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Geek Luddite

Nov. 12th, 2015

06:53 am - Posted here in lieu of that hole that Midas's barber used (oh, whispering grass)

It's a more-or-less a functional substitution, but (probable) hypervigilance and massive pattern matching is an EXHAUSTING replacement for whatever other people use for people reading.

Oct. 28th, 2015

12:22 pm - Books: $2 A Day

On recommendation of a friend who wrote a wonderful review, I picked up $2 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer (http://www.twodollarsaday.com/).

I then spent two days being vaguely cranky at the world and marginally depressed while reading it, but I recommend it nonetheless. Very short, well researched, and does a nice-enough job of combining the narrative "stories" with the policy analysis and data to work for most people, I think.

I grew up in a not-well-off family with an extended family who were middle class and upper class.  We were poor but we were cushioned from the kind of deep poverty that this book is about.  We were occasionally homeless, we were on WIC and received food stamps (they were still food stamps back then) when I was a kid in the 1980s.  But I always had winter coats.  We got enough shoes.  When we were homeless we couch-surfed in pretty nice houses, or got to stay in motels. We had running water and heat.    Though I knew this book was focused on people and situations more difficult than the ones I grew up in, I knew a lot of people growing up who were poorer than we were. I did not expect that there would be a lot that was new for me in this book.

There was a lot that was new to me.  The policy changes of the 1990s came after my family had (re)-entered the middle class.  Most of those changes took effect after I had gone to college, and I have not needed to access social services of these types since college. Things for the lower working class may have gotten better (at least according to notes in this book), but, as the authors very clearly show, things for the very poorest in America have gotten a lot worse.

If you have the emotional energy, this was a very worthwhile read. Probably at a similar level of depressing and angering as, oh, Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol? But possibly with more triggers.
Trigger warnings behind the cutCollapse )
[edited because I forgot to put in the authors' names after the title when first posted.]

Sep. 8th, 2015

09:16 pm - Objects moving, objects at rest.

So I have moved (from VT to MN, from a suburb to the middle of Minneapolis, from a three bedroom house to a one bedroom apartment). And now I am in the phase of moving after the first busy part and before the establishment of new routines.  It's usually an unsettled and open time, one good for reflection and long walks, journaling and crafts and catching up on correspondence.  At least, it usually is for me. I've lived in at least 12 or 13 different apartments and houses, and five states. Often enough to start to get a sense of my own patterns.

Productively fallow, that's how this time feels.  It's a lovely feeling.

Jun. 24th, 2015

10:29 am - 4th Street! and sundries

4th St: I will be at 4th Street Fantasy this weekend!  I look forward to seeing and chatting with folks.

sundry 1 - moving:
I'm moving back to MN from VT this summer, so I look forward to perhaps catching up more often with MN-residing friends and those who visit MN more frequently.

sundry 2 - writing:
I am still too shy to finish the one piece of fanfiction I'm noodling on and post it, or to post comments on the amazing fic writer whose stories were the whole reason I set up an ao3 account in the first place - specifically so I could post the comments about how much I like their work that I still have not posted.
On the other hand, I've had three stories published in the last 12 months and written a couple tiny public comments on short stories I liked in various magazines. Apparently I find the idea of fanfiction writing and commenting more intimidating than writing for paid publication and commenting on those stories.

Feb. 25th, 2015

10:20 am - Question about readings and publication/submission of stories

So I'm in the interesting-to-me position of getting to be part of a series of public events here in home-state where a group of local genre writers read their work. I'm flattered to be included and having a lot of fun, but don't have much published fiction yet.  This has left me full of questions.  Do public readings affect first sale rights at all, if I read things that are still out on submission?  Is it different if it's a reading of the whole work versus a part?  I've been operating on the assumption that a recorded reading of a complete work probably uses up first publication if the recording is publicly posted, and that an unrecorded reading of a partial work is probably fine, but I'm not sure about unrecorded readings of complete unpublished work.  Should I just plan to write some things that I use just in readings, and don't try to submit for publication?

Feb. 7th, 2015

12:13 pm - Gender-y Writing Thought

I was reading a lovely piece by swan_tower on gender representation in fantasy, and some of the comments made me realize a thing I'd sort of known but hadn't thought of so clearly before.

Protagonist, narrator, and other author-viewpoint-y characters rarely have a gender in my early drafts, and my choice of whether to label the central protagonist as male or female often feels arbitrary to me in some significant ways.  Arbitrary in terms of the inside-the-story considerations, that is: the character in my head rarely has a fixed gender, and I am giving them one for the purposes of the story.  I often lean towards gendering characters as female just because I'm aware of a desire outside-of-the-story for more representation of female characters in genre, and because I am also aware of a desire outside-of-the-story for more queer representation in stories, and I feel more confident writing a female queer character than a male queer character.
It's not uncommon for me to write the first draft with narrator and/or protagonist genders unmarked.  Swapping the gender of my protagonist from male to female or female to male in a second draft rarely causes me to rethink much about the protagonist's behavior, though it's more likely to influence how secondary characters interact with them.  The only times I can think of when I'm confident that a certain character should be a guy/girl/etc. are when there's an external plot/narrative thing, usually a societal issue or a reaction to a previously existing text, that I want to explore when writing the story.

Which all is... probably not unrelated to my identifying as genderqueer?

Jan. 25th, 2015

02:02 pm - Books: Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel

I spent a fair amount of time on the bus last week reading Inside the Dream Palace, by Sherill Tippins.  The book is a history of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City: the building itself, the residents, and the artistic communities that those residents participated in. The time period covered is roughly mid-1800s to the present, with the heaviest coverage being of the 1930s-1970s. Great as research fodder without being entirely satisfying as standalone history. I enjoyed the book and found it quite readable, but when I sit down to try and review it I am just all niggles and doubts.

I think how much someone likes this book will depend a lot on their general knowledge of New York cultural history and the interest they have in the specific people who get profiled most heavily in the text. There's quite a bit of stuff that's interesting in here about people like Stephen Crane, Brendan Behan, the Beat poets, and rock musicians of the 60s, and 70s.  I'm not sure how effective the gossip would be for people who aren't familiar with the artists discussed, but if a reader sat down with youtube/google and pulled up musicians and artists as they were mentioned it might be a very fun experience.

Complaints, niggly thoughts, and personal reflections:Collapse )
So, yeah: plenty of interesting fodder here if you already knew some of the people named, and were already curious about them, and it's a fun world to play in, but it didn't quite satisfy me on its own / in and of itself.  But if you're looking for some playground furniture for your mental / historical New York playground, it's full of highly useful tidbits and leads.

Tags: ,

Dec. 30th, 2014

10:21 am - Books: African American Women Chemists

African American Women Chemists, by Jeanette Brown, was just the right book for me to be reading last month. The text includes a short introduction, a series of very short biographies of African American women chemists (typically 2-3 pages), and then a short biography of the author (I believe autobiography, but written in 3rd person). Time-wise, the profiles include scientists who were working or teaching in the 1800s all the way to those still working now.  Some of the chemists worked primarily as teachers, some as researchers and teachers in educational institutions, and others primarily as researchers in government laboratories or private laboratories.

Each individual biography is fairly short and the text does not make analytical comments comparing the biographies, but it was an absolutely fascinating read and offered a lot of opportunities for analysis. There were definitely patterns in common throughout the biographies.

The biggest takeaway for me was a better picture, in aggregate, of the barriers the scientists faced in pursuing their careers and the factors that supported them.  The importance of historically black colleges and universities (especially given the continuing racism of hiring offices and faculty/researchers and many labs in predominantly white institutions) really came home to me after seeing how many of the scientists studied at historically black colleges and universities or were offered their first teaching jobs there (often both).  After hearing about the settlements USDA has made with black farmers in the last few years, the fact that there were racially segregated research grants on less favorable terms to black scientists should not have been a surprise to me, but it was - even after overcoming racist barriers (explicit and structural) to get their degrees and find homes for their research, many of the scientists profiled also had to do their research with shorter-term grants, smaller dollar amounts, less equipment, and less time to wrap up projects and work at the end of the research terms because their funding had come from the government under grant terms that funded black researchers from a separate funding pool with more restrictions.

The profile of Alice Ball was especially heartbreaking for me, and now I really want some kind of fix-it steampunk science fiction story where she lives to a ripe old age doing ground breaking science all the time and gets to travel on an airship doing science and being awesome forever, because go Alice Ball.

Jeannette Brown, the author, also seems to be pretty awesome. (Here's a blog post by her: http://blog.oup.com/2014/03/minority-women-chemists-yesterday-and-today/)

Nov. 4th, 2014

06:31 am - Short story: "The Stagman's Song" in Apex Magazine issue 66

My short story "The Stagman's Song" is out now (or, later this morning, depending on how early you may read this) in Apex Magazine issue 66.

Sep. 12th, 2014

08:27 pm - Books: The Kindness of Strangers by John Boswell

I'm in the odd position here of recommending a book that I'm personally tapping out on. John Boswell is great.  His tone, his erudition, his essential humanity as a writer: I'm a serious fangirl after a book and a half. (I read all of his book "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe" and half of this one.)

The full title/subtitle of this book is "The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance."  I made it through the introduction and the first two, almost three chapters (chapters in this work are lengthy, so that's a couple of hundred pages - sections might be more accurate).

I think this could be a very useful work for people writing fantasy who want to explore family structures, or who are thinking about the world-building they want in a story that foundlings/orphans/children might occupy important places in.  And if you're doing something world-building that has a medieval feel and want some deep family structure background, I'm sure this would be really useful.  I learned a ton in the first few sections.

But I'm also getting triggered like whoa and I realized I was still reading in big part because I thought "this book could be really useful for someone" and at the moment that someone isn't me.  Content warnings for family issues, poverty issues, sexual abuse issues.  The problem isn't with the tone or approach of the text in any way, Boswell seems like a really good person as a writer.  The content itself is just kind of intense for me.  If you're looking for some deep reference for family world-building in a secondary world, this could be a great resource.  Now having said that I'm giving myself permission to drop this off at a library donation table and maybe come back to it some other decade.

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