Auld Lang Syne

Well, it’s 2013 now, and the old year has passed away.  That means it’s the time of introspection, reflection, and thinking about goals, plans and dreams.  So I’ll be getting to those posts in the next couple weeks, as I find the time.

But first, it’s become something of a blogging tradition, for me, to talk about how my Christmas Holiday went, what I got and what I did.

As with last year, I didn’t get a lot this year that was writing-related, which is fine.  I didn’t get any new games this year (neither of the tabletop variety nor of the video or computer varieties).  Last year I got two new Zelda games, and I’m still working my way through the first of those two games.  (As I mentioned then, I learned pretty quickly to ration my video-gaming time in order to make time for writing.)  Given that basic fact, I wasn’t hoping for nor expecting any new games this year (and told Dear Wife as much before the holidays).  On the other hand, I was hoping for both books and music.  On the books front I got a paperback box set of the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull.  I’m already about a quarter of the way into the first book of the series.  It’s light reading, Middle-Grades or YA stuff, but it’s fun and entertaining so far.  (And it was the perfect palette-cleanser after the book I’d just finished, but I’ll talk about that next time when I do my 2012 Year-in-Reading Review.)

Music-wise I got a few new soundtracks: the Danny Elfman “Batman” soundtrack (which created what is, for me, the sound of Batman, the excellent Christopher Nolan movies notwithstanding), and the “Superman Returns” soundtrack (which wisely, in my opinion, is built around the main Superman theme originally written by John Williams), the “Gladiator” soundtrack (which is a great sound for writing to) and to my utter delight the new “Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” soundtrack.  (Last year I gushed all over the trailer for the Hobbit movie, which I have seen and greatly enjoyed… and ever since then I haven’t been able to get the Lament of the Dwarves out of my head.)

Little B.T. has been at least as big a fan of the soundtracks as I have, though his top two preferences are for the “Superman Returns” and “Batman” soundtracks.  He asks for them almost every day.  As for why?  Well… I’ll get to that, I will.

I also scored a digital photo frame for my desk at work.  That’ll be cool once it’s loaded up with some pictures of Dear Wife and B.T. (and eventually of V.R., which is to say the coming baby brother).

One member of the family has a real talent – I should say Talent with a Capital-T – for quilting, and both Dear Wife and I got hand-made, personalized quilts.  Mine is a lovely and wonderful motley of blues, greens, browns and golds.  It is a work of art, and I like it quite a lot.  Plus, it’s already come in handy as the temperature in the house has been sometimes colder than I’d prefer.

But the single most awesome and incredible Christmas present this year I actually opened on Christmas Eve, a day early because Dear Wife was afraid it would get overshadowed.  There’s a story behind this, of course.

You see, as part of our ongoing Home Project, one thing we’ve done is to set up a craft-room of sorts.  In theory this will also someday house the office, so that it is a joint Office-Craftroom, but for now only the craft-room part of it is set-up.  Therein is now enshrined Dear Wife’s hand-me-down (but still quite excellent) sewing machine, and she has taken up learning to sew as another of her slate of crafty and creative hobbies.  (Dear Wife is a creative person at heart, although she’s told me before that she’s not creative, but I take as evidence the numerous creative activities which she has shown an interest in and chosen to pursue.)

And predictably, Dear Wife decided to use her new creative outlet to create Christmas presents.  The story as I understood it was that she was making a door-frame puppet theatre for B.T. to go with some puppets we were getting him, as well as a few other sewing-based gifts for other relatives.  And this story wasn’t exactly untrue – she did create the puppet theatre, but that project took substantially less of her time than she had led me to believe.  Because somewhere in there, she was working on one of the most awesome and geeky and loving gifts that a geeky dad could want.

A pair of matching father-and-son Super-Capes.

Behold:

The super-capes come complete with super-cuffs and super-masks to protect our secret identities.  All three pieces are reversible, on one shide bright and shiny red with the Superman shield symbol emblazoned on the cape, the other black and green (for father and son, respectively) with custom-designed super-emblems reflective of their wearers.  (Mine is a D with a lightning bolt for Super-Daddy.) 

B.T. and I both love this gift.  And it ties in perfectly with those soundtracks I mentioned.  Because what happens when B.T. asks to put on the Batman or Superman soundtracks, which he does almost every day since Christmas?  This is coupled with a request that we each put on our super-capes and costumes and fly around the house being… well… Super.  (Fighting evil is a secondary aspect of our adventures.  Mostly, we just fly.)

As a fairly geeky dad, can I just say?  Flying around the house with a Super-cape?  Pure Awesome and Joy.

So that was my Christmas, and that’s at least part of an explanation for why I haven’t posted recently.

The Holidays, Family, Games, and Time Well-Spent

As pointed out last week, the Holidays are a terrible time for my productivity.  But they’re great for just about everything else that I value in my life.

I love my family, and I love just relaxing and spending time with them, and playing around.  In the grand order of how important things are to me, family-time ranks above writing-time.  And there was a lot of it to be had these holidays past.  Already, I miss it dearly.

In the few days leading up to Christmas I spent a lot of time just hanging out with family (plus one day laid up due to the aforementioned food poisoning).  I did quite a bit of reading (including two fascinating articles, one on Göbekli Tepe and one on the fight against increasing desertification, and both of which were great fodder for story ideas) as well as the first third of David B. Coe‘s The Children of Amarid.  There was also a lot of playing with my son B.T.

B.T. has increasingly become the source of my greatest joy in life.  His verve and energy and enthusiasm for just about everything is infectious.  It’s hard not to get caught up in the things that excite him.  Right now that’s trains, planes, and automobiles (in that order) especially, as well as a goodly number of animals, and of course whatever Mommy and Daddy happen to be doing.  He loves books and being read to. And he’s become a non-stop talker.  (Interestingly, as his vocabulary has exploded, the ability of Mommy & Daddy to understand him has decreased; this is due to his toddler-speak pronunciation.  He pronounced relatively few of the words he knows accurately.  The ones he uses most frequently we’ve learned what he means, but the new ones he adds each day continue to elude us, and by “us” I mostly mean “me”.)

Then came Christmas, and more time with the family. Continue reading

Merry Christmas & A Holiday Haiatus

I just wanted to pop in here and wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannakuh, or a Joyous Holiday of Your Preference.  (We celebrate Christmas in the Casa Chez Watkins; so I mean no offense to those who celebrate elsewise in this season by leading off the blog post with wishes for the same.) 

I don’t expect in the next week or two to be posting often at all, as the Dear Wife and I and our family are currently busily-engaged in our annual festivities.  So if you don’t hear from me again before the advent of 2012, well, take this as a Happy New Year post as well.

Holiday Fun: The Gingerbread House Cometh

These are fun: a series of Gingerbread creations in the shape of icons from Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction.

My favorites (with added points for technical accomplishments): the Gingerbread Burrow and Gingerbread Hogwarts, but they’re all quite fabulous.

A Writer’s Christmas

Image of The Towers of Midnight

My Shiney new copy of the latest in the Wheel of Time series

Last year after Christmas, I talked about all the wonderful books I got as gifts for Christmas.  Last time I managed to do this within a few days of Christmas… but I was on a blog-free binge for the holidays this year.  Still, I wanted to talk about some of the things I got this year, because they’re very exciting!

Unfortunately, of the four books I got as gifts last year, I only had sufficient free time to read one of them.  And this year, I only got one novel to read for Christmas.  But it’s a doozy.
Get this: Dear Wife knew that The Towers of Midnight, the latest in the ongoing Wheel of Time saga, a book series of which I’ve been a great fan, was coming out a month or two before Christmas.  So I wouldn’t have been surprised to get this book for Christmas – especially considering I’d utterly failed to provide my wife with a viable wish list, this was one of the few things I knew she’d be aware of. 

But that’s not the half of it.  Somehow, Dear Wife was also aware that although the author, Brandon Sanderson, would not be visiting our own neck of the woods any time soon, he would in fact be stopping on book tour near her old stomping ground, where her parents still live.  And so, my Dear, blessed, wonderful Wife somehow convinces her father to stand in line at a bookstore near him for something on the order of two hours to get a copy of this book signed.

And thus it was signed.  To me.  With a message wishing me good luck with my writing.  And I have photographic evidence.  Behold: 

Signed & Personalized Copy of Towers of Midnight

It's signed to me. 🙂

It reads “For Stephen – Keep writing!  You can do it!”  Now, I know that Mr. Sanderson doesn’t know me from Adam, but still, the sentiment was very cool.  And even if Sanderson doesn’t really know me enought to care whether I succeed or fail at writing, the signed book is in its way a wondeful way to motivate me to keep working towards that goal.  

Additional Signatures in my copy of The Towers of Midnight

Harriet and the Mystery Signer, also starring My Thumb!

But wait!  There’s more!  It’s also signed by Harriet McDougal, the widow and editor of series author Robert Jordan, and still a third signature by who I am told is Robert Jordan’s daughter (but I’ve been unable to independently confirm this; in fact my attempts to verify it suggest rather that this signature may belong to Melissa Craib the founder of the Wheel of Time fan community called Tar Valon.net).  A cool gift?  You bet!

Of course, I immediately abandonned other books I’d been slowly working through in my little spare time to dive into this new shiney – knowing, as I did, that with the start of the new (and final) semester coming my reading time would drop to virtually zero very soon.

But Dear Wife wasn’t done with me, yet.  She also knows well that I carry around with me, nearly everywhere that I go, a small notebook in which I record ideas and thougts for stories as the occur to me.  I’ve filled several of these over the years, and the current edition is a spiral-bound Mead Five-Star notebook that’s about a third full.  Apparently, Dear Wife believes that my thoughts are worth more than mere spiral-binding, because her next gift was a fabulous-looking hand-tooled leather-bound journal book featuring an image of the Tree of Life embossed on the cover.  What’s more, this fabulous leather-binding is interchangeable: once the notebook is filled, I can purchase replacement notebooks to slip into the leather cover.  Very soon… I’ll be taking my notes in real style.  As you can see, this thing is a real beauty.

My new, embossed cover leather-bound journal featuring an image of the Tree of Life

Now that's a stylish-looking Notebook!

I’m still contemplating how I want to use this, actually.  My current notebook, as I said, is only a third full.  But I really want to start using this awesome notebook.  Still… I don’t want to leave off in my current notebook with so many pages empty.  That’s not an efficient use of space.  So I’ve toyed with the idea of starting something tangential in this book – like perhaps a narrated history of the world of my long-gestating novel.  Or… I’ll just wait until I fill my current notebook and then make the switch.  I’m just not sure yet.

I also got a couple more book-and-writing related gifts from family that I thought I’d share: one is The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy, a book that’s kind of a mash-up of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy and Terry Brooks’ The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference – at least if the Amazon description is to be believed.  I perused the table of contents, and it looks to be a rather interesting guidebook.  Many of the suggestions and details are things I’d already thought a lot about (being afflicted, as I am, with Worldbuilder’s disease) but there were some ideas in there that I hadn’t considered noted in the table of contents that I’ll have to peruse more carefully.  Regardless, this is a handsome book that I look forward to delving into (after I get more time to read and write, again, after graduation).  It looks pretty useful, and fun to read, besides.

Finally, I also got another writing book, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans.  Content-wise, there’s a lot of overlap with the Writer’s Digest guide book.  But this book also includes two features that make it useful in its own right, I think.  The first is a section on the business-side of writing fantasy and science fiction for a living.  It’s not a long section (and probably therefore not a deep section) but I hope to find some useful advice for an aspiring speculative fiction author there.  The second is a short story by R. A. Salvatore, of Drizzt fame.  This story’s not a Drizzt story (I’ve sneaked enough of a peak to know that), and it’s included as an example of something a little more “non-traditional” in the fantasy and science-fiction genres.  Which is kind of a good idea; they say the best way to learn how to write great fantasy and science fiction is to read great fantasy and science fiction.

So, all in all, a very productive, and very writerly Christmas for me.  There’s something in the wind for 2011… I can feel it.

How about you… did Santa bring you any wonderful books to read or anything fun and supportive of your writing?

Christmas Greetings

It’s that time of year – even the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Being as it’s Christmas Eve Eve, I’m just stopping by to say Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to friends, family, loved ones, the blogosphere, the internet, and the world in general.  I’ll be spending the next couple days deeply imbedded with the family, enjoying all this holiday has to offer and celebrating B.T.’s first ever Christmas with copious photographs to be used as blackmail and/or insurance at a later date.

I’ll not be back online at least until after the aforementioned merry day.  Chances are 50/50 that I’ll be back some time during the week next week with a word or two here or there. 

So, to you and yours, Good tidings we bring, to you and your kin

Author’s Note: Oops… my bad.  This was supposed to post on the 23rd… Oh well, happy day-after-Christmas everybody.

17 Days and Counting

I have a special treat for you all today, a guest post!  I’ve mentioned her here before, but the illustrious Dear Wife would like to address your attention today.  So, without further ado, I’ll turn you over to her:

It’s less than three weeks until Christmas, which means that I’m scrambling to write a Christmas letter and print cards for our friends and family.  This year, I plan to print our photo cards at www.shutterfly.com.  We used Shutterfly to print BT’s birth announcements earlier this year and they turned out wonderful!  We recently had some amazing family photos taken by a friend and I can’t wait to show off BTs cuteness and our growing little family in our Christmas cards from Shutterfly.
 
I love Shutterfly’s Christmas photo card (http://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery/christmas-photo-cards) and other holiday photo card (http://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery) designs for this year.  Also, now that I have oodles of cute baby pictures, I’m considering using Shutterfly to create a calendar (http://www.shutterfly.com/calendars) with some of my favorite photos.  I’m also eying some of the other photo gifts contemplating which I like most.
 
Back to our Christmas card – each year we’ve been married I’ve written a letter updating family and friends on the big happenings in our family during the year and mailed off the letter, a photo card, and brief personal notes to our friends and family.  It’s also a nice way to briefly document our year and I’ve been saving a letter and photocard each year and plan to put them in a scrapbook.  It will be nice to be able to flip through to see how our family has changed.