Friday, May 30, 2014

July is just a month away

Spent some time today working on what exactly I'm going to be doing for my CampNaNoWriMo workshop at the library. Until the actual group has met, I don't want to get myself too mentally locked in to any one setup or approach; different people may want different things. It's also important to me to know the age ranges. If I end up with a 17 year old and/or a 16 year old, I'm going to want to anticipate toning my language down, anyway. Content need not suffer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reservoir blackberries

I'm not always in the right mood for poetry, but when I am, it's like a key finding a lock.

Today, I'm in the mood for it, able to be at work but still in the simmering aftermath of a badly sprained ankle. It's rainy and muggy, just the right pressure combo for me to have a headache at the edges of things, driven off partially by the ibuprofen taken for the ankle. But I can't take anything else, at least not for a few hours. So.

I read Sylvia Plath's "Blackberrying", led there by arcane Internet means, as it goes.  Sylvia Plath is one of the poets who pass the test with me anyway, but "Blackberrying" has something about it that I craved today, I guess. Perhaps my own memories of picking blackberries, though I never went with a bucket to gather them. No, my father and I would stop and pick some, eating as we went, when we were fishing at the reservoir.

We weren't supposed to be at that reservoir, of course; nobody was. But again, as things go, there was a traditional hole cut in the fence by generations of partyers and fisherpeople, we always caught and released, sometimes he brought cans of beer but mostly not. Mostly it was he and I and some soda, tacklebox replete with lures and a pair of pliers. At the far end, through the water, you could see the sunfish beds, and they would nibble at your ankles and toes if you stood there.

The blackberries would be in rocky bushes by the road the reservoir maintenance people use, a ring or maybe a horseshoe around the water. I crave the taste of those blackberries each time I buy a plastic box of them at the story, but they're never just so. Sun warmed, sweat salty, watery breeze, it's all missing. I can't very well buy a pint of air conditioned grocery store blackberries and leave them on the porch for awhile, hope they reach that fat soft stage where they velvet apart in your fingers and the seeds are sand grit between your teeth. I can't go back to fishing with my father at the yellow dirt-sandy reservoir, catch and release, the pride of the first time I was able to get a fish off the hook myself, firm and slippery in my palm, be careful of the fin.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Exercise those writing mucles!

Okay guys, poindexter time.

I'm one of those nerds who actually really likes writing exercises. Why? Because it gets me to write in a manner I mgiht not otherwise have explored. Example: the flash fiction challenges I post here sometimes.

I first encountered 100 word flash when I was taking Intro to Creative Writing in college, though I gotta say, having up to 1000 words the way Chuck Wendig plays it is awfully nice sometimes. The fact that he'll frequently add extra parameters makes it that much more interesting, a story puzzle you have to figure out the edges and corners of.

When I'm reading a book about writing, on my own, I don't necessarily do the exercises. Sometimes I do. I've got the new writing book Jeff Vandermeer did (or edited? I'm unsure just now) on reserve from my library, and look forward to paging through its lovely glossy pages.

You see, I'm going to be running a Camp NaNoWriMo at the library in July, as part of our first-ever Summer Reading Program for adults. And I figure a good way to grease the wheels at weekly meetings is to have some writing prompts at hand, or exercises to talk about and recommend. I'm going to play it a bit fast and loose, because I don't want to plan rigidly and not be able to work with the group as it actually is, but I want to have things like this quantified and in mind.

So, tell me. What writing exercises do you like? What writing books do you like?

Monday, May 19, 2014

In which Russia takes its toys and goes home (or at least threatens to)

Perhaps not surprisingly, Russia has announced it would deny the US further use of the International Space Station (the United States was in fact suggested a trampoline as means of getting into space). Russia also, evidently, plans to leave the ISS by 2020 (its original mission target). This is after Russia's recent actions in Ukraine, and the sanctions the US (and allies) want to impose on Russia. This is also after the existing crew on the ISS kept working in harmony, or at least through a mutual notion of survival and professionalism, through said actions in Ukraine. Of course, cooperation with Russia was subsequently suspended.

NASA's space shuttle program ended in August of 2011.  Project Orion is slated to be NASA's new workhorse. The test launch is currently scheduled for September of this year, powered by a Delta 4 heavy rocket, and the idea is for it to carry humans by 2021. It's my understanding that Orion is the means by which NASA intends to grab an asteroid and bring it on home for an orbital science environment. Which is great. I'm glad we have something in the works, I'm actually really excited for the asteroid thing, which clicks well with my creative mind.

But. Uh. How will we get to the ISS in the meanwhile? We've been relying on Soyuz for years, since we lost our own ride before a new one was ready (Budget is the bad word when it comes to NASA, I'd say). SpaceX has three successful cargo missions under its belt now, with its most recent splashdown yesterday morning, but cargo and humans are not the same thing. SpaceX wants to have a manned flight by next year, but of SpaceX employees, not NASA astronauts. Boeing, in 2012, said it wanted to fly astronauts to the ISS "as early as 2015 or 2016." As of two days ago, Boeing's test flight is scheduled for 2016, with assembly beginning at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Oh and evidently (perhaps hilariously?) Virgin Galactic flights do not, technically, bring you into space. Very close, yes. But not actually space.

After all this time in space, even after working cooperatively with long-time frenemies, it seems ridiculous to be suddenly grounded. There's budget, of course. There's public opinion, I'm sure; a lot of people don't see the "point" of space. And space costs a lot, when you look at lump sums, though let me direct you again to Things That Cost More Than Space Exploration.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Eye in the Sky

So I said to my coworker: "Hey, the ISS put cameras on the outside of it, so you can watch it live stream Earth."

"Is it boring?" she asked.

I thought about it. "On one hand, yes. On the other hand, you're watching EARTH from SPACE in real time. It's simultaneously amazing and boring, and that such a thing can be both at once is absolutely mind blowing." She thought about it as well, and concurred.

The link I provided is on the Johnson Space Center portion of the NASA web site. It's neat because it shows you what the International Space Station is streaming in one window, and then shows you where above Earth the ISS is as well; it shows you where on Earth is nighttime, what time it is, etc. There are four cameras it can swap between. The Johnson Space Center is in Houston, Texas, which is also (I believe) where Mission Control, Houston is. So "Houston, we've had a problem here" during the Apollo 13 mission? That's who those guys were talking to.

But call up the livestream, and look at it for a little while. Put your boredom away and let the wonderment creep in. You're not going to see baby animals, you (hopefully) won't see much happen at all. But at the same time? You are watching what is almost literally everything. You can see the real horizon, the glowing curve of the planet we all live on and have to come from. You can see the solar arrays of the ISS. And sometimes? You can see some lights down here, when it all grows dark.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Dangers of Symbolism

You know the biggest problem with symbolism? Nobody's going to get it. Or, it'll be so blatant that it inspires the rolling of eyes.

Don't get me wrong. I in fact like symbolism a great deal. Subtle symbolism, not "hammer you in the face" symbolism. I haven't reread The Great Gatsby in a few years, but I've had enough people complain to me about their English teachers and that green light that I'd have to hazard a guess it was a bit too blatant.

I can understand. You want to strike the balance of something understandable and oblique. You want discussion to be made, but an answer to be indicated. Probably.

I've used symbolism on occasion. I use literary references far more often, and I can tell you, nobody gets those. Here I am, giggling a bit that I've referenced Crime and Punishment in my scifi novella (which will have to be edited again. It's be nice if I could strike the balance there, and either trim it into a short story or flesh it out into a full novel. But it just seemed so perfect where it was, at its 19,000 or so words).

I've been doing this "I'm a serious writer" thing off and on for more than ten years now. I'm not counting high school, though I did in fact write nearly every day in high school, with dedication noted by my peers. It's a shame that novel had to be such total crap. In that time, I've had a variety of readers, and an important thing for a snarky smartypants like me to remember is everybody hasn't read the same books. It's not like the good ol' days waiting for the latest Dickens serial to come off the boat from England, where everybody's shared the same handful of novels, gone through The Pilgrim's Progress ad nauseum, etc. etc. There are so many books, and we're all readying different ones. I'm not sure how many of my acquaintances have read Crime and Punishment at all, much less once recreationally and once for a college class.

But symbolism. The thing that inspired this post was my recent reading of George R. R. Martins A Dance With Dragons. It took me a long time to start the book (it was published years ago) and it took me a long time to finish it once I started. But there were two chapters which were clearly meant to relate to one another, wherein two characters both took...let's call them Significant Walks. I don't know if editing and timeline constraints made these chapters happen too close together (like, was one supposed to be in A Feast for Crows? Was the other supposed to be later, in The Winds of Winter?), but the fact they were meant to be Symbolism™ really struck me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Places I've been "published"

Well, okay, not really published. But put up publicly where total strangers can take in my work.

I already told you about Housekeeping, my science fiction short story that my good buddy Jacob narrated and put up on Soundcloud. If you like what you hear, you should follow him on Facebook. He'd probably like that.

Now I've got another "credit", wherein my buddy Dave, who we game with weekly if not more frequently, has shared my piece on his blog. He's been doing a character journal of our Dungeons and Dragons game, which is the adventure path titled "Age of Worms", published in Dungeon magazine from 2005-2006, and he's graciously opened his blog space up for other players to contribute. My character, Larkin, is the party's fighter.