Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference Day One

I’m going to admit I hit drained pretty early yesterday. I don’t know whether it’s the change in the altitude, or my own shift from my regular schedule to… uhm… normal human being hours and then on to mountain time. Or… quite frankly… the fact of being surrounded by people wearing my allergens (perfume, cologne, and—horrors—fabric softeners.) I do much better with those when I’m moving around than when I’m sitting still.

I skipped out on the last session yesterday, and also wound up ditching the costume party. I was down to the last dregs, by then. And not really meeting anybody because I was afraid I’d either throw up on someone or go full-on bitch.

I got out of the crowd, and had a snack out here:

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If you’re noticing the solitude, that’s because it was 43 degrees at the time, and even smokers didn’t want to be out there.

Still, the best I’d felt all day.

The best presentation was the one I almost didn’t go to. Something about freeing your inner extrovert. (I also hit my limit on presentations about building characters). The presenter was David R. Slayton. (The R is important–it’s what gets you the writer on a Google search.) There was a lot of audience participation–of a meet your neighbors variety–and I met my neighbors. Who were a lot of fun. And… most of them are writing sci-fi or fantasy.

Also, for the record… it is snowing here. I woke up to this, this morning.

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That’s the view from my discount-dive motel, not from the Marriot. (Sorry, but I’m getting motel room for basically half the price, and it’s a bargain, if you’re willing to do a little driving.) 7.5 inches predicted for the weekend, and absolutely tragic, if I get snowed in.

I will point out that Colorado Springs combines the worst of the city (tangled, looping freeways) with the worst of the country. Look out! A deer! but it’s a beautiful place, so when I do die my fiery death, at least it’ll be in the shadow of snow-peaked mountains.

For those of you from Holly’s website, the highlight so far has been meeting Carol and Josh Englehaupt and Bill Bush and his daughter (I think she’s still a minor, so no link or name mentions yet. I’ll owe her one.)

I may have been spoiled by ballroom events, but I think it’s safe to say that the food here is… well, edible. The brownies we had for snacks were actually very good. The chicken on my salad? Well, I could have used a sharper knife. My expectations were definitely a little too high. Uhr… a lot too high.

I got a fast-food cheeseburger for dinner. (I’m not sure what the dinner at the conference would have been, but it involved the word “chicken” again…)

Tiptoeing Quietly Away

I just got the heads-up warning that one of my co-workers quit. It’s been a long time coming, and I don’t blame her. If anything… I actually envy her. I’m going to come back to a hell of a mess after this writers’ conference. And just to be absolutely clear, I am still going to Colorado. So, that’s the message: DON’T PICK UP THE PHONE!!!

Shall we all take a deep breath and give thanks to the creative universe that I already had my vacation planned before this happened?

Also, the neighbors are choosing now to build a deck, or something, so I will miss all the sawing and banging while I’m away.

No, really. I look forward to the smoking crater that will be waiting for me when I get back.

A-to-Z Challenge: The Vineyard at Mar Mozambique

The giant vines were as green as the grass in the ancient children’s books the first settlers brought from Earth. The fruit they bore was bigger than a man’s head and midnight black. When the fruit was ripe, it carried an opalescent sheen that reflected back the yellow sky, or the red lights of the city, or whatever thing happened to be nearby, but until the fruit matured, the surface was as dull as swirled storm clouds, and just as dismal.

No one ever tasted the fruit.

The colonists hadn’t planted the vineyard, and neither had the original explorers.

No one knew the name of the fruit, and if they did not call it “beautiful fruit” or “evil fruit” most languages simply called it “grapes.”

In the spring, the vines bloomed, and in the fall, the ripe grapes fell to the ground and rotted. The ground squirrels and rabbits got drunk off the fermenting juices. When the ground thawed, and spring returned, the fruit drew the bees that pollinated the colonists’ more human orchards and fields.

No one considered eating the fruit.

The colonists built a fence, and appointed a caretaker, and eventually, when their own crops began to grow, and the food was no longer rationed, the scientists stopped studying the grapes, and returned to more important things. Whatever the fruit was, it didn’t matter. And whoever had planted it… well, clearly, they were gone.

For forty-two years, the Caretaker did take care of the vineyard. He was barely more than a boy when he began, but in time, no one remembered him as anything but a sinewy recluse. The council suggested he should get a dog. The mayor—she was one of the colony’s elders—suggested he should get married. His own mother and father suggested he should quit, entirely, and let someone else take care of the vineyard.

The Caretaker stayed in the vineyard. For forty-two years, he drove to the town twice a month and bought groceries. After the grocery store, he went to the hardware store, or the farm-supply store, and after that, he picked up crates of books at the library, and returned the old ones. Most of them, anyway. Then, he collected his compost in the back of his truck, and went home. He kept the vines in check. They did not overflow the boundaries of the vineyard, and they did not grow wild between the rows of plants. The council checked on the situation from time to time, but they were always satisfied, and they never had to stay for long.

The Caretaker’s work was always satisfactory.

But in August, forty-two years after he’d begun working, he stopped buying groceries. The hardware store prepared an order that was never picked up. The library called the council about two crates of books that were never returned. The Council grumbled. In September, the same thing happened. And by the beginning of October, the vines seemed to be creeping over the wooden fence closest to the city.

There was gossip. And theories. And if someone on a street corner wasn’t saying the old man was dead, someone in a bar or coffee shop was saying that he must have gotten senile. Some people even said that he had taken to eating the fruit—the evil fruit, the beautiful fruit… the grapes—and that the city would never see him again. The new Librarian objected, of course. Even if the old man was eating the grapes, she said, he’d still come for his books. That wouldn’t change.

The Librarian dragged the council out to the vineyard.

They huffed and puffed down the hill, into the valley that was known as Mar Mozambique, and stopped at the gate to the vineyard.

The gate was closed, and locked, but even the fact that there was a gate was new to the Council. Two notices were painted in handwriting the Librarian barely recognized as belonging to the old Caretaker. The first notice, in black letters six or seven inches high, read “Caution. Keep out. Danger. Grapes.” and then, it said nothing. The sentiment appeared complete, as if the word “Grapes” were a warning in itself, as much as Danger or Caution. As if the Caretaker had never intended to say anything more.

The council shook their heads, and looked for a crowbar.

The old man was clearly out of his mind, and if he wasn’t taking care of the vines, he’d have to be replaced.

The second notice, written in ink that could only be described as the color of grapes reflecting the sunrise, and written on fine stationery that might have been made on Earth, itself read: Welcome to paradise.” The librarian turned the paper over, and kept reading.

“You must be the new caretaker,” the old man had written. “Welcome. I have little advice to give, so this will be short. The vines belong to no one, and they were planted by no one. There are tools in the shed. You won’t need any of them. The plants manage themselves, as long as they’re content, and you can’t possibly handle them, when they’re not.”

The council had broken through the gate, by then.

“Nothing is going to happen,” the letter said. “The vines are jittery, but they aren’t dangerous.”

The Librarian stepped through the gate, and looked into the overgrown vineyard. The council was shouting the Caretaker’s name, and scurrying around, as if they had just noticed he was missing.

The letter continued, a list of supplies to keep the vineyard running, and a longer list of ways to get rid of those supplies, since they weren’t really needed. Suggestions, and counter suggestions, and ways to spend the time when everyone assumed she would be gardening. Rolling and unrolling hoses. Putting up trellises, and then taking them down. Bonfires in the fall, and butterflies in the spring.

The letter sounded like a fantasy, or a delusion.

And, of course, up until then, the Caretaker’s work had always been satisfactory.

“He’s not here!” one of the councilmen shouted. Someone else concurred. “He’s gone.”

“One last word of advice, my young friend.” The Caretaker’s handwriting was shaky, almost illegible, and smaller than the rest of the letter.

She had to squint to read it.

“Eat the fruit.”

Here are links to the other stories in the blog hop.
Stealing Space by Barbara Lund
The Day I was Clever by Katharina Gerlach
Never kid a kidder by Angela Wooldridge
The Color Of… by Chris Makowski
Nightmare by Erica Damon
Pick Up Lines by Bill Bush
The Scorpius Gate by Sandra Fikes
V is for Vortex by Elizabeth McCleary
Deep Dive by Juneta Key
Bugs by Gina Fabio

Secret by J. Q. Rose
Journal of Anah by J Lenni Dorner

Waiting and Waiting

Seems like a big chunk of my life, right now is waiting for things to happen. I wound up ordering a few things for the writers’ conference. Nothing quite like trying to figure out what you’re going to wear for three days to remind you just how long it’s been since you’ve gone shopping. I’m pretty much a jeans and a t-shirt girl, so going a notch up seemed like a good  idea.

I also splurged on something generally costume-y the first costume party I’ve been too in ages. I miss those. My dance studio used to hold one every month, so it’s a shock to go from knowing exactly where to borrow a coconut bra to having to pick something out of my own closet.

Since I won’t actually be dancing up a sweat, I’ve declared the event Fun With Makeup Day. There’s a pint of liquid latex (Another thing I can’t just borrow anymore.) arriving on Monday.

There is the possibility that a shockingly high percentage of my friends have become breathtakingly normal.

I’m still eagerly awaiting the final schedule for this thing, which was supposed to be out in “Mid-April” and I’m pretty sure I just heard the sound of “Mid-April” whooshing by. (Also wearing something out of her own closet.)

My revision is not exact-ally finished, but I’m getting close. Very close. I’m pleased with where it’s going, and I have something vaguely resembling a road map. I think people might still remember me by the time it lands in their inbox, which is a nice thought.

They will definitely remember me, if I can scare up a coconut bra.

I believe the guy who owned that is married with three kids, these days.

So, Now, I’m in “The Loop”

Ha! Somebody finally gave me the heads up on something happening in enough time that I can actually paste the appropriate happy/non-horrified look on my face when I “officially” hear the news later on. If I do hear the news, later on. It’s not a given.

Someone I knew a while back is pregnant.

We have heard this via Cluster-Fbook and the current topic of conversation at the moment is math. Exactly how long is 9 months, and can the baby be due in (month) if girl is x months pregnant right now, and if we assume that the current boyfriend is the father?

Have I mentioned that I work in a cess pool of gossip?

I work in a cess pool of gossip.

Cluster-FBook does not help.

**shudder** 

Deep down inside, one of the things I love most about WordPress is that it’s not a least-common-denominator platform. It’s not the default, which means that the people who are on it tend to be smarter than average. (Love you guys.) And it tends to attract people with real-life interests, and hobbies outside of people-watching.

Being quite honest, I also love the fact that I don’t automatically have to friend or un-friend my third grade teacher, my second cousin twice removed, or my snoopy co-workers. And while word of the pregnancies does, eventually reach me, I usually get to skip the potty training stories, and the bad haircuts.

People ask if I’m on Cluster-FBook on a fairly regular basis. I’m fairly sure that no one (except a few close friends) has ever followed that question up with “Or, you know… a self-hosted, free-standing WordPress Site?”

And it’s weird how often I say I’m not on Cluster-FBook, only to hear someone defend their own use of the site. I only use it to trade recipes with a few people, or I get ideas for crafts. I’m in an antique group. I use it to keep up with my grandkids.

That last one always hits me as a little sad. Keep up with the grandkids? Really? You’re reading your grandkids’ lives in newsletter form? Don’t they… ya know… visit? Call? Paint you crayon drawings?

The long distance kids thing can be a little on the accusatory side, too. Wait… you mean you don’t want to hear about how my kid made a poo-poo in the potty? But I have pictures. IN COLOR!!!

And never mind the way it enables the bad times to snowball on you.

I’m just not a fan. I see what’s in it for a business, and I even see what could potentially be in it for my business. I’m not sure I see what’s in it for me. and I’m not sure that I see it as anybody’s first choice.

On Blog Hops and Challenges

April is shaping up to be a slightly above average month. It’s not fabulous, and it’s not dismal… just slightly above average.

I’m doing the A-to-Z challenge this month, which, all things considered, is not all that much of a challenge, since I make blogging a part of my daily routine, anyway. My theme is the letter M. No, I don’t know what I was thinking. The general idea is that each day, there’s a post with a different letter of the alphabet, and also an M. It’s not a bad idea. It keeps me from settling into the familiar, and I’m learning new things, mostly by diving into wikipedia at the last moment and searching for something—anything–that fits the theme.

I started the month with a modest spike in traffic. Several days a little bit higher than I usually get. And now, that seems to have trailed off.

The past couple of days, I’ve actually been lower than usual. That may be that my readers don’t really want to hear about basketball or physics, and it may be the fact that tracking down those subjects took me longer, so the posts weren’t out anywhere close to my usual time. I’m not sure.

I’m expecting another spike at the end of the week, when I do the StoryTime blog hop. Which, by the way, I’ve worked out a way to fit into the A-to-Z challenge. (So much easier when you get to make things up! Thank you, fiction!)

So, all in all, April will wind up being slightly above average. I’m not knocking it.

The thing is… I’m not sure to what extent it’s the challenge or the hop, itself that drives the numbers. I’m starting to think it may be the interaction, the going out and meeting people. The enthusiasm for it. The sheer convenience of having people listed in one neat, orderly place.

I wind up with good results, whenever I’m out there, starting conversations. But when I do it on my own, I’m looking for people I have a lot in common with, instead of just working down a list.

And I’m usually working on my own blogging platform, so it’s easier for people to follow me and interact than it is when I’m on somebody else’s list. (No, I don’t know whether that’s a good thing in the long run. From time to time, I’ve thought about running a mirrored site, so that one or two of the other platforms get in on it. I don’t know.)

So, I’m thinking about what my next steps should be, and honestly, I think they’re going to be more seeking out people than blog hops or blogging challenges. I know I need to get out there more often.

What do you think? How have you grown your websites and blogs?

A-to-Z Challenge: Quantum Mechanics

So, my q for the day is yet another topic I know little to nothing about, but have happily twisted to support both this blog and various nifty plot developments in my novels. On the bright side, I’ve heard people say that if you think you understand Quantum Mechanics, you don’t. So, clearly, I’m right up there with the best and the brightest.

At least when I throw a party for time travelers, it’s wildly popular, they show up and bring space drugs. Anyway, that’s the way I remember it. And that one guy was a hell of a bongo player.

So, basically–and anyone who was ever a child will understand this–the rules for small things are different than the rules for large things.

Quantum Mechanics would be the set of rules that appear to–but might not–apply to very, very, very small objects. Yup. That does sound familiar.

It also sounds like a great name for a band–if you just added a little sex–something like the Quantum Tantric Mechanics–or for the guy who fixes your space ship or your time machine when you break your drive shaft somewhere in the horse head nebula.

The last book I picked up on the subject–a used copy– happened to be signed by a science-fiction writer who didn’t write the book.

A-to-Z Challenge: Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway

Just in case you missed it, I’m headed to the Pike’s Peak Writers’ conference in a little over a week. So, my mind is already out in Colorado, and look at this, I’ve found a railway just for you to look at.

Remember that hiking path that ends in a parking lot out in California? Well, this is the slightly more historically face-palm version, with trains. Pike’s Peak is named after a man called Zebulon Pike (Imagine having to scream “Zebulon” in bed! His poor wife.) Zebulon never made it to the summit, but they named the mountain after him, and at some point, they named this particular railway after the mountain.

Guess where the railway goes?

Yup. Straight to the summit. Six to Eight times a day.

Poor Zebby.

So, on to the details everybody’s been waiting for. The Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway runs 8.9 miles, between Manitou Springs, and the summit of Pike’s Peak. It is a standard gauge railroad with tracks 4 feet 8 and a half inches wide (as the Great Architect of the Universe intended.) (because narrow gauge is creepy.) It is a cog railway, which means that it has a third track with little teeth, to pull the train up steep places (like, say, a mountain.)

The older engines are on display at Manitou Springs and several museums through Colorado, and some of the historic (but still conveniently functional) engines and cars are dragged out and actually used from time to time.

I’d tell you how perfect and beautiful the scenery is, but I already said it was in Colorado.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

A-to-Z Challenge: Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic is a basketball team based out of Orlando Florida. Basketball is a game for very, extremely tall people, in which they attempt to launch an orange projectile through a net located somewhere in the lower stratosphere.

I was tall, myself, once… and then, the coach realized I was five years older than he thought, and wasn’t on the team in the first place. My parents chuckled for a week, after I asked for money to play this particular sport, and somewhere along the line, my fascination with it died.

Back to Wikipedia.

Apparently, the team has three whole uniforms. There are diagrams. (Okay, so I’m a fan of sports with more minimalist sartorial tastes. Who isn’t?) Sorry, girls. All three uniforms are basically variations on burlap bags.

Blah, blah, blah… started in 1989, and the team mascot is a dragon called Stuff.

You’d be surprised what a short jump it is from basketball to sexual fetishism on wikipedia.

Nope. I have no attention span for statistics, although there are clearly plenty of them..

If anybody has anything to add, go right ahead. I don’t think this particular M caught my attention the way some of the others have.

 

A-to-Z Challenge: Norma Miller

Norma Miller is a dancer. Lindy Hop way back in the early thirties at the Savoy ballroom in Harlem. She’s a classic, and a little bit of everything else. The woman dances, writes (songs and books), directs films, and acts (film and stage.)

As you might be able to tell, I’m an actual fan. I’d probably be a puddle on the floor, if she ever actually talked to me.

Her autobiography, Swingin’ at the Savoy is well worth the read, and be sure to look up her films. She’s still alive and well at 97, so buy new, and send her a note to tell her how amazing she is.

Here’s a scene from Hellzapoppin’ (With dancers labeled by name.) It’s one of the great dance scenes of all time, but it is from a bygone era, so you may want to give it a quick run-through before you watch it with children.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.