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So Many Things

"There are four things in this life that will change you. Love, music, art, and loss. The first three will keep you wild and full of passion. May you allow the last to make you brave." -Erin Van Vuren

One month flies by faster than usual these days. I’ve been working to ignore the calendar, because I’m waiting for my editing letter… It could arrive any day, and means I’ll be heads-down once more working toward a deadline.

The easiest way for me to ignore the calendar is to read. I just went back to Goodreads… and apparently I read 14 books since my last post, less than a month ago. That seems… excessive, even for me. One of them was by someone I’d beta’d for way back in 2013, and I discovered myself as a named character for the third time. There was a moment of squee.


Since I last posted we also watched Avengers: Endgame (THREE times!). I will happily debate plot points and share spoilers with anyone who asks, though obviously the short answer is that I loved the movie and how it tied up so many arcs established in the 22 movies that have now come out of the MCU. We even spent a weekend bingeing the first three Avengers movies to be better grounded in the stories told to date, and were shocked by how much was foreshadowed in them.

I also read non-book things. Quite a few were from the perspective one might best describe as side views on feminism. Like when Spain gave men equal access to parental leave, and a subsequent study on social attitudes found that all of a sudden they didn’t want quite so many kids. Or the long-form article celebrating Margarete Schuette-Lihotzky, the first woman to qualify as an architect in Austria, who did motion studies to optimize a woman’s kitchen experience in the early 1900s in Germany. The interesting take-away from it, though, is that how we imagine our kitchen experience has everything to do with class and sex, and much less to do with food production than one might imagine. (Interestingly, there was also an article about eating alone being on the rise, something that used to have a social stigma attached for women.) And, of course, the ever-green review of why more and more of us are suffering worse and worse allergies–urban landscapers who decided it’d be best to plant mostly male trees to avoid the “mess” of fertilized droppings.

I also read two articles directly related to science I need to understand for my Planet Seekers series. The first reports that there are contradictory findings about the wildlife in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Some suspect that the mere fact that humans are no longer there means wildlife is thriving. Others wonder what their quality of life is. The second showed a 3D printed Mars habitat.

There are other thoughts playing in my mind about book 2, especially now that I have a completed beat sheet and have started drafting it. If all goes well, I’ll be able to include at least some of chapter 1 of book 2 at the end of book 1 when it comes out. Keep your eyes open for a cover reveal sometime in the not-so-distant future. Once I have that, I’ll kick off my word counter here, but I’m not unhappy to have the first 500+ words on (virtual) paper for it already.

Until next time, keep reading. And let it change you.

New Beginnings

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending." -Carl Bard

The funny thing about finishing the first draft of a book is that in the immediate aftermath, it kind of feels like you’re on vacation. There are no more deadlines and you’ve finished the work that you can… at least until you get your editing letter and start digging through all the suggestions to make your story the best it can be.

So I’ve been enjoying time with hubs. We got to see “Shazam!”, which was surprisingly excellent. There was so much humor and gentleness around some tough topics (bullying, abandonment, found family) that by the time we walked out of the theater, we were both quoting key lines to each other.

And I’ve been reading. Eight books since my last blog post, according to Goodreads. I’ve gone ahead and increased my goal for the year AGAIN, because it seems I’m finding the time more regularly now that I have a library card and don’t have to worry quite so much about busting our budget on books.

I’ve also been reading about health issues. I discovered the Epworth Sleepiness Scale recently and discovered… I’m actually better slept than I thought. I don’t fall asleep during the day unless I haven’t slept the night before. On the other hand, there was a very disturbing article in The Atlantic about whether dentistry is actually a science. Recalling the dentist we had who worked on our teeth a number of years back, who pushed us toward his solution rather than what we’ve ended up having to work our way toward over time (and after switching through a couple other dentists), it was truly disconcerting to read that it’s only been in the past ten years that the ADA has started up an “evidence-based” arm of the association. Finally, on the mental health front, a long explanation of psychological research on the mental states that lead to suicide.

To balance the weight of that, then, here are eleven Persian sayings that make no sense when translated directly into English.

Aside from all of this, I’ve also been working on the revised print versions of the first two Red Slaves books. I sent my cover artist the details over the weekend, so I should be posting those updates in the next week or so.

In the meantime, my brain has been percolating on story ideas. The other night I tumbled to the perfect opening sentence for book 2 of the Planet Seekers series, so last night I finally opened up a new Word document and started writing. I still need to finish the beat sheet exercise that kept me on track with book 1, but I’m happy with where I’m starting.

And I had an idea grow out of something a friend and I have been kicking around for several years: A follow-on trilogy to Red Slaves, but set in the DC area and involving American dragons–who Anne’s related to, so she and her family might well be making an appearance again.

There are certainly more story ideas than I think I’ll be able to finish in my lifetime, so even though I’m done with the one I was working on, I’m happy to be making another new start.

(Oh. And Happy Easter to all those who celebrate it.)

There and Back Again, Again

The End

It’s been an unusual weekend. I finished writing my eleventh book, even meeting the deadline I’d arranged with my editor for its completion. And, as my brother’s wife and daughters are traveling, he and his son asked us if we would binge the director’s cut of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We agreed. We got to enjoy his new big-screen TV and surround sound setup. However, this is not an endeavor for light-hearted agreement: Total number of hours spent watching the three movies (and note we didn’t even touch any of the many extras!) was approximately TWELVE. Let that sink in for a moment.

And then remember that the fanbois dinged this because “THERE WERE TOO MANY WOMEN.” (Compared to the original texts.) I can tell you after having watched this: THERE WERE NOT ENOUGH WOMEN. This was all the glory of battle fighting for a worthy cause. And male bonding. And more battles against evil. And a king who tells his daughter: “The battlefield is no place for a woman. However, I’ve arranged for you to take over as ruler of our people should things go badly.” And when she’s notably disheartened and asks, “What other duty would you have of me?” His answer is, “Duty? No, I would have you smile.”

I almost hit the roof. Another man telling another woman to smile. To ignore all the pain that surrounds her and gratify the world with her sunny self.

So. Yeah. I’m significantly less of a LOTR fan than I thought. I’m aware this is likely to raise the ire of Internet trolls.

I’m moving on. When I wasn’t doing wordsprints this month, I was working my day job or reading. There were a few interesting articles about working. In one instance, “smarter, not harder,” in another, the fact that our new religion, “workism,” is killing us. Or at least making us significantly miserable. On the more positive side of the spectrum, an article about bringing your emotional intelligence to the office, with the somewhat ridiculous title of “The Surprising Power of Simply Asking Coworkers How They’re Doing.”

On the more sci-fi end of my reading interests, I’ve been hearing more and more speculation recently that automated cars are going to dramatically change the risk ratio, affecting both insurers and purchasing decisions. This Bloomberg article delves into some of the details that are starting to come into focus with that issue.

And then there was a Brain Pickings bit covering a love letter Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman wrote to his wife after her death. It’s such an interesting intersection of how a scientist thinks of himself in that “capital S” science mode, but has a deep sense of connection that transcends that. It made me happy that he gave into the urge to write what is truly a wonderful love letter.

I also read four books in March. They were all romances, and two of them were library books. But now, according to my Goodreads home page, I’m 11 books ahead of pace to meet my 50-book goal of books read for the year. And I already increased that goal from 40 last month.

The interesting thing about library books–and especially ones you add to your wait list that surprise you by checking themselves into your in box–is that the deadline to return them and the artificial sense of NEW BOOK makes them quite dangerous to me. Because I must read them immediately. Regardless of whether it’s a week night.

So now that I’ve met my big push for writing, I’ll spend a few days cleaning up my draft for my editor. Then I’ll spend April doing book-related housekeeping: redoing the print versions of the first two Red Slaves books; catching up on my sales spreadsheets; reworking my ad campaigns. May will be dedicated to edits and release work. June I have an editing commitment and I’ll start writing book 2 in this new series.

I’m glad to have a rough sense of timeline and deadlines, though we’ll see how that meets up with whatever life dishes up for us.

Until next time, keep reading. 🙂

Meaning in Life

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everyone rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
- Alan Watts

It’s been a productive month; I think the choice to reduce my blog check-ins is paying off. Traffic has only dropped off slightly, while my ability to produce new fiction has increased dramatically. Since my last post, I’ve added 8,428 words to my WIP. If I average 600 words per day through the end of March, I will finish my latest novel and be able to ship it off to my editor with plenty of time to manage a May release for Team Alpha. I’m excited to share this opening to a space opera series with the world… even if there is increasing evidence from such hallowed sources as Courtney Milan and Nora Roberts that plagiarists, scammers, and scummy people (book stuffers) have joined the Amazon party and make it increasingly difficult for original fiction to find its audience.

I’m blessed that I have a day job that allows me the luxury of pursuing my creative vision without having to worry too much whether it will ever pay off in terms of sales that (in an ideal world) would offset the costs of bringing quality content to market. In other words, I can subsidize myself–a rare position in the writing world. This may not always be the case, so I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

In some ways, my efforts are also a nod at the generations of female researchers whose names were hidden in notes of thanks rather than being given the authorial credit they would have earned in current practice. The rather odd flip side to that outdated practice was an article that asked readers to carefully consider whether they should take a promotion. A strangely related piece about the harm to business productivity when companies force employees to give up their free time for one reason or another. The article argues strongly for the need to back off from the 72-hour workweek by focusing free time on creative pursuits.

In the realm of more scientific research, a pair of authors dug into the well-known doomsday population predictions from the UN (that by 2100 there will be 11 billion people on the planet, specifically), and found… that the basis for the prediction doesn’t hold water. Reading the article about their provocatively titled book Empty Planet leaned heavily on debunking “everybody knows” style thinking, and speculated that not only is the rate of urbanization but also the rate of female education are outstripping predictions–and both have a significant cooling effect on population growth. Aptly, then, the final article I’ll share this week from those I’ve read recently: An interview with David Dunning on the psychological effect that bears his name: The Dunning-Kruger effect. “Here are the classic findings from the original paper on the effect in graph form. The worst performers — those in the bottom and second quartile — grossly overestimated their ability (also note how the best performers underestimated it).”

In heading back to the writing trenches, I can leave you with the news that my beta readers approve of my direction to date, so I’ll tease you with the opening paragraphs of the story as it currently stands:

At least in space, the air doesn’t smell like despair. Her brother would thump her if he ever heard her say that out loud. Dr. Marina Spitzer grimaced as the g-forces accumulated and she tracked the gauges in front of her eyes.

“So far, we’re still in the green over here.” Three years into their mission and it was still strange to her to use the tongue switch to make the words print out in the chat screen for her team mates. Given the frequency of the slingshot maneuvers they were using to traverse deep space, though, the group couldn’t count on being able to use hand signals or even type on their keyboards.

But it was vital to make sure that the seedlings in her care made it to their destinations hale and hardy, else essential nutrition be missing for the entire team. And for the future of humanity.

Rina argued with her brother in absentia. She was definitely in space—even if she were in a spaceship on her way to the next in the string of planets that everyone left on Earth hoped would suit for starting over. And she imagined she could smell the greenery her dials and gauges were reporting on, as the oxygen they provided filtered throughout the ship.

She imagined him putting on his rebreather mask as he braved the pollution of nuclear winter on his daily trek between the home block bunker and the research institute in Stuttgart. She was out here for Karl as much as for humanity.

Until next time, remember to question your assumptions and live your life for yourself. The rest, as the great Alan Watts points out, is merely crazy-making noise.

More Credentials, for Real

We were born to be real, not to be perfect.

This week I spent three days in class learning about ITIL, Information Technology Infrastructure library (according to Wikipedia)… or IT Infrastructure Lifecycle according to the notes I took from what our instructor told us. A great deal of what was covered hearkened back to the word salad I had to get used to for my PMP. The interesting-to-me distinction is the focus on shifting IT organizations to the service mindset–to the degree that each phase of the lifecycle has service in its name: Service strategy, service design, service transition, and service operation… with continual service improvement sprinkled over and through each of those four segments of work.

Today, then, the interview I responded to by Lorna Suzuki went live. She’s an impressive indie author with the rare credential of having had her trilogy optioned for movie rights. There’s more than a little bit of inner squeeing going on at having connected with her. And she’s consented to submit to interview questions of mine, so look for that post in the upcoming weeks.

Apart from that, I’ve managed to squeak past 39K words in Team Alpha, as well as provided beta reading feedback for two other author friends. For some reason, I’m feeling more connected to the writing community these days… and enjoying it.

Naturally, I’ve also been reading. Not only novels, but also stories that introduced me to existential therapy, a modality that sounds like it matches the kinds of questions hubs and I bat back and forth in our daily lives together. I suspect that validating existential concerns for each other in the way described in that article plays into the intimacy we’ve built with each other.

Then there were the articles that resonated with my feminist heart. The one about the 13-year-old who opened the doors of Stuyvesant HS to females 50 years ago felt vaguely familiar to me, a W&L alum who attended that university within 4 years of its decision to go coed. There’s definitely discomfort in kicking open that door, and it’s ironic to me that I’m still doing it to some degree by working in the IT sector.

On the other side of the balancing acts in my life, is the question of cooking. I enjoy it. I do it well. But coming up with recipes that match what’s in the cupboard on a regular basis is exhausting. In a review of the book Pressure Cooker, there is a thoughtful assessment of the unconscious bias and judgment in available cookbooks–and an unexamined classism that accompanies them. It was an eye-opening read that reflected on the nightly exhaustion I feel when coming home from work and faced with yet more decisions about how I might choose to nourish myself.

As we come up to Chinese New Year (lunar New Year, this year on February 5), a friend of mine pointed me to an old evaluation in the Foreign Policy Journal of Asian women born in “bad luck” years. The statistics of how their lives unfolded point to a chicken-egg question of whether there is some kind of esoteric proof of Asian astrological practices and insights, or whether belief in those assertions becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Similarly, more recent news that some Japanese pensioners are committing petty thefts to be able to be sent to jail pointed to a whole other swath of cultural assumptions that might make a westerner cringe.

So I’ll close with a link to the Rejected Princesses site, a collection of women’s biographies (both historic and modern) that don’t otherwise get much visibility. It’s fascinating to see the range and scope of work women have been undertaking through the millennia–much of which gets ignored or actively excised from history.

Until next time, I’ll continue to work toward that balance we all aspire to in our pursuit of being Real.

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