Monday, December 20, 2010

Self-murder and other editing tools

I came across a quote recently that, to me, stands among the brilliant statements of a writing career:

Ruthlessness with one's own copy remains the mark of a professional, because you have to stab yourself in the back. - Paul Collins, How to Write Like A Victorian

Collins was writing about the first "how-to" writing book, written in the 1890s, and how it's advice is very similar to the tips writers receive today. It is somewhat ironic that the writer, Sherwin Cody, really didn't have a track record of writing fiction, but he blazed a trail of Victorian writers into that pernicious field of fiction.

Collins point is an excellent one. It is no surprise that the title editors and agents always encourage writers to pick up is "Self-editing for Fiction Writers." (BTW, did you know SEFFW is on Facebook now?) The ability to take a firm stand with one's own work is really one of the marks of the writers that have the best chance of succeeding in publishing. The other, sometimes, is the combination of nerve and nose that Cody demonstrated in the late 1800s. (See the full article here - it's a good read.)

While you ponder that, here's a very funny look at the writer not willing to mess with his own work. Maybe you'll recognize him.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An American Xmas - an invitation

A new play is opening on December 9th. It's called "An American Xmas" and is a comedic look at many of the accepted but contradictory attitudes taken towards Christmas.

As I mentioned before, I get to be involved through set design, costume selections and decor for these events. It's a great group to work with and the end result is always something exciting!

This year, I also got to have some artwork be part of the poster and promotion for the event. It's just more and more fun every year!

If you're in the neighborhood, you're invited to come to "An American Xmas"!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Printing will destroy architecture"

"The book will destroy the edifice."
- Dom Claude, in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

My husband has lately been reading Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and pointed out a passage to me that tied up with a current train of thought I'd been having. It's a long passage so I'll skip around a little but the gist of it is the thought that the Gutenberg press was threatening the art of architecture:

"When the legends of primitive races became so numerous, and their reciting was so confused that the stories were about to be lost, people began to transcribe these memories in the most visible, the most lasting, and at the same time the most natural medium. Every tradition was sealed under a monument."

This practice, says Hugo, eventually gave rise to the elaborate architecture of the cathedral and castle. But with the printing press, those same ideas were not captured in words, not in images. Hugo writes:

"Here was a premonition that human thought had advanced, and, in changing, was about to change its mode of expression, that the important ideas of each new generation would be recorded in a new way, that the book of stone, so solid and so enduring, was about to be supplanted by the paper book, which would become more enduring still. In this respect, the vague formula of the archdeacon had a second meaning: That one art would dethrone another art. It meant: Printing will destroy architecture."

It brought to mind the many discussions on the future of traditional publishing in the light of digital publishing. It seems that one was seen as a threat to the other, with both points of view pointing at the other and saying that the end was coming. Obviously, with hindsight, architecture hasn't been done away with. It has changed and modified its look with the trends of the cultures it represents. Perhaps it has become more functional. But it has still carried on with a purpose and with the artistry of those that practice it. A book can't provide shelter like a building can and a building can still express a concept, a thought, an idea even if not as graphically as it once did with its murals and carved edifices.

I suspect the reverse is true of traditional print publishing and digital publishing. The digital formats reduce much of the art to the functional - so far, anyways - while traditional publishing maintains the art and craftsmanship. But there will be room for both to develop their strengths and unique position in a previously unchallenged marketplace. One will have a little more "weight of tradition" behind it, while the other breaks new ground and presents age-old ideas in new and novel ways.

In the end, I suspect traditional publishing will carry on. Not at odds with digital possibilities but in standing as a monument to the ideas and artistry of its kind to be practiced with an old and new purpose unique to itself.

Let's see how it works out.

*all excerpts from Book V, chapter 2 "This Will Kill That"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembering ...

by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The edge of the box

Lately, I've been reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin, and have been both challenged and intrigued by his perspective. Although his expertise is generally considered to be in the hi-tech industry, I've been benefiting from taking him literally when he uses the terms "art" and "artist" to apply to the work done in any (or every) industry.

Here's some snippets that, in the words of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, "have given me furiously to think":

"Artists don't think outside the box, because outside the box there's a vacuum ... Artists think along the edges of the box, because that's where things get done. That's where the audience is, that's where the means of priduction are available, and that's where you can make an impact." (pg. 102)

A readily available analogy for this concept is in writing. Writers introduce new concepts, new characters and new worlds but they do it inside the framework of written communication - grammar, plot, sentence structure and so on. Their creative efforts or art rely on the framework of the known. If a writer suddenly abandoned all rules of grammar and just threw words in any order or any tense onto the page, chances are very good that his/her intent would be lost. There would be no idea communicated, except in a purely visual sense. But even the visual arts follow certain conventions that give their work impact, to find that point of contact with their viewer.

Godin's addressing the idea that art must meet reality in order to truly accomplish it's purpose. In order to make an impact, it first has to make it out the door. He quotes Steve Jobs "Real artists ship" as the basic concept of impact.

Now, I've known this for sometime on a personal level - I produce better and more consistently when I have a deadline. Am I always 100% satisfied with what I've produced? No. But if my satisfaction is the key to moving it out, it will never get out. Let's face it, I can putz with a comma or an area of shading forever. The ship date keeps me focused.

Here's Godin's challenge:

"The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship ... Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world." (pg. 103)
And it eventually becomes part of the process.

"When you first adopt the discipline of shipping, your work will appear to suffer. There's no doubt that another hour, day, or week would have added some needed polish. But over time -- rather quickly, actually -- you'll see that shipping becomes part of the art and shipping makes it work." (pg. 103)

That's the edge of the box. It means you can't rest on the direction of someone else for your daily involvement in your craft. It means paying attention to each step. Walking the edges of the box take balance, discipline and dedication. But creating on the edge of the box also means that your work can be both satisfying and have the impact you intend. And that's the point at which you become indispensable.

Step out and ship it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Up to my scuppers?

I'm not a big TV watcher. Have a few shows on DVD that I prefer to watch over and over again, but while traveling last summer, I finally watched an episode of Holmes on Homes. Even where I'm living, I kept hearing, "Don't you know who he is? He's from CANADA!"


I thoroughly enjoyed the show and that night I learned what a scupper is - at least related to a home roof. Then I also learned it's actually a boating term. A "scupper" is a drain on a boat.

Which led to this fascinating bit of information - "If you're 'up to your scuppers' you're about to sink..."

It's been a busy time here at my desk. Lots of writing, not enough art, and general business taking up much of my day. There are moments I do indeed feel "up to my scuppers"!

But then that phrase makes me laugh out loud, and I return to the writing waiting for me.

And do it with a smile, too.

(Thanks, Uncle B.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sound theories on writing for children?

“They seem to regard books for children with the same tolerant tenderness with which nearly any adult regards a child. Most of us assume there is something good in every child; the critics go on from this to assume there is something good in every book written for a child. It is not a sound theory.”

– Katharine White (Mrs. E.B.White) quoted in
The New Yorker, 7-21-08 “The Lion and the Mouse”

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cleaning house

I've been cleaning and sorting through my studio the past few weeks. And will be tackling the closets soon. But today, I sat down and did the same with my computer desktop, not just the physical one.

And I threw out 1500 words.

I know I may miss having words like pastiche and lugubrious and senectitude tucked away for a rainy day but sometimes we just have to prioritize.

("Word Dump" created at

Friday, September 3, 2010

Author adventures

School is back in session across most of the nation, or will be next week, for students. And as I think about the year ahead, I still smile about how the year ended for me and an elementary school that I was visiting.

I'd had a week together with a wonderful elementary school in state and it was our last day. Plans were to finish our writing/art projects in several classrooms and then the day would end with a short session with the parents, an ice cream social and a book signing while the parents got a chance to tour around and see what their students had worked to produce. And, as usual, some of the students had done an exceptional job.

So the day began. 8:20 am and I was five minutes in the first session of the morning and - BLINK- the lights went out. Just like that.

It had been raining all week. A steady but strong constant curtain of rain that kept me largely building-bound in a town I was excited to explore. As it turns out, this school is built on the edge of a marsh and one of the big cottonwoods that bordered the marsh had enough of the rain and fell. Snapping a power pole in the process.

Because it is a marsh, the standard equipment couldn't get to the pole to replace it and the crews had to wait for equipment to come up the freeway from another town. The school and the surrounding neighborhood would be in the dark all day. I was told that normally, the procedure would have been to notify parents and let students go home.

But there were two problems with that plan. 1 - the phone lines at the school went out with the power. Everyone would have had to break out their cell phones which would leave the students rather at large while messages, etc were left around town. And 2 - the administrators that would make the let-them-go decisions were in emergency budget meetings.

So the remarkable staff did what all enterprising and resourceful teachers do. They carried on.

We read by open windows, drew in courtyard-rimmed hallways, painted by the light of flashlights and toted water for our painters up the stairs to the better-lit atria in the library. Volunteer-manned lanterns marked the darkest corners of the hallways and restrooms were restricted to the ones with available lighting.

It was a fabulous day! The students really seemed to enjoy the toss-up in routine and still carried on with their work in an almost carnival atmosphere. The staff and parent volunteers laughed and joked and told stories as we figured out the worst of the disruptions. And the principal smiled right along with them, I hope with a measure of pride in how well her school responded to the day in the dark.

My hat is off to Bohemia Elementary for a day of fun and adventure! And maybe I'll make it back for some ice cream some day after all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fun with foamcore

I have the privilege of regularly being involved in stage decor as I've mentioned several times in the past. We love to do it fun, innovative and as cheap as possible.

This week, the challenge was to create a giant journal. Boy, did I have fun! The best part, though, was making the giant pencil. It's 7 1/2 feet tall and made up pretty much entirely of foam and duct tape. The pencil body is painted foam core, and the "eraser" is duct tape formed over poster paper and a foam plate.

Best part it, it is so lightweight that when the AC comes on, the pencil moves and looks like it's writing!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Artists on the road

I recently went on a family vacation that covered a lot of territory. We never specifically planned to take in any galleries or art exhibits but one of the things I noticed is the way art kept popping up through the "regularly scheduled" activities. It was my pleasure this year to discover (or become reacquainted with) some talented artists and their work.

My first encounter was in Saskatoon, SK. The Circle Park Mall has made a number of display cases along the mall and in one of them I found Jackie Miller's cityscapes. They were bold, colorful and had the occasional flair for taking an unusual angle. I enjoyed them thoroughly.

Then in Louisville, KY, we went to the Louisville Slugger Museum. Beautiful building and fun tour but the exciting part for me was the display of original work by Kadir Nelson for his book We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. I became familiar with Kadir Nelson through another book of his, Abe's Honest Words, and the chance to see his work in person was an absolute thrill. It is breathtaking.

Another unexpected intro to an artist showed up at the National Auto Museum, in Reno, NV. Throughout the museum was displayed the work of Robert Cinkel, a Reno artist commissioned by the National Auto Museum to depict autos in their historical context in an exhibit called "Even in Africa". His work is delightful and made an already unique museum an unforgettable experience. (Of course, I liked the period clothing, too.)

If you're near any of these art opportunities, I'd encourage to you to find them and enjoy them. And keep your eyes open. Who knows what treasures may be waiting along the road this summer?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I've mentioned before that I love creativity in promotion. Lately, the "thing" seems to be book trailers. And so many authors are creating book trailers - some compelling, some fun, some odd and some - well - slightly painful. I think they serve their purpose, but for the most part, I don't think many of them have the advantage of novelty that they used to. Don't get me wrong - video book trailers have taken their place on the list of marketing essentials, but they are rather like author websites - much of a muchness.

But here's a GREAT book trailer! It's fresh, funny and he invents a word too! Enjoy...

If you're interested in producing your own book trailer, Writer's Digest did an article awhile back with some how-to advice. Check it out here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dream big

I like crossword puzzles. It's part of my morning routine and my understanding husband lets me have the weekday ones (he gets the NYTimes Sunday puzzle). So on a school visit early this month, I grabbed a local paper, found the puzzle ... and I was in it!

Okay, it wasn't me personally - but it was still my name. And it made me wonder - what do I really consider success? Do I want to be so commonly known that my name really is a crossword clue someday?

I actually found at least part of my answer later that day. As I walked down the hallway of the school I was visiting, I heard whispers following me down the hall - "It's the author lady!", "Hi, Valerie!", "I like your books..." And the smiles and the laughter and the hugs and the funny ideas and creative surprises continued on all day.

You know, that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A quick thought

I've been immersed lately in business writing. It's been filling all my spare moments and then some.

Apart from the fact that it pays well, I consider it a whetstone for my writing - it keeps me sharp and it keeps my editorial knife keen. In fact, it makes me practice this adage:

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
~Elmore Leonard

Monday, May 17, 2010

Author action figures

I generally try not to post two in a row (two videos, two writing prompts, etc) but this is too fantastic to pass up on. I hope it puts a grin in your day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Paint savers

As an artist that works fairly often with acrylic paints, the need to be able to walk away from my work for awhile has presented some problems. Once out of the tube/jar/bottle, acrylic paints dry. Ironic, isn't it?

Where this really becomes a problem is when I've mixed a batch of custom color and then have to put the painting aside for awhile. I know, I know, where's my dedication to the craft? But, hey, life happens.

I've tried a few different products that are supposed to help prolong the open life of acrylic paints. Some were inadequate. Unless I'd mixed WAY too much of a color and could peel the skin off to reach fresh paint underneath, they simply didn't do the job.

One product that's pretty good is the Premier Sta-Wet Palette By Masterson. It did a very nice job of keeping the paints fresh for up to 3 weeks. But the depth of the palette meant they had to be pretty small portions of paint. And as time went along, the moisture level in the palette made the edges of the paint dollops get rather watery and begin to run into each other. And after three weeks, the paints were still wet but were starting to smell funky.

A last issue I had is that the papers for the Masterson palette were very difficult to find in my area. Plenty of sponges available but no paper. I did find though, that freezer paper would work in a pinch.

Then I found two better (and much cheaper) option.

Number 1:

It began in a workshop by Jeannie St. John Taylor, when she showed us how she used the lids of margarine tubs (or whipped topping tubs) as her palettes for small dabs of color. If she needed to save a color for a while, she simply popped the top of the tub back onto the lid and, presto, an air tight seal. If it had to be extended, she gave the paint a short mist of water and closed it up again.

I borrowed this idea and bought some cheap food storage containers at a local dollar store. The clear containers were much better for me so I could see what colors I had on the go. I use the lids for the palette and the "tops" for rinse water as I paint. When it's time to stop, I simply rinse the "top", then snap it over the lid. The little bit of moisture left from the rinse keeps the paint fresh for up to four weeks (depending on the size of the paint dab). If I don't get back to them in time, it doesn't solve my color dilemma but I simply peel the paint off and save the dried, flexible paint drops for use in an abstract later.

One drawback to my particular system to note: the colored lids can affect your color perception as you paint. I test on my background so it's never been a huge dilemma but you can see how it might become one.

Number 2:

For large paintings, I still needed something that would hold a generous amount of paint but really hadn't found a good option yet. But then, in preparing for a large live painting session, I grabbed a deli-type container on the way out the door. It seemed like a good all-in-one option for big amounts of paint and having some rinse water nearby.

It worked very well and after clean-up, I simply slapped the lid back on thinking I'd deal with it at home. Well, home took over and it was two weeks before I got back to my temporary palette. To my amazement, the paint was completely fresh from top to bottom. Problem solved!

Here's how it works: take any multi-compartment deli container (you know the type that come with veggies and dip, or crackers and cheese) and use the compartments for your paint colors, but leave one compartment empty. When you need to close up the paint, put 1" of water in that compartment and snap the lid on. The paint I've currently got in there had been in this make-shift palette for 5 weeks and is still completely usable and moist. As the water evaporates slightly, it creates enough humidity in the container that the surface of the paint does not dry. I'm going to leave a little paint to see how long I can really keep it going, but for the purposes of my latest painting, it's been perfect.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thomas Grey's "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard"

Etta Wilson has been posting about poetry this week and it brought back to mind one of my favorite poems of all time. So bear with me and enjoy:


The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault
If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Yet e'en these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd Muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E'en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate, --

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

'There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

'Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

'The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,-
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.'

The Epitaph

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melacholy marked him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode
(There they alike in trembling hope repose),
The bosom of his Father and his God.

By Thomas Gray (1716-71).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pencil vs. Camera

This is such a fun mix in visual mediums. Check it out!

Pencil vs. Camera

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NewsFlash: Books make a difference!

Found this article rather interesting: Children Who Grow Up With Books Fare Better.

And my question is this -

are you surprised?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Authors on the move

I've mentioned Canadian YA author Eric Walters before, but just found out he's doing something even more remarkable (and with Eric it's always a long list of remarkable). He is part of a group that is walking across the desert in Tunisia. He's joining the founder of impossible2possible (i2P) and several young people in this adventure. Their goal is to raise awareness of water issues in Africa and funds for Ryan's Well. You can learn more about the adventure here.

Travels can prompt stories and I expect Eric will come back with plenty. Books like My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the Worldby Margriet Ruurs are fascinating glimpses into aspects of these travels, and sometimes plain silliness comes out of them too. An artist friend has a visual journal of her travels in the number of art pieces that have been prompted by her travels overseas. Do you enjoy books that give a definite sense of place? What about art? Is one easier to convey than the other?

In my travels today, I was in one of the bookstores in the San Francisco airport this morning and was browsing, as usual, checking out what was selling, what people were looking at, and what was on sale. There was a large group of children's titles for sale that made me vaguely sad (love a sale; hate to see children's books undervalued) and some titles that surprised me with the instant assumptions I formed about the book.

There were also some titles that I had some pretty strong reactions to that probably had nothing to do with the story. I've been known to buy a book for the cover, and I walked right past some today, even skirted around them, again because of the cover. I didn't have time to test all the titles (Did the back copy match my assumptions? Was the writing as evocative as the cover?...) before I had to run catch my own flight.

Gotta fly ...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Poems to music (Natalie Merchant)

A link from a colleague sent me to this video of Natalie Merchant's adaptations of a collection of early poems. The music and staging are delightful but even more so is the fact that the words of these sometimes little-know 19th-century writers are living again. Can you picture your words being revived in a hundred years or more?


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Outsider talk

I've been planning to write about jargon for a while now. But the more I think about it, the longer the post gets in my head and I put it off (again).

But I found this word:

exonym (n.) : a name given to a person or place by foreigners; a name used by people not native to the place of reference; a place name or a personal name used by foreigners instead of the native-language version used by its inhabitants.

Examples are Moscow (the English version of Moskva); Germany (Deutschland); Japan (Nippon); Vienna (Wien). It's also been fairly common with names - using a name that sounds similar but is different from a person's personal name, often because of linguistic differences and often to make assimilation easier. ie. Charles for Karl; Julia for Juanita, etc.

As a writer, this intrigues me. Like jargon, it represents a certain kind of "inside" knowledge.

I write for English readers. But if I were to set a story in Moscow, which name would I use? Would it lend authenticity to refer to Moskva or just confuse the reader? (It certainly confuses my spell checker.) Tom Clancy uses the exonyms for many Russian cities but sometimes a Russian character would use the native name. Does the time frame or historic setting make a difference? Brock and Boede Thoene also use exonyms in their historic series.

And the last question: are those writers' examples enough to draw a "rule-of-thumb" by?

Fortunately for me, my next story is set in a pond. Which the characters simply refer to as "home."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tax time translations

It's tax time here both on a quarterly and annual level, and in reviewing some of the information on quarterly taxes and self-employment tax, I came across this statement on the IRS site:

"The subject of employment taxes is not as formidable when you consult our comprehensive resources."

I have to tell you that after three hours of research that don't answer my questions, several seemingly contradictory sections, and learning that the rules change if I'm a farmer or a fisherman ...

that's a very funny statement.

Ha ha ... ha ha ... ha ha ha ...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Funny fears

Saw a great definition today:


The irrational fear of palindromicity

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fun with Post-its

My husband pointed me to this video and I was amazed. It took some real dedication (follow the link to "the making of" and you'll see what I mean) to produce this and its absolutely remarkable.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The right foot forward

A terminology word search led me into the multi-syllable world of foot structure this morning. Why? Because someone I know kept referring to the top middle section of the foot as "the instep." That just didn't seem right to me. I always thought the arch and the instep were synonymous in referring to the bottom central portion of the foot.

It seems that I was right and wrong. The instep is generally considered to the the bottom, inside, curved portion of the foot. But I have not yet found a satisfactory term for the top middle portion of the foot. "Midfoot" and the ever-obvious "top of the foot" (as opposed to "the toes", I suppose) seemed to the the simplest terms I could find the for area above the 5 metatarsal bones.

As a writer, I like to have the right word in the right spot. (Of course, writing or not, I just like to be right. But you might have guessed that already, right?) As an artist, I found a couple good resources for those interested in drawing feet, or understanding them from a visual accuracy perspective.

The first is The Foot Thread on WetCanvas, where a series of studies and exercises lead you through different and relevant portions of the foot. It's fascinating even if you don't plan to draw detailed feet.

The second is a Wikipedia article which may drown you in Latin, but has some great illustrations of the various muscle groups that influence the foot and lower leg. What a mechanical marvel!

So have a look and then step out and put your best foot forward.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Packing for literacy learning

I'm just packing to get ready to go to the 20th Western IRA Regional Conference in Portland. While I'm there with a friend as a vendor, the beauty of going with a friend is that we can still take in some of the sessions on literacy education. If you want to check it out, see the details here.

I'm hoping to come back with lots of news!

What are your don't-miss events for this year?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Stage works

I promised a little while ago to put up some pictures of the Christmas drama/musical set I'd been part of and it's finally time.

It turned out great! I was responsible for set design/assembly and helped again with costumes (so cool - we had a lady supply us many authentic vintage items for the costumes!) Each of the panel sections in the center were mobile and would swing forward to be an 1850s market place or a dock scene (complete with a stuffed boar's head outside the pub!), or they flipped to show orphanage walls on the back side. Our builder was amazing! I gave him two pencil sketches and a brochure from West Ed Mall and he turned it into magic! Including a twenty+ foot mast (he cut down a tree!). Of course, no 1850s London docks scene would be complete without a fogger. And did I mention the snow machine?

It was four performances of original music, an original new script and fabulous costumes.

As I mentioned before, I would really encourage writers and artists to get their toes into a dramatic production if the chance ever arises. It really produces a living, dynamic event that teaches much in the process and rewards greatly in the finished product.

At the end, it was bittersweet to take it all down. But it also left the question that faces every author, artist, songwriter or playwright - what'll we do next to top this?

I'll have to keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A new exhibit

Along with some of my artwork (and that of a lot of other talented people), the exhibit will also feature the award-winning Homemade Confections, and ForGiving handcrafted jewelry. Feel free to stop in and check it out!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Making the list

I admit it- I've been known to Google my own name. It's fun sometimes to see where it pops up. And not fun other times. I've found my name on an "aliens-are-coming-and-we-welcome-them" club membership list and others of that ilk, but I've also found some fun sites and information through these searches too.

This week, two spots of note (It's all about me again so turn away if you're feeling queasy):

I made TVO's Recommended Reading Lists for Family Literacy Day with When Pigs Fly, and according to their calendar it looks like When Pigs Fly will be featured in June of this year in Gisele's Big Backyard Book Club. Yay! Love Gisele's Big Backyard Book Club!

Secondly, I found a neat site called Once Upon A Storyville. There are some great reviews, some books I'd like to check out after seeing them there and other interesting tidbits. Where do I come in? Here.

What do you learn when you look for you? You might want to try it before the alien's show up.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Threadbare souls

I saw this quote today that got the mental wheels turning:

"Often behind silken apparel lies a threadbare soul." (unknown)

How would that play out in a character in a novel? In their relationships? Can you think of a character, either in film or literature, that this would sum up? If you're looking for something to get your gears turning today, give this one a shot.

I remember reading (some time ago) Forever Amber, a novel written in 1944 but set in the luxurious courts of 17th century England. (It also had the distinction of being banned as pornography in 14 states when it was published so let that be your guide about whether you want to invest the time to read it or not.) My lasting impression of the heroine as I closed the back cover on the book was "Wow, she still doesn't get it." Gone With the Wind, similar. Some sense of this too, in Vanity Fair. Why do you suppose the first characters I think of are women? Is it that they are more likely to guild the lily to hide the soul? What male characters display the same traits?

Really, my question is this - can you be satisfied with a character that has a threadbare soul?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Times are bad

I saw this quote in a fellow writer's tag line and it gave me quite a chuckle:

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is
writing a book."
~Cicero, 106-43 BC

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Meet my muse

I'd mentioned before that I had a project that just hasn't been moving along as fast as I'd like. Well, as part of my determination to complete it (and sooner rather than later), I've done two things:

First, I asked another picture book writer/illustrator if he'd be interested in keeping tabs on each other progress. It always helps me to have a deadline. He very graciously said yes, and hasn't really heard from me since. (But I am working on it, Rick, honest.)

Secondly, I found my muse.

Not for inspiration but for motivation - someone that will be looking me in the eye everyday and waiting for me to get back to my drawing board. Now, I must mention that my husband has been filling this role for some time. And while I appreciate it, he doesn't wait beside my work for me every day (sorry, hon).

So here's my muse.

Isn't he something?

The story I'm working on has a line of ants constantly wandering through the illustrations so this little guy is perfect. Plus he has such an expectant and welcoming look on his little face, it's just fun to sit down beside him and feel like we're partnering in the progress of this story. When I look at him, I'm instantly transported to my make believe world. Even the tilt of his little head keeps me going.

And the itty-bitty snail at his feet has his own story too. Last year, a friend and I had been talking about a lack of progress and the frustration that comes with that and came across a little snail. (We were unloading rocks for a display and had inadvertently brought him with us.) But here's what we learned from that snail - as long as you're moving forward, you're making progress. The speed doesn't necessarily matter. My editors may not always agree but in general it's a pretty good policy.

So, between my muse and I, we're going to make progress. I'll keep you posted.

What does it take to keep you moving forward?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

IMO - Derwent Graphitint pencils (set of 24)

I've been trying out a new type of art pencil (at least new to me) over the last month or so, and while I'll admit the jury is only about half in, here's what I've found so far:

The pencils are Derwent Graphitint Pencils- Set of 24 - graphite pencils with a hint of color. Of course, being water soluble they can be used in wet or dry techniques. I decided to start with a "dry" drawing because I wanted to see just how subtle the color tint was. The picture is not quite finished but here's how it has developed so far:

Over all, I've enjoyed them. It's possible to lay down some very subtle and easily blended layers. But I found the color range to be very limited. Obviously, with only a set of 24 colors available, there will be limitations but I found the shortage of yellow hues and lighter hues to be somewhat problematic, particularly as I enjoy working on colored grounds. Possibly with wet techniques this would be easier to compensate for - using more watercolor techniques instead of colored pencil techniques.

I also found there was a distinct "saturation" moment - an abrupt point where you simply could not lay down more pencil on the drawing any more. Again, this may be the fact that I was working on Strathmore paper (which I find to be notoriously short on tooth) and will have to try it on some other papers to get used to the depth of layers possible. Only one color was a little gritty and that seemed to get better as I sharpened the pencil.

They're worth a try but overall, I'd give them 3 stars out of 5.

*I was not compensated in any way for this review and did not do so by request of Derwent. This is just my opinion based on my experience with this product.

All images and artwork (c) vjcoulman.

Added 1-14-10: If you're interested, the final original artwork is available for purchase at ValsImagination.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New goals

So last week I was thinking about goals that I had/hadn't reached yet. And was thinking that it's a new year, it's time to get the new list together. And found a great list at this blog. And generally have dragged my toes for 9 whole hours of the new year about goal setting.

But in sorting through some notes today, I found this quote scrawled on a scrap of paper:

"Most of us learn to write well by writing badly for a long, long time."
(Sue Grafton in Snoopy's Guide to Writing)

I like that. I think I have a goal now. :)

Happy New Year everyone, and
all the best to you as you write

- good OR bad!