning...) and drove over to Erica and Joel's.  We followed Joel to the river, witnessing most of the total lunar eclipse (which was cool because the moon was huge), and later the sunrise.  We parked our car at the pick-up spot and we all drove with Joel to the boat slide.  We got into the river and started floating.

When we got to a good spot to stop, Joel taught us how to fish for Steelhead.  On one of the last practice casts, we hooked a fish!  Dad reeled it in, Joel explained why we wouldn't keep it (I can't remember if it was wild, or already spawned and its way back to the ocean - in which case, it was skinny and no good), then expertly removed the hook and let it go.  We caught a little cutthroat trout next, which we also let go.  Then we headed down the river.

It took a while to really get the hang of it all - it's been a long time since either of us had been fishing, and Dad's not used to Steelhead fishing tactics - but we got better as we went along.  All in all, we spent ten or eleven hours on the water** and caught 14 fish (and landed 8 of them).  We didn't keep any (same reasons we let the first one go), but we certainly had a lot of fun.  I was relieved to find that fighting in a Steelhead wasn't as hard on my hands as I thought it would be, thanks no doubt to Joel's instructions on how to brace the pole.

We watched the sun set driving back, witnessing a blood moon, if I'm not mistaken.  Again, it was quite large - really cool looking.  We got back to my place at around 9:00 pm.  That's a long day.

Needless to say I slept quite well Saturday night (and for quite a long time).  I'm still not fully recovered, lol.

Sunday was Easter!  I slept in as much as I could, then went to church.  It was a really nice service, and we sang a few hymns mixed in with the praise songs, which I enjoyed - I love some of those wonderful hymns.  We sang Christ the Lord is Risen Today, among others - one of the greats.  One of the couples in the church gave their testimony as well, which was really good to hear.

After church I went over to Aunt M and Uncle B's house.  I got to hang out with them and catch up with my cousin Kevin and see his kids.  We had bacon and waffles with strawberries and plenty of candy.  Eventually I went home to finish my weekend homework.  Then I went to Barnes and Noble - also for homework!

You see, in my Children's Book Publishing class, part of our homework is to read a bunch of children's books - picture books, easy readers, chapter books, and middle grade, and assess them.^  So I went to look at some picture books.  I read (or started reading) several before I found one worth keeping.  It's called When a Dragon Moves In,*^ by Jodi Moore and illustrated by Howard McWilliam, and it is excellent.  I loved it - so much fun.  So I bought it!  I'll give it to my nephews, because it's a great book.

The artwork really captures the imaginative spirit of this book!

Because I was at Barnes and Noble, and because I am me, I also got a few more middle grade books - including the newest Penderwicks installment by Jeanne Birdsall - The Penderwicks in Spring.  I can't wait to read it - I love the Penderwick books.  I almost never buy middle grade books in hardcover,**^ but I make an exception for the new Penderwick stories.

And that was pretty much my weekend.  Loved it.

*I am not at liberty to reveal which river.

**My body thought I was on the boat for the rest of the night - laying on my mattress felt a little like a water bed.

^This is homework?!

*^Looks like another one's coming out in the fall: When a Dragon Moves in Again.

**^I wait for them to come out in paperback a year later because they're so much cheaper.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Friday Report: Many Splendid Things

First, let me interrupt this blog post before it begins properly and tell you that I'm having a week-long sale on my poetry book (April 3-9).  Use this discount code ( 9VG8LSGT ) and get 10% off!  Pretty snazzy.

Anyway!  The first week of the new term is over, and I am liking it.  Here's what went down:

1.  I'm happy with my classes.  I figured out how to do my homework for Publishing Lab, I'm enjoying writing exercises and short stories in my Fiction Writing class, I'm having fun reading and writing poetry in my Poetry Writing class, and I absolutely LOVE my Children's Book Publishing class.  Love.*

2.  I bought a couple of LEGOs to complete my arctic City sets.**

The ship, which was the first set I got last year.

The base camp (plus pieces from the ship set) that I just got.

The outpost, with the helo from the base camp set, that I just got.

The ship's captain and ship's helo pilot having coffee.
Sigh.  So much fun.^

3.  I put a puzzle together.

Notice the library keeps going and going into other huge rooms...

4.  I signed up for a not cheap Faith and Culture writing conference next weekend (my tax return dollars at work).  I even signed up for a pitch session with an agent.  Yikes!

5.  I've been enjoying some classical music CDs that my brother Steven sent me - been listening to some Beethoven symphonies and such while I build puzzles and Legos and do homework.  Thanks, Steven!

6.  On a related note, I've discovered that I'm a Sibelius fan even when I don't know the music is his - I was listening to classical radio today on my drive home, really enjoying a lovely piece of music that I found out was Sibelius.  I called Ben and left a message on his phone since it was his concerts that introduced me to this composer.

7.  I started reading an article in an old copy of Christianity and Literature journal, called Sir Thomas Browne, Screwtape, and the "Amphibians" of Narnia, by Benita Huffman Muth (because The Seven Tales of Trinket is proving difficult to get through), and I really, really like the article - it's very interesting!

8.  I should be going on a fishing trip tomorrow - floating down a river for steelhead (provided we don't get rained out...).  I kind of hope I catch a fish (obviously), but I kind of hope I don't, because I'm not sure fighting a big ol' figh'n' fish won't result in the death of my hands.  I mean, if playing the guitar for half and hour bothers them...

9.  I had a good time writing this blog post.

P.S.  Did you see how I arranged all the LEGO mini-figures in the pictures so they're all actively doing something?  ;)


**I don't own all the sets, but all four that I wanted.

^I have plans to build, out of my own head, a kennel for the sled dogs and a greenhouse.  Oh, boy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday Review: Picture Imperfect

Hey, look at that!  The Wednesday Review is back!  Here's my subject:

Great new middle grade book with a fun cover!

Introduction:  Picture Imperfect is a middle grade book by Susan Maas about JJ (Jada Jane), a twelve-year old girl on a mission.  A would-be photographer, JJ is trying to find the perfect photo to enter in a contest at the fair - a photo that could win her a fancy new camera and prove that she has a gift for photography.  But getting the perfect shot isn't easy, and JJ has to fight for her dreams at a time when everything in her life seems to be changing all around her.

My Review:  I really enjoyed this book - I even read it twice in fairly quick succession.  One thing I like is that the characters are all well written.

1)  JJ is great - she's a sweet kid, but she has no problem showing a little attitude when pressed.  She's very close with her great-grandma, has a pretty normal relationship with her parents and older brother, and a much more complicated one with her Aunt Lissa, whose arrival to share JJ's room for an unspecified length of time while she looks for a new job opens the book.

2)  Aunt Lissa herself is a fun character, an adult who doesn't always act like it.  To be fair, of course, she is under a lot of stress trying to find a new job and all.

3)  JJ's best friend is Kat, an imaginative and mischievous girl whose flare for dramatics threatens to get JJ in trouble, but she's always there to help find Sasha the cat or pose for photos.

4)  Gram, JJ's great-grandmother, is a lady with a heart for God.  She's well depicted, and the impact she's had on JJ's life over the years is easy to see throughout the book.

5)  The rest of the characters, including JJ's brother and parents, also seem like real people you might actually interact with in real life, even though their roles are relatively small.

The plot of Picture Imperfect is relatively low-stakes - they're not trying to defeat an evil wizard or save the city or anything - but there's plenty of fun to engage the reader early on, and the stakes get steadily higher (from multiple angles) as the story unfolds.  And I may not be terribly concerned about photography myself, but I can see how important it is to JJ, so her actions and reactions toward anything photo-related all make sense.  Maas also manages to keep the pacing smooth and relatively quick, primarily through JJ's quips (like when she imagines titles for photos) and the countdown to fair day.

If the book were only about the photos and Aunt Lissa, I wouldn't be as enthusiastic about it; those are lovely stories but you can read them and leave them and never really think about them again.  It's JJ's relationship with Gram and that part of the story that capture my attention.  That's what gives the book some real weight and takes it from charming to quality.  I was also relieved that the book doesn't have a fairy-tale ending (because it easily could have).  Instead, while some things work out for JJ, other things don't.  What matters is how she has changed in the process.

My only complaint about this book is that the cover (at least of my copy) curls outward.

Copyright: 2015
Publisher: Ashberry Lane
Length: 228 Pages
Genre/Age: Middle Grade

My rating: 4 stars