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.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Food memories

(A quick note - I'm still here! The holidays took me away from the blogosphere for a bit, but I'm back now.)

Lately I've been thinking about food. It's not surprising, given the holidays and how much our traditions revolve around food (Thanksgiving dinner, making candy for Christmas, that sort of thing), but just cooking with my husband made me think of the ways my parents worked to include me in the making of the family meals.

There were two big things that my parents made that were considered "their things" - Dad's pizza, and Mom's "full-blown Mexican". The pizza was one of the first things I learned how to make, mostly because I kept bothering my father, asking if it was ready yet. That was how I got involved in a lot of cooking, actually, was by being annoying.

Mom's food was essentially her version of the food she learned from her mother - taco meat, Spanish rice, flour tortillas, and various other foods depending on how big the meal was going to be. One of my clearest memories was being given the huge responsibility of seasoning the taco meat on my own, unsupervised. It was one of the earliest moments of pride that I can remember, when Mom tasted the meat and told me I had seasoned it perfectly.

It's the little things that make a life, which is something to remember when creating characters and when dealing with other people in general. Everyone has those memories that don't seem to mean much outside of their own heads, but are incredibly precious to them.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Book Review - When Books Went to War

So, you could say that I'm a big fan of most things literary. Books are one of those things that have always been important to me, and asking me if I like reading is like asking if like breathing - I need it to live. But I've never felt able to put into words the importance of books as a whole, not just to me but to society at large.

When Books Went to War does a marvelous job of putting words around the idea that wars of ideas are just as powerful as the physical fighting. It describes how the US, in the form of a council of publishers and the War Department, took control of the war of ideas on the Allied front during World War II. The council published books specifically to be sent overseas to be given to the soldiers fighting, thus providing entertainment and new ideas to people who may not remember why they're fighting. It also helped publishers popularize the paperback book, a format that had been seen as the purview of pulps and dimestore novels.

One of the fascinating things is how the publishers worked together, forgoing their own profits in order to make these editions and sell them at cost to the military in order to send them overseas. In addition, it made a generation of readers out of men who may only have looked at the headlines of newspapers before. It gave the soldiers a safe way to vent their emotions in an era when men weren't meant to show any sign of weakness or emotion. The publishers even worked to publish books that would help the soon to be demobilized soldiers with their return to civilian life, offering ways to make the skills they had learned into something they could use at home.

The story may begin with one of the biggest book burnings in Germany, but it ends with the high note of how many books were published and disseminated over the course of the war. The stories from the soldiers are heartfelt and heart-breaking, and overall, it's an uplifting book that reminds us that while we may be afraid, we will have the ability to fight a war of ideas so long as we have the words to spread them.

Friday, December 2, 2016

November Round-Up

November is finished. I didn't make it on Nanowrimo, which isn't all that surprising. I do like the characters I created, so I think I'm going to continue the story and see what happens.

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)) - a small bump in preparation for, well, tomorrow.

Writer-ly things accomplished: Most of what I created for Nano ended up being character development, which is always fun. It gives me ideas...*cackle*

New books read: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (this was so glorious, and similarly terrifying); Origins of the Specious (a book on word origins - fun, though a little dry); The Palace Job (billed as Leverage meets high fantasy, comes across more like the A-Team meets high fantasy; I enjoyed it a great deal)

Old books re-read: Storm Front and Fool Moon (Dresden 1-2); The Atrocity Archives and The Concrete Jungle (Laundry Files 1-1.5); Dealing With Dragons (one of my favorite books from childhood, and re-reading it has shown me so many things that I missed when I first read it)