Monday, December 31, 2012

Vorkosigan Universe Goodness

I exceeded my monthly recommended dose of Ivan, and I feel fine!  Yes, I was patient until National Novel Writing Month ended to read the new Lois McMaster Bujold novel, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.  It was my salvation from a couple of bad nights of insomnia, so I probably looked like a drunken zombie the days afterward as I squinted and lurched clumsily from lack of sleep and giggled at random while thinking, "Oh, Ivan . . ."

I was really pleased with what she did with Byerly, too.  He and Ivan made a hilarious and irritated team in A Civil Campaign, and they were excellent here, too.  I was glad to see them a little more grown up and no less entertaining for their additional maturity.  Ivan was less completely obnoxious than I remember him being in my first reading of a Civil Campaign.

In fact, he was less obnoxious than I remembered in A Civil Campaign, which I also read while on vacation. I think I saw that book in a gentler light after seeing Ivan without Miles to wind him up for most of a whole book. 

There was also that heart-wrenching bit with Mark and Ivan at the party in Mirror Dance, which I wound back around to read after skipping it this time through to try to keep up with the friend I was introducing Miles to.  I didn't mind sacrificing Mirror Dance, which is a tough book to read sometimes because of the dark places it goes.  Those, too, seemed shorter and smaller this time through, possibly because anything would likely seem less horrific after the Night Angel Trilogy.

By and Ivan were a pretty good comedy act all by themselves.  Illyan helped.  : ) 

Ivan is not Miles, so don't expect a Milesean adventure here.  This is a happy ending or two for some characters still loose in the Vorkosigan universe, and it is definitely one of the lighter, more mystery-based entries in the series.  After the way the last one ended, a lighter book was probably just what was needed.

Bujold has said that she considers the universe closed with the death of a certain character, as she had always pictured this character as the center/anchor of the universe with all stories taking place within this character's lifetime, but that doesn't mean she won't write more within that timeframe.  Personally, I want some Pym stories.  I consider wanting some young Aral stories, but then I remember what I know of him as a younger man, and I think maybe I don't want those stories.  Same with the Cetagandan Invasion stuff and the Komarr fiasco.  I might very much like some Miles' kids and Gregor's kids' stories . . .  She is currently working on a novella set in the universe (among other things), and she says she likes writing novellas better because they are so stripped down without side plots/characters, so fans may see more of those coming out in the future. 

Until then, you have all the other works in the series to pull out when the need strikes you.  : )  Enjoy . . .

5 more things I learned from NaNoWriMo 2012 (2)

  1. Once-in-a-lifetime Studio Ghibli film on the big screen marathons make daily quotas difficult.
  2. But not impossible over the course of a month so long as you don't get too far behind or let yourself give up after getting somewhat far behind.
  3. Thanksgiving break can be a good time to catch up.
  4. I have a lot more work to do if this raw material is even going to possibly reassemble itself into something novel-like for next November's draft.
  5. There are enough things to write about that I should never run out of ideas for things to draft.

5 things I learned from NaNoWriMo 2012 (1)

  1. If I wanted to know whether I'm capable of more sheer output (quality not considered) than I currently produce, the answer is YES.
  2. Pre-planning or at least pre-drafting and free-writing are helpful.
  3. They make the vomiting of draft material onto the page that much easier.
  4. Maybe I should do my reading research in October.
  5. Because for some reason it was hard to read as much as I wanted and write as much as I'd committed to on the same days in November.

NaNoWriMo Research: Akeelah and the Bee

My pregnant friends tell me that they cry at the drop of a hat at touching movies.  For this reason, I think pregnant ladies should probably not watch Akeelah and the Bee.  So if you are pregnant and don't want to become a sobbing mess, don't watch Akeelah and the Bee. 

It is awesome.  I knew I was going to love it, so it's kind of a real wonder that I managed not to watch it for this long.  It's just great.  Smart female protagonist who has retreated into hiding is drawn out into the spotlight where her talent can shine if she can just be honest with herself and others and get the help she needs from her family, school, and community.  It's a traditional underdog story, so you will likely not be surprised by the overall trajectory.  There were a few surprises for me, and I realized one twist in advance and felt like the pot calling the kettle black (and also stupid for yelling at a movie character).

The extras were enlightening and helped me write off some of the critics more virulent criticisms (the movie was written a long time before the documentary about spelling bees, so it wasn't derivative) and has a charming underdog story of its own. 

Some of the acting is amazing, and it's a feel-good sort of story, so set your expectations low, warm, and fuzzy, and you will probably enjoy it despite its occasional heavy-handedness.  If you know any tweens, enjoy it with them, too.

NaNoWriMo Research: Ellen Foster

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons: This book is a punch in the gut, heart, and brain.  The point of view and construction are odd, and the text written in a way to somehow perfectly reflect this.  The timeline of the story is broken up.  I didn't even try to analyze the tense for consistency, but it's mostly 1st person present tense and always Ellen's.

Not for the faint of heart, this one veers into R-rated territory in a non-gratuitous and somehow even more shocking way.  I see why this one is shelved in the adult literature section instead of according to the age of the protagonist as books so often are.

I wish they had established her age and the year clearly early on in the book.  I found the dialect and the misspellings (used tastefully, not over-used) pretty believable.  You as the reader have to pull pieces together from different timelines to put together a heartbreaking story of Ellen's journey from abusive family member to abusive family member and eventually safety.

The ending seemed a bit unexpected (it came back somewhat clumsily to an earlier theme that may have made more sense/seemed more natural to a Southern audience.  Oddly enough, this became a very compelling exercise book, which led to increased ibuprofen use when I would overdo the stair climber because I just wanted to read a little further.

Thanks to T for the suggestion!

NaNoWriMo Research: Shug

Shug by Jenny Han: Shug is a tomboy, but she and her friends are getting older, and now she has a crush on one of them, and nothing is going right with her friends, teachers, or family.  POV: 1st person limited, present tense.

(It's pronounced like the first syllable of the word sugar, something I wish they would have pointed out earlier, so I didn't have to unlearn the wrong pronunciation.)  Another Southern girl novel!  Wow, I really had no idea they were so well represented in Tween lit . . .  This is a first novel and somehow shows it.  Too many smoking guns for something this size and a somewhat clunky, out of gas ending but lots of charm and heart and painful honesty not just about crushes but about transitions and family dysfunction and other things handly less delicately than I've usually seen or assumed. Delicate isn't quite the right word.  Sharper?  They're less blunted, somehow.  More honest while still filtered realistically through the character's point of view.  Totally worth the 3 bucks I paid at the used bookstore. 

NaNoWriMo Research: Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery:  Anne starts out the book as an orphan and then finds a home and friends and family at Green Gables.  POV: 3rd person limited, varied, past tense.

Abridged versions of children's books should burn in eternal fire.  I was only supposed to read this up to where Anne was an early teen, but that self-control didn't hold out well at all.  I find it interesting how much Anne's vanity is irritating to me this time around.  I don't know how many times (or if ever) I've read this book, but I didn't remember Anne being such a girly-girl.  I guess I remembered things like walking ridgepoles and assumed this sort of thing was mutually exclusive to wanting frou-frou dresses.  I failed to remember that most of the tomboy activities occured when she was younger.  (Don't worry.  I obviously didn't hold it against her.)  I wanted to immediately go on to Anne of Avonlea, but I couldn't justify it because of the protagonist's age.  Soon, I told myself, after November you can read it.  After a little grumbling, I agreed.

NaNoWriMo Research: Millicent Min: Girl Genius

Millicent Min: Girl Genius by Lisa Yee: Millicent Min is looking forward to her senior year in high school, but first she has to make it through her 11th summer surrounded by the love and misunderstanding of her family and and the hostility and misunderstanding of her peers.  POV: 1st person limited, present tense. 

I've read this book before, so when I was looking for quirky, smart girl voices to dump into my reservoir, I couldn't resist revisiting Millicent.  She's a unique character with a very unique point of view.  She's sometimes annoying, and this book is quite different from the other bright-girl book I read (Emma Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree).  Where Emma's voice was sort of gentle and whimsical and a bit puzzled but very orderly and rational as she dealt with her peers, Millicient is rough and abrasive and socially clumsy because she hasn't had much experience dealing with her age-mates or her peers because of all the grade-skipping she's done.  I actually read the hilarious Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time first and looked this book up later because it covered the same time period from a totally different point of view, and I like it when authors try this (especially when it really works).  Good stuff.

Monday, November 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo Research: Ten, Eleven, and Twelve

Ten, Eleven, and Twelve (first half) by Lauren Myracle:  Winnie is a regular kid growing up at her own pace one year at a time and learning how to deal with changing friends, changing family members, changing priorities, and her changing body and mind.  She just wishes everything could stay the same.  POV: 1st person limited, past tense.

Each book captures one year of her life with a chapter per month.  Each chapter mainly covers an event that happened during the month, not everything that happened during the month.  The books are mostly light, and Winnie is a fun main character.  She's a late bloomer, and this is handled pretty well.  Her mother is amazing, her older sister is well-drawn, and her puzzlement about the choices her friends are making is really genuine.  Sometimes I feel like maybe the narrator is a bit too old for her years, but, frankly, I don't really care.  (The popularity of these books indicates that most tween girls don't care either.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo Research: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis:  Emma-Jean is in seventh grade, and she is very bright and thinks about the world very differently from her classmates.  She keeps her distance and observes their bizarre behaviors benevolently until the pain of a classmate draws her in, and she starts trying to help others with some interesting results.  This one is told in alternating POV between Emma-Jean and Colleen (the classmate she first tries to help).  POV: 3rd person, quasi-limited, alternating.

I adored Emma-Jean.  The author did a great job of making her point of view read completely differently from really anything I've read before.  I wasn't as big of a fan of Colleen.  I'm still not entirely sure she was needed as a POV character, but I think that may be because I loved Emma-Jean's familiar head so much.  Ah, nostalgia.  Colleen's POV did help set off the uniqueness of Emma-Jean's as well, and I'm sure to the average reader, she was needed as an accessible entry point and someone to relate to.  And there were some twists that would have been hard to show clearly if there were only one narrator.  Overall the characters are quirky and well-made, the twists are pretty unexpected, and the adults are a good mix of nice and nasty and mostly realistic, as are the kids.  Loved it.  Thanks to Joseph for this recommendation.

Monday, November 19, 2012

NaNoWriMo Research: Caddie Woodlawn

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink: Caddie's 11 and lives in the mostly-wilderness of Wisconsin where she and her older and younger brother get into trouble a lot and grow up a little, too.  POV: 3rd person quasi-limited, past tense.

"In 1864 Caddie Woodlawn was eleven, and as wild a little tomboy as ever ran the woods of western Wisconsin.  She was the despair of her mother and of her elder sister Clara."  I sort of wish I could have offered this book to my mother at age 11 to show her how much worse it could have been.  Alas, the cream pie of justice flies only one way.  This won the Newbery, which usually indicates literature, but the dog doesn't die.  I do like the father much better than the mother, which tends to be a mark of literature. I'm not sure if this one should be classed as literature or fun, but I enjoyed the heck out of it.  Lots of adventures and some lessons learned without feeling the least bit preachy.  Thanks to Deborah for the suggestion. : )

Thursday, November 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo Research: Skinnybones

Skinnybones by Barbara Park (the "updated" version from 1997): tiny class clown Alex Frankovitch tries to talk his way out of trouble, but he usually ends up doing just the opposite, like the time he ends up in a pitcher's duel with the state little league star even though he describes his baseball prowess as follows: "I'm not exactly what you'd call a real good athlete.  Actually, I'm not even real okay.  Basically, what I'm trying to say here is, I stink."  POV: 1st person, past tense.

Well, I didn't just want to read serious literature that requires tissues or stuff about girls getting their periods and crushes on boys, so I threw in some other fun things.  This is one of said fun things.  This book was updated after 15 years to make it more accessible to the kids who kept writing the author to ask who certain super-famous-in-the-early-80s people were, which I find amusing because there were several names I didn't recognize from the update.  (The context made it clear enough who the people were supposed to be, though, so I didn't think the book lost anything.)  This is a short book that moves as fast as the main character's motor mouth and has a sort of surprise ending that I found pretty funny.

Monday, November 12, 2012

NaNoWriMo Research: The Agony of Alice

The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor: Alice doesn't have a mom, and she is looking for a role model.  Too bad she gets the frumpy teacher instead of the beautiful, young, and glamorous one.  It's kind of hard becoming a woman when you, your college-aged brother, and your father don't know exactly how it's supposed to work.  POV: 1st person, past tense.

These sorts of things (getting the teacher no one wants and being a total jerk about it, accidentally kicking your favorite teacher in the head while dressed as the rear end of a horse, etc.) are always funny in retrospect, but they are The End of the World when you are living them.  I feel like the author really captured that while still keeping this funny.  It's a fine line between making fun of and sympathizing with while being a step removed/older/wiser.  The Catholic saint card bit was a hoot.  I like that Alice's dad is bumbling but good-hearted and that he is allowed to have a work life that is part of Alice's life.  I like that her brother isn't a monster despite the age difference, that she has some good extended family, and that the lessons she learns about not judging by appearances aren't too heavy-handed.  The ending is really sweet, too.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

NaNoWriMo Research: Sparrow Road

Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor: A literary fiction book set maybe late in the 70s/early in the 80s where a 12-year-old girl is forced to spend her summer at a remote art colony in the country by her mom who may have other motives than just ruining her citified daughter's summer.  POV: 1st person limited, past tense.

This book has a pretty unique setup, and the result is that it's a children's book where the protagonist/narrator never really interacts with any other kids.  To me at age 12, this would have been pretty awesome, especially being out in the country and with all these interesting artists.  The author, Sheila O'Connor, recommends against this kind of setup because publishers don't like it and don't think it will sell.  She's a also a writing teacher in college, graduate school, and elementary and secondary schools, though, so she probably convinced the publisher that enough libraries and teachers would buy this book that they could make up their costs. 

The girl in it starts writing stories and learns quite a bit about knowing and expressing herself, and sometimes kids need to read about someone doing something as an example before they can do it themselves.  The mysterious back story is also interesting and a bit wrenching.  I like stories where
  1. not all the grownups are portrayed as stupid and out of touch
  2. some adults are just kind of mean and hard to like
  3. grownups screw up and are given the chance to prove themselves again and do so, but the ongoing struggle isn't all sweet, saccharine, and cut & dried
  4. some adults are great and amazing despite not feeling comfortable around kids, but the kids learn about it and start realizing the value of looking beneath the exterior gruffness of people for their wonderful hearts

Monday, November 5, 2012

I am not a robot

Dear bloggers,

Please stop it with the stupid "type these words to show you're not a robot" thing if you already have comment approval set for your blog.  If you have to give approval for it to be published anyway, you are going to be able to see if it is a robot or spammer or whatever.  (And a friend of mine says they can be encouraging or hilarious sometimes.)  Rather than keeping robots from posting pointless spam in your comments section, what you are doing is making sure no one but the most persistent people out there ever comment on your blog.  All you do by adding the extra hoop is make sure most people who want to comment give up because they can't read the stupid words with their weak, human eyes.

A commenter who isn't always willing to try five times to get a comment to publish

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update 1

I probably shouldn't say this so early, but hitting the quota for National Novel Writing Month today was easy.  It took less than an hour and a half.  That'll be tough to carve out on my busiest days, for sure, but the fact that this is about output and not quality is really very freeing.  (To see the current total, look to your right where the tracker is to keep me honest.)

To some extent, these blogs (one post a day spread among 4 different blogs) are also an experiment in output, but they were more about any daily output, not 1667 words of it.  And it's only really this year that I've started to be more consistent with the daily part.  (I admit I do cheat sometimes since Blogger fixed the scheduling feature, so I can designate a time I want it to say it was posted, so it doesn't look like I did three posts on the same day after getting behind, but I think I've kept it in the same month, and you will notice a regularity there.)  Maybe I needed 3 years of fiddling with that to get into enough of a habit to be able to make NaNoWriMo work for me.

Extensive planning is allowed, and maybe such activities would have helped me focus better and have some themes and chapter divisions already picked out that I could write towards, but my decision to participate was somewhat last minute, and I didn't want to try to cram all that thinking into a short time and set myself up for disappointment.  I sensibly decided to settle for some free-writing to get some topics and ideas down.  On October 31st, I did enough brainstorming to make this some sort of bloated epic.  (I'll settle for hitting the goal of 50,000 related words.)  Now I don't even have to strain to come up with the topic for the day's "chapter."

The result will be a lot of haphazard info dumped onto pages without any thought for novel structure and final form.  According to the rules, that's okay.  Yay rules! 

In conclusion, it looks like my results will be about what I predicted, the kind of kitchen sink draft my essay professor and my fiction professor suggested as an exercise in completing something all in a set time and worrying about editing it later once I saw what kind of story and themes naturally shaped themselves in the drafted material.  I may even hold off trying to dump it all into the computer until the end (or until my hand gives out) to prevent the urge to edit/tinker.  This might mean I won't be able to upload the scrambled novel and get the official completion badge, but I can live with that, if need be.  If I succeed, I'll know, and you'll know, and that's probably enough for a first try.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Just testing whether the looming specter of personal humiliation is a reliable muse

Some advice I liked from the NaNoWriMo website.
2) Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December and beyond. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.
Except for Joseph Conrad's novels.  He only ever wrote one draft.  Maybe this is why so many of his works are so perfectly depressing.
3) Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.
Hey, everyone, I'm writing a "novel" as defined by NaNoWriMo this November.  Don't write to ask how it's going because I probably won't answer your email, and then I will feel guilty about this.  : )  I'll post updates here.  See you then.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

National Novel Writing Month - possibly a lovely birthday gift

I think I'm going to try it this year.  In preparation, I asked friends for suggestions for good books to read that have voices I can learn from for the kind of book I'm considering writing, and I've been reading them.  I hope to get through several more this weekend while also trying to get ahead for blogging, since it will be second priority to this sustained effort in November.  (I really need to start getting realistic about my abilities and energy reserves one of these days.)  Anyway, I already have a title, which for me is one of the hardest things to come up with for a piece of writing.

Last year, I might have done it, but in August of 2011, I smashed the tip of one of my fingers on my writing hand, and the nerve and fingertip were still very angry at me in November.  (And continued to be so until 6 months later in May, when I could finally type without pain again).  Now the nerve is just slightly miffed, and I am not teaching on top of my regular full-time job, so I think I (and my trusty companion prescription-strength ibuprofen) can mechanically make this work.  (Voice recognition software stands ready to hear me read in what I've written--likely by hand, since that only irritates one hand while typing angers both hands.) 

The last post(s) I write for this month (probably posted early next month will likely be when I force myself to look at each book I read in prep and figure out what I might be able to learn/thieve/borrow from each.  If I don't make myself stop and reflect, I'll just tear through them at speed.  While this strategy is a good one to get more voices into my head, so I can have lots of voices to guide me/choose from as I write, there needs to be something intentional in the mix, too.  Wish me luck on translating that all into a novel in one month.  : )

I think it's kind of a lie to call it a novel, even.  I really just plan to write short stories/chapters/vignettes without really caring if they will all fit the overall themes and without editing.  In the end, I hope to have a huge pile of stuff I can pick through and edit into something more coherent and unified.  Sound like a plan?  Anyone else who's always wanted to try it want to join me? 

Since the blogs are about discipline, I will still try to get my 8 posts a month, but if they are short or more erratic, it's because I consider the big writing to also be evidence of discipline.  : )  If the bloggings are slim in November, now you'll know why. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The day before the layoff

Phrase of the day: "The rain falls on the righteous and the wicked."  This was meant to be a thing about blessings, I think, since rain was scarce in that place at that time, and it makes things grow and keeps things alive.  In the Midwest, we act like it's a negative: sometimes it pours when you don't have an umbrella, and the rain that's soaking you doesn't care if you're good or bad: it just falls.  And that's the thing.  Whether you look at this as something about blessings or curses, things happen to people, and you don't get to control them.  This is life in a fallen world.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Still on the shelf October 2012

Oh, books.  I'm drooling over you, but I'm trying to be an adult here and do responsible things on the weekend instead of drowning in you.  Soon the last applications will be completed and vacations will be had, and books will be read.  Oh, yes, they will.
  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore:  This author has turned out two excellent books that take place in the same world.  The books were very different.  I am looking forward to a third excellent book that is also very different.
  • Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: Leave me alone.  : ) The dialogue is fun, and these characters have had less time to become tiresome.  It's a weird paranormal/steampunk vibe with very polite speech, and I liked the first one, possibly because I am a sucker for demon-drug-addicted-soulful-doomed-guys in books.
  • City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare: Well, Simon is still pretty much awesome.  I'm really in it for him at this point, if you must know.  Certain other folks need to be kicked in the head until they stop acting like idiots.  Well, they needed kicking in the last book.  Now they need way more help than a swift kick could provide . . .  I must admit a sort of morbid curiosity about the upcoming movie adaptation for the first book.  I suspect it won't be nearly as much fun as the book unless they get some really snazzy actors and actresses. 
  • The Fox Woman and Fudoki by Kij Johnson: Even the complaints on Amazon are promising. Something tells me I will adore these, possibly as much as the Tales of the Otori. I hope to find out this winter.
  • Goliath by Scott Westerfeld: Will they stop the war?  Will he ever figure out why the perspicacious creature keeps saying Mr. Sharpe so sarcastically?  Will Alec ever get to be emperor and thus never be able to be in a romance with our other main character?  I don't know, but I will find out and then not spoil it for you.
  • A Calculus of Angels by J. Gregory Keyes: We move to Russia, which didn't actually get destroyed in the first book, but the fallout from said book is pretty fierce even there.  That's all the further I've gotten, but I am looking forward to a day taking up a chair at Panera by the fireplace and finding out what on earth happens next in this fantasy/alternate history weirdstravaganza.
  • A bunch of tween books: I don't know which ones yet, but I figure I ought to fill up the tank before I tackle my just-graduated-from-sixth-grade narrator for National Novel Writing month, which I can probably participate in since I have not destroyed any of my fingers in the last couple of months (fingers crossed).  I'm still not 100% there with the recovery from the August of 2011 smashing, but I'm told the nerves will eventually grow back right as rain.  Got any suggestions?  (For books, not for finger remedies.)  Finding contemporary-ish 11-13 protagonists in non-genre fiction isn't easy.  Good thing I like to read a lot. : )
So what's on your slate coming up?  Any books you've been saving to savor when you have more time?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The week before the layoff: Tuesday

I wonder if this is the last Tuesday I will take this route to work past the half-dead, half-alive tree and the marsh.  Will this be the last Tuesday I do work at this desk surrounded by this three-sided view of clouds watching this plant shiver as heavy machinery moves the floor?  Will this be the last Tuesday I go to this store and then that store and get gas at this gas station and then go home? 

I pray it will be the last Tuesday I ever have to do research on hip surgery (while contemplating potential job and insurance loss). 

Will tomorrow be the day that everything falls apart for me like it did for my cube-neighbor today?  He was one of our managers, an irreplaceable expert.  But they did tell us that this lay-off had nothing to do with how good we are.  It is a thing of cold, hard numbers, HR and finance, not our bosses or those who work with us and give us performance bonuses. 

Now I wish again that I had maintained my goal of only achieving expectations.  Who knew that exceeding them would have the consequence of making me more attractive to a cut based on numbers?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why you should keep writing

"Keep writing and submitting and asking and trying, but don’t forget that the joy of it is in the simple movement of pen over paper. Of finding the exact right word. Of finding yourself carried into the next paragraph by some wild thought. Of getting a new, startling glimpse of the holy. Publication may come, or it may not, but it will never get better than this." - Addie Zierman

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fantasy Lady Bits Posing

I stumbled across some interesting discussions about book covers (particularly genre book covers) and what they say to readers.

Jim C. Hines is a male fantasy author.  He decided to try recreating some of the poses (in costumes as close to the original as he could in most cases) on the covers of his and others' fantasy books.  Be sure to open the link and go check this out because it is hilarious and thought-provoking.
"To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being sexual. I can totally see Snow from the princess books flaunting her stuff, for example. But posing like these characters drives home exactly what’s being emphasized and what’s not.

"My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk."
Ils has some interesting things to add to the discussion in a Tumblr post.  "I guess some people find torso dislocation sexy? I’m not one of those people."

That post was pretty popular, and she discovered she had some additional things to say, so she made another post that included these gems.
'Oh, no, sorry, have females that are awesome in their own right, but don’t let them be awesome without being sexy.'

'We don’t need that pose to show off the good ol’ T&A. We know they have them. And there are plenty of times they show them off. I mean come on, they are females, and they’re moving around. A fellow black belt from my TaeKwonDo class has fantastic kicks. I mean yeah, I can kick, I’m proud of my kicks, but hers could knock you back from the sheer awesome. Her perfect stance also happens to show off her perfect body. It’s a byproduct. It happens. So the extra push that takes “sexy” over into “that…what, no,” why does it seem so necessary?'
Good question.

This whole argument ended up leading me to another Tumblr blog with the awesome name of "Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor," wherein the author proves that it is possible to clothe the fighting ladies in more while subtracting none of their deadliness or sexiness.  It can be done!

This Tumblr inspired an actual armorer to post a pretty good explanation of the nature and purpose of armor and how it could be practically applied to females, as well. 

And we're not even talking about how the men often get to dress with complete modesty and weather-responsiveness while the women don't . . .  : )

Monday, October 1, 2012

What I've been reading lately

The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock: In this volume, DJ sort of dates this guy, and that ends badly.  Mostly she keeps dealing with her screwed up, silent family, as they deal with a real crisis or two.  I love this narrator's voice and the way she comes to realize things about herself and the people around her and starts to act on them in small but powerful ways.

Book Girl and the Wayfarer's Lamentation: So what does a book series do after it resolves what you thought was going to be its main conflict?  Well, I'll have to find out in the next volume because this was the volume where some big showdowns happened, and it gets pretty brutal.  There are a lot of reversals in this book as characters and motivations are twisted and shown to be not exactly what you were led to believe.  Lots of emotional tension and some great book-related information, as per usual.

Newton's Cannon by J. Gregory Keyes: Ben Franklin + Alchemy = pretty entertaining. Unless you're London.  At least he's really sorry.

Margaux with an X, Now Playing: Stoner and Spaz II, and Deadvilleby Ron Koertge: The endings are never cheaply happy.  Each protagonist is so unique.  All the books are united by their common excellence.  Not perfect, mind you, but great.  I am impressed by his ability to make convincing characters who so easily move the plot along while narrating in first person.  I need to study this; if done right, the books just seem to hum along even if there's not really much action.  I am also impressed by his ability to create realistic adult characters, use interesting family groups/dynamics, and seamlessly include characters with various kinds of disabilities.  Well done!

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis: This book is always an interesting read (especially if you're me and forget everything between readings).  Ponder once again these clear examples, this lack of theological buzzwords, the thought-provoking ideas grounded firmly in a time past.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: If you are easily offended, this one is not for you; the language is frequently R-rated, as is the content (sometimes more "R" for ralph-inducing).  As the Bloggess, Jenny Lawson tells stories about her screwed up life.  And it is screwed up. 

People who think they grew up with quirky parents will be put in their places by this book.  There are baby racoons in jams, lessons in couch etiquette, more than you really wanted to think about cow artificial insemination, dead babies, saint-worthy husbands, feeling stabby, and more neuroses than you can shake a roadkill puppet at.  You will find that you really love your job (unless you work in HR).  You will be grossed out and offended for sure.  You might also laugh hard enough to have an asthma attack.  More than once.

Best served in small doses, this one nonetheless adds up surprisingly well into something akin to a memoir.  However, you really need to know what you're getting into when you read this, or you will be disappointed.  It's not Shakespeare, and it's not trying to be.  If you read it like a blog (a little bit every so often), you'll probably end up with a better opinion of it than if you try to read it like a normal memoir or novel.  If it starts getting tedious, stop reading and come back to it later when you need a really weird pick me up.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New books I am drooling over this fall

What's coming up this fall that makes me want to curl up in a ball and read all day?  So many things!  But these two sort of eclipse anything else.
  • Cold Days by Jim Butcher: Oh, Harry.  He was kind of dead in the last one, but now that he's not dead anymore, things get even worse.  Making a deal with a fae is not a good idea, but, honestly?  Harry didn't have any other choice if he wanted to save people he loved.  He tried his best to wiggle out of it, but, well, the fae can be pretty determined.  I don't know if he'll manage to wriggle out of this one in this book or a future one, but I am signed up with bated breath to watch how he tries.
  • Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: I have grown to appreciate Ivan somewhat more in my mellow old age, but he still drives me a bit crazy.  I have no idea what kind of company he'll be on a novel-length outing, but he did all right in his part in A Civil Campaign.  And, honestly?  Who wouldn't want to see the big lout finally really fall in love and maybe actually settle down just like his mother always wanted.  (Kicking and screaming and whining the whole heroic way, I've no doubt, and I can't wait to find out.)
Others that look interesting:
  • The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson: He can pull off series work, spin offs, stand-alones, and other people's series.  And it has a cool cover that makes me think of Guy Gavriel Kay for some reason.
  • The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks: I am being SO GOOD and not starting series that aren't finished yet.  It huuuuuuuuurts.
  • Son by Lois Lowry: How does she get away with writing about these subjects?  Whoa.  This is another book set in the same world as The Giver, and the setup is even more brutal, so bring along your tissues.
  • The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams: His War of the Flowers was awesome, and I've no doubt that this will be engaging (and happily theologically incorrect), as well, but it's a series, so it's on the backburner for now.
Anything freshly out or on its way in the next few months that you're looking forward to reading?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Discussion not fighting

"The cable-news model is that you want to create a fight," she says. "Because people will yell! And there will be exclamation points and things will be in ALL CAPS and people will watch! Having been the left-wing person booked to fight with the right-wing person in that Punch and Judy show, I'm not interested in re-creating that. If I've booked you, I feel like you've got something worth listening to. With conservative guests, that means you can't just be a random hack who's here to fight with me because I am who I am. You've got to bring something to it where even without sparks flying and even with it being civil, you're going to illuminate something that I can't." - Rachel Maddows

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I'll probably never be that teacher

To be that teacher,
  • I would probably need to get a PhD.  Not because it would make me a better teacher, but because schools like that, and they prefer to hire people with doctorates.
  • I would need to be able to teach at least a couple of adjunct classes a semester every semester for several years to gain experience.  Better yet, I would need to be able to devote myself to adjunct teaching full time for several years.  Most places like experience, even if they don't know what kind of teacher you are. You need experience to make them even care to look into what kind of teacher you are.
  • I would need to pursue publication seriously.  Not that publication is a sign that your writing is necessarily better than others, but having a publication record is important to schools, especially ones that want to be seen as serious schools.
Even if I could do all of these things, it would still not guarantee me a chance to try to be that teacher.  However, if I can't do these things, the chance of me ever getting to try to be that teacher is basically 0.  And the truth is that I can't really do these things.  Story of my life recently.  I don't have the time, money, energy, lowered standards, or stubborn willpower needed.  I am broken and hurting and not sleeping well and not at my mental best. It's all I can do to hold down a full time job with benefits to help me pay for all the medical treatments and medications. 

I have been thinking about dreams again lately.  I have wanted to teach since I was in high school, and I have taught, so that dream has come true.  If I'm honest, I'll also admit that what I wanted to do was teach full time.  If I pursue this desire, I will have to sacrifice many other things for the possibility that I may be able to do what I want and think I am gifted at. 

A problem is that I want to help people in my church and community now.  If I choose to live in the future in my dream, I sacrifice the good I can do now.  And that feels selfish to me right now.  Other people who are slaving and sacrificing for their dreams maybe don't feel that way, and I think that's fine for them.  More power to 'em.  But I don't think I can plan ahead like this anymore.  I think I want to help concretely now.  I want to be that teacher, too, but maybe some wants are more important than others.  Maybe those things are what I should be wanting more.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I want to be that teacher

I have fulfilled my dream of teaching college writing by teaching a couple of online composition classes, and I still want to be that teacher.  I think I would be good at being that teacher.  You know, the one who
  • knows all about the major and minors and department and catalog and makes sure her advisees are on track.  
  • is dedicated to helping students understand and learn and apply.  
  • teaches students to love learning and words and communication.
  • students love and come to for help because they can tell the teacher loves them and wants to help them succeed.  
  • learns from her students and takes delight in learning all sorts of things.  
  • loves her job and constantly finds ways to love it anew.  
  • is involved in the school and helps out on committees and in the community.  
  • has office hours and is available outside them.  
  • has an office you want to stay in, so you can look around.  
  • teaches students about how to try to be a decent human being.  
I want to be that teacher.  And I don't think I ever will be.  And it hurts.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Regret vs. Common Sense vs. Expectations vs. Peace

And then there's this simple question from the doctor:

"You've been in pain from this for 5-and-a-half years, and this is the first time a doctor is seeing it? "

Well, yes.  Funny how that happened.  I fell and landed on my back and then saw doctors for that and then had physical therapy.  At physical therapy, they improved my back, and my hip started hurting.  The PT folks said to come back if the hip didn't improve on its own.  When it still hurt a few years later and I had a better job, I went to PT for it without seeing a doctor.  It makes sense.  But five and a half years?  Is my sense of pain and my way of dealing with it so screwed up that I would let this thing happen to me when I would not let it happen to another?

The regrets start again. 

What if
I had gone
right when it
started hurting
or at least earlier
than 5 years? 
Could I have prevented something?  Lessened
some damage?  Did my lack
cause this more serious hurt?
Could this regret have been prevented?

Common sense intrudes. 

And when
would you have found
time for this?  And money? 
And energy?  You did not
have these things.  Let go.  Learn.  Move on. 
Stop hurting yourself more
over the hurt you may
or may not
have done yourself. 
Be at peace.
Live now. 

I try to convince myself not to expect the worst.

Maybe it's not torn cartilage or arthritis.  Maybe it is something to do with the natural structure and inflammation, and it can be fixed.  Maybe the flying pigs can fix it after they stop this sick feeling in my stomach which may be more related to allergies than stressing out about imaginary potential hip surgery it will be hard for me to afford.  Or not so imaginary tests involving needles in my hip and how debilitated I was from needles in my wrist.

Be at peace, dagnabbit.  Why won't you listen? 

Worrying won't help.  God is with you.  
You'll be fine no matter what happens.

Clutch towel. Don't panic.

Breathe in.  Breathe out. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hindsight is 20/20, and I want to punch it in the face

Once upon a time, I fell on the ice on a sidewalk.  It was next to a part of a building that was for rent, and the owners didn't want to pay to have the parking lot lights on.  It was a cartoon fall, one second walking cautiously, the next hitting my back and head on the sidewalk and looking up at my feet in a, "How did those get up there?" sort of way.  From the ground I could see that the whole untreated sidewalk was a single sheet of ice.  (Isn't that always how it works.) 

Emergency room, nothing broken, physical therapy, trouble getting the bones and muscles to realign correctly.  Pain increasing in the hip.  No money for more PT.  No time.  No energy.   

I decided not to sue.  I was in pain from several injuries, working full time, attending school part time, fighting with the Federal Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, increasingly bad insomnia from the pain and nerve activity, and the resulting really poor judgment. 

Today the doctor said scary words like cartilage tear and flattening and overhang and arthritis and tests and injecting dye into the hip.  Now that I'm contemplating an MRI (not very well covered by my insurance) and (please God no) possibly surgery and recovery (also not well-covered) and my third story apartment and the huge layoff my company will be having next month, I want to go back and force myself to sue the building owners for negligence.  Now that I have a better job and have graduated from school and given up on OWCP, I could probably handle it.  Back then, I just couldn't, even though I should have.  I simply didn't have the energy or time to do the thing I should have.

Retrospect sucks.  Like a bog.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Please don't be That Guy if you're going to sit near me

Ah, the beginning of the school year.  A time when new students come to campus and learn all sorts of things.  A time when I observe as said new students provide me with examples of things you should never say when you are a new student on campus at your first club meeting if you want to, you know, make friends. 

This year's gem happened when a new student kept getting shushed for talking during shows in the anime club.  It's understandable that he was miffed; they hadn't gone over the rules yet.  (I kept telling myself that; it helped.)  Then, when the admin council explained that one of our rules is to respect each other by not talking during shows, this new student said loudly, "Wow!  I've never been in a club before that had rules against having fun!  That's so weird that you have a rule against having fun!"

Yeah, so if you are new to a club, don't be That Guy who loudly criticizes the traditions and rules of the club the first day without even bothering to find out why they exist/are in place.  This is assuming that you are actually interested in making a good impression/generating goodwill/potentially making friends or even just staying invisible.  If that's not your agenda, well, go ahead, I guess.  Knock yourself out.  Just don't sit behind me.  Thanks.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why marathoning a show is not always a good idea

I watched most of the first season of the Big Bang Theory over the course of a couple of weeks.  I enjoyed the show, but I noticed something kind of odd.  In this marathon--and back when I marathoned Firefly--I began to suspect that episodic shows with multiple writers (most of them for weekly television series, I would imagine) tend to seem kind of scattered.  I didn't comb through scientifically, but there seems to be a pattern where certain episodes play up certain facets of certain characters, and I wonder if the episodes that play up the same thing are by the same writers.  I don't know if some writers just like certain characters or feel that certain sides of those characters don't get enough screen time, but the overall combination can seem oddly uneven when watched en masse.

I hesitate to say that this makes the whole seem artificial because by nature these things are artificial: they're TV shows about fictional people, but maybe this is why shows are still often played weekly: people don't nit-pick about this sort of thing when there's a whole week of life in between brief viewings of these fictional lives.

While Firefly was definitely more obvious in this regard, it's only fair to point out that it was also shorter in terms of episodes, so maybe the episodes that would have helped even things out never got made.

Are there any shows where you've noticed this disparity between character continuity in different episodes?  Do you care?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Is being the token female so bad?

"Critics say the recently proposed campaign leads to tokenism, where women are invited as keynote speakers to placate concerns over gender imbalance. Worse yet, they argue tokenism casts a cloud over a woman’s seat at the table because onlookers will question whether she was included for her sex or her merit. Others say the status quo is simply unacceptable and that drastic measures — initiated by the world’s leading male philosophers, no less — must be taken." - Kathryn Blaze Carlson

Echoes of Affirmative Action here.  And also literature, I think.  There is debate about this in literature even now, I think.  When folks assemble a new literature survey book, they have to make decisions.  Do they include women nobody read when they were alive and publishing simply because they're female (and we want a more "balanced"--not necessarily accurate--representation)?  Since most women weren't educated and thus couldn't serve as an audience, does that justify inclusion of people who didn't have a wide readership because they were female?

Part of me thinks that it would really irk me to be the token female or to be suspected of being her.  However, I was quite happy to hang on to a job for years due to my disability status.  I really needed that job.  I think I would have kept it even if I was somehow only allowed to because of my chromosomes.

Am I just really inconsistent here, or is the usual war of practical and theoretical, perfect world and actual world colliding.  What are your thoughts on the topic?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I miss Borders

I miss Borders.  It was about a year ago that the last one in my area shut down.  I miss it because Barnes & Noble has a crappy manga selection in comparison.  I also miss it because of the receipts.  Borders had the best receipt paper for marking books.  It was thin and tore well in straight lines.  Because Borders is no longer with us, I reserve my leftover receipts for books I know will need a lot of page markers.  I am a huge book nerd, and I miss Borders.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Keep flying, Yukikaze

I am stalled out reading Good Luck, Yukikaze, a collection of science fiction short stories as dark, tense, and talky as the first.  The problem is that I don't want it to end, especially since I know the third and final collection is preeeeetttttyy likely to never be licensed for English distribution.  Sad.

Anyway, I really like these stories, even though they are best read while sitting in a sunny place with birds tweeting and the sounds of happy children playing in the background to stave off the paranoia and depression.  I realize this probably does not sound terribly appealing, but it's meant to be an endorsement.  Really.

I love this stuff.  I loved the confusing, dark anime full of dark, silent soldiers, creepy aliens, aerial dogfights, and questions about the nature of humanity and its interactions with machines.  I loved the first book, and I loved its afterward. 

I sort of inhaled most of this one, too, even as the formerly silent and antisocial protagonist started to develop more humanity, but then, when I saw the end was near, I just . . . couldn't go on.  I need to finish soon, though, before I start losing all the threads of the plot.  Maybe this one will come to a decent close like the first one.  That's what I will tell myself. 

Two chapters and counting.  Tension mounting.  Must push through the pain . . . : )

Monday, August 20, 2012

What is this gunk?

I love the library.  It is a place where you can get free books.  New books, old books, books you aren't sure if you'll like, books you know you'll like but can't afford: what is there not to like about the amazing public libraries in our country?

Well, you know, my one complaint (at the moment) is as follows: why is there always a thin film of gunk on the CDs?  What do people do to them to make them this disgusting?  (I probably don't really want to know.)  Sometimes you get this effect on books, too (usually the ones with dust covers wrapped in clear plastic but also on some paperbacks), but the CDs are just gross. 

If someone could invent some sort of cleany-zapper the items could be run through when they get returned so they can be de-gunkified for the next patron, that person could make a lot of money . . .

Hooray for libraries!  And soap for washing hands after handling gunky library materials!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Three on stories

"But more importantly, without any context any description I gave you would read like an essay. Sure I could explain some of the lost pagan rites from Vint. But without context and narrative, our ability to care about such things is dramatically reduced.

"That’s why we need stories."

- Patrick Rothfuss
"So much of real religions lie in their stories, their parables, their prayers, their songs, their rituals. That’s what I set out to create for my werewolf culture."

- Rhiannon Held
"I have some pretty highfalutin’ ideas about the value of storytelling, including a deeply held belief that it is through stories that we (humans) share the most vital truths about ourselves and the universe we live in. I honestly believe that storytelling, in all its forms, is the most important thing we do as a species. So with that in mind, certainly cross-cultural storytelling can be an important tool for understanding each other."

- Melinda Beasi

Monday, August 13, 2012

Brahms German Requiem (in English)

I started out miffed that we were singing this in English.  The other two times we met for a community sing, we did the Latin pieces in Latin.  I hate it when I have to sing in English just because people are afraid of German or Slovanic or French or [fill in the blank with whatever language scares you].  (Maybe that's just because I'm not good enough to try to sight-sing words and music when I can barely handle music, so I don't really have to think that hard about the words.)

I was being all grumbly to myself about it, too.  "Luther would have wanted it sung in its native language," I found myself somewhat irrationally pouting.  But after I sang it in English, well, I suspect Luther would have approved because even though he was German and was all about a German Bible, he was most interested in making the sacred intelligible to the lay people (in his case, the German ones), and that's why I'm glad I sang this one in English: otherwise, the piece would not have had the power to move me like it did.

For a week before we sang it, I listened to about 5 different versions of this piece that I borrowed from the library, all in German and, while I found it powerful and sometimes stirring, it was more like orchestral music to me.  But with the English score in my hands, I saw the words.  This repeated phrase over and over like hammer blows pounding out the truth of mortality: "Behold all flesh is as the grass and all the loveliness of man is as the flower of grass."  Kettledrums, basses, cellos, altos and tenors in the low end of the range and the bases an octave below and the music just pounding away around us rising and falling away like our voices like the ocean vast and unfathomable and terrifying.

And the music.  The baritone solo in movement II followed by the choir in a sort of choral call and response and then the voice parts passing the phrase back and forth.  We were all lost for 6 whole pages (in movement III, I think), but half of us were there for the last note.  VI has the violins just sawing away incredibly.  And pages 63-85.  Wow.  The midpoint or so has the most incredible ending ever.  I'm always irritated when more comes after that.  VII has some lovely moments but seems anticlimactic compared to the earlier movements which makes sense since the whole piece it starts in grief and anger and harshness and sorrow and moves to a resolution here at peace in music and in voices.

The juxtaposition of this music with these words is synergistic.  I could feel the shape of the whole and the shape of the parts when words I understood were added to the music.  I understood what it meant, not just how it sounded.  And then, after three and a half hours of singing (once through for rehearsal and once through for performance), I got into my car and put in my favorite recording of all the ones I borrowed from the library and listened to it again, and it meant so much more than it had when it was just music to my ears.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Books in Church

I would love to have smart discussions with truth-seekers in my church about the theological issues these books raise, but I probably never will.  However, the chance of this happening is highly unlikely.  There would be the usual confusion about depiction vs. endorsement (not a confusion exclusive to conservative Christians).  There would also probably be condemnation, offense, and outrage about language and content [especially sex], about depictions of immorality, evil, and bad choices and their consequences. 

So this is my starter list.  Do you have any to add?  I'll keep them somewhere in case the opportunity ever arises . . . : )

Monday, August 6, 2012

Really? For real?!

Dear Local Barnes & Noble,

Why exactly is your 50 Shades of Gray display table located next to the kid's section?

Concerned & Curious

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Bible, truth, literature

All these years later, I'm learning that understanding the literal meaning of the Bible is a more nuanced adventure than my college friends and I imagined. We'd been blithely unaware that there is more than one genre in the Bible, or that literary context profoundly matters to meaning. We didn't understand that when we read ancient Hebrew prose poems (like Genesis 1), wisdom literature (like Proverbs), or apocalyptic literature (like Revelation) as if they were science textbooks, we were actually obscuring their meaning.

For me, the most negative consequence of all that well-intentioned literalism was the conviction that Yahweh, having given us his straightforward Word, was completely comprehensible. This paradigm both diminished my perception of God and set up my faith for crisis when I discovered aspects of God that remain stubbornly shrouded in mystery.

If you'd told me back then that the language we have for God—even (especially) much of our biblical language—must be understood analogically, I would have prayed for you and backed away slowly. I wouldn't have understood that there are no words that can be applied to God exactly the same way they are applied to creaturely things, no language that can be used "univocally."

- Carolyn Arends
Yeah, this whole article is kind of amazing.  Please go check it out now.  Then let me know what you think.

Have you ever had a very "literal" mindset toward the Bible?  If so, are you still there, or are you in a different place now?  How did you arrive at your present understanding of the Bible?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Do you read things you don't agree with?

"If the only people that you ever read are people who completely line up with you on every single social/political/technological thing — I mean, I had somebody stop reading me because I snarked on Apple products one time. But if that’s your criteria, the number of people that you’re going to eventually allow yourself to read is very, very small." - John Scalzi

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rape jokes and good comedy

So a few weeks ago, a comedian made a rape joke and incurred the wrath of the Internet.  I find this kind of controversy intriguing because there is disagreement about what actually happened.  I don't find the resulting discussions worthless, though, just because the facts that started the conversation are unconfirmed (similar to another controversy I wrote about.)   Regardless of what actually happened, people were able to discuss something important about the meaning and purpose of something (in this case, comedy), and some excellent points were made.

Roxane Gay sees it this way:
'Rape humor is designed to remind women that they are still not quite equal. Just as their bodies and reproductive freedom are open to legislation and public discourse, so are their other issues. When women respond negatively to misogynistic or rape humor they are “sensitive” and branded as feminist a word that has, as of late, become a catch-all term for, “woman who does not tolerate bullshit.”'
The issues of "censorship" and "freedom of speech" were trotted out.  I liked what Roxane Gay and Guante had to say about that:
"We are free to speak as we choose without fear of prosecution or persecution, but we are not free to speak as we choose without consequence.. . . . Sometimes, saying what others are afraid or unwilling to say is just being an asshole. We are all free to be assholes but we are not free to do so without consequence." - Roxane Gay 
 '“Edgy” comedy or art shouldn’t just be about saying naughty words and pissing people off; it should be about pissing people off in order to make a larger point.. . . Truly edgy writing pushes people out of their comfort zones, sure. But it pushes them toward something, some deeper truth or observation about humanity.' - Guante
 Curtis Luciani had a rather good extended metaphor you should check out (very effective but containing lots of language).  His conclusion:
"[C]ausing pain is quite a different f-ing matter. Your job as a comedian is to take us through pain, transcend pain, transform pain. And if you don't get that, you are a f-ing bully, and I've got zero time for bullies."  
And finally, a reminder of why we need comedy that pushes boundaries for the right reasons:
"Humor that makes us laugh and makes us uncomfortable also makes us think."
- Roxane Gay 

Requiem for a requiem

I'd never been through all of Mozart's Requiem before that night.  (I can still definitely say I've never sung Mozart's Requiem because I personally believe my batting average in terms of hitting notes has to be above .160 to say I've actually sung something.)  Then again, nobody's really sung through Mozart's Requiem because he died before he finished it.  Now I want to listen to Amadeus again . . . 

It didn't matter that I was barely keeping up with the music, let alone the unfamiliar words, or that there's always one violin that's flat.  At certain moments, these things don't matter when you're making music.  The thing is that there were more than enough people who knew what they were doing all around me, so I still had that feeling of being a part of something huge and lovely in those moments when I was carried up and away by the beauty of voices singing music to God. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A little John Scalzi on what aspiring writers should read

"This suggestion is actually more difficult to follow than you might think. People like to read what they like, and don’t like to read what they don’t like. That’s fine if all you want to be is a reader, but if you want to be a writer, you don’t have the luxury of just sticking to the stuff that merely entertains you. Writing that’s not working for you is still working for someone; take a look and see if you can find out why. Alternately, pinpoint why it doesn’t work. Fact is, you can learn as much from writers you don’t like as you can from writers you do — and possibly more, because you’re not cutting them slack, like you would your favorite writers."  - John Scalzi

Monday, July 9, 2012

an excellent explanation of memoir

"And it’s because there is this misconception about memoir: you write because you’ve had some kind of unusual life. You write a memoir because you are Somebody or because Some Big Thing has happened to you, and this is how we end up with tomes by the Kardashians and…Snookie.

"But the truth – the thing I love about the genre – is that in its purest form, it’s exactly the opposite. I tell my story not because it is particularly thrilling, but because if I tell it right, it will tap into your story, into the collective story that we all live in.

"The whole truth is in the details, the landscapes, the parts of myself that hide in the shadows of my memory. To dig for these pieces is an act of faith all its own; to assemble them into art, into story, is an act of healing."

-Addie Zierman
I love the story Addie blogs about, too.  A poem about it figured very prominently in my thesis and still does in my life.  If only I could touch His robe's hem and be rid of this (comparably minor) pain and finally start getting solid sleep again . . .

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Glad not to be a redshirt

John Scalzi cracks me up on his blog Whatever, frequently.  His newest novel Redshirts had the same effect.  I'm not sure if I should call it a satire, but it's more than a parody.  It's definitely a darkly comic work built around what would happen if the poor red-uniformed schmucks who died with idiocy and frequency on the original Star Trek series realized that something was screwy and tried to do something about it.  As someone who has never seen all of the original Star Trek series (or any of it recently), I wondered if it would be something I would be able to enjoy.  I've read quite a bit of science fiction and have liked the other Scalzi novels I've read (and have resonated with his sense of humor), so I figured I was in safe hands.  I was.

One of my favorite things about the Scalziverses is that John Scalzi leaves room for God in his books.  He is not a believer (he has spoken at length and very well about these topics on his blog), but he doesn't think all faith and religion will go away in the super-advanced, all-science worlds of the future, and he doesn't think or write as if all people who believe in God are stupid.  I appreciate this because his politeness on the topic is not universal in speculative fiction these days.  In fact, it seems kind of rare for authors to leave any room for God or faith in their books.  More frequently, I see anti-theism and bitterness or nihilism or science explains it all and no room or time for any higher power's existence even to be speculated about worlds.  I much prefer ones where I can feel un-hated  and not completely marginalized as a person of faith.

Pretty much everything I could say about the story itself would be a spoiler.  This is unfortunate.  If you go to his blog, he has some links to reviews (with cautions about the ones with spoilers).  You'll figure out if you're likely to enjoy his sense of humor based on posts like this one in which he says, "As part of my continuing mission to remind authors and other creative people that there is nothing they will ever create that will be universally loved, here are some choice comments from one-star reviews of Redshirts, my current, fastest-selling and in many ways most enthusiastically received book."

And if he's not your cup of tea, he wants you to know that's okay.  You don't have to read his books if you don't resonate with his sense of humor.  ". . . why would you do that to yourself? Life is often unpleasant enough without choosing to fill your recreational hours pursuing a book from an author with whom ample previous readings have shown you have little rapport."

Anyway, after reading this book, I found myself happy that when our division got matching red polo shirts last year, our secretary short ordered and gave mine to someone else while I was on vacation.  There are many days when someone in the department is wearing theirs.  Since I read this book, whenever I see someone wearing one, it makes me snicker.  Thanks, Mr. Scalzi.  Now I know whey the engineers asked for orange.  Must not have been any geeks on the color-choice selection committee for our division . . .

So when's the TV show going into production?

librarian at heart

I am a librarian at heart.  One of my greatest pleasures is helping people find a book they will like, lending it to them, and hearing that they liked it.  Unfortunately, I am also a collector at heart, and I like being able to read and enjoy my books now and in the future, which requires that I take very good care of them.  Other people do not take such care, and some do not understand why anyone would.  And so my two natures are at constant war within me.  I want to lend, but I am heartbroken when a mass market that is no longer in print comes back to me with a broken spine or full of sand (windy day on the beach during vacation) or bent and creased or scribbled in or chewed on or full of cat hairs.  I want to lend but only to those who understand the sacred duty of the borrower to return the book quite unharmed and in the same shape it was received.  I want to lend, but, but, but . . . 

For some reason, just telling someone about a book and hearing later that they read and liked it is not the same.  It's not nearly as satisfying as going through my own shelves and searching for something that person will enjoy reading.  But that feeling when I get a book back damaged or smelling of cabbage . . .

The end result is that I often feel useless, like a librarian at a library no one ever goes to.  Which is kind of accurate because my home is a library (the whole kitchen and a good chunk of the living room is taken over by bookcases), it is small enough to make people feel claustrophobic, and I am antisocial besides.  At least I'm aware that I'm doing it to myself.

I worked at a library once as a page shelving and alphabetizing books in bliss and happiness.  I wonder if I would have been less blissful and more shocked and appalled to be a regular librarian checking in all the returns and seeing the horrible thing people did to my books.  So maybe I'm not a librarian at heart . . .  Should that make me feel better?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Underwear thieves (no, really)

I am pretty certain someone swiped some of my underwear last time I did laundry.  I used to have a match between socks and underwear, and all of a sudden, it's way skewed.  This is the first time that's happened in over 13 years of shared laundry room life. It's hardly something to celebrate . . .

Once upon a time, I would have been intensely creeped out and offended and outraged.  Now I just feel sad.  I mean, if someone is so desperate that they can't afford to buy underwear and need to steal it, they're going to be ticked off when what they stole falls apart soon.  I am super-cheap, and I do not like to buy new clothes unless I have to.  That is some old underwear.  Steal from someone less cheap next time, underwear thief.

Also, ewwwww.  Had to get that out of my system . . .

a successful reading

a successful reading makes me want
to write and read like
a successful concert makes me want to sing

dying alone (overheard)

The people at the table above me are talking about the death of a man who was single and liver alone with his dog.  He was 58, and he died suddenly, and it took 5 days for them to realize.  "So sad," they kept saying.  "No family, no wife and kids, how sad, nobody knew, how sad," they said.  "No one should live alone and be single," they said.  "So very, very sad."

I hid a crooked smile and thought, again, Actually, not really.  Who is it sad for?  He's dead; he's not horrified or embarrassed by it.  And no family means there wasn't a wife and kids to be sad at being ripped away, no family to suffer.  Maybe I feel bad for the dog, but why is it sad to be alone if that is your choice?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Inner Critic on the Prowl

I am too judgmental lately
about writing stories
and I wonder what brought this on

things I could have enjoyed before
my inner critic sneaks up
and ruins for me, pointing out
the flaws, and I wonder when
it will turn on me . . .

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Practicing the Examined Life?

"When a generation's main mode of self-expression is a Facebook post, it is unsurprising that we do not understand ourselves. It is impossible to practice the examined life through a Tweet." - Paul D. Miller 
I read this and thought it made sense.  But then I wondered, when people "Tweet," are they trying to use that as a way to practice the examined life?  And is self-expression the (only) way we (should) examine our lives?  It was a good sound bite, but I'm not sure I buy it in the end.

Your thoughts?

Literary vs Genre fiction

"I think in the west, literary fiction is not supposed to deal with absolutes, and that’s why it’s better regarded, whereas genre fiction deals with absolutes. There’s such a divide. Meanwhile Japan does not do that even with genre fiction, and you don’t have the same divisions." - Yani Mentzas

Your thoughts?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

American Fantasy Prose Readers: the same thing again and again

"My understanding is, especially with American fantasy prose, that the people who come back to that expect the same narrative again and again. It’s a phatic experience. Just being able to go through the sleepy town, that fulfills a prophecy, sort of reminds you of what it was like the first time you picked up Tolkien."
- Noah Fulmar
Hey, fantasy readers, what are your thoughts on this? (There's plenty more to the roundtable, so you can go back a bit to get some context, if you'd like it.) 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why We Need Stories

"But more importantly, without any context any description I gave you would read like an essay. Sure I could explain some of the lost pagan rites from Vint. But without context and narrative, our ability to care about such things is dramatically reduced.

"That’s why we need stories."

- Patrick Rothfuss

This sounds like why my sister hated the Silmarillion.  Then again, sometimes you want the info so badly that you'd prefer to have it in any form.  And when an author takes as long to write (admittedly great) novels . . .  Well, stories are amazing, but the facts are better than nothing.  Your thoughts?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another book I'll have to read (with pleasure)

I read this quote and thought of my earlier post about fans and their potentially vicious hatred of movie adaptations of books they loved.  This person says it way better.

There was that miniscule chance you’d get it oh-so-very-wrong and then I’d have to become all nerd rage-y and rip the book apart, because that is something unfortunate we fans have a habit of doing. We love these things so much, when we feel they are not being treated with the respect they deserve, we tend to become irrational jackasses in an effort to protect whatever it is we love. - Source: Geeky Pleasures

Yes, that's it exactly.  Sounds like maybe John Scalzi's Redshirts (an apparently loving and very competent send-up of those poor guys who die inevitably pretty much every episode in the original Star Trek TV series) manages to avoid this problem of inciting nerd rage and irrational jackassery.  Sigh, now there's another book I have to read even though I don't think I've ever seen the original Star Trek series in its entirety.  (Note that this is one of Mr. Scalzi's comic novels, like Android's Dream, not one of his uber-serious military sci-fi epics.)