Sunday, July 25, 2010

Balcony garden update (aka I have nothing more exciting to blog about...)

True, it's mid-summer, I've already taken my vacation, and Andrew's out of town at a conference in Germany, therefore I simply don't have much to write about. That's not to say I just sit around at home all the time twiddling my thumbs (as blogged last week I spend most of my nights editing or writing), but I don't do a lot of super exciting things that I think other people would care about (not that I think people care much about what I write ordinarily anyway). I suppose I could track my experience of training for a marathon, but I'm not a fitness expert, so my musings would be purely self-case study and as I'm well aware, an "n" of 1 does not equal sound scientific evidence.

And so I turn to our garden. Unfortunately the weather hasn't been the best for vegetable growing thus far (although the week that's passed since I originally wrote this has been quite nice). We've had a lot of rain and not much in the way of sun or heat. I pulled up the radishes a week or two ago as the thick prickly stalks and flowers sprouting from the stems seemed to indicate the were never going to blossom into an edible plant no matter how long I left them in the soil. I fear the carrots may go the same way as the radishes, although the planter shown below might yet turn out to be all right--I haven't peaked in on the roots to see how they're comming along. And the rhubarb has not done well either (I didn't think those things could be killed). The roots rotted due to over watering and although Andrew tried to perform a partial root-ectomy, its leaves have continued to yellow and wither.
Our carrots. I think they're looking pretty good.
On the bright side, some of our plants have flourished. Check out the tomato plant. Despite a stem-fracture caused by high winds (have I mentioned we live on the 12th floor?) there are at least a dozen little tomatoes sprouting all over. Then there's the zucchini. No sign of vegetation yet, but look at the leaves on that thing, its really going strong (and the lettuce isn't doing too badly either). Next over are our happy potatoes. I can't wait to dig them up in the fall. I suppose we could have pulled some up early and had baby potatoes--maybe next year if we increase our crop size. Finally there are the peppers. They're still pretty tiny, and very green, but they seem to be content hanging out on the side of the railing.
A couple of our furthest along tomatoes, still very green.
A full view of our tomatoes.
Our zucchini plant surrounded by lettuce.
One of our pepper plants. How exciting! I hope it matures into a bright red pepper.
The potatoes are huge! I can't wait to dig them up in the fall.
We'll continue to tend to our crops over the remainder of the summer and take stock when it comes time to harvest. I don't think we'll bother with radishes next year, and possibly no carrots either. On the other hand the tomatoes and the potatoes are pretty much a given. Perhaps some other types of squash might be worth while? Or more herbs? I've got a small pot of parsley and basil inside, but I wouldn't say no to chives, mint or basil.



Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The post I forgot to title*

Since we haven't had quite enough growth in our garden to warrant an update, and it's the middle of the summer and I'm not up to much, I thought I might compose another post on writing. This will not be a post of tips and trick as I haven't actually managed to achieve publication, and I also failed to complete the popular fiction writing program at Seton Hill. Nor will it be a lesson on spelling and grammar, as although my technical writing abilities are better than they once were, they are still far from pristine. Instead, I thought I might take a few minutes to reflect upon the process of writing.

First and foremost, writing requires time--lots of time. I think this may be the biggest aspect of writing that the average person tends to overlook. Since I work full-time during the day, I need as many of my evening hours free to devote to writing. That means, if you invite me out to a movie or some other event from Monday to Thursday I am likely to hesitate, probably give you a look of pain, and then politely decline. It's not that I don't want to hang out and have fun, but for me it means that I'll miss out on 3 to 3.5 hours of writing time if I choose to go out. If I'm in the middle of the writing process, that roughly translates into somewhere between 9 and 15 pages that don't get written, or if editing between 24 to 36 pages that don't get read. I also start to feel crappy when I miss too many writing opportunities. It might seem strange to say, but writing is a part of who I am, and so when I don't get to it (like when I was in school) I start to struggle in life.

Now, what's my second point? Do I have second point? A second point...I suppose another question some non-writing people might wonder about is where do the story ideas come from and how do you manage plot. I imagine the answer to this is different for every writer. For me, ideas can come from almost anywhere. I've had several dreams (yes, Stephenie Meyer isn't the only one) that have sparked ideas. Usually it's only a small portion or aspect of the dream that will lead to a bigger idea, not the entire dream itself as mine tend to be very disjointed. The concept, or really just the setting for Nora came from a dream where I lived in a giant plane hanger broken down into cubicles with hundreds of other people. Sometimes I have vague ideas like, wouldn't it be fun to write a manuscript about a person who can fly? I think upon the idea (usually while at the ESO) and eventually a character and their story will work their way out.

Managing plot can be difficult, and historically, I'm not very good at it. Often I've simply written on the fly and whatever pops into my head at the moment is what I write. For both the first and second installments of Nora's story I've worked with a loose framework, knowing where the story needed to end up, but not entirely sure how it was going to get there. Keeping track of what you've laid down as fact in a manuscript can also be difficult (and a good reason to plan a head). Again, I've had mixed attempts at maintaining control of my worlds. When writing on the fly I usually end up scrolling through my manuscript searching for items or issues I've referenced before to see what I did. I've also tried to use recipe cards to track things. Presently I'm making use of wiki technology (PBWorks) to track plot, characters, and other random bits of information in The Cause.

Not everyone who writes wants to get published. Some people (like poor old George McFly) fear rejection, worry that people won't like what they've written and prefer to keep their work to themselves. I do want to publish. If I created a "Bucket List" I would have three items on it: 1) Publish a novel, 2) Walk on the great wall of China, and 3) Visit a rain forest (in South America). I don't expect success--at least not on the J.K. Rowling-scale. If I could get to the point where I don't have to work full-time to maintain a comfortable lifestyle (owning my own home, a car, etc) I'd be happy, but...lots of people want to be writers. Agents and editors are overwhelmed with want-to-be-writers and it's simply not possible (nor desirable, frankly) for every manuscript sent their way to be published. At present I'm looking for a literary agent, since once you get one of those, getting a publication contract becomes easier (i.e. your work won't rotting away in the slush pile).

Cross you fingers for me, if you can spare to, or say a prayer if you prefer. It may take all the determination I have to achieve this goal, then I can look into China (maybe I can find a bored child to dig me a tunnel during the summer holidays...).



btw, I actually do have a few publications to my name. They're scholarly papers (the amount of writing I did for them is minimal) so I don't really count them, but if you have access to these journals you can check them out:

Hartling L, Milne A, Tjosvold L, Wrightson D, Gallivan J, Newton N. A systematic review of interventions to support siblings of children with chronic illness or disability. J Paediatr Child Health. [In Press]

Couch R, Jetha M, Dryden DM, Hooten N, Liang Y, Durec T, Sumamo E, Spooner C, Milne A, O'Gorman K, Klassen TP. Diabetes education for children with type 1 diabetes mellitus and their families. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep). 2008 Apr;(166):1-144.

*Whoops. Forgot to come up with a witty title when I first published this post.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Three young adult (YA) novels for review

A few weeks ago, as I sat down to work on my agent query letter, I decided I needed to do some market research reading before I could go any further. Rather, I came to the dreadful realization as I tried to write my letter that I couldn't actually name any resent YA fiction that was similar to my own work as advised to do on the potential agent's Website. In order to correct this problem I: 1) went to the EPL (Edmonton Public Library) Website to see if I could locate anything useful there; and 2) I jumped on Facebook and asked for suggestions (since I've just finished an MLIS I was pretty sure that some of my classmates would have some kind of idea of what's currently out there). I came up with three titles to try (after all, I didn't want to spend weeks and weeks reading when I wanted to move forward with my querying) and I thought I might give a brief review of them here.

Inside Out by Maria V. Synder.

Okay, so this one I actually knew about myself, but this exercise gave me the excuse to go buy it. I've got all of Maria's (yes, I refer to Maria by her first name, although we barely know each other) on my shelf, so I knew I had to try her new YA title. As I began to read the atmosphere of Inside Out reminded me of the movie The Island. A group of people are stuck in a monotonous existence, and there's a magical place called "Outside" where everyone wants to get to. It's not quite as simple as that, of course. Trella, is the story's lead character. She is a loner (as most heroes are, mine included) and wishes she wasn't wasting her life away in the lower levels as a scrub. She has one friend in the entire Inside, named Cog, who at the beginning of this story bags her to speak to the newest profit spouting nonsense about the existence of "Outside." She agrees just to get Cog off her back and that's where things start to spin out of control.

I won't give away more plot details in case anyone's interesting in checking it out for themselves. I highly enjoyed this book. I think I plowed through it over two nights. I was immediately interested in getting to know more about Trella and the unpleasant and confined world she was stuck in. I was a little surprised by the amount of violence that took place during the story, although most of it happened "off stage." It's definitely a read for older teens who can handle the thought of someone being tortured. Trella is smart, self-reliant, and confident, three things I like to see in figures for young girls, although she is fairly similar to Maria's other heroines Yelena and Opal. I also liked the different dynamics between the classes in this story, and the pre-conceived notions each character had to overcome. The couple of twists in the ending (one relationship-wise and one setting) were well hid (although Andrew guessed the one well before I did). I always feel like Maria has full command over her world and knows exactly how things work in it, which is something I rarely manage to achieve myself. One of my biggest complains is that sometimes the antagonists are conveniently willing to wait set periods of time before they act and therefore let Trella and her helpers accomplish what the need to, to defeat them. There's a second plot-related issue that Andrew brought up (being a mechanical engineer he also mentioned some technical issues, but I highly doubt that the main readership of this novel will notice), but it would be a spoiler to discuss here, so I won't. All in all, I would definitely recommend this book.

How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff.

This book was suggested to me by a couple of different friends on Facebook, and later I received several "likes" when I posted I had begun to read it. Clearly this is a popular book. The unique voice in which this book is written is apparent immediately. The narrator is a fifteen year old girl named Daisy, and the use of run-on sentences (for entire paragraphs), and Random Capitalization, for me, completely captured the essence of a teenage girl telling her story. The stream of consciousness prose may annoy some readers. I outright told Andrew I didn't think he would like How I live Now, primarily for this reason. That, and there's virtually no dialogue as characters only speak through Daisy's narrative as she recounts the story (Andrew likes to make fun of some of Robin McKinley's novels because there's approximately one line of dialogue for every ten pages).

Okay, so what is this story about? It wasn't too sure what to expect when I started this book. I purchased it based solely on the fact that it had been recommended and endorsed by friends. I'm not sure I even really read the back "blurb" once it arrived from my local bookstore, I just dove right in. I'd say the backdrop of this story is war, but the real purpose is to highlight love and survival. As the novel opens, Daisy has just arrived in London from New York City, having requested to stay with her mother's family after her father remarries (her own mother having died giving birth to her). The atmosphere is tense with the prospect of an enemy attack at any moment. Reasons for the pending hostilities are never explained, and I don't think it's at that all necessary, as I said, the war is not the point. The point is Daisy meeting unconditional love from an aunt and cousins she's never met before her arrival in England. And then it's about what children (or people in general, really) will do to endure the experience of war. Again, I won't go any further and give away important plot points. I would recommend this book to almost anyone. I say almost, party because the voice is so unique it might throw some readers off. Also, mature issues are dealt with in the book including eating disorders, sex and violence. I think readers Daisy's age could handle this book, possibly a year or two younger as well, but it might require some thoughtful discussion with an adult figure.

The Line, by Teri Hall.

I located this book out of the EPL catalogue after searching for Inside Out then seeing what the catalogue recommended. Reading this book immediately after How I Live Now perhaps was not the best of ideas. The vast difference in prose styles was a mental shocker, going from a somewhat bubbly, chatty narrator to the slightly dryer voice of The Line. I expect I would have persevered to read this book even if it wasn't for market research, but getting through the first chapter or two was slow. Actually, reading The Line made me feel good in ways I'm not sure the author intend. Maria's book caused me disappear, because I felt that my manuscript was not sophisticated, or intricate enough. Teri Hall, however, is a first time author, and I could definitely pick out a number of first-timer mistakes/problems that reassured me that perhaps one day I might managed to get published too.

So, the bad first: I think I would have preferred a single point-of-view (PoV), and preferably the heroine, Rachel's, rather than the three, or four (I forget exactly how many) that were used. Although I didn't find the differing PoVs too distracting, I think young adult readers would prefer to stay with Rachel's interpretation of events and not jump into various adult character's voices. I also felt that the amount of exposition in the story was a little on the high side. I got the idea that Hall had I very clear vision of the world she'd created, but I also felt like too much time was spent on giving me a history lesson about it. Additionally, some readers may find these sections a bit on the preachy side (I think the author has a definite mission with this story), but it didn't bother me too much. Overall, however, I did enjoy this read. I was interested in the post-apocalyptic world, and how Rachel and her mother came to live on the Property. The title comes from the existence of a "line" (I'm not exactly sure whether it's electronic, electric, or other) that separates the United States from it's adversaries (being Canadian, I spent much of the book wondering if those enemies were my fellow countrymen, but there's no such indication). The plot of the story gets rolling when Rachel is tempted to try to cross the line, even though she knows it's considered risky/illegal. Eventually find she has to cross in order to help someone in distress on the other side. Again, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy speculative fiction, they just may need to be more forgiving and patient than for those books listed above.

Now I must get back to editing my own YA, dystopian speculative fiction.