Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dying To...

(This really isn't a religious entry, I promise.)

A few years ago, I went to an Ash Wednesday service where the layperson giving the homily decided to show us a clip from Harry Potter (yes, I think I loved that church) and talked about how most of us were planning on giving up chocolate or pizza or whatever for Lent. And that maybe we should think about making deeper choices about what we were giving up.

(This really isn't a religious entry, I promise. Yes, I just repeated that on purpose.)

Then, he took the entire homily into left field (as if Harry hadn't already) and started talking about how we all hate to think of dying, and think of it as just an end.

"But we're all dying every day. Dying to things that don't matter to us anymore. Dying so that better things can be born in our lives." But, he said, we cling onto these dying things, not wanting to let go, afraid of what's going to happen, afraid of letting go of these tattered things in our lives that we no longer need (Dumbledore apologized to Harry that he had to see Faulkes on a "dying day", and mentioned that the phoenix had been looking rather pitiful for days). And he challenged us to take this time to look at our lives and let the things that need to die, well, die. And then watch the good that comes from letting go.

And I thought... damn... there's a lot of in my life that I need to let die. A lot of things that have probably grown so tattered over the years that I barely recognize why I'm holding on to them.

A little over a year ago, I let die that little voice in my head that told me "You'll never make it through the slushpiles and you should never try to write a book." I let go up in flames my belief that four years of studying engineering and ten years of practicing it had killed my ability to write anything more than a cadaver lab report or fan fiction. It was hard, but now I have a "The End" under my belt and another "The End" on the way. And I feel like a phoenix every time I read over my MSs and see one of my favorite paragraphs or hear someone laugh over a line that I wrote.

It's time to keep dying.

Dying to...

Live better.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lucky 7

I was tagged for the Lucky Seven Meme by the lovely (and fellow New Jerseyan) Jaybird. (Edited a week later to add: And the amazing, social-director of all things writerly, Kimberly Sabatini!) Which means that I have to do something that has rules. Eep. Sorry, blog-reading people.

And those rules?

1) Go to page 77 of your current MS
2) Go to line 7
3) Copy down the next 7 lines as they're written--no cheating
4) Tag 7 other writers
5) Let them know

When I was originally tagged for this meme, I still hadn't hit 77 (double-spaced) pages on my current MG WIP, so I went to my YA (which is a WIP until I get published or trunk it, right?!?) and hunted down my lucky seven.

From my YA WIP, The Desired.  Sara is speaking with her grandmother in this scene:

...need, and bring this country… or their country… back to greatness. Some even say that Nostradamus’ writings predict his return.”

“When he comes back, they should kick his ass for being such a moron.”

“Sara!” she exclaimed, surprised at my language. I swear, she almost dropped her crochet off of the edge of the balcony.

I shrugged unapologetically. “Well, they should. What idiot does what this guy did? I get the whole ‘thrill’ of going to war and stuff, but that was just plain stupid.

But, thanks in part to Change, Write, Now and a burst of creativity, I actually made a lot of progress in my current WIP. So, I'm also posting my seven from my MG WIP, The Rapunzel Curse (yes, it has a name that doesn't involve letters! I hit my plot goal this afternoon and feel comfortable letting it be more than "TRC." My WIPs need to grow into their names... otherwise, I just feel goofy. Yes, I'm very weird that way.) In this scene, well... it's pretty self-explanatory:

“Yes, Autumn.” Ms. Laurie gave her an exasperated look. “Really, does anyone read fairy tales anymore?”

In the background, Noah was still struggling against the laces.  “What if I need to go to the bathroom?”

“You should have thought of that before you climbed a tower.”

Autumn ignored them both, her new idea filling her with energy. She ran for the window, gathering hair and throwing it as she came close. Her hair arced through the air, its weight carrying it over the windowsill and down to the ground. “Wint, start climbing. Quick!”

And now, my seven.  Wait. It's Sunday night (I'm lazy, yes. I. am) and a lot of bloggers I know have been hit by the meme, as well. soooooooooooo, I'm giving you two. But you'll love these two. Trusssst meeeeee:

DB Graves at Wait... What? Back in February, she shared a small character development backstory. She'll blow. you. away. Seriously.
Sage at Like Fireflies on the Brain OMG. Read her Teaser Tuesdays for her WIP, Taylor Made. You will fall in luuuuurve.

And, taking a page from The Feather and The Rose, those remaining five tags can come from all of y'all in the comments!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Who Are The People in Your Neighborhood...

"... the people that you meet each day?" (Sorry, couldn't help it. And if you grew up in the US and possibly some other countries and don't get the reference, I'm taking away your childhood card.)

"We're each living out our own epic movies, and everyone else around us is a supporting character." 

I've heard variations of this for years now, and can't help but love this description of life.  Usually, it then goes on to say something along the lines of how we have main cast surrounding us (the people who, in some way or another, interact with us on a regular basis), the guest characters, and the extras.  They color our world, giving depth and meaning, comedy and drama and (sometimes) horror to our "movie."

Take my apartment complex, for example. Until I get the heck out of this place, I'm constantly forced to interact with my neighbors... even if I don't want them in my film. They're the extras that color my night and morning. They give me stories to tell and bring out facets of my personality (usually high doses of tolerance and barely contained annoyance) that might not come out through the rest of my day.

There's the creepy woman across the complex who hits on guys who are old enough to be her son. The lady next door who will trap me into one hour conversations about her bathroom. The old woman who wanders aimlessly about the complex, talking to herself. The guy who thinks everyone hates him and constantly tells anyone who would listen. The "drug addict" who (apparently, according to nosy neighbor) has no furniture. Old guy across the hall who keeps jumping out in his boxers to ask me a question when I try to go to work in the morning (I soooo can't unsee that. Heaven, help me.)

The yentas who kept hoping to set me up with grumpy dog walking guy.

I usually try not to put people I know into stories, but these just might make it into a MS or two someday. I just have to find a way to capture all of that particular brand of crazy.

Good books, books that I love, have a diverse and well defined "cast," just like in real life. Underwear neighbor might be incredibly annoying to me, but he's a part of my story (for now.)  Whether I want them in my life or not. My consolation- they're perfect fodder for my own characters' supporting cast.

So... who are the people in your neighborhood? And do you use them as "inspiration"?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Inspiring, Leading, Guiding

Less than a month ago, I was asked by one of my coworkers to speak to her daughter's Brownie Girl Scout troop about being a female engineer. I was there to inspire them to think about non-traditional careers for women. Apparently, with my sparkly hair, "cool" clothes, and fun hobbies, I'm the epitome of awesomeness for the ten-to-eleven year old set.

The girls heard about my challenges. I was blunt about how sexism can still exist in male-dominated careers, but also told them that it's getting better. I told them about how the women in my workplace lean on each other to work though the unique challenges of just being us.  And I told them that, as women, their viewpoints are valid, unique, valuable, and important.

When I was done with my talk and mock brainstorming session, some of those girls were really energized and inspired by the idea of engineering. (in fact, one of the girls told her teacher and now I'm going to be speaking her class about engineering...) They didn't know how much creativity plays into product design.  As much fun and creativity, sometimes, as writing. (See? See how I brought this around? Mwahaha!)

When I spoke about my "hobbies" to the girls, especially writing, my talk planted a question in my head that's been bothering me ever since. I talk a good game about inspiring girls to think about traditionally "male" careers, but what do the moms in my stories do for a living? What do the girls dream about becoming when they're older?

Careers aren't the center of a story.  Sometimes,they're just tiny mentions... but mentions that can still carry an unconscious bias. When we write, we have a chance to subtly tell that girl who is interested in science "yes, you exist. And you can do amazing things."

Inspire. Lead. Guide. Don't forget the non-traditional as a career option. Make the mom an engineer, computer scientist, astronaut, mathematician. Let your female characters love science class. The subtle can be more important than we realize.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wanderlust and Wanderlove

YA Highway posted a Road Trip Wednesday this week that hits a topic near and dear to my heart...


If you could wander anywhere in the world, where would it be, and why?

 If you haven't figured it out from this blog, I love to travel and fall in love so easily with places and people and food (oh, the foods!) My dad is still a little bit disappointed that I never tried to break into travel writing beyond my trip blog.  But the fact is... traveling inspires me. Travel writing doesn't.

For this RTW, I ran over to my planner and pulled out two post-it notes that I keep stuck to my front cover. On those post-its are lists that are constantly evolving:

The Top Ten Places that I want to visit*-- in no particular order:
*That I haven't already visited
  1. Greece
  2. Egypt
  3. Morocco
  4. China (during dumpling season... I just want to wander in the cold from dumpling house to dumpling house until they have to roll me back onto a plane)
  5. Japan
  6. Toronto, Canada (specific, eh? But TO and I have a long history of things happening-- like SARS-- that kept me from visiting. I WILL visit the CN tower one of these days!)
  7. The Catskills or Adirondack mountains in the fall/winter (visit meaning: stay at least overnight, since I've been to both on day trips.)
  8. Luxembourg
  9. Austria.  I blame "The Sound of Music" for this choice.
  10. Chile

At the Karla caves in Maharashtra State, India

The Top Ten Places I've been to and want to revisit (again, in no particular order):

1.  Portugal (of course): Evora, Sortelha... it's a little country, but I love every bit of it.
2.  Seville, Spain. Oh, Seville... I love, love, love wandering this city at night.
3.  New Orleans, LA: I don't drink and adore wandering this city early in the morning as it wakes up, so I'm probably an oddity when it comes to tourists in NOLA. But, it truly is beautiful, filled with the greatest music and food and atmosphere on the planet.
4.  Quebec, Canada. Duh.  QC is awesome. Even if I don't really like poutine.
5.  India.  Two weeks was just enough to make me dream of more, more, more.
Sunset over Marine Drive in Mumbai, India
(yes, that's a wrist brace. I traveled with a sprained wrist
and sinus infection. Because I'm tough!)
6.  Prince Edward Island, Canada. The "Gentle Island" captured my heart.  Anybody from there want to adopt me?  Technically, I'd qualify as a "skilled immigrant", if that would make the paperwork easier.  And I actually did pick potatoes a few times as a child...
7.  Ottawa, ON, Canada: I want to skate the Rideau Canal again and then I want to go there during the tulip festival. Oh, and if I do go back? I'm SO staying in the same hotel as I did during my last visit.
8.  Nova Scotia... aw, hell, I should just have written Canada, shouldn't I? That would have covered all 4 mentions on this list.  Uhm, I just really, really like it up there and I have the stamps on my passport to prove it.

Maybe I should put this on blog entries that need a CanCon warning?

The rocks at Peggy's Cove, NS. Don't climb on these.

9.  Nashville, TN. I went there for work and got to see so little of the city, but I'm curious to see more.
10.  France. I really miss Bordeaux and CDG airport (for a while there, I had the terminal layout during construction memorized. And the skating schedule at the ice rink in Bordeaux centre memorized, too.)

Now that you've seen my explosion of wanderlust, tell me about yours!  Where do you dream of wandering?

(ETA 16-March: If anyone wants advice on travelling, travel safety, travelling alone, even finding ways to fund travel, I TOTALLY recommend Wanderlust and Lipstick. Beth's advice is great and I've completely worn out my copies of "Wanderlust and Lipstick for Women Travelling Solo" and "...For Women Travelling to India."  A lot of her advice is common travel sense, but we don't always think of everything! The blogs on her site are also a GREAT way to fuel your wanderlust.

Also, my favorite travel guidebooks come from Lonely Planet. I've found their descriptions and recommendations to be the best and love reading their guidebooks as if they were novels.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vintage-y Hat-ty Goodness

I don't collect much.  Books, half-used tubes of lipstick, yarn, keys that seemingly have no purpose but like to sit in my junk drawer, and cat toys are a part of my unintentional collections.  When it comes to intentional, though, I have one "collection"-- a slowly growing pile of vintage hats.

So I made a video to share (Whee!):

  • Yes, I babble.  And say UHM a lot.
  • I keep most of my hats in hatboxes,except for the platter hat.  That one makes a pretty wall decoration, too!
  • If you're curious, I always have my hats cleaned before I bring them into my apartment to keep from bringing any unintentional "friends" in with them. After the great carpet beetle invasion of 2010 where a ton of my best yarn was eaten along with my ren-faire bodice (carpet beetles most likely courtesy of my wonderful neighbor who refuses to vacuum even though he has two cats and a dog), I'm wary of anything made of wool that may carry those (or moths.)
    • Where? I went to the Hermes store in my local mall and asked where they advise their clients to take their dry cleaning. These cleaners are pricey but specialize in vintage and designer and they're TOTALLY worth the cost.
  • Vintage hats are great to collect because they really aren't very expensive. Most of my collection ranges from $8-20, with the 1920s cloche as my most expensive at around $90.
  • Yes, I believe in wearing them because hats are meant to be worn!
    • I don't wear my hats in the rain or when it's snowing, though.  They are made of sturdy wool (or some sort of animal hair for the cloche), but there's no need to tempt fate.
I hope you liked this video!  Let me know if I'm not too annoying/babbly for the occasional video blog!

Friday, March 9, 2012

"If It's Just Like The Movies..."

This post was supposed to be finished last night, but a youtube load ate my network.  The plus?  I have a video of my vintage hats ready to share.  The minus? I'm going to try and cram this post in before work this morning.

Let's see what a sleepy Issy creates!

Kyra at Write Here, Write Now and Rachel at Writing on the Wall are hosting the WIP: the Movie blogfest today, and I've decided to hop on board.

The rules:
"Cast at least one character from your book, and post a picture of him or her on your blog.
Post at least one song that would be on the soundtrack" (and, of course, following these awesome ladies would be great!)
To be perfectly honest, until about a month ago, I just couldn't imagine trying to cast the characters of The Desired.  Sara and Jer have such specific looks in my head that I couldn't imagine any actor fitting them and Sebastian, well, he's based on a real historical figure.  Talk about being blocked into a "look."


Last month, I was watching one of those Hallmark Hall of Fame feel-good movies and I saw Jer.  (Well, technically, it was Logan Huffman, but who's keeping track?)  When I went online to find more pictures of Logan Huffman, his pics from V were even more Jer-like.  He just needs a little bit of a haircut and some green contacts and Logan would be the perfect Jer (click on pics for links to original source.)

Jeremiah Thatcher, in a dramatic moment
Jer and Sara, video-chatting.  All he needs is a ratty Camp Elemeyomik polo to finish the look
“Is that Eurotrash guy there?  I wanna warn him to keep away from you and Liz…”  Through the fuzzy video chat, Jeremiah still managed to make out the look on my face and hastily added, “in a protective big brother way, of course.”
Then, I was flipping through the pictures on one of my favorite photo/fashion bloggers' blog and found this image:

Sara Lobos, or as close as I can find
Rosalind over at Clothes, Cameras, and Coffee is not only lovely, but she's also an incredibly talented young photographer.  I have to admit that her and a few other fashion bloggers are the reason why I decided that Sara was going to be a photographer-- and that Sara was going to have a fashion/photography blog.  While I can't find anyone who has Sara's face, this picture of Rosalind above just struck me as Sara-like.  She would take a picture like this.

As much as I had hoped to have Lizzie as a model, I liked how the pictures were turning out.  Her short, blondish hair wouldn’t have had the same impact as mine, standing in high contrast to the dress and my pale face, made paler by a heavy coating of powder.  In the fading light, my hair looked almost black in the images, the red-brown only peeking through in random shifts of light.  Morning glories and foxglove twined with the ferns around my feet.  I looked old fashioned, ethereal, and even a little bit pretty.

And, of course, I have to post images of the dress that she's wearing during one of her photo sessions.  These beautiful pictures below are courtesy of another favorite blogger, Lauren at Blooming Leopold.  Sara stuffs herself into an Edwardian lawn dress just like this one:

Sooooo pretty, no?

Next, Sebastian.  He's a real person out of history and, while paintings from that time exist, finding a real person who looked sort-of like him has been a challenge.  So, just pop into a time machine and bring back a 20-year old Chris Helmsworth.  Because he's perfect *swoon*:

Sebastian, just hanging out in the woods and being mysterious

Of course, setting is as much a character as people.  From forests in Portugal and castles (for Sara) to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and Philadelphia (Jer), setting plays a huge part in my story. (all images below are mine)
A field of foxglove in Portugal near the Serra da Estrela (Star) Mountains

The view from Sara's bedroom in Portugal. In the fictional version of this room, the non-stone wall is painted white... the antique dresser, though, stays.

Santa Maria da Feira Castle. This is where the battle and turning point in the story takes place...

More Pine-barren-y goodness
Now, the soundtrack.  Because I need to get my butt to work, I'm going to list the soundtrack here and go back and link to Youtube later tonight! (DONE!) Many of these songs were a part of my original writing soundtrack-- The Desired really seemed to love Within Temptation, Kyo, and the occasional Eurovision song contest entry. These aren't in order-- sorry!

1. Haunted by Taylor Swift:  This is really Jer's song.  I love the conflict that plays before my eyes when I listen to this song... and the theme of the song carries over into D2.

2. A Thousand Years, Christina Perri (and no, I didn't know that this was a Twilight soundtrack song!)

3. Satellite, Lena: Eurovision song winner from Germany! Yay!

4. A Lenda d'el Rei Dom Sebastião, Quarteto 1111: Uhm... if you know Portuguese, this is slightly spoiler-ish *wink*

5. Boom Boom Yeah, Axel: Sara goes to a club and a town party... this would fit in either place. Try not to dance to this! (Another Eurovision song, though this didn't make it past the country level.  Portugal missed out, because this song is soooo much more awesome than the stupid one that they sent out.  There's also an English version with Sasa Lendero-- but the Portuguese version is so much better, imho.  Europop rocks!)

6. Am I Dreaming, On a Plain: A Portuguese rock band (in English)-- the chorus says it all: "Should I believe or am I dreaming?"

7. Reverie, Megan McCauley: This is a turning point song.  The lyrics are so perfect for Sara's "moment of choice."  And on a non-WIP point, it makes me want to dance so badly.  Can't you just see a tilt turn in the chorus? EEE!

8. L'enfer, Kyo: A French Rock band.  The translation of the song's title is "Hell."  "J'ai donné ma vie pour partager la tienne  Bien écorché vif, je m'éveille.  Mais un mot de toi pour ma peine, Ma paranoïa sur tes lèvres, Mais Alléluia le vent se lève  Cet enfer est tout ce qu'il me reste" *sigh*

9. Enchanted, Taylor Swift: Swift captures that wonderful feeling that you get after you meet someone, before you find out that he's already in a relationship or trapped in some time-prison...

10. The Howling, Within Temptation: The big battle song, and a bit perfect when it comes to choosing sides.

11. Memories, Within Temptation (more for the video than the lyrics) I've ownd the CD for ages, but I only saw the video after writing the manor house scene in The Desired.  Some of this video is reminiscent of that scene!  Plus, the imagery is just gorgeous-- I see a few stories in here:

12. What Have You Done? Within Temptation: "Why does fate make us suffer? There's a curse between us, between me and you."  The lyrics aren't literal to my story at ALL, but I love the feel of this song.  Plus, it made a great battle soundtrack.

Now, hop on over to Write Here, Write Now and Writing on the Wall to see more links to other WIP blogfest participants!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

My contemporary is currently a little moleskine notebook (bright light blue!!) packed with plot and character sketches and a few little bits and bobs of story.  I'm charmed by Phoebe and Dev and am having a lot of fun developing their stories.

One thing that I'm starting to learn while planning out this story is that all of those terrible, embarassing, awkward things I did when I was a teen and in my early twenties (and last week) have now become fodder for my fiction. What used to make me cringe when I was younger has me now giggling with delight or squealing over a new way to potentially torture poor Phoebe.

But today's teaser isn't quite about torturing Phoebe.  If you couldn't tell from my "Muddy Valentine" post, Phoeebs is an obsessive reader and, as an obsessive reader, she needs to have a favorite book or two (or ten.)  This is a little bit that she might read aloud/quote from "Golden," a YA Paranormal Romance.  Enjoy!

"Connaught ran his finger down my cheek and I tried not to flinch.  'Are you sure you know what to do with her?' He continued downwards, his fingers running through my hair and only millimeters from my body. It felt like a predator prepping to eat me.  'This one is lovely.  If you change your mind, I'll take her.'

Liam stiffened but his voice was smooth.  'She's mine.' He grabbed my arm and whipped me around to face him, capturing my cheek with one hand. Eyes burning equal parts passion and apology, he bent over and kissed me fiercely, possessively.  I held back a squeak of surprise and relaxed into his kiss.  I felt like molten gold was rushing through my veins.

He made me burn."

I finished reading aloud, my knees a little bit wobbly from the story.  Leaning against the wall for support, I snapped my book shut and looked up at Em.  "See what I mean?  Liam is just so swoonworthy, isn't he?"  I clutched the hardcover to my chest.

Em, on the other hand, looked unimpressed.  "It's okay.  He kind of sounds, I don't know, meh."

I could feel my jaw threatening to drop and I pet the book protectively.  "Meh?  Seriously?"  She had to be coming down with something to think Liam was anything but incredibly hot.

She nodded, ignoring my shock and turning her attention to her phone.  "You know how I feel about these magical whatsit paranormal things, Fee.  So, yeah.  Meh."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Letting Go (aka Issy Goes All Engineer on the Blog)

I know I've mentioned in the past about how engineering has helped me ease into the writing process.  The parallels can be a little bit eerie at times, and the more that I dive into the writing world, the more parallels pop up.  Lately, things happening on my team at work have reminded me of some of the writing advice I've heard from fellow bloggers, authors, and the amazing people at the SCBWI conference. And that's why today, I'm diving into "letting go" during the critique process:

At a work costume thing, dressed as an "engineer nerd"
Some people actually thought we always dress this way!

We've just reshuffled our teams to work on a key projects.  The project that I am now assigned to was originally being handled by one engineer.  That engineer went from working with little to no support to having a team of engineers and designers swooping in to take over huge percentages of his design and transfer work.  Not because he's incompetent or was doing something wrong, but because one person handling a huge project can be inefficient and crazy-making (note: if you know the building security code to be able to leave after the alarms turn on at midnight, you may need more resources.)

And, one person can sometimes get too close to the project to admit when it might need improvement, change, or a fresh viewpoint.

After over a year on project XYZ, this coworker is having a very hard time letting go.  Automatic "That's impossibles" and "Nos" became part of his vocabulary during design reviews.  When one instrument design was given to another engineer, he would walk around mumbling about how the new design would "never work."  I have been asked to moderate reviews and feel terrible about constantly having to remind him that we're all working towards the best product possible and even though he's the subject matter expert, that doesn't invalidate everyone else's feedback.  He's getting better about the whole situation, but it's been a long few weeks.

Truth: We've all been there.  We've all been reluctant to "call our babies ugly" or to accept that someone might have a better idea than our original WIP.  When someone points something out that could use improvement, it's natural instinct to just say "Yes, but--"

It's important to remember that the people who are providing feedback are trying to help you make the best final product possible-- unless you've handed your design, manuscript, macrame belt... whatever to someone with a crazy ulterior motive.  Maybe they don't have your background information, maybe they might be totally off mark... or maybe they may have hit on the very thing that will take project XYZ from "pretty good" to "excellent."  You will never know if you don't listen.

I had to learn this early on in my product development career.  The manufacturing and quality engineers are not "out to get me" or "trying to delay my project because they hate me" (well, most aren't-- I sometimes wonder about some of them!)  Their goals are to make a cost-effective, inspectable product that is easy to manufacture and has all of the safety checks and balances in place.  I make things that go in people's bodies and, if I screw up, people could potentially die.  And "pretty good" to "excellent" could mean better patient outcomes overall.  I'm happy to have an extra set (or two or twelve) of eyes on my designs and drawings. 

In the writing world, no one will die if you or I don't listen to critiques or beta or agent feedback on an MS.  The world will go on in a perfectly fine fashion.  But... maybe that "what if you do this?" or "I suggest--" could be the key to making the MS something that really shines. 

Listen, absorb, learn, and be ready for change.  That's what a good design team does on a daily basis.  We work so hard at our writing, pour our souls and hours upon hours of effort into it that it deserves that much, doesn't it?