Category Archives: True Stories

Anecdotes from my past and present.

A close shave with the mechanics of dudeness

imageIt is often hard for me to guess which of my various social media posts will end up garnering much in the way of response. Friday, I decided to to check a minor detail about beard shaving while I was writing. I status updated a query to the webs: Do you shower first or shave? Does that change in a crisis?

On Twitter, I got some pretty quick, straightforward answers. It was clear that this is a matter of preference and sometimes of technology (whether you use an electric razor affects the before/after equation. I assume that at least half of you know this from experience, but some of it was news to me, so I share anyway.

Over on Facebook, on the other hand, there was some whimsical imagining among my female relatives, fantasies involving a big shower full of shaving dudes. Then people showed up–most of them guys–to debate the fine points. What kind of crisis? They wanted to know. Would you even bother shaving if things were going pear-shaped? Someone even asked if it might be the kind of crisis where you wanted to be especially manly, by which he meant unwashed and a bit smelly and unkempt.

Now there’s something I hadn’t considered at all.

The thread ran to a hundred or so comments, all for a slightly odd and very short project that I am working on while I wait on some notes on the second Hidden Sea book. It was a fun thread, and it drove home a general principle about writing and research: a lot of the tiny details you include in your work might only pass if they go by fast, if readers don’t have a chance to examine them.

Case in point: I probably could’ve dropped the reference to shaving into the piece without another thought, and had a 99% chance nobody would say boo. But when you put the detail under the microscope, questions emerge. Tom, the guy in the scene, is fifteen, not necessarily an age where a man will have to shave every day unless he’s especially hirsute. There’s a girl in the mix, and a small part of Tom’s mind is attuned to the possibility of impressing her. The idea that a girl might like him is a far more appealing thing to contemplate than the family member he’s been visiting in hospital.

If we thought about every tiny detail in our work to this degree, it’s a fair bet that most novels would take ten years to write. But it’s also important, especially if you are at a remove or two from your characters, to occasionally poke into our assumptions about how it all works. These are the small things we can sometimes get wrong. When we do, we can render our work unconvincing to a significant chunk of our readership.

I’m not saying launch a 100-post thread on Facebook every time your characters make a minor decision.

Links and posts and a giveaway, oh my!

A. M. Dellamonica, 2014, photo by Kelly Robson
A. M. Dellamonica, 2014, photo by Kelly Robson

It’s been a fun couple of days. A pipe in our sink broke, necessitating emergency plumbing, and humidity made our front door swell just enough that we were trapped in the apartment yesterday morning. The security guy for our building had to come up and kick the door in so we could get to work.

I must say, if you’re going to be in a situation where your door’s getting kicked in, that’s probably the way to go.

Anyway, these bits and pieces of drama have delayed my telling you about Oh Magic Hour’s four-star review of Child of a Hidden Sea. Emily at OMH has also interviewed me, and the site is giving away a copy of the book in their Pirate Pack Giveaway, which is part of their Swashbuckling Summer event.

Go! Enter! Swash ye some buckles!

I’m also up at SF Signal with a bunch of other Mindmeld authors, talking about how to avoid Jo Walton’s Suck Fairy.

Last but certainly not least: Book Launch! If you happen to be in Toronto this Saturday afternoon, Bakka Books is holding the official Child of a Hidden Sea launch at 3:30 p.m. There will be cookies, a giveaway, and… me! I will probably read from one of “The Gales,”–I’m thinking about a Tonio story none of you has had a chance to read or hear.

Sunshine, cheese, and a bit of whine on Sunday

It is a warm, rainy and potentially thundery Monday morning as I write this, rain-drenched and delicious. We spent Saturday bumbling around Prince Edward County, exploring wine country with our friend Linda. Relaxation was had, a good thing because a big chunk of Sunday went to itemizing receipts from our 2013 move from Vancouver. The government would like to verify that lunging across the nation required a bit of expense.

Exploring wine country was a delight and, naturally, I took many pictures. It’s really exciting to realize that you can go either east or west and be in a vineyard in around 90 minutes, traffic permitting. I didn’t taste much, but I did have a few sips at the County Cider Company in Picton. Mostly it was nice to have a short road trip and a chance to explore.

Here’s a little structure that made me think: DIY Ancient Ruin…

Exploring Wine Country

Cat Parenthood, day 45

photoAssuming their approximate birthdate at the beginning of April is correct, the babies are about twelve and a half weeks old now.

They’re getting noticeably into adolescence. Lorenzo is still bigger than Chinchilla, but she put on a recent growth spurt. Overnight, it seems, she grew the face and long legs of a teenager cat.

We are keeping them out of the bedroom at night. I’d like to get to a point where they might join us, but a good night’s rest is more precious than rubies. And right now they’re hitting the stroppy and disobedient phase of kittenhood, so there’s no way we want them cycloning around the bed in the wee hours.

I expect to be shouting “You’re not my supervisor!” on their behalf a lot in the next few months, by way of channeling their obvious response to our trying to introduce them to the laughable concepts of No, Bad Cat! and/or Geddown! I found Lorenzo sleeping on the dish-drying towel last night, having shoved all the glasses and other things aside to make room for his lanky body. CinCin dove through the hanging metal measuring cups this afternoon–clang, clang, dangle dangle!–and knocked the coffeemaker over on her way back to the floor. She’d probably been checking out what’s behind the microwave after a wander around the stove.

Even in naughtiness, they are adorable.

 

I had been keeping an eye on the various kabillions of photos I take of them, looking for something that might make the cut for Cats of Instagram, and when CinCin yawned in the face of the iPhone not long ago I got one that I knew was a great prospect. CoI put it up on Monday, and within 24 hours something like 60,000 people had liked it. Holy crap, eh? My baby’s a star!

Just now, to blow their little kitty minds, I put some ice cubes in their water fountain. They are staring at it in wonder and terror–you’d think it had grown tadpoles.

Open Letters to Total Strangers

imageDear Sir, by whom I mean “Dude whom I don’t know at all, who just friended me on Facebook”:

I am in receipt of your message reading “How are U?” (Or, sometimes, simply: “Hi.”)

Thank you for your interest in me, but I have learned from experience that if I reply to your apparently innocuous stub of a note by asking What do you want? I’ll inevitably get some variation on “To be your BFF! And eventually fall in LOVE! <3″ Plus, sometimes, poetry.

(Here’s a great link on workshops for aspiring poets.)

I like to keep my social media door open as wide as possible, and I accept all connection requests. I try not to unfriend or ban without cause. However, for the record, I already have a soulmate, and I’m not in the market for a new one. While I have befriended people, sight unseen, via the Internet, this particular strategy of yours is not going to lead to our developing any kind of meaningful connection. Demanding of me without offering anything of yourself is no way to start anything.

If you are simply shy and you have legitimate business: a question about my writing, a query about my UCLA courses, a cashier’s cheque, a convention invite, an offer to buy one of my photographs, interview requests, a comment on one of my posts, an offer to be my unpaid intern, a literary award, or free accommodations in Paris, please feel free to revise and resubmit your note. Shoot for about 200 words introducing yourself and explaining the purpose of your communication. Points will be awarded for good grammar; it is a personal flaw of mine, but I will think less of you if you can’t tell its from it’s and Ur from your, you’re and even yore.

Otherwise, the question of How I am is adequately covered, moment to moment, by my Twitter updates and Instagram feed.

best wishes,
A.M. Dellamonica

You’re only prey once their jaws snap shut

Peter Watts has been thinking and writing about surveillance in society , about how governments have cameras everywhere and facial recognition software that works (if your haircut’s symmetrical), about how all of our e-mails and blog posts end up archived in big NSA spy computers. About how corporate entities like the iStore can track not only our movements (via our phones) but the number of times we watched our legally downloaded copies of Iron Man 3. (Answer – 3.25).
He’s talking about how our televisions may one day have the power to say, “Hey, there are four people in this room and only three of them are licensed to watch Game of Thrones, so I’m powering down until you kick that freeloading bastard outta here!”
He’s pointing out that all the information lovingly gathered by corporations can end up in ill-intentioned government hands any old time, or even just as a matter of routine if the companies in question are feeling generous.
In the midst of his latest article on this subject, he says:

“I was ranting to a friend the other day as she booted up her smart TV, ran down the usual list of grievances and suspicions and countermeasures. She listened patiently (as you know, I do tend to go on sometimes), and finally drawled “You know, your arguments all make sense, but I just don’t really care.”

So, first: I wasn’t listening patiently, Squid. That implies I was humoring you. I was interested in what you were saying, even if I was also rather amazed at your ability to finish sentences in the presence of CinZo. Because every thought either Kelly or I begins at home right now seems to end with “… blah blah blah the nuclear physics, and its impact on society… OMG, kids, you are cute! So cute! Photo op!”

Go ahead: start a big thought and then look at this:

Yeah, I said I didn’t care. It was a bit glib and yet in many ways true. More precisely, I don’t care enough. Not enough to spend cash on having a computer at home that’s not connected to the Internet. (Anything I truly didn’t want the world to know would never find its way onto a hard drive, or even a piece of paper.) Not enough to worry about whether Apple has a detailed map of my movements when I’m rabidly posting geo-tagged photos everywhere I go on Instagram. Frankly, I think of that stuff as my alibi cache:

“Actually, Detective, I’m pretty sure I can produce a picture of me and Richard Kimble in the Distillery District at the time when the crime took place.”

I certainly don’t care enough to torrent all my media instead of buying it from corporate providers, even if they do count my watch history–or to to eschew Netflix. Hell–if they could actually use my viewing habits to accurately predict what I’d love to watch, my daily half-hour of TV would be more effectively used.

(It used to be more TV. Again, kittens are so time consuming!)

It’s true that I don’t actually *need* Netflix to recommend stuff. My friends do that–check out Gemma Files and her drive-by film and TV reviews–but Peter’s not wrong. We should take him seriously. It’s reasonable to want our TVs to be passive machines that deliver entertainment without reporting on our viewing habits, private conversations, sexual antics and political leanings. The fact that we’re not only living in the age of Big Brother but paying companies hundreds of dollars to give us the shiny surveillance devices they can potentially use to watch us is insulting and creepy.
And it’s a little sad, maybe, that I’m comfortable with letting someone mine my data if I can watch Youtube videos in a 36-inch format. There’s a vein of laziness and apathy there, and I know it’s not necessarily admirable.
The thing is, the hypothetical privacy ship has long since sailed, hasn’t it? Peter was halfway through breaking down the TV thing for me before it occurred to him to glance at my flatscreen and jokingly ask if it might be listening. Our phones were on. Heck, the window was open.
If you want to plan a (virtuously-motivated, civilly-disobedient non-violent) crime these days, and you want to be 100% sure Ominous They couldn’t get wind of it, could you put a working Cone of Silence together? Is that possible? Even if you pulled it off, and didn’t leave any kind of evidence trail, Peter himself points out that Ominous They don’t really care about the law. Innocent or guilty, alibi trail or not, evidence could be manufactured if they liked you for the deed.
Saying “I don’t care” was dismissive. It is, to some extent, untrue. The corporate info-gathering does, at times, annoy the crap out of me. When some peppy twenty-something from the drug store calls and starts to tell me when I last renewed my prescriptions, what follows does not result in their having a good day at work. (Those people mostly don’t call anymore.) Until we moved, I made a regular practice of doing most of my shopping on a cash basis, with an eye to limiting the bank’s total understanding of my consumer habits. By chance, that paid off for me once, when someone tried to phish my bank card–there was literally only one place where I’d used debit in the past month. I tell varying wild lies to the Internet services I sign up for about my age, genders and location. If there’s no reason for you to know where I live, your database probably has my dead grandparents’ postal code.
Peter talks about not liking the feeling of being prey.
My friend, we’ve never been anything else. I’ve never doubted it. I was in the closet until about 1989, and there was a definite feeling, at that time, that amounted to keep your head down or lose it. Back in my student activist days, it was generally assumed–I admit this was probably just twenty-something drama queenery–that CSIS kept files on us all. My Sixties-vintage parents had a touch of the same bug; they swore that because they had friends in the SDS, their phone in Utah was tapped.
I’m not saying that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. That is, I know, bullshit. I’m saying that if you have something to fear, you’re probably already screwed. Which is maybe fatalistic, but governments have historically shown it to be the case time and again. And they didn’t need Facebook to help them. Facebook just makes it easier and inexpensive.
Which is why the essence of Peter’s argument is this: Ominous They can watch us, but we can make the system expensive, difficult, and buggy. We can sabotage!
(This presumably means obliging Them to use more of our tax dollars on keeping track of us. Because a higher price point won’t curb the attempt, will it.)
I’m not necessarily against making the surveillance society less effective. But here’s my thought: what you’re arguing for, really, is better anti-predator adaptations. Increasing our chances of dodging the hyena pack. To borrow the cats and mice metaphor, you’re telling us to be better mice. Or maybe to evolve out of rodentness altogether and become antelope, so there’s a big herd of protein ready to circle ’round when something comes at you, claws out.
So here’s one conundrum: being a better antelope, having a bigger herd, might mean embracing the Book of Face. That’s the virtual watering hole, ain’t it?
And that I’m down with. This may be about accepting your preyness, Peter, and deciding what kind of delicious edible thing-without-claws you want to be. Are you in truth a mouse, living in the house of Ominous They, snurching crumbs of delicious data from their cupboards, and pondering whether you can ease the cheese out of the basement mousetraps without falling afoul of Newton, the Maine Coone Death Machine? The tools of the successful prey species are hiding, camouflage, breeding in inextinguishable numbers, being too toxic to eat, and running like hell. Can we translate some or all of those to our gadget-abundant ecosystem?
What does a person who feels passionately about this do with the faintly-indifferent mass of Netflix-loving folk who are just hoping to crouch in the grass, unseen and uneaten? Is there a way to get us on board with being antelope?
Maybe. We live in a time where you can get people to do nearly anything if it’s easy, sexy, cheap and fun. Hiding your data would have to be as simple and more emotionally rewarding than having points cards and a map of everyplace on the planet where you’ve ever posted a photo. It would have to outcompete iTunes and Google in terms of joy delivery. Easy, right? Basically, all I’m asking for is a civil disobedience app.
Having said that, I will check out the e-mail shredder and the other stuff Peter posted. If it’s easy, the work of a few minutes to chop up my outgoing messages, I’ll do it. I figure I owe the herd that much.

Toronto, day 395

imageI know this blog has lately been all taken up with OMG Kittehs on the one hand and OMG Child of a Hidden Seaon the other. I know, too, that most of you probably don’t mind.

Still, I wanted to at least try to say something else. (Anything you want to know that isn’t cat or book related? Let me know!)

My second summer here is beginning. It is neat to be able to start comparing, having some perspective. To able to say last spring was rainier. Last summer we got to the heat sooner. (It is supposed to get quite toasty this week, but right now it is cool and rainy.) Even to just say “At this time last year, I’d been in Toronto for one short month. Wow!”

I’ve not made any serious effort to get myself somewhere new to take pictures in awhile. This is hardly surprising, since the trajectory since March has been: Texas trip, move house, adopt cats, book. It’s something I hope to remedy soon.

One thing that will help will be a couple of excursions, one to Prince Edward County to see what’s up with Ontario wines, and another to Amherst, where I will be signing books at a Barnes & Noble on August 9th.

It will be good to venture out of the city. Right now my comprehension of local geography is essentially a staggering understanding of where and how to find decent coffee within a 90 minute radius, walking and… well, allegedly there is stuff north of here. And perhaps elsewhere too.

I knew every bump in the Coquihalla by the time we had been in BC for 15 years, and these things come with time. Right now I’m still at the point where I meet people who live in places like Pickering and I wonder if they’re having me on.

Kitten achievements unlocked

Points have been awarded for:

  • Three a.m. bed pouncing and mommy toe biting.
  • Fleeing in terror from Mr. Squirty Bottle.
  • Identifying a secret napping locale behind Gillian Gill’s excellent Nightingales, a family history of Florence Nightingale’s family.
  • Standing somersault.
  • Alchemy: turning kibble molecules into yet more of this:

Still required for level-up:

  • Total mastery of the litterbox.
  • 100% leap from floor to couch, without paw contact.
  • Crockery breakage.
  • Tripping an ape level one – squawk and stumble.
  • Leaving dusty litter prints on food preparation surface.
  • Ecommerce.
  • Hacking NORAD.