Let Me Tell You a Story #19: Life Is Strange

I had an idea for a post about AUs again this morning, but I failed to write it before launching into the final episode of Life Is Strange.  Oops!  I’ll try again tomorrow.

So I. Am. Reeling.

I’m not going to be useful to anyone for a while.  I’ve been crying for most of the last hour, and turning over in my mind how fucking brilliant the narrative is, both on its own, as a function of the game play, and as quite possibly the best time-travel-based anything I’ve ever encountered.  (I still love you, Stargate SG-1.  “Window of Opportunity” is still amazing, but for different reasons.)

(On that note, time travel is so easy to get wrong, the playing field is littered with the bodies of those who failed.  But LIS gets is so very, very right.  No obvious loopholes here, guys, this story is tightly woven and expertly crafted.)

I wish I could talk more about my approval, astonishment, and holy-hell-I-didn’t-know-my-feels-could-take-this-much-abuse, but that would take us deep into Spoiler Land, which is something I try never to do.  I mean, the episode only came out today, so that’s definitely too soon to start talking about how aliens landed and kidnapped everyone for scientific study, right?  (/wink)

The only solution to this level of emotional wretchedness (for me) is to dive into something totally different, which is why I was thrilled to sit down with my chamomile-mint tea, catch up on a little Tumblr, and see the release announcement of a new story collection which includes pieces by two of my favorite erotic-romance authors, which of course I promptly bought.

(I haven’t done much with book reviews and recommendations, because to some extent I feel like I’m in an echo chamber when I do.  But plugging independent authors is something I want to happen to me when I’m one of them, soon, so I should really do more of it myself, right?  Be the change you want to see, put your money where your mouth is, and so on.  Well, this is me doing that, a little.  I have plans to write up a post on erotic romance anyway, so consider this a preview.  Check them out, they’re completely worth your time.)

Anyway, my eyes are red, my head is achy, and maybe I’ve just written four hundred words of disjointed emotional nonsense, but on the inside, I’m still crying a little for Max and Chloe and my roller-coaster ride through the trials and tribulations of Arcadia Bay.

I only hope someday I have the ability to tell a story that gripping.

Now I’m going to go read and get totally hooked on something else.

Let Me Tell You a Story #18: Wherein I Wax Ecstatic About Apples

Today is Apple Butter Day.  No, that’s not some sort of holiday (as far as I know, and also, it probably should be) but the first fall day where I make apple butter.

If you’ve never done it, it’s just about the easiest thing in the world.  I spent half an hour this morning peeling and chopping apples into my crock pot, listening to alt-rock with my earbuds and mouthing the words as I worked because it was 5:45 am and I’m kind to my neighbors.

A five-pound tote of Galas just about filled the basin to the brim.  After I washed all the apple guts off my hands, I tasted one slice to see how sweet they were (not very) and added some sugar.  (For five pounds of apples I never add more than one cup of sugar, and often much less.  Since these weren’t very sweet I put in 2/3 cup.  I can always add more later.)

Then, the spices.  Or, in this case, the one spice.  Traditionally apple butter is like pumpkin pie–some combination of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Since I try to make more than one batch of butter a season (when the harvest, and thus the apple prices, cooperates), I’ve branched out into specialty flavors.  (My most memorable batch, several years ago, was Pink Lady apples with ginger.  Sweet and spicy!)  For this batch, it’s just cardamom, my absolute all-time-forever-favorite spice.

I popped open my tub of cardamom (yes, tub, I use it a lot and I can get it from a Mediterranean grocery not too far away in copious amounts) and chucked in probably two teaspoons’ worth.  (When I bake, I measure accurately.  When I cook, approximation is fine.)

On goes the crock pot.  In a few hours, when the sugar has melted and the apples are disintegrating, I’ll open it and give it a stir, mashing up any big chunks that are left.  After that, the mass of delicious-smelling goo will start to brown, darkening throughout the afternoon from pale yellow to that rich gingerbread-brown.

And just before I make dinner tonight (it’s Taco Tuesday, observed with zeal Chez Elena) I’ll spoon all the apple butter out into containers to cool.  After dinner they’ll go in the fridge.  (Sadly no one in my family cans, so I’ve never learned how, or I’d see if I could actually preserve this stuff.  I’m in love with my freezer instead, and some of this batch may end up there.  It does freeze pretty well, if you put it in a plastic bag and smush all the air out before you seal it.)

And tomorrow morning, for breakfast, this apple butter will get dolloped onto my oatmeal instead of brown sugar.

Apple Butter Day.  Fall has arrived, and it tastes amazing.

Let Me Tell You a Story #17: The Obligations of Social Media

So, you might remember, I’m on Twitter.  Not that there’s much evidence of that these days.  I started my account, used it consistently for maybe three weeks, then decided Twitter wasn’t really for me and stopped checking it.

I know everyone says that’s where all the authors hang out in the social mediasphere, but I was already familiar with Tumblr before I started my writing journey–I’m much more comfortable there, and I’m sure it shows in the quality of my content, between the two.

I didn’t make any meaningful connections with anyone in my brief Twitter shelf life, I thought.  No one will miss me.

But here’s the thing:  I forgot I entered a contest.  Because, you know, one enters contests without any actual expectation of winning them, right?

Random House hosted a Twitter giveaway for the release of Julia Pierpont’s Among the Ten Thousand Things.  I read the posted excerpt, thought it sounded interesting, and tweeted a quote from it to enter the contest.

And promptly forgot about it.  Like I said, not expecting to win.

That was on August 12.  My last tweet was on Aug 28, and until this week, I didn’t check my Twitter at all.  No one would miss me, right?

So I missed myself winning the giveaway for over a month, until someone from Random House tracked me down on Goodreads this week to leave me a message.  (Which was incredibly surprising and awesome and I thanked her most fervently.)

But this is where I publicly acknowledge the egg on my face.  It’s warm and wet and embarrassing.  I prostrate myself before the Altar of Books in shame for neglecting an avenue of contact.

Okay?  Good.  Now let’s get to the fun part–the loot.

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First, I saw the tote bag.  A big ole sturdy canvas tote bag, which will become my new I’m-going-to-the-library bag.  (I should have included something for scale–it’s really big.)  Inside, there were books.  Many books.

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The giveaway was a selection of Pierpont’s favorite works–so I shouldn’t necessarily have been surprised by the handwritten notes on each cover, but I was.  I held in some serious levels of squee while reading each one, and now that they’ve been documented for posterity, I’m going to stick them on the inside front covers and keep them.  (This is Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.)

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The excitement I feel getting these little notes on each book has only strengthened my resolve to do a giveaway myself of signed copies of What We Need to Survive–I just have to work out the logistics.  And, you know, set a release date and all that.  Working on it, I promise.

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This one sounds amazing (Toni Bentley, Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal) and is going to be the second one I read.  (I’ll get to the first in a bit!)

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I like that there’s a mix of old and new, especially with debut novels.  I’m not necessarily expecting to like everything once I’ve read them all, but I’m really hoping I pick up at least a few authors to follow from this.

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This might be my favorite cover of the bunch.

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Poetry!  There’s poetry!  I haven’t read much poetry since college (I took two creative writing seminars, one in poetry and one in fiction.)  So, again, there’s a certain level of squee attached to this one.

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So, this is where the Universe is showing me what a wonderful entity it can be.  I haven’t read any of the books that came…but I have read The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Granted, that was over a decade ago, and I’m not sure where the copy I read is (I may have borrowed it from a friend) but I can always get it from the library to reread it before I dive into the sequel.

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In my senior year of high school, I played Nora in a production of Tune In To Murder (and the only thing Google turned up for it was PDF of the script?  Weird, I had no idea I was in such an obscure play.)  I’d say my high school shunned the more classic plays, but a few years before that the senior class production was The Outsiders, so, yes, but not completely.  We certainly never put on Our Town, and I’ve never read it.

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No, wait, this one’s my favorite cover.  I take it back.

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So I said I was reading one of the earlier books second, because (duh!) I’m reading Among the Ten Thousand Things first.  That’s what the giveaway was for, right?  It would be rude not to!

A big thank you to Julia Pierpont and Random House for hosting this, I’m about to swoon from book joy.  I better go lay down and read for a while…

Let Me Tell You a Story #16: Technology is Wonderful

Except for my camera, apparently.

I tried and tried to get a cute picture of me in my favorite jeans and fuzzy socks, sitting on my couch reading something on my new (and already much-beloved) Kindle Fire.

But the light in here is terrible today because of the rain, and all I got were fuzzy snaps of the bright screen and indiscernible darkness beyond it.  I mean, my jeans are dark and my couch is pretty dark, but my socks are bright, I figured they’d show up at least!

Alas.

And rather than wait until I could get a good picture, which honestly may never happen (the prevalence of cute book/e-reader pics on my Tumblr may have misled me into thinking they were easy to take), I wanted to share my thoughts on e-readers anyway.

I will never, ever, ever give up on print books.  I’m going an extra mile (or two or six or twenty) with my novel to get it printed, because it means that much to me to have a copy on my shelves, and copies I can sign and physically hand to people.

But man, e-readers are sweet.

I don’t have many e-books on my account, I’m sure, compared to others–some free stuff I’ve picked up through Project Gutenburg, a few things for free from Amazon or author sales, and a few I’ve actually paid for because I took a chance on independent authors whose books I couldn’t get any other way (hurray!)–but the first time I was lying in bed and finished the book I was reading, and then didn’t have to get out of bed to start a new one, that felt amazing.

Lazy, but amazing.

My library has an e-book lending system, so once the weather turns and I don’t want to brave blizzards for new books, I’ll definitely be looking into that.

I’m glad I didn’t take the plunge and get one when they were brand new and shiny and prohibitively expensive, but I’m thrilled to have one now, and I almost can’t wait for my next vacation so I can load up on things I haven’t read yet without stuffing a tote bag full of hardcovers.

It’s going to be awesome.

Let Me Tell You a Story #15: Formatting Bites

My draft has been through so many different programs (Open Office Writer, Quoll Writer, Google Docs, and then back to OOW) that the paragraph indents are all effed up.  I can get the line spacing and justification to transfer just fine–though the font magically switches from Times New Roman to Calibri, which is bizarre–but blast those missing paragraph indents.  I have to go through and add them all back in manually.

And the template is set with Garamond as the font, because that’s apparently what most books use…but I was like that looks like Times New Roman to me.  Because it was.  Because I don’t actually have Garamond installed.  And while I could download it for free from numerous legitimate sources, they’re all under noncommercial license.  And using it in formatting my book for publication is definitely not noncommercial.

So for the moment I’m using Gentium Book Basic, though that may not survive test pages–it seems a bit heavy, though that may be a function of my line spacing as well.  Palatino shows up on a lot of the most-popular lists, and I have that too, so we’ll see.

In Quoll Writer, I wrote (rewrote) using Yu Gothic Light.  Not going to print the book in that, though…

(sigh)

I will make this perfect.  I will make this perfect.  This is giving me another chance to spot typos.  I will make this perfect.

(face-smash keyboard in 3… 2… 1…)

Let Me Tell You a Story #14: A Broken Needle

One of my crafty hobbies–and I have many–is altering clothing.  I hate waste and I love to shop, so rifling through the endless racks of donated clothing at thrift stores thrills me to my bones.  What will I find next?  Can I make it fit me, or make something else out of it?

I came home a few weeks ago with a good haul that included several pairs of nearly-fitting jeans.  One in particular was just the right shade of black-fading-slowly-to-charcoal.  Brand-new black jeans are just too…black.

They fit in the waist and hips just fine.  Score.  But they’re flared…and while I don’t consider myself wholly a slave to the seasonal whims of fashion, even I don’t wear flared jeans.  I set about taking in the legs to match my favorite pair of ink-blue straight legs.

Halfway through my third seam, the heavy denim snapped my needle.

My mind said setback while my heart screamed tragedy.

I have spare heavyweight needles.  I have leather needles from my brief stint where I was convinced I could turn a thrift-store leather jacket into some kind of awesome steampunk vest thing…which didn’t happen.  What I do not have (and should get) are any denim needles.

Knowing that, a sensible person would set aside the jeans and start sewing something else until said denim needles could be acquired.

I turned off my sewing machine with the shaft of the snapped needle still in it and haven’t sewn anything since.

And that is why I write every day.  Every. Single. Day.

It’s a common piece of advice, and it’s a commonly shunned piece of advice.  The shunners have good reason–I’m not arguing that.  Forcing yourself to write through a creative drought can be disheartening, draining, damaging.  The “Write Everyday” mantra is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

But I have to write every day, because one day missed can easily become two.  Two days turns into four, four into a week, one week into two, two into a month.  I started keeping a journal again in mid-August, meaning to do a page a day, and I forgot one day because it was still new, and then my next entry was a week later.  Oops.

Every. Single. Day.

It’s not about the word count, though I have goals for that, too.  It’s about the habit.  Writing needs to be a habit.  Writing has become as necessary as exercise and food and sleep.  In fact, I was just about to go for a run when I got the idea for this post, so I sat down in my running gear and whipped it up.  (It’s nice and cool out this morning–I think today might be a four-mile kind of day.  Maybe even five, if I feel good when I’m out there.  I just changed my playlist a few days ago, and that always helps.)

Also, if I have time this afternoon, I might start a new sewing project.  A shirt.  A pillow.  Not jeans.

Let Me Tell You a Story #13: Concussions

I just saw one of the innumerable posts on Tumblr about shit that writers get wrong, and concussions came up on the list; mostly because they can be incredibly serious and are not often treated with the gravity they deserve.

In college, I got a concussion.  The story of how is actually pretty boring–the story of how it affected me is much more interesting.

When I realized my bump on the head was probably more serious than I first thought, a friend took me to the campus clinic.  The nurse checked my eyes, patted my shoulder, and handed me a pamphlet detailing 27 different possible side effects of having a concussion.

I read all of them and felt queasy.  Queasy was one of them.  Fortunately that one didn’t stick around.

The two major effects that I ended up with were, quite possibly, the worst two for a college student to have: short-term memory loss and narcolepsy.

My friends all knew what had happened: those I didn’t tell directly told the others, and everyone was patient with me when I failed to show up for planned outings or completely forgot entire conversations.

But after a week, one of them asked me over lunch…what does short-term memory loss actually mean?

It meant, I told her, that I knew I’d gone to breakfast that morning before class, because I wasn’t more hungry than I should have been.  But I didn’t remember what I’d eaten, or who I might have sat with.  I could supply both of those answers from remembering my pre-concussion routine–I’d probably eaten some combination of bacon and cereal or grits, and depending on the day of the week, I’d probably been sitting with this friend or that classmate or whoever…but I didn’t actually remember.  There wasn’t even a hole where breakfast should have been–my memory jumped straight from waking up in my dorm room to being in class, with nothing in between.

As you might imagine, that made it hard to study for tests.

The narcolepsy was actually easier to deal with, though I wouldn’t have expected it to be.  My visit to the clinic resulted in all of my professors being notified of my condition–I wasn’t excused from class, because the concussion symptoms would take weeks to fade, but they were all aware that I was impaired, somehow, with the specifics remaining to be seen.  Fortunately that semester all my professors were cool–one even made the final exam optional because he suspected I’d fail it, and allowed me to write an extra research paper instead, because I could work on it at my own pace, when I felt up to it.  Which was awesome.  I thanked him about a dozen times.

So after the narcolepsy revealed itself, I just told all my profs and classmates: hey, if I fall asleep, just wake me up.  I’m not actually tired, my brain’s just not working right.  And that was that.  I didn’t fall asleep standing up or moving around, so I was never in any real danger of nodding off in a precarious position.  I’d fall asleep in class, I’d fall asleep studying or watching TV or reading.  If someone didn’t wake me, I’d usually sleep for about an hour before waking up on my own.

Strangely enough, though I didn’t realize it at the time, that was also the precise moment my handwriting became less legible.  A few years later, sorting through my class notes, I could pinpoint the exact day of my injury just from my handwriting–it got looser and loopier, I had trouble keeping the words straight on the lines, and there were unfinished sentences that mark me falling asleep mid-lecture.  Sadly my cursive script has never really recovered.

So that covers the actual physical effects of my injury.  But the repercussions didn’t end there.

I became a different person.  As sweet and understanding as my friends were trying to be–and they were heroes, I promise you–I’d still hit a wall sometimes.  Someone would ask me a question and I knew I should know the answer, I knew it, but my brain wouldn’t cough it up, and I’d stand there with my mouth hanging open, frustrated and embarrassed.

You know the feeling you get when someone makes a cutting remark at you, and you feel small and young and stupid?  I felt like that all the time.  Except it was my own brain who was making me feel that way, not the scorn of someone else.

I’m an extrovert.  I’m talkative.  I’ve been accused of being a know-it-all, less so now than when I was younger, but in all fairness, yeah, I could be an ass sometimes.  I’d been raised to believe that being smart was something to be proud of, and never to hide my intelligence because I was a girl and I wanted someone to like me better.

Words actually fail me to describe just how horrible I felt when my memory failed me.  I can’t bold, underline, or italicize the word stupid hard enough.  If this were a notebook and not the Internet, I’d have dug the letters into the page so hard the paper would tear.

I became moody and withdrawn.  Since my ability to express myself properly with words would randomly desert me, I gave up trying.  It got too hard to start saying something only to have it evaporate from my brain when I realized I didn’t actually know what I was trying to say…so I stopped.  And the me that didn’t talk was not a quiet observer who only weighed in at the right moment, like all the most excellent introverts I know–I was sullen and angry and always seemed to be hovering only a few words away from breaking down into tears.

When I finally, slowly, started to feel like myself again, I tried to explain to my friends what I’d gone through, and they’d hug me and let me cry when I needed to and tell me I was getting better.  But to this day, I feel like they still didn’t understand.  How could they?  How could I make them?  Even now, this long-winded explanation doesn’t seem like enough.

So, this is all incredibly personal and specific to me.  There were 27 different side effects, and I could have had any combination–so could any character.  There’s a lot more to choose from than just Oh, yeah, I hit my head so I’ll be woozy for a while.  But your character won’t recover in a day or two–I felt the effects for about four weeks before I started having good days without any signs of trouble, and it was another two weeks before I considered myself “me” again.

On the upside, choosing to throw a concussion at your character means you do have a lot of leeway in the physical side effects and can choose the ones that make your story more interesting…as long as you realize the injury is going to do a lot more than make the character drowsy sometimes.  Really dig in and think about how having whatever effects you choose would change your character’s daily life and their interactions with the people around them.

I was a different person because of that concussion.  One that I didn’t actually like much.