10 Books That Have Stuck With Me

I’ve seen this meme (or ones like it) on Facebook, G+ and over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. I like it. It means a bit more than “favorite,” because sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not.

1. Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny – Lots of firsts here. First Zelazny for me. First real run in with the anti-hero. And Morningstar was the first character I can remember making me ache with a sort of deep, helpless loneliness. “Almost. It’s always almost morning” breaks my heart every time.

2. The Bachman Books by Stephen King – In particular, “Rage” and “The Long Walk,” but mostly “The Long Walk.” These books came in early in my fascination with the human mind pushed to its limits, and what happens afterward.

3. IT by Stephen King – Like him or hate him, you can’t claim that King doesn’t have a way with memorable imagery. IT was probably too long, but it did a lot of things right. He captured childhood very well, both the energy and the isolation. IT itself evokes the fear of the unknown very well. And of course, poor Georgie. “We all float down here.”

4. Heinlein Juveniles – They sort of clump together in my mind. Not the storylines, but the experience of reading them. They definitely had a strong impact on me as a kid, some in what I now consider to be negative ways (Starship Troopers) and others in more positive ones (Have Space-suit, Will Travel).

5. The Handmaid’s Tale  by Margaret Atwood – Hopelessness. Totalitarianism. Fear of religion and government. Beautiful language. This book really has it all.

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury –  My first dystopia. This book helped me to learn that I have an existential horror of ignorance, particularly willful ignorance and destruction of knowledge. Montag’s impossible choice, to turn away from everything he knows or continue doing something he has realized is wrong, fascinates me.

7. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Truly a marvelously crafted book, and it plays into my fascination with distrust of authority. Other themes, such as doing the right thing even though it’s hopeless, also resonate with me.

8. Growing Up Weightless by John M. Ford – This book is beautifully written, and also deals intimately with a lot of the themes of childhood. Changing but being afraid to change. Strangely overlapping inclusion and isolation. The feeling that one’s parents are both vital but also alien. In addition, Ford’s consideration of the effects of extraterrestrial living on the everyday reality of life is exhaustive and fascinating.

9. Iron and Silk my Mark Salzman – The only memoir that I would say really “stuck with me.” Salzman’s story of his trip to China to teach English is fascinating. Salzman is an American who has studied Chinese and China, studied Chinese martial arts, and plays the cello. His frustrations with the bureaucracy, making friends, experiences of Chinese home life, and his studies with martial arts teachers paint a complex and living picture of life in China in the 1980s.

10. Stone Monkey: An Alternative, Chinese-Scientific, Reality by Bruce Holbrook – I partly fibbed in #9. There are memoir aspects of Stone Monkey. The value in this book wasn’t the specifics so much as the approach to thinking, and the concept of polar-completeness as an alternative to binary or extreme/spectrum thinking. It’s also interesting from the point of view of an outsider learning about another culture and way of thinking.

Dapper Dragon Soaps are live on Etsy

Dapper Dragon Soaps are live on Etsy

The shop has gone live at Etsy, with six varieties of shaving soap.

I’ve also been updating the website with additional information, links, and a soaping-focused blog.

Dapper Dragon is live

Dapper Dragon is live

I’ve managed to put together the basic website for Dapper Dragon Soaps. I plan to add more content on a pretty regular basis, once I am finished with the initial rush of soap making.

My Etsy store has been configured as well, but there are no active listings, yet. That’s for 3/15.

Dapper Dragon is Approaching and Picking Up Speed

My soap hobby cum nascent business is gaining momentum lately. I’m getting pretty excited about it. I have a planned launch inventory, though who knows if it will be enough. I guess I’d rather have too little and have to reorder and adjust, than order too much and take a big loss when the line doesn’t take off.

I’ve reserved the doman DapperDragon.com. I’m in the midst of setting up the site using Joomla. The logo is 50% done.

I’ve got an initial scent line-up, too:
Dapper Dragon – An old-school barbershop/cologne smell, with a twist. A blend of citrus oils and canteloupe, combined with smooth oakmoss, and spicy lavandin and black pepper.
Ice Wyrm – Peppermint and rosemary, with a hint of black pepper in the background.
Lavender Lizard – A mix of French lavender and lavandin, with notes of oakmoss and black pepper. (I’m starting to see a trend.)
Blood Orange
Jasmine & Vanilla

If things continue to go well, I see the site launching in 4 to 6 weeks!

Writing and Soaping Update, 12/04

As I suspected, my NaNoWriMo novel didn’t hit 50,000 words during November. C’est la vie. I has, however, hit more than 20,000, and gotten to the introduction of the central tangle of conflicts that will drive the rest of the story. So I’m pleased, and I’m still making progress.

On the soaping front, things are going well. I have shaving soap samples out to a few people that agreed to test for me, and a few more lined up. That’s pretty exciting for me, and it looks like early 2014 is still a realistic goal to open up shop. I’ve also been focusing a bit more on face/hand soap, with an eye toward extending that part of my product line.

This has involved learning some things about cold process soap that I didn’t know before. Such as, the temperature of your ingredients really does make a difference. Not so much because of functionality (it will create soap either way) but because of the rapidity of trace (setting) and the “gel phase” process. I made a batch of soap for cold process and combined them when the oils and lye were both pretty hot. It traced rather abruptly and started a gel phase right away. Usually you have to insulate a soap and leave it overnight for that to happen. (Or make it by hot process.)

So, I ended up with a functional but messy looking soap:

Strawberry Shortcake Handsoap

Not exactly consistent.

I have a nice new silicon mold now, and plan to try making a hot-process batch. I think that HP soap that is done in a shallow container like the one I received this week will be easier to handle than the tall cylindrical molds I had been using.

Oh, and the Dapper Dragon himself is starting to take shape!

The Dapper Dragon

Bubble pipe, of course!

Dapper Dragon is Building Up Steam

My nascent soap-making cottage business, Dapper Dragon Soaps, is building up a head of steam as I get ready to start offering products for sale.

The first thing to go up will be shaving soaps. I’ve pretty much gotten my formula down, just waiting to hear back from some product testers before I pull the trigger and start making pounds of soap.

Shower/face/hand soap has a bigger lead time. Cold process bars are just prettier, not to mention that I’ll probably amuse myself with colors and the like that I wouldn’t want to gunk up a brush. But CP means 4-6 week (minimum) time before they’re ready to use. I also want to either build or buy a loaf mold so I can have actual bars of soap. I think people would like that.

I’m aiming for Q1 of 2014 to launch. I had hoped I might be able to get something going before Christmas of this year, but it just didn’t work out that way.

NaNoWriMo is almost certainly a “failure” this year

It’s November 25th, and I’m sitting at 19,200 words. It doesn’t take a degree in math to know that’s not nearly enough to “win” NaNoWriMo.

While I’m disappointed that things didn’t work out, I can safely say that it was never really in my hands to win or lose. I had a medical procedure (nothing big) that I expected to get me behind. But then my oldest got pneumonia, which put the rest of the family under a lot more strain. Things had to give, and totally voluntary writing contests are high on the list of things that have to shift first.

But still, I put failure in quotes for a reason. Because even if my word count won’t be hitting 50,000 this month, I have the beginnings of a good story down, and I’m much more in the habit of writing regularly than I was before the month started. So in that sense, I still benefited from participating, and that’s a win.

NaNoWriMo Continues, but not quite apace

What happens when you add a rush of orders to your wife’s pottery business, minor surgery, and a teenager with pneumonia to a month-long rush toward a manuscript?

Your manuscript takes a major back burner, that’s what.

I’m still working on it. Lifting the Yoke (working title) has been rumbling around in my head for a while, and I am enjoying getting it down on paper. But to finish the 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, I have to turn in just over 2500 words/day. Something tells me it’s not going to happen.