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A New Year for Me

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I am a little behind in life at the moment, but not without good reason. By the time you read this, I will have made and returned from a second trip to visit my mom since my dad’s unexpected death. With any luck, I will have finished and submitted my research paper for my one remaining class, and will be somewhere deep in the crunch of trying to wrap up my responsibilities for work at the end of a “short,” chaotic month. (Welcome to the magic of scheduling posts, future people.) I’m going to assume that all is going well, if somewhat frenetic because I really am that idealistic underneath the patina of cynicism.

But I digress. Back to the subject at hand.

One of the revelations I had a long time ago was that the resolutions people make for the turn of the calendar year are a bunch of bullshit. It is too socially acceptable and even expected to make a decision to change something and then fail at it by February. This discovery annoyed me, but being so idealistic (however well hidden), I still like to make an effort to change the things that bug me about me. I decided that my birthday was really the beginning of a new year for me and decided that whatever resolutions I made would be at least in the month of my birthday. Since the whole world isn’t joking about failing in a massive effort to change, these good habits are more likely to stick…at least in theory. (Note: when your birthday precedes Thanksgiving and Christmas, those dieting resolutions are all but destined to fail, so I try to keep those at bay, however tempting -and necessary- they may be.) This year, in October, I sat down and really thought about the things that bug me about me and what I wanted to change. Sadly, it was a pretty long list, but one that was honest, so I’m going to work on tackling them. The first thing off the list is PROCRASTINATION. I am so good at procrastination, I should teach a class on it. I mean, seriously, I’m fricken awesome at it. I can invent all kinds of menial distractions that get NOTHING accomplished. Seriously. Nothing.

The thing about procrastination is that it fucks up all the fun stuff too. My talent for wildly creative labors that accomplish nothing in the most time-consuming way possible just sucks all the “free” time out of my schedule. And that is super lame. Lamer than super lame, even. I don’t even know if there’s a word for that.

So, I’m going to conquer the procrastination in baby steps. My biggest challenge now is I use procrastination to avoid things I don’t want to do. It’s almost a little tantrum against my to do list, and I am too damn old to throw a temper tantrum. So, I”m working on “rewarding” myself for the un-fun tasks I accomplish by letting myself do something fun. I just finished listening to a call for work (on a Sunday) and now I’m rewarding myself with a few minutes of blogging. See how wonderful this is? The hard part is keeping up with it and staying focused. But baby steps. I will get there. My goal is to establish this as a positive habit before y’all even start drafting your lists of resolutions. I want to be at my next birthday and see that I’ve established a good habit of avoiding procrastination so I can have more fun time, more time to play as I see fit, and the only way to create that in my that in my tight schedule is to make sure I’m using my time for its intended purposes.

That being said, HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ME! What are you going to do to celebrate your new year?

Something Like a Review – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

November 25, 2012 Leave a comment

I survived the craziest couple of weeks of my adult life and lived to tell the tale. As promised, I have a post-Thanksgiving SLaR just to prove I made it through in the flesh. (It’s late, but it’s still Sunday, so it still counts!)

Let me preface my comments about this book by saying that I liked it, but with the disclaimer that I didn’t love it. I enjoyed the premise of the story, and I could get lost in the telling of it (for the most part), but there were enough things that just bugged me that I can’t give it more than 3 glittering stars. After reading some reviews, I have a feeling I’m going to pluck some nerves, but isn’t that what talking about books and art does? So, enough yammering, and on to the plucking!

This is one of those books that I saw EVERYWHERE for so long that I finally decided I was going to pick it up and see what it was all about. This curiosity may kill me at some point because it seems to be one lesson I have not been able to conquer – just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean I’m going to fall all over myself when I read it. I admit that I groaned inwardly when I realized it was yet another vampire book, and yet another tale of a (somewhat) human female falling for the enigmatic bloodsucker. Yet, I persevered. And throughout the beginning, I enjoyed it. The story combines supernaturals like vampires, witches and demons and stirs them all up with humans and, as most experienced readers would expect, hijinks ensue.

But.

Because there is always a “but…”

What brought my enjoyment to a halt was Diana’s transformation throughout the book. She begins as an independent, stubborn and well-established scholar of alchemy with witchy tendencies that she staunchly denied, but occasionally used against her better judgment. She was a little too rigid for me to enjoy as a character, but I thought that meant great room for her to grow and develop. Instead, she started regressing. To avoid spoiler-y-ness, I won’t go into why or how, but suffice to say that by the end, I thought I was reading yet another Twilight-esque encounter between needy female and vamp-in-existential-crisis. I spent a good deal of time rolling my eyes, but I think it was because my expectations of seeing Diana develop into an even stronger female character throughout the book were sorely disappointed.

Another thing that irked me and helped subtract from the star-count was the fact that the book was clearly written to be a first novel in a series. There was a cursory drawstring closure to the ending, but it only served to close the book, not complete a story line, at least in my opinion. This bugs me, and always has with series books. In my opinion, they should stand alone as stories, even if the door is left open for the next one. A less than satisfying end is a turn-off to me, especially when it’s clearly being done to allow for the next book.

Even though I have issues with it, I still liked the story. I still liked the idea of the interplay between the witches, vamps and demons, and I will still read the next one which has come out fairly recently. I will give this series one more book to win me over and return Diana to her independence as a woman capable of standing on her own two feed, and if that one gives me Twilight flashbacks, I’m closing it and walking away.

I think this is one that fans or even those who appreciated the Twilight story will love. It’s a more grown-up version, but all the right elements are there (except the werewolves), and maybe this will serve as a stepping stone between a facile story and one that is more complex and intricate.

 

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Multiple versions also available from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 3 stars

Potential re-read: Probably not, but YMMV.

Dead-tree worthy?: Not for me. It’s a beast and while I liked it, I didn’t love it. The things that bugged me did so with enough intensity that while I will read at least the next in the series, I won’t likely purchase either of them unless something drastic happens in the next installment. If I want to read it again, there’s always the library.

 

 

The Circle of Life

November 16, 2012 1 comment

Time is a funny thing. On a Friday afternoon, time seems to drag its feet and it feels like quitting time will NEVER come. On days when you have too much to accomplish in 24 hours, it seems to zip by with impossible speed.

And sometimes, a week can change your entire world.

Exactly one week ago, I was awakened by the sound of my phone ringing. My mom was on the other end telling me that my dad had unexpectedly passed away in his sleep the night before. This morning, my phone woke me again, but with the sound of text messages wishing me a happy birthday.

The past week was a whirlwind of chaos and travel frustrations, phone calls, hugs, visitors, food, well wishes, of tears and laughter, of stress and being able to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in years. There were a lot of faces I recognized, though it took being reminded of names to know whose hands were in mine. I’m sad that my dad is gone, though I don’t think it has really registered yet. I spent the week watching over my mom so closely, I really forgot to take a look at what the hell was going on in my own head. I’m supposed to be enjoying a “day off” to indulge in things I wanted to do on my birthday, but instead, I’m doing the laundry that I was supposed to do over the weekend and working (which I haven’t even looked at cross-eyed for about a week), and thinking about the paper I have to finish in the next couple of days. What was supposed to be something of a restful time between classes is going to be a time of chaotic catch-up before the madness begins again.

Even so, I’m going to take the time to enjoy some time with friends, drink a little too much wine (or other intoxicating liquids), eat a little too much good food and just chill out. I don’t know that it counts as “celebrating,” but I’m pretty sure that’s as close as it’s going to get right now.

I will get back to the regular posting schedule with Something Like a Review on A Discovery of Witches next Sunday. Sorry for the delay, but I’m trying to be realistic. Until then, enjoy your holiday feasts and time with family. Even when they drive you crazy and make you want to pluck your eyebrows out with BBQ tongs, they’re the only family you’ve got and you never know when they’ll be gone.

No NaNo Blues

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s November, which seems to be one of the busiest months of the year for a lot of people. There’s the circus of the election every couple of years and the obligatory bitching/gloating that accompanies it, the coming of Thanksgiving day feasts and football. For the truly crazy (or those cursed with jobs in retail or customer service), there’s Black Friday stampedes sales and fist-fighting shopping. There’s decorating for Christmas, Christmas shopping, visiting with family. I have finals for my last class of the semester, my birthday and for some 300,000 writers, there’s NaNoWriMo.

I’ve posted about NaNoWriMo before, but for those who weren’t around for it, the funky name is a shortened moniker for National Novel Writing Month. Writers of all ages and skill level commit to writing 50,000 words in one month. The camaraderie you share with all these other crazy people tackling a huge number in a short period is pretty awesome. There’s something addictive about watching your word count rise and compulsively posting updates. There’s the thrill of the word war, the sprint and the bragging rights when you blow your daily goal out of the water. I always got gleeful dropping the novel into the verifier and getting my “WINNER” badge to parade around as an avatar.

To those who haven’t attempted it, the whole venture sounds imposing. While it can be intimidating, especially on a day when the words WILL NOT COME, it’s entirely possible. Some ambitious folks (who I don’t think work a full 40 hours a week) achieve way more than that.  More than once, I took on the NaNo challenge and succeeded. It took effort because there are days when you just don’t want to write, or days when hitting the daily target of 1,667 words seems impossible. It’s not, of course, but this is the way we all work. Some of us adrenaline junkies will procrasturbate until panic is writhing beneath the surface of our skin, then sit down and hammer out 7,000 words in one sitting. Mind you, this is a way to break a sweat without moving more than your fingers and earning a completely numb butt in the process, and is not something I’d recommend based on my personal experiences. However, it is do-able.

Right now, though, NaNo is not something I can commit to and see through, which makes me sad. With work, school and yoga, there’s not enough hours in my day to find the time to pound out almost 2k more words a day, or to feel comfortable with even a self-imposed deadline. I still write, usually a full hand-written page or so before bed on an average day, but there are days that pass with nothing but scribblings jotted on sticky notes or in my notebook for later action. Sometimes it’s a fragment of a scene that came to me (which may or may not be used), sometimes it’s a tidbit of world building, or maybe just notes on a character that will be involved in the story. The point is, it’s something, and more than putting down 50k words in 30 days, NaNo is about building a habit of BIC and doing the work. It’s about learning to shut off the internal censor and let the words flow. It’s about accepting that shitty writing happens sometimes and being ok with it; about acknowledging that rewrites and edits are for when the story is done. It’s about acknowledging that draft zero is crap compared to what the final draft will be, but that’s only in comparison; it’s about remembering that first drafts are SUPPOSED to suck and still finding the joy in spinning the thread to weave the tapestry of the story. It’s about acknowledging that writing a story is fun, but that good writing is WORK.

In support of my NaNo’ing friends and acquaintances, I’m wearing my NaNo hoodie (which is SUPER comfy, by the way) and wishing you all happy writing. Remember to pick up the traveling shovel if you get stuck, and don’t procrastinate!

Something Like a Review – One Second After by William R. Forstchen

November 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Post apocalyptic fiction makes me happy.

Ridiculously happy.

It might be because I work in customer service. But that might be a tale for another post.

I’d heard a bit of a buzz about this one from a friend who likes scary movies as much as I do, so I took her word on this book being creepy and engrossing more seriously than the average reader. After perusing some of the audiobooks on Audible so I could spend the credits that were burning a hole in my account, I stumbled across it. I figured, “Oh, what the hell? Even if it’s horrible, I can still enjoy the demise of humanity on my way to work. At least it will make the commute worth it.” (Like I said, I work customer service. It’s enough to inspire some pretty vengeful reactions to the plight of one’s fellow man…that is, if the whole gutter-sniping over the election didn’t do it for you.)

So, I dropped it in my cart, downloaded it and got all my nifty electronic gizmos synched up and ready for the end of the audiobook I was listening to at the time.

Never before have I really thought about what a complete and utter loss of all technology would do to my world. A world in general, yes, but not MY world. There’s a big difference, as most readers know. Not only did One Second After make me consider this, it brought it home talking about places I knew. Black Mountain (where I was planning on going about two weeks from the time I finished this book…to a cabin….in the woods….on the side of a mountain…), Charlotte, Asheville, Charleston. It was creepy to think of those places and how civilization would deteriorate, how familiar land and city scapes might be overrun with a ravaging horde of human locusts.I thought about what it would be like to lose power in my own home for more than a few hours or days. I’d have no water. No way to cook. No food storage. Little food in the cupboards. No resources. What if the dread EMP actually DID happen and we were jettisoned back a hundred years into a world we are no longer equipped to understand? What happens when the pre-packaged, pre-processed food runs out? What about the people whose lives depend on machinery or medicine to live? What happens when there is no smartphone or computer capable of pulling up Google to find the answers to simple survival questions? How long would it take to run to the local hardware store and sporting goods store/department to get the survival gear necessary to live in a country where survival means fighting to defend yourself and your food source? What would be left when I got there and how far would it get me? What kinds of books should I steal from the library on the way back?

I came to the conclusion that I’d be totally screwed.

For the first time, I seriously considered planting a garden and tried to remember all the practical things I’d learned from my grandfather on his farm. I wondered if I’d be able to remember or re-learn those things in time to make a difference. I tried to figure out an optimal time for this kind of apocalyptic disaster to strike to ensure survival. I calculated how much water I’d be able to carry back from the lake using the receptacles I had in my house.

In my opinion, this is the kind of thing that makes a book a great one, even if there are imperfections or minor annoyances. This book made a fiction (however possible or probable) very, incredibly, terrifyingly real and it’s not one for the faint of heart. It made me a little paranoid and made me wonder “what if…” in the context of my own life. Forstchen does a great job of world building and making disaster not only real, but chillingly plausible. He did a great job thinking through the aftermath of a devastating loss of technology and how people would react, and eventually adapt. On the whole, the book was great and a well written story. For me, there were a few passages that were preachy and felt heavy-handed. I could see the author stick his fingers into the cake of his character, then try to cover over it with a pretty speech. It didn’t work for me and I rolled my eyes a few times and kicked up the playback speed until the section was done and the story came back.

And while a garden would be nice, and practical in the event of disaster, I didn’t do it. I guess I’ll be one of those wanderers. Wish me luck…

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Multiple versions also available from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Most likely, but it will be a while. My TBR pile is getting way out of control

Dead-tree worthy?: Not sure. Depends on the reaction I have to it after the second run-through. I’m afraid this might be one of those books I loved the first time, then was a little numb to the second time around and started picking apart for flaws. (The curse of the internal editor. That bitch can’t keep her nose out of anything!)

It’s Been a While….

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment

And now I have Staind in my head….

But it has been a while since I’ve made time to write a blog post. It’s not because I don’t love the blogosphere, but more a consideration of time. The last couple of weeks of classes can be hell, especially with an accelerated class that makes me just want to pull my own eyeballs out. But that class is almost done with only an outstanding final to take as soon as it’s released.

So what have I been up to?

Quite a bit, actually.

  • Classwork first, of course, which is a whole mess of stuff that takes up a lot of time. Some is positive, some is not so positive. Some makes me want to tear my hair out, some of it makes my inner bookworm happy.
  • I’ve been writing! YAY! and I’ve found lots of places where I’m going to need to do some research because it is a novel, and I’ve been doing some background story-crafting and character building. I can’t wait until school break so I can spend some quality time researching peripheral information (chronic illnesses, gruesome little cults and organizations that pertain to the story line, etc) and revamp the original piece in a different point of view. (Yeah, it’s one of those.)
  • I’m still doing yoga, and now…I start belly dancing classes tonight! This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never found a convenient class.
  • I’ve been healing. A few weeks ago, I had something of a mishap on my way to the Ren Faire which resulted in a painfully broken camera lens, and a very angry hand which is very slowly regaining strength and flexibility. The typing speed was pretty critically impacted for a while, which meant work backed up as I pecked my way through writing feedback.
  • I’ve been reading and listening to lots and lots of books, which means you will be seeing lots of SLaRs and blurbs coming soon! (If you’ve seen my Goodreads shelf lately, you’ll see that I’ve got a stack of 14 books or so sitting there….I’m not currently reading them all, but there hanging out until I have time to actually write up some mini-reviews. I’ve read the ones that are starred, so if you’re interested in a sneak peak about what’s I’m going to be talking about in the near future, consider it your preview.)

My goal is to get back on track and write some extra entries to cover these crazy weeks for next semester, but it’s a trial and error process. Hang in there. I haven’t forgotten anyone, and I”m not going anywhere…

My B is in the C and the written words will soon change focus from scholarly matters, to creating a world without….

…well, I’m not giving that up yet. Soon, perhaps. But not quite yet. 🙂

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