Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

OK, now it's Christmas. My creche is at one end of the big table in the living room, and the Magi are at the other end, to be moved a bit closer each day until Epiphany.

Book View Cafe is having a sale starting tomorrow. There was considerable debate about what to call it, because nobody believes all the customers are Christian. I admit that I rather liked "The Twelve Days of Book View Cafe," but after considerable debate as to whether everyone knows what Boxing Day is, it was finally agreed to use that. (My position is that when I see half-price eBook sale, if I don't know what Boxing Day is, I'm not going to care--and if I really want to know I can always look it up.) One thing we all agreed on was that we liked the "discount magically applied by our checkout fairies." Now if only we could find some "site update fairies"....

The sale includes MZB's The Complete Lythande, which I spent most of last week turning into an iBook. I got three books and a short story (to test the process without having to re-format more than 100,000 words of book) into the queue before iTunes Connect shut down for Christmas, but only The Complete Lythande made it as far as the iTunes store. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the rest of them to make the journey.

Speaking of late-December holidays, I read a really good book last weekend: An Unlikely Witch, by Debora Geary. It's the latest in her series about an extended family of witches living in Berkeley, California (and Nova Scotia, Canada--teleportation spells are so useful). I downloaded it on the day of the solstice, started reading it before I went to sleep, picked it up again when I woke up, and finished it just as the sun rose the next morning. This was appropriate, because it is about the celebration of the Winter Solstice and about a child that had appeared in a magical vision the day his parents met each other. It's now several years later, and they're anxiously waiting for his arrival. Debora has been writing about these characters for years (this is her third series about them, and I believe there are thirteen books as well as a handful of short stories), and while she says that this book is not intended to stand on its own, she does a good enough job of sprinkling in background material that I don't think you'd be totally lost if it were the first one you read. But it is more fun to read (or re-read) them in order. I'm now starting the entire sequence over again. The book that first hooked me is a prequel to the Modern Witch series (books 1-7), called To Have and to Code. I'm more interested in computer programming than witchcraft, but I love the way she combines computers and magic. And An Unlikely Witch serves as a reminder that, regardless of the holiday you celebrate, the birth of a child is a miracle.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Season of Giving, Part 2

Despite what you could be forgiven for thinking if you walk into a mall these days, it's not Christmas yet. Christmas starts on December 25 and runs until Epiphany on January 6. (If you haven't heard the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" recently, just go to a shopping mall and you will.)

The season we are currently in is Advent, the start of the Christian year and a time of preparation for Christmas. That's spiritual preparation, not frantic shopping, card mailing, cooking, and attending parties. I try not to attend parties during Advent. If possible, I spend Advent at a convent, which is actually a lot of fun. I'm not at the convent this year, but I have developed a strategy for avoiding the malls. I generally start shopping for Christmas gifts around August, as I see things I think my friends will like, and try very hard to have it done by the end of October. By now I'm relaxing at home, saying the Daily Office and opening my Advent calendar each day. Ann Sharp gave me a very nice one in the shape of Neuschwanstein Castle.

Of course, some of my friends are easy to buy gifts for. Bookstore gift cards are very popular in my peer group. My friend Misty gets a flock of chickens each year, but not to add to the birds already living with her. These are sent through Heifer International, a wonderful organization that works on the "teach a man to fish" principle. Instead of landing in her backyard, a starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks, along with training in how to care for them, goes to a family in need. The family gets eggs to eat and sell, and when the next generation is born, the family passes on offspring to another person in need. According to Heifer's website, in some places they can trace 22 generations of animals. (I'm not sure I can trace any of my ancestors back that far.) Heifer provides other animals as well, including sheep, goats, llamas, water buffaloes, camels, and, of course, heifers. You can give shares of the larger animals, which is a good thing. My budget does not include $850 for a camel, no matter how seasonal it may be. Perhaps when I sell my next novel...

This is truly a gift that keeps on giving, and I think it's quite appropriate for any "Season of Giving."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Season of Giving

Back in September, I wrote a blog about a game called Disney City Girl. I don't play that any more, but there are a couple of other games on the Playdom site that I still enjoy. One is Disney's Words of Wonder, a vocabulary game. It can be played in English, French, or German, but unfortunately it won't let you use words from the other two languages (unless they've crept into your own, of course--there's a lot of French and German vocabulary in English). Frequently I'll win a level, look at my "best" (highest-scoring) word, and say "That's a word?" Did you know that "jak" is short for "jackfruit"? I certainly didn't before I looked it up.

Speaking of the meaning of words, however, Gardens of Time, the other game I play, has decided to redefine the word "giving." First they started calling it "gifting," but it still meant that your friends gave you gifts to build whatever the item in your garden was. The last one was a hayride that you completed by collecting colored ears of corn: a different color for each day. The current "fun new 9-Days of Gifting event," instead of allowing you to get items from your friends, which is doable and fun, requires that you complete your Reindeer Stable by crafting Reindeer Tokens from the current Time Lab. Not only does this interfere with your using the Time Lab for anything else, it's virtually impossible, expensive, and/or a full-time job. Your friends can't help you. In order to get a Reindeer Token, you need to collect candies: three each of peppermint, spearmint, and butterscotch. For Vixen, today's reindeer, you need six tokens, which equals 54 candies. (I'm dreading the day they demand ten tokens.) Candies may, not will, come from playing scenes in your garden or competing in blitz contests in your neighbors' gardens. Each scene/blitz takes about a minute to play (or longer, depending on the load time) and a scene uses 10 units of energy, which takes 30 minutes to accumulate. You don't get a candy at every attempt, and they aren't evenly distributed, so you can have nine of one kind, two of another, and only one of the third.

But don't worry! Playdom has a solution that doesn't involve your playing the game all day and getting mouse wrist. You can buy a candy for one piece of gold! Gold, of course, is the stuff you pay real money for, the kind that comes out of your back account. Playdom is offering a new opportunity: "this time you don't need to worry about sending/receiving gifts." If it hasn't occurred to them yet that we like sending/receiving gifts, a glance at the message boards should tell them differently. There are references to "bait and switch" and "9 days of buying," so I'm obviously not the only person who feels that Playdom is changing our season of giving into a season of buying.

This is a stable Jesus couldn't afford to be born in. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fire's Daughter

"Fire's Daughter" was written for Elementary, the second anthology in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series, published today.

It's a sequel to "Fire's Children" in Elemental Magic and is about the hero's twin sister. In the course of the story, I found myself creating the beginnings of a group of women I call the "Young Girls Club." These are the Elemental Magicians who are not eligible for the White Lodge simply because they are female. I asked Misty if I could do this, she said yes, and I started planning to use it in future stories.

By the time I finished "Fire's Daughter" I even had an idea for the next story in the series I was creating. But then I found out that we're going back to Valdemar next year. So I'll table that idea (I'm sure I'll find  a use for it someday), and go back to "A Wake of Vultures," the story I had already started for the next Valdemar anthology when we switched to Elemental Masters.

If you want a writing career, you've got to be flexible.