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Musical Musings

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New blog [Jul. 2nd, 2014|11:14 am]
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Thought I would mention that I've started a new blog: The Practical Free Spirit.  My plan is to make this new blog interesting *even if you don't know me*.  Radical idea, I know. 

There is an LJ feed created for anyone who would enjoy following this new blog on LJ.  The feed url is http://practicalfreespirit.com/feed/ and you add it to your syndication page.

I also plan to continue on here with my book lists, con reports, and occasional writing blather, but we'll see how that goes.
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The Great 2010 Booklist: September thru December [Dec. 31st, 2010|02:53 pm]
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71. Model Spy, by Shannon Greenland. YA
72. Spirits That Walk in Shadow, by Nina Hoffman. YA fantasy
73. The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester. SF
74. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm. SF
75. The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang. SF
76. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
77. Living Dead in Dallas, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
78. Club Dead, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
79. Dead to the World, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
80. Dead as a Doornail, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
81. Beastly, by Alex Flinn. YA Fantasy
82. Definitely Dead, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
83. All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
84. From Dead to Worse, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
85. Dead and Gone, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
86. Ambassador, by Abigail Hing Wen (manuscript). YA contemporary
87. Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris. Urban Fantasy
88. Matilda, by Roald Dahl (RR). Children's
89. Red Hood's Revenge, by Jim Hines. Fantasy
90. Blameless, by Gail Carriger. Fantasy
91. Witch Week, by Diana Wynne Jones (RR). Children's Fantasy
92. The Prince, by Machiavelli. NF
93. Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. NF
94. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomerie (RR). Children's
95. Charmed Life, by Diana Wynne Jones (RR). Children's Fantasy
96. Superclass, by David Rothkopf. NF
97. Heart of Veridon, by Tim Akers. Steampunk
98. Blackout, by Connie Willis. SF
99. The Boys Next Door, by Jennifer Echols. YA Contemporary
100. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver. YA spec
101. Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby. Contemporary
102. The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. Contemporary with spec elements
103. The Definitive Book of Body Language, by Allan and Barbara Pease. NF
104. The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Literary
105. Last Movement, by Joan Aiken. Mystery-ish/contemporary
106. The Luxe, by Anna Godbersen. YA historical
107. Matched, by Ally Condie. YA dystopia

Surprisingly (for me), the books I most enjoyed during this reading period were mostly nonfiction.  Guns, Germs, and Steel was particularly excellent, and I'm sure I'll read part or all of it again in the future.  That being said, I found all the nonfiction I read during this period to be fascinating in different ways. 

My favorite novel from this list was, without question, The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I love this book so much.  It was beautifully written and I was completely riveted in spite of the fact that plot-wise, it seemed like nothing much was going on.  If you are a fan of amazing character studies,this is the book for you.

Other novels deserving mention include Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby, which was also notable for its characterization and character arcs across the book, and Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, a post-apocalyptic novel by Kate Wilhelm that I believe won a Hugo back in the day.  And as you can see, I devoured the entire extant Sookie Stackhouse vampire series by Charlaine Harris while I was laid up with a sprained ankle, enjoying myself tremendously given the circumstances.  (Also, I was incredibly grateful that I owned a Kindle to make obtaining new reading material so much easier while I wasn't mobile.)

In Young Adult, my favorite was Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver, which was pretty much Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls.

Soon I will look at the entire list for the year and share my top picks.  In the meantime, have a very happy New Year!

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The Great 2010 Booklist: July thru August [Sep. 15th, 2010|01:08 pm]
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My trend of reading more books in the summertime continued this year.  I read quite a mixture of genres the past two months, although I think YA dominates, as per usual.  I've been reading a bit more contemporary YA this past year to get to know the market, since my current WIP is, in fact, contemporary YA. 

41. Naamah's Curse, by Jacqueline Carey. Fantasy
42. The Finishing Touches, by Hester Browne. Contemporary
43. The World Inside, by Robert Silverberg. SF
44. Commencement, by J. Courtney Sullivan. Contemporary
45. Dying Inside, by Robert Silverberg. SF
46. Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin. YA speculative
47. 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson. YA Contemporary
48. Twenties Girl, by Sophie Kinsella. Contemporary w/ supernatural element
49. The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart. MG speculative
50. Duke of Shadows, Meredith Duran. Romance
51. Pretty Little Liars: Perfect, by Sara Shepard. YA Contemporary
52. Pretty Little Liars: Unbelievable, by Sara Shepard. YA Contemporary
53. Gorgeous, by Rachel Vail. YA Contemporary
54. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Fantasy
55. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol. 4, edited by Jonathan Strahan. Anthology
56. Imager, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Fantasy
57. Vegan Virgin Valentine, by Carolyn Mackler. YA Contemporary
58. Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine. MG Fantasy
59. The Great Call of China, by Cynthea Liu. YA Contemporary
60. Feed, by M.T. Anderson. YA SF
61. Toads and Diamonds, by Heather Tomlinson. YA Fantasy
62. In the Forest of Forgetting, by Theodora Goss. Fantasy
63. Pretty Little Liars: Wicked, by Sara Shepard. YA Contemporary
64. Pretty Little Liars: Killer, by Sara Shepard. YA Contemporary
65. Pretty Little Liars: Heartless, by Sara Shepard. YA Contemporary
66. Pretty Little Liars: Wanted, by Sara Shepard. YA Contemporary
67. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. YA SF
68. The Book of Skulls, by Robert Silverberg. SF
69. The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories, by Joan Aiken. MG Fantasy
70. Something Borrowed, by Emily Giffin. Contemporary

Out of this list of thirty titles, I of course had my favorites.  Most noteworthy, I felt, was M.T. Anderson's YA dystopia Feed.  The use of language was superb and fascinating, and this novel was a hard-hitting critique of our current society.  The characterization of our protag was also very finely drawn.  Highly recommended, even if you're not usually the biggest YA fan.

This also marked the first three Silverberg novels I've ever read, and while I'm not certain I can recommend one above the other two, I enjoyed reading his work and will be picking up others in the future.

Two collections of short stories completely enchanted me this summer: Theodora Goss's In the Forest of Forgetting was one of those rare collections in which I enjoyed every single story, and The Serial Garden, a new collection from Small Beer Press of previously published Joan Aiken stories, was enchanting and perfect bedtime reading.

My favorite contemporary YA of the list is a tie between Carolyn Mackler's Virgin Vegan Valentine, in which I fully identified with the protagonist, and Cynthea Liu's The Great Call of China, which was very moving.

Lastly, I can't finish without mentioning the highly anticipated finale to the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, a book that I read in one sitting while nursing a sprained ankle.  I felt that this book didn't take any of the easy choices that would have, in my mind, have cheapened the protaganist Katniss.  There was a lot of hoop-la over the love triangle in this series, but to be honest, I never found the love triangle overly interesting and found the result of it fairly predictable.  What I thought was noteworthy was the portrayal of Katniss and her PTSD, showing a broken person being forced to cope in brutal and terrible circumstances, and also showing the realities of war and this ruthless and broken society, in which there was no black and white and both sides were harsh and corrupt in different ways.  Collins didn't pull her punches here, and I was pleased she didn't.  
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Six Impossible Things [Aug. 18th, 2010|01:04 pm]
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Apologies for those of you who follow my blog's feed, but since I particularly love today's entry, I'm posting a link over here in LJ land as well: http://practicalfreespirit.com/2010/08/18/six-impossible-things-before-breakfast-or-how-to-have-an-exciting-life/

In this entry, I write about one of my very favorite stories from my time in London.  

Enjoy!
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SCBWI Summer Conference - Before [Jul. 29th, 2010|11:11 am]
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I'm off to the airport in about an hour to fly to the SCBWI summer conference -- very exciting!  This is a longer more intensive conference than the one I attended in New York in January.  And there's a hot tub.  Woohoo!

I've tried to winnow down the workshops I'll be attending and have a basic plan: about half craft-related and half business or industry related.  The latter tend to drive me a little batty if I go to too many in a row, as so much of the information presented is repetition repetition repetition of the same old basic facts.  They also tend towards a single viewpoint, instead of the more well-rounded picture I can piece together through the marvelous internet.

But I'm very much looking forward to the craft talks, and most of all to meeting many of my fellow writers.  I'm at the point when I have to decide which project to pursue next, and I'm really torn between a few possibilities, so I'm hoping this weekend will both inspire me and help me decide on my direction for the rest of the year.
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The Great 2010 Booklist: April thru June [Jul. 1st, 2010|02:32 pm]
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Not quite as much reading the past few months, due to crazy amounts of critiquing with a dollop of travel.  Oh, and moving, let's not forget that.

24. By Heresies Distressed, by David Weber.  SF
25. Changeless, by Gail Carriger. Fantasy
26. My Life as a Rhombus, by Varian Johnson. Contemporary YA
27. How to Say Goodbye in Robot, by Natalie Standiford. Contemporary YA
28. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien (RR) Kidlit
29. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. Contemporary YA
30. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Contemporary YA
31. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Memoir?
32. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. Speculative
33. Nova, by Samuel Delaney. SF
34. Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. YA SF
35. The Unincorporated Man, by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin. SF
36. Not Less Than Gods, by Kage Baker. Steampunk
37. The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner. YA/MG Fantasy
38. If I Stay, by Gayle Forman. Contemporary YA
39. Unwind, by Neal Shusterman. YA SF
40. The White Cat, by Holly Black. YA Fantasy

Lots of YA this time, with a fair dose of SF.  It's hard to pick only a few to especially call to your attention, but I'll try to rise to the challenge.

Never Let Me Go is a beautiful, beautiful book.  The back cover copy is deliberately vague to avoid spoilers, making it seem not so interesting, but it IS interesting, and everything I want out of speculative fiction.  I can't speak about it more without also giving spoilers, so just read this book.  It reminded me a bit of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale in terms of genre/style. 

The Unincorporated Man was fun, and many of you heard me speak about it at Wiscon.  Yes, it has some holes, but personally they didn't bother me while I was reading.  The White Cat has fabulous world building and a likeable teenage protagonist.  First person present tense, which is very trendy right now for YA.

I also read some really well done contemporary YA, but I am completely incapable of picking my favorite from the list above.  Maybe Speak for its rawness, or If I Stay because it made me cry on an airplane, which was embarrassing.  But really I liked them all, which is saying something.

I have almost a shelf and a half in my study filled with books that I want to read this summer, plus a birthday Amazon gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket, so hopefully much reading in the next quarter!
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Slow Cooker Lamb Chops with Apple Balsamic Sauce [Jun. 30th, 2010|10:14 am]
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Yesterday I tried to create my own recipe and met with some success!  The lamb in particular was amazingly tender and delish.  To give credit where it's due, I relied heavily on my experience with the Gluten-Free Goddess's crockpot meat recipes.  You can substitute out any  of the veggies for your favorites - I thought the carrots turned out particularly well in my variation.  Next time I'm going to try adding some red wine to the sauce to add a bit of body.  You could also substitute agave nectar for the maple syrup.  This recipe took me about an hour to prepare, mostly due to my slow chopping skills.

2 lbs. lamb chops (should be 4 chops, for 4 servings)
olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic
2 carrots
a few handfuls frozen peas
2 cups Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced (this is about one package)
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
1.5 cups unsweetened apple juice
1/8 cup + maple syrup
Spices: salt, pepper, cinnamon, Italian herb mix, cumin, curry powder
(Optional: 1/2 -2/3 cup red table wine -- I'm going to try this next time!)

Salt (and pepper, if you're me) the meat on both sides and let sit for five minutes.

Put a disposable liner into your slow cooker if you are lazy about clean-up as I am.  Put a dash of olive oil into the cooker, followed by the chopped up onion, garlic, carrots, and peas.  Stir to coat with olive oil. 

In the meantime, brown the meat on all sides in a skillet -- only needs a few minutes per side, just to seal the juicy goodness inside.

Place the meat in the slow cooker.  Put the sliced mushrooms on top. 

Add the vinegar, apple juice, and maple syrup.  (And the red wine, if you're experimenting.)  Stir around.  Then add spices.  (Or you might want to add the spices in layers, some before you place the meat and some afterwards.  Up to you!)

Cook on High for about four hours, and Low for the next one to two hours.  You want at least five hours total to ensure the meat is falling off the bone.  (You might be able to do High for all five hours, but what can I say?  I panicked!) 

Be careful about the steam when lifting the lid.  And be careful with serving, as the meat should be so tender that it will be falling apart.

Serve with couscous and golden raisins.   Enjoy!
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Great Adventures [Jun. 28th, 2010|01:49 pm]
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1. My studio business is officially closed, and has been since the end of May.  The result, so far, is a wonderful decrease of stress and much more time to focus on writing.  I'm glad I was able to take the leap and make a big change for the better in my life. 

2. Wiscon was as much fun as last year.  It was great to catch up with writing friends, and my husband gave an amazing talk about AI that was thought-provoking and interesting.

3. Great birthday celebration.  Feel like I'm exactly where I want to be at this age, which is always a happy condition.

4. Taos Toolbox.  Most amazing experience ever.  Well, in the top ten, in any case.  I learned so much from Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress, I felt like I was literally inhaling information.  My second week story was much more successful than I thought it would be (I hate writing under pressure, so my expectations were on the low side), and more importantly, much more successful than any of my previous stories, showing my learning in action.

My classmates were inspirational, supportive, and intelligent, and I couldn't have asked for a better class.  I skimped on sleep in order to spend the maximum amount of time possible with these wonderful people.  And being able to talk about writing to my heart's content for two weeks, with people willing and able to engage in conversation about it on a deep level, was just the happiest thing ever.  Granted, it was sometimes difficult to get work done with the most interesting and awesome roommate I've ever had, but somehow we both managed. 
In summary, I would highly recommend this workshop to anyone interested in pushing their writing to the next level, and I particularly recommend Walter and Nancy as insightful and articulate instructors. 

5.  What's next?  I have five short story ideas, a novel to revise, another novel to brainstorm on and outline, a blog idea in the works.  I'm attending the SCBWI summer conference in LA and going on vacation to the UK with the husband.  I have over a shelf of books that are begging to be read.  I'm doing daily knee and upper body exercises, which are having slow but sure results.  I'm teaching my dog how to sit (and tomorrow we graduate onto more complicated things).  And lots of other miscellany.

6. It's good to be alive.
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The Great 2010 Booklist: January thru March [Apr. 7th, 2010|01:42 pm]
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1. Fly on the Wall, by E. Lockhart
2. Size 12 Is Not Fat, by Meg Cabot
3. Heaven to Besty, by Maud Hart Lovelace (RR)
4. Betsy in Spite of Herself, by Maud Hart Lovelace (RR)
5. The Gatecrasher, by Madeleine Wickham
6. When Besty was a Junior, by Maud Hart Lovelace (RR)
7. Betsy and Joe, by Maud Hart Lovelace (RR)
8. Jemima J, by Jane Green
9. Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace (RR)
10. Betsy's Wedding, by Maud Hart Lovelace (RR)
11. My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
12. Victoria and the Rogue, by Meg Cabot
13. Ash, by Malinda Lo
14. 13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
15. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin
16. Eclipse 3, ed. Jonathan Strahan
17. Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner
18. Foxstone, by Abigail Hing Wen (manuscript)
19. Daddy-long-legs, by Jean Webster (RR)
20. The Land of Oz, by Frank Baum (RR)
21. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, by Linda Johnsen
22. This is Not a Game, by Walter Jon Williams
23. Teen Idol, by Meg Cabot

On the whole, I've been in the mood for lighter fare and some re-reads (marked RR) this winter, a trend begun by my Maui reading.  The book on this list that I'm most excited about is, without question, Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  I loved this book, loved how religion and gods and different cultures were incorporated.  Great fantasy, and I'll be on the look-out for her next novel.

The second book on my excitement radar is 13 Reasons Why, which is a very well done YA exploration of teen suicide.  It is what's traditionally called a page turner.  I heard a lot of buzz about it at the SCBWI conference in NYC, and it was justified buzz.

Started writing again today after a week and a half break.  I blame jury duty.  I've decided that I can deal psychologically when I know my schedule, or I have no idea my schedule is about to be disrupted.  But when it might be disrupted or might not, and I have to phone all the time to find out my fate for the next one or two days, my productivity goes out the window.  Is it any coincidence that the day after I'm dismissed from jury duty, I easily produce a thousand words again?  I think not!
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Rough draft complete! [Mar. 29th, 2010|02:21 pm]
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Exciting news!  I have finished the rough draft of my latest work-in-progress novel, How to Get Over Stage Fright!

I finished about two weeks ahead of schedule and did a stellar job (if I do say so myself) meeting my goals and writing regularly.  I finished up on Friday with a marathon (for me) 4500-word day.  I'm really excited about the directions the story went and am looking forward to diving into editing after a suitable detachment period. 

Now I'm in novel withdrawal mode.  Writing overdue payment notices just doesn't compare with writing fiction.

However, I have some interesting projects in my head that are ripe for developing: a few short stories, a possible novelette? (hard to tell), and two novel ideas that have been screaming their heads off for awhile. 

Taos Toolbox is for two weeks in June, but at this point it is up in the air as to whether the workshop will happen or be canceled due to low enrollment.  Obviously I'd be very disappointed if it were to be canceled, but what is driving me slightly nuts at present is the whole not knowing aspect.  It makes it hard to plan well.

I'm also starting a new therapy for my knees and can already tell the improvement after only two sessions!  I'd say overall I'm feeling a lot more hopeful than I have in a long time about my chances for recovery.  The original injury happened a year ago now, and my progress has been so extremely gradual at times as to often be unnoticeable.  But walking around the house and to the park with little to no pain, as I've been able to do for the last few days, is such a large improvement that it gives me big ideas for the future!
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