Thursday, October 27, 2011

Less of Me

When I was young, I was skinny. I also had a big appetite; my mother would joke about my “hollow leg,” because where else was I putting the large amounts of food I consumed? I could eat whatever I wanted and however much I wanted and my metabolism promptly took care of it.

That. Was. Awesome. (Note the past tense).

Even into my twenties, I didn’t worry about my weight or even think about my weight. I might step on a scale once in a blue moon, just for fun, but it wasn’t an issue. I was just skinny. Yay, genetics! After my first daughter was born, my baby weight fell right off. No effort needed. Ahhh, those were the days. 

Because I had it so set in my mind that I was skinny, it took me a loooong time to recognize that things had changed. Weight gain doesn’t happen overnight, of course—it’s a little at a time, then a little more, and a little more, until finally in my thirties I started to realize, hey, what the heck? I wasn’t slim, not anymore. So naturally, I promptly started eating less and exercising more.

Hahahaha! As if. Even as I became aware that I wasn’t thrilled with how much I’d gained, I kept right on with a lifetime of eating habits—did I mention I love food?—and, not surprisingly I gained more and more weight (what’s up with that slowing metabolism as you get older, anyway?). I’d try here and there to exercise and maybe I’d lose a few pounds, but then I’d gain it back. Or I’d try to eat less, but didn’t keep it up for long. I wanted to lose weight, but I didn’t want to work for it, or worse yet, suffer for it.

Then, maybe a year or so ago, my husband decided to lose weight (and if you ask me, he started out skinny). He was so disciplined about it—at dinner, he’d eat so little that it drove me CRAZY. When you feel bad about your own weight but don’t want to do anything about it because that sounds hard, the last thing you want to watch is someone else being super disciplined and getting super skinny—it’s one of those situations where you know if it bothers you that YOU are the one with the problem, but you still don’t want to fix it. Brilliant, I know.

Then we went to a family reunion last summer, and my sister-in-law, who is my age, walked in and she was . . . skinny. Looked fantastic. Oh golly. Oh jealousy! In the course of chatting while we were hanging out in the lake, we got to talking about weight, and she told me she’d used an app called Tap and Track to help her lose weight. You enter your stats (height, weight, etc.) and your weight loss goal—how much you want to lose and how fast—and it calculates how many calories you should eat per day. You enter in what you eat (it has a big database of foods), you can add your own recipes, or you can just enter calories, if you prefer. And when you exercise, you enter that in, and it adjusts your calorie allotment.

And . . . I actually got excited about trying this app. Me! Excited to try to lose weight! Who knew it could happen? But by this point, I was so frustrated with my weight and so tired of being dissatisfied with it (and tired of being jealous because my husband looked so good, and tired of the fact that I could have eaten him for lunch and still had room for dessert). I’d finally hit the point where I was ready to work on this, but I needed to do it in a way that worked for me. 

So I bought the app, and when we got home, I tried it out. I knew if I tried to lose too fast, I’d be miserable, get frustrated, and quit—I don’t like suffering and I don’t like being hungry—so I set the goal of losing half a pound a week. This was just over three months ago, and so far so good—I’m halfway to my weight loss goal. Who knew I could actually do this? And succeed?? Some weeks it goes really well; other weeks my weight stalls and I get frustrated, but I’m determined to keep trying. One bonus is that I’ve never in my life been so motivated to exercise, because when I exercise, I can enter that info into the app and it gives me more calories. So exercise=more food, and I am highly motivated by food (and it’s a good thing those donuts we made for Family Home Evening the other week are gone, because goodness, those were perhaps a bit too tasty. I got lots of exercise while trying to compensate for those donuts).

I have a long silk dress that my mother-in-law made for me for a family wedding. I outgrew that dress many years and many pounds ago, but now my goal is to wear it to the Whitney Awards gala in May. Can I do it? I guess I’ll find out. If not, heck, I guess I wasted money on that dry-cleaning bill . . . 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Taking Names

It troubles me whenever I see a comment on Twitter or Facebook to the effect of “See who unfollowed/unfriended you!” with a link to some service or other that lets you find out which of your cyber-pals are now former cyber-pals. My question is:


Why do that? Is there a good, beneficial reason to locate this information? This is not a rhetorical question—if someone knows of a beneficial reason for tracking down this info, I’d like to hear it, because the main result I'd think would come from this detective work is hurt feelings—“Jennifer unfollowed me? She didn’t like my tweets? Well, FINE. I don’t like hers either.” (unfollows Jennifer). Okay, I guess a possible benefit could be if you are using the information to analyze and improve your updates/tweets—(“I see I lost 102 Utah-based followers when I dissed Jimmer. Oops. I won’t do that again.”). But do people really use the info that way? It seems that in most cases you wouldn’t have a clue why the person unfollowed (unless you know they’re mad at you in real life). 

It seems to me that social media networks should be places where connecting with someone doesn’t mean you’re locked in for life, and you should be able to quietly disconnect if, for whatever reason, the online connection doesn't work. I don’t go around unfollowing people right and left, but I have unfollowed people who tweeted so much that it drove me nuts, or bombarded me with ads. It was nothing personal—I just didn’t care for their tweeting style. If they don’t care for mine, they’re welcome to unfollow—no harm done. We should both be able to quietly and tactfully disconnect, no offense given or taken. What’s the benefit of tracking down each others’ names?

I think there’s a good reason Twitter, Facebook (and Goodreads, for that matter) don’t notify us when someone unfollows/unfriends us. I can’t see how it benefits us to seek out that information on our own. Granted, I'm no social media expert, so maybe there are angles I haven't considered. What are your thoughts on this? 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I Got Craftsy!

When I was young—say, second grade—I was pretty good at drawing princesses. Problem is, I still draw princesses about as well as I did when I was in second grade. I’m horrible at drawing sharks or any other animal. Stick figures? Er . . . as long as you can tell it's supposed to be a person, it's good, right? When it comes to art skills, I don’t have them. Some of my kids do, though. My second daughter once took the grand prize for her age category in a national art contest. She did not inherit this ability from me. I’m about as skilled at drawing as I am at parallel parking.

I’m also lacking in craft skills. I have made a few craft projects in my life, usually at Relief Society events, and I can make things that are reasonably cute if you don’t look too closely—they look even better if you forget your glasses—but when it comes to the details that produce polished final products, I fall flat on my face. If I create anything by hand, it's going to be a little crooked and a little ragged (so it's a good thing my husband is the one who repaired the fence).

I haven’t done anything craftsy for a while, but today we had a two-ward Relief Society Super Saturday, so I signed up for a few things. The biggest project I did was a set of apothecary jars where we painted and glued wooden bases, etc., to three jars to make a set we could fill with Halloween candy or Christmas candy, or what have you. My work ended up sort of B-minus-ish (“Display in dimly lit room only”). Also, I got paint on my pants. But after I took my not-so-skillfully-painted project home, I went to the store to get some glue to fix the jars where the bases had already fallen off (heh) and some ribbon to dress them up (the sample picture they’d shown us had ribbon—no, I wasn’t clever enough to think of adding ribbon myself). After I fixed the bases, filled the jars with candy, and tied ribbons on, they actually looked . . . cute! I consulted my son as to whether long ribbons or short ribbons looked better. He’s an eleven-year-old techno-genius-geek who regularly puts his shirt on backwards, and he was right about the ribbon—short looks better. He also took pictures for me, using my husband’s camera, which I don’t exactly know how to use. 

I'm pleased. Despite the flaws in my craftsmanship, I like the overall effect. I'm no longer troubled by uneven painting or glue issues, and if anyone out there is tempted to look for flaws, just LOOK AT THE CANDY. SEE ONLY THE CANDY.

At Super Saturday, I also made pendants out of Scrabble tiles and scrapbooking paper. I don't have a close relationship with scrapbooking; except for a partial baby book made for my oldest daughter, all the other baby memorabilia is is in files or in a box or . . . hmm, I wonder where it is? But today I learned you can use scrapbooking paper to make jewelry.

 I have Achieved Craftsiness. At least for one day. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Books, Audio, and the Helpful Role of Mosquitos

My copies of Rearview Mirror have arrived—yay! If you are a blogger who previously signed up to review it and haven’t yet sent your snail mail address to emailstephanieblack (at) gmail (dot) com, please do so. Thanks! I hear reports from my spies that the book is starting to show up in stores. Online, the book is now in stock at Deseret Book. Seagull doesn't have it yet, and Amazon has the Kindle version, and I'm hoping that within a few weeks it will be everywhere! Everywhere! Spreading all over the place so you can't so much as go buy a burger without tripping over stacks of Rearview Mirror!

Well, I gotta dream, right? 

Seeing a new book for the first time is always a thrill. It’s here! A book! I wrote a book! It has a cover, a cool, shiny, creepy cover! And pages! Real pages! Pages with my own words on them! Yay! I like to repeatedly pick a new book up and flip through the pages. And I was delighted to add the book to my shelf of Novels With My Name on Them. Okay, it’s not exactly a shelf of books. It’s a shelf with a few books and most of the space taken up by Halloween decorations, but it’s exciting to have a new book next to the orange ceramic plate with the bat on it.

One thing I like to do when my books are first released is to listen to the audio version. My publisher, Covenant, does audio versions for many of their fiction titles, and I’m delighted that they’ve done my books in audio. I’m doubly delighted that they no longer do abridged audio. Say the words “abridged audio” to any of my author colleagues and watch them shrivel, shrieking in pain. Abridged audio had a very limited word count—for my first book I had to cut out more than half the book for the audio version. Ouch and ouch. But abridged audio is gone—all the audio books Covenant does now are unabridged.

I love that word. Unabridged! Unabridged! Yaaaay!

It’s a fun, fascinating experience to listen to your story read by a professional actress or actor, and the readers for my books have done a great job. Luone Ingram is the reader for Rearview Mirror—she did Methods of Madness and Cold as Ice as well—and she’s awesome. It takes incredible skill and talent to read a book for audio. I wouldn’t have a clue how to bring a suspense novel to life for a listener, so I’m very grateful for the talented readers that do our audio versions. I’m having a ton of fun listening to my book. I wonder what will happen next!

Just kidding. I’m not that spacey; I do remember how it ends.

This morning, I saw the following on my sister’s Life as an Adverb blog:

" . . . last night we caught up on our backlogged DVR.  We laughed at some lame sitcom jokes.  Then David laughed a little too knowingly at a post-baby-body joke.  Afterwards he made eyes at me in a way that made me think he was going to tell me I was beautiful and that he loves me just the way I am.  
He said, "Let's go to bed and read." 
But, considering I had the latest release from award-winning author Stephanie Black in my hands, it wasn't too bad of a deal.  Besides, it was funny when I screamed as a mosquito buzzed  right in my ear canal and scared the bejeebers out of David, who was several chapters ahead of me in the same book.  Good one, Steph.  Got him right as the floor was creaking ominously above the heroine.”
That made my day. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Hard Life of a Character

Last week, I finished the first draft of a new suspense novel. I’m happy about this for a couple of reasons: 1—Maybe I do actually have a prayer of getting this book finished in a reasonable amount of time and 2—I love revising even more than I love writing, so it will be fun to plunge into the second draft. I’d much rather revise a screen full of words than fill up a blank screen.

My first drafts are something I’d never inflict on anyone. I start with a rough outline, so I do know where the story is going, but I don’t know the ins and outs and details of the plot until I actually write them. This means stopping for a lot of brainstorming along the way, it means making mistakes that I need to change later, and it means leaving myself notes about things I need to add. For example, in this manuscript, I got near the end and realized I wanted a character to play a larger role, which would set her up to play a pivotal role at the end. I left myself a note about enlarging her role in the book, then wrote her in the pivotal scenes I wanted near the end. I didn’t go back and fix things, inserting her where I needed her earlier in the story—I prefer to save that kind of revision for the second draft. I want the first draft done, not perfect, and coherency and consistency is not required at this point. 

The book doesn’t have a working title yet; I usually look for a working title when I hit draft three. Right now, I haven’t the faintest idea what to call it, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be a sunshiney happy-dance sort of title (Butterflies and Sparkly Unicorns: A Mystery). True to form, I was awfully mean to my main character in this book. I’m hard on my protagonists, to the point that they all need medical care by the end of the book, and most of them need therapy. Being one of my characters is not an easy gig.

Why be cruel to characters? Why put stress and strain and trouble and conflict and peril and injury in their paths? In Orson Scott Card’s book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, he discusses selecting a main character, and one of the test questions he offers is:

Who hurts the most? In the world you have invented, who suffers the most? Chances are that it is among the characters who are in pain that you will find your main character, partly because your readers’ sympathy will be drawn toward a suffering character, and partly because a character in pain is a character who wants things to change. He’s likely to act. Of course, a character who suffers a lot and then dies won’t be a productive main character unless your story is about his life after death. But your eye should be drawn toward pain. Stories about contented people are miserably dull.”

In real life, I hate conflict. I can’t stand it if I think someone is mad at me, or if I’ve done something to offend someone. Honestly, who wants conflict in her/his life? Wouldn’t we rather have everything go happily and smoothly every day? Yep. But in fiction, we need conflict. Buckets and heaps and mountains of conflict. You don't have to be as mean to characters as I am, obviously, but throw trouble at your characters. (And one bit of advice: the trouble and peril needs to feel organic within the story—not like you’re just tossing in anything you can think of and pretty soon the character will get bonked on the head by the kitchen sink, because you threw that in too. Weave problems out of the characters and circumstances of the story; don’t just chuck random problems at the character like she’s hit a new level in a video game).

On to the second draft!