Monthly Archives: December 2014

Eep! Submission scoreboard brain freeze

I absolutely can’t believe that the last time I updated my submissions scoreboard was in March. At that point, I had made 3 submissions to short story markets and had 0 acceptances and 2 rejections. At the time, I asserted this made me a winner, since the number of my submissions plus the number of my acceptances was greater than the number of rejections received. It’s long past time to see where I stand. If I can even find the documentation (roots around in old cardboard boxes).

Okay, found it. I have made a total of six submissions. Pitiful. I have a total of zero acceptances and six rejections, putting me and the publishing universe in a dead heat. Time to pull out one last-ditch effort, to end 2014 as a winner!

I’m confessing all this because I hate to admit fault in public. It’s one reason NaNoWriMo works for me. If I say I’m going to write 50,000 words in the month of November, I hate for people to find out I didn’t.

Since I fully intended to end this year so that my submissions + acceptances > my rejections, I have fallen down on the job. Shame is a strong motivator for me, is all I’m saying. So if I haven’t at least made one more submission by midnight December 31, 2014, you have my permission to catcall, heckle, jeer, and otherwise humiliate me as a big loser. Since I have three unplaced stories to submit, I might make as many as three submissions.

I will keep you posted.

Holiday Company

Seamus by the tree

Sis’s dog Seamus has a boo-boo on his paw, so he can’t go to doggy day care. He’s come to visit two days early so he can rest up and have his Aunt CB and Uncle BK spoil him. He needs to be in good shape by the time Santa Claus leaves his stocking!

Crowning of the Year


I hate to admit this, but often around this time of year I forget to be joyful and perpetually hopeful and all of that. I get anxious and crabby and convinced that I’m never going to get everything done in time for Christmas. I am not what you could call “filled with the spirit of the season.” Until I hear the music. It’s the music that does it for me. It makes me cry like a tiny little girl. In a good way.

Anyway, there’s a little-known advent song that takes me out of myself and helps me wrap my head around getting ready for company, called “People Look East”. I never heard it growing up. I learned it at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal a few years back.

These are the lyrics, though we only ever sang verses 1, 2, and 4.

1. People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Here’s a link to a performance of the song, in case you wanted to hear it. It uses an old French song that I believe is called “Besançon.” The lyrics were written in 1928 by Eleanor Farjeon.

98% perfect

Friday December 5 was the highlight of Bro’s recent visit. We did the Chicago tourist thing for hours and hours. Bro has made these excursions enough times that we can go farther off the beaten track than tourists who are in Chicago for the first time, and/or only have a day or two.



We started our day with a visit to the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture. Some of our ancestors were Lithuanian, so when Bro saw the sign along the Stevenson Expressway showing the exit for the Lithuanian Culture Center, of course we had to go. Never mind that I’ve seen the exact same sign approximately a thousand times and it never occurred to me to check it out.

It was swell. It’s small and not nearly as shiny as the big fancy lakefront and downtown museums, but what a great introduction to Baltic culture.

The highlight was No Home to Go To, a recently-opened exhibit on Baltic people who were displaced by World War II and its aftermath. We pretended to be flies on the wall near one family group: the mom asked her elderly mother to share memories of life in the relocation camp for her teen daughter. The artifacts on display helped give them a point of reference, bringing this family’s history alive for the younger generation.


Police riot gear from the Democratic National Convention

Yes, I wrote about this Chicago History Museum exhibit in my last post, but 1968 was so excellent it deserves another mention. It’s hard to pick out my favorite part, but if you pinned me to a wall and demanded an answer, I might say it was the music section towards the end. We especially enjoyed the multi-player trivia game. There were four spots at a console with a set of buttons at each position, allowing you to choose answers that were presented as multiple choice. They started you off with a couple of softball questions and then got into some highly arcane musical lore. BK would own that game. I’m encouraging him to take Lori and Danny when they’re here for the holidays.

Close to the music quiz game was another interactive display that allowed you to design your own album cover. Supposedly you could email a jpeg of the finished cover to yourself, but I never got it. I think my spam detector might have kept it from me. It was still a hoot to do, however.


After history, there was Pizano’s. Pizano’s on Madison is currently our favorite spot for deep dish pizza, hands down. This is where what could have been a 100% awesome day got knocked down to 98%. Don’t get me wrong: the pizza was as scrumptious as ever. But we really, really, really wanted to sit in Uncle Chach’s section. Here are a few links to help you know why:

In my experience, you’re about as likely to get the Chach when you simply wander in on a night he’s working as when you make a reservation ahead of time and especially ask to sit in his section. We just kind of walked in, and we didn’t get into his section. So while we were disappointed not to get Uncle Chach as a server, we did get to visit with him for a few minutes.

Bro (left) with the Chach


We had already had a pretty good day. Bro felt, however, that one thing missing from his previous Chicago tourist forays was a visit to a real Chicago blues bar. Not a big shiny one—something more working class. Sis asked around and someone told her about BLUES on Halsted. Turns out it’s not that unknown. It’s practically across the street from Kingston Mines, a venerable blues establishment.

Bro’s main requirement was that our destination ought to be the kind of place where “nobody gets out of here without singing the blues.”  No one made us sing. No one even asked us to sing, actually. Maybe they’ve heard us. However, we were required to shake our money makers. This was where my belly dance lessons came in very handy.

I bet the music at BLUES is always great. We heard Vance “Guitar” Kelly and the Backstreet Blues Band. If you get a chance to go to BLUES when they’re playing, go for it. The doors open at 8. Live blues didn’t start until 9:30, but you might want to get there closer to 8 if you can. The place was absolutely packed by the time the music started, and only got more crowded from there.

Sis and I got in free! We were waiting in front of the place about 7:50 when a couple came up and told us they’d like us to be their guests. We were touched and pleased. It turned out that they had a special Groupon deal—admission and a drink for four people. Since there were only two of them, they decided to ask the first two people they saw if they’d like to get in free. People can be so nice. Thanks, Sam and Selena!

Run, don’t walk!

Illuminations at Morton Arboretum

In early December, Bro was in town for his second annual holiday visit. Just like last year, we visited multiple Chicago tourist venues.

There were a couple I especially want to mention ASAP, because if you don’t get to them by January 4, you will have missed your chance.

at the Chicago History Museum

Recreation of a 1968 living room*

I wanted to see the limited-run 1968 exhibit ever since I found out it was happening. We finally made it there in early December. Wasn’t sure what to expect. There would definitely be something about the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and probably about the protests that marked the year in general.

DNC welcome sign*

I figured I’d like it. I liked it about three times more than I expected to—maybe ten times more. If you lived through the era, or even if you have an interest in it, you will not be disappointed. It was a total immersion in the politics, music, decor, pop culture—everything you could think of that would saturate you in the era. The exhibit went month by month through a turbulent year and brought it to life via photos, a military helicopter, films, broadcasts, recordings, clothing, furniture, housewares, and other objects.

1968 fashion*

Loved, loved, loved it.  I desperately want to get back before it’s over. If you have even a mild interest, and can get there by January 4, do it. DO IT!

David Bowie Is
at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973
Design: Brian Duffy and Celia Philo; make up: Pierre La Roche
Photo: Brian Duffy
Photo: Duffy © Duffy Archive and the David Bowie Archive

This special exhibition, a retrospective of David Bowie’s amazing career runs from September 23, 2014–January 4, 2015. I was not a huge fan of Davie Bowie before this exhibit, but I just may be now. I was amazed at the range of his talent. What struck me most about him as an artist is the combination of his fearlessness and his hard work.

The show includes 60 costumes, storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics, and some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores, and diary entries. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is the only planned U.S. venue for the exhibition, which was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

More Holiday Fun

We enjoyed several other time-sensitive events, like the Holiday Express at Chicago Botanic Garden and Illuminations at the Morton Arboretum and the Neapolitan Creche and Holiday-decorated Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute. However, those are annual holiday traditions, so they’ll be around next year if you miss them this year.

If you have only limited time, get to David Bowie Is or 1968 first.

Next post will be about one of the best Chicago tourist days in recorded history. Bro gave it a grade of 98%.

*Photos by Bro

NaNoWriMo—what I learned, plus—perks!

My final official total was 65,594 words

This year during NaNoWriMo, I had the opportunity to beta-read the first draft of a professional writer’s novel while writing my own. As I slogged along in my poorly organized story, this writer dashed off elegant prose and posted a new chapter of it every day or two. She knew the setting. She knew what was coming next. She knew her characters inside and out. She knew how to write all of the above so it showed up on the page.

By contrast, I had only the barest notion of my setting. I had a beginning and an end in mind and only a bit of an idea how the characters got from one end to the other. I knew a few of the characters pretty well, but was spitballing all the others. As for knowing how to write it—I can’t say I know how to write something when I don’t have it firmly in mind, can I?

I’ve now completed five novels during previous National Novel Writing Months—if by completed, you mean that I’ve written at least 50,000 words each time. Some Novembers were more successful than others. Maybe two of them gave me novels that felt more or less whole. Beginnings, middles, ends, character growth. All that stuff. For those two, I was well organized and had clear goals. The other years were more about discovery writing, aka “pantsing.”

All writers have their favored ways of working, falling somewhere along the Pantser/Plotter continuum. Now that I’ve had a chance to process my process, I think I’m happier being a plotter. It’s not that there are no discoveries (AKA surprises) when I write from an outline, it’s just that the discoveries seem more useful when I’ve defined the context better. Which brings me to an offer I’m about to pass along.

Since I “won”, I’m entitled to several winner perks and goodies from some of NaNoWriMo’s sponsors. There’s one perk that I’m not going to use, and which I have permission to pass along to anyone who would like it.

[EDITED 1-8-2015: I’m leaving the information below so the post appears pretty much as it did initially, but the offer of my Scrivener half-price code has been accepted, so I’m not able to provide it any longer. If you’re interested in a NaNoWriMo winner code for Scrivener, you may still be able to find someone who has it to spare, but mine is gone! END of EDIT note.]


If you want to try the writing software Scrivener , you can get a free 30-day trial through the web site, Literature and Latte. If you’ve already tried it and know you want to own it—or if you just want to own it without checking out the trial version—I have a code that will allow you to buy it at half price. Right now (12/9/14) the Windows version is selling for $40 and the Mac version is selling for $45, so that means that with my coupon code, you can get it for either $20 or $22.50, depending on which version you want. This 50% off code is good until May 30, 2015.

I’ve been using Scrivener for the past few years for novel-length work, and I really like it. It gives you a place to organize information, research, and inspiration as you’re working, and makes it easy to find these support materials when you have questions later—questions like, “What was I thinking?”

So please, if you’d like to know more about the program and/or would like the coupon code and information on how to use it, contact me. If we know each other via Facebook, Twitter, or some other way, please message/email me. If not, please leave me a contact method in the comments section below, and I’ll get in touch with you.