My Life in Boxes

My life is slowly becoming a pile of boxes in the corner of my bedroom.

If you came to visit, there would be signs that I am in the process of packing everything.  Empty bookcases and empty shelves on the wall are a good sign.  So is the lack of artwork on the wall.  But there is still a lot that is not packed, and so it might appear that I am far away from having the task complete.

The reality is somewhere in between done and not done.  There are many frequently used things that are already packed.  If you asked to watch a movie or wanted me to print something, you’d be out of luck.  On the other hand, there are two areas I have refused to let myself pack until this upcoming weekend, no matter how much I’ve wanted to.  Those two areas are clothing and kitchen, because I know that I’ll underestimate my need and end up unpacking what has already been packed.  This weekend I’m making the “minimalist kitchen kit” and choosing about a week’s worth of clothing, and then everything else in my kitchen, closet, and dresser will be loaded into suitcases and boxes.

Perhaps then I’ll finally feel like the packing is well under way.  Right now, no matter how large the box stack, I feel like I have mountains left to do.

A Rush of Inspiration

Last night, as I was driving home from a friend’s party, I had a rapid influx of ideas for my next NaNo novel.

I already had the two main characters, how they meet, and a bit of each’s back story.  The big piece I was lacking was a plot.  I’d had several hints of ideas, but most of them were lame, overdone, or not fantasy.  (Having a fairy in the story does not automatically make it a fantasy, people!)

On the drive I found my plot!  It takes pieces from one of my idea-hints, but also incorporates new concepts that I hadn’t thought of prior to last night.  The really interesting thing is the setting – this is going to be fantasy in the real/modern world.  I know that it’s a well-established motif, but it will be new and different for me.  (Butterflies is set in its own world, and Dragon has gates between modern and fantasy, keeping most of the magic to the fantasy realm.)

I need to do a little bit of research and start making some notes so I’m ready to go when November rolls around, but I’m already getting excited!

A Trip Back In Time, or A Visit to the New Paleo Hall

Before we dive into my recent trip to the new Hall of Paleontology (known to Houstonians as the Paleo Hall) at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, I need to remind you that I am a major science nerd.  If you’d rather not read my review of the new hall, feel free to ignore this post and visit again tomorrow!

Let me start by saying that I loved the exhibit overall.  The layout, which follows geologic time, is fantastic.  I liked starting with stromatolites and moving through an abundance of trilobites before reaching the prehistoric reptiles (including dinosaurs) and then passing through into the age of mammals and ending with hominids and humans.  Very logical, to my mind, and well done.  I also enjoyed some of the more unusual (and surprising) fossils on exhibit, including Queztalcoatlus, which is a gigantic pterosaur, and an early marsupial mammal (Didelphodon) that I’d never heard of before.  Some things I needed to see myself in order to get a good perspective of scale, and a few things raised goosebumps on my arms because they were so very cool.  I also appreciated the two feathered dinosaur fossils on display, and went back for a second gaze after my first rotation through the exhibit.

After all of that praise, there are three things that I didn’t like.  Maybe that’s not the best phrasing, since I didn’t really dislike anything.  Perhaps we’ll just say that I would have done it differently.  First, not everything was labeled, which drove me crazy.  What is it?  Why is it here?  Second, to go along with the lack of labels, nothing was labeled as “cast” or “fossil” so I had no idea what was real and what was a cast of the real thing.  I don’t mind looking at casts – they are usually very well done and give the same information – but I want to know if I’m looking at a cast.

The third issue is less technical and more of a broad concern.  The transitional forms (formerly known as missing links, which is an inaccurate term) were not well-represented or effectively highlighted.  The exhibit didn’t shy away from discussing evolution (another thing I liked) but while Archeaopteryx was discussed and feathered dinos were on display, there wasn’t even a cast of the famous ancestral bird.  And there was a cast of Tiktaalik (one of my goosebump-raising, scale-providing moments) but it was poorly labeled, not explained, and tucked around a weird corner where many people will probably miss it.  While the lack didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the exhibit, I did notice both while touring.

I also had a great moment when I was enjoying the abundance of trilobites.  I flashed back to a childhood moment, looking at some small fossil at the Field Museum in Chicago.  This was the moment when I realized that paleontologists studied rocks, and I decided to move from dinosaurs into something still alive.  I realized that the childhood Leigh would have turned her nose up at the wall of trilobites in favor of the dinosaurs around the corner, but the grown-up Leigh found them equally fascinating.  (I may have even spent more time looking at the trilobites than at the dino skeletons when all was said and done.)  It’s very cool to me that my interests have come full circle, bringing back to life that curiosity that dinosaurs and their kin sparked so long ago.

Sending Dragon to My Mom

My mom gets digital copies of my books.  I mean, she literally gets a copy of the Word document.  Unlike my friends, who get to read the binder and return it, she gets to print her own copy (and as many others as she wants/I approve).

I promised her the second draft of Dragon shortly after it was done.  I just now emailed it to her, although I do have a few excuses as to why it took so long.

If you’re wondering why I send my mom the copy and extend her that much trust with my novel, you must have a sad relationship with your mom.  I can ask mine to read a novel, give me feedback, and only pass on copies with my approval, and I know she’ll do all of those things.  (And now I’ve finally done what I said I would do, which is send her the second draft!)

Packing Decisions

I’ve spent much of my free time in the last week starting the process of packing my apartment for a cross-country move.  It makes me glad that I’ve purged my stuff twice in the last six months, but it still leaves me with some tough decisions.

Part of me is willing to leave a great deal of stuff behind, in order to make the hauling of belongings easier.  (This part is highly encouraged by my mom, who is supporting my “no furniture” effort.)

On the other hand, part of me is looking 6 weeks in the future and seeing my new apartment barren of furniture, with a pile of boxes containing my belongings in one corner.  This is the part of me that is hard to convince to give up things.

Right now the minimalist part is winning, big time.  I’ve even had to stop myself from packing key things now.  I will need some of my kitchen utensils and clothing in the next two weeks, so I think I should wait a bit to put those things into boxes.

Yay for the adventures of moving!


Music seems to enhance or echo my mood, especially when I am feeling particularly strong emotions.  Tonight, for example, I went to my go-to song for melancholy.  (It’s Breathe Again by Sara Bareilles.)

Why am I feeling melancholy?  Well, the process of uprooting and moving to another state is one of mixed emotions.  One minute I’m excited about the adventure and ready to get underway.  The next, I’m stressed about everything that is still up in the air or incomplete.  (I don’t yet have an apartment, or a way to move my stuff.  Stress, anyone?)  Every once in a while, I get a quick wave of panic, where my brain says, “I’m not ready for this!” although those are coming less and less and leaving more rapidly every time.

Tonight, the mood is melancholy.  This is one of the evenings to reflect not on the things I am gaining, but the things I am leaving behind.  I like Houston (most of the time) and the place where I work (ibid).  I have an amazing group of coworkers and friends that I will be parting from, including a guy that I enjoyed dating.  Most strongly comes the sadness, though, when I think about leaving my best friend behind.

Now, the rational part of my brain points out that friendships tend to weather distance better than romantic relationships.  Skype and Facebook and texting and cell phones make distance a moot point, as do vacation days and airplanes.  Still, we hang out almost every day.  Somehow I fear technology won’t be quite the same.

Tomorrow, perhaps, excitement and anticipation, but for tonight, melancholy.

Artful Insults and Friendly Teasing

Every group of people has an understood method of teasing and insults.  When done within the established framework, they are meant to be a harmless yet amusing way of interacting with one another.

For example, my immediate family have a whole host of inside jokes that get brought out when we are together.  Many of these are based on humorous past situations.  For example, my mother has a distinctive way of saying the word “crap” which my sister and I tend to request when we are around.  (Mom, I don’t mean to call you out specifically, but this is an easy example.)  We know each other well enough that if someone does something that truly bothers them, we don’t turn it into a joke.  Everything else, including getting sick on the side of the road, is fair game.

My coworkers and I like to push each other’s buttons.  It’s a different kind of teasing, but it’s still done in good fun.  As part of the point is the person’s reaction, I try to play along when it’s my turn to be poked.  Recently they’ve taken up the dinosaur flag, intentionally saying things like “all flying dinosaurs are pterodactyls” to which I groan and drop my head.  I’ll spare you the reasons why this in inaccurate; just know that it bothers me, although less than I act for my friends.

My best friend is particularly gifted at a type of artful insults that is sometimes called reading.  He can read a person quickly, assess their weaknesses, and then give a well-turned insult that entertains everyone else in the room.  Often the insult is so well said that the person receiving it can’t help but laugh, too.  As the goal of this is to both amuse others and get a reaction, there are two great types of reads.  One is to pick at something the person is insecure about, and the other is to find the thing they value most about themselves and target that.  Jack is particularly adept at knowing what will get a reaction, as well as how to word the read for the most effective entertainment.  Unlike Jack, I am not good at reading.

It’s fun to use this kind of friendly teasing and even reading in your writing.  One way to help develop or establish the friendship between characters is to let them interact in this way, as it is something that everyone does to some extent with their own friends.

Odd Out of Context

If you overheard the following sentence from a random stranger, would you think it odd?

“I want to pack llamas tonight.”

I said this to a friend on the way out of work, and she chuckled at the sentence because, out of context, it is kind of strange.  The implied meaning makes it clear: I am moving and I collect llamas.  Someone who knows these two things about me immediately understands the sentence.  Without that knowledge, it’s a somewhat funny statement.

Isn’t context a wonderful thing?


Here’s a question for everyone out there – how do you feel about spoilers?

I am generally of the opinion that spoilers are a problem.  I don’t want to know the story (be it a movie, TV show or book) in advance.  A spoiler won’t keep me from enjoying the tale that was spoiled, but I’ll be a bit grouchy about it for a while.

Some people don’t mind.  I told my best friend about a scene in The Avengers that was particularly funny before he saw the movie.  We saw it together today (me for the second time and him for the first) and he laughed at the scene even though he knew it was coming.  (To be fair, I did ask permission to share said spoiler and he gave it, so it wasn’t quite the same as the person who ruined Sixth Sense for me.)

One of my coworkers was very irritated with me about the end of Dragon, and in her frustration ended up spoiling the end for several other coworkers.  We had to be very careful around the office when the Hunger Games books were making the rounds, because a lot of us wanted to discuss them but many others hadn’t read them yet.  Generally when I share a spoiler, I try to give fair warning so that people who don’t want to know can skip that part of my blog.

How do you feel about spoilers?

Character Development – Back Story

I’ve been watchingBoneson Netflix recently.  It’s interesting to start watching a show from the first episode, because as an author I can recognize how the writers of the show develop the characters over the course of many episodes.  In TV, the background of the characters is revealed a little at a time, over the course of a season (or seasons).  In a novel, you don’t knowledge-dump character development, but the process is a bit less gradual.

One of the key pieces of making a character feel like a real person to the reader is to give them a back story.  There is more to any one character than the story you are telling, and while some pieces of their back story may be relevent to your tale, not all of them will be.  As the author, you should know more about your characters’ lives than the reader will ever find out.

For some characters, you may not even share any of their history.  Even for these, it’s important to know a little bit about what brought them to the tale.  Real people react to things in different ways because of their own personal stories; characters should do the same, and knowing where they came from and went through means you shape how they react through that kind of lens.

So if your characters are not as forthcoming with their stories as mine are (they can be so annoying sometimes!), what can you do?  My suggestion is to take a minute or two whenever you introduce a character to develop a sense of who they are before you write them in.  You don’t need the details of their life, but a few tidbits or even a basic overview can help.  Was this woman popular as a child?  Did this teenager spend most of third grade getting bullied?  Did a father lose his son, or a woman lose her mother?  Who does that cop consider a role model?  These kinds of facts aren’t necessarily key to the story, but think for a moment how they would change someone’s response in certain situations, and you can see how knowing a little bit more about your characters can really add a layer to your story.

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