Category Archives: on the job

As a parent and a writer, most of what I do is unpaid. But it’s still a job. Here’s what it’s like.

Catching my breath!

This past week has been a whirlwind of activity. What was supposed to be the first week of school turned into organizing strike support for educators through the Facebook page Soup for Teachers. We worked hard, learned a lot, and now I’m exhausted!

Some amazing things happened during this process. The amount of parent support was unprecedented. We were quick, we were loud, and we were out there strong. Also, parents managed to work across the district to help support every single school. We were all fighting together for goals that went far beyond teacher pay. The educators’ union won some important concessions from the school district they’d never have gotten without a week-long strike.

It’s just a beginning, though. I’m catching my breath, because we’re in this struggle for the long haul. The bargaining team for the union reached a tentative agreement with the school district, and a representative assembly approved it and suspended the strike. But we won’t know until Sunday evening whether or not educators will sign the contract. As I understand it, they have some options:

  • stop the strike and sign the contract
  • resume the strike on Monday
  • keep working under the old contract while continuing to negotiate
  • keep working under the old contract and set a strike date

Whatever they do I’ll support them. And whatever they do, we have a long way to go. Bottom line: the state legislature needs to pony up and obey the state Supreme Court order to fully fund schools. We’ll be underwater until then. Our educators can’t afford housing in Seattle. There aren’t any caps on the number of students per nurse. And more stuff.

For now, though, I’m just glad my kids are back in school!!!

too hot by Guldehen at

too hot by Guldehen at

Sponsor me for the Clarion West 2015 Writeathon!

It’s that time of year again. Serious students of SF/F writing are sitting down to six weeks of intensive study with award-winning authors. They write at the grueling pace of one story a week, while also reading and workshopping everybody else’s story a week. (For some perspective, the MFA program I took required three stories per quarter, and that was HARD.) They learn the craft of writing SF/F, and they make connections that will support their writing and their careers. Maybe five, ten years later, some book of theirs shows up on the shelves of your local bookstore, and you pick it up and stay awake all weekend reading it.

The workshop is expensive. Some of the most amazing voices could never afford the tuition. Hence, the Clarion West Writeathon! It supports scholarships for the students who have been selected to participate. Here’s how it works: I set a writing goal for myself. When that goal’s met, you donate to the workshop.

So please sponsor me for the Clarion West Writeathon! You’ll be doing two great things at once – you’ll be helping guilt me into writing, and you’ll be helping train the award-winning speculative fiction authors of tomorrow. Pledge whatever you’re comfortable with — even a $10 pledge helps!

Here’s my official write-a-thon page, with all the details! While you’re there, be sure to check out the other fabulous writers who are taking part in this write-a-thon!

P. S. Check back on my blog for weekly updates on my progress — I’ll be keeping a log of how many words I wrote.


On tidying papers

Starting month three of a major decluttering event, based on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (See my previous posts here and here and here and here.) I finished going through my clothes, books, CDs, DVDs, doll furniture, and floppy disks (egad!). That was all exhilarating. Now it’s papers.

Papers are not fun.

Marie Kondo’s advice: “My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away.” If only it were that easy! Over the last four decades I’ve kept a lot of papers, some for the right reasons and some for the wrong. I have three filing cabinets, ten stack files, and at least a couple of boxes, just for my own papers.

They’ve been bogging me down. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t look at a stack of papers without wincing, so then I don’t touch it, and it’s a downward spiral from there! I have organized files carefully over the years, but still, I have papers of sentimental value mixed in with papers of no use entirely.

So far I’ve gone through all my filing cabinet drawers and rid myself of about half the papers. I am nowhere near throwing them all away — nor, as a writer, should I be. I have about two filing cabinet drawers full of things I’ve written over the course of my life, from preschool-era stuff to the half-finished novel from high school to the story I’m in the middle of right now. I have a drawer devoted to classes I have taught once, and several files devoted to the technical writing career. I have drawers full of research materials for stories and essays I might write.

Going through all these has given me a chance to think about where my life has been and where it is going. What am I doing with myself, anyway? I’m a stay-at-home writer mom, doing work that fulfills me absolutely, but in a culture that values neither writers nor SAHMs. I’m missing the kind of respect you can get from the workplace, and to be honest, it’s affected my self-esteem. In one year I will have exited the “kids in elementary school” stage and could re-enter the workforce with reasonable confidence my family could cope. A lot of my friends are doing that. Am I just spinning my wheels?

Welcome to my midlife crisis, brought on by a filing cabinet!

What am I doing with myself? Well, treating my writing career like a spare-time activity, and treating my work itself like a blog entry, to be tossed in the wind and left behind. Time for a change. Not a return to the daily grind, not right now, anyway, but time for me to take myself and my work seriously.

Linkspam: The ethics of self-publishing

Yesterday I got into a great conversation with interesting people, and the topic of self-publishing came up. It brought me back to the ethical issues I’ve faced along the road of publishing Misfits from the Beehive State, so I figure it’s time for a tiny bit of background and helpful resources.

When I self-published Misfits from the Beehive State,  my number one consideration was that it not be “vanity press,” and the way I made that distinction was to keep overhead so low that it made an actual profit. At the time, using CreateSpace was the way to do it. And I made my book available on Amazon, because that’s how a lot of people wanted to buy it.

I maybe wouldn’t do a second book the same way. That’s because my book is one part of a larger ecosystem of readers, books, publishers, distributors, and bookstores, and what I do as an author has an impact on that ecosystem. Here are three links from my website that touch on the issue:

On small publishers and indy bookstores – I propose “We need to band together and support the small presses and independent bookstores we eventually hope will support us.” (March 2014)

What I learned about working with small bookstores – I report on a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association event “Working with PNBA and NW Bookstores” (May 2014)

Misfits available on IndyBound – I explain how and why I made my book accessible to independent bookstores, and why to buy for them. (May 2014)

Here’s a link that discusses the problem of Amazon:

Ursula Le Guin on Amazon and market-based censorship – a little intro to the problem Amazon poses to small publishers and independent bookstores. Quote from my #1 favorite author Ursula LeGuin: “We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author,” Ms. Le Guin wrote in an email. “Governments use censorship for moral and political ends, justifiable or not. Amazon is using censorship to gain total market control so they can dictate to publishers what they can publish, to authors what they can write, to readers what they can buy. This is more than unjustifiable, it is intolerable.”

Finally, here are links to some potentially viable alternatives to CreateSpace and Amazon.

Roundup of self-publishing services – includes not only CreateSpace but also XLibris and Smashwords

IngramSpark – a self-publishing service that can make your books readily available to bookstores

How to make your book available through IndyBound – a way to make even CreateSpace books available in many indy bookstores

There’s a lot more to be said on this topic, but I need breakfast!


tidying, day 30

It’s been about 30 days since I picked up the short and lovely book titled the life-changing magic of tidying up, by marie kondo. The book’s rather intriguing promise is that if you complete the full decluttering process, you won’t rebound. I think it’s true, for two reasons: 1) The tidying method changes your relationship to your possessions; and 2) If you’re going to rebound, you probably won’t finish in the first place anyway. Will I make it to the finish line? Well, I do intend to, but even if I don’t, my home and my heart are already breathing easier.

I haven’t been tidying for 30 days, mind you. There are some mega-tidy days in there, where I might spend 6 to 8 hours in a day — maybe 2 for the clothes and 2 for the books — plus some “I have a couple hours here or there” kind of days.

I’m going forward mostly in the order she recommends. First I went through and tidied my clothes — I took down and handled every last scrap, using the touch of my hands and the feeling in my heart to decide whether I wanted it or not. Next, books. Books, as you might imagine, are extra complicated for a writer. I wrote abut those here and here.

Next, papers! The short version of the story is that I’ve spent about a week, on and off, and our four-foot-tall recycling bin is full. I still have two filing cabinets to go through, plus some stack files. Oh yes, and multiple boxes of kids’ art and schoolwork. All these years, I’ve done a fabulous job of organizing a whole lot of papers . . . papers that I’ll probably never need! I didn’t realize I was setting myself up for hours and hours of archaeology — the meticulous digging for the papers I actually do want or need.

In the years before I had my last child, I taught a number of technical and business writing classes at the UW and local community colleges. I saved a whole lot of papers. I need to save some of them. But which? And for what purpose?

What I have now, more or less, is one file cabinet full of teaching portfolio materials and course materials organized by subject matter rather than course. More importantly: an easy mind. I know I haven’t left a difficult task for later.

Oh, and as a bonus: I found a super awesome handout called “Calculating a Fog Index.” It’s a simple method for taking a writing sample of but 100 words and finding out the reading level by grade (7th through college graduate). Now, where was that SBAC practice test again, hmm?

Stuck at Sears and Followed by a Rude Stranger

Blast from the past: Here’s a post from several years back, when Boy was a rambunctious three-year old and Girl was a rambunctious baby.

On Being Stuck at Sears and Followed by a Rude Stranger

My plans for Wednesday morning: hang out with M__ and N___, who will be moving to Cambridge all too soon.

 My car’s plans for Wednesday morning: produce for my enjoyment a dead battery and alternator.

 It was too late to call the car dealership, which is an easy 10‑minute bus ride away. Alas, I wasted twenty minutes on the phone trying to get through, then felt rejected because no one wanted to talk to me. So I decided to spend “a half hour” at Sears.

 Oh, sorry, I meant to say “two and a half hours.” Yep, that’s how long it took before I was outta there. What exactly do you do with two small children for two and a half hours at Sears? I found a long, narrow hall and let Boy run down it, then clapped as he reached the end ‑‑ but after four or five times, he was done. We hung out in the women’s sitting room, but then Girl played the “I want to touch the outlet cover” game, and Boy followed suit. We had lunch, and Girl played the game of “I don’t want pizza, crackers, or water, no, no, no! I want pizza! Please put me down, I want to be picked up!” while Boy played the game of “feed Girl,” which is okay as long as Girl wants to eat but turns into my game of “Mommy sits between the two children” after that.

 In the middle of all this, Boy ran around a corner and I followed, leaving Girl by the stroller. Not the sort of thing I would normally do. Then I heard a man say, “Excuse me!”

 I grabbed Boy and returned to the stroller. “Yes?” I said.

 “You need to be watching your baby!”

 “I was,” I said.

 “No, you weren’t. You were behind the corner. Somebody could grab her and run!”

 “Thank you,” I said, in a firm conversation‑ending tone, then shepherded the kids out of Sears to get lunch.

 The man followed me!

 He sat at a table facing mine throughout the whole lunch. I watched him while pretending not to, ready to yell for help if he approached, because any way you slice it, that would have been a really aggressive thing to do. Fortunately, he finished lunch, went out to the parking lot, and drove away.

 Was he a scary creep or just a jerk? I don’t know, but overall, I’m creeped out.

 So . . . where exactly is the balance between letting your kids roam at will, and attaching them to you with a tot‑leash? If I let Boy run down the aisle at the supermarket, might someone grab him and run? What if I let Girl play in the wood chips at the park while I go down the slide with Boy? Et cetera? 


But what are we changing into?

Yesterday I talked about coming to grips with the rapid pace of technological change. But today I’ll take a step back and ask: what are we changing into? What are we gaining? What are we losing?

Our brains are changing. Scientific American recently published an article, “How Google is Changing Your Brain,” pointing out that quick access to the cloud is changing the way we think. We use the Internet to get information we used to get by asking friends and family — essentially, as an external hard drive. Yes, indeed. I bought a Kindle Fire because my kids keep asking me questions, and although I don’t know the answer, I can get it in just a few seconds. Yesterday my daughter asked me what a Rube Goldberg device was. It was right at bedtime, so I gave her the accelerated version with hand gestures: “Ping, ping, roll, crash, clatter clatter pop — ding!” But then, once their teeth were brushed, I googled it, read Rube Goldberg’s biography, and showed them two youtube videos of Rube Goldberg devices.

Whoops! That violated our house rule of “no screen time just before bedtime.” And sure enough, bedtime was late and everyone woke up groggy. Screens are so very tempting.

The kids use computers way more than I’d like them to. Sure, I set limits, but they’re higher than mine were when I was a kid, and it’s easy to slide. Even easier if I’m on the computer when I didn’t mean to be. The temptation’s higher, too. When I was a kid, “screen time” wasn’t a word. It was “TV.” And it was broadcast TV, which meant that it had a predictable beginning and end. When the Muppet Show was over, we turned the TV off.

On the flip side, what the kids are doing with their screen time is a bit mindblowing. They’re playing Minecraft, a game that’s a lot more than a game. At its core, Minecraft is a 3D building program. They make buildings, trains, you-name-it. Their spatial skills probably already exceed mine. And very likely, they’re learning stuff they’ll need in tomorrow’s world. They’re also programming in Scratch, a language designed especially for kids.

But what’s being lost? Easy. Exercise and reading. Exercise was already in trouble, because most kids don’t roam the neighborhood freely. Too many cars and too many parents afraid of child molesters. But screen time is so tempting, they get even less. As for reading, my kids read, yes, but not as much as I did.

In fact, I don’t read books as much as I used to. I read blog posts, Facebook entries, and links from the Facebook entries. This gives me less opportunity to just cuddle down with a book and lose an hour in pleasant concentration. In fact, when I do have that opportunity, my mind races a bit. It’s used to speedy browsing. I have to always remind myself to slow down, unplug, enjoy the life right in front of me. And teach my kids to do it too.

There’s some kind of balance to be struck here, but I don’t know what it is. How can I? Our world, and the people in it, are changing. Into what?

I don’t have an answer. Do you?

Bedtime reading for the kids

We’re still reading bedtime books to our kids, ages 8 and 10. And we plan to keep it up as long as they go for it! Choosing books has gotten tricky, though. Some books are too scary for one, and some are too filled with girly stuff for another. Others drive me up the wall. Here’s a quick list of books we’ve done successfully, starting about 2 years ago:

  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings (twice)
  • Harry Potter, books 1 – 7
  • Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Series (partway through)
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Pippi Longstocking
  • Jupiter Jones and the Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot
  • Half Magic
  • George and the Big Bang (and other books in same series by the Hawking family)
  • Wayside School
  • Percy Jackson (too scary)
  • The Roman Mysteries (through book 3)

What to do next???

I’m thinking A Wrinkle in Time. But one of the kids already read the graphic novel version. Might fly, might not!

Here are some of the suggestions people have given me: Wringer (Jerry Spinelli), Journey to the River Sea (Eva Ibbotson), The Phantom Tollbooth, The Brave Little Toaster, The Streets Are Free, Brave Girl, The Witches (Roald Dahl), all of Roald Dahl’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and books by Garth Nix, Susan Cooper, and Phillip Pullman.

Thinking about family traditions

My daughter’s teacher assigned her the homework of finding out about our family traditions and learning what our ancestors’ lives were like. I’m having an unusually difficult time with this. The thing is, these conversations about family traditions are happening in connection to the Nelson Mandela memorial curriculum our teachers are doing. The typical “Our family came from Scotland and here are some shortbread cookies” seems completely inappropriate in this context.

We celebrate all the standard US-Christian holidays: Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving. But we don’t do it because it’s a family tradition; we do it because we’ve assimilated into a culture that celebrates them.

What about holidays “from the old country”? Well, which old country, anyway? These kids have thirty-two great-great-grandparents. They came from Scotland, Germany, Sweden, Britain, Ireland, and miscellaneous Scandinavian countries. Each of them had different family traditions, and most of them died out when the person with that tradition married into a family that had a different one. Or traditions died out when living conditions changed. My grandparents did “the harvest dance.” We don’t farm now, or even live in rural areas, and we don’t have a harvest dance. Conditions are changing faster than ever. The family I grew up in had fabulous Easter egg hunts. But we don’t do that. We go to the neighborhood Easter egg hunt, with plastic Easter eggs, and brunch afterward.

How about religious traditions? Thirty-two great-great grandparents, and sixteen great-grandparents, and nine grandparents, and four parents, and they tended to have conflicting beliefs. If I pick a tradition, why exactly would I pick that particular one?

So I have a vague general sense of unease about this whole thing. Maybe I feel like I should do a better job than usual, in honor of Nelson Mandela. Maybe I feel like when I tell our children about our heritage, I tell them nothing of use.

I’m also struggling because I’ve been reading up on our heritage in a much more broad, sweeping way. I’m fascinated by our cultural heritage, reaching back to the beginnings of written language in Mesopotamia. The people who lived back then were probably my ancestors, but even if they’re not, they brought me my cultural heritage. And then way, way back, we all have ancestry from Africa. That’s in our heritage.

So too much flows into my head whenever I think about heritage, and none of it is ready to be explained to an eight-year old.

Day-before-school todo list

1. Launder tomorrow’s clothes.

2. Get list of library books that need returning.

3. Ask daughter what she wants in lunches.

4. Make grocery list.

5. Convince kids to eat breakfast and brush teeth.

6. Label kids’ school supplies with their names.

7. Find pencil sharpener with screw-top lid.

8. Call a teacher to find out what is going on with the contract teachers will vote on tonight.

9. Make contingency plan in case school doesn’t start tomorrow.

10. Look up when the back-to-school picnic is and whether I need to bring anything.

11. Figure out what time the kids have to go to bed.

12. Gather library books.

13. Photocopy the two pages out of library books that contain information I need.

14. Make sure I have enough cash to pay library fines.

15. Call friend to invite for Nerf battle in park.

16. Check weather to see if it will be raining.

17. Convince kids to take showers and brush hair.

18. Go to library.

19. Go to grocery store.

20. Go to park.

21. Make contingency plans in case we need to do strike support for teachers tomorrow.

22. Play Ni No Kuni, but not before I’ve done a bunch of these items.


I just want to go back to bed . . . .