Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kathryn Says, "En Garde!"

As a Fantasy writer, if there's one thing I've always wanted to do, it's try my hand at sword fighting.  To my delight, Groupon offered a discount on fencing lessons just a few months ago.  I purchased a set of lessons for my hubby and I, and we finally got to use them this month.  The lessons took place at the Royal Arts Fencing Academy in Columbus, Ohio.  (I didn't even know this awesome place existed until the Groupon came along!)  The introductory classes consisted of four one-hour sessions with a group of fellow newbies ranging in ages from 8-40ish.  (Yes, hubby towered over the 8 year-olds.  And yes, the middle schoolers towered over me.)  Despite the obvious differences in attention spans between the adults and kids, our class had a lot of fun together as we learned the basics of fencing.

So, what did I learn from my foray into fencing?  Well, for starters, I found out that sword fighting is rife with rules and precise techniques--not willy-nilly sword-swinging and slashing at your opponent (um, even though some of the kids may have thought otherwise).  I also discovered that it is a brain-over-brawn sort of sport, which (for once) worked out well with my petite stature.  (Let's just say flag football and weight lifting have never been my forte.)  Before I started the class, I had no idea that there are actually three types of swords used in fencing: foils, sabres, and epees.  Each sword has its own unique qualities and calls for different techniques and "target areas" on your opponent.  For example, with the foil, you aim for the chest of your opponent; with the epee, you can strike them anywhere you please.  We tried out all three swords in the class and my favorite was the epee.  (Not too heavy, not too light, and far fewer rules to trip me up during a fencing bout!) 

I even found a chart online!  Blue means, "Hit opponent there!"

We also spent a good deal of time practicing the footwork and learning the terms.  We learned "advance" (move forward), "retreat" (move backwards), "lunge" (front foot forward to cover more ground) and, of course, "En garde!" (aka, "Find your ready stance!")  You never look backwards or side-to-side in fencing, so these few steps are all you need.  (And why don't you look backwards or side-to-side, you ask?  Because it leaves your defenses open and results in a sword at your side!  Ouch!)

Isn't my lilac fencing jacket just divine?

With all those pointy objects swinging around, safety is a big concern in fencing.  We wore jackets, chest guards, a glove (only on our fencing hand), and helmets.  (You know, those wacky ones with the hard, mesh front.)  Royal Arts provided all the equipment we needed and helped fit everyone with the correct sizes.  (Yes, I wore mostly kid's gear.)  The helmets were the funniest part out of all the equipment; I felt like I was wearing one of those old-timey diving helmets.  They were also the most annoying part, though, because fencing etiquette calls for the removal of the helmet before and after every bout.  (Long hair gets tangled and pony tails fall out very quickly.) 

Helmet is also good for bee-keeping and alien impersonation.

Once we finally got all this equipment on (which understandably took up a decent chunk of the class), we spent the rest of the time going over the proper fencing moves and participating in 1-on-1 practice bouts.  Whoever scored 5 points first won the bout.  Hubby bested me with the foil, but I kicked his tushy with the epee.  We then saluted each other at the end of class and had fun trying to figure out where the heck our gear went back in the storage room. 

Although we didn't get into the meat and bones of parrying, feinting, thrusting, and all those juicy terms we writers love to throw into our fight scenes, I enjoyed getting an introduction to the basics of swordplay.  Just holding a sabre in my hand and getting a feel for the footwork will certainly be beneficial to my writing and help me craft authentic scenes.  If you write sword-clashing Fantasy and have the opportunity to try out a fencing class, I highly recommend it.  (And if you live in Columbus, the highly-respected Royal Arts Fencing Academy is right in your own backyard!)  It's not everyday you get to try your hand at the medieval arts, and any personal experience you can get will definitely add that extra oomph to your Fantasy writing!

Much to my sadness, our four week class ended last night.  In addition to the kid's classes, Royal Arts offers an adults-only fencing program which includes both fencing instruction and open-bout evenings.  Hubby and I are definitely interested in pursuing the sport, but alas, now is not the best time.  With yucky winter weather on the way and my office's busy season just around the corner, we know icy roads and an exhausted Kathryn will hinder our enjoyment.  (If only we lived on the other side of Columbus!)  However, we are certainly going to reevaluate the matter (and our wallets) come Spring!

If you want to learn more about Royal Arts Fencing Academy, you can check out their website at:  The instructors are wonderful and so enthusiastic about the sport!  And if you live in the area, you should give fencing a try.  You'll be glad you did!  (And if you live somewhere else, I bet they'd even know about fencing academies in your region!)

Note: Logo is (c) Royal Arts Fencing Academy.  I borrowed it from their website. Sword chart is from Google images.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Although I may not be fond of fall, I LOOOOOOVE Thanksgiving!  What can be better than getting together with the people you love and stuffing your face with delicious food?  In this whirlwind of a world we live in, it's also a much-needed opportunity for us to all slow down and remember what's really important.  Today, I am particularly thankful for:

-My loving hubby
-Two (momentarily) healthy ferrets and one wonderful dog
-My awesome family (both the one I was born into and married into)
-My supportive friends
-Having a non-leaky roof over my head
-Having ample food in my belly

And of course I can't forget....

-All of my faithful blog readers!  (Why, this blog wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for you!)

What are you thankful for?

I hope you have a great holiday and make some special memories with the people nearest and dearest to your heart.  Now, go feast until your pants won't zip!  :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: clip art from Microsoft Office.                               

Sunday, November 20, 2011

7th Grade Kathryn Takes Over

Today is a momentous day--a day that makes the spirit of 7th Grade Kathryn jump for joy and grin from ear to ear.  That's because today is the day that the new Legend of Zelda game, "Skyward Sword" is finally being released!  And 7th Grade Kathryn has good reason to be happy--new, main console Zelda games are a rarity, coming out on average once every 3 to 5 years.  And that is a looooong time for a seventh-grader to wait!

I've mentioned before that the Zelda games are one of the three points of my Influence Trifecta (along with The Lion King and Harry Potter) that put me on my current writing path.  (Heck, in the spirit of the day, I'll even call it my Influence "Triforce" like a true Zelda-nerd!)  I actually played my first Zelda game, "Ocarina of Time," when I was in 7th grade and it affected my life in ways I would never have imagined.  I'll tackle this topic another day, but in short, Zelda gave me adventure in a mundane world.  In a life filled with homework, chores, and futile crushes on boys who didn't even know I existed, Zelda gave me the chance to conquer dungeons, ride a noble steed, rescue the princess and save the world.  (Well, the world of Hyrule, at least.)

Nowadays, my adult-life is filled with laundry, bill paying, manuscript revisions and (of course) emptying ferret litter boxes.  (Ferrets are poop machines!)  And with all that poop, there just isn't much room for adventure.  As I mentioned in this post here, this situation doesn't make 7th Grade Kathryn very happy.  And 7th Grade Kathryn wants to be happy today.  The last new Zelda game I played, "Twilight Princess," came out in 2006 when I was a junior in college (boy does that seem ages ago!)  7th Grade Kathryn has been looking forward to rumors of "Skyward Sword" ever since.  Nintendo is a bit of a tease, and I've had Christmas money saved up for "Skyward Sword" since it's "scheduled release" date over two years ago.  (After all this time, I'd almost forgotten where I squirreled it away!)  But now, that wait is over and look!

It's so beautiful...

Here is my brand new game (and special edition golden Wiimote that makes 7th Grade Kathryn's mouth water!)  But wait--what's this?

A pile of laundry?

A stack of bills?

Pages of revision notes?

Ferrets say, "Eww--we are poop machines.

Why, cruel world, why?

Ordinarily, I would look longingly at the game, sigh, and turn my attention to that "To Do" list.  BUT NOT TODAY!

Today I am taking a page out of 7th Grade Kathryn's book and doing what I want to do.  I am going to sit all day in my jammie pants with a cup of hot chocolate and play "Skyward Sword" until my eyes fall out.  (Adventurers don't have time to be bothered with bills and ferret poop!)  Coincidentally, today my hubby is following his 7th Grade heart and picking up his newly-purchased Triumph Spitfire project car.  And so, I encourage you to do the same!  Go indulge your 7th Grade Self!  You have no reason not to slack off.  The weather's yucky, there's frozen pizza in the freezer, and the holiday craziness is still a few days away.  In true 7th Grade fashion, you don't even have to shower if you don't want to!  (Although, I did.  Just saying.  I didn't want to be that stinky-geek in line at GameStop.) 

If you were still in middle school, what would your 7th Grade Self want to do?  Elaborately paint your toenails?  Bake cookies?  Take a 5 hour nap?  Read a book, watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," or gush over the hunky actors in celebrity magazines?  DO IT!  I give you permission!  All hail your 7th Grade Self just for today!

As such, 7th Grade Kathryn is currently tapping her foot impatiently and glaring daggers at me, demanding, "Why are you wasting precious Zelda-time by blogging?!"  And so, I bid you goodbye and hope you have a delightful, 7th Grade-inspired day.  (I may have to make this an annual event!)

"Skyward Sword," here I come!   

Note: Picture of Link and Skyward Sword logo are borrowed from google images and (c) Nintendo.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

COSCBWI Nov. Meeting: Edith Pattou and Writing Fantasy

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured the lovely author Edith Pattou and a discussion on writing Fantasy.  As a Fantasy writer myself, this topic is near and dear to my heart and I always love hearing advice from talented, published authors.  Pattou is the award-winning author of East and the picture book Mrs. Spitzer's Garden, as well as the first two books in a trilogy called Hero's Song and Fire Arrow.  (You may remember that back in June, I reviewed East and met Pattou at COSCBWI's Barnes & Noble Bookfair.)  Pattou is always a joy to hear speak and gave our COSCBWI group lots of great pointers for writing Fantasy books.

Since not everyone is familiar with the sub-genres (and sub-sub-genres) of Fantasy, Pattou first spent some time discussing those.  I learned about them back in college and they include such sub-genres as: "High/Epic Fantasy" (think Lord of the Rings); "Urban/Contemporary Fantasy" with the uber-popular sub-sub genre of "Paranormal" (yes, we're talking Twilight here); "Alternate History" (like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell--which I haven't read, but very much want to); "Steampunk" (like the Leviathan series and even The Golden Compass); "Dystopian" (oh, a little book called The Hunger Games comes to mind); "Humorous" (Pattou recommended Half Magic which sounds hilarious); "Tales of Pure Imagination" (like Peter Pan and Tuck Everlasting); and lastly, "Inspired by Folklore/Mythology/Etc." (like East!)  That's a lot of sub-genres!  Each one has their own standards and characteristics and demands different styles of research and writing.  Once you figure out what sub-genre your Fantasy book falls in, it's a good idea to study as many books as you can in that category.  (Hence why I read so much Animal Fantasy!)

The next topic Pattou focused on was "world building" in Fantasy.  World building is a huge part of Fantasy books because the author is taking their readers into a brand-new world/culture/society (i.e. "High/Epic Fantasy," "Dystopian," etc.) OR presenting the world as we know it in a different way (i.e. "Urban," "Paranormal," etc.)  Pattou pointed out that names and vocabulary are particularly important because they can set the mood, setting, and flavor of the entire book.  (You wouldn't name a knight "Bob" in a book set in medieval England!)  Pattou shared that when she writes a new book, she reads books with similar voices and creates word lists she can use for her own reference.  She also recommends doing a lot of research to make your world as authentic as possible and (if your budget permits), going to on-site locations.  (She got to travel to Norway while writing East--what an inspiring way to collect information!)

Lastly, Pattou recommended a few books Fantasy writers should be sure to pick up on craft and Fantasy-roots.  These included The Hero With A Thousand Faces and The White Goddess, which she always finds inspiring and informative.  She recommended plenty of blogs, too, particularly those by Patricia Wrede, Holly Black, and Cynthia Leitich Smith.  (Hooray for more blogs to follow!)

And do you want to know something really cool?  Pattou scored her first agent after meeting Madeleine L'Engle!  (Yes the Madeleine L'Engle of A Wrinkle In Time fame.  I'm only a little jealous...)  Pattou was wonderful to have as a COSCBWI presenter and bestowed a wealth of Fantasy knowledge on our lucky little group.  And to top it all off, members could buy her books right there at the meeting and get them signed as well.  (I adored East and eagerly scooped up both Hero's Song and Fire Arrow for signing!)  All I can say is, what a great way to end COSCBWI's 2011 year!

These books are mine, ALL MINE!  :)
If you want to learn more about Pattou and her books, you can check out her website at:  I look forward to sharing my COSCBWI meeting experiences with you all in 2012!     

Note: The cover art for East is from Pattou's website.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rule Following vs. Rule Breaking: A Debate

It's no secret that the odds are stacked against aspiring authors.  With so many published books out there and seasoned writers writing more every day, publishers are simply taking less chances on debut authors.  (And why would they?  Why take a risk with Johnny No-name when Stephen King is guaranteed to make your wallet fat and happy?)  But of course, all hope is not lost, and agents, editors, and authors are always giving aspiring writers tips to increase their chances of success.  The most common tip I've heard is to not rock the boat--to "play it safe" and follow all the standard writing "rules" to make sure your book is as polished and professional as it can be.  We writers then throw ourselves into workshops, classes, and conferences, desperate to learn what these "rules" are.  
From my experience, the "rules" consist of common, tried-and-true newbie writer issues like tense changing, weak dialogue, sagging plots, and HEAD HOPPING.  Eagerly, we writers eat up these lessons and hasten to eradicate such issues from our manuscripts, hoping that little extra shine will make our work stand out from the slush.  As an overachieving, rule-abiding, straight-A student throughout my entire life, you don't need to tell me twice not to do something before I'll avoid it like a peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich.  (Yuck.)  My logic has always been: follow the rules and the rewards will come.  But what happens when somebody shatters that logic and BREAKS THE RULES?
Recently, I picked up a 2011 children's novel by a debut author.  I'm not going to say what book it was, but it was published by a well-known house and even recognized as a Junior Library Guild Selection.  I had been super-excited to read the book and heard wonderful things about it.  But when I opened the first page, I found--to my utter horror--HEAD HOPPING!  And on page two?  More HEAD HOPPING.  And pages three through 300+?  HEAD HOPPING GALORE!  I furrowed my brow and frowned at my walls, puzzling, "How is this possible?  HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?"
For all you non-writing folk, "head hopping" is when a 3rd Person Point of View story hops from one person's perspective to another (and another and another) all within the same scene.  It has been drummed into my head as a huge Writing No-No.  It has also been stamped into my "rule book" that if you want to tell your story from multiple characters' perspectives, then the proper thing to do is to break up each viewpoint by chapters and/or chapter breaks (you know, those "* * *" things).  When I found out I inadvertently did this in my own book (as we all do from time to time), I grabbed my writing rubber gloves and mop bucket and scoured the pages until those POV's were as squeaky clean as I could make them.  (And I guarantee, some spots still linger despite my best efforts--that's what critique buddies are for!)  But this debut author broke that rule--and neither their agent, nor editor, nor anyone else on the publishing staff, made them change it.
While I applaud this debut author for dragging themselves out of the dredges of the slush pile, I am perplexed.  Don't get me wrong--the book itself had an interesting story, likeable characters and vivid details--but this technical issue seemed to be a biggie.  And because this Writing No-No is on my radar, it made the book difficult to read.  For me, it was very hard to keep track of which character knew what secret and was plotting what scheme when I was in everyone's head.  And I mean EVERYONE'S head, not just one or two characters.  One chapter alone looked something like: Character A, Character B, Character C, Character A, Character D, Character B, Characters E,F,G, and then back to Character A.  My inner rule-follower screamed, "Not Allowed!"  But, this author got a book deal, earned glowing reviews, and seems to be getting along just fine without my precious "rules."  (Although, I can't help but wonder how the book would have turned out if someone on staff said, "Let's try a rewrite following just one or two characters instead...")
This situation has rocked the foundation of my writing code.  I'm starting to feel that the rules of writing are like the rules of Fight Club: Rule #1--There are no rules in writing.  Rule #2--There are no rules in writing.  (Rule #3--Writing is full of frustrating contradictions.  Arm thyself with chocolate.)  
So what's an aspiring author to do?  Follow those suggested "rules" like an obedient, good little writer, or scoff and say, "Rules, schmules--I'll write my book as I darn well please!"  (Or, as Captain Jack Sparrow would reason, "They're more like guidelines anyway.")  I'm honestly not sure which road is the best to follow, although I doubt I'll be forging my own rebel path anytime soon.  (I am more of a, "Rules?  Yes, please!" sort of person.) 
Cap'n Jack don't care much for rules.
What do you think about this conflicting situation for newbie writers?  Would you play it safe or blaze your own defiant path to publication?
 Note: Images are from Google.  Jack Sparrow and POTC quote are (c) Disney.      

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Big Thank You!

In case you hadn't noticed, I recently passed a big milestone on my blog: over 1,000 page views!  When I started my blog back in April, I thought it would take a year (or two) to reach such an audience--not mere months.  I am pleasantly surprised by this staggering number and thrilled that it keeps climbing every day! 

And so, I would like to say thank you to all my readers--the faithful ones I know by name and the new ones I haven't met yet.  Thanks for your presence and support that keeps me blogging and striving to find something important (or simply funny) to share.  I promise to keep writing as long as you all keep reading.  :)

Now, let's go work towards 2,000 page views!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Squirrel Babies!

Remember back in September when I posted about all the things I love (and mostly hate) about fall?  Well, squirrel babies at my office are one of the best things about the season!

As much as my job may drive me bananas, I am extremely fortunate that when I look out my window, I see this:

Ah, calming, pretty trees....
And in that big tree just a few feet away from my desk lives Momma Squirrel.  She moved in about three years ago and has a litter of adorable squirrel babies every spring and fall.  I start getting excited around September and March, wondering when those furry cuties will first appear on the branch.  This fall's litter was no disappointment.  However, catching them on camera was a bit of a challenge.  (I now have a new respect for the limitless patience of nature photographers--and a plethora of blurry squirrel-tail pics!)  I swear, those guys must have thought it was a grand game to sit still until the moment I pushed the button, then chuckle in their little squirrel way and scamper to another branch.  Sneaky little things....

This season's litter had three babies and I was shocked to see they were already kindergarten-sized squirrels by the time I spied them.  (I'm guessing the weather must have kept them in their nest during their earliest days.)  Although I snapped a good two-dozen pics, those wily critters out-squirreled me time and time again.  I did score a few good shots, though!

Squirrel baby is not so confident on the ground...

Squirrel babies use their tails as umbrellas in the rain!  Too cute!

Squirrel baby raided Mr. Chipmunk's hole.  He is a smug squirrel...

Squirrel babies like to hide.

And of course, I can't forget Momma Squirrel herself!

Momma Squirrel says, "Those kids drive me nuts!"
If it wasn't for the antics of squirrel babies bouncing from branch to branch, tackling each other, and mimicking Momma Squirrel, I seriously think I might have lost it in the office on more than one occasion.  But seeing those adorable babies brings a smile to my face--and a chuckle or two--every time I look out my window.

Now that it's November and my squirrel babies are now squirrel teens, I know they'll leave the nest soon and start their own adorable families elsewhere.  It will be a few bleak months, indeed, but Momma squirrel's spring babies will be here before you know it!  :)

I hope my squirrel babies put a smile on your face, too!  Do you get to enjoy any critters or scenic views at your place of work?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Legend of Zelda Calendar Contest

Hello everyone!  Enormous apologies for my lack of blog activity as of late.  Remember in my last post when I told you I was up to something?  Well, that something was another calendar contest!  The contest featured my favorite video game series, The Legend of Zelda, and was put on by the Zelda fansite, "History of Hyrule."  The contest theme was, "Festival with Music."  Here's my interpretation:

"Race Day At The Romani Animal Festival"

So what is this picture about?  Well, if you're a Zelda fan like me, then you know it's fanart based off the game, Majora's Mask.  (If you aren't so into Zelda, this probably just looks like some crazy kid with a bunch of happy animals--which isn't that far off, actually.)  My favorite part of the game is when the main character, Link, puts on the "Bremen Mask" and plays a little tune on his ocarina, causing animals to follow him around.  It's just adorable--and the dogs even bark in time to the song!  And what about that racetrack in the background?  In the game, Romani Ranch has dog and horse races and if you wear a different mask, the doggies will tell you how they are feeling and who you should bet on.  (Boy I love this game!  And yes, I'll admit this probably sounds crazy to non-video gamers.)

I took all of these ideas and turned them into a festival concept, titling the piece, "Race Day at the Romani Animal Festival."  Here's my contest blurb:

"It's the big race day at the Romani Ranch Animal Festival!  Every year, Link dons the Bremen Mask and leads the animal racers on a parade.  The cows and cuccos cheer as the racers strut their stuff, prancing and leaping to Link's ocarina tune.  Who will win this year?"  
Yes, I am a total Zelda nerd and I don't care who knows it.  (Now that I'm an adult, I can openly admit that without my cheeks even turning red!)

This was so much fun to do (yet sooooooo intensive and time-consuming!)  Since it was only my second attempt at painting with Photoshop, I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew with this piece.  But, I'm overall very happy with how it turned out.  I tried my hand at perspective and adding visual depth to the picture.  This was also my first effort to shade furry and muscled critters (which, I must say, is not easy to do on a computer!)  Of course there are things I would like to change, but I think I did the best I could with the time I had and my novice-Photoshop abilities.  Overall, it was a great learning experience and I'm proud to say that I didn't repeat the mistakes I made on last month's SCBWI contest submission.  (I did run into plenty of new issues and technical snarls, but now I can avoid those in the future, too!)  Now, I just need to get FASTER!  When it comes to the art race, I am definitely the tortoise and not the hare. (And this tortoise had to pull an all-nighter to make it to the finish line...)

The winners for the contest get chosen soon.  There are over a 100 entries, so fingers crossed mine makes it into the calendar!  The other entries are so beautiful and creative.  You can check them out here.  Contests like this simply fascinate me.  I love how one prompt can inspire people in so many different ways.  I wish the very best of luck to all the other contestants!

Now that my entry has been submitted, I can get back to blogging and sleeping!  (And those Simbas.  Guess who drew #16 today...)  This was also a great way to pass the time until the new Zelda game, Skyward Sword comes out.  November 20th is just around the corner!  Maybe I'll be inspired to do more fanart then!  :)

Note: Link, cuccos, etc. are all copyright Nintendo.  This is just my humble homage to them.