Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why it sucks that The Host didn't do well at the box office

If you're hoping to see more ladies, more sci-fi, or more ladies in sci-fi, it sucks that The Host appears to be crashing and burning at the box office.

On its opening night, The Host came in fourth with a measly $5.5 million, behind a male-led testosterone fest and an animated movie about cavemen (that's already been out for a week). Experts suggest this is likely to yield a $13 million total for its weekend run.

Now, am I saying that women can't enjoy movies about nonsensical "military" action? Of course not. Look, I own the first G.I. Joe movie. I am THERE. But we've spent a good 200,000 years watching men do stuff. I'm ready to watch women do stuff too. I want women in leading roles in sci-fi and action movies.

The people that make movies pay close attention to what fails and what succeeds, and they look at this in the form of generalizations and demographics. When The Host bombs, what are they going to say? They're going to say, "This was a science fiction movie with a female protagonist and it failed." They're very unlikely to say, "Oh, this movie had a bad script! Let's try again next week!"

No, they'll pick another action movie with a male protagonist because, well, James Bond and Jason Bourne make money. And why mess with a winning formula?

Dear one lady that we allowed in the movie:
enjoy the back of the box. PROGRESS!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Six Things You Learn From the Zoo

1. The animals are smarter than most of the guests.

I won't put up a picture since some people don't like bugs, but I passed a board with the shape of a beetle on it, made entirely of pinned beetle specimens.

While standing there, I heard someone ask in all seriousness, "Are those alive?"

Yes, zoo staff and PETA are totally cool with bugs being impaled on pins and dying slowly for days, weeks, years... you had to wonder how new he thought this (clearly old) board was.

2. The sea lions are surprisingly fun. I thought they'd be boring, but they get irritated at everything and roar all the time. Plus, it's obvious they're actively being trained by zoo personnel because they'd come up to the glass and do tricks for their audience before realizing they wouldn't get fed and then zooming off in a huff.

TREEEEEEAAAAAATTTTSSSSS
3. The gorilla house is creepy. I know they live a lot longer and more comfortably in captivity, but dang, anything with eyes that intelligent makes me think of alien overlords shoving us in zoos.


4.  No matter your place on the food chain, you are capable of turning into a troll.

Picture I took of a zebra trolling the cheetahs. "WHO'S TOP OF THE FOOD
CHAIN NOW, HUH?!"
5. There are some awesome parents in the world.

Small child: "The stupid cat isn't moving. I want it to do stuff! Be interesting!"
Awesome parent: "Yes, that is totally how animals work."

6. Actually, there are just some awesome people in the world. You haven't lived until you've heard an audience of 40-odd people pretend that the asian elephant is in a race from one side of the enclosure to the other. "Come on, elephant! You can do it! Yeahhhhh, come on, we're all rooting for you! So close elephant, so close, YOU DID IT! GO YOU, ELEPHANT!"

Friday, March 29, 2013

Outlines are Ikea Chairs

In that they involve a lot of swearing.

But in other ways too! Really. I was just thinking about this the other day, and I think there are three types of outliners. And I will CLASSIFY them using IKEA FURNITURE ASSEMBLY because I am a SCIENTIST but, like, a really bad one.

1. Burn the instructions!

This is the person who won't look at the outside of the box, let alone the instructions. They want to take out all the components and play with them; to get a feel for the way things are meant to fit as they go along. Also known as pantsers.

wat
2. Okay so you can show me the box

These people like to have a vague idea of where they're going, even if they don't know every step they're going to take along the way. A lot of these middle types do a rough outline of a page or so that hits on major plot points. They also tend to change it up a lot along the way, because although they usually know roughly WHAT happens, they didn't nail down most of the specifics of HOW things occur. These are my people!

uh no
3. Hand over the instruction manual or die

Last but not least are the hardcore plotters. These guys have beautiful, color-coded outlines that may be longer than the actual manuscript at any point in time. They plan out every little detail painstakingly.

ikea go home you are drunk
Which are you? Did I miss anybody? :)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bringing the Funny

Humor's a funny thing.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

As am I, clearly.

Seriously though, I find it fascinating how humor is at once so individual and so universal. There are some things that we all agree on - like cats freaking out at anything is always, always funny.

IT IS A UNIVERSAL TRUTH
But then some things are cultural - take the British and American versions of The Office, for instance. There's a reason they made two separate versions. Different things appeal to American and British viewers. And if you watch both of the shows you can see some of the changes they made. In the British version every single character is irredeemably worthless and horrible - that's the joke. But in the American version, although a lot of the characters are jerks they all have moments where their better nature comes to light, and even Michael Scott is relatable to some extent. The humor comes from other places.

To give a more personal example of this, I turned on a song in the car the other day. There's a verse in it that goes

It's my problem, it's my problemIf I feel the need to hideAnd it's my problem if I have no friendsAnd feel I want to die
My british mom's reaction to that line was to laugh out loud. To her, coming from a culture where people are fairly closed-off about their emotions, this is completely over the top and the only reason anybody would say it was for a joke. On the other hand, my American friends listen solemnly and hear it as a plea for help from a desperate person. Cultures! They're different!

And of course, humor differs on an individual level too. No matter how many times people make me watch it, I will never get Monty Python. I'm sorry, shun me later. I just do not find a single thing in it funny. I find William Brinkley laugh-out-loud hysterical (literally; let's just say reading The Fun House in Starbucks was not my brightest idea), but the people I've attempted to force it on lend it to have found it dated and flat.

What do you find funny that nobody else does?

At least we'll always have cats.
Wait WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Iron and Leather Ladies

Margaret Thatcher isn't the only iron lady around here. Did you know that in medieval Europe, girls sometimes learned their father's trades, and widows were often accepted into artisan guilds in order to carry on their late husband's businesses? In this way, quite a few women worked as farriers (aka blacksmiths, essentially) and saddle makers.

This came about at a time when the merchant class was still evolving out of the peasant class. Peasants had no time for graceful divisions of labor. If you wanted to eat, you worked. At a time when life was often short, brutish, and nasty (thanks Hobbes), it was in some ways easier to bend the rules on things like gender restrictions than in later, more outwardly civil times.

In fact, a lot less things were divided simply because there was no easy way to do so. For instance, most medieval women rode astride rather than sidesaddle, because the only sidesaddles available were precarious to sit in and required a person to lead the horse forward on foot. This was frequently impractical even for the nobility. It wasn't until the 16th century that a sidesaddle with a pommel was invented, which made it a lot easier to control the horse while remaining seated.

An illustration from the Manesse Codex, circa 1340

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Surviving the (Romantic) Suspense #6: The Path of Most Resistance

As a romantic suspense author, I spend a lot of time writing about ladies in peril. And by that token, I have to get them back out of it. So I'm going to use one day a week to talk about self defense and protecting yourself in various ways.


One way of thinking about assault is to divide it into two groups: people we know, and strangers. I think by this point everybody is pretty familiar with the fact that in the majority of cases, people are sexually assaulted by people they already know. Other crimes, like mugging, tend to be inflicted upon unfortunate strangers at the wrong place in the wrong time. Today we're talking about what to do when strangers attempt to assault you, for whatever reasons they might have.

The thing to keep in mind is to make it difficult. Your average scumbag who wants to attack you for whatever reason is not the best and brightest that society has to offer. It's someone who's likely lazy and almost certainly has very little forethought, and they're looking for an easy target. If they've telegraphed their intentions (unfortunately, in many cases the fight is over before the victim was even aware of a threat), that's a gift of time you can use.


In some cases, simply screaming and running away will be enough to make the criminal leave you alone. But look around for ways to make things even more difficult. If there's a hill, run up the hill. If there's a creek, run through the creek. If there's lights, run toward them (though I doubt I have to tell you that). 


The harder you make a criminal work to catch you, the less interested they're going to be. There's a reason most muggings don't occur in broad daylight in the middle of police stations. The kind of people that are going to try to mug you or assault you don't want a fight, they want an easy victim. If you make it so they have to work to attack you, they may decide it's not worth the effort.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Poetry and Coffee for a Rainy Day

She Escapes the Film Noir

I slip out the door,
wearing a raincoat as disguise.
It might have wrinkles, indicating a recent tryst.
Also, I may wear a fedora.
I will certainly have a lot of hair
falling over the brim of my eyelashes, either because
I’m too busy to cut it
or I don’t want anyone looking me in the eyes.
Ominous footsteps echo in an unseen room,
along with distant thunder.
We are unsure of the dialogue in this script.

You watch me lean into the wet, shining street
and peer, nervous, into shadows.
Am I looking for you?
Or the man with a gun?
Either way, I’m holding tickets to Paris.
Care to join me?
I would light a cigarette
except for the damn rain. My lipstick
in this lighting is darker than blood,
and my hands won’t stop shaking.

-Jeannine Hall Gailey, from her book Becoming The Villainess

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Selma Ruins The Hobbit

A certain movie about dwarves and hobbits (and a surprisingly large number of elves and men) came out on DVD this week. Spoilers, obviously.

"I cannot remember a single one of your names."

The movie starts and heyyyyyyy is this the Lord of the Rings? Oh no, wait, Ancient Bilbo is here to exposit at us some. That's cool because there's lots of dwarf backstory and HEYYYYYY Thorin Oakenbaby is here to class up the joint.

A dragon! There's a dragon! It's awesome but it doesn't talk so we can't tell that it's Benedict Cumberbatch. This dragon is here to wreck yo castle and solve mysteries AND WE'RE ALL OUT OF MYSTERIES.

Elves are jerks, Thorin is bitter, this is getting to be a downer and why is that elf riding a giant elk?

It's the Shire! I can't tell if my nostalgia is for the book version or for the Lord of the Rings movies that came out these many 12 years ago, but either way, eeeee!

Gandalf shows up and vagues at Bilbo awhile, and Martin Freeman wonders if there's any actual reason he's getting drawn into this adventure... or... no? Well okay then. Dwarven unauthorized home entry! And nobody comments? I'm just saying, the Shire seems like the kind of place that would have a Neighborhood Watch.

The dwarves steal a lifetime's worth of hoarded food and eat it in front of Bilbo. These guys need some serious Charm School. Then they start singing and OMG IT IS MY CHILDHOOD and it's nothing, really, there's just something in my eye.

Bilbo: "... Can you please leave now?"
Thorin: "I have a map."
Bilbo: "OOH SHINY."

So Gandalf wants Bilbo on the Dwarven Revenge Squad, but Thorin is stealing all of Benedict Cumberbatch's disdain for this movie, and also Bilbo is scared. And... has no reason to leave? I'll be honest, this is one of the parts that fell pretty flat compared to the book. I understand they have time constraints when they make a movie and they can't put in everything, but the book just worked better here because we got to see the other hobbits in The Shire compared to Bilbo, and we understood that Bilbo really didn't quite fit in. This version is more like... Bilbo: "I don't want to go!" Dwarves: "And we don't want to take him!" Gandalf: "YEAH WELL TOO BAD."

But of course, the plot takes hold and Bilbo rushes after them all because idk, maybe Gandalf magicked him or something. And then they wander merrily damply along the Balin Will Explain To You What The Hell Thorin's Damage Is Trail.

Meanwhile, some character we don't know and don't care about has bird poop in his hair.

Back at the ranch... somewhat literally...

Kili: "Hey Bilbo! Ponies are missing! Go check it out, yeah?" *wink*
Bilbo: "Why are you so weirdly attractive?"
Kili: "Look, it worked for Lord of the Rings, okay? If we are going to have a grand total of ONE female character in this movie then we sure as hell better bring the pretty. And I sure as hell bring the pretty."
Bilbo: "Fair point, well made."

So Bilbo moseys off and nearly gets everyone eaten by trolls because the Peter Principle is at full effect in Dwarven adventuring groups. Good going, Bilbo.

Thorin: "Hey Gandalf, it's almost like THIS WAS A REALLY BAD IDEA."
Gandalf: "If it wasn't for the halfling, you'd have all lost your heads and not just in the metaphorical sense! All that panicking you were doing and you were upstaged by a hobbit. Ha! My ideas are the best ideas."
Thorin: "If it wasn't for the halfling, someone competent would've gone to get the ponies."
Gandalf: "HEY LOOK SOME ORCS."

Running running, Bird Poop McGee shows up again on a weirdly creepy rabbit sled and draws off the attackers. Gotta say, these dwarves are not impressing me. Which in the book made sense, but here with Muscles leading things, it seems a little weird.

And then they misread a sign or two and end up taking the Ironic Route of escape which leads to Elrond's place!

Thorin: "I hate everybody."
Gandalf: "Shut up my elf girlfriend is here okay do you even know what the long distance and the whole marriage thing does to our relationship. Besides, elves are cool! I love elves! QUICK, EVERYBODY LIE TO ELROND."
Elrond: "Sup?"
Everybody: *lies*

Finally one of those mythical ladyfolks appears in the movie, and someone seems to have accidentally put her in rollerblades, or on one of those revolving platforms. Er, set designers? I do not think this is as dignified as you thought it would be.

Gandalf: "Bad stuff is happening for realz guys."
Saruman: "Oh Gandy, you worry too much."
Galadriel: ~meaningful staaaaaaaaaaaring~

Just when the audience has had it up to here with Gandalf being like "look bad stuff's happening" and Saruman being like "NO U", the dwarves escape into... a scene from the Neverending Story? There are rock giants and it's supposed to be super tense because everybody almost dies but instead, the audience just sits there in confusion trying to figure out what scene in the book this is supposed to be. (Answer: NONE OF THEM.)

And then Bilbo almost dies but Thorin saves him and at the apex of Martin Freeman's crush on the tall, dark, cranky detective dwarf, Thorin goes all I WISH THE GOBLINS WOULD COME AND TAKE YOU AWAY! RIGHT NOW!

Bilbo: "Is this like when Edward said he hated Bella for her own good?"
Thorin: "NO. THIS IS LIKE WHEN I SAID I HATED YOU BECAUSE I HATE YOU."
Bilbo: *lip quiver*

So then Bilbo decides to run away, and has a solid hobbit-to-dwarf brotalk with one of the dwarves in stupid hats, look, if the movie can't be bothered to remind us of their names then I have no freaking clue.

But just as Bilbo's about to hug his copy of He's Just Not That Into You tight to his chest and walk away, Jareth sends all of his goblins up from the Labyrinth, because Thorin knew the magic words. And then there's a lot of falling in caves, and Jabba the Hut Goblin can talk because the plot says so, and Bilbo gets his big scene with Gollum. Which is admittedly awesome.

Then everyone escapes and - wait, they only NOW realize that Bilbo isn't here? I call some bull on this one, you guys had to know he wasn't around!

Thorin: "It's all for the better that he ran away or died or whatevs, I never liked that guy anyway."
Bilbo: "Howdy."
Thorin: "...Well this is awkward."

Then the huge white orc of Hope You Guys Can Tell This One Apart Because He's Thematically Important to Stretching This Franchise Over Three Movies attacks! And it totally sucks because the tree scene is nothing like the ones in the books, which is my absolute favorite part. Booooo. Thorin is an idiot and almost gets Warged, but Bilbo jumps down from a tree to save him because... um... he's into guys that don't treat him right?

Everyone's getting their butts handed to them when EAGLES! EAGLES FOR EVERYONE! An eagle for you, and for you, and you...

And then the movie ends with a heartfelt (but not too heartfelt because of chomping) "I was wrong-ish" hug between Thorin and Bilbo.

The End... until the next two movies.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Snip!

A snip from an upcoming short story titled SHIELD ME. Enjoy!


“If you attempt to climb down the outside of that skyscraper I will report you to the psychiatric ward. And then have you fired. I don’t have the clearance for it but I swear I’ll find a way,” Mary shouts down the telephone line, staring with laser focus at the blinking red dot on the map in front of her, like she can hold it in place through sheer force of will. “It’s unsafe, physically impossible, and you’ll lose the target.” 
The laugh that reverberates down the line is wind-tossed; static buzzes in her ear and makes her wince. 
“You act like I’ve never done this before,” Agent Darren’s low voices teases her. The wind interference is gone now, and Mary’s shoulders relax a fraction. She reminds herself to blink. “I think I'm a better authority on what I can and cannot do than you are, Data. Since when did you become an expert on physic mechanics?” 
There’s nobody in her cubicle to see it, so Mary allows herself an eye roll. 
“Since last June when you tried the same exact thing and landed yourself in the hospital for three weeks." 
“Three days.” The little red dot is moving slowly but steadily, pausing along the blue lines of the map that cover her computer screen. Mary hopes one of the doors will open in time. She twines her fingers together and squeezes hard, trying to bleed off her excess energy. Keeping her cool might be what keeps Darren alive. 
“That’s because you signed yourself out against medical advice after three days and dropped off the map. The entire agency was in an uproar. It was quite the feat.”

It's not a pleasant memory, set against the worry that’s clawing at her throat. She watches – from a safe distance, always from a safe distance, and sometimes that chafes – Darren search calmly for the door that will get him out of the building before this particular bad guy can set off a bomb.

Mary flicks a glance around her cubicle at the stacks of books on every topic from Peruvian folklore to, well, physics. She wonders how different it would be if she were assigned to a different agent. 
She wonders how different she would be if she were assigned to a different agent. 
“Got it.” There’s a faint click from the other end and the red dot slides right through one of the blue lines. Darren always does that; manages to force himself through locked doors and bend reality to his will. She watches him do this on mission after mission, and though she'd never do anything so unprofessional as to acknowledge it, Mary never gets tired of it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Trivia about me, if you're into that sort of thing


The Link Back
Thank you to the  lovely and hilarious Morgan Jane! I can't wait to read her book this summer.


7 Things About Me

1. All the animals I've ever owned have been rescues that I ran into at the right place and the right time.

2. I've had the same best friend since I was 12.

3. I have everything from rock to country to rap to pop to folk music on my iPod. But I will admit to a disproportionate amount of terrible pop music.

4. My favorite museum is the Museum of Natural History in DC. DINOSAURS!!!!


5. Glasgow is my favorite city in the world. Not even NYC has as much personality.

6. Dunkin Donuts are the best. Krispy Kreme are the worst.

7. Horseback riding has been my big passion other than writing my entire life, but for some reason I've never been able to incorporate it into any of my writing. One day!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ada Lovelace is Computing All of the Things

...way before we even had computers.

Lord Byron is fine as far as it goes. I mean, he had some poetry, kept a pet bear on campus when he was in college, and was the first real modern celebrity (seriously, somebody got paid to study whether or not his celebrity status was "modern". Awesome). His wife coined the term Byromania to refer to the craze.

But his daughter is basically the personification of awesome.

Ada Lovelace was raised by a mother who attempted to strip away any similarities the girl had to her father - Lord Byron and his wife separated a month after Ada was born. There was some logic behind this: Lord Byron was hugely unfaithful and mentally unstable. He didn't exactly recommend himself as a person.

But Ada seemed destined from the very beginning to follow in her father's larger-than-life footsteps. She was brilliant, witty, and charming - most people who didn't like her to begin with recanted their words later (as in the case of John Hobhouse, the only man to describe her unkindly on paper). Her mother focused all of Ada's education on mathematics in an attempt to shield Ada's mind from the insanity Lord Byron seemed to suffer from (because poetry = insanity, or something). Ada was a huge flirt and a reckless gambler, and deathly ill most of the time besides. Everything about her was measured in extremes.

Check out those sleeves.
The most fascinating thing about Ada, that history seems to forget because history is a jerk, is that she was the first person to visualize the potential applications of a computer. Keep in mind that at this time, all automated computing was theoretical in nature. The mathematicians who theorized on it saw, at best, a powerful calculator.

Ada realized that the breadth of computing possibilities was far beyond what anyone had imagined up until that point. She translated an Italian mathematician's memoir about a proposed Analytical Engine, and in order to explain it, wrote a series of notes and appendices that were longer than the memoir itself. In her notes, Ada not only discussed but calculated the potential of computers... and created the world's first computer algorithm.

It looked like this. No, I don't understand it either.
She also talked about the theoretical non-mathematic potential of the computer:
[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine...
Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.
Ada was so far ahead of her time that nobody really knew what to do with it. Her work was well received, though, which was obviously rare for a woman. It's likely that her father's fame and her own charm had something to do with it.

While there is some debate over how much Ada really contributed to computer science and how much she worked on her notes with Babbage, I have to wonder how much of that debate is inspired by Ada's gender. One historian claims
To me, [correspondence between Ada and Babbage] seems to make obvious once again that Ada was as mad as a hatter, and contributed little more to the 'Notes' than trouble.
In which case... why was Babbage working with her? And there is no questioning that she created the "Note G" algorithm pictured above. It is easy enough to tell between Babbage's highly technical, minutiae-driven work, and Ada's broader vision in their respective writing.

Sadly, Ada died of cancer at only 36 years old - oddly enough, the exact same age as her father. History has remembered Lord Byron's name for his poetry and cult of personality. Let's see if we can't remember Ada Lovelace, too.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Surviving the (Romantic) Suspense #5: Men are from Mars, Women Process Adrenaline Slower

As a romantic suspense author, I spend a lot of time writing about ladies in peril. And by that token, I have to get them back out of it. So I'm going to use one day a week to talk about self defense and protecting yourself in various ways.

Men and women fight differently. It's a fact. There are numerous, often hotly debated, reasons for this. Some are cultural and sociological - men are conditioned to roughhouse from an early age, whereas women generally only associate fighting with punishment. And then some are physical - like the adrenaline dump.

Men process adrenaline faster. When that first punch hits them, they get a huge dump of epinephrine in their system. It makes them act, even though they've likely lost most of their fine motor control and critical thinking abilities.

Women process adrenaline slower. This means that while they will not necessarily be as immediately inclined to fight back, they will maintain the use of their motor control and critical thinking abilities for longer. Fights happen fast - by the time adrenaline kicks in for women, oftentimes the actual fight is over. This is why you will frequently see women shaking and crying after fights, while men are more often able to hold it together: the men have already gone through the shaky, jittery part of the adrenaline dump in the middle of the fight.

Both reactions have advantages and disadvantages. In a surprise fistfight, a man will usually fare better. But in a surprise firefight, a woman will be able to keep her cool and retain her ability to shoot accurately [Annual reports of police performance in the United States show that while police officers perform relatively well on low-pressure shooting tests (with hit percentages above 90%), they perform substantially worse when firing in the line of duty (with hit percentages around or below 50%; e.g., Morrison and Vila 1998)]. From an evolutionary standpoint it makes perfect sense - a tribe had to protect its women in order to sustain itself; a tribe of one man and several women would be much better off in the long run than a tribe of one woman and several men. The women were able to keep their cool, gather their babies, and get away while the men went fuzzy-headed with rage and fought, leaving the women and children time to escape.

Know your strengths, and train your weaknesses. If you're interested, here are a couple great sources on the subject.

ETA: Hey guys, go look at the comments for this one. Some very interesting, relevant stuff from JW.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Real Life Art Heist

In case you thought my art thief Ghost was a little far-fetched in DETECT ME...

$500 million worth of art pieces were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston during the spring of 1990. The spoils included pieces by no less than Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Manet.


The theft itself was ingenious in its simplicity. In the wee hours of the day after Saint Patrick's, two thieves dressed up as cops and snuck into the building. Who watches the watchmen, huh? It's likely that a museum guard was complicit in the theft, but that has never been proven.

A $5 million reward was offered for information leading to the recovery of the stolen works, but ironically this only complicated matters further when people looking to make an easy buck delivered truckloads of misleading or just plain fabricated information. The FBI investigated, but ran into dead end after dead end.

And THIEVES are the thief of everything else.
Now the FBI has made a statement claiming that they've identified the thieves. To me, the best part of this whole thing is that the thieves are apparently "members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England". This is both fascinating and hilarious. Ah yes, all those sinister crime rings in New England, smuggling lobsters and tennis rackets.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that any arrests have been made and the FBI still have no idea what happened to the stolen art. It remains a mystery... for now.

What do you guys think happened? Where do you think the art is now?

Cover Reveal for Jennifer Walkup's SECOND VERSE - with Epic Giveaway Contest!

Check out the cover for Jennifer Walkup's Second Verse and click below to enter the Epic Cover Reveal Contest over at Me, My Shelf and I - she's giving away signed ARCs, signed bookmarks and an Amazon gift card!

Not only is Jenn basically the sweetest person in the world, she's a fabulous writer who delivers a spine-tingling, lovely story. You want this one!


Bad things come in threes. In Shady Springs, that includes murder.


Murder Now

Lange Crawford’s move to Shady Springs, Pennsylvania, lands her a group of awesome friends, a major crush on songwriter Vaughn, and life in a haunted, 200-year-old farmhouse. It also brings The Hunt: an infamous murder mystery festival where students solve a fake, gruesome murder scheme during the week of Halloween. Well, supposedly fake.


Murder Then

Weeks before The Hunt, Lange and her friends hold a séance in the farmhouse’s eerie barn. When a voice rushes through, whispering haunting words that only she and Vaughn can hear, Lange realizes it's begging for help. The mysterious voice leads Lange and Vaughn to uncover letters and photos left behind by a murdered girl, Ginny, and they become obsessed with her story and the horrifying threats that led to her murder.


Murder Yet to Come

But someone doesn’t like their snooping, and Lange and Vaughn begin receiving the same threats that Ginny once did. The mysterious words from the barn become crucial to figuring out Ginny's past and their own, and how closely the two are connected. They must work fast to uncover the truth or risk finding out if history really does repeat itself.

CLICK HERE FOR CONTEST, GOOD LUCK! http://www.memyshelfandi.com/

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Poetry and Sunday

Doing things a little out of order. You guys have your seatbelts on, right? No biggie.

Circe's Grief
In the end, I made myself
Known to your wife as
A god would, in her own house, in
Ithaca, a voice
Without a body: she
Paused in her weaving, her head turning
First to the right, then left
Though it was hopeless of course
To trace that sound to any
Objective source: I doubt
She will return to her loom
With what she knows now. When
You see her again, tell her
This is how a god says goodbye:
If I am in her head forever
I am in your life forever.
Louise Gluck

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Seeing the Cracks

(Warning! Post holds spoilers for The Avengers.)

The other day I had this conversation:

Me: "Hey, do you have Skyfall? I want to watch it again."
Friend: "What? You hated Skyfall. I know this because I saw the movie with you in theaters and you wouldn't SHUT UP during it."
Me: "So?"

Actually, I didn't hate Skyfall. But I did see some big, gaping flaws in it, which is precisely why I'll watch it again - and probably more times after that.


Sometimes I'll see a movie and there will be these bright sparks of brilliance in it that captivate me. And then these cracks will spiderweb across it and the whole thing will just implode, never coming even close to reaching the potential I saw. It's endlessly infuriating. But also fascinating.

When I saw The Avengers I wasn't expecting much from it. I was a casual fan of a couple of the comics as a kid, but I'm not hugely into superhero movies as a whole - I think the best this trend has ever gotten was X-Men 1 and 2. Everything else has been pretty mediocre.

But then I saw the cast in action and I totally got it. Captain America was upright but brittle, Tony Stark was endlessly cool but vulnerable, Thor was the epitome of heroic but kind of clueless, Black Widow was running around directing everyone, and Hawkeye was Jeremy Renner (honestly what else did you need). I was holding my breath through the first 45 minutes of the movie waiting for them to finally, finally get into one place and start in earnest.


And then... BOOM! OH LOOK A THING! NO WAIT DON'T TALK, THERE'S ANOTHER THING! LET'S EXPLODE THE HELICARRIER! BOOM! ALIEN INVADERS!

Aaaaargh. You have all these incredibly well-cast, dynamic characters, and barely let them interact. It's a damn travesty.

And at last count, I have watched The Avengers roughly seven times.

Does that mean I actually enjoy these movies? I don't know. They frustrate me, but they fascinate me as well. They're like badly put-together puzzles that I want to take apart and reassemble correctly.

Is there anything that you don't precisely enjoy, but are captivated by anyway?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Being a Good Loser (or, how horses and writing are kind of the same thing)

My big non-writing activity is horseback riding. Which I've probably mentioned before, but you'll have to forgive me, the Alzheimer's is kicking in super early. If I can remember what I ate for breakfast it's a good day (which I cannot, coincidentally).

Right now I'm working on training a young, green horse. He's a gigantic Warmblood with a sweet, relatively docile disposition and so much potential you could weep over it. After a couple months of working with him I'm finally making real, visible progress, and that makes me think of writing.

The fellow in question.
When you first have this idea for a story, all you can see is this glorious picture in your mind of what the end result is going to look like. You're almost tempted not to even work on it, because you don't want to mess with that beautiful picture.

But of course, if you want to get anywhere you do have to start working. So you pull up a word doc and start writing and you're like okay, this is going somewhere, it's fine.

And then you hit a snag. An idea doesn't make sense or a character falls flat or something just feels off. It's like a bad day with the horse - everything is going fine and then out of nowhere they mutiny against every command and try to shove you around in the stall. You're left miserable, wondering what the hell happened and how you can possibly fix it if you don't even know what went wrong.

So then you have a choice. You have to decide: Is it the horse(idea)? Is it me? Or is it both, and do I want to keep working anyway?

The truth is, not every idea works and not every horse is going to work with you. Sometimes there's a personality clash and it's better to switch horses. I have a bunch of old manuscripts, some complete ones, that I finished and realized they sucked. It happens.

I guess the trick here is figuring out what's a barrier you can push through and what's a brick wall. Over time, hopefully, we get better at it. But just a few weeks ago I wrote 50 pages of a project and ended throwing them out wholesale. They weren't good enough and I couldn't make them better. I had to start over from scratch.

But then I started a new story, and it did work; it worked a hundred times better than the old one.

So maybe the key isn't to figuring out when you're playing a losing game. Maybe the key is being a good loser. If you can walk away from a failure (50,000 scrapped words, a horse that you just couldn't teach) and say, "Yeah, I failed, but I'm doing something else now and it's good."

And if it isn't good, you still start all over again.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In or Out?

Something that a lot of people get wrong is what introvert and extrovert really means.

And introvert isn't someone who likes to be by themselves. An introvert is someone who gets their energy from alone time. Being around other people drains them. Whereas an extrovert gets energy from being around other people, and spending too long on their own will leave them lethargic and miserable.

Of course, I'm an introvert who hates everybody, so it's a moot point for me. (Kidding! Sometimes.)

I wonder sometimes how much our talents come from our personal tendencies. Writing is essentially a solitary task - yes, there are critique partners and events like NaNoWriMo, but at the end of the day, you still have to sit down and type x-ity thousand words onto the screen. And if you can hold a conversation while you think of reasons for people to explode things and fall in love, then my hat's off to you. Could you be an introverted theater manager, spending 14-hour-days directing people and overseeing everything? Maybe, but I'm not sure how.

There are probably degrees. Some people are probably fairly balanced between introvert and extrovert. Personally I'm a pretty extreme introvert; I need hours and hours of time alone to recharge after something so simple as a normal work day. And of course, a day is never as simple as just work - we come home and see family and friends and travelling royalty or whatever. In some ways I'm fortunate - I'm able to function on small amounts of sleep and I use my late-night alone time to get the bulk of my writing time. In other ways it's less fortuitous - I'm pretty sure "well rested" is a cruel myth.

Maybe there are some people out there that life comes easily for, but I don't think there are many. I think the "average" 9-5, family, friends structure of American life isn't a perfect fit for most people. We have this idea in our heads of what our lives "should" look like from TV and movies, and we forget that in real life we don't get convenient training montages with complimentary glasses. Things work differently in real life. People work differently. Life isn't a one-size-fits-all.

Tell me - what adjustments do you have to make?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Write/Wrote/Will Have Written Your Point of View

Things are about to get a little tense up in here.


First person, third, or even second? Present, past, or... hey, wait, has anybody ever written a book in future tense? Serious question, people. I've never seen this before. Could be interesting: "I will leave the house today. Then I will go into the woods. I will be attacked by a bear, but the bear won't be a match for my mighty fists of fury. Then I will tame the bear and ride it into the sunset." Okay, could also be very annoying.

There's a lot of debate over what the "best" tense to use is. For a long time third person past was overwhelmingly popular, but recently there's been a surge of popularity in not only first person, but first person present. I think The Hunger Games really solidified first person present's place in current lit. Interestingly, though, there isn't a ton of third person present out there and I've noticed that when it is used, it tends to be in literary rather than genre fiction (House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus, Leaving Las Vegas by John O'Brien).

Only rarely do you see second person used, which makes sense - it reads as unusual to us, and it attempts to actually put us in the story, which can either be very effective or give the rhetorical question effect. "Have you ever wondered what it would be like..." "NO!"

It's quite common to have people really love one or the other. I've heard a lot of people say things like, "I won't read anything in present tense," or, "I only read books written in third person". I wonder if this is a function of familiarity, or if there's something about those styles in particular that appeals to people? Maybe some readers like the action-packed immediacy of first person present, while others prefer the distance of third person.

Right now I'm writing a romance novella in third person present. And I really, really love it, though I'm not entirely sure how cool people will be with that format. Time will tell!

Talk to me - what's your opinion on this tense subject? Do you love first person? Hate second person? Can't stand the present? Let me know!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Surviving the (Romantic) Suspense #4: Home Defense

As a romantic suspense author, I spend a lot of time writing about ladies in peril. And by that token, I have to get them back out of it. So I'm going to use one day a week to talk about self defense and protecting yourself in various ways.


When it comes to protecting yourself (and your shtuff) at home, the idea is to make it more of a hassle than it's worth for somebody to break in. This means you don't want to get an alarm system and then say, "Hokay, done!" You want to have multiple layers of defense in place so that anyone looking to break in has to put in that much more effort and take that much more time - therefore giving them more opportunities to get caught.

A security system is a good idea. At minimum, a sign from a security company can act as a possible deterrent.  Good locks are unfortunately not particularly useful; someone looking to get in your house is more than likely just going to break a window and either climb in or reach around to unlock your door. Good windows are very useful; hard to break windows are fantastic, and using the right kind of curtains is more important than you think. Don't give someone the opportunity to walk right up to your house and stare inside. Hang thick, opaque curtains.

Consider a dog. Just having the threat of something annoyingly yappy can help, as can the warning that barking will provide. Noise of other kinds can help too - if you leave on the TV or radio, it creates ambient noise that makes the house feel less empty.

Of course, none of these methods are foolproof, but then that's the point. If one particular method of home security worked, nobody would use anything else. The idea is to make your house seem like a difficult, unappealing target. Operate on the more is more principle. Whatever you choose to do, do a lot of it. Make your house such a pain in the butt that nobody can even be bothered to attempt to wade through the thorny bushes and storm the gate.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Poetry and Coffee: A Bit of an Odd One

This is one of my favorite poems. It's also a little strange.

The poem is a dedication in the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. If you've ever seen or heard of Lawrence of Arabia, this is the man (and book) that movie was based on. He was known for his liaison role in the Ottoman Empire during the Arab Revolt.

Although he never confirmed it, scholars agree that "S.A." is most likely Selim Ahmed, a young Syrian boy that Lawrence was fond of. He died at age 19 from typhus, weeks before Lawrence set out to liberate Damascus from the Ottomans.

To S.A.  
I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
And wrote my will across the
Sky and stars
To earn you freedom, the seven
Pillared worthy house,
That your eyes might be
Shining for me
When I came

Death seemed my servant on the
Road, 'til we were near
And saw you waiting:
When you smiled and in sorrowful
Envy he outran me
And took you apart:
Into his quietness

Love, the way-weary, groped to your body,
Our brief wage
Ours for the moment
Before Earth's soft hand explored your shape
And the blind
Worms grew fat upon
Your substance

Men prayed me that I set our work,
The inviolate house,
As a memory of you
But for fit monument I shattered it,
Unfinished: and now
The little things creep out to patch
Themselves hovels
In the marred shadow
Of your gift.
T.E. Lawrence, 1922

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Geisha: A Very Short History

Since there was such an interest in the truth of the fascinating onna-bugeisha, I thought I would talk a bit about another group of japanese women I've spent some time studying - the geisha.

Secrecy is the byword of the karyūkai (flower and willow world) that the geisha inhabit. Part of their allure is their mystery. What thoughts lie behind those carefully painted smiles?


To begin to understand something of the little we know about the geisha, first we have to understand their history. I referred a moment ago to the flower and willow world. That isn't merely a pretty name for the highly ritual, matriarchal microcosm of society that the geisha inhabit. It's a descriptor: in the old days, courtesans and prostitutes (of varying degrees of social status) were the colorful flowers, while the skilled, dignified geisha were the willows.


While geisha themselves didn't sell sex for money (sort of... sometimes... it's complicated), they descended from an elite rank of courtesans known as oiran. During the Edo period (1600 - 1868) laws were passed that restricted prostitutes to selling their wares in walled districts called yukaku set away from city centers. These yukaku quickly became pleasure quarters popular with wealthy men, and two ranks of prostitutes formed: the second-class tayu, and the elite oiran who were not only beautiful, but quick-witted and skilled in the arts besides.

Restricted inside these pleasure quarters, the oiran quickly fell out of touch with modern society and actually grew too refined to sell their wares. The ancient arts of tea ceremony, flower arranging, and calligraphy were nice, but they didn't entertain a man. It was time for something new.

Enter the geisha.


Today we think of geisha as beautiful relics of the past. But in their time they were fashion plates trained in singing and dancing... not so different from idealized women of our own time, like Beyonce. They weren't some fond remembrance, they were firmly steeped in the current culture and fashion forward. Housewives modeled their own clothes off the daring styles of the geisha.

In the beginning, geisha were actually forbidden to sell sex in order to protect the rights of the licensed courtesans (prostitution wasn't made illegal in Japan until 1956). So instead, geisha focused on ways to entertain men as equals. While mainstream japanese society dictated that women be meek and obedient, geisha were allowed to be fun. And geisha society was the one place where women were allowed to own and run businesses. In the teahouses where geisha sold their dancing and laughter, women dominated.

This, between the late 1700s and early 1900s, was the heyday of the geisha.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Country Mouse, City Writer

Right now I'm out in the country and experiencing cognitive dissonance. In my imagination, the country is like this:


In reality, I'm more like this...


In the summer you can go raspberry picking or swim in the creek. But in the winter, well, you can be cold. Or you can be inside. And I'm fine being on my computer writing all the time, but I'm around other people, and they don't really understand that all of my thoughts live in Scrivener/Pinterest/Twitter. Which is understandable. But it means that if I sit down to try to write, everyone else takes that as a cue to engage me in conversation.

Speaking of which, time to go.


What about you? Are you a city mouse or a country mouse?

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Weighty Award of Great Merit (and me rambling)




The Liebster Award goes like this:
1. Thank the blogger who presented you with the Liebster Award, and link back to his or her blog. (Big thank you to the lovely Erin!!!)
2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator; list 11 random facts about yourself (NOTE: I have done the 11 facts thing a few awards ago, so in the interest of space, I’m eliminating those. But let me tell you, I am a FASCINATING person - PS Erin wrote this but magically enough, same here), and create 11 questions for your nominees.
3. Present the Liebster Award to 11 bloggers, who have blogs with 200 followers or less, whom you feel deserve to be noticed. Leave a comment on the blogs letting the owners know they have been chosen. (No tag backs.)
4. Upload the Liebster Award image to your blog.


Ze Questions:

Who would win in a staring contest, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson?

HARRY POTTER. Because once you've actually died, staring contests seem slightly less intimidating. 

You’re out of black ink on deadline day, in which color do you print your manuscript to send back to your (perhaps hypothetical) editor: Cyan, Magenta, or Yellow? Why?

Magenta, because it's the most readable and I'm boring like that.

Tell us about your book.

Well, there's an official blurb over on the right, so I will let that speak for itself. Mostly.

My personal feelings about the book: DETECT ME is a mix of my love for detective noir heroes, artists of all different kinds, and women that are just as smart and capable as the men around them.

An asteroid is screaming toward Earth and only one dance craze is allowed in the hidey-hole that saves humanity: Gangnam Style, The Electric Slide, The Macarena, or The Harlem Shake. Which one do you save? (And you’re not allowed to say none) Also, if you are brave enough: Post a video of you doing said dance. THAT’S RIGHT. AN OPTIONAL CHALLENGE!

NONE OF THEM. THEY ALL DIE. Oh crap you anticipated me. Uh... Fine I guess The Macarena can stay. Fun fact - that was my first dance with a boy, because both our parents were around at the middle school dance and he was too embarrassed to ask for a slow dance.

What book are you currently reading?

Violence: A Writer's Guide by Rory Miller. He is the man.

Who is your favorite author? (I give you permission to cry that you can't only choose one and then I’ll let you choose, say, two or three if you must)

Immediately throwing my hands up and crying. Three is still too few! But if you twisted my arm I guess I'd say Steven Brust, Mary Renault, and Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy/Philippa Carr/whatever she felt like that week.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I can't say that I was ever inspired to become a writer, exactly. I always wrote. Probably a lot of this is due to the fact that my Dad (a very, very accomplished writer) noticed and encouraged me to keep going, even when I was six and writing crap like, "The wind feels like waterless water on my skin." (That's right. COPYRIGHT: ME. Try not to be too jealous.)

What’s your favorite eReader?

Kindle App on my iPhone or iPad.

Favorite internet distraction?

ALL OF THEM. Er... Yeah, that sounds about right.

Favorite fictional boyfriend?

Aragorn.

If you write drunk and edit sober, name the drinks for each. (Like mine would be wine and coffee)

I don't drink because I'm a boring person, but I do consume completely unhealthy amounts of coffee. Only, all the time.


Here are my questions!
1. What does your favorite mug look like?
2. What are your five desert island books?
3. Do you prefer movies or TV shows, and why?
4. What was the inspiration for your current book?
5. If you could force everyone to read ONE book, what book would it be?
6. What's your guilty pleasure music?
7. Favorite dessert?
8. Most common spelling/grammar error?
9. What's your go-to funny story?
10. What kind of cell phone do you have?
11. Tell me what your writing process is like.


And the lucky(?) tagees...
1. Thea Landen!
2. Sara Wolf!
3. Karla!
4. Diane!
5. Krystal Rose!
6. Rachel!
7. Mel!
8. Dawn!
9. Empowering Alina!
10. Kathy!
11. Dana!


There is at minimum a zillion% chance I will forget to comment and tell y'all I tagged you. So check for yourselves, and if you're not on there, do it anyway and comment with a link! I promise I'll come on your blog to ramble at you if you do. :)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Creativity and the Art of Wasting Your Time

There's a quote out there that says something like, "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."


I apply it to writing, but it applies to painting, or music, or even engineering - anything that takes passion, creativity, and drive to accomplish.

It's easy to tell ourselves to take chances, but it's so much harder to implement. If I know that I can get, say, 1000 words a day by sitting my butt in the chair and doing nothing else for an hour, why switch it up? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But even when you have set methods that work for you, I think there's a lot of value in doing something new every once in awhile, if only for the sake of it. Stretching your creative mind can be a huge waste of time. It can also push you to think differently. And even if it never shows in your work, it's valuable for your mind. It's like travel - sure, you could live a happy life without ever going five miles from your hometown. But do you want to live like that?


One time I sat down and forced myself to try freewriting for 30 minutes. I filled up five notebook pages with complete nonsense that I immediately threw away. Another time I did an "interview" with the main character of my WIP. It did nothing for my WIP, but that interview made me think about how some of the answers I gave the character didn't make sense... And how I wanted to write a book with a hero those answers would make sense for.

And then I wrote it.

What are you going to try?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Surviving the (Romantic) Suspense #3: The Freeze

As a romantic suspense author, I spend a lot of time writing about ladies in peril. And by that token, I have to get them back out of it. So I'm going to use one day a week to talk about self defense and protecting yourself in various ways.

When you are attacked, you will freeze.

This is true no matter your level of skill or experience. If somebody attacks you when you weren't expecting it, your brain will stop for a moment and struggle to figure out what's going on. It's called the OODA loop:

Observe
Orient
Decide
Act

You can get stuck on any one of these, but many people who are completely inexperienced with combat freeze up on Observe or Orient. Remember, your brain isn't working the way it usually does when you're attacked. It's very easy to seize up on "There is a person hitting me" or "Why is this person hitting me?"

Professionals are able to train themselves to go directly from Observe to Act. They see a punch coming at them, and that's their "go" button (something we'll talk about later). But unless you plan on becoming a violence professional of some kind (and unfortunately, even then, it's not an exact science - police officers and martial arts experts who have only ever trained, and never experienced real violence, often freeze up too in a real scenario) the best thing you can do is to be aware that the freeze exists.

Why does that help? Well, most people don't even realize that this will happen to them. That means that they don't have the opportunity to remind themselves, "I'm frozen. I need to act. I need to do something." Don't underestimate how helpful doing anything can be in a fight, particularly against someone who has perceived you as easy prey. Many criminals will back down if you show that you're willing to put up any fight at all. So repeat it to yourself and save it somewhere in the back of your mind: You will freeze. Break the freeze. Do something.