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2011 Status Report

I'm terrible at doing recaps -  so much has happened during the year that January seems a distant memory -  and resolutions for the entire year always feel so hard to pin down, so this year I'm going to try something different. A status report.

Having worked on and off for two years at an unnamed Software Giant Megacorp, I've gotten pretty good at those.

Here's where I'm at:
  •  I have three short stories making the rounds (Forget-Me-Not, Strange and Beginning, Again for anyone keeping score)
  • In November, I completed my NaNoWriMo project "Fighting Shadows" at 98k words ( no I'm not an overachiever on speed; it helps to be unemployed). I think it's my first completed NaNo that shows promise of being a sellable novel, with a lot of work, so I'm going to be spending a lot of time over the month+ revising and prepping it for the first round of readers. 
  • I have two short stories that need a reboot and another trip back to my brilliant and ever-patient writing group, Horrific Miscue Seattle (Other Women and Mareskin) before they can start knocking on doors and asking for homes.
The goals are the same as every year:
  • Finish something (the novel)
  • Sell something (the stories)
  • Write something else (new stories and another novel)

This year my dad reminded me "It is better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self." Which is both a gentle nudge unwavering of parental support  despite a lack of visible outcome (thanks dad) and a challenge for me to successfully defy by making the writing I can't help but do worthy of publication. And so, for another year I'm off to the races. 

Thirteen Steps to Cello Bliss


Adult beginners and younger students alike face a unique set of dilemmas when shopping for an instrument, especially if they do so without the advice and experience of a seasoned player. Instrument setup can make or break even the best cello, and knowing what to look for and what will best suit your needs is not as easy as it sounds. Additionally, budget constraints, teachers who suggest only particular brands …and not knowing what the market has to offer or how to best evaluate instruments, can contribute to the difficulty beginners face when shopping for that first step-up cello.  - Heather K. Scott, Strings Magazine

In rather oddly titled article (uh, what is this Glamour magazine for cellos?), Strings Magazine actually does a really good job of outlining the process for choosing a step-up cello for the beginning student and reviews of thirteen quality cellos under $5k. Which I know sounds like a lot of money but in the cello world appears to be a drop in the bucket. I would wonder why all of my hobbies seem to be the expensive kind but I realize that’s something of the definition of a hobby: an activity in which it is possible to spend an inordinante amount of money on with little – if any- tangible return. Enjoyment, however, is priceless.

Not that I’m looking for a new cello – I just got Cecelia back from the shop and I’m excited about just PLAYING for a while – but when school is done and I’m back in lessons reguarly I MIGHT start looking.  Window shopping doesn’t count. Neither does “kicking a few tires” (er, plucking a few strings?)

Originally published at Rashida J. Smith. You can comment here or there.

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as “Shut up and get on with it.” – Helen Simpson

This is going around and around the writing circles, but the third time it came to me was, indeed, the charm. Recently the Guardian published a list of rules for writing fiction from writers that run the range from literary to genre, popular to literary with advice ranging from the time of day at which you write to figuring out who you’re writing for.

From witty to insightful, oddly charming, often profound and occasionally cheeky, the writing advice comes in in the form of “10 Rules” from authors Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Franzen, Annie Proulx, PD James, Phillip Pullman and others is priceless. Suzanne Johnson does a great job picking some of the best ofs (and most interesting) bits on her blog.

There are lots of lists like this out there – hell, whole books published about the topic – but I rarely see such a lovely, concise and varied list from a range of writers. Some of the advice is contradictory, but even that serves a point, reminding readers – and writers – that at we practice a personal art of expression and that no one is a better authority than your own heart.

Thanks to @spitkitten for the first and second time this hit my radar :-)


Originally published at Rashida J. Smith. You can comment here or there.

Wading into the Twilight fracas

I’ve been avoiding the subject (like the plague) for as long as absolutely possible because like most intensely polarizing topics, the Twilight books seem to severely reduce the ability of normally rational people to discuss the gradient. I’m all for “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”  as acceptable personal conclusions. I’m not saying anyone has to have a MA in literature to critique a book. What I’m not for is a lot of the defensiveness, snarkasm and ad hominem author attack that I see a lot when it comes to the Twilight phenomenon between “Team Lovers” and “Team Haters”

What I liked about what the NPR “Monkey See” Blog is doing with their ‘I Will If You Will’ Book Club  is that - at least in the opening salvo – they are actually tackling what I think are central issues with the book – writing style – that raise some valid points about problem areas while still giving some credit to the allure of story.  It will be interesting to see how the series spins off from their opening discussion. I’m not surprised to see by the comments posted thus far the usual suspects of “Team Lovers” and “Team Haters” but there also appear to be a interesting gradient bubbling to the surface.

I’m not going to say what I thought about the books here because frankly I haven’t made up my mind: on one hand part of me is glad that any book or series gets people to read, on the other hand the quality of the material is important - not only other writers trying to get their work published, but to the impressionable minds sucking up the words on page.

Plus there are plenty of other people weighing in with the judgement call. I’m more interested in the discussion. And I’m curious to see where (and how) this one goes.

P.S. Don’t even ask me about the movie(s). I can’t roll my eyes long, far or hard enough.

Originally published at Rashida J. Smith. You can comment here or there.

Cecelia is back!

Well, the bridge that is. After a good turn from the amazingly talented shop at Georgetown Music, I now have a bridge that fits my cello. All with an refreshing lack of snobbery served up in hearty portions from two other stringed instrument shops  in town(cough, cough, store name ends in burger) who spent more time telling me about how crappy my instrument was than coming up with ways to resolve the issue.

At Georgetown, the patient Chris listened to my tale of woe, took the uncarved bridge (send by Cecelio in a last ditch effort to shut us up) and, instead of wasting time decrying the instrument, he  figured out a way to make a less than ideal situation work.

The buzzing is gone from my C string and playing is, once again, a joy. I’m back to cello love with my four stringed accomplice. I had to pause lessons until May while I focus on school and finishing the book, but I have plenty to work on with Schroder’s #6 and Suzuki to keep me busy.

My next cello blog goal is to get some recordings up here so stay tuned!

Originally published at Rashida J. Smith. You can comment here or there.

It's all the cellos fault. Really it is. I've been blogging at Wordpress about my adventures in cello-land and now, finally am getting my own site built and live. The new site will combine all of my passions - writing, music, travel, photography, writing about writing - in one place and I hope you come by for a visit sometime.

The site should be up by the end of the week, so consider this a head's up that I'm closing up my shop on livejournal and moving on to greener pastures.


 Went to see Moon with S tonight at the Harvard theater. 

Sam Rockwell who, with the help of IMBD, I remembered last seeing in "The Assassination of the  Outlaw Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" did a more than passable job carrying pretty much an entire movie.

I had a couple of problems with the movie - aside from the fact that it was WAY too long - and it occasionally sunk into nearly every sci-fi trope known to man.  If nothing else, Kevin Spacey as the voice of GERTY is kind of delightful. And it's really not a 2001: Space Odyessey rip off, in the least, in spite of the trailer. Plus, the ending wasn't as totally random as Sunshine (which I thought was a pretty scifi great movie except for the end and the kind of wacky "let's reignite the sun" premise)

And that, is all that I can say about that.

Some interesting facts:
  • Moon was directed by Duncan Jones, David Bowie's son (with his first wife)...you can stop singing "Ground Control to Major Tom" at any time...
  • Moon was shot in 33 days. 
  • Moon was actually shown to a group of NASA scientists as part of a lecture series. 

for the First Annual Brain Harvest 2009 Mega Challenge...from the site:

"As writers, we’re warned constantly against resorting to tried-and-true tropes, usually for very good reason. In fact, our colleagues at Strange Horizons have assembled a very smart list of contrived plots seen too many times (http://strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml).

But here at Brain Harvest, we’d actually like to see if you can untrope the tropes, and create something interesting, solid, and, well, bad ass from these overly familiar clichés. In fact, we’re willing to stake the first annual Brain Harvest Mega Challenge on the fact that one of you out there can… in 750 words or less."

For more submissions guidelines and deadlines, see: http://www.brainharvestmag.com/2009-mega-challenge-submissions/
 A friend has been kind enough to loan me her house while she's away for 10 days in exchange for catsitting duties. With Write-a-Thon in full swing I figured there was no better time to sequester myself away for a writing intensive week. However, since I'mnow approaching day 4 i guess it's time to buckle down and get some work done. To make a few excuses, I had a job interview Friday and an appointment on Monday but Sunday I wrote for four full hours which was enormously exhausing and rewarding and  at least put my daily average to a little over an hour of writing time. 

So this, after feeding and cleaning up after kitty, I ran to the grocery store for supplies then I made myself a tasty BLT watched and episode of Rome and sat down to write. Let the writer's retreat begin!

After squeezing two thousand measly words out of my brain I am feeling like a kid on the last day of school. It doesn't help that Seattle decided to be beautiful today after much deliberation most of the morning. I am repeating over and over:
"Butt in chair, butt in chair."
Until I can sing-song it to the tune of Three Blind Mice.

Okay time to change gears. Taking an hour break and then maybe I'll work on the Strange re-write and not worry about the new stuff for a while. Time to go see what the garden is up to today.

Or maybe that's 1.80 - I never was much of a math type. 

Okay so on to the update business. I am seriously, seriously pleased with the progress. I am officially through Chapter 8 EVEN after getting lost on a bit of a detour. The detour turned out to be a functional one, I have a feeling a lot of it will get wrapped by Chapter 10: Wherein our heroes discover they are not alone on a their new home planet.  I'm writing an average of about 2 hours a day but I'm resisting posting word counts because to be fair not all of the words used are very good and many will probably not see the light of day.

I'm not sure how much writing will be going on over the weekend - camping and all - but I'm VERY excited about the July 10-20 which I'll have my very own writer's retreat  while I housesit for a friend. 10 days, no cable, no internet and a cuddly lap kitty. I expect to be a writing machine. I am not, however, counting my eggs before they're laid. I'm still expecting another two chapters before I sequester myself in writer-land.

Thank you to all of you who are helping me to meet my goals and raise some money for Clarion West - I regret that there's no way to thank you personally, but unless you've actually mentioned that you are sponsoring this gig I have no way of knowing who you are. I do know that Clarion West now has 75 donors which is great progress toward our goal do 200 Write-a-Thon donors.

After a little prompting (cause who can say no to Eileen), I've decided to post a few bits as we go. I am actually kind of sweaty in the palm area at the thought of posting live, naked (and loosely edited) story bits here but it's almost 2 am and the sooner I get this posted, the soon I get get some much needed sleep before I the drive to Lopez in the (later) morning. Without further ado, here’s a sample of some of the words your donation sponsored this week:

Alice’var walked the line, inoculating them against the latest pathogen as she went. For all of the professor’s research and preparation the planet managed to sneak a few hits in immediately, the worst of which killed one of the ‘dars after 24 hours of misery Vinnie'tar wouldn't have wished on his worst enemy.

            The medic looked spent. Her normally olive complexion was pale and her eyes were ringed dark from lack of sleep. Vinnie knew she had been doing double duty since the crashed. His own medic was combat trained with only basic general medicine training and the professor’s training was in theory, not practice.  Linea'tar helped with trauma injuries sustained in establishing the settlement; cuts, broken bones, even a ruptured appendix, and the Professor did much of the strategy and research. For the general acclimating process Alice handled both horses and humans.

            “Roll up your sleeve,” she said by way of greeting when it was his turn.

            “Which one,” he said. “I’ve already gotten punched in both arms twice.”

            She met his eyes without smiling. He considered that an improvement. After he cancelled the search for the cargo beacon she wouldn’t even look at him.

            “Left,” she said. She didn’t wait for him to comply, picking a patch of skin exposed by his torn shirt and pushing the inoculation gun against his sunburned flesh.

            The gust of sterilizer was his only warning. He yelped at the pinch of the needle and winced as she drew away, rubbing the sore spot where a pinprick of blood rose.  She started walking away.

            “Did you use the horse needle that time?” he shouted.

            Alice looked over her shoulder at him impassively as she collared Hersch. Hersche extended his arm without a fuss. With his fair skin and red hair, the sun had taken a severe toll on his exposed skin. He was lobster red and beginning to blister in places.

            “For you,” she said. “Nothing less.”

            “Brilliant,” Vinne muttered. Raising his voice he said, “is this one gonna make me sick too?”

            “Probably,” she said. “Would you prefer dead?”

            “I’m wondering if it would be easier than getting socked in the arm every five minutes,” he said.

            “Alright,” she said, smiling humorlessly. “Next time I won’t bother you. Just let me sleep when you start bleeding out of your ears and can’t keep shit in your guts, ok?”

            “Deal,” he growled under his breath, turning back to the work of raising the shelter walls.

            “Asshole,” Alice muttered. She let Hersch go and continued walking to the gardens.