Monday, July 28, 2008

We Take Action

Here at Ne'er-do-well Acres we are public-spirited to a fault. This morning, we started an experiment of Global Importance.

We turned off the oil furnace.

OK, OK, it's July and it's 75 degrees out, so we aren't sacrificing our comfort. But our furnace also heats our water. The Oil Man came this morning, and we found that since June 2 we had used $181.40 worth of oil for water alone. (That works out to $1,161 a year at the current price. That won't break us, I guess, but still...)

There are three schools of thought (at least) on how to conserve when your water's heated by an oil furnace. One says that you should just shoot yourself, thereby removing the need for any hot water at all. A more optimistic view is that you can save money by installing a timer and heating water only for those few hours a day when you're most likely to need it. The idea is that the furnace wastes energy turning on all day to maintain the perfect water temperature even when you're not using hot water.

Still another school, however, says "Pffft. You'll use just as much oil heating up a tankful of cold water once a day as you would just keeping the water hot all day. We agree with School Number One and what are you using for ammo?"

This being the single time of year when we use the furnace only for hot water, we're going to see which school of thought gets the Ne'er-do-well Medal for Extreme and Utter Truth. At the moment, we're thinking we'll turn the furnace on when we get up in the morning and indulge in a frenzy of showering, laundering, and doing dishes (no, we don't have a dishwasher and yes, the dishes will rot in the sink overnight). Then we'll turn that sucker off again.

One complication is that we have at least two sets of overnight guests coming in August and we're not sure they'll share our thirst for knowledge. But they probably will. (Most of them, anyway--our friend Michael probably is in School of Thought Number Three.)

In the winter, we usually keep the thermostat at 60. Rob heats his basement studio with a woodstove and I heat my office with an electric space-heater, which is off or turned way down most of the day because my office gets a lot of sun and the house is super-insulated. Rob allows his stove to cool down in the afternoon and at 5 p.m. lights the stove in the living room, which heats the whole house more than we want it to sometimes.

This winter, we're thinking the thermostat will stay at 5o. At breakfast, we'll briefly turn on an electric space-heater by the dining room table. Otherwise, the cold in the rest of the house will encourage us to stay in our work spaces, which is all to the good because there isn't much you can do there

What we do about the hot water this winter will depend on the results of this summer's experiment. Let the shivering begin!

Before I go... be sure to check out the Class of 2k8 blog this week. The topic is "How a Story Becomes a Book" --from initial idea to publishing. Authors, agents, and editors will be weighing in. Sounds like it'll be fun and instructive.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk

I'm still revising, and just faced the fact that I have 25 straight pages in which everyone just sits around and talks about stuff. Sure, they eat chicken, they groom their wings, they wash the dishes in champagne, but other than that it's just jabber, jabber, jabber.

This discovery has brought on a massive attack of procrastination, during which I: 1. Ate peanuts; 2. Went outside and stared at everything that needs doing in the garden, which encouraged me to procrastinate on that, too; 3. Patted the cat; 4. Watered the plants; 5. Got started organizing some signings and stuff for the fall, which almost doesn't qualify as procrastination except that you and I both know that it is simply a more advanced form. Ditto writing this blog post.

We've been having a rainy week, but right now the sun is shining, the laundry is drying (after two days of hanging around damp), the birds are chirping, and the snail's on the thorn. Really, it would be much, much healthier to be outdoors, wouldn't it? Don't you think so? Right?

I know. I'm going back to work now.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

Now, why haven't I been blogging this time? First of all, and mostly, there was the Great Filioli Revision (left). I'm attempting to use a method recommended by Holly Lisle --my editor found it on line, and it's intriguing. You spread your manuscript out on the dining room table, fend off the cat, evaluate the manuscript scene by scene, drive the cat off AGAIN, and then ruthlessly delete any scene that doesn't pass a battery of tests. I haven't actually deleted much, which probably means I'm doing it wrong, but I've certainly found a lot that has to change. So that's good. (Incidentally, that's a Rob painting in the corner--one of the 3D ones he used to do. It's about Reagan-era Nicaragua.)

Excuse number two: Fourth of July, and the town barbecue run by the Youth Corps. (That's the tug-of-war through the fire department's spray curtain at right.) The food was delicious, but as usual we were certain of disaster an hour before the parade spilled into the town green at 10:30 a.m. Everybody always wants to eat immediately, even though they probably just had breakfast an hour ago. The kids did all the serving, but we had a ringer doing the actual barbecuing (Paul, the husband of one of our board members, who can cook for a crowd without breathing heavily), so all we had to do was organize, buy, worry, and take money.

And then there's the Electronics Purchasing Frenzy of 2008, plus the launch of my new web site, designed by my next door neighbor, the multi-talented and ever-patient Greg Summers. I have to say, the bio gives me the heebie-jeebies just the way this blog does--never have been comfortable with what an old cohort of mine used to call "the perpendicular pronoun." There probably will be other additions (an interactive map is a possibility), but for now it's ready for prime time.

Having priced business cards, post cards, stationery and the like, I decided it was time to buy an inkjet printer as a companion to the much-beloved b&w laserjet I plan to keep using for most things. After extensive research (yup, I'm a nerd) I got an Epson, resolving to use it as little as possible because the ink prices are INSANE. Might as well print with high-test gasoline.

I also had promised myself I'd buy a flat-screen monitor (seen at left) when I sold another book. Plus, I just got a nice check from George W. Bush, and it was only patriotic to spend it. (Rob pointed out that both my printer and my monitor probably were manufactured overseas. Spoil sport.)

His point was made, however, when I took the monitor out of the box and discovered that I couldn't lower the "tail" to attach it to the base. I ended up calling HP tech support, and talking to several nice people in New Delhi. The first guy and I couldn't understand each other, and then he disconnected me. But the second techie, a woman, was very nice and put me on hold so she could run to the lab to try manhandling a similar monitor. Turns out you have to apply the kind of pressure everyone tells you never to do--I was sure I was about to snap something important. "Don't worry," the Indian lady kept murmuring, "if you break it we'll get you another one." I'm glad I was able to support the Indian economy, anyway.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Calloo-Callay and Callie

Life is good. Harcourt (meaning Kathy Dawson, genius editor) has decided to buy The Filioli, although I suspect that'll be the official name for about five more days, tops. (The Filioli are fairies, essentially, and Kathy's suggesting that we might want to be calling a spade a spade.) Lots of revision ahead, good times to be had by all. The deal was finalized yesterday by Kate Schafer Testerman, shoe-crazed agent extraordinaire.

In other news, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Callie (short for Calamity Jane) is our seven-year-old black lab and a real sweetheart when she's not being a pain in the prat. She has an admirable grasp of the basic commands, and is very good about them when on the leash or in the house. Outdoors, she is very good until an eighth of a nanosecond after she catches a whiff of something interesting, at which point all other senses shut down and we lose her to the wild until she feels like coming back.

Two springs in a row, her nose led her to baby porcupines who were too dumb to get out of her way. Plus, she has a bad leg that hobbles her after she's been running around like an idiot. So we walk her on a leash right now--in the Maine woods! How dumb is that? So my goal (Rob thinks I'm the idiot) is to solidify her training so that we can keep control of her without a leash in the woods. Hey, without our dreams we are nothing.

Earlier this week I took her to an obedience class called "Building Distraction Muscle"--five students, all of us hoping to keep our dogs' attention when the world beckons. It's in Brooksville (two towns over) at the community center, which used to be a school building in the first part of the last century. Lovely big room with lovely big echoes when your sweetheart of a black lab insults the nice airedale and refuses to shut up.

Anyway, here's the first thing that worked: Lane, the trainer, let Callie sniff the wonderful smelly food she had in her hand, then Lane and I told Callie to stay and crossed the room to stand six or seven feet apart. I called Callie, and instead of coming to me she made a beeline for Lane and her enticing food. Lane sidled over to me, Callie followed, and when she was standing next to me Lane gave her the food. Then we tried it again, and to my astonishment Callie came directly to me, figuring that was a shortcut to the good times. Impressive.

We have three more lessons, and I'm working with her a little every night. We'll see.