Thursday, December 31, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

Times Gone By

Professionally, 2009 was a discouraging year, but to focus on the bright spots:
  • CBL will be getting a professional critique in 2010. I’ll start another round of revisions soon.
  • TAoCBS needs to be expanded and enhanced. The going is slow, but I’ve made some progress.
  • I’ve started researching a new project (SSA), and so far, it’s a ton of fun.
  • My photography improved greatly in 2009. Sometimes I think this blog should be mainly photography, and perhaps it will ease in that direction.
I wish you a happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Overheard #89

"Leftovers don’t stand a chance against us."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mysterious Messages

Mysterious Messages: a History of Codes and Ciphers

by Gary Blackwood
Dutton Children’s Books (2009)


This book will appeal to math enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Gary Blackwood shows how codes and ciphers have been used from 1500 BCE to the present. He relates fascinating anecdotes of encoded messages that changed history. The book includes descriptions of different kinds of ciphers, deciphering tables, directions for building deciphering devices and instructions on how to break ciphers and codes.
Interesting Tidbit That I Learned:
Throughout history, people have been drawn to the romantic appeal of creating or solving an “unbreakable” code, but in reality, most ciphers are merely delaying tactics. Military codes and ciphers, for example, should remain secure until the attack has been initiated. After that, there is no secret to protect. In today’s world, where super-computers rapidly perform complicated calculations, an encryption needs to remain secure long enough for the information to be transmitted and retrieved, then the cipher is changed.
Get this book for all the curious kids you know.
Review at The Bookbag
Interview with Gary Blackwood

Sunday, December 27, 2009


The same branch from a different angle.

Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Photos by me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and time for family. I’m delighted to have Sam home from college and Jeremy hanging around the house for the next couple days. While I cook a big dinner and worry about the impending ice storm, I’ll think about the people I love.

Have a safe and joyous holiday.

Please stop by on Sunday. I plan to post a couple new photos.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All I Want for Christmas

with apologies to Don Gardner

All I want for Christmas is a new subplot
A new plot thought, yes, a new hot plot.
Gee, if I could only have a new subplot,
Then I could finish my novel.

There are excellent reasons why I don’t write in rhyme. Most of them are exhibited here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Overheard #88

"Who needs Google when you can make things up?"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home for the Holidays

As an ongoing service to other YA writers who may not have teens readily available for observation, I provide this slice of life.

Sam came home from college with a cold. Jeremy is sick too. I found them sprawled on the sofa, quite close together as they are large and the sofa is not. Each was wrapped in a blanket. They shared a box of tissues and a wastepaper basket. As they watched TV and talked, occasionally one swatted the other. The swat was blocked, and they’d go back to talking.

Ah, brothers.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Someone decorated the woods near our house again this year.  (Last year's picture)

 Here is a reflection of me taking the picture.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Jeremy has a bad cold, so yesterday I went to the high school to pick up his tuba. Visions of Jeremy practicing over the Christmas break danced in my head. The tuba case is in the repair shop, so I wrapped the tuba in an old blanket and wedged several pillows around it so it wouldn’t roll around as I drove home. Unfortunately this adventure, “Bedtime for Tuba,” was not recorded for YouTube.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Overheard #87

"Snowflakes roasting on an open fire … "

Monday, December 14, 2009


Lately, I’ve been thinking about the length of novels, not the number of words or pages, but the duration of the story. The Harry Potter novels run the course of a school year. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Play List spans one very long night. Clearly, different stories require different time frames.

I’ve started planning a new novel that occurs over spring break, and I’m enjoying the constraints of the time limit. Not only does my protagonist have to accomplish his elaborate goals in 9 days (one week plus the adjoining weekend), the background noise of the ticking clock adds another level of tension. If he fails to complete his task by Sunday, he either has to admit defeat or cut school, and cutting school will create enough havoc for another novel. My protagonist and I simply have to get the job done on time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Photo by me.

I confess I adjusted the exposure and color on this one.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I like to use a calendar to revise novels. G&G is historical fiction, and the climax had to occur on a specific date in history. I blocked out a calendar on paper and planned backwards from that date. The protagonist had basketball games, practices, school, chores and church, so I had to schedule my novel around his busy life.

Calendars are also useful for novels that use the ticking clock to increase tension. If the protagonist has to accomplish something by a specific day, advances and setbacks can be charted on a calendar.

Yesterday, I plotted TAoCBS on a calendar and found a huge hole in the middle. Hmmm, that might be the best place to start revising.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

All's Quiet on the Blogging Front

Don’t think the paucity of posts on this blog means I’ve been revising like crazy.

But I have been thinking, and reading, and thinking some more. Yesterday I read a post on Writing a Hot Plot by Mary Kole. Click on over and look at the line graph. I was relieved to realize that G&G and CBL follow this pattern. Unfortunately, TAoCBS (the novel I’m supposed to be working on right now) does not. Specifically, it’s missing The Rise between points 1 and 2.

I haven’t figured out how to achieve The Rise in this novel, and according to the plan, it should account for 16.7 to 25% of the story. I wonder if the situation for my hapless protagonist could improve without him realizing it.

While I ponder, I’m going to work on making The Fall even steeper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Overheard #86

"They do kind of shun fun in that household."

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Photo by me.

The forest is mostly gray and brown this time of year. Last week I found a few leaves that kept their fall color and were lit by a ray of sunlight.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blogs, the Next Best Thing to Being There

Yesterday, while researching the setting for a new project, I discovered Travel Blogs. They can be a goldmine of information because they include timelines and actual experiences.

I learned that riding a bus from town A to town B takes two hours, and the hike from town B to the campsite is seven miles and mostly flat. Unfortunately, the pit toilets at the campsite are hideous. (That kind of information tends to be missing from touristy websites.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Zombie Spiders

Imagine you’re a wolf spider that lives in salt marshes. When the tide comes in, your number one priority should be to get to higher ground. Spiders are terrestrial organisms that require oxygen, so rising water seems detrimental to survival.

Recent work by Julien PĂ©tillon and his graduate student (unnamed in the article) at France’s UniversitĂ© de Rennes, demonstrated that one species of marsh-dwelling spider, Arctosa fulvolineata, can survive up to forty hours of submersion in salt water by lapsing into a “coma”. If the spiders are allowed to dry out for a few hours, they recover.

While this adaptive mechanism is interesting, I do not think that drowning spiders is an appropriate activity for scientists.

Science: 324: 571 (2009).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snowflakes and Fern Frost

Photo by me.

This was my first attempt to photograph snowflakes, and I wasn't completely satisfied with the result. The Michigan winter will provide opportunities to try again. Click here to see the difference between fern frost, rime and hoarfrost.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Overheard #85

"It’s hard to bully a ninja."