I’ve been looking through my cobweb photos from Burnaby Lake, all of which, incidentally, are spider free. It’s all threads and plants and water drops. There were so many I had to divide the upload into two batches, one of fragments and close-ups, another of whole webs, like this one.
A web, I can’t help noticing, is work. It’s a finished thing, purchased with life and effort. The orb weavers eat their webs each night and spin them anew in the early hours of the day, I’ve read. And I’ve been thinking about that as I look at the pictures, and simultaneously work through a bit of teaching work. I am in the early stages of Creating Universes, Building Worlds, which is the first UCLA class I ever developed. It’s a short fiction workshop, all SF/F/H, and the thing that stands out about my current group is how well read they are. I’ve had classes that know from Asimov and Bradbury, Herbert and Rowlings… and almost nobody else. But this month I’m hearing them talk about Marion Zimmer Bradley and Kelley Eskridge, too, Octavia Butler and Charlie Stoss and Elizabeth Bear, people from all over the genre map. It’s exciting; I can’t wait to see what they come up with as their stories develop.
In the winter–which means January–I am teaching Novel II again and come spring it’ll be Novel III, the latter for the first time. My mind is full of teacher stuff for all three courses: interesting challenges for the Creating Universes folks, what do I want to do better with the Novel II class (last time I taught it was my first, so there’s lots thought and feedback and potential tweaking), and how do I want to structure Novel III?
I work on one class, set up another plan a third. Different cycles, no web-eating, less easily quantified results, but it’s perhaps not a wholly unrelated process.
As I write this, it is Saturday evening and I am parked by the fire, finishing up a few things while Kelly makes butternut squash ravioli from scratch; yes, I am a lucky woman indeed. Beyond my window, the first real storm of autumn has the trees lashing to and fro. Raindrops are clinking glassily against the windows and there’ve been a few loud skid noises from the busy road outside. No actual crashes, thankfully. This happens a lot at this time of year: not only are the roads wet, not only are we on a hill, but there are the piles of slick, slippery leaves in the mix.
The storm is a real shift from last weekend, when Barb and I caught this heron out in the mists of Burnaby Lake:
It’s even a change from this morning, which was nice enough out that we ambled along False Creek to the electronics store (I keep hearing the siren song of an iPad I don’t really need) and a grocery I’d picked as a good prospect to have fresh sage for the pasta. The walk takes you through the shiny new developments that were the Athlete’s Village during the Olympics, and that are now supremely expensive condos, waiting for upscale would-be owners with high credit ratings to save them from emptiness. We talked a bit about how they might have been developed differently, or for a different demographic of potential purchasers, even as we appreciated all the Hey, this is gonna be on TV, let’s make it look fantastico and then make a mint for it! amenity-rich design features of the green spaces.
I got in a good round of agonizing over the gadget without actually buying one. Then, at the grocery, sage was scored along with smoked salmon rolls and delicious, decadent figs. We ate them in the park and walked back along a slightly different route.
It was still quite mild out when we returned to East Van. As the skies darkened and the wind rose I fiddled with my web page some more, checked on the current UCLA class, roughed out a synopsis for my spring class, finished drafting an article that has been giving me fits, watched a TED talk, by Melinda French Gates, about what nonprofit aid organizations can learn from Coca Cola, peeked at Twitter and, any second now, I plan to make a salad.
All that and it’s not yet six. I foresee loafing and some television–Merlin, perhaps?–in what’s left of the day.
Another glory of autumn in Vancouver, and one you might not expect, is that the mushrooms come out to play, in all their delicate, fragile, and sometimes toxic glory.
A few years ago I decided to try out dictation software for composing things like e-mails.
I had a couple of goals: one was simply to reduce the amount of time spent typing draft, especially for small stuff, the quick messages that keep my life organized. I type a lot, and fast: the wear and tear on my hands is considerable.
Another was to see what kind of stories I would get out of it. I find that my longhand scribbles have a a slightly different writing style, you see, than the fiction I compose directly on the keyboard. I’d played with a dictaphone for awhile, and that yielded some interesting results, notably “The Town on Blighted Sea.” The idea of accessing different parts of my writerbrain through different mechanical processes is alluring and cool.
But, you see, I’m not so keen on transcription.
I didn’t end up liking the software that much. I tried two versions, both of them Sir Clunky Crashalots. The hardware wasn’t much better: I splashed out on a good headset and mic combo and it wasn’t comfortable. And even after I had learned a fair amount, the process of correcting typos was mind-blowingly awkward.
What I wanted, of course, was the Star Trek thing where you talk to the computer and it renders perfectly transcribed, beautifully punctuated prose, preferably of Pulitzer quality. Which was too much to hope for, and I knew it, but I wasn’t ready for how it would substitute wild things for the numerous made-up words that tend to pop up in my fantasy and SF. It also didn’t much care for the fact that every twentieth word out my mouth is fuck.
Perhaps Captains Archer, Kirk and Picard would have encountered the same problem if they shared my fondness for profanity. Maybe there’s a cut scene in Enterprise where Scott Bakula’s going, “I fucking said T’Pol!” and the screen reads “Paul. The Paul. I boxing said the poll. Dude, what do you want from me?”
I am now having a second go at occasionally dictating things, for no better reason than that the Dragon app on the iPod is free, free, free! I had low expectations: I couldn’t figure out how the thing would work, given that the original Dragon was such a enormous memory vampire. What I’ve discovered is that the bulk of the processing happens online. You just dictate little passages and it uploads them to the Internet. Huge dragon servers transcribe them while you sip tea and contemplate your next Grate Thought, then shoot back the results.
This version of Dragon can’t be taught weird ecofantasy words like vitagua (I eventually convinced its predecessor to do this, for the sake of Indigo Springs) and OMG, it’s so cute, it puts a * in the middle of f*cking. What it does do, and what I really enjoy, is it lets me indulge in the verbal equivalent of a freewrite, babbling on in short sentences whenever I have privacy and a Wi-Fi connection
Of course, one has to ask: given that there isn’t word-perfect transcription, is it worth the hassle of correcting the text once you’ve e-mailed it to your hard drive? Sometimes it’s pretty garbled. Here’s a phrase from this particular passage of dictation:
is it worth the Thompson house of correction once you have the text a random Ms. Gilbert Fray
Answer: Maybe. I’m still data-gathering. This might just be another flirtation with a technology I don’t end up using. You gotta kiss a lot of toads, and all that.
Datapoint: when I took a look today at some gibberish I’d recorded for an upcoming guest blog entry, I noticed that it wasn’t that hard to correct the sentences: I remembered whatever it was I had said.
Datapoint: There was also a pretty decent idea wrapped up in all of the out of order paragraphs and peculiar word substitutions. Once I had done little organizing and fixed the most egregious typos, I had the very beginning of what looked like a seriously cool draft.
Will it work for fiction? I don’t know. I do most of my fiction writing well away from anything resembling a Wi-Fi hot spot; I make rather a point of it. And things are going pretty well right now on that front, anyway. I also suspect I’d have to evolve some kind of verbal shorthand to increase comprehension: all my main characters might need to be John Smith or Joan Addams just so I had some faint chance of knowing who the hell was talking at any given time. But I’ve I’ve written a couple good blog posts, and some letters to my grandmother. We’ll see where it goes from there.
Watch the birdie!
Little bits of me are scattered across the internet: SF Signal asked a number of SF writers to put together a dream anthology, and I went with a series of my favorite time travel and alternate history stories, here at SF Mind Meld. Meanwhile, Tor has the goods on my second Quantum Leap rewatch, “Double Identity.”
Moving on to flesh and blood appearances, here’s my tentative Orycon schedule:
Sat Nov 13 11:00:am Reading
1:00:pm The unique challenges of urban fantasy
Increasingly, stories are being placed in modern times or locales but with fantasy elements to them. Whether it is wizards in Walla Walla or vampires in Vancouver, how does one effectively blend these very different elements? Alternatively, what are some examples of how NOT to accomplish this?
Sat Nov 13 3:00:pm Afternoon Autograph session
Sat Nov 13 5:00:pm To Outline or Not to Outline, that is the question
Some authors were taught to draw up outlines of their entire story arc before fleshing out their writing. Others have developed different methods which serve them well. Experienced authors discuss what works for them, when, and perhaps, why.
Sun Nov 14 2:00:pm Turtle or Bunny: Does writing speed matter?
Should anyone care about writing speed? Where should writers spend their time? Are fast writers always hacks? When to spend a lot of time editing, when to write ‘raw,’ when to slow down and when to speed up, and why.