Monday, December 31, 2012

10 Things About Sierra and 2012

I love doing my annual year-end posts. That's because I've done them for three years now and it's really fun reading over the past years. Here's 2009, 2010, and 2011 if you're interested (and because they're all about me, why wouldn't you be? I mean, I totally am.)

P.S. If you're looking for the final Superstastic Winter Writing Challenge wrap up post, check back here tomorrow.

1. I found a happy medium in my diet and shed 15 pounds.
One day last summer my friend and I and our kids were at the community pool. A woman walked by wearing bikini bottoms and a halter top bathing suit. She looked fabulous, with a pert, perfect butt. I said, "Even if I worked hard and trained all summer, I'd never have an ass that size." My friend suggested we join Weight Watchers online together. (In retrospect, was she calling me fat??) I agreed mainly as a lark to see if it worked.

It didn't.

I found the points thing rather unbalanced for actual nutrition  That is, they heavily penalize you for eating a handful of almonds, but I found that my body thrives on the nutrients and healthy oils in almonds. I don't eat 50 million of them, but I do eat more then then paltry 5 you're allotted by the WW fascists. They also say brown rice is as bad as white rice--same point penalty. That makes no sense. So I should just eat sugary starch then? Worst of all, when I went to cancel my account, they charged me the full month even though I cancelled 2 days into the month. When I complained, they said "tough toenails." I remarked that this policy was very bad marketing and quite bad customer service. Their whole business is based on people failing diets and then returning to WW in shame, and now I wouldn't be returning, I'd direct my shame elsewhere. They didn't care. This is too bad for Weight Watchers since treating people badly doesn't induce them to return. Ah well. Not my problem.

Where were we. Anyway, then I read This is Why You're Fat by Jackie Warner. Because I wanted to understand what was going on in my body. The book is great--it helps you understand why and what happens. And I started eating right. In particular I stopped allowing sugar to be my main food group. Et voila, fifteen pounds. (Oh fine, I walked too and I ate right. But the sugar was the main thing.) I have some work to do from my holiday sugar binge, but I'm all right.

The old girl in better times. :(
2. I lost a cat. 
My cat Ally passed away in February (or March...oh it's all a blur) at age 17. I'm not sure what she died of, but she probably had multiple problems and when something went wrong (namely, she started puking one day and couldn't stop), her body starting shutting down. She died at home with me. I would say peacefully but it wasn't really. She suffered all day, and was scared and upset. This was better than being furious and insane in the car and the vet's office, however. And my other cat wanted nothing to do with her, treating her as though she were a pariah who would spread a death virus if he got too close to her. And I had to bury her in the rain and her stiff body toppled into the hole in an ungainly and unseemly fashion...it was all awful. Just awful. But the main thing here is that I had her for a really long time--all my early adulthood. And although I found her really annoying at times, she was with me through good and bad. So she gets a spot on my list. Poor Al. In a house full of boys (even our remaining cat is a boy), she and I were the only girls.

3. My most listened-to song of the year was...
'Blue Skies' (Unquote remix) by Blu Mar Ten. If I heard this song every day for the rest of my life I'd be a happy girl. Every time I hear it, I fall in love, then I feel soul-searing pain and loss, and I emerge hopeful and alive. That's a rather tall order for a song, don't you think? Have a listen. I'm listening right now as I type this! When it's finished I'll replay it. 

4. I have a baby who sleeps.
Can you believe this? All year, he didn't sleep. Six months ago, here's what I put on Facebook:

BABY FOR SALE

Pros:
  • is fourteen months today
  • thinks dogs make the world go round 
  • fat and juicy
  • says "moo" and "hisss" fetchingly
Cons:
  • screams all night long-- last night most of the night
  • has massive molar coming in that makes him--and everyone else--unhappy
  • has a really ugly scream when it reaches hysterical levels (frequently at night)
  • does not travel well
But! In the nick of time, sliding in right before the year is out, he is finally sleeping. Not always, and not entirely consistently, but no more waking 3-4 times at night. No more screaming like a banshee! The funny thing is, a mere two weeks ago I posted this out of sheer despair describing him scream and my accompanying pain. 

But we've really come a long way since then. I've taught him to put himself to sleep and he's learning well.
So. So! Heaven. 

5. I was on TV. 
It was a show on HGTV, I don't want to say which one in case adoring fans start clamoring for autographs and the like, you know that can get dreadfully tiring darling. We actually filmed in 2011, but the show went on hiatus and we were on their new season, which they didn't air until April 2012. It was fun. The glamorous hosts were exactly the same off camera as they were on, which is to say, fun and sweet. (The main host was actually a bit of a diva, but nice when you spoke with him.) When we filmed the show, Rainbow Puppy (now 20 months) was a month old, and I wore the only shirt that fit me and didn't look like a shapeless bag. I also had Rainbow Puppy in the baby carrier. I didn't realize until later that I was bouncing him up and down like a lotto ball non stop in all my scenes. (I totally just said scenes as though I filmed a movie. Where's my SAG card?!) I was sure I made awful TV--who wants to watch a constantly bouncing lady, you'd get a seizure. When it aired, Mr. Sierra and I sat and watched, cringing, but even though I'd my own worst critic, it wasn't so bad. It really wasn't! And our house has noticeably improved as a result of being on the show. Win-win.

6. I was reminded that despite blogging pretty heavily for about five years, I still have no clue what works. I tried different things this year: I tried to start a blogfest (no one participated), I tried not to post very frequently (no one cared), I tried to post pedantic writing posts (retweets were high and blog stats showed these got a lot of traffic, but no one commented, How to Write a Great Climactic Scene was a huge hit getter), and I tried being more personal and less writingish (no one commented and blog stats were low, although these posts - "5 Things I like" are some of my favorites). So I still don't know.

7. I wrote, revised, revised more, queried. I slaved over my query letter to death (let's just say I owe Janice Hardy and Kristen Lippert-Martin a kidney each; please don't simultaneously collect), and then pushed my baby out into the world. I got traction but not the winning kind. I pulled it back, had a long, long talk with myself and then did what I wanted with the manuscript, not what I thought everyone else wanted. The result? Something that works. Really, really works. There's a lesson in all this. When I discover it, I'll let you know.

8. I worked a LOT. 
This was the year of slaving away on my freelance graphic design and technical writing business. The previous year I worked hard too, but I'd had Rainbow Puppy, and that event kind of dominated everything else. This year, I worked hard and designed a ton of websites, met wonderful clients (like the lovely Lorrie Thomson), and learned lots of lessons, some of them painful--like the one where you think you and the client have discussed what they want only to find they don't want that at all, and there was nothing you could do about it. Or you could, but they didn't want to deal with you. Anyway, I am so lucky to be able to do what I do. So lucky that it earns a solid place on this list.

9. I came to terms with my family's political preferences.
As we all know, this year was a huge election year and my, how divisive it was. One of the biggest shockers was discovering that most of my paternal family are Republicans, including my dear dad and my closest cousin. No offense to anyone, but I believe so strongly in compassion for all, and other basic female reproductive rights, and loads of other things that I think make our society better, and that they don't support those things does my head in a bit. I wondered, who are these people? But I had to realize that Republicans are like everyone else -- they're even loved ones I've known my entire life -- and they probably don't think their views are odious. They probably feel the same way about me in reverse. So you have to let these things go. Or just stop thinking about them in connection to the person. And be thankful that it doesn't actually matter how they voted, because California was never going to be a Republican state in the vote count anyway because I love them.

10. I realized how happy I am.
I had a hard time thinking of major things that happened to me this year. I stewed in the lameness of this for a few days until I realized it was a more subtle year full of many small joys, excepting the not sleeping part. This year my baby learned to walk, talk, and turn one. He grew into a little person. Quite a difference from where we were this time last year. I also watched my six year old son grow into a little adult, bounding into a whole new world of reading and writing and psychologically out-maneuvering his mother, and shouting "Booyackasha" at every opportunity. I read a ton, and I played lots of games. I worked a lot (see number 9 above) and I walked a lot. And I felt comfortable with my goals and where I am with them, even if that means I'm still working on them.

Happy 2013 guys and thanks for reading my slaver.



Friday, December 21, 2012

Superstastic Winter Writing Challenge Week 3 Check in

Oh my! Like many of you, I completely forgot to check in and post our Week 3 check in. I blame having gone out of town for pre-Christmas family visiting earlier in the week. But I'm back now and it's time to check in for Week 3 of our Superstastic Winter Writing Challenge.

I have to say, I haven't done nearly as much as I wanted to.

However! I am also taking a few days off work this weekend and next week, so I plan to devote serious time to rewriting. I put some time in this evening and it felt good.

So, where are you? Are you taking time off for the holidays? Sure, go ahead. But don't forget to do something, and check in here. Prizes are at stake!

Monday, December 17, 2012

What I Read This Year

December means doing all my year-end wrap up posts, which is a lot of fun if you've been blogging for several years. It means I get to re-read older posts from years past and see how far I've come...or not come, since some of what I've written makes me go "ha ha ha! God she's funny! Oh wait, that's me." How much of a sad sap must I be if my younger self amuses my older, clearly boring self? Not to mention how narcissistic it is to think yourself funny. Well, I've always been a fan of my own humor, which is nice when no one else is. (I'm an only child. You have to be your biggest fan when you're an only child.)

Anyway, each year in December I go into my Goodreads account and see how many books I've read and what they were. Last year, I read 26 books. In 2010 I read 25 books. This year, I've read 33 books! Whoo hoo! Here's what I read. As you can see, I was the queen of reading multiple books by the same author this year. Well, hey. I found some damn good authors. Liza Palmer and Anna Maxted reign as my most favorites ever. I liked Canadian author Catherine McKenzie a lot, and I discovered and enjoyed Susanna Kearsley quite a bit, who specializes in a nice combo of paranormal and women's fic.

I also read a ton of what is classfied as chick lit--and I enjoyed every bit of it. It was smart, hilarious, and so far removed from the chick lit of old featuring heels and NYC. Today's chick lit is smart and clever.

And I'm buying it.

  • Running in Heels by Anna Maxted
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  • The Good Woman by Jane Porter
  • Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins 
  • How Lucky You Are Lewis by Kristyn Kusek
  •  Being Committed by Anna Maxted 
  • Arranged by Catherine McKenzie
  • Conversations With the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer
  • The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant
  • A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer 
  • Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness
  •  A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness 
  • Behaving Like Adults by Anna Maxted
  • Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews
  • The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger 
  • The Uninvited Guests Jones, Sadie
  • Getting Over It Maxted, Anna
  • The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley 
  •  Mariana by Susanna Kearsley
  •  Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer
  • More Like Her by Liza Palmer
  • These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen
  • The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley 
  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
  • Crash Into You (Loving On The Edge, #1) by Roni Loren
  • Homecoming by Cathy Kelly
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • Dead to the World (Sookie Stackhouse, #4) by Charlaine Harris
  • Club Dead (Sookie Stackhouse, #3) by Charlaine Harris
  • Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse, #2) by Charlaine Harris
  •  Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1) by Charlaine Harris
  • The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
So, what did YOU read this year that you loved?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Superstastic Winter Writing Challenge Week 2 Check in

Hey peeps! It's time for the Superstatic Winter Writing Challenge Check in, Week 2!

If you aren't familiar with what this is, there's plenty of time to tune in and join in. See this kick off post for information; then see this post for a list of the great prizes at stake.

So, how are we doing in week 2?

For my part, I've completely lost my head to the holidays and I haven't been writing. But! I also got feedback from certain awesome critique partners last week that my new first chapter is working, so I'm thrilled. I have two major goals now for the remainder of December, and then some big plans for pushing this baby out there in the world in January. My goals:

  1. Revise midpoint scene
  2. Re-read whole novel for POV changes and continuity. 
That's it. I'm close and I'm thrilled! I have to say, this writing challenge and Meghan's original one at Writerland have been hugely motivating. Even if I did very little, I felt like I was doing something.

So where are you? How are you doing?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Struggles

I am sitting at my desk right now, listening to my 20-month old son scream.

He's in bed, and it's naptime. He wants to take a nap--he's a great midday napper--but he does not want to take a nap if he has to know about it. What that means is that he prefers for me to hold him until he is completely asleep, and when I put him in his crib, he is already in the deep, wonderful waters of sleep oblivion. He never knows a thing. And that's the way he likes it.

Problem is, this has led to mucho night waking, where he wakes 3-4 times a night because he doesn't know (or conveniently forgets) how to put himself back to sleep when he wakes. Which, as you might guess, is insufferable.

So we have begun this: I finish our bedtime routine, and then instead of putting him in bed when he's asleep, I put him in when he's awake, which is what I should have &$%#@ing done when he was a newborn. (I didn't, because he would immediately scream then.)

So. It's pretty bad. He is objecting strenuously to the plan.

I didn't want his sleep to be this difficult, but I also know that if we're going to get anywhere near him falling asleep on his own, unassisted, then we need to start somewhere. I dislike this in the extreme. It hurts. I can't even eat -- although I am eyeing the wine cabinet. It's incredibly hard. It's really, really hard. It's hard like childbirth was, like toddler tantrums are -- even like how almost two years of sleep deprivation is hard.

Normally I'd never make a comparison to how hard writing and editing a novel is, but I'm totally going to, because you may already know how very, very difficult it is to create a marketable novel that is good enough. And by good enough, I mean one that someone else wants to a) sell and b) buy.

And good enough takes a lot of sweat and tears, just like baby-raising does. That is, raising of stubborn, extremely insistent babies -- not those little angels who sleep through the night from day 1 and give you nary a second of sass, tantrums, or struggle. Probably those babies are made of clay, but you get my drift. We all have a friend who has that baby. None of us like her.

Anyway, back to the novel writing. In the past two, no three, years, I've worked so hard on my current ms. I've discovered several times that it has problems that needed complete rewrites in order to fix. I've spent countless hours fixing them and thinking about the story, the characters, the plot. I've lived with this story, I've loved this story. I've dreamt it. This is how it goes. This is what you do with a baby, non?

But you do it, because the end result is a happy, well-adjusted novel that will put itself to sleep unassisted.

Well, I'll let you know how that part turns out, anyway.






Thursday, December 6, 2012

Superstastic Winter Writing Challenge Check in

Thanks to all of you who are taking part in the Superstastic Winter Writing Challenge! You can join in any time for this month.

I announced the Challenge on Monday and we're supposed to check in every Thursday, but a week hasn't technically gone by today so this is just a quick cheerleading post to say hi and how are you and how's it going so far?

And I also wanted to announce the super awesome prizes. At the end of the month, on December 31, I will randomly choose a winner--but you have to had commented on the first post to say you're in, and you have to check in on the last post to say how you did. The prizes? The following FABULOUS baking cookbooks:

  • Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking
  • Home Baked Comfort
  • The Art of the Cookie



I have all three of these and I have to say, I freaking LOVE them.

So, how are you doing so far? Follow along daily and check in via Twitter. Use the hashtag #TTWC. We were going to change that, but it hasn't happened.....so just keep the same hashtag.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Important: If you write women's fic, no RWA

If you write women's fiction, you might belong to the Romance Writers of America (RWA) association; maybe you belong to the women's fiction chapter. If you do, you need to know what's happening with that. Basically, you're out of the RWA.

Last summer, RWA changed rules for its national contests--contests that are prestigious, and can and have gotten many writers notice from agents and editors as well as national accolades within the very large organization that is RWA. Heck, being in RWA by itself shows you're professional and smart about your career. The changes to the contests essentially excluded fiction that didn't adhere to romance guidelines. Put simply, people who wrote women's fiction--defined very well by author Therese Walsh as fiction that "focuses on the woman's journey as opposed to the journey of a couple in love"-- were excluded from participating in the contests, which are one of the reasons people join the RWA.

The women's fiction chapter of the RWA is a huge chapter. I've been a member for several years and met wonderful ladies in it at all stages of their careers. 

Recently, it came to light that RWA will no longer support the bylaws that governed the women's fiction chapter; in essence, RWA does not support chapters of members that write fiction with romantic elements. As a result, the women's fiction chapter is disbanding from the RWA. Where it ends up is not yet determined, but the chapter is strong and the members passionate, so it will likely emerge in a new incarnation.

If you write women's fiction, this is important information. RWA has been a great resource, but if you join the RWA you need to write romantic fiction, not fiction with romantic elements or any other type of fiction that isn't defined as romance.

As the WF chapter evolves, I will post information about how to find them. 

There is a post on this from last year's chapter president Laura Drake at Writer Unboxed, which is positive and focuses on the fact that these things evolve and there's no hard feelings.

Personally I have decided not to renew my membership with RWA as it hasn't been as supportive as I would have liked; the exclusion of my work in contests and chapters is a bit rough as well.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Supertastic Winter Writing Challenge

A challenge for December!
Every year in November, writers all over the world take part in National Novel Writing Month, or NoWriMo. And also all over the world, writers don't take part it in. Our reasons are varied. Mine have always been that I don't want to write a whole novel in a month--and if I had to write one that fast it wouldn't be something I loved. But more specifically, it's usually because I'm working on something already and I want to keep working on it.

So when my friend Meghan Ward hosted the Writerland Challenge over at her blog, Writerland, as an alternative to NaNo, I was in. Her rules were easy: Everyone who participated in the Writerland challenge could set their own goals, and we'd all check in every Thursday on her blog and report how we did for our weekly goals. We also regularly checked in with one another on Twitter and cheered each other one. At the end, Meghan chose a random winner to receive some of her delicious toffee.

Many of the people who participated in the Writerland Challenge want to keep doing it. So I said I'd host the challenge this month, with a name change: The Supertastic Winter Writing Challenge.

Here's how it works:

  1. You'll set a goal for yourself for the month of December. This can be anything you want, from writing a whole novel to finishing revisions to writing an outline. The idea is to set a smaller goal for yourself that is realistic but challenging and fits with your long-term writing goals. 
  2. Stick with your goals this month. 
  3. We'll report back here every Thursday to check in and log our progress--and hold each other accountable.
  4. At the end of the month, I'll choose a random winner from the participants to receive a prize, which I haven't yet decided on but trust me, it's going to involve books and it's going to be good.
Let's go!
Leave a comment below if you're in. To get you going, I'll do what Meghan did. The first 5 people who sign up and COMPLETE the challenge get to be interviewed by me on here the blog, celebrity style, where you can talk about your work and your process.

Support!
Follow, cheer, and support along with the new Twitter hashtag, #SWWC. (We were going to keep the #TTWC hashtag for consistency's sake, but the Table Tennis World Championship hijacked the tag a few times.)