Ask Dr. Pretentious|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
Sarah Avery's LiveJournal:
[ << Previous 20 ]
[ << Previous 20 ]
|Friday, May 17th, 2013|
|I Kind Of Miss The Internet (Oh, And I've Been Married Nineteen Years, As Of Tuesday)
My internet connection at home is still unreliable. Dan engages in heroic troubleshooting, with the result that all my computer time at home goes to relaunching my browser and trying again, or rebooting my laptop and trying again, whenever he thinks he might have made an informative change. It's all the time-sucking of the internet, with none of the productivity or connection to the outside world. I've basically stopped expecting to get anything done online that can't be done on my smartphone or squeezed into a few minutes at B&N or Starbucks on my way home from teaching. (Guess where I am right now.)
I had in mind to write a celebratory anniversary post this week, because hey, Dan and I have been married nineteen years, and it's STILL like a slumber party we never have to go home from. We are riding into the sunset on our dire eohippus
, etc. The celebratory post hasn't quite come together. Next year, when it's twenty, I'll write a real humdinger.
At some point, all Dan's troubleshooting will get us somewhere, or Verizon will stop sucking quite so much, or we'll get around to switching to Comcast (which I seem to recall switching away from because it also sucked, but I'm trying to focus on the positive here). In six months, I'll forget this hiccup even happened.
Meanwhile, I'm beset by the bizarre and selfish wish that the whole internet would go away for everybody else, too, so I could stop beating my head against this problem and get something useful done with the resources I actually do have to hand. The number of hours I've spent on not being able to finish my Black Gate post for the week would have produced probably 3,000 words of first-draft fiction, if only I could have known in advance that there was no point in trying to do any online task that couldn't be completed on my smartphone.
Murphy's Law of Conjuration dictates that, now that I've kvetched publicly about the problem, I'll get home and find that it's all fixed. At this point, that bit of chagrin seems like a perfectly good trade-off.
|Friday, May 10th, 2013|
|Divine Intervention Trumps Verizon?
I finished the faerie jailbreak story last night, largely because Verizon's DSL is kaput all over my neighborhood. So many people have crowded into the cafes that offer free wi-fi that the only way I could post my latest Black Gate blog post
was by parking at the outermost edge of AT&T wi-fi range of Starbucks at 1:30am. Not only was there no available seat inside--the parking lot was so full of orphaned internet users that it looked like a drive-in movie theater with personal screens inside the cars.
I have no idea what caused Verizon's little problem--they haven't had any useful answers about why, when, or whether, and to heck with them, we're switching providers now--but I'm grateful for it. Dionysus (or, as Gareth calls him, Mommy's storytelling god) stepped into my head and informed me that last night was the night to Finish The Story. I had thought I had another two weeks of chipping away at it ahead of me, but bang, bang, bang, I got straight to the end.
There are lots of commitments I haven't been able to make progress on, and if you're one of the people I need to write something to or for that requires a more versatile internet tool than a smartphone, sorry, it might be a bit longer. For once, though, I got to keep a commitment to myself.
My younger kid has befriended the sons of a very conservative Christian family, so I've been on a lot of playdates lately alongside a kind, thoughtful mom who is culturally completely different from me. About half of her communications with her children include at least a reference to, if not a quote from, Bible verses. The only speck of the Bible I've been able to call to mind all month is from the Song of Songs: They made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
I'm sure my storytelling god is amused. Well, we'll see how the story ages in its little paper cask.
|Friday, May 3rd, 2013|
|Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Epic Heroes
Don't ask me why I tried to explain North Korea to my five-year-old. It's tempting to joke that North Korea's foreign policy might be easier for a five-year-old to understand than for an adult, but Gareth was as baffled as the rest of us. My explanation boiled down to approximately this:
North Korea has a Mean King who wants to build the Biggest Bomb in the World. Nobody has completely stopped him yet because he has a lot of Follower Meanies--people who might have led perfectly nice lives, except that they're being led by a Leader Meanie. Meanwhile, the people of North Korea don't have enough to eat because it costs a lot of money to build the Biggest Bomb in the World, and the people of South Korea have to worry about whether the Follower Meanies are going to try to make them serve the Mean King.
Gareth's solution is that he will wait until the Follower Meanies are asleep, sneak into North Korea, and defeat the Mean King, after which everyone will be so grateful to him for bringing lots of rice that they'll reward him by teaching him to do real magic. It's a good thing we live on the far side of an ocean from North Korea, because Gareth's ready to pack his messenger bag and set out on foot. He feels sorry for the people of North Korea, and besides, he wants that magic spell power.
Probably the mothers of most the great epic fantasy heroes wished their sons would stay safely home.This week's Black Gate blog post
talks about revealing heroic characters through their relationships with other characters. In the epic of Gareth's life as a sword-slinging sorcerer with a neverending messenger bag of rice, his dialogue with me reveals his obstinate determination to defeat bad guys. I kept trying to say things like, "The Mean King locks up anybody who tries to come from outside and help the people in his country," and Gareth only got more and more determined to put an end to the Meaniocracy.
|Monday, April 29th, 2013|
|I ::Pictograph:: Pictographs
"I now present you with a study of your feet," says Dan. They look more like Escher's feet, or Moebius's feet maybe, than mine. I don't think my feet bend space in quite this way.
We're trying to revive our not-used-since-high-school drawing skills, because the kids are all about drawing. I can make a good likeness, but only of things I'm actually looking at, and only as long as they don't move--blind contour drawing
is a cool trick with major limitations, and it's the only visual arts trick I've got. Dan can draw from imagination, but his results are very uneven. Despite the purchase and skimming of a bunch of books on drawing technique, we both still kind of suck at it.
"I have weird little trapezoid feet," I concede, "but..."
"Okay," says Dan. "Turn the paper over."
A non-aerodynamic dragon smiles cheerily down at a bald pikeman whose hat is the slimmest idea of a hat. Behind the pikeman, a house burns. Great gouts of flame look goutsy and flamey, but the house might really be a garden shed. It's hard to tell. A vaguely equine quadruped gets the only label in the scene. Dog
, says Dan's handwriting, and a squiggly little arrow points to a creature with a saddle, and maybe a mane, but no tail to speak of.
"If your Don Quixote tries to tilt against the dragon, that riding dog is toast," I say.
"I'm not sure why it doesn't look all the way like a horse," says Dan. "I did start out aiming for a horse."
"It's about the right size to be an eohippus
," I suggest.
"Well," says Dan, pleased, "the war-eohippus
is saddled and ready."
"The dragon seems to be chuckling at it."
"Then I'll just have to call it a dire
I married the right man.
|Thursday, April 25th, 2013|
|There's Specialized And Then There's Specialized
I often blog about books on writing. Usually, I go for books on craft, broadly defined. Lately, I've been thinking aloud about Writing Fantasy Heroes: Powerful Advice from the Pros
, edited by Jason M. Waltz. It features fourteen luminaries of the genre explaining their use of technique, with close readings of excerpts from their own fiction, sometimes in early drafts. I'm writing a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book at Black Gate. The first two installments are here
Meanwhile, my short story work in progress about an escaped faerie abduction survivor who has to invade faerie to get her kid back is inching closer and closer to its end. Yet again, my goal of finishing a piece in under 7,000 words has escaped me. I rarely write in the first person, but this story insists on it, and it seems to be the right way to go.
So, dear readers, tell me this:
Open to: All
, detailed results viewable to: All
, participants: 22
When you read a story that's in the first person, and the story never reveals the narrator's name, do you experience the nameless-narrator phenomenon as:
| 6 (23.1%)
|a non-issue you might not even notice
| 14 (53.8%)
|an annoying distraction
| 6 (23.1%)
|Friday, April 12th, 2013|
My five-year-old is obsessed with the Republic of Belarus. It has a pretty flag, see, prettier than most other flags are. Thanks to the CIA World Factbook
, Gareth got a look at all the flags of the world. Belarus wasn't even a country when I was Gareth's age, so I relied pretty heavily on the Factbook to answer all his questions about how people live there. Thank you, CIA.
For the first time, Gareth is willing to try more than one new food at a sitting, as long as it's food that people eat in Belarus. What's this weird bread with seeds in it? Rye bread, because wheat doesn't like the cold, damp climate in Belarus. What is kasha made of? Why is the soup pink? But he'll try it, and likes most of it, because of a pretty flag.
I wonder how far I could carry this if I had a better poker face. Pad Thai? Sushi? Vindaloo? Biltong?
As far as I can tell from the internet recipes I've poked at, Belarusians like their borscht beefy and chunky, but Gareth found the vegetable chunks off-putting. So we had a taste test: one serving dish of chunky borscht, and one serving dish of the same borscht, pureed. Any of you who know my Starbucks habits will be unsurprised that we called the pureed one a borschtaccino. Next time, we'll serve it cool enough to slurp through a straw, and the kids will probably be willing to try more than a couple of spoonfuls.
In completely unrelated news, I have a post up at Black Gate
about the weird teaching and writing expenses that the IRS is quite happy for me to deduct.
Happy Tax Weekend, everybody! Just think, your tax dollars are helping the CIA teach my kid to eat vegetables.
|Thursday, April 4th, 2013|
|Back On The Pony That Threw Me
I'm working on that short story again, posting on the Black Gate blog
, cataloguing my books on LibraryThing
and boxing them up in preparation for my hypothetical move. By the end of Friday, in theory, the repairs will be All Done.
The water damage to my kitchen wasn't quite as bad as getting thrown by a horse, but it was definitely worse than being chased by feral geese, beset by pantry moths, or bitten by an amorous iguana.
So maybe it was like getting thrown by a pony. A willful, sentient, but well-intentioned pony. We are all about ponies in my house this week, now that the third season of My Little Pony
is on Netflix. Who says boys won't sit for stories about female characters? MLP is a veritable estrogen-fest, and my boys ask for it every day.
The boys have gone on being their delightful selves through all the kitchen disruption. Gareth and I practiced homeschooling over spring break. He can finally make a proper pencil grip with his fingers, and has fallen passionately in love with a math workbook. Conrad spent much of today chasing flocks of robins around in a park. Whenever they flew away from him, he would yell after them, "I not a predator! I Conrad!"
|Thursday, March 21st, 2013|
|Not The Return I Planned
Came home from Lunacon to find that kitchen sink had been left running all weekend.
Industrial dehumidifiers and fans running constantly for three days now. Thank you, homeowner's insurance! (Perhaps should place advance order for hearing aids.)
Contractor says: "You deserve a new kitchen."
I reply, "The new kitchen I deserve is waiting for me in another school district." Had planned to move, to have backup plan in case homeschooling doesn't work out. Schools in this town do not count as a backup plan.
Contents of pantry in laundry baskets on kitchen floor.
Small children find industrial equipment irresistible.
Lunacon was lovely. Great time. Gave good reading. Manifested secret superpowers as Vortex of Schmooze. Fun for whole family.
Water mitigation guys will remove fans tomorrow. Will seem so quiet, with only small children roaring. Perhaps will think in complete sentences again.
|Friday, March 15th, 2013|
|Alas, The Pastry Suspension Article Is Not About Pi Day and Superconductors
Finally, one of the studies on sleep deprivation in high school students looked at homeschool students alongside ones in conventional schools
. Admittedly, I don't have the science chops to tell a well-designed study from a bad one, but the sample size looks big enough to be worth noticing, "2,612 students, including nearly 500 homeschoolers." Sometime when it's not after midnight, I'll try to find out how self-selecting the homeschoolers in the sample were.
That's the article I went to The Washington Post
to find, but I checked out one of their suggestions for other articles of interest to me and...some public school suspended a seven-year-old for nibbling his pop-tart into a shape that resembled a gun
. I try to think kind and happy thoughts about public schools, for many reasons, but sometimes it is hard.
|Thursday, March 14th, 2013|
|Three Good Things
I have in my hand a check for the world's smallest book advance. Okay, the fact that it's small isn't the good part, but the advance has the huge advantage of actually existing, when lots of small presses don't offer an advance at all. I'll probably spend all five dollars in one place, probably on a single Starbucks beverage, and that's okay. This is one advance against royalties I'm pretty sure I can earn out.
Gareth's behavior at school is much better, now that we've assured him his teachers are helping us get ready to start homeschooling him over the summer. We'd been talking about maybe starting in the fall to try homeschooling , but Gareth wants to start the day right after the school year ends. Okay, that gives us the out that Dan needs: if it doesn't work for us over the summer, we can try something else when Fall comes. Seeing the teachers as allies of homeschooling, rather than the unpreferred alternative to homeschooling that he's stuck with for now, makes a huge difference in Gareth's attitude.
I've got a couple of posts up at Black Gate. This week's
is about Gareth's preference for heroic struggle over world peace. Last week's
is about the strange status Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
has among my students who are prepping for the SAT. I especially enjoyed writing this sentence about a quirk in the scoring rules: You can claim Macbeth is about some guy named Hamlet, or about two gents from Verona, or about a barbarian named Conan for that matter, and as long as you present a relationship between evidence and argument that’s coherent within the alternate universe of your essay, your evidence can be as far out of synch with the real world as you like.
|Friday, March 1st, 2013|
|Good News About That Anthology I Coedited!
, publisher of last year's Hugo nominee Jar Jar Binks Must Die
, will publish the anthology David Sklar and I coedited, Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic
It's been a long wait for us, and for all the authors who've graciously allowed us to hold onto their stories as we worked to secure a new publisher after Drollerie Press folded. Long enough, in fact, that we're not sure all the email addresses we have for all our authors are still current. If you have a story in the anthology and you're seeing this announcement here, but you haven't yet received an email from us or from Ian Randal Strock of Fantastic Books, please contact David or me.
The ink is dry on the editors' contract. Once the ink is dry on the authors' contracts, we'll be able to announce the final line-up of authors and stories. As soon as I know anything about a release date, cover art, and all that stuff, I'll be announcing it here.
|Friday, February 22nd, 2013|
|"My Nebulizer! Mine Mine Mine!"
You might guess, from the length of my post about trying to see sports writing as a subgenre of Sword and Sorcery
, that my kid is fully recovered from his bug. Nope. And predictably enough, everybody else in the house has taken sick with it, too. We're all on the upswing now, but exhausted and brittle and so ready to be done coughing.
Here's the trick to getting a balky toddler to tolerate a nebulizer: Offer it to his brother. The real clincher with my small percussionist was that we found sounds to make on the nebulizer that nothing else in the house could make. Once it was an instrument, one that Gareth might want to take, suddenly the nebulizer was something Conrad would demand. Using it effectively to get his medication actually into his lungs was another matter, but we have progress on that, too.
Someday, when Conrad wins a Grammy with his all-repurposed-medical-devices jug band, you'll know it started with that damned nebulizer.
(Oh, and yes, it turns out that sports writing becomes quite readable when you recast all the athletes as Robert E. Howard's original version of Conan the Barbarian. I suppose this is what people who don't like poetry are doing when they sing all of Emily Dickinson to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas.")
|Saturday, February 16th, 2013|
|How Can You Tell When My Kids Are Sick?
could tell because of the 105 degree fever. But for those playing along at home, you can tell when I'm caring for a sick kid by the length of my weekly post at Black Gate. Here I relate, with uncharacteristic brevity, some wacky hijinks of Client Parents from Hell
Meanwhile, I'm learning how to medicate a balky toddler by means of a nebulizer
. Note to designers of medical devices: loud mechanical noises terrify young children.
Conrad is going to be fine. Once he's fine, we'll continue be frazzled wrecks for a week, but that's a perfectly acceptable trade.
Gareth is handling his brother's illness graciously about half the time, helping fetch and carry, and comforting Conrad. The other half of the time, Gareth is acting out to get his share of the attention back, and freaking out about whether any of us are going to die, because I made the mistake of admitting to Dan that there were a couple of hours when I really thought the respiratory virus might win. Gareth and I had a long conversation about what he wants me to do with his body if he dies before me. He really, really needed to tell me that, and to hear me say I was planning for all of us to live long, happy lives. Gareth is going to be fine, too.
Somehow, despite all these goings-on, I'm making some headway on my new short story, and have arranged to be part of Broad Universe's Rapid Fire Reading at Lunacon
in Rye Brook, NY, March 15-17. More information on that as it comes in.
|Friday, February 8th, 2013|
|Conrad's First Remembered Dreams, Monster Wipes, And The Strange And Mysterious Unit
Now when Conrad has a nightmare, he continues to remember it once he wakes up. He can tell us about it. And he can form a fear that, if he falls asleep again, it might come back.
Now that we're back in this developmental stage, I can dimly remember, through a haze of old sleep deprivation, that we went through this with Gareth at about the same age. It'll pass, or at least cease to be a nightly issue. Meanwhile, oh, the suckage! Conrad mostly seems to dream about being chased and bitten--by birds, monsters, his older brother, and who knows what else. Sometimes he has happy dreams, too, laughing and talking in his sleep, but of course those dreams don't wake him up. Wouldn't it be convenient to be able to say to him, when he wakes from a nightmare, "Hey, remember how you woke from that happy dream just a couple of hours ago? You might go back to that one next."
Instead, we've told him that the disinfecting wipes we use for toys and other germy surfaces are Monster Wipes. Monsters can't stand the smell of them, just the way ants and pantry moths can't stand the smell of thyme oil. Every night, Dan wipes down Conrad's bed, and the doors and window of the boys' bedroom, so that monsters won't come in. This strategy has been more effective than anything else. Alas, Gareth has figured out that we're telling Conrad a fib, so this whole routine could lose its effectiveness at any moment.
Conrad's predicament has been much on my mind during my teaching prep hours, which have been full of Poe. A bunch of my tutoring students are reading Poe at school, in something their teachers refer to as "the strange and mysterious unit." I always think it with capital letters, as the title of an imaginary Poe story in its own right. For more about that, you can check out my Black Gate post
for this week.
|Tuesday, February 5th, 2013|
|Tag! I'm It!
Some of you have asked if there's a way to search Black Gate
for all my posts, and now there is one. I've been granted editor status on the site (Cue supervillain laugh: bwahahahaha!), so I rushed immediately to Site Admin and created the categories I wanted to tag my posts with. This
should get you to all my previous posts there, and all my new posts going forward will be properly tagged, too.
|Sunday, February 3rd, 2013|
I just hit send. The complete book manuscript for Tales from Rugosa Coven
is on its way to my publisher. I'm a little loopy from sleep deprivation, so I'm not really sure what the next step is right now. Aside from sleep. Right. I remember how to do that.
Somehow in the middle of this week's mad dash to get the book delivered, I wrote a post for Black Gate
about the developmental leap that happens around age 6, when children are first able to tell the difference between imagination and reality.
Tomorrow, while I wait to hear back from Dark Quest Books about what we do next, I'm going to work on my shiny new short story. Whenever some social network profile thing asks me what my favorite book is, I always answer, "Whichever one I'm writing that day." Apparently that goes for shorter pieces, too. I wonder what my dreaming brain will do with the prospect of generating whole new scenes for the first time in weeks.
|Sunday, January 27th, 2013|
|Minor Formatting Grumble, With Bonus Situational Irony
To get all the last bits of improvement that my old publisher and I made to Atlantis Cranks Need Not Apply
and Closing Arguments
, some of which happened while she formatted them as ebooks, I've found I need to copy the text from pdf, plunk it into Text Edit and strip all its formatting, then plunk it into MS Word, which is what my new publisher needs the book to arrive in. Getting it into standard manuscript format is easy. Going over it paragraph by paragraph so I can restore my occasional use of italics and section breaks is a pain in the tuchis. I concluded that this would actually be a less annoying way to fix the problem than to go over the outdated MS Word version I first submitted to my old publisher, word by word, checking it against the ebook version for changes and updating it.
The ironic thing is, I only have this painstaking process to go through because I submit manuscripts that have already been critiqued by a kickass workshop and that are almost entirely free of sentence-level errors. Drollerie Press asked for no significant revisions, only a sprinkling of minor changes. If I had submitted a less polished manuscript, one that obviously required fixes the moment she decided to accept it, my job would be a lot easier now.
At least everything else is done, so I'll probably still have the Rugosa book out the door Monday or Tuesday.
|Thursday, January 24th, 2013|
|Three Things, All Good
My friend annathepiper
does NOT have cancer! While it still looked like she might, she put her awesome book
is on sale for $2.99, and the sale's good through the end of January. If you like paranormal romance, stories with faerie lore, unusual collisions of fae and African-American cultures, and stories with gloriously geeky software-tester kickass heroines, you will like Faerie Blood
. Plus, the naming magic starts out deceptively conventional, only to take a movingly quirky twist later on.
The Rugosa book is still on track to go out to its publisher by Saturday. Sunday, I'm bringing a completely new short story nobody else has seen at all to a meeting of my critique group. It's possible to finish things. Nice to know.
I wrote a longish post for Black Gate
about Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
. (No, Pagan readers, not that
capital-C Craft.) It's a delightful book, which surprised me the first time I picked it up, because I'm usually allergic to horror. There's a nice comment thread going over there with suggestions for Stephen King books that show King at his Kingliest, but that aren't actually horror. Go weigh in, if you like.