Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Weekend at the Capitol

Washington D.C.

Our nation’s capital, and I’d never been. *holds out hand for vicious slapping*

So, I went. And…


I didn’t really have any expectations, well, other than a few museums, a statue or two, walls of white marble pillars, Men in Black, Starbucks

We (meaning me and my work friends) left Newark, Delaware bright and early on Saturday morning and drove a quick two hours to DC (thanks, Jean-Francois, for driving your van, and Carolyn for being our road-trip DJ! I'm even listening to Kid A as I write this...)

Mandarin Oriental

We checked in to our hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, where they had warm, damp hand towels waiting for us (um, it was so gorgeous inside and out that, for a moment there, I felt famous - no, really), and we headed straight for the Capitol like a bunch of unsuspecting, bright-eyed tourists. And...

There I was, minding my own business, when we turned a corner and...*gasp* 

Washington Memorial
(The crew, from left to right: Philip, Jean-Francois, Carolyn, Me, Veronique)

Everywhere I looked were big beautiful buildings and monuments and water fountains and landscaping (aside of the huge yellow crane…) – the sun was bright and warmed us from the cool breeze. It was…perfect. *sighs*

The very first thing we did (after waking from momentary paralysis) was go to the National Museum of Natural History. 

Dinosaur bones. *cues Jurassic Park theme*

I remember dreaming about them when I was little (those pictures in history books are tantalizing); it was INCREDIBLE looking upon them with my own eyes. It was also pretty funny seeing the T-Rex surrounded by little kids, gazing up wide-eyed and open-mouthed, saying things like, “Mommy, I’m scared!” and then crawling into the safety of their stroller.

We meandered through the past and through the continents, in no particular order, while I kept thinking about Night at the Museum. (I kept my gaze on that lion. *narrows eyes*) Once we went through all the rooms, including a VERY impressive gemstone exhibit harboring the Hope Diamond (Ben, I saw some gorgeous emeralds…*nudge nudge*), we continued our private tour through the capitol.

Now, for those of you that haven’t been to the capitol, everything sort of coagulates around the National Mall. No, this is not a shopping mall, nor are there any stores. It’s a long-LONG! lawn of green, with a fence made of monuments and museums. Before me was the capitol building, behind me was the Washington Memorial, to my right was the Air and Space Museum, to my left was the Natural History Museum (I spun in circles taking photos and, consequently, ran into innocent bystanders). And the greatest part about it was that ALL of it was FREE! The Smithsonian Institution was a "gift" to our nation from the British Scientist, James Smithson, for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."

U.S. Capitol

Library of Congress

Christmas tree inside Library of Congress

Guess what...IT'S THE LIBRARY!!! *jumps up and down, clapping*

Supreme Court

From left to right: Philip, Carolyn, Jean-Francois, Veronique, Me

As the sun began to set, we took off for dinner at a Greek/Lebanese/Turkish tapas restaurant called Zaytinya, where we had lamb and domas and tzaziki and kibbeh...our mouths (and tummies) were in ecstasies...

Jean-Francois, Carolyn, Philip (pre-dinner :D )

Veronique & Me

After we had our fill (um, 2.5 hours later), we headed for the White House to see the Christmas tree. Well, I WISH I could go on and on about how beautiful it was, but, truth is, we sorta looked at it with tilted heads and crinkled noses and said, “That’s it?!” (We’ve since learned it fell over and part of it broke off, so “they” decorated the remnants…but still. You would agree the tree in the Library was waaayyyyyyy better.)

The White House at night and decorated for Christmas

We walked a large loop through all the monuments and memorials, smiling and loving every minute of our shoes rubbing the skin off our heels…

World War II Memorial

Freedom Wall: "Here We Mark the Price of Freedom"

Lincoln Memorial

We finally got back to the hotel around 11:30ish, to a lobby/lounge filled with women in beautiful gowns and men in suits and a live jazz band (we found out later that there were a lot of celebrities in town because the Kennedy Awards were that weekend). We took a seat, some wine, watched and listened until our eyes glazed over…

The next morning we headed straight for the National Air and Space Museum.

Me, Jean-Francois, Carolyn and a Russian rocket :)

Carolyn and the Hubble (replica...well, the "ship," not Carolyn)

Saturn V engines...there were five of these on the real one.

Planes and rockets and spaceships hung from the ceiling, and so many of the displays were interactive and constructed in a way that helped you visualize things like gravity & lift, that our planet is a microscopic speck in the universe…

I love these sorts of things. The sun is that sliver of
yellow on the left and Earth is the small blue ball.
We finished the afternoon with more monuments...

The White House, during the day, obviously.

Washington Memorial...again.

World War II Memorial, during the day, with Lincoln Memorial in background.

Jefferson Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

"...I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
 - Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800

View from Jefferson Memorial. (Those aren't ants. Those are
two Americans and a Canadian :D )

...and then we drove "home." (aka the Hilton.)

Thanks to my Canadian friends (Veronique & Jean-Francois) and my American friends (Carolyn and Philip) for such a FABULOUS weekend – it’ll be a memory I’ll always think on and smile :D

p.s. you are all beeezarre.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Creativity

This past week I was in Vegas for a national work meeting. There were so many great speakers - informative and motivational - I'm still scrambling to hold on to their words of wisdom, while holding Inspiration in a choke hold (he keeps trying to run away...). We had everything from an orchestral conductor to an author (Frans Johannson, The Medici Effect) to a successful chef (Jeff Henderson) who'd discovered his passion (and success) in a prison kitchen.

I thought I'd share a piece of my week - something that's been simmering in my brain ever since - which can be summed up by this little graph:

Not something you'd see in math, eh? (Unless, perhaps, you're studying Particle in a Box theory...*rubs temples*) This is a graph of reaching a goal. When that initial idea sparks in your brain and you get to work realizing that idea. 

NEWS FLASH: The journey toward reaching a goal is never a straight line.

Now, let me back up a little. There was a study done that observed %Genius, by giving various age groups random objects to see what combinations they could come up with. They studied anyone from age 3 to 26. Know what they found? That the 3 year olds were 98% Genius while the 26 year olds were at 2% Genius. Why? Because the older you got, the more your logic got in the way.

Yeah, yeah, I know. A 3 year old can't really do anything about those ideas, but that's not really the point. The point is to show us all the opportunities we miss. Everything we don't do or try because we say to ourselves, "Nah, that won't work," or "I'm not smart enough," or "Everyone will think I'm an idiot."

Dean Simonton says “innovators don’t produce because they are successful, but that they are successful because they produce. Quantity of ideas leads to quality of ideas.”

Which brings me back to the graph. You may get some great idea, and even if you DO set out to do it, you let one of those downturns make you stop. You let doubt creep in and you listen to that little version of yourself that holds a chisel and hammer and merely exists to chip away your confidence. (It's also been known to use TNT.)

You MUST ignore it (maybe even get a bandaid), and keep going.

It's why we love to read stories about heroes and heroines that never quit. No matter what challenge is presented, we love to watch them figure out a solution. We love to watch them grow while they find success through their failures. (Unless you prefer tragedies...which I don't...) 

It takes finding failed ideas before finding the ones that won't. But the point is we keep trying.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When Focus bludgeons you in the head...repeatedly...

They did this to us for work training. Well, not the bludgeoning bit, but they made us take the following "Awareness Test."

Here, try it yourself. See how YOU do...

Did you watch it??


Well...I FAILED IT. And it made me think...

Here I am, Miss Try-to-Observe-Everything-and-It's-Shadow (um, HELLO!? I'm a WRITER) and OH MY GOSH! *hangs head*

Well, I very promptly came to this conclusion: Focus Kills.

I mean, not all focus is bad. Focus is how we reach our goals, accomplish things, beat Final Fantasy, uh....

Without focus, our heroes wouldn't be heroes, dragons wouldn't be trained (TOOTHLESS!!), Harry wouldn't have destroyed all the horcruxes, and Sauron would be ruling the world.

But what about too much focus?

Apparently, it's something we are ALL prone to - including my MC, Daria Jones, and it almost got her killed - because not a single person in our class of 30 saw that moonwalking bear (so don't feel bad). It reminded me that, no matter I'm reaching for, appreciate the here and now and the people around me.

We love stories because we love the journey. We love to watch characters struggle and face obstacles and succeed when the entire universe and all its stars are against them. We don't go straight to the end to make sure Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star.

As the main character in your own story, it can be difficult enjoying the journey, especially when you're results driven (cough, cough). But if you don't, you'll miss all the important parts, the people and blessings along the way, and you may just end up bludgeoned in the head by a moonwalking bear. :D

What about you? Ever get so caught up in something you got sideswiped by something else entirely? Or are you pretty good at keeping perspective?

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Seven Deadly...

...Key Commands.

Ha! Thought I was gonna say something like "Sins," didn't you? (or "Zins" if you're a wine-oh)

Well, Ben sent this to me, and I thought it was hilarious. It was also very appropriate because I've been spending a ton of time pinning down my characters' flaws for book 2. Why couldn't it just be this straight forward?

My one is "wrath." What's yours? :D

On another, happier note, today is Pay It Forward Friday! (Thanks Matt and Alex for hosting) The idea is to introduce all of us to everyone else, and I'm to link to three blogs you guys should check out. SO HARD PICKING ONLY THREE! 

1. Peggy Eddleman - She's got some of the most entertaining posts about writing, and has such a unique perspective! Plus, she likes to be mean and throw in pictures of cookies all the time which really challenges my morning diet...

2. Ashley Nixon - I just love her to pieces! She's got such an awesome attitude about, well, everything and writes tons of good posts about writing and finding inspiration for stories (something we all need at times). Go say hello!

3. Julie Tuovi - Another awesome and energetic blogger I wish I could keep in my pocket. She's got a lot of great insight on writing and is a great resource for blogfests and contests.

4. Cherie - Now, I'm a new-ish follower of her, but she's fabulous! Very encouraging and supportive, and writes a tone about writing and is also a great resource for blogfests and contests.

(yes, i know i listed four. it's not in my nature to follow least not very well...)

Remember, it's never too late to join the blogfest...and please, go pay a visit to the bloggers above.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When Those Imaginary Friends Won't Talk...

Today is the first Wednesday for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Go visit all the participating bloggers! I couldn't be happier about this "help group," because I find encouragement in seeing how other writers deal with writerly issues. (This would be a good spot to say that misery loves company.)

Since I'm in the process of writing a new story, I would like to discuss some of the challenges I've had in writing that first draft. You go from one finished product, and right back to the drawing board! (I have nightmares about the drawing board. It has fangs and tries to eat my hand.)

This was my most recent crisis, and I'd love to know if some of you can relate:
There I was, writing so fast I was proudly wearing down my keys, and...nothing. I stared at my computer screen for hours - days - until it started looking like a Magic Eye book, and I started thinking English wasn't my first language anymore. In fact, I didn't know if I had a first language.

Well, the above slogan was very timely brought to my attention by my good friend, Misty, who, in her infinite wisdom, reminded me that when I get stuck it isn't my fault.

It's theirs.

Now, I know we all write our stories differently. Many of you are pantsters, but I'm not. It stresses me out. I outline. Mind you, my outline isn't as exacting and precise as the blueprint for the Transamerica. Mine's more like a fence, but the kind of fence you can roll under, hang from, and climb through. I get all these ideas, jot them down with arrows and bubbles everywhere, offer them to Ben for ridicule, shape the "improved" ideas into an outline, and then write.

You'd think with a story already sort of laid out, I wouldn't hit any rock walls (pits of despair? an endless abyss? Sharks with lazer-beams attached to their heads?)

Rule #1: Never assume your Imaginary Friends follow directions.

Really. We should know better. We wrote them that way!

Sure, they smile and wave and tell you everything's fine, but then one day you wake up, and you can't find them anywhere. Instead, what you find is this:

Dear Tyrant,

We didn't like what you did to us in Chapter 19, and, quite frankly, 
we're tired of running from evil men in capes. We're on a beach on 
one of those islands you haven't named, otherwise we'd tell you where 
we were. 

Un-Sincerely Yours,

*I.F. = Imaginary Friends

They didn't like my outline, obviously, and I wasn't sure I liked it either, but I promised myself I would save the editing until the end. Finish that draft first! There's just one little problem:  you can't write a story without characters. *hits head on desk* So, after much whining and grumbling, I let them have their fun, and let the story "simmer" a few weeks.

And then I started getting impatient. (and scared and afraid that I'd lost them forever...didn't they realize what they'd done? They have a sequel to get through!)

Rule #2: You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it...with a club. (compliments of [info]starlit_grphcs.)

I set off for this unknown-island-from-my-own-imagination in order to find them. I read through all my journals, poured through all my notes and maps, studied all my character descriptions - anything to get an idea where to go. At some point I had to jump in the boat and start rowing. So I did.


Some days it was only a few leagues (three hundred words). Then a few more (five hundred). But eventually I saw them out there, laying on the beach drinking Mai Tais under a cabana. I did everything I could to lure them onboard - even promises of perfect endings! -  but none of it worked as fast as I'd hoped. Then I started playing music. I gave them each their own song and had it on repeat until they felt safe to open up to me again.

Story proceeded, and I'm writing fast. *wipes brow* And it really helps knowing it was never my fault to begin with :)

So, my weapon of choice isn't really a club. It's more like an accented half-note.

Ever go through this battle? If so, how do you get your characters to open up? What's your weapon of choice?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Blogfests, and Blogging, and Merlin...OH MY!

Today's post is a melting pot - so many things to say. (Melting pot is wrong. They're all sort of different. How about jambalaya? I like jambalaya. Mmmmm....)

First, I've reached 100 Followers! Thank YOU for being such a wonderful and supportive blogging community, and for reading along and leaving awesome comments. I learn SO much from you! *BIG GIANT HUGS* Now, I've got to think of something to celebrate the occasion... TO BE CONTINUED! :D

Next up, Merlin. If you have not seen the BBC show, Merlin, DO IT! I rarely watch TV (no TV channels. Yeah, the hubby and I sorta live in the dark ages), but we Netflix'd this and COULD. NOT. STOP. WATCHING. Here's the new Season 4 trailer (if you are really annoyed by pixelation, HQ version is on their Facebook page). I particularly like the soundtrack:

Also, Alex J. Cavanaugh, has a couple of upcoming blogfests. There's:

1. Insecure Writer's Support Group - It's a place for writers to support and encourage each other. You know, like those times our imaginary friends frustrate us so much we start threatening them with erasers and delete keys? The blogfest will be held on the first Wednesday of every month. Go check it out!

2. Pay it Forward Blogfest - The idea is to introduce all of us to everyone else. This "social" event shall commence on October 14.

And, as you know, I just released my book, GAIA'S SECRET last week! I've been AMAZED and HONORED by how completely supportive you all have been, downloading and leaving comments. THANK YOU! If you're interested, I've got a blog interview with the one and only Ashley Nixon (if you don't know her, she's incredible! go check her out...) about GAIA, and you can find the interview HERE.

Now that the dust is finally settling, I feel like my brain is free to finish working on the sequel to Gaia (3/4 done with draft 0.5!) *wipes brow* While I love being back at the drawing board, I've developed a motto. I'm sure some of you can relate: Never trust a blank page. They look all sparkly and new, but they have too many plot-strings attached.

I love mottos. Do any of you have any current mottos you'd like to share?????

Have a wonderful Sunday, and happy writing!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pottermore!...for you Harry Potter fans...

*If you haven't heard of Pottermore, go here.*

Now, many of you know that I LOVE Harry Potter. I love it so much that I "forced" my hubby to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter <--link to that post
Mind you, we lived in Sacramento at the time; we've got Disneyland. But fans will be fans...

When the Pottermore site was announced, I was very curious, but also a little skeptical. They said Pottermore would be an experience like nothing we'd seen before, but for me, seeing how incredibly interactive pre-existing websites are, I thought, "Really? Just HOW much of an experience could it be?"



*WARNING: If you prefer to save entire said experience for yourself, do not read further. I'm not posting everything, but I'm posting enough. Okay, I warned you...*


I finally got my email, saying I could logon. After a few attempts ("Due to overwhelming demand, you cannot access Pottermore right now"), I logged on.

The site is like a giant, interactive book with equally interactive footnotes that have the detail level of an encyclopedia. You "read" through, chapter by chapter, via various images - all of which are interactive. Each image has "layers," where you can sort of zoom in (more like change the focus), images in the background/foreground come into view and you may find tokens (or potions or books or bezoars), unlock items, etc.

What's really amazing about each part/chapter/etc., is that Rowling has never before seen descriptions associated with certain items/characters (ie she's got a whole history on Professor McGonagall, McGonagall's parents, et.). She talks about where she got ideas, how those ideas morphed.... Some of you may appreciate this blurb (I found it very inspirational!), where she talks about all the plots in her head that never made it to the books:

(click on images to enlarge...)

Main Screen. So far, all I can access is Philosopher's Stone - all the other books are greyed out. The rest will be revealed in the future. Each "small" gold dot is a chapter, and each chapter has a few interactive scenes associated with it. Those owls are where my "friends" are. Yes, I only have 2. Madeline?? FIND ME!

Then began my journey, chapter by chapter. I explored the Dursley's (this is just one room):
The letters were floating all around the room. See how the background is blurry in this photo? Well, on the REAL screen, if you arrow up, the table becomes blurry and the room beyond is in focus, and you can find other items. Get it?

Hagrid arrives, you get your letter, and are shipped off on platform nine and three-quarters (all of which have interactive images and background information from Ms. Rowling). You then get a list of supplies you need before starting school:
As you purchase items, they're crossed off on your list
You have to go through Diagon Alley, into each appropriate shop, and buy your items (this is, of course, after you've opened an account with Gringotts and received your Galleons).
Each shop illuminates and displays store name as you hover - and then you can go inside :)

And guess go to Ollivanders to get a wand! First, you must answer a bunch of questions, and then the wand chooses you. I was picked by an Ebony with Phoenix Feathercore, thirteen inches, unbending. (you can go to a page which tells you all about wands and what the properties mean, if you so desire.) Once you get your wand, you're stuck with it.

You answer another slew of questions and are sorted into your house. (I was sorted into Gryffindor. Also, once you're sorted in a house, you'll stay there.) From there, you may go to your common room and meet other people in your house/do magical challenges for points, or go to the great hall and see how all the houses are matching up.

 There's a place to practice spells (this is my cousin Madeline's favorite) and enter wizarding duels. I would have to say that, for me, the most entertaining part of this is potions. OH MY GOSH it's hard. Seriously. You have to crush things in a crucible, heat to "X" temperature for "Y" seconds, stir it this way and that "Z" times - almost threw my computer. I SO empathize with Ron now.

You get something like this:
Read them. Read them again. Memorize. 

And then you say to yourself, after preening of course, "Pfft. No problem! You want an antidote...I'LL GIVE YOU AN ANTIDOTE!"

And then you proceed. Did I mention this is all timed? See the purple hourglass? My first 20 tries looked something like this...

I eventually got it right, though, and decided to let my laptop live.

Remember - this was all just for book one! The others aren't "active" yet.

My only complaint is that the site has a tendency to crash. Often. Hopefully that'll be worked out before it launches next month.

I can't remember having this much fun on a website. Thank you, again, JK Rowling! Now I'll never get anything done...

OH, almost forgot - if you're on Pottermore, find me! My name is: AccioSnitch12 :D

***If you like YA Fantasy, check out my book, GAIA'S SECRET. The sequel is coming soon!

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