Sunday, January 29, 2012

Metal & Clay

A while back I told you about the BlackBirds in my Atlan universe. BlackBirds have black hair, black eyes and a sword birthmark, and miraculous fighting skills.

There are other groups of Atlans with black hair and black eyes, and these are frequently mistakened for BlackBirds by Outsiders.

One of these groups is the MetalWomen, which in our world would probably be called Blacksmiths, Coppersmiths, Tinsmiths... MetalWomen take raw metallic ores and refine them, blend them (if needed) and then create whatever is needed; nails, needles, hinges, plows, cooking pots, eating utensils and weapons. Atlan MetalWomen are hard-working, and try to make their creations the best. Their products - especially the weapons - are not traded outside the tribe, but those Outsiders who know metals can recognize the quality of Atlan work.

MetalWomen have a moon birthmark.
ClayWomen have a heart birthmark.

ClayWomen work with clay. Many races have people who can add water to clay that they’ve dug out of a clay lode and make pottery with it, but Atlan ClayWomen have been known to take shovelfuls of regular dirt, shift out the twigs, pebbles and other non-clay pieces. It might take several shovels of dirt to produce enough clay to make one small bowl, but they know how to do it. They also know how to add just a touch of an additive to change the post-firing color of the clay, and can create all colors in glaze. Young ClayWomen frequently experiment by creating lidded boxes and pots of unusual shapes. They know they have learned their craft when they can consistently produce lids that actually fit their boxes and pots after firing. This skill is not known outside the tribe, and some ClayWomen take such pleasure in it that they never completely outgrow this activity.

If the tribe must go to war, MetalWomen are frequently placed in the front row with the BlackBirds. To any opposing army with any knowledge of Atlans, the sight of so many apparent BlackBirds must strike fear into the heart. Because they work with metals, MetalWomen are mostly stronger than other Atlans, and thus can do more damage with a weapon just through their strength. ClayWomen would be in the second line, and would make an effort to appear old, as if they were BlackBirds past their prime. If any opposing soldiers got through the first line, they would think themselves facing still more BlackBirds, older, perhaps a touch slower, but experienced and full of tricks.

There have been times when just appearing on the battlefield was enough to make members
of the Atlan tribe’s foe think better of their endeavor.

Atlans play lots of mind tricks.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Making a Schedule

About a year ago - approximately a year after I retired - I found myself floundering through the days, somehow unable to get much done. I checked in with a mental health professional, looking for clues to what the problem could be. “I just can’t seem to work out a schedule and stick to it,” I heard myself tell her.

“So what?” she responded. “You’ve had to follow a schedule your entire working life, and before that, when you were in school, right? You’re retired now. Throw your ‘To Do’ list away and relax. That’s what retirement’s for. To do what you want to do.” Then our hour was up, and I left.

I tried to follow those instructions. No, I didn’t throw out the ‘to do’ list, because I’m a planner, but I became a lot more comfortable with putting off until tomorrow what was originally on last week’s list. I didn’t set my alarm clock to get me up, I didn’t necessarily look at the clock except to see if it was time to start supper for the family.

How was I doing after a year of ‘relaxing’? Umm, not so good. My To Do list was just as long as ever (but that’s to be expected, because almost everything on it gets repeated on some kind of cycle - you can’t clean the oven and never have to clean it again), I was sleeping up to 12 hours a day, and had no energy when I did manage to crawl out of bed. I would vegetate in front of the tv for hours and then wonder what I had watched. This was not my idea of fun.

I had planned to start my ‘new career’ of writing when I retired, and I wasn’t making much progress. Hubby was worried that I was ‘just waiting to die’. No, thank you!

So I checked with my doctor, who sent me for a sleep study. When that didn’t show anything, he had a vampire drain my blood (okay, the technician didn’t take it ALL, but it seemed like she might), and I should have the results from that battery of tests next week. Meanwhile, I revamped my To Do list ... again.

Yes, I am back to a schedule. What happened to ‘relaxing’? I found unending relaxation to be ... boring. Not to mention not getting anything done, and possibly threatening my health. Anyway, there are lots of professional writers who say, “Write every day and at the same time every day.” Sounds like ‘scheduling’ to me. And who am I to argue that something that works for that many professional writers won’t work for me?

So, as I start my third year of retirement, let’s hope I’m on the right path this time. I think I am. Coming up with a schedule I could live with and not get too uptight about has already got me feeling better.

PS - I tried the new schedule today, and instead of finishing 200 or 300 words, I wrote 1,400 words! Yippee!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fighting Back to Life

Early in December, my computer became infected and - eventually - became unusable. I don’t know why all those viruses, trojans, worms, fairies, unicorns and trolls chose that time to attack it, but they did. I didn’t have the money to get myself a new Tower. I didn’t really have the
money to take it to the shop for a cleaning out, but since that cost somewhat less, that’s what I did.

Happily, they didn’t find any infection in my thumb drive, where most of my important files resided. After they cleaned the tower all up, I moved the rest of my files to my thumb drive, something I probably should have done long before that. Turns out that at the ripe old age
of 4 or 5, my tower was too old to accommodate any new virus protection software. It was perfectly fine for the word processing and spreadsheets that are most of what I use a computer for, but I was expected to go out and buy a new one in order to visit the internet? Because how could I do the other half of my writing - the research for information, for markets, sending
out submissions (most of which are expected to be electronic these days) - without visiting the internet?

After a few days, the infections were all back, to the point that I could not GET to the internet anymore. Frustrated and stressed, I switched to my laptop. I could not pay to get my tower cleaned up again, but my laptop keyboard is small, and I hate the ‘mouse’ function. Then the kids remembered an old tower in the back of a closet that nobody was using anymore. It was just as old as my old tower, but they reformatted the drive and reloaded Office so I could use it.

By that time, I had picked up a couple viruses myself. I had to push myself to get through Christmas, and since then, I’ve been sleepy and sluggish most days. After sleeping 10 or 11 hours, I get up and veg out in front of the television for another 2-4 hours. By the time I finally ‘wake up’ and start to do things, I’m totally frustrated by how little time I have to get anything done.

Always on the lookout for things to make my characters ‘believable’, I have added these past weeks to my list. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have some bumps in their lives, and what would be more believable than computer problems that play havoc with deadlines, or a few ‘blahh’ days that leave the character out of sorts and behind on many projects? We’ve all had things like that happen to us, right? So why not inflict some of those problems on our characters? Why should we suffer alone?