Friday, December 23, 2011

One of my favorite Khristmas specials starts with the line, "In all this world, there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child." The special is "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus," based on the book of the same name by L. Frank Baum. I love the sense of magic and the feel of a complete, original mythology in L. Frank Baum's version of the story of Santa Claus. It always makes me uncomfortable when Santa Claus mythology is combined with Christian mythology. The two don't really fit together. And while I enjoy movies like The Santa Clause (starring Tim Allen), there is a flippant quality to the mythology in them that isn't satisfying. There is something wonderful and deeply true about the way that the Sesame Street Khristmas special and the classic letter to Virginia in the New York Sun answer the questions behind the idea of Santa Claus, in a sense, by un-asking them. Very zen. Very true. Nonetheless, I do like to see Santa Claus turned into a story that has a mythological wholeness to it.

This is all beside the point, though. Watching "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" with Elaine this Khristmas, I found myself struck by that first line. I'd never paid overmuch attention to it before. I accepted it as a reasonable-seeming concept, although, it in no way spoke to me. Now that I have a child though, I find that it both speaks to me and that I can no longer accept it as reasonable.

There is a great deal that is beautiful in this world. A happy child is a beautiful thing. But, unless you are a human, biased by the drug-like chemicals that wash over your brain to reward you whenever you see happy infants and children, a happy child doesn't outshine all the other things of great beauty in this world.

A sleeping tiger. The flower-like wings of a deadly preying mantis. Waterfalls. Trees. Snowflakes. Grains of sand, greatly magnified. Two cats playing. A Sheltie prancing in the tall grass of a field. Only humans, under the influence of the drugs generated by their own brains, think that a happy child outshines all these other beauties. Without that peculiarly slanted vision, a happy child is merely a piece of all the other natural beauty in the world we live in.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Elaine asked me to remind her what number comes after thirteen. So, I offered to count with her. We recited numbers together until the mid-thirties, at which point most numbers were accompanied by a break for hysterical giggling. Elaine still doesn't see why we would bother having so many numbers. They're so unnecessary! And therefore comical.

Once we got up to one hundred, Elaine seemed to have the pattern down, so I broke off and let her keep counting alone. Once she reached the hundred-teens, the following conversation ensued:

"Is that all the numbers?" Elaine asked.

"No, it goes on forever," I replied.


"Yeah, you can count forever."

"But then I won't eat anymore!" she exclaimed.

"You won't eat?" I asked her, baffled.

"If I keep counting forever," she explained in a nearly incoherent burble, "then I won't eat anymore! I have to eat too! And I'll miss school!"

Clearly, numbers are terribly dangerous objects. We really shouldn't keep so many around.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Arthur C. Clarke is a writer who I found highly influential back in high school. I read his 2001 series, Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood's End, and a massive number of his short stories, even though I wasn't particularly a fan of short stories at the time. The last time I read anything by Arthur C. Clarke, however, was probably more than a decade ago when 3001: The Final Odyssey came out.

I know that many of the books I loved in high school have paled some with age -- others, that I couldn't stand in high school, I've come to realize have profound depth and subtlety. (Such as the entire works of Jane Austen and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Leguin.) In fact, over time, I've come to suspect that I preferred a certain type of 2-dimensional, cardboard character when I was younger. I found them easier to understand. Science interested me more than people, so I preferred authors who wrote about science (Clarke, Asimov) to those who wrote about people.

My tastes have changed some over the years. Deep Space Nine taught me to appreciate politics, handled well. Jane Austen and an excellent college professor taught me to appreciate irony. And I think that simply spending more time on this planet filled with people has taught me to have more interest in the stories of other humans. (Though, I do still prefer animals and aliens.)

All of that said, I have found it extremely pleasant, comforting, and downright restful to revisit Arthur C. Clarke by way of reading The Songs of Distant Earth this week. (A book that I'd never read before.) I don't believe, by any means, that it's his best work, but it's written in a voice that I haven't listened to in many years. And, no matter how much I've changed in the last decade or so, I still find it to be a really wonderful, thought-provoking and thoughtful, intelligent, well-considered voice. The words that Arthur C. Clarke had to share with the world are words worth hearing. It's an amazing treasure that there are still words of his for me to discover so many years after his death.

Arthur C. Clarke, you are still missed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Last year during NaNoWriMo, "Write or Die" ( was all the rage. It's basically a box that you can write in, and it will punish you if you stop writing. Depending on the setting, it may punish you by beginning to delete the words that you've already written. Apparently, some people find this motivating. I just find it frightening.

This year, however, there's something that I think really might work. "Written? Kitten!" ( is a similar box in a webpage that you write in -- except, this one rewards you with pictures of kittens! I had to test it out, you know, to see the first kitten picture. It turned out to be an old-timey style drawing of a little girl clutching a gray kitten above a Valentine's heart. Excellent motivation! I'll probably try doing some of my real writing in the Written? Kitten! box later, but, for now, here's the 100 words I wrote to earn that first kitten:

Once upon a time, there was a princess named Elaine. She was young and clever. And oh so terribly mischievous! She lived in a house with three loyal dogs and five wise cats. Of all these pets, the one she loved best was Kelly, an orange and black Halloween cat. Kelly's stripes blended from orange through gray to the deepest midnight. So, sometimes when she curled up in a ball to sleep, she looked like a pumpkin. Other times, she would stare at you with her golden eyes, and the black in her fur would shine with the darkness of her heart. For she was an evil cat.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Watching the word counts go up all around me, as various writers I know tackle the behemoth that is NaNoWriMo, makes me wish that I could be playing that masochistic, addictive game again. However, I've decided that it will be better for me overall if I give NaNoWriMo a skip this year. I've had a very busy year, writing-wise, and I don't think I have the energy for another all-out push at the word count right now. (I already played that game this summer with writing several short stories for anthology deadlines.) I do have a number of projects that I desperately need to make progress on, but I think they'll all be better served by a more fluid, flexible pace.

Monday, September 26, 2011

By the end of Rainfurrest: I met all kinds of amazing people and had the most fun I've ever had at a con.

I got to be on two panels with Alan Dean Foster, which was a real highlight. And, according to the feedback I got, I was actually good at being on writing panels! (Given my painful shyness and fear of public speaking, that was not something I actually expected.) I really enjoyed telling people about my experiences as a writer and teaching what I know about writing, and a number of people told me that they found my comments on the panels to be insightful and interesting. One man even told me that he liked what he'd seen of my sense of humor on one panel enough that he went right to the dealers' room and bought my book.

Which brings us to "Otters In Space"... After selling a couple copies of it at WorldCon, I was almost out of the box I ordered last summer. So, in a fit of optimism, I ordered an entire second box, and the people at the FurPlanet table were kind enough to agree to carry them for me in the dealers' room. I figured I'd probably sell better than at WorldCon, since Rainfurrest is a much more targeted audience for a book about talking cats, dogs, and otters. However, I never imagined I would actually sell out during the weekend! By the end, I had to find a way to clip a ballpoint pen to my badge, because it was just too inconvenient to keep digging it out to sign copies of "Otters In Space" and the Rainfurrest anthology (which had two of my stories in it) all the time. I'm pretty sure that this is the best problem I've ever had.

On top of all the writerly goodness, though, I really just love going to Rainfurrest. I like wearing my ears and tail; I like carrying around a plush otter or My Little Pony without getting strange looks; I like all the giant, friendly animals who wave at you and give you hugs and bounce around playing. This year, I brought my four-year-old daughter and my mother to keep track of her, and they had a great time too. Elaine chased around fursuiters -- especially a green unicorn and a raptor who had a My Little Pony in his mouth. (She had to inform him that "ponies are not tasty!"; I'm told that he replied that they taste like ice cream.)

The whole weekend was fun and fantastic and I can't wait to do it again next year. I guess, I'll just have to make it all the way down for Further Confusion again this January to make it not quite so long until the next convention. I hope I'll get to see some of the new friends I've made there.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Let the season of make-believe begin!

We start the fall every year with our annual Talk Like a Pirate Day party. It's mainly an excuse to dress up like pirates and say "Arrrr!" a lot. I mean, sure, we could do that on Halloween, but then we wouldn't have a day for dressing up like The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland or the fairy story centered on a young girl that we've chosen for this year... Anyway, this weekend was especially intense in the make-believe department, because we also went to Fairyworlds Harvest. I wasn't really planning to do costumes for it, but my friend Sarina discovered that she had some child-sized fairy wings and gave them to Elaine. Then, while I was searching Goodwill for Halloween costumes, I found a pair of amazing butterfly wings. Thus, Elaine and I got to spend the day, dressed as fairies, traipsing through the woods. Elaine was given no less than two free wands -- one with crystals and pink rocks on it and the other made from balloons. She was invited to a tea party where she sat on a giant red toadstool and drank mint tea served by a fairy. It was a delightful way to spend the day.

Then, we had our pirate party! Arrr! And we even managed to capture a mermaid and make her dance for us. Arrrr!

Next up in make-believe land: I head north to Rainfurrest this weekend. I will be on nine panels, including a Furry Writers' Guild Meet & Greet and a reading from my own "Otters In Space." The rest of the panels are about the craft of writing. And I will, of course, be wearing my fluffy Sheltie ears and tail the whole time. I'm almost tempted to wear my butterfly wings as well and be a fairy cat, but I think that might be a bit much.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Apparently, when I get stuck -- as in, make negligible progress for most of a year stuck -- on "Otters In Space," my solution ends up being to stick the main character in a box. Maybe when I'm writing OiS3 and get stuck around the 30,000 word mark, instead of banging my head uselessly against it for a year, I can skip straight to having Kipper hide in a box and keep writing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

WorldCon is large and serious. There were a few costumes -- ball gowns, Klingons, and fuzzy ears -- but far fewer than I expected. In fact, I felt like I had to wear my own fuzzy orange ears just to help lighten the tone.

The panels and readings I attended, however, were excellent: Cory Doctorow, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Connie Willis read chapters from the books they're working on; Dr. Demento and David Malki (of discussed humor and science-fiction; Jay Lake repeatedly threatened to sing during the Hugo Awards ceremony; and Stanley Schmidt, the editor of Analog, explained what he means by "hard science-fiction" and his philosophy for encouraging promising writers. I don't know if I'll ever succeed in selling a story to Analog, but I learned this week that I've been coming closer than I thought. In fact, when I met Stanley Schmidt at one of the evening parties, he even recognized my name from all the submissions I've sent him over the years. I think I'm still in shock from that. He's been the name written on rejection slips that keep me writing short stories (as opposed to switching entirely to novels) for the last eight years. A mere scribble of ink. Then, suddenly, he was a real human being, leading panels with giant audiences, surrounded by people, and terribly important. But when I had the chance to introduce myself to him... he already knew who I was. Maybe it's silly, but that small amount of recognition really means a lot.

The other high point came when I went to collect my left-over books from the dealers' room. (I sold half of the books I brought with me to the convention!) As the bookseller was handing me back my leftover copies, a young boy -- probably about twelve -- came over to compliment my ears. He transitioned from complimenting my ears to trying to acquire them rather quickly, but I insisted they weren't for sale. As a consolation, I offered the boy an "Otters In Space" bookmark. When he realized that I had copies of the book right there, he asked how much they cost. I could see from his expression that $6 was a little rich for his pockets, but he cleverly offered to trade me a bushy, stripey tail he had. Apparently, he'd already acquired an upgrade tail -- that better matched the ears he was wearing -- during the con, so he didn't want his old one any more. And given that I had ears but no tail, this seemed like a pretty good deal to me. We made the trade and he took off, but moments later he came rushing back for my autograph. I hope he enjoys the book, because he absolutely made my day. Best sale ever.

Now that the con is over, we have one more evening in the surreal land of flashy lights and machines-begging-us-to-gamble before making the long drive back to normal life. Being shy, I have mixed feelings about cons -- they're exciting but they're also overwhelming. Part of me is sad to see the con end, but I'm also looking forward to getting back to my quiet, animal-filled house where I can settle down to working as hard as I can at writing short stories that interest Stanley Schmidt and novels that interest random twelve-year-olds wearing fuzzy ears.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Things you hear during your day when you have a three-year-old in the house:

"Hey, everybody!!! Four plus two is six!!! Four plus two is six, everybody!!!!"

"I want to be a DRAGON!" (Followed by the child appearing in a dragon costume.)

"Toy Story is an ooooooold movie."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Elaine loves math.

Tonight, we gave her a bowl of strawberries. As she was arranging, rearranging, and counting the strawberries in the bowl, I saw her realizing something. She tried to voice this complex idea that had occurred to her.

"Three plus three and five plus one..." She said this a few times, clearly having trouble working out the number "six" at the same time as holding the two equations that added up to it in her head. So, I helped her out, offering up the number she was looking for: "Six."

Elaine was delighted to have discovered there are multiple ways to reach a single number through addition. She immediately pulled out her crayons and started making piles to shove together and count -- this is the strategy Daniel taught her a few weeks ago for doing simple addition. Only this time, she was making more than two piles at a time.

After experimenting with all the ways to separate five crayons into different piles and then shove them back together and still have five crayons, Elaine wanted me to teach her how to draw a five. From there, we moved fairly quickly to my writing out sheets of equations like I remember in early elementary school for her:

1 + 1 = 2
1 + 2 = 3
1 + 3 = 4
1 + 4 = 5 etc...

Each time I finished writing out a sheet of about ten simple addition equations, Elaine would get really excited and say, "Oh! Let's read that!" Then she'd read through the page, from the bottom to the top, declaring each of them "a good story" at the end.

Daniel told her that her Grandma Janet, who's an accountant, spends all day adding different numbers together for people, and Elaine was clearly impressed that her very own grandmother has such an important and exciting job. Elaine says she wants to be an accountant too when she grows up. (Of course, yesterday, she said she planned to be a kiwi popsicle when she grew up.) As for tonight, she rolled all the pages of arithmetic up like scrolls and took them upstairs to bed with her, clutching them tightly and insisting that her daddy read at least three of them to her as a bedtime story before she goes to sleep.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When Elaine wants a treat, she spells out random combinations of letters, hoping to stumble upon a magic password like "C-A-K-E", "P-I-E", or "I-C-E C-R-E-A-M." Sometimes, the combinations of letters she chooses are interesting... Today, in all seriousness, she sweetly asked me for a "P-H-D" and has followed up by stomping about the house declaring, "I want a P-H-D! I want a P-H-D!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My three-year-old has discovered the concept of infinity. And strenuously objects to it.

The conversation started with her asking me, "How many numbers are there?" I told her there were infinitely many and began trying to explain that idea. She looked at me like I was a complete idiot who clearly hadn't understood her question. So, she started counting, and, as usual, needed my help after the number fourteen. When we got to twenty-seven, she declared, "That's it. That's all the numbers!"

I told her about twenty-eight.

She tried her assertion again: "THAT's all the numbers!"

We went on like this for a while. (Though, my counting sped up.) When we got up above one-hundred, she started giggling. When we got to two-hundred, she declared, "That's too many numbers! We only need a little bit of numbers!"

So, there you have it. Infinity has been put on official notice. When Elaine takes over the universe, we're scrapping it for a mathematics that's capped at twenty-seven.