Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New story!

Something fantastic happened this weekend: it's the first time I've wanted to write for over a year. My characters fell silent when hubs got really sick, and I think they were overwhelmed with everything that happened. I've been marathon-typing ever since then as well, struggling to make enough money for us to stay afloat, and up until now writing for fun has been out of the question. 

The new storyline is a bit complicated as it follows two sisters - Cyndy and Brandi - through a time of ordeals and turmoil, so I suspect the book will be long before it's finished.

Is there a downside? Well, as always when a story buzzes around in my head it's hard to focus on anything else. I sit in front of the computer, telling myself, "I have to work. I'm really interested in this, I am. And I need to do it. I really need to do it." Meanwhile, the inner me insists, "But they're in trouble. You can't just leave them on the brink of disaster..."

Here's an excerpt from one of the early chapters:

A shriek rang from the office, and Jack found himself unable to move. The paralysis only lasted for a second, but during that moment his mind painted out a million scenarios where Cyndy was no more. 

If anything happened to her, it would be his fault. 

She wouldn’t even be in this part of the state if he hadn’t been such a screw-up. If he had kept his ego in check and used common sense they'd be in the city right now. Instead they were in the middle of nowhere, locked in a store with a possible murderer.

His body finally obeyed and he spun around, pushed Stanley out of the way, and ran through the small store.

He didn’t have to go far. Cyndy darted in the other direction and threw herself in his arms, sobbing.

“What’s wrong, are you alright?”

She clung to him and buried her face against him. He tried to make himself free from her grip.

“Stay here, I’ll go investigate.”

She shook her head. “No… No, don’t go in there.”

“Okay, I’m here. Are you hurt? Tell me what happened.”

When she still didn’t say anything, he pushed her away enough to be able to see her face. She looked okay, but what did that mean on a day as strange as this?

Cyndy drew a deep breath. “There was this mouse.”

Stanley interrupted her. “All this for a mouse?”

Jack glared. “Shut up, Stanley.”

His wife sent him a grateful look. “As I was saying, there was this mouse. Cute, white little thing, it peeked out from a shelf. I talked a little to it, thinking it would want some crumbs or something.”

Stanley interrupted again. “You’re feeding mice in my store?”

“Stanley, if you don’t shut up so I can hear what she has to say, I’ll make you.”

Cyndy seemed oblivious of the interruption. “So, it came a little closer, right. You know how their little noses twitch, really cute. It sat down to wash its face with its little paws… It took a few steps towards me, and then it fell over, and it changed.  Jack, the mouse changed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Factory tour of Dean Guitars

A long, long time ago in the dawn of the Internet (lol) there was a website called gitarrwebben. It introduced guitar manufacturers, tips and tricks, and other guitar related subjects in Swedish to Swedish guitar aficionados. The website was quite popular, and I was one of the driving forces behind it. 

I've always been fascinated with musical instruments, and through this website I got in contact with several manufacturers. A couple were kind enough to send over photos so I could make virtual tours of their factories.

Ever since, I've wanted to visit a place where wood turns into guitars. I didn't think it would ever happen, because guitars are made in Korea, Japan, China, or possibly California. Or Nashville. 

Imagine my surprise when I wanted to send a question to Dean Guitars and saw a mailing address in Tampa, a mere hour away from here. 

Turns out they give factory tours. Joy!

Dean Guitars is a part of Armadillo Enterprises together with Luna Guitars and ddrum. I thought ddrum only had electronic drums, but I'm clearly behind on my drumming knowledge - they have beautiful acoustic sets.

Anyway, Dean Guitars are located in a big building with their trademark wings on the side. Here you'll find their offices, a large warehouse, and manufacturing. 

Like many other manufacturers the bulk of their instruments come from Asia, but they make custom ordered guitars right here, in Tampa. 

The lobby satisfies the cravings of a guitar-nerd: it's filled with instruments and pictures of instruments. Please excuse the poor photo below; it's hard to take good pictures of shiny things with the Florida sun beaming in through the windows.

You can't really tell on the image above, but these guitars are beautiful. The brown to the west has a western motive with a prairie and running horses. Check out the below detail of the green guitar hanging in the middle. If I have my information right that's not paint - it's inlays. 

The neck is pretty too, with flowers all the way up the fretboard. 

The lobby also held this bass inspired by John Entwistle from The Who. I didn't think much of it at first - until our guide explained that the spider webs are wood inlays. This is an ornate and beautiful instrument. 

The tour took us through a large warehouse filled with all sorts of fun stuff. There was also a long row of people who test and set up every instrument - even the ones from Asia - before they go out for sale. 

I have a couple of Dean basses made in China. They're affordable, and I was surprised when I got them how well set up they were. Now I know why; they're individually inspected right here in Tampa.

I've tried quite a few instruments in the same price range where the frets stuck out enough to the sides to cut your fingers, or had loose frets that wanted to creep out of the fretboard. No such problems with the Deans.

The next stop was at a wood-working area filled with interesting machines and piles of wood, guitar bodies, and guitar necks everywhere. I want some, and I want them now.

The guitar bodies on the photo to the right are still pretty rough. They have people who sand them to perfection. By hand. A large amount of work in this factory is done by hand, and that impressed me.

Below are some examples of cool stuff I encountered around the factory. Guitar bodies, necks, fine woods... The possibilities are endless.

Did I mention necks? They had the coolest machine that makes glue set in seconds instead of hours. After that, the pieces that will become guitar necks are set to the side for a few months, to ensure the wood is properly dry and set. If you make a guitar out of wood that's not properly dry it can warp and become impossible to play.

The photo below shows a large stack of future guitar necks, waiting for their turn to shine.

Our tour guide works with making pickups. A guitar pickup is a coil of wire around a magnet, and the type of magnet, the thickness of the wire, and the number of times the wire is wound all influence the final sound of the pickup.

There are several types of pickups, but that's a discussion for another day. Here is a gang of these beauties waiting for their instruments. I've always expected things like these to come out of a factory somewhere in Asia by the millions. It makes me happy to know that someone in my area still makes them.

They don't paint guitars in Tampa, painting guitars is difficult, expensive, and time consuming, and they send the instruments away to get a perfect finish. They do some natural finishes.

Our next stop was at final assembly, where the guitar bodies get their final hardware.

Once we'd seen all the manufacturing steps, our guide took us upstairs to see the Dean collection. I'm sure he said many interesting things about the instruments there, but I got sensory overload from looking, so I missed most of the information. LOL!

These guitars have the typical Dean head. I believe it's a love it or hate it design - perfect for metal. You can get the newer models with a more neutral headstock that fits me better.

To me, this was like Christmas. I wanted to touch and look at everything. 

The next step on the tour, and the only one I haven't showed you yet, was an exhibition of all the instruments they produce for sale right now. Here are some of the photos I took - this is a mix of Dean and Luna instruments.

This was a fantastic experience. If you're in the area and you're interested in guitars at all, I warmly recommend a visit to the Dean factory.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Me or I

A long time ago in the distant past (lol) people overused the word me, and friends of grammar campaigned to benefit the word I. As a result, people seem afraid to use me, even when it is the correct word. It's one of those things that shouldn't be a big deal, but it's super annoying.

So, how do you know when to use which? Should it be me, or should it be I?

It's easy.

People seem to get confused when the sentence speaks about more people than just one. Take all the others out and see how you would say it if it were only about you.

For example, let's assume I'm going to the store with Bonnie.

If I'm going alone, the sentence will be "I am going to the store." This is pretty easy, you wouldn't say, "Me am going to the store."

When adding the other person - Bonnie - you just attach her to the sentence. "Bonnie and I are going to the store."

Now, let's make this a bit more complicated.

Let's assume that Bonnie is taking me and our friend Ellie to the store. (Note, I used me in that sentence, not I.)

If it were just the two of us, I would say, "Bonnie is taking me to the store." I think that's pretty clear - you wouldn't say, "Bonnie is taking I to the store." That sounds silly.

Now we'll add Ellie to the mix. The correct sentence would be, "Bonnie is taking Ellie and me to the store." If you use me when the sentence is only talking about you, you need to keep using me when adding more people.

Next, Bonnie invites Ellie and me to dinner. Should it be me or should it be I?

If I were the only one invited, the sentence would be along the lines of, "Bonnie invited me to dinner." No one would say, "Bonnie invited I to dinner."

It's not just me, it's Ellie too, and the sentence turns into, "Bonnie invited Ellie and me to dinner."

If you're still uncertain, consider using us or we instead of specifying who is going where or doing what. Those words are harder to misuse, and you can come across as a grammar maven.

Friday, February 6, 2015

I live close to a guitar factory. Didn't know that...

I'm a guitar nerd. I don't really play guitar - only bass - but I love guitars as instruments. And basses, of course, that goes without saying. I love having them,  playing them, holding them, looking at them... I've been known to go into extensive explanations of guitar pickups or different methods of attaching the neck to the body until people's eyes glaze over. 

I can do my guitar babbling much better in Swedish than in English, but I'm learning the vocabulary here too. Back home I used to run a website with the ex called gitarrwebben. It served information about guitars and basses, manufacturers, how to play, interviews, and similar. It was immensely popular, especially considering that this was a long time ago.

When working on the website I contacted many instrument manufacturers and got photos from their facilities and other interesting information. Ever since I've wanted to visit a guitar manufacturer, but I never had the opportunity. I sort of thought they were all somewhere else. Like Memphis, or California.

The other day I wanted to contact Dean Guitars and looked for their e-mail address on their website. I had to read their physical address three times to believe my eyes - they're located in Tampa, just an hour away from me. And, they give factory tours!

I've booked myself on a tour Thursday next week. To make things even better, they allow cameras! I'm super excited! =D

Friday, January 30, 2015

Making a creative change

I didn't get much written in 2014. Or rather, I wrote more than ever before, but none of it was fiction or for fun. In retrospect I think this is part of what made the year so hard for me; suppressing the creative side made me feel like I lost a part of myself, and besides having a hard time with things that actually happened I battled myself to stay on track with things that had to be done.

2015 is off to a better start. Hubs isn't feeling great, but he has been good enough to be able to go to most appointments on his own, pick up his meds by himself, and stuff like that. This has been a huge relief for me, partly because I'm less worried for him of course, but also because I've had some time and peace of mind to actually work - during daytime.

It's really hard to keep a household together, make sure everyone is fed and the bills paid when you're waiting in healthcare facilities as much as 20-30 hours in a week. Before all this happened I could never have anticipated how much time I would spend just waiting.

Most people around me have been fantastic. I found more support than I could ever have anticipated, but a few people seemed eager to add to the burden. Not cool. Luckily, by the end of the year I was so tired I didn't care about others liking me any more. Being able to tell people to sod off was a great relief, and solved several problems. LOL.

Anyway, this post was supposed to be about making a creative change. Things have gotten a little better, and while I still don't have the inner peace to write, I decided I wanted to start playing bass again. I used to play in three bands back home, and I miss it. I'm not great, but I'm good enough. (I don't have any playing-buddies here, and I don't have time for rehearsals and gigs, so I play along to a playlist or the radio or whatever.)

To accomplish this outlet and get some peace of mind I've decided to set time aside for Maria-activities after dinner every evening. I also aim at taking at least one day off every week. I couldn't do this in 2014 because I spent so much time at the cancer centers, but now I can actually spend a little time on me. I've been playing bass and reading books, and it's heavenly. 

I'm much happier. I know I should be working during that time too, or at least cleaning or doing dishes or something, but screw it. Careful consideration led to the conclusion that I'm important too, and in the long run no one wins from me being miserable.

The next step in winning back "me" is to create enough space in the schedule and inner peace to get back to writing. I have so many almost finished stories that I want to get done, and new ones brewing in my head. If things keep going well maybe I'll have a new book or two out before the year is over.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My life runs on battery

You would think that in the year 2015 we would have invented a better power source than traditional batteries. Don't get me wrong - they've improved - but they're nowhere near what a science fiction writer can imagine. The only difference is that I have more stuff powered by batteries now than say ten years ago.

Seriously. My computer keyboard runs on battery, as does my computer mouse. Cell phone, company phone, iPad, Kindle, calculator... Even one of my basses has a battery. Many of them are rechargeable, of course, but that doesn't help much since I'm really bad at plugging stuff in.

At least a couple of these problems have been solved lately. I got a Cellularize portable cell phone charger here. I have something similar, but the Cellularize runs circles around the other charger.

It is heavy enough to feel right, but not so heavy that it causes a problem when tucked into a purse. It charges quickly, and keeps my phones or even the iPad running for quite some time, and it has a flashlight.

The flashlight is a big deal to me. I don't like stumbling around the yard in the dark with the dogs - they can see just fine, but I can't.

Hubs is a specialist at losing flashlights - they're in the house somewhere, but the only way to find one is through looking for something else and stumbling over one. Trust me, they end up in weird places. This flashlight is mine, because it's attached to my charger, and I know where it is.

And you know what? It's small yet to hold yet bright enough to give a good light, so it's perfect for under-the-cover reading. (Yep, I'm goofy. I still do that, like a little kid on TV if the book is good enough and I don't want to disturb the sleeping family.)

This charger comes with a good manual too, that even shows specs for the battery. None of my other chargers have had the courage to do that.

Do you have a lot of battery-powered gadgets too? Have you found a solution to running out of battery?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year!

When 2014 started I predicted it would be a year filled with change. That turned out to be true, albeit most of the changes were much more difficult than I had in mind. Now it's gone, good riddance, and we're heading into something new.

Yes, I'm aware that the new year is an arbitrary point decided by humans, but that doesn't matter. It's as good a point as any to look back and make necessary adjustments going forward. I have high hopes for 2015. I hope this year will be a little easier than the last one.

For 2015, I've promised myself to take a little time every day for something I think is fun. Santa brought me a practice amp for Christmas, and I haven't realized how much I missed playing the bass until now. (I have an amp, but it's too big for a residential area, lol. Low volume on it is still pretty dang loud.) A little time playing every day has already made me a happier person. I miss my band, but playing for me is better than not playing at all.

During the year I hope to get back to writing fiction too. I have so many ideas and almost finished stories, but everything came to a screeching halt with Mikey's illness last year. If I can find some balance maybe I can finish at least one story this year - it would make me feel accomplished.

With any luck I'll get back to this blog too. I've been writing so much for other people my own stuff has fallen behind.

That's three New Year's Resolutions for me. Have you made any? Was 2014 a good year for you? Are you looking forward to the new one, or are you sad to see the old one go?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The holiday season is here

I love this time a year. I love the colors of the holiday decorations, all the lights, foods, goodies, presents, and a chance to pause and reflect on life, the universe, and everything. However, I think I liked it better back home than here in the USA.

Take this for what it is - I'm a foreigner and I see things from another point of view that might not always sit well with Americans. In this country everything is a religious battle.

I don't care who believes in what, who celebrates or doesn't celebrate, or how a person celebrates. Live and let live.

The American debate of what to call the holiday season drives me nuts. I don't understand how people can be offended by the phrases "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" - how does it matter what greeting a person chooses? The important thing is that someone took the time to pause, see you, and wish you joy.

I often mention that Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the world. We say "God Jul" and we call the season "Juletid." This is clearly related to the ancient yuletide traditions, but it's still neutral enough for no one to be offended. It's what we call it, it's a name, and I don't think anyone gives it any more thought than you would be offended by the names of the week.

I also don't understand bumper stickers saying "Put Christ back in Christmas." The church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ at this time a year because people refused to let go of their old traditions. I sort of think the old traditions won, because they're still present in almost every home.

The Christmas tree comes from pagan origins, and the Mistletoe has origins in Norse mythology. Christmas presents come from pre-Christian Saturnalia. Santa Claus is believed to be a mix of a Turkish bishop who lived around the year 300 and norse god Oden.

Did you know that Christmas was banned by the Puritans and illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681 because of the pagan origins?

What do you think? Does it matter what we call the season?