Ups and Downs of Country Life

We live a couple miles outside of Port Angeles, and to most people our neighborhood would look like country.

In the last couple months our life has really been feeling like life on the farm.

In a lot of ways that’s good: gardening, fun critters, neat projects.

In some it’s bad: predators, inclement weather, failures of various sorts.


In the next few posts I’m going to record some of the ups and downs of our life in the (almost but not quite) country.

Emergency Preparedness

My family moved to Washington State when I was 12.

Earthquake country.

Since then, I have lived in WA and CA. I even felt a couple minor quakes while living in the Bay Area.

I should have put together an emergency kit years — decades — ago, but I just never got around to it.

A few weeks ago, author Elizabeth Bear tweeted a link to a New Yorker article on the Big One.

It finally scared me into action.

If the Cascadia fault does bust all the way up to Washington, Port Angeles is going to be in deep trouble. If we make it through the initial quake, there will be a tsunami, and then if we survive that, the whole area will be such a mess that it might be a good long time before we get help.

So, properly motivated, I finally went through and put together an emergency kit. With Amazon’s help, I was able to get it done in an hour or so by starting with emergency radios and first aid kits, then looking at the “customers also bought” items.

I think this is a nice, solid basic emergency kit, suitable for anyone who is living in an area at risk of a large-scale disaster.

The whole thing cost a bit more than $100 . . . not cheap, but if I ever need it, it will be well worth it. Of course, I hope that I never actually need it!

If you’re looking forward to put together a kit of your own, feel free to use this as a jumping off point!

My focus below is on a non-food emergency kit – but my friend Blair McGregor recently did a nice post on food preparedness.

Did I miss anything critical?

Emergency Kit Contents:

The most basic requirements have an asterisk; many of the others are nice to have, but not critical.



  • *Emergency Radio with USB charger
  •        Cell phone charging cable
  • Sharpie/pencil
  • Paper (for making notes)
  • Telephone list (emergency numbers in case you gain phone access, but your cell phone got broken)



  • *Head lamp (or flashlight)
  •        Extra batteries





Not pictured. Ideally you would have enough for at least 3 days.

Human power pellets or a bunch of canned food . . . Whatever you can actually keep on hand and swap out as necessary.

If you have pets, include some food for them — or select canned food that either of you could eat.

If you want to be properly prepared with more than a few cans of food, here’s  a nice post on food preparedness.


This is partially covered under health (water treatment), but in an ideal world you would have actual containers with at least 3 days of water.


In an ideal world, you would have some layers, clothes, socks, etc. Take some things that you were planning to take to the thrift store, and stick it in your emergency kit instead. Ideally you would have such things in your car, anyway, so one cheater method is to stash a copy of your car key in your emergency kit, and just keep the clothes in the car. Of course, you better be sure that your car will be home if you are!


In an ideal world, you would have a packet of paperwork with copies of your identification, insurance, telephone numbers, etc.


You have your handy dandy kit. Now where are you going to keep it? I’m stashing mine in a shed, so that if the house falls down I can still get to it. Wherever you put it, imagine the structure in a heap of kindling. Could you still get to the kit in a pinch? If so, you’re good.


I broke my emergency kit into a compact kit of items that can just live in a plastic bin.

I’m keeping the food and water separate, since those are bulky, and need to be swapped out periodically.

Even if I get sloppy with the food and water, at least the gear will still be there!


And if the big one does come . . . well, I’m going to owe Bear a lot of drinks for spurring me to get my act together.

Poor Cueing – Wing Commander

Last time, I discussed some thoughts on cues and audience expectation.

Today, I want to look at an example where the cueing was poorly done, and resulted in disappointment for at least some audience members.

My target is Wing Commander.

When I saw this recently, it caught my eye as having a few instances of poor cueing — some of which made a difference, and some of which didn’t.

I am going to look at three examples of failed cueing in the movie. One is the innocuous sort of false cue that is almost inevitable in a complex work. The other two are more problematic.

Example 1: Minor cueing failure

When the MC and his best friend first arrive at their posting, they go and check out the fighters they’ll be flying. Almost immediately they see an attractive female — the first, as far as I can recall.

Rob made a crack about her clearly being the love interest, an opinion that I was inclined to agree with.

Of course, then we met the real love interest some twenty seconds later.

Cue Cause: Something unusual (a girl!), underscored by character attention.

Effect: Brief red herring about the love interest. A minor red herring that did not cause any disappointment when it turned out to be misleading.

Comments: This cueing misfire didn’t really hurt anything, although it didn’t really accomplish anything, either. If there is a good variety of characters all the way through, the storyline will be less vulnerable to such mis-cues, because the first girl (or POC or …) won’t stand out as different from the homogenous norm.

Example 2: Detail-based cueing failure

One of the major sources of tension through the middle of the movie is the MC’s Pilgrim association (he is half Pilgrim, which makes him the subject of suspicion by some of the crew members). Early on, he discusses his Pilgrim memento — an amulet roughly in the shape of a cross — with his best friend. His friend thinks he should get rid of it.

All well and good.

But then it is revealed that it has a little knife that can pop out of it.

It is a striking and suggestive detail.

We promptly decided that it would play a key role in the plot, probably in some sort of fight.

It . . . didn’t.

The amulet crops up again, but the little knife isn’t shown ever again. It doesn’t play a role, major or minor.

We were disappointed.

Cue Cause: something unusual (the amulet has a knife!), underscored by character attention, the fact that it had clear utility, and the fact that it was otherwise pointless.

Effect: this engendered the expectation that the knife would show up later and be used for something cool. The lack thereof caused disappointment.

Comment: this detail registered as a cue rather than an enriching detail because it was unusual, it was not surrounded by other details of similar weight, and it was a detail that had clear application. The reason all of this is problematic is that the viewer is cheerfully waiting for the knife to come into play, and when it doesn’t, is disappointed. It’s sort of like putting a gun on the mantle, but never having it fired or used to hit someone over the head.

Example 3: Interaction-based cueing failure

The MC’s best friend does some semi-competitive showing off with a girl.

The girl subsequently dies in an accident as a result of showing off.

The MC’s love interest blames the best friend.

All well and good.

But then there is a scene where the MC tells his love interest (who is also a officer) that she needs to make things right with the MC’s best friend, because she needs every fighter at her disposal.

This cued the expectation that the best friend would then play an important and likely redeeming role.

But . . . that was basically the last we saw of him.

Cue Cause: an emotionally fraught scene where the MC’s love interest forgives the best friend because they’re about to go into battle.

Effect: this engendered the expectation that the MC’s best friend would play some sort of important or cool role, or — failing that — die spectacularly. It is somewhat ironic, because he did play an important role — but it was before the “clearing the air” scene with the MC’s love interest.

The issue with this is similar to the issue with the unused dagger: there was the expectation that something interesting would happen at the end, and it didn’t happen. With a really good climax that might not have been a problem, but Wing Commander had a relatively weak climax — so the cues relating to interesting things that never happened were far more noticeable.

Comment: if you’re going to make a big deal of needing someone, their success or failure should be important. They should somehow be relevant, whether they come through or not.

To just ignore the whole thing doesn’t hack it.

In this case, I think they were just tying off the sub-plot “hey, we can’t just leave the MC’s love interest mad at the MC’s best friend,” but it looked like it should relate back to the main plot. And it didn’t.

General thoughts:

The two cueing failures that I consider problematic set up expectations for an exciting climax and resolution.

The ending turned out to be pretty lukewarm, so the cues stuck in my mind as missed opportunities.

I see two possible fixes:

1. Pay attention to the critical cues, and fulfill or subvert them.

2. Have such a splendid, satisfying climax that it blows away any recollection of what the audience expected.

Cues and Audience Expectation

I have been thinking about Chekhov’s Gun lately. Although the principle is to only include the bits that will be important to the story, in my mind the more critical takeaway comes down to cues:

If you provide the audience with a clear cue, and fail to fulfill, exceed, or confound their expectations, they are going to be disappointed.

In other words, it’s ok to not fulfill their expectations, but if you don’t, you’d better come up with something even better.

What is a cue? This gets tricky, because the audience is on the lookout for cues, and they may spot a “cue” you didn’t think of — in which case they will be sad when nothing comes of it.

This is, to some extent, inevitable. After all, to produce a rich story, every single thing can’t blossom into a critical plot point. This is especially true in SFF, where vivid and interesting descriptions are often necessary to capture an alien world.

What is an author to do?

I think there are two really important things:

1 – Things that are described in greater detail will be assumed to be more important, unless there is a clear alternate reason for the degree of detail.

2 – There may be small dead-end cues. That is ok, as long as they are minor enough that the memory of them is washed away by the cue that is fulfilled.

If you keep these in mind, your reader will be satisfied.

1 – Detail Equals Importance

This really comes down to use of attention. If the author lavishes something with attention, the audience expects it to be important.

That can be tricky in SFF, where world building is important. If you dwell lovingly on a gun hanging over the mantel, will the audience expect it to be used?

As long as there is a clear reason to be dwelling on it — other than cueing — it isn’t as dangerous. If something is out of place, most readers will presume that it is a cue.

Consider the following examples:

The gun over the mantlepiece was an 8 series Omega Orbital blaster. It was flanked by a pair of Zagon dueling blasters and a rare sniper’s laser from Antares.


The gun over the mantelpiece had belonged to the professor’s great-grandfather. A filigree of brass curled across the polished wooden stock. An antique ammunition case sat on the bookshelf to the right, half lost among the scholarly tomes.

Which gun do you think is more likely to be used in the story? Which is a stronger cue?

To my mind, the first is simply describing the home of a weapons collector. Oh, I’d expect some sort of mayhem to come about, but it would actually be fun if it turned out to be the antique sabers off to the right.

The second is a gun in a professor’s library. Yes, its presence is explained, but it seems a surprising detail. I’d expect it to go off, or get stolen, or perhaps get damaged. Or I might expect it to signal that the professor is actually interested in guns, and is a crack shot. Regardless, it is included for a purpose.

2 – Small Dead-Ends are Inevitable. . . and OK

If you’re busily describing all sorts of interesting things, some things will catch the audience’s attention more than others. You might expect the audience to be paying attention to the antique gun, but maybe they were more interested in the ammunition case. Or the faded photograph next to the ammunition case. Or….

That is inevitable. And it is not necessarily a problem.

A detail that doesn’t turn into anything only matters if the audience thinks at the end “wait a minute, what happened to X?”

If they do that, you have a cueing problem.

The important thing is that potential cues will usually only be remembered if they became important, or if they were so vivid that the audience members told themselves a story about it.

Once the audience starts theorizing, you have some fulfilling to do.

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Please Comment!

Next time:

An example of horrible cueing: Wing Commander.

Revising – Checking Pacing/Continuity

I’m reaching the end of revisions on Joining the Draken; at this point I’ve made my structural changes and am filling in some gaps and smoothing out a few continuity issues.

Then it will be on to final tweaking and refinement before I go on the Great Agent Hunt.

A couple weeks ago I did a pacing/sub-arc/continuity verification exercise that I found very useful, so I though I’d describe it here. It was a somewhat more elaborate version of the calendar checking that Patricia Wrede mentioned on her blog.


First, I set up a timeline on the left side and sections indicating major characters/plot lines along the top.

Then I added key plot cues on the left side.

Finally, I used handy little colored dots to plot out when important things happen in the story relating to different events and characters.

This gave me a solid visual of the novel that helped me check a few things:

  • Continuity — I could more easily confirm that the key events were stacking up correctly. This was especially important when there was a dependency among different sub-plots.
  • Rhythm — I could verify that things were building the way I wanted them to.
  • Frequency — I could verify that I was actually visiting each sub-plot and character at an appropriate interval (so the reader can hopefully remember who they are).
  • Balance — I could check the give and take in pacing among the different sub-plots.
  • Temporal spacing — I could check that different things had the necessary percolation/build time. Not in terms of pacing, but in terms of “lived” time for the characters.

I found this process very helpful. It helped me catch a few minor continuity issues. More importantly, it helped me fine-tune the interplay among the different sub-plots and determine where to put some floater scenes (things that I wanted to have happen, but had some flexibility in terms of when they should happen).

As a result I shifted a few things around, using blank labels to adjust placement in time.

It would also be helpful to go through this exercise using page/word count as the Y axis instead of calendar time. That would give a better pacing check, although it wouldn’t be as useful for confirming temporal feasibility.

Do you have any interesting strategies for sanity checking the plot during revisions?

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.


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.



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!



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!



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.



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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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!


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

And then it was off to 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.


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.


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).


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.


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!