Monday, March 27, 2017

Steve and Human-Steve

Those of you reading this on Tumblr have probably already seen my initial drabbles on this topic, but I wanted to flesh things out a little more here. This year for Camp Nanowrimo (at least, the one in April), I'm planning on taking some of the various writing prompts related to the "humans are weird" trope.

The general idea is that, if alien cultures were to look on human beings, they would find us decidedly odd. Humans do weird things like try to pet nearly every animal that comes within reach, or collecting worthless objects, or laughing when we're scared or nervous. We talk to ourselves and make up songs and give inanimate objects names. The way we're built, we can do things like throw objects accurately and with force, or continue fighting or running even while injured, or break down and cry at the sight of that cursed Sarah McLachlan sad puppy commercial. From an outside perspective, we are just strange.

It's a bit of fun, and it definitely gives me something to think about. How would a species that never developed sight interact with a species that uses sight as one of its primary senses? How would a species of risk-averse creatures (think the Vulcans from Star Trek) handle a species whose first response to most challenges is something along the lines of "here, hold my beer"?

That's what I intend to find out.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Joy of Re-reading

As some of you may have noticed with my round-ups, I love to re-read books. I'll frequently re-read an entire series in order to prepare for a new book in that series, partially to remind myself of what happened before and partially to remember why I care about these characters and worlds. Some, I just re-read because it's comforting - sometimes, it's helpful to take a step back and go with what you know for a little bit.

A co-worker once asked why I bothered to re-read books. "It's not like you don't know what happened!" Well, yes and no. I freely admit that my memory for details isn't fantastic - I can usually remember broad strokes, but not the nuances of the book. The nuance is what makes the whole experience of reading enjoyable.

Re-reading also lets me focus on something different each time. My husband mentioned this with some of the mysteries he's currently re-reading. He remembers who did the crime, and now he's reading the book to see what clues the author leaves for the reader about the ultimate resolution. It's a fantastic exercise in seeing how a good author works (or learning how a not-great author doesn't work as well - some books simply don't hold up to a re-read).

Reading in general is such a bizarre concept if you think about it. You, the reader, are taking the words written by an author, during a specific time in their lives, and absorbing them in a specific time in your life. That time of life will color how you interpret those words. Reading a book in which a character grieves a loss when you haven't personally felt that kind of grief is a very different experience than reading it after you've encountered that grief is. As you change, so does your perception of the books you read. It doesn't always change for the better - there are certainly some books that I devoured as a child that I couldn't get through a single chapter of as an adult. Regardless, taking a look at something you read months or years ago automatically resets your expectations, even if you do remember the plot and the characters. It's always different, even though the words remain the same.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Day Without Women

I'm not the best when it comes to protesting. I'm well aware that there are some things going seriously painfully badly in the US, and it's difficult to figure out what to do or how to do it. Things like marches and rallies are a great way to make grievances known, but they're not exactly what you'd call "anxiety friendly." Add to that a problem with large crowds of people, and I'm not marching anytime soon.

It means that I feel like I can't always help out in the fight. There are certainly groups of protesters who believe that if you don't make the effort to show up in person, you're not really dedicated to the cause. While intellectually, I know this is not true, it still stings. There's always the question of "am I doing enough?"

March 8 is International Women's Day, and in conjunction with that, the organizers of the Women's March are planning A Day Without Women. I'm planning to take part in this, but I admit to being a bit afraid. The goal is to be disruptive, make it clear that society can't function without contribution from everyone, and that everyone should be respected for their contributions. These are all ideals I can get behind.

On the other hand...the idea of being purposefully disruptive is anathema. Whether it's what I absorbed as a child, how my anxiety and depression interact, or some form of lessons from the media, I have a deep-seated fear of rocking the boat. Keeping my head down and my mouth shut has been the mantra for most of my adult life, and the idea of doing anything other than that is terrifying. What if my manager decides that I'm not sufficiently dedicated to my job? Worse, what if he decides that he doesn't actually need my work? What if I'm making too big of a deal out of things? After all, I'm privileged in a lot of different ways, not least of which being that I can even contemplate taking a random Wednesday off from work in protest.

As of right now, I've messaged my manager and told him I will be out on Wednesday. I sincerely hope my doubts don't make me change my mind. For those of you who wish to help the fight but aren't in a place to stop working for a day, limiting your spending (if possible) on Wednesday sends a strong message, too. Also, just keep the conversation going. Write letters, make phone calls, tell the people who are supposed to represent you and your interests what they need to do better.

You do what you can, and I'll do what I can. Together, we'll make a difference, no matter what anyone else says.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Games and writing

So a few weeks ago, one of the people in my writers' group asked if she could do an email interview with me for her online magazine, Pif. I said sure, and so here it is! Her questions were great, and they got me thinking quite a bit.

One of the things that annoys me about certain games is that there is a "right" way to win - if you follow these steps, then you'll win nine times out of ten. To me, that stops being a game and starts being a puzzle, and after I've solved a puzzle once, I'm less inclined to solve it over and over. Being able to play a game multiple times and getting a different result each time (or even having a similar result via a completely different path) makes it more interesting to play.

For me, reading and writing are similar - if there's one "right" way for a character to reach their goal, then it stops being interesting to read or to write. And if it's not interesting to write, it's definitely not going to be interesting to read. Honestly, though - if Frodo had managed to make it all the way to Mordor and destroyed the ring by just following one path, no obstacles, well, the series would have been much shorter, and it just wouldn't have been all that exciting. "Frodo walks to Mordor and chucks the One Ring into Mount Doom" just doesn't have the staying power of the full story.

It may all be a part of the inherently mean streak writers need to have, but things have to be difficult for the characters. Throwing obstacles in the way, making them zig when they thought they would zag, giving them side quests in order to complete their main goal - all of that makes for a more entertaining read. And there really is something satisfying about finding new ways to torment fictional characters - it's cathartic, really.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Focus, or lack thereof

One thing (of many) that I've had trouble with for a long time is focus. I'm a bit of a magpie at times, easily distracted by shiny objects. For instance, it took about ten minutes between writing that last sentence and this one.

Lately, I've been working on getting myself focused for work and writing, and it hasn't been easy. I've found that meditation helps to a certain extent, if nothing else than to get me to calm down and take the edge off my anxiety. Generally, it goes focus --> lose focus --> get upset about losing focus --> get anxious about not focusing. Meditation is helping me go between the first two steps without making it all the way to step four.

I also figured out that there are ways to break my concentration that I can avoid. Notifications drive me nuts - if my phone buzzes due to an email or text, I will HAVE to see what it is, even if I'm in the middle of something. Same with my work email - if I get the desktop alert of a new email, then I need to open it ASAP.

Earlier this week, there was a training from someone at Microsoft about using Outlook and how to make it work more efficiently. The training itself wasn't great, but there was one thing that I got out of it that's been helpful - turning off desktop alerts and only checking email at specific times of day. Now, I can't just get off email completely - most of my work comes via email, so I need to be able to access the email threads to figure out what the devil I'm doing - but just turning off the alerts has made it easier for me to focus on what I'm doing, rather than jumping back and forth all day.

As for my phone, I generally set it to "do not disturb" when I'm at work. In both cases, I have exceptions to the general rule - phone calls will still notify me on my phone, and I get alerts for emails from my manager and my husband - but overall, it's made it a little easier to carve out the time I need to get things done. I've also taken to meditating for a few minutes either in the morning or right after lunch, which is when I usually have the hardest time getting back into the flow of things.

How do you focus? What do you use to keep yourself on-task and not distracted by all the things? I'm always looking for new tips and tricks.

Monday, February 20, 2017


There has been a lot of discussion around writing circles with regards to how a bilingual person would use both of their languages. There are definitely not great ways of doing this, so I wanted to give an example from my own use of language(s) to see if that helps.

English is my primary language, with Spanish as my secondary language. I generally think and dream in English, though occasionally a Spanish-language dream will come my way. I read and write in Spanish better than I speak it, though with practice I can get more comfortable.

Having said all of that, there are certain things that are just easier in Spanish than they are in English. It could be because I heard my mother saying them all the time when I was a kid, and so it became more like a form of family slang than anything else, but some phrases are so much faster and snappier in Spanish than in English. It helps that, frequently, you don't actually pronounce all of the letters in Spanish - there are sort of blank spots where the sound would be.

Examples would help. If I'm behind the wheel of a car, I'm more likely to break out the Spanish than in just about any other circumstance. "A que gente!" just rolls off the tongue more easily than "For crying out loud!" or something similar. There are a lot of phrases in the family vocabulary that I'm not certain are common in general Spanish speaking, but certainly popped up a lot in our house. Most of them began with "A que," which...doesn't really translate. It usually denotes some sort of frustration or irritation. If I get an "A que Stephie!" from my mom, I know she's getting exasperated. Needless to say, I got this a lot as a teenager.

I'm not sure why, but when I talk to animals, I'm more likely to slip into Spanish. A lot of times it's some form of endearment ("niƱo/a," "perrito," that sort of thing), though sometimes it falls into that exasperation frame again. Ramses, may he disembowel fuzzy mice in heaven, was frequently "gatito hombre," usually when he was on the kitchen counter or somewhere else he shouldn't have been. It just wouldn't have been the same to call him "little cat man," you know?

Anyway. For me, Spanish is useful when it's faster or easier to think of instead of English, but it's not necessarily the first thing I'll come to. I don't know how people who have Spanish as their primary language would treat English - anyone want to weigh in?

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.