Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Tag: research (page 1 of 2)

ROW80: The Train Has Left The Station

Hey there folks! I missed Sunday’s check-in because I was in the midst of a research trip (SUCH an awesome experience! More about it below), so I figured I’d post something today. Gotta keep working to stay accountable, right?

I know there’s only one more check-in left for this round, but right now I feel like I’m just gaining steam. Last week was a really good one in terms of stoking the creative fires and taking baby steps to integrate self-care into my life. I did a lot of thinking about TELL ME NO LIES, my steampunk murder mystery project, and realized that it’s not nearly as incomplete as I’ve been telling myself, and everyone else, for the last year. My mom and I did two days worth of Zumba classes, which means I’m starting to feel a little more fit and active. And I had the BEST RESEARCH TRIP EVER to the Sisters of the Holy Family’s archives.

The SHF motherhouse is located in Fremont, not too far from Mission San Jose, founded by Spanish missionaries in 1797. While the Sisters originally lived in San Francisco, they moved to Fremont in the late 1950s, and built their motherhouse on the property of Palmdale Estates, a historic property that dates back to the time of the California Gold Rush. The place is absolutely exquisite, and I got the chance to take a walk Sunday afternoon to clear my head before going back into the archives.


Motherhouse, Sisters of the Holy Family

Motherhouse, Sisters of the Holy Family



Two of the English Tudor-style manors on the property, built in the early 20th century.



A view of one of the ponds on the property.

I’ll be doing a couple more overnight stays this summer, and I’m really looking forward to it. In a lot of ways, I feel like this research trip (my first archival jaunt in almost a year) is exactly what I needed to get me back on track with my dissertation. Between the stresses of work and life and change and such, I’ve fallen into a real malaise when it comes to writing. It’s the usual–not feeling good enough, doubting every word, depending way too much on the delete key. But this past week I was also reminded of the glories of the zero draft, and how true passion for a topic can produce something that has crazy potential, despite inconsistencies and mistakes and huge gaping plot holes.

So I’m thinking of my dissertation as a zero draft, and reminding myself that there’s no pressure (right now, at least) to make it perfect. And hopefully that’ll help me lock my inner editor away, and liberate the creator in me, and I’ll actually get something done.

Here’s the week’s progress, in a little more detail:


  • Data Collection: Spent Saturday night and Sunday in the archives, read roughly 20 years worth of historical annals, and made some plans for how I want to start coding my data.
  • Dissertation Chapter: I didn’t read the 3 chapters I had planned to, but I managed to do a lot of thinking work. The new goal is to actually use my words this week. More specifically: Write 250 words each day, and GET THIS CHAPTER DONE.

Creative Writing

  • Poetry: I didn’t write anything new, but I did post an old poem in response to a really good prompt. Rereading my other old poetry reminded me that the only way I’ll be inspired to write poetry is to read it, and so I’m trying to add that to my reading repertoire. And I would like to write 2 poems in the next week, at least 1 haiku and maybe (if I’m inspired), something longer.
  • Novel: I’ve got a working outline of Chapter 14 of TMNL, so this week I’m going to finish the chapter. Woot!
  • Reading: I read THE IRON DUKE by Meljean Brooks, and ohhhhh mahhhh gawwwd. So. Friggin’. Hot. So dark and glorious and wonderful and on-the-edge-of-my-seat action, along with scorching love scenes. I think I will start doing book reviews in April, and I can’t wait to write this one. For next week, I’m going to start Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. I picked up the box set, so that’ll keep me busy for  while.

My main goal for this week: to try a new system where I  complete 1 item on my to-do list in the mornings, and 1-2 on my list in the evenings. The trick is to not overwhelm myself with the fact that OMG I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING I AM SO BEHIND, which usually results in me reading celebrity gossip columns for hours and hating myself. Self-hate = bad; self-love = good, therefore I am going to aim for fewer gossip columns, and more gettin’ it done.

Whew! That was a lot. How’s the week progressing for everyone? East coasters, has spring reached you yet? I’m dreading the drought that is currently spreading through California, but… ugh, I’m kinda loving the summer-ish weather, especially when it gives me sunsets like this:

The oh-so-glorious Pacific Ocean.

The oh-so-glorious Pacific Ocean.

Don’t forget to wave a friendly hello and cheer on the rest of the ROWers. We’re just about to the end of Round 1!

ROW80: Have You Ever Heard an Alpaca Whine?

Happy Sunday, folks! I’ve successfully completed my first week of work as the front counter assistant at my local Boys and Girls Club, and now I’m ready for a little silliness. What could be better than a visit with some awesomely fuzzy animals at the petting zoo?

There were chickens, rabbits, sheep, goats, and (my favorites) a pig, tortoise, and alpaca. I may have been more excited than all of the kids who were gathered there. 😛

Oliver, the cutest pig ever. (Photo Credit: Lena Corazon)

Oliver, the cutest pig ever. (Photo Credit: Lena Corazon)

This baby goat was head-butting Oliver, the precious pig.

This baby goat was head-butting Oliver, the precious pig. (Photo Credit: Lena Corazon)


Baby, the alpaca who wouldn’t stop whining. (Photo Credit: Lena Corazon)

The alpaca pictured above had the strangest tendency to whine incessantly. It was such an uncanny noise that I had to take some video footage.

Isn’t it the cutest thing ever?

This week’s progress:

Day Job: I was a little stressed out about starting work this week, so I gave myself the week off from all dissertation-related activities. Starting tomorrow, though, I’ll be tackling the edits to my academic journal article, which are due on Friday.

Writing: I also decided to take a little time off here, as well. #teamsprinty is adding an evening writing sprint (7 pm Pacific/10 pm Eastern), so I’m going to be taking advantage of that in the week to come. My goal is to edit the next 2 chapters of TMNL, to get back on track.

Social Media: I used my mornings before work this week to work on blog posts (I know–even I’m shocked). I’ve got one queued up for tomorrow about the aerial scavenger hunt I took to an old WWII training camp, and an awesome video clip for Friday. I’ve also discovered the wonders of the WordPress app for iPhone, which makes commenting on blogs way easier.

So that’s about all for me right now! I’m looking forward to inching back into the world of blogging, digging into my research again, and making some progress with edits.

How’s the week going for everyone else? Don’t forget to say wave your pompoms for the rest of the ROW80 community!

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ROW80: A Bucketful of Sloths. You’re Welcome.

Happy Sunday, friends! Before I get to my weekly ROW80 check-in, I’ve gotta say: I have the most amazing friends in the universe. Why? Not only are they supportive, caring, and a little crazy, they also fill my inbox with pictures and videos of baby animals and other silliness. Yesterday my Ultimate Best Friend Ever sent me this. Because I love you all, I am sharing it with you.

Be warned. It is epic.

BUCKET OF SLOTHS from Lucy Cooke on Vimeo.

(I rather imagine that this is what #teamsprinty looks like after the end of an intense writing sprint…)

Not much to report here. I skipped the archives for a second week in a row so I could recover from the flu. I’ll be back at it on Tuesday, which means my focus will shift back to the dissertation. I’d like to do the following:

  • Sketch out a timeline to have my revised dissertation proposal finished by mid-March.
  • Figure out the best way to start annotating, coding, and organizing my notes from the archive.

I’ve made some progress here, and I think breaking down my writing tasks in last week’s check-in was really helpful. I wrote a few thousand words towards TELL ME NO LIES, spent a few hours brainstorming, and took some time to go through previous drafts to salvage bits and pieces that I’d like to integrate into the final draft. I also wrote a couple thousand words of silly flash fiction pieces starring Pierce. They may end up becoming fodder for a romance novel one day, but for the moment, they’re just a fun exercise. For the week to come, I’d like to:

  • Take my list of settings and locations and continue to flesh out their descriptions.
  • Continue to explore supporting characters, like the Chinese crime lord who made an appearance in my brainstorming session last week (squee!).
  • Jot down any ideas that pop up for my other WIPs, but keep the focus on TMNL, for the moment, at least.

Okay, people, I wrote three blog posts this week. I know, let’s count ’em: 3. Even better, I made my goal for commenting/sharing blog posts. Success!

Here’s what happened on Flights of Fancy this week:

  • knock-down, drag-’em-out fight between the baby platypus and the baby otter over my brand new Cute As a Sloth Award. There was a poll and everything, which is still open, FYI. Last I checked, the baby otter was winning by a landslide.
  • The Old Ways,” a mid-week poem sparked by Ash Wednesday, which is apparently going to become a new feature on the blog. I say “apparently” because I hadn’t intended to do it, but then my muse was like, “Hey, you should make this a thing,” and I sort of shrugged and said, “Okay”… and that is more than you needed to know about my inner dialogue. 😛
  • My long-promised book review post, with a list of my 5 favorite books (so far) from 2013.

Not only do I have a ton of ideas for future posts boiling around in my head, I actually have drafts written for the upcoming week. Yay!

I’ve been working on being calm and relaxed for the last week, with mixed results. I’m mostly recovered from the flu, in that I am no longer feverish and dying, but I still get tired quickly. The last couple of days have been an exercise in not over-taxing myself.

I am partway through Natalie Goldberg’s WILD MIND, a wonderful book about writing and the writer’s life that I highly recommend. And because it’s Presidents’ Day weekend  here in the US, I am rewatching the HBO miniseries John Adams, based on the biography written by David McCullough. For those of you who like history, I highly recommend it.


So yay! Lots of good things are happening, I am feeling creative, and there are many more good things to come. As a reminder, one of those wonderful things is WANACon, which will be held next weekend. Pop over to WANAMama Kristen Lamb’s blog for more info about the conference and the recently announced PAJAMACON, the bonus 3rd day of the conference. Yes, it really is as epic as it sounds.

Don’t forget to give a shout to the other ROWers this week, and send along belated Valentine’s Day wishes!

ROW80: November is Here!

It’s here, it’s here! November is herrrrre!

I’m not quite sure how November got here, because I was really enjoying October, but I have embraced this new month with open arms.

I have had my first taste of the Harney and Sons holiday tea that Barnes and Noble serves each year, and I’ll be getting my hands on a red Starbucks holiday cup before too long. I am gleefully giving in to the onslaught of holiday music–my playlist of jazzy Christmas tunes and choral music is all queued up and ready to go.

My sister and my grandfather are visiting for Thanksgiving, and my parents have agreed to get a real Christmas tree next month instead of the artificial one we’ve been using for the last few years.

This is all really, really good stuff, folks.

Better yet, I am hitting NaNoWriMo hard and taking no prisoners, except for my inner editor, who is currently drugged and hanging out in a shed somewhere. I’ll release her on December 1st but not one day sooner.

Here’s how the last week went:

Day Job: Lots of work in the archive, lots of notes, lots of thinking. I feel like the pieces of this dissertation are slowly being nudged into place, and it feels good not to rush the process. Spending at least 2 afternoons a week in the archive keeps me accountable, because it means I can’t allow myself to slack off for days and weeks at a time, and it also keeps the information fresh in my mind.

Writing: My October goal was to reach 75k on my fantasy novel by October 31st, before NaNo stole all my energy. I made it to a little over 68k–a bit short of the original goal, but 8k more than I had when this round began.

As I mentioned above, I’m hitting NaNoWriMo hard this year. One thing I’ve learned from past experiences is that I always sputter out mid-month, whether or not I’ve plotted obsessively or decided to pants my way through, and I’m sure the same thing is going to happen to me this time around. My current word count is 8,668, which gives me a couple days’ worth of padding. It’ll come in handy soon enough, because I am going to run out of plot very, very soon, and I’ll need to take a couple of days to sit and brainstorm.

For fun, here’s an excerpt from what I’ve written so far. This is (will hopefully be?) a steampunk/fantasy hybrid, set in the fictional kingdom of Vorewin. This snippet introduces Helena Grey, one of the country’s first female scientists. It is, of course, super rough, but I wanted to share. 😀

Some days, Helena Grey wished that being a trailblazer wasn’t so bloody difficult. Despite what she may have believed in her naive and prosaic youth, there was little glory in becoming a pioneer. Few people trusted pioneers and innovators, and even fewer trusted women who dared to stray from the well-trod path of marriage and motherhood. If she had been wise, Helena would have followed her mother’s advice and done just that: married a local boy, popped out four children in three years, and spent the rest of her days in matronly modesty. It might not have been joy divine, but it would have saved her countless tears and endless heartache.

As it was, she possessed the stalwart stubbornness of her father’s people, and an appalling lack of common sense. At least, that’s what her mother always said. “Disgustingly smart, and without a whit of common sense to go along with it!” were her exact words. Despite Helena’s vociferous protests, she was privately inclined to agree.

Especially on a day like today. If Helena had done as she had been told, she would be warm and snug near the hearth, darning socks or some other such rubbish. She would be safe. Protected. Predictable. Bored, most likely, but was to be expected.

Regardless, she would most definitely not resemble a human icicle, all stiff and frozen and blue, her fingers worn to the bone and her toes threatening to fall off her feet completely. She wouldn’t be bundled in seven layers of wool and cotton and fur. She most definitely wouldn’t be covered in grease, and she certainly wouldn’t be clad in men’s trousers.

Alas, all of these things were true, but as the assistant researcher in the great Dr. James Alexander’s royal laboratory, it was her job to get down and dirty with field tests…

Exercise: My mom, who is my walking buddy, has been a little under the weather, so we only walked 3 days last week. But I have dramatically cut back on all my snacks, and I’m trying to limit portion sizes too. Hopefully we’ll get back to our normal routine next week.

Social Media: I’ve had a fair amount of Facebook and Twitter action, but I haven’t really been at my desk too much in the last week. Once I feel like my NaNo project is under control, I’ll be able to get back to blogging, etc. I have a couple of guest posts that I’ve agreed to do this month, so that will force me back into gear.

Self-care: I’ve had lots of time to myself over the last few days, but I’ve spent most of it furiously writing. My body seems to think it’s in the middle of finals week; I’ve been staying up till the wee hours of the morning to write, waking up around 7 or 8, and starting up again. It definitely isn’t a sustainable way to spend the rest of the month, so I’m really going to focus on setting some boundaries for my writing time.


Is anyone else as excited to see November as I am? Any exciting plans for the new month? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to wave hello to the other ROWers checking in for the week.

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ROW80: Fleet Week and Fairs and Other Exciting Things

I think it’s official: this past few days is the most relaxed I’ve felt in weeks, if not months (maybe years?). After the cray-cray summer, and the even crazier school year, it is such a relief.

The Blue Angels, instagram-style.

I write this post in the midst of one very exciting weekend in San Francisco where it seems like every event in the world has descended upon us: a Madonna concert, two baseball teams (the SF Giants and Oakland A’s) in the playoffs, a football game, Fleet Week, the annual Columbus Day festival, the 2-day “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass” concert… the list (found here, for anyone curious) goes on. I’ve spent the last two days ooohing and aaahing over the US Navy Blue Angels air show (and, er, ogling men in uniform), and in a few hours I’m off to the Castro Street fair, held in the city’s historic LGBT neighborhood.

The Blue Angels flying over the SF Ferry Building

Needless to say, I haven’t gotten much done as far as goals are concerned. Here’s how things have played out since Wednesday:

Day Job: I’m back in the archive, spending 3 hours/week digging through the Sisters of the Presentation’s old 19th century documents. Given that their convent was all but destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, it’s astonishing to see all of the material that has survived. I’ve made my way through the order’s “Book of Customs” (a guide to expected conduct and deportment for the sisters of the community), and another “Guide to Religious Practice”–all very interesting, given my background in prescriptive literature (the topic for my MA).

Haven’t touched that big list of “things to-do by Sunday” that I posted in my last update, so that’ll be my big to-do for next check-in.

Writing: Managed to write 6 out of 7 poems for #OctPoWriMo, and may dash off an extra one at some point so I can meet my goal of 31 poems in 31 days. A number of surprising things have emerged from my pen this week, but there are two that stand out: “Recalled to Life,” where I’ve finally managed to describe the creative drought caused by grad school, and “The Dangerous Weird,” which celebrates all the wacky, weird, and wonderful people in my life.

Exercise: Fell a little short overall–walked 4 days this week, though the last day was only for 1 mile because I wasn’t feeling too well. The total mile count for the week: 13.

Social Media: I fell a little short here as well (I haven’t actually been in front of a computer for too long in the last few days), but hopefully the week to come will be a little more stable.

Self-Care: I haven’t been in front of a computer, but I’ve had a lot of journaling time. I’ve been dealing with some old hurts and demons, and realizing that they’re not as painful as I thought they once were. Putting them to rest and moving forward is my big goal right now.


And that’s the long and short of it! I will say that I am grateful to be enjoying some very fine autumnal weather (October is SF’s warmest month of the year), but I am more grateful that the insane temperatures of 90 degrees and up, which we saw at the start of the week, have dissipated. I think Napoleon is happy as well. He wasn’t too thrilled with the heat, as is plainly clear:

Not a fan of the heat.

Hope everyone’s had a great first week! Don’t forget to wave hello to the other ROW80 participants here.

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ROW80: Anyone Have a Time Turner I Could Borrow?

…anybody? Bueller?

August is zooming past like some crazy high-speed bullet train, and while I have some things to show for it, I would be quite grateful if it would slow down just a little bit and allow me to take a breath. Or two. Would three be too many to ask for?

I’ve been wandering around in the hangover-like daze that too much caffeine, not enough sleep, and non-stop writing can produce. I am skittish around loud noises. I avoid bright lights. I am more than a little cranky and somewhat anti-social, though of course Napoleon has remained in my good graces.

Napoleon offering his moral support.

The upside to all of this is that I have successfully banished the Doubt Monster using the soon-to-be-patented Doubt Monster Defense System ™. In case you would like to create one of your own, you will need the following supplies:

Glitter bazooka, 1

Bubble gun, 1

Photos of cute animals (like this puppy dressed as a lobster), unlimited

The result? The Doubt Monster’s pure and utter ruin, as Lauren Garafalo proclaims:

So I can happily say that I have words in my head, which is a welcome improvement from the yucky bout of writers’ block with which I was contending at the beginning of the month. But there are not enough words, or I am not writing them down fast enough, or time is passing far too quickly for me to finish… It is complex.

At any rate, here’s what I’ve accomplished since the last check-in:

Day Job: I finally finished my Very Very Large Paper, otherwise known as the “comprehensive exam,” one of two requirements needed to advance to doctoral candidacy. This was a revision of a previous paper I wrote on the history of Catholic women religious in 19th century America. There was lots of editing, lots of rearranging and rewriting, and I am happy to say that the final product was about 41 pages, as compared to the original 27. Still waiting on feedback from my committee, but I have my fingers crossed that it will be positive.

I have another, much smaller paper, to complete by the weekend. Have I touched it? No. Instead I have been obsessing over my dissertation research, which is taking me into the archives of a half-dozen religious communities in the Bay Area. The highlight of the past few days has been seeing the historical annals of the Sisters of Mercy, dated 1854-1885, written in the hand of Mother Mary Baptist Russell herself. Russell led a small group of 6 sisters from Ireland to San Francisco in 1854, where they started countless social services, including the first private-run hospital in San Francisco. These archives are located on the campus of my old high school, so getting a chance to dig into this old history is exciting on both a scholarly and a personal level.

This week’s goal: Finishing the dreaded paper; typing up and organizing all my handwritten notes; working through the never-ending stack of reading on my shelves.

Writing: The day job has taken precedence over my CampNaNo goals, but I am slowly but surely catching up. I’ve written almost 10K in the last week, bringing me up to a little over 13K for the project. If I haul butt and write 2171 words each day, I’ll be able to finish out the month with 50K… we’ll see how that goes. Since I’m participating as a NaNo Rebel this round, the total count for STRANGE BEDFELLOWS is actually 28K, which isn’t too shabby.

This week’s goal: 2171 words each day, every day. *feels breathless just thinking about it*

Social Media: I’ve been lurking around the blogosphere for the last few days, reading and commenting on blogs when I have a spare minute. And I started drafting a few blog posts, including my first-ever book review. Now all I have to do is find some time to type them up (seriously, is there a time turner in the house?!).

This week’s goal: More blog reading/commenting. More tweeting. Polish up the book review to post next week.

Exercise: I’ve been averaging 2-3 days worth of exercise each week, which is still down from my goal of 4-5 days, but least I’m moving. I may have developed a really terrible habit of stashing mini peanut butter cups in my desk drawer. And, um, maybe almond biscotti? Also whole wheat saltines. I may have to work on cutting back… *twiddles thumbs, looks around innocently*

This week’s goal: At least 2 more workout days, more salads, fewer peanut butter cups.

Whew, and that’s it for the moment! I am looking forward to mid-September, when I advance to candidacy and can cool it a little with all the paper-writing. In the meantime, I hope everyone’s having a great week! Don’t forget to visit all the other brilliant ROWers here!

ROW80: New Goals for Round 3

2012 is moving so quickly that I feel like I have whiplash. Somehow it’s already July, and I’ve completed my fourth year in grad school (?!).

I write this post having just completed the “Big Move” from Santa Barbara to my parents’ house in the San Francisco Bay Area. For at least the next year, I’ll be living with them as I work on my dissertation.

Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, CA, USA) at...

It is SO good to be back in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, July marks the start of Round 3 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that “knows you have a life.” For more information, visit the “About” page.

My life seems to be conspiring against my ability to write of late; June was an absolutely insane month filled with grading, research, schoolwork, and packing up my apartment. Given the major deadlines I’m facing for school over the next couple of months, I gave serious thought to skipping Round 3, but I think I could use the accountability that ROW80 demands.

More importantly, I’ve been feeling at loose ends with my progress as a writer. Being back home in my parents’ house, living in the bedroom where I wrote my first poems and stories, brings into sharp relief the fact that I still haven’t reconnected with my creative impulse as deeply or as fully as I would like. The prospect of grappling with my dissertation for the next few months without any sort of creative outlet feels unbelievably bleak. Right now I’m less concerned with finishing the WIPs on my plate, and more concerned with remembering how it feels to wield words to bring the worlds within my head into existence.

For this round, I have a few goals with specific timelines, and a few others that will be ongoing. Here’s the breakdown:


Day Job:

  • Finish and submit a 12-15 page seminar paper on etiquette books and cultural theory. Approximate due date: July 15th
  • Finish and submit a 25-30 page literature review on my dissertation topic (19th century Catholic women religious in the United States, with an emphasis on the SF Bay Area). Approximate due date: July 31st


  • Renew creativity with daily journaling sessions and lots of brainstorming. I’m not placing a word count requirement on this, because at this point I need to just get back into the rhythm and flow of writing. I don’t care what I write — flash fiction, current WIPs, random snippets, bad poetry, it’s all up for grabs at this point.

Social Media:

  • Start building a queue of 10-12 blog posts to begin sharing in August.


Day Job:

  • Continue dissertation reading and (hopefully) begin visiting convent archives to assess holdings and materials.
  • Write and submit 2-page dissertation summary. Approximate due date: August 15th
  • Meet with dissertation committee for the “little conversation” to discuss the dissertation proposal and advance to doctoral candidacy. Approximate deadline: August 30th


  • Take part in August CampNaNoWriMo. I know, this might be a little crazy, but I’m not gunning for a 50k win. Instead, I’m hoping that whatever creative juices I unlock in July will allow me to focus on one project and flesh it out a little bit. This is a tentative plan, so we’ll see how July goes. Regardless, I will keep writing everyday so that I don’t lose the habit.


Day Job:

  • Revise July’s seminar paper with the goal of producing (1) a conference presentation for November and (2) a co-written journal article. Due date TBA.
  • Draft proposals for dissertation grants and fellowships. Approximate due date: September 30th.


Day Job:

  • Continue dissertation reading, visiting and working in convent archives, and writing weekly research memos.


  • Write everyday. No exceptions.
  • Read 1 (non-academic) book a week.


  • Work out 4-5 days a week (I’m upping the minimum threshold by 1 day). Continue to eat balanced meals and drink plenty of water.

Social Media:

  • Visit and comment on 10 blogs each week.
  • Start using Triberr on a regular basis.
  • Adopt Anne R. Allen’s slow-blogging manifesto, and aim for 1-2 posts/week, starting in August.

As always, there’s a lot going on. For this round, however, I think this is going to be all about concrete goals and deadlines for the day job, and much looser goals for my writing. Once I unpack all my boxes, finish settling into my room (there’s a major painting project on the horizon), and hammer out a routine, it’ll hopefully be a lot easier to get things done.

I’m looking forward to connecting with everyone taking part in ROW80 this round. If you’d like to add your name to the list, or check out the other bloggers who have joined in on all the fun, visit the linkytools list.

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ROW80: Barely Squeaking By

Oh man, I cannot believe I have missed two ROW80 check-ins in a row. It’s definitely not my usual speed, but there’s a lot going on right now. Classes just ended this week, final exams are due next week, and I’m moving 300 miles back to my parents’ house at the very end of the month. So I am a bit distracted, shall we say, but I am here cheering on all my ROWing friends in spirit, if not “in the flesh.”

However, there has been *some* progress along the way. Here’s how things have gone over the last couple of weeks:

Day Job: So. Much. Work. I have been buried under books and journal articles for what feels like weeks, trying to finish a 25 page term paper on 19th century Catholic nuns for the course I’m taking on religion and gender.  However, the absolute best thing to happen to me is that I met with my dissertation advisor on Tuesday, and we decided that the topic  can be merged with my nascent dissertation topic.

This is a really, really, really good thing for a million reasons, not the least of which is that I have a direction at last. Better yet, it’s a direction that I enjoy, one that makes me happy, and kicks my little sociologist brain in gear.

I am going to have my work cut out for me this summer, honing and refining my central research questions, but I feel passionate about this project for the first time in a while. And where there’s passion, I’d like to think that we can do anything.

Writing: Yup, this is where I’m “barely squeaking by.” Work on my main novels has been stalled by the day job, though I have been trying to tweak little things here and there when I have a spare moment. So I don’t let myself get too rusty, I decided to sign up for my first flash fiction challenge in a few months: ‘Timony Souler’s June round of the “Dice Games.” I’ve been a little slow at posting my fills, but I’ve finished 2 out of 3:  “Liberty,” about a lady assassin, her trusty blade, and a final mission; and “Worthless?“, which involves a pair of supernatural hunters, zombies, and a lovers’ quarrel.

Exercise: I’ve been working out on an average of 4 times each week, so I’m not doing *too* terribly here. Listening to audiobooks while walking has definitely made exercising much more enjoyable.

Social Media: Er… what is social media again? *hangs head in shame*

And finally, here are the awesome things that have been on my reading and watching lists:

I had a blast with a little time travel romance by way of Susanna Kearsley’s THE ROSE GARDEN and fellow ROW-er Jennette Marie Powell‘s TIME’S FUGITIVE (the 2nd book in her Saturn Society series). Kearsley’s protagonist, Eva, is grappling with the death of her older sister and finds herself in Cornwall, reconnecting with old family friends. There, she learns that she can “slip through time,” and ends up falling in love with an eighteenth-century smuggler. It reminds me a bit of Diana Gabaldon‘s OUTLANDER — rich description, evocative prose, lots of romance (although nothing as explicit as Gabaldon’s work), and haunting. I wasn’t sure how things would be resolved

While TIME’S FUGITIVE is also involves romance and time-travel, it’s much heavier in the science-fiction elements than THE ROSE GARDEN. Powell does an amazing job exploring the “butterfly effect” conundrums that can accompany time travel. There’s lots of tension, lots of excitement, and lots of twists and turns that I loved. I was so enthralled with the plot that I devoured the book in a single sitting, which says a lot. 😀

Finally, I read Lindsay Buroker‘s ENCRYPTED. Like all of her other books, this one was funny, fast-paced, and hugely enjoyable. There was one question that ran through my mind as I read, and that was, “Why the hell did I wait so long to read it?”

The watching list is a long one, since my friends and I have been hitting the theaters like crazy over the past couple of weeks. Here’s what we’ve seen, in bullet form:

  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Blech. I was dragged to this against my will, and I thought it might maybe be terrible-funny, but no, it was just terrible. Pathetic writing, lame jokes, regressive notions of gender, fat-shaming, stupid “let’s-adopt-an-African-baby” subplot… the list goes on. Not even a bare-chested Joe Manganiello doing one-armed pull-ups could save this one for me.
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Also known as “that movie with all my favorite old British actors.” Despite the middling reviews, and the fact that my friends and I were the only people in the theater under 60, I loved this. The movie was a good blend of funny and heartfelt, with three-dimensional characters that I cared about (it’s always nice when characters, you know, grow and evolve). The entire cast is wonderful, but Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy really stood out to me.
  • Snow White and the Huntsman: I could devote an entire blog post (maybe two or three) to why I was so disappointed with this movie. Instead, I will link to Tor.com’s review, as it pretty much sums up everything that bugged me (Terrible writing! Poor worldbuilding! A protagonist that hardly freaking speaks!).
  • Dark Shadows: Yet another movie that I got dragged to, as my desire to see Battleship for all its terrible glory (and Alexander Skarsgard, and Taylor Kitsch, despite the horrid haircut) was overruled at the last minute. Even though the movie departs from television show, I mostly enjoyed it. Johnny Depp is, once again, absolutely fantastic, Eva Green is an amazing antagonist, and Michelle Pfieffer pretty much kicks ass. The last third of the movie, however, sorta goes off the rails. Not really sure what the writers were thinking, to be honest (Seth Grahame-Smith, I’m side-eyeing you).
  • Prometheus: Okay, so I’ll admit that my expectations for this movie might have been a tad too high, but I was disappointed. It is visually stunning — I would actually pay $10 just to look at the darn thing — but I’m not too sure what happened with the script. I found myself hating most of the characters, with the exception of Michael Fassbender’s delightfully creepy android, David, and the ship’s captain, played by Idris Elba (aka my new mancrush).

Next on my list: finishing Seth Grahame-Smith’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER before the film comes out, seeing Hysteria in theaters on Tuesday, and wrapping up season 1 of Jason Isaac’s miniseries, Case Histories.

…and that’s me for this week! I will be retreating back into the reading/writing/working cave, but hopefully I’ll be able to manage a check-in for the last week of Round 2. Hope everyone’s doing okay!

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ROW80: Picking Up Steam, and a New Tattoo

Good grief, I can’t believe it’s Sunday already. The last week sort of sped on by, and I feel like I’ve got whiplash. Also, can someone tell me exactly when May happened? Time seems to be hurtling past me.

All in all, it hasn’t been too terrible of a week. Here’s the shakedown:

Day Job: Not much work done by way of research this week, though I took a couple of hours today to take some reading notes and write up a summary of what I’ve learned thus far. I still need to meet with committee members (I’ve been dragging my feet on making appointments), so this is going to be my goal for the week.

Writing: Things are getting a little better here. I’ve logged at least 5 or 6 hours this week on brainstorming, outlining, and world-building. Better yet, I’ve written close to 5k. Not sure how much will survive my next round of edits, but the good news is that Part 1 of PATH TO THE PEACOCK THRONE is finally coming together. Progress is slow, but if I can make sure that it’s steady, I’ll feel a lot better about things.

Exercise: Shockingly enough, I managed to get 6 days of exercise in. Morning walks are becoming second nature, and way too enjoyable to ignore. There’s nothing like listening to a swelling chorus of birdsong and basking in the sunlight to start my day off right.

Social Media: It was another off week for social media. Not much by way to blog hopping, and only 1 post written outside of my ROW80 check-in. I’ve got a few drafts that need to be fixed up and finalized, so hopefully I can get those posted in the week to come.

And once again, here’s what I’m reading and watching this week:

Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen

Films: I’m halfway through the BBC Mystery series, Zen, based on the series of novels by Michael Dibdin. The absolutely dishy Rufus Sewell plays the title character, Venetian detective Aurelio Zen, who is one of the few men of integrity, honor, and honesty working in the corrupt Roman police department. Zen reminds me a lot of my detective protag in TELL ME NO LIES, so I’ve been watching Zen with both my writing and “I’m-going-to-veg-out-and-enjoy-this” hats on.

Books: I just finished Jessica Grey‘s novel, AWAKE, which is a modern-day YA retelling of the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale. I absolutely adored it, so if you like fairy tale adaptations with romance and magic and lore, I recommend it.

In other news, I got my first tattoo on Friday! It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared (I worked myself up into such a tizzy over the potential pain that I lost sleep for about 2 weeks), though there were definitely moments when I wondered exactly what sort of torture I signed up for. However, I am in love with the final product, and that’s all that counts. The tattoo is on my right arm — my writing arm — and will hopefully remind me of my duty to myself as a writer.

The quote, “Words have been all my life,” comes from POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt, one of my favorite books of all time. The original passage, part of a letter that the fictional 19th century poet Christabel LaMotte writes to fellow poet Randolph Henry Ash, is as follows:

…Words have been all my life, all my life — this need is like the Spider’s need who carries before her a huge Burden of Silk which she must spin out — the silk is her life, her home, her safety — her food and drink too — and if it is attacked or pulled down, why, what can she do but make more, spin afresh, design anew…

Like the fictional Christabel, I am, have always been, and always will be, compelled to write, to create, to spin out words and myths and tales. Writing is something that I must do in order to remain whole, in order to survive. That lesson is one that I learned the hard way during my 2 year bout with writer’s block, when I thought that I could walk away from fiction and submerge myself completely in the world of academia.

So yay for tattoos, and for a bit of writing progress! I’m looking forward to finally seeing The Avengers on Sunday afternoon — I feel like I’ve been waiting forever. I actually had an Avengers-themed dream the other night, where I was some sort of hybrid X-Men/Avengers superhero flying around and solving crime… before I turned back into academic me, taking a midterm of Foucault. My grad school friends have termed this the “supertheoro” (super-theory-hero), and I think that is going to be my new alter ego. 😀

Don’t forget to swing by and wish the rest of the merry band of ROWers well! How’s everyone else doing?

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ROW80 Check-in: Exploring “Hell’s Half-Acre”

Summer marches on, and now that grading is through, life is calming down a bit.  I spend my days writing and dealing with the family, and by the time I fall into bed, I’m usually exhausted.  But I’ve reached 21k on tell me no lies, I’ve outlined and organized the next chapter of my thesis, and I’ve managed to spend time with friends and family, so I think I’ve been fairly successful in terms of progress.  However, I’m starting to feel like I’m spending way too much time on the computer, so I’m going to have to unplug sometime soon and just read a book.

A sketch of Barbary Coast, circa 1889

I took a little time out yesterday to return to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s digital archives and poke around a bit.  In my last round of research I spent time poring over crime reports, but this time I did a search for any mention of the Barbary Coast, and whoa.  I was worried that my depiction of the Barbary Coast was too dark, but after reading these articles, I’m actually wondering if it’s dark enough.

A sketch of "Cutthroat Alley," circa 1889

By the late 1880s, the Barbary Coast was reportedly much calmer than during the wild west days of yore.  Still, judging from these articles, conditions were still deplorable.  Vice, murder, theft, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, suicide, child abuse… all of these were commonplace in “Hell’s Half-Acre.”  Men were violent, women were loose, brassy and bold.  It’s easy to imagine a serial killer at work in these parts, preying on ladies of the stage.  Better yet, my MC, Tempest Dumont, would have totally fit in with her swearing, boozing, flirting ways.

One of the "battle-axes" of the Barbary Coast

This passage from an 1889 article, “Hell’s Half-Acre: Sights and Scenes on the Barbary Coast,” totally sums up the vibe that I’ve been going for in my WIP:

Entering a saloon on Kearny street near Jackson, on the east side, there were found about half a dozen horribly dissipated looking hags seated at tables with men of the same general appearance of themselves. Gin, rum, and bad beer had painted all of their faces of a lurid hue, the faithful reflex of evil passions within.  “These,” said the guide, as he pointed to the women, “are the ‘battle-axes’ or ‘blisters’ of Barbary.  They live on drink, you may say, and spend about half their time in jail.”

The scene actually reminds me of Roarke’s, the local bar where my characters hang out. It’s a rundown, ramshackle dive where the company is questionable and the only beer on tap is little better than bitter swill, much different from the glitz and glamor of the Belladonna, the saloon where Tempest works.

I’ll be writing more about setting and the Barbary Coast in the weeks to come, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to check out the Barbary Coast walking tour before I head back to Santa Barbara.

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