magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Because definitely what I need is more webapp ideas that I don't have time to develop.



Anyway, following on from a Twitter conversation, I'm wondering how it would work to make a writing program which could track the genders of a number of characters and then arbitrarily shuffle them. What I'm picturing is, simplified, something like this:

• At the top of the document are a number of fields which ask for a character name (or a list of character references, such as name and nickname and other variations) and pairs the name with a gender (and its associated set of pronouns).

• Each character you add is arbitrarily assigned a color (or icon or other distinguishing visual marker).

• As you type, a parser will keep track of which name (or referent) has been typed last for each of the original genders. When you type a pronoun, it will look at the last character reference matching that pronoun's set, and highlight the pronoun (or assign it the correct icon) to associate it with the specific character. It'll also have some kind of (mouseover?) menu to allow users to correct its assumption about which character it refers to.

• When you finish writing, each pronoun will be associated with a character. So you can hit a shuffle button, and then the characters' genders will be shuffled, and each pronoun can be brought back into compliance with the character's gender.

Needless to say, this would fail in a lot of situations. Take, for example:

• Dialogue. "He's not coming today," he said. (I mean, I guess I could set up a sub-parser which kept track of the last character reference inside a set of quotes?)

• Ambiguiety. We'll just call this the Randall Munroe exploit. I guess people would just have to make close, personal friends with the drop-down menus?

• Gay porn. I am reliably informed by people who have tried to write gay porn that pronouns are a nightmare anyway. And humans are better at parsing language than computers are.

• Unexpected cases. Language is complicated, yo!

I feel like there should be a way to handle this, and that it probably involves algorithms. I'm a bit worried that trying to write a general-purpose pronoun shuffler would actually require re-inventing Google Translate. Any computational linguists out there who want to point out things I'm missing?
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Somehow, I got into a hole where I just keep listening to songs set to the tune of "A Modern Major-General". I'm pretty sure the Elements Song is to blame:



...but that transitioned quickly into "Every Major's Terrible":



Which I really want to memorize, some day. Well, I want to memorize both of these, really. ("And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium" is too much fun to say. Try it!)

So, I finally decided to look up the actual song, as it's been a long time since I've heard it, and that led me to this video:



And now, despite not remembering enough of the new Star Wars movies to even remember who Grievous is, I want to see fic based on this vid where he and young Obi-Wan are goofy buddy movie partners. Challenging each other to singing and swashbuckling contests.

...

...I'm sure there's a lesson I could draw out of the Tom Lehrer video; you can see that he stumbles on "molybdenum" a little (and really, wouldn't you?), but he doesn't get hung up on it; he just sweeps it behind him and moves on. Good life lesson. Which I will not be making any more eloquent than that.

And with that, good night.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know, it took me until today to really put my finger on why I prefer a certain style* of asterisking/footnoting things in blog posts and web documents over another.

* That style being this one, in which the "footnote" is placed directly after the paragraph in which its asterisk appears.

It's because when reading a physical book, when I see a footnote, I can glance down to the bottom of the page and read the addendum. Even if the footnote occurs in the middle of a very long chapter, I can easily glance down and back up to my spot again because the chapter is formatted into discrete pages, the footnote is placed at the bottom of the page, and I can hold an entire page in my field of vision.

Internet texts, though, generally work with a long vertical scroll, and there's no convenient way of marking your position. (I usually resort to highlighting passages so that the highlight will catch my eye if I have to scroll away and scroll back up to find it.) Once you add in the fact that you often don't know where the footnotes will be, where the scrollbar is concerned – if you have a blog post with a large number of comments, for example, the end of the page is the end of the comment section, not the end of the post; finding the footnotes involves moving the scrollbar to some ill-defined middle point – you're either left with the hassle of scrolling/searching down and back up every time you encounter an asterisk (which I find really disruptive to my reading experience), or just encountering all the footnotes at the end, shorn of their context unless you want to go back up and search through the text to re-find them.

By contrast, placing the footnotes immediately after the paragraph in which their asterisk occurs doesn't interrupt the flow of the asterisked sentence, but it still places the additional information within the same field of view as its context.

Incidentally, this is also why I have a grudge against the term trans*, and refuse to use it to refer to myself**. ("trans," fine, though I prefer the specificity of "neutrois". "trans*," fuck no.) Because the first time I encountered it in a blog post, I spent several minutes looking for the footnote and becoming increasingly annoyed that I couldn't find it. Because while * is used as a wildcard character in certain contexts? In the context of writing out discussions on the internet, * has another, more-well-established meaning, and that's the promise of additional information to be fulfilled within the document, at some point following the *. When that promise isn't fulfilled, well, XKCD may have said it best.

** If you prefer that I use the term trans* to refer to you, I will, but I will also persist in thinking that it's an extremely poor piece of information design.

Anyway, there's no real point to this entry, except to note that the formal reasoning behind my gut preference finally snapped into place, and that was cool.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Sometimes I'm reading along, and I'll hit a word – usually a really common word – that I've never thought of in terms of etymology before (usually because it's a really common word, and thus kinda invisible in my day-to-day goings-about), and encountering it in a new context makes the etymology just... click into place for me, and it's like I've uncovered a new nugget of meaning and a secret pedigree, and it makes me really happy.

Frex: I'm reading the astronomy textbook I got from Launchpad. I come across this passage:

Evidence that asteroids and comets really are leftover planetesimals comes from analysis of meteorites, spacecraft visits to comets and asteroids, and computer simulations of solar system formation. The nebular theory actually predicts he existence of both the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt—a prediction first made in the 1950s. Thus, the discoveries, beginning in the 1990s, of numerous objects orbiting in the Kuiper Belt represent a triumph for the nebular theory.


(Emphasis is the book's.)

My mind caught on the use of that first predicts. Looking at it stylistically, I first thought it should have been predicted, so I started testing my assumptions to see if I still thought they were correct. I thought about the word predates, and how that could be used in present tense and I'd have no issue with it. So, I took a closer look at predict – something I'd never been prompted to break down before.

pre, before. dict, from the same roots as dictate, dictum. I didn't have a Latin dictionary (dictionary!) at hand, so I didn't look up the exact meaning – but I had enough grounding at that point that my concerns were washed away. Dict; an authoritative or forceful assertion. A pre-dictum. The science dictates that it shall be so, and (in this case) it is revealed that it is so. How fabulous. A much more forceful etymology. Gleaming little declarative bones in a soft skin of supposition.

Moments like this make me love linguistics.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
[personal profile] sholio and I are testing out an accountability buddies setup, where we meet to talk writing shop, discuss goals, and analyze how well we're meeting them. (We're still in the first week, so neither of us have any idea how well it will work. But one of the best pieces of advice I got last year was "Failures are just experiments that yield negative results," so even if we find that this format doesn't work well, that's useful information! And I'm hopeful that it will work, and be awesome for both of us.)

The theme I want to engage with this year is of productivity, and constant storytelling: I want to be creating and putting out a lot more work than I do currently. Getting back to my Clarion West levels of a short story per week would be amazing, and the fact that I'm making my living off freelance stuff which doesn't eat as much time as a full-time job tips it into the realm of possibility. (If I could transition to making my money off writing, that would be incredible. I am looking into ways to start on that path, specifically through Patreon, but my ability to write and produce complete works on a consistent schedule is something of a prerequisite for that, so that's where I'm starting.)

The two goals I had for this week, to support my theme of producing lots of fiction, were:

1) To take a look at how I choose stories to work on, and

2) To take a look at how I go about moving stories through to completion.

This is about how I work, which informs how I choose stuff to work on. )

This is about how I choose stuff to work on. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Holy crap, I think I've got a short story done in draft. (Well, "short"; it's roughly 6600 words long. One of these days I'll figure out* how to write at commonly-acceptable lengths like 3000-4500 words.) I think I started this one sometime in mid-November. Not a bad start to the year, even if I probably won't have it out the door today!

* This is probably a lie.

Over the past few days of trying to tie everything together, I've been thinking about a couple of things.

Neepery on characters being afforded plausible choices. )

Neepery on plots that dig deep and plots that go far. )

And on we go. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, publishing for... yikes, 2005 was nine years ago already, wasn't it? –and editing professionally for over a year, and I've been to one of the most prestigious writing workshops in the speculative fiction field, and I still often feel like I have no idea how fiction works or how to write something that functions. Then again, I hear that this never really goes away, so I'd best get comfortable with continually working to figure things out and put neat labels on the tools in my toolbox.

[ETA] Welp, I read over it, and I'm still not entirely happy with the arc – but I'm not sure what I can do to fix it without writing a different story. So I sent it out! Because if nothing else, starting the year on a submission has some nice symbolic heft, and it is sometimes the case that other people like my fiction more than I do after a long writing/tweaking process. &o.o&

There are just about 50 minutes left in January 1. I'm doing pretty well!
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Yesterday, I had to walk to the Staples that's a few big blocks away, so that I could get things which would let me mail out important documents and holiday gifts. I wore my usual – a long-sleeve button-down shirt, with black jeans – and it was a bit cool, so I threw on a windbreaker.

Within a block I realized that I was overheating, so I took off the windbreaker.

Because this may be late December, but I am in California, and the terrible horrible frigid ice-hell of winter has not found me here.

...

Man, I kinda want to do one of those "year in review" things for 2013, because frankly, I feel like I deserve a medal for surviving this year with my sanity and shaded-cynical optimism intact. But I also feel like if I do that before the end of the year, 2013 will find some way to punish me for thinking it's over.

It's almost over. And I am going to drink hot tea out of my adorable 3-oz ceramic cups, and I am going to cherish the things and the people who got me through this year. And I am going to continue patiently laying groundwork to make tomorrow better than today.

And then I'm going to take a deep breath and work on my Yuletide story again, even though it scares me.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

As an exercise, to try to ease my brain up out of its months-long stress-induced no-writing slump, I sat down and copied out the first sentence (or two; the first lines of If The Mountain Comes really don't work if you only take the first sentence) of all the short stories I've had published in various markets, and then grouped them by whether I (personally) thought they were engaging or not.

 

Read more... )

In any case, it's something I don't think I'd really sat down to examine in any depth before, so now I can say I've done that.  And hopefully have a better sense of how this particular mechanic works in the stories I write in the future.

magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

I have tofu marinating in a mix of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, fresh rosemary, crushed garlic, black pepper, and powdered lapsang souchong. We are going to make it into fresh rolls tonight. (With green tea soba noodles because I have no rice noodles.) It is going to be delicious.

(Speaking of fresh rolls, I recently learned about how the skins for them are traditionally made, and the process is, as Joe Pastry puts it, "so ingeniously odd".)


My random thought upon waking this morning was that it would be really cool to make some kind of virtual coffeeshop. I think this was partially inspired by Coffitivity, and also by a bunch of articles on how the people you interact with most frequently palpably impact your performance, and thinking about how to form communities and foster community interaction when people in those communities might not be able to easily meet in person. But the idea that's rolling around in the back of my head is something like this:

  • On its most basic level, it'd be a chat site. Something along the lines of IRC, but it would take place in a kind of basic, bare-bones virtual "space", even if the only way the virtual space came about was through terminology. Frex: people could join "tables", which would be the individual chat rooms. They could also create their own tables and invite their friends. There'd be general tables for topics like politics, writing (or, more specifically, politics by region, writing by genre), and you could create public or private tables. Public tables could have short descriptions of the people "sitting" there: "I'm a writer working on the script for my first webcomic." "I'm a programmer working on a mobile app." "I'm here to meet new people; I'm a 34-year-old queer man in the Tampa area, into HAM radio and industrial music." People could join open tables based on who they might find interesting to chat with. Tables could set with upper limits on the amount of "seating" available, or let in as many people as they wanted.
  • People would be able to put things "on the table" for everyone at that table to have access to: documents, links, etc.
  • It'd be cool to integrate some kind of background audio like Coffitivity. It'd also be cool to integrate graphic design which supported the general coffeeshop theme; background images, maybe even something like LJ's gifts system where for some minimal amount of money you could buy people pictures of drinks. (I'd have to investigate how little money would be effective - not a lot to spend, but still enough that whatever processing fees wouldn't completely eliminate whatever micropayment the coffeeshop got. Like, it'd be cool to offer a $.05 virtual drink because most people would not balk at buying that, but after Paypal or a credit card processor or whatever took its cut, would there be a micropayment left?)
  • It'd also be cool to integrate optional voice or video chats.
  • You could have a little curated store where you could order tea and coffee and such – I'm thinking something like an affiliate relationship with an established tea seller, so you'd literally be ordering, like, the Adagio or David's Teas or whatever products, but (if you found the right company) they's give a percentage back to the teashop to cover hosting costs. And then regular users who ordered from the virtual counter could make the tea/coffee at home, and chat to each other about what they ordered.
  • There could be paid levels of membership which would give you things like archived chats, lockers where you could store files, dedicated tables, etc?
  • It'd be cool to make this a space which could facilitate virtual classes. Virtual lectures. Virtual open mic nights! Virtual readings! Virtual streaming of live music from "local" artists! Opt-in, of course; other people in the coffeeshop might get a notification or a sidebar listing public events and they could choose to listen to them, but the advantage of a virtual coffeeshop is that if you walk in on open mic night, you can choose not to make the audio exist for you.
  • It'd be kinda cool to have graphics for your status: a "hard at work and concentrating" icon, a "social; come interact with me" icon, a "taking a break from working" icon, a "deep in a conversation, please don't bother me" icon. Ideally, really easy to switch from a dropdown, and it'd show both in the table chat and on the description of the table. (So if two people at a public table both set their icons to "deep in conversation", people might think twice about joining them?) Ideally, also, there'd be multiple sets of icons that you could choose from. This one is an elderly black man! This one is a young Latina with a lot of piercings! This one is a robot! Here are generic smilies!

Now, a lot of this exceeds my current development skills, and I have no idea whether I'll find the idea as cool by the time I've acquired the relevant skills. But I wanted to get the high-level ideas down just in case it did remain an awesome idea, and also in case any other programmers showed up and were like "I also want to make something like this! Let's set up a GitHub and start hacking!" 'cause, hey, I may look back at this at some point and go "Ooooh." Or I may decide to dive into this as soon as my current teaching-myself-java fun times are done.

ONE NEVER KNOWS.

magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
So... I'm not in a great financial situation, right now. Unemployment that's dragging on longer than I'd like (though, really, any time at all is longer than I'd like), issues with the startup I left never generating revenue enough to pay me some of my wages, living in California, etc. I'm searching for a job, and I'm getting some pretty excellent interviews, but nothing's really taken, yet; I'm also doing freelance work, writing content, and looking into other ways of generating income on my own.

But. All of this takes energy, and motivation, and unemployment seems designed to sap both. So I've developed a framework to help move me through.

Gods made to order, psychological and aspirational trickery, and the point of this post. )

And, for my own reference, an actual list of charities:

We here in Vault City LOVE making lists. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Finally got around to making carrot soup tonight, which was a process which started quite some time ago when I came home with ~2 pounds of carrots and a white onion, which progressed through soaking some chickpeas and then simmering them with a sprig of rosemary, and which culminated in me staring at this recipe for a while, then going "Fuck it" and making something up as I went along.

FUCK YOU I'M A CAT, basically. Except I'm only metaphorically a cat. Because cats don't cook. They have people to do that for them. )

BART song

Jan. 7th, 2013 08:33 pm
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
1. I've made a routine out of my commutes in the morning and evening. I have the good fortune to be located along the BART line at stations where I can generally get a seat going both ways; even during the morning rush, when by Oakland the trains are packed full, standing-room-only, I'm generally tucked into a seat by a window where the morning light (when there is morning light, rather than drifting fog or steady rain) can pour in on me. These days, when I've managed my energy well enough that I'm not completely exhausted, too tired to think, I read. It's a 45-minute ride each way, which clears out a precious hour and a half for me to sit down and devour books. Which is an unparalleled luxury, given how little I was able to read before I came out here.

Little to do with reading. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I like to personify my brain, partially as an Elizabeth Gilbert-esque control on getting too much ego tied up in things but mostly because it makes it easier to blame things on an entity external to myself. Like this, for example: if there is a choice between buckling down and working on one of the many, many concepts/story scraps I have lying around or coming up with a shiny new concept – usually novel-length, but not always – then it will take the "shiny new concept" option 11 times out of 10.

Anyway, it tossed me what may or may not be an urban fantasy Noir about a freelance detective gal who gets commissioned for some enigmatic person named North, and ends up having to navigate her own undeath. As well as her life, one universe over. And the one may not be more complicated than the other.

Here's the beginning my brain handed me:

I knew I was digging myself into it when I signed the contract. It's not like I couldn't see it coming; on the highway of life, this was the lane with the orange cones and the lit-up roadside sign saying THE BRIDGE IS OUT and the police lights and the oily smoke coming up. But, you know, if I'd had another option, I wouldn't have taken this one.

That's the way it always is.


I've also worked more on Rust City. You know, when I started it, I was pretty sure it would be a novella – but then it just kept growing. I only have about 8k words in it now, but given the way I structure things and how the scope is expanding (the love-fascination-need-triangle is now more of a connect-the-dots), I'd be surprised if the finished draft clocked in under 70 or 80k. Y'know, if it ever fights its way through the shiny new upstarts.

It's a wonder I've ever finished anything.

He drew up beside her. She was framed in the gristle of the building, the rebar and wire and crumbled cement like a nest around her. Across the city blocks, the Moonlit moon was glowing. Its light was softened by the distance, and softened Sela's face.

"You smell like him," Sela said.

Ferro looked at her, then ducked his head. Hoped that what he was about to say would be permissible. "How do you know what he smells like?"

Sela glanced at him askance. "You have to remember which one of us is the dog," she said.


[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop which failed to teach me the fine art of controlling my wordcounts, but which did teach me many and varied other valuable things.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
So let's talk about Rust City.

Rust City began as a thought experiment as to whether or not I could write something Bizarro. (The verdict is: I couldn't. The closest I've ever come is probably The Relative Densities of Seawater and Blood, and it's not very bizarre, compared to anything, say, Carlton Mellick III has ever written. I think that in order to write Bizarro, you have to have the abilites (1)Not to take yourself so damn seriously, and (2)Let go of the need to explain or at least justify everything, and I score pretty badly on those rubrics.)

The story follows Ferro, a man with a condition that's given him the primary sex characteristics of an standard XX physiology but a standard set of XY secondary sex characteristics. He falls in with a pair of cousins named Wolf and Sela, who may or may not be genetically-engineered remnants of the war that screwed up the entire planet, either decades or centuries ago.

The full title of the project is Rust City (a love story), though I remain unsure of what the love story actually is. (Wolf and Sela have an extremely broken familial relationship they both want fixed but don't know how to fix, Wolf and Ferro sleep together, Ferro is fascinated and stalked by Sela, and for all this time Ferro is crushing on a woman named Kyoto who has burn scars covering most of her chest. There's a lot of thematic body stuff going on here, and it's all kind of a mess.)

Also, there are molemen, which aren't actually molemen. They're more like some kind of cavefish-esque offshoot of Homo sapiens who live in the old (but expanded) sewer system beneath the city. (I'm not sure that's better.) They communicate with Ferro by exploiting a trick of his synaesthesia – yes, Ferro also has synaesthesia, as well as hypertactility and haptophilia – which also has a tinge of the supernatural to it.

It's resisting being written, for the most part, because I honestly have no idea where it's going or why half the stuff is happening. You know, conventional wisdom says that you should have your story worked out before you start writing it. At least you should know what the major players and motivations will be. Possibly have some understanding of the plot. That's just not how I roll; I tend to slap stuff that sounds pretty on a page and hope that eventually my brain will start supplying all the connective tissue, musculature, and skeletal structure. Sometimes in that order.

But I wrote a slim 655 words on it last night, and now I'm sharing an excerpt with you!

He felt himself sailing down, through the floor, drawn toward the molten center of the world, but before he could come anywhere near it he was caught in a noise like spidersilk. It wrapped around him, twining through his pores in a rhythm like words.

They were words. Maybe not in a classical sense, but something intelligible without being sound. Something like,

(intruder)

And then, by more voices, closer to his skin,

(brightseer, sunfucker)

(up him)

(yeah)

(up)


[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop which has supported real live Bizarro authors! And many, many others.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
If you wanted to count the combined wordcounts of everything I've worked on since the start of the Write-a-thon, we'd be up to 624 now! If you wanted to count the actual words I've written since the start, we'd be at... something more like 87.

Neither of these are particularly inspiring numbers, but I'll take them, because they're greater than 0.

Today's 87 words went to The Angel at the Gate, a story inspired by a YouTube video of Silent Hill: Homecoming, the long-completed webcomic 1/0, and thinking about Biblical cherubs. Naturally, the story is about a group of friends who were tossed out of another world after fighting for and saving it as destined heroes, and who find themselves unable to leave the city they've been thrown into because there's a supernatural phenomenon which blocks their way out.

(They name the phenomenon Azrael. Who was not a cherub, if you were wondering.)

Long story short, my fiction rarely bears any resemblance to its inspiration, so I hope the preceding explanation made no sense to you.

...

...hey, who wants an excerpt!

I look up to see Zeph straddling the peak of the roof, nailing down siding, and the arc of the hammer in his hand takes my breath away. It doesn't take long for him to look down and see me, loitering in the middle of the road.

I sign, Remember the flight to the burning cathedral? Your sword scattered the sunlight and gave you wings.

Zeph grins and hefts the hammer, then sees something in my face and sets it down. And he signs back, with emphasis on every word:

Don't. Start. Crying. Here.


[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop that allows its students to create quality work like mine! Except often better, and coherent.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Staring down the beginning of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, two things seem especially important.

First, that I just re-ran-into the Adrienne Rich quote which reads, "To know we are not alone, that our identity is not random but has a history and a meaning shared with others—that our existence has its own special kind of beauty—this is the great force of art to people moving against alienation."

And second, that I'm about to start a new job at the beginning of July, and that I am, even now, searching for a new apartment and preparing to turn my life upside-down again.

Second explanation first: my big barrier to completing my Write-a-thon goals in years past was that the WAT always corresponded with the end of the fiscal year at the University where I worked, and I happened to work in a financial department. Apparently the theme of my life getting really busy as soon as the WAT rears its formidable head is not going away with the passing of the job.

And the first explanation second: well, if there's a pie-in-the-sky idealistic goal, not just for my Write-a-thon writing but also for my writing in general, it's to wedge a few more ideas into the ever-evolving discussion that is fiction. Gender is one I keep coming back to; so are cultural estrangement, signification, relationships, power, the inability to communicate, the majesty of the known and unknown, and the existence of questions which have neither easy nor satisfying answers. I spend a lot of time circling around those high, idealistic goals, though how well I achieve them is another question entirely.

(And here I'm reminded of another quote, Michael Cunningham's: "You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire. But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire."

As I've said on my Write-a-thon page, I don't know what I'll write, or how much I'll write. But you can expect to see some of the above themes cropping up alongside the other, more magpie-minded projects.

Anyway, I hope the writing (and writing about writing) will be entertaining to those of you reading, and I hope you'll consider sponsoring me or any one of the many, many other fine writers in the Write-a-thon this year. There's a wealth of talent banding together to support a new crop of talent which, in turn, is being taught by a roster of extraordinary talent, and I, for one, am excited to get started.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
...meanwhile, my brain is giving me someone named Tether, an aromantic, touch-hungry, skin-averse, heterophysical, sex-repulsed asexual who undergoes violence-hunger cycles in accordance with lunar cycles, peaking at the new moon. She gets paired with some guy called Knife, who as far as I can tell is a fairly vanilla heterosexual guy somewhere on the aspie spectrum, with a nearly eidetic memory and somewhat decentralized cognition. Who may also be a high-functioning sociopath.

I have no idea where my brain is going with this, but I suspect they fight crime.

Omens

Oct. 5th, 2011 07:38 am
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know, I'm agnostic-skeptic when it comes to omens and signs. I think most of the weird coincidences we see are just coincidences, and not actually that weird. It's just that we notice them, and the billions of tiny co-occurrences that don't hold any special similarity go unnoticed because there's no reason to give them any attention. "I wrote a blog post about gluten-free desserts, and then I turned on the radio... and there was a story about an embassy bombing!" ...okay? That sort of stuff happens all the time, with overwhelming frequency, yet it's always the "I was thinking about quitting my job, and a copy of the newspaper classifieds blew onto the sidewalk in front of me!" events that get all the attention. "What are the odds!" As it turns out, just what it took for the event to happen, and all the dreg is still there in your peripheral vision.

But, you know, that doesn't stop me from going after the "signs" and "omens" that do crop up in my life. It's a magical-consciousness thing.

By which I mean: in my low-key, homegrown magical practice, a big central philosophy is bricolage: "to make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand (regardless of their original purpose)". So when I write a post about being afraid to move forward and then the next day I wake up to a Live Your Legend mailinglist email about how the biggest threat to your success is quitting, and once you get that under control, all the other risks are small potatoes, I still interpret it as basically a message from $god*.

*Here I'm using the PHP variable syntax – $variable_name – to indicate, basically, "god-of-choice". God is another thing I'm both faithful and agnostic on.

And that's because I've taught myself to glean meaning and inspiration from things. Meaning, motivation, inspiration, and direction are things I need in my life, and I know that I sometimes have to be creative in fulfilling those needs. So when I see a coincidence that I can use to feed into my motivation – in this case, it's a "sign from the universe not to give up" – the framework of my thinking goes something like this:

Something called itself to my attention. => Is there meaning I can ascribe to this? => Is the potential meaning helpful or harmful? Can I interpret it in a way that makes it helpful? => If it's helpful, DUDE! It's an OMEN! If it's harmful, whoo, look at that, it's another wacky coincidence, and I go on my way.

This is a pretty blatant logical fallacy, of course – it's the same sort of thinking that contextualizes a misfortune that happens to someone of $x_particular_faith as a "test of faith" and an identical misfortune that happens to anyone else as a sign of $god's displeasure. But I'd rather look at it as a mindhack. Yeah, it's spurious and completely arbitrary, but I'm aware of it and can watchdog it so its net effect on my life is positive and it doesn't harm anyone else. I can glean a spot of inspiration from my own coincidences, and if I ever come across an arrangement of rocks in a stream that seems to spell out KILL THEM ALL, I'll take a picture and share it on Twitter with a note about how wacky patterns in nature can be.

Stalling

Oct. 4th, 2011 06:57 pm
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Around the end of August, I finished the first draft of the first novel I've ever felt confident enough about to start shopping out. (The last original novel I finished before that was... in sixth grade. I probably still have the completed draft on my flash drive or harddrive somewhere, but it very much reads like something a sixth-grader wrote. And we won't get into fanworks.)

Throughout September, I let it sit and didn't even open the file, and I threw all my effort into writing the sequel while a bunch of incredibly wonderful beta readers went through my story and gave me feedback covering a wide range of topics – conventions expected by the target audience, questions left unanswered, plot snarls, places where the prose or plot was unclear, places where they were hooked or lost, strengths and weaknesses.

Now, I've compiled all those responses into a document – a sort of menu of things to fix – and I've been ticking off each issue, one by one. Except that now I'm stalling.

It's strange. I remember this sort of hand-wringing and avoidance (because a part of this is that I know once I'm done with revisions, I'll have to send out the novel to agents, and whatever I've done or failed to do will have to stand on its own merits, and that's scary, yo) – I remember it from when I started submitting short stories. Now, approaching my 80th short story submission (I just got a response – a rejection – on my 78th submission of all time), I'm used to that process, and while there's still a flutter of anticipation every time I send a short story out or get a response back, for the most part, it's routine.

But shopping out a novel is a completely different beast.

Sort of. From what I've researched of the process, there are a lot of similarities, and even some of the differences (synopses, partials) just seem like short-form submissions' big sibling. There's a bit more weight to the process, which is understandable given the heft of the work you're submitting.

But there are palpable differences. For one thing, generally a relationship with an agent is a long-term one; a relationship with an editor can evolve to the point where they'll drop you a line once in a while and ask if you've got anything new, but the expectation is that every story is a new deal. For another, an agent takes a lot of the responsibility off your back, and that means trusting them with something precious to you, if you value your writing at all. They take stewardship of your work in a very real way. Even before you internalize the prevailing wisdom that a bad first book can torpedo you as a novelist, there's a lot at stake.

The writing style I use means a lot of revision and rework during the process of writing. After that, I did a first-pass revision. Then I got crits on it and I'm doing a second revision now. Once those edits are in place, I'm going to do a final readthrough to make sure I haven't introduced new problems or errors. When I send this out it's going to be polished, and even after that, I'm fairly sure my (eventual, hopeful) agent and/or editor will come back with yet more crits. Everything is going to be done to give my book the best chance it can have. I'm just dragging my feet because even the steps to move forward are scary.

Still. This is about how I felt when I started submitting short stories too, and that turned out all right. I'll just keep telling myself that, then taking a deep breath, and addressing the next challenge on the list.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I'm staying home sick today. It's been one thing after another: waking up at 4 and being unable to get back to sleep, getting severe cramps, being unable to breathe due to congestion, getting a bloody nose... on like this. And because I can't go into the office, I'm missing a meeting, and because I'm missing a meeting, I spent a good two hours – before the workday would even start, mind you, as I sent in my sick note at around 6 – stressing about it.

And I think, you know, this is really sort of a screwed up system this society's built, isn't it, that I have all this guilt and stress over missing a day of work due to circumstances beyond my control? I'm eating healthy. I'm getting about an hour of exercise, if not more, just about every day. I'm sleeping enough. It's not as though I'm getting sick over some sort of negligence on my part, and the two previous days this week where I was too sick to go in, I worked from home and met all my goals and deadlines. Illness is a natural part of being alive, and should not be something to feel guilt over.

And yet.

And really, a lot of these fundamental assumptions of How Things Go are kind of screwed-up. I've been reading through The 4-Hour Workweek recently, and kinda going "Hm, I wish, I wish" at it, but the central message is something of a paradigm shift: the entire professional life is built around putting off the things that are valuable to you until you've lost the best (most healthy, most free, most able, for the most part) years of your life. And as an added twist, the thing that's to take up most of our waking hours, the thing by which society expects us to define ourselves ("What do you do?" "I'm a web application developer." I am is a powerful term) is the mechanism by which we make money. Making money doing something we find meaningful is considered an advanced skill – and something you're lucky to have.

...I've been reading a lot about earthships, too (in that same I wish, I wish) vein), and one of the things Earthship Man Michael Renolds says is that economies should exist to take care of people; people shouldn't live to take care of economies. (One of the tenets of the earthship philosophy is that people shouldn't be reliant on an economy for the basics of their survival.) It's a compelling idea.

I find that, more and more, I want to be engaged in something meaningful. I'm lucky to have my job, and I'm learning from it – not just about the technical skills, but also about things like project management, documentation and reference structure, interacting with people and communicating clearly, setting measurable goals and motivating myself through them – but there's only a very small service component (I'm helping to support the University, and education is one of my big starry-eyed idealistic values), and there's no spiritual component to it, at all. I feel like if I didn't have the dry, pragmatic concerns – cost of living, cost of paying debt, especially my mountain of student loan debt – I wouldn't be at this job at all.

I don't know what I would be doing. I have dreams, certainly – teaching (teaching something), writing, building Earthships, building communities – but they're all dreams at this stage. For some, I don't know what my criteria for success are. For others, I don't know the criteria to begin.

I want to do something more with my life than what I'm doing. I want to know how to start.

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