Embracing Creativity, Uncategorized

Unique gifts for Christmas (or whatever you celebrate)!

If you’re like me, buying gifts can be great or torturous. Great if it’s for my mum — she likes everything from earrings to bath salts to wacky dishtowels. Torturous if it’s for my husband — he likes expensive watches that I can’t afford! So, I decided to put together a list of unconventional gift ideas. Feel free to add your own in the comments section!

For parents of young children

  • membership to the local children’s museum, zoo, or science center (check to see if they have reciprocal agreements, where one membership can get you in for free or half price to other museums)
  • yoga classes to exercise and de-stress!
  • for new dads, a subscription to The Rad Dad Box (started about two years ago by my friend Michelle and her husband after they had a baby) RadDad
  • specialty magazine subscription about something they love but wouldn’t spend money on (exotic cars, cottage living, teapot collecting, dollhouse furniture, miniature railroads, model planes, book reviews…)

For all grown-ups

  • creative writing lessons (a very good online course for beginners is www.writingclasses.co.uk)  ourdogbluexmaswhite2017jpg
  • membership to a local museum, especially if membership includes free tickets to events at the museum (such as movies, music shows, and special exhibitions)
  • beer or wine or spirits made locally
  • concert tickets for a group they love but haven’t seen for years (one year, I got my dad tickets to The Moody Blues, one of his all-time favorite groups)
  • car wash/detailing coupons (okay, kind of boring, but my husband likes this)
  • gifts from stores that support good causes, such as Kiva’s store, Ten Thousand Villages, and more listed on this site
  • something handmade and unique on etsy.com

For kids

  • a tent for camping in the back yard or in the living room (I’ve heard that Ace Hardware has affordable, easy-to-put-up ones!)
  • magazine subscription (some good ones are Ranger Rick, Highlights, Muse, OWL, Dig, chickaDee, and Upfront)
  • subscription to pixton.com, where they can make their own comic strips

Gift suggestions from my kids  Barbie with hand-made clothes

  • unlimited amounts of toys and candy
  • a toy train
  • a “secret box with a password to get in”
  • a “kit to make Barbie doll clothes”
  • kits to make monster trucks and race cars
  • a science kit “to make potions” and “experiments” and volcanos
  • a pretend dentist kit for kids “to fix someone’s teeth”
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Fiction, Writing Tips

Kids can write!

capture
Kids, learn the basics of how to write a story!

I’ve been experimenting with the website pixton.com, which my friend Lisa Logan (also a writer) introduced me to. You can create your own comic strips or graphic novel – the trial period is free, and after that rates start at $8/month, which is pretty reasonable.

It’s a lot of fun, and as Lisa says, is also a kind of therapy. I’ve made comic strips about the election, my 3-year-old’s habit of shouting “Poop!” really loudly, and all sorts of things.

Anyway, I created a tiny ebook (PDF) for kids that lays out VERY basically how to write a story. Here it is if you’d like to share it with a kid you know. The age range is about 7 to 9 (my 2nd-grader helped me come up with ideas). So, please download it and let me know what you think! I’m hoping to do a longer, more detailed version at some point…eventually…

Kids Can Write! (pdf ebook)

Embracing Creativity, Travels

Freedom on Freemont Street

A couple of weeks ago I visited Las Vegas with my husband. It was my third or fourth trip, and I always approach the city with mixed feelings. On the one hand, you can’t beat the place for glitzy distraction — who can feel anxious or annoyed when watching strings of water shoot through the air in time to “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” at the fountain in front of the Bellagio Hotel? Who can’t feel a certain weird admiration at the giant slot machine on Freemont Street and its attached zip lines high above where people fly through the air like super heroes?

IMG_7745On the other hand, the discrepancy between the ridiculous wealth on “The Strip” and the bone-crushing poverty in other areas of the city, such as the streets surrounding Freemont (the “old” strip) is pretty hard to take. While tourists dine at the all-you-can-eat lobster buffet at Caesar’s Palace, Vietnam Veterans make roses out of palm leafs to sell for around $2. I felt really depressed as we drove down one downtown street, where abandoned motels stood gated and decrepit, their windows boarded with ply wood or painted black. Every now and then someone pushing a shopping cart full of clothes and blankets would appear at an intersection, waiting to cross the street. “You get the feeling that people really struggle in Vegas,” said my husband.

But when I visited Container Park, which is just down the road from Freemont, I felt a little bit more hopefull. Created from repurposed shipping containers and locally-made “Xtreme Cubes,” the shopping center is only about two years old. I went into “Art Box,” a store selling creations by local artists, and bought a Dr. Who-inspired necklace for my mum made by the owner’s wife (Kellie Kroplinski).

Outside Container Park is a metal heart covered with locks (likely inspired by the Paris bridge) by artist Nova May.

IMG_7766.JPG

And in front of Container Park is a giant praying mantis that can shoot fire:

IMG_7769.JPG

And in the surrounding streets, I discovered a bunch of really interesting murals. I haven’t been able to find out much about who painted them or why, but I believe they are part of the Las Vegas Centennial celebration of 2005, which invited public and private businesses to host murals throughout the city. Here are a few of my favorites…

Las Vegas mural     Las Vegas mural

Las Vegas mural     Las Vegas mural

These murals and Container Park really saved Vegas for me, adding another layer to an otherwise pretty obvious city. If Las Vegas can create art as beautiful and wacky as the murals and a place as unique as Art Box, it must have something pretty special going for it!

Fiction, Writing Tips

Become a better creative writer with online classes!

Online creative writing classes at www.writingclasses.co.uk start today, but the first week is orientation, so you still have time to sign up! I know this because I’ve taken classes, and I used to tutor Creative Writing 1, Novel Writing 1, and (formerly) Intro. to Magazine Writing at the Edinburgh-based online school.

The Blue Suitcase
Director Marianne’s  historical novel

 

If you’re interested in creative writing — whether as a complete beginner or as an experienced writer who just needs a little boost — these are great classes! The tutors are so positive, and the notes and exercises help stretch your brain and get the creative thoughts zooming! Each course is 10 weeks, and you post writing assignments in public folders and comment on each others’ work. Students come from all corners of the globe — India, Scotland, England, Spain, Hong Kong, Dubai…

Anyway, I am still working away on The Rain Catcher and hope to post another snippet soon. Thanks to everyone who reads and supports my blog!

The Rain Catcher

The editing power of blogging!

For some reason, it is easier for me to edit on my novel on my blog than anywhere else! Is this because I know I have an audience and so toss out boring, redundant words out of consideration for the readers? I hope so! Does anyone else find that they write differently on their blog? Anyway, I’m posting another snippet from The Rain Catcher… feel free to comment if you want to!

Recap: Katy’s staying in Scotland with her estranged mother for the summer, but she’s starting to notice some flaws in the woman she only knows through letters…

Snippet Four

After dinner (or “tea” as they call it in Scotland), Mom and I walked to her apartment, about a block from Aunt Claire’s. Mom also stayed in a tall stone building, pressed right up to the busy street, but she lived on the ground floor.

“I have my own garden!”

“Wow!” I tried to sound impressed at the square of land the size of our dining room table, surrounded by black iron railings. Mom looked so proud of the gravel and lone rosebush, withered and crooked from the sharp wind. But all I could think was, “This is it?”

Mom’s flat was even smaller than Aunt Claire’s. Her bedroom contained one twin bed and a rickety bookshelf filled with pottery jugs and vases full of dried flowers. The bathroom had a shower but no bath. On top of every surface in the living room sat tiny brown bottles and glass jars of what looked like sea salt. Bunches of herbs hung drying upside down on the walls. The place smelled like an explosion of Yankee Candle.

“What is all this stuff?”

“My aromatherapy business.” Mom threw her yoga bag onto the couch. “I make bath salts and lotions, that sort of thing, and sell them at car boot sales and at the chemist’s on the corner.”

“What’s a car boot sale?” And what was a “chemist”?

But Mom was already on her way out the room. “I could murder a cup of tea,” she called over her shoulder. I dashed after her.

“Murder?”

Mom’s kitchen was the size of my closet. She’d stacked boxes of cereal and pasta on top of the short refrigerator. A loaf of bread and jars of jam and peanut butter balanced on the windowsill above the sink, and pots hung from a contraption on the ceiling light. Mom ducked her head to avoid a frying pan as she filled an electric kettle with water. How did she live like this?

“Didn’t you get enough tea at Aunt Claire’s place?”

“If there’s one thing you should know about the Scots, Katy, it’s that there is no such thing as too much tea.”

Back in the living room with our tea, Mom laid her head against the couch and closed her eyes. I looked around for a TV but couldn’t see one. Come to think of it, where was my 7th-grade school photo? I’d been proud of that one – caught off guard by a joke the photographer had cracked, I’d smiled with my mouth open, instead of clamped shut, and had actually looked pretty.

“Um… So, what will we do this summer?”

“Hmm?”

“What’s on the agenda, as Dad would say.”

“Och, we’ll decide that another day, Katy.”

“Dad said you wanted to show me around Edinburgh. Can we visit the castle? And where you guys used to live? And can we have fish ‘n’ chips in newspaper and eat them on the street?” Dad had told me about waiting for buses in the rain with Mom, their hands warm and tummies happy from the greasy fish and chips. I’d always wanted to try it.

“Yes, yes. We’ll do all that, Katy.” Mom sounded impatient.

My stomach began to ache. It didn’t feel right; Mom had invited me to stay with her for the summer. Didn’t she have an idea of what we were going to do for the next four weeks?

“Dad didn’t give you an itinerary?” I fake-laughed.

Mom sighed. “I suppose we could visit Chamber Street Museum. That’s got a nice tea room. And the Botanics are always nice…”

I had no idea what she was talking about but nodded keenly. “I’m happy with anything,” I said. “It’s fun just to be with you.”

Mom blushed and took a gulp of her tea.

“Did you get those photos I sent you?”

“Em… Oh, right! Yes, they’re lovely! I’ve put them up at work.”

“Good!”

We sat for a few moments, and I tried to think of what to say. On the plane, I’d had tons of questions to ask Mom, but now we were together, my mind was blank. All I could think of was that she hadn’t been at the airport. It wasn’t that big of a deal, I told myself. Work was work, that’s what Dad always said. But when I tried to imagine Dad not meeting me at the airport, I couldn’t.

At 2:15 a.m. I woke up dying of thirst. I got up from the couch and tiptoed into the kitchen to get a cup of water. As I was gulping it down, I heard the front door close. I froze. Floorboards creaked in the hallway.

Suddenly, I imagined Ewan creeping toward the kitchen, an empty beer bottle raised above his head like a caveman’s club. I swallowed and tried to breathe, looking around for a possible weapon. I could block the door with the burlap sack of flour or crash the plant pot by the sink over his head…

But then a door creaked; it had to be Mom’s bedroom because I could see the bathroom from where I stood. I waited a few seconds and, not hearing any other noises, crept toward Mom’s room. Her door stood halfway open. From the dim light of the clock radio, I saw Mom huddled under her blankets.

I hurried back to the couch, my feet freezing cold. Why had Mom gone out at this time of night? Had she stepped outside to get a breath of fresh air? Or had she gone somewhere and left me all alone in the apartment? My stomach churned.

Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Getting back to writing…

Sorry I have been gone for so long! Have taken a break from fiction writing for the past few months because I found myself obsessively revising my novel and older short stories. I became stuck in a kind of “judgment whirlpool” in which nothing I had written seemed good enough. I had about 15 versions of just about everything — the literary form of hoarding. Realized that I needed to STOP!

So, I did some painting — am still doing some drawing and painting for fun — and recently started a kind of freewriting-poetry-thing. Basically, I just write down whatever I’m thinking in poetic form, rather than worrying about whole sentences, grammar, etc… I don’t edit. And I don’t censor myself. If I feel like deleting these “poems” at any point, I give myself permission to do that, rather than numbering them and saving 50 different versions on my hard drive.

So far, it’s been fun to see what images pop up from my subconscious, sort of like writing down your dreams! Later, I analyze my poem to see if anything resonates. If not, that’s okay, no pressure. That’s the whole point of this break — to take the pressure off myself to write for a specific genre (mystery? YA? literary?) and to a specific audience (12 year olds? adults? women?). I was so busy focusing on getting published, whether independently or “traditionally,” and trying to “brand” myself and my writing that I lost track of what I wanted to say in the first place!

Have you ever felt like throwing in the towel and quitting writing? It’s a scary prospect, but at the same time kind of freeing. I realized that I don’t have to identify myself solely as a “writer.” I can just be someone who likes to write!