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8 posts from November 2011

On PedestriansNovember 29, 2011

Oh, it's foggy today, so lovely and drippy and heavy and dark, and I LOVE IT. This is my favorite time of year, and November is my favorite month. The trees are just now turning (we do have lovely colors here, just not in such abundance as other places) and the roads are shiny and everything is just so pretty.

I'm at the cafe, about to get my write on, but I just had a nice thing happen, and I thought I'd tell you about it. It was a tiny moment. While driving down Bancroft, I stopped for an older man who was waiting at the crosswalk. Now, I'm great at stopping for pedestrians. I believe people on foot have as much right to cross the street as I have to drive it, and unfortunately, sometimes that translates into total impatience when I'm the one waiting to walk across the street. I'm one of those people who marches into the crosswalk, feigning indifference to the cars. I'm never actually indifferent; I stop walking and don't get in front of them if they don't stop for me. I don't have a death wish, but I like to give drivers a little scare if they don't stop, a little oh-crap-shoulda-seen-her moment. I expect drivers to stop, and I know it shows in my walk. I give a little flip of the hand, a terse "thanks" with no real gratitude.

So a few moments ago, I stopped for the older man. I slowed early and waved at him to let him know I saw him.

He crossed. While he was crossing, he grinned hugely and waved at me. That was nice. I sat up straighter and smiled, waving back.

Then, when he got to the median, he turned around and gave me an even happier wave. It was lovely. I wanted to stop the car and get out and hug him, but that would have been taking the whole pedestrian/driver contract way too far. But it made me think: when I cross the street, maybe I can initiate those moments with drivers. A smile. A cheerful, thankful wave. Why is that too much to ask from myself? Yes, legally they should stop. But that doesn't prevent me from really thanking them for their courtesy. His wave and smile were just so awesome. He made my day and won't ever know it.

There. I took a seven second exchange and made it into 400 words. I can tell I'm doing the final pretty-word-pass of the current manuscript, reading it on my Kindle, because I'm craving the actual writing.

(If you haven't had enough of me, I'm also up at the PensFatales today, talking about leftovers.)

(Also, it's 9:26am, and there's a full on first coffee date happening in front of me. It's cute, but if that nice boy doesn't stop talking about nothing but himself, the pretty girl isn't going to call him back, I'm just saying. Friendly tip.)

Updates and SwingsNovember 28, 2011

Good morning! For you US people, happy day-back-to-work-after-a-holiday day. I know it's Cyber Monday, but let's not talk about that. (Oh, actually. Let's talk about that just for a minute. I've gotten really used to doing all my holiday shopping on Amazon -- it's seriously easy for a shift worker who hates stores at the best time of year, which this is not. But do you know what else is easy? Taking that shopping list out of Amazon and plopping it into an email to my local independent bookstore, Laurel Bookstore, and having them order everything for me. Yes, it's more money. Amazon gives such a deep discount on everything it's hard to argue with them. And I love my Kindle. But I'm going to argue with them about this. This year, I'm putting my money where my mouth is, and keeping my cash local. This feels good and right.)

Down from the soapbox! Over to the Update Corner!

1. I've been writing a lot. I'm just about done with the book I've been working on, and I'm about to start another. This is, perhaps, my favorite part of writing, that point where the current work is almost as good as I can get it on my own, and the point where I'm dreaming about the plot of the next one, poking at it when I think I can get away with it (my conscious brain says, No! Don't plot while you're still finishing this one! but my unconscious says Add ponies to the next book! And explosions!).

2. I've been knitting, yes, but nothing very interesting. More important, I've been SPINNING. I'm spinning up a gorgeous 3-ply DK weight yarn in the most lovely natural gray Polwarth that I bought at SOAR about five years ago from a Canadian vendor who now appears closed (Rovings, anyone? Their website doesn't work anymore). I have 900 grams of it. SO MUCH GORGEOUS FIBER. I know the sweater I'll make from it will be cabled, but beyond that, I'm letting the ideas percolate.

3. Um, that might be it. The house is mostly clean. The animals are mostly fine (Digit is still an ass). I'm getting better at sleeping in when I can, and I'm practicing as much as I can. I'm still a Very Bad Relaxer, but I think I was born this way, I'm sorry.

4. I got to swing on a swing the other day (an unexpected swing! Found while walking the dogs on a hill just above our house!).


Unexpected swings might be my new favorite thing.

How to Revise Your NovelNovember 21, 2011

(My workshop notes on my method for revising novels, placed here so I can find them again later. Perhaps they'll help you!)

First, FINISH THE NOVEL. This is your most important duty. Just finish. No excuses.

“You can fix a bad page; you can’t fix a blank one.” – Nora Roberts

Then, dance around for a while! You’re done! Put it away and read a good book or two. Come back later.

REVISION (aka The Fun Stuff)

1. Acceptance: everything might change, and that’s okay. Keep an open mind.

2. Triage: assessing what needs the most work.

Find your theme (distill your book into 1-4 words. Love heals. The inevitability of loss. Family is chosen.) Print this out—attach it to your computer or somewhere you can see it often.

3. Write your one-sentence elevator pitch.

4. Write your one-paragraph book jacket blurb.

5. Print out and reread your book. (Paper is better for this than reading on computer.)

For every scene, write one sentence about what happens. (Anna arrives home, sees Paul.)

Now is not the time for line-edits—you will make those changes later. If you must, circle things that are wrong, but move through.

For every thought you have about plot/character/setting that must be fixed, make a Post-it note.

6. Mark up the sentence outline with your fix ideas. Ask yourself The Big Questions (see below). Make generous use of the Post-its method (see below).

7. Open the file. 

8. “Save As” FilenameCUTS

9. Go back to original; start at first scene.

Ask yourself: Is this scene necessary? Does it do more than one thing (does it advance both plot and character development)? Start late, get out early.

If it is not exactly what you want, CUT it and place in Cuts file. Take what you want to save and move it back to working document, moving forward, sentence by sentence.

Pro-tip #1: At the end of every day, save your document as its name + date (ex: SundayMorning070511) so that you have copies of every day, in case you ever do want to revert or need to save something you cut (you won’t, but it helps a writer sleep better).

Pro-tip #2: Every day, when you sit down to work, read over all your Post-its to keep the questions/problems fresh in your mind.

10. Move forward. Ask the same difficult questions of each scene. Is there motion in both internal and external conflict? Are characters growing/changing while acting in a believable manner? Put anything that doesn’t work into the Cuts file and start again.

11. Juggle scenes as you come to them. Do not jump ahead. When you have great ideas about scenes to come, use the Post-it method. (It’s possible that when you get there, this idea won’t be right—don’t waste precious time writing it now.)

12. Remember that the beginning is the slowest. While you’re not jumping ahead to fix things, you are going backwards as you go, fixing things you’ve already worked on. But you are merely narrowing your egress. Your revision speed will pick up as you go, until by the end of the book, you’ll be flying.

13. On the last pass, concentrate on line edits. This is when you make sentences beautiful, now that you know you’re keeping them.

14. The final touches: Put the book into another form (print on paper in a new font, or put it on your Kindle). Read it aloud. Make the little changes. Check POV, grammar, spelling, repetitive words, continuity.

15. Kick it out. Send to your agent, your editor, or start writing that kick-ass query letter. Celebrate. Then start something new.



Buy a ton of the small Post-its (you’ll want to keep them close and handy, thus the small kind).

For every problem, big or small, write a Post-it. These can range from character problems (Make Nolan more alpha) to plot issues (Add scene with Ollie freaking out).

Attach these to an 81/2x11 piece of paper or into the pages of your notebook, anywhere where you can see them often.

Reread them every single time you sit to work on your novel. Add/move/subtract frequently.

Remember: Big fix-its can fit on small Post-its.




Using your sentence outline, analyze the plot. Look for holes. Can you clearly identify the inciting incident? The turning points? The black moment? The resolution?

Do internal and external conflicts, goals, and motivations intersect and collide? Are they definable? (If not, consider defining them, so you as the author know exactly what they are.)

Are your characters believable? Individual? Are their goals/motivations/conflicts compelling enough to make the reader keep turning pages?

Are the main characters directly involved in creating/fixing/changing their internal and external plot conflicts?

Can you set your story anywhere else? If you can, make the setting mesh more cohesively with the characters, to make it matter.

Falling SlowlyNovember 18, 2011

I just lost my mind and spent two hours recording "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova on the ukulele and accordion. Wanna hear it? It's such a great song that it's hard to completely butcher it (although I gave it my best shot). Play it here, or right-clicking on it should allow you to save and open it in iTunes.


I am reminded that I don't mind making a semi-fool of myself in public (a total fool -- yes, I hate that. But I'm not shy about certain things, like having a great time making music as well as I can, all by myself).

For those who'd like the ukulele chords, they're C, F, Am, and G. Super simple.

(Also, if you haven't seen the movie "Once" from which this song is taken, you totally should.)


GraffNovember 13, 2011

I'm passionate about street art, especially that done by women. Oakland is a prime place for this kind of beautification, and I've meant for a long time to find a large mural done by women graffiti artists earlier this year. We found it today, and it's even more awesome than I'd imagined. Done by seventeen female artists from all over the country, it took three days to complete.







Isn't it incredible? It's down off Mandela Parkway, at about 22nd or so. More pictures at Flickr, and this is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of it from one of the artists, TooFly from New York.

Knit-InNovember 10, 2011

We had an amazing time knitting-in at Occupy Oakland the other day.

Kristine and Adrienne the Verb-ers came, bringing Cookie A and Ysolda.

Hi Kristine! Hi Cookie!

Also in attendance were Janine, Maia, and another woman who'd heard about us on Twitter (not sure she wanted her name used). And Alicia and Julianne (new knitters, both! Yay!) came with Margie (a long-time knitter). 

The best part? The new knitters we attracted. I love these photos.


This guy was working SO HARD at his new talent, and his face was nothing but delight as he realized he got to keep the needles and yarn.

And this is Alex and Janine (did he realize he had the best teacher in the world?). He came from Occupy Amsterdam after he heard what happened in Oakland last week. He was completely lovely and a total knitting natural.


Afterward, I took the hat I'd made out into the camp to find someone to give it to. It felt odd to do it that way, but it's what the supply tent had recommended we do. So I peered into people's lives from outside the tent-flap. I heard a couple of people arguing. Many were talking seriously and intelligently. A lot of people were laughing. I found this guy (another Alex) standing chatting with some women under a high pitched tarp. "Anyone here need a hat for nighttime?"

"Me!" he said. "Me!"

He loved it. He was a great hugger. And I love this photo:


Next time: we'll fry people's minds with spinning. Oh, yeah. I can't wait. (Thinking possibly of Friday the 18th for this, if the camp is still open and barring bad weather. Can you come?)

(It's going well, by the way. The conversation is really, really starting, and things like chat on this blog and out in the streets is exactly what we need. After the Oakland General Strike the other day, we were spending our dollars locally in our favorite Oakland bar, Baggy's. We were approached by a rather rough looking guy from the valley. He was union and had been sent to Oakland with his coworkers for the strike, but he had no idea what was going on or why we had participated. For THIS, we said. For this moment that a guy in a bar who wouldn't normally talk to our group approaches us (two of the three of my group were union, he was surprised to find out) to talk about how we, together, can make things better. How we can switch to credit unions. How we can keep our dollars local, pay in cash, insist on patronizing businesses who keep their business local. It was an extremely moving moment, and we had a connection. Just like I had that connection with both Alexes (Alexi?). Just like we have our connection here. Again, all polite comments welcomed! Thanks for being awesome.)

*Edited on 11-11 to add: I hope for the best for the camp. The shooting yesterday may make it harder for it to continue, but there is conversation now, at least. I'm proud of my city.

*Edited again at 0215hrs: they're saying the man killed was named Alex.

The Photo FallacyNovember 8, 2011

There are so many similarities between novel writing and knitting, and I've remarked on them before, but these things bear repeating:

1. Work done every day, even a few lines or a few stitches, adds up into books and sweaters.

2. Sometimes when you finish something, it's a piece of crap. That's when the tricky work comes: figuring whether it's salvageable and then working out HOW to do that.

I *almost* finished my Levenwick sweater last night. This is what it should look like:


(I just realized I fell for the photo fallacy again. This sweater, even if made right, would not suit me. And I'm just noticing that now. I just wanted to BE her. Grrr.)

I'm not going to show you what it DOES look like, not until I decide what to do with it. The arm scyes are way too deep -- apparently I was just knitting along and didn't notice that at all. The reverse stockinette rolls and flips in all the wrong places. The lace doesn't hold up, and I'm not sure blocking will help at all. I was SO FRUSTRATED and upset last night when I tried it on -- it's been a while since a sweater defeated me, and that's what this feels like happened.

I still have to knit the hem (which calls for applied i-cord -- HA! As if I would waste my time). I think what I'll do is slap-bang on a quick hem of some sort and weave the ends in loosely, and then wash the damn thing and block it. (Oh, how I resent the time I'll have to put in doing this.)

But I think, even when I do this: It's been a grand waste of time. I'll have to decide what to do with it. I won't frog it -- the idea of doing that gives me hives. It's nice, inexpensive yarn, nothing worth working hard to save. Maybe I'll donate it to someone at Occupy Oakland. (Hey! Knit-in tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1pm in the plaza, you're welcome to come -- knit something warm to give away.)

Now, when it comes to writing, I'm used to editing. It's my favorite part, actually. I love moving and deleting big blocks of words around and reworking them. In my current work-in-progress, I have 100,ooo words, with 50,000 unused words in the trash bin.That tells me I'm getting close.

But knitting? Anytime it doesn't come out exactly the way I want the first time, it feels like I've only been wasting my time. I don't quite understand why my brain feels like this, but it has something to do with TIME. I don't have enough time in this life to knit all the sweaters I want to knit, just like I'll never read every book that's on my list. It frustrates me to waste time reading crappy books or knitting sweaters that don't suit. I don't keep reading bad books to see if they get better, and if I'm not totally in love with a pattern, it doesn't do to reknit it.

I'd rather sit on the couch and figure out the math for my accordion sweater. At least if I screw that up, I can only blame myself. Also, it's FUN to do that kind of math.

New Goal! November 6, 2011

But first: new shawl.

This is the Lacy Baktus, and I made it in Universal Yarn Deluxe Worsted Long Print LP (sexy name, right? Rolls right off the tongue) in Apple Prchid. Yes, that's the what the label says. That can't be Apple Orchid, since that doesn't make any sense. They mean Apple Orchard, don't they? Because that's the color I see in this.

It's fun. I haven't blocked it -- probably never will. It doesn't seem to need it.(And it was FAST! Not more than a couple of weeks of not much knitting.)


It even (and I didn't expect this, it being lacy and all) looked good on Lala.


I went out to lunch with Clara Parkes while wearing it, and she took this photo:


(Hang on! Did you see that thing I just dropped? Wait, let me get it; it was a name.... But I know. Clara Parkes! She's a peach. I mean a Prchea. And she wrote the lovely, lovely foreword for A Life in Stitches, and I'm lucky.)


You know those old Mary Maxim patterns? Like this beauty?


And Hoedown, now out of print:


I WANT A MARY MAXIM-LIKE ACCORDION SWEATER. Can't you just see it? Musical notes, like Lala's, on the front. An image of my accordion on the back. Oh, be still my nerdy little heart. Easy to chart, right? Something like this (thanks to this fine program):


Except it would be in BLUE. Ahhh.

I have two sweaters and a scarf to finish before I can start this, but it's kind of all I can think about. Obsession. I haz it.