All posts by Annaka

I am a software engineer, YA fantasy writer, and gardener.

Vinnie’s New Bed

When we bought our house in Port Angeles, it came with a sweet old barn cat named Vinnie.

I was a bit dubious, already having two indoor/outdoor cats, but it has worked out just fine. Except for the guilt aspect.

It doesn’t get insanely cold here, but it does dip below freezing now and again. When it does, Vinnie retreats from his normal bed on the porch to a warmer nook below the house. Even so, I feel bad.

Unfortunately he sprays, so bringing him inside isn’t an option.

Enter: the heated pet bed.

Rob ordered it for Vinnie a few days ago, and we introduced him to it last night. He may not leave it for the rest of the winter, except for food and pets.

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This picture is through the stained glass on our door (hence the multiplicity of cats). If I go outside he’ll promptly hop out of bed and ask for a good petting – ruining the photo op.

Blog Fun – Adjustments

Last year I had grand plans for this blog.

I was able to stick to my post schedule – by the hardest – for several months before life just got to be too much. Part of that is that my posts were just too long. Each one would take me an hour or two to write.

This year I’m going to experiment with shorter, more frequent posts. I’m going to try to cap them at 500 words, and see how that goes.

Wish me luck!

Retrospective – 2015

Well, it has been quite a year!

It has been a wonderful year, with plenty of projects and nuttiness and joy, plus a smattering of sorrow to remind me to appreciate the joy.

 

Writing

I started off the year well. I finished up revisions for Joining the Draken, and sent it off to some of my Viable Paradise friends to beta in the spring.

The feedback was generally encouraging and extremely helpful. It clarified that I needed to strengthen the main arc quite a bit, and work on my tension and conflict throughout the story.

I had hopes of working on revisions in the summer, but I ran into two things: work was unexpectedly nutty, and I had a wedding to prep for in September. I underestimated both!

I wound up setting writing aside while I saw to the rest of my life.

It has been a pleasure getting back to it. I’m now in late-phase revisions, having been working along on it since October. I’m tweaking a few structural things and stitching things down a little more. I’m hoping to have it ready to query by the end of February.

I’m anxious to get back to the first draft of a thief story that I’ve been sitting on for almost two years now!

 

Conferences

I went to my first writing conference in June: Fourth Street Fantasy.

It was wonderful fun, although I had to get up early to work for my day job each day, which prevented me from fully enjoying the evening revelries.

Still, I enjoyed the panels enormously, and it was lovely to catch up with my writing friends and make some new ones!

 

Home

Settling into a new (old) house is a lot of work! But it is – mostly – a pleasure.

Stripping floors is not one of the pleasures.

We were told that our upstairs fir floor – painted a glorious blue-gray in the 1920s – wasn’t “floor” grade, and so couldn’t be sanded down. I had the brilliant idea of stripping it with a nice safe stripper that I had used before.

Sigh.

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We got it done, but I think I would not make the same decision, given the chance again.

Fortunately most other things are in good shape, so we haven’t needed to do much inside.

So, starting in the spring, most of my attention was outside.

 

Bees!

We got a package of bees in mid spring.

It was pretty exciting getting them installed. I had had bees once before, but that was from a captured swarm. This was my first time installing a package.

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The girls got settled in quickly. I saw some out on our dandelions the next morning.

Having bees has definitely changed my feelings towards dandelions! They are a good, long-blooming food source for the girls.

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It was especially fun seeing them on the flowers in the garden through the summer. The Cosmos and poppies were especially popular.

The girls are all tucked away for the winter now. We just have to trust that they are keeping warm, and that they will come buzzing out on the first warm day.

 

Gardening

I had a big (overly ambitious) garden in Seattle, and spent a huge amount of time working in it.

I have every intention of doing the same in Port Angeles. It’s my stress relief!

So I spent a fair chunk of time this spring getting a basic garden in.

Our soil is super rocky, so we decided to get a bunch of topsoil in, and form it into beds.

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Much shoveling and hauling of logs later, and the beds started to take shape:

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I like the log bed-edging, although it takes an amazing number of logs. Fortunately our alders needed thinning, and so we were able to take out a few trees without impacting the woods.

By late spring the garden was starting to look like something. I went with annuals galore, so that I could have greenery and color while I figure out the weather patterns and sun here.

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Fortunately the garden largely took care of itself through the summer (aside from watering), because by that time I was getting pretty preoccupied with wedding stuff.

 

Wedding Stuff – Ack!

Weddings are a pain. I had heard they were a lot of work, but I assumed that was just if you got carried away with it.

Not so.

Or maybe I’m susceptible to getting carried away with it, after all!

It came with a lot of fun projects, though, from making cyanotypes to use as the basis for our invitations

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to making a bunch of fruit wine to serve at the reception.

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Of course, most of the fun stuff for the wine happened in 2014; bottling is a lot of work, but isn’t exactly fun.

So all of that was going pretty well.

But I didn’t want a “standard” wedding dress. I wound up getting a knockoff of Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar dress. My mom helped me alter it, and then I added silk draperies to make it look a bit more dressed up.

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I was pleased with how it came out, but it was a lot of work! Fortunately, that also meant a lot of quality time with my mom.

Work continued to be nutty, which meant that my August was really nutty when wedding stuff was packed on top.

But I survived, and the wedding went well!

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It was a bit of a blur, but a happy blur.

And then it was off to Australia!

 

Australia

We had a wonderful – and much-needed – honeymoon in Australia.

We mostly stayed in Queensland, home of the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rain forests.

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It was especially neat to see a Cassowary in the wild. They are the closest surviving relatives of the Velociraptors – and although they are fruit eaters, they could disembowel someone quite handily.

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We were there for almost three wonderful weeks.

We were sorry to leave, but also glad to be home. The perfect trip!

 

Pet Mishaps

Most of the year’s otherwise minimal sorrows related to my kitties.

Dulcie, the sweet quiet one, got a hernia. Better than the tumor I had feared, but she turned out to be a stitch-biter (as I discovered thirty seconds after taking this picture).

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She had to spend two weeks in the collar of shame. I’m really not sure how that would have worked if I hadn’t been able to work from home!

That was tough, but the real sorrow came in the fall, with the death of her sister Avanti.

Avanti had always been an adventurous kitty. She disappeared when she was visiting my parents. Animal control found her sad remains about a mile away, dead by car.

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I suspect she hopped in a neighbor’s car (as she was wont to do) – but this time I think they drove off with her by mistake. They probably let her off when they found her, quite possibly within half a mile or so – but she wouldn’t have known how to get home.

It was really sad to lose her, and I still have the occasional pang. However, she wasn’t a kitty who could ever have been indoor-only, so I comfort myself with the thought that she had a good and happy life, and got to be herself.

Dulcie is enjoying being the only indoor cat for now. Avanti and she were friendly, but Avanti was quite dominant, and I’m sure Dulcie got tired of being pushed around.

Now it’s just Dulcie and Vinnie, the old barn cat who came with the house. He’s super sweet, but he sprays, so Dulcie is safe from him as well.

 

New Year!

And now a new year is upon us.

I’m hoping for another generally happy, busy, productive year. Well, maybe a tad less busy than last year.

I hope to get Draken out the door, and Thief revised.

I hope to expand the garden and get some perennials in.

We are thinking of getting a couple more packages of bees. If our hive survives the winter, we’ll be looking at three hives next year.

We will probably get a kitten in the spring. Rob keeps making noises about Maine Coons.

So, here’s to a new year!

Throwing in the Towel

My post dates clearly indicate that my goal of weekly blog posts has fallen apart.

The reason is simple: a busy work schedule, plus wedding planning, plus gardening, plus chores, plus writing does not leave any time for blogging! In fact, it doesn’t really leave time for sleeping.

So I am going to bow to reality, and throw in the towel for now.

I might blog sporadically, but I will restart my blog run in October, after we get back from our honeymoon in Australia.

We’ll see whether I can successfully blog for a year without wedding insanity!

 

Thoughts on Foretelling the Future

I met my now-fiancé four years ago today.

At the time, I was living in Seattle. I loved my house. I was walking distance to work. I was hoping to find someone to share my life with, but I admit I thought/assumed that we would probably be able to do so in Seattle, in my digs.

Then I met Rob, who was just finishing up the UW Pharmacy program. Three weeks after we met, he went and got a job at the Port Angeles hospital. And that was that.

Now I am affianced, living on five acres in Port Angeles, and I don’t expect to ever live in Seattle again.

Not everything has changed – I still have the same job, and I still have my two kitties.

But four years ago there is no way that I could ever have guessed where I would be today.

I have a somewhat better chance at guessing my future four years from now, but it is by no means certain, and all sorts of things could shove it onto a different track.

 

I find this interesting for a couple reasons:

 

We cannot guess what the future will look like one year, five years, ten years from now with any certainty. And yet it is critical to think about it. Yes, you can plop along taking life one day at a time, and sometimes that’s all we can manage, but I think we’re most likely to get to a happy and satisfied point in life if we give it a little guidance. That means thinking about it.

But why is that important, if where we’re aiming is always going to be off?

Well, there may be a great deal of variance in the trajectory, but aiming will still determine roughly what direction we’ll be going.

Something catastrophic can always go wrong, but odds are that the major things guiding our path are our actions and choices.

 

That is true of characters in books as well.

They have dreams and aspirations – at least they should!

Of course, since the poor sods are in a work of fiction, it is far more likely that something catastrophic will happen to them, but their actions and choices still matter. At least they should!

 

At present I’m trying to decrease my MC’s “plop along” quotient and increase her “active choice” quotient.

I’m pretty happy with my own trajectory at present, so I’m generally content to “plop along” – but I’m trying to give it a little extra push, so that I can get where I’m aiming sooner rather than later!

 

It has been difficult getting that extra push in lately. Things have been very busy at work, and at home. Plus last weekend we trekked over to Eastern Washington to see Rob’s nephew in The Three Musketeers – hence the lack of a blog last week. The play was excellent, but it took more time out of a busy schedule.

My balance is pretty well shot for the next month, but at least I have that peak I’m aiming for. Hopefully I can keep on course during the nuttiness, even if it is at a snail’s pace.

 

I wonder where I’ll be in four years? Hopefully happy, settled in a contented life with Rob. Beyond that? Who knows!

Perhaps a book? Nothing to do but keep plopping!

Lost Time

It has been and will be a busy spring for me, both on a work front and on a personal front.

I have a garden to establish, a book to revise, three books to critique, and a wedding to plan – among other things.

And I got a cold this week.

Life pretty much chugged to a halt. So frustrating!

I have been able to work just enough to keep from getting into a real hole, but there is so much to do! And almost none of it happened this week.

Ack.

But everyone gets sick. I’m just lucky that it isn’t a life-endangering thing. I find myself wondering what warriors did when they came down with a head cold on the eve of battle, or what peasants did when they got the flu during harvest.

They probably just did their best, and hoped that it didn’t get them killed.

I guess I should enjoy the luxury of doing nothing much for a few days, without risk to life or livelihood. Too bad it doesn’t feel more luxurious!

Bees!

Rob and I picked up our package of honeybees last Saturday.

It was a very exciting day. I have had bees once before, but this was my first time installing a package.

The bees ship in a little crate with a canister of sugar water, the queen safe in a little tiny cage suspended next to the sugar water.

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On the way home, Rob drove, and I carried the bees in my lap, acting as an extra shock absorber. One stray bee came along for the ride – not in the crate! – and caused mild consternation when she started flying around the car. Fortunately she quickly settled on the rear window, and we were able to complete the trip home without mishap.

We already had the sugar water ready, so when we got home we spritzed the bees with the sugar water through the screen that sided the crate. That settled them down while we gathered our supplies and (rather minimal) protection.

We got everything set up by the hive, took the lid off, and pulled a few of the frames – which later will hold comb and honey – to make room for all the bees.

The trickiest part was pulling the canister of sugar syrup from the crate. It was in a can, and the slightest lip stuck up above the crate’s edge. It took quick work with the pliers to pull the crate – and that opened a hole in the crate!

We were able to get the canister extracted and cover the hole with some cloth before many bees escaped. The escapees provided a cloud of confusion over the subsequent proceedings.

Then we had to make a secondary foray into the crate to extract the queen’s tiny cage. A number of bees were clinging to it – the queen! the queen! – but I decided not to worry about it, and just set the whole lot aside.

The most dramatic bit was actually getting three pounds of bees into the hive.

You might imagine that it is a careful and graceful process – or maybe a natural process, setting the whole crate into the hive?

You give the crate a good hard rap, to knock all the bees into the bottom of the crate.

Then you upend the crate over the hive and dump the bees in. It takes a fair bit of shaking and shifting back and forth to get most of the heap into the hive.

I still find it amazing that that’s what you do, but it is quite effective!

The result was most of the bees in a heap in the hive, and a couple/few dozen buzzing around us and the hive.

It would be pretty scary to someone unfamiliar with bees, but I knew that they weren’t in aggressive mode. You just ignore them . . . or try to.

The main hitch was with the queen. The YouTube instructions I had watched all talked about a “candy plug” in the queen’s cage.

The candy plug prevents the workers from getting to the queen right away. The 3 lbs of bees are just a random bunch of bees, they aren’t workers for this queen, initially. The workers would sting the queen to death if they could get at her.

Oddly, although their first instinct is to sting her, their second instinct is to feed her, and so thwarted in their murderous impulses, they keep her alive.

After a few days, the scents and pheromones all do their thing – I’m fuzzy on that bit – and they become that queen’s bees, and all is right with the world.

The candy plug in the queen’s cage allows the necessary time to pass, since the workers can’t remove it right away.

The one problem was, the cage only had one tiny cork. No candy plug.

We called the supplier, and they told us that we should just plug the hole with a marshmallow.

A marshmallow? Sigh . . . .

We had to close the hive up – more or less – and run to the store for a bag of mini marshmallows before we could get the queen properly installed.

Aside from that little hitch, it went pretty seamlessly. No stings, no visible casualties, and the girls were out foraging within the hour.

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They are all settled nicely now. The local ants are causing a little trouble, but when we opened the hive up a couple days ago to feed the bees, everything looked in good order. The girls were all clustered together, building comb, and the queen was gone from the cage. Fingers crossed that all is in good shape!

 

I had bees once before, when I was living in Seattle.

A swarm happened to settle in the boxwood at the edge of my lot. Rather than ignoring them or calling someone like a sensible person, I rushed out and bought a hive.

It was all pretty exciting . . . but my precious bees didn’t make it through the winter. I still don’t know whether I did something wrong, or whether it was just the rotten bee-odds at work. A couple winters ago, one in three hives throughout the US died.

 

In any case, hopefully this hive will thrive. We’re already scheming about getting a second one next year!

Review: Zeroboxer

For this week’s review, I bring you Zeroboxer, by Fonda Lee. It is a YA Sci-Fi novel set a century or three in the future, and is an action-packed sports story with a healthy dose of intrigue.

To paraphrase the best description I’ve heard: Rocky in 0G + Gattaca.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Fonda was at Viable Paradise 18 with me, and I count her as a friend.

That doesn’t change the fact that this is a well-written, fast-paced, gripping story.

 

Carr “the Raptor” Luka is a rising star in the zeroboxing circuit. He is a gifted fighter, and the Zero Gravity Fighting Association selects him as a marketing tool. A couple spectacular wins and a significant sweep of strategic marketing later, Carr is the face of zeroboxing on Earth.

At which point he finds out that his straightforward life as a high-ranked zeroboxer is actually quite complicated. And precarious.

 

A few things stand out for me about this book:

The fights:

Fonda keeps the tension up in every fight. It is a sports story, so the reader goes in with a pretty fair guess about how most of it will go, but Fonda doesn’t let the reader take anything for granted.

The fights are well described, and the mechanics of 0G fighting are well thought-out. Fonda is a martial artist herself, so she knows her stuff, and she is able to convert that into an exciting form that a layman can follow and enjoy.

Pacing/plotting:

The pacing is excellent. The fights are short, intense punches in a fast-moving story that has a lot of other things going on.

There are several interesting plots twining through and around Carr’s progress as a zeroboxer. There is his romance with Risha, his personal marketing manager. Risha’s father was a Martian colonist, and there are some interesting racial/genetic tensions between the Earthlings and the Martians.

There is the intrigue that I’m not going to tell you about.

There are the relationships between Carr and his fellow fighters. His role changes through the course of the story, and it is interesting to see how their relationships with him change.

As a writer, I have a problem with feeling I have to describe everything. Fonda does an excellent job hop-scotching the story along, catching all of the good bits without losing the nuance. I could learn a thing or two!

Sci-Fi Worldbuilding:

Fonda seamlessly twines interesting Sci-Fi worldbuilding throughout the story. It forms a rich background that informs the main plot without becoming intrusive.

Fonda clearly gave her future careful thought. It is there in the myriad details: how people communicate; how Mars was colonized; the current state of Earth; what life in space is like.

Everything feels plausibly and seamlessly derived from our world, without being boring or conventional. It is very impressive to have so many world-building details seem so reasonable and effortless!

Sum-Up:

Give Zeroboxer a read! And don’t expect to set the book down in the last 75 pages.

 

Balancing Act

The balancing act of my life has been teetering these past couple months, to the detriment of my writing. As noted in my earlier post, finding time to write largely comes down to priorities.

Unfortunately – or fortunately! – I have had some doozies to compete with my writing.

In February and March I had a lot of projects for my day job (read “things are going too well for my own good”), and wedding planning to catch up on.

I had planned to really get cracking on my writing at the start of April, but my sprint start has turned into a crank-sided limp.

The problem this time is still partly work (things are still going too well for my own good), and partly the unseasonably gorgeous weather we’ve been having. In Western Washington it usually drizzles most of the time until late June. This last week we had gorgeous sunny days half the time (sorry, East Coasters!).

That meant that I wanted to be out, frantically working on getting a garden in.

The days are getting longer, too, which meant that I could work myself until I was pretty exhausted.

All of these are good things, but a bit too much of said good things.

Fortunately the rains came back today, which means that I can turn my attention back to indoor things – like writing!

I have been working along on a short story. I’m a bit stuck on the ending, so I think I’ll switch to Joining the Draken here in a couple more days.

I’m due for a full read-through, with my beta readers’ comments in mind. Normally I try to do that in one fell swoop – devoting a whole weekend day to it. I don’t think that will happen with the current nuttiness, but Rob will be on the night shift this next week. At a couple hours a night, I should be able to knock it out in a few days.

I would love to get revisions done before 4th Street . . . so I’d best get cracking!

Growing Things

Spring officially arrived two weeks ago, and is progressing nicely here in Port Angeles.

A couple days ago I saw a couple elk bulls grazing their way through the neighbor’s field. I haven’t seen them since, so they were probably on their way up the mountain to their summer territory.
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The daffodils are in full bloom, and my sugar-snaps are looking good.

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The big question is whether I can keep the garden safe from the deer. I have rigged a fence out of fishing line – the goal being to (mostly) keep the deer out, without being too ugly. We’re going to supplement that rather frail defense with a motion-detector sprinkler system. Fingers crossed that it will work!

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Gardening is a bit like writing in that you sow and weed and dig, in hopes that in a few months or a few years it will pay off. Many small efforts are necessary to get the bountiful harvest.

The big difference is that a garden will change if you neglect it for weeks or months. With luck, it will grow. Or perhaps it will wither or get eaten. But it will not be static.

A story, if neglected, will just sit there. It will not change. You, the author, will change – which is why a resting period can be very helpful. But the story will wait quietly for your return.

That is both good and bad. Without attention, nothing will happen. But it is never too late!

I am gearing up for another round of revisions on Joining the Draken. I have gotten some very helpful critiques from some of my Viable Paradise cohort, among other brave souls.

The critiques confirmed that I need to ratchet up the tension and conflict. I’m hoping that I can manage it by judiciously sowing a few seeds, doing a bit of pruning, and staking up the droopy bits.

Hopefully by June I will have a burgeoning garden and a book that is ripe for submission!