Haggis & Highland Games

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Smoked haggis! And no, i do not know what the sauce is, they called it “Scottish sauce” and I think it might have been vaguely related to HP sauce.

For as long as it’s been since I visited Scotland (too, too long!), I’m didn’t expect that the next time I watched Highland games it would be in Western New York. And yet, the weekend before last, I stuffed myself full of haggis and watched grown men send tree trunks flying through the air.

I heard about the Buffalo Niagara Scottish Festival from my mom, who had read about it in the Amherst Bee. A couple moments of hyperventilation and many frantic Facebook messages later, I was on my way to Buffalo with plans to meet up with a friend and her family for an afternoon of fun and a mild dose of Celtic spirit.

wpid-0815151419a.jpgThe festival was held at the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, which is a pretty cool place way out in the swampy wilderness of Amherst. I haven’t visited the village aside from this trip, but what the museum has done is take old houses from around Western New York and preserved them on a plot of land where they can be toured and enjoyed. It was a fantastic backdrop to the afternoon, and at some point I want to try and go back to check it out on its own.

wpid-0815151320.jpgAfter filling up on haggis and a pint of Belhaven, my friends and I wandered over to the caber toss – the aforementioned throwing of giant, tree-trunk sized pieces of woods, each weighing (if I recall the announcer’s description correctly) just under a hundred pounds. As each beam was flung through the air, the crowd held our breaths, waiting to watch it go end over end. Once we’d watched both the caber toss and the hammer throw (done by professional exhibition athletes, not just guys who walked in off the street) for a while, we wandered through the vendors and checked out what they had for sale. Wares ranged from cookbooks and kilts to the skulls of mythological creatures. I managed to hold myself back from making a purchase; my friend picked up a Nessie soup ladle and a cookbook with a recipe for haggis that sounded a lot more appetizing than the one in my miniature Scottish cookbook wpid-0815151342.jpgfrom my grandmother’s house. (Hint: mine calls for bits of the sheep that are not included in my friend’s recipe. I’m hoping to get a copy of hers, authenticity be damned.) While I’d planned to get my hands on a scotch egg as a snack, by the time I was ready to eat again (that haggis was pretty filling) it was hot enough out that I went for a gelato, instead. By that point, the stage had filled up, and a band of kilted musicians were in full swing. There was an area for ceilidh dancing, but alas – my back was getting a bit sore by this point, so I decided not to risk incurring its wrath.

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Okay, fine, not ALL of them are wearing kilts.

Instead, I wandered around a bit more with my friends, people-watching and trying to stay out of direct sunlight, as I could feel my fittingly pale skin starting to warm up. (For those who don’t remember, I learned my lesson about staying in the sun too long a few years ago in St. Martin.) Finally, it was time for me to go. We said our goodbyes and I headed back to my car, thankful for the paved walkways that kept my feet above the waterline from the previous night’s storm.

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The view from the paved walkway – it’s easy to forget that the area is basically built on a swamp! Added nicely to the atmosphere, though.

I had a terrific afternoon, a great time visiting friends, some delicious food, and I left feeling more connected to Scotland than I have in a while. Next year, I’m hoping to get myself organized enough to go to the kickoff ceilidh – hopefully, I’ll see some of you there!

Capsule Reviews – Short SF and Fantasy Stories

In addition to writing short stories, I also enjoy reading them – just haven’t had much opportunity recently. That changed over the weekend, when I found out that I can subscribe to magazines over Kindle. (I know. I know. I knew in theory. Stop laughing.) So I did.

Here are a handful you might enjoy.

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, September 2015

Racing to Mars by Martin L. Shoemaker
A ship makes a trip to Mars to drop off some supplies, and one of the people along for the ride is the son of the company’s owner. Along the way, the spoiled brat is forced to grow up, and the narrating character – a woman whose medical career is on the ropes because she blew the whistle on medical negligence at an old job – watches it happen. Interesting because of what it says about how learning – sometimes forced – can overcome ignorance.

The Crashing of the Cloud by Norman Spinrad
Short, but I liked the twist at the end. Can’t say much more than that without giving it away.

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, july 2015

Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack
The tone of this story (and several others in the magazine) reminded me of China Mieville, Charles de Lint, or Neil Gaiman. To do with dreaming and mysticism. Interesting plot and characterization, though the general shape of the story is fairly familiar. Very entertaining and I liked the ways Pollack built her world. Vivid.

The Deepwater Bride by Tamsin Muir
I liked this one a lot. A weird, dreamy sort of language that was also forceful and specific as needed. The protagonist is a seer from a long line of seers, trying to find her way through a prophecy of death and destruction. Characters were well-drawn and vivid, and while I probably should have seen the final twist coming, I didn’t – and I loved the story all the more for that.

Dixon’s Road by Richard Chwedyk
An engaging concept, well-told. The home of a well-loved poet is run as a visitor center, there’s some interesting stuff done with time travel and relativity, and the narrating tour guide gives some insight into a well-constructed world that quickly becomes enjoyably familiar. Another one with a final twist – and not the one you think is coming midway through.

The Silicon Curtain: A Seastead Story by Naomi Kritzer
I’m not a reader of Kritzer’s series, so I’ve never encountered this world or characters before. It was still a fun adventure, though I feel like there were nuances to the tale that I would appreciate more if I had more familiarity with her world. Industrial espionage plot. I wasn’t entirely sure of the ages of the characters – teens or young adults or thirtysomethings – but this might be because I was reading on a plane. I might look for more of the books at some point.

There were other stories in each magazine, but I wasn’t particularly taken by them. Some were boring, some were borderline offensive, and more than a couple weren’t worth finishing. But I’d be interested in reading more from any of these writers, so even if you don’t feel like picking up the magazine, keep an eye out for their other work. And if you do, let me know what you think of it.

 

Stalled, but only briefly

wpid-0626152133.jpgSo it’s been a minute or two since I last updated (ha ha). It’s turned out to be a seriously busy summer. So far I’ve been to San Francisco, NYC, Madison, Bar Harbor, Buffalo and coming up there’ll be a short trip back to NYC. There’s been a bit of life upheaval (nothing major, don’t worry) and as a result I’ve had to spend a lot of time and energy on things that aren’t what I’d like to be spending my time and energy on.

The result? Most of my personal creative projects – a TV pilot, a couple of ideas for plays, my Agent Carter suit, this blog – have been shoved to one side to make time for the things that need to get done. And even when I do think I’m going to set aside some time and dig in, something keeps coming up.

wpid-0712151318-1-1.jpgI spent a very large chunk of my writing life – which is now hovering around 20 years, if we go back to my first paycheck – adhering to the strict rule of writing every single day. Creative writing, every day. I gave myself deadlines, I banged out first drafts, I ran a successful scripted web series (back when everybody was on dial-up, so basically that meant managing eight or ten people, editing, planning plot arcs and then posting scripts on a regular basis), I wrote more fanfic than I can actually even remember…and I kept pushing myself to do more. And more. And more. This carried on into my late teens and then my early-to-mid twenties.

And then, one day, something changed. I think it was when I moved back from Scotland and down to New York City. I was going through a period where I didn’t feel particularly inspired, I was getting settled in a new place, and I decided it was time to refill my creative fuel tank, so to speak. It was a difficult choice, especially for someone who didn’t (and still doesn’t) believe in writer’s block. To willingly put down my pen and go out to experience life, instead, was a really difficult thing to do. But also a very necessary one. And I’ll never forget the time I was walking through Brooklyn with a friend and another woman (a friend of the friend), and we were talking about creativity. “Are you working on anything right now?” asked the woman, who I think was some kind of junior producer at a music television channel (not the two you immediately thought of).

“No,” I said, “I’m just absorbing life at the moment.”

“Oh,” she said, in a tone that let me know exactly how much respect she had (or didn’t have) for this decision.

The break ended up only lasting a handful of months, but when I went back to my keyboard it was clear that taking the pressure off had been a smart idea. For me. For my mental health. For my writing.

I’ve talked about the pressure writers put on ourselves in the past, and every so often I have to remind myself that those few months I took off from work resulted in some really great projects that I probably wouldn’t have completed without that time. I learned about myself, about my writing, about how to create the optimal conditions for creativity. Sure, I can still sit down and pound out 500 words if I have to, but feeling like you “have to” when it comes to creative writing is never a good feeling.

All that said, writing fiction is liberating (to me, and to at least a few of you) in a way that other writing and other activities aren’t. So I know it’s something I have to do and have to make time for. But it’s nice to have the confidence to put the pen down from time to time, as well, without the fear that ALL THE WORDS WILL BE GONE when I’m ready to pick it back up again.

So, while life at the moment has sped up and creative output has slowed (though it’s still trickling), I’m trying to feel okay about that, reminding myself that sometimes life takes the wheel and my plays and pilots have to ride in the way back for a while. At least we’re all in the same car. Though they are getting suspiciously quiet back there…

My guess is, they’re plotting against me. Or life. Or both.

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New article posted on Skirt Collective

Hey all!

So, it’s been a few days – lots going on, no time to talk, bit like the white rabbit – but I did just have this article published by SkirtCollective.com, and wanted to share.

Check it out and pass it on to anyone you know who might benefit from some more information on finding help with mental health care.

Mwah!

Nine Things To Know About Getting Mental Health Help 

Wizard World Philly 2015 Recap (with more over at AgentCarter.net)

Yesterday I mentioned that I’d try and post a recap of the convention, and only minutes later arranged to do a write-up for AgentCarter.net. That piece can be found here.

Other than gaining a whole new level of respect for Hayley Atwell (who plays Peggy Carter), I also got to attend the David Tennant/Billie Piper panel, get a photo taken with them both, then get autographs. High points of the con included:

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  • Finding out Billie Piper stole bits of the TARDIS and Margaret the Slytheen’s ring from the set!
  • Screenshot_2015-02-20-05-40-26David Tennant complimenting my red fedora as I walked into the photo booth (“Nice hat!”).
  • Getting an incredible deal on a pair of custom-painted knee-high sneakers – I’ll try to post photos once I receive them, which should be at some point in June. They’re going to have the Exploding Tardis pattern on them and I’m pretty damn excited about that.
  • Eating at Reading Terminal Market, which I’d never been to but which was delicious.
  • wpid-0509151749.jpg“That’s an obscure one!” from Mr. Tennant when I handed him the play I’d brought for him to sign, which I saw him in way back in 2002 – before I even knew who he was. Just coincidence that I happened to buy the script; it wasn’t till I saw and reviewed Look Back in Anger several years later that I realized I’d seen him performing before. (The rest, as they say, is history…)

 

  • wpid-img_20150510_170943.jpgBuying a little ID badge for my Peggy Carter cosplay (which I’m hoping my mom will help me start cutting fabric for this weekend)…
  • Going to a FANTASTIC Greek restaurant with my friend and her daughter after Friday at the con – it was out of Philly a ways, I think the town was called Yardley? I can’t remember the name but holy crap best tzatziki ever.
  • The entire weekend going more or less flawlessly, after a somewhat rocky trip down there (took five hours instead of ten, but I’ll trade a long drive at the start for smooth sailing at the actual con!).
  • Being able to stop at a Trader Joe’s on the way home and doing my grocery shopping for the week, which was way better than having to shop at WalMart this week.

I’m exhausted, I’m happy, I’m not thrilled to be back at work after such a fun weekend, but what can you do. Except bask in the memory and write a blog entry about it.

Two links to check out…

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Volcanic, 16×20″, acrylic on canvas panel. By me.

Hey! So I’m just home from a weekend at Philly’s Wizard World Comic Con, which I fully intend to do an entry on later, but for now here are two pieces I’ve written recently which you may enjoy reading.

The first is a piece that I wrote last Tuesday about John Krakauer’s latest book, Missoula: Rape and Injustice in a College Town. A friend of mine (from Missoula) brought the book to my attention, and when Krakauer came to Missoula to answer to critics offended by the book, she organized a group to support both his book (which unmasks the failures of a legal system that finds it easier to believe rapists than the survivors of their crimes) and survivors themselves. Go check it out to find out more about the hashtag #MissoulaBlue, and why you might want to support it. (And a shout-out to my friend Madelyn for pointing me in the direction of SkirtCollective.com – what a fab site!)

The second is actually a blog by a friend of a friend, Jason Mical, where he quotes some of my thoughts on Black Widow, Age of Ulton, and the feminism of Joss Whedon. It’s over on his blog, so click here.

And finally, I’ve been doing a lot of painting lately, and the featured image for this blog is a close-up of one of them. It and others are for sale on Etsy, if you’re interested in checking that out.

Update: OMG IT’S (sort of but not really) DONE!/The Peggy Carter Project

It’s been a while since I updated you on what’s going on with #thepeggycarterproject. So here goes:

I just finished sewing the test skirt in muslin!!!!!!!

Okay, so maybe I didn’t *exactly* finish – I did something funny along the way and the waistband extension didn’t come out long enough – but I’ve now gone through the process and can put the skirt together. I’ll have to be a little more careful with the zipper, and the button hole will likely be a challenge, but at this point I’m pretty confident that I can make a skirt, and that it will fit.

It was harder than I’d anticipated, mostly because sewing takes a lot of patience and as each step advanced I got a little more nervous about moving on to the next one. (The next step now is actually cutting up my beautiful fabric, so hopefully I’ll be able to screw up the nerve soon.)

wpid-wp-1430574952317.jpegAt last update, I was in the process of cutting the fabric out. Now, it was time to stitch things together. With the exception of one seam, which I sewed the wrong way round (didn’t bother to go back and take it out because this isn’t the actual skirt, the sewing went pretty well – aside from a major tension issue that popped up midway through. (And no, I don’t mean the part where I cried.)

0420152125 0420152125aWhen I took my sewing machine home to show my mom, we decided that the best thing was really to buy a new sewing machine (because why wouldn’t that be the best thing, right?). It was more than I wanted to spend (this project is fast becoming a money pit in its own right) but it made a huge difference in sewing the last few seams. When it arrived, I sewed a few lines and sent her a photo; she approved. The old machine, she said, wasn’t punching the thread through the fabric on both the top and bottom, and given the price and time involved in getting the machine a professional tune-up, the newer machine just made more sense. Here are the photos I sent her; they’re much tighter and more uniformed than what I was getting from the older machine. The new machine also controls the speed of the needle more precisely, which was nice because sometimes you don’t want to go super fast or super slow but somewhere nice and comfortable, in the middle.

I won’t post close-ups of the zipper because the zipper is a travesty and something I will be practicing a few more times before I do it on the actual skirt, but here’s what it started to look like:

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You may notice – or you may not – that while this looks skirt-sized, it is also a bit smaller than you might expect, given the size of my waist. Well, kids, this is where I learned something important about sewing: read the directions. Like, always. Like, four times. Then read everything actually written on the pattern. Like, always. Like, four times. Because sometimes it turns out that just because you only cut two of one pattern piece, it doesn’t mean you don’t cut four of another pattern piece. Who’d’ve thought, right? You need two side panels on EACH side of the skirt, not just two side panels in all.

wpid-0419151229.jpgThat realization came to me, unfortunately, AFTER I had bought a roll of permanent pattern paper because I thought that I was going to have to size the entire pattern up significantly. It was while doing the math required to figure that out that I went back and looked at the pattern again. And realized my mistake. The things writers will do to avoid doing math, you know? But it worked, in the end:

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Next, it was time for the fusible interfacing. After doing a lot of math (this math was unavoidable), I had figured out that it made more sense just to buy a bolt of the stuff (about eight bucks from Joanne Fabrics, though the prices I saw varied WILDLY depending on where I was sourcing from). Interfacing is used to make sure parts of the suit keep their form – so it gets used on bits like the waistband and eventually the suit lapels (eep!). You don’t need loads of it for the project, but if I keep this hobby up it’ll be nice to have on hand.

0420152149For the skirt, the interfacing is fused to the waist band, then the waist band is folded over onto itself and then sewn to the bottom panels of the skirt. The process was a little tricky. The first step was cutting and fusing the interfacing. By this point in the project I had moved on to a “let’s just get it done” mentality, so I wasn’t super careful about cutting it out to match – all that caution is going towards the final product. I placed the fabric on a towel (I don’t have an ironing board, judge not) then laid the interfacing down on top of it. Then you put another towel on top so you don’t get the interfacing glue stuck on your iron, and gently press the interfacing down with the hot iron. Eventually, you pick the iron up and put it down on the next bit of fabric.

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0420152157aNext, you have to press up the seam of the waist band so that you can eventually sew that to the skirt band. This was kind of annoying because you have to make sure the seam is going to be even, and it was sort of confusing to read the directions and figure out what was supposed to be getting pinned facing what. But I soldiered through it and got it done!

Finally, the nightmare of sewing the waist band to the skirt. I didn’t even take pictures of that process, it was so miserable, but once I did that and ran it through the sewing machine, look what happened!
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It might be a little bit messy, but it’s served its purpose, and you know what that means…the next time you hear from me on this project, it will involve real fabric, having to work methodically and carefully, and maybe even a finished skirt!

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Gotta stay inspired, you know?

For more on this project:

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