Archive for September, 2010

Sep 30 2010

Interlude: Collections

Published by under callie

It’s a tired stereotype that one is always supposed to have a trophy collection.  I’ve never been all that fond of tradition for tradition’s sake.  Any reasonably aware individual knows that a trophy can never substitute for the real thing.  At best, it is talismanic, a way to evoke the sensations from memory of a cherished event.  At worst, it’s easy pattern recognition for anyone else perusing your shelves — one of the quickest ways to lose your collection entirely.

My mother taught me to sew quite early on.  The sensory delight from the textures, the color variations, the sounds of shears through cloth and the humming rhythm of the machine entranced me.  I made all my own outfits, of course, but I also made connections in what I learned from sewing and design that seemed to apply to the larger world around me in fascinating ways.  Perhaps it’s that way for anyone coming into the first flush of a natural talent, newly trained.

Fashion design was an obvious career choice for me.  By then I’d already figured out another benefit:  I can have my trophies and wear them, too.  Every seam, every stitch, every choice of fabric or pattern or color can synaesthetically recall as minute a remembered moment as I wish.  It’s a secret code with no cypher but my own experiences.

I get a smile every time a stranger approaches me in public with compliments for my latest creation.  My ritual of completion might vary with each project, but the first time I wear a commemorative outfit — if I let it, the rush would be quite overwhelming.  And unlike other collections I’ve heard about, my memories can return full-force with as simple a movement as a caress of a precisely placed pleat.

At the end of my day, outfit carefully hung in its place among my collection, I might grab armfuls of cloth and bury my face in the mass of fabric.  I breathe deeply of the darkness hidden within silk and linen, and sleep peacefully.

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Sep 25 2010

weekend link activism

Rallying message from Lady Gaga on the successful (for now) political block of the DADT repeal.

If you aren’t reading Dan Savage, why not?  This week, he launches an awesome LBGT activist project.  Read about it in his column here, then check out the YouTube It Gets Better Project. (This has been linked many places already, but still worth passing on.)

He also references The Trevor Project, to which my awesome editor Vince Liaguno has also linked.

A spot of just plain cool amid all the activism this week:  First habitable exoplanet found next year?

The last line of this blog entry from Futurismic nails it: Street-level sousveillance tech

thoughts on an intersection of science and religion here: Divided Minds, Specious Souls

First obvious indication of nation-level cyber-warfare?  Click here to read more… (Another one from Futurismic, a great site to be reading for regular nifty tidbits like these)

And one from yet another of my favorite places for cool ideas on the internet.  BLDGBLOG is written by an architect-futurist, and while occasionally the posts may be too architecture-tech-laden for my layperson’s comprehension, the rest of them are well worth it.  This post examines some of the possible intersections of neurology and architecture.

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Sep 22 2010

…and Back Again

Published by under callie

Callie held her breath to better triangulate where the voice originated.  She tested the absence of light by waving her hand across her face, close enough to feel the breeze from its passing on her nose.  Nothing at all visible: Callie kept her eyes tightly shut, to minimize the damage to her senses a sudden burst of light could give, and focused on her hearing, touch, and proprioception to assess her surroundings and to find the speaker.

“Where do you think you are?”

It sounded as if the voice was coming from in front of Callie, a little left of center, so she moved as quietly as she could in that direction, halting as the next sentence came from behind  her.

“It won’t be that easy.”

Obviously sound was unreliable as guidance, so Callie tuned it out and focused entirely on her kinesthetic senses to find her target.  She could tell the voice tried speaking a couple more times but she was no longer recording it even in short-term memory.  A trickle of air along the outside of her right arm had her attention; following that perceived vector back to its probable source seemed like another false clue, but scanning in an arc around that point gave the slight hollow feeling of someone displacing air off to the left.

She moved forward quickly, hands outstretched, her right grasping something soft and tenuous as she came almost within reach.  The presence moved away with a low chuckle; Callie was left holding something that felt like long, thin silk fibers against her skin. Quick exploration with her fingers found a flexible shaft — another feather, much more realistic than the metallic one she still had tucked into her belt.  She slipped this into a pocket for later examination, and resumed her attempts to find the other person in the room.

The bright flash she’d been half-expecting came next, orange and yellow coloring her eyelids bright enough to make her eyes water slightly even while still closed. She turned her body to angle toward where she thought the other now stood, and waited for another signal.


Callie wasn’t pleased to start hearing the voice again consciously, but she tried to remind her senses to ignore the auditory signals as unreliable.  Her anger was fully engaged now, a lovely slow burn and build that she was nearly ready to let free.  She felt air displacement from movement again and launched herself at the probable source, this time keeping low in the hopes of unbalancing the other when she made contact.

She connected solidly with a human body shape, but when she tried to take a firm hold she found her fingers slipping through yet more wispy feathers and then holding air, soft laughter coming now from across the room.  Callie felt distinctly more disoriented than she was used to, and suspected more infuriating mind games.  She stayed crouching down, breathing slowly to clear her mind enough to  try again against her unseen adversary.

“Haven’t you figured anything out yet?”

Whatever was unbalancing her didn’t seem to have taken over vocal cords, so Callie stayed silent.  And waited.  No more taunting words were forthcoming, and to most people it would seem that Callie was alone in a dark room.  She rolled backwards suddenly, colliding against legs standing no more than two steps behind her, and scrambled to pin down the person.  Just as Callie took hold of a pair of shoulders, her hands sinking finger-deep into silken threads, she felt a bone-jarring blow echoing through her head, and the blackness without filled her mind within.  As she sank into oblivion, she heard,

“You’ll have to try harder than that.”


When Callie returned to consciousness, her eyes instinctively opened to show clean white tile an inch away from her nose.  Familiar white tile and grout; after a moment, Callie lifted her head to see that she was laying on the floor of her kitchen.  She jumped up, grabbing the counter as her legs were initially unsteady, then moved to check the front door.  Locked, and no key visible.  She looked back at the counter and saw the dirty martini she’d mixed forever and a day ago still waiting.  She checked the side of the glass; it was warm, a little circle of condensation around its base.

She wondered if she was supposed to think her adventure out of doors had been nothing but a dream.  Other than the passage of time indicated by the warm drink, nothing seemed out of place.  She checked her pockets for the key and found the feather she’d pulled from her invisible captor.  In style and pattern it reminded her of a peacock feather, but the colors were a riot of reds and oranges and yellows, gold and copper and silver.  She checked her belt and the sharp metal feather was also there.  No dream, then.

Callie set the two feathers neatly side by side on the counter, then picked up the drink and downed it in one gulp.  It was time to plan.

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Sep 15 2010

provoking weekend links

EDIT: BREAKING LINK — More reason to love Lady Gaga, a YouTube video to the US Senate speaking out against those attempting to filibuster the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

I think it’s awesome that someone who is in a position to be this defiant is choosing to do so. I absolutely agree that rights to privacy are some of the easiest lost when governments expand their powers…

Have some fives:  Five Top Regrets of the Dying and Five Myths About Prostitution

Religion rants (not for the easily offended): Changing Myths vs. “Eternal” Scripture, and extra-ranty Sex, Death, and Religion

Many of you will definitely want to read this post and its comments, seriously fascinating range of perspectives: Describe male orgasmic sensations

Check out this seriously awesome article about a compassionate family dealing with a transgendered teen. It also has links to related articles.

What is it like to write 300 books? Jane Yolen talks about the need to “write faster”.

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Sep 14 2010

Reminder, reading tonight!

Published by under look ma I can read,Writing

Argh I’d meant to post a reminder earlier, but ahh well.  I’ll be doing my first public reading of a story tonight, at the United States Art Authority.  (Note: This event is NOT the same as the Bedpost Confessions reading the same week.  For some reason it failed to make their events list but the event has been confirmed by the event organizer.)   It’s one of the few erotica pieces I’ve written, and is rather close to home as it’s a breast-cancer-survivor story.  I hope to see you there!  I’ll be reading toward the end of the line-up; the event starts at 8pm but I’ll likely be reading during the second hour if the current line-up remains.

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Sep 11 2010

Cancer Chronicles: Don’t Tell Me How to Feel

I was reading another person’s blog entry where they were talking about their upcoming cancer treatment, and how daunting and time consuming the process of Not-Dying was, even though there wasn’t a better alternative.  Some — I hope well-meaning — ignorant buffoon left the following comment:

Be grateful. Your children will not have to visit your grave to bring you Mother’s Day flowers before they finish Gymnasium.”

And I couldn’t even finish reading the rest of the comments, I was so instantly mad.

Unless you yourself have HAD CANCER, don’t presume you have a clue of the maelstrom of internal emotions, often simultaneously conflicting, that someone in that state is going through.  Do not think that your clever and witty sops of advice aren’t something they haven’t thought of or heard (or both) before, usually from an exhaustive number of angles.  You do NOT have permission to attempt any passive-aggressive guilt trip around “but think of the children!” or any other admonishments.  If you are a big enough asshole to think that someone with cancer with children isn’t thinking of them nearly every waking minute, do yourself a favor and keep your mouth shut so that the whole world doesn’t know you’re a jerk.

And never, ever, tell me to be grateful about the choice between heavy-metal poisoning or death.  I might be glad to be alive, glad that medical technology is as advanced as it is, glad to have the opportunity for more life, but the means to that end are some of the most unpleasant activities a person can put themselves through and NOT die.  Cancer is ugly, and terrible, and affects concentric circles of lives each time it hits.  You do not get to disempower anyone going through it or near it from the fullness of their emotional experiences by deciding which emotions are allowed in your presence and which aren’t.

6 responses so far

Sep 10 2010

weekend link controversy

opinions about drug use?  Check out what Portugal has been doing the last decade…

think you know about transphobia? Check out this thought-provoking collection of quotes covering some of the current issues. I know I learned at least one new perspective from reading, and I’m more educated on trans issues than the average cis person.

Pop-science argument for religion as an early group-social-dynamic tool: Is Believing in God Evolutionarily Advantageous?

Want to get rid of rush hour traffic forever? The solution is easy and requires but one small sacrifice from you: Robot cars

Intentional species extinction bad, right?  Well, perhaps not if it’s mosquitoes

And finally, remember that Eminem&Rihanna video I posted a few weeks back?  No surprise at all that it’s sparked a bunch of mostly ignorant fuss; this is a decent article about some of that kerfluffle.  Though there is a MUCH better article out there on the blog , the author has sadly asked that it not be linked to (probably to minimize inevitable trollage).  Anyone who is interested in reading an awesome rant about class, violence, and feminists in the context of this video and its subsequent pubic commentary should absolutely go to this site and search for the entry on the E&R video.  It is worth the hunt, rarely have I seen someone with the ovaries to be this real and honest about an explosive topic.

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Sep 08 2010

Cancer Chronicles: A Tale of Perfect Breasts Gone Rogue

I had very nice breasts.

I was an early bloomer, wearing a bra by 5th grade, a B cup by junior high.  I never got any of the middle-school teasing about being flat (nor did I get any flirting, as I suspect the middle-school boys were just as confused by as attracted to my tits). I was a C cup in high school, D in college, and an almost-double-D after college.  They were nicely shaped, regularly received compliments and looks, and felt lovely to the touch.  No worries, I have plenty of pictures for posterity.

My breasts were also preparing to kill me.

One can imagine that I have an interesting perspective now, on the whole boob experience.  Some days I want to write a manifesto, along the lines of “ladies, you are not your breasts”, but most approaches I think of are tired and tried or preaching only to the choir.  Had my breasts grown any larger naturally, I would have likely gotten a reduction, as the back pain was beginning to be unpleasant, and I’m sure there would have been interesting psychological ramifications from that choice.

My involuntary reduction, as it were, has some surprising benefits.  Moving on that side is so much easier!  Physical activities are much less cumbersome, and though I’m sure some of it is due to the contrast of the pre-and post-surgery states, some of it is just plain due to the fact that smaller breasts are AWESOME.  I actually don’t mind that I’ll have to have the other one off, as I think it’d be much easier to have a more active lifestyle without large fatty chest intrusions.

Thankfully, I have yet to have anyone bothering me about getting reconstructive surgery, but I’ll have some fun if anyone does.  As far as I can tell, given the side effects from reconstructive surgery — including loss of sensation and difficulty in subsequent chest scans for oh, CANCER, say — the main reason to have it is because of what OTHER people think.  (Unless one personally has an extreme body dysmorphic need to look “intact”, for example, and that’s much more rare than a socially-induced body perception that unless one has it done, one will never be attractive to others again.)

But what about the nipples?  I could get some reconstructed or tattooed on.  Again, my answer would be, why?  I don’t feel like my body is suffering due to lack of nipple. A constructed nipple won’t give me the sensation of the original.  A tattoo would look pretty artificial given the scarring.  And I think the scar looks cool, as does the remaining little ur-breast.  Now sure, I’m cosmetically vain enough to pursue asking the original surgical oncologist if he’ll be able to do the preventative surgery to remove the other one, as I think he’s more likely to be able to match the other’s scar and shape or come close to it than a random surgeon would.  But I won’t weep too hard if I can’t have that option.

I think the regular massages, swimming, and yoga have helped my body during recovery to assimilate its new shape as part of the body, just as the acceptance of my new form by loved ones and friends has helped the emotional integration.  I’m quite irritated with most of the literature out there for post-mastectomy people, as it seems to perpetuate an attitude of “something wrong with the body”, none I could find that promoted a post-surgery genuinely body-positive attitude.  What are some good ways you, Fearless Readers, think I could do to help address that lack?  Obviously continuing to write these posts and others like them is one thing; are there others?

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Sep 04 2010

the week in links

How to Remake Life — this is super cool; in an alternate dimension I stuck with genetics as a major and am working on this sort of thing in that world right now.

In my new quest for healthy and sex-positive male adolescent literature (leave your suggestions in comments if you know of good books or websites!), this was a clever article I ran across: To Slide or to Slice? Finding A Positive Sexual Metaphor

Oh those wacky MIT folk — Self-Assembling Solar Cells

A cancer link — more info related to my specific cancer type (genetic BRAC1 mutation).  Ladies, you don’t have to have breast cancer in the family already to have this gene.  Consider getting tested!  Many insurances will cover it no charge, esp. if there are family members with breast cancer.

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Sep 02 2010

ArmadilloCon report

This was The Kid’s first convention, and he enjoyed himself quite a bit, mostly hanging out in the gaming room with his Dad.  I got to attend three panels and took some notes, which I’ll share here.  It was nice getting out to a convention again, I’m looking forward to being on more panels in future conventions, though being a guest as I was at this one (last minute attendance decision) is also fun. I had some great conversations with Irish Eyes and my own beloved Nathan that helped me pinpoint where some of my current struggle with the setting in the novel has been, which will be its own post perhaps later.

I missed one of the panels I’d really wanted to attend, about the future of NASA and private spaceflight, so if anyone has notes from that panel please share!

When a Story Becomes a Series

This was one of the panels Steve was on, the full author list being: Steven Brust, Amanda Downum, Carol Berg, Julie Kenner, and Stina Leight.  I was hoping for much more out of this panel that I received, I’ll admit.  I asked a couple of questions pertinent to my current projects and got what I felt were incredibly generic and basic writer-101 advice in return, though I’m fairly sure they weren’t writer-101 questions.  I also didn’t like that the moderator wasn’t paying attention to certain panelists overriding less vocal panelists; in particular I don’t think we heard from Ms. Downum nearly as much as I’d have liked.  I wasn’t sorry I attended the panel, but I also don’t think I came away from it with any new insights into my work, like I did at some of the other panels.

However, I did still take several notes from the panel:

They started out with an interesting bit of definition; “episodic series”, where multiple nearly-stand-alone stories are connected by a larger world or setting or characters, and a “series arc”, one larger story arc told in multiple story-sized pieces.  The next half hour was mostly 101 advice that works for any story, such as looking for a point of conflict to find where the story begins, or start the story when something changes for your characters, and Steve’s standard “start with a cool opening sentence and write from there.”

In the second half they finally got back to more series-specific talk.  There was panel agreement that a book in a larger series should still stand alone enough to tell a story and leave the reader with some feeling of satisfaction (though connecting threads to other stories are fine).  Steve advised that a writer not hold anything back for another book; even if you are writing a series, use up all your good ideas in the first book.  Don’t worry about it, you’ll have more ideas later, and you don’t want to half-ass the project in front of you.  Accept that not every reader will get everything you write or like everything you write; don’t let that change what you write.  One suggestion for the really important story points was don’t tell the reader directly at all, just give them clues and let them figure it out.  More panel consensus that hand-holding the reader through recapitulating every detail of previous stories with each sequel was one of the faster ways to alienate your fans.

They wrapped up with talking a bit about getting stuck on longer projects like series.  They advised to “retain your passion” for your story to avoid falling into formulaic prose, though when asked they couldn’t easily advise the audience on how you would actually retain it or revive faltering passion.  They recommended to write stories you want to read, since likely at least some other readers will share your tastes.  One panelist said that any time she got stuck she found that she wasn’t writing the correct action or piece of the story, and she stops and goes back to looking closely at her characters to figure out a different path.  She found that usually the flaw was in the realm of too much exposition and not enough action.

LBGT issues in speculative fiction

This was definitely my favorite panel at the convention, so much so that I didn’t take very many notes, the conversation and questions were so engaging.  I got to meet a fellow Unspeakable Horror:From the Shadows of the Closet anthology author, Lee Thomas, who is fabulous as a panelist.  The other authors on the panel were Nancy Jane Moore, Rose Dimond, and Katherine Beutner.

One panelist advised to read YA (young adult) spec fic to see some of the up-and-coming treatment of gays in genre fiction; even though there  isn’t explicit sex in YA, she felt that they were still doing a good job addressing some of the social issues.  Lee Thomas mentioned that he’d like to see more stories that were well done that were in some way specifically about the gay characters, rather than more stories that happen to have gay characters in them.

They recommended the book Writing the Other, for anyone who wanted insight into writing outside your own cultural experiences.  Several publishers that do well with queer themes were mentioned, including Lethe Press, Bold Stroke, and Dark Scribe Press.  They also mentioned several authors that the panelists felt were doing good work with queer themes in spec fic, including Emma Donahue, Rob Dunbar, Steve Berman, Paul Bens’ Kelland, Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword, and Kat Valente’s Palimpsest.

The City as Character

This was the final panel I attended at the con, which was reasonably good.  The largest irritation here was again with the moderation, though this time the moderator apparently forgot that the audience was present and that all those arms in the air weren’t actually stretching.  The panelists here were Martha Wells, Patricia Sarath, Amanda Downum, Gordon Andrews, Ilona Andrews, and Stina Leight.

A common problem with a story city is that it often feels like an incomplete stage set, or like the false-front towns of old-western movie sets; if you move away from the story action your setting goes blank.  You want to go for a world that feels like it is rich and complex and vibrant and still exists whether the reader is present or not.

One person recommended to start with things that already exist, then alter pieces toward the fantastic based on what the needs of your particular story are.  A city with a sense of history and secrets helps.  Different ages within a city are also important; very few cities have all their parts built in a similar time frame, yet many writers make this mistake with fictional cities.

Several recommended that you travel enough to get an understanding of how different cities have different personalities or flavors or impersonalness qualities.  And don’t forget that a city ultimately depends on the people living in it to shape that particular personality flavor.  The setting reflects the characters who reflect aspects of the setting in turn, each altering the other.

Figure out which are the defining moments that shaped your city, and how those caused ripples of effects through the city’s timeline.  The environment and climate that the city is in are also quite important for city characterization.  Was the city a planned settlement?  If so, it will likely look much more homogenized with grid-like roads, as opposed to a city that “just grew” over time and changed amoeba-like to fit the inhabitants’ needs.

Cities are often thought of as working in isolation in stories, but even in the ancient world that wasn’t so; they had interconnected trade routes, a network of exchanged goods that were vital to a city’s survival.  The city reflects its history, it is effectively the warehouse of collective experiences over time of the inhabitants of the city.

Expectations can work against you perceptually.  The example given was Harlem, which is assumed to be a poor and “scary” neighborhood, but also contains some of the most beautiful architecture in America.  Quirky or inconsistent elements of characterization such as this will help give the feel of a personality to a story city.

Much good information on these panels, hope you find it helpful for me to share!

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