Tabs and Follow Me

July 19, 2018

I read The Hero and the Crown

This week's novel is The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.  This one was recommended to me by by biffle Ariane about a million years ago.  In my defense, I got it as soon as it was available on Kindle from the library.  What, that's not a defense?  Pft.  Sure it is.

Aerin, the king's only daughter, is looked down upon by most of the nobility, because her mother was a witch from the north, and Aerin does not show any magical ability even though the royal family's claim to the throne is based around their magic use.  Aerin takes to fighting dragons, inconvenient pests that breathe fire and sometimes eat livestock and children.  It's not glamorous, which suits Aerin just fine.  When her father forbids her from joining the army as they go to put down a rebellion in the north, and when a great dragon--a huge, flying monster that's thousands of years old--appears, she runs off with just her spears and her rehabilitated war horse to defeat it.

I'm a sucker for sucking-too-much-at-stuff stories where the protagonist doesn't live up to expectations and people have written them off.  I like that these stories always end up being about finding a true calling and finding confidence in yourself and about doing things not because they're expected, but because you want to.  This is fertile YA ground, and I like to roll around in it and inhale the good rich-dirt smell.

In the second section, this gets a little too dream like for my tastes.  Who is that guy?  Why do we trust him?  Why do we like him?  Okay, so he appeared in a dream.  But...who is he?  I preferred the more concrete, interpersonal relationships in the first half of the book, where Aerin navigates her obnoxious cousins being snotty, and she navigates her loving but distant dad, and she navigates the guy who's super into her and it makes everyone jealous and anxious.  I like how when people left her to her own devices, she spent oodles and oodles of time doing stuff she wanted to do, but no one would really think was acceptable behavior, like rehabilitating a lame war horse and researching how to make fireproof paste.  She's not working to do something impressive that will win her people's affection.  She's doing unglamorous work because because outcast gives her the freedom to do unglamorous work.  It gives it a down-to-earth feel even though there are dragons and magic and royalty.


Next week: Jane, Unlimited,  timeline-hopping, genre-hopping YA by Kristin Cashore.

July 17, 2018

Chicago Center for Supernatural Support, Episode 1: August

The Twenty Percent True Podcast

Season 3: Chicago Center for Supernatural Support

Episode 1: August

July 15, 2018

Motivation Software

I like motivation software to help me write.  This is a thing about me.  Not all writers need them, and I don't know if I need them, but I do like them.  Someone put in work thinking about how they could help me be more productive.  That's nice.

I really like Write or Die, where you set the number of words you want to write and the time frame and if you stop typing for too long, the screen turns red and it starts making horrible sounds (if you have the sound on).  It gets you to just vomit out everything you need to write.  It's also kind of anxiety provoking.

I recently started to play Fighter's Block instead.  Here you set your word goal and then you have a little avatar who's fighting a monster.  As you type, the monster's health decreases.  If you stop typing, your health decreases until you start typing again.  So here there's both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, and you can imagine you're fighting a monster.  The problem is that there's only one monster to fight even though it says, "More coming soon."  I thought maybe when I hit a certain level another kind of monster would appear, but I'm at level 35 and I'm starting to doubt that.

I used to do this thing called Habatica (but it was called Habit RPG when I did it).  It's a website where you get points for good habits and you can level up and collect armor and weapons and pets, and you take damage when you don't do your daily tasks.  It's gamifying good habits.  Habits can be stuff like exercising or washing your hair or writing or editing.  And it's nice because you get to set your own goals.  But the problem with this is that if you miss a day, you know your character is going to take damage the next time you log in, could just not log in?  It's what's called "broken window syndrome" because in abandoned buildings you're not likely to throw a rock at a window if all the windows are in tact, but once someone has thrown a rock and broken one window, you might as well throw another.  That example is not from personal experience.  My personal experience with this is that laundry goes in the hamper unless someone leaves socks on the floor and then you might as well drop your socks on the floor too and then your living room is full of socks.  In the case of Habatica, when once you miss one day, you might as well miss two days, and then you might as well stop playing.  My other problem was that if I had a great, super productive day, I didn't get bonus points, so when I set my sights on a sword to win, it would take me weeks.  I need some immediate gratification here.

So this week, I found a new program, 4thewords, which is like if Habatica and Fighter's Block had a baby with better graphics than either of them.  In this one, there are a bunch of different monsters to fight, each with a different little picture, a time limit, and a word count goal.  So you can pick what you're in the mood for.  You can fight as many monsters as you want, and every time you defeat one, they drop items that you can use to buy things at the store like a sword or sweet boots.  There are a bunch of quests you can do, which are things like "fight 5 monsters with sorcerer hats."  Then when you finish the quest you get a cool hat or something for your avitar to wear.  So there's a lot of room to pick your own journey and your own rewards, and there's a lot of room to over-achieve and write 3,000 words at a time because you really want that hat.  It's a big incentive to write 300 more words.  And I'm really proud of my sweet star crown.  I've heard it doesn't help when you're editing, but I have yet to encounter that problem.  It also cost $4 a month, which is the same as a fancy coffee.

I beat 5 of these hat monsters today.
And won this sweet star crown thing!

July 12, 2018

I read Well, That Escalated Quickly

This week's book is Well, that Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist, Franchesca Ramsey's memoir.  This was recommended to me by the Chicago Public Library on their list of Bold Books by Black Women.

Franchesca is a you-tuber, who makes hair tutorial videos and sketch comedy pieces, and hit it big with a sketch called "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls."  This launched her career both as a comedy writer and an activist.  Her memoir discusses the hurdles she had to go through of all the times she made mistakes and all the times success fell on her after years of hard work.

The part I appreciate the most from this book is her frank discussions of times she got it wrong.  She talks about how she went on TV for interviews after Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls went viral, and how, although she felt that the way she was so often treated smelled fishy, she didn't know the vocabulary to talk about racism with clarity.  She talks about how she got push back from the black community for that lack of clarity, how hurt that made her feel, and how she set out to educate herself so she would not offend again.  I appreciate her acknowledgement that people aren't born knowing everything about how racism works, and what's racist and why and how to stop it, even when they know that some things make them feel crappy, it's hard to stand up and say so and it's hard to articulate exactly what's wrong. 

This is something that gets glossed over a great deal: people make mistakes and then they learn.  Should we as a society drag someone for that one problematic thing they said that once?  Maybe, because then maybe they'll learn.  Maybe, because maybe the refuse to understand what they did wrong or to improve themselves and stop doing it.  And Ramsey gets into that, how you need to call people out on their mistakes, but sometimes it's better to "call in," which is a fantastic concept and a great phrase.  "Calling out" is done publicly.  "Calling in" is taking someone aside and saying, "Hey, that's a problematic thing to say because of reasons, and I know it's hard, but here's some ways to do better."  And Ramsey talks about how this is emotionally draining, especially when whoever you're calling in gets offended and defensive and won't listen to you, even though you've been sympathetic and patient, and spent time trying to educate.

This book works really well, because Ramsey gives advice while also showing that she's made mistakes.  She's let rampant, racist, wild criticism online get under her skin.  She's been overly enthusiastic about calling people out online.  She's said things that were problematic.  But she shows that she was able to grow and learn from those mistakes, and that gives me hope that I can too.


Next week: The Hero and the Crown, vintage sword and sorcery by Robin McKinley.

July 8, 2018

Folklore is Dad Jokes

I went to a reading this week by Edward McClelland, the author of Folktales and Legends of the Middle West.  This sounded so far up my alley that my family didn't even give me any trouble for skipping out on bed time.

McClelland read several stories from Resurrection Mary to the Lake Erie Monster.  But in listening to the Paul Bunyun stories, I realized what was happening:

The stories were chalk full of dad jokes.  At the end of each dad joke, McClelland would pause, give us Pun Husky Face, and then keep reading.

"...And they took that copper and used it to make the dome of the Ohio capital building!"

"...And that was the start of the Mississippi River!"

Dissecting it on the walk home, I thought about how it wasn't the presence of the dad jokes that was novel during the reading, but it was their placement.  Usually you see them at the very end of a story, a joke ending where you would slap your hands together and throw them out into jazz hands.  "Ehhh?!  Get it!"  The point of each of my grandad's stories was that at the end he had solved the last engineering puzzle keeping a building from being completed, and once it was solved they were able to construct such-and-such famous building in downtown Dallas that you'd have heard from if you were from Dallas.  Or that he gave some advice and then that poet was Robert Frost. 

It's like a flag that you wave at the end to say, "Got ya!  That didn't really happen...Or did it?!"
So when these jokes are peppered throughout the story, as the punchline to each paragraph rather than the punchline to the full narrative, it sounds different to the ear.  It's more, "Let me tell you a string of puns," rather than, "Let me tell you one long, winding joke that sucks you in for a while before spitting you out with how it didn't happen."  So maybe not giving the listener time to get engrossed eases that sense of mild annoyance that comes after the big reveal.  The annoyance where your friend does jazz hands and cackles at their brilliance, and you boo at them and tell them to delete their account.

But really, they're the same, and it took a different format for me to see it.

July 5, 2018

I read A Flame in the Mist

This week’s novel is A Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh.  This was a 2017 Goodreads Choice Award  Nominee for YA Fantasy.

Mariko, the only daughter of a prominent samurai, is sent off to marry the emperor’s son.  On her way to the imperial palace, her caravan is attacked by the Black Clan, and she is the lone survivor.  She disguises herself as a boy and sets out to find the band that attacked her caravan, infiltrate them, then bring them to justice when they least expect it.  The problem is that the Black Clan aren’t the cold blooded murderers she expected.

I’m always impressed with Ahdieh’s sense of place.  The setting here is so rich and so deep.  The setting permeates the characters, their motivations and actions to the point when calling it a setting makes it feel cheap.  Maybe this is what setting is supposed to be.  It feels like you’re breathing in the air of feudal Japan as you read.  It’s impressive, and it’s impressive that she’s done this twice with two very different settings, since she also wrote The Wrath and the Dawn.

I also like the romance in this one.  They’re both on the same page, without speaking of it, that this is not going to work out in the long run (unless some earth shattering changes take place, which I’m kind of guessing they do in the sequel), but they’re going to have a good time anyhow.  I like how their relationship of publicly disagreeing with each other and getting on each other’s nerves doesn’t change when they start making out.  No one gets all doe-eyed, and I’m here for it.


June 28, 2018

I read A Conjuring of Light

This week's novel is A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab.  This is the final book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, which includes A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows.

When darkness from Black London makes its way into Kell's world, where it possesses the citizens of London and rots away the infrastructure, the team has to join forces to stop it.

I had some trouble starting this one, and I've been thinking about why.

As is the way with trilogies, the first book is a self-contained story that was easily extended, and the second book ended on a cliff hanger.  So while the action of the second book picked up a few months after the events of the first book, the third book picks up only moments after the end of the second.  That means that starting the third book, you're thrown straight into the super-high-stakes, dramatic action.

I wouldn't say that the first two started lighthearted, but the stakes started low and built up as the books went along.  There was a lot of fun world building and showing off wondrous new places.  Most of the second book revolved around a magic tournament, where, although each character was wrestling with internal demons and there were stakes for everyone, the stakes weren't world ending and it was mostly fun fight scenes and big parties.  It was fun, with the over-arching plot of the series only really popping up at the very end. 

In the third book, there was no light-hearted, good times, lookit this magic!  It started off grim, when the parts I remember enjoying about the rest of the series was the fun.

It started grim and then kept going for the most part, but I love all these characters so much that I don't care.  Every single one of them is great, and I was invested in every one of them.  That might be another reason why I wish there was more fun swashbuckling and less EVERYTHING IS AWFUL AND WE'RE SCREWED: I want them to have fun.

It's a great series, and you should check it out.  And the good news is that since the whole thing is out, you can read straight through and the third-book-drama won't be an issue.


Next week:  A Flame in the Mist, Japanese inspired YA fantasy by Renee Ahdieh.