Monthly Archives: December 2009

Ending The Year; Books Read

Yesterday and today were a pretty nice way to end the year. Indeed, the decade(!). Wednesday was highlighted by a nice long session of disc and a Nebraska win in their bowl game. Added value, we watched the game at Majerle’s with Reif (poor Arizona fan), Sean, Laura, Casey and Jeff. I had a tasty buffalo chicken wrap and a couple Kiltlifters. Today, I mostly spent the day cooking and reading. I made Baja Chicken Enchilada Soup. It came out fairly good, though thick. I had halved the amount of chicken and therefore broth, but not the amount of rice. Still, tasty enough that I had a two bowls and an associated amount of corn bread. And finished reading Book #22. (I mis-spoke at the Christmas party a few weeks ago. I had only read 21 books, not 22…)

Book #22 – Faith & Fire by James Swallow

I chose and continued to read this book for two reasons: I’m interested in how authors write military sci-fi, and I wanted to get a better feel for the Warhammer 40K setting. Swallow is a decent writer on the detail level. The combat scenes in particular are very well done. If I take something away from this book, it’s that the language of combat itself needs to be dynamic. Strong verbs are especially important. I tend to write combat in the same manner that characters take tea. This does not work. Swallow also does a lovely job of describing the 40K tech in all its gothic baroque-ness. Unfortunately, the plot of this book isn’t very good. The ending especially was painful. There were too many  cases of convenience and coincidence for me to suspend my disbelief.

But still, time spent reading. How much better does it get?

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Here are the stats for what I read in 2009:

22 "books" read.
Included a free-form handful of short stories, a graphic novel, and a group of essays on short stories by Poe.
Doesn’t include Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I checked out before gifting
to my niece.

Only 4 of them had Amazon.com word counts and other stats, so I won’t bother with those.

Only 3 of the novels were by female author. The essays on Poe were by a female author (I believe), and 5/9 of the short stories were by women.

Excluding the short story authors, I read works by 18 different authors.
8 of those authors were new to me.
Only 2 of the works were rereads.

12 were books I own(ed).
2 were PaperBackSwapped after I read them.
3 (including the short stories and the Poe essays) were in electronic form.
7 were from the library

In the category of books acquired:

Acquired 15 books.
Not including text books or computer books.

3 were gifts.
6 were from PaperBackSwap.
2 were from the library’s sales corner.
1 of the remainder were bought new and 3 were bought used.

I read the book I bought new.

For 2010:

My intention is to read 30 books, and to not purchase new books.

I’m considering the goal of reading a book every ten days with the reasonable exception of something like Return of the King, which will be read in conjunction with Tor.com’s read-through. I’m also considering an established reading list. The problem is that as soon as I set these sort of rules, I take glee in breaking them. It might be a nice challenge though.

If I were to generate a reading list, it would start out with:

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (on loan from Tyler)
On Basilisk Station by David Weber (on loan from the library)
The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu (shiny and new…Christmas present!)
Hart & Boot & Other Stories by Tim Pratt (also shiny and new)
A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin (on its way to me via PBS)
Stephen King Goes to the Movies (also on its way to me via PBS)
Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin (low-hanging already-started fruit)
And chapters of The Return of the King

A Decade

Since 2000, I:
(in rough chronological order)

  • Finished my first novel.
  • Got married.
  • Finished two sprawling fantasy novels that are not good.
  • Taught myself HTML.
  • Gained 10 pounds
  • Learned to play ultimate fribee.
  • Threw my back out.
  • Realized I really loved playing ultimate frisbee.
  • Came to love Arizona.
  • Attended my first genre/writing convention.
  • Finished two other novels that *are* good.
  • Bewilderingly became the webmaster for VOTS.org.
  • Lost 15 pounds.
  • Realized I probably have RA.
  • Began to actively try things to manage my arthritis.
  • Started running.
  • Started playing less ultimate frisbee.
  • Drafted three other novels.
  • Weathered my husband quitting his job to go back to school.
  • Started occasionally having conversations with people other than my husband.
  • Saw my first novel published.

The list could be longer. The one thing I’ve learned over the past decade (a lesson I will continuously relearn) is to not be satisfied. When the novel seems good, it’s time for another edit. Even though the throw was caught, the throw could have been more on-target. When an explanation is given, verify that the explanation makes sense. This is not the easy route. Too often, I slap the "Good Enough" label on things. This is something to work on in the coming decade.

Storytelling, Story-stealing

‘Avatar’ and the Death of Storytelling – Cinematical:

how the frak can James Cameron have cooked this story up for a decade, waiting for technology to catch up with his vision, and not want the story to be killer? How can he not at least work that script into a form that can at least begin to rival the visuals it’s matched with? It seems like an insult.

This is a question Eric asks of many TV shows and movies. The budgets of such projects is huge, yet it seems that little is spent on writing or fact-checking (see Pet Peeves).

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As promised: Obscure Media Monday has a second round of recently-watched movie reviews.

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And now a word about Google:

If you are of a writing/publishing bent, you’ve probably heard about the Google Book Settlement. If you’re not and you haven’t, Michael Stackpole has a run-down of the basics. If you combine this with some recent comments from Google senior vice president about "open" policy and other commentary about Google profiting from the content of others, you might have the impression that Google masquerades "what’s good for Google profit" as "what is good for the citizens of the world." And that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I propose moving away from Google, if you can. It’s not easy. Google has some nice applications. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against "payment" for these apps in advertising and such, but the problem is that Google has become harmful to certain sectors. Sectors that strongly overlap with my interests.

I’ve changed my default search engines. I’ve abandoned Google Reader for Bloglines and a WordPress blog to keep track of my reading. I’ve never been a fan of Google Docs, so no loss there. Unfortunately, Gmail and the combination of GCal and Tasks are hard for me to give up. I’ll keep them for the moment, but I’m keeping my eyes open for a alternatives.

Recent Cinema (that you’ve heard of)

With Eric on break and no other constraints on our time, we’ve been catching up on movies. Comparing my Flixster ratings with my journal entries, I’m way behind on journaling about movies too. I’ll hit the highs and notable lows of recent-ish mainstream-ish releases. The stuff you probably haven’t heard of I’ll write about over on Obscure Media Monday.

Sherlock Holmes (2009) – Since I was excited to see this movie, we decided to go to an opening-day Christmas showing. Despite my rants about Beowulf, I really have no problem with literary figures being adapted to movies. Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters, and a favored property for pastiche. I’ve seen him done every-which-way, and the only real requirement is that Holmes retains his particular Holmes qualities. One could argue what those are exactly, but I’d venture to say that it’s his fairly Aspergean nature. He’s driven and focused and, therefore, a bit of a bastard to people. The Holmes of this movie has enough of that to be a good Holmes. The plot has to be given credit for being ambitious *and* pulling it off without running into major problems. Not too many movies can say that. Finally, Guy Ritchie was perfect for this movie. The quick “explanation” flashbacks were well done and are something Ritchie is good at. As for the action… I’d say the more “Ritchie” action sequences—short, brutal fights—are pitch-perfect. The set-piece action never struck me as overboard on an individual scene level, but in total seemed a bit much.

The Wrestler (2008) – One of the darlings of last year, a deserved reputation. The performances are great. The film is well-shot because, if anything, Darren Aronofsky is an interesting film maker. Character-driven and a strange sort of love letter to the wrestling of the 80s.

The Hangover (2009) – I wasn’t really interested in seeing this movie, but Mark and Trish had it and were up for watching it again. It was funnier than I expected it to be, containing (as Eric puts it) a lot of “smart” dumb. And a good dash of absurdity which I always appreciate.

The Invasion (2007) – Daniel Craig is the best thing in this movie and I can’t figure out why he’s in it. It is about as bad as the worst 1950s alien invasion films. Except without the cheesy flying saucers.

District 9 (2009) – I have a soft spot for low-budget movies that don’t look like low-budget movies (low budget being defined as around the $50 million mark). Much has already been said of the merits of $30 million District 9 versus $200 million Transformers 2. While the former is by no means a great movie, I’m going to go out on a pretty strong limb and say it’s probably better than the latter. I also appreciate it using a very unsympathetic protagonist, though by the end of the movie I did feel manipulated. Wikus and the rest of the humans are such heels that I have to side with the Prawns.

State of Play (2009) – In retrospect, I have no feelings for or against this movie. It was alright. The majority of the plot seemed jammed into a 24 hour period, but the pacing of the movie itself was good. Good cast. Just not an outstanding movie.

Flightplan (2005) – The last Jodie Foster movie I was dubious of and pleasantly surprised by was Panic Room (a movie that is probably unwatched enough to make OMM). This movie was no where as good. To “meta” the plot, you ask yourself, “If she’s nuts, what’s the point of this movie?” There is a nice aspect to how the people on the plane react; the different degrees of indifference, empathy and hostility that they show. Similar in that respect to the series four Doctor Who episode “Midnight.”

The Proposal (2009) – I like Sandra Bullock, and occasionally I delve into the land of chick flicks. This one isn’t good. It isn’t bad either, but it’s incredibly formulaic. Even for this genre, there were no surprises.

RocknRolla (2008) – Good flick, if you like Guy Ritchie films. It shows some progression away from the gimmicks of Lock, Stock or Snatch (and not all gimmicks are bad). Strong storytelling.

Primer (2004) – Didn’t care for it. I followed along for the most part, but it felt as though the movie was being intentionally obfuscatory. I also wonder what group of engineers wear ties ALL THE TIME.

The Benefits of 12 year-old Software

There are two writing tools I would love to try, but alas, they are for Mac OS X and I am ardently a PC girl. These tools are on two ends of a spectrum.

The first is Scrivener. It seems to be an uber writing program. It is not only a word processor, but a research and plot management tool that has revision and screenwriting features. It seems to do everything but fetch another cup of coffee when you run dry. Some of these bells and whistles might be useful. Some of them might just be an insidious way to procrastinate.

Which brings me to the second tool: OmmWriter. Rands In Repose offers a nice review. Basically, it’s a white-background text editor that you use in full-screen mode. It accompanies your writing with soothing sounds. This is one of the many applications and hacks that is meant to make your 24′ monitor obsolete and save you from any distraction that might shake you out of your creative vibe.

I could easily understand the pull of Scrivener. There is always an aspect of “managing” a novel that I think could be done better. I use a combination of Word, Excel, note cards and a notebook to keep track of text, notes, revisions, etc. Eric and I even delved into using a wiki to keep track of world building issues. Nothing works perfectly, but nothing will. It’s a matter of settling on what works well enough.

Things like OmmWriter were a bit perplexing to me until I saw some screen shots of the current version of Word. I’m still using Word ’97. If there are bells and whistles, they aren’t user friendly enough to be rung or blown by me. The lure of OmmWriter isn’t the white-out, but the accompanying noises. Sometimes, it’s all too much effort to queue up a playlist to drown out my downstairs neighbor’s love of 70’s rock.

Then again, I’m working toward quiet and balance. Maybe I do have too much distraction and need a white-out tool. Or, I need to find what ultimately works for me within the myriad ways of doing things. Nonetheless, I’m not rushing to upgrade my basic word processing tool.

Happy Holidays – YouTube Edition

Okay, this selection *is* Christmas oriented (as is 90% of the holiday season) but please, don’t be offended. When I say Happy Holidays, I mean it with honest good will. There’s no need to be touchy about it.

Let’s start off with The League of S.T.E.A.M.’s “The Fright Before Christmas.” If you’re not familiar with The League of S.T.E.A.M., think steampunk Ghostbusters:

Speaking of steampunk, Captain Robert (of Abney Park) and his wife at the piano:

And lastly, if you haven’t seen it…where have you been? Obviously, not on a social network. It’s the Muppets and it’s fun:

A Party and a Resolution

Lovely party at Tyler and Cathy’s Friday night. Cookies and Cocktails. How can one go wrong with that? I had a nice time chatting with people, seeing some of the little ones who are rapidly getting bigger. Oddly, my current age group seems to consist mostly of couples with kids and bachelors. As usual at such parties, Eric and I stayed way too late. I think we arrived home shortly before 3am. I spent yesterday recovering.

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Via Storytellers Unplugged:
5 Principles to Remember as You Battle the Demons of Creative Procrastination

Related to “Get Things Off Your Mind” and “Do Morning Pages”: I need to work on quieting my mind. I often seem to have too many dialogues going on in my head at once. It’s distracting and exhausting. I want to compartmentalize; concentrate on doing one thing at a time instead of spinning off on tangents. While I have no concrete goal in mind, I resolve to do this in the New Year.