Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Whole New Book

I did it.

I published my second Hike with Me book, in print and electronic versions. (The pages are separate until Amazon figures out that they need to b combined.)

It was somewhat easier to do than the first one. For one thing, I knew how much work I would need to do after I had the initial draft written, which helped me get grinding on the writing. I also had less school work to do during the writing of this one, which made budgeting time a little easier.

Last year, I had to completely redo many of my photos, but this year I was able to use those lessons and not repeat the same mistakes. I got to make new mistakes instead, but it's all a part of the process.

There aren't any books that I know of that are quite like it out there. I mean, I could draw some comparisons between the idea of my book and Wild by Cheryl Strayed. That book, however, is a memoir, and has a point of view that isn't as much about the backpacking as the meaning of the journey to the author. My books are direct accounts of a backpacking trip, including many color photos, that strive to bring the journey to life for the reader.

The solitude of the wilderness and the act of backpacking are integral to my books. I encountered only a few people on my solo trip in the Sawtooth Wilderness. There are moments of introspection that I share, but the meat of the book is the experience itself, not reflections upon it.

The print edition is again a large print edition, because the primary reason for it existing at all is my Mom, who needs the large print to read. I was able to get the book to her and some other family members in time for Christmas.

I also created a new edition of the Hike with Me: Stump Lake print book, which I was able to make shorter (and therefore cheaper) by reducing the line spacing and eliminating some of the white space that I'd originally left under some of the photos.

Now that I've got some experience putting up these non-fiction books, I just need to get up the courage to actually try and publish some of my fiction. At least under a pseudonym! I mean, what's the worst that could happen?

A picture of me and my book (and Ambrose's ghostly reflection as he takes the picture). 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Holidays

I like the idea that the appropriate response to any holiday wishes is a simple thank you. That there's no such thing as a war on Christmas, only a desire to divide good intentions into meaningless pieces.

Nonetheless, it looks like it's going to be a white xmas.
The snow is coming down on the eve of the 24th of December. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hockey Conspiracy

On the one hand, I'm pleased to see so many of my Blackhawks players being voted up on the All Star fan vote. They are my team, and I consider them to be All Stars.

However, the fact that so many of them are being voted so highly, second only to the insane love being received by Zemgus Girgensons, that I smell something fishy.

I mean, think about it. No one wants to play in the All Star game. It's a meaningless exhibition game just as the regular season enters the home stretch. There are rules that prevent players from skipping the game because so many players have, in the past skipped that game.

So what better way to attempt to weaken the Blackhawks than to vote them into the All Star game, thus forcing them either to miss games surrounding the All Star weekend, or actually attend and play in the All Star game? Who would be so dastardly as to explicitly vote for their rival team for long term gain?

I'm looking at you, LA.

Um, and you, Saint Louis.

And I definitely wouldn't put it past Vancouver...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ten Percent

The other night, I surprised and impressed the heck out of my husband.

I didn't think what I was doing was all that impressive, because I've known people who could have done what I did faster, better, more easily and more thoroughly. But he didn't know I could do what I did, and he hasn't associated with other people with that skill.

I mean, I suppose it's a skill. I hadn't thought of it that way until Ambrose said he was blown away.

During my solo hike this year, I made up a song. Not a complex one, just a simple melody and some lyrics. For the proof copy of my book, I just put an image with the lyric, but I kept it full page so that I might substitute music if I could get music done.

And what impressed him so much was that I recorded my song, pulled out my flute and a keyboard harmonica, dug out my old blank score notebook and set my song to music.

I figured out that I'd sung in the key of E flat major. I wrote out the most basic melody, and apparently, that's a skill.

I disbelieved that it was a valid skill to the point that I had to ask Ambrose what he was blown away about when he just kept looking at me and shaking his head.

I still need to figure out how to annotate the rhythm of the song, but I've got the melody, and, in a way, I feel like I've discovered a new skill.

Even if all I did was rediscover the principle that you only have to know 10 percent more about a subject than someone else for that person to consider you an expert.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Distinguished Lecture Part 2: Sir Salman Rushdie

continued from The Distinguished Lecture Part 1: Preparation

My husband can be a bit obsessive about being on time. And to him, on time is not precisely on time. On time is no less than 5 minutes early. In this case, the doors for the even opened at 6:30 and we arrived no later than 6:25.

Since we arrived into a crowded lobby, I had no complaints. We made our way slowly to the back row of the main level, taking seats in the center where the back row transitioned from folding seats to chairs on a platform. And we proceeded to watch the theater fill. Not once, not twice, but three times an announcement was made asking people to please move towards the middle.

It seemed no one had expected such a large crowd. And this event was competing the the Transiberian Orchestra!

There were introductory remarks by the man in charge of the Distinguished Lecture series and then Sir Rushdie was introduced by the President of Boise State, Bob Kustra. And then, at last, on to the stage walked the man we were all waiting to see.

He received a standing ovation before saying a single word. And told us, quite politely, that we were supposed to stand at the end.

I had expected an interesting accent from a man raised in India, having lived in London and then New York. But he did not have a strong one to my ears. More what I would call an English affect than accent. He spoke clearly and articulately. And he began by asking why would we all have braved the chill weather to see a writer speak.

He spoke of the role of literature and particularly the role of the novel. The current news media seems more to propagate fear than understanding. Shit expands to fill the feeds until there's no room for anything else but disaster after disaster. A novel is a way to experience the lives of others, in other cultures, and find understanding.

We are creatures of story, story animals. And we have a fundamental right to story.

Politics and literature both offer stories, but only literature advertises its stories as fiction.

Even in the United States, there have been attempts to censor books like Harry Potter, because they encourage the practice of witchcraft and evil. This does not mean that censorship is correct, but rather that "crazy assholes are here, too."

Some of the themes in the lecture I recognized from Joseph Anton. Sir Rushdie used the example of Charlie Brown and the football to illustrate how character defines destiny. Charlie Brown can never kick the football, because to do so would be to violate his very character. But when chaos intrudes, it is no longer character that defines destiny. Being a good person doesn't stop the suicide bomber from choosing to detonate near you.

Novelists no longer have the luxury that Jane Austen did to write of a contained space, ignoring the wars that rage around it. The public and the private have been conflated, and a novel that ignored the world to that extent would not be able to have the same impact.

He spoke of the self as being multiple and fragmented. Human characters are broad and inconstant, but we are being asked, even forced at times, to choose single definitions to fit ourselves in. Convenient chyrons to choose sides. News channel affiliations so we only listen to people we agree with.

Art outlasts tyranny. Pushing boundaries is the job of the writer.

That was the end of the lecture, but a question and answer period followed a second standing ovation.

One questioner asked about getting students to read literature, which brought about an answer I liked. "I kind of resist the idea of the usefulness of books." It tickles me to think of literature as useless, but he did not mean that in the sense of having no use, but rather, I think, that literature should not be a tool. Or not be created as a tool. An author should not set out to create a teaching moment, a path to show the reader the way. Rather, "when you love a book, it changes you." That might prove useful to you, but the way you use it would rarely, if ever, match an author's intent.

The ordinary life of a book is to receive varied responses. Love, hate, indifference. All are part of what stories naturally elicit. "[S]tories are not true." Self-evident words, perhaps, but worth reiterating from an author whose untrue stories caused his life to be turned upside down. Fiction functions through its fictionality, not its verisimilitude.

I was disappointed that the only people who got to ask questions were male, because time ran out and the women hadn't gotten in line soon enough. Sir Rushdie was whisked away and I was not the only person in the theater who would have been willing to listen to him speak for hours more.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Distinguished Lecture Part 1: Preparation

On November 20th, Boise State University put on one of their Distinguished Lecture series events. A free event, open to the public, at which interested members of the community could come and hear a speaker. On this particular night, the speaker was Sir Salman Rushdie.

I had been looking forward to this event since I first read about it in September. It seemed to me that I should have read something by him, but I hadn't. So, I took a break from my current project of reading the entirety of The Wheel of Time to read both The Satanic Verses and Joseph Anton. Lacking sufficient homework from my class this semester, I assigned myself those books.

I had heard of The Satanic Verses. I was only seven when the book was published, but I had heard about it from friends in high school more interested in politics than I, and I've more recently read a science fiction novel that explicitly references it (Zendegi by Greg Egan). And yet, in hearing about it, I had never caught on to how fantastical it was.

There is this idea that I have of serious literature, the kind that would win a nomination for the Booker prize. I felt that it had to be serious and realistic. Brimful of poetic imagery and perfectly placed metaphor. Perhaps I have been reading the wrong literature.

The Satanic Verses was a fascinating read. I found myself incredulous at what Rushdie was "getting away with" in regards to using the fantastic as a part of his story. Whether the fantastic was supposed to be a part of a man's madness or not, it still began with what had to be a miracle of two men surviving an airplane explosion at altitude.

I didn't see what made it an insult to any religion, but that could very well be simply because I was reading it as fiction. Since, you know, it is fiction.

I read Joseph Anton next, and found myself fascinated again, but for a different reason. This was a memoir. It is meant to be truthful; true to the memory of one man. I was aghast at the negative reactions of the British press. I wondered how I would have done in similar circumstances. Here was a man who stood by his words when those words brought him the threat of death. Not a hero, or a superman, but a writer.

In both books, I found sections that I found particularly moving or well-worded. Some paragraphs I read to my husband, usually those that included vivid description, which is something he wants to see more of in my writing. Others I savored to myself, especially the parts in The Satanic Verses that were about Alleluia Cone and Mount Everest. I'm still trying to come to terms with what I think is an important lesson from Joseph Anton, that seeking to be loved is not the right path.

I brought my husband to the lecture with me. And I brought anticipation and excitement. I didn't know what to expect from a Boise crowd. Would the Morrison Center be echoingly empty or filled with a smattering of students seeking extra credit and a few others who might come to see such a writer speak?

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Last Unicorn Tour: A Review

I like books. I've liked books as long as I can remember. And yet, despite spending the first eighteen years of my life next door to Chicago, I never went to an author event until last week.

Now that I live in Boise, I often bemoan the fact that the authors and musical acts that I really dig don't come here. For example, I was quite incensed to notice that Passion Pit was going to go to Salt Lake City, then skip a day and then play Spokane. That means that they drove right through Boise without bothering to stop.


(Just kidding, you're not jerks, Passion Pit - come to Boise!)

And when I did see notices of author events in the area, they weren't authors that I knew of or they weren't authors I was passionate about, even if they were big names. Okay, I did want to see Cheryl Strayed, but the tickets for that event were a) out of my budget and b) sold out in seconds.

But, as I wrote a few weeks ago, a magical concurrence of events occurred that allowed me to go to The Last Unicorn Tour and meet Peter S. Beagle on November 4th.

To be perfectly honest, I have attended one other author signing, if you want to count being dragged to the mall by my mom so she can get a signed cookbook from the Frugal Gourmet. I don't really count it, and what I remember most about that event was a long line emerging from the bookstore and wrapping around the upper level of the mall.

This was different. For one, the signing took place in a movie theater lobby, which was fairly dimly lit and subject to flows of people exiting their films and staring at the partially costumed hoard of people lined up in front of the tables of merchandise. I met some people in line, and attached myself to them in a way, since my husband didn't want to stand in line and I didn't want to be completely alone.

But when I got to the head of the line, where Peter sat and the skull glowered, I was alone, if only for a moment. I was tongue-tied and on the verge of tears. I wanted to speak eloquently, in a way that he would remember. But all I managed was to reference what he had said on the Writing Excuses podcast. "I must call myself a writer," I managed to stammer. And he told me to keep up the work. A quick photo-op and I was off to the theater to watch the screening.

A Q&A session preceded the film, and I later kicked myself for not asking the obvious question, "How is a raven like a writing desk?" But the questions were good, and Peter spoke in fascinating stories. It was a shame that the session had to end, because I doubt I was the only one ready to listen to Peter talk all night.

I cried during the film. At the sad parts, the happy parts and my favorite parts. I resolutely did not let myself get in the way of feeling and expressing those emotions. I revisited a film of my childhood and experienced it in a way that I never had been able to, on the big screen in a full theater.

I left feeling satisfied and glad that I had taken part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Draft Down, Long Way to Go

One thing that I can thank the slow pace of my class for is the time to work on my next solo trip book, Hike with Me: Queens River Loop. Last year, I wasn’t able to finish an initial draft until mid-December, due to the heavy workload for my literature class. There just wasn’t time to write as frequently when I had to read, re-read and write papers.

There is also the possibility that I’m getting a little bit better at writing this kind of account. I have been engaging in some practice by writing up my other trips this summer on my hiking blog, as well as the experience of last year’s book.

Plus I have a firm deadline from my husband, aka my motivation, aka my first reader, for a Christmas release. Pre-Christmas, rather, so we have Christmas gifts.

Although, to be honest, he gave me a deadline last year, and I didn’t quite meet it.

But this year, I’m on a good track. He has finished his initial read-through, and so my next step is to re-read and edit. After that, the big formatting push will come, which is the most time-consuming part of the non-writing process, because of the way that I’m doing the pictures. I have to make picture plates in GIMP, and then insert the plates into the text at the appropriate places.

Oh, and I have to choose the pictures. . . Maybe I’m actually running late. . .

I’ve got to get back to work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Six Stages of Alien Abduction

1. Denial
As your eyes slowly adjust to the bright lights and you find you can't move, of course you're going to deny it. You insist that it must be a dream, but you know that once you realize a dream is a dream, you tend to wake up. There is no waking up. So you move onto the next lie, "I must have been in an accident. I'm in a hospital and I have amnesia." Sorry, no dice. Hospitals on earth do not have pulsing purple walls or tentacled nursing staff. It doesn't take long to get past denial when the three mouthed doctor leans over you with an oddly cute head tilt and a quadruple wink.

2. Anger
Why you? Of all the people in all the world, why did these stupid damn aliens have to pick you? If you could punch them right in their noses, er, hoses (nozzles?), you'd do it, right now, arm, hey arm, why aren't you moving? Anger turns out to be much more difficult to hold onto when you can't even thrash in protest.

3. Bargaining
Although you can't speak, you decide to see if the aliens are psychic. Or if you're psychic. You stare at them until your eyes hurt, thinking as loudly as you can: Let me go and I'll give you candy. You'd like candy, I promise. How about beer? Nothing like a cold one on a hot day. Shiny penny?
Incomprehensible trills fill your ears, but you can't tell if they're responding, laughing or completely psychically deaf.

4. Depression
You'd cry if you could. But you can't even tighten your sphincter, which, of course, you know they'll get around to eventually. You wish you could see your mother again, and tell her you love her even though she's crazy, which is totally the reason you fight all the time. What's the point of trying to thrash or telepathically beg? There's no point in anything anymore...

5. Acceptance
What will be, will be. You are paralyzed and helpless, and having absolutely nothing you can do certainly helps speed the process to acceptance. You endure, even as the expected probe strikes home, and tears actually do manage to leak out of your eyes.

6. X-Files
You wake up in bed, and while a part of you wants to pretend it was all a dream, a certain tender spot insists otherwise. You have no choice. There could be others out there, having been abducted, soon to be abducted, maybe even being abducted right now. You have to let everyone know that the truth is out there...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Best Kind of Coincidence

I listen to the weekly podcast “Writing Excuses.” I’ve been listening for almost a year now. I keep meaning to catch up on back episodes, because when they end I want more, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet. It seems like the only way to get old seasons is to download them one at a time and I haven’t had the patience for that.

I usually listen to them first thing on Monday at work, since they post on Sundays. But this week, for whatever reason, I didn’t. Maybe it’s because the latest update of iTunes has a red icon instead of a blue one and it might be freaking me out a bit. Or I was just busy doing work that required more focus than I can spend while listening. Or, quite possibly, I was so excited to see the name Peter Beagle attached to the week’s episode that I decided to savor it.

I have loved The Last Unicorn for as long as I can remember. I encountered the movie first, and I remember begging my mom to take me to the video store near our old house just to rent it again. The ones near our new house didn’t carry it. I could watch that movie over and over. It enchanted me, completely.

But for some reason, I didn’t realize that it was a book until I was almost a teenager. And when I did, I fell in love all over again. I have an old copy that I permanently borrowed from my dad’s office many years ago, and I have perhaps loved it a bit too hard. The book added to the movie without taking away any magic from the film. It was a new pleasure, but tied to the old childhood enchantment.

Although I came to read other novel’s by Peter S. Beagle, and enjoyed some of them more than others, none can approach the emotional attachment that I have for The Last Unicorn.

It was a complete coincidence that I listened to that podcast on Tuesday, and then decided to look up Peter S. Beagle online. I have recently sneaked onto Twitter and I thought I’d see if he did that. He did indeed, and I perused his tweets and retweets only to stumble upon something called

A tour? Of The Last Unicorn? In theaters? How did I not know this was a thing???

Well, I thought, they’ll never come to Boise…

Except, they kind of are. Because one week from Tuesday, The Last Unicorn will be in Meridian (right next door to Boise), and I had no idea it was happening.

And Peter S. Beagle will be there.

I am almost crying with delight.

Now all I have to do is not burst into tears at the signing table.

While I'm amazed that I didn't know this was happening, I am absolutely delighted that if I hadn't listened to that podcast, hadn't recently joined Twitter, hadn't looked Peter S. Beagle up online... I might not have known until after the tour passed through Idaho.

It is a delightful, enchanting coincidence.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hoping to Learn

I had heard that this class was a hard class. So hard, that an extra fee was attached to it to pay for tutoring. The tutors attend the class as well as having scheduled hours. And, in my opinion, they are completely unnecessary, because my particular instructor has no idea how to teach.

By the sixth week of a class meeting two times a week, the instructor had cancelled five classes, and missed two (the first two misses were due to contractual issues for which I cannot wholly blame the instructor). If I missed that many classes, I would not expect to be receiving a passing grade, but I tried to give the instructor the benefit of the doubt. Illness can strike anyone, and just because there are only four seventy-five minute time periods (this instructor has two class sections) that this person has to show up to work, doesn’t mean it is any less difficult to deal with being sick.

After all, one could use the time that they are not in class to catch up on grading, right?

Not so much.

As of this writing, it has been more than 32 days since the semester’s first exam was due. Half of the exam was multiple choice, instantly graded through the magic of the internet. The other half of the exam was short answer questions, and I have still not received my grade for it. Nor has anyone else that I know of.

After completely missing two weeks of class, the syllabus naturally had to be adjusted somewhat. You might think that once a new, accelerated syllabus was set, that it would be followed precisely.

But you’d be wrong.

In a move that I find appalling, there are to be no more exams in the new syllabus. Instead, workbooks will be completed. I’m not sure how the teacher plans to grade the workbooks, in part because I have no idea what they look like. The first one was to be posted, according to the syllabus, “over the weekend” of the 10th of October. But instead, we received an email the morning of the 13th, explaining that the workbook would be posted soon.

As of the 22nd, it still isn’t posted.

And then there are the classes themselves. Usually by this time in the semester, I will have memorized my classmates names, based on roll call. But this instructor has not taken attendance since the first class they came to (the third class in the semester). And, in addition to not calling roll, which I admit is a quibble, it seems to me that the instructor is not reading the textbook. And therefore, is catering to students who also choose not to read the textbook.

Exhibit A: As the instructor wrote an example on the board, a student asked for an example of the difference between a sound with aspiration and one without. An example of this was spelled out explicitly in the chapter of the textbook we were supposed to read, but the instructor responded by claiming that they couldn’t think of a good example of the difference.

Exhibit B: Upon working through an exercise, the instructor commented that I was doing well. I said that the example we were working on was laid out in the book, and the instructor replied, “Well, not everyone has read the textbook.”

I might be reading some defensiveness into that reply. I might not.

As a person pursuing a second bachelor’s degree, this is the only class in this particular subject that I am required to take. Based on the textbook, I find the subject matter interesting, but based on the class experience, I doubt I would have the ability to take a class that requires this class as a prerequisite successfully.

Sure, I hope that the class will improve as the semester goes on. I hope that the instructor will get a handle on grading and figure out how to read the textbook teach follow their own syllabus.

But I hope a lot of things. . .

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


This past Monday was my birthday. To celebrate, I took the day off of work. I know it was a day off anyway for most folks, but my workplace does not recognize Columbus day as a holiday. However, we get the day after Thanksgiving instead, so it all works out. My husband and I drove out to a roadside hot spring with the intention of camping next to it and enjoying some drinks in the steaming hot water.

The first bump in our road came about when we saw the sign warning of a road closure at milepost 34. Neither of us could remember exactly where the hot spring was on the road, as far as mile markers go, but Ambrose thought that the Troutdale campground was at mile post 28, and I didn't think that the spring was more than 6 miles past it. So we drove on with some confidence.

And, although Troutdale was closer to mile marker 31 than 28, the hot spring I wanted to visit was just after mile post 34 - and just before the gated road closure.

Unfortunately, the campsite right next to the hot spring, though reachable by car, was fully occupied by a hunting camp. There was not room for us to camp there, so we turned the car around and drove a short distance to another roadside hot spring. This one was not as well developed, and not really usable, so we drove back and claimed a spot just past the one way bridge. It would be a short walk to the hot spring.

As soon as I got out of the car, I was reminded why I prefer backpacking to car camping. There was a well developed fire pit, surrounded by rocks, and piled high with trash. Not just trash that would reasonably burn, no, it seemed there was everything but the kitchen sink - aluminum cans, tin cans, a plastic two liter soda bottle, muffin wrappers, wet wipes, a styrofoam bowl, more aluminum cans.

And that was just the trash in the fire pit.

Scattered in the brush were unidentifiable papers, perhaps wads of toilet paper, perhaps paper towels. When I reached for a rock to hold our plastic vestibule down in the wind, I found not one, but two tampons under it.

What the hell is wrong with these people????

I cannot comprehend the state of mind that makes it okay to leave trash like that outdoors. What - you think the paper will biodegrade overnight? You think the tampons are cotton, which is a plant, so it belongs under a rock? You think that you can just burn anything and it will be hunky-dory?

I went on quite a tirade, and Ambrose patiently bore it until I calmed down. He was amused, because to him, I was behaving like an environmentalist.

And if being outraged at litterers and picking up trash makes an environmentalist, then I guess I am one.

But it made me think about the argument that being a feminist is just about believing that women and men should have equal rights (as stated by, for example, Aziz Ansari recently). That more people are feminists than claim to be, because it isn't about the word as much as the beliefs of individuals.

But believing that littering is bad is not the same as picking up trash. And believing that women and men should have equal opportunities is not the same as recognizing where they don't and working towards change.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Fire with Fire

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

Fire with Fire by Charles E. Gannon was an enjoyable read once I got into it. Getting into didn't take very long, but it did take some time to get over my initial reaction to the use of characters from the Odyssey as point of view changes and indicators. I tend not to trust anything that smacks of being too clever in its classical references.

I was also confused by the direction of the plot. At first, it seemed to hop from one main concept to another. One thing seemed to be the main focus, but then it was resolved too quickly. Another concept came up, and was as quickly dealt with. Only at the end of the book was a main conflict revealed and not resolved.

And that main conflict was entirely different from what seemed to be the main conflict at the beginning of the book, but there were still unresolved issues surrounding just about every somewhat resolved issue. Loose ends that created curiosity.

This made sense in the context of the book being a prequel, but I didn't go into the book knowing that the next book in the series was actually Book 1. I do think that I will read that next book, if only because after my husband read Fire with Fire, he bought it. But I still have 11 books of The Wheel of Time to get through...

Overall, I liked reading the book more than I expected to, based on my reading of previous Nebula nominees. There were times when I didn't like the style especially, but for the most part the story drew me on. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


During my long walk on Sunday I ended up making a last minute route change. I had planned on walking the Greenbelt the entire time, whether the south or north side, but something happened that made me change my mind.

There is a portion of the Greenbelt that goes around a pricey neighborhood, and then through a different pricey neighborhood before entering a concealed section that has fences on both sides before opening out into Barber Park. As I walked from the section where I was walled off from the houses to where I would walk along the road, I heard voices behind me.

Up to this point, I had seen a few other people braving the rainy weather in the 8 am hour on a Sunday. Some were running, many were walking dogs. A few were running with dogs. I wanted to see how far the voices were from me so I would know when to expect being passed, so as I turned a corner, I glanced back.

I saw two males and one dog, and I continued walking. My pace was a fast walk, but not excessively so - between 19 and 20 minute miles for the most part. I kept up my pace, and continued to hear the voices behind me.

At this point, I wasn't worried.

But then I started hearing the voices get closer. One of the guys kept clearing his throat, like he was walking faster than he was used to walking. As if he were hurrying his pace. Surely nothing, but I found my own footsteps quickening.

Then I saw an elderly couple and their dog approaching, and I conceived and executed a plan - I slowed down to an absolute stroll, greeted the couple with a hearty good morning and waited for the guys to pass me.

They did not.

So I walked faster again. I considered gaining enough ground on them to break into a run once I hit the fenced-in tunnel to Barber Park. But for all I knew, at least one of them had the legs to outrun me. It isn't like that's hard to do - I've got pretty short legs.

The trail to Barber Park came in sight, and so did a woman walking several dogs. I hoped that she would turn down the tunnel, but instead she walked up the sidewalk.

I had slowed again when I saw her, and, by the sound of it, so had the men behind me.

I thought of the worst case scenarios - follow the woman up the sidewalk and take a detour off my route - consequence: time lost. Or I could stick to my route and, at the very worst, be robbed and/or raped and/or murdered.

I chose what I perceived as the route of least risk and followed the woman up the hill, away from Barber Park. The guys went into Barber Park, and when I turned up the hill, I could see that they had just about caught up with me. They would have passed me in that tunnel of fences, and I would have had nowhere to run if their intentions were bad.

If they had no bad intentions, then I detoured for no reason, and that's a consequence I can live with. It's a thought experiment, a game, because nothing happened. I'm not going to freak out about it, but I do think that it is fucked up that I seriously had to consider whether two strangers might harm me as I walked on a drizzly Sunday morning.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Waiting for Hockey

Okay. I gave football a real try. I learned the rules. I learned player names and even coach names. I watched the network pre-game shows and even picked games last year through the Fox Sports website. I root for the Bears, but since I live in Boise, I hardly get to watch them.

When I was young, it seemed my whole extended family obsessed over football. I didn't understand the game, and I hated it, because no one talked to me when the game was on, and no one wanted to explain to me what was so fascinating to them about it.

I especially hated the fact that the game clock could have two minutes on it, but the game itself could drag on for a good twenty to thirty minutes while I patiently waited to get my dad's attention (or not so patiently).

I hated football with a passionate ignorance. I reveled in my lack of knowledge.

But now I can follow the game. I understand what's going on, and, from an educated point of view, I can now state, without passion, that I'm over it.

Sorry, football, but you bore me.

The only thing you've got going for you is that you're on right now, and I've still got a few weeks until hockey begins.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Some Fine Pictures

This August my husband and I traveled to South Carolina to visit with his parents. The day after we arrived in South Carolina, we all drove to North Carolina to visit additional family and participate in some family traditions and celebrations. These photos are from the first two days of the trip, not including all the lovely people I met (and Ambrose reunited with). 

As we hit the road from South Carolina to North Carolina, we stopped at a roadside stand for some freshly boiled peanuts. 

Now, I'd had "boiled peanuts" from the Saturday Market in Boise before, but these were in an entirely different league. Where the peanuts from Boise had a bit of crunch to them, these were more like beans.

See, I could smush them like a well-cooked bean in my fingers. They were also saltier than the peanuts that I'd had before, and that was a good thing. 

We were going to North Carolina, from South Carolina, so of course we went by way of Tennessee..

Ambrose at a scenic overlook in Tennessee.

Me, being more awesome at the same overlook. (That's my wall now. Actually, no, it isn't. It smelled like someone peed on it. But the view was great.) 

It's hard to see in this picture, but this sign was just around a hairpin turn, and was followed immediately by another. Did I mention I discovered a new propensity for car sickness on this trip? 

The Smoky Mountains in the morning. 

A green view from the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Ambrose and his Dad on Grandfather Mountain, before the swinging bridge.

View from Grandfather Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain actually provides a volunteer at this bridge who takes photos for people, which is how this picture contains me, Ambrose and his Dad all at the same time. 

Personally, I think calling the bridge a mile-high swinging bridge is a bit disingenuous - sure, the elevation is technically one mile above sea level, but it isn't as if the drop below the bridge is anywhere near that high. 

Ambrose and I on Grandfather Mountain - after his Dad figured out how to use our camera :)

The USGS benchmark on Grandfather Mountain. Yes, I think this is neat. I'm a mountain geek.

The swinging bridge, with the peak of Grandfather Mountain in the background. Part of me wanted to climb to the peak, but more of me still felt too carsick. And I didn't have my hiking boots.

I found out inside the museum that this flower is endangered. But I forgot what it's called. 

The drive down from the swinging bridge is not for the faint of heart. 

Also not for those lacking well-maintained brakes. . .

The mountain has wildlife habitats. We didn't get to see the deer or the big cats, but the otters did come out after a few minutes of waiting. 

I could have watched the otters play for a long time. So cute!

The eagles were also out, but not playing. They looked like we were all there on their sufferance - go ahead, tourists, take pictures - we all know who's in charge here.

The bears were a bit more lively.

Probably because it was getting close to their feeding time. . . 

It might not have been while backpacking, but hey, a bear encounter's a bear encounter, right? I mean, just because this bear was in an enclosure, patiently waiting to be fed while a crowd gathered doesn't mean it isn't capable of going on a rampage and killing all humans...

According to my tour guide (Ambrose's Dad), the land for this road was sold on the condition that the road builders did not mess up the land. This architectural challenge resulted in sections of road like this, where columns support the road above nature's splendor. And yes, because the road is so curvy, we were on the same road I photographed. 

We came across this sign on the way away from Grandfather Mountain.

This is the Appalachian Trail. With me standing on it. For that, as well as the friendly and hospitable people I met, I plan to come back to North Carolina. 

Ambrose on the Appalachian Trail. That section is his now. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tone of Choice

I have a tendency to obsess over meaning. When I speak with other people, I tend to over analyze what I say to them, what they say to me, what I perceive as their reactions to what I’ve said or done… If I let myself go on too long, then I usually end up upset or irritated at myself. Because, of course, I’m always at fault in my own head.

But I’ve gotten better about letting myself go down those kinds of dark, spiraling paths. So, when a man had some odd words to say to Ambrose and I before our last backpacking trips, I didn’t take it personally.

But I did analyze it a bit.

We had just explained that we were going to backpack to Johnson Lake up the Little Queens River. Now, I had backpacked there myself not four weeks previously. I knew that I could do it, and, based on other trips we had taken that summer, I knew Ambrose could do it as well. Unless something catastrophic had happened to make the trail impassable, we were good.

But this man, this man leading a horse, looked at us, dismissed us with his eyes (there’s that analysis again), and said, “Good luck with that.”

In and of itself, not such a bad phrase. Add a little friendliness to the tone, maybe a smile, and you’ve got a perfectly nice thing to say to a person you’ve only just seen for the first time.

Such friendliness, however, was lacking in this man’s tone. Instead, a sarcasm dominated, a clear doubt in our ability to accomplish our stated goal. It was almost accompanied by a snort of disbelief.

Why, I thought later, didn’t I have the perfect reply ready? I could have smiled sweetly and asked if the trail had been washed out since we had been there not four weeks prior? Had there perhaps been a fire I hadn’t heard about, which this man would be happy to inform me of? A bear sighting, mayhap?

Still. It would have been more to his advantage than mine, had he replied in a friendly manner. Because his next words were to inform us that he was going up the “big” Queens River (not its name).

And I happened to know that after the crossing of the Queens River, about three miles down the trail he intended to take, the majority of the trail was washed out and near impossible to find or follow.

However, I was so shocked by his tone that I had nothing to say.

Though as we walked up the Little Queens, I did find myself thinking about the wash out.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Finishing Is Not Failure

I'm not a serious athlete. I have no goals to become a professional athlete, but like many other people who have no intention of going pro, I have run races. Races I had no chance of winning, even split out to a minute degree of age categories.

But I can finish.

I've run 5Ks, 10Ks and one half marathon. I finished each one.

Sure, I puked after that 5K in Nashville, when I was completely dehydrated the morning after a travel day. I had to walk parts of the half marathon after starting out way too fast (yes, a 9 minute mile is too fast for me). My last 10K was a parade of pain that put me on the path to seriously rehabilitating my ilio-tibial band issue (a two year odyssey).

But I finished every race that I started.

Six months ago I set myself a goal. I decided that since I knew I could write stories that could get rejected, I would set about to collect rejections. The idea was to force myself to write more, submit more and desensitize myself to the inevitable rejection.

I submitted a total of eight times in that period, gathering eight rejections. I remain 69 rejections away from my goal of 100.

I could say that I have failed. After all, I have nowhere near the hundred rejections I was seeking. That could just be the end of that. I didn't write enough, and I let myself get discouraged by the rejections.

It's funny, most of the rejections were form rejections, but the one that was a bit more personalized bugged me more. Not because it commented directly on my work, but because it directed me to read the publication to which I was submitting. I do want to get a sense of what they like to publish, but I also don't want to be sending them more of what they've already published.

Be original!

But also be like these other stories that fit our aesthetic!

Figure out our aesthetic by buying our magazine and reading what we've published.

That'll be $15.

Ahem. I know that I did not spend as much time writing fiction as I wanted to over the summer. Part of that was due to writing other things, especially the blog entries on backpacking. Part of it was due to spending a lot of time backpacking, which I wouldn't trade. I know I have to work on the craft of writing stories, and that I also have to work on my own belief in my ability to do so.

100 rejections is a longer race than I thought it would be, but I intend to finish. However long it takes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Failure Mode of Coffee

I like drinking coffee. I didn't always like the taste. When I was young, the aroma was enticing, but the taste was disgusting. It was only in college that I learned to appreciate the bitter flavor of a nice, hot cup of black coffee. Especially with a bit of whiskey in it...

I start most work day mornings with black coffee (without the whiskey). I'll have a cup with breakfast before I leave for work, and, if I'm tired or just in the mood, I'll brew a pot at work. Yesterday, I had just gotten back from vacation. I flew in late on Monday night and was eager for that first cup at work on Tuesday morning.

I almost cried when I saw that not only was the coffee pot not cleaned out from the day before (a sadly common occurrence in my office), but there were no grounds left. Nothing from which to brew the caffeinated elixir that would get me through the long work day. Nothing at all.

I urgently texted my husband, begging him to bring some grounds by. He promised that he would, but then salvation appeared. One of my co-workers actually brought in coffee. I was saved.

Then I heard the tink-tink of beans being poured into a metal hopper and I flinched.

At home, we use a burr grinder. It is a quality grinder and produces uniform grounds to relatively precise sizes. My co-worker had brought in a spice grinder. Those tend to do things like make half your beans into powder while not touching the other half, but she insisted it was okay that she put whole beans into the coffee maker because that's what she did at home.

I'm pretty sure she didn't explode her coffee maker at home though.

No, I exaggerate. The coffee maker didn't explode. The coffee did.

She overfilled the filter, which caused the hot water to flow up and over the sides of it, resulting in a splash of grounds in and on the carafe. The maker was valiantly trying to pump more hot water into the filter area, but it couldn't, because the powdered grounds had formed an impenetrable mud, sprinkled with whole beans.

I called this fact to her attention as calmly as I could, all the while wanting to scream at her for depriving me of coffee in such a cruel fashion. No grounds I could have fixed, but this delay, combined with a 9am meeting, would mean no coffee for me until nearly lunch time.

I told her I would buy myself some coffee, so that she would either not make any more or not make much.

She made half a pot, didn't drink a drop (and neither did I).

The pot was also let to sit overnight without being rinsed out.

I brought my own grounds in this morning. I'm here to do my job, and since I'm not a barista, grinding coffee beans is not part of that - especially not with a spice grinder.

If I can't do something fancy like have whiskey in my coffee at work, then I don't want to do anything complicated with the coffee making, thank you very much.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Would You Do for Your Weekend?

The weekend of July 24th, my husband and I drove to the Kennally Creek Campground, outside of Donnelly, ID, and I found out just what I would do to save my weekend.

You see, our previous plan to go to Blackmare Lake had been aborted, due to unexpectedly snowy weather. As we are running out of weekends left in the summer, I wanted very much not just to take a backpacking trip this weekend, but also to backpack to Blackmare Lake in particular.

My husband and I have developed a routine for when we go on a backpacking trip. We each pack our own pack and any other items we want brought along. Then we pile them in the hallway and on the day of the trip my husband loads them into the car.

Simple, right?

Except when I forget to place my boots in the hallway, which is mistake number one.

And he forgets that if he hasn’t loaded something, then it hasn’t been loaded, mistake number two.

And we both don’t realize this until we are about five miles from the campground.

Which is about 95 miles from home.

Strike three.

We had several options at that point. We could have cancelled the trip. I could have tried backpacking in my sandals (really bad idea, especially on a "no trail"). Or I could prove to both myself and my husband that I am, indeed, a crazy backpacker.

He finished driving us to the campsite. We unloaded the car. And then I got in and drove all the way home on dark, narrow, twisting mountain roads.

When I saw a sign reading 91 miles to Boise, I thought to myself, “This is crazy. What the heck am I doing?” I thought about turning around, declaring defeat and cancelling the trip by default. But I’d already driven 17 miles on dirt roads to get to that sign. 91 more miles didn’t seem like much, not at good speeds.

It took me about three hours to get home and rescue my boots from the closet. I made coffee to sustain me on the drive back up, and, at about 11:30pm, I drove back up.

The drive actually reminded me a little bit of when I was in high school, driving to Shabbona, IL to visit a friend. Except those roads were all flat, and the worst that could happen if I fell asleep at the wheel was a whole lot of flattened corn. As opposed to car flying into the Payette River…

I made it to the campsite before 3am and crawled into the tent with Ambrose to go to sleep.

I’d drive six hours in the dark, late at night, for my weekend.

What would you do?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman was a lovely book.

I had requested an electronic copy of this book from the library back in May, and it just came through before I went on my solo backpack this last weekend. Based on the other Nebula award nominees, I was anticipating another lengthy, complex book. I thought that it would take me the entire weekend to read it, or even the weekend and more.

But I finished it the second night of my trip. I'm not sure how long it is in pages, since the Kindle displays reading time remaining rather than page numbers, but I don't think it could have been very long. However, it wasn't just the length that made it a quick read for me. The style was inviting, and the story was compelling. I wanted to know what happened next through each chapter, and each subsequent event had that magic combination of surprise and inevitability to it for me.

The story utilized a framing device, telling the story of the narrator's experience as a young boy through the mind of him as an adult. That could have gone sour, but the way that it ended, that the narrator has returned to the house and remembered this many times, only to have the experience edited out of his memory each time, felt like a fresher turn than it simply being the first time he remembers these events.

The child perspective, or the tone, or the matter-of-fact aspects of the magic... something reminded me of reading Diana Wynne Jones.

On my first of three nights alone in the Sawtooth Wilderness, this book helped distract me from loneliness and fear of what might be out there in the dark. I believe I would have liked it anyway, but this novel will always have that special luster in my memory, and remind me of that night. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

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

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler is not, in my opinion, science fiction or fantasy. And yet, it was nominated for a Nebula award. The Nebula awards are meant to recognize the best of science fiction and fantasy published in the previous year, and yet, here we have this book that I don't find to be either science fiction or fantasy on the list.

I would argue that this book takes place in a contemporary timeline, in a manner that is clearly fiction, in that it did not happen, but clearly not science fiction or fantasy, in that it could have happened. I found everything described within it as clearly within the limits of possibility. That leaves me with the question of why other people, specifically the members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, found this work to be either science fiction or fantasy. Or both.

I try not to read about these books too much before I read them. I don't want my perceptions to be colored by what other people think. In this case, I unintentionally read some of the library's description of the book, which contained a significant spoiler, which, warning, I'm about to reproduce here.

The most fantastical aspect of the book is that the narrator was raised alongside a chimp for the first five years of her life. Being so young, she is raised to think of the chimp as her sister. And, in the first few chapters of the novel, the chimp is coyly described simply as a sister. The narrator does explain that she did this on purpose, in order to make the reader keep an open mind about her sister before writing her off as merely as animal, in order to give the reader the experience she herself had.

I'm not sure if I think the technique worked or not, because I read that damn description that spoiled it for me. I was pissed the moment she mentioned sister and didn't mention chimp, because I already knew about it.

Despite that irritation, and the lack of science fiction and fantasy (because people have actually been raised with chimps, therefore it is within the realm of possibility, and fiction, not fantasy or scifi), I thought the book was overall a good read. For a fiction book and all. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Ancillary Justice

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

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie was a good book. I enjoyed reading it. But it didn’t live up to the hype.

I heard about this book soon after it was released. There was a big splash on many different blogs that I read about how awesome it was. I considered checking it out from the library, but I was busy with schoolwork and did not end up doing that.

The technique of alternating between a past timeline and a present timeline worked well to keep my interest in the story. It was also interesting in that the point of view in the present time and the past time were the same but different. Not just a singular character in two different times, but a multiplicity in one time and a slice of that multiplicity in the other.

And then there were the pronouns.

The language of the main society on which the story focuses has no gender. There are different ways to handle “translating” something with no gender into a language that does have gender. I would posit that the English language is not heavily gendered. It lacks that gendered nouns of, for example, Spanish, that require a matching gender for modifiers. But English does have gender specific pronouns. And, generally, when one wishes to remove gender from consideration in the English language, one will either use the neutral “it” or what ends up being the default, “he.”

Ann Leckie uses “she” as a default. The translation of gendered words from the Radch language of her book defaults to the feminine in English.

This is both disconcerting and neat.

I’m not used to it, and so every time I read one of those pronouns, I was bounced from the story, just a little bit. I had to consider and remember from other clues or outright pronouncements (“she was a male”) what the gender of various characters was.

Or maybe I didn’t have to, but I did. The gender of the point of view character is never discussed or revealed, and that makes sense, given that the personality was originally a ship and there is never discussion of whether a ship would have a gender (though I think my mind assigned female based on naval tradition - or my innate bias to see viewpoint characters as like me).

To me, this simple linguistic trick was the big deal behind the hype. And, in many ways, I believe the trick did live up to the hype. It feels like a big deal to me that a book has been written, and written well, that outright denies that the masculine gender should be the default.

But before reading the book, I thought all the hype was about the story. I thought I was going to read a mind-blowing story, rather than a good story with a mind-blowing concept in its structure.

Of course, that leads to the question of what I would consider a mind-blowing story, and I’m sure that answer is different for everyone. A mind-blowing story makes me want to read the book again, over and over. It makes me cry, and re-evaluate what I think about myself and how I live my life.

I’m looking forward to the sequel. I do want to know what happens. But I’m not going to be counting the days or marking it on my calendar, and I’m not going to be anguished if the publication date is pushed back. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: A Stranger in Olondria

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

A Stranger in Olondria by Sophia Samatar was not the sort of book that I would pick up based on the cover. Which is not to say that the cover is inaccurate. I believe in this case, my instincts against the cover would have prevented me from picking up a book that I would not enjoy.

However, I didn’t choose to read it based on the cover, or the subtitle that appears on the title page, “Being the Complete Memoirs of the Mystic, Jevick of Tyom.” I chose to read it because it was nominated for the Nebula award (though it did not win).

Reading these award nominated books has helped me understand what it is that I seek when I read. I enjoy books that read quickly, in part because I like reading books over and over. I have, on occasion, finished a book and started it again immediately. I find it easier to slow down on a book that reads quickly than to speed up when I find a book to be a slog.

Of course, a book that is a slog the first time around may end up being a quick one subsequently, but, for whatever reason, I like to read fast first and digest at my leisure on the second read. I understand that some people only ever read a book once, but I don’t get it.

Still, like many of the others on the list of nominees, I doubt I will reread A Stranger in Olondria. I don’t know exactly why some aspects of it bugged me, but bug me they did. There was a stretch of about 20 pages where the word marmoreal was used on three separate occasions. I have a decently large vocabulary, but I didn’t know that word and the context seemed vague - just another adjective in a list. Add to that I was at a trailhead with no dictionary or internet access at the time and it was as irritating as a mosquito bite (it means marble-like, by the way).

The subtitle bugged me, because I felt that it was the only hook into the book. Despite the title, the first few chapters do not take place in Olondria and might be better titled A Stranger in Tyom. Without the subtitle, I think there would be little to compel the reader to read past the first page. (If the reader happened to be me. Maybe I’m just not the market.)

I could not find interest with or connection to the main character or the ghost that haunted him. On the one hand, many aspects of the world were lovingly detailed, and on the other hand, the questions that I, as a reader, would have preferred to have answered were not addressed. It was almost as if the story itself were quite simple, but dressed up in very fancy clothing.

You know that a book is not for you when you keep checking to see how many pages you have left to read before it’s finally over and when you hope that there’s a glossary of terms at the back which will make the ending come sooner. Sometimes a book grows on me as I read it, but not this time.

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.