Sunday, March 18, 2018

Song Styles

Every now and again, I stumble across a song that latches onto me and becomes an obsession.  I hit the repeat button, I go back to seek it out at random times, and long before my fascination fades, I've got it memorized nuance by nuance.  This is one of my most recent obsession songs, and fair warning, it's creepy:

Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) - Aurora

The atmosphere combined with the song and Aurora's piercing song ... it's pretty much perfect.  The acoustic version is also haunting, but I love the beat and ethereal sound effects here.

Who is the "he" in this song?  And is the song even meant to be taken literally, or is some abstract part of the singer dying?  That's up to the listener.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Scylla and Charybdis Reviewed at Fantasy Faction

An early review for Scylla and Charybdis is now available at Fantasy Faction:  check it out!

I'm quite pleased with this review.  I'm surprised how much attention the reviewer devotes to the society of Anaea's home station, but I suppose in hindsight, it plays a much bigger role than I originally intended.  We authors often develop a picture of the book that isn't necessarily how a reader approaches it.

Although character is very important in Scylla and Charybdis, I've always thought of it as a Milieu novel.  It's centered around the exploration of the world, and for me and Anaea, that means the world outside her home ... but on the other hand, you can't approach a foreign land without the context of where you've come from.  So in some senses, the space station is the most important setting of all, even if it doesn't get the same number of words devoted (directly) to it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

In all the preparations for the release of Scylla and Charybdis, another anniversary slipped on by.  Flow has just had its sixth book-release anniversary!  The beginning of the month, in fact.  In the past, I've joked that of the two birthdays on the first of March (the book's and mine), Flow is obviously more important.  Who cares about the author's birthday?

It's been six years since Flow came out from Double Dragon (and is still available!).  It's been even longer since I first wrote it.  Sure, I might change a few things if given the chance to write it again.  If nothing else, the rise of smartphones and mobile technology would have a lot of small, subtle effects on the narrative (and the lack thereof does date it to the setting year).

Flow was a novel written from character, specifically the two women - Kit and Chailyn - who drive the narrative.  Their abilities and general backstory shaped the world I built for the book.  Along with Hadrian, they were all roleplaying characters who I adored, but didn't get enough time to play.

For those unfamiliar, roleplaying is essentially collaborative writing.  Typically, each person controls a single character, while one - the gamemaster - manages the world and forces moving against them.  I played in various iterations, but Kit, Chailyn and Hadrian come from internet-based games where the basic world is laid out in coded / described rooms, allowing people to interact without a gamemaster involved.  (Room being a pretty broad term:  a "room" could be an entire city neighborhood, a garden or an iceberg.)  These games were called a MUSH (Multi-User Shared Hallucination) or MUX (Multi-User eXperience).

So it's a very immersive way of creating a character, if sometimes tedious or humdrum - believe me, just about everyone who has played on a MUSH or MUX has had multiple scenes of lounging around a coffee shop chatting with a total stranger about nothing.  A lot of what is played out has little relevance to ongoing story, but as with many other aspects of writing, the iceberg effect comes into play.  What the reader never sees or even "needs" for the story shows up indirectly under the surface.

I've written other stories in the Flow setting:  Xmas Wishes and A Dose of Aconite have been published, and a few others are still in my to-be-submitted pile.  And what about a sequel to Flow?  I have definitely kicked around ideas, but I have so many other enticing projects that it's unlikely to float to the top (flow to the top) any time soon.  Unlikely ... but not impossible.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Snippet

Instead of musical meanderings this Sunday, I thought I'd switch things up with a bit of proof-of-work from Surgeburnt.  This is one of the flashback sequences that form the novel's past-plot.  For context, the narrator is a Scorpio Star-child, which means in part that she has enhanced, poisonous nails ...

We spent a few moments more with the final details of the plan, then went our separate ways.  Tahir and I headed for the power station.
“Tell me whatever passage you’ve chosen for us isn’t crusted with cobwebs,” I said.
“What, are you afraid you’ll break a nail?”
I flexed my talons.  “Can you blame me?”
“I’d hate to see the amount of force you’d have to apply to break one of those nails.”  He managed a fleeting smile.  “We’ve got this, Maren.”
“Stop telling me things that are obvious.”
The power station was heavily monitored and protected by numerous electronic surveillance systems, but the soda factory on the next block was not.  We mingled with the workers on lunch break and entered the maintenance area. 
Tahir pried off the cover of a ventilation duct.  “After you, milady.”  He swept a mocking bow.
“So I hit any traps first,” I said.  “How kind of you.”
“I do try to be a gentleman.”

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Song Styles

In case you missed my shouting from the rooftops, Scylla and Charybdis, in Kindle form, is now available for preorder - check it out here!

I have an extensive playlist for the novel, which I'll be discussing in the weeks to come, but I wanted to start out with a song that is purely mood music, a moment of joy.

In The Arms of the Milky Way - Laura Powers

Of course, there are a few constellation / mythology references, which are very appropriate to the novel ... but mostly, I just love the attitude and the rush of discovery the song encompasses.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Had trouble coming up with a topic for today's post, so on a whim, I inputted "writing" and "fantasy" into a random blog topic generator.  It spat back:  "Why We Love Writing (And You Should, Too!)"

No, no, don't.  I'm put in mind of the Dorothy Parker quote:  "If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy."

In any case, it seems like writers exist (or at least, this writer exists) in a constant state of paradox. We love writing and loathe it, beating our heads against the wall when the beautifully rendered scene in our minds turns into drivel on the page. Our work is derivative drek, but somehow - simultaneously! - worthy of publication by the big houses, glowing reviews, maybe even a movie ...

And the ability to hold both these states in suspension, often at the same time, is probably what makes the writing work. Stray too far in one direction or the other, and the result is stagnation.

So yes, if you're encouraging someone to write, you're telling them, "You should be a little bit unhappy all the time!" On the other hand, you're also telling them to be a bit happy all the time, so ... perhaps it balances out.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Song Styles

Curse my fickle writer brain!  I've committed myself to my next novel project and am partway through my third book on the research for it.  I am genuinely excited for everything it has to offer.  The characters promise to be a lot of fun, a study in contrasts, and it will be great to write from multiple POVs again ... especially since they have vastly different outlooks on the world and events around them.  I'm also tackling a(nother) mystery plotline, which has been a long term writerly goal of mine for a while.  Yes, Unnatural Causes is a mystery, but this one should be different enough not to feel like a retread.

And yet ... this morning, I woke up feeling the sudden, sharp pull of another project that has been on the backburner.  In some senses, it's a rewrite project, but it's more extensive than that:  I'm taking storylines and characters and transporting them to another world with different rules, which will inevitably change the dynamics.  These are people I know like the back of my hand.  My concerns, and the reason I had decided - ha! - not to tackle this project yet is the cast and plot are huge and complicated, and I'm concerned that it won't end up being original enough.

One of the facets I am very pleased with and think is unusual, though, is the fact that much of the plot is driven by the romance plot ... between the villain and his beloved.  It is a genuine, deep affection, but it also causes a lot of havoc in its wake.  I've always said that the question behind it is:  sure, true love can conquer all ... but should it?

Among the songs I associate with this thread is (from her perspective):

Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis

The violent metaphors take on a vaguely sinister cast in this context.  It's a great illustration of the beginning of a downward spiral.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

She has arrived, and she is beautiful.

I'm talking about my proof for Scylla and Charybdis - a lovely surprise, considering it wasn't due for another week.  It's a big, meaty book, a doorstop, glossy and gorgeous.  Watch this space for a cover reveal once I've had a chance to flip through and make sure that all is well.

(The contrast, size-wise, between Flow and Scylla and Charybdis is a little funny - Flow is a fairly short novel.  SaC could devour it, much like its namesake(s).)

I'm excited and a little scared.  The usual jitters:  will the world love my book baby as much as I do?  Well, probably not ... that's a tall order.  But I do hope it will find a special place in a few hearts.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Coming Soon ...!

I now have a release date for Scylla and Charybdis, my space opera / soft science fiction novel from Grimbold Books:  April 15th!

This is sadly *not* Tax Day this year, as would be somehow twistedly appropriate, but I'm very excited.  Watch this space for more details, peeks behind the scenes, and possibly other goodies.

Here's the brief summary of Scylla and Charybdis:

For Anaea Carlisle – raised on an isolated space station populated solely by women – the world is far too small.  On a salvage mission, she helps rescue a hypermental named Gwydion who challenges everything she thought she knew.  When she flees the station to prevent him from having his memory erased, she finds herself in a brand-new world and struggling to find a home.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Song Styles

For the second time, I'd like to do something a little different on a Sunday, discuss some new-to-me music that I thought others might like.

I'll start with the most recent and high-profile album, Kelly Clarkson's Meaning Of Life.  If you've turned the radio on any time within the past six months or so, you can't fail to have heard "Love So Soft," and it's a good example of what to expect:  energetic, sassy R&B-style music, driven by Kelly's powerful voice.  Her belting strength is ideally suited to these songs, always with enough punch to carry over the elaborate arrangements.  In this vein, the ballads are generally the weakest songs.  There's too much going on to allow the listener to really feel the heart of the song.  That said, "Would You Call That Love" is an exception and one of my favorites.

At first listen, Meaning of Life feels very "samey" - it takes a few listen-throughs to begin to appreciate each song on its own and their varied character.  "Whole Lotta Woman" is bound to drag a grin out of you, and another favorite is the closing number, "Go High."  This is one of those songs where the combination of melody, lyrics and arrangement are perfectly suited to each other.

Next up is Rachel Fuller's Cigarettes & Housework.  Who in the world is Rachel Fuller?  She's a pianist singer-songwriter with intricate arrangements and an ethereal but still rounded voice.  I discovered her from the Shall We Dance? soundtrack, where one of her songs - "Wonderland" - is featured.  (The song is also on this album by what I assume is the original title, not used for obvious reasons:  "Eat Me")  And ... this album is wonderful, elegant piano combined with clever but easy lyrics and a pop-rock spirit.  To get a feel for what Cigarettes & Housework offers, check out "Into My Heart."

I admit that the middle section of the album sags; I have trouble distinguishing between "Imperfection," "Happy To Be Sad" and "Nothing Worthwhile" ... but really, the worst part about this album is it's a one-off.  Fuller never put out another full album after its 2004 release.  That puts me into a "Spin."

I also have to highlight Idina Menzel's I Stand.  This is an earlier album than her recent idina, which I covered in my last music review.  People know Menzel as Elsa, as Rachel's Mother from Glee, as the titular character from Wicked, but oddly enough not as a singer in her own right ... which is a shame, because her voice is perfection and her music is full of warmth and beauty.  I Stand doesn't show off her astonishing range quite as much, but it's still obvious she is head and shoulders above the average singer.  It's also refreshingly easy to understand the lyrics, probably because Menzel has a background in musicals, where every phrase is essential to the plot.

This album is sweet and satisfying, with a nice range of different moods and pacing.  Its darkest moment is probably my favorite:  "I Feel Everything."

Finally, if you're a Sara Bareilles fan, you probably know about the Waitress musical, and it's likely you've heard at least pieces of What's Inside, her personal take on selected songs she composed for the musical.  Waitress is charming, heartwarming and hilarious, but is it worth owning both?  Absolutely.  The songs that overlap vary in quality; "I Didn't Plan It" is amazing, raw and powerful, superior to Bareilles' version, while the more "talky" version of "When He Sees Me" just seems to lose some of its clever verve.  

But there's a ton more in the Waitress soundtrack.  In fact, it's not just songs from the musical, it is the entire book, including orchestral interludes and even a brief piece where the main character speaks to her baby.  Some of these are throwaway, but others are highly enjoyable - I quite liked "Club Knocked Up."  As this might imply, Waitress is very much a musical, with conversational interludes, sung interruptions, and ensemble interaction.  If you're not sure this is your cup of tea, try out "The Negative" - that will give you an idea if you want a bigger taste of Waitress.

I do find it interesting where the lyrics differ between What's Inside and Waitress.  Not all of these changes seem to involve the shift between an independent song and a musical number, so I wonder if they were organic changes made in rehearsal or development.

And in conclusion, I have to highlight this gem:  "I Love You Like A Table."

Happy listening!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

No blog post last week because of craziness at work:  we were preparing for a VIP client dinner to be held in the shop.  It went very well, but I didn't have much energy (physical or mental) for anything else.  Was a full five days of work in a row (keeping in mind that I work 10s), which happens only occasionally and flattens me like a pancake.  Or roadkill.

In any event, I've been doing a lot of research lately about synesthesia.  For those unfamiliar, synesthesia is a trait where a sensory experience triggers a second, involuntary perception.  For instance, synesthetes often see the letters of the alphabet in unique colors.  These perceptions are innate, unique / personal to the individual, and unchanging.  (With some exceptions to the rule, of course.)  Another common form of synesthesia involves units of time:  as in Wednesday Is Indigo Blue (Cytowic), the book I just finished reading.

Why synesthesia?  I've known about it in general terms for a while and thought it would make a good basis for a magic system.  In doing my research, I've found many aspects of synesthesia that complement the idea of magic ... and of course, discovered that part of my original concept for how the senses would divide made no sense at all.

Scientifically, synesthesia is not fully understood.  There seems to be some basis for the idea that as infants, we are all synesthetic:  we don't divide sensory input between senses, but absorb it all as a whole.  Only as we develop do we begin to distinguish between sight, sound, taste.  Those who do see colored numbers or music are often branded as weird by the people around them and learn to hide their perceptions to avoid being mocked or teased.

For my purposes, this whole aspect of a "hidden world" gives it great resonance for a magic system.

Many creative people experience some form of synesthesia.  Some use it as an aid to their artistry, for instance a photographer who waits for the right "tone" to snap her images, and others try to translate the synesthetic impressions only they experience, but certainly not every synesthetic artist falls into these two camps.

And synesthesia borders on metaphor, often mistaken for it in literature.  It's a way of describing the world through unconventional senses, often in a manner that surprises - for while there are some patterns in how synesthesia manifests, it is most often idiosyncratic rather than structured and logical.  As a writer, I love the idea of capturing an experience through an unexpected union or comparison.

One thing I have found continually reinforced in my reading is the idea that each synesthete experiences different responses to a stimulus.  There might be some similarities or overlaps, but everyone's synesthetic response is different.  From the beginning, I wanted to make my magic system unique to the user.  Every person "sees" a spell differently and thus duplicates it.  This fits perfectly with how synesthesia operates in the real world.

Of course, since I am writing a secondary world fantasy, and synesthesia is literally manifesting with magic, I can feel free to bend some of the real world conventions, and I probably will in regards to the comparative rarity of smell / taste manifestations.  However, I like knowing what the "rules" are before I break them, so I can do it strategically.


Sunday, February 04, 2018

Song Styles

There's one song I haven't formally put on my Surgeburnt soundtrack because it describes a romantic arc that I hadn't decided I was going to use ... and here I am, at least (I hope) three quarters of the way through the first draft, and I'm still not totally sure whether it's a yes or a no, though I'm closer to the decision than I was.  It's been a very organic process, reading between the lines for these characters, but if it does happen, it will be a ...

Long Shot - Kelly Clarkson

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Song Styles

One of the side characters - and suspects - in my fantasy mystery, Unnatural Causes, is Eldais, former apprentice of Cailys (the victim), who was booted from his position after he attempted to lash out at the royal heir.  Cailys chose not to turn him over to the guard, but now he's a pariah, with no one willing to take him on.  I chose this for his themesong:

You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby - Kirsty MacColl

It pretty much addresses his sense of entitlement and his misfortunes head on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

So it's about that time again.  Submissions for the Sword & Sorceress anthology typically open in mid-April, and a few months before, I always look through my backlog, pick two stories in that vein (S&S allows one submission, then a second if the first is rejected), and edit them.

I'm always surprised how few stories I have that fit the profile:  most of my stories are female-focused, but not necessarily action-based, low magic or restricted to personal stakes.  Grant that the more recent anthologies don't seem to adhere strictly to this; I recall reading tales with exotic, magic-fueled worlds and/or kingdom-wide stakes.  But of course, classic sword-and-sorcery stories often deviate from the bullet point definition, too.  I tend to err on the side of choosing the stories that more closely align to it.

Right now, I have five stories marked for readthrough and decision:

Hearing Voices
Free To Fly
Shade Trees

These stories run the gamut as to when they were written:  Speechless is by far the oldest, and I think - though I can't recall - I even had it polished up for a previous year and ended up not sending it because my first submission was shortlisted.  But as I've matured as a writer, my ideas have grown, and this one may end up trunked.  (Or I may ask for readers to help me fix the issue.  If I think it's even worth it.  Sigh.)  By contrast, Free To Fly is fairly recent, while Fireworks and Shade Trees are the most recent tales I've finished.

They range in length, too:  Fireworks is flash fiction; Speechless is over the 7,000 word mark, which is, of course, a harder sell.

I'm concerned that Hearing Voices and Free To Fly may be too unconventional for S&S.  Hearing Voices is written from a first person plural perspective (aforementioned "voices"), while Free To Fly has an open / ambiguous ending.  Fireworks plays with my synesthesia research, while Shade Trees is actually from's December "holiday remix" challenge.

As I think about it, I probably need to make the decision on Speechless before I do anything else.  If I feel it's worthy of submission, this is the place to start.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Song Styles

This week, I heard a song on a television show I enjoy - The Blacklist, for the curious - that caught my attention.  I had to seek it out.  As soon as I heard the whole thing, I was hooked.  It appeals to the wanderer instinct, the rhythm is addictive, and the vocal acrobatics?  Totally catchy, and also totally doable for a slightly trained singer such as myself.  Check it out:

No Roots - Alice Merton

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

A while back, I posted about how critiquing can be valuable for writers - not just the process of getting outside eyes on your work, but the act of reading critically, bringing your reactions together, and phrasing them in an effective manner.  Today, I wanted to talk about how I approach the critiques I receive:  how I filter them, decide how to proceed, what advice to use and what to ignore.

Important to everything that follows is this:  take critique with a grain of salt.  Not every reader is bothered by the same issues.  It may only be an "issue" for a particular individual.  I've received rejections-with-comments from editors that offer contradictory reasons and comments.  Once, I got a rejection on a story criticizing its florid prose.  The same story got praise for the lyrical descriptions ... from the very next place I submitted it.

(Some of you may be thinking:  what about the writers who are so arrogant they brush off anything that isn't praise?  I'm sure they're out there, but in my experience, they're the minority.  Most of us hate everything we've written and are prone to believe every negative word.)

In most critique situations, you have more than one reader.  Now, I know perfectly well that the best way to deal with this is to wait until all (or at least some) of the responses have come in before changing anything ... but I have a compulsion to apply and "resolve" the critique as soon as possible, so I'd be a hypocrite to advise others to wait.

I analyze each comment in a critique and decide how I feel about it:  whether I agree, disagree or am on the fence.  This involves knowing myself as a writer, what I want out of the story, and of course the content of the story.  (Readers are human, and I have gotten comments / confusion about a fact that is directly stated - but I've also been sure I said X, and gone back to find that wasn't the case ...)

If I agree with the comment, I will make the change right away.  Easy enough.

If I'm not sure whether the point is valid or not, I will put it on hold until I hear if others agree with it.

If I disagree with a point ... yeah, I tend to discard it, though not always.  If others echo the same concern, I will go back and take another look.  I also look at the objection and the reasoning behind it.  Sometimes, there's a way to address it in another fashion.  Let's say a critique says (this is awful blunt, but let's go with it):  "This character is boring.  Cut them."  I could remove the character entirely ... or I could amp her up and justify her place in the story.  Not every reader will explain or even know the reason behind their comments, so it's up to the writer to do a bit of detective work ... even go to the reader directly, if you can do it without being confrontational.

Also, sometimes it's just about what I want the story to be.  For instance, I wrote a short story once with a supporting character who betrayed the main character.  The ending affirmed his decision and his true colors ... and people hated it.  They wanted him to be redeemed, but that was never my intention.  In a way, maybe it was a backhanded compliment:  they liked him enough to want him to be a good guy.

Finally, sometimes it's about knowing your audience and their tastes.  Sometimes, they'll tell you ("I hate happy endings") and sometimes, if you've dealt with the same people for a while, you'll already know.  Personally, I hate first person present tense with a passion unless there's some pressing reason for it.  It doesn't convey any more immediacy, to me; I just find it distracting and unbookish.  (That is not a word.  I know.)  As a critique partner, I will note this directly - "I hate first person present tense and I didn't mind it at all here" or "I should preface this with the fact that I hate first person present tense, but I don't think it worked here ..." - but not everyone does.  But your reader's tastes may add a few extra pinches of salt to a comment.

It's all a delicate balance between believing in your story and trusting that outside eyes will make it stronger.  Go too far in either direction, and the story suffers.  Even if you change an oddball story to appeal to a wider audience, it may no longer be the story you want to tell ... and to me, that is the more important part.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Song Styles

I've always thought that song lyrics, out of context, can make excellent story prompts for writers.  For my flash / poetry boot camp, I took a line from a Rihanna song - "I'm lost, you've got me looking for the rest of me" - though I didn't end up using that particular prompt.  I also once challenged a group of writers with this gem from the Sondheim musical Into The Woods:

I'll see you soon again; I hope that when I do, it won't be on a plate.

The results were well worth the irritable reactions.

But one of my favorite from-lyrics prompts has to come out of Heather Nova's Maybe An Angel:

And when you said that you were dead, I hung on.

It's a line that doesn't make sense even in context, granted, but it suggests so many things, particularly for a writer like me who is fascinated with afterlives.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Song Styles

New year, new car CDs?  Not really, actually:  I swapped them out mid-December.  I've stopped sharing my other themes, seeing as my music choices wander between the obscure and the obvious, but I do like sharing my odd thought process for my word association CD:  where the songs link by title and occasionally topic through stream of consciousness connection.

So here's my most recent collection, including some brand-new acquisitions:

Spin - Rachel Fuller
Dancin' in Circles - Lady Gaga
Circle of Stone - Laura Powers (song treats the stone circle as an otherworld gateway, so ...)
Underworld - Joss Stone
Afterlife - Ingrid Michaelson
Death of Love - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Would You Call That Love - Kelly Clarkson
He Never Mentioned Love - Kirsty MacColl
Never Said - Liz Phair
The Last Words You Said - Sarah Brightman
Last Letter - Katharine McPhee
Writing On The Wall - Blackmore's Night
The Walls Keep Saying Your Name - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Four Pink Walls - Alessia Cara (I consider this a metaphor for heart walls, so ...)
Into My Heart - Rachel Fuller
Bringin' On The Heartbreak - Mariah Carey
How To Be A Heartbreaker - Marina and the Diamonds
How To Touch A Girl - JoJo
Touch Me - Kirsty MacColl
Don't Touch Me There - Dian Diaz
Don't - Jewel
I Didn't - Kristin Chenoweth
Didn't I - Kelly Clarkson
I Didn't Plan It - Sara Bareilles
Wild Child - Enya
Children Of The World - Amy Grant
Small World - Idina Menzel
Our Little World - Into The Woods soundtrack
Too Little, Too Late - JoJo
It's Too Late - Gloria Estefan
Midnight Heartache - September
Midnight Bottle - Colbie Caillat
Bottle It Up - Sara Bareilles
Hold Me Down - Halsey
Bow Down - Chvrches
I Bow Out - Whitney Houston
Take a Bow - Leona Lewis
Applause - Lady Gaga
Private Show - P!nk
Show Me - Idina Menzel
Reveal - Celine Dion

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

The end of the year was tumultuous, hence my radio silence over the past few weeks.  I've never been much for New Year's resolutions, though I do swear by setting goals; I simply don't hold much stock in waiting until or focusing on the first of the year.  The calendar is arbitrary, after all.

On the culinary front, I have some solid goals, though they're mainly coming about now because I've settled into my new job and have time to breathe after the holiday madness.  There are some professional certifications I intend to obtain over the next year; two of them are fairly pro forma (just taking a test to put a rubber stamp on what I already know, maybe with a little brush-up), and one of them is long-term, which I won't qualify for until August - one of the requirements is a certain length of work experience.

On the harp front, I don't have any specific goals, but I have a potential new student and a number of gigs through the first few months of the year.  That should keep me busy for a while.

On the writing front, I must admit I'm at a bit of a loss.  The only goals I can think of either involve external gatekeeping (sell short stories to professional markets; acquire an agent; sell a novel to a major publisher) or more of the same old (finish writing / editing a novel, write a certain number of short stories / poems / flash).  I know I want to get more involved with beta readers and maybe a small critique group, but I'm not sure of the logistics or the details I want.

Thoughts welcome, but for now ... onwards.  That's the important thing.