Friday, April 14, 2017

Break for Norwescon

Norwescon was the first convention I ever went to, lo these many moons ago. I had been a geek for a very long time, obviously, but there was something very different about being a geek with a small circle of like-minded friends, and learning that there was a whole community of us. It was a little overwhelming, to be honest.

I'll never say that the geek community as a whole is perfect. It's made up of people, after all, and people aren't perfect - something it's always good to keep in mind. Still, there's something freeing about being surrounded by people who understand the excitement you bring when discussing books, movies, games, or other media. It's rare to be able to find someone who understands how exciting it is that a new book by a favorite author is coming out, and is willing to listen to you discourse about the pros and cons of the series.

Additionally, there's the joy of watching people learn about new things. There are frequently things that people will bring up, either during the panels or during random conversations, that I've never heard of, and never knew I needed in my life until that moment. There's something magical about watching someone fall in love with a media property, game, book, or any other thing that falls under the "geek" umbrella (which, frankly, is everything - being a geek is about how you love, not what you love).

Monday, April 10, 2017

Camp Nanowrimo Day 10

So far, doing pretty well! Also, I'm rather fond of this one, so have a bit of Steve and Human-Steve.

Steve was troubled, there was no other way to put it. Several of the humans had hidden themselves away in one of the smaller recreational rooms, and on occasion there were loud thumps and other sounds that indicated someone might be in danger. Any time someone would attempt to enter the room and see what the problem was, however, they were rebuffed.

Steve knew that Human-Steve was in the room, and had been for some time. It was not like Human-Steve to spend so much time around others, as he was what he called an “introvert” and preferred to spend time alone. Whatever was happening in that room must have been very important to the humans in order to draw Human-Steve’s attention.

Steve had walked by the door of the room again, trying to find the best way to enter without being noticed, when the door opened and Human-Steve stumbled toward the hallway. “Steve!” he shouted, reaching out in the human gesture called a hug. “Buddy, you gotta come see this!” Before Steve could move their tentacles out of Human-Steve’s reach, they had been grasped (gently) and pulled into the room.

Inside, the room was even louder than Steve had imagined. A large viewscreen took up one wall, and there were several moving symbols flying across it. In front of the viewscreen were two humans, each bouncing and moving their feet in some complicated method that Steve could not decipher. They looked up at Human-Steve, their confusion causing the hairs on their torso to curl.

“Dude! It’s DDR.” Human-Steve reached over to an open box and pulled out a can. “You know, I bet with all those tentacles, you’d kill at this.”

Before Steve needed to react to this frightening statement, the sound from the viewscreen ended, and one of the humans called to their roommate. “Your turn! Try to beat that score.”

“Hold my beer!” Human-Steve cried, which was greeted with many cheers. Steve had heard this phrase brought up in many conversations with humans, and wanted no part in watching their roommate attempt something either ridiculous or deadly. Or both. Steve fled in the ensuing chaos, hoping they would see their roommate again in one piece.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Q1 Round-up and Camp Nanowrimo Day 7

Starting with the second thing first, Camp Nanowrimo is going slowly so far. I believe I'm overthinking the Steve and Human-Steve drabbles, which is making it difficult to make progress. I also decided to spend some quality time with Living Cities, which right now involves reading through what I drafted and remembering what the devil was going on. Fortunately, reading through it is giving me inspiration to work on it again, huzzah!

And now, the round-up:

Words written YTD: 364 on one project (S&H-S). I did mention that it was going slowly, right? To be fair (or not), I hadn't actually written anything until earlier this week.

Writer-ly things accomplished: Technically I wrote a couple of short bits on Tumblr, but they don't feel like they count, somehow. Even so, I'm getting back into the swing of things.

New books read: Many comics/graphic novels, the first book of the Craft series (now nominated for a Hugo), and a book on the history of the severed head in science and society (appropriately titled "Severed").

Old books re-read: More Discworld, the first three books and many of the short stories of the Incryptid series

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.

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?