Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tempus Fugit

Dean Wesley Smith calls the summer the time of great forgetting, when writers tend to put their writing to the side and lose focus on their goals. This can be followed by the time of panic, as writers realize that their yearly goals have become unrealistic by the time they remember to write again, or the time of reassessment, depending on the temperament of the writer.

My goal is not set on to the calendar year, but it does have an arbitrary six month limit. I have not been considering how to measure my progress other than through keeping track of how many rejections I have collected. Given that I do want to keep my focus on writing, now seems like the ideal time to make those calculations.

100 rejections by the time a year has passed, from the moment I declared my intentions (February 26, 2014). It isn't the most difficult of goals. I don't even have to write 100 stories, since once a story is rejected I can always try it with another market. But I do want to keep writing new ones. It's good practice, and I already know I can write stories that are rejectable.

Now, I thought, until just a moment ago, that I had made set myself the goal for a year. But, it turns out I wrote six months.

In February. . .

Which means I have a little over a month to collect 72 more rejections if I want to meet my goal. . .

Panic or reassess?

I'll take the third option. It's time to go full speed ahead and get as close to my goal as possible in the time I allowed myself. August 26th will be the time to reassess, and evaluate what I did or didn't do. I'm not going to give in to the temptation to panic early because it looks like I'm going to fail at my goal. Failing isn't going to hurt anything.

But that doesn't mean that I won't try.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Save Five Minutes by Reading This Blog!

It’s either one of his most endearing qualities or one of his most annoying, depending on my mood, and whether or not I’m trying to write or do homework.

You really can’t escape the commercials. Okay, maybe you can, with your fancy DVR and wallet-busting cable/satellite bills, but I can’t. Alright, alright, I won’t. Given that my husband and I watch over the air television with no pre-recording, we can’t escape the commercials.

So many of them offer products or services that will save time. And, if my husband is watching the commercials, instead of reading on his computer, then he will most likely ask the television where exactly they keep this saved time.

Do they save it in a bottle? Do they keep it on a shelf? How is saved time redeemed? How much can you save at a time?

If I’m not on a deadline or in a mood, then it’s fun to play the game. How exactly would the time-savings of your spintastic vacumop be stored? Given that infomercials still advertise shipping times of 4 to 6 weeks, they’d probably be behind the technology curve. No smartphone app for your time savings - but I’m sure they’ve progressed beyond the bottle method. Perhaps they send you a gift card of time, redeemable only through special distribution systems - time ATMs, if you will.

I can see it now, a cross between a photo booth and an ATM, populating malls next to the automated massage chairs. Slip in your time card and enter for the chance to use all that time you saved using the spiffy broom and the chop-o-tastic vegicider. Inside, a reclining couch and a choice of a nap, some “free” television or the pleasure of sitting in silent contemplation.

Just kidding about that last one…

My husband often indulges in exercises of literalism. Phrases that pass my ears without thought stick to his ears and beg for comment. At any knocking-like sound, he'll merrily announce, "come in!" He jokingly tells me to call the unaccredited degree mills, because they have a representative waiting to talk to me! He tells the psychic commercials to call him. After all, if they were psychic, they'd be calling him, right?

I like that he shares this silliness with me. I have a tendency to be too serious. To take things too seriously. Ambrose reminds me that all the external media and stimuli take themselves as seriously as I tend to take things, but that doesn't mean that I should take them that way.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Hild

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.



---

I first heard of Hild by Nicola Griffith through its Big Idea post on John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever. I distinctly remember reading the description and not being motivated to learn more. However, that is typical of my take on the Big Idea posts. The one time I thought that a book sounded really neat, I looked it up and read a sample. The writing style of the sample completely turned me off to what had been an intriguing book idea.

To be honest, that probably would have been my reaction if I had looked up a sample to read of Hild. Although, the writing style of Hild is not, as the other one was, simply irritating. Instead, it is exactly what it should be, an archaic, historical style. The story takes place in 7th century Britain and the language used fits.
And this kind of novel is not what I generally look for when I read.

However, once I got past the first two chapters, I found myself relaxing into the style of it. The names were still difficult to pronounce in my head, but not that difficult to keep track of. The variety of the names and the unfamiliar spellings and mysterious pronunciations did remind me of reading War and Peace, but without the excessive number of nicknames (and patronymics!).

I had some difficulty figuring out what the point of the book was. I couldn’t figure out what the hook was supposed to be, why I was supposed to care about the story being unfolded with such loving detail. And yet, about a third of the way in, I did find myself thinking about the book when I wasn’t reading it. Turning details and names over in my head. Wondering what might happen next and who might be the next to die.

This book crept up on me, becoming more engrossing the more I read. In that, it also reminded me of War and Peace, because once I got into reading that book I became engrossed with it. I keep meaning to reread it, but I want to get a digital edition, because I think I injured my wrists with the copy I read before.

Back to Hild, I liked how the structure of the story imitated a theme that was repeated within it, that of weaving. Throughout the narrative, a part of the woman's work of the main character involves cloth and weaving. At the same time, Hild's path is not simply that of a woman, and she weaves herself into places not traditionally open to women. 

I'm still not sure what the plot was, or how I would describe it. But I did enjoy the read overall. The main sticking points were the beginning, which I felt was off-putting stylistically, and the ending, which I wasn't satisfied with. It seemed to just end, leaving many questions open, loose threads dangling. If one or more books follows this story, then my comparison to War and Peace may become more true since this book clocked in at nearly 600 pages.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Can You Believe It?

I spoke with my mother on the phone the other night. After telling me her tidbits of personal news, she asked me if I could believe that some mass shootings had happened. I must admit, I mocked her.

Can I believe that it happened? Of course, I believe that it happened, Mom. I don't automatically doubt what the news media reports. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, at least not to that extent. I certainly found the news appalling, but her question irked me.

Her questions often do.

We say, "how are you?" when we mean, "hello."

We say, "can you believe it?" when we mean, "did you hear/read about this shocking incident?"

We say, "I do," when we mean, "I do for now."

Not everyone, of course, but as someone who got married, and meant it in the moment, even in the years leading up to the moment and at least a year after the moment, I can't believe that I said it at all now.

Some people in this country contradict themselves by simultaneously extolling the virtues of marriage and denying those coveted virtues to a significant portion of the population. If only there were less single mothers, unless of course those single mothers are gay, in which case, they cannot be allowed to be married, then this country would miraculously have lower crime rates and more rainbows and puppies.

I don't think that today's social problems can be solved by yesterday's solutions, especially not by trying to impose those solutions without modification or consideration of how society and technology have evolved. Even a person who denies Darwinian evolution must admit that the world of today is not the world of the 1950's (at least, anyone reading these words must, written as they are on what would then have been considered a miraculous device).

I think what disappointed my mom the most about my divorce was that it set back her grandchild timetable. Fortunately, my brother took care of filling that need for her (and it's really better that he did, since she wouldn't get to see any children of mine nearly as often). I do think she still wants me to give her a grandchild or two, but if I were her, I wouldn't hold my breath.

And I shouldn't be holding my breath waiting for my mother to change her turns of phrase or fix her leaky memory. She is who she is, the star of her own dream, and I am but a bit player in the drama of her life, and she a bit player in mine.

Believe it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Warbound

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.

---

Warbound by Larry Correia is the third book of the Grimnoir Chronicles. The Hugo voter's packet did include the first two books in the series, but I stuck with my policy of reading only the nominated work for the purposes of these posts.

I was put off initially by the title. I don't think this is a book I would have picked up based on the title of the book or the title of the series. Even the title page on the ebook included a font that made me dread beginning the book.

Then there was the prologue. . . I had a desire to stop reading after the first few pages of the prologue (not that that stopped me). The language was unappealing, a kind of arrogance and stiffness to it that I didn't like. I had a bias with the "noir" in the title of the series that this would be a certain type of book, and I found myself reading the words with what I think of as the noir cadence. It's the kind of cadence you expect out of a hard boiled detective story, where all the womens is dames.

But I found myself getting past that. By the second chapter, I was more interested in the story. I enjoyed learning the magic system and trying to catch up on the world that had already been built out by other works. I did not find it hard to follow as a solitary book. As a whole, I felt it was a fun romp by the last half of the book.

I might even read the other two books and the short story in the Grimnoir Chronicles, in part because I'm curious if I would like the main female character better if I read more about her. As it was, she was the part of the story that I felt most ambivalent about. On the one hand, she's extremely smart and powerful as well as empowered. On the other hand, I didn't like the way her point of view read. It was off-putting even though I wanted to like her.

The story sucked me in well enough to distract me from literary techniques, so I probably should reread it to try to figure out some of them. . .

Oh, alright, it's the compulsive part of my nature. If I do read the first parts of the series, then I'll have to reread the this book, and I don't think it will be a chore.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Neptune's Brood

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.

---

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross bears the distinction of being the most boring story I’ve ever read about robot mermaids.

Okay, to be fair, it’s the only story that I can recall reading that involves robot mermaids.

Nonetheless, if I hadn’t been challenging myself to read all of the Hugo and Nebula nominated novels, I probably wouldn't have finished it.

Okay, okay, I would have thought about not finishing it. I did think about not finishing it. But I probably would have regardless, because that’s the kind of reader that I am.

I always feel a little awkward criticizing things that I am supposed to like. I feel as if, by virtue of being nominated, this work should be good. I should be the kind of person who likes this. But I don’t.

Aside from inducing some boredom, I disliked the narrative tactic, which was used several times, of the narrator stating, “I don’t know what happened, but this is what I imagine happened.” And then the imagined happenings are described in exacting detail. It seems like cheating to me, a clumsy way of conveying information that the narrator did not witness. Or perhaps a way that is trying too hard to be clever. I’m not claiming that I could do it better, but I think that it could have been done better.

The pace felt odd. There was an overall sense of urgency to the narrator’s desire to find her sister, but everything in the world happened slowly. To me, there was a disconnect between the pace of desire and the pace of action. I will concede that the pacing fit the subject matter of the book.

Not the described subject matter on the dust jacket, but what the book was actually about. Judging from the description, this was going to be exciting. Space Opera! Missing sibling! Treasure! Oh, but wait, the crux of it all is banking. That’s right, this is all about interstellar finance.

And while I’m writing about things that the author doesn’t necessarily have control over, there’s the cover. The cover features a mermaid. A mermaid with a perfectly ordinary human face. But in the novel, there is a specific description of this specific character, detailed and repeated more than once. The character harps on the fact that her face is changed in order to adapt for the deep water (and she really doesn’t dig the tail), but the cover reflects none of that weirdness. It seems misleading to depict a non-hard science version of the mermaid on the cover of what is clearly, by all the exacting detail of space flight and finance, a hard science novel. People who like that sub-genre will like it for what it is, not for what the publishers would like you to believe that it is.

It seemed like every time something moderately exciting came up, it was immediately drowned in “realistic” finance. Oh, look, pirates! Wait, not, those aren’t pirates. They’re insurance adjusters. In bat bodies. That are also robots. But still manage to be boring.

The main villain is a caricature, completely one-dimensional and evil. She has no motives beyond greed, and barely appears as a character, let alone as an obstacle for the protagonist. It’s all about long laid plots and dastardly financial dealings that necessitate the death of various robots. And I couldn’t quite bring myself to care about their deaths. As robots, their personalities exist on soul chips. The reduction of the concept of a soul to a physical object that can be copied, transferred and backed up gave me the sense that their deaths had little meaning. In a way, the concept of infinite monkeys typing up Shakespeare is related, in that if your soul is data on a chip, then it is possible to reproduce “you” given enough time and processing power.

I didn’t relate to the personhood of the protagonist sufficiently to find her banking adventure compelling, despite the space battles and robot mermaids, squids and bats.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

MORTAL FEAR

Actually, this post is about DENTAL FEAR, but that didn't seem as catchy...

I have always hated going to the dentist.

I don't really remember that first dental visit. It's one of those childhood stories that your parents tell you so often that you think you remember it whether you remember it or not. Or maybe I do have pieces of it, since I don't think they came back into the cleaning area with me. No, I was all alone back there, with the strange smells and unfamiliar people.

I told the hygienist that I did not like mint, and that I did not want anything mint used for me. She claimed to understand. She claimed that she would respect my wishes.

And she lied.

The moment she brought that buzzing cleaning wand into my mouth I detected it. MINT!

But it was "orange-mint" so that was why they thought it was okay. Oh, no, unless we are talking Tic Tacs, orange mint is still mint.

According to my mom, I ran out screaming and refused ever to return to that dentist.

After that incident, my parents took me to a specialist children's dentist.

But even calling the Nitrous mask a clown nose couldn't make me love the dentist. Even having to get fillings after just about every check-up didn't make me brush my teeth enough to avoid such a fate. I could blame genetics... In fact, I think I will blame genetics. It isn't the sweet tooth or the hatred of mint in the land of mint flavored tooth paste that led to less than stellar brushing habits; it's my parents' fault!

I've gotten a lot better about the whole tooth self-maintenance thing in recent years. I actually do floss once a day (except when I'm out backpacking). I can handle the mint toothpaste even though it is still gross. And I still request that my dentists not use mint products on me. That's got to be a trust issue more than anything at this point. I don't think it's really an allergy issue (although the one time I tried to smoke a menthol cigarette, I experienced an instant asthma attack - something that non-menthol cigarettes did not cause). But I prefer that the dentist's office treat it like an allergy issue, which is to say, seriously, because being at the dentist still freaks me out. It is associated with pain and lies deep in my psyche.

My current dentist probably doesn't deserve my fear, but I'm glad that they are dealing with it and being nothing less than accommodating and polite.

If they're lucky, I'll never run out of their office screaming.