light everywhere

In this age of selfies and surveillance, it's a real curse to dislike photos of yourself. In my case, I actually don't mind having my photo taken — I was raised by photography enthusiasts, so a lot of my childhood was spent being told to "hold still just like that for a second" — but I'm not crazy about my own looks. There's a reason why my last Twitter selfie was a picture of a small mirror with only part of my face reflected in it.

But I need photos for LinkedIn, and for the About page on this web site, and (eventually) for books I publish, and and and... so I've been keeping an eye out for photographers who are good at photographing people.

I was lucky enough to make Ardean Peter's acquaintance on Twitter a while ago. She posts regular blog and vlog entries that are fun and positive while remaining level-headed, and she does portrait photos and business photos. She has a fantastic web site showing off her work. I really love how she uses light, both in her portraits and her architectural photos — and I love that her photos of people, while usually posed, look like the subject is comfortable in their own skin.

Ardean's based in Toronto, same as me, so I signed up for her mailing list and entered the contest she held for a business portrait. And I won!

The session took about an hour and a half. That might make people who hate having their photos taken cringe, but it was a lot of fun. Ardean has enough energy for both herself and her subject (and probably to power a small town if we could find a way to collect it!). The photos where I'm smiling or laughing — I really was smiling or laughing about something we were talking about. The ones where I'm more serious-looking are from naturally quieter moments. I was really impressed by how well she built a rapport. It was like having a really good café chat and by-the-way-you're-posing-for-photos.

Ardean went through and picked out what she thought were the best shots, but made the whole set available, and sent me a link to download everything. I made a subset of the photographer selection, and cropped them down to make them more "head shot" (most of them are photos of me from the waist up).

There are cameras and photos everywhere. There are not too many real photographers. I am very grateful I got to get photographed by one.

the universe talks back

All hail Universa, Mother of All! Your humble creation beseeches you to —

Humble, oh yes, I know all about your humility mate, species with over ten billion sentient members and even then you stand out as more than a statistical blip. You and your beseeching. If you're not attending to some basic bodily function, you're beseeching me about something.

And I didn't create you, not directly. I just started the Big Bang. And whenever I dip into this fragment of space-time to check out the results, there you are, beseeching. Makes me wish I'd considered different parameters.

I am soooo glad you lot can't actually hear me, no matter what the nutter on the corner claims.

Holy Mother, I'd give anything for my dear children to be alive again…

Yes, and so would that runner-grain whose seeds you ate this morning. Wouldn't like it very much if I granted its prayer, hmmm?

Look, it’s awful to experience, I get it, it's just… when it comes right down to it, you're just a set of chemical reactions, you know? A clump of carbon-based matter. When your children got run off that cliff, gravity did what gravity does. It's the whole every action has an equal and opposite reaction thing, you know?

Shit. No, you wouldn't know. Wrong century. Oh, and wrong planet. Sorry. Some of that lot had started calling me “Holy Father” by the time they figured it out.

One really rotten thing about being omniscient is that it's so easy to get confused about the little details.

Thank You so much for this beautiful day.

Glad you like it, but you do realise it's just part of a weather system, right? And that prevailing wind you're so cheerful about because it’s making your feathers ripple, you do know it’s causing a gale on the other side of the ocean? So while you’re enjoying the sun, the next continent over is in full-on disaster mode. I’m sure it will be on your news transmissions soon if you bother to check them.

But hey, enjoy.

Because God is with us! God will help us destroy the heathens! A new kingdom of God will rise up from the ashes and

Got some bad news for you. I'm with everybody, and everything, because it was my Big Bang that set off the lot. Every single molecule in this universe.

And, you know, not that I'm not proud of all of it, I really like that speed of light as a constant thing, but as to who's running what on your little planet... I just can't be bothered. You can all blow yourself to bits and the laws of thermodynamics still hold, matter can neither be created nor destroyed, and so on and so forth.

Because you are going to blow yourself to bits. I'm not confined to time like you lot are, so — spoilers! — I know how it ends.

Er, ended. Ended. Just there. Right, what else is going on in this corner of space-time?

Oh Creatrix, if we could have but one miracle, let it be now as we —

I ought to know better, because I know everything there is to know, but this whole “miracle” business… you know, planning everything out before the Big Bang was hard work. It took me I don’t know how long, mostly because there wasn’t any space-time yet, but seriously…

It’s just I created a rational universe. There’s a lot of chaos in it, sure, but it’s rational. I could have made it irrational, but then I thought, hey, why worry about all the maintenance? Design it right up-front and let it spin on its merry way.

But instead you give me this miracle business. Learn a few things about space-time: that thing you want changed has already happened. I am not messing up my laws of physics to make you happy for a few moments.

Sometimes I think I should just wad it all up and start again. Then I think what a mess that would make my lab report.

Holy Mother, we beseech you, we pray that —

LA LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU, CAN’T HEAR YOU, LA LA LA…

I’m taking a step back now. Just so. I’m taking a step right back, totally outside of space-time. I can’t hear you outside of space-time. It’s quieter from a distance.

Better from a distance.

Better.

punishing self-defence

My brother told me about this at Christmas-time, and I'm still pondering it, so it seems like it wants to be a blog post. What happened (at least the third-hand version) was this:

Niece the Elder (age 7) was at a reading table at school, the only girl in a group of boys. She was fine with that — most of her friends are boys. Like every other table in the class, there was a pile of books in the middle, and the kids at each table had to choose a book, read it, and write an assignment about it.

Even though she was fine with being in the group, one of the boys at the same table was not fine with having even one girl present. Niece the Elder wanted to read a book about cats, but the boy snatched it away and shoved a book about princesses at her.

"You have to read that, 'cos you're a girl," he said.

"But I want to read about cats," said my niece.

"Well, we're all boys, so we can't read about princesses."

"I want to read about cats!"

"Oooh, so what are you going to do about it? Cry? That's what girls do, cry. Crybaby!"

Nobody less than twice her size makes Niece the Elder cry, so instead she picked up the princess book and threw it at the boy.

It hit him in the face, so he started crying, which brought the teacher over. My niece was up-front about throwing the book, so she was told to go sit by herself and do the assignment. In this classroom (and this is a whole other blog post), sitting by yourself is in itself a punishment.

As my niece got up and left the table, she patted the boy on the arm. "Now who's the crybaby?" she said. That's when she got assigned a detention.

In the note to Niece the Elder's parents, the teacher added that my niece was assigned to another group "where she would be happier." Presumably one with no young Archie Bunkers in it.

And here's my thing.

Of course Niece the Elder should have been punished for throwing the book. She has to learn that physically hurting people to get your way, even when you're in the right, is a bad thing to do. I think that part is beyond dispute. Physical violence cannot be condoned or excused in a classroom setting.

But I keep thinking about it from the boy's point of view. Sure, he got hit in the face with a tossed picture book, but it was his own actions that started this whole thing. If he'd been less of a junior asshole, none of this would have happened.

As far as I've been able to learn, besides a mark on his face that has long faded by now, this kid got everything he wanted with no consequences. He got to make his reading circle boys-only. He removed the only person in the group who had the guts to stand up to him. He bullied and belittled a fellow classmate for no other reason than his own budding sexism, and he totally got away with it.

So yeah, I approve Niece the Elder getting a detention because of the book-throwing, but I can't figure out why the kid who started it all not only got off scot-free, but was positioned as the entirely innocent injured party. And although this particular incident was a boy versus girls thing, I recognise it's a bullies versus the bullied thing. Boys can be victims of bullying too, and girls can be shits.

I've been discussing this with my friends and thinking back on my own years in elementary school, and we have similar stories. J-A recounted how a boy used to pinch her when the teacher wasn't looking, and when she pinched back in self-defence, he would howl. Then she would get in trouble with the teacher. I have memories of being told not to "pick on" classmates — after they'd picked fights with me, and I'd had the... luck? temerity? to win.

An interesting point about my experiences: although usually the reason kids would pick on me was because I was a "browner" (if that's not in your local slang, they meant kid with good grades, teacher's pet), I also happened to be one of the tallest kids in the class. From a physical standpoint, if I'd ever learned to fight — not that I ever did — I could have seriously hurt any of the girls and most of the boys in my classes up to about Grade 5 without even thinking about it. It wasn't just mean to pick on me; it was potentially suicidal. They were counting on my track record of not hitting back to get away with it. Which they did. When it was really bad, I used to hide in the back of the class and read a book during recess until the teacher specifically told me to go outside.

Damn. Now I wish I'd risked a few detentions and decked the little bastards while I still could.

Niece the Elder is only in Grade 2, and she's one of the smallest kids in her class — she doesn't have the physical advantage of height that I chose not to use. She's been in school for four years, and already she takes detentions in stride as part of the cost of getting an education. Her parents have long noted a pattern: she never starts a fight, but if someone starts one with her, she'll damn well finish it. Meanwhile, her marks are among the highest in the class, so eventually I suppose she'll start getting picked on for those in addition to liking cats over princesses.

I admire her willingness to stick up for herself, and for keeping punishments in perspective. When I was her age, even a verbal reprimand from a teacher would leave me upset for days.

But I'm very uneasy with this idea that people who stick up for themselves when they're bullied get punished, while the ones who did the bullying get coddled as victims. I keep thinking about how this is going to play out in high school... and then university... and then adulthood. I keep thinking about what Niece the Elder is actually learning from these incidents: not just that violence is bad, but that sticking up for yourself leads to punishment, while the instigator never gets touched. And what's that boy learning? That he can verbally push people into acting out, at which point he may need to work on ducking faster, but he will get his way if he keeps acting like a shit.

Neither of those are very good lessons.

#BestReads2015

The good news is that this year, I read a lot of books. 

The bad news is that most of them were for external obligations, not for the straight enjoyment of it. That always casts a shadow on reading, because it's hard to savour some prose when at the back of your mind you're thinking, "Gah! I'm only halfway through this thing and I've got eight more books to go after this!"  

It gets worse if those "eight books to go", plus other obligatory lists, are outside one's normal genres to read in. Left to my own devices, I mostly read science fiction and mysteries, with some non-fiction, fantasy, historical, and literary fiction mixed in. This year, I mostly read literary fiction, because that was what populated the majority of those aforementioned lists. I find myself siding with the camp, mostly of SF fans, who call literary fiction "domestic fiction". In fact, I'd switch over to that term exclusively except that so few other people would know what I'm talking about. It's not that I don't like literary fiction — I did wind up enjoying a number of these obligatory novels, despite the pressure to read through them promptly — it's just that the more I read them, the less I understand why literary fiction is considered both deeper and more neutral than so-called genre fiction. Literary fiction has a tendency to portray people and relationships — family, friends, romantic attachments — in a certain light, with certain cultural signifiers attached, and say, "this is normal; you can relate to this; now here's the extraordinary part" while at the same time being wholly alienating (to me). Science fiction and mystery stories say, "here's the extraordinary thing" and then let you orient yourself into the story with the signposts you recognise.

A quick note on The Martian: I had my paperback copy of The Martian all pulled out and flipped to a reference page when I started this post, and then decided not to put it in the list. Not because I didn't love it, because I did, both the film (which I saw first) and the novel. I liked the pop culture references, and the way it reminded me of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (of course), both in the "castaway" plot and the amount of prose spent showing the math and working out things. People think showing the math was invented for hard science fiction, but that's because not enough people read both hard science fiction and Daniel Defoe. And not enough CP Snow, for that matter, but I digress.

I wound up leaving it out, though, because... it's problematic. It's plausibly problematic, which is to author Andy Weir's credit, but it opens a whole can of problematic worms about where "nerd" ends and "asshole" begins, and while I think it's great that it does that, it deserves its own blog post. I should write that. I should write lots of things.

Anyways, here's this year's list. Fiction first, then non-fiction.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I reviewed Persuasion last March as part of a different group reading & blogging event. I always like Austen, even when her characters are annoying me, like they do in Emma. For all that people love to make fun of Austen fans, for all the jokes about Darcy and formal dining room manners, Austen's actual work has almost painfully incisive observations about the human condition. She spends a lot less time describing ladies' dresses than her modern-day detractors do. I'd even argue that Austen is more important to read now — her psychological observations hold true even though the world has changed, and put paid to the "oh, but technology" arguments condoning poor behaviour.

Persuasion is particularly compelling, because it spends more time than some of Austen's other novels showing how easy it was to lose one's place in the gentility, how easy it was to become destitute and cast out. For all the gentle social outings described, it depicts a harshness one doesn't often see in a novel categorised as a "romance".

Here's the extraordinary thing: if a woman was stuck with an unsupportive family, if she was browbeaten into refusing just one marriage proposal, she was at real and serious risk of becoming homeless and destitute, because all other options for supporting herself either paid very poorly or were illegal.

The Cuckoo's Calling/The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith

I always said JK Rowling would be fabulous at writing mysteries, so when it was revealed she was doing just that under the pen name Robert Galbraith, I was thrilled. I think the magic and wizard-jargon and other world-building details from her fantasy books made people forget (or not notice?) that she's a very sharp observer of human nature. She's in Austen's literary lineage in that sense, I suppose — both of them can depict character so accurately it makes the reader wince a bit, then turn it this way for a humorous effect, or that way for pathos.

Cormoran Strike, the detective protagonist of both novels (I haven't read the third one released this past autumn), is the kind of barely-hanging-on yet incredibly capable character mystery readers have seen before in Sam Spade and Kurt Wallander. Strike's own personal life is often a spectacular mess, which contrasts beautifully with his adept way of determining the truth.

I'm recommending the first two books as one here, but The Silkworm will be of particular interest to writers, given that the murder victim is an author and all of the suspects are writers or otherwise connected to the publishing business.

The Killing Moon, NK Jemisin

NK Jemisin has been on my to-read list for at least two years, and now that I've read one of her books, I definitely want to read more. I know she's been a target of the people behind the various Hugo Puppies slates, and I have to wonder if they've actually read any of her work, because they claim to prefer the science fiction and fantasy genre as it "was" in some version of the past or another, and The Killing Moon, to me, is very classic fantasy. It reminded me a lot of the fantasy books I read in the 80s and 90s, though the books were all published in the 70s.

The Killing Moon takes place in a world modelled after (but not identical to) the Nubian reign of ancient Egypt. I love watching archaeology documentaries on ancient Egypt, so I got hooked very quickly. In fact, reading this book got me into watching videos about the real-life ancient Nubians.

Like Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong series, The Killing Moon is a novel which reads as fantasy, but as I understand from the author's afterword, the fantastic setting does have a science fiction backstory supporting it. Certainly the worldbuilding is very complete and compelling — it's easy to imagine other characters yet unknown, on other adventures in other realms of the same world.

The central characters in The Killing Moon all belong to a state-sanctioned religious order which... let's just say their central tenets do not match very well with the Abrahamic ones we're used to taking for granted in the Western world. It was fascinating to read of the characters working through decisions and actions based on a moral code which was alien to the industrialised world. Favourite detail: in the city which serves as the main setting, it is illegal to have buildings with doors to shut off rooms, because that makes it more difficult for the official priest class to steal into residents' bedrooms at night... and kill those sleeping within for ritual purposes. The wonder of it is, Jemisin convincingly portrays it, when done with the right intent and methods, as a caring, considerate act. It's a sublime empathic experience for a reader.

The use of magic in the story is, like the world-building, logical and immersive. I don't remember reading anything in the afterword about the science behind the magic, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if there was some.

Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed

This is such a hard novel to describe. Batman meets 1,001 Arabian Nights is probably the closest, but that falls very short. It's an incredible adventure in a very classic vein — I could see it as a filmed adventure series like they used to show in cinemas in the 30s and 40s — but there's this undercurrent of sadness to it, of despair, so when the funny parts happen (and they are hilarious) it feels a bit like the reader is, like the characters, laughing to distract themselves from the calamitous ending of an era.

But over that sadness, lots of adventure happens. Swashes are buckled, magical beasts vanquished, enchanted potions drunk. One thing I appreciated is that instead of being relegated to obscure, Yoda-type mentoring, the older characters are all front and centre. They may be too old and stiff for this adventuring stuff, but if evil threatens their city, they're going to go down fighting, damnit. The younger characters (and they're present and involved as well) are also important, but they bring a different focus. That that, Joseph Campbell.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer

I am not part of the legions of stalwart Amanda Palmer fans. Some of her songs I like a lot; others I don't. When I agree with her, I agree with her completely, but I don't always agree with her.

In The Art of Asking, though, Palmer isn't asking the reader to agree with her all the time, or give her everything she asks for. She's just asking us to learn how to ask for help when we need it, learn how to give help when someone else needs it. That might sound very basic, but as much as she's known for being a forward-thinking artist, it almost feels like the book is asking us to remember something which seems to have been lost along the way: the idea that a social interaction can be mutually beneficial, the idea that, as social animals, human beings do need to work together. My favourite part was when Palmer described how, the whole time Thoreau was living by Walden pond and writing about self-sufficiency and isolation, his family would drop by once a week and give him a batch of their home-made doughnuts.

I listened to the audiobook version, and this is one time I strongly recommend listening to a book instead of reading it. The audiobook has all sorts of extra aural goodies, mostly in the form of songs at the ends of major sections. It's part autobiography, part manifesto, part call to action. What action? You'll have to ask yourself.

Here's the TED talk Palmer gave which led to her writing this book:

 

Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull

By my estimation, there are approximately fifteen gazillion business books out there, out of which about fourteen gazillion are about productivity and work culture. They all range from overly narrow to just plain wrong.

Creativity, Inc. is the history of Pixar, from Ed Catmull's initial research into computer animation when he was a student, to Disney's acquisition. Catmull himself outlines in an early chapter what makes it different from other management books. Most business books crow about the successes of the author, and claim that if you copy them, you'll be successful too — except it seems they're never quite applicable to the situation you find yourself in. Instead, Catmull gives example after example of all the things he, Pixar management, and Pixar in general did wrong, and then goes over the consequences of the mistake and what happened to make things better again. A lot of what he presents is counter-intuitive to current corporate thinking, but he argues for why the Pixar approach is better. And no, he doesn't just say, "we've had a string a hit movies — even the duds had good box office returns".

Maybe it's his software development background coming out, but the case studies and framework Catmull depicts are applicable well outside the constraints of a computer animation film company. He's talking about how to work a problem, about attitudes, about creating an environment where people are truly safe to speak up when they see a better way of doing things. And, oddly enough for someone with no formal business education and who works in a very specialised industry, his ideas make way more sense than anything I've read in other business books. A lot of what's in Creativity Inc. would apply to a volunteer group or a one-off, family-based project (say, a major home renovation) just as equally as it would to the for-profit working world.

Along the way the reader gets a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some already-classic films, and some refreshing observations on what it was like to work with Steve Jobs. Catmull's depiction of Jobs — appreciative and respectful, but nowhere near a hagiography — feels far more realistic than a lot of the other material out there.

guest post: Accidental Sorcerers print version released

Katherine here: I made Larry's acquaintance via the Friday Flash on-line writing group, and have enjoyed reading (and reviewing) his short stories and novels. It's a true honour to host the cover reveal for the print version of Accidental Sorcerers.

Over to Larry:

Together, we are stronger.

With eBook sales passing 20,000, the Accidental Sorcerers novellas are coming to print in August 2015, with the release of the first three stories in a single paperback. Join Mik Dragonrider, his love and fellow apprentice Sura, and their mentor (and Sura's father) Bailar the Blue, as they journey Termag and stumble into new adventures. A sorcerer's life is supposed to be sedate, but trouble has a way of challenging these three.

In the first book, Accidental Sorcerers, Mik begins his sorcerous career by awakening an ice dragon — and living to tell about it. He finds his mentor, a new life, a first love… and more adventure!

The tale continues in Water and Chaos. The Conclave of Sorcerers sends Bailar, Sura, and Mik to Mik's hometown, hoping to recruit other youths with sorcerous talent. But a misunderstanding sends Mik far away, on his own, to uncover the secrets of a nest of rogue sorcerers.

The Sorcerer's Daughter begins with Bailar teaching Sura and Mik more combat magic, so they in turn can teach it to beginning apprentices. But when Sura discovers her high-born ancestry, and the price it carries, they may need all that training to escape!

The stories carry on… and a second collection (Books 4-6) is planned for a Spring 2016 release!

There will also be a companion eBook. People who buy the paperback can get the eBook free though the Kindle Matchbook program.

Author bio:

Larry Kollar lives in north Georgia, surrounded by kudzu, trees, and in-laws. His day job involves writing user manuals—some of which may have been fiction, but not by intent. He has had short fictional works published in the Hogglepot Journal, the Were-Traveler, and the anthology Best of Friday Flash, Vol. 2. Longer works include his first novel, White Pickups, and the popular Accidental Sorcerers series. For more of his strange fiction, and even stranger reality:

Bloghttp://farmanor.blogspot.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/FARfetched58

For first looks and exclusive offers, join Larry’s “Fleet Commanders” mailing list: http://eepurl.com/nDOP9

guest post: how do you find the right writer's group?

One of the things I love about writing is that I can do it all by myself. I can be quiet and retreat into my own thoughts. I tend to lose all track of time.

Unfortunately, that aloneness can also be the biggest drawback to being a writer. It is likely that your friends and family don’t understand how your brain processes things or get the jargon you use to describe your work. And that is when you need to be in the company of writers.

I just finished volunteering at the Willamette Writers Conference, which I do nearly every year. I get a total jolt of inspiration and excitement when I attend. And I love being surrounded by people who know that WIP means work in progress. It’s such a great sense of camaraderie I can’t get anywhere else.

I was lucky in that I stumbled across Willamette Writers soon after my first book was published and I started devoting time to fiction. It was a good fit for me.

But it doesn’t always work out as easily for other writers, especially if you’re looking for a critique group, where fit is of great importance. So, how can you tell if you’re in the right group?

First, make sure the topics of discussion are suited to your career level.

When I interviewed J. Anderson Coats for Pacific Northwest Writers, one of the things we talked about was the group of writers she connected with online. They were all in the midst of getting their first book published, so they spoke the same language, were dealing with the same concerns, and had the same fears and excitements.

You’ll want to make sure that you’re working with a group of writers who can understand the career phase you are in so that you can all support each other and grow together.

Second, you must feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback. The type of feedback offered in critique groups can vary widely, from no-holds-barred editing to kind and gentle sandwiches of positive feedback – opportunity for improvement – positive feedback.

There was a scene in season 1 of Jane the Virgin where she didn’t read the instructions on feedback and wrote some feedback for one of the writers that didn’t fit with the goals of the group. There were madcap antics as she tried to take back the cards she’d written her notes on — and tears as the person receiving the criticism wasn’t emotionally prepared to hear what Jane had to say. Make sure you’re on board with the goals of the group so you can give and get the best critiques of your work.

Have you been part of a writer’s group? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments below. 

 

Author Bio: Jennifer Roland is a freelance and marketing writer with more than twenty years' experience in newspaper, magazine, and marketing environments. Jennifer also works as a virtual assistant to writers, helping them build their online presence and connect with readers so they can focus on what they love — writing.

She loves fiction and writes that under the name Jennifer C. Rodland. She hopes to put all of the lessons she learned writing this book into getting more of that published.

Find Jennifer online: 

http://10takesonwriting.com

http://twitter.com/jenroland

http://instagram.com/thejenroland

 

 

book review: 10 Takes Pacific Northwest Writers

When I confront a new topic or one I need to know more about, I look for a way I can write an article, a paper, or web content about it. So I jumped at the chance to write a book about writing.

10 Takes: Pacific Northwest Writers is an interesting book because it takes a constraint (write about writers living in the Northwest region of the USA) and turns it into a broad survey of successful, working writers using a wide variety of genres and forms. Each of the ten chapters is an interview transcript with a different writer, prefaced with a brief author bio and list of published works. There's a novelist turned screenwriter, an urban fantasy novelist, a poet who also teaches about prison literature, a comic book writer... if your preferred form isn't covered here, there is an interview with someone who does something very close.

Interview transcripts can be tricky things to read on a page, but Roland does an excellent editing job here. The transcripts are conversational and still sound like a spoken discussion of writing, but are easy to read. For the most part, Roland keeps out of the dialogue, with just quick, easily-identified prompts here and there so that the reader understands the context of the writer's comments.

I really appreciated the straightforward, down-to-earth approach each of the writers took to discussing craft and career. It really struck me that these are people discussing their jobs, or one of their jobs for those who have multiple ones. A lot of the comments are more practical and less theoretical — which is to say, even when theory gets discussed, it's because it's useful. There's a mindfulness which permeates all of the interviews which makes them all enjoyable to read.

This is one "writer's" book that I think could be enjoyed even by people who don't write; any appreciation of the written word would make it appealing.

Author Bio: Jennifer Roland is a freelance and marketing writer with more than twenty years' experience in newspaper, magazine, and marketing environments. Jennifer also works as a virtual assistant to writers, helping them build their online presence and connect with readers so they can focus on what they love — writing.

She loves fiction and writes that under the name Jennifer C. Rodland. She hopes to put all of the lessons she learned writing this book into getting more of that published.

Book Summary: From novelists to poets to playwrights, Jennifer Roland interviews a variety of authors who have one thing in common — they have all chosen to make the Pacific Northwest their home. Covering a diversity of disciplines — from comics, fantasy, and detective novels to long-form poetry and illustrated children's series — ten distinguished authors provide unique perspectives about their craft, provide helpful writing advice and tips for success, and share their passion for living and writing in the Pacific Northwest. Buy the book here.

Find Jennifer online: 

http://10takesonwriting.com

http://twitter.com/jenroland

http://instagram.com/thejenroland

hunting for the queen of cups

Three weeks ago, as I was getting dressed, the underwire on my favourite bra poked out.

So I put on my second-favourite bra, and by the time I got to work, its underwire was poking out. I went to the washroom, pulled out the escaping underwire so it wouldn't scratch me, and went through the day hoping it wasn't obvious I was asymmetrical.

Loose-fitting, empire-waisted... I bet no formulas were involved, either.

Loose-fitting, empire-waisted... I bet no formulas were involved, either.

The following morning I put on my third favourite bra. About twenty minutes before I got to work... yup. Underwire poking out. This time it was on the other side, though.

Like every single woman I've ever talked to, I have bra-shopping horror stories. For a garment nearly every adult woman (and some drag-queen men) wear, it really is total hell to find one that fits. It doesn't matter if you know your size, because "your size" in one brand will not be the same in another brand. There's a reason why some women's lingerie drawers are filled with the exact same bra in different colours, and it's not lack of imagination on the owners' parts.

I tried to shop in-person for what I thought was "my size", and the sales clerk at the lingerie shop said she'd never even heard of that size. (It was the size I was wearing at the time — I'd managed to mend Bra #3.)

Since bricks-and-mortar shop clerks were hostile and unhelpful, I ordered on-line, and the bra that arrived in the mail didn't fit. "Didn't fit" in this case meant "squeezed so tight I felt I could relate to what Carrie Fisher went through filming Star Wars".

Okay, this wasn't working. Time to think this over again.

I did some research, and found the Reddit board A Bra That Fits. There are some fascinating, and depressing, discussions on that board. While the posters seem to agree with the well-worn stat that 85% of women are wearing the wrong-size bra, they also point out that far fewer than 85% of women are idiots. If women can have a successful career, rear children, and do all the other things functioning adults do, surely buying lingerie shouldn't be so arcane?

A Bra That Fits has a related web page that explains the vagaries of bra sizing, and why women get misled as to which size fits them. The current bra sizing standard used in UK/US/Canada/Australia (and New Zealand?) was invented in 1932, and hasn't been updated since. Think about how much taller and larger women in those countries generally are compared to what they were in 1932. Yeah. The discussion board's regulars have also analysed the "plus 4" or "plus 5" sizing formula commonly used in lingerie shops, and have determined that it's designed to encourage women to buy bras with bands which are too large and cups which are too small. The result is a size which fits more neatly into the common offerings at shops, but which typically provides insufficient support for women with larger busts, and discomfort all around.

The discussion board regulars have created a size calculator to let women determine their true bra size. I tried it. The size was nowhere near what I usually wore, but the Reddit posts were full of stories of women discovering the best-fitting size was nowhere near what they usually wore. I went back on-line and ordered a bra in my "new" size.

This time, the band was more comfortable, but the cups were big enough I could have got both breasts into one of them. I could wear the "new size" bra over my old, worn-out bra, and still had room.

If you try out the calculator, you'll see it has a caveat posted that the size calculation will become inaccurate if your measurements are outside a certain range. I am not in the range. Note that the traditional sizing formula will also not work for me. Both formulas start to give inaccurate answers if you are either side of the range. This is why "oh, women just need to grab a measuring tape and a calculator so they know their correct bra size" is nonsense. I give points to the Reddit group for being up-front about the limits on the calculator, and for acknowledging the formulas can only get you so far.

I was getting tired of racking up "dead" transactions on my credit card, waiting for the on-line returns department to reverse the charges, so I decided to head out to the bricks-and-mortar shops again. I met up with J-A for lunch, and she offered to be Sam to my Frodo, wandering the department stores and specialty shops of downtown Toronto until we found something that fit me.

As with the fictional Sam, I had to wonder if she would have agreed so readily if we had known what the journey was going to be like. I suspect trekking through rough country to drop a magical ring into a volcano would have been easier.

We only went to two shops. The first stop was at a flagship department store that had always been reliable in the past, but which totally struck out this time (to be fair, they had a lingerie sale on, so sizes were limited). Out of the entire, enormous lingerie section, there were only two shelves, and one brand, in either my old size or my new size. The sales clerk didn't offer to measure me, and disappeared once she had led me to the little corner where my sizes were. I tried on two bras, both of which were too small in some places and too large in others, and promptly gave up.

The second shop is where I usually get my jeans and office wear. They have a lingerie section, but I've never bought anything from it because they didn't carry my old size. We went in, looking for bras that were in between my old size and my new one. Six bras in a variety of sizes collected, a sales clerk got me a change room, and I started trying them on.

None of them were fitting, but the last one came close.

I had the change-room door half-open so J-A could see what didn't fit where, and the sales clerk asked if she could check something. Usually I don't like getting this close to total strangers, but at this point I was too frustrated to mind. She put her fingers behind the back strap, and could fit four fingers in without even touching me. We agreed, measurements be damned, this was a good sign that the band was too big. She disappeared into the shop floor, and came back with a bra that was two (!) band sizes smaller, but one cup bigger.

After you've tried on eight bras at two different shops, trying on a ninth doesn't seem like that big a hassle. Back into the change room I went.

And what do you know. The damn thing fit.

I tried on seventeen bras in total yesterday, and found four that fit (two of them are identical, just in different colours).

Now, here are some sizing stats:

Old size: 40B
New, calculated size: 46DD
In between, estimated size: 44C
Size that fit: 40D

Remember, there is an entire sister blog on this site where I post about my DIY work, most of which is clothing I make for myself. My mum and grandmother made clothes for themselves and for me. I've known about ease and alterations and shaping since my age was in single digits. I grew up listening to, and participating in, advanced discussions about fit. Before this shopping trip, I was seriously considering taking a course in bra making. I might still do that.

Recall as well that, as with all women's clothing, there are judgements attached to every size available, and in the case of bras, cup sizes in particular. We've all heard it: A cups are "fried eggs", D cups are "curvy". Anything bigger than a DD or so is "huge".

I've always been told I have small breasts, and shamed for it from some quarters. And now it turns out I'm a D, which might still be small in proportion to the rest of me, but does prove the judgey people wrong — not that they were ever right. My breasts have never changed that much, although they definitely "present" better in the new bra (I spent part of this morning making sure my shirts still fit all right, since the new bra means both breast and non-breast tissue are sitting in different places than they did before.) One of the things I've learned in the past couple of weeks is that cup sizes change as the band size changes, even though the letter designator stays the same.

Look what it took to find a bra that fit. Is it any wonder 85% of women are wearing the wrong size?

Men: J-A, the sales clerk, and I were trying yesterday to think of a single men's item of clothing which would necessitate standing around shirtless in a changeroom, trying on seventeen different versions to find four that fit. We couldn't think of anything. Any ideas? There's getting measured for a suit, but as I understand it, you get to keep your shirt on for that.

Postscript: J-A sent me this video of men who voluntarily wore bras for a week, just to feel what it was like.

the hero myth

I am just old enough to have seen the original Star Wars movie at the theatres, when it first came out. I've been thinking a lot about that experience, and about the hype that followed, now that I've finished reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces

The "Star Wars proof", as I've come to think of it, rests on the following syllogism:

  1. George Lucas deliberately wrote Star Wars to follow the monomyth as defined in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  
  2. Star Wars was and is a huge hit, and a cultural phenomenon!  
  3. Therefore, if writers want a huge hit (or just a successful story, period), they should follow the example of Star Wars and use the monomyth in their own writing. 

As with all syllogisms, it needs to be tested point by point.

#1 is certainly true, on its face — as I mentioned last blog post, Lucas is on the record with his admiration of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

#2 is also certainly true. Star Wars Day was started by an ad congratulating Margaret Thatcher, for pity's sakes. Star Wars fandom shows up in places as mainstream as Friends — that episode is going to be mostly opaque if you don't know the references.

#3 is where the syllogism breaks down, as syllogisms often do (1. I like fish, 2. Cats like fish, 3. I am a cat). The conclusion of the syllogism assumes that Star Wars was a hit because it was written to follow the structure of the monomyth.

I spent some time reading discussion boards on this topic while I was getting this blog post ready, wanting to make sure my own memory of seeing it on its first theatre release weren't faulty. It doesn't seem like it was (do some Googling for commentary if you want to see third-party opinions). People do mention The Hero's Journey, but they also talk about how the good characters and bad characters were easy to tell apart, how there were so many recognisable tropes from the old adventure serials of the 30s and 40s, how wonderful the special effects were. They also point out (and I'm glad I'm also not the only one here) that while adults liked Star Wars, it was the kids who loved it.

Funny thing about that. You'd think Luke Skywalker would be the character all the kids wanted to be. But I remember seven-year-old-me chose Leia, not just because she was the token woman, but because she had attitude and could fire a blaster. My second choices were C3PO and Obi-Wan Kenobi. My younger brother (he was four when he saw it) became an instant R2D2 fan. I remember local magazines having C3PO and R2D2 on the cover; not so much the so-called hero. (Which is not to say Mark Hamill did a poor job; on the contrary, he gave Luke's quiet moments (like those bits on the Millennium Falcon) a depth that rounded out the character in far more ways than any lines he was given to say.)

Then there's the whole Han Solo arc. Never mind the farm boy who saves the galaxy, Han is a down-and-out smuggler who gets the princess. He's the guy who goes from only having himself, his ship, and his one-wookiee crew as priorities, to being a full-out fighter in the Rebellion. He's the survivor who discovers principles. There's a reason why fans freaked out and started the "Han shot first" meme, when Lucas tweaked the film after its initial release.

The paradox is that the films are so widely loved, yet so much of the writing is reviled. Most of the dislike is aimed at the sequels-which-are-really-prequels, but it's cast a more analytical eye on the original trilogy as well. If the Force is something you inherit, why doesn't Leia seem to have it? Why are there virtually no other female characters besides Leia (and don't bring up that senator)? What the hell was Obi Wan doing all those years in the desert? Baby-sitting from a distance is no way to keep occupied.

I'm just not convinced people love Star Wars because it's such a great example of the Hero's Journey. I love it for the characters, and the setting, and yeah, the special effects. The plot, meh — it beggars belief just a few too many times. Consider all the "you can't hit an exhaust hatch with two torpedoes which have to bank at a right angle almost immediately after being fired" theories:

So what am I getting at? Just this: having read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I'm just not convinced it's ultimately that useful. Better to read the original myths, or to work through a plot approach with a stronger focus on structure, like Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer.

audio(book)

Have you ever read audio(book)? It's okay if you haven't. It just means you weren't an MFA student when the book surfaced, briefly, before disappearing from the web.

Having said that, if you've been out clubbing any time in the last five years, you've probably danced to it. Let me explain.

audio(book) was one of those, um, works that didn't have enough fiction in it to be fiction, but didn't have enough of a grasp on reality to be non-fiction. Basically it's a weirded-up analysis of the SGML documentation standard, and about as interesting as that sounds. The first section starts off as a direct plagiarism of a SGML training document from about fifteen years ago, before morphing into a sort of writing exercise, where the narrative spins off every time it hits a word that can be twisted into a pun. Example: the "M" in SGML, "markup", got broken into "mark up", which led to the word "bruise", which led to a rather uptight, distanced attempt at describing rough sex. Not surprisingly, the author had a field day with that final "L", "language". After quoting from Knuth to Derrida, with a quick dash of James Joyce, the section devolved into a mass of angle-bracketed structure tags, with no content in them except for formatting tags.

The second section runs through all the Burroughesque tropes about language being a virus, about humans being symbol manipulation soft machines, about everything meaning nothing and everything at once. The typography and layout gets really creative in this part, or it will if you tell your e-reader to use the embedded fonts. You also need to use the same e-reader the author had — which, surprise, is an obscure model created by a lone inventor's Kickstarter campaign, and which made its funding goal but never caught on with the general market.

The third and final section is an essay, claiming that all data is equal, and that how humans consume it, text or images or sound, doesn't matter. The experience will change with the medium, but the original data is irrelevant. Borges' famous story about the library gets name-checked, but not quoted. There's a lot of suspicious hand-waving about McLuhan — suspicious because all the references come from one source, and only the first fifteen pages of that source. And then yeah, there's some more Derrida, and some hat-tips to Baudrillard's Simulations, which call into question whether the author of audio(book) actually knows what a third-level simulation is.

The essay is short, but it's padded out by about 15,000 words of footnotes, all of which are lengthy quotes from the authors I've already mentioned. Oh, and one lonely Virginia Woolf quote, from The Second Common Reader.

The whole thing got converted to EPUB, and thrown onto a couple of university servers in a quasi-clandestine way. Which is to say, they were in public web server directories, but no-one seems to have bothered making links to them for the longest time. There's an eighteen-month gap between the date/time stamp on the EPUBs and the folders they're in, and the first known link, on a class discussion board at one of the universities.

The original cover image, by the way, is not just a mess of random black-and-white noise patterns, but the text of the book itself with a BMP header string tossed onto the start.

Meanwhile, a WAV file of the EPUB was created by renaming the file extension and adding a WAV header onto the front of the file. The conversion was very brute-force — if you look at the WAV file in a plain-text editor, you'll see that most of the original text and formatting is intact, just with minor alterations for when the audio players froze on the data. The WAV was mixed with some house beats, converted to MP3, and the resulting abomination was uploaded to several music sites. Because it was posted for low/no price and tagged as dance music, it caught the eye of a few club DJs. It became an unlikely hit when they tried using it to clear the floor at the end of the night, and discovered (to their horror, no doubt), that the dancing masses liked it.

And that's all there was, and all there is, to it. If you ever happen to meet any earnest grad student who thinks they've found the work for their thesis, and it turns out to be audio(book), send them my way. I'll try to straighten them out before they do anything stupid — like actually propose it to their thesis supervisor.

Right, the last bit. I should explain how I wound up with this particular albatross around my neck. No, I am not the author of audio(book). I did, however, get pressured into formatting the thing, in all three versions: EPUB, BMP, WAV/MP3. The cymbal pattern on the sound file is my only creative contribution. Otherwise, it was just hours upon hellishly tedious hours of tagging, regular expressions, and saving as. Okay, and I was the one who knew the university sysadmins and asked them for a few megabytes of space. Why? Because at the time, it was easier than not doing it. You have no idea.

The one thing I am proud of is the metadata. The author let it slip that they had no intention of honouring the agreement we'd made regarding payment for my services rendered. That's why audio(book) lacks any kind of byline, not in the text, nor the front matter, nor the cover, nor the meta-data. The image and the audio files are similarly attribution-free. At the time, I had a story ready about the myth of the author, but it never actually came up. I think they liked the aesthetics of the user side and never bothered to check the metadata.

I used my own hardware, so if you look really hard you'll find my name, but I made it so you did have to look really hard. A couple of times a year some hardcore nerd finds me and either writes me a fan note or threatens to expose me (or, more often, both at the same time), and I write a nice, sweet e-mail back explaining that they're wrong. And I can prove they're wrong, thanks to some e-mails I have squirrelled away, but I try not to publicise those. 

The actual author... let's just say we don't talk anymore. I know they badmouth me in private, but they don't do it in public because they can't prove they're the actual author of the files.

So there it is. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some linear narrative fiction I'd like to read.

Between illness and editing my novel, I haven't been writing any #fridayflash, but this one slipped out. Thanks to S.A. Barton for the inspiration!

who killed the blockbuster?

I wasn't going to blog about this, until I read the excellent post by Marc Nash about Terminator: Genisys, and the thoughtful critique by John Wiswell about the Jurassic franchise

First off: my favourite film critic of all time is Roger Ebert. I didn't always agree with his reviews, but I could usually tell from his assessment whether or not I was going to find the film worth watching. 

One thing that always perplexed me about Ebert's reviews is that he would sometimes say action sequences were "boring". If it's an action sequence, how could it be boring? I figured he had some well-deserved critic's fatigue, and wouldn't pay any notes about "boring action" much mind. 

But now I've seen Mad Max: Fury Road, and I know exactly what he meant. Practically the whole damn thing is a boring action sequence. 

No spoilers: the good guys are trying to escape from the bad guys. Okay. But there's no stakes, no suspense. Look at the characters. There's Max, who is the titular character, but not, one learns quickly, the hero. He's more like a Fifth Business, an enabler who throws in his lot with the hero because going her way is better than the alternatives. Still, he is  the titular character, so you know that, at worst, he'll die at the very end. That's if he dies at all. 

Then there's the hero, Imperator Furiosa. Even though she's nominally on the bad guy's side when she's introduced, we know she'll be a goodie once things get going. How do we know? Because her costume isn't nearly outlandish enough to be a baddie in this film, and because, unlike her War Boy colleagues/staff, she acts more or less according to current-day Western conventions. So she's not going to die until, maybe, the end as well.  

What about her goal of reaching The Green, the safe, unpolluted place she knows about? C'mon, it's a post-apocalyptic action film. Either The Green doesn't exist, or else despite all utopian appearances it's a horribly corrupt, oppressive place. So no stakes there either. 

The wives Furiosa is smuggling to The Green are virtually interchangeable. If they have names mentioned in the film, I didn't catch them. Mostly I kept them straight by hair colour, and correctly predicted (spoiler!) that one of the two blondes got killed off quickly. So she wouldn't get mixed up with the other one, you see. Meanwhile, the lone redhead was the only one with any real character arc, and stood out easily in compositions showing her with the other (identically dressed) wives on account of her hair colour.

The environmental stakes are devalued as well. Resources are supposed to be scarce, yet characters use up fuel and water like... like we are in the here and now and are supposed to be cutting down on.  A half-dozen characters give themselves a full-body shower, in the middle of the desert, after a giant sandstorm, using scarce, precious potable water for the job. Five minutes later they're worried they won't make it to The Green before the baddies catch up and re-capture them. Uh-huh.

Fiction requires a suspension of disbelief. A bored audience member will start noticing things like those showers, and then other things, and then still other things, until the weight of their boredom causes their disbelief to come crashing down to the ground. A story can be as fantastical and implausible as it likes, but it has to keep the audience interested. Otherwise, it's just a big long, boring, action sequence. 

Steven Spielberg warned in 2013 that just a few "tent pole" blockbusters failing in a single release season could cause a Hollywood "implosion". Marc, John, and I all went in to see our respective blockbusters expecting to be entertained at minimum, and came out with critiques and concerns. As I understand it, the three films we posted about were hardly failures at the box office, but I'm just not sensing the enthusiasm for them that past blockbusters have enjoyed.

The big Hollywood film that seems to be getting all the accolades this summer is Inside Out. I saw it the week before I saw Mad Max, and loved it, but now that I've seen both films, it's making me think. Inside Out has a lot of action for a film that literally takes place inside someone's brain, but somehow those homuncular cartoon characters had more at stake, and generated more suspense, than the live-action characters in Fury Road did. It feels like a shake-up is coming.

guest post: get off the couch

The couch is a magical, wonderful place to a modern human. Mine is a large sectional littered with pillows, embraced by shuttered windows that open on cooler days, closed off on one side by a pair of French doors into a peaceful sanctuary during Daddy's morning quiet time. The walls of this sanctuary slap you with tomato red (we call it The Red Room), and placed on the far wall, hanging at a slight angle, hovering above us on its throne, its altar, its pedestal, is a 70" Sony, leaning toward us in anticipation. Sony is a jealous god, demanding in worship, seductive with its many recorded shows and one-click movies. After Daddy's quiet time (which begins around 4AM, and ends around 8AM), Sony booms out its commandments, thou shalt buy this, thou shalt buy that, and thus and thus, lest thou misseth this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and be damned forever to the sulfury pit of higher prices. It tells us who we should hate, who we should love, where our beliefs in it and other gods should lie. It molds us into obedient citizens, or incites us to riotous disobedience. It demands thus and thus, and so on, pleading for our attention, insistent, threatening, irrefutable because it will not, cannot hear your pleas and complaints.

Sony booms and stomps through my house as a smaller demigod cradles my lap. Similar, yet different, this deity demands to be touched and tapped, seducing me with fingers not so jealous as Sony. Hewlett-Packard warms my legs with a fan. It stokes my ego with virtual discussions. It provides money for my home, such that I might tithe 10% to the gods of Sony, and to the priests and priestesses who serve it, with a smaller portion to this demigod for its seemingly lesser service.

This second god is humbler, yet no less demanding. While Sony cannot possess me, HP often bows me for hours at its altar, hunched over the keyboard as life — yes, LIFE — happens around me. My young son, sixteen months old, has learned that he need only close the lid to rouse me. So he walks over and presses the lid shut. Stop it, Finn, I say to him. He laughs. I huff, because I am in the middle of something important.

Ah. Something important. I look up. Sony booms at me that I must act now, before it is too late. Now for the news. Apparently I am supposed to hate so and so now, and am no longer allowed to hate so and so. Used to be the other way around. Oh Mr. Orwell, where are you now?

And what is so important anyway, that I cannot rise and play with my son? Well, I am working, and this clamshell contraption is the means by which I earn what, not money, oh no not that, but digital numbers on a banking website, gone before I have time to register the sum in my log book. But who's counting those numbers, and haven't I worked enough for one day? Should I, dare I, shall I disembark from the couch?

And so I do. I let Mr. Finn, Finny-Finny-Foo-Foo as I call him, close the lid. Little Finny-Foo-Foo, gonna make a poo poo, in my diaper, now I need a wiper. That's what I sing-song as I rise, and my wife, stressed because she works in his daycare, stressed because she makes dinner (I clean, so hush up), says, Why don't you take Finn outside to play?

Boy, he hears that and becomes a blur of chunky little bowlegs out those French doors, through the breakfast nook, through the second living area, me rising and loping after him through the playroom, and he's slapping his hands on the front door.

Get off the couch, Daddy. That's all he wants. And we explore the world outside as I did with my older children, teenagers now, both of them recalling sometimes that October swarm of frogs we witnessed, bagging seventeen of them and releasing them at the creek. They recall Ghost Tree, our hikes through the woods, our campouts, how we found a pair of owls and listened to them hoot back at one another. My older son says, Remember when I saved your life from that snake?

Yeah, I say. I just about stepped on a water moccasin, wearing flip-flops. One foot-width to the right, that close, inches, would have earned me a couple of holes in my heel, no doubt about it, right outside my apartment because it backed up to some woods with a winding creek leading out to a drainage dam.

They recall the trip to Colorado, Estes Park, and the week in the Stanley Hotel, home of Stephen King's The Shining. They recall other vacations, other hikes, other adventures, as does my wife, and as will my youngest, still scribing this first chapter of his life and running into the next grand adventure with his arms thrown up and his throat bleating baby chirps and giggles and words that mean something only to the parents and his siblings.

These things I know, and we write what we know, don't we? I know more than the couch. I know more than Sony and HP let on. I draw on this experience when I write, rousing characters who reach into my readers and touch places they forgot were there. I almost stepped on a snake, too, one says. I stayed at the Stanley, too, says another. And so on. We cross paths with our readers, and we cannot do that from the couch.

We must lift ourselves up, off the cushions, let life close the lid on HP and stuff the mouth of Sony with blackness. It only takes one click of the thumb to redeem yourself. Click. Rise. Live.

Then, when you brew your coffee, return to the couch, crack your fingers, and resurrect HP during that morning quietude you have carved out for yourself and those blank pages you fight and struggle with and beat your head against every morning, then you'll have something to write about.

You'll have stories.

Now, off with you.

Click.

About the Author

Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Wink and Steps from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work at:

www.EricTrant.com

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6939871.Eric_Trant

http://www.amazon.com/Eric-Trant/e/B00DU1O8T0

About Steps, Eric's latest book:

Steps is a well written science fiction novel you won’t want to put down. Following the Peacemaker family through their battle of survival will keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what obstacle is next.

Society is falling to a ravaging virus, and the Peacemaker family is stranded in the mountains of Arkansas. Forced to band with a group of deserted soldiers, they battle to survive starvation, apocalyptic cataclysms, and a growing number of dangerously infected wanderers.
As their dwindling number struggles against ever-increasing odds, they realize they are not alone in the wilderness. A large creature is present in the hills, at first seen only as a fleeting shadow.

Now the family not only faces impending death from the unstoppable virus, they must also deal with the mysterious giant, whose footprints signify that he knows where they are.

Paperback: 218 Pages
Genre: Sci Fi
Publisher: WiDo Publishing (May 21, 2015)
ASIN: B00Y3A9AZE

Twitter hashtag: #StepsTrant
Steps  is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon

the monomyth of objectivity

D. Paul Angel and Sonia Lal invited me to read up on mythology theory with them, and although it's been a frustrating trip (reading the book, not reading it with them in particular), I'm glad I did.

It's not too often I consider abandoning a book after the first sentence, especially if it's a book on mythology and story theory, but I wasn't quite expecting this:

Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinae, or catch suddenly the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale; it will always be the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously[sic] constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told.

That's the start of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and it was at that point that I had to remind myself it was written in 1949, although that only partially excuses it. Consider that the above quote appears under the main title of "The Monomyth." Isn't it a little weird to be actively othering people at the very moment you are stating a thesis that all of humanity's mythology boils down to a small set of super-stories?

I got the impression that this was an academic book written to be read by other academics, which in the America of 1949 would have meant white, Western, and male. It's easy to say that Campbell was simply writing for his intended audience, and for that audience, the notion that they could have anything in common with non-Westerners was radical. And yes, I concede the book was published only four years after the close of World War Two, when there was an immense amount of anti-Asian propaganda (and sanctions) to recover from.

But something nagged at me when I read the prologue, and continues to nag now that I've read Chapter One and am reading Chapter Two. Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex was also published in 1949. Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems was less than ten years away. Hitchcock's Rope, featuring a gay couple as the two main characters, was released in 1948. The idea that even Western culture was multi-faceted, albeit in a lopsided, one-aspect-dominating, sort of way was around. There's only so many times one can dismiss a different point of view as an aberration.

I've also found myself comparing The Hero with a Thousand Faces to CP Snow's The Two Cultures. Although Snow didn't publish his Two Cultures lecture in book form until 1959, he formulated the observations and ideas for it in the 1930s. Snow discusses the two cultures of science and the humanities as realms populated entirely by men, since that was (mostly) the reality of the university population at the time. The difference is that it doesn't matter. Snow's very thesis argues that the differences between the cultures of science and the humanities aren't bridgeable by more diverse demographics in either discipline, because they are endemic to the sub-cultures of the disciplines themselves. He argues scientists need to learn to respect the humanities, and the humanists better appreciate science. There may not be any non-white, non-male, non-Western people in the academic world Snow describes, but there is room for them.

I just don't see how there is room for other voices in the "monomyth" Campbell describes. Instead, it seems like he's appropriating from the other and claiming that really they're just like white, Western, male, (presumably straight) him. Abrahamic religions are accorded the distinction of being "higher mythologies" than pagan religions; Campbell even blithely announces that the goddess "is incarnate in every woman." The notion that the goddess may also be present in every man, or that the god may be present in every woman, is (as of halfway through Chapter 2) absent — curious when stories of gender-shifting entities appear in myths from all over the world, including the story of Tiresias from Greek mythology. Curiouser still given how many Greek myths Campbell has already used to illustrate his points even in these early parts of the book.

Instead, Campbell's monomyth theory is reminding me of two things. One is of nushu script from China, a form of writing only practised by women, from when women were barred from traditional education. How many stories were written down in nushu, or told between other peoples not allowed to express themselves through official channels, and which therefore never got considered by Western academics such as Campbell?

The other thing The Hero with a Thousand Faces reminds me of is a brilliant, and funny, essay written by Donna Haraway: "A Political Physiology of Dominance," which is included in her book Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. In it, she traces the history of our understanding of primate social structures, showing that many aspects of the way apes organise themselves were not discovered until women like Jane Goodall became primatologists. Before then, researchers were overly focused on proving human patriarchal society was both natural and normal. They were literally blind to all but a fraction of the actual primate power structure, because the remainder didn't serve their ends. Note: It wasn't that they were wrong about the part they observed; it's just that they assumed it was the whole, instead of a portion of the whole.

And, finally, that's my thing about Campbell's book. It's brilliant as far as it goes, but it only goes as far as 1949 Western academia. de Beauvoir's The Second Sex is now read in the context of having been written by a Frenchwoman in the 1940s — it's understood that while a lot of it still holds true, and a lot of it is important for an historical perspective on feminism, there are portions which are out-of-date, or have simply been proven wrong since. Howl is still a well-regarded poem, but it's important now to know it was written in the 1950s. Snow's two cultures are still visible throughout academia, but when reading his book, it is necessary to bear in mind he developed his ideas in the 1930s and chose his language for an academic lecture audience in the 1950s.

But Campbell's work seems to live on context-free, as if it's absolute truth, as if the Freudian theories it depends upon so heavily haven't been debunked or updated in the decades since. On the copy I got from my community library (third edition, New World Library, published 2008), there's a quote from George Lucas of Star Wars fame:

In the three decades since I discovered The Hero with a Thousand Faces, it has continued to fascinate and inspire me. Joseph Campbell peers through centuries and shows us that we are all connected by a basic need to hear stories and understand ourselves. As a book, it is wonderful to read; as illumination into the human condition, it is a revelation.

That may well shine some light on the ongoing diversity problems in Hollywood films, but it doesn't say much for our critical understanding of mythology. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying Campbell doesn't deserve his accolades. What I am saying is we need to acknowledge that even he was constrained by the mores of his times. Better to declare the direction and flavour of one's subjectivity than to lie and claim objectivity when one has none.

So: that's the context in which I'm reading the book. Next blog post (when I get a chapter or two along) will look at what aspects of the book can be of use to fiction writers.

#fridayflash: customer experience

“I need to talk to a human,” Stiltskind demanded.

“Sir, prejudice against non-Earth androids is prohibited from public discourse under rule 239-B7. If you will not refrain from your prejudicial remarks, I shall be forced to call security.”

Stiltskind took a deep breath and loudly exhaled it as he walked away from the help kiosk. Two metres away, the nausea hit him again. He fell, rather than sat, on the nearest bench.

He put his head between his knees and sucked in more air. Things seemed a little better at knee level. It let him clear his head and think of how to try again.

The kiosk AI were programmed to placate irate customers, but not rude ones. Their encounter memory span was… Stiltskind blinked away the excess moisture from his eyes and concentrated on not scratching the backs of his hands. That would make the blisters worse.

Their encounter memory span was eight minutes. Right. He used to repair the damn things. It should be easier for him to remember. He closed his eyes and straightened up slowly. Circumstances could really mess with your head.

He rose and did his best to approach the help kiosk at the opposite end of the airport terminal at a casual pace, instead of the sprint he wanted to use. He jogged a few steps when the line of sight was blocked by a magazine stand.

“Excuse me,” he said, in a cheerful, slightly falsetto voice. “I was wondering if the environmental controls could be adjusted.”

“Temperature and humidity are normal,” replied the AI. This one was programmed to use a female-sounding voice. Good. The other one had annoyed him so quickly he’d almost punched it.

Stiltskind choked back vomit. “Ah, I’m sure, I’m sure,” he said, clearing his throat and wincing as stomach acid burned his throat. “But the, ah, air, quality, the air quality seems to be off. There’s that smell. Can’t you smell it?”

“We have had no other reports of smells.” Maybe he would have to punch this one.

“Yes, the, ah, the other passengers asked me to be their spokesperson. I used to repair kiosk AIs, you see. And the smell is very bad.”  He was going to say something more, but a coughing fit brought him to his knees. This time the nausea wouldn’t go away until he laid his head on the carpet. He watched crumbs and specks of dust flutter as he exhaled.

As soon as he thought he could hold himself up while leaning against the kiosk desk, he reached up with one hand and heaved his body into a semi-standing position.

“Oh, there you are,” said the AI. “I wanted to confirm — is the smell disturbing everyone, or just people with sensitivity to fragrances?”

Stiltskind glanced back at the terminal and the bodies littered across it. The ones who were moving at all were breathing shallowly.

“I’d say it’s everyone,” he said, before he lurched two steps to the right and bent over. This time he couldn’t hold back the vomit.

“Are you ill? Do you want me to call a medic in addition to the repair team?”

“That would be a good idea,” Stiltskind croaked.

“Please wait in the infirmary area,” the AI said. Stiltskind felt as though his brain were melting out of his ears, although he was fairly certain he’d be dead already if that were true. “It’s three and a half metres to the right,” it added. “I have unlocked the door for you.” Perhaps it was the effects of the fumes, but Stiltskind couldn’t help but think the AI sounded a little prim.

“Thanks,” he muttered thickly, and stumbled towards the door. He fell against the latch button, and managed to step inside and close the door behind him before any of the fumes followed.

The infirmary area was a small room separated from the main terminal with walls of frosted glass. It had three cots and a cupboard with medical supplies in it. Stiltskind had been in similar ones many times before. It was so rare for travelers to get ill these days, they were often used as break rooms by repair people.

The infirmary was designed to be sealed off from the rest of the terminal in case of infectious diseases. Certainly the air was much clearer inside than out. Stiltskind flopped onto the nearest cot and gulped in air. His face cracked into a half-hysterical laugh as he realised that if he’d arrived for his flight on time, he would have been affected like all the other biologicals in the terminal.

He sighed and pressed his back into the cot. Maybe it was an attack, or maybe it was just a major ventilation malfunction. Right now, he just wanted someone with some authority to deal with it.

guest post: it's never too late to dream

Remember when, as children, we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For most of us the answer ranged anywhere from being the President of the United States to a Flight Attendant. Perhaps you said you wanted to be a Police Officer, a Fire Fighter, a Teacher, or a Doctor. Most kids answered with something that meant security and/or prestige in their minds.

Did you strive for that dream? Did you become what you dreamed of so long ago? If not, don’t feel alone. After all, not all of us could be the President, right?

So what dream took the place of that childhood ideal? I remember I wanted to be a Stewardess—that’s what they were called “back in my day.” After that I wanted to join the Navy, because I scored very high on the ASVAB test. Neither of those things happened. Instead, I followed the expectations laid out for me by my parents and community. I graduated, got married, and had kids.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the path I followed. I have two kids that mean the world to me. I wouldn’t trade them for anything, and would want to hurt anyone who harms them.
For over three decades I did what was expected of me as an adult. The unfortunate side-effect, though, was that I thought my dreams no longer mattered. That my dreams and wishes could never happen because they didn’t line up with being the wife/mother/homemaker that I was.

Chasing a dream is seen as a “young person’s” right, not someone who is on the back side of their 30s, 40s, and older. But guess what? Here’s the thing to remember…

Our dreams do not come with expiration dates!

And we are allowed to change what our dreams and goals are.

Yes, I’m too old to go into the Navy, and I’m too overweight to be a Flight Attendant. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to be put up on a shelf to begin collecting dust. I can still dream…and so can YOU.

Way down deep inside me there was that little child’s wish to write stories. That voice had been quite thoroughly muffled, until a friend helped me discover it. It was time to let that dream see the light of day. Allowing that dream to blossom and grow, has changed my life completely.

Reigniting that long-buried dream has been the best thing I could do for me at this point in my life. I believe this dream wouldn’t have worked for me earlier in life. I needed to live the life I have to gain perspective on the world as a whole. My life to date has been fuel for this dream. And there is no looking back!

How about you? What did you want to be “when you grew up?” How about now; has that dream expanded or changed completely? I encourage you to reach for your own fuel, and feed that dream! Drop a note, if you like, to share your dream. I would love to hear about it.

About the Book:

Penny’s Story” — Penny was supposed to be dead. At least that is what Claire has believed for ten years. Find out what happens when Claire's sister comes out of the Witness Protection Program. Penny is fighting a losing battle with cancer and needs Claire to raise Sunny, Penny's newborn daughter, once the cancer takes its final toll. Why is Penny's ex-boyfriend, Jason, telling his cronies that Penny has money and information about their illegal dealings? How does the cartel find out she has even left the Witness Protection Program? 

Will Marko have to watch as another woman he cares for dies a horrible death? Will he lose his job as Medical Officer on the starship for bending the rules? Can Pacer finally have the peaceful retirement he desires? How will Claire deal with her quiet life being turned upside down? Catch up with Maggie and Daxon, along with Shirley and Mathenzo.

Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services (November 30, 2014)
ASIN: B00OV8QBXC
All of the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services books are available as an e-book on Amazon.

About the Author:

Ava Louise was born a U.S. Army brat overseas, in France. She is the proud mom of two wonderful young men. It's taken her a while to figure out what she wanted to be "when she grows up," but Ava has finally found her niche in the writing world. Since writing came to her later in life, she likes to think she is living proof that it's never too late to reach for a dream or to achieve it. Before writing her own stories, she usually reads from a wide array of genres. She loves Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Mysteries, Thrillers, and Young Adult.

Email: AvaLouise@avalouise.net
Website and blog: http://avalouise.net/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ava.louise.35 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@avalouiseauthor

review of The Intergalactic Matchmaking Service: Penny's Story

If anyone deserved to get fit-shaced, Penny Jones did. So what if the Marshals got pissed? As if making her lie to everyone in her life wasn’t bad enough, they also had to mandate no drunkenness. Who wouldn’t feel the need to get drunk after hearing about the big C?

And with that first, information-packed paragraph, we meet the main character of Intergalactic Matchmaking Service: Penny’s Story. Within a few chapters, we learn that she had a one-night stand, became pregnant, chose to delay cancer treatment in favour of having the baby, and then finds herself terminally ill with an infant she needs to ensure the future of. No spoilers: that’s what the back-of-book blurb tells the reader as well.

Since this is a science fiction romance novel and not a short story, there’s a twist: Penny’s estranged sister, Claire, just happens to be the American co-ordinator for the Intergalactic Matchmaking Service, and the alien species she liaises with, the Nordonians, just happen to be able to cure, or at least control, cancer in humans. However, this being a novel that stands firmly in the romance genre, there are complications.

Marko was excited to be a part of the “team” around the first Nordonian babies born in thirty years. It would also be nice to be able to help Claire’s sister with her disease, but he realized that would most likely never happen. The directives from the Council were clear . For Claire’s sister to receive Nordonian help, she’d need to have a Nordonian mate.

The blending of science fiction and romance (and xenophilia, for that matter)is an established literary tradition, dating at least to the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Some stories are more strongly science fiction, others are more strongly romantic. Penny’s Story is more of a romance with science fiction elements than a science fiction story with a romantic plot. The reader learns why the Nordonians are so interested marrying Earth women, and a little bit about where they come from, but the real focus is on the specific characters in the story. The scope is of a cozy romance, not a sweeping epic.

Despite this, I found the most effective parts of the story were the action sequences. As one might guess knowing that Penny is in Witness Protection, she has criminals after her, and there are key scenes where one set of characters have to rescue others. The action worked well within the story, and was a good vehicle for character revelation, especially for how the Nordonians handled themselves. In fact, the Nordonians were perhaps the most well-rounded characters in the book. The reader has the opportunity to gain a lot of sympathy for their situation, and admiration for how they are handling it.

If you enjoy romance novels with some fantastical elements, I’d recommend Penny’s Story, with two major caveats. The first is while there is no explicit sex (just implied), some of the violence took me aback, more for its details than for its extent. In the country I live in, no-one brings a gun into their workplace unless they’re a police officer, a soldier, or a professional hunter. There are scenes in the book where an office worker brings a handgun to their place of work, just taking it in stride as a matter of necessity. It was important to the plot, so I can’t say it detracts from the story. I did find the various characters’ reaction to it disturbing and distracting, however. For that reason, I'd issue a caution to readers used to places with more gun control.

The second caveat is that since the Nordonians are exclusively male, and exclusively looking for fertile Earth women to have marriages and babies with, Earth men are entirely relegated to secondary characters. Virtually all of the women in the book (it's not just Penny) end in a relationship with a Nordonian. Again, no spoilers, since the relationships are established early in the book. I was comfortable with this as part of the story's focus, but men who read romantic fiction and others may feel excluded.

About the Book:

Penny’s Story” — Penny was supposed to be dead. At least that is what Claire has believed for ten years. Find out what happens when Claire's sister comes out of the Witness Protection Program. Penny is fighting a losing battle with cancer and needs Claire to raise Sunny, Penny's newborn daughter, once the cancer takes its final toll. Why is Penny's ex-boyfriend, Jason, telling his cronies that Penny has money and information about their illegal dealings? How does the cartel find out she has even left the Witness Protection Program? 

Will Marko have to watch as another woman he cares for dies a horrible death? Will he lose his job as Medical Officer on the starship for bending the rules? Can Pacer finally have the peaceful retirement he desires? How will Claire deal with her quiet life being turned upside down? Catch up with Maggie and Daxon, along with Shirley and Mathenzo.

Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services (November 30, 2014)
ASIN: B00OV8QBXC
All of the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services books are available as an e-book on Amazon.

About the Author:

Ava Louise was born a U.S. Army brat overseas, in France. She is the proud mom of two wonderful young men. It's taken her a while to figure out what she wanted to be "when she grows up," but Ava has finally found her niche in the writing world. Since writing came to her later in life, she likes to think she is living proof that it's never too late to reach for a dream or to achieve it. Before writing her own stories, she usually reads from a wide array of genres. She loves Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Mysteries, Thrillers, and Young Adult.

Email: AvaLouise@avalouise.net
Website and blog: http://avalouise.net/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ava.louise.35 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@avalouiseauthor

an appreciation of Foggy Nelson

Note: this post has Netflix: Daredevil Season 1 spoilers in it. Probably this is obvious from the post title, but, you know, it's the Internet.

The last Daredevil-inspired post discussed some criticism traps one can run into when discussing female characters in a story. This time, I'm focusing on Foggy Nelson, Matt Murdock/Daredevil's best friend and law partner.

The purpose of a hero in a comic book story is pretty well established. He fights for what's right, saves the girl from the forces of evil, and winds up with her as a romantic partner. The Daredevil series has this too, in the character arc of its hero — Foggy Nelson.

Yup. As far as I'm concerned, this is one story where the sidekick turns out not to be a sidekick at all, but the true hero.

He fights for what's right. For all his “I should have been a butcher” and “I should have stayed at that big law firm and made lots of money” speeches, Foggy really does want what’s right. Sure, he supports low-income tenants when their homes are threatened by gentrification, sure he is comfortable defending a woman in what at first looks like an open-and-shut murder case (because due process and presumption of innocence), but he also takes his best friend to task for beating people up. Even when they both agree that the people Murdock is beating up as Daredevil are clearly bad guys.

He saves the girl from the forces of evil. Actually expand that to “saves the girls” (and let’s make it the more accurate “women” while we’re at it), and guys as well. He saves Karen on at least two occasions, tries to save Mrs. Caldena, gives Marci perspective on the law firm she works for (and gives her the space to choose for herself). He also acts as Murdock’s conscience, without his own knowledge at first, and then with awareness later. I especially liked that he works from his own moral, ethical, and legal code, not by what “team” he’s on — he gives Murdock hell when he finds out he’s Daredevil. I really loved the scenes when they were facing off in Murdock’s apartment.

He winds up with one of the people he saves as a romantic partner. At the end of Season One, Daredevil doesn’t have a romantic partner. Something is happening between him and Karen, but then again, something happened between him and Claire Temple earlier on and fizzled out. The only characters on the forces of good who actually get laid are Foggy and Marci, and the ending of the series strongly indicates he and Marci may be becoming a couple again.

Foggy is no white knight either, of course. The late-at-night scenes where he’s drunk and shouting through Murdock’s apartment door actually made me cringe (I was glad that, unlike a lot of TV shows, they bothered to show a disapproving neighbour). But still, of all the major characters, he’s the one who comes out on top.

But what about Daredevil? The show’s named after him — shouldn’t he be the hero? It’s complicated, and one of the things I liked about Daredevil is that it showed that it ought to be complicated. In the final analysis, the character who succeeds best is the one who fights for what’s right, gives everyone else respect, wins mostly through argument and logic, has street smarts, and stays inside the law. And that’s Foggy.

#fridayflash : the window children

It’s controversial to say, but I am convinced that both confidence and despair give you certainty. Now, the counter-argument is perfectly clear. There will always be some Sally or Sanjay Sunshine ready to leap up and insist that despair is a paralytic while confidence is a motivator, but I am equally convinced that is false. Look what confidence did to the rabbit in the “Tortoise and the Hare” fable.

That seems to be what confuses the general population about myself and all of the other window children. Our forebears were selected for their robust constitutions, determination, problem-solving skills, intelligence, tolerance, ability to work well with others – all those things they knew their descendants would need for the voyage out and the colonisation. The history books make explicit mention that they checked for claustrophobia, because of course you don’t want a claustrophobic on a generation ship travelling through deep space. But they never checked for agoraphobia.

I am part of that small baby boom that happened when the outer planets ceased to be visible except from the portholes in the stern of the ship, and the dark green face of Gaia became visible off the bow for the first time. Thirty-seven of us were almost exactly three years old when the vibration of the floor plates and the croon of the great engines grumbled to a halt on the planet’s surface.

My parents stayed with me in our quarters and watched the wall screen. The camera on the starboard aerial showed the access ramp lowering for the first time since the ship left Earth.

“They’re letting the air out!” I screamed, and flung myself at my mother’s lap. I put my hands over my mouth, cheeks puffing out to conserve air. We’d played with balloons in nursery. I knew letting air out was a bad thing.

“This is why we can’t go to the observation lounge with you yet,” said my father, ruffling my hair.

I suppose he tried to explain airlocks next, but I was three, and at any rate I don’t really remember.

When it was time for the general population to disembark, my mother tried to carry me to the exit, but I screamed and twisted out of her arms, and ran back to our quarters, dodging between the legs of everyone else who was heading out. My father tried next, but although he was too strong for me to escape his grasp, he gave up and took me to the observation deck. He showed me the rest of the colonists exploring our new world, walking and playing in real sunshine for the first time in their lives.

I wasn’t having any of it. In the end, they had to give me a sedative right before bedtime. I woke up in our new, prefabricated shelter, and spent most of my first week screaming that I wanted to go home.

There were others, of course. Any child more than one or less than five years old experienced a certain amount of agoraphobia. Some older children and adults admitted to it as well, although none of them reacted so badly as to not be able to go outside at all. In the end, only eleven of us became permanent shut-ins.

So I’m not the only one, but I am the most famous, having become both a journalist and an award-winning maker of nature documentaries. That always makes people wonder, but the nature documentaries are because of my wanting to stay in, not in spite of it. My parents used to encourage me to watch the environmental exploration footage on the wall screens, in the hopes that I would acclimatise that way. Instead, it sparked an interest in drone photography. I’ve never left my parents’ pre-fab from the day they brought me here, but my drones have travelled all over the planet.

My poor parents. When I reached adulthood, they moved out rather than making me move away and suffer the terrors of another unfamiliar space. I suppose by that point we had reached a rough sort of understanding. Besides, by then they knew things could be worse. I really am a window child, in that I can look out the window at the world and not be (too) frightened. There are five who are so agoraphobic they can’t do that. Instead, they live in rooms with wall screens that play animations of stars going by, imitation ship’s engines rumbling through hidden speakers, every last tube of furniture taken from the original ship.

I’m not that bad. I’ve learned that if seeing the wind blow through the trees frightens me, I can just close the curtains. Easy.

Tomorrow it will be seventy-five years since we first landed here. The newscasts have been featuring different experts discussing what would have happened if we had missed the planet, or if our ancestors had been wrong about its inhabitability. Besides the famous fuel shortage which had to be compensated for en route (and that I still can’t quite believe — sounds like a conspiracy theory to me), supposedly the outer hull only had about ten more years of collisions with space particles before it would have been too thin and weak to land anywhere.

But that just sounds like a false dichotomy, like the supposed difference between confidence and despair. A room on a ship, a room on a planet. It doesn’t matter. They’re just places with windows to look out of.

#fridayflash : the leave-taking

Queen pushed the last branches away and stood on the bare strip of gravel between the woods and the water. The sound of the branches springing back into place startled a few pelicans, and they lazily flapped away from the perceived threat, the light of the full moon bright enough for them to fly in.

Queen closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and smiled. The salt water, the sweet, rich rot of the mud — this is what she’d miss the most, the smells. Kevin had promised the team an amazing garden, and she was sure he would deliver, but it wouldn’t be the same. She listened to the sound of the waves change intensity as an offshore breeze pushed them a little more forcefully into the shore.

A twig snapped behind her and she jumped, turning towards the sound. All of a sudden her white uniform shirt was too visible in the moonlight, her silhouette too sharp against the backdrop of the ocean and empty sky. “Someone there?” Her years of military service came rushing back, and she automatically reached for a hip holster she wasn’t wearing.

A woman appeared behind the last row of trees. Her skin was pale in the moon’s glow, and her hair, probably pale blonde in daytime, looked as white as a wraith’s. Her eyes were pale too, blue or grey. Queen could just make out the woman’s large black pupils.

“Please,” said the woman, making a gesture Queen couldn’t interpret with the tree branches in the way. “You’re not just ground crew, are you? You’re going.” The woman nodded, probably meaning to indicate Queen’s uniform.

“Ma’am, this is a secured area.” Queen raised both her hands slowly to shoulder level, palms held out towards the woman. She hoped the moon wasn’t backlighting her so much that her face and gestures were obscured. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I’m reaching in my shirt pocket now, see? and I’m going to call someone to pick you up. If you don’t make a fuss, I’ll be happy to tell them you just got lost and didn’t realise you’d passed the perimeter.” Her right hand moved slowly but steadily towards the pocket while she kept her left hand up.

“I was hoping I’d find one of you,” said the woman, bobbing her head up and down with an enthusiasm that was almost violent. “I figured some of you would be wandering around, last night and all. I don’t want to scare you. I’m just going to set her down right here, between the trees, and you can pick her up when you’re ready to go. It’s a mild night. She’ll be fine.”

Queen saw the woman’s pale head duck below the branches, and set something down among the tree roots, on the ground. She froze, phone half-pulled out of her pocket, and watched as the woman ran away, a pale ghost escaping from a bad dream.

She closed her eyes and listened, wishing her only route of escape wasn’t the ocean, wishing she’d gone and joined the leaving-Earth party with the rest of her crew. A laugh choked out of her when she realised she was listening for ticking. As the launch window had neared, there had been rumours about mad bombers and apocalypse cults. As if even the craziest of the science deniers would depend on a clockwork bomb.

Instead, her laugh triggered a high, thin wail. Queen’s eyes popped open, and she groaned.

The blanket the baby was wrapped in was dark. Queen had to approach obliquely, so the moonlight could illuminate the pale, scrunched-up little face peeking out of the swaddling. She picked the baby up and gently checked for signs of injury, but there was nothing obvious. Judging from the strength of its cries, it was perfectly healthy.

It had just been born too late for this world, though few of the planet's inhabitants knew how bad things really were.

Queen bobbed the infant up and down against her shoulder. When the baby finally quieted, she allowed herself one last long, hard look at the moonlight reflecting on the ocean, then turned and trudged back to the crew quarters.

Past the stand of trees, the grounds were illuminated by the giant spotlights trained on the generation ship. Queen stuck to the edges. Not that anyone was around so close to launch anyhow. The ship was as ready to leave the planet as it ever would be.

She slipped into quarters, sliding the light switch off before its motion detector could sense her presence. She could hear that in the mess hall, the party was still in full swing.

Her room was at the end of the corridor. She shut the door behind her and flicked on the lights with the point of her elbow.

“Let’s take a look at you,” she breathed, gently lowering the baby onto her bed. The infant had fallen asleep during the walk back. Queen undid the swaddling and checked the baby’s diaper was clean, discovering at the same time it was a girl.

Queen gently laid a flap of blanket over the baby’s body, straightened up, and put her hands on her hips. She was chief engineer for life support, and as such had been accorded four berths: one for her, one for her husband, and two for the children they were supposed to have to replace themselves and continue the mission to the colony star system. Well, she was still single, still not pregnant. It wouldn’t take more than a medical checkup to give the baby a berth. Two of the three pediatricians owed her a favour, and one of them didn’t drink. They could hurry through breakfast in the morning and do enough tests to rule on fitness for space travel.

She bent down and softly kissed the sleeping baby’s forehead. “You’re going to grow up and be an engineer, just like your new mama,” she whispered. She straightened up and sighed. “Like your new mama and your old mama.”