Posted in Making It Up As I Go

I Live-Tweeted “The Bridgewater Triangle” Documentary

I happened upon a documentary called “The Bridgewater Triangle” on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago. The description –especially that the location was a stone’s throw from where I grew up–convinced me to hit play and start live-tweeting. Here are those tweets, occasional spelling mistakes and all.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

On Refilling the Creative Well

Life is a hectic right now. Not absurdly hectic where I don’t have time for breakfast or get home well past my bedtime. But it’s hit the criteria for a little hectic: going to class and doing associated homework; working full-time; navigating relationship with a significant other; keeping my garden alive; and writing. There’s also the routine things like cooking meals and grocery shopping and doing laundry that need to get done.

All of that combined was enough to short-circuit the creative part of my brain. It showed signs of sluggishness for a couple weeks. It balked when I tried to revise a short story, and it dug in its heels when I started a new blog post even though I have an idea ready to go. Then it finally decided that it’d had enough.

I’ve been through this situation before. Short-circuiting. Burning out.

The solution? Picking up a book.

For me as a writer, I work best when I strike a balance between the number of stories and books that I read and the number of ones that I right. A perfect situation mean spending an hour or so reading during the morning and then writing for a few hours between 9PM and midnight. However that routine doesn’t jive right now with the need to pay rent and buy food.

I need to achieve a semblance of balance between refilling the creative well and drawing from it. That means leaning more heavily on one than the other for a while. Forgoing reading for a few weeks while I use my spare time to write. Or letting my stories sit dormant while I spend three or four days plowing through a book. (My well is far easier to fill than deplete.)

So I picked up a book: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I barreled through it in and around the rest of my life over the course of four days. Now–not only am I itching to write a serial killer story–I can feel the creative part of my brain coming back online. It’s still in a fickle stage, more than happy to slip back into short-circuit mode if I push it too hard or work on projects that I’m not excited about.

But I’m back at it for now. Slowly working forward with the intention of pouring a book into my brain once a week to stave off burnout. It may happen, or it may not. Either way, I’m glad to be back in the saddle.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Drama King

There was a minor incident last fall involving my probably haunted porcelain figurines.

So what happened: I was figuring out what I wanted for dinner during the coming week and grabbed a cookbook off the shelf. Apparently the weight of that book was keeping all my recipe books upright. The right bookend topple over, sending books of crock-pot and five-ingredient recipes tumbling. One of them slammed into Phillip’s shoulder.

I watched–paralyzed–as he fell headfirst into the printer’s paper tray before landing face-first on the carpet. He lay there moaning for what felt like an hour, but was probably closer to then seconds, until I unstuck my feet from the floor and approached him.

Every possible, worst-case-scenario flashed through my mind. I pictured a fissure running from his neck all the way down to his thigh or his face crumbling outward the moment I picked him up or one of his arms being left on the floor (which shows how irrationally I was thinking because his arms are fused to his body).

He cussed me out as I picked him up.

“What wrong with you, woman? You nearly broke my face.”

I tuned him out while inspecting every inch of his blue and gray clothes for the smallest cracks. And I found none.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” he demanded

Relief flooded my voice when I finally answered.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean for that to happen. But at least you’re okay.”

“I am not okay,” he fumed. “I saw my life flash before my eyes, and I think I may have a concussion.”

I wanted so badly to say you don’t have a brain, so you can’t have a concussion, but I bit my tongue. I carefully placed him back on the shelf before weighing down the sides of the license plate bookends so that they didn’t topple over again. Phillip muttered angrily the whole time.

When I stepped back and took a look at the shelf as a whole, things didn’t look quite right.

Nothing was out of place. The cookbooks leaned left and right between the license plates; Phillip stood facing the front door; and Miss Georgia looked slightly to the right and into the living room.

No, Miss Georgia didn’t quite look right. She had a large white patch on her right side that wasn’t there before. It took a second before my brain got traction and put two-and-two together.

“Oh, shit.”

Her right arm lay on the printer table, between a Saint Bernard figure and a unicorn. It was a mostly clean break other than the jagged edge where the forearm had separated from the inner part of her elbow.

“Miss Georgia,” I said. “Are you okay?”

“I’m quite all right,” she said. “All I need is a bit of glue and time for it to set. Then I’ll be as good as new.”

“Are… are you sure?”

“Vocation-related… weren’t you a governess, Miss Georgia?”

“Quite sure. No need to worry about me, dear. I’ve spent my fair share of time recovering from vocation-related injuries.”
She offered a serene smile. “That was one of my professions before I retired.”

The subdued yet steely look in her eyes said that anymore questions would be brushed off with polite but firm avoidance.

So instead I dug through my tool bag until I found the heavy-duty-not-quite-Gorilla-glue. Miss Georgia remained pleasant through the whole procedure.

The same couldn’t be said for Phillip; he wouldn’t stop whining. More than six months later, he still glares at me when he thinks my back is turned. It’s far easier to give that to him than the alternative. Especially now that I have a stuffed koala in the house.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

I Bought a Koala, or ConCarolinas 2018 Recap

So. ConCarolinas happened.

I took the Friday and Saturday of the convention off of work (I’m off on Sundays anyway) to take full advantage of the programming on all three days. I also stole a half hour here and there to wander about the dealers’ room and author’s alley. Here’s a brief-ish recap.

Dealer’s Room

The dealer’s room isn’t necessarily where I blow my budget thanks to the iota of self-control that I’ve developed over the past couple years. (Note: this self-control DOES NOT apply to books.) I wasn’t planning on spending much–if anything–in the dealer’s room in the days leading up to ConCarolinas.

But then I was scrolling through Twitter and happened upon Seanan McGuire’s life-tweeting of her adventures with fellow authors Ursula Vernon and K.B. Spangler. It involved finding turtles, salamanders, and K.B. Spangler getting hit in the face by a hawk named Monty.

So when I saw that K.B. Spangler was going to be in the dealer’s room selling maniacal-looking stuffed koalas among other things, I knew that I had to find her table. And that I did on the Saturday of the Con. She was amazingly energetic for being halfway through the Con and was thrilled when I said that I wanted to buy a koala and a copy of her book. Then she showed me the video on her phone of Monty the hawk flying into her face and said that she’d never seen a hawk embarrassed.

I walked away with a book from an author that I hadn’t heard of before the convention and a creepy koala named Speedy. It was without a doubt, a great buy.

Author’s Alley

I managed to come in below my budget in Author’s Alley. How? That’s a very good question that I don’t have the answer to. I picked up two books at the Falstaff Books table: Tooth & Nail by Michael G. Williams and Lawless Lands. Williams’s book is the second book in The Winthrow Chronicles; I picked up the first one, Perishables, at the Con last year. Lawless Lands is an anthology of speculative fiction/western short stories. I grabbed it primarily because of the buzz surrounding a contest to win a copy before the Con. Though honestly, the stories look like they’re right up my alley.

Panels

The biggest reason I bought tickets at last year’s ConCarolina’s for this year’s convention was due to the Guest of Honor: Seanan McGuire. She wrote my favorite zombie book to date (Feed) under the pen-name Mira Grant, and I’ve been following her on Twitter for the better part of six months. She’s exactly my kind of weird, so I was looking forward to seeing her in-person on a panel.

She didn’t disappoint. And while I could go on and on about how she made me laugh my ass off and how she scared the shit out of me in her alter-ego, Mira Grant, she made a point that another author and panelist brought up on Twitter the other day. It was something that’s stuck with me in the weeks since.

During a panel on deep work (something which sounded to me like tuning out EVERYTHING and focusing only on the creative project in front of you), Seanan stated writers and other creatives don’t necessarily need long stretches of time in order to perform deep work by comparing them to pearl divers.

Pearl divers go underwater for five minutes at a time before coming up for air. During those five minutes, they’re 100% focused on their task. And then when that time is up and they come up for air, their mind can wander to other things. Then the process repeats until the diver is done collecting pearls for the day.

For a writer, that means diving deep into their work. Maybe for five minutes or ten or fifteen. And then taking a break, whether voluntarily or because life interrupts. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, guaranteed routine that’ll work for every writer. But it’s an option to try and see if it works. I’m certainly going to try it.

There were other panels that left me itching to write. I wrote down a couple of the points from the ones that really resonated with me.

  • The territory of the “West” has always existed and was comprised of more than cowboys.
    The West that Never Was
  • Writers make the mistake of focusing on changes to big historical events rather than the character’s stories.
    Playing with History
  • Writing novellas makes it easier to be more prolific and to keep up with reader demand.
    The Novella Strikes Back
  • Regular posting is required when writing a web serial, and you should have a significant buffer of chapters lined up to be posted.
    Serials–They’re Not Just Captain Crunch Anymore

ConCarolinas was pretty successful for me: panel-wise, in the dealer’s room, and in the author’s alley. It has left me wanting to post on here more regularly and itching to write. I’ve already picked up tickets for next year’s Con.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

Doing the Thing: Garden Update

It’s been a little over a month since I wrote about my garden on here. And as happens when plants are watered on a pretty regular basis, they’ve grown.

There have been casualties: a couple pea plants, parsley, and the lettuce. But I consider those to only be partially my fault; I forgot to put drainage holes in the bottom. I also blame spring thunderstorms leaving an inch of water atop the soil.

The flowers have absolutely flourished. Even the marigolds–which I was hesitant about planting because they need a whole lot more light than what my patio gets in a day–have done fan-freaking-tastic. Every single marigold plant is in bloom, and the wild flowers are providing a pop of color amidst all the green of stems and leaves.

As for the vegetables, the ones that didn’t get their butts handed to them by the storms are doing so well. I’ve already harvested a few radishes (and then quickly realized I don’t like them), have found that the carrots are indeed growing, and am pretty close to picking peas. There are also clumps of little green tomatoes on the tomato plants. They still have a way to go, but they’re definitely looking like tomatoes.

I’ve also added cucumbers, peppers, and pumpkins. The cucumbers have already gotten so big that I’ve had to tie them to bamboo stakes, though the peppers have yet to sprout. And while I’m still not sure how the pumpkins are going to like being in pots long-term (this type of seed isn’t meant for my version of urban gardening), they’re about an inch and a half tall at this point and seem happy enough. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll have pumpkins ready to carve come October.

I’m going to finish this post up with a picture of the garden a month ago and what it looked like on Friday, 6/15. I’m proud of what I’ve done with this eclectic garden. I also can’t wait to see how the veggies taste.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

Doing the Thing: a Vegetable Garden

SE smiling with baby tomato plants

The patio off my bedroom isn’t great for a vegetable garden. It gets maybe six hours of sunlight in the morning and then sits in shade for the rest of the day. Certain flowers do fine; others not so much.

But this year I said fuck it. I researched what vegetables tolerated partial sun and came away with not so definite results. Some websites said root vegetables–like carrots–would be fine in the shade. Another said that they needed a significant amount of sun. One site said peas would do okay; another said the opposite. The same was said of lettuce and basil. What all the sites agreed on was that tomatoes were a definite no.

So after compiling a list of possible veggies in my head, I ventured to Lowes. The racks of packaged seeds stood in the front corner of the store; they were next to the lawn mowers and bird feeders and the entrance to the outdoor garden area. It became clear pretty quick that I was out of my depth. I spent half an hour pouring over the tiny text on the back of seed packets, only pretending to know what I was looking at. Ultimately, I decided on carrots and peas because they appeared to be the ones I was least likely to kill.

SE's patio garden

A week or so later, I found myself in the Home Depot seed department while waiting for the weather to cooperate for planting. More seeds–basil, lavender, tomatoes, radishes, and lettuce–found their way into my hands. I knew full well the gamble I was making, not being at all positive that any of these plants would even germinate. But I did it anyway.

Planting everything took a few days and left me with dirt under my fingernails. The two cinder-block and two-by-four shelves on my patio looked more than full with planters of different sizes and colors. Even if I’d wanted more plants there simply wasn’t room. All that was left to do was wait. But I’m slightly impatient, so I checked for specks of green in the dirt each night when I watered.

Things began sprouting after a couple weeks, and now I can look out onto my patio and see so much green. There’s still a way to go before I’m actually eating what I’ve grown. But things are moving in that direction, and I’m wicked excited.

SE with tomato plants

 

 

Posted in Doggies, Making It Up As I Go

The One with an Update on Canine Houdini

A year ago, I introduced Sampson’s alter-ego: Canine Houdini. My German Shepherd made it his mission to figure his way past every gate my parents put up to keep him in the kitchen when they weren’t home. They managed to stump him with a metal gate practically screwed into the door frame.

It stumped Canine Houdini for all of eight months. And then he figured it out.

My dad claimed Sam learned to pull the gate until the door on it came loose and then he let himself and Grace into the rest of the house. But he never saw Sam do it; he just heard the metal door thud open.

I wanted to see my butthead’s ingenuity for myself.

So I set him up when I visited my parents. While he ate his dinner, I shut the gate and effectively locked him in the kitchen. Grace and I sat in the living room, and I had my phone ready to capture his great escape on video. It took a bit of coaxing to convince Sam to handle the problem on his own rather than just give me a look of betrayal.

Here is video evidence that my German Shepherd is a clever butthead.

Canine Houdini is back, and I’m totally here for it.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

That time I almost got a cat

Apart from dogs, roadkill, and the occasional kamikaze squirrel, my neck of Charlotte is lacking in furry animals. So I felt more than a little compelled to pull out my camera when I spotted an orange tabby cat in the middle of my apartment complex’s parking lot.

The tabby arched his back a little as I moved around him to get the light from the streetlight at my back and avoid shadows in the picture.

“Hey there, buddy,” I cooed, crouching down about ten feet away.

I opened the camera app on my phone and frowned when he wasn’t in the middle of the frame. He was closer. I looked over top of the phone and found him trotting toward me. His little orange ears pointed in my direction; his nearly black eyes had laser focus.

Here’s the thing: I’m not a cat person. I don’t particularly have a lot of experience meeting them or handling them or reading their body language. As a result, I felt a momentary spurt of panic because I had no clue if the little guy intended to claw my face off or if he just wanted to say hi.

I froze, and the kitty molded himself around my knee before shifting to rub against my other knee. Relief mixed with pure joy that a furry creature wanted my attention unstuck my muscles.

“Hi kitty,” I said. “Hi there.”

He arched into my fingers when I scritched them through his soft fur. His attention diverted away from rubbing against my legs every so often so that he could stare off into the darkness. (It was one of my neighbors walking to his apartment. He must’ve thought I was crazy talking to a cat.)

After trying and failing to take cute pictures of the tabby while kneeling, I straightened up in the hopes of getting a bit more distance between him and I for a better shot.

It was at this point that the kitty decided to give me attitude.

“Oh,” he said. “You don’t want to pat me? You want to take pictures?”

He slunked over to where the concrete from the curb met the asphalt before flopping onto his back. He stretched and rolled, looking at me over his shoulder.

“I’m cute, ain’t I?” he asked.

“You are adorable,” I said and proceeded to center him in the frame on my camera.

Just as I pressed the button, the tabby squirmed. The picture was blurry. I took another one, and it was blurry again. I must’ve taken a dozen pictures, each one a different level of blurry. A couple weren’t too bad.

“Thanks for the pictures, buddy. I’ve got to head inside now and start thinking about heading to bed.”

“Oh, so we’re going inside?” he said.

“No, no, just me,” I said.

“Okay, we’re going inside.”

I walked in the direction of my apartment, and the tabby led the way. I paused at the curb.

“Bye buddy,” I said a bit forcefully. “Time for you to go home.”

He ignored the hint and followed me all the way to my door. Then he started rubbing against my door just like he’d rubbed against my leg.

“Oh shit, you think you’re coming inside.”

“Well I am, aren’t I,” he replied. “I’m sure you’ve got food inside for me.”

“Um, no. All I have is dog treats.”

“I can work with that.”

“Dude, you’re not coming inside.” I unlocked the door, and the clunk of the tumblers moving made his ears perk up. “No, go home.”

“Are you sure this isn’t my home? I’m pretty sure I live with you now.”

“I’m pretty sure that you don’t.”

He kept eyeing the door like he’d dart inside the instant there was even a sliver of space between the door and the jamb.

I waited, briefly considering that I was locked in a stalemate with a cat that weighed less than my purse. If he snuck inside, I had no idea how I’d get him out again. And what if he peed on my carpet? I knew how to handle dog urine; cat urine might be different. It definitely smells worse.

Then he walked away from the door. He didn’t move far, but it was far enough that I knew almost for certain that I could slip through the door before he could dart in. I took my chance.

The tabby stared at me from the other side of my welcome mat with a look of betrayal in his eyes as I shut the door. If I didn’t feel guilty enough, he said one last thing: “But you’re my new human.” Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for him), when I looked outside a bit later with the thought of maybe letting him inside, he was gone.

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

Westworld’s Unreliable Narrator

Warning: This post contains spoilers for HBO's Westworld.

Related imageWriting an unreliable narrator is something on my writerly bucket list, so my interest is always piqued whenever I come across one. Though if he or she is really well-written, I don’t fully appreciate them until a second watch or read-through. That’s how it was when I watched Westworld.

Westworld’s allure for guests is that the Hosts seem human, and that’s the result of their programming. So no matter how human they act, the staff can still ‘reset’ them back to the beginning of their story loop. That’s what makes Dolores such an interesting unreliable narrator. She doesn’t mean to mislead the audience; it just happens because of her programming.

One story thread Dolores’s presents is travelling with William and his future brother-in-law. She starts off as a damsel and literally falls into William’s arms. But as they progress through their adventure, she becomes more and more of a strong female character. She uses a gun (when before she couldn’t physically pull the trigger), she holds up soldiers at gunpoint, and she even changes from her simple, blue dress into a button-down shirt and pants.

Nothing in Dolores’s behavior makes us think that her change from a passive character to an active one is anything but permanent. But when William discovers Dolores after she’s had her memories erased and has been put back at the beginning of her story loop, both he and us realize that the change–her story arc–was simply part of her programming. She wasn’t exhibiting freewill at all.

The other component of Dolores being an unreliable narrator is her memories. Like all the other Hosts, her memories are supposed to be wiped after she finishes every story loop. The staff considers it a kindness as she won’t remember any of the terrible things done to her. Though it’s also a way for them to ensure that each guest gets the same opportunity to experience the sweet, rancher’s daughter.

Here’s the things about the Hosts’ memories: they’re not like human memories. When a person picks a memory to recall, it’s fuzzy and very obvious that it’s a memory. A Host’s memory is so clear and in-focus that they’re indistinguishable from the present.

Now in theory, a Host’s memories wouldn’t be an issue since they’re always wiped. But a change that Arnold made to Dolores’s programming means she retains those memories.

Dolores travelling with William seems so much like the present–especially with how the scenes are juxtaposed into the rest of the series–that we take what we see as true. That she’s going through this realization of her humanity right now as we watch because there’s no fuzziness that we’d associate with human memory.

Because Dolores can’t distinguish the past from the present, neither can we as the viewer. It’s not until the Man in Black reveals that he is William, albeit older and disillusioned with humanity, that we realize everything we’ve seen in terms of Dolores and William happened decades ago and that she is not the empowered woman that William fell for. That was just her programming. In fact, she’s something else.

Needless to say, the realization that Dolores has been an unreliable narrator for the better part of the ten-episode season is a hell of a twist. It brings up the question of how do we define agency. Is it adhering to what the world wants us to be? Or is it figuring out the world on our own?

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Hypothetical Poltergeist

The other night, I woke up after something banged in my living room.

It wasn’t an oh-shit-something-broke bang. More of an eh-the-neighbors-dropped-something-in-their-living-room-again kind of noise. So I rolled over, pulled the comforter back over my head, and went back to sleep.

I’d forgotten all about the noise by the time I crawled out of bed the next morning, and my brain struggled when I noticed that one of my candles had fallen out of its candlestick. It lay across my dining room table with small clumps of broken-off wax in the little collection area at the bottom. Had it been like that when I went to bed? No, I thought, no. It hadn’t.

Eventually my brain put two and two together: the candle falling over was the bang from the middle of the night.

But what made it fall over? I posed that question to my [probably] haunted figurines: Miss Georgia and Phillip.

Me: Hey, Miss Georgia, do you know anything about this candle?

Miss Georgia: I am afraid not, dear. I was enjoying a rather spirited conversation with Nosferatu about the rights of vampires when I heard the candle hit the table.

Me: The rights of vampires…? You understand that he’s a vampire, right?

Miss Georgia: Of course, dear. That is quite evident.

Me: O-K. What about you, Phillip? You keep tabs on the living room at night. Did you see anything?

Phillip: I don’t like what you’re implying.

Me: Excuse me?

Phillip: You’re implying that I had something to do with that candle being knocked over. I didn’t.

Me: That’s totally not what I said but all right.

Phillip: I don’t like your tone.

Me: Oh for f#$%s sake. Did you or did you not see who knocked over the candle or not?

Phillip: … Perhaps.

At this point, I realized that my fingernails were beginning to make gouges in my palms, and I flexed my fingers until they no longer felt cemented in place.

Me: Look, nothing’s broken. I’m not mad. I’d just like a straight answer.

Phillip: If I saw what happened, and this is hypothetically, I imagine there might have been a poltergeist.

Me: A poltergeist?

Phillip: Hypothetically, yes. The poltergeist decided that the best way to freak you out would be to knock over the candle. Now, I’m not sure why this hypothetical poltergeist would want to freak you out. Maybe because you sprayed him in a clear-coat of spray paint or something. Maybe to get you back for that because that stuff smells, you know.

Me: Phillip. Is it possible that–hypothetically–you’re the poltergeist?

Phillip: Hypothetically, no.

Me: All right then. Well, tell this hypothetical poltergeist that he’s going to have to try a hell of a lot harder to scare me. And for the record, that spray paint is going to make sure your paint won’t fade.

I turned around at that point, and I’m pretty sure Phillip flipped me off as I walked away. There’s no doubt in my mind that the hypothetical poltergeist isn’t going to stick around. As long as he doesn’t break anything, I’m curious to see what kind of trouble he gets into.