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The House is Nearly Done… Or So we Hope!

9 and a half months after the house fire, our house is finally getting close to done. We should be moving back in this Friday, if all goes well.

Of course, all may not go well. Our contractor, picked after much discussion and research, turned out not to be as good or as organized as we’d hoped.

Decorative columns are falling off the front of the house because they were only attached to house with paint. We have concerns that maybe the builder didn’t tell the roofing truss company they had taken out a load bearing wall. We go on a trip with the builder to pick out appliances and finishes, and he calls us for the next week asking /us/ for the SKU’s because he’s lost them. Ditto for finishes. We show up at the house and the plumber is sitting there doing nothing because the builder has forgotten to bring in the toilets and dishwaser. There is something odd with the actual roof itself too; we can see the ribs of the roof through the tile, and we shouldn’t.

We are fed up, and as final inspections by the city and the move-in date approach, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope.

Well, that, and call the roofing truss company and bring in a third-party home inspection company. Because, really, I don’t trust my builder anymore. Honestly, I barely believe he can put his pants on the right way around in the mornings.

Bow, Book, and Sword

I haven’t been posting… because I’ve been busy.

 

Book

I’ve been coming to terms with the setting of my current novel, and reworking things so that it feels alive to me. For instance, since I’m writing about a place very much like Ancient South China, I’ve been learning a lot about rice and paddies, and really focusing on experiencing this place on a visceral level.

I had gone down a path of too much book learning about the subject, which really means I wasted a lot of time taking notes about useless stuff. None of my notes make it real. I need to see it, smell it, taste it in the back of my throat — then I can make it feel real.

This means not a lot of forward progress, but what I do have is much more satisfying to me, personally.

 

Bow (for Amtgard, the swords and sorcery LARP that I play)

Drills every day last week. Speed-nocking, arrow gripping, speed pull, rapid target acquisition. I am in an apartment still, so no target practice; this means my accuracy is likely crap. But, by god, I will be able to nock, grab, pull, pick a target, and fire fast. 

I still only have one arrow, but hopefully that will be fixed soon.

 

Sword (also for Amtgard)

Lots of sparring and block/strike drills this week. 

The park held a mini-tournament this weekend. The format was “Ironman”, also known as “Bear Pit” — two people fight in a ring for 15 seconds. Whoever wins, stays in, and the next person in line goes in to fight. Wounds are not healed between bouts. Overall time limit was 30 minutes, I believe. 

I came in second, and I could’ve come in first if I hadn’t made a couple of stupid mistakes. My longest streak was 6 kills in a row, and I had 29 kills total. The winner had 34, which is closer than it sounds. I lost my place in line (and thus my turn at winning and staying in the bear pit) twice, and it would’ve been a lot closer if I had been paying attention. 

My left shoulder is now killing me, due to overwork.

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Also for sword:

Three top level Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) coaches from mainland China visited my Kung Fu school on Thursday. Really amazing to see 60 and 70 year olds move with lower stances, more fluidity, and more suppleness than me, someone 20-30 years their junior. 

I have lots of medals in Taiji from various national and international tournaments, but these people were much better than me. They were really doing Taiji. I don’t know quite what I’m doing, but it’s obviously not Taiji yet.

 

Recovering from the house fire: stage 1

Since there is a high likelihood of both us and our insurance suing (redacted), the house rebuild has been delayed for legal-related niceties.

We’ve finally started interviewing custom home builders, and it’s like a game of pick your poison. One guy is really expert on building techniques and city code, but has the bedside manner of an axe murderer. The other guy is nice, but everything he wants to build is against code.

The delay also means we are chewing through our housing allowance far too fast, especially since rebuild always go over time and over budget. The company that’s supposed to converge all of this for us is also overcharging. They’re only supposed to get 15 percent commission, but somehow this crazy overpriced $3000 per month hotel room is costing us an extra $1000. At this rate we’d be on the streets long before the build was done.  So now we have to find out own apartment and file manually for reimbursement.  Another headache we don’t need.

But still, it’s slowly coming together.

Feeling Old Today

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Feeling a little worn out. Maybe the stress of the house post-fire is getting to me, the grind of listing every possession we owned and trying to figure out what it was worth; or perhaps it’s the slight,-pleasant-but-still-present pressure of getting the novel ready to sell that’s pushing me that little too far. 

I have not slept well since the house fire. Not well at all. I am not normally a bad sleeper, just a night-owl who burns the candle at both ends. But these days I have to be completely exhausted in order to sleep. And I’m a little snappier and grumpier than normal. I’m usually a laid back, meditative guy, so I weirds me out to be angry at all.

Still, it is an exciting adventure, too. The house fire has wiped our family’s life clean of accumulated junk, and the insurance has bent over backwards to help us, so we expect that we will have our house back soon, just a little newer and with a better floorplan than it had before.  And I’m learning things about how to sell a book I’ve never known much about before. 

Overall, I’m a little unsteady, a little unsure of myself. Inching along with all the insurance work and plans for my next novels. But hopefully soon I’ll be back to full throttle. 

Agents and House Fires and Such

As a general update, Tuesday, December 10, 2013 was a freaking crazy day:

At 11:00am, I receive an email from Jennifer Jackson at the Donald Maass agency offering to represent my novel. My first agent! This is something I’ve worked for years (decades) toward, a major milestone in my writing career. And she’s a great agent and a great person too. So exciting!

And then, at 5:00pm, my house burns down.

Everyone is fine, even the cats, and doing well. We have insurance, and likely will be fine. And we are holding up really well. The fire was so incredibly hungry and swift, 5 minutes either way on the timing of the fire (or, worse, if it had happened overnight) someone would be dead. From first smoke to inferno was just a couple of minutes. Six fire trucks worked for an hour to put it out, and two ambulances and just about every cop in the city were on site. We are very lucky.

The rest of it is just stuff: furniture, clothing, books, DVDs. It’s hard to get upset about that when things could’ve gone so wrong. 

Jennifer Jackson, who now represents me literarily, has a post about it here. 

Yes, we are sad about a lot of things: pictures, letters, and keepsakes, mostly. We also had my  mom’s collectibles (a vast collections of collections, uncountable reams of autographs from any science fiction movie or TV show you can imagine, rare science fiction memorabilia, records, stamps, boots, etc.), and the insurance will not come close to reimbursing us for that.

But, really, we’re looking at it as a new beginning, a chance to rise from the ashes (see what I did there?) better and stronger than ever.  

It’s strange, we’ve both had problems with depression in the past, but as long as we keep smiling and marching forward and looking for the positives in the situation, it doesn’t seem to drag us down.

Maybe that’s the real secret to happiness, huh? It couldn’t be THAT easy, could it?

Still, there are a lot of things up in the air. We’ve never been through this process before (and hopefully we never will go through it again!), so the sheer weight of the unknown is a stressor, a weight on the back, all by itself. But we are filled with hope rather than fear, and that is the important thing!

A lot of people out there feel compelled to help us because it’s such a terrifying story. Because death was close at hand. We think we will be fine, and we are not asking for help, but if you feel compelled to aid us for some reason, don’t buy us blankets or crackers or juice (please don’t!).

If we end up needing help, it will be for unexpected things, housing overruns, or build overruns near the end of the recovery process, months and months from now. 

Our YouCaring site is the best way to chip in.

And since I know everyone is curious to see what fire damage looks like, here is my shelf full of esoteric books on Kung Fu, Taiji, Qigong, and Languages (everything from Sumerian to Chinese to Sanskrit to Lakota Sioux Sign Language to Latin to Cherokee, and many in between).

 

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Evil plans and machinations

So… I have been implementing my newfound plot skills. I am about 13k into a new novel, and the one thing I have learned is this: Don’t be married to the outline.

For me, outline-wise, first thought = worst thought. I almost always come up with something better when I get to that point in the novel. But just to get there, it really helps to have a structure. Even if I know I’m going to throw it away.

So, yes… I’ve been coming up with evil plots to inflict upon my characters, and, when it comes time to pull the trigger, I find an even eviller one. And I think that’s the way it should be.