A Querying I will Go!

IMG_5208It’s been a wild spring with unpredictable weather and plenty of changes to adapt into my life. As a family with young kids, the only thing I can depend on from day to day is unpredictability.  My youngest has developed a fascination with Minecraft and loves to play on the worlds he is creating with someone else. I’ll admit, I think it’s really fun to play with him as well, but every hour spent playing video games is an hour not spent doing anything that will help me reach my goals.

That said, perhaps the biggest news is that I’m starting to query out my epic fantasy novel. I didn’t image there would be this much stress associated with waiting for publishers and agents to give me their approval, or rejection, or no response at all. I’ve been at it since December but have only started sending out multiple queries at a time this last month.

The plan for the next few months is to always have five queries out at a time and to participate in whatever Twitter pitch contests drift my way. While this isn’t super aggressive, it doesn’t take over my life either.

[For those scratching their heads – a query is simply a formal letter sent to publishers and literary agents that tells about the book and about the author. A pitch is a short sentence that sums up the book. Both are mind-numbingly hard to create.]

On the short story front, I have two pieces that have been accepted and are awaiting scheduling with the publisher. I will most definitely be posting as soon as I have more info. One is a retelling of classic Vietnamese folklore, the  Starfruit Tree and is slated for an anthology. The other, The Skull Collector, is best described as a cross between Moana and the Hunger Games and will be in a magazine.

Other news, I was asked to judge a short story contest for the University of Utah Valley’s Warp and Weave speculative fiction literary magazine. While I’ve judged stories before, it’s never been for anything more than my writing group. All the stories were amazing so it was a true challenge to pick those that rose above the rest.

There’s always a ton of fun/agonizing work to do. While waiting for query responses from agents and editors I have a bundle of great ideas I’d like to work up into publishable short stories and a draft of the sequel novel to create. I also have a handful of presentations to prepare for upcoming conferences, for more info click here.

Here’s to a great Spring!

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The Techno War

For those thinking that this was going to be an awesome piece of fiction possibly with an urban sci-fi twist, sorry.  We’ve had an ongoing battle here at the house, real play with real toys vs. techno play with computers and other devices.  For a while we were doing well. There was a good balance between the two and it seemed that everyone was fairly happy.

That was before the discovery of Minecraft – the Legos of the software world.

I haven’t played it enough to grasp the appeal, but apparently it has enough flexibility for the player to make it whatever kind of game he wants.  It has the power to keep my eight-year old anchored in front of the computer for hours and when he’s not playing it’s the only thing he’ll talk about.

It’s not that I mind too much that he loves the game.  I grew up playing everything from Super Mario to Tetris, often for hours at a time.  Sometimes I still do.  What does drive me crazy is the fighting between siblings that the games have caused.  When he’s playing on the computer then his sister doesn’t have anyone to play with and she does everything in her power to get his attention which drives him (and everyone else) nuts.  Then the screaming and fighting begins.

So this weekend we short circuited the whole problem.  Instead of moping around the house, hubby found a hike that was family friendly and packed us all up and left all the kids devices behind.

We had a great time, no one fought, the surroundings were beautiful, it was a win-win for everyone.

Back at home there will always be the techno war, it’s inevitable.  There will always have to be limits and monitoring on computer and other device usage. I will have to be the bad guy telling them when it’s time to stop.  As they grow older this will only grow harder.

It gives me hope that our whole family can do something as simple as walk around a lake and find a happiness that isn’t found anywhere else.  Here’s to planning our next hike!

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Sometimes More is Better

Technology surrounds today’s kids. There are TV’s and computers at home and iPods for everywhere else.  It’s too easy for parents to stick their kids in front of a screen to entertain them.  When playing video games kids are quiet, they are not running around, and they are not making messes. Some of the games are even educational. It seems like the perfect toy.

However, kids need to move their bodies.  Their brains are wired to need motion and active play to make important connections.  Playing video games doesn’t help with any of this.  Plus, kids need to play with other kids to learn social skills.  Video games don’t get angry and punch you if you do something to get on their nerves, other kids will.

At our house we’ve had a chronic epidemic of the game Minecraft. Every dinner time conversation, every free minute, and every playtime activity has revolved around the game. My kids were on the computer, MY computer, every minute they could to create and manipulate their miniature worlds.

Don’t get me wrong, Minecraft is a great game, it encourages creative thinking, spacial reasoning, and problem solving skills.  No one gets blown to bits in bloody combat and the goal isn’t violence.  It also, thankfully, doesn’t have really annoying background music that so many other games have.

But too much of anything is bad. Just ask my daughter who managed to eat over a pound of Easter candy yesterday.  Some years I ration the candy, this year I decided to let them discover exactly why eating too much candy isn’t a good thing.  Evil mom tactic? Heck yeah.

We definitely had too much Minecraft and screen time in general around the house.  The kids were getting increasingly crabby as the tentacles of addiction began to take hold. They physically craved their iPods and you could see the discomfort it caused when they had to be parted with them.  Before school iPod and TV had to stop because it caused too much drama and anger when I had to make them turn off and get ready to go.

Taking things away makes me the bad guy and I hate being the bad guy. So I came up with a brilliant strategy. I gave them lists of things that needed to be done before they would be allowed to play iPod.  Now, instead of saying that they can’t do something, I now can say, “Of course you can do it, when you finish your _____________.”

These lists are simple and have things on them that they already need to do.  They don’t take long and make it so I don’t have to nag. The morning list has things like brush teeth, do one chore, and make bed.  The after school list has things like do homework, and reading time.

My kids have already found one loophole.  Since they know I won’t force them to do their lists by a certain time on days where we don’t have things scheduled, they will engage in creative play with each other.  Eventually they’ll want to play their iPods and the list gets done but until then they go off and play on their own. This morning they’ve spent almost two hours playing mega blocks because they’re not ready to do their work.  There hasn’t been a word said about iPods and everyone is happy.

Which means I’m happy as well. I’ve been able to spend time on the things that I want to do, including writing this post. I don’t mind that my family room looks like a bomb hit, they are playing creatively and with each other and I didn’t have to ask for any of it!

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The wake of destruction left by happy kids. The bigger blocks are thankfully easier to clean up than Legos, and they don’t make you cry when you step on one.

Surviving Being Off Track – Week 1

We’ve made it through one week of being off track from school and so far everything has gone well. Everyone is still talking to each other and the house has not been destroyed, yet.  There is still time for that.  My youngest has uncovered an even more stubborn streak than before and is testing his limits right and left.  As I type I’m letting him watch his favorite show on my computer screen, but he can’t be happy with just that.  He also feels he must pull my fingers off of the keyboard as I type.

Here are the highlights from last week –

  1. Homemade Gak – By far this was the favorite activity. The kids spent hours playing with the stretchy gooey stuff.  We chose clear glue to make our Gak and discovered later that the chemical composition is different from with white glue. Mixing and mashing it with more and more water until it was usable took longer than I originally planned.  In the end it still wasn’t as stretchy as I thought it should be, but was still really cool. As a side note, Gak works wonders to get dust out of the cracks of your keyboard, mine is sparkling clean now.  You can also add essential oils to make it smell nice, peppermint worked great.  Playing with the Gak was so popular that it took place of several of the other activities I had planned for the week.IMG_2261
  2. Super Absorbent Polymers – Also known as Orbeez, these spheres start as tiny BB sized balls and absorb 20-40 times their size in water. The kids loved watching them slowly grow over the course of several hours and then playing with them. They look like glass marbles and feel a little squishy when held.  The clear balls disappear like magic in water.  If let out to dry they shrink back to their original size over the course of several days and then can be stored and used again.  We found ours in the vase and silk flower section of our local dollar store.IMG_2260
  3. The Planetarium – This year we received a membership to the local Planetarium, a terrific gift for any family with kids who like science like mine.  Ours has a 3D Imax theater and a dome theater and has different shows throughout the day.  It also has two floors of exhibits and hands-on activities that the kids love.  This week we watched the 3D Imax Dragons movie.
  4. Minecraft – I didn’t want to get sucked into this game, but at the same time if this is what my kids want to do and it’s something we can do together, then it makes for good together time.  We figured out how to share each others worlds and visit.  I’ve made myself little homes and gardens in each of their worlds and then can come over and help them fight their zombies and find materials for building.

I had hoped to be able to work on my projects as well this week, my manuscript is feeling rather neglected lately.  With my youngest fighting naps and the other two at home, finding uninterrupted quiet time doesn’t happen. I did a little work on my query letter and through it was able to solve a major plotting concern that had nagged at the back of my mind. With luck, this week I’ll find a few hours here and there to get more chapters edited.

Here’s to another great week!