Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Writer's Spouse

Today is my Ninth Wedding Anniversary!

I've referred to Scott as my Husband-of-Awesome, and he really is.

Many writer's I know have a spouse or significant other in their life. When we do get together, our spouses trade war stories.

"Has she ever held a full conversation with you while typing and then forgotten every word of it?"

"Oh, God! Tell me about it. There was this one time…"

Honestly, writer's spouses deserve a lot of credit and respect. Many times Scott has been picked up the slack on housework, cooking, cleaning, and so on when I am on deadline - or overtaken by one of my fiction problems. He put up with several weekend-long Skype sessions with me and Christy while we edited Yesterday's Shadows - bringing me food and honeyed tea to preserve my voice. When I've had my 24-hour blogathons for theBay State Equine Rescue, he's waited on me hand and foot. I take off for conventions and events several weekends a year. Sometimes he does his own thing with the guys - and sometimes I come home to a wonderful surprise of a house project being finished.

He does come to Dragon*Con with me. Here we are this year:

On top of all that, when I've had a slow income year, he's still been supportive. We are very fortunate & blessed that he has a steady, well-paying job. And if he weren't so wonderful a person, he could hold that over my head - but he doesn't. He's always pushed me to be the best person I can be and to discover more things I'm good at (and good at making money at).

This year, with the company that has owed me significant pay and cut my jobs opposed to the biggest convention/travel spending year I've ever had, it has been difficult. But he always believes in what I'm doing - even when he's acting as a rational sounding board and asking hard questions and giving no-nonsense and honest answers.

If you are a writer and have a significant other, make sure you let them know they are appreciated. They are special people indeed to put up with our eccentricities (because face it, what writer ISN'T eccentric - on a good day).

I really do have the Husband-of-Awesome, and I sympathize with all you other writers out there that he's not yours.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Time Management II

I maintained a week's worth of blog posts! And I have a plan!

Ok, yeah, I know that's nothing compared to great regular bloggers - for me, who has struggled with regular blog posts since 2006 on MySpace, it's big.

And I have this week all planned out, too.

I have topics and themes. My Monday posts are Manic Mondays, where I talk about how I try and organize my life & work - which, to me, is an important topic. When I interview other artistic entrepreneurs, their answers intrigue me because it's so hard to do. Oftentimes, I learn something useful. And, in all my chatting with other artistic entrepreneurs who are looking for a way to "quit their day job," organization and time management are key issues for staying on track with one's goals.

The trick/truth is: most people are still changing and adjusting their time management and organization tactics.

So, I'm sharing this particular journey with people because I do think it is helpful, and it is helpful to me.

Doing my annual blog about goals and achievements every New Year does wonders for an overall ability to achieve because I think of it throughout the year… and it is pure magic for my January productivity.

So, here are my current plans, goals, and accomplishments:

A Monday, Wednesday, Friday Blog:
Manic Monday (explained)
Writerly Wednesday - an article about writing business
Foodie Friday - I hardly ever talk about food writing - which is most of my income, so finally: I reveal MY secret ingredients!

Clean the effing upstairs!
One hour a day. It's exercise, and it's accomplishment. And seriously - you don't want to see my upstairs bedrooms/storerooms. The bathroom is ok - my Mother-in-Law cleans it once a week.

Clean the effing desk "area"!
I seriously have no idea how I can work with this much CRAP blocking my most immediate books & resources. & I have noticed that tidier desk = more productive Trish

Research 1 Short Market a day, M-F, and if there's a match for any of my available short stories/poems/etc., submit. If not, make notes and move onto something else.
Other than Broad Universe Mailing parties, this has been my most successive project yet, with 4 submissions in 2 weeks

1-2 Owed short critiques a day.
I am sooooooo behind on critiques that I owe people. I belong to several Writing Groups - one disbanded - but I feel horrible for not having returned critiques to people. If I keep this up, I WILL catch up.

Make adjustments for 1 Critique given to me.
I'm equally behind (if not moreso) in reviewing and implementing critiques from people, too. If I had all of these done, I'd have twice as many short stories ready for circulation. I have noted in my Market Research, at least, which stories would be good fit for these markets once they have been edited.

I have a few more, but they're more personal to projects or specific to household chores. But having the to-do list has been a great help.

Some of Next Week's specific projects include:

Setting up Broad Pod Preliminaries. (Don't know what the Broad Pod is? Are you a member of Broad Universe? ;) More later - stay tuned!)

Monday: Last minute restaurant review
Beer Blog Article from Beer & Wine Pairing notes
Start on MA Horse article
5+ Tutoring Hours - (oh crap, must contact friends)

Tuesday: Women's Networking Event in Worcester
Blog post on Spousal Support for the Working Writer
(because my "Tuesday" goes until 2AM)

Wednesday: Anniversary - yeah, we're both gone early until late. Yay weekend…
Lunch Date + Food Review with Renée
Book Club Meeting
Tutoring Hours…

Thursday: Write Friday Blog
Catch up on everything else…

Friday: 3+ tutoring hours
Pack for Anniversary Plans
Catch up + stuff I haven't thought of yet. ;)
Oh - send out Novel Friends newsletter - so add that writing/editing M-Th
(though, may want to send that out Thurs PM for Fri…)

An overall set of goals would be to have a clean upstairs, a clean desk area, be caught up on my writing business, catch up on tutoring, and meet all of my deadlines. Very general, right now, but I'm carving them out. And the more I get done, the clearer and more detailed I can get these goals.

So far, I'm happy with the past few weeks of planning, organizing, and managing of my work & time.

I'll keep you posted of what's working - so maybe it can work for you, too!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Eating Stars - Secret Ingredients in Restaurant Reviewing

When I say I review restaurants, people are intrigued.

"What's that like?" they ask, which is an easy answer of, "Really cool" or "A lot of fun."

No one asks me how I do it either… it's like some magic discernment that only a few people have: awarding little stars (or asterisks on my end of the keyboard) to places that may affect their sales and reputation for years to come.

I've gone to plenty of restaurants that proudly display the stars earned by the local magazine I review for, most predating when I started reviewing.

It is pretty damned cool - but it's not magic.

Despite the fact I'm throwing numbers of stars and hoping they'll stick.

Some things are easy to quantify. Service and Value are two starred items. We rate on a scale of 1 to 5, with five being best. A three for service means the server has done his or her job promptly and without being rude. Extra friendly earns a 4, and Omigod-above-and-beyond earns a 5. You can guess 2 and 1. With Value, 3 denotes a price and experience about on target for what wanted to pay or am average with equal establishments. A 1 means I'm sick and crying over my wallet, and a 5 means there is NO WAY I could have paid any less and not needed a confession.

Ambiance is hard to quantify - and not a lot of people really look at that and judge their visit to the restaurant on that - unless it's a 1, and I note somewhere that I found a cockroach or rat droppings. Then it matters. Other than that, it's a "best guess" based on how I "felt" in comfort and/or luxury and/or whatever the restaurant is trying to make me feel based on their décor (and cleanliness).

Then there is Food. The most important score - and what the restaurants will post if it’s a even a decent rating - if you know food, you know that so many elements can play together. Scents, tastes, heat, texture, presentation… all that must boil down to how many stars (or asterisks) you type.

Both the Husband-of-Awesome and I are pretty gosh-darned good cooks. Good enough where we can draw a crowd to help us with heavy and/or disgusting labor in promise of our food. But if I'm paying someone to prepare my food, it better damn well be better than I can get at home… so I quantify my stars on how likely I would be able to get and enjoy that food experience outside of that restaurant.

A 3 is better than what I can cook at home - or requiring more effort than I'm willing to put in at home. 4 is unquestionably better than I or HoA could cook at home - flavor, texture, and presentation wise. Plus, it should have some use of ingredients we A) wouldn't be able to get easily or B) totally surprises us in usage and/or combination that tastes amazing. A 5 is beyond even the imaginings of what we could accomplish at home - even with classes and schooling - and has just done something we would never have imagined flavorwise - above and beyond the expectations of 4.

It does help to be educated in food. Watch cooking shows, try to cook, read how food works… read other reviews. There might be a food that I simply don't like… just because I don't like it. I have to still evaluate if its good quality (though, having a partner helps here). Knowing what the texture and flavor of squid or octopus (for me) should be lets me discern the quality of the surprise addition to a chef's sushi platter (very good, in this instance). The same goes for something I love. I adore chocolate, and hot fudge - even if its broken - tastes pretty darned good. But a broken hot fudge doesn't have the best texture and it means that the ice cream shop has their settings too high - or they don't prepare it properly.

While I still don't think there's any magic to restaurant reviewing, it does take the ability and willingness to think about things differently. You have to make a credible scale for your quantitative assessments of things that aren't really countable, measurable, or provable. You need to impose levels and rationale on your impressions, feelings, opinions, and preferences in food - a HIGHLY personalized preference. The most important part, though, is to not let this quantitative thinking interfere with your - hopefully entertaining - experience dining out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Find your Inner Bard: 5 Tips for Better Readings

Yay Dragon*Con Broad Universe Rapid Fire Readers!

So, I've been on the Motherboard of Broad Universe, officially handling RFRs for a few months. Of course, I've run a more than a few since then. And, before that, I've read at some RFRs, and even a few bouts of poetry for Jacob Edwards Library with my Southbridge Writing Group.

I liked to think I was pretty good at reading.

I purposely avoided listening to recorded versions, though. It would absolutely pop my "I'm pretty good at this" bubble. It was like how I KNOW I could totally kick ass at American Idol while I'm driving and hammering out whatever Crüxshadows or Ego Likeness… or even Nightwish… song is on my iPod.

Just don't record me! Self-delusional, huh?

I'm not the only one.

Most current writers hate hearing themselves read. An awful lot hate and fear reading out loud.

The problem is, the world of selling one's books is changing.

Inanna Arthen described it in her great panel at Readercon this year. This idea that writers are holed up, just writing, is a new construction. For millennia before, storytellers… told their stories. Or sung. They performed.

And now, with so much competition out there and so much marketing falling to the writer's responsibility, an author are returning to performance to drive sales.

Personal example: Every place I've read my poetry: I've sold out of chap books. Completely.

Of course, this is now a few years - and many lessons - of regularly reading out loud. And listening to my friends & colleagues read out loud - and also get better.

How about I share some of these hard-earned "secrets"? Here's my top 5 ways to ma

Credit where credit is due, first. Inanna was a big help in coaching me with her panels and in our overnight sessions at her house. Also, Mary Robinette Kowal has taught me so much from her panels and from her website resources. Definitely check out both of their web pages for more information.

5. Get friends & colleagues involved.

If you are lucky enough to have a live writing group near you, suggest that you spend a meeting every so often reading out loud. In my case, my live writing group reads almost everything out loud. Because we want feedback, we have an indirect pressure to perform well so our colleagues can understand and critique us. If you don't have a live writer's group, make Skype dates with online writing friends. Skype is free, and reading aloud will help both of you sell, so what's the

4. Pick strong passages

You want a passage that has a beginning middle and end. You don't want to spend more than a sentence or two acquainting your reader with the scene, and while you want a bit of a cliffhanger so the reader buys your book for the end, you want some sort of end to it. Your listeners want a story. If you can find a passage that's a natural scene in your book, you probably have what it needs. You may also want to pick a scene with a combination of narration and dialogue - and be careful not to have too many characters in dialogue. You'll need to differentiate your speakers - including the narrator, and most people have a hard time differentiating more than 4 speakers.

3. Record it.

Yes, yes, I admitted I hated the sound of my recorded voice. I still do, actually, but it's become much less painful. Record your readings and analyze them. Where you are stressing, and where you are stumbling (and may not realize it)? Where do you naturally speed up? Where do you naturally slow down?

Just being aware of what you naturally do helps you read better; you'll subconsciously fix yourself. Taking conscious steps to fix common mistakes makes your performance even stronger.

As an added benefit, move your recording device (or yourself if you are using a computer) to different distances to practice projecting. If you have to read to a full room of people (which is a good thing - really!), you want everyone in the back of the room to hear as well as those in the front.

2. Numbers game with Words.

With Rapid Fire Readings, all the readers have a strict timeline to follow. Even if you are reading alone or have more than 4.5 minutes, you don't want to go over your allotted time (it aggravates the people who scheduled you) and you don't want to be under time (who wants an awkward silence?). Inanna told me this ONE THING that has made calculating my readings a million times easier: You should read at a pace of between 100-120 words a minute.

Why is that so cool? It means that no matter what time frame I have to read, I can whip out my calculator and select a reading within that word count! 20 minutes? 2000-2400 words. 4.5 minutes? 450-540 words. If it's dialogue, I know it will go faster, so I can go towards the higher number. If it's a lot of narrative, I aim lower. If it's poetry, I also aim for the lower end because I know my poetry depends on dramatic pauses.

1. Practice and Perform.

Knowing you should practice reading out loud should go without saying, but I still like reminders, myself.

The harder part is to break beyond practicing: Go out and read!

If you're a member of Broad Universe, a great way to wet your feet is to be part of one of our Rapid Fire Readings at a convention you're attending. If you are on your own, talk to libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops to see if they have open mic events or if they'd be interested in hosting a reading. This is another chance to bring together your writing friends, too. A group of readers will have more draw than just one or two: organize a local author event with readings!

Maybe you're one of the few who won't want to puke or be caught with the shakes for your first few readings… or you might be like me and get stomach jitters and need an inhaler years into reading in front of people. Either way, read. Read as best you can. And do it again. And again.
Soon, you may find you need to pack more books to your events.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fall: A Time for New Beginnings

A long time ago (about 12 years)…

In a journal far, far away (ok, really just on my left-hand bookshelf)...

I opened with an entry about how fall, despite being a time for death before winter, is really a time of beginnings. School starts in fall - and I was just the geek who enjoyed the start of classes. Most of the good programming seasons started in the fall. (Bones, Fringe, & House are back! Buffy & Angel always started in the fall… )

I still get a rush to start new stuff in the fall.

This whole to-do list and organization push is still going on. I've already got my list for tomorrow - though I'm still a little behind on some Friday stuff. We also just had our Broad Universe Motherboard meeting last Sunday, and I'm pumped with our new projects for our 10th Anniversary. On top of that, since I've been going to Dragon*Con regularly, it's like a jump-start to my writing. Especially when I get to see all these awesome faces again:

Hooray DragonWriters 2002!

And these fabulous people:

Eternal roommate Sunder Addams and the DragonWriters teacher, the inimitable Ann Crispin!

I will get more Dragon*Con stuff up soon. Promise. J Scott just downloaded them all to my computer tonight.

Also, more wonderful news - as the wicked-wonderful Danielle reminded me - Bad-Ass Faeries 1 & 2 are being re-released by Mundania Press. BAF2 even has this gorgeous new cover:

Not only that, Mundania is also releasing a special hardcover edition that has been personally signed by ALL the authors! These editions are numbered and lettered and in a VERY limited quantity. Keep watching for how you can get one of these!

Fall has always been my favorite month… good things happen in the fall. In New England, the vegetation dies in a gorgeous flame of color crossing the area - like the phoenix flaming up before the white ash if winter and being reborn in the spring…

Autumn is also harvest time: apples, pumpkins, squash, cranberries… delicious!

I hope to keep this wonderful fall momentum going for as long as possible.

Is your autumn a sign for new beginning? How can you make it something beautiful and new?

Friday, September 18, 2009

"I think this line's mostly filler..."

I have a list of more useful blogs in mind: Making a Writing Workshop Work for You I & II, Panel Promotion Secrets, Little Articles: Big Impact, Volunteer Wisely, Never-Neverland Networking, Interviewing for Fun and Profit…

I also have a list of more entertaining blogs: Adventures in Conventioning, Dragon*Con Dungeoning, Reviews of restaurants I can't review, Not Quite Horse Country: Confessions of a Horse Crazy City Girl, Horse Rescue stories...

I also have some that kind of fall in-between: Fangirling for Fun and Profit, Party Food Fun, Horse's Arse and other Dangerous Things, Therapy through Character Torture…

They are all outlined in my head, of course, but I have had it on my to-do lists to pre-write a few of these and moved it forward all week. I'm not sure if it will happen tomorrow as they're asking for extra hours where I'm tutoring, I have more out-of-house errands to do… and, well, I'm looking at my Friday list now and it's just not promising.

I'm gone the weekend between the Annual Talk Like A Pirate Day Party and stART on the Street on Sunday (with Renée & Sean)… I may hit my editor's Roller Derby Sunday Night, but I need to run it by the hubby - or I may just need to get work done. L Like… a blog post if I'm going to try and keep up this new blogging schedule.

So, this is, I suppose, a "Filler" blog. Which is probably not the best thing - at least according to the Copyblogger folks…

… but then again, I'm not a sales blog.

No wait! Yes, yes, I'd love you to go buy Bad-Ass Faeries 2 and my new chapbook The Old Woman and the Unicorn. Please go buy them! J

And, I suppose, I'm selling myself:

An Author an Agent Wants to Work With
An Author You Want to Be a Fan Of
An Author whose Work You Want to Buy
A Writer You Want to Hire
A Writer You Want to Pay - (see above potential blogs… great article ideas, no?)
An Editor You Want to Hire
A Panelist/Participant/Guest at Your Convention (see above blogs… great panels, no?)
A Representative of Horses You Want to Support

(I feel like such a whore… Bad Guilt, Bad Guilt - Go Away!)

So… what do you think? Is it better to blog regularly - even with "Filler Blogs"… or not to blog unless you have something meaningful to say?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Time Management I

About 2 newsletters ago (or what should have been 4 newsletters ago), Christy gave some time management tips - one of them a tip I make all sorts of attempts to follow & that my mother has always found successful: Making a List.

Making a List worked when I was trying to fill lots of free time between when I quit my office job and was going back to college. It was great!

After graduating college and trying to juggle between 3-8 paying clients, plus my own work, plus my co-authoring with Christy every week… Making a List: not so successful.

I'm down 1-2 paying clients and I'm pretty well done with conventions for this year unless someone can offer me a mostly-all-expense-paid trip to World Fantasy… or Albacon or Philcon.

Making a List seems to work. I've had to move a few items to other days, but I'm accomplishing most of the tasks.

Is there a cap to the efficiency in Making a List? Is there a cap to my own efficiency, perhaps?

What is going to happen when I grab another paying client? I just got accepted at one freelance place, and Sunder is trying to hook me up with a steady editing gig.

I suppose I'll make the most of it now. J

Tomorrow is my busy day and exercise starts with Yoga, so I doubt I'll get any additional cleaning done (Yay 1/2 a desk & 1/4 a bedroom!) - as I've been making my cleaning do double duty as exercise. (Yay knowing isotonic muscle resistance while bending & lifting - gack do my abs hurt!)

2 things left undone on my list today… one is advance blog posts. Let's move that to… Thursday.

And read & comment on Christy's synopsis of our new novel together.

Well, it's read…

That's something right?

Onto Wednesday's list… which may as well be a page from House of Blue Leaves with margin notes, footnotes, track changes, and hyperlinks…

Can I keep up this organization thingy??? Place your bets here!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bits & Ends

August was insane. Worldcon Anticipation had me with four or so blog posts… but that was just the first weekend!

[Edited for time lapse between writing and actual posting.]

As my Husband of Awesome is [was] attempting to negotiate a traffic jam on 95/128 S (big surprise there), he, I & our friend Laura are [were] trying to get to her house for her birthday party. I'm [was] comfy in the back seat and happy to type up a few brief updates.


I had a brief rest for a weekend, then it was off to 4Pi-Con. I had 9 panels and a reading – it was an awesome little convention. I even got to see Genetic Imperfection do their Repo! Shadowcast to a full house. While there was a few family incidents that detracted from my personal experience, the care and concern of the hotel & convention staff – as well as many fellow Northeast con-goes who I've come to call friends – made all the difference. Of course, my friends & roomies, Morven & Inanna were also wonderfully supportive and caring; I can't thank them enough for their patience. I also made a few new friends who I shared a fab IHOP pancake dinner with on the way home.


The weekend immediately following 4Pi-Con was Mary Shelley's birthday. Several of the New England Broads & I had been planning a party to celebrate this. I prepared a few notes on themes from Frankenstein, Phoebe put together a bio, and we all took turns reading from our work to match the themes I discussed. We hit two libraries and three bookstores. It was awesome! We'll be doing a similar party for Women's History Month in March of 2010. Stay tuned. :D


And then there was Dragon*Con. Briefest of the brief: This was my first year on panels since my first Dragon*Con in 2002. It was also the first Dragon*Con with a Broad Universe presence – something I am happy to have instigated. Both of the feminist panels I & my friend Sunder ran on the Lit Track were standing room only. The pirate panel I was on was also standing room only. Wicked cool on all counts. Then, we had the Rapid Fire Readings. Now, D*C is more a media convention than a literary convention, so new or midlist authors struggle to get even a few people to their readings. Our RFRs actually had close to half the room full. All of the readings were excellent! Other fab highlights were hanging out with Lois McMaster Bujold after the "What Women Want" panel, the annual DragonWriters meet-up (alumni/survivors of A.C.Crispin's 2002 writing workshop), and of course, the Crüxshadows concert. The biggest drawback: Voltaires concert was scheduled opposite the Crüxshadows. L As much as I adore Voltaire, CXS will always have a special place in my heart and will take precedence. I'll explain my adoration for CXS in another e-mail, though.


As much as I love conventioning and events, I am so glad that I haven't got much planned for the rest of the year. I need a break, and I've got stuff to write & edit. I'm intent on getting Starbard OFF the back burner, and Christy & I have a new novel in the works! In fact, I've been on quite a writing high of late. I wrote a flash piece called "Manipulation," which was a somewhat response to my family incident at Pi-Con, and then "Cemetery Angels," which was partly a response to needing something to read for the Toadstool Graveyard Book party and encompassed more of the emotion about the one year anniversary of my father's death. Then, today [Friday], while waiting two and a half hours during my annual physical, I composed a proper sonnet, "Hero's Heart" that I'm rather pleased with. (Thanks Kathryn H. for mentioning you like metered poetry – my mind felt challenged to do more after hearing that!)


Oh, and happy [belated] birthday, Laura!

Friday, September 11, 2009

You expect me to forget?

I like Danielle's poems better, but here's my response to today:

I remember the day, the fall.
Went to work, normal day as any.
Falling debris, people—I remember.
Secure, safe, cubicle blankets
made us think it a hoax, unreal.
I remember my stomach diving, launching.
Left our seats to stare
at big screen TVs.
High definition destruction, death, deception.
Burning hell and suicide—I remember.
Call Mom. Yes, I'm fine.
Oh—you haven't heard? Turn on the news!
I remember forcing dulled detachment.
Back to work, regardless.
Attend the phones and investors' panic.
Refresh the news screens with OCD mouse clicks.
Living minute-to-minute body count updates—I remember.
Didn’t matter the miles,
the country, the world were at the falling towers.
I remember standing and crying beside them.
Perfect strangers, I prayed for them all like family.
Of course I remember.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tip of the Avalanche

I attended a great luncheon put on by the Society of Professional Communicators in Worcester. In fact, one of my bosses, Scott Zoback, news editor for Worcester Magazine, was presenting - on blogging of all things.

One of the popular parts of Worcester Magazine is their blog, Worcesteria.

It was a good lecture with a lot of fun networking. J

On the flip side, I'd just gotten back from Dragon*Con the night before. I got to hang out with the awesome guest of honor, Lois McMaster Bujold, give and attend many more panels and readings (and parties).

One lesson I picked up from both: if you're going to blog, you must do it regularly.

I've fallen off and gotten back on this horse again, restating the Horsemanship for Women lesson I learned from Karen Scholl - you get do-overs.

And so, my passions - writing, editing, horses, education - intersect yet again as I declare that I will give better blog posts on Pi-Con (two weeks ago), Mary Shelley's Birthday (a week & a half ago), Dragon*Con, (this past weekend), the SPC, and a few other plans I have in mind.

Meantime - Aimee has challenged me to finish & post this blog post before 3:AM so I can catch up on sleep after a short story attack yesterday and a "lets get my submission stuff in order" attack tonight.

Until… tomorrow?


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Happy Birthday in Heaven

This was Dad's first birthday in Heaven. Of course, us all down here had to do our own thing.

I drove out to Springfield, and Mom & I stopped at St. Stanislaus Cemetery. We dropped flowers on her parents, Bachi & Jaju for me, then stopped by Dad's grave and dropped flowers there. A carnation that Mom gave to me, and a rose from her. It was overgrown with crab grass and weeds, so I yanked it out with a fervor. Mom said I was throwing the crap as far as 6 feet away. I didn't notice; I wanted it clean. I used a swatch of the dry crab grass like a broom to whisk away all the dirt and debris from his flat, bronze military marker. Mom said to be careful; my brother had cut his fingers on the lettering last time he cleaned it off. I didn't cut myself - a miracle considering the klutz I am.

In retrospect, I should have taken a picture; it was the first time I saw the grave with the stone.

I remember taking pictures of other people's stones when Mom was looking for the right one for Dad.

I remember taking pictures of "pretty" stones and memorable stones I come across in other cemeteries - and stones that might promise ghost pictures.

I have a picture of Dad in the casket… it's a strange tradition in my family, pictures of people in the casket. My brother finds it creepy and disturbing, but my mother & I find it… I don't know… important. I don't know the feeling I associate with it, but I still have the picture somewhat handy. Along with this nice picture of him on my brother's birthday.

I will never forget… two years ago I forgot to call him on his birthday. I was at Dragon*Con, as it usually falls on his birthday. I'd promised I'd call - and I was so busy that I forgot. He was hurt and "joked" about it for a year afterward.

I made damn sure to remember to call him last birthday.

Even thought I had no idea he'd have died three days later.

When I was in Montreal, I made a stop at St. Joseph's Oratory. When I was 14 and my brother was 9 or 10, we visited there and Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre… St. Anne's was further out of the way than I could reasonably drive, but St. Joseph's is right in Montreal.

When we visited, Mom had me kneel in front of the main chapel altar, kiss the relic (a glass-encased piece of cloth), and light a candle that St. Joseph might help me find a wonderful husband.

The prayer came true.

St. Joseph is the patron of good husbands and good fathers and good workers… and many important things.

I dropped a good amount of change throughout the candle chapels for different things. At the main chapel - a tower of red and white candles ending at the foot of the larger-than-life father of Jesus - white spelling that Joseph was also the Church protector amongst the red, I lit four candles. One was separate, my personal thank-you. Then I lit three together. A white one for mom, and two red ones for my brother and me. I remembered to take a picture. I wanted to show Mom & my brother.

Today, after Mom & I visited the cemetery, the rest of the day carried on as normal. We went to lunch, we returned home for her to go over her endless "list" and for me to finagle endlessly on a dying computer that it might work just until we convince her to get a new one, and we caught up on news & family & neighborhood gossip.

I'll be at Dragon*Con on the day he had died. Fortunately, my brother will be home with Mom.

They will probably have a mostly normal day too.

I bought them both oil from the candles at St. Joseph's Oratory, and some for me, even though I still have mine from over 15 years ago when all four of us wandered the basilica's halls and said prayers for other family members, living and dead. Dad, ever intrigued by the supernatural present in real life, pointed out all the old crutches hanging on the walls. Proof that miracles happen, that there's a power beyond what we could ever understand. Proof of God.

Even at my most cynical, I can still remember the awe I shared with my parents, including my logical Dad who would constantly research, of this perfect certainty.

Love you, Daddy. Happy Birthday. I'm certain you can hear me.

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