Tuesday, January 31, 2012

News: Hybrid Humans

Those of you who read the anthropology news know that somebody, somewhere, has a blockbuster romance series coming.

Comparing genomes, scientists concluded that today’s humans outside Africa carry an average of 2.5 percent Neanderthal DNA, and that people from parts of Oceania also carry about 5 percent Denisovan DNA. A study published in November found that Southeast Asians carry about 1 percent Denisovan DNA in addition to their Neanderthal genes. It is unclear whether Denisovans and Neanderthals also interbred. (According to Archeology Briefs)

We all know what that means: Interspecies romance! Angst! Family conflict! Deeply hidden supernatural genes!

So, what'd'you think? Harlequin Pleistocene? It's a niche market, but it could be pure gold!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Starting, Anywhere

Some days, you just start writing and see if it goes anywhere. Like this:

Once upon a time, a critter lived in a house beyond the edge of town.

The owner had abandoned it because it was too hard to heat, so the critter moved in and made himself comfortable. The area had plenty of things for a critter to eat, and he had plenty of fur to keep him warm when the northers came down, so he did fairly well. When something went wrong with the house - a rotting floorboard, a lose brick in the chimney - he fixed it. The fact that the water was turned off made no difference to him, for he knew where the old well was. He woke when the sun rose and went to bed when it got dark, so the lack of electricity didn't bother him. He saw no reason why anything should ever change.

The owner had the house up for sale, and once in awhile people came to look at it. This provided a change for the critter, following them unseen about the house and eavesdropping. When they said things like: "It's awfully far from the main road" and "You call this a heating system?" and "The plumbing is how old?" he did nothing. But if they started talking about where to put the microwave or what room to put the boys in the critter acted. He could make ratlike noises in the walls, create wonderfully realistic drafts by blowing through the right crack, and he maintained a loose board on the porch steps which, when twisted just right, was guaranteed to throw a person down and scare the daylights out of him.

But of course, someone will buy the house anyway; and everything depends on who.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Good Day

Yesterday I did not blog.

I did, however, submit a manuscript to a publisher, dust, sweep, start a blouse, do some much-needed file organization for my game, and make my cats purr.

I call that a win.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

No Hurry

Realizing that the reason I still hadn't done any sewing was that I'd gotten it into my head I needed to make jeans; and this is much too intimidating a project to launch into after such a long hiatus, Saturday I dug through my stash, picked a new project, ironed the fabric, laid out a pattern, and pinned it.

By then it was getting late, and I've been advised not to pin and cut out on the same day, to reduce cutting errors. For those of you not accustomed to sewing, a cutting error can be anything from cutting two pieces when you need four, cutting with the grain (the direction of the threads) lying wrong in the piece, using a piece from the wrong pattern (most modern patterns offering a number of different options, so that it's possible to cut the sleeve for A when you want B), omitting a piece, or just plain messing up the cutting. Since, most of the time, you buy a piece of fabric with the intention of using it in a particular project, and only buy the recommended amount for the project, a cutting error probably means you don't have enough fabric to correct the error. Which is all very well, if you can run back to the fabric store and buy another half yard; but if you're working from stash, the odds are good the store won't have the fabric you bought last year anymore. And I'm pretty sure the fabric I was using was one I'd bought off the clearance table. All this being true, although I was anxious to get properly started and didn't feel like ironing and pinning was enough progress, I left the pinned fabric and did something else.

As I got into the shower Saturday night I suddenly realized: I don't want to make a fitted blouse with that fabric. I want to make a "Hawaiian flowerdy shirt," which by definition has to be loose. I don't have a pattern for a Hawaiian flowerdy shirt, so I needed to unpin that fabric, put it away, iron another piece of fabric, and start over. So if I hadn't followed the advice not to pin and cut on the same day, I'd have ruined the outfit. I probably could have made an acceptable blouse, (hmm...maybe it'd be flowerdy-shirty enough if I left out the darts? No, because they need to be loose in the shoulders, too), but "acceptable" and "the one I want" aren't equivalent terms. So even if the pattern was laid out perfectly and I'd cut with a steady hand, if I hadn't followed the "don't pin and cut on the same day" rule, I would have made a gigantic cutting error, and repented at leisure.

It takes me forever to do things, even working on them every day. I frequently feel that I'm patient to a fault, and it often works against me - patient people tend to get crappy customer service, for example.

But patience is so often the difference between success and failure. It pays, when you think you've completed the final draft, to let it sit overnight and give it one more read-through in the morning before sending off that query, or summary, or manuscript. Cutting errors are every bit as fatal to careers as to outfits; but only if you parade them around, and don't recognize them till later.

(BTW, I got dizzy ironing the contrast fabric for Fitted Blouse Take 2 yesterday, and didn't get as far as ironing and pinning the fabric for the main blouse. Which is frustrating, when I had so much energy Saturday. But the main thing is, I did work on it, and will again today. Also, more book shuffling!)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Atmosphere

Sometimes zeroing in on a weakness of your own and trying out ways to address it leads in fruitful directions. Sometimes it doesn't.

Take these notes to myself on the question of why I don't write atmospheric stories:

Q: What does one use atmosphere for, anyway? What's it's literary function?
A: To lift the reader out of mundane reality and create an escapist environment.

But that's not what I'm doing. I want to wake the reader up to the enchantment inside his mundane reality, to the wonderful things she is not aware of. I want to help them enjoy the lives they have or can make for themselves, not moon over distant and hopeless fantasies - silver Elven ships &C.

The place to play with atmosphere then would be in a wholly realistic story (or maybe there'd be some fantastic element in that the VP character would be an elf or something) in which nothing peculiar or unbelievable happened. The romantically fantastic domestic novel.

None of which gets me anywhere close to a story. But it articulates some of what I'm doing when I set my stories - as I always set my stories - in places as close to reality as I can get them. I live in a fantastic, atmospheric environment, and it bugs me when other people don't recognize this, so one of the things my stories do is show them that.

Last week, while waiting for the gamemaster to return with some misplaced notes, the residue of our gaming group was discussing accents, which somehow segued into two of us singing "Amarillo By Morning," and the third protesting vigorously. I countered that he was just jealous because we could sing Texas songs all day, and nobody ever made songs about his home state, New Hampshire. He had to concede the justice of this. It's not because New Hampshire is unworthy of songs, though. It's because too few songwriters are in touch with the songworthy elements of New Hampshire. That's true of every place that doesn't get into songs.

We should all do something about that for our own places.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

That's Better

This afternoon I learned that Elaine Marie Alphin went home. She's a long way from well, but she is better than I ever imagined she could be again when I first heard the news about her stroke.

A lot of stuff is wrong with this week. I'd have one twice as bad, if it would help Elaine get better.

If only we could take all the minor miserable stuff, the rejections and the vermin in the attic and the badly-timed bills and the interpersonal friction and just stuff that gets us down, and trade it in for an improvement in somebody else's major miserable stuff - wouldn't that be grand? You've got to deal with this little crap anyway; it'd be nice to get some good out of it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I got discouraging news Monday, and now that I need to be knuckling down to Getting Stuff in the Mail (which I hate to do anyway), I'm grumpy enough that all the recent sales I read about for marketing research sound dreadful, which makes me feel that My Day Has Passed and I Will Never Sell Again in This Market. (I feel this way about once a month, on average.)

But I'm going to get stuff in the mail anyway. As soon as I finish draining the lime out of the water heater and get a load of gentles in.

This is no job for someone who requires external pressure to get things done. Or for someone who isn't willing to use housework as a procrastination tool.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Speaking Carbon

You know the fairy tale in which one sister's words turn into jewels and one's turn into vermin? Well, in this story, both get forms of carbon. One sister (the crabby one) gets coal; one (the conventionally sweet one) gets diamonds. Both vary in quality with the quality of speech. Lies produce soft brown coal that doesn't burn well and flawed diamonds. However, the coal remains useful, though dirty. The diamonds flood the market and become reduced in value.

Either way, production of the carbon is awkward and unpleasant. The girls (who are twins) resume use of a sign language developed when they were younger. Adult favoritism and sibling rivalry had tended to split them, but under their common misfortune, they gravitate together again. An alchemist can explain to them about the carbon. There's probably some underlying theme with that, but I doubt the alchemist understands about carbon-based life forms.

Do they find a cure, or a way to live with it? Either way, the girls have to stop competing and start cooperating.

The fairy is neutral, rather than good or evil, and the mother figure is selfish and short-sighted rather than wicked.

Their names should mean, but not sound, the same, as Margaret and Pearl, or Rose and Rhoda.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Out of the House, Out of my Head

I drove out to Cibolo Nature Center this morning to take a class preparatory to monitoring a heron rookery. I was a bit late because it's ages since I've been out there and the directions on the website leave something to be desired (it's Business 87 you want), but this should be something I can do and I'm glad I went.

The trouble with getting on top of the house and yard is that the attempt to do so doesn't get me out of the actual house, to which I've been pretty chained since the renovation started. The Sims game was not guiltless, but it was not the whole problem, either. Mere bodily stagnation, surrounded by the same stimuli all day, made the attention ruts hard to get out of. Ironically, by paying attention to herons, it becomes easier to focus on re-organizing the non-fiction.

Jeans may be a harder proposition. The trouble with sewing is, it's not intrinsically interesting to me. I got into it for the practical reason that stores don't stock clothes that fit me. Ever. I believe the last time my figure was fashionable was about 1489; and I'm not talking weight, but weight distribution. Clothes didn't fit when I was a size 10, either. But I'll get to the point I can do it again, now that the brain muscles are getting back into shape for dealing with things outside my own head.

Anyway, a number of questions were asked today by the crowd of volunteers that could not be answered. The data we assemble will be referenced for decades to come by people trying to answer the questions we asked this morning.

This is why volunteers to monitor heron rookeries, and work in archeological sites and labs, and transcribe historical documents, and take species censuses, and sift road cuts for fossils, and track thousands of datapoints in thousands of fields, are needed. Funds are limited. The world is infinite. We don't know - all kinds of things that we ought to know. That would be cool to know. That are vastly important to know, if the last hominid species on earth is going to survive with any kind of quality of life.

And this sort of activity is exactly what we need when we feel stuck in a rut, unable to go forward. Something to shake us up, enable us to be useful, and connect with reality independent of our own habits, egos, and priorities.

I'm not one of those people who goes around volunteering all the time. I generally have an agenda; and sooner or later I'll have to shut myself up in my head again in order to get the next book written (because there's always a next book to be written, even on days when I'm positive I'll never sell another one - that's got nothing to do with whether I write or not). I'm not even a particularly good volunteer when I do it, certainly not the one who becomes the expert in any one thing. But something always needs to be cleaned, hauled, or held, so I'm not often useless, though it's arguable I get more good out of my volunteerism than anybody else.

But I can live with that.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

No Dinosaurs in First Grade!

Actually it'd be kindergarten, but First Grade makes a better title, don't you think?

Rita's best friend is a ghost maiasaurus named Daisy, who likes raisins, salad, and Kool-Aid (or some other appropriate diet - we may as well be accurate). She's colorful, with speckles and stripes, and not full-grown, so she'll fit in the house. When Rita starts school she takes Daisy along, but having an invisible dinosaur in class proves too disruptive - she tries to fingerpaint and makes a mess, roars during the singalong, tries to join in the games and work and can't. Soon she has to stay home all day, bored - and Rita isn't always ready to play with her when she gets home, because she has to play with kids from school.

How to resolve this? Unsatisfactory if Daisy just moves on with no destination. Can she meet other dinosaur ghosts? Or get passed on to a baby sister?

I can't really write for kids this young - the voice always comes out too old. Also, I prefer mammalian megafauna. But mammoths don't work here at all.

And yes, I do mean for Daisy to be a real ghost, not an imaginary friend.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

On the Necessity of Creating Interdimensional Spatial Access

So, that discipline thing?

Still a work in start-up mode. But the first week is the hardest. One of the reasons I haven't been doing some of this work is that it's hard to find the starting point.

Like, I've finally unloaded the books I wanted to have on hand for writing the lesbian western from the shelf on the computer hutch, making room for my husband to put his geneology and gaming references next to my general references (atlases, dictionaries, field guides, etc.). So, that's good.

But they don't all fit back where they belong. There's now four books sitting on top of the books on the geography shelf, which is a single five- or six-foot board mounted above the filing cabinet and writing desk. There is no more space to put geography books unless we mount another shelf, or clear off the tops of the filing cabinet and writing desk to arrange them there. I was only able to put a couple of the history books back into their proper places - I'm going to have to bring in a ladder and rearrange the entire history wall in order to fit the stuff I was using, and the accumulated new books, on history, archeology, human paleontology, sociology, etc., not to mention the periodicals, onto the history wall. I may have to break out a category and put it - somewhere. And while I was putting up the cookbooks, plant books, and, how-to books downstairs, I found a great big neglected Fortean book, which joins the other Fortean books lying sideways on top of the Forteana-religion-folklore books.

The whole house is like this; and it's a four-bedroom house with ten to twelve foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in more than one of them. The non-fiction must be rearranged and there's not much space to rearrange it to - maybe six feet of shelf space, or less, scattered around the whole house. Some of it in closets; not that I object to shelving books in closets, but we can't get at the exploration and natural disaster books in the mathom* room closet till we decide what to do with the stuff blocking our way to it.

That we will have to add more shelf space somewhere, somehow, is a given, and by the way we need more filing cabinet space, too. But we won't know how much, or where to put it, or precisely what form it should take, until we've done the best we can rearranging what we've got and getting rid of what we can bear to. And then we get to budget their acquisition.

Obviously, what I need here is not just discipline, but access to an inter- or extra-dimensional portal that triples or quadruples my storage space without such troublesome necessities as buying the house next door and using it as a library annex. A bookcase that fits in the space between the filing cabinet and the writing desk, which will store the books we don't use for a long time in some out of the way corner of the universe, with little dust and good preservative qualities, that will respond to voice commands to produce The 1923 Sears-Roebuck Catalog, or books relevant to 15th-century Spanish clothing, or guides to farm machinery, or whatever, without our having to remember precisely the titles, authors, or even whether we actually have such a thing.

What I'm hoping is that I'll make some noticeable progress on the book space problem and then get so hair-tearingly frustrated that cutting out a jeans pattern will seem as blessedly peaceful and easy as putting in a disk or picking up a book, with the added temptation of a prospect of accomplishing something.

*Mathom, for those of you whose Tolkien-derived language skills are rusty, is a hobbit word meaning "something I'm not using right now but am not about to throw away." Our mathom room doubles as our guest room and is the sole repository of things we do have a use for, such as back issues of Fortean Times, Damon's pulp and Sherlock Holmes books, and anthologies; but since the work done on the house it's reaccumulated a lot of mathom stuff. Notably some invaluable SCA references that should probably go on the "history" or "crafts" shelves, had we any room there.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Discipline! Oh, well.

Realizing that I haven't touched the sewing machine, except to dust it, since the beautiful new sewing room became available; that I've let a number of beautiful warm days go by without doing any yardwork; and that only a fraction of the necessary post-construction home reorganization has been accomplished, on January 1 I gave Damon the disk I need to run Sims2 and told him to hide it somewhere until February 1. I can resist the siren call of the game in order to do writing work, hang out with friends, and such important stuff; but it is so much easier to stick the disk in and take Ernest and Sage Ann on vacation, or find out which parent baby Dove Hawkins will grow up to look like, or throw a wedding party for Luis Iana and Sharla Ottomas, than to figure out how to cut jeans so that they'll fit me without letting a draft up my back!

So the first day Damon goes back to work after his vacation that I don't have the disk available is also the first day in awhile that my balance is so bad that pulling weeds, figuring out patterns (which is more of a balance job than you think, let me tell you - I can barely envision flat shapes into 3D ones when my gyroscope's functioning), and bouncing up and down ladders to organize things are strongly contraindicated. And visual effects often accompany the balance ones, making reading difficult, which is one reason I got hooked on the game as a leisure activity to begin with.

Stupid body. You'd think it'd be on my side, but nooooo...

Don't worry - I'll find some way to fill the day. I may even find some way to make it not a complete waste of time. There are organizing jobs I can do sitting down, after all (she says, looking at the stacks on the computer table).

And yes, I will miss my little pixel people and regret the timing on my decision to cut myself off, possibly for several days; but I won't ask Damon for the disk back. Because sometimes we have to do this - to ourselves, and to our characters. Take the crutch away. Remove the resource that lets them work around their problem instead of solving it. Force the character arc because the character is being lazy.

Lazy is our natural state. But busy is more fun.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: The Year in Ghosts

First of all - Merry New Year, y'all.

Second of all: Why aren't there more New Year stories? Is it just that most of us experience it as an extension of the big solstice celebrations? The only New Year story I can think of is Dickens's The Chimes, which is considered one of his "Christmas Books." There's a New Year's chapter in one of the Mary Poppins books in which book characters come out of their books in "the crack" between the first and last strokes of midnight at New Year's. That's it as far as I can think off the top of my had.

Yet there's lots of potential in the New Year. First, as expressed in the Mary Poppins incident, it's a liminal time - a time of transition when the barriers between worlds are thin. Ghosts, UFOs, monsters, fey, angels, demons - they should all be out in force. Second, it's a time we have invested with an arbitrary meaning, a time to start over, make new resolutions (which we don't expect to keep), tackle our lives anew, as if we mean it this time, instead of dealing with it in the half-baked way we've been doing; a time for looking back and forward, self-assessment, and self-improvement. In other words, of interior conflict.

But mostly - New Year's is a dangerous holiday. Drinking, illegal fireworks, celebratory firing of shotguns into the air (but the bullets have to come down) - this is a night when lives are likely to be changed in a literal, and unwelcome, way. Need a character dead, paralyzed, blinded, riddled with guilt? Here's your big chance to have somebody say "Hold my champagne and watch this," or a bullet fall out of the blackness from no apparent source, or a car come careening out of nowhere, and your audience will buy it.

I have a little idea about this. A story cycle - I tried to do this as twelve flash fictions, as an exercise in forcing myself to be brief (you can see how well that worked, huh?) or a novel in 12 chapters. The wife/mother is killed in an accident on New Year's Eve, and she is the viewpoint character. The opening sequence would be her bustling around her house trying to get things in shape after the New Year's celebration, and gradually realizing that she's dead. Each subsequent sequence would show her, and her family's, adjustment to this gross disruption of the natural order. Her husband gets depressed; one kid takes on too much responsibility; one acts out; she tries to intervene, with mixed success. One kid goes to college. One kid becomes obsessed with proving that Mom is (or isn't) still around. The cat can always see her, but doesn't always care.

The trickiest part (apart from my complete failure to write short) is how to give the viewpoint character agency and still let the family go through its stages of grief and finally, on the anniversary of her death on New Year's Eve, reach the point where she can let go of them and they can let go of her. We can't deal with anybody else's grief for them, much as we sometimes want to; and dead people can no longer solve problems.

But that's why the POV character is the mother. Mothers, more than any other class of people, have to perfect the art of influencing their loved ones for their good without dominating or controlling them. Which is pretty much all the ghost can be allowed to do. For this story's purposes, the mother is the ideal protagonist.

I'm not a mother and feel this disqualifies me from doing this sequence as more than an exercise.

Or maybe that's an excuse because I don't want to go through the emotional arc of a mother's death until the world forces it upon me.

Anyway, it's outside my genre. Writing YA and juvenile literature from the POV of a middle-aged woman is problematic at best, pointless at worst.