Sunday, April 28, 2019

State of the Schafer, Vol 3

Writing Progress:

Between my son's school holidays, a skating camp I attended for my birthday, and a family trip to Invercargill, I didn't get a whole lot of new words onto the page--but I got some. The White Serpent (Cara novella) is sitting at just over 20,000 words, and better yet, I've got outlines for most of the remaining scenes all laid out, ready to write.

I don't like to outline a story completely ahead of time, but I do like to outline scenes ahead of writing them, especially the parts with dialogue between the characters. I find dialogue the hardest to write, so working out the conversations without worrying about internals and descriptions and body-language tags and all the rest of a finished scene can be a big help to me. That way I don' t waste time agonizing over words that would get deleted and rewritten anyway as I adjust the conversational flow. Once I have the conversation feeling "right", the rest is relatively easy to add.

The kiddo heads back to school today, so it's my hope I can buckle down and use those outlines to make some serious progress this week. We shall see...

Skating update:

As mentioned, I went to an adult skating camp that happened to take place on my birthday--talk about perfect timing. The camp was held at one of the few year-round rinks on the South Island, about 3 hours away in a town called Gore. (The town thankfully does not live up to its name. It's a perfectly pleasant country town with an excellent athletic center, including multiple indoor pools, basketball/netball courts, ice rink, and more. Someone on the town council must have really liked playing sports.)

The camp was short, only a few hours, but a lot of fun. About 20 adult skaters from Dunedin, Invercargill, Queenstown, and Wanaka came to participate. Everyone I met was so friendly and welcoming, it was lovely. As an introvert, I find it so much easier to meet new people when you all share a common interest/passion! We did a bunch of stroking drills together, then split up into groups based on ability levels to work on jumps and spins, and finished off by doing freeform interpretation to different styles of music. I've always been better at the athletic side of skating than the graceful artistry, so I'm terrible at making up interpretive moves on the spot, but hey, it's fun to try.

The adult camp gang
But speaking of athletics, I confess I totally chickened out when the coach handling the advanced group asked us to do axel jumps. I have not tried an axel yet since returning to the ice, and I wasn't wearing the gel pads I use to protect hips, tailbone, and knees when working on more difficult jumps.  The axel is notorious for having the most terrifying of take-offs--if you blow the jump, you'll take a nasty fall. Every time I started the push into the take-off, my brain was all, NOPE NOPE NOPE, and my body stopped dead before I could even get into the air. It's okay, though. Next time I skate, I'll put on all my padding and see about reclaiming my axel. For now, I was just delighted that my back didn't have any trouble with everything else I did.

New Zealand Life:

After the skating camp, my husband and kiddo and I headed down to Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand. Invercargill has great cafes, tasty oysters, and all the big homewares, furniture, hardware, and electronics stores not available in our tiny little rural town. We needed to buy a bunch of stuff relating to staining our house, but since none of us enjoy shopping, we livened up the day with a trip to a boat factory.

Stabicraft manufactures aluminium-hulled power boats in a small factory just outside of Invercargill, doing everything from initial design through to final touches. In classic friendly Kiwi fashion, they're happy to take you through the factory and explain the whole process. They still build boats the relatively old-school way, with human workers using ordinary tools and standard machines, no fancy automated assembly lines or robots. As an engineer, I always love seeing how stuff gets made, and this was no exception. Apparently it takes about two weeks to manufacture a single boat, and about 40 are in various stages of progress at any given time.

Hulls being shaped

Bending the aluminium in a press

Ready for welding

Waiting for paint and other final touches
We then took a trip out along the southern coast of NZ to Gemstone Beach, which friends had told us is a neat place to visit. The beach is aptly named; the black sand is dotted with shoals of colorful rocks. You can apparently find real gems there, like jasper and even sapphires. I doubt we bought back any actual gems, but our son lugged home an entire bag of ocean-smoothed pebbles in all shades of the rainbow. The largest ones are streaked and striped and look like they could be dragon eggs. The rocks weren't the only attraction; the wild waves were amazing to watch as well.

Windswept bluffs and wild waves

Pebbles on Gemstone Beach

Black sand and blue sky
On our way back to Invercargill from Gemstone Beach, we stopped past Colac Bay, a famous surf spot (although you need a thick wetsuit! The southern ocean is frigid). The contrast of the gentle waves in the sandy, sheltered bay with the wild breakers at Gemstone Beach, only a few minutes' drive away, was fascinating.

Colac Bay

Standing at the southern edge of New Zealand, looking toward Antarctica (it's still 3,000 miles away...there's a lot of ocean in between)

Reading Corner:


I'm partway through The Bone People, which is...interesting, so far. Very artsy and literary in style, not just the prose itself but the physical spacing on the page, and intriguing in its character work. I'm not sure how I feel about the protagonist being a semi-idealized self-insert for the author, though. (The author makes no bones about this; the similarities between herself and her character are evident, right down to the names.) Guess I'll see how the story plays out. I hear it's quite dark, focusing on child abuse, so I'm braced for that.

I didn't take my physical library copy of The Bone People with me to Invercargill, so instead I read on Kindle a recent SFF release, K. Chess's Famous Men Who Never Lived. It's a quiet, melancholy, thoughtful SF novel about refugees from a parallel-universe New York struggling to adjust to life in our world and accept the tremendous loss of what they've left behind. If you like literary SFF like Emily Mandel's Station Eleven, E.J. Swift's Osiris, or Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni, definitely pick this up. Heh, and it made me want to rewatch Fringe, although that will have to wait until I finish catching up on Arrow. (I'm slowly working my way through season 5. Why did nobody tell me S5 is nearly as absorbing as the excellent S2? It's getting awfully hard to stop after one episode.)

Friday, April 19, 2019

State of the Schafer, Vol 2

Writing Progress:

I managed to keep to my 500-word per weekday goal, despite a 3-day trip to Queenstown, plus scrubbing and prepping one side of our house for staining. My draft of The White Serpent is up to 18,503 words, including some very hard-won words on one troublesome argument scene which I had to rewrite a couple times before I felt happy with the interactions between Cara and the other characters. Onward to the next scene, which I hope will be a bit less tricky to get right.

My son, however, is quite miffed that I haven't done any work on HIS book, the middle-grade science fiction adventure with magic and lasers, since finishing the first chapter a while back. I told him I'm not good at working on multiple projects at once; he pointed out sternly that I managed it with my engineering job, so why can't I learn to multi-task with writing?

Kids, man. They cut you no slack. Maybe I can try adding in a 100 word goal for the magic-and-lasers on top of my 500-word goal for The White Serpent.

Skating update:

While visiting Queenstown, I spent another hour practicing on a public session. This time the kiddo came with me to skate, which is always extra fun. Best of all, I had no back soreness afterward: hooray! I think low sit spins are the riskiest move for my back, even more so than jumping, so I avoided those and I think it paid off. I haven't yet dared to try an axel or any doubles yet, but I sure had a good time.
The kiddo snapped this picture of me enjoying life on the ice

New Zealand Life:

As mentioned above, we're working on staining the house. It's actually not so much the staining that's hard, as all the prep work. Mix up a tank of moldkiller, spray on, wait 48 hours, pray for a sunny day, mix up washing fluid, spray on, scrub until arms fall off. Plus our house is two stories, with a funky steeply slanting metal roof in between the lower and upper level, which means we'll have to get creative with our climbing gear to safely work on the upper portion. Oh well, I always love a challenge.

It's Easter this weekend, and Kiwis seem hugely into Easter in a way they aren't with other holidays. Not so much the religious aspects, but the CHOCOLATE. Every grocery store (or should I say, supermarket), is absolutely buried in displays of every type of bunny-shaped and egg-shaped chocolate you could possibly imagine. White chocolate and mango eggs. Passionfruit and kiwifruit bunnies. Marshmallow eggs covered in sprinkles. Chocolate bars as long and thick as my arm, containing the same goo inside as Cadbury's creme eggs. (The Kiwis turn up their noses at Cadbury, by the way. Whittaker's is where it's at. Having tried their white chocolate flavors, I must agree.)

Yet the one Easter treat NZ doesn't have is the one my son always loved best: PEEPS. I had to look it up for him: apparently they're only sold in the US and Canada. It doesn't entirely surprise me they haven't caught on here. They always tasted pretty darn nasty to me, like a mouthful of Styrofoam coated in stale sugar and pumped full of preservatives. I think my son loved them because he can't eat gluten and doesn't like chocolate, and they're pretty much the one GF non-choc treat readily available in America for Easter. He plans to stock up the next time we visit the US. Assuming the biohazard folks at NZ customs let him bring peeps into the country, I look forward to watching his Kiwi friends' faces when they try one.

U.S. Politics (the horrorshow continues)

Welp. The Mueller report is finally out. While I'm genuinely glad to find that the more far-fetched theories about Trump's relationship to Russia aren't true, even the redacted version of the report is pretty savage in its portrayal of the President's corruption, lies, and disregard for laws. To quote from the report's conclusion, "The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests." But honestly, anybody who didn't already know Trump doesn't give a damn for laws or country or anything beyond his own personal gain, is either willfully blind or has been living under a rock.

The worrying part is that most of the aides and appointees who refused to carry out Trump's illegal orders have resigned or been fired. Since Republican voters continue to signal that they'll excuse or ignore absolutely any horrible or even criminal behavior on Trump's part, I don't hold out hope the Republicans in Congress will exercise their constitutional duties and hold him to account.

Prior to now, I'd shared the pragmatic view expressed by Democrats like Pelosi. If the Senate will refuse to act on any impeachment, why waste time and effort on a fight you can't win? Why not focus effort on one you can: the next elections. But since reading the report and seeing Mueller spell out very clearly his reasoning why Congress should be the ones to act on the evidence he collected, I've come to feel differently. Even if impeachment doesn't result in removal, it's still worthwhile to take a stand. To show voters and the world that at least some Americans aren't turning a blind eye to corruption; that speaking up for what is right is more important than worrying about political cost. I hope the Democrats of the House have enough courage to take that stand (which, realistically, will only happen if enough voters call or email them to say as much. So hey, if you feel as I do, call your representative.)

Pic of the Week:

Autumn colors in Queenstown

Reading Corner:

I finished The Luminaries, which I found absorbing but sometimes frustrating. (I thought the author prioritized cleverness of structure over depth of characterization.)

I then tried The Gutter Prayer, but stalled out about 30% into the book--I think I'm just not in the right mood. The worldbuilding was wonderfully imaginative, but I wasn't connecting with the characters in the way I wanted.

So now I'm continuing my investigation of New Zealand authors with Keri Hulme's The Bone People, which I've heard is powerfully memorable.

Friday, April 12, 2019

State of the Schafer, Vol 1

They say nobody reads blogs anymore, and in a weird way I find that freeing. I haven't posted here in ages because I thought I should preserve all my time and effort for working on my actual book drafts. Yet recently I've been hankering to keep some sort of journal, a way to record progress and the small events of life without all the dismaying downsides of Facebook and other social media platforms. Ha, and then I remembered personal journaling used to be the entire point of a blog, once upon a time, before so much of the internet became about clicks and likes and pageviews and ways to monetize.

So, I'm going to try a little experiment for myself. A weekly update, about writing and life and whatever I feel like recording, mostly for my own benefit. Something I can look back on to trigger all the deeper memories, plus a way for distant friends and family to check in and see how our lives are going.

Writing Progress:

I'm still revising and reworking my Shattered Sigil novella, The White Serpent (this is the one from Cara's point of view). The revised draft currently sits at 15,973 words (out of an estimated 30-40K). I recently set a goal that every weekday, I want to end up with 500 more words than the day before.

500 words may not sound like much, but I find I work best with small goals that aren't hard to reach. Setting a small goal means I don't stress out about reaching it; I feel good when I make it, and better yet if I surpass it. If I have a day where getting words on the page feels like ripping out teeth, or else a day where a ton of unexpected tasks/issues eat up all my usual writing time, well...500 additional words isn't too hard to manage. I can still get that much done on a difficult day, even if the words are a terrible mess that will get deleted and rewritten the moment I have proper time and brainpower.

But the real test approaches...can I keep adding at least 500 words a day to the draft during the next 2 weeks when my son is on holiday from school? Fingers crossed.

Sad book news:

A little while ago I got an email from Thomson-Shore, the company who prints and sells the physical editions of The Labyrinth of Flame, saying the company is ceasing all print & distribution operations immediately and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Gosh, doesn't this seem familiar. At least Thomson-Shore doesn't hold any of my rights. Sadly, it does mean the illustrated physical editions of Labyrinth of Flame will no longer be available. I guess the few boxes I have leftover from the Kickstarter print run have become rare collectibles!

Skating: The Return

It's been years since I last skated regularly, thanks to injury recovery and then moving to NZ. The nearest rink is in Queenstown, an hour away over a mountain pass, and only opens for half the year. But upon seeing the rink open for the season this past Monday, and reading all the happy posts on Facebook from US skater friends celebrating at Adult Nationals, I could not deny how deeply I still miss the sport. My lumbar spine has been doing pretty well these days, so I contacted the Queenstown Ice Skating Club to ask about freestyle sessions and coaching, and headed over the pass for a trial hour of practice on a public session.

I tried to be very, very careful of my back. No axels, no double jump attempts, no layback spins, only a few low sit spins and change-foot camel spins. I concentrated on easy single jumps, upright spins, and footwork, and I stopped as soon as my back felt tired. The outcome: no sciatic pain (yay!), although my low back muscles were a bit sore the next day. There's just no other type of exercise that works the back in quite the same ways as skating. Yet my soreness didn't feel like squished nerves, more like, "oh gosh I haven't used these muscles like this in ages."

So I am...tentatively hopeful. It was lovely to be back on the ice, and yet also frustrating to see how rusty all my old skills have become after so long away. Oh well, lots of room for improvement, if I can keep my back healthy!

The good news about the rink being so far away is that it'll stop me from pushing too hard. I'm diligently working through core & back strengthening exercises from my old conditioning manuals, and I'll try another skating session next week. The Queenstown club secretary, who's also an adult skater, put me in touch with a bunch of friendly and very helpful skaters--the adult skating community here seems just as close-knit and supportive as the one I left behind, which has me all the more excited about returning to the sport. Fingers crossed my back can hold up to it.

New Zealand Life:

After a very warm start to autumn, cooler temps have definitely arrived. I'm wearing my super thick hoodie-footie pajamas at night again. I look like a giant Ewok, but I'm WARM, darn it.  (Seriously, those pjs are the single most useful thing I brought to NZ.) We've had to use our woodburner for heat in morning/evening, and we've glimpsed fresh snow on the highest peaks. Ski season is coming, albeit slowly. The resorts here don't usually open until late June.

Yesterday was the final day of Term 1 of my son's school year. In addition to all the usual reading and writing and maths, my son's class learned knitting and swing dancing, both of which he hugely enjoyed. I have to say, so far NZ seems to have way fewer hangups over gendered expectations for kids. The little girls here play just as roughly as the boys (which is, um, pretty rough...much rougher than was ever allowed at my son's Colorado school), while the boys are happy to learn knitting, dancing, cooking, etc. It's refreshing to see. As for me, I've never knitted or sewn anything in my life, so my son is quite excited that he can teach me how.

We should have some time for knitting instruction, since the kiddo is on holiday for the next 2 weeks, until the second term of his school year begins. My husband is too busy with his work to take a long break, but we've got some fun short excursions planned.

Less fun is the looming chore of staining the house. Without much of an ozone layer over NZ, the sun here is insanely powerful. Wooden siding will quickly warp and crack if you don't slather protective stain onto it every few years. Our house is in desperate need of restaining; probably we ought to cough up the massive amount of money required for professionals to mold-spray and scrub and stain, but with me not earning much income at the moment, it seems a good time to learn some good old hands-on skills. Besides, that's the Kiwi way: they're very big on self-sufficiency.

Pic of the week:

Glorious sunset viewed from our upper balcony
Currently Reading:

The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton)--award-winning literary historical novel by NZ author, set in the coastal town of Hokitika during the 19th century gold rush days