Monthly Archives: March 2015

Needing to rest up after vacation…

BK and Lori…she looks happier than he does!

I’ll get back to doing writerly things soon, honest.

In the meantime, you’re invited to look at the album of snapshots I took when BK and I went to see Lori and Danny in Coral Gables. I strolled near the Coral Gables Waterway and on the University of Miami campus. We visited the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead and had tiny berries that tasted like cotton candy.

We bought guayaberas, watched domino players, and ate at the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant in Little Havana…there was also fabulous ice cream at Azucar.

We lay on the beach on Key Biscayne on two different days, and got to see a wedding and some hermit crabs up close and personal.

Here is the photographic evidence. Well, some of it. The hermit crabs refused to be photographed.

Story Worlds

Pondering the possibilities

You get better at writing by taking a good, hard, look at what you don’t do well, right? I found something I want to get better at.

During the novel-revision process I’ve discovered that I can dive into a story and have people (interesting people, I hope) do thing (interesting things, I hope) and discover that everything is happening in a white room…or maybe out in some kind of unspecified outdoor spot. For me, the problem is the same whether I’m writing about real world settings or imaginary ones.

I may always have to go back and flesh out the setting; there are many writers that work that way. However, as long as I continue to do some pre-writing and outlining–which I prefer, especially for novels–I  might as well get a jump on setting. So I started to ask myself some questions. There’s a lot of help out there on the interwebs and elsewhere with research and world-building. Almost too much. To keep it manageable, I decided to start from scratch with my own way to approach world-building and research. Once I can handle these relatively simple questions, I might be able to move on and sample some of the wisdom that’s out there.

My questions began like this: What do I absolutely need to figure out before I start writing?

  1. Where do people live? How many of them live in one place, and what are their houses like, from richest to poorest (if they have such distinctions, or any notion of some folks being more elite or worthy than others)?
  2. What do people wear? How do climate, social mores, occupations, religious beliefs, and class distinctions lead to variations in dress?
  3. What do people eat? Is there a particular culinary tradition associated with their culture, and if they are aware of other cultures, how would they characterize the differences? What is their special (holiday, for example) food like, compared to everyday food?
  4. What local resources—animal, vegetable, and mineral, magical—help determine answers to questions about shelter, clothing, and food?
  5. How is society organized? Are people in tribes, city-states, nations? How are people’s settlements arranged? Who is in charge? How are disputes arbitrated, both within the community and with other communities?
  6. How do people acquire things? What kind of trade occurs, both within the community and with other communities?
  7. What common occupations exist? What kinds of things will my main characters do, and are their occupations typical, or unusual?

Okay, that just might be enough to start with. Going forward, these are questions I plan to address early on. It’s got to be better than plunging into my next story world only to discover someone forgot to fill the pool!

How will you celebrate Super Pi Day?

Mmmmm…Grand Traverse Pie Co. berry crumble

It comes once a century: the date whose digits can be made to look like this: 3/14/15 (with extra credit if you celebrate the occasion at 9:26:53).

Ah. March 14, 2015. Albert Einstein’s birthday. A day awash in pi- (or pie-) related activities. I’m posting this early so you have time to plan.

You could sign up for a Pi K (actually 3.14 miles), like the ones they’re hosting at the Fleet Feet Stores in Chicago and Elmhurst, complete with games and pie afterwards. For the Fleet Feet runs, you must pre-register no later than 6 pm Friday, March 13, 2015.

You might bake a pie, like my talented sister, or Mary Robinette Kowal.

If you felt like a road trip, one could make the pilgrimage to Grand Traverse Pie Company.

I foolishly agreed to do some other things on and around Pi Day this year, so I will have to celebrate in my own quiet way. At 9:26:53, I will solitarily (unless I can enlist a co-runner) perform the 3.14 mile slog, thereby burning off (maybe?!) enough calories to partake of pie later.

I think they have a deal at Bakers Square locations for $2 off a whole pie on March 14, but that’s not helpful to me. I cannot eat a whole pie, even on Super Pi Day, and I certainly don’t need it sitting around my house taunting me for 3.14 days afterwards. Maybe I’ll stop into Baker’s Square anyway, just for a slice. Unless anyone in the western suburbs can recommend a better local pie.

How will you celebrate Super Pi Day?

Out of Excuses


Whitey and I, with some of our Journey friends, have taken up the challenge offered by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells of Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a podcast series, now in its 10th season, which encourages people who want to write to go for it. To celebrate their 10th season, the hosts are giving away a fiction writing master class. For free! All you need to do is listen to the podcasts and do the assignments. Whitey, Tim, a few other writers, and I are giving it a shot, planning to get together (starting today) to compare notes and provide mutual support and aid.

The first assignment was to come up with five story ideas. Here are my five:

  1.     From an interview or conversation you’ve had:
    Got this from a conversation with Whitey. He said there are tunnels running under the surface throughout Disney World. The people who work use them to get from place to place if they don’t want to be in character. Though this applies to anyone who interacts with the public, whether they’re a costumed character or not, I think. The employees believe they can speak freely in the tunnels (though of course they can all hear each other). What circumstances might make this interesting? If, for example the tunnels were all bugged and/or had video cameras? (Which I bet they do.) What secrets might be revealed, and why might it matter? Does Snow White have a stalker on the security team?
  2.  From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc):
    The Taman Shud case in Australia: an unidentified man dies on a beach in Australia, apparently of poison. In a concealed pants pocket investigators find a scrap of paper with the words “Taman Shud” (meaning “ended” or “finished” in Persian) written on it. This was later linked to a copy of the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayam  which had the same words missing (torn) from it, with an unlisted phone number listed in the back of the book. The holder of this number was a woman who may or may not have been named Teresa Powell. She told some story about a man, not, apparently the dead man. However, it was later found that her son had extremely rare genetic features in common with the murdered man. How to explain these events? What would it be like to be Teresa Powell or (more likely) her son, especially when detectives showed up? What would he or she do, once given this information.
  3. From observation (go for a walk!):
    (This walk happend at the Art Institute of Chicago). James Ensor; putting pictures together in grid form (e.g., The Temptation of St. Anthony); putting patches over controversial parts. Why did he put pictures together the way he chose to, and why did he cover parts of the finished image?
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie):
    Peter Pan- what if Peter Pan was like the Dread Pirate Roberts? Really a series of people who only continue to be Peter Pan until they decide they really would like to grow up…and then, what if one incarnation was really a girl, using the Peter Pan disguise to escape the strictures of being female in her society? Does she ever decide to pass the torch and grow up? If so, how does she come to terms with being female?
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics):
    Sin Wagon,” by the Dixie Chicks. I think the lyrics tell about a woman getting revenge on her cheating man by hitching a ride on the metaphorical Sin Wagon. It was really the title of the song that interested me most, though. What would an actual sin wagon be like? Are they buying sins, selling them, or a bit of both? If both, I can see how you might want to get rid of a sin, but who would ever want to acquire one?

Is anyone else out there in Internetland participating in this class? If you have a blog or other online space where you’re showing your work, I’d love to see it.

In the meantime, do any of the ideas above intrigue you? Any of them totally turn you off? Comments (of reasonable politeness) welcome below…


Siobhan Redmond and Darrell D’Silva
Photo courtesy of the National Theatre of Scotland
and Royal Shakespeare Company

Imagine the war-torn Scotland that Malcolm and his English allies found themselves in, once the tyrant Macbeth was defeated.

If that isn’t intriguing enough, imagine that rumors of Lady Macbeth’s demise were mistaken. Imagine if her madness, too, was a rumor, probably put about to discredit her, and that Macbeth’s power had come to him because of his marriage to her—that she was the true heir to Scotland’s sovereignty. Then imagine that an Englishman who means well is in charge of restoring peace to a country where all this is true—a country he cannot begin to understand. You’ll have the setup for Dunsinane by David Greig. Artists from the National Theatre of Scotland and Royal Shakespeare Company are visiting Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier from February 26-March 22, 2015 to share this riveting production.

Have I mentioned that Sis gets me a subscription to Chicago Shakespeare every year? It’s a combination birthday and Christmas present. Sometimes we choose the three-play series, sometimes the four-play, and sometimes—though not often—we go for all five. This was one of those years, but oddly, we were iffy about Dunsinane. During our post-performance discussion, we remembered how we almost didn’t go. I channeled Julia Roberts (in Pretty Woman) to assert, “That would have been a big mistake. Huge.”

Dunsinane was about peace and war and politics, including sexual politics. There were a surprising number of laughs in it. In part, it was a cautionary tale about a nation that sees itself as a stronger, more culturally advanced power than its neighbors deciding to go in and meddle in the “lesser” culture’s government to keep themselves safe and bring enlightenment and better government. The nations in this story were England and Scotland, but they could just as well have been the United States and “pick-any-nation-we-believe-is-unstable-and-poses-a-threat-to-our-security.”

There was so much food for thought in this play, so many questions raised. Is peace a natural state, or even possible? What makes a person bad or good? In the end, will one of them do more (or less) harm than the other?

The writing was so excellent I haven’t even touched on the production, so here is what I haven’t said: while some roles were more demanding than others (Siobhan Redmond as Gruach, Darrell D’Silva as Siward) the ensemble’s acting was stellar, the direction and design (Roxana Silbert, Robert Innes Hopkins, Chahine Yavroyan) were so good as to seem inevitable, and the live music by Nick Powell grabbed me by the heart from the first drumbeats.

I feel lucky just to have seen it. You can still get tickets for some performances, though many are sold out as of this posting. Until March 22, 2015, check with Chicago Shakespeare.