Monday, February 13, 2017

Novel Wars Character Sketch - Maxine Murray

I'm still here, I promise!

So! One of my goals for this year is to spend some time each month with the characters from my attempted Nano, Novel Wars. A character sketch, in my opinion, is something that gives an author a better sense of who the character is, and how to best to present the character to the reader. I'm using a list I found on Tumblr for this, as I think it gives a good background on some of the things that I may not normally think of. So, with no further ado, I present Maxine Murray, host of Novel Wars!

  • How they present themselves - always put together very professionally, trying to look like an established member of the media.
  • How they stand - very prim, straight backed, head up.
  • How much space they take up when they’re sitting (Meaning do they ‘manspread’ or do they hunch into themselves?) - she's been trying to work on making herself take up more space, but she still defaults to keeping her arms tucked in and feet together when in public.
  • Whether or not they use their hands when they talk - constantly, especially when she's trying to describe something to other people who aren't in the business.
  • How they talk to their parents - she doesn't.
  • Whether or not they smile at strangers - she generally has a smile on her face, and if the stranger might be part of the industry, the smile's even bigger.
  • Whether or not their smile reaches their eyes - sometimes, but not often.
  • How they treat animals - she thinks animals are fantastic from afar, but she would never dream of having a pet.
  • What their friends are like - she doesn't have many, and the ones she does have aren't close.
  • What kind of people they surround themselves with - generally, people who can help her career.
  • How they talk about themselves - she tries to keep things as truthful as possible, though she's not above making her role in things sound a little bigger than it was.
  • How they talk about others - she avoids gossiping as much as she can, but she's always willing to listen to other people gossiping.
  • Whether they speed up or slow down at a yellow light - she definitely speeds up.
  • Whether they accept or deny compliments - she's perfected the art of outwardly denying a compliment with inwardly accepting it as her due.
  • How frequently they apologize - she tries to only apologize when she actually thinks she did something wrong.
  • Whether or not they willing to admit they’ve made a mistake - she avoids it as much as she can.
  • How they treat waiters/waitresses/cashiers - not great; she's been known to use the phrase 'little people' unironically
  • Whether or not they reciprocate generosity - only if she thinks she can get something out of it.
  • How they respond to traffic - she gets irritated very quickly, and assumes she is the only person who has somewhere to go.
  • How they treat subordinates - not well. She's a little better once she gets to know them, but they don't often stick around long enough to get to that point.
  • Whether or not they willingly give up their seat or open a door for someone - not a chance.
  • The “most listened to” songs on their playlist - Beyonce and other female power singers.
  • What they would tell you about during a late-night conversation - all the gossip she's picked up from other people.
  • What they doodle on their papers - lots of stars.
  • Whether or not they let people go in front of them in line at the grocery store - good grief no. She has places to be.
  • How they want to be seen by others - someone of importance, someone who is recognizable and important.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Self-care when the world explodes

I freely admit that I am bad at taking care of myself. I've always been one to focus on taking care of everyone else, until I inevitably collapse or break down. It's not the healthiest of traits, I know, and it is something I'm working on.

Having been through the break-downs, I'm intimately aware of the idea that you can't take care of other people if you don't take care of yourself. And yes, I know it's hard, and it feels wrong somehow. Still, it's important to remember a few things:

  • There's no shame in taking a break. Turn off Facebook, Twitter, the news, whatever is sending you into the pit of despair at the moment, and take a breath. It'll be there when you get back, and you'll be that much stronger for not drowning in it the whole time.
  • Find something concrete you can do. For myself, I find that I feel a lot better if I can look at the problem and find one specific, concrete action that I can take. You don't have to solve everything, but everyone can do one small thing - join a protest, donate, pass on information to those who need it.
  • It bears repeating: You don't have to solve everything. What's going on right now is, frankly, terrifying, and it's hard to see how it's going to stop. You, single person reading this on a screen, are not solely responsible for fixing everything. If you feel like the only way to move forward is if you can do everything, then you're never going to get started.
  • There's still an awful lot of good right now - people are helping each other, scientists are making new discoveries that can lead to tremendous things every day, and something new is being created every second of the day. Remind yourself why you care what happens to the world by finding the good, and add to the good.
  • Get the rest you need, make sure you eat regularly, all the things that the stereotypical parent tells their kids when the kids are away from home. There's a lot of work to be done, and it's going to be really hard to do any of it if you pass out from exhaustion or dehydration.
Look, I'm going to do my best not to be hypocritical about this, and plan to take my own advice. No one's perfect, and there are going to be days when taking care of yourself and anyone else will seem like too much. That's OK - that's what self-care is for. The important thing is to keep yourself going, keep fighting, and keep adding to the good in the world. It's a lot, I know. Good thing there's a lot of us willing to do the work.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Requiem for a DamnCat

A little over thirteen years ago, I met my now-husband Eric. A little while after that initial meeting, I met his two cats, Ramses and Feina. They were around four and five years old at the time, and they were clearly important to Eric. The fact that they were important to him is actually one of the things that attracted me to Eric.

Ramses, the older of the two, was a black cat of mighty strength - he was about eighteen pounds at his height, and most of it was muscle. He was not what you'd call a good kitty - he frequently decided that he didn't like certain people, and made his displeasure known by discovering what color their blood was. But if he liked you? He would defend you with all five pointy ends against all foes, both real and imagined.

He walked into Eric's life when he was about six months old, skinny as a rail and limping just enough to look pathetic. Eric's then-girlfriend asked if they could keep him, and Eric, who had never liked cats before, said yes. Eric didn't really stand a chance after that.

The last year or so, age had been catching up with Ramses - he was losing weight, slowing down, and was significantly more cuddly. I had a feeling that his time with us was coming to a close, and so maybe a week or so ago I told him that it was OK if he needed to go - he didn't have to stay just for us. His response was his deep rumbling purr, as usual.

Saturday, Eric discovered that Ramses' time was up. It took two forms of aggressive cancer, and upper respiratory infection, and being the cat equivalent of about 90 years old to take him down; he was a fighter until the end.

Walking into the house is still really difficult - I'm so used to having him greet me when I walk in, that it almost broke me when I walked in yesterday and he wasn't there. I know he was a cat, and they don't live as long as we do; at the same time, I can probably count on one hand the number of people who have been in my life longer than he was.

We'll miss you tremendously, Buddy. Try not to destroy the world while you wait for us, OK?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Music to fight by

Music has always been a pretty important part of my life. I have a hard time focusing if I don't have something playing in the background, and I love a good playlist.

At the end of last year, I put together a playlist called "Not Yet Dead Dammit," just to help me remember that I was going to get through the rough times. Now that things are coming to a head, and the Malevolent Cheeto is actually taking office, I know a lot of us are worried. Terrified, angry, sad - there are a lot of emotions running wild right now, and it's unlikely that that will change anytime soon. I've added some new songs to the playlist, and they all fall into one of three categories: call to action (lots of angry, "things are broken and we need to fix them" songs), celebration (primarily things that remind me that I'm still here in spite of everything), and rest (songs that remind me to take a breath, that I can't keep up the fight if I don't let myself recharge).

I know it may not be a great solution for everyone, but just the exercise of putting the playlist together helped me get into a good head space for the times to come. Things are frightening, and it feels like the US is on the precipice of disaster; there's still so much we can do to pull ourselves away from the edge.

To everyone marching and protesting this weekend, please be safe, and thank you for getting the message out.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Movie review - Hidden Figures

This weekend was filled with movies, and the one that made the biggest impact on me was Hidden Figures. Given the timing (MLK Jr. day, the upcoming inauguration, etc.), it felt like a movie that was coming along at just the right time.

For those of you who somehow missed any of the ads or previews, Hidden Figures is based on the true story of three African-American women - Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson - who were employees at NASA when the US first launched a man into orbit. Their work in several different areas helped make the US space program possible.

Set in 1961, there are scores of undertones and, well, tones, of both racism and sexism in nearly every interaction. There's also a running theme of people - women in general, and women of color in particular - being told that "it's just the way things are." Watching not just the main characters, but several other people, in their own way, decide to find a different way was inspiring.

In a lot of ways, the movie isn't about the "firsts" - the first female engineer, the first American in orbit, the first African-American supervisor at NASA. It's about people going after what they want and getting things done, and fighting the obstacles in their way.

The other thing I really appreciated was the fact that the movie avoids the "white savior" trope. The previews make Kevin Costner's character look like the noble knight, taking a swing for freedom and equality; in the movie itself, he really just wants to get things done and sees a way to make the process more efficient. If it happens to be a stand for equality, great.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. I thought that the writing and the acting were fantastic, and I would not be surprised at all if there are Oscar nominations all around. It felt important, and got a message across without being preachy - if you don't like the way things are, find another way.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Writing annoying people - how accurate is too accurate?

A discussion with several friends led me to wonder where the line between accurate and too accurate may be when portraying a character who is, shall we say, not well liked. For example, I know quite a few people who stopped reading the Harry Potter books after Order of the Phoenix, because Harry as written in that book is a little too close to the average obnoxious teenager for comfort. I admit, it's very clear when some authors have more experience with, say, teenagers, and use that experience to inform their writing.

Obviously, as writers we want to create characters that are realistic and multi-dimensional, because those characters are much more interesting to read and write and they drive more exciting stories. At the same time, I've certainly put books down because a character was getting on my nerves - in general, if I want to reach through a page and throttle a character, it's probably a book I should put down.

So where to draw the line? Or is there actually a line that needs to be drawn? I'm not certain, myself; no one has ever accused any of my characters as being "too realistic," so it may be a moot point for me. But as readers and/or writers, what do you all think?

Friday, December 30, 2016

December Round-up, End of Year Check-in, and 2017 Goals

Starting with the round-up!

Words written YTD: 59,195 on two and a half projects (Paranormal Investigations novels, a prequel short story that didn't really go where I wanted it to, and Novel Wars (my Nano)) - that's right, I managed a full month without writing. It was awful.

Writer-ly things accomplished: Not a blessed thing, unless you count realizing that not writing is not OK.

New books read: Pounce (aka a book of kitty pictures that needs to be available at all times); January/February 2016 Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; When Books Went to War (I know I've already reviewed it, but short summary, I loved it); Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (not my favorite Mary Roach, but interesting for all that); The Prophecy Con (Book two of Rogues of the Republic aka Fantasy A-Team); Lumberjanes #22-23; Pirate King (Russell and Holmes take on the Pirates of Penzance, which left me humming the Major General's song); and Beekeeping for Beginners (Russell and Holmes, the early days).

Old books re-read: The Jennifer Morgue & The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry Files 2-3); Grave Peril (Dresden Files 3); The Arctic Incident (Artemis Fowl 2); Searching for Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles 2, which still holds up beautifully).

Well, if nothing else, I certainly read more this month. Now, on to the 2016 goals that I'm pretty sure I missed:

  • Complete draft of book 2 of Paranormal Investigations
    • Due:  March 31, 2016
    • Q1 status:  I should really restate this as "fill in the gap between books 1 and 2 of Paranormal Investigations", and it's still in process.
    • New due date: July 31, 2016
    • Q2 status: This is the goal for this Camp Nano, so we'll see if we can actually finish filling the gap this month.
    • Q3 status: Ish? I've reached a good stopping point and realized that enough changed in book 1 that book 2 basically needs to start over again. I'll call this one complete (as restated in Q1), with redrafting book 2 as the plan for Nanowrimo
    • New goal: Complete draft 0 of book 2 of Paranormal Investigations
    • New due date: December 31, 2016
    • Q4 status: AHAHAHA no.
  • Complete draft of Church of Books
    • Due:  September 30, 2016
    • Q1 status: I haven't even touched this one in a while. I'll keep the date as is for now.
    • Q2 status: Same as Q1
    • Q3 status: Yeah, that didn't go according to plan. I've spent the year focusing on PII, so this one is off to the side. This will get moved to next year.
    • Q4 status: See Q3 update.
  • Complete edit of Paranormal Investigations
    • Due:  December 31, 2016
    • Q1 status:  In process
    • Q2 status:  In process
    • Q3 status:  In process (so many notes on my draft 0 of book 1, many of which involve asking Past Stephanie just what the devil she was thinking)
    • Q4 status: made it through draft 0 of book 1, but haven't had the wherewithal to go back and start fixing things.
  • Complete draft of one of the works started for a Nano
    • Due:  December 31, 2016
    • Q1 status:  In process, as Paranormal Investigations started as a Nano
    • Q2 status:  In process, looking better with each day of sitting and actually getting some words on the dang page
    • Q3 status:  I'm going to call this complete, with PII book 1 as a complete draft 0. Go team me!
    • Q4 status: Done!
  • Complete at least one Nano
    • Due:  November 30, 2016
    • Q1 status:  COMPLETE!
    • Q2 status:  Trying for number 2!
    • Q3 status:  Didn't make number 2; revving up for number 3
    • Q4 status:  Well, I made it for one.
  • Submit at least one story for publication
    • Due:  December 31, 2016
    • Q1 status:  I have ideas, ever so many ideas...keeping the date as is for now.
    • Q2 status:  I may come back to the short story I was fiddling with post-Camp Nano, or I may try for something completely different. Who knows? Not me!
    • Q3 status:  Uh, we'll see. I haven't even thought short fiction in a couple of months.
    • Q4 status:  And again, AHAHAHA no.
Clearly, setting these kinds of big goals just isn't working for me. I need to break things down into manageable chunks, else everything's going to be "AHAHAHA no" next year.

  • PII book 1 editing
    • Go through notes on at least one scene every two weeks, incorporating changes and noting bigger changes for later
  • Novel Wars drafting
    • One character study per month, including interviews, background, list of favorite books/least favorite books, and for the novelists, best writing atmosphere
  • Other drafting
    • Read through existing works in progress, choose one to work on for each Camp Nanowrimo (April and July)
Looking at it like that, I think it's doable. For now, at least. We'll see what the first quarter of 2017 brings. (Incidentally, anyone else super gun-shy about the new year? I'm almost afraid to say "Happy New Year" in case 2017 hears me and takes it as a challenge.)