Friday, March 19, 2010

Martinis & monkfish

Shannon's downstairs making us martinis, so I thought I would grab a minute. How much I miss Chicago restaurants! Tonight, we went to a tapas bar in Rice Village - we ordered quail with figs in chipotle and chocolate sauce - heaven. Then poached monkfish in a honey saffron cream - I can't imagine how they made it, as there was no texture of honey in the sauce, almost as if they boiled, frothed it into cream. Garlic spicy shrimp, baby clams and lamb kebobs in herbed couscous. Absolute heaven. It makes me want to spend more time in the kitchen, but I've been so unmotivated lately there...probably because of how much my life is absorbed in taxes right now at work. But I should do more with fish - more sauces, more broiling, etc.

It's so good to talk with Shannon - we're making up with lost time from Christmas, although it's only a short weekend. But it's good to bond about Mom, and about everything else. Tomorrow, massages & spa & gym and more martinis, then shopping.

Oh, and Shannon's just handed me a martini, in a plastic martini glass. She says it's because they slip out of her hands in the sink when she's washing them. Mmm-hmm. I think there's another reason why Benny only lets her drink out of plastic glasses.

I love my family so much! We're all so predictable.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Memory Lapse

I'm noticing a trend in slush reading regarding memory. Perhaps it's on my mind because John and I have talked about it so much in the last few months - he has several WIP's where it's a significant plot point in varying ways, and I'm playing around with the idea of it in my own new short (which isn't seeing quite the amount of time it wants to as of late, not only because of work busyness, but because I haven't got the worldbuilding sorted out to something concrete enough. I can't make up my mind which direction to take it in).

Just in the last few days I've hit 'reject' on at least five memory-based stories, and I'm guessing there will be so many more to come, both good and bad and mostly mediocre. The idea of memory loss, gain, wiping one's memory, and throwing both science and the government in to boot isn't new - anyone can probably name five different occurrences of which it's been the predominant subject; off the top of my head, the Ghost in the Shell series, The Matrix movies, several different Buffy episodes, the Wheel of Time books (Rand remembers things as the man he's reincarnated from), and the movie Memento.

The Ghost in the Shell series has had the greatest influence on both John and I, perhaps because it's so advanced in every way possible; the science, the technology, the hypotheticals of a scenario, etc. Anything is possible. There tends to be a bit of talking in it, but the writers are phenomenal at backing up every point - not once have we caught anything that doesn't make sense, and occasionally, we've even had to pause it and watch the scene again, just to grasp what's happening. Memory has been key in both of the seasons, going so far as the entire city's memories being wiped of a certain event, and even what they're presently seeing in front of them. Of course the people all have to be connected to something in order to do that, and since this is the future, everyone usually is linked up to what they refer to the net.

What I'm seeing in these slush submissions are writers trying to tackle these ambitious concepts of Bill wiping Ted's memory for whatever reason - because he can, because he's trying to prove a point, Ted wronged him some other way, a power trip, you name it. But once the whodunit is revealed, there's no real point. There's no reason for the reader to care. No one is delving into the real issue that gives power to memory as a theme - what it does to a person to have no memory. Perhaps that's because none of us (for the most part) know what that's like. If we're shown that by the author, then maybe we can connect. But hysterics on the part of the main character isn't enough to connect for a reader, isn't enough for us to care.

Ghost in the Shell is successful for several reasons. First of all, the people didn't know their minds had been hacked. They didn't realize their memories were incorrect. Episode after episode, layer after layer was unfolded until the idea of memory was even brought to the table, which is why I call all these mediocre shorts ambitious yet unsuccessful. They're trying to tap into the possibly next biggest thing in near future SF, but it's so big that it needs to be narrowed down a heck of a lot more before it can work. On top of the eventual revelation of memory as an issue, we had character involvement and development in GitS - we already cared about what happened to these people, and when it was revealed that significant tampering was done with what makes them them, that's when the real drama unfolded.

I almost want to shy away from memory altogether in this new short rather than run the risk of adding one more story to the mediocre pile, but we'll see - a story does what it wants to. And if it wants to have some memory issues, maybe I can approach it from a different angle. Perhaps the key lies in Tallis's character, and not in what happens to her - although that's usually the approach I take.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I got tired of waiting for my contributor's copy, so I decided to purchase my own copy of this book:

And voila!

I can't wait to go home and look at it.

I also purchased an anthology from Australia today - it's gotten extremely high reviews, but it's only available there for some reason, this little anthology of novellas called X6. Shipped from so far away, I think $44 is a good deal, considering so many American anothos even at Borders are at least $20.

I'm nearly just as excited to read those stories as I am to go home and look at Light Stones in print. Getting a novella published is my next goal, although I suppose I need to write a good one. Maybe I should start with a novelette. Like Braeberry Street, which will go through one more revision after tax season.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Icing aches and pains

A four mile run along the golf course and boating docks after work tonight. It was cloudy, about 55 degrees or so, and hardly windy at all for this state - perfect running weather. Because it's been over a week since I've run - something in me rebelled at much exercise last week - I was worried that it'd be a bit harder than normal. Instead, it was easier, and I actually ran faster than I normally do.

Today on facebook an acquaintance (because we're not really friends, like so many people one is 'friends' with) made a comment soliciting advice about running and shin splints, as she's a new runner. I had terrible, terrible shins splints in high school - I remember coming home from basketball games in tears, and Mom would slather icy hot on my shins, and we'd ice them for hours. I dealt with it all four years of sports. And then when I started running again back in 2007, I got them nearly immediately. At first I thought they were a result of the extra weight I was trying to lose, but since I felt awkward running as it was, I bought this book, which changed my life. I had a goal, a place to position my awkward arms and legs, and within two weeks, the shin splints were gone. It was an easy fix for the most part - I was simply landing on the wrong part of my foot, too heavy on the balls of my feet rather than centering on my entire foot. And don't push off with your feet, but use your abs, your chi, to center yourself where you run from.

I literally ran with the book in front of me on the treadmill, mostly because it was too cold to run outside at that time. I offered this up to the girl who asked for advice, and she commented with a 'I hate treadmills'. Yes, okay. Who really loves them? No one I've ever met. But when you're first starting out, and you've got awkward beginners pains, and it's 30 degrees in the still-Chicago winter, you might have to suck it up and use a treadmill. And then another person added on that oh-so-common bs about icing your legs with shin splints, which is what I read in every single health & fitness magazine as a fix from some Dr. so and so. Don't these people realize it's not a fix? It's only a bandaid for the problem? I really believe that our bodies are created to run, that each and every one of us have the ability to (maybe not the desire) to run properly, without pain - although I may not have the fix personally, since I haven't the problem, surely it's out there.

I was thinking about all of this when I was running today. My it band got cranky, and then my ankle, and then my right hamstring, etc. Sure, I could ice them all when I got home. Or I could think about what I might be doing which was causing the pain, and fix the issues - all of which were posture related, usually my abs going weak on me, and me slouching in some way and putting unnecessary pressure on the certain problem area. Just like that, the pain is gone.

By mile 3, I was connecting this to writing, of course. What's the equivalent of icing your shin splints in the writing world? Maybe working on sentence structure when you don't know what it's like to get inside a character's head and how to relay that to a reader. No, that's too complicated - that's something that takes time to learn. But it took a lot of time for me to figure out how to land correctly on my feet - 3 years of running, and I only have to remind myself maybe once out every 3 miles or so, "loose legs", so I don't push off with my feet.

And then of course there's the natural talent for something, too. I'll never be a terrific runner - sure, I'll eventually accomplish my goals, but the only chance I have at winning anything will maybe be a race when I'm super old, and the only one left alive in my age group. But if I can get the form down...that's got to count for something. Maybe if I can get this writing form down - maybe that's what matters now for me. I'm certainly learning that. But natural ability does count for something. Maybe it moves you down the path quicker. Natural ability, and hard work.

Dad sent us kids another book - one I was actually looking at a few weeks ago, in Barnes & Nobles, called Motherless Daughters. It repeats a lot of information that my other grief book has, but there's also so much that affirms what I'm going through - and how the sudden realization that your mother isn't there anymore can utterly and completely disable you in a way nothing else has before. I've never experienced anything like it before. Even last week, I was standing at the photocopier at work and was hit so hard by this agonizing wave of longing for Mom that I thought I might pass out - sounds so dramatic, but there's really nothing else like it. And right now, I think about how much I'd like to hear her voice, to talk to her about what John and I have been up to, the breads I've been making, and how Kitty is nearly as attached to Buddy as Buddy is to Kitty.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday rambling

John, the dog & the cat are all passed out downstairs, so I thought I'd force myself to get up to the computer and write out my thoughts, especially since I skipped morning pages today in favor of getting to brunch before the Sunday crowd. We ended up at Ted's Escondido Mexican Cafe (there are 5 Ted's in the area - I know all kinds of details about since they're our clients at work, and I've been wanting to go to one of the restaurants for awhile. But since John doesn't care much for Mexican food, I had to ask very nicely...) - and it was unbelievable. Anybody who comes down here, we're going. Best fajitas in the world, which I already knew, but the most UNBELIEVABLE tortillas and chips and 3 kinds of salsa and queso, just for starters. Malia, you'd be in heaven. Heaven. Oh, and then we picked up some cheesecake to take home from the Cheesecake Factory, because I've been craving peanut butter cheesecake for some time now, and I can't buy peanut butter because I'll eat it all in 2 days. From the jar.

I look at blogging as part of my working life, part of my writing life, and since that's been cut into with my actual daytime job, blogging has been set aside, too. I'm very possessive of my free time, which I think most people ought to be, and I've been fortunate enough to have a job that I can write at, for the most part, although all of that changes come tax season, which is in full swing. All this to mean I've been procrastinating on a new blog entry because I have to do in my free time - and I'd rather not. I tried to convince myself that shorter entries would work just as well, but the possibilities keep piling up -

I wanted to write about Cherie Priest's Boneshaker - and my disappointment following it, and why I started skimming at about page 100. She wins an award in my book for her fantastic worldbuilding, when it comes to steampunk. But with her characters? And the actual writing? A big emotional miss. BIG miss. It reads like a mass market urban fantasy (which truthfully, I can't knock, since those are published and none of my books are, but there's a reason why they're mass market, and why the covers all have some woman's bare back imprinted with a Celtic tattoo on them, and why the plots are predictable and follow a certain pattern) but in 19th century Seattle, and with zombies, aka rotters. She does this absolutely terrific set-up of a terrific story, but nearing 200 pages, I realized I only had so many more pages to go, and this may not be as fantastic as I was gearing myself up for. Sure enough, there's suddenly a wrap-up of details, and this glorious setting and world she created is shortchanged by the events turning around, loose ends neatly taped closed, and that was that. That's the book. The set-up was the book.

So what's all the hype about, then? Just for the steampunk glory? In all the Locus recommendations, I noticed about 1/2 the entries marked it recommended, and it didn't even make the list for the other, yes. Maybe those are the books I need to read.

I keep buying anthologies - ordered two more zombie ones, that are supposed to be somewhat original; I think I want some more good zombie stories because of the lack of follow-through on Boneshaker's 'rotters'. Also, the Strahan ones keep hitting the mark lately, and every other one falls short - why is that? I bought Strahan's Starry Rift, and the New Space Opera 2 - which is already unbelievable, in a way I can hardly process through. I don't have that kind of scientific brain, but the more I read, hopefully the more I'll learn. Plus, Strahan's Best of Volume 4 should be coming out soon. Oh, and I still the 'Secret History of Science Fiction' or something like that to read, too. And Locus recommended several more anthos which I'll be ordering soon.

Then there's the slush patterns I've been seeing lately - polished, boring-as-hell stories. No, not boring as hell, somewhat interesting. But they're not enough. Not even anywhere close. The writing is fine, but there's no level of expertise shown, about anything. Steve Chapman and I were talking about this last week - how an author has to take the reader to a different world, no matter what kind of world it is. Here, he says it better than me:

"As a reader I feel like that's an important demand I make of an author: get me convincingly inside the workings of worlds I have no access to. Show me something I haven't seen before. It doesn't have to be another planet. It could be how the drug trade works in Baltimore. If you do it well, it's still taking me to another world."

Good, yes? That's what's not happening in these submissions. They're too simple. Unlayered. Un-intriguing. Not unusual enough. There's not much I can say when I click on 'reject' other than not right for this magazine. The story is written fine - it's not impressive, it's just kind of there. But it doesn't wow me - and every single time I claim a slush submission, I hope to be wowed.

Let's see - made a cheddar, onion, herb loaf for John in the bread machine. Good, but you couldn't even tell there was cheddar & onion in it. Oh well. Also baked a very large loaf of French bread to go with lasagna last night - which might have been the best lasagna I've made yet, so John should be set with leftovers all week.

I get to see Shannon this weekend in Houston - a short trip, Friday night to Sunday afternoon, but I desperately need family time. It's been a terribly hard week with Mom, how much I've missed her. I was talking with a woman at work - she just had a quadruple heart bypass, and she was talking about how cranky she was all the time, how this surgery changed her in so many ways, and I said I understand - I haven't been the same since Mom died. She said really? You really haven't? I didn't know whether to be glad or offended - of course I initially picked the latter - how could I get over something like this quickly? It's been more traumatic for me than anything else I've ever gone through in my life, and I was so offended that someone I work with, that I see every single day, thought I was just fine. And it's only been six months. Or maybe she thinks that because I act just fine. I suppose that's the case - how else is one supposed to act, anyway, when society requires you to go on with your life as a normal, functioning person?

Anyway, I'm very excited to see Shannon, especially since we were robbed of Christmas in Houston by the uncharacteristic blizzarding here. And a Chicago trip, asap. I want to go now, but baby Youngerman will be born sooner rather than later...and I must, must, must see him...