2018 is a long year

Canyon walls with sand falling down

I’ve been keeping busy, and sadly, not paying much attention to this blog. Here’s a bit of a recap:

What I’ve Been Reading

I recently listened to the audio version of R. F. Kuang’s excellent historical fantasy The Poppy War, which is loosely based on the Second Sino-Japanese War of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, but with magic and demons. Content warnings abound, as a chunk of the novel observes the aftermath of an event based on the historical massacre, The Rape on Nanking. If you crave epic fantasy stories in settings beyond fictional not-Europe, and you can handle graphic violence, I highly recommend it.

I also recently finished the audio version of John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire, read by Wil Wheaton. I listened to this with my husband over the course of a few car trips. It was really good, a great big space opera spread across the galaxy and affected by politics and machinations that have been going for thousands of years. The characters were all interesting and easy to be invested in.

Now I’m listening to Brandon Sanderson’s Shadows of Self, the second book in his Alloy of Law series. This series is set in Sanderson’s Mistborn universe, centuries after the events of that trilogy. It’s more of a steampunk/western vibe, as the post-Eternal Empire society rediscovers technology. It’s also a murder mystery surrounded by political intrigue. I always find Sanderson’s stuff to be lots of fun.

I’m also still picking my way through The Penguin History of the World, which I seem to be enjoying less and less. There’s lots of solid factual stuff in there, but the author keeps talking about civilizations being “superior” to each other, and there’s a weird ramble about how ancient Egyptian civilization didn’t really contribute anything to the world, despite being around for millennia. I’m frustrated that I couldn’t a more modern review of world history.

What I’ve Been Watching

Hereditary is one of the more disturbing horror films that I’ve seen in a long time, and I go to Fantastic Fest. It takes a lot of inspiration from old-school horror from the 60’s and 70’s, but using modern stylistic conventions to establish mood and tension. I really liked it, but it’s not an easy thing to watch.

Ocean’s 8 was a silly palate cleanser after Hereditary, and I recommend it. It doesn’t do anything deep or revolutionary, but it spins various tropes around and in general is entertaining as hell.

Really digging the third season of The Expanse, and very happy that Amazon swooped in and picked up the property. I’m also enjoying the second season of West World, and I feel like those people accusing it of going nowhere a la Lost have no patience. Everything gets explained, and I have faith that these writers are going to show us something truly interesting.

I Went on My Honeymoon

Back in April, my husband and I finally went on our honeymoon, spending two weeks in Rome. We’re still processing pictures, but I’ll post a few here soon-ish. Rome is an amazing city, full of ancient stuff but also vibrantly modern. I had so much gelato. Stories will have to get their own blog posts, also soon-ish.

We Bought A House and Houses Leak

We’ve been discovering the joys and nightmares of home ownership, after buying a house just outside of Austin earlier this year. There was a nasty thunderstorm a couple of weeks ago, and somehow the seal on a window at the front of the house popped, and there was a rather serious waterfall pouring down from the top of the window. Luckily we don’t have carpet downstairs, nothing stored in that room got wet, and the wall was dry when the water damage contractor came out to do a free inspection.

So I learned how to pull a baseboard off of the wall without damaging anything, scraped off all the caulk around the window indoors and outdoors, then re-sealed the whole thing. This has me thinking about all the other little repairs the exterior needs, and I have told Reed that I want a table saw for my birthday.

I am very excited about having a garage I can fill up with power tools. Gardening is going to happen too, but probably not until the fall when it isn’t 100 degrees outside every day.

I’m Taking Classes

I’ve started taking some coding classes online, and it’s always interesting to rediscover how much my brain likes writing code. It’s got me thinking about past career goals and reconsidering some things. I really love doing design work.

I’ve got a couple of writing classes lined up too, pretty excited about those.

Games I’m Playing

We just (finally) bought a Nintendo Switch, and I’m planning to try out all the indie couch co-op games out there.

I’m playing the text game TimeCrest on my phone. On Chapter 3 at the moment, and really enjoying it. It’s similar to LifeLine in that you are communicating with someone and have to wait real amounts of time (sometime hours) while that person follows your advice and walks somewhere or tries to accomplish a thing. It’s set in a fantasy world with magic and time travel, and you’re helping a young person named Ash who really wants to learn magic but also has to save the world.

Stuff I’m Thinking About

I keep debating trying to run a newsletter again. I always get stuck on what to focus on content-wise, even though my favorite newsletters are by writers/artists who just ramble about what they’re reading or watching, with occasional information about their projects. I’ve read way too many articles on marketing that demand focus on a niche, advice that is for those trying to make money off a particular subset of people.

As I’ve been getting back into coding, I keep rabbit-holing into indie game development, which is really interesting and tempting. I even have a physical book about Twine, a system for writing text-based Choose Your Own Adventure-style games. But using it to learn a specific high-demand language could be genuinely useful.

And of course I’m thinking about the nightmare happening on the border right now. This is a great Twitter thread of actions anyone can take against businesses that are profiting off of separating children from their parents:

That’s mostly what I’ve been up to for the past few months. Various things on the horizon, and hopefully more blogging in the future.


Featured Image: Photo by George Fitzmaurice on Unsplash

On The Penguin History of the World, 6th Ed

book cover - text the penguin history of the world j.m. roberts & odd arne westad

I have realized in recent weeks that I don’t have my mind wrapped very well around the broad picture of world history, so I set out in search of some books to read.

I have settled on the Penguin History of the World, 6th edition, by JM Roberts, and revised and updated for the 6th ed by OM Westad in 2014. Yesterday I read the first section, “Before History,” and while I do believe this will achieve the goal of a broad overview of the history of the world, I found myself making a variety of facial expressions ranging from bemused to aghast at the heavily gendered language and constant references to primitive society developing along the differences of the sexes.

Humanity, even when referring to the modern human species homo sapiens, is referred to as “man” throughout the text. There are broad assumptions that men did the hunting and the women stayed at camp, then immediately contradicting itself with discussions of plant foraging by women.

I might have glossed the whole thing over if not for the introduction to the 6th edition by Westad, in which he discusses his efforts to modernize the text and align it with our greater understanding of human evolution and cultural development, which in many ways sharply contrasts what most scholars believed about the ancient world when the original edition of this text was published in 1976.

This text is highly recommended, often used as a text book, and I’m going to charge on through it, as my goal is both a broad overview and a refresher of what version of history is taught today. It will give me some context before I dive into a number of books I’ve been eyeing on topics like forgotten Mongolian queens, pirates who were women, and other such perspectives that will give dimension and light to the view of a singular march forward in time of “man and the triumph of the West.”

I made a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.

jar of bread n butter pickles, peanut butter, sirarcha, honey, two pieces of bread one spread with peanut butter the other pickles with honey and sirarcha on a blue plate.

Yes, I joined a cult founded by the New York Times recipe section, with their fondness for discussing weird shit that’s trendy right now even though it’s usually not nearly as tasty as they claim.

But this time it’s different. This time, the trendy weird thing turned into an inspiration, an improvement, on what in my opinion was the pinnacle of late night stoner snacks, the peanut butter, cock sauce, and honey sandwich. By the time I got around to wondering how pickles would be on it, I had moved into a phase of my life where new innovations in late night stoner snacks had lost their relevancy. But I still eat peanut butter, sriracha, and honey sandwiches.

Look, this is all science fiction author Chuck Wendig’s fault. This isn’t some random act of heresy, I think I actually toned things down a bit. He put bacon and mayonnaise on his, okay? I was reading his blog instead of working earlier today, and I needed to run by the store on the way home to pick up stuff for dinner anyways. So… I grabbed some bread ‘n butter pickles.

Then I went home. I made a sandwich.

It was weird.


jar of bread n butter pickles, peanut butter, sirarcha, honey, two pieces of bread one spread with peanut butter the other pickles with honey and sirarcha on a blue plate.

The crunchy pickle texture over the smoothness of the peanut butter. But the sweetness and brine of the pickle added a new layer to a sandwich I’ve been eating for years. It seemed to bring out a smokiness of the sriracha that I’d never noticed before. Like Chuck says in his post, it had a lot of the flavor levels of Thai food, a little savory, a little sweet, with that brine undertone that brings everything together.

It was weird.

It was also delicious.

I’ll probably do it again.


Also, I am back, the blog is back, this summer is going to be a serious matter of kicking the asses of my psychological and spiritual enemies and writing their names down in a be-spelled grimoire that will give me ultimate power over all the daemons that once tortured me.

Translation: I’m going to write a lot and I’m taking coding classes.

2018 statement of intent

cat emerging from blanket by mikhail vasilyev

This year is starting off with a bang for me. I found the perfect part-time office job just in the nick of time, and on the last Friday of 2017 I I had dental surgery to remove my wisdom teeth, one of which was horribly rotted and had been driving me slowly crazy with pain for the last few months. It might be the pain pills I’m still on, but I feel like this year I’m going out into the work to kick ass as I work my way through a list of lifelong dreams.

I’m going to track a bunch of writing goals on this blog, and push myself to review more things, read more things, and really develop skills as a storyteller.

I’m going to be more open about mental health stuff, as I do the work of finding a therapist for the first time in my life and maybe take some drugs that will even out my depression. I don’t want my personal dose of crazy to hold me back anymore, and that requires work and getting help.

I have freelancing goals, and I’m starting up another blog where I’ll mostly nerd out about technology while I work to establish myself as a tech journalist.

I’m also going to be open on this blog about spiritual stuff. That means discussing the Pagan Revival, magick, thelema, neuroscience, and more.

I guess that, overall, my goal for 2018 is to crawl out from under the rock where I’ve been hiding for about a decade and stop being afraid to be myself. The last two or three years on the internet have been hell, as trolls have evolved into full-on fascists who can’t handle anything that is different, and their goal is to silence anyone who doesn’t fit into their nightmarish vision of the world. The only way to fight that is be unapologetic about who we are, to have no need of their approval, to openly and adamantly continue to exist.

So here I stand. It’s 2018, the world is changing, and I’m adding my voice to the fray.

Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash

Captain Phasma is my new obsession

captain phasma comic

Last night I inhaled the trade paperback of Marvel’s Captain Phasma comic. She’s tough and completely amoral when it comes to her own survival and I love her. Not a single nurturing, sentimental bone in her body.

The comic starts with Phasma climbing out of the garbage shoot that Finn threw her down after forcing her to lower the shields of Starkiller Base. Her focus on covering up what happened leads her to ruthlessly chase down a scapegoat who escaped the destruction of the base and crashed on an especially harsh planet.

Phasma seems to empathize with the colonists she and her pilot encounter, leading to some surprising though vague hints about Phasma’s life before the First Order. This highlights how cold her heart is when she doesn’t hesitate to use the colonists to achieve her own ends.

Captain Phasma does not give a fuck. This comic shows what a complicated character she is, and seems to foreshadow some very interesting choices in her future. So many people were surprised at how she didn’t really hesitate to take down the shields of Starkiller Base when the choice was between her life and the First Order.

I think that Phasma may be a stronger analogue for Darth Vader in the new trilogy than Kylo Ren. Everyone is terrified of her, she kills without hesitation, and she wears distinctive armor that manages to both mark her as unique and erase her humanity.

I’m going to have to pick up the Phasma novel now. I’m currently convinced that the Vader analogue will extend into Phasma having a redemption arc of her own, instead of Kylo Ren.

On learning genre beats in story telling

Reading books to learn their beats is a surreal exercise. I’m currently 3/4 of the way through the second paranormal noir thriller I’ve read in two weeks, and my brain has been lining up the scenes of each to see where they match. By the time I’ve hit my goal of reading ten of these, I’ll have a strong sense of the genre and hopefully be able to write my own.

It’s a rather abstract thing, to notice that the main character briefly making out with a werewolf she thinks she hates is the same beat as the PI’s cop friend taking care of him after his ass was beaten to a pulp. But I can see it, and I’m debating watching a bunch of old noir mystery films to take the same kind of notes.

I think the key to doing it well is that people who don’t understand story structure don’t notice the similarities, and anyone trying to study it has to ask if a scene definitely is a certain beat. I’m sure there’s more to it that I haven’t figured out yet, the stuff that’s particular to paranormal fiction, to protagonists of a certain gender (I’d love to find a book that plays around with that).

Beats are important to a genre; if they aren’t done well, you get one of two responses, with readers complaining of it being “formulaic,” or even worse, beats were missed and the story didn’t feel right and failed to entertain.

One thing I’ve noticed and will be paying attention to is that the main characters are some variation of irrational and just plain stupid about some things. In the first book of The Dresden Files, Harry Dresden made a couple of incredibly stupid decisions about what he did and did not tell the police, which contrasts so much with all the other ways that he’s smart that I just could not believe his reasoning for it. In Night Shift by Lillith Saint Crow, Jill Kismet is both batshit insane and an idiot, but she’s been so consistently crazy and stupid that I’ve come to believe the ridiculous decisions she makes. I’m curious to see if this pattern holds in the next book I read.

It’s a fun game to break down these stories and figure out how they work, but I may never again be able to just casually read this genre without thinking about their structure. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when I was younger this genre was definitely a fun form of non-challenging escapism. I may have to find a new form of brain junk food.


Feature image: Photo by Elti Meshau on Unsplash

Let’s do it again, y’all

I got to bed late last night because I couldn’t stop watching the political bloodbath in local and state elections across the country, as office after office flipped from a long-standing GOP member to a Democrat. It was beautiful.

A lot of people who’ve been hiding under a blanket with a bottle of whiskey for the last year just poked their heads out into the light, sniffing cautiously at the unfamiliar fresh scent of hope.

The events of the last year have taught the progressive movement to never, ever again assume that everything is going to be okay, we’ve also remembered how to swing a punch. And last night was a hell of a punch into the Nazi-sympathizing face of the GOP.

Hell. If Virginia can flit their state government, Texas surely can.


Image: Photo by paul morris on Unsplash

Internal Bleeding

lamb standing in dirt area

Yesterday evening my husband and I walked out of a theater after seeing the latest superhero movie, happy and laughing at its upbeat tone and humor. We both got on Twitter to post about how happy we were, but never quite got around to doing so. Texas was trending as a topic, as well as a small town northeast of Austin.

History will mark 2017 as one of, if not the, shittiest years of the 21st century. 27 people were gunned down yesterday in a church by some angry white guy who was living in the town where we go to celebrate Oktoberfest every year. A random angry white male, with the stereotypical history of domestic violence. I don’t give a shit about his name, or his politics.

This happened at least in part because any wife-beating asshole with enough money can buy multiple guns designed for killing people, not deer, and stockpile ammunition to his heart’s content, until he’s good and ready take out a bunch of people connected to whatever woman he’s most pissed off at, all while committing an elaborate suicide of his own.

That idiot that went chasing after the guy with his own gun didn’t stop the killings in the church, did not actually help the cops in any way. His gun ownership did not save anyone, and could have vastly complicated the efforts of law enforcement to take down the killer. But he got to play cowboy for a little bit, and is being played up as a hero for his non-contribution, so other morons are going to try to act on their fantasies of saving the day with their concealed handguns when they end up in a live fire situation that they have no training for.

It was only a few weeks ago that another random angry white guy with a history of abusing women managed to gun down 500 people in Las Vegas, as part of his own elaborate suicide attempt. He’d been rapidly stockpiling weapons for months, but no one knocked on his door or kept an eye on him.

It should be a pain in the ass to get a gun. Not necessarily expensive, it shouldn’t be a class barrier. People out in the country genuinely need guns that are utilized as tools. But the paperwork should be nightmarish, the sort of red tape barrier that slows down and usually stops people acting irrationally. Places to buy a gun should be far and few between. Anyone who buys a gun should have to watch hours of educational videos on gun safety, to see the names and faces of murdered children.

Weapons dealers and weapons organizations, any entity that benefits from war, violence, or keeping the general population scared of imaginary threats, should be disallowed from lobbying or making financial contributions in any form to politicians. Weapons dealers do not benefit from a population that is gets along with each other. The interests of gun lobbyists are counter to our Constitutional right to health and happiness.

So many people are dead. More people are going to die unless we, the American people, call for more restrictions on guns.

And fuck the NRA.


Feature image: Photo by Nadia Supertino on Unsplash

Books and writing and time

autumn leaves

I apologize for the rambling, but I’m currently in a “blog every day, especially if I feel I have nothing to say” phase, which makes me sloppy and unfocused. It’s also National Novel Writing Month, which leaves me a little mentally fried.

I started reading the first book of The Dresden Files last night, after resolving that next year I really am going to write my supernatural thriller series. I need to read a bunch of supernatural thrillers first, so I’m starting here. It’s funny, I ate up supernatural thrillers once upon a time, but with my reading habits following no discernible pattern for the last decade, I haven’t read much of the genre since I first consumed the early Anita Blake novels.

Time is going to be a more precious commodity in my life soon, as I’ve resolved to start looking for temp gigs to supplement my piss poor attempt to be a free lance writer. The weird thing is that this is going to help me build my business, because I need a fire under my ass fueled by the despair of office work and commuting and interacting with normal people on a daily basis. I might even have things to blog about again, that would be nice.

I haven’t done my NaNoWriMo word count for the day yet, but I did finish up some client work that really needed to be done. I’ve come to realize that it’s just part of my process to spit out a zero draft and expect to throw the entire thing out and rewrite it from scratch with greater clarity gained from making the first draft. I need to remember that in my efforts to write fiction, and just spit words out for the sake of having something to rework.

I suppose I could give the “Daily Post” community another go, but that messes with my head more often than not. A dear friend of mine died right at the beginning of the year, and for months afterwards, every time I checked into The Daily Post, the one word prompt seemed to always be a synonym for grief. Maybe I should have smeared all that half-clotted emotion out on the internet for every voyeur reader to smell and feed on, but the idea of it smelled foul and opportunistic.

I have five boxes of wine leftover from our Halloween party to work through. They have a six week life after opening, so I have some time, but I have definitely had more afternoon in the last few days than I’ve had in a few years. It’s nice for writing (and why this blog is happening), but I always have to be careful with my tendency towards excess, bless these Irish genetics.

I should pick up a book on cooking with wine. I made a delicious batch of ratatouille this week, using a Pinot Grigio (black box). I think Pinots actually cook better than Chardonnays, maybe it’s a stronger flavor.

I’m trying out an interesting experiment for NaNoWriMo. The company behind Sterling & Stone, StoryShop, and The Self Publishing Podcast, handed out an outline of a Young Adult novel for anyone to use for their own novel this month. I thought it would educational to write from an outline created by some experience writers, and thus far that’s true. I’ve reworked the world and the characters to make it my own, but I’m keeping the beats. I have no intention of selling this one, but after a few rounds with Critters it might be fun to post it as a freebie here on the blog.

No Pathfinder game tonight, so I’m off to happy hour at the cafe down the street for some craft beer and heavy word mining.

 

 


Feature Image: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Halloween Pictures!

plastic skeleton and vase with black roses - halloween decorations

Halloween was kind of exhausting this year, with everything a bit too last minute, and shitty weather that made it hard to set up the day before the party. But we ploughed through these various obstacles, and plenty of people braved the cold to come hang out with us.

I’m pretty worn out, and today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month, so here is a post of pictures of the decorations!

 

halloween decorations of fake church
The theme was around Hammer Horror Dracula movies, which involve dozens of scenes in deconsecrated churches. I put that backdrop of ‘gothic’ windows together in two days. It deserved two months, but everyone liked it. Also cobwebs, black candles, and lots of wine.

 

 

bottle with label that reads Blood of Dracula
Taste the Blood of Dracula is a Hammer Horror film where Dracula is resurrected in a Satanic ritual from a bottle of his dried blood. The text says: Blood of Dracula – Do Not Taste! May cause convulsions, spasms, delusions of grandeur, cravings for raw meat, B-12 deficiencies, chronic anemia, Vitamin D deficiencies, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to blessed objects, redness of the eyes, compulsions to resurrect or otherwise serve the Prince of Darkness, spontaneous garlic allergy, sensitivity to running water, may develop skin rash when in physical contact with silver, silver plate, or silver alloys, severe insomnia, bloodlust, serial killing or other violent behaviors. Please seek out medical or spiritual guidance if/when any of these symptoms develop.

 

halloween decoration fountain of blood with zombie head
Bruce and Patricia, who hosted the party, put this monstrosity together. Red-dyed water, with a zombie head. Hard to see in the flash, but I put green water proof lights in the top ring of water. I was delighted when they sent us video after putting the fountain together.
halloween decorations table with vases and skulls
Decorations just set up before putting out the food. Big skulls, tiny skulls, various decorations, cobwebs, “Halloween mesh cloth,” and vases leftover from my wedding and repurposed.

 

 

chiminea with pumpkin lights
The picture doesn’t do this thing justice. It was super cute in person. The broken chiminea is filled with pumpkin lights. In person it looked like a little glowing pumpkin patch. It was Reed’s idea.

 

skull and vase - halloween decorations
A closeup of table decorations. I bought the last of these styrofoam skulls that Michael’s had, on clearance. I have a lot of skulls now. That vase has gotten a lot of mileage. For my wedding last winter, I painted the insides blue with glitter. I repurposed them with a base layer of gray paint, and a layer of textured spray paint for a stone urn look.

plastic skeleton and vase with black roses - halloween decorations
My friend’s preteen helped distribute the skeletons, and was proud of this layout. I found those black roses on Amazon. They were pretty inexpensive. They’re made of some kind of foam that feels like leather and keep their shape better than cloth roses. I loved their look in the ‘stone’ vases.