cross-stichery part 1

I learned how to do a new thing! As you can probably guess from the blog title, that thing is cross-stitch!

I really needed a hobby this summer that was not associated with writing. I was halfway through crocheting a blanket when the heat waves hit, so that was promptly abandoned. I’d love to practice drawing, but typing for hours per day have turned my hands into useless claws, so that is off the board.

Thus, cross-stitch! It’s pretty, it’s precise, but it follows a grid, so my claw-hands just have to stab at the right corner and the needle will sort the rest out.

I debated jumping in with something elaborate and complex, but my internet friends suggested maybe not going off the deep end. ALL RIGHT, FRIENDS, FINE. But I am a supremely impatient person, so I couldn’t just doodle a stick figure either.

The middle ground: I decided to practice by making a piece for my 4yo son. I asked what he wanted: a dinosaur! Okay. I tracked down a simple two-color pattern for a T-Rex skeleton. I asked what color he wanted: rainbow!!!! Er, okay! I just switched colors when the time seemed right.

And Rainbow Rex was born!

cross-stitch dinosaur skeleton in rainbow colors with caption "rainbow rex"

CHOMP CHOMP, LADIES

I learned lessons! Like not letting the back get too messy, and leaving more room to frame, and perhaps most important of all: yes, you really do need to get the magic washable fabric pen, because the pencil lines will definitely not come out.

Heady with somewhat-success, I decided to creep a little farther onto that springboard over the deep end. Instead of picking one animal, this time I bought two patterns and mashed them together to make a hybrid bird-lizard, and instead of two thread colors I jumped to fifteen. What could go wrong?

NOTHING. HE’S BEAUTIFUL.

cross-stitch of a gecko with parrot wing and speech bubble "peace out bitches"

Gideon is getting the hell out of here

He now has a lovely home with a friend of mine. The stitches are small enough that she probably won’t be able to tell which ones accidentally went in backwards when I was trying to stitch with toddlers on my lap.

I learned more lessons! Like: try to keep the toddlers out of your lap, and it sure would look nice to fill the whole hoop so I’d better start making them smaller, and also: I bet I could start making my own patterns.

That’s right, friends. I’M GOING OFF THE DEEP END. Next time I should have some creative, uh… creations to show off.

Till then!


P.S. I ought to mention, for other people who enjoy the deliciously satisfying sensation of crossing items off a list:

One of my favorite parts of the process is marking the squares I’ve completed on the pattern with a highlighter. Section by section, row by row, it’s an endless and rapidly completed To Do, visibly done!

cross-stitch pattern for gecko with most of the squares highlighted yellow

GAZE UPON THE SWEET, SWEET MEASURE OF PROGRESS

Mmm, that is some good sense of accomplishment.

IDEAS – by that one recipe reviewer, you know the one

I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally figured out my go-to metaphor for how an idea becomes a story.

I’m that one recipe reviewer who pops up on every blog and recipe aggregate website you’ve ever been to. You know the one. She swapped in Italian breadcrumbs for panko and eggplant for chicken and made her own sauce and put cheese on top and baked it instead of frying it–and now she’s giving this fried chicken recipe 4 stars but she’s clearly attached a photo of eggplant parmesan.

That’s me!

If you ask me where a story got started, you might get a very pat, incomplete answer like, “I was watching my kids play,” or “I had a dream.”

But the real answer is much sillier, and more convoluted, and there’s no real point telling the entire thing except to illustrate how little that initial kernel of an idea matters–because it’s not the idea itself, but the thought process it sparks that ultimately gets you something story-shaped. The only trick is learning how to let your mind wander, to see what it churns up.

So.

Last week I had a dream about spies in a space station.

And I actually woke up on my own for once, not from my 4yo climbing in next to me, or my 2yo hollering from her crib, but actually on my own, so I laid in bed for awhile, sleepily thinking about that dream.

And I wondered: what were the spies doing there? who were they after? what was their history?

And then I thought: oh, oh, wait, what if instead of a spy, it was an ordinary woman conning her way into this station to get revenge.

And what if, instead of a space station, it was a secret luxury resort built by this billionaire she hates. Right? Because he made all of his money using people like her friends and family as guinea pigs for his medical empire. She’s coming to kill this guy.

And instead of being in space, this place is built into a mountain. A hollowed-out mountain full of mazes and decadent parties and everybody who’s anybody, all in one place.

And instead of that other spy being her partner, he’s her competitor: his friends are trying to kidnap this dude, not kill him. But maybe they can work together, temporarily, to find him…

 

Ta da! I’m outlining a book. And if this weird magic-infused science-fantasy revenge story ever gets in front of other people’s eyeballs, and they ask how it started, I’ll get to say: I had a dream about a space station.

the endless To Do

Subtitle: YOU, TOO, COULD HAVE IT ALL!

This has been one of those weeks where it feels like I’ve accomplished nothing, because instead of completing any particular large project, I’ve taken care of the zillion little tasks that keep a household running smoothly. Individually, they seem like nothing. Collectively, my entire week has vanished!

I’m talking

  • School shopping
  • Follow-up questions to preschool because I haven’t done this before
  • Additional school shopping because yup, should have asked those questions earlier
  • Service appointment for Car 1
  • Paperwork and stickers for Car 2
  • Return package to post office
  • Follow up on refund for old gift cards (I want my money dangit)
  • Sort endless home refinance mail
  • FILING CABINET
  • Calk hallway chair railing
  • Touch-up paint on various walls, baseboards, and door trim
  • Several coats of paint on new cabinets
  • Home Depot AGAIN??
  • Grocery shopping AGAIN??
  • Budgeting, bills, meal planning, agh
  • Brief interlude with a rattlesnake on the deck?
  • Brief interlude capturing and releasing a field mouse from under the couch, likely promptly eaten by said rattlesnake?
  • Water the trees AGAIN??

And all the usual cooking and cleaning and bathing and puzzles and arts & crafts required by a toddler and a preschooler, who gamely joined me on all of these errands because their dad is out of town for the week.

ANYWAY I’M TIRED.

Somehow, despite all of that, I managed to do all of my Hugo Award voting, polished a couple of short stories and started their submission journey, and added 3K to my next book. I was hoping for 7K, but the universe had a good laugh at the sound of that, so I’ll have to settle for 3!

I leave you my new nemesis, the snek:

These photos were taken through fence slats and a window respectively, because DUH, I’m not going to be the bozo who dies taking a selfie with a snake.

Alas, I did not get a picture of the couch mouse, because, well, they JUMP.

Also, I think I need to repaint that fence.

Things I Low-Key Want to Learn, Except Learning is Hard

I’ve spent so many years focused on writing and writing-adjacent tasks: reading for research and pleasure, practicing styles, short fiction, long fiction, blogging, getting involved in forums. When I take a break, my hobbies are still very arts & craft: I am happily mediocre at sewing, crocheting, bookbinding, and making cards.

But there is a whole world around me! So many people good at so many things!

Here is an incomplete list of skills I would dearly love to possess, if only I could find the time to devote to learning them:

1) DANCE

I would love to be a better dancer! I always bop to music in public and I am fully willing to deploy my graceless moves on a dance floor, but it is surely embarrassing for everyone around me (alas for them, can’t stop won’t stop).

I also think dance would be excellent exercise. Exercise is INCREDIBLY BORING. Dance is not boring. Dance is fun! And it would work a lot of muscles that do not get any love at my writing desk, let me tell you.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS: YouTube. Only my children would witness my fumbling attempts at rhythm, but they are far too young to realize I look ridiculous.

2) MAKE-UP

That’s right, I’m putting make-up on my list. It’s a skill! It requires a deep knowledge base! And I have neither! I had zero interest in make-up growing up. I didn’t even wear any at my wedding, to the hotel liaison’s clear dismay. And now I kind of regret putting my nose up at this in my teens and twenties, because my thirties are here, and if I want to attend more networking events in the future it sure would be nice to touch up the worst of my fatigue lines. Like a suit of armor!

Also: people do some WILD and colorful stuff, I am JEALOUS.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS: Pure walk of shame. I will have to slink to my baby sisters with my hat in my hands, and ask them to teach me their ways. My baby sisters!! D:

3) SAILING

Wouldn’t that be cool??

PLAN FOR SUCCESS: Haha no.

4) DIY SHIT

Listen, I am a homeowner now. And I get wild ideas for things I want to add to my home, just because nobody can stop me! But you see, labor rightly costs money, and I have two hands and a toolbox, sooo.

Example: My husband and I are building a window seat. And we drew up some messy plans for how to build one from scratch. But then we realized: what if we bought some unfinished kitchen cabinets, and CHOPPED THE TOP OFF TO MAKE THEM SHORTER?

Do you see why we can’t be allowed to make decisions on our own? I need woodworking skills, stat!!

PLAN FOR SUCCESS: YouTube.

5) HORSEBACK RIDING

I want to sit on a living creature and be its friend and respect that it is a powerful being that could crush me but is carrying me around good-naturedly instead. And I would pretend that it is olden times, and I live on the road with only my loyal steed at my side, and we’d share something, a bond beyond words–except for the words I say when I’m riding, because I think you say stuff, right? I’m not sure. It sounds very romantic, even though it probably also smells.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS: This one only hinges on time and money. I.e., not in the near future.

6) ARCHERY

This one would be great, except somebody would definitely die.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS: I’m not joking.

IN CONCLUSION:

I think I’ll be sticking with YouTube dance videos and eyeshadow for the time being, and everyone in my life can thank me for showing such restraint. 😉

SDCC 2019!

Every year I intend to tweet more from San Diego Comic-Con and every year I just get absorbed in what I’m doing and forget about it. So here is my annual round-up!

This year my husband and I nabbed Thursday/Friday/Saturday badges. I did not have the energy I usually do. My feet hurt! My back hurt! I kept getting air conditioning headaches from the weird hotel room lighting! Is this my mid-30s acting up??

On Thursday I hit a fun Tor authors panel with my sisters, then met my husband downstairs and poked around the exhibit floor a bit. There are always excellent photo opportunities, of course, and this year I saw a marked uptick of videos/gifs and motion posters as well!

gif of sam riding a mariokart car

ITSA ME BITCH

Here I am very determined to seek justice after my friend, the Pink Ranger, was beheaded:

sam's head on power ranger cardboard cutout

Alas, poor Kimberly, I knew you well

I spent the rest of the afternoon in panels. I was DETERMINED to make it into the Farscape 20th Anniversary panel at 3pm, so naturally I insisted we get in line at noon. BECAUSE THIS IS SDCC BABY! Over the next half hour, the line ballooned behind us and extended outside the building, so I think I made the right choice.

Hubby and I got into the room at 1pm, and sat through two panels before mine. First, a Stargate: Atlantis 15th Anniversary panel (fun! I haven’t watched that one, but hubby is a major SG-1 fan, and the panelists were entertaining). Then a panel on the crowd-funded movie studio Legion M, which was… fine. I’m looking forward to a new documentary on Alien coming out later this year.

And then! Finally! Farscape!!! Claudia Black had to drop out, which was very disappointing (oh no, my faaaaave), but Ben Browder and Gigi Edgley were there, as well as Brian Henson and Rockne S. O’Bannon. There were a lot of fun set anecdotes, a great sizzle reel, and hints that the show might be coming back to life!

actors ben browder and gigi edgley in front of audience

AYYIIIIIII!

On Friday we tackled some of the outdoor entertainment. This year’s FX lawn was pretty great. We got there first thing in the morning and got immediate time slots for both activations we wanted to try: the What We Do in the Shadows vampire house, and an American Horror Story haunted cabin.

sam posed in front of painted vampire bat wings

BAT FIGHT

panorama of interior of vampire house

There were several vampires present but they do not show on camera

gif of sam transforming into a vampire

LEAVE ME TO DO MY DARK BIDDING ON THE INTERNET

American Horror Story didn’t let us take any photos inside the haunted house (naturally) but did make us acknowledge an intense waiver forgiving them for quite a list of potential threats:

list of warnings including being struck, wet, attacked by other attendees

Am I about to be punched in the face?

We then made further rounds on the exhibit floor and I bought some exclusive pins I’d had my eye on. We even found a secret mezzanine level that I’d somehow never been to over the last seven years. It had a nice view out over the floor!

overhead view of exhibit floor packed with people and booths

And that’s only one little slice of it, eek!

On Saturday we had one main goal: get into the final panel for The Good Place. It was our favorite panel last year, and we wanted to see everyone one last time before the show ends. ;_; It was hilarious as usual, with many tearjerker moments. I dressed up as Good Janet and my husband dressed up as Shawn, and there were SO MANY EXCELLENT COSPLAYERS. We did some group photos in the aisle. Um, Good/Bad Janet combo?! TINY BABY MICHAEL??

large group photo of attendees dressed as Good Place characters

Photo by @leleana on Twitter! (shared with permission)

Ahhhh, good times.

All in all, it was a mellow year. Fun, but nothing outrageous. A low-stress SDCC? I’ll take it!

Mrs. Cat gets away from it all

Mrs. Cat has been pretty busy since her adventures with moving and couch-surfing last year, and she sorely needed a break from endless New House fixer-uppering and painting with small children underfoot and learning how to network in a brand new field after decades of toiling secretly behind a computer screen at home.

My friends, Mrs. Cat needed a vacation.

Cue: the third annual Book Club Getaway Weekend!!

I’ve met up at least once a month with the same glorious set of reading-and-drinking-loving ladies for the last seven-and-a-half years. Most of us mostly read every book! But mostly we like to hang out, so our activities quickly expanded to numerous book club field trips, including an annual Friends of Book Club croquet match, boating, painting–

And now a mountain cabin retreat. I missed the first year because I was nearly nine months pregnant. I went last year, but brought my breastfeeding infant, so it was a ton of fun but not exactly a retreat.

This year, however! Oh, this year is on in full force! There are trees! There is a hot tub! There is a basement game room!

And Mrs. Cat is having a lovely time.

mrs cat in mountains

Mrs. Cat enjoys the view from our deck

mrs. cat in living room of mountain cabin

Mrs. Cat especially enjoys reading in the great room

mrs. cat in a hot tub

And the hot tub is especially pleasant after dark!

All in all, this has been a much-needed break, and I even managed to force myself not to do any work (other than a couple of emails and this blog post, of course, but email is an immovable force of nature, it Must Be Done).

Now I have breakfast waiting for me, and a couple of hours of quiet reading before the drive home. Farewell from the mountains, and see you on the other side!

mrs cat on a shuffleboard table

 

samtastic reads january-april 2019

Back in January I started a reading hashtag on Twitter (#samtasticreads), to keep track of some of the books, short stories, and other works I come across throughout the year. And it just now occurred to me I should collect those onto the blog as well! Then perhaps I will be more organized by nominating season next time, though this first batch contains a lot of 2018 I was hastily catching up on. >_>

I seem to have heavily emphasized short stories and nonfiction so far this year? Well, that has got to change! OFF TO THE SFF NOVEL TBR PILE!

NOVELLAS

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield – A time-traveling highwaywoman! A war over how to redirect History! The sequel just came out in November, so I’ll be snapping that up soon.

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor – I finally finished the Binti novellas, and greatly enjoyed this weird little ride.

NOVELETTES

“Murders Fell From Our Wombs” by Tlotlo Tsamaase in Apex Magazine – weird and dark in the best way

“The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” by Jose Pablo Iriarte in Lightspeed Magazine – Murder and reincarnation and comeuppance!

SHORT STORIES

“The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum” by Marissa Lingen in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – A quiet, gorgeously written tale of guilt and repentance, and I am 100% always obsessed with guilt and repentance.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt in Clarkesworld – A uniquely narrated and surprisingly hopeful look at a seemingly hopeless future. I loled at some archivist humor.

“Rust and Bone” by Mary Robinette Kowal in Shimmer – A lovely story 100% tailored to my love of complex multigenerational female relationships. Moms and grandmas all day, okay!

“Your Mama’s Adventures in Parenting” by Mary Robinette Kowal in Shimmer – Yep, an older one, because Shimmer has a dastardly “see more like this” feature and I went down a rabbit-hole.

“Due By the End of the Week” by Brandon O’Brien in Fireside – This one starts off as a super cute superhero story and then ALSO becomes an entertaining unreliable narrator story. Both!

“The Blanched Bones, the Tyrant Wind” by Karen Osborne in Fireside – Short, lyrical, and a perfect *finger kiss* of an ending. I do love me a twist on a good dragon story.

“Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey in Diabolical Plots – This is exactly what it says in the title, a raunchy send-up of my least favorite type of clickbait!

“Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – This one, about the owner of an inn that serves the living and dead and is trying to get rid of a difficult customer, made me HUNGRY. Seriously, great writing, fun plot, delicious descriptions. Muah!

NONFICTION

Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig – Insightful and entertaining, with an emphasis on good storytelling over plot templates. Also: so readable! Too many writing guides read like textbooks, which makes me question the advice. This one was damn fine.

Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin – This is another writing book that is actually imbued with its own techniques, so you can actually feel its advice at work as you read it.

Meaty by Samantha Irby – A collection of essays about the author’s messy childhood, messy adulthood, and even messier struggles with Crohn’s disease. I spent most of it giggling, and some of it CRYING, so I have to rec anything that makes me do both.

Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa – A startlingly funny memoir about struggling with agoraphobia. And, uh, I felt the Catholic guilt on a cellular level.

The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee – A really harrowing and illuminating autobiography about exactly what it says on the tin. I was on the verge of stress tears throughout, especially when she went back for her mother and brother. ;_;

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou – Um I powered through this in two days for my book club, and WHAT and WHY and HOW?! This account of a billion-dollar company peddling a blood testing gadget that NEVER ACTUALLY WORKED, hoodwinking major donors and retailers along the way, is a wild ride from start to finish.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Bitch Planet v. 2 President Bitch – The series is beginning to pick up steam, and, dare I say it, are we finally about to take over Bitch Planet??

Lumberjanes v. 3 A Terrible Plan – Yeah it’s for children but I’m saving them up for MY children, because this series is adorable and excellent.