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.