Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

My Highly Opinionated Gift Suggestions for the Writer in Your Life

Here’s my highly-opinionated view of gift-giving for writers. In case you’re wondering…and even if you’re not.

What Not to Give

Unless your writer friend mentions or asks for any of these things, stay away from:

  • Pens, pencils and writing implements of any kind. The fact is, we either already have enough, or we’ve got a really expensive favorite which you won’t want to spring for.
  • Notebooks, paper, diaries. For the same reasons.
  • “Writer” t-shirts, hats, tote bags, plaques, signs, etc. A teacher acquaintance once referred to these types of gifts for teachers – which usually included depictions of apples – as “crapple,” and the phrase has stuck with me ever since. IMO, items like these are like “crapple” for writers… Don’t do it.
  • The same goes for bookmarks, literary “action figures”, writing-related jewelry, bookends, etc. Um…yeah. Just don’t.
  • Printer paper, ink cartridges, toner or miscellaneous office supplies, and even stamps. These are rudimentary business items required by many writers who actively submit their manuscripts to agents, magazines and publishers.

    Giving these items is like giving a vacuum cleaner to your wife for her birthday. Don’t do it.

Think About Giving:

  • Books. Really. You can’t give a writer too many books…but not just any books. Buy the latest books available in the genre your writer friend specializes in. Writers need to be widely read in their field in order to keep up with trends. It’s impossible to buy all the books published in a given year in a particular category. You can help.
  • A Magazine or Journal Subscription. Ditto above. Get something in the writer’s field. I frankly don’t want a subscription to The New Yorker even though it’s highly respected. Give me Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog…

    Does your writer friend write poetry or literary fiction? Then a sampling of several different literary magazines might be on target. (It gets expensive ordering copies of litmags just to see if you want to submit.)

    Note: If your writer friend is anywhere beyond the beginning stages of writing, stay away from “how to” magazines such as Writer’s Digest, The Writer and Poets & Writers Magazine. (Unless they ask, of course.) Ditto how-to books.

  • A gift certificate to a book store.
  • An E-reader, like the Kindle, the Kindle Fire or Nook. (There are others… and as with all these suggestions, do your research before purchasing!)
  • A portable hard drive to back up all their manuscripts.
  • A small digital recorder he or she can carry to record story ideas and thoughts.
  • The new Asus Transformer Prime (quad core) tablet with keyboard accessory, available December 19. (To be sure, a gift to be given by a really close friend or perhaps a Husband of Awesome™.)

Gifts that “Go Away”

I’m a big fan of gifts that get consumed (so the house remains uncluttered):

  • Good coffee. (And don’t just go to Starbucks, not everyone — ahem — enjoys their over-roasted, burned up beans.)
  • A nice bottle of wine or spirits.
  • Chocolate. And do make certain it’s fine chocolate. You don’t have to buy a lot when you buy the good stuff: a little goes a long way.
  • A gift certificate for a massage (to help relieve that deadline stress and endless hours sitting at a desk) or for a manicure (because typing is hard on the hands).

Inexpensive Gifts, or Gifts from the Self

Every writer I know can use a little more time in their day to get their writing stuff done. Since the time machine hasn’t been invented yet, you really can’t lengthen their day…but you can give gifts that will save your favorite writer some time.

Of everything mentioned on this list, these are my favorites:

  • Coupons or gift certificates (that you can easily make yourself) for:
    • running to the store to pick up a few things
    • baby sitting or child care (especially useful on deadline days)
    • researching their next project
    • updating their web site (or building a new one)
    • taking digital pictures they can use on their blog or Web site, (or)
    • taking their portrait (every writer needs a good photo for their Web site and book jackets!)

  • Read what they’ve written, and write a thoughtful, honest review at:
    • goodreads
    • library thing
    • shelfari
    • your own blog, or any other review sites you’re familiar with.

  • Help with their marketing by:
    • “friending” them on Facebook, Google and other similar sites
    • following them on Twitter – and re-tweeting their clever and witty tweets
    • “liking”, digging, stumbling upon, +1-ing and “whatever else-ing” their blog posts on all the appropriate social media channels (super mondo bonus points if you go through your writer friend’s entire blog and do this for every appropriate post)
    • “tagging” all their books at
    • adding their blog to your ‘blogroll’
    • linking to their Web site from your own
  • Bake a casserole, make a lasagna or some other kind of “toss it in the oven, crockpot or microwave” meal that can be put together in minutes. If you can’t cook, there are lots of ready to serve items in the grocery store!
  • Better yet: come over and make dinner (and stay. Writers are notorious for spending too much time alone.)

A Final Note

It’s nice that you think of your writer friends, and want to give a gift to highlight that fact, but, writers are people, too. Writing might suck up their entire life, but they’re not all about writing. They have interests outside the written word. (Would you buy your construction-worker friend a new pair of steel-toed boots for Christmas?)

In short: you don’t have to give a writer a gift related to writing.

And if you have no clue: ask! If you’re close enough to give a gift to someone, they’ll appreciate that you want to give them something they’ll like.

Which also means: if you don’t know them well enough to ask, maybe you shouldn’t be buying a gift. That would be like stalking. Ick.

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Harpist Extraordinaire

Harp Check out my latest acquisition!

A very good friend, with whom I work, is retiring and moving away. As a consequence, she’s bequeathed this beauty to me.

She gave me a lesson on Saturday, and now I’m a harpist extraordinaire. Well, not quite…but soon, soon! It helped that I already play several instruments.

The reading music bit wasn’t hard at all. The getting two hands to coordinate on multiple strings: a bit tricky.

By the end of the weekend, however, I was able to pluck out a recognizable version of “Stille Nacht” (chosen both for its simplicity and for the season).

I’ve never played a string instrument before. I can’t believe the way this thing resonates. The floor beneath my feet vibrates when I play. It’s delightful.

And playing brought on a whole spurt of creativity. I may have to consider a character who plays a harp…

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Reclaiming My Office!

The Fire and Flood Company brought my furniture back today!

I’ve found the boxes with the laptop docking station, keyboard and large-screen monitor, as well as a few other desk items: speakers, telephone, electric pencil sharpener.

::: EXCITED!! :::

I can’t wait to get back to working in my space. Working at the kitchen table since September has been a real bummer. Distracting, too. I’m hoping that getting back to my own space will be freeing, creatively.

This is what the front half of my office looks like right now:

Boxes in the Front of the Office

The thing I’m amazed at: the last box I looked at was numbered “70.”


And I packed 12 additional boxes from my doll cabinet. (I wouldn’t let them take those away for fear of something getting damaged or lost.)

So that means I’ve got at least 82 boxes of junk in just two rooms of my house.

I’m hoping that a great many of these boxes are books…because if they’re not, I’ve got a ton of stuff that has no place being here.

I’ve already told the Husband of Awesome™ that I anticipate that at least a third (I hope more) of what’s in these boxes is not going back on the shelves.

I believe this means parting with a great many books, and possibly some (published) manuscripts that have been lying around. I’ve been advised to scan them and toss the originals.

Closets and Boxes in the back half of the room.Here’s a picture of my double closets. Note the filing cabinet in one. I have a bookshelf in the other closet. I love the option of putting furniture in closets. It makes the space so much more useable.

Notice the non-brown boxes, devoid of pink labels? Those are my own. They’re numbered, too, but not in any scheme I can figure out. And, now that I’m looking, they don’t appear to be counted in the 70 (82).

Now, there’s a mystery I’m going to have to solve. The Secret Math Junkie™ inside of me is starting to wonder: How many total boxes? How many brown ones? How many are the 3 cubic feet version? How many are the smaller? How many contain books? How many contain paper? Etc.

It might take me a few weeks to get through it all, but in the end, you’ll have your report. 🙂

In the meantime, I find myself already with a plethora of packing supplies on hand. Anyone need any bubble wrap?

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Today’s Writing Prompt Will Be Short

Sad, sad, office.A short writing prompt is in order today.

As you may know, I no longer have an office to work from (for the time being).

In spite of the lofty writing goals I’ve set for myself…I’ve got “home stuff” to accomplish in order to get the office — and the rest of the upstairs — back in order.

In the spirit of transparency, here are the writing goals:

  • Write, edit and post the writing prompt
  • Kick out 3,000 words on the WIP
  • Create a cover for my short story, On the Path*
  • Answer any writing email that’s been lingering since the roof event.
  • Several house-related items that aren’t important in a writing world… 🙂

I’m a little worried I won’t be able to do the 3K words… wish me luck.

Now, on to the writing prompt.

*On the Path was previously published in “Triangulation: Dark Glass,” edited by Pete Butler. Rights have returned to me, so I want to post it at Smashwords.

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

What Were You Doing on September 11, 2001?

Twin Towers being struck by a plane, September 11, 2001.Years ago, at family get-togethers, I used to hear my grandparent’s ask, “What were you doing when Kennedy was shot?”

I was born long after the event, so these questions and answers felt more like a parlor game than shared remembrances — or shared horrors.

Everyone had a different story, each unique, and each remembered with such exacting detail that you could almost imagine yourself there as the tale was told.

I never dreamed I’d have my own such question to ask.

What were you doing on 9/11?

I was working in a federal building just outside of Washington, D.C. I was de facto Webmaster for a USDA agency, and working on a Web site. I’d just finished a particularly taxing page and popped over to Yahoo for a news break.

Yahoo was reporting that an airplane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center Buildings. It was a one-line story, breaking news, and they had no further details. No photo accompanied the story.

I had the foresight to hit “print” and capture the page. I still have it. It reads:

Plane Crashes Into World Trade Center
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A plane crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center Tuesday, witnesses said.

I’m glad I printed the story, because I was unable to visit my other go-to news sites for more information. The Internet was tied up. In a ‘denial of service’ caused by people wanting more information, servers became quickly overloaded.

I tried phoning the Husband of Awesome™, but phone systems and cell towers in the D.C. area were also tied up.

We had a small black-and-white TV in the break room, which got poor reception on good days, but I remember watching President Bush, interrupted while reading to a group of second-graders, stop and make a statement.

After the second plane strike, and the hit on the Pentagon, fear began to percolate in our building. We were the tallest Federal Building for miles around. Could we be the next target?

Federal employees were eventually told to evacuate their buildings and go home. Those inside the beltway had trouble getting out. Streets were packed, people apparently walked for miles to get home. Just outside the Beltway, the roads were like a ghost town. I remember getting onto the highway and being amazed that mine was the only car there.

After a while, a few more cars came onto the road, but the eerie feeling didn’t leave, even with their presence.

I got home, turned on the TV, and sat glued there for the rest of the day. Images of the planes hitting the towers were replayed over and over again. It’s changed the way I see airplanes.

To this day, I can’t look at a plane in the sky and not remember 9/11.

What were you doing on 9/11?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Guess What Floated Over My House Today?

Hot Air Balloon - As seen from Underneath!
One colorful — beautiful — hot air balloon!

This very same balloon passed by our house a few weeks ago on a Saturday. I’d heard it coming: the intermittent sound of the driver letting loose a stream of fire to keep the balloon aloft. (Almost like a dragon coughing out a bitter exhortation of flame…)

But the noise was strange — I’d never heard it before — and I couldn’t place it. I finally got up to look and saw it drifting past the house.

By the time I’d gotten outside, the balloon had sunk so low, we could hear the people talking in the gondola. I’d rushed to get my camera, but I was too slow. It had dipped behind our neighbor’s trees, and I only caught about two-thirds of it.

Tonight, the balloon passed directly over our house! I’m kicking myself for not zooming in more on the bottom of it. It came in closer than the picture actually shows. At the time, I felt I could almost — almost — jump up and touch the bottom.

Again, we could hear the people chattering away in the basket. So close!

Next time, I’ll be ready! I’ve got to figure out who’s giving these balloon rides. What a thrill it would be to glide over my own house and set down in the neighboring field! A quick walk through the woods and I’d be home!

Hot Air Balloon - As seen from Underneath!
Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

How Hot is it Where You Are?

Melting LadyI’m in Washington, DC today, and temperatures are approaching triple digits. (It’s always great to come back from vacation a research trip to sweltering city heat.

I’m melting.

It was really mugly this morning, and I had to drag a suitcase and a laptop from the metro.

I’m taking some nerdy, geek training for my day job, so I’ll be in the city for the next four days.

Training has been fun so far, and I’m learning a lot (makes me want to abandon WordPress and build my own drupal site…) but the facilities have been a little worse for wear.

I don’t know if it’s the heatwave or something else, but it feels like there’s no AC here in this room full of computers. They’ve brought in two fans, but it’s not doing much to help.

Did I tell you I’m melting? I hope someone gets the AC on the ball before class tomorrow. I believe temps are supposed to be even higher.

How is it where you are?

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

On the Road Again…

Amtrak Sign at the Depot

…or maybe I should say, on the tracks?

I’ve got wifi in the station, but not on the train. So once the train pulls out of the station, I’ve no access until tomorrow morning.


On the other hand, maybe I’ll get some writing done without the distraction. But then, I’m hoping for scenery types of distraction en route.

I’ll be traveling over night. The last time I did this was in coach, with the marching band during college. Having abhorred that situation with a royal purple passion, I sprang for a sleeper car. This is going to be an adventure!

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

American Flag

I’ll be celebrating by gorging at a family picnic today. The menu includes:

  • steak
  • chicken
  • hamburgers
  • hot dogs
  • corn on-the-cob
  • (my) Mom’s Famous Potato Salad
  • other miscellaneous salads
  • three cakes
  • and more stuff I can’t remember.

I think there will be seven of us in attendance. That’s the kind of parties my family throws.

The good news is: like Thanksgiving, we will not have to cook for the rest of the week!

What are you doing today?

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Remembering the Fallen…

Graves at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day - 2008