zeborah: Zebra holding a pen, its stripes forming the word "Write" (writing)
This novel took have a dozen versions over a dozen years to finish to my satisfaction; I submitted it a few places, then gave up, and haven't seriously thought about it in years.

Yesterday, for a random reason, I started reading it again. And... I liked it. The prose is perhaps a little purple, the pace a little slow, the hints at things I should have just said a little opaque. In the middle half, some of the soap factor needs to be reigned back. But by and large...

The more serious problem (which I've known for ages and is probably one reason I abandoned the novel as a lost cause) is that I was doing this 'post-feminist' (with all the quotation marks) thing of "Sure, a woman can run a starship if she wants, but sometimes a woman just wants to go home to one's hyperpatriarchal society and be owned by a man with no real recourse if he decides he wants to kill her". Which: Young Zeborah, what were you thinking?(*)

But also, I noticed this time and not then, the entire rest of the novel is steeped in all the rape culture. It's all terribly asexual, but wow. The main character is harassed and almost everyone including herself blame her for not reciprocating; the author-at-the-time saw Both Sides of the Story while now I'm all, "Dude, she said back off. Back off!" In an important subplot, her best friend makes a complaint of harassment and all the focus is on exonerating the poor guy she's complaining about and then it turns out she made a terrible mistake and he's innocent after all. In other really important subplot, same person defends herself from super serious charges by explaining about the super serious harassment she was undergoing and no-one including the main character believes her.

It's... wow, it's really bad. Or... they're some really horrible situations, narrated uncritically. So now I can't help but feel that if I told them more critically, and was also more critical of some of the politics behind Federation and space exploration and post-war peace treaties -- I could make a really powerful theme out of boundaries and the violation thereof and the reclaiming of agency afterwards.

Or possibly waste my time on a novel I filed away seven years ago with very good reason.

It's not like I don't have a pile of unfinished things I could be working on instead....


(*) I'm pretty sure what I was thinking was that I was young and nervous about being an adult.
zeborah: Zebra in grass smelling a daisy (gardening)
Tonight I have sent:

item one email to a certain clothing company informing them that they are *still* emailing me order confirmations for someone who is not me despite me informing them of the problem previously, and that if they keep this up I will be writing to the postal address listed in said confirmations to offer my support (in the form of copies of all correspondence) in any legal action that person should wish to pursue against the company for the privacy breach;

item one email to a certain boarding school suggesting that their student's guardian probably didn't intend for me to receive all these details about said student.

(The clothing company has responded very apologetically and promised to fix it, but they did last time too, so we'll see if I still need to spring for postage.)

In the past I've also emailed a certain person informing them that they clearly intended to email their friend at a different domain name.

These are just the ones that I've researched and been sure at least some of the people involved are actual real people and I'm not getting spammed/scammed. There've been a bunch more I've been less sure of.

I'm starting to imagine that all these other-me's are in fact a single person, and piecing this hypothetical life together. (I know for a fact though that at least one is not at least one of the others.) Also I'm getting the kind of plot bunny that's cute but probably won't go anywhere. Also it's well past midnight.

And also! Googling for my handle, I'm now only #2 in results (today from New Zealand with my browser cache). Duckduckgo puts me at a mere #4. This is a disturbing trend when I know for a fact I used to be the #1 Zeborah on the web.
zeborah: Zebra holding a pen, its stripes forming the word "Write" (writing)
I may be some time.

I would like to briefly affirm, for personal future reference, that the best way ever to get myself to eat is to so arrange things that I come home to the delicious smell of pumpkin ready to be mashed and have some coconut cream stirred in. Once it's heated again (in the slow cooker, I'm in no rush) I can eat with bread.

Also, in case anyone's curious, when one has some coconut cream left over, this does make a different but extremely serviceable substitute for milk in hot chocolate.


Oh and I may as well do another earthquake update.
  • The latest big one we had, I dutifully shifted out from among the bookshelves I was weeding but I only figured it for a 3.9; turns out it was a 5.2. I'm at the ehh, whatever stage.
  • I have my gasfire finally reinstalled, five months after they took the old one out to rebuild the (previously brick) fireplace and discovered it wasn't up to standard to put back in. So now I have heat again which is nice.
  • The Cathedral is to come down, which is sad and gives the city a bit of a dilemma about all its logos, but I do think that, in the absence of money from nowhere, it's the right decision. What I'm a little more distressed about, because my bus goes past it each day and it's the building where I had my first job ever, is the demolition of the old railway building. Again I'm sure it's the right decision and all. But I just have this conviction that this building is the only thing that separates the CBD from the southern suburbs and hills, and once it's demolished there'll be nothing to prevent the two realities from bleeding into each other in some vast Escherian nightmare of epic distortions. We have to do something! The very fabric of space-time is at stake!

    Although actually, as the bulldozers hack away at it from the west, it's revealing the old Magnum Mac in its row of buildings on the other side of the railway tracks; while not so imposing as the old clock tower, it isa solid unbroken line, so perhaps all is not lost.
zeborah: Helen Clark telling an MP: Diddums. (diddums)
So on Saturday night on the way home from visiting my family, I stepped off the bus onto a bit of uneven pavement (possibly a patch over an #eqnz pothole which subsequently sank further, who knows) and my right ankle went sideways and I landed on my left knee. Ankle got sprained, knee got scraped raw -- luckily I was wearing a long skirt so it was scraped raw relatively cleanly, all the skin ending up on the inside of the skirt.

I rested the ankle over the weekend and it was fine enough that when I went to the doctor on Monday he vetoed crutches on the grounds that they'd be more trouble than they're worth. This was a bit disappointing. :-( But I worked out a bus schedule that doesn't require the normal 10-minute fast walk each morning and evening (just a few minutes hobbling instead) and got a kind colleague to bring her car on Wednesday so I could avoid the 20-minute walk it'd have taken to get to a seminar we were presenting and otherwise have been wearing ankle-boots (in summer, sigh) and putting my foot up when and where I can.

It's just kind of frustrating when my computer at work kicks me off to rest my wrists and wandering to chat with colleagues for the duration involves limping on both legs (stiff ankle and knee that for the first half of the week stung to bend).

(Oh, also mosquito bites, to which I'm allergic; on the right muscle they can swell up to almost the size of my whole hand. A few years ago there were no mosquitoes in Christchurch. They were the thing you got on holiday to remind you that there's no heaven on earth. That they're allowed into Christchurch, where I already have to go to work every day, is truly the sign of an unjust world.)

Anyway, both knee and ankle were getting better except today I got home and discovered new and exciting bruises on my ankle, so although the doctor said ice is no good after 48 hours I've changed my mind about listening to him. Alternating the ice pack with the lavender hot pack feels quite soothing.

--

In other news, I've got proofs of a journal article to look at, and made some professional blogposts people seem to like, and finished a White Collar(1) fanfic which I may get around to posting when I like it enough, and I think I know how to finally finish that Amy/Rory 9-parter I've been neglecting. There are several other fanfics I want to write. The White Collar/Doctor Who crossover would be glorious except I don't know how Neal will get Amy and Rory out of jail so it may never happen. I suspect the one about Madame Kovarian is unfortunately closer to half-started than half-finished, but that one I actually believe is true (even if Moffat doesn't know it, though he might), so if I don't transition back to original fiction then I'll attempt to plough through that next.

So I'm feeling fairly productive. Though I do need to chase up my contractors about making sure that their to-do list sufficiently matches my get-them-to-do list (just for the lols, since they painted my toilet earlier this month the earthquakes have already cracked the paintwork again, but that's probably another claim along with the slightly sunken toilet floor); and find out what I'm meant to do about my mortgage whose anniversary is coming up.

(1) Also I watched the new episode of White Collar, so oblique spoilers containing writer-ish thoughts )
zeborah: Zebra with mop and text: Clean all the things! (housework)
It's the eve of my return to my house, and I'm occasionally tidying up bits of my motel in preparation for starting to pack maybe. I popped out through the ranch slider to check on some towels I had drying and got slightly more distracted than I'd planned. Next thing, Boots (who's been sitting at windows meowling for outside for the last week or two so I should have known better) is stepping out beside me.

It's possible that I swore.

Fortunately it was all too new for her to be comfortable just dashing off into, so I could just scoop her up and deposit her back inside.

In other news, I don't feel like I've got much news. Uni's finished for the year, so I've got until the 4th January to complete the final draft of a journal article, write some more code for the software it's about, finish writing the <counts> four or five fanfics I'm halfway through, create a literal fanvid of awesomesauce, and I bet I'll find some other projects pop up along the way. How do people get bored again?

--Actually I guess I could mention that they'll be finishing up painting after I move back in, which I'm fine with, and I won't have a heat source for a while because when they removed the gas fire (to pull down the cracking brickwork of the fireplace) they discovered it wasn't up to current standards so couldn't put it back in and will have to get some other organisation to talk to me about a replacement, which I'm fine with except I think they should have told me upon discovering it rather than me have to notice an offhand comment they made and ask probing questions. Still, y'know. They're good folk and going above and beyond otherwise. I think they like that I'm easygoing about things (I can imagine other homeowners being stressed) but my philosophy is that I've got water, power, a flushing toilet, and wireless: all the rest is bonus features.

Also I could mention that my choir sang in a small concert in a town that a week later got its own state of emergency due to sudden flooding (I disclaim all responsibility) and in a couple of church services in which I got a solo in a verse of Gabriel's Message. So that was my minute of non-fame. It's absolutely fascinating how I can sing three verses in chorus absolutely fine, but the moment I'm by myself singing the exact same tune and words I've known by heart for years I completely tense up which makes my voice crack; so all my rehearsals were me trying to figure out how to stop doing that. Adequate success.

And finally, some plugs for TV shows that pass the Bechdel test flyingly:
  • I've mentioned Covert Affairs, which is full of awesome blonde spies (and a blonde sister homemaker). Ordinarily it's candy floss (fun but no there there), but has recently started having the occasional episode with a bit more kick; I hope they keep at it.
  • Recently one of my siblings has turned me on to Lost Girl which is full of awesome brunette fae (and a brunette thief sidekick). Like Covert Affairs it suffers from Ms Protagonist being required to have the hots for Mr Male Love Interest but I think that can be ignored for the plots, which so far (I've seen 2 episodes) include Ms Protagonist is... possibly not bisexual, but bi-whatever a succubus is. Bi-hungry? Ms Sidekick insists that she's straight but that's never stopped slash before.
  • And another sibling has turned me on to Once Upon a Time which has a mixture of awesome blondes and awesome brunettes. I think there's a Mr Male Love Interest again but it's developing more slowly and less obnoxiously (again, I've just seen 2 episodes). Prince Charming is in a coma and will hopefully stay there, because he was every bit as smarmy a hero as you'd expect Prince Charming to be. In a brilliant move, Ms Protag is introduced to the strange new world not by a wise elderly male mentor, but by her son who she put up for (closed) adoption ten years ago; this makes the dynamics instantly so much less skeezy.
zeborah: Zebra with stripes shaking (earthquake)
While my house is nominally being fixed (they were meant to start on the 28th; they actually started late on the 30th and did a bit more on the 1st and nothing on the 2nd; I can tell these things with my super powers of reading the sign-in sheet) Boots and I have moved into a motel.

I think Boots is actually more or less settled, though it took some time. She spent the first 30 hours hiding under furniture - no food, no water, no litterbox. Then she spent an evening hugging my ankle, and then she spent all frickin' night scritching things and jumping on things and jumping off things (onto my nose) and banging things and trying to open things and generally preventing me from getting more than an hour's sleep at a time. (The asthma attack at 4am didn't help. I ended up going outside and sitting in a deck chair which turned out to have rain in it, and then I slept on the couch for the last hour of the night, and then I went to work and blinked blearily at everyone.)

For a few more days after that she spent the day (while I was out) under the bed and then crept out to hug my ankle when I got back, and then spent the night under the bed again. Nibbling a very little food here and there. But now she's eating fairly reasonably for an outdoors cat being kept indoors and is playing a bit more normally and sleeping on the bed next to my ankles as per usual.

It's weird living out of a motel in my own city, but it's all fine: I've got everything I need (including wifi and the run of the laundry) and it's comfortably lived in (so not intimidating the way I find hotels). I'll still of course be glad to go home. The date set for that is the 22nd December, and I'm determined to believe them despite all evidence to the contrary. They sound like they're determined to give excellent customer service, and I've heard from other people who've had repairs start slow but finish on time, so it's not impossible.

The other day, a friend asked where I was and when I told them they said, "Oh, that's good, there's lots of shops there." It's more that there were lots of shops there, I pointed out. Since the quakes, the fruit-and-vege shop, the two bakeries, and the supermarket (among others) are all deaded, which as far as the necessities of life go leaves the butcher, the petrol station, and a 2nd hand bookshop. I can shop at a mall on the way home instead, but.... But as I stay longer I notice there's more than I thought, because one of the bakeries is operating out of a shipping container, and the fruit-and-vege place is operating out of a tent.

Walking down the road from the motel towards my busstop in the morning, I can see straight down to a demolition crane in the CBD. I have feelings about this but they're fairly vague and unformed. They're oddly different from the feelings I feel on my normal bus route where I see the crane pulling apart the Catholic Cathedral and the crane taking the top off the Hotel Grand Chancellor and various bulldozers painting the town pink with brickdust. I think it's because it takes time for the bus to get me that far, but here I leave my motel at 7:15 in the morning and there it is.

I seem to have started writing my When the Sky Fell story again. May or may not get much further this time around, though today I reached the Ode to the Radio scene which I've never got to before. It aches to write, and there came a point this evening doing research where I had to stop reading mid-sentence. Someone was talking about the "glassy, shell-shocked look" people had after February and. I remember that, when I was walking along Bealey Ave on the 25th February; I mentioned it in a blogpost at the time, but. Words just don't. It's like looking into a black hole where a person should be.

--However, the other thing that happened on the 25th February was my friends' son was born, and yesterday when I went to visit (as I do most weeks) he crawled! Towards me! Seeing him once a week is fantastic, I get to skip the nappies and most of the teething and "I'm hungry but won't eat, tired but won't sleep" screaming fits, while still getting all the fun of playing with him and the excitement of watching him grow up. I heartily recommend being an honorary auntie.
zeborah: Zebra looking at its rainbow reflection (rainbow)
So Swan Tower has linked and analysed the key bits of "Say Yes to Gay YA", which is worth reading if you haven't already.

This basically matches my own analysis, which also includes: when people of privilege play the "They're playing the Oppressed Card!" card, it's always the people of privilege who win. So it'd be really foolish for someone to falsely play the Oppressed Card in an attempt to win; the only sensible reason for someone to 'play' it is if they actually, y'know, value the truth and the cause over their own personal success. Even if I ever had reason to think Rachel and/or Sherwood were dishonest, I definitely wouldn't have reason to think they're so foolishly naive.

But more importantly, Joanna from the agency eventually gets around to admitting:
There are not enough mainstream books that depict characters of diverse race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and physical and/or mental disabilities.

Changing this starts with the readers. Scott Tracy has a great post about this on his blog. If more people buy books with these elements, then publishers will want to publish more of them. Sounds simple... yet, it’s not so simple.

How do we reach the readers who are looking for these types of books? And more importantly, how do we reach the readers who aren't specifically looking for them?

And this - specifically "Changing this starts with the readers" - is bullpucky and hogwash and is exactly what the problem is. Agents passing the buck to editors passing the buck to bookstores passing the buck to readers. "They won't buy it so I can't." I say again, bull.

Yes, readers should read what we can, but not everyone likes every book, and it's unfair to demand readers read a book they don't otherwise like just because it's got gay content. If readers are to read more, we need more books to choose from. How are readers supposed to buy it if the bookstore doesn't stock it, if the publisher doesn't publish it, if the editor doesn't accept it, if the agent doesn't represent it, if the writer doesn't write it?

Rachel and Sherwood wrote it; plenty of other authors have been writing it. The next step for an agent who wants things to change is to represent it. If you want to "reach the readers" then take that step. Because you're not going to get anywhere by standing still.
zeborah: Zebra holding a pen, its stripes forming the word "Write" (writing)
Every now and then I come up with this brilliant plan that I'm going to write a short-short every day -- just dash it off and let it be rubbish as long as I get to type "END" before the end of each day -- for a month.

Typically I'm enamoured of this brilliant plan for about as long as it takes to write half a page or sometimes less on day 1's short story. So really it wasn't at all a surprise that on Saturday I wrote a couple hundred words of a slice-of-life about a lunar tour group and then ran out of Saturday. It was slightly more surprising that I wrote another few hundred words of it on Sunday, and even more surprising that I finished the thing (at just over 900 words) on Monday.

But the really hornswaggling thing is that this morning I started short story number two and finished it by lunch time (just over 500 words) and then, while sitting at the bus-stop this evening, came up with an idea for "tomorrow's" story, promptly started it, and then finished it (just over 400 words) on the way to choir.

And I had some time left over to read another chapter of my current book-in-reading.

I'm not quite sure yet what to do with these three pieces: put them online (flocked or otherwise, for critique or just enjoyment) or hang on to them for a while until I've got suficient distance to be able to tell which of them are salvageable.

In the meantime, a tentative revelation: it's possible that I've been able to write these precisely because they just occurred to me and I just wrote them; whereas all the most recent stories that I've tried writing and got seriously stuck on are ones that I've wanted to write for a long time, so have Expectations of. Which is a shame if true, because I do in fact still want to write those. I probably need to learn how to manage Expectations. In the meantime, getting back into practice just writing will be an excellent start.
zeborah: Zebra holding a pen, its stripes forming the word "Write" (writing)
Dictated a few hundred words of a new story tonight. So far so sucky. But if it works enough to finish I can always revise.

I've also been playing Taipan by voice command. We used to play Taipan as kids on the Apple IIe; I remember reading Tom Sawyer while pressing F-F-F-F-F-F-F to keep shooting hostile vessels. 20+ years later I've got an Apple IIe emulator on my MacBook, and have taught Dragon Dictate the necessary commands so I don't hurt my hand. Instead I scritch my cat, saying, "Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight."


On weddings and royalty: I like having a Queen. I say this as someone with extremely liberal views. I feel that, given that a democratic government's job is to appeal to populism in order to retain power, it's really important to have an extra layer of government independent of all that who could, if necessary, provide a veto.

Nevertheless (and despite my deep respect for the Queen) I don't really care about our royal family more than I do about any other random family, nor about their wedding.

On the gripping hand, I have an amused total lack of sympathy for USans complaining that this totally irrelevant-to-them wedding is taking over their social network conversations. Whatever, folks, we have to put up with your election talk for months, you can cope with a day or so of wedding. (Text fails at tone. Please read benign irony, not snark.)

--Ditto for other citizens of the Commonwealth. I put up with rugby talk; no doubt everyone has talk that they put up with. Now we just add a wedding to the list, what's the fuss?
zeborah: Zebra with stripes shaking (earthquake)
I put on a red top today in the hope that it'd distract a little from my bright red chest. Judging from the "Holy shit!" that emerged from the mouth of my friend when I shrugged off my poncho, it wasn't entirely successful. (It's better than it was. It just doesn't look any better.)

Have had similarly bad luck with buses today. Went to get the one to church this morning and either it was early (unlikely since I'm so near the terminus) or it was just missing, but in any case I ended up waiting half an hour for the next one, in the rain with an old munted umbrella (my normal umbrella being stuck in my out-of-bounds workplace - I should buy a new one but that'd require catching a bus somewhere). So I was half an hour late to church (slightly less emotional than last week. One day maybe church will stop making me cry at all!) After that I waited about an hour for what should have been a half-hourly bus to get home. Thankfully this time I was at a stop with a bus shelter.

(Insert here a comic interlude in which I attempted to extract my freshly-baked brick of bread from the breadmaker -- Christchurch humidity is hell on bread. It's possible to make a loaf rise, but requires a great deal of effort and a certain amount of divine intervention -- and ended up just putting the whole pail-thing in my bag.)

Then coming to my friends' I went out to catch my bus on time and... again it just didn't come. This time I decided to hop on the first bus that did come along, so ended up going through town instead of via the suburban route. It wasn't too bad: bus #1 went to Parkside (ie Hagley Park), from there I switched to the link bus that goes to Bealey Ave, and there -- well, I did have to wait in the rain (but fortunately under a yew tree, which helped) for my bus, but only 5-10 minutes, and that took me right out to my friends' place.

Have started writing again! Will see how this goes. Could work well, or I could get stuck exactly where I got stuck in 2002. At least this time I can avoid my originally planned ending of "the kidnapper marrying the princess who's now suitably tamed" - this is a direct quote from my notes to self and intended with a certain degree of irony and I always meant the kidnapper to be reformed and tamed too, but even so, Self, what were you thinking?
zeborah: Zebra with stripes shaking (earthquake)
Went to choir, grabbing a sub on the way. Alas, as I expected they couldn't accept my coupon which is only valid at one of the Subway stores in town. (I think said store is still standing, but since neither I nor its staff can get to it this is a bit of a moot point.) Credit still works though.

Choir was a bit tiring but not too bad and by the end we actually got to the point where we were all listening to each other and our chord tuned just right, liquid sunshine.

Afterwards I got someone to drop me off at a bus-stop, intending to spend the busride home reading. Instead however I got an empty bus and a bus driver who started off with "Aren't you going to sit at the front with me?" and took my mild protest that I had a book to read as a conversational gambit: "Oh, what's the book?" and well, one doesn't want to be rude when one has been acculturated not to be rude, so I ended up chatting with him for over an hour. Mostly it was an okay conversation (primarily about the earthquake. The earthquake makes marvellous fodder for smalltalk) but occasionally it got mildly creepy (eg he complicated my sense of humour. You know, not creepy-creepy, but unnecessarily personal-creepy) so when he asked me my name -- and given that he was going to be dropping me off right at the end of my street and in fact (though I didn't know it at the time) was only persuaded not to drop me off right at my door by the fact that I'm on a dead-end street so he couldn't drive down it -- I promptly told him "Jane". This may have been a tactical error because normally I only do this with people I know I'll never see again, and with bus drivers one doesn't know; some I continue to see for years going on decades.

So if anyone's ever on a bus with me and the driver confidently addresses me as "Jane", please try not to look surprised. Just because I occasionally give people a fake name doesn't mean I want to be rude to them. :-(

The official earthquake blog says:
If you have been delivered a chemical toilet, and the water supply has been reinstated to your property, please continue to keep and use the chemical toilet to reduce pressure on the sewage system and keep pollution out of rivers.
So I guess I'm supposed to use the thing and occasionally lug my waste on a half-hour walk zigzagging through my neighbourhood to the nearest disposal point. Really I think I preferred the hole in the garden (though, admittedly, that's less discreet now that I'm getting more visitors and the painters are back working again).

I may start investigating a) exactly how far the disposal points are (so far I have only a map-derived guesstimate) and b) exactly how this doodacky's supposed to work anyway. Who knows, the results of my investigations may make me more enthusiastic. I don't think they could make me much less so.

Why don't I have a tag for toilets? This clearly must change.

Oh, forgot to mention: now that I can clearly not write my awesome post-apocalyptic Christchurch novel (dammit real life intruding on the territory of fiction) I've been trying to work out what I can write instead (once I've finished these two short stories I'm working on. One of which I may have to put aside; the basic shape is severely broken; the other one should be fixable though). And I want to get back to science-fiction, which means I have to ignore all my fantasy ideas.

(This is almost political sort of. Fantasy ideas are coming more naturally to me at the moment, because I'm mostly reading fantasy, because most of the sf I come across is... excessively privileged for my current taste; or if not so, then just not to my taste otherwise. Not all, but most. So it's a struggle to think of sf ideas that aren't Yet Another Military Space Opera, but while it would be tremendous fun to write Yet Another Scheming Nobility this feels little more original. (Oh, earthquake brain. I had to look up the word 'original' in the thesaurus.) Um. Point being, I believe there ought to be more sf that I'd like out there, but as I can't find much of it at the moment, it behooves me to write it.)

I've loaded myself with various other constraints in the kinds of stories/protagonists I want / don't want to write about right at the moment. Suffice to say that it took me a while to think of something. (I even briefly considered a version of the sky-falls-down story in which no-one actually dies, however I concluded that this would more or less miss the point of "post-apocalyptic" without much alleviating the depressing "Oh God not again" nature of another Christchurch disaster.) Fortunately however I have a store of half-started story ideas from my early 20s, not all of which are Star Trek clones -- even if many of them are clones of spin-offs from my first Star Trek clone. One of these can be further tweaked and will be a really fun story, once I work out what happens beyond the middle of chapter 2, with the potential for thoughtfulness too if I feel the urge, so I think I'll in due course try writing that again from the start and see what I come up with.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
Some years ago I was read Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits and was blown away by the structure: it wasn't organised chronologically so much as by an interlinking of topics, one thing recalling something that happened a generation before, or presaging something that would happen a generation later. Yesterday I read The House in Via Manno which does something similar, and I'm still fascinated by the technique.

Patricia Wrede has been writing about the Lego blocks of writing and today finishes with the scene [ETA: try this corrected link]. And, reading this, it seems to me that one fundamental aspect of the scene is that it proceeds in chronological order.

This isn't the case with sentences (which follow grammatical order) or even necessarily paragraphs (which can for effect show a reaction before the thing reacted to) and it's certainly not the case for books (as discussed above).

But a scene, by and large, moves smoothly forward in time, and even if it refers to memories of past events or the narrator's thoughts about the future, it's still in the chronological order in which it occurs to the point of view character; we aren't actually leaving this time.

Looking back at her post and thinking more, I think I'd add that a scene is fixed in one place and from one point of view. Her other "wh"s are I think less important as defining aspects. But place, time, and point of view are so tied to a scene that, if you want to change one, it ends the scene and begins a new one.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
Right at the moment, of course, the sky is bright, bright blue with a few scattered white clouds.

But you all know that's not what I meant. And thank you for the ideas yesterday. I always feel guilty when I ask for ideas and then say “No, that's wrong, I don't like that, no." But of course they're all helpful even when they are 'wrong', and working out why they won't work for me is useful too.

I do want to avoid fantasy, and thus gods; and my sisters awesome suggestion last night that the sky might host a plague, and the plague might leave survivors photosensitive, would have perfectly given me the arbitrary quality that I need, but at the cost of making the premises seem arbitrary too.

But Caper_est's suggestion that the pieces of sky could have some useful properties too – well, I already knew that, but as I was brushing my teeth and thinking about things from an entirely different angle I realised I had a solution.

Because the primary property of sky is that it protects from the sunlight. Even when it is lying on the ground it should still do this. So yes, people are going to learn how to make windows out of it to protect themselves. But in the meantime as it lies on the ground, it's going to be sheltering at least some small portions of the biosphere – patches of grass for example. Ants. Cockroaches. Larger drifts of it might shelter a lucky cat, or a very lucky human.

The only question left was what do these pieces of sky look like. At first I thought they'd be like glass, but you'd think the sky would be thicker than that. I was pondering Styrofoam, or something softer. But that didn't seem right either.So I chatted with my sister again today. She agreed that Styrofoam seems too soft and suggested shale instead. So it's composed of overlapping layers of something like glass and when it shatters it falls in flakes and sheets. It's light – I feel that sky should be able to float on water – but extremely sharp-edged, So it cuts when it falls: power lines, people. But being light it easily slowed down so it might cut through a roof but then lie in the roof space. Winds will affect where it goes too so it will lie thinner in some areas and thicker in others. On average, maybe a foot deep, so most people and most trees will be too high to benefit. But here and there, a sheet larger than usual might fall on the low-lying forest and last just long enough to break the fall of other sheets so some patch of forest can even survive.

And then humans figure out how to make it into windows and glass houses and so forth...

I think (as soon as I've finished my short stories in progress) I may be ready to start this novel.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
In my high school story, the sky broke when one too many aeroplanes flew through it. Itshattered and fell, and afterwards humans had to live underground. I think the sky had acted much like the ozone layer: afterwards people were greatly at risk of sunburn. Possibly, but I can't remember, all the air had also escaped in defiance of gravity.

Considering it now, I see four ways in which a breaking sky could be a disaster:

1) the shards of the sky could fall and hurt people, by concussion or by slicing. But even in the middle of a bright sunny day, I don't see how this could possibly kill more than half the population. Meantime, on the other side of the world, 99.9% of the population will be safe in bed or at work inside.

2) the sky could have been protecting against harmful radiation from the sun. If the radiation was severe enough, even the light coming through windows could kill you. But this would kill the rest of the biosphere too. And worse, of course, if the radiation's that bad, then even the survivors won't survive long.

3) the sky could have been holding the air down. Bt handwaving gravity seems to go a bit far. Besides, not only are there very few people who have spare oxygen tanks lying around, I suspect they'd have a hard time securing a permanent supply before their existing supplies ran out. And then there's the rest of the biosphere again.

4) the shards of the sky could be poisonous. They could release t toxic fumes – and for bonus points, the fumes could only affect humans. But the humans who survivve would tend to be humans who have gas masks readily to hand. And I want to write about ordinary people, not soldiers, emergency service folk, and survivalists.

I think (1) is a given. But it obviously needs something more. My imagination likes (2) best: the idea of sunshine being deadly (both at the moment when the sky falls and in the after days) has a lot of storytelling potential. I think I could even cope with destroying the whole biosphere: then part of the story thrust would involve the survivors having to grow plants again, first for mid-term survival, and then on a larger scale needing to find a way to regrow rainforests to ensure the long-term health of the planet. It would be a massive, multigenerational task, but that's where the optimism comes in. It does leave me with the problem of handwaving a kind of radiation that can kill near instantly but doesn't linger to be a nuisance once the sun's set.

Unless the toxic fumes from the shards of the sky made humans extremely photosensitive. That might almost work. I still kinda want this to happen almost instantly, mostly because the sound of nearly 7,000,000,000 people dying of sunburn... makes it hard to be optimistic.

Or – I was going to start the novel as it happened, with the flash of light, the brightness of the sky concentrating itself into the blinding brightness of the sun – but maybe I had the right idea when I was a teenager: start the story with a hand wavy paragraph saying “yeah, we didn't think the sky could break either, but, well, it's happened, so let's just get on with surviving and staying away from sunlight" and just carry on from there.
zeborah: Vuvuzela concert: This is serious art. (art)
I've got a couple of short stories I need to finish, but when they are done it feels time to get back to writing novels. I've got a few ideas, but nothing's really grabbed me. Until I was reading a New Zealand post-apocalyptic fantasy (by the way, all the books I'm reading now I'm reviewing on GoodReads - these ones are Kokopu Dreams and Shadow Waters - and feeding the entries through to twitter) and was one of those ones that does just enough right to inflame the imagination, but just enough wrong to inspire me to feel that I can do better.

Now the thing is, I'm not actually all that in to post-apocalyptic novels. I read a few as a young adult: The Burning Times, Children of the Dust, things like that. But they were always so depressing, pessimistic, fatalistic. And now here's me wanting to write one myself. An optimistic one. Which kind of starts with the premise.

In prehistoric times, post-apocalyptic stories were about floods (Noah, Gilgamesh, Atlantis). In the mid to late 20th century, it was the nuclear holocaust (we even did Z For Zachariah in class). Then there's plagues (The Handmaid's Tale, Kokopu Dreams et seq.): you can destroy 99.9% of humanity, but leave the rest of the biosphere intact, which is handy if you want to argue that we ought to go back to nature, as so many of these stories seem to do. Oh, and there's the space age version: colonists crash on Terra Nullius and colonise away, unfettered by either pesky natives or supplies from home to prevent you reverting to feudalism.

In all versions, survivors are likely to acquire handy supernatural powers. But aside from that, the stories aren't terribly optimistic: all these premises take for granted the idea that we're a hair's breadth away from extinction. And even more pessimistically, they frequently take for granted the idea that this is a good thing. So I want to write a story that completely subverts all of this: I want to say that population is good, and technology is good, and our current society isn't all that bad either; without ever granting the supposition that the mega disaster I posit is actually to be feared.

When I was in high school, I started a story called something like “The Day the Sky Broke". It was meant to be a slightly absurdist premise played seriously. My teacher didn't understand it. But then, I didn't have much idea where it was going either. Now I'm pondering it again: writing a post-apocalyptic novel about the sky literally falling. But no matter how I work it, I have trouble killing the requisite 99.9% of humanity without also killing every other living thing on earth, including rainforests and the mysterious things that live in the ocean. While this would lend an urgency To the survivors' realisation that retaining technology is perhaps more useful than going back to nature, I think it might be going a little overboard after all.

I've got one other idea, but it involves magic, and I'd rather write this one as science-fiction.

So. Still pondering.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
So over the weekend I finally finished drafting the short story I've been nominally working on since before the earthquake. Unfortunately it came to 7300 words so I'm now trying to trim it back to something more reasonable like 4000. (Way more markets accept 4000, but I'll probably settle for 5000.) The way I write, this will also make it a much better story, because it involves trimming out all the times when something happens three times just to ram home that Stuff is Creepy, before we even reach the plot twist; and all the subplots that don't actually drive the story forward. Short stories shouldn't have subplots. <sigh>

So during lunch today I unwrote 420 words.

Um, and also. The story is set in what I'm temporarily calling "pseudo-Persia", which is analogous to pseudo-Europe except with more auctorial ignorance; and it has a transgender protag; and it has rape (on-screen, no less, though not graphic); which seems to me to be a lot of Potential Fail to pack into one story. Now that I'm writing again I'll try to write less potential-faily stories, promise.... But in the meantime, if anyone were interested in beta-ing and feels they have a better perspective than I on such things and would be able and willing to clobber me (who am quite willing to be so clobbered) as appropriate then I'd be bunches of grateful - you could leave a comment here or email me.
zeborah: Vuvuzela concert: This is serious art. (art)
Yesterday afternoon I met up with someone I know from the online librarian world who was in town for the day on the way to a conference. We had this fantastic six-hour conversation which consisted of these amazing nested tangents about work, travel, politics (USan, Australian, NZan), sf (books, TV), family, home repairs, home invasions, and so forth. Every now and then one of us would say, "Oh yes, I was [half an hour ago] going to tell you about X," and then within about half a minute we'd be off on exciting new tangents.

So for example there must have been about an hour between the time I introduced the topic of my fanfic-in-progress and the time I actually started talking about it. But then I also talked about where I'm at with writing in general and it brought together some threads of things I've been thinking about why I'm in a bit of a lull at the moment, which are:
  • Partly it's that it's taking me a while to adjust to working full-time and being a houseowner and having to do all my own cooking and housework. (I think I'm never going to manage the "cooking every night" thing. I'm slowly resigning myself to the fact that it's not a crime to go for a walk from time to time and buy some ready-made food from one of the healthy takeaway places around here.)
     
  • Partly it's that the last novel I completed was horridly demoralising in the swimming-upstream way it took to write -- and that I'm not really happy with the result: there's a lot of parts of it I like, but as a whole, I'm not sure it's really a coherent story.
     
  • Partly it's that this year at work has been a year of ridiculuncous stress what with merging and construction and restructuring and farewelling people and more construction. The earthquake on top of this Did Not Help -- I couldn't write for a month or two after -- but that really was the icing on the cake; even without it I was really struggling.
     
  • And the other thing, which I've had to face more as I recover from the earthquake and which clicked a bit better in my head as I mentioned it last night, is that over the last couple/few(?) years, through all the "Fail" conversations and from trying to educate myself about various related issues, I've learned a lot. And it's made me increasingly aware that a lot of things I've written, and a lot of things I've wanted to write, are to various degrees problematic.
This is not a whine that it's all just too hard. (Though it is hard enough that I have at moments felt/understood the temptation to do that.) Of course it's hard; it's learning. When you learn more about characterisation or plot or anything else then you likewise begin to recognise your own failings at it, sometimes before you have any idea how to actually improve.

But and also it's that I'm trying to change what I want to write. (Because I want to write fun things, and I want to write non-problematic things, so I want problematic things to feel less fun and non-problematic things to feel more fun.) And changing what you want or believe or anything like that is doable if you know enough about how you think, which I think I do, but hard work nonetheless. (I'm suddenly thinking of Cyteen.)

So I think for most of this year, if not more, I've been on a "Argh, my stories are problematic and my writing sucks" plateau and going around in circles. And last night as I was talking I just magically recontextualised this as, "I've learned enough to recognise those problematic things; now I can learn how to fix them through the obscure methodology of: practice, practice, practice." (I ought to have known this beforehand. If anyone else had been struggling with the same thing this is what I'd have told them. But I just didn't really internalise it until last night.) I don't think the plateau was wasted time, because it was also time I was continuing to learn and process. And I'm not likely to suddenly burst into perfect productivity as of today either, so this learning and processing will continue. But I have some more confidence now that I can get myself back into the actual writing thing and will be capable of improving what I write.

I still need to learn how to plot actual stories, though.
zeborah: Zebra with stripes shaking (earthquake)
The Mayor wants you to know that Christchurch is back in business. Sorry, I meant to mention that a while ago. He says please to come and spend all your tourist dollars here. Not in so many words, but that's what he means. It's quite safe (we just had a 4.5, which spooked Boots, but Twitter's #eqnz feed has a distinct "ho hum" feel to it, and the last noticeable one before that was eight days ago) and all tourist amenities are intact.

(Though the tourist buses have now I believe been convinced to keep out of Dallington. People need to use their Portaloos in private, y'know.)

Funny story about the Mayor. Last Thursday, the newspaper was reporting in ill-disguised glee that he was off on a secret mission to a secret location in East Asia, and was asking for anyone who'd seen him to nark on him. And then on Saturday it was forced to report, in ill-disguised disappointment, that it turned out that his mission had secured a really awesome airline deal and the secrecy had been necessary for proprietary airline reasons. As you read the article you could actually hear the reporter's chagrin.

Less amusing is our new Hobbit Law. Well, I suppose it could be amusing from a distance. Google it if you like, but I don't promise you'll understand and I'm not in a mood to talk about it. Le sigh.

Anyway, so I foolishly said somewhere I was going to do IWriSloMo this month. I think that would be going better if I could bear the thought of writing. I'm in rather a funk at the moment, as per my most recent post, and the earthquake, and a year of nonsense at work. I'm very tired. It's the sort of tired that verges on a sort of mild situational depression. It's milder than funks I've coped with before, it's just that writing worked as an escape those times, and now I'm out of practice and creaky and slow and all my stories are sucky and pointless.

...I should stop playing Solitaire on my iPod. As a way of passing ten minutes when I'm otherwise okay it's fine, but as a way of attempting to escape a funk it actually just digs me deeper. Also it drains the battery.

Oh well. I'll go make myself write anyway. Given the likelihood that my judgement is impaired at the moment, I do really want to be writing again, so I need to drag myself back into the habit. And if the funk's mild enough then being productive will (partnered with destressing) help get me out of it. So.

<glares at stubborn story>
zeborah: Zebra with stripes falling off (stress and confusion)
I got to my desk today to find an email waiting, telling me someone's made an application on my behalf and I need to fill out a questionnaire to complete it. This email sounding startlingly similar to one I received yesterday, I phoned to confirm. After a short discussion, we worked out that I didn't have to.

Then a bit before lunch I got an email whose subject says the deadline has been extended to [closing date listed (possibly accidentally) on an important external website] and whose body says the selection process is well under way and I should hear from them in the near future. I'm not sure if they consider two weeks to be the near future or if their message got a bit jumbled in the confusion.

In between emails, I moved some more hundreds of books, with a brief pause to put into some semblance of order about ten shelves' worth that had obviously all fallen onto the floor and been put back randomly on the shelves by building contractors. This was particularly fun because they're in the internet programming section of the classification range, so these ten shelves of books ranged from TK 5105.888 [etc] to TK 5105.8885 [etc] (through such numbers as TK 5105.88815 [etc]) so one gets cross-eyed very quickly, and then also one discovers a stray TK 5105.85 from the next bay over, or a TK 7182 that must have fallen in from the other side of the stack).

We did as much of that area as can be done right now in the morning; in the afternoon (after an all-library meeting to update us on some technology changes planned for the summer) we went to another area to do some easier straightening of shelves. Not many had fallen off in this area; mostly they were all leaning over. Though we did find a book that seems to have fallen down from the mezzanine level straight above, and yes I mean that if the book had moved in a straight line it would have had to pass through the floor. I suppose there might have been human intervention at some point pre- or post-quake, but I dunno. Things move weirdly in earthquakes.

I've started... hmm. I haven't started actually writing again, but I've regained my interest in writing and am once more glaring at the unfinished short story that I was glaring at pre-quake.

Oh, I had an awesome dream last night that I was writing a bunch of fairytales in verse. Most were bare-bones ones, but there was a longer one in an aabccb rhyme scheme that involved a witch (rhymed with ditch), a princess carrying all her worldly possessions (maiden rhymed with laden) and a dwarf (which I think I managed to put in the middle of a line so as not to have to rhyme).

I rather expect I'll continue having rough moments/hours/days (and I remain easily brain-fried, which means my capacity for socialness, even the basic socialness of replying to comments, is a bit eclectic at present) but purposeful hard labour is awefully therapeutic.
zeborah: Zebra with stripes shaking (earthquake)
It's been twenty-four hours since I felt a quake. I slept through a bunch (in the spare room with a pillow over my head) and then the 5pm ones... I might have been moving around the house, I don't know. It makes it feel like they're over, like aftershocks are so last week. Hopefully they pretty much are and there'll just be a few more fading rumbles. Except you don't want to let your guard down. Except keeping your guard up is the worst of it.

So I woke at about 9:30 from a long and solid sleep and I felt like crap. I wanted to go back to sleep except I didn't, it was really just that I didn't want to be awake.

Someone phoned from choir to say we're allowed back in our practice-room this week. That will be good. (I have at times this week taken advantage of the fact that singing helps anxiety somewhat at least inasmuch as it forces you to control your breathing.)

I poked about online for a bit. I really wanted to set up a "We survived a week of #eqnz!" tweetup except I also really didn't want to deal with it. I wanted to go into town and do some economy-boosting shopping, but also didn't want to. I also really didn't want to sit in the house anymore. I ended up going for a random walk in the sun. Halfway down the road my iPod reminded me that on Saturday I should go to the library, and I thought, yes, going to the library and sitting in a corner with a book would be nice.

It was beautifully sunny. Unfortunately sunglasses can only do so much to hide the fact that one is crying; tears streaming down one's face are a bit of a giveaway. Fortunately I kinda figure Cantabrians are used to people looking upset at the moment. Anyway I wiped most of them away before I cut through the mall.

The mobile library was parked outside the library. This perhaps should have been a clue. (The other clue would have been that all week the list of libraries opening hasn't included my local branch.) I figured it out when I saw the hazard tape across the library's entrance. I think/suspect/hope it's just minor damage, it's just no-one knows yet. I had a brief chat with one of the staff in the mobile library then wandered away again. I wasn't wanting to borrow books, I'd just been wanting to sit in the library and... have a library around me.

I went shopping for a bit. And got to that state where you're looking at things and slowly realise you've zoned out and you're supposed to be doing something, and also where you're swaying on your feet (in a non-earthquake-like manner).

At home I ate a bit, and watched videos, and hacked at the tree the tree-guy forgot because, on reflection, when it rubs against the house it makes creaky noises like the start of a small aftershock. Plus it was something active to do.

The tree he did remember to do (needed dead branches pruned away) still has the branch I want to attach a swing to. So once the rest of it has filled back out I can do that and will have somewhere nice to sit and read in summer.

Back on the internet, someone tweeted something about keeping one's phone charged and I thought-- "Where's my phone?" I've had it on me practically nonstop for a week (though it usually stays by my bed 24/7 being used as nothing more than an alarm clock) and had to hunt through the house to find where I'd put it down while getting changed earlier.

I visited my siblings for dinner. I wasn't great company; half of me didn't want to go, except I wanted to be with them, and then half of me didn't want to leave, except I wanted to be back here. And then I got back here and coming up to my door everything was so quiet. Not scary quiet, and not peaceful quiet, just... quiet like the whole city is numb.

On the bus I overheard some boys talking about how their school will get a bunch of girls coming from another school with damaged buildings. Actually his words were "their school is broken". And the logistics of so much broken feels overwhelming. Mostly I'm equally overwhelmed by how everyone is doing their part to put a piece here and a piece there back together. But today I'm collapsing a bit.

I've been reading Meera Syal's Life isn't all ha ha hee hee which goes around a whole lot of different viewpoint characters in a way that doesn't suit my reading style. So a few days ago I was vaguely pondering a book that has the viewpoint handed off from one character to another, following the story through a literal cast of hundreds, never coming back to the same viewpoint character twice. The sort of conceit that makes a great thought experiment but probably a terrible novel... On the bus I thought that this sort of structure might actually suit a book about recovery from a disaster, to really show the scope of things. (It'd still require a genius to make the reader not mind the fact that we've got no stable characters though.) But then I also thought: I still don't feel qualified to write any such thing. I probably feel less qualified than ever. I often find it harder to write about things I know more about because then I know what I don't know and dread what else I might get wrong. But also, how dare I speak for people who have really suffered and lost?

Not that I think I really want to write a book about recovery from a disaster anyway.

Bah. I'm just trying to find the new normal. It's bound to be around here somewhere.

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zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
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