Last Friday, my mom took a tumble down the stairs. I’d mentioned this in a couple of private forums, but with Mom’s okay am actually blogging about it. She’s going to be fine and it’s not the sort of fall that require surgery, but she’s got a cast on that’s keeping her pretty immobile.
I’m flying to Chattanooga on Saturday to help my folks out for a couple of weeks. I am, I think, going to try to teach my dad to cook.
But he’s clever and it’s just like mixing emulsion for silk screening, but not poisonous. Usually. We haven’t decided how long I’m going to stay yet, but I wanted to keep you up to date on which time zone I’m in.
I wrote this on December 23rd, but forgot to post it.
I’ve mentioned that my family has a giant Christmas Eve dinner every year with cousins and multiple generations getting together. This year is the 52nd annual dinner and we’ve got 31 people attending. One of the things that I loved when my grandmother was hosting the party were the party favors, which were always homemade Christmas tree ornaments. After she passed away, I took over the party favors.
This year, when I got to Chattanooga I was a little stressed because I had 10 more party favors to make. I normally have them all made before I get home but time was tight this year.
To my surprise and joy, my niece Katherine pitched in to help me make them. We stayed up until 2 am sewing and laughing together. It was just great to have one on one time with her. Although, I’ll admit that it added to my general feeling that our Christmas’s are straight out of Norman Rockwell.
Aside from getting pulled for additional screening because of the Blue Snowball mic in my bag, it was pretty smooth getting here. They ignored the 10 stainless steel chopsticks in my bag and the liquids which I forgot to pull out. At the moment, I’m thrilled to be liberated from airport wi-fi thanks to my phone. We’re transferring in D.C. and should be in Chattanooga around 4:00.
It’s snowing big, beautiful fluffy flakes right now as we’re getting ready to head out to the airport. We’ve given ourselves extra time to get there. The flight is listed as being on time and the snow is supposed to turn to rain about the time we’re due to take off. Fingers crossed, eh?
I’m home for my Dad’s 70th birthday, which was supposed to be a surprise, but Grandma leaked it. Although, as it turns out, Dad was expecting me to come home anyway, so when Grandma asked what time my flight was getting in, he thought that it was just something he’d forgotten.
Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that Chattanooga lands VW plant. It’ll be at Enterprise South which is about a mile from my parents’ house. This is a very good thing and also a very odd thing. It’ll mean that area is going to see a lot of commercial development so we might actually have good restaurants close by. On the other hand, Chattanooga’s zoning regulations have been, shall we say, spotty in the past. They are doing great things downtown, but I worry that the road to my parents’ house will become stripmall central.
BUT since my mom works with Allied Arts, the local arts council, this is fantastic for the arts. It’s also great for jobs. It changes everything. My mom was so excited she called to tell me about it. Everything will be different from here on out.
Heck, maybe they’ll finally build that high speed rail between Atlanta and Chattanooga they’ve been talking about forever.
Today we critiqued four stories. By now, I’m getting a sense of whose critiques resonate with me most, which is good because– well, if I’m hearing advice that I think is spot-on to fix someone else’s story, if that same person tells me to fix something in mine, then chances are that they are right. Or at least that we have similar taste.
Garrett Winn did a workshop on time management focused on writing. One of the things I thought was interesting came up as a tangent. The old question of whether one should set wordcount goals or time goals. As James Maxey put it, you’re paid by the word, not the time in the chair.
Personally, I work with wordcount goals BUT I’ve also timed myself writing so I know that I write about a thousand words an hour. Which means that if I want to write 2000 words a day that I need to block out a minimum of two hours a day to do that.
Then there was a group discussion about what makes a story stand out as exceptional. I think about the only thing we all agreed on was “specificity.” Lots of other things were bandied about, but no golden key appeared. Granted, I left early to finish cooking dinner, which was….
Afterwards, Mom made blueberry cobbler, served with ice cream.
Oh, Dad, Luc and Danielle played music for us. We’ve discovered that the Star Trek theme is perfectly suited to the musical saw. I’ll try to get a recording before the week is out.
In between all this, I started in on the novel revisions. I was pleased to discover that they really weren’t all that bad. Most of the things people brought up can be fixed in one or two sentences. Whew.
We’re starting the mornings with breakfast foods laid out, but people on their own. Some crazy fools went jogging this morning. My feeling is that running is appropriate if something large is chasing you, otherwise not so much.
We had three presentations today: One on brainstorming story ideas by Luc Reid ((I skipped this one because I still had some reading to do for critique sessions tomorrow,. Other people report favorably on it.)) one on reading aloud (by me), and one on Medieval Studies, by Michael Livingston. I learned that people in the Middle Ages did bathe, that the Bubonic Plague was the first germ warfare and went horribly wrong, and that knights in armor actually could stand up if they fell down.
For lunch we had sandwiches. I know. You’re thrilled.
Then two novel critiques, which was interesting. It’s the first time I’ve done a novel critique session and find it the same as and also quite different from a short story critique. Mostly we dealt with Big Issues and not so much on line notes.
For dinner, now, that’s a beautiful thing. We went to Couch’s barbeque. This place has been there since my Dad was a child. It is one of the things for which I will gleefully break my pose as vegetarian. We were having really lively conversations until the food hit the table and then everyone became silent. Mmmm… A couch’s bbq sandwich with hot slaw on it, sides of baked beans and cole slaw. It just doesn’t get any better.
Tomorrow we have the first of our sessions with Ellen Datlow. Should be fun.
The workshop officially starts tomorrow. Today, a friend of mine came in and helped me set up — wait. Let me back up. When I got in last night, I discovered that my parents had already done everything. Beds were made, conference tables were set up in the workshop room. I mean… really.
So my friend and I headed out to the store to pick up groceries. She made walnut cake and bakclava. I made dinner.
Quinoa Mushroom Risotto
Sauteed Mizuna greens with olive oil and lemon
Green salad with shitake vinaigrette.
Our first guests arrived around 5:00 and the rest of the gang showed up around 11:00. We’ve got another bunch of folks arriving tomorrow. I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one that was still frantically reading manuscripts.
Yesterday we went over to Grandma’s as the rest of the extended family descended on her house. It was good to catch up with my many cousins to find out just a little about what was going on in their lives. There’s never enough time, of course, especially as the family keeps growing. I met, let’s see…my new first cousin twice-removed. That wouldn’t be as impressive if she weren’t my grandmother’s great-great grandchild. Can you even imagine having great-great-grandchildren? Grandma’s 102 and still going strong.
On my dad’s side the extended family is broader, with third and fourth cousins abounding. I like having family and coming home to see them.
At the moment, I’m sitting in front of the fireplace with my dad. Normally, I say that I write daily so my folks don’t think I’m dead and this post started as an easy way to leave a toy for my dad to play with when we leave tomorrow (The Music Text Composition Generator ( A free online music utility)) but I gotta tell you, sitting here all I can think about is how glad I am to be home and how much I’ll miss everyone when I go back to New York.
Meanwhile, before I get to maudlin, really do go play with the Music Text Composition Generator. Try composing something that is interesting to read which doesn’t sound awful when you listen to the midi file it creates. This post? Ouch.
I spent the day hanging out with my nieces and nephew. Most of the time involved playing in Emily’s “house” in the magnolia tree out front. There was a weird discomfort for me about that. See, though I acknowledge that it is a superior space for a pretend house, as a child I never, ever played in that tree.
Not after the incident with the turtle.
I’m not sure how old I was, but probably between five and eight simply because I was doing what Emily was doing today. I was “exploring” or playing house. This magnolia tree is great for that because it’s actually a single large tree surrounded by a crowd of magnolia saplings. They grow so slowly that it doesn’t look much different from when I was little.
I remember pushing through the tightly bunched trunks and the waxy feel of the leaves. The slender branches feel like cinnamon sticks. It is dark and quiet in the center of the grove, even at noon. I step over a branch and my bare foot comes down on a dead turtle.
This is my first scream of abject terror.
The turtle’s shell had collapsed so that the inside is visible. I remember trying to run out of the grove, but the branches were so tight that I couldn’t push through. Robby, my grandmother, came running out of the house and made everything safe somehow. Later she said that she’d known that I was really frightened and not just pretending to be upset because of the way I’d screamed.
This is a very sharp memory for me and this is the place that my niece wanted to play with me today. I’m a good thirty years older than I was, but I had so much dread going in there today, even though I know, I know that the turtle skeleton is long gone. I kept trying to find reasons for the Scientist Fairy and I to go play someplace else, but after the expeditions to discover dinosaurs and to throw parties, we kept coming “home” to that blasted magnolia grove.
She’s got no idea how much affection I was demonstrating by playing with her there .And you know, it probably wouldn’t have been as weird and uncomfortable if I weren’t trying to remember what it was like to be her age so that I could play with her.
Such a Halloween story, eh? It was like a nightmare before Christmas in real life. Other than that, today was lovely. We baked and did other Christmas prep. Rob has made eggnog.
(Tor Books – July 14 2020) Mary Robinette Kowal continues her Hugo and Nebula award-winning Lady Astronaut series, following The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon. The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and […]