October 26, 2011

Carcassonne Pumpkin & World Fantasy Schedule

 I'm headed to the World Fantasy Convention tomorrow, so today's regular post has been downsized to my Carcassonne-inspired pumpkin picture.

Saturday night, I'll be on the "Exploring the Americas" panel at World Fantasy, which I think will be scads of fun.  Off to pack!

October 22, 2011

Bookshop Talk: The Golden Age

I've got a new review up at Bookshop Talk for John C. Wright's The Golden Age, a brilliant far-future science fiction novel.

October 18, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-Up: Healthy in Five Minutes a Day and Settlers of Catan

The Book (by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois): Jeff & ZoĆ« wrote their first book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2007) so that baking homemade bread would be easy enough to become a daily ritual for everyone. That includes people struggling to balance work, family, friends, & social life (pretty much all of us). They refined their methods for refrigerator-stored artisan dough while juggling busy careers and families.

Their second book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2009), takes that same super-fast approach but applies it to healthier ingredients like whole grains, fruits, & vegetables.  A dozen of the recipes are 100% whole grain, & for the first time, they’ve included a chapter on gluten-free breads.  --From authors' website

The Game (from Mayfair): In Settlers of Catan, players try to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. On each turn dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. Players collect these resources to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game. Multi-award-winning and one of the most popular games in recent history due to its amazing ability to appeal to non-gamers and gamers alike. --From BoardGameGeek

I'm sure someone's thinking but you don't even bake bread in Settlers!  Yes, that's true, and yes, I've played games where baking bread is relevant (Agricola, anyone?).  I picked these because they both scream "game-changer." 

I've always loved board games.  As a kid, we played plenty of Risk and Hotels.  Games with dice, games that led to me and my sibling bickering, then starting all over again.  The first time someone pulled Settlers of Catan out of a box, I eyed the hexagon tiles with suspicion.  Surely this was going to be overly complicated and not that cool.  How thrilled I was to be wrong on both counts.  Catan taught me what I'd always wanted in a game.  Simple rules.  Deep strategy.  A nice amount of player interaction, but not in a zero-sum setting.

Like many people, Catan was my introduction to German-style board games -- games that are fun to play, even when you lose and can't taunt your brothers.  If I tell someone I like boardgames, they'll often name an old, bland game and say they don't enjoy that sort of thing.  Then they get to hear me gush about Settlers of Catan.  As soon as I played it, it became my golden standard for games. 

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day likewise changed my outlook.  I once worked in a bakery.  I love the smell of rising bread.  But, lacking an industrial proofer, baking at home seemed impossible.  Even when I got a hand-me-down bread machine, the recipies all called for exact and complicated amounts of ingredents.  Any slight failure or adjustment led to a brick instead of a loaf.

Then a friend made a loaf from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I tried it, loved it, and picked up the healthy sequel, because I'm a huge fan of whole wheat.  This dough actually rises.  I don't have to knead it.  I can store it in my fridge until I'm ready to bake -- whether I'm making a loaf, muffins, pizza, or delightfully crisp grissini, which make a perfect snack for my little kids (my favorite for grissini is the millet dough, sans fruit -- it makes for tantalizing texture bits).  Better yet, my little kids can help me stir the dough together, which they love.  The ingredients are simple enough that I have a number of our favorite recipes memorized.  Easy.

Both of these were revelations.  If you haven't played Settlers of Catan and don't like board games, head to your local board game store.  Every shop I've been to has a copy in the back, and especially if you go during a board game night (most stores seem to have these), someone could probably teach you how to play.  If baking your own bread seems lovely but impossible, check out the book.  It's made my life a tastier place.

October 12, 2011

Book and Board Game Match-up: Discworld and Discworld

Yes, I feel like I'm cheating this week, pairing up the board game Discworld: Ankh-Morpork and Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, but here it is.  The Discworld series is some thirty-nine books long, so I chose one of my favorite to spotlight below, The Wee Free Men.

The Game (from Mayfair):  Welcome to Ankh-Morpork – the oldest, greatest, and most odorous city on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, a place where trouble is always in the cards. Be one of seven personalities vying for ultimate control of this proud and pestilent city, using your cunning and guile to complete your secret agenda. Along the way you’ll encounter wizards, assassins, watchmen and thieves, all of whom will affect your fortunes and continually change the fate of this mercantile metropolis.--From the Manufacturer

The Book (by Terry Pratchett):A nightmarish danger threatens from the other side of reality . . .

Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, young witch-to-be Tiffany Aching must defend her home against the monsters of Fairyland. Luckily she has some very unusual help: the local Nac Mac Feegle—aka the Wee Free Men—a clan of fierce, sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men.
Together they must face headless horsemen, ferocious grimhounds, terrifying dreams come true, and ultimately the sinister Queen of the Elves herself. --Amazon Product Description

The Wee Free Men is the first Pratchett book I read.  Someone told me about the swords that glowed blue in the presence of lawyers; I laughed hard enough to crack a rib and then picked the book up.  Pratchett's a master at telling funny stories that stick with you.  I feel almost silly describing his books, because most book-inclined people I know started reading the Discworld books long before I did.

The boardgame, however, is brand new. I've played a number of other games by this game designer, Martin Wallace, all of them intricate and exciting.  This game keeps the "exciting" part but pares "intricate" down to accessibly easy to learn.  A turn consists of playing a cards from your hand, but this allows for plenty of strategy on the board.  Each player has their own secret winning condition as well.  Trying to guess (and prevent!) those conditions is part of the fun.  It'd be an easy learn for those who don't frequently play board games.

There's also a delightful abundance of Discworld in here.  At one point while playing, I gasped.  Everyone else assumed I'd seen a devastating move to make -- but no, I'd just drawn The Luggage (shouldn't that constitute an automatic win?).  The rules and cards refer to the number between seven and nine, which is marked as 7a on the board.  Those who'd read the books laughed; those who hadn't looked at us a little odd.  The art is enjoyable too.  So, yes, I feel like I cheated this week, but the game does an excellent job of capturing the light, fun feel of Discworld, while at the same time encouraging plenty of thought -- just like the books.

October 5, 2011

Finding Time to Write and Being Mom

Apparently the quest to find writing time never disappears.  As I learned on a recent Writing Excuses podcast, even full-time writers are pinched looking for an extra hour.  It's a topic I've seen pop up a lot, often with stay at home moms asking "how do I do this, too?"  Many conventional answers -- lunch breaks! -- don't apply.  Lunch is the thing that gets cold on the counter while I change diapers, fill sippy cups, and kiss ouchies all better.

But I'm still managing to write -- more than before I had two small children bouncing off the walls. I know everyone's situation is different, but here's how I manage:

1. Set goals.  I talked once about setting goals, but if you don't know where you want to go, you'll never get there.  This affected my writing output more than anything else.

2. Proactively evaluate goals.  If I miss my writing goals, I don't tell myself I just didn't have time.  That makes writing time seem like the weather: completely out of my control.  Instead, I fill in the blank: "I didn't meet my writing goal because I decided ___ was more important."  Then it's my fault.  And if it's my fault, I can fix it.  This also alleviates my guilt and frustration if I missed my goals for a good reason, like "I decided taking care of my sick child was more important."  I can exhale and assure myself I spent my time well. 

3. Get everything else done early. Once upon a time, I waited to fold laundry, load the dishwasher, and mix bread until the children were all asleep -- as if there's time to do those things, let alone write, before sleep deprivation makes my head spin.  Sometimes it's not easy, and sometimes it's frustrating, but I fold clothes with my kids (okay, they jump in the pile of laundry).  I mix dough with my kids (yes, it gets in their hair).  But we have fun, they learn things, and when (if?) they go to bed, I'm free to type. 

4. Plot all day. Bwhahaha...Okay, what I really mean is that often-rote mom work lets the brain wander.  I outline scenes in my head all day, or gnaw over a revision problem.  If I manage a quiet afternoon minute, I let the keyboard fly.  I also keep a notebook handy during the day, and if I can, jot down a few quick notes.

5. Keep your eyes open.  Maybe I like writing too much, but the last time a child vomited on me, I thought, "This sensory experience will come in handy in a scene one day."  As I cleaned him up, I tried to list words and phrases that described warm vomit best.  By the time I managed to clean myself up, I'd moved on to describing being soaked in cold vomit.  I don't know how much narrating my life helps, but it makes me feel like I'm always writing, even if I can't sit at a computer.

6. Enlist support.  Every time I hear someone talk about finding time to write, family support invariably comes up.  I'm exceedingly thankful to have a husband who tells me I can do this writing thing, even when I'm banging my head against the desk.  Making writing group every week isn't just my priority -- it's his, too.  Which is awesome in ten thousand ways.

Humans, from architects to entrepreneurs to teachers, are creative problem solvers.  Writers aren't any different.  When I first started writing, I thought I'd only pour creativity onto the page, but as it turns out, it takes creativity to find time to write, too.

October 4, 2011

"Canvas" Publishes Tomorrow

My short story "Canvas" goes live on the Daily Science Fiction e-mail tomorrow! It'll be up on the site a week thereafter (both subscription and the website are free). They just got their SFWA pro-market status, too. Needless to say, I'm happy on both accounts.