Friday, March 6, 2009

I'm a mess, I confess

I have a new excuse for not writing a long entry in the blog today. Let's just say, I've been putting off care and pruning of my desk for some time:

You have to understand, the floor is not my fault. I had all that stuff neatly put away (okay, crammed on a bookshelf), and then my very helpful spousal unit decided to straighten up the bookshelf while I was away at a conference. I had so many assignments (paid and volunteer) waiting for me when I came back that I didn't have the spare weeks days hours to clean anything up. But I have a little free time now, so I'm gradually making progress against the mess. I'm sure by next week I'll be able to post a picture of my newly neatened workspace.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Quilt Files, Episode 8

I'd been quilting for a couple years when I got exciting news: a wedding in the family! My brother-in-law was getting married, and they were taking their time planning the wedding—which meant I could take my time planning the quilt. I borrowed a pattern I'd been eyeing from my mom and headed over to my favorite fabric store to take advantage of my birthday discount. The pattern only called for four different fabrics, but I browsed the batiks until I found ones I would love to be sewing on for the next several months.

This quilt was a bit of a challenge for me. It was my first time cutting and piecing triangles, and it can be tricky getting the corners to join in exactly the right angle. But as you can see from the finished product, there weren't that many triangles to deal with, and getting the pattern aligned was fairly simple. (Although those big sections of sky blue are actually many pieces, not just a couple.) The hardest part was the quilting; this was the first larger (queen-size) quilt that I attempted to machine quilt. (I did have a deadline, after all, and I knew I couldn't meet it with hand-quilting, considering the slow progress I was making with my first project.) I had machine-quilted Boy's quilt, but that was a full-size. A queen size is a couple feet wider, and it was a challenge to keep the backing from getting all crumpled up underneath. (So maybe there might be a couple of wrinkles on the backing on the finished quilt, but they're not visible in the picture, so good enough for government work, I say.) I was quite pleased with the final result, and commented several times (half-seriously, or maybe three-quarters) that it was too bad I was giving it away. But I did, and cheerfully; after all, I still have scraps to play with. But you'll have to wait for a future Quilt Files for more on that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The aspiring writer's glossary

Earlier this week I put the following on my Facebook status update: "Diane got a champagne rejection today, so she's feeling pretty good." I got quite a few questions as a result (I guess that was my intention, to get attention), mainly, "what's a champagne rejection"? When you've been pursuing publication as long as I have (at least 5.5 years), you forget that not everyone is privy to all the fun code words and acronyms that you know.* So I thought I'd create a short glossary for those of my friends who may wonder what the heck I'm doing. And rather than be boring and alphabetical, I'm going to list my definitions in a kind of chronological order, following the path of a manuscript.
query/query letter: in which you have a couple of paragraphs to describe your work and pique an editor/agent's interest.

SASE: self-addressed stamped envelope; what you usually send with your snail mail query, except now some publishers don't even bother to reply if they're not interested. And what makes your heart sink when you find it in your mailbox, because it means "rejected" (and it looks like you sent a letter to yourself, which is even more pathetic).

unsolicited manuscript: a piece which the editor/house has not requested. Many publishing houses no longer accept unsolicited/unagented manuscripts, which means you must either have an agent, or meet the editor at a conference somewhere.

slush/slush pile: the stack (and I do mean stack, read the link) of unsolicited manuscripts that editors have to wade through before finding/overlooking your gem. Oh, and agents, too. You can avoid the slush by getting an agent to send out your work, but you have to make it through their slush pile first....

form rejection: an impersonal form letter. Particularly soul-crushing.

champagne rejection: a personal rejection with kind words; ie, the editor/agent rejects your material, usually because "it's not quite right for us," but says something nice about your writing or invites you to submit something else.

partial/full request: the editor/agent was intrigued by your query and wants to see sample chapters (partial) or the whole thing. I've had full requests on one novel by one editor (who eventually rejected it, "not enthusiastic enough") and one agent (still waiting to hear the outcome).

acceptance/offer: I'm still waiting to find out what this one means.
That's all I can think of right now. If any of my writer friends think of one I've missed, please put it in the comments section.

*I lie. You don't forget, especially when you see novice writers making silly mistakes. Then you laugh at them and try not to remember you were that clueless once. It may be mean, but when you've been suffering rejections for 5.5 years, you need something to make you feel you're not the worst of the worst.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Janespotting: Presumption, by Julia Barrett

This 1993 novel, written by a journalist and a novelist under the pseudonym of Julia Barrett, was my first foray in the world of Austen sequels. It is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and revisits most of the characters from Austen's classic. It takes place not long (maybe 18 months) after Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage, and focuses mainly on the character of Darcy's younger sister, Georgiana. Although as a rich heiress she has no need to marry, she encounters two potential suitors in the book. One, the attentive Captain Heywood, is related to the family through the de Bourgh side and has honorably served in the Royal Navy. The other, the architect James Leigh-Cooper, is brilliant and intriguing, but socially little better than a tradesman. I leave it to you to guess which one ends up capturing Georgiana's heart in the end; as you read, it doesn't take more than a chapter or two to figure it out.

Overall, I enjoyed this more than I thought I might. Part of it was the attitude of the authors: they announce in their title that they know they are undertaking an impossible task in writing a sequel to a classic, thus earning my sympathy from the onset. The writing strives to be like Austen, and achieves real wit in a couple places; it wasn't particularly memorable, but it doesn't get in the way of the story, which is the least good writing should do. As far as the characters, they stick closely to Austen's originals—perhaps excepting Georgiana, now less shy and even somewhat determined, but whose improvements are ascribed to growing maturity and the influence of Elizabeth. This makes sense for the story; someone has to grow and change, or there's no impetus to the plot.

Although the story itself was predictable, that's not necessarily a bad thing; you read a book like this for the sheer entertainment of it, not for any deep contemplation of the human condition. And as a light romance, it was perfectly accessible. It didn't besmirch Austen's characters, just posed an enjoyable answer to the question, "What might have happened next?" So if you're inclined to try other author's explorations of Austen's world, this isn't a bad place to start.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Photo of the Week--2/23/09

Whoops. I forgot to post a new picture last week. So this is your first clue: the sky doesn't have to be pure clear blue for me to get a great shot of a church. This one is the Church Heiliger Franz von Assisi (aka Francis of Assisi) in Vienna, also known as the Jubilee Church, since it was built in 1898 to commemorate the golden jubilee (50 years on the throne) of Kaiser Franz Joseph I. It was lit so well, I loved the contrast of white against the dark sky, along with the accents made by the red roofs.