This is 30

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I said goodbye to my twenties today. The last decade holds some of the best moments thus far in my life, and hopefully what will prove to be the worst.

I went to undergrad. Got married. Went to law school, and while it’s not a secret that I ended up hating most of the experience, I can never fully regret it because of the wonderful friends I made through going. I decided to pursue a career in writing, and saw my first pro-sale at twenty-nine. I’ve done two things that would have my mother throwing up her hands in (good) exasperation because they’re things she tried so hard to interest me in when I was younger: music (violin for the last four years, piano sporadically for the last year), and making baby steps in seeking out other Asian American adoptees. I’ve taken up photography as my latest hobby, and it’s led me to amazing places and people.

Those are the good things. I’m probably forgetting some, but I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished so far.

But, the (hopefully) worst moment of my life also happened in my twenties. It’s hard to describe in a way that conveys all of the meaning it holds for me. December 21, 2012, a tree fell on my family’s car while we were driving on the highway. My parents were killed. My family was broken. It’s the day that changed the way I look at my life. That last is a bit dramatic, but they’re all true. The accident changed the way I see my life—it’s all either pre- or post- accident now. In some ways, my brain is still stuck in time. I default to thinking we’re all the same age as we were that day.

Beth May 2015

Another low point of my twenties was losing Beth. It was inevitable—she wasn’t going to live forever and eighteen years is a good run for a cat. She died two years after the accident, and it’s hard for me to separate the two simply because she was the only thing that didn’t change, the only crossover from my “old” life into the post-accident days. The accident changed everything else about our family—the house, certainly the people, even the dogs, and that’s understandable. The dogs were taken in by our beloved neighbors who welcomed them as a part of their families, but it hurt to see them change and view someone else as “their people.” A long-time friend of mine and her family took Beth in after the accident and both Steve and I were jealous-scared that she’d forget us. She didn’t. Old Beth the Iron Kitty moved something like three times in three months without batting an eye, and when we were finally reunited she moved back into our apartment like it was no big deal. She bridged the gap after the accident, unchanging, constant, and for that I am grateful.

I hope my thirties go well, but if they want to be a bit less eventful I’m quite all right with that too.

Onward to 2017

Took a look at my “resolutions” blog post from January, and thought I’d do a bit of a recap/goals for next year. As far as my resolutions for 2016 went…well, the blogging once a month almost made it. I think I missed twice, but also posted more than once a few times too. So, let’s call that one fulfilled.

The Writing Goals. I did succeed in having at least two short stories on sub at all times. Yay. As far as the whole, have an entire draft of the novel written and polished and out for querying. HAHAHA. I’m a sweet summer child. In fairness, I ended up scrapping the novel I’d started earlier this year, and started fresh in May. I’m almost finished with the last chapter in the second act, and according to my outline, Act 3 chugs right along. Not that the outline has changed…a lot…during the process… I wanted to have at least the second act finished by the end of the year, but I’ve been hit with a nasty cold/fever and there’d probably just be pages of characters sitting around being pissy that I’d have to fix in post. I wrote a tiny bit of flash, but that’s a goal that will carry over into next year.

Read More. I’ve read a lot more this last year than in previous years, I think. What I might do is start keeping a list of what I finish in 2017 so I have hard numbers to look back on. I have a ton of YA and novellas stockpiled, so 2017 might be the year to tackle those. I was terrible and didn’t do any reviews on goodreads…bad me. It feels kinda weird reviewing books of people I know/might know in the future. Fellow writers, do you have this issue? I need to make an account that doesn’t use my name.

Weight Goals. So, that was a total fail. Oh well. I think I gained two or three pounds over the last year. I think I also need to accept that the way I exercised in my teens doesn’t apply anymore. I’m not too down about this “failure” though because I’m not upset with how I look, and I’ve accepted that post-accident my activity levels can’t be the same. Also, I should probably eat out less. Should. Might. Maybe.

2016 was a great year in exploring my new hobby: photography. Had a blast on two big photo trips, both of which I covered earlier in the blog (wild horses in NC, and the Palouse). 2017 should also be an exciting year when it comes to photography. I have two trips already booked: Yellowstone in mid-January, and Norway in June. I’ve got some photography goals for next year which include two separate weekly themed challenges. Even though I petered out about halfway through the Dogwood52 2016 challenge, I am much more inspired by the “advanced” 2017 challenge list. I’ve also joined a second challenge run through facebook, put on my photographer Bob Noble. It looks a little more relaxed and personal than the Dogwood one since the group will be capped at 150 people (sitting at I think 110 now). As a way to try and stay motivated and keep the blog active, I’ll probably start doing roundups of the photos taken with notes about the images on the blog.

The writing goals from last year pretty much all carry over into this year. I’d like to do a few more writing-related posts. I’ve said before I’d “review” some of the online classes I’ve taken (Gotham, LitReactor, Cat Rambo), and I’d like to get those written. I’d also like to do a post on my slush reading experience (I’m a slush reader for Uncanny Magazine).

Hard to think about weight goals right now when things like breathing and swallowing hurts (curse you, cold) but I’m going to vary up the workout routine more, try and get some more HIIT workouts in, etc. Finding workout videos and routines I can do post-accident has been a process, but I’ve started doing more barre workouts and like them a lot.

Ok, this ended up being longer than I expected. Off to drown myself in tea. I leave you with my first photo for the Dogwood2017 challenge: tell a story using the Rule of Thirds compositional rule. Cogwheel loves watching the fish get fed. Thankfully, we’ve never had a cat that tried to go fishing (though both Beth and Cogwheel have fallen in).

week-1-rule-of-thirds

Review- Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

It’s already July. July! Summer is cruising right along, so I thought I’d get off my butt and write up a review for a book that I think makes for great summertime reading. I’m tempted to call the review section “Story time with Cogwheel,” for obvious reasons.

Cogwheel 6-22-15

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Tor Books, reprint June 2011, 320 pages

The first book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s (multiple Hugo Award winner/nominee, Nebula nominee, and all around pretty awesome person. She out-Rothfuss’d Pat Rothfuss once upon a time) Glamourist Histories quintet, Shades of Milk and Honey was a fun read. I’ll admit right up front, I don’t read many Regency/quasi-Regency/historical novels and I think the only work by Jane Austen I’ve read was Persuasion years ago, so Shades felt fresh to me. I’ve read reviews of people who were disappointed because it wasn’t “Austen” or “Austen-enough.” Well, it’s not Austen. It’s Kowal. It’s an alternate history Regency period but with magic (glamour)! I enjoyed it, but if you’re a die-hard Austen fan that wants something that is/feels Austen then this may or may not work for you.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. Again, don’t read much in this particular subgenre. The characters were engaging, though there’s room/need for further development, but since this was the first of five books I think the amount we got to know about each character was enough. The setting and magic element is what really sold me on this and kept me reading. Kowal defines glamour a bit more in the glossary as “[magic that allows people] to create illusions of light, scent, and sound. Glamour requires physical energy much in the same way running up a hill does.” I loved the subtle way glamour is woven into this alternate Regency world in a manner that’s noticeable yet reads as if it’s natural.

That’s not to say the plot is bad—it isn’t—but it is a bit slow to get going and the book reads easily. Again, not a bad thing, but if you’re looking for a book full of purple prose requiring you to reread a sentence over and over to glean every last ounce of meaning from it, then you should look for something else to put on the summer reading list. Shades is mostly about getting to know the characters, their world, and setting the stage for the big conflict at the end. For me, it worked. Even though as I was reading past the halfway mark and thought, “hmm, still not sure what the conflict is going to be/how it affects Jane,” I didn’t care because I was enjoying the journey.

This is the starting tale for Jane Ellsworth, plain in features and at 28 years old, resigned to being a spinster. Jane is skilled at working with glamour, and ultimately it’s her use of the magic that saves the day.

The sibling rivalry between Jane and her younger, prettier, charming sister Melody, sets up the characters and feeds the plot. Melody is well written as the annoying, spoiled, selfish brat that she’s capable of being, with a few dashes of redeeming self-awareness. She’s dramatic, but not unrealistically so. Readers can probably relate to Jane in some way because they either have a sibling or know someone who shares Melody’s flair for theatrics.

The supporting cast is interesting, and I liked them more once I got them sorted out by name. There are a few spots of dialogue that were hard to follow because multiple female Ellsworths were present, and both Jane and Melody are referred to as “Miss Ellsworth.”

Didn’t get a great feel for Mr. Vincent in this book aside from him being the brooding artist. I liked that he wasn’t too emo, but rather was absorbed in his art. It had a bit of snobby, misanthropic feel, but that was tempered by his interactions with Jane. On the one hand, I’d have liked to see their romance fleshed out more, but on the other, it’s more fitting at how it went in the book. Scenes of them courting or walking along a moor don’t fit his character at this point in the overall story. Maybe he gets more personality later on, I don’t know, but he was weird and artsy enough for me to be content with the ending.

And Jane. She’s unlike many of the heroines in the books I read because in some ways she’s not a “strong” character. She physically a bit weak, and though there are times I reallyreallyreally wanted her to hit someone, her character wouldn’t do that. I’m a barbarian. It’s not in Jane’s nature (thus far anyway), she’s too well-mannered, and that can be frustrating. But it fits her. She’s the epitome of “gentlewoman.” She relies on her wit (and some glamour) to enable her to save the people she cares about.

I thought I was going to be irritated and eye-rolling at how kind Jane is, but it was endearing. Her struggles against personal wants while trying to keep the peace felt real. She’s resigned to her fate to never find love, and the inner struggles she has between her own jealousies and wanting good things for her family gave her relatable depth.

The only time where Jane came off as utterly clueless and unrealistic was when she couldn’t begin to guess at who the man was behind Melody’s secret love. I mean, OMG, there’s only three men around their age mentioned in all of the book and one of them keeps hanging around at the house, and is already acting shady. Really, Jane? At 28 I’d think she’s been around the social scene long enough to see her fair share of scandals and love triangles. It’s shown earlier in the book that gossip keeps the social circle afloat, and Mrs. Ellsworth thrives on the stuff. Even if Jane had merely entertained the thought and dismissed it for whatever reasons, anything would’ve been better than her “oh dear, who could it be?”

Aside from that one bit of shaking-my-head-at-you, I liked Jane’s character and look forward to reading more of her adventures in Glamour and Glass. Have a safe 4th of July my fellow Americans, and happy Canada Day to the Canucks.

Cats & the Writing Process

I’m feeling a bit lazy about writing a “real” blog post, so this is more of an excuse to post pictures of cats and dogs. But I’ll tie it into writing. Sort of.

Cats are great. Who doesn’t want a warm fuzzball that provides companionship yet doesn’t depend on you letting it out to use the bathroom? Except that cats are invaders. Invaders of space. Unfailingly, invaders of the space you’re currently occupying despite numerous other spaces begging to be invaded.

Sometimes they can be thwarted. Like with hand-knit beds and heating pads. It’s still on the desk, close enough for petting, but not in the “interrupts your groove” zone.

Equal opportunity, dogs are cool too. Past a certain size they can’t invade your lap space.

See, 4 months old and Toby was well on his way to being plain too big. Not a lap invader.

Well, a lap invader but only when I’m on the ground. Not a hindrance to the writing process except for whining, excessive noise, needing to pee, wanting to go outside, etc.

Little dogs are cool too. They’re better at invading space because it’s much harder to deny their size. And who could say no to Benny’s face?

Plus, sweaters. It’s harder to justify putting cats in sweaters.

I mean, most cats don’t wear sweaters.

Right?

Oh wait.

Well, to be fair, she’s only modeling this sweater because I didn’t have the intended canine recipient handy.

Anyway, cats and the writing process. Sometimes things click along just fine. Words are happening, whether through the pen or the keyboard. Writing can be a bit of a lonely endeavor, but it’s hard to feel alone when you’ve got a quiet friend sitting by (on you) exuding cheerful encouragement.

The lap’s not a bad place. I can type or write around Beth in my lap without much trouble. Get into a rhythm and the writing flows. It’s a bit harder when she doesn’t want the lap, or it’s already occupied, or who knows why–she’s a cat. Sometimes banishing tempting her with the bed works. Unless this happens.

Never mind the fact that there are a million bed-like areas in this house, if the immediate bed is occupied and daddy isn’t around to be bothered as an alternative, then oh dear cat there will be no peace. It’s hard to write when this happens…

Or splaying over the keyboard for you first draft typists. This is when cats interfere with the writing process. It happens near daily in this house.

Hope you enjoyed this not-really-a-blog-post where I rambled about animals.