Reading Habits

books (1)There’s been a fun reading quiz going around the blogosphere (last to pick up the challenge: Kate and Zach), and even though I wasn’t specifically named by anyone, I’ll pick up the gauntlet anyway. I’m also not going to peg anyone else, in a “Tag! You’re It!” fashion, but if this is something that looks like fun to you, consider yourself tagged.

The quiz is about your Reading Habit. Okay, yes [scuffs shoe in the dirt], I’m afraid it’s true. [Mumbles:] Hi, I’m Angelica. I have a Reading Habit. [Everyone:] Hi Angelica!

Uh, wait – Reading Habitsss, plural? Not Habit, singular? Oh. Well, yes, I have those too. Just forget what I said earlier, about my, umm, habit. Who, me, addicted to books? Naaah.

Okay, here goes. THE TRUTH ABOUT AMO’S READING HABITS:

books (5)You have 20,000 books on your TBR. How in the world do you decide what to read next?

Simple: I look at the pile and go “What do I feel like reading?” And that’s what I read.

You’re halfway through a book and you’re just not loving it. Do you quit or commit?

Quit. Why on earth would I read something I’m not enjoying? Oh, because I might want to find out how it ends? Okay, here’s a secret tip: it’s a book. You can flip to the last chapter, and get the lowdown without wasting your time on inflicting pain on yourself…

The end of the year is coming and you’re so close yet so far away on your GoodReads challenge. Do you quit or commit?

GoodReads challenge? What GoodReads challenge? Oh, is that one of those “I’m going to read 100 books by the end of the year” things? I had enough required reading in university; I don’t set myself “goals” for my reading. I read what I like when I like it. Isn’t that the whole point of reading?

books (2)The covers of a series you love DO. NOT. MATCH. How do you cope?

Umm, I think the only matched set of books I own is Austen (see picture) – or rather, one of the sets; the other Austen one(s) are mismatched too. I buy most of my books second hand or else piecemeal. I mean, I like matching books, but it’s obviously not a high priority…

Everyone and their mother loves a book you really don’t like. Who do you bond with over shared feelings?

Hah. It’s probably snarky of me, but if everyone and their mother loves a book [movie, singer, TV show, clothing style] then by definition I’m suspicious of it. So what “everyone” thinks has at best a negative influence on me. [Exception: I read Harry Potter just to see what the fuss was about, and to my great surprise got hooked. But then, it’s a great story.] As for who I share those feelings with, I have more than one family member and friend who has the same snobbish attitude, so there is never a shortage of people with whom to commiserate and share recommendations for really good books.

You’re reading a book and you’re about to start crying in public. How do you deal?

I don’t usually read in public… especially not anything likely to make me cry. But that’s because I’m not out in public a whole lot.

A sequel of a book you loved just came out, but you’ve forgotten a lot from the prior novel. Will you re-read the book? Skip the sequel? Try to find a summary on GoodReads? Cry in frustration?

Re-read. Or re-skim. (Yes, that’s allowed. There’s no book police that says you can’t skip through a book. Really!)

books (4)You don’t want ANYONE borrowing your books. How do you politely tell people “nope” when they ask?

I don’t usually have issues with people borrowing my books, because my friends who are readers also take care of books and will return them to me. But if it was a person I wouldn’t trust with my darlings, I’d have two words for them: Public Library. And I’d wrap up those words in some polite phrasing of not wanting to lend my books because I might just get a huge urge to read that particular volume in the next two days, so, sorry…

You’ve picked up and put down five different books in the past month. How do you get over the reading slump?

Reading slump? What’s that? Sort of like an eating slump, where you really can’t get into eating lunch, and you force yourself to eat some chocolate cake because eating is a virtue and must be carried on?
Pardon my sarcasm. But these questions are bringing up something really interesting: there is an underlying attitude here that reading is a virtue, something one ought to do. In my world, shaped by my upbringing, reading is an indulgence, something you get to do. No lists of “so many books of required reading”, no forcing yourself through a book you hate – and no “reading slump”… (I think there’s a full blog post in here somewhere.)

books (3)There are so many new books coming out that you are dying to read! How many do you actually buy?

Those same two words again: Public Library. My local one has this awesome feature that they’ll buy just about any book you suggest (if it’s available through their usual channels). You might have to wait half a year for them to get and process it, but you can get to read it eventually. And then, if I read it and absolutely love it, I’ll go buy a copy to keep.

After you’ve bought a new book you want to get to, how long do they sit on your shelf until you actually read them?

Depends on what it is. If it’s a new fiction book in a series I love, it usually doesn’t even make it to the shelf before it gets read. Non-fiction, again, I’ll likely get it from the library first, and then I’m on a time limit before I have to return it, so I better get to it right away… or else I just take it back unread and it can sit on the library shelves until the urge to read it strikes again.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and my Reading Habit. Habits, sss! What about you?

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Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-BannerCamp NaNoWriMo is upon us again! In case you don’t know, Camp Nano is the “light” version of November’s NaNoWriMo, world’s greatest yearly online writing event. During November, crazy writers all over the globe pledge themselves to writing a 50,000 word novel in one month, from Nov. 1st to 30th. If you’re not up for that level of insanity, or, conversely, if you’ve done NaNoWriMo and it has you gasping for more but you can’t stand the wait until November, there are a couple of easier events happening in April and July.

During Camp Nano, you can pick your own style of project. It can be anything from 10,000 to 100,000 words long, and, unlike the November Nano, can be fiction, non-fiction, novels, short stories, memoirs, poetry, or what-have-you – actually, it doesn’t even have to be a complete “writing” project; it can be editing or continuing a previous piece of work.

During the last couple of years, I’ve used Camp Nano to provide me with the motivation to finish grad school papers. But this April, being fresh out of grad school deadlines staring me in the face, I really got into the spirit of things. The great Kate M. Colby started a “cabin” (small message board with about a dozen participants) and invited other writers to join; so I jumped in – and we had some awesome pillow fights, mutual-support session, and marshmallow roasts, and wrote a whole bunch of words together. And in the process, I made some new writerly friends*, which is really what NaNoWriMo is all about.

But this time, Kate is kind of busy, so we decided that it’s my turn to start the cabin. So the cabin is created, I’ve claimed my bunk, and I’m waiting for my friends to sign up. If you want to participate, go to campnanowrimo.org, make a profile (or pull up your old one if you’ve already got one); create a project (that’s important; the site won’t let me invite you unless you’ve got a project); and then either send me a mail through my contact form or leave a comment below with your Nano username, and I’ll send you an invite so you can join (space is limited!). You can also find me on the site under amo1967.

Incidentally, I’m not writing a full-blown 50K novel this July – I’ve got too much other summerish stuff on the go. So if you’re scared of the “No” in NaNoWriMo (NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth), don’t be. You can join our cabin and just be wimpy with me – write a couple of short stories, do some editing, stuff like that. It’ll be fun, I promise!

Life, the Universe, and Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ll share my marshmallows.

*for example, Kara Jorgensen, Zach Chopchinski, and Whitney of Wit & Travesty. And my great friend E. L. Bates was there too!

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Allergic to E

Scrabble_letter_ESo I’ve been nominated twice for this challenge – thanks so much, Kate M. Colby and Zach Chopchinski. But seeing as I was a little busy graduating last week when they posted this, I didn’t get around to it then. But I guess I better buckle down and meet this challenge now.
The idea is to write a paragraph, in the English language, without using the letter e. So it can’t be about Extraordinarily Exciteable Elephants, absolutely none; or Effusive Elves, either.

I’m not very good at treating words like nothing but permutations of letter patterns – for me, language is about nuance of meaning and, to a lesser degree, sound. I’m lousy at Scrabble or crossword puzzles. So this wasn’t easy. But I did it anyway, just because.
Here goes (or, in the spirit of the challenge, That’s It):

This is a paragraph construction without that most common form, that fifth mark of all marks which construct words, among d and f. Sadly, it is too difficult to say anything of sanity without calling on its aid, so I shall quit trying. Good luck to all who want to sail into this trial.

One of the rules of the challenge is to pass it on to five other bloggers, but, actually, I feel rebellious. I can’t think of five others I’d want to inflict this on. So if you’re a blogger, and you feel like trying this, go for it – you can even say I nominated you if you want. You’re welcome. (And if you’re not a bloggy person but are itching to try this, leave an e-less paragraph in the comments. Come on, you know you want to!)

Life, the Universe, and the Letter E. Exceptionally excellent effusions.

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Magistra Artium, or: I’ve Mastered the Arts

3607So this past Thursday, I finally got to walk across the stage of my university in a hood and gown to have my hand shaken by my prof, and I now get to call myself an MA.

Actually, technically I’ve been able to call myself that ever since last September, when I got the parchment – that folder they handed me on stage was just a prop; it had a piece of paper inside that said, in effect, “Congratulations; this is a piece of paper which we would like you to give back to us afterwards.”

But for some reason, having done the hood and gown and pomp and ceremony makes a difference. Getting the parchment in the mail was nice, but there wasn’t much to it – I didn’t particularly feel any more graduated that day than the day before. But attending convocation, striding into the auditorium to the rousing heartbeat of the First Nations drum, sitting on the stage under the glare of the spotlights and watching graduate after graduate going across the stage, then taking my own turn and looking into the sea of darkness that was the audience, knowing my family was out there somewhere (and though I didn’t know it, some were even watching the livestream from more than a 1000 km away); receiving that black folder, shaking the hands of several official people in fancy chairs of whose identity I was rather clueless (I believe one was the university president), and then walking in the procession back out of the auditorium, through the double line of our professors in their gowns cheering and applauding our achievement – I really did feel different then. I still do.

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The prof and I big on the screen on the right, and small and blurry on the left on the stage

No, being a Master of Arts doesn’t mean I’m any different than I was last Wednesday, or last August, for that matter. But all the lovely ritual brought it home to me that I really did finish that degree, that it is a big deal to have put in all those years of work – seventeen, to be precise, for the equivalent of five years’ full-time study, during which I also birthed, raised, homeschooled and graduated several of my children.

I don’t mean to brag – although, actually, yes, I do mean to brag. I think we don’t brag nearly enough about the right kinds of things, sometimes. I know I’m very prone to getting down on myself, to not acknowledging to myself what I have, in fact, accomplished. And what that does is raise the bar for everyone else. If all we’re doing is looking at our failures, it’s very easy to get the impression that nothing we have done matters, that success is an elusive thing. But it’s not. It’s totally possible.

And that was the key phrase in the hugely inspiring speech my awesome friend Desi (whom I finally got to meet face-to-face after three years of online friendship) gave to all of us graduates: There is no “impossible”.

That’s why I dare to brag about this, to show off my hood and gown: to let you know that it can be done. I got my whole degree by distance education – last Thursday was the first time I ever set foot in my university and met some of my professors and classmates face-to-face. It was exhilarating. One of the students who was graduating that day was a frail white-haired woman who needed a supporting arm to lean on to make it across the stage. She had begun her studies in 1979 – that’s right, nineteen-hundred-seventy-nine – and last Thursday, she got her Bachelor of Arts degree. As she turned to be helped back to her seat, a man’s voice in the auditorium yelled out, “WAY TO GO, MOM!!”

Yes, I cried. In fact, I’m doing it again as I write this. There is no “impossible”.

Life, the Universe, and at long last, a Master of Arts. It can be done.

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They don’t call it a hood for nothing

PS: In case you’re wondering, my uni is Athabasca University, the Canadian Open University (which isn’t just for Canadians, either). I’m not sure what the equivalent US institution is (I’ve heard something about the University of Phoenix?), but I’m sure there is one; and in Germany, there is the FernUniversität Hagen. Where there’s a will there’s a university. Oh, and here you can click through to my final Master’s project (the link goes to quill and qwerty, the blog that I kept for documenting my research).

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Write What You Know

I just read a quite interesting guest post on Kate M. Colby’s blog, by one Fia Essen. The topic of the post is “Write What You Know”. Essen talks about how her own experiences have inspired her to write about women quite like herself, in similar life circumstances, and how it made for good books (I haven’t read her books, so I’ll take her word for it; but the excerpt posted on Amazon looks not bad).

It’s a good post, and a good piece of advice – one that I have followed in my own writing. Seventh Son is, as you know, about a woman named Cat who looks into a blue pottery bowl and gets whirled off into a magical medieval world. And that, of course, is what… umm… happens to me on an… uh… regular basis? Right. Maybe that piece of advice does break down when you’re dealing with Fantasy. I’m quite sure Tolkien was not intimately acquainted with hobbits, and his personal experience with battling orcs was probably somewhat limited, too.

However, there’s still a lot of truth to this, even if you’re writing about magical faraway places. Because people are always people, and in order for readers to get into your story, your people have to be believable people. So Cat is, magical dimension-travel aside, pretty much me. Or at least she was in the first book. Seventh Son started from this basic premise: if I was suddenly thrown into another world (à la the Pevensie kids in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), how would I react? I’d freak out, that’s how. So that’s what Cat does. She has a fit. And then she tries to cope with the situation in the best way she knows how – by trying to be rational about it, and calling up all the bits and pieces of information she’s garnered in the course of her career as librarian and avid reader.

IMG_20150607_132347But there’s even more of me that’s in that book than Cat’s personality and voice. I gave Guy, the potter, my own pottery wheel, and my own pottery technique, the one I learned at the local art centre almost ten years ago. See, that’s it in the picture. My man built it for me for my birthday the year I finally learned to throw pots on the wheel (one item scratched off the bucket list). Guy, being a professional, has a metal wheelhead with concentric grooves cut into it – for my amateurish throwing a wooden one does the job. Also, he doesn’t have plastic ice cream buckets sitting on the bench for his water and clay slurry, of course; his are old pots or maybe tin buckets. But other than that, this is it. If you go to Chapter 14 in Seventh Son, you get the exact description of how to make pottery on a kick wheel like this one.

In Cat and Mouse, Cat learns to make sourdough bread, and ink made from black walnut husks. And yes, I’ve done both of those things; they work. You can pretty much follow the instructions in the book to get bread and/or ink. Also, most of the technologies, recipes and remedies in my stories are ones that could have been used in the European Middle Ages. The climate and landscape of Isachang, the land I tossed Cat into, is more or less Central Europe – because that’s the place I’m familiar with. So yes, I write what I know.

IMG_20150607_132735

Not THE bowl – but one that came off my pottery wheel. And it IS blue.

I do make up the occasional fact, or plant, for that matter – for example, the spikeberry bush which is important in Cat and Mouse is my own invention. It kind of appeared in the pages of Seventh Son early on, just because I needed something to fill out the visuals of the scene when Cat arrives in the Wald of Ruph, and then it came in handy when I needed a plant that would have a particular medicinal effect for the climax of Cat and Mouse. But for the most part, everything in my stories is real, even for this world.

So, “Write What You Know” still holds true even for places and times far removed from  your own. Tolkien may not have been personally acquainted with any hobbits, but there is a great deal of him in the hobbits, from their love of a pipe smoking to their appreciation of creature comforts (no one who wasn’t a lover of good food could have written the Hobbiton parties like he did), not to mention how Bilbo feels about foolish and unnecessary adventuring to start with.

Life, the Universe, and Writing What You Know. One of these days Cat is going to make soap.

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What I Did On My Holidays, or: A Visit to Storybrooke

On my holidays, I went to Storybrooke. Yes, the Once Upon a Time town. No, really!
As I mentioned before, I just spent a couple of weeks with family, and we went to the big city (aka Vancouver). And while we were there, I got a chance to go to Storybrooke. Yes, I know they tell you it’s in Maine, but actually, it’s in BC (the geographic location, British Columbia, not the time period, Before Christ). See?

Storybrooke (1)On the map, it’s actually called Steveston (which, contrary to the opinion of a certain family member, is not named after a small stuffed bear). Steveston is a really cute fishing village on the outskirts of Greater Vancouver, with a nifty harbour and an old cannery just down the street from the relevant places.

So, here I am in front of Mr. Gold’s pawn shop:
Storybrooke (2)And it really is proof that I was there myself – if I had photoshopped myself into the picture, I wouldn’t have chosen such a hideously unflattering shot of me. But because I like you, and need to show you that I was, indeed, there in the flesh, I’m letting you see this photo of me (take note of the Cinderella’s Coach pin on my shirt – I was even dressed appropriately).

This, I think, is Granny’s Diner.
Storybrooke (4)There wasn’t a single werewolf in sight, though, nor indeed any Evil Queens, Princes (Charming or otherwise), Princesses, Pirates, Dwarfs, Fairies, or Bondsbailpersons in yellow VW beetles. And the only teenagers around were, alas, Not Henry. If I’d stuck around a few weeks or months, though, I might have been able to get a glimpse of one or two of them; apparently Season 5 is slated to start filming soon.

And here is me going into the Storybrooke Library.
Storybrooke (3)Well, actually, it’s me pulling on the handle of the locked-up building which is falling apart and for sale. Anybody want to chip in to buy it?

Life, the Universe, and a Visit to Storybrooke. That’s what I did on my holidays.

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Indie Book Review: Seventh Son by A.M. Offenwanger

amo:

One excellent review of Seventh Son from the great Kate M. Colby!

Originally posted on Kate M. Colby :

seventh sonSeventh Son by A.M. Offenwanger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Seventh Son by A.M. Offenwanger follows Catriona (Cat), a librarian in the midst of a (almost) quarter-life crisis, on a journey to a mysterious new world. While visiting a museum, Cat becomes captivated by a beautiful, turquoise pottery bowl. As she leans down to look at the bowl, Cat is suddenly whirled out of the museum and lands in the middle of a strange forest with no idea how it happened or where she is. As Cat encounters the locals and slowly learns about this new world, the mystery of her transportation there unfolds, and she must choose whether to stay with her new-found family or return to her own world.

Seventh Son wastes no time throwing Cat (and the reader) right into…

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