alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
Happy New Year! It's been some time since I posted; it was a busy year at Casa Abbott for non-writing reasons. We've welcomed baby Fish into our family, joining his sister Bug, Three-stripe, cats Jack and Tollers, and I as members of our household. But while I'm behind on many things, I've continued to read a lot! Since I posted last year and the year before about my reading goals, I wanted to post last year's results and this year's goals before 2015 progressed too far!

This year, I did not count all the picture books I read, but I did count all my review picture books individually. For the year, I totalled 163 books, which is up from last year's 129 (probably in part due to counting all the review books individually). There was a method to my madness, however: I wanted to see what percentage of titles were review books as compared to non-review books. Here's some of the interesting breakdown:

  • 89 titles were review books

  • 106 were children's or YA books

  • Only 12 were graphic novels, which is rather low

  • I read 7 romance, 69 SFF, and 2 nonfiction


I did reasonably well on my goals. The 2 nonfiction titles beat my goal to read just 1. I read 13 out of the 15 novels from my TBR pile I'd hoped to read, 4 titles by autobio writers, 6 rereads (out of a goal of 3), and read one non-genre novel.

The most interesting statistic I kept last year was print vs. digital. I surprised myself by reading 91 books in paper and 72 digitally. I thought I skewed toward e-books, so it's interesting to me that I'm not even at 50% digital reading. Some of this is due to reading for the MFAs. I rely heavily on the library to provide me with MFA reading, and though some are available as e-books, most are more readily available in print.


Highlights of the year?
  • Rereading Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead--and seeing it make the MFA finalists list--was great fun. It's been especially fun to read more of the Craft books, both post-publishing and in mss format, in combination with playing Max's Craftverse game Choice of the Deathless. Without the books being required for the game and vice versa, they work so well in conjunction!

  • Finishing Devon Monk's "Allie Beckstrom" series was bittersweet, but starting the "House Immortal" books makes me confident there's more excellent reading to come.

  • I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Gene Luen Yang for the autobio project, and I read The Shadow Hero and Boxers and Saints in preparation for that. They were both some of my favorite reading for the year, for very different reasons. I'd recommend The Shadow Hero to anyone, but especially readers who have a fondness for Golden Age superheroes. Boxers and Saints is a fabulous moral and ethical investigation of a historical period with a lot of magical realism thrown in, and I found it both enjoyable and tremendously moving.

  • The biggest surprise read was probably Eleven by Tom Rogers. It's a book about 9/11, mostly from the perspective of a boy who's just turned 11, and it's fantastic both as an exploration of the event through fiction for middle graders and as a coming of age story. It was also pretty wild to realize that 9/11 happened before the middle grade age group was born--so it qualifies, on some level, as historical fiction.

  • I'd also recommend without reservation the Super Lexi middle grade books by Emma Lesko. Lexi is neurologically and developmentally different from her peers, which makes her a fascinating POV character, and Lesko's commitment to neuro-diversity in children's books shows in how beautifully she captures Lexi and makes her so easy to empathize with.

  • I loved finally finishing Shanna Swendson's "Enchanted, Inc." series, which for ages looked like it wouldn't get to continue beyond book four. (I'd still read more books in that world!)

  • I'm also really eager to see where the "Kate Daniels" (Ilona Andrews) and "Safehold" (David Weber) books end up next!


There were, of course, a lot of other great books, but listing them all would be fodder for TLDR (if I haven't already hit that point).

I was pretty happy with this year's goals, so I'm planning to keep them the same. Here's to another year of good reading!
alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
November Namesake meetup in New York
Meetup for Namesake in New York; L to R around the table: Michelle, Meg, James, Alyssa, Judy, Yamino, Sarah, Derek



I've been busy at work on Choice of Pirate, my next game for Choice of Games, and the rewrites on Regaining Home, so there hasn't been much time to keep up on blogging. (Except, of course, on Questia, where I just got to write about Wonder Woman and the Bechdel Test, and Cengage Brain, where I wrote about the Beatles new bootleg track releases and Amazon's future drone delivery service. You won't find anything about what's going on with me over there, but I do get to write about interesting stuff!)

I was, however, on Twitter fairly regularly at the beginning of the month, promoting the (now over and unfunded) Kickstarter for Noble Beast's classics line, which will reappear in a different form next year. Since I am not frequently on Twitter, it was completely random that I caught this post by friend of the blog Seanan McGuire:

seanan tweet

Seanan wrote about how, at Disneyland, you're going to see people of all shapes and sizes, but that while she craved being a part of fandom, much like Disney's Little Mermaid wanted to be with humans, "Then I got there, and people were nicer to me when I wore short shorts and tight shirts and pretended not to notice where their eyes went. Because yeah, maybe I sold my voice a little bit to be a part of that world, and maybe I thought it was worth it." Seanan is among SFF creators calling for fandom to be more accepting, particularly to women and People of Color. My social media circle is filled with people who are highly critical of the exclusionary feel of some areas of fandom, out of love for fandom and a desire to make us "better than we are," in Seanan's words.

I appreciate these crusaders, because I think they're improving fandom by making it more welcoming. Sometimes it seems easy to get bogged down in what's going wrong in fandom, though, so I thought I'd share some anecdotes of fandom experiences that got it right -- which are, possibly, due to the efforts of people like Seanan.Read more... )

We don't get everything right in fandom. We've got a lot of work to do to make everyone who loves what we love feel included. But there are these great moments when we get it right, and those are worth celebrating.
alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
Yesterday, Bug and I went to Schemitzun -- the Green Corn Festival Powwow at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (with busses transporting us from Foxwoods Casino). It's been about eight years since I went, and some of those years the powwow was cancelled due to the economy. It's much smaller now that I remember it being before, but Bug and I still had a great time. Much to my dismay, she does not like fry bread yet. This is disappointing, but I can hope she'll acquire a taste for it in the future.


Photo by Abigail Pheiffer of tiny tot dancer Chaske Hill, Schemitzun 2012

We made it in time for Grand Entry, much to my surprise, as we were there forty minutes after it was supposed to start. It's been a while since my world ran on "Indian Time," as they told me to call it when I worked at Ziibiwing Center, but it was comforting to be back at an event where punctuality wasn't the most important thing. I talked to Bug about jingle dresses and grass dancers and fancy shawls; we had fresh strawberry lemonade complete with real strawberries and I had an Indian Taco. We got up close to the drums so we could watch them play, and we saw the tiny tots (dancers under six) make their grabs for candy in the Candy Quest Dance. All kids, even the ones who aren't registered, are allowed in that dance, so next year we'll give it a try.

So we had a great time, and though I'm a little nostalgic for the huge event that Schemitzun used to be, with an indoor arena for the dancers and a rodeo on another part of the grounds, I'm mostly curious if anyone has written up a history of the powwow. And if they haven't, I wonder if there's a market for a piece like that if I decided to do the research on my own...
alanajoli: (mini me)
A friend of mine and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about how the stories we tell ourselves shift our worldviews, and it's continued to come up in conversations lately, so I figured I ought to write about it. I heard not too long ago about a therapist who prescribes watching certain types of TV shows or movies to his patients for just this reason. Example: a patient only dates bad boys and keeps getting hurt in relationships. She likes mobster movies. He prescribes watching romantic comedies, where the nice guy often finishes first. There are most likely other elements going on, but eventually, the patient starts seeing nice guys as a positive and stops going after relationships that will eventually turn destructive. Changing the story becomes part of the therapy.

Art by Jason Chan



Kameron Hurley wrote about this in "We Have Always Fought," an essay about changing the stories we tell ourselves about the role of women, over on Aidan Moher's A Dribble of Ink. (And also llamas. The cannibalistic llama metaphor is brilliant.) And Neil Gaiman talked about the idea of fiction making us see other possibilities for the way the world works at a Book Expo America talk, summed up by Chris Lough at Tor.com. (Gaiman also contended that this is why fiction is dangerous -- because it makes us think new things and question our assumptions.)

This makes me conscious of the stories I'm telling, not only as a writer, but as a mom. I caught myself the other day, playing puppets, having the princess puppet be grossed out by a frog. I realized this error quickly -- why should girls be grossed out by frogs? -- and had the queen compensate for the princess's initial reaction by talking about the awesomeness of being an amphibian. In my writing, I know I tend to think of my characters first as individuals, and then as a product of their genders or races. This may mean that my characters end up being less accurate to their cultural backgrounds -- something I'm always working to correct -- but it does reflect my worldview. Growing up, my parents stressed the importance of thinking of other people first as people, and then as their modifiers. I know I fall into thinking with stereotypes (as I think everyone does now and again). But that story -- of unique individuals -- shapes my thinking and the stories I tell others.

What stories do you tell yourself? What stories do you wish you could change?
alanajoli: (mini me)
We did it! This morning, an increased pledge pushed us $55 over our funding goal on the Regaining Home Kickstarter. Regaining Home is go!

wedidit

(Clearly, I am influenced by Bug's taste -- when I hear the phrase "We did it!" I can't help but hear Dora the Explorer's ending song.)

What this means so far is that we definitely have the funds to bring out Regaining Home sometime by the end of this year. We are less than $300 short of our first stretch goal, which would allow us to edit the first two novels and make them available in multiple formats, rather than just pdf. As I write this, we have 69 hours to go -- it could still happen!

Thanks to everyone for continuing to support the project. Seeing so many familiar names among the donors -- or the retweeters or the facebook posters -- has meant the world to me.
alanajoli: (mini me)
On my to-do list today was to post a blog entry about my writing news. I can't in good conscience post happy things when the news in Connecticut today is so bleak. I was at the zoo with Bug this morning, spending a fun time outside in the beautiful weather after days (weeks, honestly) of cramming to meet editorial deadlines. Then I got a text from Threestripe:

"There's been a school shooting in Newtown."

Then the calls and other texts started coming. Hugs from people I talk to all the time, or who I don't talk to very often. Tragedy hit Connecticut, and even though I live miles from Newtown, I could already feel the impact. Driving home from the zoo, I heard it on the radio. An elementary school. Twenty-seven dead. At home, the news got even worse. A kindergarten teacher and her class were the primary targets of the attack.

Kindergarteners.

Of the 27 dead, 18 are children, elementary students, killed by an adult who invaded their place of learning and stole their lives and the security of their peers. Something we would frequently say in the myth courses I took and later was the teaching assistant for is that each person is a universe.

That's 18 little universes that will never get the chance to grow up.

I don't know them -- I didn't even really know where Newtown was on the map until today -- but I weep for them and for their families. And I hope that, rather than debating gun control once again, we can all just take a moment today to be thankful for our families, and the children in our lives, and share the sorrow of the people of Newtown.
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Two projects have been keeping me busy enough to take up blog time, but both are coming to a head. The first is my Choice of Games kung fu project, which is coming to the concluding chapters and is planned for a before-Christmas release. Which means you all will be able to see what it is I've been working on! I'm very grateful to my playtesters, who have been helpful not only in finding errors and typos and parts of the game that freeze up, but also because their enthusiasm makes me want to keep going.

The last chapter I wrote necessitated rewatching some kung fu favorites -- mostly just scenes of battles where the hero is fighting a rival. Three-stripe and I chose some battles from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and Ip Man 2 as starters, but it was really Jet Li's Fearless that helped the most. Early in that film, Jet Li's character meets a challenger atop a tall tower where the two battle it out, and I used that setting as the basis for a fight between the player character of the game and a challenger character.



I had wanted to do a bamboo forest fight, like in Crouching Tiger or House of Flying Daggers, but it didn't work out for this chapter. There's always the next one!

Meanwhile, I'm preparing for my own black belt test, which is happening this Sunday, and I've been spending a lot more time at the gym in preparation for it. I've never been a heavy gym user, but our local Y has been great for me, not only in keeping up with physical therapy for injuries I've had to my knee and shoulder that I've finally been dealing with, but also for providing a great place to take Bug swimming. At any rate, I am repeating my "Noodles, don't noodles" mantra and trying to be serene about the coming challenge on Sunday. It is working in some moments better than others, but I suppose that is why we take things one moment at a time!
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Seems to me that there was a time, not so long ago, that I used to keep up with dozens of bloggers, who I liked and felt a kinship with. That also used to be the time when I updated my own blog with some regularity. Clearly, that time has passed.

It was a very busy, and fantastic, summer here in Connecticut (and surroundings -- this summer marked my first ever trip to the Bronx Zoo!).

Tiger, Tiger

There has not been a whole lot to report writing-wise. I am currently at work on a project for Choice of Games, featuring a kung fu theme. Considering I am also preparing for my black belt test in kempo (to take place in November), I have a lot of martial arts on the brain. I've been meaning to write about the process of creating a text-based interactive novel game, but I have been spending more time writing than writing-about-writing. (And also learning how to balance my work-from-home time as Bug is deciding that naps are no longer a guaranteed part of the day.)

Here is the news in a nutshell:
Writing
My newest article for Dragon magazine, "Songs of Sorcery," is out in the current issue. As usual, it's myth based, but it's also got a lot of silly lyrics that I wrote to common tunes. Quite a lot of it ended up being cut from my original draft, and some additional fun lyrics got added by the designers (I suspect developer Tanis O'Connor should be credited with some of the new work!), which makes it feel (to me) like a fun collaborative effort. I'm quite pleased with the final result (though I am a little sad that the hero theme song to the tune of "Funiculì, Funiculà" didn't make the cut).

Reading
This summer has included several book birthdays of those blogging writers I used to keep up with. I'm pleased to be entirely caught up on three current urban-fantasy series (instead of the most recent installments sitting on my TBR pile): Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniels series, which had Gunmetal Magic come out in July; Devon Monk's "Age of Steam" series (July's release was second installment Tin Swift; and Kalayna Price's Alex Craft series, which also had a July release (Grave Memory).

I'm also really excited about the launch of three new series:


Since I am at the moment one step ahead of my paid-review pile (I do have several books for unpaid lounging around the office), I'm trying to catch up on both review books and books I just really want to read. I'm currently at 116 books read in 2012 -- three short of last year's total -- but in order to make my specific reading goals I posted on January 1, I've got sixteen non-review titles to choose and read before the end of the year. Four moths to do it in? No problem.

If anyone has a recommendation for a non-SFFH, non-romance, adult fiction book they read this year and would endorse without hesitation, I'm all ears. I made it a goal to read two books outside my genres this year, and while I've picked one, I'm still undecided about the other.
alanajoli: (Default)
Apologies for the long blog absence without warning! I was off on a family vacation that involved not one but two family weddings in beautiful Michigan. We had a lovely time, and when I returned home I jumped right into finishing up the last round of autobiographical essays, which included an original piece by Tananarive Due. Due and her husband, Steven Barnes, who has also written an autobiography for the autobio project, ought to be considered one of the power couples of the SFF world (if they're not already). They're both amazing. If you've not read either of them, you're missing out. (Luckily, their books are pretty widely available, so it's a loss that can be rectified pretty easily at your local library.)

So the last round of autobio has wrapped up, I got to do a cool secret project for Wizards of the Coast, and a computer crash didn't stop me from completing an assignment of obituaries. All in all, things are good on the work front, and I'm looking ahead to the assignments that come next! The Steampunk Musha Kickstarter's success means I'll be doing some adventure writing with Rick Hershey and maybe a short story or two coming up!

I'm also catching up on Eureka. Since my writer-buddy Margaret Dunlap worked on that show, I ponied up and bought a season pass on Amazon so I can watch it on the television. I just finished watching episode 4, which involves a scene where two characters start a D&D game, basically functioning as a step toward helping one of them cope with grief. I thought it was an incredibly touching moment and a wonderful way to celebrate the power of shared storytelling.

Speaking of writer friends, several writer friends of mine are already on to the next project, and here's their news:

  • Since in writer-time, Eureka wrapped ages ago, Margaret's been keeping busy working on a new project, the web show The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. It's a modernized Pride and Prejudice, and it sounds right up my alley. More when I've had a chance to catch up on the already-existing episodes!

  • Fellow Substrater Max Gladstone just announced his fantastic news that he's sold an additional two books to Tor. This comes on top of his first two book contract -- his debut novel releases this October and is available for preorder now.

  • I can't remember if I linked back to Francesca Forrest's "Tilia Songbird," which was published in Gigantosaurus at the beginning of May. If not, here it is! If I did, and you didn't read it the first time, I hope this inspires you to go check it out.

  • And for a celebration of meta-text, John "jaQ" Andrews just had his e-book guide to Castle come out! (It's a book about a show about a guy who writes books -- it gets awesomely circular, and I can't think of a better person to write about it than John.) Check out Quicklet on Castle Season 3, in which John has promised to explain the conspiracy behind the death of Beckett's mother.


I love good news like this!
alanajoli: (Default)
Just a couple of links today. PW blogger Peter Brantley wrote up what I think is an excellent entry about the problem with leaving libraries out of the e-book revolution. Brantley's assessment is that by making e-books unavailable through libraries, a whole class of Americans is denied access to those resources. If the market does shift so that more and more books are published exclusively in electronic format, I agree that this is going to become the problem that Brantley anticipates. In the mean time, thank goodness for paper books, Interlibrary Loan, and the host of other resources available at the public library.


(The rotunda at James Blackstone Memorial Library, my local source for research and reading.)

Who's getting e-books right? According to Kent Anderson, Amazon is getting everything about publishing right, and everyone else in the book world needs to seriously up their game. This is, at least in part, true: writer friend of mine Audrey Auden dumped all the other e-book retailers for her self-published Realms Unreel because Amazon's customer service and platform were by far more beneficial to her in convenience and sales. On the other hand, Jim Hines recently discussed how Amazon can change your prices without your permission, as recently happened with his Goblin Tales. I maintain my wariness around Amazon, despite finally jumping on board with Amazon Prime (as it keeps us comfortably in diapers here at Casa Abbott).
alanajoli: (christianity - padre breen)
Rather than launching into industry news after a month of minding my own business (and neglecting to post here), I thought I'd write a little bit about some thoughts I've been having this holiday season in relation to my own personal mythology (i.e. religion).

Not long ago I had a conversation with a friend about the futility of the universe -- the idea that, eventually, it's likely to all draw back in on itself, thus erasing everything that has gone on before and reducing humanity to a footnote of the universe (if anything in the universe is taking notes). I don't remember it that's the current popular theory for the end of the universe -- there's another one that we'll expand indefinitely, as I recall, but I've long since stopped worrying about the end of everything, as I won't be around to see it. What the conversation ended up coming around to was whether or not anything humanity did mattered, in the grand scheme of things, and whether there was any hope. I said, "I know this sounds like a cop out, but I think it's just in my nature to hope."

There is power in hope -- something supported by science as well as by common/folk wisdom. My sister recently visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and a friend of Frank's said at one point that Frank thought all her family members were dead. The friend believed that if Frank had known her father was alive, she would have survived -- but she'd lost all hope. If she'd known that the concentration camp where she was located would be liberated in two days, might she have made it? I suspect so, because I think hope gives people a reason to hold on, even when they don't precisely know what they're hoping for.

I was a reader for our Christmas Eve church service out here, and one of the passages I read was from Luke 2 -- the story of the shepherds. I've sung it before from Handel's Messiah, and I had to focus on the translation I'd been instructed to read in order to avoid the "sore afraid"s and the "And lo!"s. Reading it aloud this year made me think about how a lot of my world-view ends up being rather like the way the shepherds react after they leave the manger scene: they are full of awe, wonder, and hope.



At the end of all things, will any of what we've experienced here have mattered? Will it have had any meaning bigger than just the components? I can't guarantee it, but I believe that, in some grand scheme of things, our experiences matter and our stories matter. And I can't help thinking that it's much nicer to be filled with hope that to not have any at all.
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I am down to 33 messages in my inbox. This is the closest I've been to "success" since the end of September. I'm getting there! This means that work is getting done on this end, for which I'm glad -- but more on that topic later. Now, to the important business of interesting links, so I can close some browser tabs...

  • So, after I celebrated Amazon's cooperation with Overdrive as a success for library patrons (and library e-book circulation statistics), Amazon launched their own lending service for Prime members. The initial Publishers Weekly article gives some details, including how Amazon intended to launch without the Big Six publishers. PW blogger Peter Brantley followed up with his observations on the program, as well as the impact on libraries. Then yesterday, PW's Rachel Deahl reported that Amazon might be headed toward litigation, since they had apparently planned to lend books they didn't really have permission to lend. Additionally, agents are in an uproar because, although Amazon will pay publishers for books as a sale, the borrowed books will register differently from traditionally sold titles, meaning that the royalties could get very messy. I am never surprised at kerfuffles surrounding Amazon's business practices, and though I think the Kindle is a fantastic device (and I do rent, and occasionally purchase, streaming media from Amazon, at least so long as my free trial Prime membership lasts), every time a situation like this comes up, I'm glad I'm not further in bed with Amazon. Of course, if I eventually make the Redemption Trilogy available to Amazon customers, that relationship will inevitably change once again.

  • Speaking of e-readers, friend of the blog and former college classmate of mine John Andrews of the Hippo posted a concise and helpful overview of the different options on the market right now, including the new updates about the B&N line and price cuts (which, of course, come within months of my purchasing a Nook SimpleTouch, now known as the regular Nook). You're all familiar with my B&N company loyalty, of course, and thus can take all my commentary on e-readers with a grain of salt; John has no such biases that I'm aware of, and is, you know, a journalist and stuff, so his commentary is much more trustworthy.


  • The Muppets are coming soon! Tor.com very nicely linked to the last of the parody trailers for the film, which lampoons the first parody trailer and takes hits at the Twilight Saga. It makes me giggle. I'm so looking forward to it!

  • DriveThruRPG is hosting Teach Your Kids to Game Week from November 14 through November 21. Bug's already got her first set of dice, and she loves our huge-sized minis, so I figure we're already well on the way to a future gamer.

  • Jeffrey Taylor, another classmate of mine from Simon's Rock, is launching a new comic starting tomorrow. Clockworks Comics has its online launch party tomorrow -- you can check out more info on the facebook page.


And with that, I think my links are expended!
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Happy Halloween!

The news I know that some of you are eagerly awaiting is about the print release of Haunted. It looks like the anthology will be out in paper copy next week -- but sadly not in time for a Halloween impulse purchase. For e-book readers who may have hesitated in making the purchase, however, some news! Haunted is now available at Barnes and Noble for your nook; it's also on super sale (50% off) at DriveThru.

This is my first year in ages to not have a costume for Halloween. Bug is the real star anyway, so I'm not complaining! It does feel weird to be wearing my teaching clothes (for Mom Baby Fitness) and a "Serenity Valley: Historic Battlefield, Hera" sweatshirt on costume day, though. I am thinking of acquiring some hats over the next year, as with a bowler hat or a fedora, I can come up with costumes in my wardrobe without real effort. The hat makes the difference though!

Flash to the past: my Flames Rising article about costumes for 2010 and my creature feature from 2008.

Wishing you all a deliciously fun and spooky day (and, for those of you in New England like me, a warm reprieve from our sudden snow!).
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Like some large number of Americans (more than proportionate for any other week of the year), I'm celebrating a birthday this week! For me, birthdays are like New Year's Eve and New Year's Day: a time to look at what I've done that I'm proud of in the past year, and a chance to decide to improve on the things that need improving. So that's the type of thing I've been thinking about -- and hopefully, I'll be increasing my blog presence as one of those areas that needs improvement!

One of the big celebrations this week, however, is not personal but professional: my short story "Missing Molly" was just released in the anthology Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror! It's currently available as an e-book, and the print edition will be available in the near future. Expect to hear more about the anthology here on the blog as we're all getting ready for my favorite holiday (Halloween!).
alanajoli: (stormynight)
For the last two days, I've covered breaking news that has involved our stormy weather here along the Shoreline. Yesterday, it was the story that our local high school graduation had been moved indoors due to the rain. Today, one of the main thoroughfares in town flooded and the road was closed.

Both stories ended (on the personal end) with me getting soaked in the name of journalism. Twostripe finds this incredibly amusing. I find it sort of soggy. (I was pleased with some of the shots I got of the water under the bridge, particularly -- art requires sacrifice, even if that just means wet socks, right?)

We'll be back to our (ir)regularly scheduled posts about mythology and fiction in the next few days -- just as soon as I dry out!
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I am very, very lucky to have my mother, code-named Maesi for purposes of the blog, visiting this week, because keeping track of my freelance assignments, teaching the Mommy-Baby fitness class, and being the guest editor at Branford Patch means wearing a lot of hats. If I thought that being a freelance writer meant a lot of multitasking, I had no idea how much more multitasking was required for a web editor. The job has been fantastically fun so far: I've gotten to do an interview about an upcoming animal summer camp hosted by our local animal shelter, and Bug, Maesi, and I did a photo shoot for an upcoming fundraiser in some gorgeous gardens. (Bug will not appear in any of the photos for the site, but she did make her way into a few that we'll keep for posterity.)

The thing that requires getting used to as an editor on this scale is that I'm even more attached to the computer than normal. There's no time to keep up with my web comics (I'll check them next week -- I can't even think about reading them right now), and games are an absolute no-no. I only have a few chapters left in Mythsoc Award finalist Megan Whelan Turner's A Conspiracy of Kings, and I've made very little progress in the last few days. The freelance assignment I expected to have completely wrapped up yesterday is still almost done -- I keep getting alerts that an article has been posted and needs to be edited, or remembering that I need to tweet a new article link or post recent news on the Branford Patch facebook page.

In short, I have a new appreciation for my editor (Nicole Ball), who made sure I'd have a light content week as her sub. She makes staying on top of the news look so easy -- and I'm glad she's getting her well-deserved vacation!
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The family and I had a fantastic week in Colorado (the editorial assistants did a nice job keeping the house in order while we were gone). Now I'm back at my desk, trying to catch up on the work I didn't take with me (and yes, I took work along, because I am a bad vacationer). Big news: next week I start my class as a Mommy-Baby fitness instructor. If you know anyone in shoreline Connecticut who has a wee one and is looking for a good way to exercise and socialize with other moms, send 'em my way!

On a similar note, Dancing Thru Pregnancy founder Ann Cowlin was interviewed at Branford Patch about DTP's 30 year anniversary here in New Haven area. Ann's an amazing teacher to work with, and I feel both incredibly lucky and grateful that I ended up in her class!

So, next week will involve all sorts of new work for me: my class begins, and I'll be the substitute editor for Branford Patch, which should be a great challenge. In the meantime, we've got the Branford Festival this weekend, complete with the Branford Historical Society's Strawberry Shortcake Festival. (Does the tradition go all the way back to Quinnipiac roots? I posited that in my recent article on Patch, but it's just a supposition!) Summer certainly has come with no intentions of slowing down for me, and I'm going to do my best to keep up!
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I like obituaries. This is not out of any sense of the morbid (although people have accused me of that). What I think is neat is how a person's life can be summed up in two hundred, eight hundred, or two thousand words, and you get this snap shot image of who they were. I used to clip the obituaries from the old copies of the Branford Review as part of a library archive project when I worked at the Blackstone, and I learned some interesting things about Branford's history in the process. I'd not known previously that we'd had a watch tower in town during World War II, keeping an eye on the coast, that was manned mostly by civilians. This I picked up from the obituary of one of the women who volunteered her time to help protect the coast.

I write obituaries for Newsmakers, a project for Gale Cengage (the publisher I used to work for, and for whom I edit the autobiographies project). I've covered scientists and environmentalists, humanitarians and football coaches. Usually, reading the obituaries gives me this feeling of work well done. The people selected for the project tend to be people who accomplished good things with their lives, and lived to a ripe old age.

Occasionally, however, I'm assigned celebrities who have died of drug overdoses or similar before their prime. And I'm left feeling, "What a waste!" That's the only time that the job is irksome for me -- in part due to the added fact that celebrity obituaries are always more work (because they're covered in so many sources, and thus require sorting through many more articles before I can write my own). Which makes me think that with this last batch, I should have saved the conservationist who lived to be more than a hundred for the last essay I write, rather than the actor who died before he was forty. Alas.

In other news, it has been an exceptionally good mail week for me. I got paid (always a cause for happiness), I got a book (yay for DAW and [livejournal.com profile] jimhines!), and I got a mysterious envelope from an elementary school. The class I visited last month to talk about Branford history and writing sent me thank you letters for my appearance, which gives me all sorts of warm fuzzies. It's astonishing to see what the students picked up -- and what I should perhaps have phrased better when I was speaking, as some of the things they say they learned weren't things I quite intended to teach! I imagine that teachers get used to this sensation, but watching kids learn is still a real novelty to me. From watching Bug learn to blow kisses to seeing just what third and fourth graders find important -- it's this amazing window into the way that human minds work, distilled in a different way from what I see watching teens and adults. Kids are awesome.

The first question I'm answering for that class will be going up this coming week on "The Town with Five Main Streets" -- I hope I live up to their expectations!
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We've been going through a lot of kids' movies from the library here at Casa Abbott, as Bug enjoys a little bit of screen-time to settle down when she's getting sleepy. It typically takes three or four days to make it through a regular cartoon movie (unless I finish it after she's gone to bed), since we watch it in spurts, which is not an optimal viewing experience for me -- but it does give me the excuse to catch up on the cartoon movies I've missed over the past few years. I'd missed Disney's Meet the Robinsons, for example, which I think was pretty poorly branded and misrepresented by the trailers. (I ended up thinking it was pretty cute.) We've seen Tangled (which I loved), Ratatouille, and we're in the middle of The Tigger Movie now. We also picked up Megamind, which I decided was not really a kids' movie after all, and so finished on my own.

If you're not familiar with the story (and it's a familiar one), Megamind is one of two aliens that get sent off in small space pods from their dying worlds to live on earth. Metro Man has all the super powers you'd expect, while Megamind has a big blue head, a minion that's a fish, and can make crazy mad science inventions (but otherwise doesn't seem too inherently bright). He also ends up being very good at escaping from jail. They go to the same school as children, where Metro Man is the popular one, and Megamind is always picked last for everything. Naturally, they become rivals, with Metro Man as the hero and Megamind as the villain. The story ends up having this great feel of the hero and the villain completing each other in a fluffy bunnies version of the Batman/Joker relationship, but it takes awhile to get to that realization.

In the mean time, I started wondering just what has happened to heroes lately.

I admit that I'm behind on some of the great super-stories that have come out lately, so I can't speak to the trend in its entirety. (I even own Black and White by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge and haven't read it yet; I'm super excited to get a hold of Carrie Vaughn's After the Golden Age as well.) But here's what I've noticed based on a few recent samplings of the spin-the-super-story genre. The hero? Not really the good guy. Megamind is a prime example of this: despite the fact that Megamind is all about being the villain, he ends up being the character the audience really identifies with -- and, no real spoiler here, he ends up turning a new leaf by the end of the story. (Thus, it may actually be a kids' movie after all.) Better still: Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog. Metro Man ends up having some redeeming qualities; Captain Hammer's only redeeming quality is that he's played my Nathan Fillion -- otherwise, he's a complete jerk. Even in Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, the villain, who is a mastermind (also the common thread here), is extremely compelling as a sympathetic figure.

Now, take a look back at the uber-superhero: Superman. Apparently he can sort of be a jerk in some of the early comics, too -- but not at the expense of a nerdy rival. No, Supe's secret identity *is* the nerdy guy. Originally created by a couple of pretty nerdy guys, Supe was a fantasy that bought into the whole Charles Atlas mentality of self-improvement: even nerds could have awesome body-builder style strength. (Of course, Superman was even more awesome than just a strong man -- but still, he's a fantasy that nerds were supposed to identify with, rather than despise.)

And Clark Kent isn't the only super-nerd. Let's wander into the Marvel-verse. Take Spiderman. Peter Parker: total nerd to start with. Reed Richards? Actually makes a name for himself as a nerd -- who cares that he can go all bendy as Mr. Fantastic when we need his super brain? Even Tony Stark has some serious nerd cred (though, granted, he never really embraces the nerd lifestyle, and no one ever gives him crap for being smart, unlike the other heroes I've mentioned).

So, nerd has always equalled good in the comics world -- but strong has not always equalled jerk. I'm wondering if this trend of the super-strong hero-as-villain trend has to do with embracing geeks-as-overlords. (That's mostly tongue in cheek -- but, as Alec Hardison on Leverage says: "Age of the geek, baby. We rule the world.") The thing is -- I get the geek-as-hero trend (see: Chuck as an example). But this geek-as-villain thing? Is this a subversive, refusing to work for the man thing? Is it supporting the idea that we who were picked on for our nerdiness as kids are out for revenge (rather than being willing to save our tormentors)? Clearly, Doctor Horrible doesn't end up happy with his career choice, and Megamind converts to the side of good... but still. What is going on right now to make the supervillain nerd anti-hero a popular trope?

I would love to hear thoughts on this that don't come from inside my own head. :) In good news, the whole thought process inspired a quick short story, which I drafted in one day and Max Gladstone has already gotten me crits for. Hooray for creative contemplation resulting in actual word count!
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Way back in March, awesome urban fantasy writer Laura Bickle very kindly gave me a Stylish Blogger Award. Since I know I don't have any idea about style, unless it's style guidelines from a publishing house, I'm taking that to mean she thinks what we do here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything is pretty nifty. I certainly try for niftiness! And I'm always delighted to be able to enhance my niftiness with guest bloggers, and Laura (as her pseudonym Alayna Williams) counts among the folks who have made the blog better by being here. (You can also find Laura a [livejournal.com profile] lbickle here on livejournal.)

The Award comes with a few requirements: one being thanking the giver (thanks, Laura!). The second is that I must divulge seven things you probably don't know about me. So… here goes!

1) I'm a brown belt in kempo karate. This is a pretty darn recent development (I just received my belt on April 29th), so I figure it's newsworthy! We're getting ready for a kempo demonstration in early June, and for this year's performance, we're actually learning new material (rather than rehearsing stuff we've already mastered). This is a challenge, but I think we're all up to it.

2) The first movie I saw in movie theaters was Disney's Cinderella in its 1981 rerelease. The story goes that, as Bruno the dog is Cinderella's last hope of getting to her prince, little two-year-old me yelled out in the theater: "Go Bruno!" I hope this enhanced everyone's viewing experience.

3) Speaking of movies and rereleases, I was one of a group of college students who, on a school-organized venture, drove through a blizzard to see Star Wars: A New Hope when it hit the theaters. I did my hair in Leia buns, and a friend of mine wore a Stormtrooper mask – so, as we entered the theater, he led me around the side as though I were his prisoner until we found our seats. Years later, while working at a movie theater, I dressed up in my Amidala gear (in company with my sister in a Jedi uniform) for the final showing of The Phantom Menace. My coworkers didn't even recognize me at first, but let me in anyway, because hey, they weren't going to stop someone so clearly into the films as the two of us in costume (or so they said).

4) When I first started working at the same movie theater, a coworker introduced me to another coworker as a princess from Bahrain. We kept the story up for fifteen or twenty minutes, with me elaborating about having fallen in love with an American serviceman, and him explaining that I'd had to flee Bahrain to avoid an arranged marriage. I have no idea how my coworker bought this lie, as we made it more and more outrageous with each detail, but when she finally called us on it, we gave it up right away. My coworker, however, called me Princess for the rest of the time we worked together.

5) Another silly nickname came from a childhood encounter with a ferret at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. We attended a live animal show, complete with snakes and birds, and I was the volunteer to go up and touch the snake. As the hosts often do at these shows, they asked my name. When I said "Alana," a ferret ran across the stage. As it turned out, the keepers tried to give their animals very uncommon names, then used those names as the cue words in their training, so this ferret, whose name was also "Alana," had come out on her normal cue. The nickname didn't stick, but I've had a fondness for ferrets ever since.

6) I have an undeservedly bad reputation as a navigator in my family, in part because I get disoriented in parking lots (yeah, really), and in part because a hike that my sister and I went on when we were on the Isle of Man ended up with us having the ocean on the wrong side. I maintain that it was the footpath that diverged from the map, rather than the map diverging from me, but this argument doesn't get me anywhere with my sister.

7) In other adventures abroad, I once got thrown out of a bookstore. For chatting. No, really.

The final requirement of the Stylish Blogger Award is to pass on the award to other awesome bloggers. I read a lot of great blogs, most of which I'm woefully behind on, but I thought I'd pick two that regularly enhance my experience of the internet:

Max Gladstone, who I've mentioned here numerous times, updates periodically over at Myths for Hire,. Along with posts about language, film, and books, he also talk about what's going on with Three Parts Dead, which is represented by Weronica Janczuk.

Here on livejournal, [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume always has something wonderful on her blog, whether it's gorgeous images or bits of stories about otherworldly denizens. Her insights into everything from fiction that she reads to the magic in the world that surrounds her often make me sit back and say, "Yes. That's the way things are. Or should be."

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Alana Joli Abbott

July 2017

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