Sylvania: New Arrivals Start Up Businesses

Sylvania 1Last fall Sylvania opened up it’s boarders to allow a wave of new arrivals, fresh from Korea. Two families arrived, the Kangaroos and the Hamsters, and one young kitten by herself. Most of Sylvania was thrilled by the new additions, particularly Ms. Cat who was excited to meet her young niece for the first time. “I’ve got a picnic planned first thing for the two of us,” she told the Sylvanian Times. “Even better, the park has a brand new children’s bathroom, also from Korea.”

“It’s about time our park had new facilities,” Mayor Oak Raccoon said. “These are state of the art, clean and safe especially for our children.”

Other members of Sylvania were less enthusiastic. “Couldn’t we have gone with a local company for the park restroom? We need to be investing in local business,” said Mr. Duck.

Most of the town gathered though to greet the new residents. “I just want to welcome everyone and show them what a great community we are,” said Mr. Chocolate Rabbit. “My children are eager to make new friends, and so are the adults.”

“I think diversity enriches our community,” said Mrs. Elephant. “I’m eager to learn some new recipes from both the Hamsters and the Kangaroos.

Not everyone however felt the size of the celebration was warranted. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” complained Mrs. Brown Bear. “We were all made in China. Who cares what country we were purchased in? I think this encourages prejudice under the false label of diversity.”

Hop for Pizza

Sylvania 3Despite just arriving, the Kangaroos are wasting no time in opening up a new business in Sylvania–the Hope for Pizza restaurant. It might seem a strange choice but the Kangroos are happy to explain. “While you don’t necessarily think pizza when you think Korea, let me assure you there’s plenty of pizza in Korea,” Mr. Kangaroo said. “My teacher was an Italian rabbit, so I know pizza inside and out, but over the years pizza has become a truly international cuisine.” Mr. Kangarooo suggests trying their special sweet potato pizza. “It’s a great Korean specialty that I think could really catch on here in Sylvania.”

“In Korea, pizza is always served with pickles,” Mrs. Kangaroo added. “I’d challenge people here to try it. It’s far more delicious than the raw tomato slices people serve it with here.” The Kangaroos still offer such Sylvanian classics as pepperoni, cheese, and Canadian bacon pizza, along with extra tomato for those who still like them.

No Paw Left Behind

Sylvania 2The Hamsters, the other newcomers, have also arrived with their very own new business–a shoe shop. The small store is currently right next door to Hop for Pizza, with both families going in on housing to get started, but everyone is hopeful that the new year will soon see them expanding. “Looking around, I see a lot of bare paws in Sylvania,” said Mrs. Hamster. “I think our shoes will be greatly appreciated. We have a wide range of styles currently stocked with my husband working away on yet more great footwear.”

Many residence, like Mrs. Badger are enthusiastic. “My daughter and I have both wanted shoes for ages,” she said. “And my husband will be pleased to finally have work boots.”

Her son, Wintergreen Badger however had other ides. “Who needs shoes? I’d rather have pizza.”

Either way, both new businesses will brighten Sylvania’s future.


From the Dreaded One’s Desk: The Dusty Lair

ardythava3“Your evilness?” The Productivity Head Minion poked its head into the Dreaded Lair. Cob-webs hung low from the ceiling and dust was everywhere. Papers, dirty clothing and dishes, leftover Christmas decorations, and snack wrappings littered the floor. The desk was piled so high with junk even the window behind it was obscured.

“Most Dreaded One!” yelled the minion, picking its way through the room.

“Go away, I’m busy,” snarled the Dreaded Author from behind her book. Her feet were propped up against the windowsil and she was just in the exciting part of the novel she’d gotten for Christmas.

“But your dreadfulness! You’ve neglected not only the lair this time but your work as well. Do you realize it’s been thirty six days since you last wrote anything new?”

The Dreaded Author glared, purposely not notifying the minion that a dirty candy wrapper had gotten stuck to its leg. “I’ve been productive! My goal last month was to edit! In fact, just two days ago I was at my writer’s group to read ten freshly edited pages!”

“Freshly as in you stayed up the night before and they were full of typos which embarrassed you horribly,” the minion said. “You’ve lost your muse!”

“It’s somewhere in here,” said the Dreaded Author. “Under all the junk.”

“Exactly! Lost! It’s time to get productive! Clean this up, find the muse, and get cracking.” The minion puffed up its chest. “We’ve decided it’s high time you stopped lazing around and got going again.”

The Dreaded Author growled and hurled the book at the minion. It ducked. The book hit a pile of boxes which fell down with a crash sending a cloud of dust into the air. Only then did the Dreaded One realize she’d lost not only her place, but probably the book as well. “Look what you’ve made me do!” She got to her feet, flexing her claws.

“And your awfulness, the worst of it is, it has be six months since you last did any marketing.” The Productivity Minion shook a claw at the Dreaded One. “Shame on you!”

“I was busy!” roared the Dreaded Author, incensed. “I was camping with friends in August! Visiting Korea in September! Writing a brand new novel in November! Christmas obligations in December! All perfectly good excuses!”

“And during October?” The minion smirked.

“Something very important, I’m sure.” The Dreaded One swiped at the minion, but it dodged and she knocked over a teapot spilling moldy water across the floor. Snarling, the Dreaded One jumped back only to land a sticky candy wrapper and knock over a pile of papers with her elbow sending them across the floor. “I can’t work in this mess! And I certainly can’t market in this mess!” she roared.

“So which is easier? Dishes or a blog post?” the Productivity Minion asked with a wicked grin.

“Eating you for dinner is what I’d call easier!” The Dreaded One attacked again, furious that the minion had a good point. Getting mold out of a teapot or packing away the Halloween decorations from last year were all considerably more bother than a simple blog post. Unfortunately the junk was too thick to get anywhere near the little minion. It raced across the room and out the door before the Dreaded Author could even begin to untangle herself from the mess.

“Bother those minions, they’re useless anyway,” she growled sulkily. At least the last pile to fall over revealed the book she’d been reading earlier. Wiping the tea slime off on a stray sweatshirt, the Dreaded One settled back down to read. Productivity could just wait a little longer.

“You missed October,” said the

Your lair isn’t just messy, it’s covered in dust. Your lair has been neglected while you’ve been off gallivanting around!”

Exploring the Willamette Valley: Covered Bridges near McKenzie Bridge

Parvin bridgeSo I’ve had a really busy couple of last weeks… I went to the PNWA writer’s conference two weekends ago, but I’m still letting the experience filter through my brain mentally and so will be writing on it belatedly. Instead, I needed a perfect way to unwind, and so when my father suggested we go on a drive to find some covered bridges just southeast of Eugene, Oregon, I jumped on it.Unity bridge

People who haven’t gone looking for covered bridges mostly don’t understand why it’s so much fun. I know I didn’t before my father first talked me into it. But once I tried it, I was hooked. There’s several fun aspects of it. First, you have to find the bridges. While there’s directions online, those are only so good, and so there’s always a bit of a question as to if you’ll be able to find the bridge, if the bridge is still there even. In that respect, it’s rather like a treasure hunt, usually traveling around beautiful Oregon countryside and farms.

Then, a covered bridge itself is really quite lovely to visit. Usually it’s over a quiet and rather charming river, with lots of plants, flowers, farm houses, and other pastoral scenery. The bridge itself can frame very lovely views of slices of countryside or river, and so it’s rather like going to an interesting park. Also, some of them have interesting histories, which is what my father enjoys. He likes to read up on the bridges, when and how they were built, Oregon history surrounding them, and get several photos of each bridge.

Lowell bridgeEugene is definitely the right area of Oregon for covered bridges. While it took a bit longer to arrive in the area, once we got there all the bridges were close together. The first one we visited, Parvin Bridge, was off on a quiet back road and quite charming. Since it was still in use, we took care to watch for traffic, but there wasn’t any, so we got to fully explore the bridge at our leisure.

The second bridge, Lowell, surprised us by being on a lake more than a river. A dam upriver had changed the flow of the water and so the bridge was more on a dock attached to the main road’s modern bridge.Lowell bridge 2 It is also a much larger covered bridge and historical exhibits are housed inside of it with lots of interesting information. On the downside, it has a pigeon problem, which makes much of the floor of the once lovely bridge covered in bird poop and lots of annoying birds flying around inside it.

However, not only was it still an interesting bridge despite the birds, but it had a very handy map of all covered bridges in the area. Looking at the pictures, my mother and I saw a distinctive red bridge we instantly fell in love with and wanted to see, one that was not on the tour my dad had constructed from research online. Since it was only 20 mi out of the way, we decided to go see it.

Office bridgeOffice Bridge was well worth the detour. It has a covered pedestrian walkway built into the side of the covered bridge that makes it quite unusual. According to the signs, it is also the longest covered bridge in Oregon. The bridge itself can be driven across but leads only to a parking lot and park, with a number of hiking and biking trails leading off from it. There was also a cute cafe and lodge across the street from the bridge that looks like it’d be a great place to stay.

We went looking for Pengra Bridge and found Unity Bridge first, since our directions didn’t quite work out. Unity is currently under construction, replacing the roof, and on a bit busier of a street, but I still got a really nice view from the bridge in between traffic.Pengra bridge

Eventually after several wrong turns and extra exploration, we found Pengra as well, which was on another quiet road and worth the hunt. Overall, I had a fantastic time and would like to see more of the covered bridges another time.

Camp is here!

2014-Participant-Vertical-BannerI love to go camping. Something I will have to wait until I get my car back from repairs to do. Siiiigh. But until then, I can go to Camp Nanwrimo! This summer version of Nanowrimo (the main event is in November) is a lot more relaxed. Writers can pick their word count goal, if they’re writing a novel, script, short stories, revising, etc. Any writing project is acceptable. And while I’m super busy with both writing Much Ado About Villains and proofreading Dragon Boy for the Pacific Northwest Writers’s Association conference Sea-tac, I just couldn’t resist getting myself together to make a goal for July’s camp.

Good thing I’m not really going camping until August! I won’t have time.

I debates setting a new goal for Much Ado like I did in April, but I need a break from my intensive schedule and some mental room to work on Dragon Boy and the conference, so I decided I’d finish one of my other novels that was unfinished. I’m attending a workshop next January (no one can complain I don’t plan ahead at this rate) where I’ll be in a small group going over a chosen novel and so I picked one that was unfinished but I really cared about for the workshop called Mortal Friends. I need to send a full draft in to my group partners by the end of November, so now’s the perfect time to squeeze it in. I’m pretty excited to finish this book, as it’s one that’s special to me. Here’s the blurb:

Conrad (Con for short) the goblin is forced to join the Horde to help his impoverished mother keep her house and his sister out of an early and disgusting marriage. Life in the Hoard stinks, he’s bossed around by the other goblins, the food’s no good, and the heroes just cut through them no matter how hard they fight or try and defend themselves.

His brother Swindle watches his back though, and gets Con a nicer position—guarding a captive princess. The Princess Irene is slated to marry the goblin prince in a plan to bring the Golden Lands under the Horde’s control.  Bored with guard duty, Con first reassures her, then teaches her how to sword fight, accidently becoming friends. As the wedding draws near, Con can’t stand the thought of watching it happen, but can he help her escape without being a traitor to his people?

I’ve kept my goal at 50k, the length I hope the book will end up at, because before finishing it I want to go over what I’m keeping and revise it. I’m hoping for a whole draft by the end of the month so I can get back to villains.

Now, to everyone else doing camp this month, let’s get writing!

The Black Cauldron Revisited – A Reflection on a Childhood Critique

the-black-cauldron-still-3This weekend, marooned at home for my car being in the shop, I decided to watch The Black Cauldron, a Disney film mostly swept under the rug for being a huge flop in the theaters. I hadn’t seen it since it came out in the theaters, at a double feature with ET actually. I’m going to guess in that case it’d been out a bit, so I was probably about eight years old at the time. One reason I wanted to see it again was because mostly all I remember was my outrage at a couple of deviations from the book and wondered what I’d think as an adult, now that I no longer find it a sin to deviate a movie from a book.

It was Gurgi, the furry creature that befriends Taran, that originally had captured my imagination when my mother read me The Book of Three. My child self was deeply incensed to see that instead of a furry man-sized creature, a sort of neatherthal-like creature or perhaps a bit like bigfoot, movie Gurgi was basically an ewok. Now, as a child, naturally I loved ewoks, but that didn’t change the fact that Gurgi wasn’t supposed to be an ewok. He was supposed to be big!

Even worse, (spoilers ahead) it wasn’t Gurgi who sacrificed himself into the cauldron in the book version of The Black Caudron and the boy who did certainly didn’t come back to life. Never mind ET also dies and comes back to life (as common in movies as villains falling to their deaths is), but added onto the size outraged, my child self decided The Black Cauldron movie was terrible and sumerily wrote it off. Any contradictions with this and completely loving E.T. were not noticed.the-black-cauldron-13

Now and then over the years thinking about that double feature, I’d crack up. While still nostalgic about E. T. I also don’t think it’s nearly as good as I thought then, so it wasn’t that big a leap of logic to wonder if The Black Cauldron was better than I remembered. I read a few reviews that explained the reason it bombed in the theater was that it was a bit too graphic for the times, which naturally made it quite tame by modern standards. So, I thought I’d see what the movie was really like from an adult objective point of view.

Apparently my child self was right for the wrong reasons. The Black Cauldron is rather appalling as a Disney movie. If it was the He-man movie or Care Bears (which beat it out in earning in the theater at the time) I wouldn’t have been shocked. The movie is very much an 80s movie with lots of 80s movie flaws. Such as everyone standing around watching when action happens to one character, but lots of movies in the 80s were that way… it wasn’t any stodgier than say The Dark Crystal where the action is just as dorky and the mood just as creepy.

twidh_0720_blackcauldronBut Disney had set such a high prior standard that it took me by surprise this one was so typical of the 80s. It had none of the charm, characterization, or great storytelling of older Disney movies like The Jungle Book or The Sword in the Stone two notable examples with a character in them about Taran’s age (rather than the adults of the classic fairytales).

The scene where Taran meets Gurgi for example has him demand his apple back about five times… which is at least three times too many. The story crawled at some points, and yet the dialog was such those “character scenes” didn’t any character… and then suddenly, inexplicitly, random events would quickly happen without much explanation. This meant the story made about as much logical sense as a Miyazaki movie but without the beautiful art, the whimsy, the lovable characters, or the excuse of being constructed for Japanese audiences. Whoever Disney put for screen writing and storytelling on this one deserved to get fired (and probably did).

There were plenty of charming moments, in fact most of them centered around Gurgi. More of him would have helped the movie. Plus a couple of musical numbers (there were no songs at all in the movie and that was not to its benefit). While the reviews weren’t wrong it was animated violence before it’s time (the villain’s skin is peeled off him at the end as he screeches in death… it’s worth watching here) I found the scene in which one of the characters gets stuck between the witch’s boobs a bit more in startling. Seriously? Who thought that was a good idea in a kid’s movie in the 80s?

horned kingApparently I blanked that one out as a kid.

And why wasn’t I outraged that the Horned King was basically a rip-off of Skelitor? You’d think that’d be as sacrilegious as stealing ewoks, right? But at least I had a far more fun both watching and slashing it to pieces at thirty five than at eight. I just wish someone would make a real movie out of those books because it could have been so good. Disney ought to do a live action movie with the characters, but I’m guessing that’ll never happen since it was such a flop. It’s obvious now that was never the character’s fault, or even ewok Gurgi, ironically my favorite character in the film now after seeing it fresh. More of him might have saved the movie.

All in all a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

What kind of series is best?

One of the most powerful marketing tools of our time in any form of story telling is the series. Every summer movie 2 or 3 or 4 comes out in some series. Books too, have lately been more and more series. Harry Potter, Twlight, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones. People just can’t get enough of series these days. Readers like knowing what they’re getting and a series promises more of the great story you love.

Yet, how do you write a series? A book is difficult enough, but three books? Four? Six? In my experience, there’s actually several ways to write a series. In considering the various ones I’ve read, here’s some categories to help think about what kind of series is right for you:

One Long Book

LOTR seriesOn one end of the spectrum, there’s a series that is basically one story, one very long story, and so it’s broken into several parts, Lord of the Rings being a good example. Reading just one book, you don’t get a full story arc. The story just stops and the next part picks it up. You have to read the whole thing to find out what happens to Frodo and the Ring, or Aragon and his kingdom.

The advantage of this kind of series is that you have it as a full idea. You know where you are going from the beginning. You have a built in hook that keeps your readers coming back, wanting the resolution of the story. But that can also be a disadvantage. If you get stuck on one book, all your books are in jeopardy because none of them can stand alone. Readers aren’t going to be pleased waiting around for the next installment because nothing is resolved. Or they may wait until all the books are published. Hearing the first two Hunger Games books ended on cliffhangers, I assumed it was this sort of series and didn’t bother to read any of the novels until the series was fully published. Or, if your story isn’t one that really needs this many words to tell it, you end up with too much padding and it will bog it down.

A series that is one long book is a big time commitment for an author. Make sure you have a story that you love enough to work that long on it, and this kind of series may work well for you.


boxcar seriesOn the other end of the series spectrum, in my mind, is an episodic series. In this form, each book is a distinct episode, complete in every way. Rather like a TV sit-com where. As a kid, such series like “The Boxcar Children” or “Encyclopedia Brown” were like this, and adult mystery series are often in this category as well. A non-mystery example would be something like “Hank the Cowdog.” The same main characters show up each book but have a different adventure. In a truly episodic series, the characters don’t change much, if at all between books. You can often read the books out of order and it doesn’t matter too much, since each one is contained.

The strength of this sort of series is you can write a fresh story each book. That usually means episodic series can last a lot longer on average than a one book series. People don’t need a long attention span to recall the overall situation because that changes each time as the characters face a fresh problem. The weakness is that the characters don’t tend to grow or change. They are fairly stagnant and after a while might feel repetitive. For those reasons, it’s harder to write deep books or great works of literature with this sort of series.

An Overall Character Arc

HP seriesThis sort of series takes a middle ground between the first two. Each book stands somewhat on its own, with a full independent plot and structure, with climax and resolution, but the series as a whole is following the personal journey of the main character. This culminates in the climax of the final book where themes and characters from earlier points in the series often come together for a final confrontation. Often there is a villain who has shown up in smaller contests in a couple of the earlier books who is the main problem of the final book.

Harry Potter obviously follows this format. We meet Voldemort in book one, but he hardly shows up in book 3, and while he’s behind events in books 5 and 6, other conflicts and delving into the past are more central to those plots. Another great series of this format is “The Song of the Lioness Quartet.” While Duke Rodger is young Alanna’s nemesis of the series as a whole, book 3 for example, is entirely about other challenges the young lady knight is struggling with. In a character arc series, what holds the books together is the development or inner journey of the main hero across a number of plots, not just one… and yet these encounters culminate in a larger climactic end as well.

The advantages as an author is you can have the building pressure of an overall conflict, like in one long book, but without the restriction of sticking to one plot. Your main character can take a year off battling the ultimate evil to find himself traveling with nomads, or exploring some distant area of your world. But as Rowling herself recently admitted over the Ron-Hermione romance, you can also fall into difficulties trying to keep the framework of your larger story while handling your characters developing and changing during all those side plots. If your characters change too much, some of the end you originally had envisioned won’t feel true anymore.

Historical or Generational

redwall booksThis is also a bit between the first two kinds of series, not all one book but also not entirely episodic. However, unlike a character arc bases series, this sort of series is centered around something other than a character. A period of history, a dynasty of kings, a family across six generations. Each book generally does stand as a separate work, with it’s own character arcs, problems, and resolutions, but then the next book is the next chapter of history or the next generation of the family, and their new struggles. Unlike a character arc based series, there often is not a building culmination to some final contest. The point is more to follow a place or people through time and enjoy the many stories involved.

I haven’t read “Game of Thrones” but I understand from my friends who have, that it is more this sort of series. The very successful Redwall series is this sort, following the history of Redwall and Salamandastrom across the ages with different heroes, different villains. Some books a direct sequels, but no hero gets more than two books before we move on to their child, grandchild, or some other young animal upon who the sword of Martin and the office of warrior is bestowed. It generally helps to read the books in this sort of series in order, but they often don’t have to be… nor are they always written in historical order.

Not having an overall building focus to the series can have a lot of advantage as an author in opening up possibilities and new directions. You don’t need to write your books in order in this sort of series either, if suddenly something from an earlier time interests you more. However, like an episodic series, it doesn’t have a clear hook and your readers may like some books considerably better than others or skip around in the series. To balance that, some authors will write several smaller series, two to four books long following one character, all set in a larger country, world, or time period, combining the two together to try to have the best of both.

Companion Books and Looser series forms

Most series tend to follow one of those four forms, but there are a few other creative ways of connecting books, such as writing Companion Books. These usually are several books that tell the same story, but from someone else’s point of view. A recent good example is Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, which both chronicle the same war, but from the point of view of a different character. The events are not exactly the same, since the characters perceive things differently and it’s hard to say which is the “true” view of the events.

Another loose series format is to take a less important character from one book and give them their own story. Each book follows a separate plot of people who all know each other. Romance series often follow this format. We’d be disappointed if the couple we’ve invested so much energy to in book one broke up so they could fall in love with different people in book two. Instead, the hero’s brother, sister, best friend, parent, or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend is the one to next fall in love in the further books. Sometimes these books can overlap in time, sometimes they’re sequential. Perhaps if you have several unconnected books and want to make them into a series, giving them a character, place, object or theme in common can turn them into a looser sort of series. The danger of this sort of series is that readers might not get the elements they love in your original book in the following ones and thus give on the series.

A series is a great tool as an author, so it’s important to consider what sort of series is right for your stories. Writing a straight out sequel can work, but it isn’t the only way. I don’t think there’s one sort of series that works better than any other sort. It’s more about finding what’s right for the stories you have to tell. It’s important to figure out what’s true to the heart of your story, and make a series that actually works, instead of forcing your story into a form that doesn’t.

Losing Camp and Tea experiments


2014-Participant-Vertical-BannerI realize I sort of disappeared for the month of April. Signing up for Camp Nanowrimo was probably not the brightest or most doable ideas—but that’s what happened. This year, I’ve been madly trying to get both “Much Ado About Villains” finished and “Dragon Boy edited in time for the writing conferences I’ve signed up for, and my reasoning when poked by a friend to join her at trying Camp Nano again this April was that I needed to finish my draft anyway. I might as well count the word count, right?

I was going to put a realistic goal for the month, but when filling out the novel information sheet, I did need 50k of all the scenes in order still… even if that would be counting revision material (Camp rules are more flexible than the main Nov event, allowing for personalized word count, revision, editing, or screen plays). I probably should have set the more reasonable 30k goal I was originally planning, rather than leaving it at 50k, because I ended up with 28k or rewritten and revised beginning, although I think it’s coming along quite nicely at least.

Camp ate up a lot of mental energy and time, meaning things like this blog got shelved, but not “winning” wasn’t a big deal to me. What mattered more was that I found the missing plot and tension issues that were slowing up the novel. And at least I had a lot of fun sitting in front of my computer with a lot of hot tea. April is an excellent month for drinking tea in Oregon.teapots

Over the last six months, I’ve actually been drinking a huge amount of tea. It’s soothing, it lets me keep the heat bill down (since it warms me up) and it makes for a pleasant time while writing. My husband has always been fond of tea pots, and so I started collecting nice second hand ones as I came across them, which has lead to my being in the habit of using a small teapot regularly for my tea. Most of the teapots are a Japanese style that strains loose leaf tea, although sometimes I’ll use a bag as well. I just put the bag in the teapot instead of a cup and it stays warmer longer in the pot.

teasUp in Beaverton last weekend, my husband and I got a bit daring with a brief stop to Uwajimaya, the largest Asian store in the Portland area, that I know about anyway. They have a wonderful pottery section we enjoy browsing, but we were strong and did not buy yet more teapots. Instead,  the allure of the tea isle roped us in. So many varieties, so many brands, none of which we could read the packaging, or at least not well, but all of which looked fabulous! We went on a 30 dollars spending spree on random Asian teas: two kinds of gen-mai cha (roasted rice), two different green teas, hoji-cha (roasted tea), and an interesting herbal mix with various roasted grains. Not something we ought to do often, but I’ve been having altogether too much fun sampling it all.

Since I shouldn’t drink caffeine (a cup of caffeinated coffee seems to not wear off for 24 hours instead of the supposed 6 that caffeine stays in the body), I usually stick to herbal and decaffeinated teas. However, this can get disappointing to miss some of the more interesting flavors. Certainly, imported Asian teas never come in decaf.

However, I’ve read somewhere that most of the caffeine in tea is released in the first 30 seconds of brewing, so to reduce how much caffeine I get, I will decaf regular teas by brewing for 30 seconds, dumping the water out, and re-brewing. It’s not as low in caffeine as a professionally decaffeinated tea, but at least takes the edge off so I don’t get jittery, and yet can enjoy all the new flavors.



Tai Chi and Chai Tea

taichiOne thing I wanted to do this year was exercise more. My hiking has been a bit erratic. When Minto floods (which is quite often) I tend to not walk instead of going elsewhere. So, I decided I would take some sort of class that would also supplement my walking. I’ve wanted to take Tai Chi out in Hood River and had started looking into places when the whole move came, so we tried the same thing here.

It seems Tai Chi schools are not like other businesses. They don’t have web pages, they don’t answer their phones when you call them, and they don’t even post their hours online on google or yelp or whatever you want to try to look it up on. Basically, you have be persistent and show up random times in hopes someone is there. Not really easy for someone like me with mild social anxiety when I’m not hiding behind my computer screen. But as one place’s phone didn’t work at all and the other place had a perpetual answering machine with a fake promise to call me back, we eventually took a deep breath and just walked into the closest of the two schools.taichi 2

It turns out we arrived in the middle of the teacher class. They were all doing a form in unison, so we sat on the bench and waited, watching. Intimidating to say the least. It took me a while to pick out the teacher everyone was so practiced at it, and even then it felt a bit like a guess, if a correct one. It turns out the school doesn’t actively look for students, only people who hear from other people (or walk in like we did) so I’m not going to list it here, but everyone there was very friendly in person, and we’ve been going for two months now. I love it. It’s relaxing mentally but somehow gets me out of breath even slow… I go into class tired, come out energized, and yet my legs are completely worn out. I’ve never had exercise like that before… it’s always just been exhausting and nothing else.

It reminds me, overall, of chai tea. I love sitting in an Indian restaurant with a cup of authentic chai tea (not the fake stuff you get a coffee shop). There is nothing more relaxing, really… except now tai chi. So try saying the title three times fast, and well, it’s about as confusing but fun as trying to follow my teacher during class. For all the fun I’m having, I’m truly terrible.  Here’s a video of what I don’t look like… an amazing master doing the form I’m learning:

Review: How to Read Literature Like a Professor

professorI’ve always been a big supporter of literary criticism and using literary devises in my writing. I wrote this article back in 2007 on my first blog project about how to use literary criticism to add theme, symbolism, and deeper meaning to stories. I’ve always enjoyed literature classes and so while wandering through Value Village looking at second hand whatnot, I stumbled across How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. I flipped through it, thinking, this looks pretty interesting, but I already probably know all of this from being in college before.

Then, curse it all, I put it back on the shelf!

Naturally when I came to my senses a week later checking the sales, it was gone. By then I’d thought it over enough to be super curious if there’s more things I could learn about literary criticism, and it looked like a good book. Woe! I was too late. Fortunately the library had a copy, but I am still a bit sulky, because it turns out this book is excellent from a writing perspective. Which means I’m going to have to shell out more than the second hand store would have charged me.

The book’s main purpose is to teach readers, mostly high school or college students, how to notice symbolism, theme, and other literary devises in classic literature. It’s conversational tone makes it an easy and pleasant read, and inadvertently, Foster sounds almost like he’s suggesting to us how to add literary depth to one’s writing. Read as a book not for readers but for authors, this is an amazing tool and I definitely want a copy I can keep and use to go over my novels in revision, checking for ways I can flesh them out symbolically.

Some of the great topics he covers in depth are

  • How to use earlier stories to invoke and depth to a story
  • The biggest sources for symbolism, Shakespeare, the Bible, fairy tales, and Greek Mythology and why authors use them, why you should use them too
  • The weather and setting and how to use it
  • Religious/spiritual themes, politics, violence, sex, illness and their symbolic connotations
  • Irony and how it works

Yes, this is very basic stuff, things I’ve learned before, but Foster’s straightforwardness has been highly useful. Explanations of, if you want this effect in a book, these are the symbols or parallels that give discerning readers this sort of message. Laying out why it’s critical to draw on previous work when building up a novel and how that enriches the story. Reading the Greek myth chapter, I realized I have Icarus hiding in one of my novels, and reading the chapter on why all stories are part of one great story, I realized why another of my novels desperately needs some Kung Fu in it.

Once I finish this, I plan to check out the sequel, How to Read Novels Like a Professor, to see if I learn anything new there. I might also make myself some checklists for going over every mention of season, weather, meals, and so on to look for symbolic or thematic usefulness.