Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Queries and Cappuccinos

There's something about winter that makes a cappuccino at any hour of the day sound like a good idea. (Okay, in all honesty, there's also something about any month ending in y that makes cappuccinos sound good, but that's beside the point. Winter is the point.) I find winter drinks irresistibly cozy. Triple-y so if I'm traveling. Which means that I've spent most of December Highly Caffeinated. Also, at zero risk for developing a calcium deficiency anytime soon. This is a good thing as I've also spent a good portion of December doing revisions and critiquing three full manuscripts.

(As an aside, I found the most amazing cappuccino I've ever tasted/seen while in Merida, Mexico. DO YOU SEE THE FOAM? HAVE YOU EVER SEEN ANYTHING SO DIVINE? There was no other way to drink this than to sacrifice all dignity and give yourself over to a cinnamon face-plant. I, for one, didn't hesitate to toss my dignity out the front door.)

I'm approximately seven cappuccinos away from finishing this round of revision. It's timely, I think, to be wrapping up at the new year. I've seen a number of people in the writing community doing similar things like brushing up queries and pitches and since I probably didn't get you anything for the holidays, I'm going to give away a few query crits. This isn't totally selfless. I'll treat myself to one cappuccino per query I crit, so really, I'm enabling myself to stay caffeinated.

Okay! So! Have a query? Want my eyes? Here are the rules:
  1.  Your query should look like a cappuccino! By which I mean, in the subject line of your email to nataliecparker AT gmail DOT com, please include: CAPPUCCINO QUERY!  
  2. Your query should taste like a cappuccino! By which I mean, it should include the component pieces of any query: the intro, the pitch, the closing remarks. It should be polished and pretty!
  3. Your query should smell like a cappuccino! ... /metaphor Please copy and paste your query into the body of your email. No attachements. 
That's it. First five emails to hit my inbox get my eyes

Happy winter, everyone. I hope you'll treat yourself to a cappuccino (or bubble tea.....I don't really know what tea drinkers do for a treat) and feel a little extra cozy.    

UPDATE - I've got my 5 queries, so this offer is closed. Give me another few months, though, and there'll be another.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A town called Campeche

For most of our trip, we stayed in a town called Campeche. It's south of Merida and a good middle point for exploring mangroves and petenes, but I could have spent days just walking through the colorful streets of this city.

And by colorful, I mean this place has ALL of the colors. This was what I saw when I stepped through the doors of my hotel:

We were told that it was a real "Pirates of the Caribbean" type town (and it has all the Renaissance Festival style pirate themed pubs, restaurants, and knick-knacks to prove it). Back in the days of yore, the place was so put upon by pirates that they protected themselves from invasion by surrounding the bulk of the town in battlements. Many of these battlements still stand tall, which gave the town a very European feel - castles and churros are a delightful combination, I tell you.

Campeche is also something of an uneven city. The ground wasn't scaled when the buildings went up, which seemed to be a point of frustration to those who built the sidewalks. They, at least, are level, which was a sometimes a challenge...

From the top of the battlements we could also see that many of these lovely buildings were not all that they seemed to be. They hide a wilderness inside....I wanted to explore them.

There was a secret place inside one of the battlements with recreation musket rifles and halberds. So, of course, this happened:

And finally, Campeche is home to a cathedral I could not capture well enough with my lens. On our first night in the city, I watched a group of women bless and carry a tall statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe around the square and into the church. She was dressed in blue and waiting inside to receive the many pilgrimaging Guadalupanos.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Uxmal Ruins

I've been a horrible blogger during this trip to Mexico. Not because what I'm doing isn't blog-worthy, but I've been critiquing manuscripts and writing for and getting lost in the week long celebration that is the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But tonight, it's raining and the festivities are quiet.

I'm staying in an 1800 barracks-turned-hotel in Campeche, Mexico, a World Heritage site. We're leaving tomorrow and I'll be sad to see it go, but I'm looking forward to exploring Merida.

But to backtrack a bit. Here is a photo-essay of my first full day in Mexico, exploring the ruins of Uxmal, a Mayan complex built beginning in 850AD.

Are you kidding? OF COURSE I crawled through that hole. What would Indian Jones do? (PS - There were lots of iguanas in there. Heads poking out of walls four feet above me. Watching me. Creepy is the word you're looking for.)

This is in Campeche, not Uxmal. About thirty yards from the front door of my hotel and no, it didn't look any more real standing right in front of it. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

When dogs listen

At some point this afternoon, Victoria Schwab posted the following video on Twitter:

And while we watched, we noticed Grendel doing this:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November round-up

November certainly has a way of skating out from under me. Everything happens at this time of year. Elections, pumpkin pies, 65% of the people in my life were born in November (including myself), and 82% of the people I know give themselves over to novel-writing fury! It's a wonderfully creative month and I can't love it enough. And then it's gone. *dramatic sigh*

I spent my November tagging along with the NaNo folks, finishing a re-draft of a novel I already loved and needed to love more. Now that it's in the hands of my terribly clever crit partner, I'm reading for several other people and letting myself enjoy the energy of a new idea.

For anyone wondering how my month of no sugar went, I am happy to report it was a complete success. No particulars here, but I am extremely pleased with the experiment. Not only do I feel better now than I did at the beginning (both physically and emotionally), but I came away from it with a much better understanding of how sneaky sugars can be. Seriously, refined and cane sugars are pervasive. It's disturbing, but not insurmountable. To anyone struggling with feeling happy in their bodies, I cannot recommend this experiment enough. More details are in the post I linked to above.

Next week, I'll be off on another day-job adventure. This time we're heading south to the Yucatan Peninsula for 10 days where we'll explore ancient Mayan ruins and tromp through mangrove forests. I'll report as I go, but I've been told that the mangrove forests are the one place on earth anyone recommends wearing 100% DEET.


Also, I need scuba booties.

I say again, O_O.

Even so, I'm excited. These trips have a way of being utterly amazing (see tag: I love my job for more trips!). These trips also have a way of making me thankful when we return with the same number of people we departed with...

And in other completely unrelated news, I'm still struggling with the idea of mirroring my blog on another platform given LJ's consistent hankiness. I've worked with Blogger before, but didn't fall in love. So, I'm considering WordPress. Anyone have any thoughts about this? Strong opinions welcome.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Hero of 3AM

There are some experiences you don't really expect to ever have. In fact, there are some you dread. Some you dread so much that you spend a few hours contemplating how you might react or what you should try and remember to do. For example, tessagratton and I drive our car into a body of water and become completely submerged, we know that ONE of us should try and remember the special glass-breaking hammer that lives in the cubby thing between the seats.

But I digress. One of the dreadful things happened last night around 3AM. This is the story of how Tessa saved the known universe.

Tessa was having a normal night of continued aggravation. Her parent's dog was restless and wanted to be let in and out at odd hours. The cats were restless and knocked cans off of counters, enjoying the clatter they made as the fell to the floor. Or perhaps they were trying to attack the dog so recently forced upon them. Regardless, a mostly empty tin of cat food ended up on the floor where the dog could get to it and push it all about using her nose and tongue - she was trying to get all the good out of that tin she could, you see, and in doing so, caused Tessa much angst.

So, Tessa had been up and down more times than she cared to count by the time 3AM rolled around. And with that hour came a new, unidentifiable noise from the back room in the house. For a few moments, she lay in bed, pondering what her own dog could be destroying and whether or not she cared enough to move. She rolled over and there, snug in his bed, was Grendel. The cats were now piled up on the bed and her parent's dog ensconced in the kitchen. There was no immediate explanation for this noise!

Up she got again to investigate and that's when she discovered that the crackling she heard was the sound of flames climbing four feet into the air along our neighbor's home.

"Get up! Get up!" She cried to her household and then to the emergency responders.

And up everyone got! Her household (um, me!) flew out into the night in sweatpants and a bathrobe (o_O) to pound on doors and wake the neighbors. And up the neighbors got, who had been soundly sleeping and unaware of the danger just outside.

Three firetrucks and four police cars arrived and with chainsaws and pounding, soundly defeated the flames.

And that is how Tessa saved the known universe. By HEARING the fire and having the good sense to be aggravated by it.

Now, excuse me while I go write a song about her.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Concerning Puffy Clouds and Kansas

****Interrupting this post before it's even begun to shamelessly promote the short story I posted this week on Tangled Fiction. It's a little on the experimental side of things for me in that it is vaguely SciFi (which, I should note, I LOVE to read, but rarely write). You can read SECOND STAR RUN by clicking........here.****

This weekend, my dad came up for a visit, which was perfect because autumn in Kansas is nothing like autumn in Mississippi and I was ten kinds of excited to get to show off my town in all it's autumnal glory. Our first thought was to take him out to the Konza prairie. This isn't right in our backyard, but it's worth the hour long westward drive because the fields are rolling and all shades of rusty gold and brown. There were going to be buffalo and tallgrasses and puffy clouds the likes of which my dad had never seen. It was going to be grand. He was going to fall into unexpected love with Kansas; which, I might argue, is how everyone who wasn't born here comes to love Kansas - suddenly and with quiet passion.

But then we discovered that KSU was playing MSU at KSU.

And I cried because that meant insurmountable traffic and no buffalo.*

So instead, we decided to take dad somewhere closer to home: The Haskell/Wakarusa/Baker/Lawrence Wetlands (why, yes, there is controversy over what they're called...). I'd been there before, but in the dead heat of summer when the boardwalk could burn the rubber from your shoes and you could barely breathe for the butterflies.** Dad thought it sounded great so away we went!

Only to discover the wetlands aren't so wet in autumn time. In fact, they look no a little bit like the prairie I intended to take him to in the first place. WIN! A beautiful, puffy-clouded win.

Of course, I forgot my fancy camera, so all of my photos were taken on my fancy phone instead. So, I apologize for the photo spam, but I would like to share with you a few of the reasons I love Kansas a la photo essay.

Puffy clouds and cattails

I don't think you know what I mean when I say TALLgrasses
(PS - This is where the water is supposed to be.)

SWAMPS! Seriously, Kansas has all the things!

Labyrinth was filmed here.***


*This was an exaggeration.
**So was this.
***.....yeah, this, too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I am not Harry Potter. (And neither are you.)

This post is about critique and even though I’m going to talk about writing, I don’t think it applies exclusively to writing/writers. Crit is something we all do every single day whether we’re deciding what to wear or deciding where to go for lunch, what to watch on TV, which book to read, what brand of toilet paper to buy. It all comes back to having a critical sense about such things. But I’m going to frame this all around writing because that’s what I’m embroiled in. I’m also going to use Harry Potter, because he's adorable.

I’ve given out a metric ton of crit recently and I’ve received a fair bit as well, so it’s been on my mind. I like to think that I’ve gotten pretty good at delivering critical thoughts in a way that won’t leave someone gnashing their teeth and wailing to the sky, so I’m going to share one key element that I think comes pretty close to being a good and general rule (much as I hate to use the r-word) of critique. Ready for it? Here goes:

It has nothing to do with you.

No, really. The story you’re getting ready to critique? It has nothing to do with you. Absolutely, one hundred and ten percent of nothing to do with you or your life.

It’s easy to forget this. As a reader, we try to connect with characters and situations. We imagine what it would be like to be relegated to life in the cupboard under the stairs as a child, or receiving a prestigious and mysterious invitation to a new school. At the very least, we try to understand how these things could be possible and marvel at the world being built before our eyes. And if we disagree with Harry, we try to understand his motivations. We try to understand why a boy would stay in a home where he was stashed away like a dirty mop.

As a critiquer (critter? critiquest?), our strategy changes. We’re looking at a story with an eye to helping the author shape and polish it until it’s as refined as the Hope Diamond! And this is where the potential for less than stellar crit comes in because this is where the tendency to react like a reader who identifies with a character gets in the way.

So here’s the thing, good critique has nothing to do with how much you do or don’t identify with the character on the page. Good critique has everything to do with how believable you find the character on the page.

Shall I illustrate?

Back to Harry tucked away in the cupboard under the stairs. You didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you, I would NEVER let ANYone stuff me in a small room with spiders and water heaters and a creepy, creaky ceiling. I don’t care if they are related to me, if that had ever happened to me, you bet your sweet tush I’d have blown out the pilot light on that heater, hidden five cans of open tuna beneath the sofa, and hightailed it to anywhere but there. I would have made such a ruckus with the neighbors that the Dursley’s would have been shamed into giving me a proper room and I would have found some friends with moms willing to give me a hot meal once or twice a week. In short, you would never find me in such dire straights as Harry Potter was in at the start of book one.

Do you care?

(Pssst – the answer is no.)

Right, you don’t care because what I would or wouldn’t do doesn’t have the first thing to do with what Harry would or wouldn’t do. Much as it may surprise you, I am not Harry Potter.

Neither are you.

I know, I know, it sucks. Get over it.

You’re not Harry Potter. You’re not Bella Swan. You’re not Katniss Everdeen. But you believe these characters on the page. So the question is why?

I’ve seen more than a little crit based solely around the “I” of the reader. And I think the reaction of the reader can absolutely have bearing on the believability of the character, but critique isn’t a matter of pointing to something and saying “I don’t believe this because I would never do that.” Critique, actual critique, is following that impulse through to the "why."

What does that mean? It means we're going back to Harry under the stairs. If JK were to ask me for crit on the very beginning of the first book (this isn’t a call I expect, by the way), I wouldn’t do it by putting myself in Harry’s shoes. If I want to be worth my salt in crit, I would think super, super hard about why I reacted the way I did to that scene. I might instead tell her that reading that passage left me wondering about the resources available to Harry outside of the home (of course, I might also concede that my heart was bleeding for Harry so this is really a small issue). I might point to something about the Dursleys that made them appear too sympathetic. Or I might simply say that the tone was too dry, too precious, or too fill-in-the-blank.

There is a place for the “I” in critique. It’s all one person’s opinion, afterall. But it doesn’t belong in the story.

So that story you’re getting ready to crit? Remember this: You are not Harry Potter.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How Writing a Good Hook is like Running a Good Con

Recently, I've been watching the show Leverage, and because I have also recently read the first 5 thousand words of 59 separate novels, I've been thinking about what makes a good hook. There were a few that had me by the first line, others that had me by the end of the first paragraph, and still others that didn't really have me until the end of the first chapter.

Was one more "right" than the other? I don't think so. They all accomplished the same thing, which was to keep my attention well enough that the urge to continue reading was irresistible. So, what is the secret to writing the perfect hook?

The short answer is easy: there is none.

There is no single thing that ensures your hook will be a good one. There are no hard and fast rules to depend on because it's the execution of the thing that gives it an edge. A good hook is good because it does something (maybe a lot of somethings) really well and defies the reader to look away.

The longer answer isn't so easy, which is why I'm leaning on Leverage (oh, how soon the bad jokes begin...) to help me out.

For the purposes of this metaphor, the writer is the con-artist and the novel is the con and the reader is, you guessed it, about to get conned.

As anyone who watches Leverage knows, a good con begins before any interaction between the con-artist and the con-ee, which is to say, the con begins before the reader ever sees the first line of the novel. This is the exciting time when the reader is looking forward to something sweet or exciting or intense. They want to get something out of the time they're about to commit to reading, in essence, this makes them an Easy Mark. The con begins when the reader decides to do what they love - read.

Enter the Grifter aka The Oh-so-important First Line
The Grifter comes in with a smile and lovely perfume and says, "I want to show you something... it's a secret. But I can tell by that stack of books behind you that you're the kind of person I can trust. Won't you take a peek?"

Like the Grifter, the first line makes a promise to the reader about what's to come. This is the time for you to bait the hook, to whet the appetite of the reader, and to show them that there is something here worth sticking around for. It's an offering, a hint, and a tease all at once. A delicate balance of information and mystery! And they are worth working hard on because they are what will get your reader to invest - time, effort, energy and imagination - into your story.

And this is where things start to get real.

Enter the Hacker aka Building Your World
You never see the Hacker. He's behind the scenes, pulling strings and staying two steps ahead. He's the guy opening doors and building bridges from disbelief to belief. He's the guy who says, "I'm gonna rock your world and you'll never even know my name."

Yeah. He's cocky like that.

These are the lines that immediately follow the first. This is the time to follow the promise and the tease of that first line with something more concrete. The set is built around the reader and it's the Hacker's job to make them think it's as real the world they live in. Be convincing because this is the backbone of the trap. If they can see where the Hacker has fallen down on the job (leaving gaps in your world-building), they're less likely to trust the story before them. So, ground the reader completely because it's time to steal their hearts.

Enter the Thief aka the Prancing Princess of Plot
Using groundwork laid by the Hacker, the Thief makes the promise of the first line come to life before your eyes. She really works in concert with the Hacker, but she gets her own section because I'm forcing an inorganic metaphor onto an organic process. In reality, this is all extremely messy and entangled, but I like the illusion of order.

So! The Thief weaves a trap as the reader moves deeper into the story, she moves quickly and quietly so that even if they catch a glimpse of her, they didn't realize what she was up to. She does the impossible and says, "It really wasn't impossible. See?" She defies expectation! She balances upside down, on one hand, while breaking into a vault! She leaves little pieces of plot around and thanks to the work of the Hacker, they tantalize and excite because they are not what we expected to find. Exciting!

But what now? Why should the reader care?

Enter the Hitter aka The Stakes
The Hitter doesn't smile. He doesn't apologize for who he is and he doesn't wear pink. In fact, the Hitter doesn't even speak. Frankly, he'd rather punch you in the gut.

This is the guy that convinces the reader that the con isn't fooling around. This is a story that means business and it's not the sort you wanna look away from. This is the time to show the reader what it is about this story that matters. They've already got the set-up, now it's time to introduce the stakes. The Hitter doesn't back down, he bumps everything up a notch until we have urgency! Tension! A reader who is eager and (if the Hitter has his way) even a little terrified.

And so...

Enter the Mastermind aka The Final Note
With all the work that's come before, there seems little left for the Mastermind to do. But his is the crucial moment. The very end of that first chapter, the fulfillment of the promise dropped by the Grifter, the realization of the work done by the Hacker, the Thief, and the Hitter. The Mastermind tracks all of these things and delivers the final note. He sweeps in at the end with a devilish and satisfied grin and says, "Right this way." Because if he and his team have done their work well, then the reader will be helpless. They will thank the Mastermind and move right along to chapter two as if it was their intention all along.

So there you have it. My round about way of saying that all writers are con artists.

(And also that I love Leverage.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Leaning Tower of Critique-a

Remember the time I gave a very public demonstration of my tendency to leap before looking? That would be this post in which I made an open offer of crit to the world at large. Very soon after I put that post up, five g-chat windows opened looking a little like this:

Window 1: ARE YOU CRAZY?

Window 2: YOU ARE CRAZY.

Window 3: Put a cap on it or TAKE IT DOWN!

Window 4: omgomgomgomgomgomgOOOOOOMG

Window 5: O_O

To which I responded, "Oh, pshhhh, you're over-reacting. It will be fine." Because I didn't really think I could possibly get more than 20 or 30. . .  I wasn't just wrong, I was VERY wrong. And I soon decided the best course of action (for my sanity) was not to think about it all in terms of numbers, but to simply move through them as systematically as possible.

It took me a little longer than I thought, but my reading time was punctuated by having previously agreed to 3 full manuscript crits, one busy trip to New Orleans for ALA, and one trip to Minneapolis where I joined Tessa, Maggie, and her husband for a short leg of their tour during which I was made to sleep below the water line in an old tug boat where alligators scratched at the hull by my ear all night long. What? You think there are no alligators in Minneapolis? I think you're wrong! 
But that's neither here nor there, I want to talk about numbers. The stone cold stats of my recent insanity.

Ready? Go!

Total number of 5k submissions received: 59 (which I think should be spelled fifty-FREAKING-nine)

The fruit breakdown: 
Coconuts: 39 (SO MANY COCONUTS!)
Applenuts: 3 (yes, 3 separate people created a new category to break my brain)
Apples: 12
Peaches: 5
Number of characters named Lily: 13 
First crit sent out on 6/14
Last crits sent out on 7/30

Words read: 295,000
Total word count on 59 crit letters: 62,208 <- I feel like I should point out, that is a NOVEL. O_O
Now that I'm done, they're sort of gratifying to see. I don't really want to jump in and repeat the activity anytime soon, but I did learn a lot by doing this and perhaps more importantly, I got to meet a lot of talented writers I might not have otherwise. So, a big thank you to everyone who was brave enough to send me their work! Thinking through your stories has been both immensely enjoyable and immensely helpful and I'm grateful to every one of you!  
And now, I will buckle down and do nothing but write my fingers silly for the next several months.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

This is the post...

. . .wherein I get to use phrases like "represented by" and "my agent." Were technology a little further along, this would also be the post from which I could shower you with confetti.

I am pleased as pudding, pie and posies to announce that I am now represented by Sarah Davies at The Greenhouse Literary Agency.

(!!!!!!!!!!!!! <-my excitement defies words) On the evening of May 15, 2011, I sent out the first queries I've sent since my senior year of high school. It was exciting and terrifying and I soon had a happy handful of requests for my manuscript. My manuscript! Things happened much faster than I ever could have hoped for and I won't go into all the details here. Instead I will skip to the part where I sign my agency agreement with an impish grin and thematic nail polish. --->

So! I am celebrating this moment. Would you like to know how? Yes, I think you would. I'm celebrating by making a potentially reckless offer that is open to anyone.


In celebration of being able to say the words "my agent is" I am giving away critique like it's the end of the world! This is not a contest, this is a public demonstration of my tendency to leap first and learn how to fly on the way down. Call me Icarus, with superglue.

Here's how it works.

  • You send me the first 5k of your wip (I don't care if it is a complete draft or not) in an email to nataliecparker AT gmail DOT com (attached as a word doc) with the subject line: CALL ME ICARUS: title of your wip here.
  • In the body of that email, please give me the following information: your name, your genre and your sensitivity level based on my newly crafted scale of fruits! See below:

I AM A PEACH - I am delicate. Look at me sideways and I'll bruise. Please be gentle and kind.
I AM AN APPLE - I've been around the block. It takes a little effort to hurt me, but it can be done. Pull your strongest punches, please.
I AM A COCONUT - I am a fortress. Bring it on.

  • Cut off date is Friday, June 17th at midnight.

I will read and crit in the order in which these arrive and work as quickly as possible. That's it! Anyone and everyone is welcome because I am crazy excited!

And since it bears repeating - My agent is Sarah Davies!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

For the love of Gothic!

(Quick note - several of you are waiting for an announcement. This is not that post. This is a cryptic and teaser-riddled note to indicate that there is announcement to come, but I am not ready for the reveal. This is a note to remind you that I am 32 - 77% evil on any given day.)

In the past week, I have gone to see the recent Jane Eyre movie twice. I don't remember the last movie I saw twice in the theatre. It really is that good and if you haven't already gone, I recommend you find it and drive great distances to see it.

Jane Eyre is one of the few gothic novels I haven't actually read. This is a rather blatant and embarrassing hole in my gothic education, but I've always avoided it because one of the previous film adaptations made me shudder in the bad way. This is a Very Bad Reason to avoid a book, I know, but for some reason, it left me with a sense of over-whelming helplessness and women submitting to bad men because they had no other choices.

I'm going to back track to remind you that I *love* (love, love, love) gothic novels. I found them during my undergraduate years, when I was living in England and discovering that the North is just as dreary and weather-worn as Washington state, but in a more quiet way. I started (as so many of us gothic lovers do) with Horace Walppole's The Castle of Otranto and moved quickly onto the work of Anne Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Mary Shelley, John Poliodori. By the time I was through, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey had me laughing out loud.

This addiction carried through to my graduate years. I wrote my MA thesis on the use of gothic conventions in contemporary women's fiction and gave myself an excuse to read a lot of fiction in the course of getting a degree.

But there was no Jane Eyre. There will be now, because if this movie is any indication, I have short-changed myself and this book because ho-leeeeee cowbells. How many things are there to love about this movie? Too many. But I'm going to give you my top three.

1 - It's all so clear! It's in the atmosphere!
Moors! Distant horizons! Castles! Storms! Darkness and light! Fire and night! Secret rooms! Every scene is framed to communicate something about Jane's interior process. If she feels lost and small and hurt and alone, the landscape is unending and wild and ignorant of her presence. If she feels hopeful or happy, the scenes are closer, warmer, intimate.

2 - Not just natural, but SUPERnatural.
This was subtle, but pervasive. A constant undercurrent through Jane's life. Spirits! Ghosts! Connections that cross the moors! I loved this. It's not always so subtle in gothic novels (helloooooo, Castle of Otranto!), but this was just this quiet piece of tension tucked into the darkest corners of Jane's life.

3 - O.M.G. Rochester. O.M.G.
Let's just all agree that Michael Fassbender is beyond brilliant and leave it at that. My point about Mr. Rochester isn't really about Michael, but about how the film showed us how gothic HIS existence is, how entrapped HE is, how he finds his only option is to try and live two separate lives, how one of those lives is being buried alive by circumstances beyond his control. Oh! But this is so beautifully done. It might actually be my favorite thing about this film.

So, now that I've made myself all swoony again, I'm just going to leave it at this - SEE THIS FILM. Now, excuse me, while I go read this book.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Kansas Sky

For the first sentient decade of my life, I lived in Chesapeake, Virginia. We lived on the Elizabeth River and were a short one-hour drive from the beach. I was forever in one body of water or another, tromping around the muddy banks of the river at low tide or scouring the rocky bay walls for periwinkles and starfish. Some time around the release of 'Free Willy' and 'SeaQuest,' I declared my intention to become a marine biologist and stalked by twelfth birthday like no other because that was the day I became eligible for SCUBA lessons. I also decided that there was no way I would ever survive life in a land-locked state.

When I was fifteen, we moved to Japan. It was traumatic, to say the very least, but as an island, it fit my criteria for survival. My parents did not think the time was right for SCUBA lessons as we now lived on the second most polluted bay in the world, but as a consolation prize, my mother signed me up for sailing lessons. It was a short-lived hobby out of which I learned how to tack and jibe and heel (my favorite).

Two years later we made another move as Navy families are wont to do. This time we landed in Washington state where we lived in a small town called Silverdale which was close to the Sound and mountains. Though I had long since abandoned the notion of becoming a marine biologist, this was were I finally snatched my SCUBA certification, albeit six years later than anticipated. There are two things I can say about diving in the Pacific Rim. The first is that it is beyond freezing and the second is that it is so, so worth it.

Three years later, I moved, as college kids are wont to do, to Britain. Sunderland, to be exact, where Tessa and I studied for a year. Again, as an island, this made me exceedingly happy and in addition to backpacking as far as we could go, I did a little diving off the eastern coast of Scotland (also freezing).

The next year, my parents were done with their tour of Washington and returning to their home in the south, Mississippi. I followed and finished college there, though I did no diving. You might think that after doing so much cold water diving, I'd be more than a little anxious to try something in water that didn't require layers of neoprene over every bit of your body or peeing in your wetsuit for warmth (I'm kidding, but not every diver thinks that's a joke), but no.

Now, I live in Kansas and I am occasionally baffled by this fact. As far as water goes, it has a few rivers, a few lakes and exquisite summer storms. It is as land-locked as it could possibly be. Kansas is in the very center of this country and as such, the epitome of where I said I would never in a thousand years live.

And yet.

Yesterday, when the sun was high and the sky so wide and so blue, we drove west to Topeka. We drove over rolling hills, past piles of buffalo all sleeping out in the sun, around lazy bits of pasture and adolescent crops. I watched the wind pour away from me, down sweeps of prairie and tall grasses. I watched hawks watch the world below. I saw so much sky. And remembered that it is as wide as the ocean.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sign-Post -> LJ

So! For a while, I've been experimenting with cross-posting here from my primary platform, LiveJournal. For the time being, I have decided to post solely on LJ and stop updating this page. I may come back, but for now, this is a place-holder with a giant sign-post point to where you can read all of my exciting updates.

Please, join me on LJ where I am nataliesee: http://nataliesee.livejournal.com

Monday, April 11, 2011

Crit Partners: The Teddy Roosevelt Method

(WARNING: Any and all jokes found within the following are hereby NOT the responsibility of the writer, but of a cultural condition common to many readers. In other words, have fun.)

At some point in my high school career, I became infatuated with Teddy Roosevelt. Not in a learn everything I can about him or grow a mustache sort of way, but in a much more respectable way. In a casual, friendly sort of way. I introduced him into conversations, "Oh, Teddy would have liked that." And brought him into jokes, "Wait a minute, I need to get my 'big stick' out."

If you're not as familiar as I am with Teddy and his big stick, I'm going to enlighten you. Teddy's talk of his big stick was really his special form of ideology. He is known to have been fond of the African proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." Basically, this means that the threat of great violence and destruction is sometimes all you need to get where you're going.

Enter the big stick jokes.

These jokes followed me to college where I continued to baffle my friends with vague references to Teddy's 'Big Stick.' And even to grad school where we spent two weeks studying him, his obsession with taxidermy and his role in establishing our idea of the American family in one of my Women's Studies courses. Yes, really.

Of course, there comes a time when you realize that some jokes are just too obscure and you back them slowly out of your vocabulary. This probably happened a little late with me and Teddy, I'll admit. I am just too, too fond of the man as an historical figure. What can I say? He makes me laugh!

And he carries a BIG STICK. Just because. And I will always imagine that he walked through the halls of the White House whistling a jaunty tune and waving his big stick around with a laugh.

I imagine he also had a song about his big stick. A theme song, so to speak.

So what does this have to do with crit partners? Maybe nothing to you, but this past week Maggie put up a Crit Partner Love Connection post and I've been using a lot of hunting metaphors in my search for the elusive CP. And, of course, hunting metaphors always make me think on Teddy fondly and who can think of Teddy without thinking, too, of his big stick? Not I!

But it has actually been relevant to the entire process of critique and finding that partner who not only can deal with you but wants to. And vice versa. It's not an easy thing to do because. . .

Ready for it? This is the part where the I make the metaphor make sense. . .

Because you're handing your painstakingly crafted work over to someone who might be smiling, but they're also holding a Big Effing Stick on their shoulder and you know they're just itching to use it. ITCHING.

Now, they might have more precise tools in their tool belt like a scalpel or a torque wrench, but that's not what you see. You see the Big Effing Stick held high and you sort of tremble and laugh and wonder if your painstakingly crafted work is strong enough to handle even one blow from that looming piece of doom.

But here's the brilliance of Maggie's swap and really of critique in general: everyone has a Big Effing Stick. That doesn't mean that you use it. If we divorce Teddy's method from the scene of international relations and scale it down a bit, it means that when you're working collaboratively with someone, just because you can rend them to pieces and leave them a sobbing wreck doesn't mean that you do.

I spent my weekend swapping 50 pages with a small collection of folks and was so, so pleased when our interactions were pointed, productive and civil. Critiquing and receiving critique is hard work and in my opinion, it needs to be a mutual exchange, where there are big sticks a-plenty and no one thinks to use them.

It comes down to this - it's easy to be mean; it's hard to be constructive.

I think that it is easier to hear constructive crit when you are in partnership with someone and that is the brilliance of the CP. I have one, I want two. My search is on-going, but my weekend was really very wonderful. I heard people say some really hard things about my wip and I, in turn, said some pretty brutal things to people about theirs, but it was all in good spirit and I'm feeling all charged up about my next revision instead of burned out and depressed.

So (this is the plug) if you are in the market for a crit partner, get thee to Maggie's post and see if any of the big sticks out there match up with yours!

(um. sorry about that one)

(a little)

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

But what about the boots?!

I have more things I could write about my short trip to Alaska. I could write about the seafood, the local brews (coffee and beer!), the bald eagles I met on a rooftop or how I came to discover that Alaskan garbage cans can save you from a bear attack. But I think the topic you're all dying to hear about is a little more pressing - rubber boots.

If you have no idea why you're dying to hear about the rubber boots, I'll direct you to the first post on the topic -> here there be boots.

And I want to thank everyone who shared their wisdom in that particular conversation. Your input was invaluable. So, what did I end up purchasing? KEENS! These Keens to be exact (though I found them at a much more reasonable price!). They took up roughly 32% of the space in my suitcase and added an extra 20 pounds, but I stuffed them full of wool socks and packed light on everything else.

The first two days in Juneau, I thought the rubber boot warning a little extreme. Though they do "cinder" the streets and the soil is constantly freezing and melting off, covering the sidewalks with muddy water, it hardly warranted the level of vehemence I picked up in our conference calls. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have my boots while trekking to and from the hotel and deciding they would be useful for similarly murky times in Kansas.

On the third day, we hit the glacier and that was when I realized exactly why I had my rubber boots. Grippy and insulated, they made the trek to and from the glacier (which we have now decided was roughly 5 miles total) much more comfortable than it otherwise would have been.

My colleagues who did not take the rubber boot warning seriously, ended up wading through piles of snow and slush in nothing more than tennis shoes. More than once I heard people asking how quickly frost bite could settle in and I was more than a little worried that we would not return to Kansas with as many digits as we arrived with.

Just imagine walking through this for a mile in your regular, lightweight tennis shoes. . .

Obviously, no one lost any toes, but I was far more comfortable at the end of the day than many. Even the Alaska folks (who predominantly wore XtraTufs - bonus points to everyone who recommended those) were approving of my bright blue babies.

How blue were they? GLACIER BLUE.

They served me well, I must say. Very well, indeed. In fact, the joy you see on my face below? That's all about the boots.

Okay, and maybe a little about the glacier, too.


Maybe a lot about the glacier, but at least partly about the boots. Let's say 32% about the boots.

So here is what I know: if you're going to Alaska, TAKE RUBBER BOOTS.

Also, a side note of awesome about that last picture - I called Tessa Gratton from that exact spot. And texted her that picture. From the middle of a frozen lake, chilling on an iceberg, about to lick a glacier, I was able to share that moment with her. CRAZY.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Moar Glacier Pr0n

One brief addendum.

Of our group of 33, only 2 climbed up and into that teardrop cave. One of those two is pictured below and she paid the price in a little bit of blood on her way out of said cave.

But I'm so glad she did because omgthecolors!

Mendenhall Glacier

Yesterday afternoon, we all took a break from conferencing and signed up for various field trips. One of those trips was to hike out to the Mendenhall Glacier and I don't remember what the others were because they did not include the words "hike" or "glacier."

We piled into a school bus and made the incredibly short trek from downtown Juneau to the Tongass National Forest. And basically, we came around a corner and BLAM! GLACIER!

None of these pictures are going to do the experience justice, I'll just put that out there.

Even from a distance of 1.5 miles, we could see how blue the ice was and how fractured and ready for calving (*gulp*).

Cue the science - See where I'm standing? Approximately 1.5 miles from the face of the glacier? Well, in 1938, you could touch the glacier from pretty much right there. This thing has seen tremendous loss of sea ice in the past century and even in the past five years. Changes both dramatic and startling.

We were told that as it is March, and the thing between us and the glacier is a melting lake, trekking out to the glacier from was NOT recommended. The last calving event (when mama glaciers birth baby bergs) was on March 4th (*gulp*).

But out we all went because when are we ever going to be so close to a glacier like this again and the ice looks good and solid. . .

So away we went! And here's the thing about trekking across an lake covered in ice and snow - you are constantly falling. Not down on your hands and knees, but through the snow until it decides to catch you again and laugh at your expense. Basically, I spent a lot of time feeling the ground give way beneath me and wondering if I'd actually found a whole that would drop me into the freezing lake.

I'm really not joking.


Here's proof.

This was very close to the glacier where icebergs had torn through giant sections of lake and we had to tread very, very carefully.

Unnerving doesn't really begin to cover it, but again, worth it and what kind of Sagittarius would I be if I didn't do things that make normal people make the o_O face?

And why did we cross the hole of icy death? To get to the other side!!!

I did not actually make it to that tear drop cave because as my group and I  stood strategizing our approach (which berg to climb? is that the ice that guy fell through a few minutes ago?) we watched the rough edge of the ice sheet we stood on break away and fall into the lake. It was followed by many a groaning, popping sound you DON'T want to hear ice make unless it's on your TV screen and collectively decided to put a little distance between us and the unstable ice.

(I'm not the craziest of Sag's after all!)

On our way back to solid ground, there were bear tracks and water falls and many a breath-taking sight. I'm including a few of my favorite photos below. They can tell you better than I can this morning just how much beauty lives in that ice.

Looking through the ice.


A risky journey to the ice face.

Midnight sun (okay, not really, but sorta).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


After 3 flights including 4 take-offs and landings, 2 buses and 18 hours, we arrived at our hotel in Alaska. Considering the grueling schedule and the fact that I was coordinating travel for 19 people, it was actually a relatively easy trip.

Our stop in Seattle was long enough for me to grab a bowl of Ivar's clam chowder which I haven't had since I lived in the area nearly a decade ago (um, whoa how time flies). I may have squealed with culinary joy when I saw the sign and promptly took control of the dinner decision. The people with me are now Ivar's converts. If you ever get to Seattle, this is a MUST eat. Do not pass go!

And we interrupt this Ivar's lovefest for an image the Coastal Range, which we flew over on our way to Juneau via Kechikan.

By the time we got here, most of us were pretty sure we'd traveled far enough to be on another continent or at least in another country. And even now, having slept, Alaska still feels a little like another country. It's a place where someone from farther north can ask, "So, are all your roads in Juneau paved?" and it's a totally legitimate question. I feel it's important to remind you at this time that Juneau is the state capitol.

PS - Did you know you can only get to Juneau by air or by sea? There are no roads in or out. I can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing for surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Suppose it depends on where it starts. And how. /over-thinking it

It's the end of our first full day here and I'm still totally confused about the time and this advertisement I walked past:

I don't know why I find this as disturbing as I do, but the diamond mustache is just so. . . weird. I mean, why did this seem like a good idea? Can you explain it to me? Please try.

Also, the ravens here are big enough to EAT MY CATS. And when they caw at you, it's about like you would expect.


And finally, a shot of the harbor and the mountains of Douglas Island. Tomorrow, the conference officially begins and soon after will be our trip out to Mendenhall glacier!

So far, the rubber boots have seen zero action, but they promise the weather will turn by morning and then they will be out and about!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Disney on Proper Hygiene and Fear

And so for the fifth time in my life, I went to Disney World. This is the sort of thing that makes me want to get all Susan Cooper-y and say in a boomy voice, "And then there were five." (Sooooo many bonus points if you take my meaning).

Disney with the Gratton's is always a lesson in strategy and quick crowd navigation. By now, I expect the plan to be laid out in beautiful detail days before we set foot in the park. This time was no different, but this time there were apps and the potential to reach maximum fun capacity was high. Tessa has already posted the play by play, so I think I'm going to talk about how Disney can still make me feel like a little kid and also about bathrooms.

Yes, bathrooms.

But let's start with feeling like I'm ten or twelve years old when I look up at the amazing display of fireworks (choreographed with music) and see hearts and Mickey's and REAL MAGIC in the sky. Or when, during one of their many 3D adventures, the seats/floor/air does something I didn't expect and I'm *actually* surprised. Or when my entire family breaks down in laughter over a shared joke and everyone is so, so happy. Or when I'm in line for Space Mountain and my legs are weak even though I know what's coming.

Space Mountain is really what does it to me. Every single time I get in that line, I remember the first time I rode it and how I begged my parents to take me. I remember feeling like I was finally old enough, wise enough, mature enough to be able to handle it and how I boasted it would be no big deal.

I remember being wrong. So very wrong. I remember being Scared To Death, but riding it again right away because my dad saw that there was no line and wanted to go again. He was probably just excited to finally have a chance to ride the thing. I couldn't back out and my legs were nothing but jello as we climbed back through the tunnels to the cars.

And that's what happens to me TO THIS DAY. I get in line for Space Mountain and I'm a bundle of irrational nerves. I sort of love that. It makes the ride thrilling every time I do it.

Usually, I can't do much other than hold on to the safety bar (seriously, SM is the only coaster on which I WILL NOT raise my hands) and hold my breath until it's over. By the third time (maybe?) I was feeling slightly more confident and when we were moving through the first tunnel before they shoot you into space I snapped a picture.

It's blurry because my hands were shaking with FEAR. Also, Tessa was yelling at me to put my phone away. I'll admit it wasn't the smartest thing to do on a roller coaster, but I think that photo was worth the risk.

But now let's talk about bathrooms. Why? Because there we found two remarkable things about them.

First, let's go with Disney, who cares so much about proper amusement park hygiene that they post signs in every single bathroom reminding you the steps required for washing your hands as though the process is as elusive as that for the three seashells. . .

Just in case you can't see in the photo, I'll repeat:

STEP ONE - Wet hands and apply soap.

STEP TWO - Scrub hands and rinse.

STEP THREE - Dry hands thoroughly using paper towels.

STEP FOUR - Re-read steps 1 through 3 to make sure you haven't missed one. All steps are crucial!

STEP FIVE - Take a picture and spread the word. Clean hands are happy hands!


So when it comes to bathrooms, I have to say that Hogsmeade wins. Hands down. Because this was their ladies room sign:

I mean, how awesome is that?

I was probably too thrilled when I noticed this sign. I can pretty much guarantee I was the only person photographing the public conveniences in Hogsmeade. At least on that day. ;)

And finally, my favorite picture from this trip, taken on the last day in the Magic Kingdom at just the right moment to capture some Mickey Magic.