Category Archives: True Stories

Anecdotes from my past and present.

Two new essays on writing at Tordotcom

Posted on July 13, 2011 by


Two new articles on TOR in the past week. One is the second in my sporadically-recurring series on writing about crime: it’s about thievery, the lure of the caper, and it’s called Imperfect Crimes.

The other, Tales out of School, is an essay about what it was like to start teaching SF and fantasy writing at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in 2005, at the height of the Harry Potter craze.

Enjoy! And let me know what you like, or don’t, or maybe even disagree with.

Rumble’s top ten reasons why he should be allowed in the kitchen

Posted on July 12, 2011 by


10. Since when does ‘not allowed’ apply to felines, anyway?
9. You’re not letting me pounce on Minnow six times a day.
8. Cat hair and/or litter particles that end up in your digestive tract are hair and sand you don’t inhale or have to sweep up.
7. The adorable do as we please.
6. As the only male in the house, I find the policy sexist.
5. Seriously, you are totally welcome to help yourself to anything in my food dish!
4. Isn’t it dumb to have a rule you can only enforce when you’re home, awake, and attending to my movements?
3. Your grandma called and she’s good with it.
2. This power struggle is beneath you, human.
1. Interested stakeholders (me) weren’t consulted prior to the rule being implemented.

Students who teach, teachers who stude…

Posted on July 7, 2011 by

Wine Reflections

In a post called Shaping Dreams not long ago, I talked about pickiness, about trying to encourage new writers to write prose that isn’t merely good enough… about reaching, in other words, for excellence.

A thing about adult education (all education, really) is that it boils down to the old cliche about leading that horse to water. You can lay out ideas before a person–you can sparkle and cajole and really sell, but whether or not they pick ’em up is entirely out of your hands. There’s a bit of an emotional dance you have to do: you offer the knowledge up, and say “This is cool and really important and worthwhile,” but you can’t get in a big knot if a given group or individual kinda looks at it and replies with a shrug. You have to care–you shouldn’t teach if you don’t care–but it’s wrong to take it personally.

So one of the most interesting things that’s happened to me this year was seeing this shoe on the proverbial other foot as I Pac-Missed my way through Italian I again. (Tonight, I embark on a second round of Italian II.)

Adults take classes–writing classes, language classes, silversmithing classes, whatever–because they sincerely want to learn the subject material, but the degree of want can vary. And we all have so many commitments. Even as Teacher Me boggles at students who slide their assignments under my virtual door at literally the last permissible minute, Student Me has been known to finish up her assigned Italian exercises in the osteria half an hour before class begins. And even to think Who are you kidding? when this past term’s instructor snarked at us–we were a sad little trio of language students, who could not hide from her displeasure when we slacked–for neglecting to memorize pages and pages of vocabulary and grammar each and every week in our copious spare time.

The thing is: you’re taking the class for personal enrichment and fun. There’s often no grade, so there’s no fail. The instructor probably has limited options for forcing you to your homework, or making you learn, or–in the case of workshop classes, alas–even obliging you to give feedback as good as you’re getting. This is true whether the course is face to face or online.

Seeing my instructor take our moments of student laze personally was good for Student Me. Knowing how she felt underlined the whole concept of You don’t accomplish stuff unless you make an effort. This in turn has motivated me to actually do a little studying beyond the homework minimum. And I do mean a little. At the end of the day, I’m still more apt to watch an episode of Leverage on Netflix. Still–more than zero.

I also had a couple interesting conversations with my instructor, about these two perspectives, and I discovered she’s a student, too. She’s taking an ESL program, full-time. It has a direct effect on her well-being, as success will directly impact how employable she’ll be in the near future. She’s been working hard for six months and her English is astounding.

And even she has “Oh, I am such a bad student!” stories.

It makes me wonder what classes her English teacher might be taking on the side, and so on, and so on…

Looking for miracles in the app store

Posted on July 1, 2011 by

Happy Canada Day, fellow northerners!

I am a firm believer in stepping away from the Internet when trying to write. I think better when I don’t face temptation in the form of a quick check of the Twitter feeds, status pages, Google reader, etcetera blah blah. One part of Cafe Calabria’s allure, for me, is that it hasn’t really got wireless.

Calabria is not an entirely distraction-free environment, but its diversions feel more human and, somehow, worthwhile. I don’t begrudge the occasional moment spent trying to comprehend the italian lyrics of Frank Senior’s eclectic musical choices, for example, or eavesdropping on the other early-morning regulars. As I write this, the fellows I think of as “Chatty Guy,” “Brother of Chatty Guy” and “Their Friend” are chewing over the ethics of hunting. They’re good with it in cases of self-defense, I’ll have you know and mostly all right with the idea of hunting for food. (“There’s something so right about killing something and eating it,” one of them opines.)

The conversation has bogged down, though, over the issue of sport fishing and catch-and-release. It is a typical morning jaw over java, and the longer the conversation goes on, the less sense it makes. Friend Of seems to be saying that you might as well eat fish because you don’t know they wouldn’t attack you if they could.

(Obviously that isn’t what he is actually saying, but it sounds funny as hell. Usually they talk about Celine Dion or Arnold’s Divorce or the Canucks. I find this topic preferable.)

Calabria is across the street from a Starbucks with fairly robust Wi-Fi, which has been tricky as I adapt to writing on my newest toy, an iPad. I can just barely pick up a feed if there are no big trucks parked on the corner. And the pad will sync if I’m online, which is a nice little hedge against data loss. So every now and then I get sucked into checking: is there Wifi after all? From there, it’s a short hop to The Forbidden: checking my Inbox.

In other words, I have not perfected my new regime.

I did write 187 words on Thursday–revising again, and adding as little as possible–which brings me to 35% of my Write-A-Thon goal of 20K words. And not having the 5 pound laptop on my back wherever I go is a very nice lifestyle change. Having got the weight of the laptop off my shoulders, the next goal is to give my hands a break as much as possible, so I’m working to make more effort to dictate things like e-mails and blog posts. I like the iPad version of Dragon, especially the part whereby I don’t need a tangly-corded external microphone to use it.

Of course, though I am trying to make the gadget serve my writing and health needs, I really spent the three months saving for the thing because I wanted a damn TOY. I spend a lot of time in the App Store, looking for the two dollar piece of software that will change my life forever. Have you found it? I am a fan of Simplenote and Dropbox, but I was already using them on the iPod. And though I love Flipboard, and am having fun with Sketchclub, I have yet to find anything, you know, miraculous.

Cafe Calabria

Making the quick getaway

Posted on June 4, 2011 by

Kelly and I spent Saturday night in Victoria last weekend; I had a meeting for the mentoring gig and rather than spend an entire day getting there and then back on the ferry, we decided to make an Occasion of it.

Before 2001 we used to visit the city periodically–check out Canada’s most magnificent bookstore, poke around, admire the waterfront, hit Craigdarroch Castle. Then when the parents moved to Parksville, all our Vancouver Island to-ing and fro-ing got subsumed into family visiting. We’d catch the ferry to Nanaimo, get a ride to their place, and hang out. They were great trips–I still miss doing that–but all we’ve seen of Victoria since then was a brief sail-by last year when the Alaska cruise we went on with my family happened to pause in Canada.

This wasn’t exactly leisurely either, but kelly-yoyoKelly and I did manage to pack in some foodie tourism. We hit a lounge named Clive’s Classic Lounge, where they made interesting cocktails: their punch was incredible, and I had a thing called a rhubarb fizz that was very tasty. We also had insanely good Vietnamese food at a place called Kim’s on Johnson and a good brekkie at a hipstery joint, Mo:le.

Our big dinner at Il Terazzo was only just okay; the salads gave me high hopes, but the food–while nicely put together–was entirely lacking in special, or nuance. It is also a massive place, a pack ’em in cheek by jowl and let the noise mount venue. Nothing there was terrible, but the end result was, essentially, meh.

There were a couple big events happening in Victoria–a 90K bike race, and a boat festival of some kind. We were lucky to get a room at the Best Western. We were even luckier to get one on the fourth floor, directly across from a nesting seagull. Her egg began cracking as we were checking out of the hotel, and part of me wanted to stay until the thing not only hatched but grew to adulthood and started applying for colleges. It’s a good thing I didn’t–after kicking a hole in the roof, it crawled out of the bottom of the egg. Kelly and I saw some wriggling and one waving leg above the crown of the nest, but the miracle of bird birth didn’t yield any pictures more amazing than this blurry close-up of parent bird peering at the progress of its offspring as it busted out.