September 10, 2017

On Dinosaurs and Classical Fantasy

It’s funny in a sad way that while a writer might be furiously working on writerly things often in the their life, the measure of what a writer accomplishes is gauged solely by what the public sees completed. In that vein, UPDATES ON CURRENT PROJECTS:

I have a few things I’m working on write now (inner editor: no, leave it, it’s punny). First off is the Zombies Need Brains Anthologies of the Year: Guilds & Glaives, Insurgency, and Ur-Bar. I submitted to two of their three anthologies from last year’s project: Robots, Water, and Death!  Specifically, I had a lovely tale of escape from dystopian Atlantis, and death-in-training gets stuck on the mortal plane stories. Sadly, neither of my stories was selected from the open call, but the way I figure it, if I keep writing these for submission, I’ll have enough for my own anthology pretty soon. So, everybody wins? Thus far I’m working on a guild of spies tale and something something overthrow the gubment tale, but they’re very much in story infancy.

Novel: Novel is currently trapped in an editing hell of my own creation, and my illustrator is very, very ill. I don’t know if we’ll ever get the finished chapter drawings for this one. What she has finished is stunning stuff, and I don’t want to abandon those drawings at all, so I’m in wait and see mode. They say when you’re stuck on one novel, set it aside to come back to it later, so I’ve started another very different book. We’ll see if I can bounce between them successfully, or if we’ve got two more shoebox gems.

Children’s Book: The adventures of my tiny engineer/geologist and her Tyastrosaurus is in process. My illustrator and colorist are both super busy people, but we are slowly hammering out the details to get this one done. I’m thinking this one will be Kickstarted to get the printing done. I’m in charge of that part of it, and it’ll be my first project, which is both elating and terrifying. We’re going to do it right, though. Finish the book before we go for funding, and have all the possible stretch goals/budgets/fulfillment processes hammered out in advance. This takes more time than anyone would like, but better that than delay and not deliver on time.

On the crafty front: I have a table at KumoriCon in October where I’ll be selling my kanzashi. I’m also signing up for the Gallifrey One art show again next year, though I don’t know what I’m making for that yet.

In health news: Still don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I haven’t had another attack! Also, slowly introducing real food back into the diet. Two thumbs way, way up for real food. Now if I could just get my brain to solidly reboot so I could run on less than three cups of tea so strong you could dissolve corpses in it, that would be super. Surprise naps are fun for nobody, body. Not me…not my coworkers who think I’ve died at my desk…not my Mom who found me wedged into the sofa cushions at an impossible angle. More healing, let ambulances. I’m more than a little bummed that the health stuff has made me miss my local Rose City Comic Con, and all the joyous graphic novels therein. I missed Peter Capaldi AND Weird Al, you guys. A moment of silence for my inner nerd, please.


September 6, 2017

On Esoteric Internal Organs and Earth-Bending

Man, life sometimes does not quibble about screwing you up and then leaving you to sort out the pieces. Some people get hurricanes, some people get forest fires. I get my insides suddenly deciding that they are utterly done with my shenanigans and shutting down.

Way back in May, I got on a scale and was pretty mad at the number it blared at me, somewhere between “Maybe lay off the hamburgers” and “Help! You’re squishing me to death!”. I’ve never been that heavy before; it made me feel sick both physically and mentally. Made a snap decision to go on a diet just by counting calories. Two months later, I was about 12 lbs lighter and happy and going to Comic-Con. Comic-Con equals a vacation to me, and vacations, as a rule, are not a diet-controlled environment. Why this is relevant will become clear in a second.

So many burgers and fancy desserts were happily ingested, and I returned to work the next week determined to jump back on my low-calorie bandwagon to continue the happy downward trend. The day of my last post, I had an attack of excruciating pain in my upper abdomen that felt like every part of my insides was cramping simultaneously. I simply gutted it out (literally, as my body tried really hard to vomit when I am sadly incapable of such), alternating between a corner of the sofa and my bathroom floor, hoping it would pass. When it did end after an hour or two, I called it good and went to bed. The next day, I started feeling more and more sick at work, and went straight from work to the ER as another attack hit. The pain was so bad it radiated through my jaw, head, and arm. There was general panic about a heart attack (it was not a heart attack). Then they thought I had an obstructed bowel (it wasn’t that either).

Here’s a fun fact about your gall bladder and liver: They don’t like sudden radical change. When you go months with very little fat and suddenly pile it on, it’ll adjust. It will be a little cranky about it, but it’ll shift into high bile production. If you then shift BACK to almost no fat, your gall bladder will go directly into “what in the BALLS” mode and just freak out trying to hold all that extra bile you suddenly don’t need.

It might not be that dramatic for most people, but I have about 20 years of experience with the fact that my digestive system is a portal to a dimension-hopping elder god that makes periodic visits to fill me full of hot pokers and sadness. I’ve had three different surgeries to address three separate issues in my abdomen; I am a cornucopia of interesting belly scars.

So once they confirmed the liver numbers were going “DANGER! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!” and scanned me three different ways they confirmed that yes, gall bladder was a pulsating sack of hatred, broken glass, and spite. They shot me full of anti-nausea meds and scheduled the surgery to have the little bastard removed. I had to wait a month for the surgery because socialized healthcare is affordable but not timely, during which time I ate almost nothing and had a painfully intimate relationship with anti-nausea medications.

On a scale of ouchiness, gall bladder removal actually isn’t that serious a surgery. The stomach surgery I had three years ago was much more heinous; I got a button I could push whenever the hurt got to be too much – that button saw a lot of use over the five days I was in hospital. This surgery sent me home from the hospital that day and I immediately tossed the oxycodone in favor of ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

I was feeling good, slept a bunch and decided to return to work five days later. I did a half day, being pretty tired and overall just bleh, but it didn’t seem that serious. Went home, took a three hour nap, and woke feeling much better. Got up and went downstairs to see about something dinnerish. Aaaaaaaand immediately had another attack. A full hour of excruciating pain, the works. I didn’t even have the organ this was supposed to be stemming from anymore. Whaaaaat the what, right? Just…how?

That was last week. Since then, I’ve had all the scans. Like, shot full of radio isotopes and held under a giant camera for hours sort of scenario. They can’t find what’s wrong. I’m still on the bland foods and liquids only diet. I’ve lost 30 lbs.  I had another attack over the weekend. This thing is not going down easily or quietly.

In spite of that, the surgery site itself seems to be healing well…although I have to say my belly button looks like the aftermath of a a lost fight with a angry knitting club. I’ve reached an impasse with treatment where we’re kind of in wait and see mode. So what do we do when we’re stuck waiting?  WE READ ALL THE THINGS.

Allow me to pimp one of my favorite authors: N. K. Jemisin and her fabulous series The Broken Earth. The last book in the trilogy just came out, which makes me happy because I hate waiting for new books in a series, so you won’t have to!

Start with the Hugo award winning The Fifth Season, a book about the end of the world. To be clear, the world ends in chapter one, and there is a whole lotta death right out of the gate, but only one death is really important to the narrative. This is a story about prejudice, family, love, survival, and what happens when we don’t buckle to what the world expects of us. Also, geothermal magic, which is metal as hell. Our protagonist Essun is a middle-aged woman, which is something you don’t often see, but her story, and her quest to rescue her daughter, are the driving force behind everything. The world ending? Just the beginning.

Jump to the also Hugo winner (double trouble!) The Obelisk Gate, where the earth-warping magic gets more bitchin’ yet hinky, and the weirdness of the world starts coming into a sharp scientific focus. Nassun, the daughter of our protagonist starts to come into her own here while surrounded by enemies and monsters, and Essun continues all the ass-kicking awesomeness that we enjoyed in The Fifth Season. The depth of her history with the destroyer of the world and the scale of the problem to overcome becomes shockingly large, and so too the sacrifices needed to maaaaaaybe solve it…a little…or destroy things worse.

I just finished the last book, The Stone Sky, this week. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say this: we go back to move forward, and all the threads are woven into a satisfying whole come the last page. Solid, solid read. Worth the time, worth the sadness. And yes, you will be sad, yet fulfilled.

Once you’ve wallowed sufficiently in the glow of a series well-finished, look back at some of her older stuff. The Killing Moon and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms are both bizarrely awesome worlds and characters. I love her mental left turns and deeply-rooted cultures. She populates every story with a rich background of traditions and history. Nothing is ever one-dimensional or trite, it all carries depth and meaning.

Having finished all of that greatness, I’m now in a lull. What should I read next? I’ve got time to burn while I wait to see if my pancreas explodes or something.

 


July 27, 2017

On the Subject of Books

I’m deep in the post-San Diego Comic-Con recovery period, so forgive my lateness. My feet are like blocks of blow-torched concrete, I’m peeling from sunburn, and my bank account is empty. Yes, I had a wonderful convention!  More about that later.

In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, there is a rather famous bookstore.  You maybe familiar with Powell’s City of Books, which took an entire city block of warehouses and melded them into one giant store. It has shelves stacked full to its 15′ ceilings, with every kind of book imaginable: old, new, rare, and out-of-print. If Powell’s doesn’t have it, good luck to you in finding it, because they have pretty much everything.

You have your version of heaven…this is mine.

Portland, in large part thanks to places like Powell’s, has become a nerd Shangri-La. As hipsterish as it is to say, though, I was here long before it was cool.

Remember I said I grew up kind of poor, so I didn’t often get books of my own (this may be a reason why I insist on having a massive personal library now as an adult, to the detriment of any other kind of storage space). Instead I regularly haunted my school and local libraries, devouring stories like a tiny elder god, merciless in my pace. However, every now and again I would get to visit a book store and claim a paper world for my very own.

My mother worked for the Oregon Symphony way back then (sometime in the halcyon days of the mid-80’s), and would often make my siblings and I her slave labor force, stuffing envelopes with fundraiser flyers for the symphony. Our reward for these long papercut-laced days was $5 and an hour to spend it where we liked. One of these days when I was alone in my envelope-stuffing, she mentioned Powell’s was only six short blocks away, drew me a map, and turned me loose. (Pause for a second while I explain that back then it was totally okay to allow a 8 to 9-year-old to wander by herself in the downtown core…yes, it’s unthinkable now. Then, nobody batted an eye. Cool?  Cool.)

The doors were too heavy to open by myself, I remember. Someone helped me, with a great big smile, and my thank you died on my lips as I saw the labyrinth of shelves immediately in front of me, ramps and aisles leading into the distance, all completely full. Today, when you enter Powell’s there is a map, and a brochure you can use to keep from getting lost. Back then, there was nothing but signs pointing in random directions for the rooms in all colors in of the rainbow.

I couldn’t trace on a map how I traveled through the store, aisle by aisle, running my fingers along the spines as I walked, stopping to read titles, and pulling the more interesting ones off the shelves to read the back covers. No idea how long it took me to find the children’s section, but when I did, I may have squealed and done a little jig in the aisle. The section was laid out like a storeroom, with nooks large enough for one to two kids on bean bags surrounded by shelves on three sides. I can still smell the dusty paper and floor cleaner in that tiny nook of little girl books, dimly lit from the overcast sky through a distant window.

It’s amazing how fast delight can go to dismay when you realize how little $5 will get you in such a paradise, even at mid-80’s prices. Discovering that the used books were much cheaper, I started ruthlessly culling the shelves of their $0.99 quarry. I had piles of books, mountains of them still. How to decide which would be mine?

I’d like to say that I grabbed classics and timeless literature to treasure forever, but I’d be lying. Children don’t value great literature, I’m sad to say, that only comes with age and experience. I’m pretty sure I ended up with at least one Babysitter’s Club book, a few horse books, and a couple of princess stories. I can promise that while they weren’t the kind of literature with staying power, they were very much loved by my little-girl self.

Thinking back on it, I probably left an unholy mess of discarded books behind me as I went in search of the registers. Sorry, Powell’s people! If it makes you feel better, at one point in my life a little more than a decade later, I was in charge of a Barnes and Noble children’s section which was destroyed on an hourly basis, so you have some karmic payback there. The swath of destruction created by an unsupervised child has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. Thus, I am now deeply apologetic for any such messes I left in my youth.

Once bought (and forever grateful that Oregon has no sales tax, thus ensuring that I got to keep all five books instead of having to put one back), I’m pretty sure I read them over and over until they fell apart.  I don’t remember all the stories, but I remember how they felt. They felt like adventure. They felt like happiness. They felt like I was there and doing what each protagonist was doing, because each protagonist was a little girl like me.

Wind this back around to today, where I am writing stories for little girls, for the same reason. It’s kind of a neat little loop…if I ever finish one of these projects or make it into an anthology.

In the meantime, here’s every age-appropriate Neil Gaiman book to tide you over:

Coraline – In an odd, twisty house full of odd, twisty people, little Coraline finds a door to world very much like her own…or is it? Full of weird and wonderful characters, it tweaks the emotions as it reminds you where you started as a child, and how to be brave in the face of the unthinkable.

The Graveyard Book – The first line says everything in this book: “In the dark was a hand, and in the hand was a knife.” The prose is spare and delightful, wielded like that knife. Nobody lives in the graveyard, raised by ghosts for his own protection, but he must rejoin the living eventually.

Odd and the Frost Giants – Odd is just that, not quite the Viking that his family had hoped for with a crippled leg, to boot. But he is clever, and when he gets mixed up with the full bevy of Norse gods and their antics, he comes out shining.

Fortunately, the Milk – If you were the recipient of a father with an extra serving of imagination, the way I was, you will doubly appreciate this wild tale of exotic adventure on the way to the corner market for milk. Also contains space dinosaurs, which is of more than passing interest to yours truly.

While some people may say that the first two books are too scary for young children, remember: Children already know that monsters exist. They know this with every fiber of their tiny beings. What scary stories teach them is that monsters can be killed, and that children like them can do it.

Now go forth, and read something amazing!

Week 5 of ? of the weekly writing project


July 16, 2017

The Big San Diego Art Show Post

Well, folks, I did promise that I’d do a more in depth post on the bits and bobs I’m putting in the San Diego Comic-Con Art Show next week, so here we go!

I started by listing pretty much everything I might ever want to make.  This totaled about 35ish different kanzashi. Everything got weighed by feasibility and constructability (remember I’m still an entry-level sculptor, and I have no experience yet at wiring and armature…which now I think of it, could make an awesome goal for next year). Material options were weighed (Kermit the Frog must be made of felt. He must. Black Widow must be made of black leather. She MUST).

The list expanded because people kept suggesting things and then I really wanted to make them.  Then it subtracted as I started cutting things that I didn’t think I had the chops to make (I wanna sculpt a Gelfling, you guys, and a Skeksis, in the WORST WAY. But…I am just not skilled enough. SOMEDAY, my hair will terrify and awe passerby. That will not be next week, alas).

After the list was crunched and crunched and I went through a book of sticky notes (this is the most old school thing I do. All my lists of to dos and budgets and things are all on sticky notes…I know, I’m a dinosaur), I had a light bulb moment. An Iron Man kanzashi would be pretty neat. An Iron Man with glowing blue eyes would be an awesome thing that must exist in the world, via my hands. So I added mild electrical work into the mix. Then I thought of three or four more people that needed glowing eyes, for posterity, so they got added too.

You thought I was kidding about the sticky notes. Weep, O mortals, and despair.

Note: sculpting proper channels for LED placement is not for the amateur. I did it anyway. I like the results, but your mileage may vary. Everything I do is an experiment, and they are not all successful. Plan for this if you intend to try this stuff yourself. Buy extra supplies, and be prepared to modify on the fly. Also, accept that some things you make are just not going to be the best, and be ready to drop them and move on.

ON TO THE THINGS:

The Doctor Who Group

Old Who

New Who

Dalek and Blue Who

I’ve mentioned previously that I made a bunch of Doctor Who kanzashi for the Gallifrey One art show earlier this year. It was a no-brainer to include some of these in this show, so I did so. Many. Doctors. And a Dalek, a Weeping Angel, and a Tardis. Note that I was super tempted to make the Tardis glowy, and had to cut it for lack of production time. I lament this, and it will exist someday.

The Star Wars Group

Wooooookie *gggharrrll*

I had a lot of fun making these. Chewbacca was a happy accident resulting from getting fuzzy brown fur for something else. Leia had to happen, because the lack of Carrie Fisher in the world still makes me incredibly sad. And since I had a Leia, I needed a Rey. And you can’t do Star Wars without the droids. The droids are totally necessary (also, I’d already done a BB8, so I had that design mapped already). Then the glowy-eyed inspiration hit: JAWA. Must have an orange-eyed Jawa. …Star Wars has too many characters. I could have continued this list forever. Had to draw the line somewhere. I’m hoping The Last Jedi inspires me to do more of these next year!

The Marvel Group

The ones I didn’t make but wanted to was three stickies long…

This is all Captain America’s fault. I made a shield for the 4th of July, and it just downward spiraled from there. Glowy-eyed Iron Man is the cause of many a sleepless hour of wire-tweaking, sculpey-poking, and general suffering. And since I had those two, I decided I needed Black Widow because we need more sassy Russian spy up in this board. And wait! Black Panther is coming out this year! He could also have glowy-eyes! Also, I love Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel…and the world needs more Baby Groot. Essentially, the black hole that is the Marvel character database almost got me. Luckily for us all, I skipped blithely off the event horizon and ran screaming for my life. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more of these in the future, just that time constraints limited me this go round.

The DC Group

WONDER WOMAN *fangirls* Adam Weeeest *sad*

I am ashamed to say that DC is not usually my wheelhouse. However, Wonder Woman came out, and it was THE BEST. Then Adam West died, and so there had to be tribute of some kind for the many hours he entertained me during my childhood. And then it seemed kind of mean to have Wonder Woman and Batman, but no Superman. This category may expand in the future, dependent heavily on how I feel about the Justice League movie. I have…hope? But also caution.

The Video Games Group

PacMan’s petals have ghost eyes, and the ? Box has hand-drawn brick. Woo!

Why am I the only Valor player? *wibble*

I am an Atari and original Nintendo generation kid. This isn’t to say that I don’t still play games (my Steam catalog is…somewhat staggering), but the classics hold a special place in my heart. I tried to hit just a few of my favorites with Mario, Zelda, Pokemon and Metroid, but ran out of time for more. I am open to suggestions for deepening this in the future! (Yes, those are Pokemon Go teams in the back. Yes, I’m still playing. Yes, I am aware that they scheduled a convention thing in Chicago during the same time slot as San Diego. If they release legendaries during that event, I will loose a reign of blood and terror upon my hotel bar. Life is cruel sometimes.)

The Ghibli Group

IT’S SO FLUFFEH

Which should really be the Totoro group, except the version of the Soot Sprites I used was from Spirited Away and look sometimes the fluffy things just call to me, okay? Pet the Totoro if you get a chance. He is SO SOFT. I have so many things I need to make on this list. Someday there will be more awesome. SOMEDAY.

The Miscellaneous Leah-Loves-Them Things

Muppets and TMNT, both at one time made by Henson. Both awesome. Coincidence? I think not.

I couldn’t have a nerdcraft group of things without some Ninja Turtles in it. I just couldn’t. I’m incapable of passing it up, and because the challenge of glowing ninja eyes was a call too strong to ignore. Getting my Muppet on with Kermit the Frog also was a call too strong to resist.

They all shine so very pretty!

All of these pieces are available at the San Diego Comic-Con Art Show from Thursday July 20th to Saturday July 22nd. Please note that the Art Show is NOT in the convention center this year! They moved it over in the Hyatt, Grand Ballroom C & D. The whole art show is always worth a look, and this year it’s even open to the public (no badge needed). My stuff is priced both for bid and quick sale, between $15-$30.  Come check it out!


July 10, 2017

On Making a Difference

The big San Diego Comic-Con crafting update is coming later this week. I’m finishing up the bits and pictures and it will be posted by this weekend!

In less nerdy but still pretty interesting (to me!) news, I made a thing!  It’s called the Personal Health Information Tracker, and I’m trying to get it prototyped and perfected and manufactured, which is much harder than you’d think. Given, I am a third year computer engineering student with no practical real world experience in making things. Gotta start somewhere, I guess!

Why would someone with no experience in making health and fitness gear go for broke off the cuff? Well, it’s not entirely out of the blue, I promise. You’ll recall that I spent the better part of five years helping to take care of my very sick dad before he passed. That situation was full of stress and pitfalls, one of the biggest of which was my dad needed constant monitoring. There were so many organs failing and his medications were so delicately balanced that he’d pass out or crash a couple of times a week. Growing up in an environment that stated he had to be a strong, independent man, my dad hated, no, loathed being babysat or chauffeured around. Anything that would have allowed him the smallest measure of freedom from the constant, constant oversight from family, friends and medical professionals would have eased that stress.

The reason he needed constant oversight is illustrated by my friend Erica’s story. Erica is a seven-time cancer survivor (wait, is it eight now? Nine? I’ve honestly lost count, as disturbing as that is). She is so used to going about her life after procedures that would leave the rest of us whimpering in a hospital bed that she went shopping after getting a large chunk of her brain completely obliterated by radiation. While alone in her van in a parking lot, she suffered a grand mal seizure; she wasn’t found for hours.

She was lucky. She survived this in spite of that long spate between going down and being found. In so, so many instances, a medical emergency while alone is fatal. So how to balance the need to live your life unfettered with the need to protect and monitor you in case the worst should happen?

Like I said, I made a thingy. I looked online to see if my thingy existed, something that would monitor vitals, alert your choice of people if something went wonky with your vitals, and give them your problem and location so they could get you help ASAP.

But doesn’t that exist already? Surely, that exists already. Nope. There’s a thing that’ll help if you pass out in your house, but it’s tethered, no leaving without your base unit…and it doesn’t tell anyone why you passed out (which helps the medical professionals a lot). So my goal was to make it go anywhere, do anything, and get you the help you need. NBD. Just magic.

Seriously, though, there’s a competition in Germany where, if you’re one of the top nine finalists, you get to go to Hamburg and build things with German Engineers. Commence the engineer squeezing. I want this so, so bad. Not just because I’ve never been to Europe and how fun would that be? But also because Germans are the badasses of the engineering world, and they would science the sh*t out of my prototype, making it not just workable but AWESOME.

There’s some stiff competition for this thing, but I remain hopeful. I’ll find out next week if I’m a finalist…so right now I am ALL THE STRESS. Harnessing this, I shall make more things for Comic-Con. ON TO MORE CRAFTY THINGS.