I would rather stay home and play games than go out anywhere. Even when we went to Costa Rica, I brought two decks of cards, and on two separate extremely rainy nights, we played canasta. That’s right. I’m forcing my children back into the dark ages. We spend many an evening playing games like Ticket to Ride, Seven Wonders, Settlers of Catan, and the latest ones I’ve tried were Carcassonne and Pandemic. And don’t forget the old stand-bys like Scattergories, Balderdash, Pictionary, and Cranium. I have one game that I love that most people haven’t heard of called Scrutinize. I don’t know why that game didn’t become a classic. It’s great.
We play card games and board games. We even play sports games, e.g., volleyball and golf. Robot Guy and I like competition so much that we used to play crazy eights in bed to see who would have to turn out the lights.
When I’m alone, I love puzzles. Sudoku, crossword, logic (especially logic), jigsaw; I love them all. My favorite video games are the ones where you solve puzzles. Just recently I subscribed to the Mystery Experience Company and they send a mystery to solve every month. I’ve only done one so far, but it was well done and of high quality. Just my sort of thing. Games Magazine has been an on-again-off-again subscription for me for years. And, yes, I am the person that does the puzzles in the back of the airline magazines.
I have yet to try one of the escape room puzzles, but they require a group and that brings up a problem. With the kids out of the house and being such a homebody, it’s basically just me and Robot Guy. In fact many games require more than two people. I’d love suggestions for two person games.
My next move is to watch a few of Wil Wheaton’s Table Top videos. I really can’t understand why I haven’t seen those yet.
In which I look at rebranding, revitalizing, and renewal. Perhaps a fitting post for the day after Easter?
I promised that you’d be seeing changes in me. Well. they are arriving. First, my website is being overhauled. Right now (today) if you visit my website, this, as in this blog, is what you will find. More is coming, but we’re not there yet.
Second, I’ve decided not to let the Gabi Stevens name die. After my three WISH books, it looked like Gabi Stevens was through. Not true anymore. Gabi Stevens writes paranormal (a lighter tone with heavy subjects–the kind of book and stories I like to read) and the voice that I love. I have big plans for her. Starting with …
…(Third) a reboot of THE FALCON AND THE WOLF.
I had released it under Gabi Anderson, but it didn’t fit with the non-magical historicals I’d written under that name. It is now available from Amazon and –this is the biggie–CreateSpace. That’s right! You can order it as a print book. Here is the link (I always find it wierd to create a link with the declaration of a link–it’s so meta.). A bit more expensive than the ebook, but what can you do? The link to the ebook is the caption. And I’m giving you a heads up–the listing hasn’t quite caught up with the changes yet; while, the author is now Gabi Stevens, it still is linked to Gabi Anderson, but you can find it on the Gabi Stevens author page, not the Gabi Anderson author page, but if you look up Gabi Anderson, it will still list it there too (Lots of buts). I figure it will take a little while to catch up. Maybe a few more emails.
And there’s a new cover. Looks much more fantasy, huh?
So keep watching. There will be another Gabi Stevens book before the end of April. Brand new, never seen before. I’m excited about this one.
In which I look at how much is too much and what to share.
I follow some authors on social media who put their political and social viewpoints out there for the world to see without qualms. I admire them for that. Many of them are popular, successful in their careers, and have continued success after airing controversial opinions. I have strong opinions about politics and society, but I’ve limited my sharing to clicking the “like” button and the occasional link to Snopes to counter sheer stupidity. I’ve never been comfortable sharing information about many aspects of my life or my views. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had security in my chosen career–I can’t afford to offend potential readers. Of course that hasn’t garnered me best-selling status either. Maybe it’s because I don’t do confrontation well. Of course, who does, and that really is a ridiculous excuse. Maybe it’s because I can’t express my thoughts clearly, and one can’t do rebuttals well on social media (comment sections aren’t conducive to civilized debate or discourse). The world is not made of sound bites. Of course, I do enjoy the sound bites and memes that make the rounds and reflect my views.
So I struggle between the what to tell you and what to keep hidden. In person I am very open about what I believe and what is happening in my life. That’s because I once heard a wise woman (Jennifer Crusie) tell a roomful of people at a conference the reason she doesn’t let her workshops be taped: (paraphrasing here) If it isn’t recorded, I can claim you all were high on mushrooms and don’t remember correctly what I said . (She is welcome to deny she ever said this). I’ve used that line more than once in teaching (toned down for my eighth graders to omit the drug reference) and also at our local sci-fi, fantasy conference, Bubonicon. If I say something and you don’t have it recorded, you can’t prove I said it.
Which leads me to this blog and social media. Here, I am writing down my words. Here the words are etched in stone (figuratively). Here, I can’t escape what I’ve said, and I have been smacked down more than once for something I’ve written and I don’t have the power or influence to combat negative repercussions. I still want to attract readers; I still want to be “popular”. I mean, they still invite Mel Gibson to the Golden Globes after some of the things he’s said. Brad Pitt is still listed as one of the world’s sexiest men and his social leanings are out there for the world to see.
So I don’t know whether I’m a chicken or if I’m cautious. What do you think?
Books I’m reading now:
The Ryria Chronicles by Michael J Sullivan (I mention this one again because it’s spoiled me for other books at the moment. I loved this series. Which is the reason I’m reading …)
Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Azkaban by JK Rowling (rereading an old favorite, albeit in a different language, because I know its good and won’t disappoint me after the above series.)
In which I examine the way life turns out …and not.
When I started college, I was a drama major. I have always loved to act. I put on plays as a kid, performed wherever I could (although I would take back that dance thing I did in junior high), and was even paid once for acting in a play in Los Angeles. Acting excited me. My professors in college told me I had real talent. So why didn’t I continue> I changed colleges more than once, and I had no real support from home. So I did the practical thing and became a German lit major. (Yes, I can hear your laughter from here.
I have always loved language–the way it works, the way you can play with it. It helps that I grew up bilingual–Hungarian and English. I took Latin in high school and won the foreign language award my senior year (and the drama award–see the first paragraph). German I started in college and spent my junior year in Göttingen. I started Japanese as a senior in college. My plan was to go to Japan to teach English there. Enter the love life.
Met my husband who asked me to go to grad school with him. So I did. Ended up getting a teaching German degree. He ended up with a PhD in robotics. So we moved to New Mexico where he could pursue his career. And since there is a high demand for German teachers in New Mexico (sarcasm font here) I stayed home with the twins.
But I needed to do something. That’s when I remembered stories. I have always loved reading and I’ve always had stories in my head. Now was the time to write them. So I did. Even was published by major NY publishing houses.
But now? The road has taken me somewhere I didn’t expect to be. Those “falling rock” signs? They’re true. The choice is either to backtrack a little and take the other way, or go around and see what’s ahead. Either way, it wasn’t what I expected and both paths are scary. But it’s also exciting, liberating, and freeing.You can’t see down the road, but you sure can get excited about it.
But stopping is not an option.
Books I’m reading now:
Writing tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (Okay, so I’m not learning anything new from it, but sometimes it just feels good to read something and say, “Yup, I’m doing that.”)
In which I look at the moments that touch us, reach us, or change us.
The other night I was lying in bed in the dark and letting my mind wander. I had just received my high school’s alumni bulletin, so naturally my mind went to special memories of that time. And then I was struck by the one-time-ness of the memories I recalled. What do I mean? For example, I was in a lot of plays during high school. While rehearsing for Cabaret (the high-school version), I was sitting in the day student break room (you know I went to boarding school, right?) with a group of fellow cast members when someone pulled out a guitar and we all improvised with the music. We harmonized, laughed, sang some more, hit wrong notes, hit amazing notes, soloed, dueted, etc. It was a special moment of no real significance, except that it was rare and unrelivable. We tried to recreate that moment again on a different day, but the same mood, attitude, atmosphere wasn’t there. So the one episode remains a special memory tucked away in my mind that I retrieve every now and again to prove to myself that I was once there and a singer and performer.
For me, the same thing happens with people. I will on occasion have a conversation with someone and make a real connection for just one time, never to be repeated. I went to high school with a man who is now a famous actor. We also attended college together for one year. After a rehearsal of a play we were in together (yes, again, a play–The World is Round by Armand Salacrou), we were walking back to our dorms, when we started to talk. Now keep in mind I had known this guy for four years by this point, and while I had a crush on him for a short time in high school, I was never a close friend of his. Definitely acquaintances, but never close friends despite the small population of the school (everybody knew everybody), being in at least eight shows together and several classes. But that night we talked for about an hour, hour and a half, about life. How he was transferring colleges, how I was transferring college too, about dreams, hopes, goals, etc. I wonder if he remembers that night. Nothing happened. It was just a connection between two people who were fond of each other, but it makes me think of him in an entirely positive light to this day.
Just recently I met an author who is definitely up and coming. I expect to hear great things about him soon. We spent at least an hour and a half laughing, chatting, interrupting each other and generally just having a good time. It was a a very small writers’ retreat, but for that hour and a half, it was just two people making a connection. I will treasure that moment forever, and when he’s huge, and I truly believe he will be, I’ll have that moment to say, yeah, I once touched him.
These pearls are unique. I have copious memories of the people closest to me, but they are often conglomerations of several hours/days spent in one anothers’ company–my husband, my kids, my family. Other memories are mere moments, like the time my cousin slammed my grandmother’s hand in the door of our car in Hungary (I was four, and one of the two memories I have of my grandmother. The other one is the first time I ever saw her. It was that same summer in Hungary–her hair was covered by a scarf, she wore black, and I was scared because I thought she was a witch. She died before we visited Hungary again.)I expect to have and make memories with them. But the ones where I felt a real connection to someone unexpected, those are rare and fun to pull out every once in a while to assure ourselves that we existed.
Books I’m reading now:
Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
They Used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted by Regina Berreca
Yesterday at around 3:00 PM, a sudden downpour hit my neighborhood. I happened to be in my car taking the Youngest to work. The sky was gray, and the drops of rain left marks the size of quarters on the windshield . The sky was nearly black by the time we reached the parking lot of her workplace a mile away. Then the torrent hit. I pulled up to the door of her workplace so she could dash the final five feet into the safety of the building. The flag that flies outside the store was whipping in the wind and rain and hail. The space between the edge of the flag and the line it was hooked to looked like the letter D. I don’t know why that detail sticks out in my memory, but it does. Visibility was down to just a few feet. And I had to drive home.
It’s only a mile, but the road was covered in water, and cars were lined up on the side to wait out the worst. I slid back the covering of the sun roof so I could enjoy it better. Because I did. Enjoy it, I mean. It was a glorious display of nature and how puny we are in comparison. I was exhilarated. I was smiling and laughing at the amazing rain. I have a four-wheel drive (No, I wasn’t driving through any rushing water and I experienced no hydroplaning–I might have enjoyed the storm, but I’m not stupid) and I drove slowly and carefully. I happened to be behind two police vehicles that had been dispatched a few minutes before to make sure there was no trouble on the streets. I followed their taillights (they didn’t have on the flashers) for about half a mile then turned into my neighborhood (It really is only a mile from the Youngest’s work to home.). The sky was dark, the mountains that rise just off the east side of the road were invisible, and the rain came in discernible waves across the windshield.
Twenty minutes later, the deluge was over. My backyard had a two-inch lake in it (One dog went to explore it, the other wouldn’t step outside). Parts of the city were flooded, the arroyos that run through Albuquerque were full and dangerous, trees had toppled, and according to one news source, my neighborhood had received 1.52 inches of water in the space of an hour–that’s more than we usually get in the entire month.
Despite the danger, I loved it. I marvel at the unbridled, uncontrollable power of the storm and from the safety of my car and house, I watched with pleasure and glee. I’m sure I would feel different if I were exposed to the it, but I wasn’t. Today the sun is shining; they are predicting a possible rain for the afternoon, but I can’t imagine it might be like the one yesterday. Those are one in a million. During those storms the best you can do is find shelter and let it happen.
We have little actual control over much in life. We like to delude ourselves and think we are powerful, but in so many ways we aren’t. I’m not saying that’s bad. What I’m trying to say in a verbose and wordy manner is that you should learn to recognize where your decisions actually make a difference. That’s what you should worry about. (And no, I’m not advocating neglecting your duties like voting in elections or doing your job.)
In the case of writing (yes, it always comes back to writing with me), pretty much the only thing we have control over is the writing itself. Then we hand our work over to agents or editors or the public, and we lose control. Not complete control, but you can’t make an agent like your work, you can’t make an editor throw her support behind you, and you can’t make the public buy your book no matter how hard you beg. So I try to concentrate on the writing. And I try not to let the things I can’t command defeat me. I can’t say I enjoy the lack of control as I did the storm, but I try to keep myself safe and secure and focus on the stories I still have inside me. And, yes, I know I used the word “try” a lot because, let’s face it, I fail sometimes, but the storm always passes, and the sun comes out again.
Books I’m reading now:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (a re-read, but oh, so, good)
In which I examine the quirks of my own mind and ask for the ones in yours…
Weird how our minds work. Take September, for example. For whatever reason. September is the month I forget. I want to go straight from August to October. I writing the date numerically, I need to concentrate on what number represents September. I literally have to count every time. It makes no sense because I know the “sept” part means seven (just as the “oct” part means eight, the “nov” part means nine, and the “dec” part means ten) and I also know that we add two because Julius and Augustus added their own months in the middle of the year. But for whatever reason I forget September. Must be genetic because my daughter recently confessed she does the same thing.
Here’s another quirk: the spelling of certain words. For decades that word was “embarrass.” I finally, this year (no hyperbole), got it because I can remember “double r, double s.” Don’t ask me why it took so long. For Robot Guy, the word is “separate.” I have never claimed to be a speller. I never found that skill important. Memorizing how a word is spelled is a waste of brain space when in the real world you can look everything up. Clarification: I didn’t find it important enough to worry about it, but I do look up everything that I am unsure about. Spell check is a blessing to me, and, yes, I make sure it’s the write word I right when using spell check (See what I did there?). Because I also believe my work should be as flawless as possible (not in a blog–a blog is too casual). I will never forget my favorite sentence from a student paper: Huck Finn crossed the Mississippi on a fairy.
Here’s on more: I have a great sense of direction, but I can’t tell my right from my left without help. Seriously. If I go someplace I usually can find my way back. True story. I had a cousin who lived in a tiny town in Hungary. I visited there once with my parents, and my aunt who drove us and of course knew the way. Four years later, I was visiting again on my own and I found my way back to my cousin’s house without directions. I amazed Robot Guy with that feat (not feet–see how important spelling is; just not the memorization of spelling). But ask me if it’s a left turn or a right turn, and I have to lift up my hands, make an “L” from my fingers to determine which hand is left and then answer. Or I pretend to play piano and then I know which is my right hand.
People are weird. I love it. What quirks will you confess to?
No, not common sense, although you should be using that one too. In which I talk about the two hardest senses to convey in books–taste and smell.
They say (whoever they are) smell is the strongest trigger for memories. I could look this up, but I don’t want to right now. I’d say they’re right. The smell of diesel fuel in the rain—sounds gross, I know—takes me back to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and when I traveled there as a kid with my family. Corn meal takes me back even further. When I was a toddler, my parents owned and ran a chicken farm in Los Angeles. Corn meal was used to feed the chicks. The smell makes me feel safe, warm, and loved. (Yes, I had a good childhood. No traumas to draw on for my writing.)
Taste is another powerful trigger. Just this week I bit into a black plum and was transported to my childhood backyard. We had five fruit trees—apricot, peach, tangelo, quince apple, and, yes, black plum. We would have so many plums we’d walk around the neighborhood and sell them by the bag. Forget lemonade stands. The plum tree was “mine,” and my sister had the apricot tree. My mother would make so many jars of plum and apricot preserves. That bite produced such a vivid memory I almost forgot to breathe.
And that’s why you want to include all the senses in your reading (and writing), not just touch, sight, and sound. It’s the visceral feeling readers crave.
So, do you have any memories associated with smell or taste?
In which I look at the important things to complain about.
First world complaint here: I have never had a hairstyle I really like. Seriously. When I was itty-bitty, my hair was wispy and blonde. My uncle could never believe that my dark hair was natural because he remembered my light
locks from childhood.
To top off that lack of childhood coifability, my mother cut my hair, and when she didn’t, I still got that stick straight, chop off the ends look that a lot of children have. No long hair for me until I could brush it myself. So at the age of eight I started to grow it long. By the end of fifth grade (-ish), I had nice long ponytails.
And then came The Brady Bunch. You remember Carol Brady and her shag? Yup, I cut off all my hair in a desperate attempt to be hip and ended up looking, well, awful. Hard to go through sixth grade like that. By this time my hair was turning brown, dark brown. By ninth grade my hair was long again, but then came Dorothy Hamill. Once again, off came the length. Which presented me with a second problem—I had/have no talent for styling whatsoever.
In high school, my hair fully dark brown now, a new twist (pun-you’ll see why in a moment) appeared. I would wear my hair simply pinned back from my face because hair in my face bugged me (Still does. You should see how I do my hair for volleyball). That left me able to see, but also allowed the length to hang. And in class I would grab a lock and twirl it around my finger as I fidgeted. By the time I would walk out, I sported six inch long Shirley Temple curls because, unbeknownst to me, my hair now had lots of body.
College wasn’t any better. I still couldn’t style my own hair and I wasn’t patient enough to let my hair grow long enough to pull back into easy sophisticated ponytails. But I did meet my husband, and we did get married. I tried to get a perm for my wedding and it fell out in three days, so they repermed it two days before with strict instructions not to wash it until the wedding day. Yeah, that wasn’t so good either. I do not have pretty hair in my wedding pictures. But I did get married and the marriage seems to have stuck.
Through adulthood I really didn’t try to do much with my hair. It was wavy, unkempt, but clean and thick. Then about three years ago it went curly. I mean really curly. All I had to do was wash, put a little product in, scrunch, and let it dry. I had to curl a few pieces here and there to make it look really good, but I was in heaven. That lasted a year.
Now it is stick straight again. Don’t ask my why; I couldn’t answer. However, it holds curl really well. Unfortunately my skills with the curling iron and/or hairdryer and brush haven’t improved, so I look like a throwback to the eighties. See Beverly Goldberg to get an idea of what I mean, only my bangs are long and growing out.
I always pictured myself as an old woman with grey hair in a long braid down my back. Doubt that will happen. I can’t braid my own hair. I can barely braid my youngest’s hair. Also, I would have to grow it long to have that happen, and as I said above, I don’t have the patience.
So why this detour into hair? Because it’s apropos of life. Life hands you things that you must either fight or accept. It is wisdom that tells you which choice is best. My bad hair life hasn’t stopped me from being happy, or smart, or strive to better myself. I travel and let my hair go wild and learn things. I go to the pool, and I’m not afraid to dive under the water (Did your mothers also swim without dunking their heads, so they could save their dos?). Bad hair didn’t prevent me from raising three lovely women who add value to their communities. Bad hair doesn’t prevent me from being a badass on the volleyball courts (okay, so it’s the over 50 league, but I’m a badass). Yes, I would have loved to have had the good looks my sister had, but beauty is subjective anyway. Bad hair doesn’t prevent me from writing my stories and entertaining you. Fight for the things you can change, work on the things you can get better at. I suppose I could work on my hair skills, but I have more important things to accomplish.
At least I don’t have snakes on my head and turn people to stone.
I told you this would take more than one post. Here is part two.
So continuing with my list of books that changed my life, again in no particular order or preference:
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett—I know The Secret Garden is on everyone else’s list, but mine was Princess. It was so wonderfully tragic and melodramatic. I read and re-read this book a hundred times when I was a kid. It sparked my Anglophilia despite my Hungarian background.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—This book had so many fascinating facts and ideas that spoke to me as truths. The 10,000 hours idea, the way gifted children are tested, the way they play hockey in Canada and Czechoslovakia. I quickly went out an bought his others books, Tipping Point and Blink. Funny thing is that the book belongs to my daughter and when she moved out so did the book. Come to think of it, I need to go to the bookstore. Be right back.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—I didn’t read this book until I was an adult, and the first time I “read” it I was listening to it as an audiobook when I had to drive to Denver by myself. I only picked it up because it was one of those classics I had missed in my education. OH MY GOD. I was kicking myself by the time I arrived home. I loved the book. I went out the next day and bought myself a copy and read it (I didn’t feel right writing “re-read it”). I have since taught the book and grown to love it even more, so much so that when my dog chewed up a brand new copy that I was teaching from, I kept it alongside my old falling-part copy.
The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn—This book along with Bewitching (see previous post) is the reason I believe Romance can be sublime. Again, it was the first book in a long time that made me laugh out loud and cry. A wonderful experience all around. I hope someday to put my readers through something like that in the books I write.
The Wizard of Oz and the Oz series by L. Frank Baum—The movie just doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t. And the next books were better. I lived in Oz in elementary school. I remember reading Glenda of Oz on a camping trip with my best friend. We read by flashlight in our tent. It was an adventure to read an adventure. And it helped wake my love of fantasy.
And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie—I have always read mysteries starting with Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew (Hmmm, they should make the list somewhere), but Dame Agatha is simply the queen. I have read many mysteries since reading her entire collection, but none have ever come close to the brilliance of Poirot, the hidden depths of Miss Marple, the spunk of Tommy and Tuppence, the other-worldiness of Harley Quin, and the ones that star no one in particular. A translation of one of her books was the first complete novel I read in Hungarian, and I have several German translations too. They got me through my year abroad and helped teach me the language at the same time. The Secret Adversary was the first book I downloaded on my Kindle too. Nobody does it better (whoops, wrong franchise).
Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling—Really? Do I need to say anything else? I’m working on reading it in my second language right now. I had as much fun with these as my twins who waited for their Hogwarts letters when they turned eleven.
Hmm, still not done with my list. How about some honorable mentions before one last big winner: Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (I should just write the Song of Fire and Ice series, but more people will recognize GoT); Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the first book in a long time that had me completely engrossed; Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare—while technically a play, it meant so much to me as a teenager; I’m over it now, really, and my favorite Shakespeare is Taming of the Shrew, but R&J were the teenage thing; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; No, David by David Shannon, the first book that my youngest could really enjoy.
I suppose I should stop. There may be a part three in the future, or at leas a list of honorable mentions, but time to move on. But one last book first . . .
13 (And yes, I like the number thirteen). A Matter of Convenience by Gabriella Anderson—The first book I sold. It started me on this crazy, rollercoaster of a heartbreaking career that I don’t know why I still pursue. That’s a lie. It’s the stories. It’s always about the stories.
Books I’m reading now:
Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Aszkaban by J K Rowling