Tuesday, September 30, 2003

So Tired

Today the clouds have decided to hang around. They're blocking the sun. They're hiding the mountains. They're hovering in the sky with a bland gray that hurts the eyes and the heart. They're really pissing me off. I'm not ready for gray skies and cold breezes and bare trees. The only consolation is that the sun will be back shortly. It usually can't stand to be blocked by clouds for more than a day or two here. Still...

Blah weather makes me feel blah. It probably doesn't help that I've been genuinely tired pretty often this month. That may just be a product of paying attention to my sleep patterns for all this sleep apnea test stuff. Whatever the cause, though, I'm really tired. and that's about the way September went for me.

I've got a few ways to combat this. I'm going to drag my butt out of bed and exercise regularly instead of hitting snooze for an hour. I don't know if that hour of snooze sleep is helping or hurting my sleepiness, but the exercise will only help, so I'm going to start giving that a better try. And next on the list once I see how that goes is to analyze my writing patterns and come up with a better schedule for me. I still haven't found a plan that works well for me. And I don't like the attitude of "I'll write whenever the muse lets me". It's a cop out. So hopefully the constant exercise will perk me up and give me a good idea about how to write regularly. An idea that feels right.

And those clouds better take the hint and breeze on out of here. That will do a world of good too.

Saturday, September 27, 2003


I just found out that I have spellchecker abilities now! Amazing! So much for that excuse when I see typos on my blog....


Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend with 300 other writers and a handful of agents and editors. The agents and editors were the most sane and human of the bunch, which surprised me after all those evil publishing world stories and terrible rejection letters I've heard about. I was warned that writers loved to talk about themselves and their books, but I didn't expect to be clocking how long it took before someone did the "In my book..." question to a panel (in case you're wondering: thirty minutes into the conference, which means it was the first question to the first panel; ten minutes later, another writer used the same ploy to the same panel). What really shocked me was that the question always had this arrogant tone to it. Maybe that's just the way my ears heard it, but "In my book..." came out in true John Cleese fashion. By the end of the first day, the "In my book..." business was so pervasive that I was trying to tell myself I wasn't really a writer, that I had been forced into this weekend as part of some cruel punishment. OK, so it wasn't that bad, but it got close.

For example, I was chatting with someone about editor feedback in rejection letters and in general. The other writer was talking about how he couldn't think of "whoring" his book by changing everything the editor asked for. After all, The Book was Perfect because the Writer had Written it. I made some sort of comment to the effect that, if he wasn't willing to change it, he could forget the idea of publishing The Book. That's when he said that he would just have to write a different book then. I'm not sure if my jaw dropped or not. I know it wanted to. I hadn't expected to bump into The Artiste with that person. But the stereotype was there, lurking, waiting for the best moment to laugh "Bwahaha!" and spew some arrogant statement.

And then there were the writers, in all their wisdom, that had to tell me what was wrong with my book and how to fix it. These comments would usually blindside me. The rare times I did talk about my book, it was in this style:
Writer: "Aren't contest judges odd?"
Me:"Yes, you should see the differences in my comments. 'Eugene was compelling.' 'Eugene was a blank.'" Etc
Arrogantly Helpful Unpublished Artiste: (butting in) "I thought Eugene was a problem. You should sit down with me and go over *insert piece of writing craft here*. It'll fix all your problems."

I learned so much that weekend. And when Teresa pointed out problems in Human Dignity, I listened. I saw the problems, and I started thinking of ways to fix them. True, I could've defended the things she pointed out, but what's the point. A big shot editor is telling me the things that are preventing her from publishing my book. I want my book published. I will fix said things, especially because I see exactly how they're holding my story back. HD is all about theme. It would take a lot of ruthless tweaking by anybody to get rid of that. Even AHUA. Which is why I grit my teeth and even made plans of working with AHUA to go over *insert piece of writing craft*. Hey, if I learn something, great. Chances are even AHUA's arrogant comments can trigger something to make my writing better. Even if it's just an example of what not to do.

I dunno, maybe my attitude that My Writing Is Not Perfect comes from the fact that I never even considered myself a writer until a year ago. I grew up with the expectation that I would be a research scientist at a university. When writing came along, it was a shock. And I knew I had a lot to learn because I had never spent any time training for a career as a writer. That and I've always loved to learn. So if someone can show me a new way or a new idea or a new thought, I'm there, eager and willing. It's just not in my nature to say "Where does that Big Shot Editor get off?" after a good crit by BSE - even if it is only a way to soothe my ego. The way I soothe my ego in that case is to say "BSE pointed out things I already knew were a problem, some things I can see being a problem, and I've already got a few ideas on how to fix things." That's my way of licking my wounds.

I think that's going to be the one problem with getting more involved in writing. I'll start seeing bigger and bigger egos. I just hope mine doesn't swell with them.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Writing Goals

OK, so Tuesday was the first day in nearly a month that I had written anything in either Human Dignity or Red Rocks. I'm not sure why I took this hiatus. It guess it felt like I needed it. The good news: I've got really good ideas for making HD tighter and better. The bad news: those really good ideas necessitate me restarting the revision process. Not wholly a bad thing. I just seem to keep holding myself back. So I'm trying to revamp my writing attitude by detailing my writing goals and my life goals. It's funny, I always know what they are, but I keep them in my head. I've heard that putting things into writing makes them more real, more tangible, more attainable. So that's what I'm going to spend some time on tonight. And hope that lights a fire under me for starting up on HD again tomorrow.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

And now for something completely different

Stumbled on to a new blog today. I loved her entry about a Creative Writing Notebook from College Past. There's some great words and memories in the comments as well.

The Joys of Having Both Scientific Power and Money

Not only can you get your own DNA sequenced, but you can get your pet poodle's DNA sequenced too. Ah, to be Craig Venter, to be able to say things like "[My pet] is now one of history's most valuable dogs." And this just after I got finished teaching a class at Forward Motion about how the mad scientist is a work of Hollywood fiction.

What Scientists Really Care About

News like this. I am not all that surprised. In fact, I'm thinking I must have known this already, as I wrote of an octopus-like alien capable of, ahem, interacting with a human. Don't look at me like that! It's not my fault that the human in question has an affinity for that sort of thing. I just write what the muse tells me. Well, not really, because I didn't actually write the particular scene for which this article provides information. I mean, I can barely write an intraspecies love scene well, let alone an interspecies one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Ah, the Sweet Smell of Irony

It turns out that the record labels suing file-sharers for copyright violations may have committed a few infrigements themselves. The reaction from the Recording Industry Association of America makes me think about what the MLB nearly did to itself twice in the recent past:

The Recording Industry Association of America called Sharman's "newfound admiration for the importance of copyright law" ironic and "self-serving."

One might also say that the RIAA's newfound denegration of the importance of copyright law is ironic and self-serving. Or do they feel that copyright law can only protect big corporations and not The Little People? Making enemies of the people that create and/or support your business seems extremely foolish.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Something I'll Always Find Entertaining

A spoof of the Periodic Table. Nothing beats science humor. It has something that slapstick and potty jokes just can't rival.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Standard Trouble

Turns out the most beloved of chemistry constants, Avagadro's Number, may be wrong. I kid you not, I actually gasped when I read this article. Fond memories of using this constant in high school and college suddenly have a gray cast. Have I been using an inaccurate number all these years??? But the scariest part of this article is that there are several labs all over the world dedicated to getting the metric system into absolute atomic quantities. And I thought my job could get a bit dull. This brings to mind the folks who like to argue about pi.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Sleep Test

I've completed the latest study ordered by the doctors pursuing the cause of my dizziness. They're trying to rule out sleep apnea. So I had to drive down to Denver (I've been downtown so many times these past three weeks) and pick up a sleep test "kit". And I had to suffer a video explaining what sleep apnea is and treatments and blah blah blah. And then I had to be taught how to rig the silly contraption for the study.

So I dutifully went about wiring myself last night just before I went to bed. The worst part was the slack they give you on the wires. It's supposed to be helpful, but I have to move around a bit as I try to fall asleep. The excess wirage complicated this. And then there was the Constricting Black Band of Death. I had to strap that sucker up around my chest tight enough so it could measure my breaths. Not fun. But how could I forget the Nose Harness? To measure air pressure in my nostrils, I had to hook up some plastic tubing in my nose, around my ears, under my chin, and extra slack winding down into a recording device (which, by the way, was velcroed to the Less Constricting But Still Uncomfortable Blue Band of Annoyance around my tummy). To keep the nostril tubage secure, I had to tape it to my face. Mark was damn near asleep if he wasn't snoring already, so I had to manage the tape myself. And I was too stubborn to get up and look at what I was doing in a mirror. Which meant I had a little flap of tape way too close to my lips all night. One last thing: you know those pulse monitor clothes line pin thingies that go over your index finger? I had to jerry-rig one with tape over my index finger (this resulted in more excess wirage floating around under the covers before it entered the recording device).

Then I had to manage to fall asleep. It took two and a half hours, but I finally did drift off. Ended up getting about six and a half hours of sleep (including snooze time). I was very happy to take the stuff off. I was less than thrilled to see that the nostril tubage had left imprints on my face. And last on the list for this study was to drive the kit back down to Denver, where someone will dutifully analyze everything and file the information away. I think a specialist might look at it a day or two before my next appointment, which is a month away. Instant gratification this is not. If they find something that indicates sleep apnea, they'll set me up for a Full Out Torture Session, I mean Sleep Study. My mom just went through this a few days, um, nights ago. It doesn't sound pleasant.

But if this is what it takes to get rid of my dizziness, I'll gladly sacrifice a night's comfortable sleep for it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003


While I was freaking out just before the agent interview, one of the published authors in RMFW decided to take me under his wing. He talked me into a better spot so I felt more like a small satchel of nerves, instead of a whole basket. After the agent interview, he bumped into me in a class and asked how things had gone. The next morning, he waved me to his table at breakfast, and I thanked him for helping me out on Saturday. We got to talking, and then he gave me a business card. But this was no ordinary card. It had a penny glued to it. "This is an unused wish," he told me. I thought that was a pretty neat idea, but the penny caught my attention. It just seemed a little odd considering my penny experience from a few hours before he gave me the card.

Saturday night, I had been so engrossed in my conversation with Teresa that I completely forgot to call Mark and tell him I might be running late. So when I finally turned on my phone at 1:15 AM and called him, he was understandably upset. While I was apologizing and trying to tell him why I hadn't called, he mentioned why he had gone from concerned to really worried about me. He had gone out onto our porch to walk around and pace away his uneasiness. But on the porch he found a penny. A penny from 1978. The year I was born.

Mark's not a very superstitious person. But he'd heard somewhere about finding a penny from a person's birth year when they die or on the anniversary of their death. And so he started to get really upset about why I hadn't called.

When I finally did call, we were both all over the map emotionally. The buzz I had from chatting with Teresa and the other two women was still propelling me forward, keeping me awake. But I also felt guilty for not keeping my husband in the loop. And I also knew exactly what Mark was feeling. A year or two ago, Mark and our friend PJ decided to hike two 14,000 ft peaks in one day (they're fairly close together and wouldn't require them hiking all the way down to the base of each peak and then back up). He told me they would be back around 5PM or so. At 10PM, I was trying to figure out who I need to call to report a missing hiker. Hell, I even pulled out the yellow pages to see if I could find the number for "Rocky Mountain Rescue" there. Just before I figured out the people I needed to alert, Mark called and said they were on their way home, that they had run into some trouble but were fine.

All the different feelings and thoughts and concerns scrambled my brain, and I could tell Mark was still in a bad place. So I hooked up my hands-free set and talked to him the entire drive. When I got home, Mark showed me the penny he had found. And I told him it was a good penny. That he had found it because I was having such a good time and because I had wished he could've been sitting right next to me the entire night, experiencing everything with me.

When the author gave me a business card with a penny's worth of unused wishing Sunday morning, I thought of the penny Mark had found. I thought of all the good things that had happened that weekend. And I knew I'd have to think hard to come up with a wish. But I knew I could think of something.

Monday evening, my mother called. And she told me how proud she was of me. For the past year and a half, I've been waiting for my mother to say this. She hasn't understood my need to leave a PhD program with a masters, to abandon that degree by getting a job as a secretary, and to keep that "nothing" job so I can chase my dream of writing. And her lack of understanding chipped away at my heart. But Monday night she apologized and told me how eager she was to fully support my writing, instead of just tolerating it as she had before. Tears, laughter, vocalized hugs, joy. Another big, huge, amazing bit of good news to add to the mix.

Tuesday I realized that I was kinda out of wishes. I was out of an agent's slushpile. I had a human face to put on the publishing industry. I had learned numerous things about my craft. I had the energy to stop the destructive thought processes about my writing. I had friends cheering me on. I had my mother's support. And I had my husband right beside me for every step. I had no idea what was left for that wish.

I thought maybe I would use it for something bigger than myself. I can't do much to bring about world peace, but maybe adding a penny wish to my hopes and prayers would at least make me feel a little less impotent about the state of the world. For a moment. I put aside this thought and decided I would come back to this unused wish later.

And then I talked with a friend of mine this morning. Over the weekend, one of her two cats had escaped the house, and they fear the worst. Add to that a messy divorce, the battered health of her soon-to-be ex, and a myriad of other issues. That's where my wish belongs. I'm glad I waited to use it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Thank You, Teresa

Because I paid $30 and sent in my conference application fairly early, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with Teresa Nielsen Hayden of Tor. Each of the seven workshop attendees got fifteen minutes of comments on the first ten pages of our respective manuscripts. We had thought we would be reading our submissions out loud, but that would greatly diminish the time each writer had to get feedback from Teresa. So we cut out the reading. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had practised, but my stomach and nerves wouldn't have made the experience pleasant. I let out another sigh when Teresa said someone else would go first and I would go second. My stomach settled, my hands stopped shaking, I could do this.

And then, just as suddenly, I was going first.

Interior Monologue: "AAAAACCCKKKK!!!!!!"

Teresa mentioned that the synopses in general were problematic. So she started my fifteen minutes by asking me, "What's Human Dignity about?"

Interior Monologue: "Huh? Did I write that? It seems strangely familiar. Oh wait! I think I remember the theme of that story."

So I spit out the theme of HD. And Teresa said, "Well that's the theme. What's your book about?"

I had no idea where to start. I remembered that I had prepared a pitch for my agent interview, but that was buried somewhere in my bag. Realizing I had to say something, I mumbled some self-depracating (yet - I'm told - amusing) comment about how this was my first conference. And then I just started into the plot and everything was fine. But for a nanosecond, my worst fear of crying in front of Teresea Nielsen Hayden of Tor almost came about. Thankfully, it didn't happen. And everyone was incredibly indulgent and supportive as I fumbled my way through my answer. Especially Teresa.

Her comments were great. The comment I remember most clearly was when she pointed out a lovely writerism. "A perfect silence smacked the oak table." As soon as she drew a red line under the word "smacked," (I was sitting next to her, looking over her shoulder) I knew what she was going to say. And I had to laugh at myself. It had seemed such a clever thing to write at the time I was polishing my first ten pages. I was getting rid of the word "hit" because I had used it just before or after that sentence. And "smacked" seemed really artistic in its place. But how silence can make sound is beyond me. Which is something I didn't even think about when I substituted "smacked" for "hit".

Anyway, it was a great experience. And somehow I managed to get swept up into the group of important RMFW type folks that took Teresa to dinner. So I got to hear more from Teresa about publishing, writing, authors, and all sorts of fun industry gems. I drove home thinking, "Wow. That was fun." Just a day into the conference, and I'm already buzzing.

Saturday morning was the agent interview I've already described. And then I was in classes all day. Great classes, but that's a later post. After the big banquet, a smaller number of the attendees wandered up to a party. And somehow I ended up all alone in a conversation with Teresa. I don't know when we started talking, but the first time I looked at my watch, it was 10:15, and we both made noises about calling it a night soon. The next time I looked at my watch, it was 11:15, and we moved up to a party in the RMFW president's room with a very small group of people. At 12:15 (yes, AM), Teresa, the RMFW Pres, the RMFW Treasurer (I think), and myself were camped out on a bed, still chatting. At 1:15 I was trying to squeeze in a "ThankyouTeresaIhadagreattimetalkingtoyougoodnight" as the elevator doors slid shut. And then I sped down seven floors to leave the hotel and drive home.

That entire time, I talked about my book only once. I have been told that HD is a scientific thriller, not science fiction. I tend to think of it as SF, but I wanted to know what an industry pro would think so I could know if I was doing something stupid in billing it as SF in a query. Teresa said it was science fiction. And that was about it for my book.

Let me tell you how happy I am that we didn't talk about my book. And how nice it was that I didn't even feel compelled to bring it up. In fact, I had to really make a point of remembering to ask if she considered my book SF. I had the best time talking about anything and everything with Teresa. After a day and a half of concentrating on writing, getting published, getting an agent, it was very refreshing to just kick back and be women, be people. And I realized on Sunday that our conversation also gave me a human element to associate with the publishing world. That makes the idea of eventually submitting my work to a publisher or agent seem less like a black/white, accept/reject, anonymous, cruel world. Talk about refreshing and revitalizing.

And all that for $30 and an early application.

Monday, September 15, 2003

The Good News

While I still have a lot to say about the conference, and a lot to just ponder and let percolate, I thought I'd at least provide a quick summary of (most of) the good news.

I'm out of an agent's slushpile. Meaning an agent asked me to submit the first thirty pages of Human Dignity. Well, she actually said for me to send her the first thirty pages of anything I had. This was before I even had a chance to finish saying my name. For whatever reason, I got the impression she said this to everyone she met with. But I wasn't in the most self-supportive of moods. Maybe she did say it to everyone. Maybe she spoke with someone else at the conference and knew my name and wanted to see my stuff. Who knows? Quite frankly, who cares? She wants to see the first thirty pages of HD. And because it's solicited, my first novel won't be sitting around in this agent's slushpile, waiting for some lowly assistant to wade through a ton of junk to find it. That's cause enough for the wine Mark and I drank last night.

The ten-minute interview with this agent went well. I made some good newbie mistakes. She was very candid and happy to explain a few things to me (such as a log-line - hadn't heard that one before). And she was excited that I write SF, fantasy, and romance. She was most excited about my fantasy. It was a bit odd, though, since she told me right away that she wanted to see 30 pages of my work before I had barely sat down. And since I was supposed to pitch my novel(s) to her in the interview (with the hope that she'd ask to see it), I was somewhat at a loss to continue. I had three pitches prepared. And she already wanted to see my manuscripts. I was trying to ask her what she meant by "literary science fiction and fantasy" but before I could, she mentioned that she was interested in fantasy with a romantic subplot as well as science fiction. So I decided to start rambling on about my fantasy novel.

She had some great questions about it. My hero and heroine are humans chosen by the sort of Supreme Creator Loria to have magic (the only creatures with magic on the world are elementals and Mayj). And the agent asked me, "Why were they chosen?" A very good question. One which Loria has not seen fit to answer yet. She just tells me what she's doing, not really why. So I found myself blinking and explaining this in terms that didn't sound unbalanced only because I was at a writing conference. And then the agent asked another great question: "Is it finished?" By now I'm sure I was blushing to the hue of tomato paste. I'm not sure how I said it wasn't finished, but I'm sure it sounded very meek and ridiculous.

On the very plus side, though, the agent was very excited about the magic in Velorin being musically based and having a somewhat scientific element to it. She seemed very interested in this fantasy project. So I'm hoping that really lights the fire under me to step up my work on it.

The other quick bit of good news is that I've been invited to attend another critique group. This one meets every other Thursday down in Denver. And most of the folks who run RMFW are in it, and a number of published authors frequent the group. Also, a good three writers from this group made the final round of the writing contest. An excellent group to help with my writing in addition to my current group, as well as a way to maintain and get more contacts in RMFW and the writing world in general. So I'll journey down there this Thursday and see what's what.

I've got at least two more entries about the conference, one that will elaborate greatly on point 4 from my previous post. I'm still too tired to write much more, though. And one more thought: I'm not sure why I never mentioned the agent by name. But it's something I did, and the agent shall remain anonymous until I can figure out why my subconscious decided to do things that way.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

A Few Thoughts

I'm far too exhausted to get into much detail about the weekend. Suffice to say, it was fabulous, I learned tons, I have some good news, and I can't wait until my brain shifts down from hyperspeed so I can dwell on everything a bit more. A few thoughts and observations I picked up on:

1. I'm a lot taller and younger than I generally think of myself. Being 5'8" doesn't seem too tall when you think that the average height of women is 5'6". But then I put on boots that made me around 5'10". I didn't do this intentionally. The boots just went nicely with my outfit. And usually I would be standing in a group that contained men. Or else I would be sitting. But I'm having a nice conversation with a group of women at one point last night, and I realize that I'm towering over them. Luckily we sat down shortly after this realization. And I got the impression that there may have been no more than 20 people in their 20s at the conference. And that feels like a gross overestimate. Most of the writers there were in their late 30s at the youngest. But this is nothing new. I just felt it more stronly than usual when I was at a table where the closest person to my age was my parents' age. And the other people at the table were in their 60s or older. I kept waiting for someone to reach over and wipe some schmutz off my face with a spit-laden thumb.

2. Writers are a fascinating breed. So are agents and editors, for that matter. :) This is one pretty complicated, enthralling, tiring, uplifting, supportive, instructing, criticizing, ego-indulgent, ego-destroying hobby/craft/art/job. And I'm really hoping I can explain that sentence to myself tomorrow after a good night's sleep.

3. I'm going to get yanked into "volunteering" for something with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in the near future. This is what happens when you spend a good deal of time with the president of the organization, and she wants you to start going to her critique group. I sense that I will be seeing a lot more of downtown Denver in the next year than I have in the past three years.

4. Teresa Nielsen Hayden is an amazing woman, and I wish I had the money and the time to go to the week-long workshop she'll be doing this month at Martha's Vineyard - Viable Paradise. Maybe some time in the next five years, I'll get a chance. Until then, I hope RMFW can convince her to be a regular at the Colorado Gold conferences. I have much more to say on this point, but I really need to digest it some more. It seems I was often raising my hand and swearing to silence or being warned that TNH really didn't say what she just said, so I need to make sure I don't accidentally blurt anything I vowed to keep to myself. :)

5. I have not read or written nearly enough yet. There are so many names that got tossed around all over the place this weekend. Sometimes it felt like they were just coming down in a torrent of alien sound. I need to go bug my critique buddy Sherri at the public library and figure out how that system works (my only exposure to libraries as been on military bases and college campuses). And it's time to get serious about my writing. Every day, not just when I feel like my subconscious and muse have finally graced me with their coherent presence.

And there's much, much more to write about. But I am in zombie mode, and this is after a two hour nap this afternoon. I hope I have some more coherent things to say about this weekend - as well as some more coherent nuggest of wisdom that haven't escaped the sieve of my mind - tomorrow. Now more than ever do I wish my brain worked like TiVo.

**Note: I used the word "coherent" at least four times in this post. I smell irony.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The Final Countdown

(I love that song. Complete 80s cheese.) Tomorrow is the day. The first day of my first writing conference. The day I will read aloud a few pages of Human Dignity to Teresa Nielsen Hayden. The day I will try to scrub off the word "Newbie" from my forehead at every possible chance I get. My nervousness is a tangible thing, has been for most of this week. Logically, I know how silly that is. This is a great opportunity to learn about my craft. But there's some ego-driven corner of my mind that's still loudly insisting I'm going to walk away from this weekend with a contract for ten books and the world's best agent to represent me. And it's making me nervous. Like if I don't walk away with said contract and agent then I'm an utter, miserable failure of a writer who would never be capable of writing anything beyond a list of ingredients on a cereal box. I hate that ego-driven corner of my brain. I wish it would shut up.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Speaking of Notes

Low, deep, inaudible (to the human ear) sounds may be the culprit behind "ghosts". I'm interested in this concept for the magic in Velorin. I hope I can work it in.

That Black Hole Can Really Wail

Turns out black holes generate sound as they suck stuff in. My favorite part of this article comes at the very end, where the Milky Way is described as a "young, rambunctious galaxy" and therefore wouldn't be "singing". I wonder, then, if the notes other galaxies sing translates into parental rebukes?

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Political Leanings

Since the democratic campaigns are starting to warm up, I thought I'd toss out a link to The Political Compass test. It's designed to plot you on the left-right/authoritarian-libertarian grid. I landed in the Libertarian Left quadrant, about a third of the way in down the diagonal of the quadrant. Just like any quiz that chucks out a label, take with whatever measure of NaCl you deem appropriate.

Sacrificing Science for the Dollar

Money makes the world go 'round. It's a terrible cliche, but it's an even more terrible reality. And science isn't immune. I've been to Biosphere 2 a couple times, having lived in Tucson off and on for four years. I attended an ethics conference there and took the tour with my family during another visit. It's a pretty neat place. Part of its lure is the offbeat history it has (including using actors who thought they could act well enough to become scientists - can't find a link for that story, though). For a great discussion of the biggest problem with Biosphere 2 as a self-contained ecosystem, check out this link.

I've always found Biosphere 2 fascinating. I did some kind of report on it back in seventh or eighth grade (just before or just after the eight "scientists" sealed themselves in). It's got amazing potential for just about any scientific project that has even the slightest biological implication. To think that this quirky yet fasinating place might be leveled and redeveloped is just horrifying. Although, I can't imagine anyone thinking they could turn a profit from it as anything but the Biosphere. There's nothing out there. It's not like Wal-Mart's just dying to get their hands on that property. Oracle is far enough north of Tucson and east of the interstate between Tucson and Phoenix that it's really not going to be beneficial to make the sight anything commercial. I hope some other university (perhaps ASU or UofA??) can snatch up the property. It would be a shame to see such an amazing scientific lab shut down. Biosphere 2 will never be used to study the potential of space colonies as a whole, but it could be used to learn so much more about ecosystems so we go into space colonization armed with that knowledge. Hell, so we just go into developing land here on Earth armed with that knowledge. I really hope someone saves Biosphere 2.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Thanks, Sheila

After a wash of a day in which I spent more time getting frustrated with humanity so I wouldn't have time to get frustrated with myself, I finally started to put together my lecture for Class 2 of Life in a Lab at Forward Motion. The class has been fun, amusing, and a little bittersweet because it's giving me a chance to reflect on my six years in academic research and remember what I loved about it and also why I left. Feeling a little bit better, I decided to tour my daily reads again before I shut down for the day. And I found this great gem from on writing Sheila:

Admiration for someone else's efforts should be disconnected from your feelings toward your own, or you'll never be satisfied or happy. You'll need constant reassurance and you'll always be suspicious of what praise you do get. The only person who is your better is the future you.

If her comments weren't on the fritz, I would've thanked her there. Instead, I'll do it here, and maybe even pass the thought on. Her words are from the Things You Should Already Know But Tend to Forget During the Daily Grind of Life pool of knowledge. Thanks, Sheila. As I look at my draft of Human Dignity and wonder if I'll ever get it into the shape I want it, this helps. A nice reality check, for a change.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Close Call

Well, the Irish squeaked out a win for their season opener. I'm not your typical Notre Dame alum. I only froth slightly at the mouth when I watch games now - as opposed to the full-on rabid mania most seem to sport. Hell, I haven't even been back to ND for a game since I graduated. And I don't make it a point to watch every single game, either. In fact, I didn't bother to plan my wedding around ND's schedule, like a lot of other alums I've heard. I did remember to ask one of my college buddies at the reception if we had won, but that was about it. I'm really glad NBC plays all their home games. It's a chance for me to fumble down memory lane a good six times every fall. I find the thing I miss the most while watching the games is the big special meal in the dining halls. They rolled out all the good stuff for the after-game candlelight buffet. I'm still salivating a little thinking about it. I think it might be time for dinner.

Friday, September 05, 2003

For Dave

I started to go a little googley-eyed reading this article. But I trust my brother-in-law to wrap his brain around the information and tell it like it is. My biggest question: Does this "consciousness may be a quantum mechanics issue" theory have anything to do with the two slit stuff used to study time travel-ish things? Or have I already butchered that discussion beyond belief?

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Hmmm, Peaches

I work with such great people. One of my managers loves to tease me about being his secretary. For example, when one of the other assistants brought in baked goodies for her manager's lunch meeting, my manager joked, "How come my assistant never bakes anything?" Of course, I give as good as I get and told him I'd bring in a French Silk Chocolate Pie - which is nothing but butter and sugar (with some chocolate, of course). And he's trying to trim the pounds. We go back and forth like that all the time, and it's a lot of fun. Nothing mean-spirited about it.

This morning, he brought in a whole bag of peaches for me (since, as he said, I'm such a peach of an assistant). He says they're from the western slope. And it sounds like that's supposed to Mean Something. Western slope of the Rockies? Is Western Slope a town? I'm a peach ignoramus. But I do know one thing: those peaches are delicious, juicy, a mess to eat, and wonderful. I know Mark is probably salivating reading this. Don't worry, honey, I've got a bagful to bring home. Now I've got to see if I can find some good peach recipes. I want to make sure these peaches get eaten or used before they go bad.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Not So Bad

Just when I think I'm a huge science geek, I find something like this that plainly demonstrates that I'm just a mediocre geek. Thanks to Teresa for the link. She finds the craziest stuff.


Last night I went to my critique group. It'd been about a month since I last went. And it'd been longer than that since we had a decent group of folks. I had a blast. Granted, it took us two and a half hours to get through only two offerings, but it was a lot of fun. I don't think Linda enjoyed it, though. I think she wanted it to be more orderly than it was. We can do orderly. But it's wicked fun when we don't. Well, it was kinda frustrating when I kept getting interrupted as I tried to bring the newbie up to speed on HD. I didn't mind too much until she started her crit and seemed pissy that I hadn't told her about X,Y, and Z in my little summary. Oh well, what can you do?

Last night also gave me a clear example of voice. Voice is one of those nebulous, hand-wavy things. You are supposed to know it when you see it. Getting a definition for it makes you think of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. But I finally "got it" last night. The first paragraph of the chapter I brought for review was a tad awkward and caused pretty much everyone to stumble. So Linda decided to take a stab at rewriting it to make it more clear. As soon as she read her first sentence, I heard her voice. "Denise huddled under a blanket, pulled the satin edge up to her chin." While it's a good sentence, I would never, ever write it. Instead, I would put all tactile references either as adjectives for the blanket, or I would make her fingers do the feeling. "Denise huddled under a blanket, her fingertips gliding over the soft, fuzzy material." I don't know why I suddenly heard voice in this example, but it was an interesting moment.

Another a-ha moment came when the newbie had a problem with a long, somewhat complicated sentence I had in the middle of the ending action sequence. Oddly enough, I realized I always saw that particular image described in the sentence as slow motion when the scene played in my head. And that was why I used a long sentence that slowed down the action. It's strange what the subconscious manages to make you do.

And a further thought on the vagueness thing Judge 1 harped on (rightly so). It was intentional. Mainly because I was under the impression that you weren't supposed to spill everything in the first couple pages, and you were supposed to clue readers into the mysteries, the motivations, the characters as you go. I guess this is what I get for reading Sherri S Tepper. But here's the catch, if you're so vague as to blur the tension, the action, the conflict that's supposed to drag the reader in and not let go, then you ain't doing your job as a writer. But Judge 2 didn't have a problem with the vagueness until the ethics debate. I think Judge 2 also saw my work for what it could be sometimes (i.e. saw what I was trying to do and, in some ways, helped me out by considering the effort as the real thing) and commented accordingly. Wow. The more I think about the whole writing contest thing, the more it fascinates me. The subjectivity, the personal quirks, and the individual preferences. And yet I don't feel cheated in the least. They gave me scores within four points of each other, letting me know that I submitted average writing contest material, but also letting me know how to make it publishable.

One thing I've realized for certain from both the writing contest and last night's crit: I'm going to need to revise again. Holly's One Pass Revision idea is great, but I'm not ready for it. I'm going to fix a lot of thing in this first pass, but I've still got quite a few big things to fix in the second pass. Maybe it's time to set a December deadline for sending HD out for rejections.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Tomayto, Tomahto

I just received my entry for the CO Gold Writing Contest. My total score was 74 out of 120. Not horrendous, but not what I expected. I think I was hoping for the 90s. No, I have to be honest. I was hoping to score past 100 and make it to the finals. I had comments from two judges. Given that and the subject of this post, I think you can see where I'm going.

Let's discuss the similarities.

They both considered my entry average for a writing contest with a few things above average. Nothing up to publishable standards. Makes me wonder what I'd score if I had submitted the first 20 pages as they are now. Well, then there's the matter of my synopsis, which they both agreed was confusing and generally icky. I hope my one-pager for Teresa's class is better. It was easier to write, oddly. Cramming 500 pages into 1 makes it hard to juggle all the subplots and characters, so I ended up not even mentioning Denise's husband, and a whole host of other things. I got the main action there, with the primary characters (minus Aidan, unfortunately; couldn't figure out how to squeeze him in) and their motivations (I think). But in 8 pages, you've suddenly got all this room. At least you think you do. And you try to fit more in then you should and end up sacrificing things you shouldn't. As Judge 1 put it: "The vagueness that plagues the chapters also marks the synopsis," (at least I'm consistent :)) "Some subplots seem unexplained, and the climax actions are a bit confusing. Complete as to plot and theme, however." (yippee!) Judge 2 put it: "I also felt that you set up a question of 'how will genome knowledge change the world,' but turned story into a shoot-em-up by the end. Is it SF/idea story, or thriller with genre as excuse for action?" A damn good question. And one I suppose I better have a solid answer for by Teresa's class. I was aiming for the former, but the synopsis makes it seem like the latter (well, let's hope that's just a product of the synopsis).

Both had concerns as to whether or not my entry could accurately be called science fiction. But Judge 1 thought it might even wander into the area of "legal thriller" wherease Judge 2 seemed to think it would be a more generic thriller.

They both agreed that Denise is pretty static right now. I caught that too during revisions and (hopefully) fixed a lot of that. Both noted overall that the stakes weren't clear or high enough. Judge 1 put it best: "This reads generically. Give it some blood and spleen...make readers FEEL." Which is something else I already knew about my writing style. I'm far too cerebral. I stick around in my characters' heads more than anything. I've come a long way in the past few years, but I've got a ways to go.

And now for the differences.

Judge 1: "There isn't a hook." Judge 2: "I was interested to read on."
Judge 1: "Eugene is a blank." Judge 2: "Eugene is weird and compelling....I'm very clear on him."
Judge 1 liked the classroom debate scene but thought the boardroom scene was too vague and problematic. Judge 2 liked the boardroom scene but thought the classroom debate scene was too vague and problematic.


I think Judge 1 summed it up best though: "Nothing amiss, nothing wonderful." The comment was in reference to my storytelling style, specifically my voice, but I think that can kind of put it all together. Although, Judge 1 gave me this ego-boosting yet extremely helpful morsel: "A really cool, intellectual promise the should interest SF readers, but clarity and character development are critical to bringing the real story out." The first part is the ego-yumminess. The last part is the really helpful bit.

A few other comments that struck me as interesting, funny, helpful, or whatnot:

Judge 2: "Style is fairly transparent" (WTF? I'm transparent, ohmigod, how mean. Hmm, let me read on.) "So I can see the story without words getting in the way." (Oh, I see. Transparent = good in this case. Gotcha.)

Judge 2: "Raises interesting questions about where genetic research could lead - but as an SF reader, I'm more interested in the extrapolation of 'what if' than in ethics debates in here and now classrooms - I'd suggest leaping to future sooner." (Which is something I've heard before and been genuinely concerned about in billing HD as scifi. But I kinda liked the idea of a novel that shows how we got into messes such as Brave New World, and - more importantly - shows ways we can avoid getting into said mess.)

Judge 1: "Denise needs to be more than a camera." (This called to mind my first A+ college paper about Italo Calvino's Mr. Palomar. I wrote about how Mr. Palomar tried to be a human telescope and failed. Interesting connection, one that might help me out some. And I was a freshman when I wrote it. /proud musings)

Judge 1: "Tags are clumsy, often doubled." (Yeah, I used to think that I couldn't just keep using "said" over and over. I tried to get creative, which I've learned is an icky, bad, naughty thing to do when it comes to tags. But I think I also stumbled onto a pet peeve here for Judge 1.

I'm also beginning to wonder if Teresa Nielsen Hayden was a judge in this contest, and if so, was she Judge 1. If so, *waves to Teresa*. Judge 1's comments were more blunt and critical, but also more helpful than Judge 2's. Judge 2 did a great job of praising my strengths while still detailing my weaknesses. But together, while the comments put a ding or two in my ego (never a bad thing), they overall helped tremendously and confirmed things I've already realized about my writing as well as showed me some new things. And that's my first ever writing contest, my first ever submission of any kind. Nothing amiss, nothing wonderful. :)

Monday, September 01, 2003

Balancing Act

For the past month, I've been realizing that I'm less prone to nasty dizziness when I don't take my vitamins. I still get dizzy, but it's the "I've been reading for five straight hours and must go to sleep" dizzy, not the "Up, down, left, and right are only vague directions in a whirlpool" dizzy. Unfortunately, I also realized yesterday that not taking my vitamins saps me of energy and makes depressing thoughts much too accessible. Damn anemia. So, back on the vitamins I go. And I'll also start being a good girl and doing my physical therapy exercises that are supposed to acclimatize my noggin to dizziness-inducing movements. My aunt the physical therapist sufficiently cowed me into kicking my rear in gear in that area.

The good news: this funk I've wandered into of late is likely not the product of really shitty writing and career decision doubts that I had feared. It's most likely attributable to low iron levels and general corporeal Bad Humors (OK, now I'm going to be laughing at myself all day for that last bit). So here's to hoping that vitamins and exercise will rip these blues away.

The bad news: I didn't write anything new yesterday for Part 2's middle. I did type in all the revisions I made on Saturday, so the day wasn't a total wash. And I've already ear-marked today for catching up on crits and that class I'm teaching at Forward Motion. So Human Dignity will have to wait. I think I'll have time again on Thursday. And let's really hope that the vitamins kick in soon and let me get moving in Red Rocks this week.