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CHS Review @Quillandquire

imageYesterday was one of those days. The kind where the computer attempts to die and the kittens take a leak on your dirty clothes, and when you go downstairs to pitch the reeking laundry hamper, the dumpster full of compost belches unspeakable fluids all over you. Plus the building’s hot water is down for the day for necessary annual maintenance.

You remember this last bit after you’ve peeled your clothes and begun attempting to decontaminate.

Then, in the evening, you hit yourself in the front tooth with a salad bowl without any idea of how you actually achieved that.

I spent much of the day alternating between grading student exercises and deconstructing my office, so the floor repair could get done today. Having to fix the floor so soon after having put it in has been a bit of a morale dampener.  (Then again, so was having those boards crackle underfoot.) Having to put the house back in a state where it looks as though we’re only half moved in has also been less than joy-inducing.

But! Kelly fixed the computer, I kinda hated that hamper, there was  (after a disheartening interval) just enough hot water even though the “Hey, we’ve turned on the fire again!” announcement didn’t come until two hours after I got in the shower, we’ll feel better when our floor no longer crackles, I might rearrange my office, the tooth didn’t chip and yoga, as always, heals much.

My dear friend Fearless wrote to say she loved my book, and the Quill and Quire did too. Which means, on balance, the day was definitely a win.

 

Writers on Writing

Caitlin Sweet has tagged me and Kelly in the Writer Process Blog Tour, and posted her answers to the questions in that meme here. (She was tagged by Peter Watts, incidentally).

I will provide answers, but being tagged reminded me that 1) I’m trying to channel my inner Gomez Addams by finishing old business before jumping into new;

and 2) I’ve been working up a post about the things we writers post to the Internet about writing.

These essays tend to fall into a number of categories.

Write, Sell, Lather, Rinse, Repeat
– How to write more.
– How to write better.
– How to get your more better writing published.
– What traditional publishing is like.
– What self-publishing is like.
– Whether to go traditional, Indy, or hybrid.
– Stuff happening in publishing and how it benefits or harms writers.
– How to promote your work: how to sell it to people.

Writing lifestyle stuff
– To have a day job or not.
– To write in a cafe or not.
– Just plain finding the time.
– Also in this category is all the material about the emotional journey. That means things like coping with rejection, coping with success or failure, supportive versus unsupportive spouses (children, parents, gerbils, etc.), your first fan letter, good bad and ugly reviews, writers’ block. Anything you have feelings about.

Literary analysis
– My genre is like this, your genre is like that.
– This particular story is categorized as one thing, but is actually another.
– These genres are basically the same but are marketed to different people.
– Actual academic analysis of the work.

Our passions
– Books, shows, games, gadgets and other media that we think is cool. Sometimes we even talk about how well-written the stuff is.

History of writing
– How Leon de Tocqueville got it done and the Marquis de Sade’s editorial relationship with his… never mind.

Politics of writing
– Censorship.
– Sexism, Racism, ablism, and other issues: on the page, in the community, and within fandom.
– Writing that promotes a political agenda in some way.
– Writers who are politically active and whether/how/when/why that’s appropriate.

Health safety and wellness
– Writing desks short and tall.
– Food or exercise issues.
– Writing through illness.
– Technological assists.
– Why we should all have kittens.

What do you mean, the race of cats is cursed on Stormwrack?? We're unimpressed!

The reason I’m thinking about all of the above is that it makes me wonder I am wondering what we don’t talk about. Are there uncomfortable and difficult topics we should be addressing online? Would our readers and/or new writers be interested?

If so, what are those topics?

D.B. Jackson – My Shelves Runneth Over

Guesting today on the site is D.B. Jackson, also known as David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

I come from a family of readers, and so, perhaps not too surprisingly, I also come from a family of writers.  But the thing is, neither my father nor my mother was a writer; on the other hand all four of us kids have written professionally in some capacity, which is pretty remarkable.  The common denominator for all of us was books.  My parents’ house was filled with them; every shelf overflowed with paperbacks and hardcovers, novels and biographies. When I reached a certain age — maybe I was eight — my father set up my own set of bookshelves in my room, fixing brackets to the wall so that I could adjust the shelves as I needed. He had done the same thing for my three older siblings before me.  It was a rite of passage in our house.

My parents instilled in all of us a reverence for the written word. They didn’t spoil us; they limited gifts of candy or toys to our birthdays and Christmas.  But they were always willing to buy us books.  Always.  And the truth is, I’m much the same way with my kids.

I didn’t read a lot of fantasy or science fiction early on, though eventually, with the help of a camp counsellor, I stumbled upon my first novel in the genre that would dominate my adult life.  And I’ll get to that in a moment.  But the first reading influences I remember were pretty standard kid fare.  There were a series of books that I absolutely loved titled _____ Do the Strangest ThingsBirds Do the Strangest Things, Fish Do the Strangest Things, Insects Do the Strangest Things, etc.  They were essentially the written, kid-friendly equivalent of a David Attenborough nature special.  I couldn’t get enough of them.  I read every one of them, and then read them again.  And again.

Though I remain a dedicated nature enthusiast, I don’t write natural history, and so it would be easy to assume that these books had little influence on my writing career.  But I believe they had a much greater impact on me than one might imagine.  They fed a deeply rooted intellectual curiosity and taught me — as my parents hoped they would — that books held answers, not only to all the questions swirling around in my young brain, but also to those questions I hadn’t yet thought to ask.  I don’t think it’s too great a stretch to say that these books, and others like them, started me down the path to academia, which, in turn, steered me toward my writing career.

The other books that I remember gobbling up in my youth were the Hardy Boys mysteries written under the name Franklin W. Dixon.  These were the Grosset and Dunlap re-imaginings of the series published initially in 1959 and popular through the 1960s and 1970s (which is when I was reading them).  They weren’t great literature, they weren’t terribly challenging as kids’ reading went.  But they were enormously fun.  If Birds Do the Strangest Things, satisfied my burgeoning curiosity, these books fed my craving for adventure, danger, thrills — all the things my comfortable suburban childhood lacked.

And so, by the time I went off to sleep away camp for the summer as an eleven year-old, I was primed for a new kind of book that would be both engaging and exciting enough to allow me to move on from the Hardy Boys, which I was already starting to outgrow.  Enter The Hobbit.

I didn’t actually encounter the book that summer.  Instead, I tried out for a dramatized version of Tolkien’s novel.  I had already discovered early in the summer that I had a flair for drama (no one who knows me now will be at all surprised) and when the opportunity came to audition for this newest production, I took full advantage. Yes, I was cast as Bilbo Baggins.  It helped that I was short for my age . . .

I fell in love with the story, and more I was fascinated by the world revealed to me by the script.  Elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons — what was not to love.  It had never occurred to me that there were books like this waiting to be read; I certainly never dreamed that there were similar books written for adults that would allow me to pursue my new-found fascination with magical stories well past my childhood.  But when the summer was over, I found the novel version of The Hobbit and devoured it.  Then I read The Lord of the Rings, and after that Ursula LeGuin’s EarthSea Trilogy.  By then, I was hooked on fantasy, and I have been ever since.

But I think it bears repeating that I’m not an author because of Tolkien.  I wrote my first “book” when I was six; writing stories was always my favorite school activity.  My early experiences with fantasy didn’t set me on the road to a career as a fantasy author; the sheer act of reading had taken care of that long before.  The environment created by my parents and their exuberant love of all things book were the most formative forces in my childhood.

DBJacksonPubPhoto800It would be pretty easy to imagine my own kids rebelling against my love of reading, which my wife shares. “Dad’s an author? Great. Hand me the remote.” But early on they discovered the same thing I did:  Books are treasure boxes; they just beg to be opened. Their favorites have been the Magic Tree House and the Magic School Bus, Harry Potter and most recently the Hunger Games books. To be honest, I don’t care what titles they’re drawn to — as long as they’re reading, I’m happy. Sounds like something my Mom and Dad would have said.

David blogs, is active on Facebook and Goodreads, and Tweets. Give him some love here in comments or go forth and beard him in his lairs.

 

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.

Another manic lunedi

Miriam Williams at Inky Realms liked Child of a Hidden Sea to the tune of 4.5 out of five stars, praising it for having a racially diverse cast and gay characters, and even shipping Parrish/Bram. (Pramwell? Brammish?) She also felt the book needed a map, while acknowledging my earlier note about why this was challenging. (Short answer: too much ocean, not enough land.)

The review gave a nice lift to a peculiar weekend; I had an anaphylactic reaction at immunotherapy Friday. While it wasn’t serious, it wasn’t fun either. I was at the clinic for hours, in what turned out to be a real hip-wrecker of a chair, and was left creaky and wheezy all weekend. On Saturday we took the kitties in for their second round of immunizations–they are in perfect health, and have put on another half-pound or so each.

Though CinCin has a feather allergy–did I tell you this? I feel extra smug about having plucked her out of the wild given that she’d have sneezed constantly whenever hunting or eating birdkind.

July is busy time at K’s office, so we both worked a fair amount on Sunday.

Good things abounded: we made it to the edge of Pride in time for a Stonewall reenactment and the obligatory sighting of a well-built guy dancing in sandals and a posing pouch, the Met in HD rebroadcast of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte was delightful, and we followed that up with delicious, delicious sandwiches at Corned Beef House. We watched Austenland and I liked it–which wouldn’t have stopped me from rewriting it significantly if I was in charge of the universe–and tried out The West Wing on Netflix.

How was your weekend?