February 19, 2013, 4.34 pm
I spent most of yesterday in the hospital with a big scare, and although it all turned out fine in the end (whew!), I'm still feeling kinda shaky today.
So here, for my own sake, are some moments from today that I loved:
1. Sitting with MrD on a powder-blue blanket in our local park at lunchtime, eating a picnic in the sunlight. (It wasn't warm, but it was sunny!) Feeling every muscle relax as I sat there, soaking it all in.
2. Watching MrD play fabulous imaginative games with a new friend after we finished our picnic.
3. Getting to play myself this morning by writing 945 new words of Next-Book. (I really meant to get back to my rewrite today, but well, rewriting is hard work, and first-drafting is fun. And today I really needed some fun.)
4. Listening to this lovely Ludovico Einaudi recording (which I found via Terri Windling's blog):
5. Talking on the phone with a good friend, letting out all the stress from yesterday and soaking in comfort.
6. Getting ready for Patrick's birthday - which is tomorrow! I'm right about to finish wrapping his presents (with MrD's help) and then get started on his birthday cake.
What about you guys? What have been your favorite moments from today, or any other recent day?
March 4, 2012, 2.32 pm
Thanks so much to everybody who commented on my last post! I really, really appreciated the support and empathy.
Also, I want to STRONGLY recommend Leah Cypess's short story "Nanny's Day" (published in the current issue of Asimov's magazine) to anyone who's ever struggled with mom-guilt. Leah was generous enough to send a copy to me after our conversation on my last blog entry, and WOW. It is such an emotionally intense story that as I read it, my body physically hunched, getting more and more tense - there were even some points when I literally felt like I couldn't breathe! It is sharp and scathing and genuinely brilliant. Very highly recommended, and not just to science fiction fans!
On a totally different front, I wanted to also recommend a new podcast I love: This Creative Life, by author Sara Zarr. It's a podcast that's not about writing-craft or -promotion but rather about finding ways to keep our creative wells refilled, as creative workers and as people, regardless of how well or badly the business side is going. I really enjoyed the first episode, where she interviewed fellow author Tara Altebrando.
...And yes, I winced with recognition when Tara said (this may be slightly paraphrased): "I just don't think you can keep your creative well completely full when you have a ten-month-old and a four-year-old!"
But I also really loved the way Tara talked about finding touchstones for her work, like iconic images, imaginary book covers, etc., to keep her in touch with her novels even when she's feeling overwhelmed. I thought that hunting for imaginary book covers also sounded like a great idea for adding a sense of imaginative play and fun to the work - and my own personal feeling is that I have to feel like I'm playing in some way in order to really be creative, even if (or maybe even especially when) there is also a deadline/financial aspect at stake.
It's an issue I've been thinking about a lot over the past year. I was so excited at the creation of the podcast, I wrote a piece of fan mail to Sara, and her (lovely) response made me start thinking about something else that's really necessary for filling up the creative well for a lot of us: doing stuff that's just for fun, with no obvious reward. The truth is, I excised a LOT of those things from my life during MrD's first few years, because I had SO little time/energy, I had to be ruthless with my priorities. I'm so glad I've picked up some of the things I really love doing just for fun again, though, like knitting and (although I want to let myself start practicing more regularly) the piano.
Also, I need to start treating my own creativity like it's worthwhile in and of itself whether or not I'm getting paid for it - a small but crucial point that's sometimes hard to remember after the first professional payments start rolling in.
One of my best sets of gifts this Christmas came from my parents: a copy of Julia Cameron's Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance (a book which I'd read and loved years ago, but which I'd also lost quite a while ago, to my great frustration) and a beautiful blank book with a cover and endpapers drawn by Shaun Tan. (This is a SERIOUSLY gorgeous blank book - maybe the most beautiful notebook I've ever had.)
Finding Water is the best book I've ever read on maintaining creativity even during hard times, and every time I've ever read it, it's spoken to me in different ways. As I've been re-reading it this time, reading it slowly to really absorb the message, I've been writing down quotes from the book that really stand out to me (using my lovely blank book).
Here are a few of the quotes I've copied down:
"How would an artist with any self-worth act? Act that way."
"As an artist, I must cherish each tiny bit of track as I am able to lay it down... I must scan the horizon for the next right thing and do that thing, however tiny it may seem."
"In order to go forward on these [bad] days, I must be willing to be small, not large. I must be willing to write from a spirit of service, to write simply because writers write. It does no good to demand to always be brilliant. That demand is an instant prescription for writer's block. No, in order to write, I must be willing to write badly and to have the faith that if I go forward 'writing badly,' some purpose is still being served."
Also, on New Year's Eve this year, I sat down with my Shaun Tan blank book and made three lists: Big dreams; !WILD! dreams; and Goals That I Can Do. It felt really scary to make those three lists. The dreams I listed in Big Dreams are out of my personal control; so were the !Wild! Dreams, and those ones were so huge, I felt shivery with panic at just writing them down.
I was in a pretty dark place back around New Year's Eve; I was filled with true dread and fear about how I would get through this year, in terms of health and finances and more. So I almost didn't let myself write those first two lists; I was afraid it would just hurt too much to write down what I really wanted and probably wouldn't get. Why inflict pain on myself by dreaming about impossibilities? I did, though, inspired by a blog post by Mette Harrison.
Goals I Can Do was the third and longest list, covering three pages, all made up of small, do-able goals I can control myself - but one of the things I worked hardest on with that list was trying to come up with a list of goals that would be genuinely good for me as a person, not just professionally sensible. So, although some of the goals were professionally oriented, one of the other goals was "Play the piano at least three times a month", and another was "Do creative things with MrD." Writing that list felt not just affirming but incredibly helpful - it made me sit down and focus on what I can do but too often forget to do, to my own detriment.
Every so often, I've looked back at that last list, and every time, I've been genuinely happy to get those reminders of what I ought to be prioritizing in my life. I never looked back at the first two lists, though. Again: why set myself up to get hurt, right?
Well. The other day, I went to sit in a coffeeshop for the hour before I set out to do my school event at Waterstones. I opened up my Shaun Tan notebook, looked back at my first two lists for the first time since New Year's Eve...and blinked. Because guess what?
It was March 1st, and not only had I already, completely out of the blue, had a serious and unexpected possibility (not yet confirmed) pop up for one of those Big Dreams ("Go to America") - but I'd actually GOTTEN one of the crazy !WILD! Dreams! It had actually happened! (And I'll be able to share details within a month, I promise.) I just stared at those lists, remembering how terrifying it had felt to write down those dreams, how utterly impossible they'd seemed...and I felt true wonder unfurl inside me.
I'm not really sure what I want to say to wrap this up...so I guess I'll just finish with a picture of the creative project I finished last night which filled me with a ridiculous amount of pleasure and sheer delight:
I don't think I'll ever be a brilliant knitter...but I am a very happy one, and I know I'm a happier person because I'm doing it.
Happy Sunday, everyone!
February 27, 2012, 12.07 pm
OK, this is going to be a terribly unfair entry...but I have to talk about the way I'm feeling right now even though I can't (yet) share any of the real-world reasons behind it.
So, the past several months have been pretty tough over here, for various reasons. The same has been true for some of my closest friends. It's been a long slog, without a lot of light ahead.
Then this weekend, I got three - count them, three! - wonderful pieces of news. And when I called up one of my best friends today to share some of them, she told me about the amazing - multiple! - pieces of good news she'd just gotten this weekend, too, after months of frustration and bleak outlooks!
We just laughed in amazement and shared relief and pleasure, both of us almost giddy with shared happiness, for each other and for ourselves.
After we got off the phone, I had a really nice phone call with my lovely UK editor, talking about A Reckless Magick and its cover (which, again, I can't share yet - but it's going to be gorgeous!). I came off the phone feeling like I could float. I just felt so different than I had last week, or for the last couple of months.
I wish I could talk here about everything that's making me feel that way. But since I can't yet, I'm just going to share three things online that make me happy, too:
Kelly Clarkson's song "What Doesn't Kill You", which I played like an anthem after getting my good news on Friday, as I thought about the last few months and celebrated the difference:
And today's XKCD comic, which made me laugh (and if you want the fabulous final word on it, just click on the image to get to the original, then hover your cursor over it - it's worth it!):
I know there'll be plenty of times in the future when I feel like I'm back in that bleak slog, without any light in sight...but that makes moments like this even more special, even more worth savoring, and I loved reading Terri Windling's blog entry today, where she offers a morning prayer for others in exactly that situation:
May I see every journey, no matter how daunting, as a mythic adventure, a quest, a story unfolding, a fairy tale in which even the smallest of heroes finds her way through danger and the dark of the forest...and faces down dragons...and wins love or treasure...and then goes safely home once again.
For anyone reading this who's still in that bleak, dark forest right now...oh, I am sending you so, so much empathy. And I'm hoping for that light to start shining for you really soon.
Happy Monday, everybody!
January 2, 2012, 1.32 pm
Happy 2012, everybody!
One of my favorite things in the past week has been discovering so much new music - not just through the fab CDs I got for Christmas, but through twitter and LJ discussions of other people's favorite new songs. I've just started a new playlist in my iTunes account called "2012 Playlist", made up of a couple of singles I've bought in the last few days and some of my favorite stand-alone songs from my new albums.
(I'm also planning to add The Civil Wars's amazing song "Poison and Wine" [one of my very favorites from 2011] to the playlist, but first I have to decide whether to buy the song on its own or the whole CD. I love the exhilarating POWER of Christmas gift vouchers! ;p )
1. "Remains", by Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon. Patrick downloaded this one after hearing it and loving it in an episode of Dollhouse, and once I'd heard it on his computer, I needed it on mine, too!
2. "Safe and Sound", by Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars. I'm not actually a big Taylor Swift fan - I've never really connected with any of her songs before on an emotional level - but I really, really love this one, from the upcoming Hunger Games movie. (Why am I even bothering to include that information? Let's face it, you guys all know it! I discovered this song about a week later than the rest of the universe, I think. But it's a wonderful, wonderful song anyway.)
3. "Something in the Water", by Brooke Fraser. I discovered this one on Karen Healey's blog, where she suggests it as a hopeful anthem for 2012. I LOVE it!
4. "What the Water Gave Me", by Florence & the Machine. This is my very favorite song from her new album (a Christmas gift!), which says a LOT.
5. And the last one on my playlist is "Yoake No Scat (Music for a New Dawn)", sung by Yaori Suki and Pink Martini, from their new album 1969, which is WONDERFUL. Unfortunately, no one's uploaded that song to YouTube, so I can't share it here...but trust me, it is haunting and beautiful.
What about you guys? What music are you loving right now?
December 6, 2011, 2.28 pm
Because I am good at rambling about books I love and bad about remembering practical things, I forgot to mention here until today: I'm doing a signing! At the Abergavenny Waterstones! This Saturday, from 12 to 2pm! There will also be mince pies and carol-singing going on in the shop - but not by me, you will be relieved to hear. ;) I am an enthusiastic but, um, unimpressive singer, to say the least. Instead, a local choir will be doing the caroling and I will stick to listening and enjoying.
Also, if you're giving a copy of either Kat book (in either a British or a North American edition) as a gift this season and you can't come to Abergavenny to get it signed, just let me know - I'd be happy to send up to ten signed bookplates anywhere in the world this month. (I'm sorry to be cheap and limit the number, but this is a strictly budgeted season for our family, this year.) You can send me your address and the name of the person I'm signing to through my website contact form.
And! Last but not least, I keep forgetting to say that I did an interview at Small Reads as part of the Historical Fantasy Jubilee. It includes my recipe for hot chocolate, some of my favorite historical fantasy novels, and a giveaway for US readers (which runs out tomorrow!)
Whew. And now the practical bits are all taken care of...or at least they will be as soon as I manage to get out to Waterstones with the sign that Patrick finally and very generously made for me. (He got fed up with waiting for me to get around to making one myself. Let's face it, that was never going to happen. Sigh. Remember what I said about organized and practical?)
Meanwhile, I'm halfway through writing the anthology short story, and I'm loving my almost nonstop (but not quite, for Patrick's sake) diet of Christmas music. My favorite new-to-me discovery is Annie Lennox's wonderful A Christmas Cornucopia album, while my overall favorite Christmas CD is still Pink Martini's Joy to the World, which is as oddball and lovely as all their CDs.
My favorite song on that Pink Martini CD, though, isn't a Christmas song at all; it's a Jewish prayer set to song, and every time I hear it I want to cry, because for various personal reasons (most of them irrational) it always reminds me of my grandma (the one Renegade Magic/A Tangle of Magicks is dedicated to).
Of course, the weird thing about love and grief is that that means I listen to "Elohai N'tzor" more than pretty much any other song on my seasonal playlist. So here it is on YouTube, for you guys to hear, too:
What are you guys listening to this season?
November 17, 2011, 3.24 pm
Today, I am going to list some of the things that brought me joy in the last few days:
1. A picnic. This morning, after I finished my writing session, I made two cheese sandwiches, packed them with an apple, a flask of water, and (I'll be coming back to this later!) some luscious leftover panettone. Then MrD and I shared our picnic lunch on a bench in front of our local library, which we both love. By mutual agreement, as soon as we'd finished eating, we went inside and read book after book after book together. A picnic and lots of reading. What could be better?
2. Panettone. How could I not have discovered panettone earlier? According to Wikipedia, panettone is an Italian Christmas cake, but none of the pictures I found online looked quite like the gooey, raisiny, melty wonder that I discovered at my favorite coffeeshop yesterday for a ridiculously low price. I bought one for MrD and me to share, but it was so mouthwatering that for the first time ever in such a situation, I actually broke down and bought a second one afterwards. (We didn't eat all of the second one - I wasn't that lost to its awesomeness! But the leftovers stored beautifully in the fridge.)
3. Good writing sessions. You guys know I've been working to forgive myself on the days when other stuff gets in the way...but yesterday I wrote 1900 words on the freelance project, today I wrote 900+, and I'm confidently expecting to have a full draft of my first big freelance project finished by the end of tomorrow morning. (Knock on wood!) That gives me two full weeks to polish it before it's due, and just the thought of that leeway makes every muscle in my shoulders relax. This was a new kind of writing challenge for me, and it is such a good feeling to prove to myself that I really can do it. (I hope! We'll see what other people think of it once it's done.)
4. This "Tiny Desk Concert" by Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Stuart Duncan. (Just click on the link to watch it.)
Yo-Yo Ma is one of my favorite musicians in the world, and I love getting to see him play with other truly amazing musicians. You can listen to the concert audio-only on the NPR website, if you prefer, but I loved watching the dynamic among the musicians, especially in the first, funny piece as their expressions bring out even more of the humor in the music, along with its beauty.
I LOVE chamber music - back when I was training to be a musician, lo those many years ago, my very favorite thing was to play in a wind quintet. SO much more fun than either solo or orchestral work! And it's such a gift to be able to watch such incredible musicians having musical fun together.
What about you guys? What's brought you joy this week?
October 19, 2011, 1.11 pm
This has been a difficult week, as I've been worrying about things going on far away, but here are some of the things that I've loved:
1. Joseph Calleja's CD The Maltese Tenor, which you can listen to for free on npr.org/music : Gloriously cathartic, over-the-top romanticism. I've been taking time to just close my eyes and listen and let myself be overwhelmed in the best possible way. And (this week, at least) it's free! But I'll definitely be buying myself the CD very soon.
2. The just-publicly-revealed cover for Jenn Reese's upcoming MG adventure novel, Above World. You should really check the full-size image on Jenn's blog to get the full beauty of the colors, but even this smaller image (yoinked from Amazon) already gives an idea of the magic and fun and sheer sense of wonder:
I love, love, love this book so much. I was a beta reader for it back when Jenn first wrote it, and then I read a couple of different drafts of it and loved it even more every time. It's full of a really mythic sense of wonder and soaring adventure, mixing science fiction and mermaids, fabulous fight scenes, and adorable, funny romance. It has a sweet, geeky hero and a warrior heroine who are best friends (with separate love interests) and both full of SO MUCH heart and spirit. Above World is finally coming out on February 14, I can't wait to hold a printed copy in my hands - and I LOVE that the cover is so right for it!
3. For anyone who's ever been through a period of creative burnout, no matter what your profession: check out Terri Windling's wonderful blog entry on the importance of a creative burn-out cycle. It made me think, it inspired me, and I bookmarked it to read again next time I'm going through one of those horrible bleak creative periods - to remind me that not only will it end, but that it serves a purpose, too. (Thank goodness, I'm not going through one now, but I know I will again...and I'm happy to have some reassurance that even when it happens, it will be okay.)
4. Jaclyn Dolamore's Between the Sea and Sky, a YA novel that plays with some of the same elements as Jenn's MG Above World (mermaids, winged people) but in a TOTALLY different way, as Esmerine the siren falls in love with Alander the flying man (or 'Fandarsee') while trying to save her older sister from disaster. I read this one via Netgalley, and oh, did I love it. Here's what I wrote in my Goodreads review:
Ohhh, what a lovely book! Between the Sea and Sky is a genuinely lovely romance - the sweetest YA romance I've read in a long time - but also a wonderful novel about family, and about the dilemma of growing up and having to detach in some ways from your parents no matter how much you love them. And on top of all of that, it really, really works as a fantasy novel for any age group - the worldbuilding is so thorough, rich and vivid, some of the best I've seen in any recent YA fantasy novel.
But my very favorite thing of all might be the language. The writing style is SO warm and approachable, with a tone that's slightly old-fashioned in the best possible way. It was just such a pleasure to read, like being welcomed home by an old friend.
I loved the grumpy, intellectual hero (like a younger, more redeemable Bernard from my favorite TV sitcom, "Black Books"); I loved the real friendship between him and Esmerine, the heroine. I love all of their quirky, loving, exasperating family members. I love how good Jackie Dolamore is at capturing little intonations of social interactions - I've never read anyone better at capturing the exact feeling of being caught in an awkward social moment! I love the very real and true relationship between Esmerine and all three of her sisters, especially her older sister, Dosia.
Mostly, I just loved this book. I read it through Netgalley but can't wait to get a real printed copy and re-read it again and again in the future!
I really, really liked Jackie Dolamore's first novel, Magic Under Glass - but I LOVED Between the Sea and Sky. Needless to say, I highly recommend it!
What about you guys? What have you loved this week?
August 24, 2011, 5.24 pm
This afternoon I began the Yearly Horror, i.e. sorting out all of my taxable receipts for the last year. This doesn't really sound that bad, does it? After all, all I have to do is keep all those receipts filed neatly throughout the year and then...
...yeah. Oops. Every single August, I swear that next year I will be a filing demon (or angel). Every year, I then act just like Bernard Black in Black Books, with his patented stuff-up-all-his-coat-pockets-with-random-receipts filing system.
Thank goodness for cupcakes. MrD and I went out to our favorite cupcake café this afternoon just when I was really losing my mind over the receipt chaos, and ohhh, that coffee cupcake did wonders for my mental health. I can breathe now. I can even contemplate wading back into the breach tomorrow (although I'd rather not think too much about it).
Taxes are the real downside of self-employment, for disastrously disorganized people like me. It's a good thing that those coffee cupcakes are astonishingly cheap.
Other personal comforts this week: Florence and the Machine's gorgeous new single, "What the Water Gave Me"; Sheela Chari's lovely, eerie short story "The Slippers" (hosted on Pseudonymous Bosch's website); and the fact I'm spending this week re-reading some of my favorite Julia Quinn novels. (Right now I'm re-reading What Happens in London, which is my very favorite of all her romantic comedies, the one where a particular scene in the middle makes me giggle uncontrollably every single time.)
What about you guys? What are your big challenges this week, or your comforts?
July 30, 2011, 12.15 pm
I've been listening all morning to John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things", after reading this beautiful blog entry about the song and how, for one woman (a Twitter friend of mine), it symbolizes her relationship with her late father. It's a really lovely entry and it made me listen to the song again, for the first time in fifteen years.
The last time I heard it, I was nineteen years old, just starting at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where I'd transferred to begin my third year of college. I was terrified that I wasn't really cool enough, talented enough, or smart enough to fit in there...and while I ended up really loving many things about Oberlin, especially the amazing and inspirational music history professors, that sense of am-I-really-cool-enough-to-be-here? never really went away...
...which led to me purposefully and voluntarily erasing, for a while, all the things about myself that didn't fit in with my new boyfriend, my new lifestyle, and my new self-image. Years later, I would have to go back and laboriously re-learn what it was, exactly, that I honestly loved, whether it was cool or not. (For instance, I spent far too long, while at Oberlin, trying to only read and write literary fiction, because that was much more Serious and Cool.)
When I was nineteen, sitting in late-night parties or listening to my new boyfriend and his friends talking, I heard the Cool People talking about how fabulous Coltrane was, and how cool this piece was, on a technical, musical level. I listened, but I didn't get it. I didn't connect. So it became one of those moments when I nodded along for the Emperor's-New-Clothes effect (because oh, I couldn't possibly let them figure out how un-cool I really was!)...but felt quietly scared and sad and even slightly resentful about the whole thing.
Note: this is not the fault of the boyfriend and his friends, who were nothing but welcoming to me. This had everything to do with my insecurities, and it was nothing they were doing intentionally.
But still, those were the unhappy, uncomfortable feelings associated in my head with this piece for the last fifteen years.
Then I listened to it again today, just because of that beautiful blog entry about it, and...huh. Something clicked. This time, listening to the music by myself at thirty-four, I didn't hear the message "this is cool and intellectual and aimed at people who are much smarter than you'll ever be". Instead, I heard - and this is just my own personal take on it, but...I heard rueful humor in this music, and love.
I heard the song "My Favorite Things" - a song originally intended (in the context of The Sound of Music) as a sweet, innocent comfort for young children frightened by a thunderstorm - being played by a grownup and played for grownups who aren't that young or innocent anymore. Grownups who've been through real emotional storms and are looking back on them now, ruefully and with some maturity. A piece of music about the stuff we love, the stuff that can still get us through the storms of life, even as adults who know just how bad things can really get...but who can find pleasure and love in the world anyway.
I have no idea what Coltrane actually intended with this piece. But that's what I hear now, and I really love it. I'm glad I came back to it, after fifteen years. I'm glad to have something that used to be associated in my mind with intimidation and low self confidence, turned into something beautiful and real.
Here's the video, found via the blog entry that made me go back and listen to it again:
What about you guys? Have you ever had the experience of going back to a piece of music, or a movie or a book, that meant nothing to you in the past...only to find yourself loving it, years later?
March 27, 2011, 8.28 pm
This afternoon, I really needed to take a break. So I turned on a podcast, closed my eyes, lay down on my bed...and ended up hearing something that I've been thinking about ever since.
The podcast was an interview with adult romance writer Anne Stuart by Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens, and it's a raunchy, silly interview filled with explicit sex jokes, jokes about Alastair's Scottish accent, and more. (I was honestly kind of surprised that he didn't lose patience, haul off and punch her before the end of it...) But intermingled with all the silliness, there was a message that I really needed to hear.
One of the things they talked about was how intensely confident Anne Stuart is about her writing skills - the interviewers pointed out how rare that really is, and in fact, as I listened to the podcast, it felt genuinely shocking to hear Stuart talk about her skills, because her attitude is so unheard of among the writers I know. She claims, and really seems, to never, ever doubt what a great writer she is...and she credits part of her amazing productivity - and the daring experiments she's made as a writer over the years - to that effortless well of confidence in her own abilities.
Hearing that made a lightbulb go off inside, as I asked myself: how much more would I accomplish if I didn't give in so often to self-doubt - or if it wasn't such a big force in my writing life to start with? I'm thinking of how I gave up on my current WIP when I first thought of it last year, because I was too scared of it and worried I wasn't good enough to make it work...but at a smaller level, I'm also thinking of my daily writing sessions over the years and all the time I've spent just staring at the screen thinking: But what if I screw this up? or even: I can't do this. Sometimes, during bad times, I've actually wasted half of every writing session blocked up by worry.
I come from a Midwestern culture that frowns on people who brag about their abilities. But I think I've internalized that and carried it too far. Believing in yourself isn't the same as bragging. It isn't...no matter what my subconscious wants to tell me.
So I'm going to try really hard to develop more of an Anne Stuart attitude toward my writing, as terrifying as that feels to me. The books inside me that want to be written deserve it.
March 21, 2011, 7.05 pm
OK, I'm not going to whine (much) about the fact this is Day 9 of toddler sickness. (Sadly, I spoke too soon on Thursday - but antibiotics have now been applied, so...knock on wood!) Or about how tired I am. (Ohhhh, am I tired!) Instead, I'm going to talk about a couple of the good bits that have carried me through and made me feel better about everything.
This Saturday, I got an amazing package in the mail - a beautiful Glamourkin pendant sent by Stephanie Gunn. Stephanie's an Australian spec-fic writer whose blog I've loved for years, and as we've gone through some very similar life experiences in semi-parallel, we've been able to help each other through them. Getting the pendant felt like a double-gift - I would have loved it anyway because it's beautiful and so exactly my kind of thing, but getting it from a friend as a just-thinking-of-you gift during a difficult time made it really, really special.
I've been wearing it pretty much non-stop since it arrived on Saturday morning, and it makes me feel better every time I look down and see it!
And then this morning I discovered (via Terri Windling's blog) a new-to-me band that I absolutely love. Katzenjammer is an all-girl Norwegian band that mixes up Balkan folk music, klezmer, and punk, and their sound is quirky, fun, and overflowing with crazy energy - energy I seriously need right now! I've been listening to their songs on Myspace all day today, and it's helped my mood so much.
Here's the first song of theirs I heard, because listening to it feels to me like getting an infusion of enthusiasm and positivity:
What about you guys? What's cheered you up lately?
And also (or alternately), can I pick your brains for some advice? I've been asked to take part in another auction for Japan, and I don't want to offer them exactly the same item I offered the last one (a signed Kat, Incorrigible hardcover). What else might be useful or fun to offer instead? I'm drawing a bit of a blank right now...sadly, as much as I'd like to offer another Kat2 ARC, I just can't at this point because I don't have enough of them. But...what else would people genuinely like?
(I promise that making suggestions will NOT in any way commit you to bidding in the auction - I'm just desperate for ideas at this point!)
February 23, 2011, 3.11 pm
This was going to be a productive day. Seriously, it was. I had it all planned out: I'd spend the morning writing my fun new project (still too tentative and fragile to talk about in detail), then I'd write up some guest blogs that are due, write a meaningful blog entry here, and spend the afternoon speeding through Kat Book 2 copyedits (for the American, Renegade Magic edition). I was all set...
...until this morning, when MrD turned out to be really, really sick.
He's doing better now, and he's started antibiotics, so - knock wood - things are definitely looking up. But from the moment of waking up until 2pm, everything else in life stood still while we all went into sick-child panic-mode, and now that I'm off childcare duties, I'm feeling completely exhausted and wrung-out, both physically and emotionally.
Very much hoping that if I listen to it enough, it'll give me the energy to do at least a bit of what I'd had planned for the day...
What about you guys? How are your Wednesdays going?
February 4, 2011, 11.14 am
Poor Maya. Wind buffeted our house last night, making our neighbor's security lights flicker wildly on and off, and our thunderstorm-phobic dog flew into a total panic. She ended up closed inside our study all by herself with the lights on and a fan blowing inside the room just to try to offset the sound of the noisy gales of wind that were blowing against the outer walls and windows. When I came in to let her out this morning, I had to persuade her out from underneath the desk, where she'd hidden all through the night.
The good news is, windy though it still is, now that it's light outside and obviously NOT thunderstorming, she trotted off very happily with her dogwalker this morning, perfectly ready to go climb a mountain and race around investigating scents with her tail swishing.
I feel like I ought to be trying to pull a metaphor out of this, and wow, is there plenty to work with this week. As always after sending off a new novel (this time to my agent, less than a week ago), I'm going through my own mindless panic (What if he hates it? What if I've lost the ability to write? What if everything I thought was fun and funny makes him want to puke?), and even three very positive responses to the novel from writers I trust have not yet dampened my neurotic-author panic.
So I've been doing my own version of the lights-on, soothing-background-noise approach by working on my trilogy proposal, making plans for the next book, starting to write some of the guest blogs that I've promised for the next few months...lots and lots of writerly distraction, in other words.
But no, Maya isn't the only one who's been feeling a little panicky of late. ;) I wonder whether any authors do get to the stage of feeling absolute confidence, when they send off their manuscripts, that the books they loved writing WILL be loved by other people? I would assume that Nora Roberts and Stephen King must have gotten there by this point, based on their enormous success...except that, having watched a fair number of JK Rowling interviews, I have finally figured out that the pressure of worldwide expectation and anticipation can actually make that part of writing even more nerve-wracking.
Ah, well. Going back to the distraction method, via Kristin Cashore's blog, I've discovered a fabulous, new-to-me band that is perfect for my family: Apocalyptica. It's a Finnish heavy metal band formed by four classically-trained cellists (so, a perfect mix of my and Patrick's musical tastes!), and it is awesome. Kristin linked to their cover of "Nothing Else Matters", which is great (and which led me to listen to lots and lots of other Apocalyptica songs on youtube and finally buy their album Cult), but as a classical music geek, my very favorite of their pieces is their adaptation of Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King", for heavy metal cellos. Alas, I can't embed it in this blog entry, but here's the link to the official video, which is so much fun. I love it!
What about you guys? Can you recommend any other good distractions?
August 15, 2010, 3.40 pm
It's definitely THAT time of year again: the novel-wrestling time, when I've already written the fun, easy opening of my novel and it's time to do the hard work of figuring out how the main story of the book is really going to work. Which direction to go, which points to head for, what it's Really All About...
This is surprisingly frazzling. The first few chapters are always so easy! They're just for fun, I just see what happens...and then we hit this bit, where I need to actually make important decisions. Oops.
So it's good timing to be reading Russell T. Davies's The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter (recommended by Sara Ryan), which is turning out to be the funniest and smartest book on writing that I've read in a long, long time. I keep wishing that I had post-it notes on hand to stick on every page where a moment or observation flies out at me and wants to be saved...sadly, this is a library book, so I'll have to wait until I buy a copy of my own (soon!) before I get to mark it up.
Here's one bit, though, that was most appropriate for the stage I'm in right now with my dragon novel. He's talking about the struggle to come up with the main ideas for a Doctor Who Christmas episode, and all the inevitable "buts" that come flying up in an internal cloud of skepticism whenever a possible new idea first occurs to him:
But why not...? Why would...? Why do...?...But that sort of thing shouldn't stop me. Let it ride. I mustn't bore myself with reasons with reasons why not. There are always a million dull reasons why not. Go for the images, the feel of it, the potential, the dynamic. Details come later.
I read that paragraph and thought, YES. It was exactly what I needed to read. The important thing is to focus first on the FUN of the idea, focus on how it could be the MOST fun, and deal with all the rational logistics of it later.
Because I'm me, the main external work I'm doing right now (while I work out all the big questions inside my head) is collaging the novel and going on a big musical hunt for songs that might work as a playlist. So far, the "dragon playlist" on my computer has a Pink Martini song ("Tuca Tuca"), the movie soundtrack from Pride and Prejudice (I don't really like that adaptation, but the soundtrack is just perfect), and some lovely, haunting Maggie Stiefvater songs that I downloaded from her website. I keep the playlist playing in my ears at least half of every day, helping to focus my mind as I work out the different characters and their arcs.
And the whole time, of course, I feel desperately restless and itchy and irritable, because I want to get down to it and just WRITE! But if I skip this pre-writing stage, I will pay for it, because my subconscious needs the time to simmer. That's a lesson I've learned before, all too painfully. Sigh.
Anyway! That's what my writer-side has been up to this weekend, while the rest of me has been mommying. MrD and I had a lovely café trip yesterday, visited the owls, and stopped in at Waterstones. A perfect Saturday! Today has been much quieter, but Maya and I went to the park, and later I'll be skyping with my family back home in Michigan, so it's a good weekend overall.
What about you guys? How are your weekends going? And if you're a writer, what kind of pre-writing work do you usually need to do?
July 25, 2010, 3.36 pm
As I type this entry, I'm listening to my Celtic Music from Wales CD, which I really like*, and I'm thinking again about how I really need to learn Welsh soon. It's easy to get by without knowing any Welsh, especially in our area of Wales (only an hour from the English border), but it feels silly not to learn it, and even a bit disrespectful. Unfortunately, the classes offered locally won't work for me for various practical reasons.
Does anyone know of a good online Welsh-language course, or a really good set of Welsh language CDs? And have you guys had any luck learning languages that way? I've never used CDs to learn a language - I've always relied on in-person classes - but I'm starting to think that that might be the more practical way to go, this time...
Actually, as long as I'm asking the internet random questions: does anyone know how to make Twitter backgrounds out of novel covers? What size do they need to be? Is there a set of directions somewhere? I'd love to make two alternate backgrounds, one with my UK cover and one with my US cover.
(I'd also really love to make a good LJ icon from my UK cover, the way I have from my US cover, but I haven't had any luck with that so far - it always ends up looking wrong. Sigh. I do not have an artistic eye for cropping and resizing.)
And can you guys do my homework for me, please? Pleeeeeease? I'll trade you my peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich AND my chocolate milk... ;)
Ahem. Stopping now!
It's been a really lovely, sociable weekend. We've had lots of time hanging out with people who are, in a huge stroke of luck, both family members and really good friends. We've eaten homemade crumble made from berries freshly picked from the local mountains; I've drunk hot chocolate every single day, in celebration of the fact that finally, after nearly two years, I can! (Of course I did drink coconut hot chocolates, and they were incredibly yummy, but they weren't quite the same.)
What about you guys? How are your weekends going?
*It's by a local group, Ffynnon, from Carmarthen, but the CD is actually from an American label, so it's just as easy to buy in the US.
July 11, 2010, 5.21 pm
Today I am thinking about two things: music and chocolate-chip cookies. And how I can get more of both! ;)
I had a big musical crisis (no, really) three years ago, when I resigned from my job at an opera company, officially dropped out of my music history PhD program, and lost all professional musical ties. Add in the fact that I'd started out as a performing musician (I went to the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music for undergrad and got a B.M. in French horn Performance as well as Music History), originally planning to play professionally as my dayjob...and you can maybe guess what a big life shift this was for me.
I wish I could say that I always react to big life shifts with grace. Unfortunately...no. No, no, no. Take this as one example: the week I got my degree in music performance, having accepted a Fulbright scholarship based on music history and having officially decided that I would not be a performing musician after all...I stopped playing the French horn. Period.
I'd been playing it for 12 years, devoting most of my waking hours to becoming a better and better musician, loving playing even after I realized it wasn't what I wanted as a career...but when I finished my degree and realized that I was now officially off the professional track, I just couldn't play anymore.
I wanted to play. I still miss - really, physically, painfully miss - playing the horn. I LOVED it. But every single time I've tried to pick it up again since 1999, all I can hear is the difference in how I sound now from how I sounded back when I was practicing 5 hours a day.
Not good. And I haven't found a way around that yet.
So. I resigned from my job at the opera company in 2007 because of the CFS, and I dropped out of the PhD program because, with my CFS-limited energy, I could either try to finish the PhD or I could write my fiction...and I'd already decided that I didn't want to be a professor (even if the CFS had allowed it). I've never regretted giving up the PhD except in the feeling that I was disappointing my supervisors. It was definitely the right decision to focus on the career I loved and wanted - writing - instead of the career I thought I should follow - academia - but, but, but...
For about a year afterward, I couldn't listen to classical music. And when you consider I'd been listening to it and loving it since I was tiny (my parents are both fans), playing it on one instrument or another since I was six, going to classical concerts or opera performances regularly ever since, and I was thirty when I made that second big life/career shift...
Big loss. Big, big loss. Luckily, unlike the French horn issue, I managed to mostly get over it within a year or so. I listen to it regularly again now, although I still find it painful to listen to the operas I was writing about for my PhD thesis, or to go to live orchestra concerts. (Back to the French horn again...) But for some reason I still have a hard time persuading myself to buy CDs - persuading myself that it's "worth it" - even though listening to music I love is one of the best feelings I know.
Well. This weekend, I bought a new CD. It's not classical, for once, but I adore it: Eva Cassidy's Wonderful World. (I used to own, and absolutely loved her album Songbird.) I bought it yesterday and have had it on nearly constant repeat ever since.
What about you guys? What's the most recent CD that you've bought? Have you had any major life-shifts that changed your identity? And do you have any good chocolate-chip cookie recipes to share? :)
May 2, 2010, 9.43 pm
I really love this blog entry by the very awesome Karen Healey, where she orders women to stop qualifying their achievements and start taking pride in them. (And I'd personally extend that order to the men I know, as well.)
In that spirit, I am not going to focus on the fact that I started my Kat3 rewrite one day late. I am going to focus on the fact that today, despite feeling absolutely terrified, I took out the first draft and began to read, aided by three perfect pieces of encouragement and motivation:
1. This quote, which I came across on the internet yesterday, stared at in shock (because it felt SO relevant to my blocked state), and ended up saving onto my computer to keep open on my screen as often as possible over the next month:
"May I have the courage today to live the life that I would love, to postpone my dream no longer, but do at last what I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more." --John O'Donohue
2. This song, Jem's "It's Amazing", which is directly relevant to anyone trying to get up the nerve to do what they have to do to make their dreams come true:
(It's the kind of soft pop that I don't normally like, but the lyrics more than make up for it, for me.)
3. A vegan chocolate hazelnut brownie...because not everything that's good for me is healthy. ;)
I read through the first third of the novel, not stopping to make any large changes yet, but making notes where I felt things didn't work, so that I can come back to them later with a sense of how the book works as a whole.
The best part? I realized tonight that, without ever consciously thinking about it, my whole attitude had shifted since that moment when I forced myself, with so much difficulty, to start reading. This morning, when I thought about the book, I felt terrified: OMG, how will I fix the problems in the first draft?
This evening, as I settled MrD down to sleep, I spent the time thinking about the problems in the first draft - not fearing them, but thinking them through, puzzling at possible solutions with the same feeling I have when I'm working on a kakuro puzzle: calm curiosity and absorbing interest.
It's a really good shift.
What do you guys use to motivate yourself to do the things you're scared of doing? And: how has your weekend been?
April 30, 2010, 9.45 pm
1. This afternoon as I was pushing MrD's pram back up the hill from the playground to the house, I had to stop walking for a moment because I was just floored by the beauty ahead of me and all around me - mist-swirled mountains rising up before me, flowering apple trees and rich magnolias in the yards nearby, and lush greenness everywhere I looked. It was so beautiful, it didn't feel real. It was magic.
2. Since a draft of Kat3 is due to my editor on June 1st - and since I swore to myself to begin the rewrite by the end of this week - I decided to make an official date of it and start the rewrite on May 1st, tomorrow morning. (And I'm mentioning it here to gain some accountability!) My biggest preparation, to get myself in just the right mood, was to download a new desktop wallpaper that reminds me of exactly what my attitude should be.
The most important thing I've learned about revisions over the last several years is that they are all about making the book as fun as possible - which means having as much fun as possible with the rewrite itself. I love my new desktop, and I'm hoping that it'll help me keep my shoulders relaxed and my mind loose and flexible instead of worried and tense as I finally, finally get started on the rewrite. Please wish me luck!
(And if you like the desktop, check out the whole list available at Smashing Magazine this month - very cool.)
3. Today I got the official invitation in the mail for my first-ever scheduled author event in the UK: I'm going to be leading a creative writing workshop for kids 10 and up at the Big Read celebrations hosted by the Newport Library (in Wales) in October! I'm so excited about this. We're going to focus on worldbuilding, and I think it's going to be really fun. I used to live for workshops like this at that age - I ate them up like chocolate cake! It makes me really happy to be able to do this.
4. I'm listening to a CD I bought at my own local library, on sale for 50p, last week: Opera Babes's Renaissance. I'd never heard any of their performances before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It turns out that they're a duo that sings mostly classical music - not just opera arias & duets but also other classical pieces rearranged for voice - but orchestrated with a lush pop feel. As a former classical musician and musicologist who used to hang out with people who had Strong Opinions about the pop-ization of classical music, I keep feeling twinges of guilt for how much I enjoy it. Surely I should be finding it hopelessly cheesy, right? If I don't, what does that say about me?
Sigh. I've decided to take it as a sign of growth and maturity that I only feel occasional twinges, and that they haven't stopped me from listening to it. The truth is, I've played this CD at least once a day since I got it, and sometimes a lot more. I love it! And I hate that those old insecurities still plague me, years later. I didn't even agree with that kind of musical snobbery at the time, so why does it still have such a hold on me? And when will I finally be able to just let it go?
I am having fun, though, despite those old nagging voices from the not-so-great parts of the past. My very favorite piece on Renaissance is "Bailero". I turn it up loud whenever I start feeling tired or low, and it always cheers me up. Perfect!
5. Two days ago, only about a month after realizing that our answering machine was broken, I finally ordered a new one, and today it arrived. Score! It should start working tomorrow. So if anyone's been wondering why we haven't been replying to any answering machine messages...well, the situation should improve rapidly! ;)
Happy Friday, everybody!
March 18, 2010, 9.54 pm
Sigh. Still no news from either our future estate agents (to let us know whether we've been approved for the new house, and exactly what date in April we can move in) or our current landlord (to let us know whether we can stay until then, even though our contract runs out next Sunday).
Thank goodness for chocolate chip cookies. I baked half a batch on Sunday and the other half on Tuesday, and that spread-out chocolatey goodness has been absolutely crucial for maintaining sanity across the week. (I used this recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies, which was okay - I especially liked the cinnamon in it - but I'm still looking for a better recipe. Which of course requires serious scientific experimentation - but luckily, Patrick and I are both very happy to put our stomachs to work for the cause of Science... ;p )
In better news, the Templar Books website shows the British edition of A Most Improper Magick available online for preorder, hurray! - AND, no matter where in the world you are, you can download the free sample they've posted from the middle of Chapter Two. (Click on "download a sampler" in the top-left corner of the book's page.) Hope you guys enjoy the teaser!*
(And btw, the cover posted on that webpage won't be the final UK cover - it's just a holding cover while they work on the final version. But I do think it's cute!)
Now I'm going offline to close my eyes and listen to more of Carrie Jones's Captivate audiobook. Pixies and valkyries and Valhalla, oh my! So much fun. :)
*And of course you can read all of Chapter One on my website
March 16, 2010, 12.13 pm
Whew! Lots of chaos going on around here, but I'm finally getting a chance to sit down and write some of it out.
So, here's our biggest and most chaos-inducing news: we're moving! Not out of Wales, or even out of our own lovely small town, but out of our very moldy and unhealthy house to a much nicer, bigger one, with mold-free walls, an honest-to-God shower as well as bath (our current landlord took out our shower, without even warning us first, a week after we moved in here...surprise!), and close proximity to a playground for MrD. It's the least picturesque house we will have rented since I moved to the UK 8 years ago, but on the other hand, it's in the best condition, which is definitely worth the lack of prettiness factor.
Or anyway...we think we're moving. We've applied for the house, and the new estate agency thinks we'll get it, but we still have to wait for official confirmation after they've run credit checks, reference checks, etc. Meanwhile, they think it'll be available on April 1st but aren't quite sure, because it might not be available until a few days later after all...oh, and meanwhile, our current estate agents haven't got any answers yet for us about whether we can stay past March 27th, when our contract runs out. Oh, and Eastercon starts on April 2nd, up in London.
Or in other words: aack!
So...Patrick is cleaning and sorting out the house, in hopeful preparation, as I type. I'm about to phone our current estate agents again. Pink Martini is playing over my laptop speakers, which is at least taking the edge off my simmering panic.
And in other, happier news: the first official review (from "Booklist") came in for A Most Improper Magick, and it was good! Whew. (You can read the full review on the book's Amazon page, under the header "Editorial Reviews".)
And I've just finally started to read through the first draft of Kat3, and guess what? I still like it! Yay. :) Soon, I'll be sending it off to critiquers, but this is the interim draft where I fix all the embarrassingly blatant mistakes before anyone else can see them and force me to hide my head under a blanket in embarrassment for the next week. Because, of course, who knows where our blankets will even be living by that point?
OK, taking a deep breath. Time to call the estate agents again. Wish me luck!
January 29, 2010, 4.05 pm
Wahhh, our friends are gone...which means it's time to go back into the writing cave! And as we all know, the most vital supplies for trekking through unlit and dangerous writing caves are dark chocolate and Earl Grey tea. (Unless, like Patrick, you prefer Sencha green tea, or, like the pre-baby me, you get to enjoy the intense and decadent luxury of drinking coffee...oops. I may have started drooling on the keyboard there. Sorry about that!) (One more year till I can go back to drinking coffee. Only one more year to go...)
Anyway, it was great being social. And yesterday I had one of the coolest things ever happen to me. I got a beautiful invitation on thick, cream-colored paper, inviting me to a London Literary Event (TM) at a super-glamorous hotel. Eeee! Obviously, I said yes...and equally obviously, my first thought was: I need a new dress! Honestly, I really do. That's the thing about having a baby - I don't have any dresses that actually fit anymore, because my size first went WAY up and then WAY down. And all the comfy jeans and toddler-food-stained T-shirts that I normally wear just don't quite gel with my idea of appropriate attire for an evening party serving champagne and canapés, to say the least...
So thank you to everybody on Twitter who leaped in last night to help me pick out a Little Black Dress! It was incredibly fun to shop with help from friends all across the world. Now all I still need are some shoes...hmm... ;)
(And of course part of me right now is asking, "Who do you think you are????" Because once you become a mom - or no, I should be honest and say, once I became a mom, the concept of wearing a little black dress and going off to an evening party suddenly started to sound like a total pipe dream. But I am going to be strong and have faith that I can still carry it off after all, even after 16 months of living in stained T-shirts and jeans and a total lack of glamor!)
Now back to the writing cave...but with really excellent music to cheer me on. Patrick recently bought the full boxset of Sharpe TV episodes and got me totally addicted to them. Sean Bean plays a rough Northerner promoted to the rank of an officer (to the horror of all his upperclass-twit colleagues) who swashbuckles his way through the Napoleonic wars with awesome female guerilla commanders fighting by his side in Spain, obnoxious aristocrats blocking him at every turn, and - of course - evil French captains twirling their mustaches menacingly. It's just enormously fun...and now that we also have the Sharpe soundtrack on CD, that's become the perfect writing music.
So off I go. Wish me luck in the cave!
December 27, 2009, 6.24 pm
Aaaand life slowly goes back to normal. It was a really lovely Christmas, with lots of great presents, even better company, and yummy food. The one disappointment was - without giving any spoilers - how disappointed I was by the Dr. Who Christmas special. The Christmas specials have never been as good as the regular show, but I thought this one was actually depressingly bad. On the other hand, Patrick didn't dislike it as much as I did, so who knows? It's a subjective thing.
I'm tempted to babble at length about my own presents, because I love them all (I'm just in the middle of reading one of them, M.T. Anderson's Whales on Stilts, which is hilarious, and as I type, I'm listening to another of them, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone, which is gorgeous)...but after that brief hiccup (oops), I'm going to stop myself, because it just feels like gloating. (Of course, I spent all of Christmas and Boxing Day gloating shamelessly over my stack of presents, stroking them like a dragon would stroke new additions to her hoard of gold, but Boxing Day is over now and it's time to get mature about things.) So instead, I'm going to move on to Christmas presents that other people can share.
So first off: Maureen Johnson is giving away e-books of her awesomely stylish and funny YA novel Suite Scarlett. I own a paper copy of this book and enjoyed it an awful lot, and now I'm planning to download an e-copy so I can carry it around with me on my iTouch. Enjoy (and make sure you download it before January 15th, when the offer ends)!
And secondly, Karen Healey wrote a wonderful, funny, magical Christmas story this year, which you can read on her website: Queen of the Kitchen. I loved it, and I hope you guys do, too! (And if you like it, make sure to look out for her YA fantasy novel, also set in New Zealand, which is coming out this spring: Guardian of the Dead. It's darker than the short story, but equally wonderful, and Karen and I are going to share a launch party at WisCon.)
What about you guys? What were your favorite gifts this Christmas? Or, if you didn't celebrate Christmas, what books or CDs have you been enjoying recently?
December 1, 2009, 1.44 pm
My Thanksgiving Giveaway ended last night, and the winner of the prize pack is...*drumroll*:
And the two runners up are: Rob C. and Chelsea H.
Congratulations, everybody! Just send me your mailing addresses, and I'll get your prizes in the mail.
Meanwhile, it's December 1st, which means...yes! I'm finally allowed to listen to Christmas music every day. Bwaaaahahahaha...poor Patrick. Poor, poor Patrick.
I understand it's an addiction. But it's a jingly happy Christmas addiction! So that's all right, right? Right?
Oh well. Every so often it's Patrick's turn to have his music on, and his heavy metal balances out my Christmas music nicely.
Although his turn is the length of one CD, whereas my turn is the length of my Christmas playlist. And my playlist has many, MANY Christmas CDs on it.
It's lucky I have a very good husband. :)
And in the true Christmas spirit, here is a comic that made me laugh out loud today with sheer embarrassing recognition and pleasure: In Which Beth Keeps Her Books. Enjoy!
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