Absence and Guilt: or, My Problem, Not Yours

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I’ve convinced myself I’m somehow accountable to my readers for the time I spent not working on this blog, or my projects, over the last several months. I’m well aware of my tendency to project my own negative opinions about myself and my work ethic onto the feelings of others, which is an irrational tendency that 1) hamstrings my productivity, and 2) turns me into a really unpleasant person to be around. So, having at least gotten the impulse out there in the open and called it for what it is, I’ll try to own it and keep it from derailing my future plans for this blog.

Time to get back on track and post the good stuff:

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…you mean you don’t come here for pictures of my cat? (March, 2017)


What I’ve Accomplished

Time to take note of this stuff in bullet point form:

  • I participated in NaNoWriMo ’16! While I didn’t win, I did manage to contribute 18,097 new words to an ongoing space opera draft I have been toying with off and on since October of 2013 (affectionately dubbed New Persepolis). By the end of November, I was sitting at a wordcount total of 33,940 words, and the process it took to get to that point taught me so much about the characters I was playing with, and the world(s) that they inhabited. I don’t know if I will finish that particular incarnation of the story, but the world and characters themselves are so dear to me that I know I’ll come back to it at some stage, if only for my own edification.
  • After NaNoWriMo, I longform outlined the first half (or, potentially the first third) of an urban fantasy novel, heavily utilizing Scrivener’s notecard functionality to make moving parts from chapter to chapter much easier. This urban fantasy novel is one I touched on briefly in September of last year, but since then it has taken on considerably more breadth and scope. This outlining process is one I used when planning New Persepolis, and it’s helped me get the barest bones version of my idea down into a document, instead of turning the thoughts over and over in my head without generating any words. The story itself, still without a working title, is cumbersome with many moving parts; when it has frustrated me, I have instead turned my attention to fic.
  • Courtesy of Audible.Com, I’ve managed to listen to eight more books since November of last year. Maybe a small thing to feel pleased or proud of, but my work schedule and other obligations make finding time to read so difficult now that I really value my time spent on the subway and bus listening to my books in the mornings and evenings now.

What’s Happening Now?

Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s what.

Here’s the synopsis for my story-thus-far:

An inter-dimensional time traveler on the run from the god who is infatuated with him. A newly minted and certified archivist stepping into the shoes of his predecessor, who discovers that fulfilling his life’s dream is not all it’s cracked up to be. The unlikely convergence of these two lives could change not just their worlds, but all worlds that have ever been, and ever will be.

This is a story about love, consent, obedience–and God. Possibly even your God.

Are you interested? I hope you’re interested. Because I’m pretty dang stoked to start this piece of purely self-indulgent fantastical fiction.

To prepare, I’m sticking with prep that I know works (for me): an outline and some character vignettes. Whether I choose to share some of those here in the future or not is TBD, but I will keep you all posted.

In the meantime–time to make sure the radio still works on this thing. It’s been collecting dust.


The Radio:

  • Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1), by Diana Wynne Jones. Narrated by Jenny Sterlin.

    This one has been on my list since I first watched the iconic Hayao Miyazaki film/anime adaptation of the novel back in 200-somethingsomething, and the story absolutely captured my imagination. I will say that the movie is a pretty stark departure from the source material, but it is easy to see shades of Miyazaki’s Howl and Sophie in the characters that inspired them. I suspect that folks who love the Studio Ghibli version of these characters may be a bit disappointed, but I’ve personally enjoyed getting into Sophie Hatter’s head.

A strange and bittersweet time.

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I am an American living abroad in Canada. My absence over the past few weeks has been due in no small part to emotional stress brought on by many life changes: turning thirty, the recent general election back home, and of course preparation for NaNoWriMo, which is well underway now.

Did I mention that, in the midst of all this, my partner and I signed a lease on a lovely midtown Toronto apartment together? That happened, too. And, of course, the demands of my challenging day job continue to occupy me.

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The view down the street where I work. Autumn is lovely in Ontario. (November, 2016.)

So that’s my life at the moment:  the very good, the very bad, and the very beautiful. And a daily wordcount deadline. This NaNoWriMo, I’m so far sitting at 10,094 words. Not too shabby, if I don’t say so myself.

And as always, there’s good stuff on the radio.


Listening to:

  • Golden Fool: Book 2 of the Tawny Man trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Narrated by James Langton.
  • “Russian Folklore: I Pity the Fool,” Ep 49 of the Myths and Legends Podcast.

Interactive Fiction: or, How to Pass a Dreary Friday Afternoon

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Well, it is for me, anyway.

As much of my life is in flux right now I have no shortage of obligations. That doesn’t seem to stop me from returning to hobbies that syphon away at my productivity in deceptively harmless minutes at a time. I’m especially susceptible to these distractions when 1) things are slow at my day job, and 2) it’s raining. …I’m not sure why the rain makes me mentally listless, but it does. (Not unhappily so, but it’s clear to me that on rainy days, my productivity takes a serious hit.)

Here’s the distraction that’s occupying my thoughts right now:  interactive fiction.


Anchorhead.

Anchorhead is a Lovecraftian interactive fiction game written and published by Michael S. Gentry in 1998.[1] (I discovered this game almost 15 years later!) You control an unnamed protagonist who is investigating an ominous mystery surrounding the estate that she and her husband have recently inherited, after her husband’s distant cousin’s grim, grisly death.

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The potential commands understandable by the game engine are surprisingly dynamic, but you will occasionally encounter frustrating moments where you’re unsure of how to convey the actions you want to take to the game. Fortunately, as old as Anchorhead is, there are a number of walkthroughs available online that you can use as a point of reference if you feel stuck.

Confession:  I still haven’t finished it. But I still really, really enjoy the atmosphere of seeping, tenebrous dread the game creates.


Depression Quest.

Released and developed in 2013, this interactive non-fiction game is exactly what it sounds like:  a depression simulator created utilizing the Twine engine.[2] On that note, readers, please be mindful that this game is incredibly effective at simulating the mindset and emotions that characterize depression. Take a careful inventory of your mental health before taking the plunge into this game. Above all, be good to yourself.

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You have the option of taking multiple forking paths in this game, but I want to stress how important it is that there is no right path to take, because (as we who have experienced depression know) there is no right way to deal with depression.


Cat Petting Simulator.

Time for something completely silly, as a nice break from the first two games I suggested, which are quite heavy for different reasons. Cat Petting Simulator is an interactive game (also created with the Twine engine) where the sole objective is to pet a cat. That’s… that’s it, really. It’s sadly not as cute as Neko Atsume, but as someone who struggled miserably throughout graduate school, this little game helped get me out of many a paper writing-induced funk.

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Go on. Pet that cat.


The Radio:

  • Fool’s Errand: Book 1 of the Tawny Man trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Narrated by James Langton.

Notes and references:

[1] The Anchorhead wikipedia article. Read with caution to avoid spoilers.

[2] The Depression Quest wikipedia article.

Third time (drafting a blog post) is a charm.

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Maybe?

I’m not lacking for ideas so much as lacking for time as I’m in the middle of moving house–but rather than make that an excuse for my absence, I’ll just eke out time now that I’ve found it to jot down a handful of my pre-NaNoWriMo drafting and planning thoughts (for I have many).


New Persepolis: Space Ships, Cordyceps, Found (And Lost) Families, and Representation

…that’s it in a nutshell, really.

(NB: After a lot of thought, and outlining, I’ve tabled my city witch plan and will determine, at a later date, whether the idea is worth pursuing further.)

I’ve decided, after much discussion with members of my writing group (more on this later), to return to my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, New Persepolis. It is the broader novel that the short excerpt I shared a few weeks ago is set within. New Persepolis is a working title, and one I’ll probably change in the future. The idea for it has been tumbling around in my head, in multiple iterations, since at least mid-2012, and my first real stab at drafting an outline[1] of it happened in October of 2013, just in time for NaNoWriMo that year. Prior to NP, and aside from the handful of Star Wars and Mass Effect fic I’d attempted to write in the past, I’d never attempted to create my own original science fiction story before.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I waited so long to give it a shot, because it’s easily been one of the most rewarding world building experiences I’ve ever had. My attempts at world building fantasy universes have always been bound by some constraints that, probably, deserve their own blog post to be most effectively unpacked, so I’ll save those thoughts for another time. Since childhood, fantasy has been my ‘bread and butter’ when it came to playing in fictional universes; science fiction was always something else that I enjoyed, but couldn’t possibly create myself. I’m completely hooked now that I’ve taken the plunge, though, because with science fiction, I feel limitless in what concepts I can choose to explore, in what genre-specific conventions I can choose to adopt or reject, and in what kind of worlds I can create.[2]

So, one of the things I’ve decided to do is blend genres. I’ve woven horror as neatly and inexorably throughout the plot as possible. That’s where the cordyceps come in. Monstrous fungi already seem to have an established following somewhat exclusive to the weird/horror genres. But I think the weird often serves as a bridge between horror and science/speculative fiction, so I’m happy to blend the deeply personal stories of my space opera characters together with the threat of a fungal infection that is indiscriminate in who it affects.

I’ll share an excerpt from the first draft now, then end, as always, with what’s on the radio. (It’s an oldie but a goodie–at least for me–this week).

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Reminiscing.

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I don’t miss much about the two gruelling years I spent as a graduate student. However…

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St. George Street, Toronto, October 2015.

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St. George Street and the CN Tower, Toronto, October 2015.

…I do sometimes miss that view.


Listening to:

An idea I’m willing to invest in.

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Since writing the excerpt below, my vision for this world and the characters within it has changed considerably. Even in this iteration of the narrative, the characters and the story itself are different from what I envisioned in November of 2013. But I want to celebrate writing that I am proud of, and part of that celebration involves sharing it with you today.


Not knowing Republican Shee hadn’t been a hindrance in the disputed territories, but inside a government run hospital staffed almost exclusively by Shee physicians it was proving to be a real liability.

Corelli Jones stared uncomprehending at the paperwork in front of him. His skin felt hot and cold under his clothes and the terrified lump in his throat was making it hard to breathe.

The Shee attendant, who had been sitting with him patiently for three and a half minutes of unbroken silence, finally betrayed a hint of discomfort and twitched one of the long quills that had been laying comfortably still across the scaled crest of her scalp. She stilled it and said, gentle as she could, “Water? Would you like?”

It was an English word Corelli recognized. He forced a closed mouth smile and put the pen down to shift the sleeping infant in his arms. “Please,” he said. The attendant got up from her seat and left the exam room, closing the door behind her, and only when he heard the latch did Corelli exhale raggedly and lean against the table. He bore the heel of the hand not supporting Gabriella into his forehead. Alone, he bit his lip and smothered the sob before it could come out.

They knew. They had to know. No human on New Persepolis grew to adulthood without fluency in the dominant Shee dialect unless they were from the disputed territories. Crossing the border into Republic territory without submitting to immigration processing was grounds for execution. Humans with counterfeit identification papers–or none at all–were as likely to be terrorists as refugees, the prevailing thought was. Better to err, with extreme prejudice, on the side of caution. The attendant had probably gone to page security–immigration, if Corelli was very lucky. An agent if he wasn’t.

Gabriella would end up a ward of the state and grow up with no knowledge of him. There was no way to ensure she made it to Diederik without implicating him in their dangerous and illegal border crossing, and the cache of funds they’d stashed outside the city would end up in the Republic’s coffers long before it would ever be of any benefit to Gabriella. This gambit had been a risky one, but Corelli thought he had prepared for everything.

Evidently, assuming that humans would be presented with human language intake papers at the hospital had been one assumption too many. What a careless mistake.

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Risk Taking and Draft Making; or, Just Do The Thing

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(NB: I’ve noticed I’ve acquired a few new followers since beginning regular updates of this blog. I just wanted to let you all know that I’ve seen you, and I’m so pleased to have you along on my journey. Hi! Hello!)


During my commute in to work this morning, I caught myself mulling over similarities between one particularly daunting experience from my degree program, and a past attempt at NaNoWriMo. I figured I’d jot the thoughts down quickly.

I finished up my masters degree in archives and records management this year.[1]  In order to fulfill the requirements of my degree program, I visited my alma mater library and archives’ off-site storage facility. Off-site storage is essential for most libraries and archives due to the volume of materials acquired and accessioned during the lifetime of most institutes. It provides an adequate temperature controlled environment for material that isn’t requested with as much frequency, or material that is too fragile to circulate.

While I was there, the sheer immensity of the space was so arresting that I had to stop and take some photographs. (After obtaining permission, of course.) Please pardon the terrible quality of the pictures; my phone’s camera isn’t the best.

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My colleagues are pictured for scale. This photograph showcases one range of 10 within one half of the facility; each range extends upwards for 30 feet. (April, 2016.)

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This photo provided to give you an idea of the length of each range. (April, 2016.)

To allow the facility’s staff to store and retrieve materials, each range is constructed with a specially designed rail system to accommodate a forklift. You can see the rails near the ground; they’re the strips of metal next to the orange stripes. While I was there, the facility director asked if anyone wanted to ride the forklift all the way up to the highest point of the range. And while I’m not normally a daredevil, something in me made me put up my hand and volunteer.

So, up I went.

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It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of heights, because that forklift rattled and shook unsteadily the faster and higher we went. Turning around to look back down at my colleagues, who from that height I could see but not hear at all, I realized just how far from the ground I was, and how it was only by the grace of a few strips of fabric that I was affixed to the forklift and not falling thirty feet to the ground. I was more frightened than I’d expected I would be, because like I said, I’m not normally afraid of heights–but I was also really proud of myself for vaulting myself dramatically out of my comfort zone in order to experience this new perspective.

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Constructive Deconstruction: Why the Heck Do I Like This Thing?

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I’m learning to like this question a lot. Seriously, I should ask it more often, and about more things.

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A charming photograph of my partner’s brother’s fire pit. (Taken on one of the few mild evenings bestowed upon southern Ontario this August, 2016.)

Case in point: I enjoy a bonfire, but not hot weather. Why? Bonfires are cozy. Sometimes you cook food on them. Hot weather–and humidity–make me feel as though I’m walking through hot soup. Mystery solved.

Figuring out just what it is I like about certain stories or genres, or what I don’t like, takes a little more mental calisthenics. I’ll go through some warm-up moves first.


This Thing I Like: “Postcards from Monster Island,” by Emily Devenport

I first listened to this story when it aired on the Clarkesworld Magazine Podcast back in April of 2015.[1] That’s about a year and a half ago at this point, and out of all the stories that have aired since, this is the only one I revisit at least once every couple of months. “Postcards” keeps me company on my congested morning commute to my day-job, occasionally during my lunch break, and often during the quiet hour or so I have to myself before I go to sleep at night. It’s pairs excellently with my late evening cup-of-tea-and-cuddling-with-my-cat routine, and so I can reasonably extrapolate that it would pair well with people who have similar morning routines, too. (I don’t understand Morning People, but my partner assures me that they are not a myth and do actually exist.)

Read on with caution; there will be spoilers.

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Monday Musings: City Witches and ‘Idea Debt’.

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I have an Idea.

…That’s an understatement. I’ve actually got any number of ideas cooking at any given time, but most of them just hang out on the back burner.

But anyway, about this particular idea:  Witches in the city. What sort of life would a trainee witch experience living in a run-down urban tenement? What work would she do to pay her rent while eking out precious time for her craft? What kind of friends would she have? Family? …A cat?

Definitely a cat.

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…possibly my cat.

I like this idea a lot, which could be a problem, because at present I have more than enough other ideas simmering in various states of incomplete-ness over at my AO3 account. Interspersed amongst time spent on those fics are various and sundry original ideas that have taken the form of both short stories and outlines for longer works. Many of these ideas I have chosen to let go, and I do this in large part thanks to an article I read some time ago on the concept of idea debt. Here’s the most salient point from that article:

“Idea Debt is when you spend too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be to have this thing done and in the world, too much time imagining how cool you will look, how in demand you’ll be, how much money you’ll make. And way too little time actually making the thing.
-Jessica Abel, “Imagining your future projects is holding you back

The concept of idea debt hits home for me because it has been applicable to almost every creative endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. …or, more to the point, every creative endeavor I’ve devoted lots of thought towards undertaking, but barely managed to scratch out more than a few hundred words towards an actual draft. In my experience, it’s a terribly intoxicating headspace to occupy, and I compare it a lot to worrying:  my brain turns the project ideas over and over again in my head to such an extent that I feel as though I have accomplished something towards completing my project (or solving my problems). But in reality, just as with worrying, when I stop thinking about my project and don’t begin working on it (or solving my problems), I’ve made no tangible progress. And sometimes–or, in my case, nearly always–the guilt sets in, and I create nothing.

You can imagine how that guilt builds and builds upon itself, the more idea debt I accumulate. …possibly it has this in common with actual debt, but that’s a bit beyond the scope (and emotional capacity) of this blog.

So how does one alleviate some of this debt? The solution as outline in Jessica Abel’s blog is deceptively simple, and is one that she obviously struggles with:  let the ideas go.

“But,” some corner of my brain protests anxiously, “what about This Idea? This Idea is so good! You’ve had This Idea for so long! You just haven’t had the chance to properly explore and work on This Idea! Don’t throw it out just yet!”

I strongly believe that the answer to this needy corner of my brain is, on the whole, a very firm no–but! I do like that Jessica Abel explores a very important aspect of the debt allegory by discussing idea investment. Because she highlights two things that distinguish idea debt from idea investment: a work plan with steps in it that the writer actually completes, and the production of a deliverable.

So, to bring this meandering detour of a blog post back to the original subject of my city witches idea–which is it? Idea debt or idea investment?

At this point, it’s kind of hard to say. (To be fair, it’s hard to determine which is which with my WIPs on AO3, too.) But that’s why I’m going to follow Jessica Abel’s model and make a plan, even if that plan is just a promise to myself, on this blog post, that I will:

  1. continue working on my AO3 WIPs as I am able; I am a full-time, part-time writer, after all.
  2. decide whether my city witches idea debt might pay off this November during NaNoWriMo. Did I mention that I’m participating in that this year? Hey, I’m participating in that this year!

…and with that, I think I’ve just about reached the end of this blog post. Let’s end by highlighting what’s on the radio.


Listening to:


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