Seattle

I’ve spent the last week up in Seattle for a conference. It’s not my first time in the Pacific Northwest (I’ve been to Portland once or thrice) but it is my first time in the Emerald City.

Overall, I’ve had a good time, but there’s been some…bumps…along the way.

First Impressions

Things got off to a rocky start.

A young woman demanded I gave up my seat on the commuter rail in from the airport, not by asking, but by standing in the aisle, glaring at me, and then saying “Well?!”

Later, when I tried to get in an elevator that was about half full, the guy blocking the doorway just stared at me, and refused to let me by, even after I asked him if I could get in.

And I’ll not mention the number of cars that tried to run me over as I was crossing the street (at a crosswalk, with the light green).

This was all the first day. People I met later on (at the conference, when eating out, etc) were cool and friendly, but that first impression…lingers.

Architecture

I’m not sure what I was expecting Seattle buildings to look like, but I definitely wasn’t expecting this thing, which looks like it’s going to fall over any second now:

Or this, which looks like someone framed out half a building and decided “eh, it’s good enough”:

I mean, I like ’em, they’ve got a cool sci-fi vibe to them. But damned if I can explain ’em.

Hills

Ye gods, Seattle is hilly. San Francisco, eat your heart out.

You can see why I never had any trouble meeting my Apple Watch’s Move demands each day.

Weather

I’ve discovered December is the wrong time to visit Seattle.

Not when I throw open the curtains in my hotel room, hoping for some morning sun, to find this:

I think I’ve seen the sun once all week. Suddenly I understand how grunge music came from this place.

MoPop

I can forgive everything, though, for the Museum of Pop Culture.

Housed in another building that looks like it just dropped in from a sci-fi movie lot, this place is amazing. I spent three hours there on Wednesday night, and it still wasn’t enough.

How could it be, when they’ve got original models used in filming Aliens:

And Gimli’s helmet:

And Shuri’s gloves:

They even did up the hall where the Doctor Strange props and costumes are exhibited in mirrors and glass, so it looks like you’ve stepped into the mirror dimension:

Wow.

Conclusions

I definitely want to come back. There’s a technical bookstore I want to browse, a bunch of machines at the Living Computers museum I want to play with, and too many breweries I want to patronize.

But I’ll wait for the late spring, maybe summer, when I can actually, you know, see things.

Rebooting My Writing Brain

When I finished the first draft of the latest novel two weeks ago, I told myself I could take the rest of the year off. Maybe do some editing of a few short stories, but no real work till the first of the year, when I planned to dive into editing the novel.

So, of course, I’m already outlining my next book.

It surprised me. For a good week there it felt weird to not be writing, but also rather good. I had more time to exercise, to study French, to simply read again.

But then I read Cicero, followed by Legion vs Phalanx, and that connected up with an idea for a YA novel I’ve had bouncing around in my head, and suddenly I’m writing down characters and plot points and trying to work this story into shape.

It’s like a damned addiction, this writing thing.

I’m not keeping score, though; not yet. I want time to think things over, to brainstorm and throw ideas away, before committing to daily, serious work.

For now, it’s time to play.

Cicero, by Anthony Everitt

Masterful. Not only did I get a better sense of who Cicero was as a person, and why he was important, I also got a good feel for the politics of the late Roman Republic. More specifically, Everitt lays out the flaws inherent in the Roman system that — coupled with the stubborn refusal to change of most Senators — led to its downfall and the birth of the Empire.

I found this book easier going than Everitt’s biography of Augustus. They’re both good, don’t get me wrong, but I never felt lost in dates and events in Cicero, because Everitt constantly tied things back to the larger movements of the period. It gave me a better perspective, and also let me see how important Cicero really was.

For example, after watching the HBO series Rome (which is fantastic, highly recommend checking it out), I thought of Cicero as little more than a pompous windbag, unable to make up his mind or stand for anything.

On the contrary, while he could be long-winded, and tended to talk up his deeds too much, he was a capable administrator (he was only sent to govern provinces twice, but both times was very popular with the locals for being competent and incorruptible) and a rare thing in the late Republic: a Senator that sided with the wealthy (optimates) but wanted to change things just the same. Not to mention his original claim to fame as a great orator, which he won by ably defending clients in the courts.

He even, apparently, had some skill as an investigator. While on his second tour as a provincial governor, he uncovered a banking scandal that was being run by Marcus Brutus (the Brutus that later was one of Caesar’s assassins!).

In short: Highly recommended if you’re interested in Roman history, or even (like me) just curious to know more about the personalities glimpsed through series like Rome.

Writers Coffeehouse: December 2018

Another great coffeehouse! Since it’s December, we had a bit of a holiday pot-luck: people brought EggNog (spiked and not-spiked), cookies, candy canes, and wine. They also collected Toys for Tots, and even lit the first two candles of a menorah in honor of the first night (upcoming) of Hanukkah.

Lots of people had just wrapped up NaNoWriMo, so there was a lot of good news to go around. Biggest news was probably Henry Herz getting published in Highlights for Children, which is (apparently) a wickedly hard market to crack.

My notes are below. Congrats to Henry and all the NaNoWriMo winners! And, as always, many thanks to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting us, and Jonathan Maberry for running the Coffeehouse!

  • the one golden rule: no writer bashing; like or dislike the twilight books or da vinci code, but they opened doors for thousands of other writers and injected billions into the books industry
  • san diego writer’s festival: april 13th, central library, similar folks to the festival of books
  • option prices have dropped a lot since the recession; standard is now $5K, but can include lots of extras, like five-star treatment to get to set, executive producer credit (paycheck per episode), royalties per tv episode, etc
  • remember that your agent is a business partner; don’t be afraid to contact them, but don’t think they’re your best friends, they work for you, and you can learn a lot from them; agents love writers that are business savvy
  • nov and dec used to be a bad time for agents, but since it’s the slow season, it’s a good time to submit to them; ditto pitches to editors of magazines for articles to write
  • “we’re looking for original stories, not original submission practices”
  • when selling anthology to publisher, need a few big names on there so they feel that it’ll definitely sell
  • maberry: budgets 10 min out of every hour for social media; has a lot of pages and has to manage them, and manage his time on them
  • henry herz: got article accepted into highlights magazine! very hard market to crack
  • january coffeehouse will be about pitching; will also do sample panel
  • on a panel: they’re looking for a celebrity, need people to be a little larger-than-life; sometimes audience will ask questions they know the answers to, just to hear a celebrity say it
  • being a panelist is a skill; you need to be a slightly different version of yourself that the public will accept as “writer”
  • neil gaiman is naturally very awkward; had to hire an acting coach to script out appearances so people will get to see the “neil gaiman” they come to see
  • pitching, being on a panel, these are all skills you need to practice, but they *are* skills you can develop and improve, even if you’re a complete introvert
  • exercise: pick your favorite novel (or movie), and pitch it as if you wrote it; something you know well enough to do without notes
  • need to be good at it and comfortable with friends so that when in front of agents you aren’t so scared and vulnerable
  • people are more comfortable with peers than with people that put them on a pedestal
  • recommends using donald maas’ workbook on writing the breakout novel; the way it’s intended is after a first draft is done, makes you drill deeper into the book
  • also: don’t revise until after you’ve waited a month and then also read the whole thing through again
  • finally: do revising in waves; handle one change at a time, to make them manageable
  • unsure whether to make book a mystery or fantasy? write the book you’d have the most fun writing; if unsure of audience, pick the one you’d have fun writing for and go all in

On The Origins of Totalitarianism

Recently finished reading Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism.

It’s hard for me to talk about, because the book is filled with such piercing, clear-eyed insight, that if I tried to summarize it properly, I’d end up reproducing it.

I could say that I think the book should be required reading for any citizen of any country, in any age, because I do. And not because of any simplistic need to show that “Nazis are bad,” which (while true) doesn’t need an entire book to demonstrate. The testimony of even one concentration camp survivor should be enough for that.

I think everyone should read The Origins of Totalitarianism because it shows how the logic of totalitarian governments grows out of capitalism itself. Not that capitalism must always lead to totalitarianism, but that it always can. Just as racism and nationalism don’t always lead to a Final Solution, but without racism and nationalism, without some ideology claiming to override our humanity, a Final Solution is not even conceivable.

And yes, I think there are passages of the book, describing the methods of the Nazis and the communists (for Stalin’s government was also a totalitarian one) that are too close to our current administration for my comfort. I can’t read about the Nazis contempt for reality, or the way people in totalitarian movements will both believe the lies told by their leaders and praise them for their cleverness when the lies are revealed, without thinking of how right-wing nationalists in my own country treat the current President. But even if these things were not happening in the United States, it would be a book worth reading.

It is, in short, rightly called a classic. A long one, and a hard one, if we take its insights to heart as readers (passages calling out the middle classes for abandoning their civic duties for isolated home life strike close to home for me; I feel I’ve worked hard for what I have, and want to cling to it, but how many others am I leaving behind, by doing so?).

And yet it is that wondrous thing: a book hailed as a classic work, that is worth all the time and study we can give it. If you haven’t read it, please do.

We’re counting on you.

Keeping Score: November 21, 2018

At 67,010 words, the novel’s done!

Been writing at a good clip while on vacation this week; almost 7,000 just since last Wednesday (!)

And of course, I already have a list of things I need to go back and fix. Characters that need to be combined. Personalities that need to be made consistent throughout the book. Even events that need to be reworked, because I changed my mind part-way through, so the latter consequences of the event doesn’t match the thing itself anymore.

But those can come later. For now, the first draft is done, and just in time for Turkey Day 🙂

Hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving (in the US), and a successful NaNoWriMo, if you’re participating!

Keeping Score: November 12, 2018

Another week down: 2,295 words written!

Not all of those were for the novel, though. I’ve decided I want to try my hand at posting more here: more essays, more organized notes, etc. I know I won’t do it if it means taking time away from hitting my word count goals, so I’m making a change to the way I keep score: from now on, I’m counting words written for a blog essay as half.

So, for example, writing up a 900-word essay would count 450 words towards my weekly goal.

At the same time, I’m raising my weekly word count goal, to 2,500 words. I’ve been hitting the 2,250-word goal for eight weeks now. It’s time to stretch a bit further, and adding in essays to the word count should make 2,500 achievable. And even if I don’t write any essays in a week, it’s only 50 words extra per day.

Wish me luck!

Apple Watch Series 4.0: They Finally Got It Right

I’ve come to resent having to carry my phone with me wherever I go.

It’s this large, bulky thing sitting in my front pocket that takes great pictures, it’s true, but most of the time just sits there, unused. I don’t even like to make calls with it anymore, the quality is so bad. If I want to read, or write, or watch a movie, I reach for my iPad.

So when Apple first announced the Watch, I was excited. Here was a chance to finally let it go, to be free of the phone.

And then they started describing the new Watch’s limitations. No cell service. No Siri without being near the phone. No text messaging without the phone. No…anything, really, without being near a phone.

Wasn’t till the Watch 3 that they made one that seemed to finally be an independent product. One that I could use to drop my phone habit.

But it was too bulky, the UI was too weird, and the watch interface itself wasn’t very responsive. I shelved the idea of getting one, and told myself to be patient.

That patience has finally paid off. Three weeks ago, I took the plunge, and bought a Series 4 Watch.

What Works

Fitness Tracking

It’s exactly what I wanted from a mobile workout device. Finally, I can slip out the door in the morning and head out, unencumbered by any keys (we have an electronic deadbolt) or phone, and yet I’m never out of touch (I bought the Watch with cell service), and I always know exactly how far I’ve got left to go in my workout.

I don’t have to guess if I’ve been out at least 30 min. I don’t have to speculate about how long my route is. I can change my route on the fly, and still get the right amount of exercise. I’ve even been able to do some interval training — 3 min on, 2 min off — thanks to being able to time myself with the Watch.

Phone Calls

I stopped taking calls on my phone. I just take them on my Watch, now, and no one seems to have noticed a difference.

Except me. Every time I take a call on my wrist, I feel like Batman.

Time-Keeping

You know, it’s just nice to be able to look at my wrist and know the date and time. No more fumbling to fish my phone out of my pocket.

Apple Pay

Holy crap, this works so well. If I know I’m going somewhere that takes Apple Pay, I don’t need my phone or my wallet. It’s surprisingly liberating, to have such empty pockets.

Texting with Handwriting

Took a little getting used to writing with my fingertip, but now I don’t hesitate to write out a response to a text. Nothing near as fast as typing on the iPad, mind you, but the handwriting recognition is pretty good, and improves over time. And again, it’s so much more convenient than having to pull out my phone.

What Doesn’t Work

Siri

I know, I know, everyone likes to complain about Siri. But while the speech recognition seems better on the Watch than on my iPhone (which, huh?), it’s just so frustrating to have it fail to do some (to me) basic things.

For example, you can’t add a reminder to anything but the default list. So if, like me, you keep track of your Groceries as a separate reminders list, you can’t add to it with Siri. Which means you can’t add to it with the Watch.

Siri also can’t take notes. Nevermind that Apple’s own Notes app is pretty well integrated into all their other OSes. It’s not even present on the Watch, let alone something you can tell Siri to just “take a note real quick” for you.

Siri can set a timer for you, though. I mean, that’s 2018 for you: robots that can set timers for you via your voice. Well done, Apple.

Lyft/Uber

There’s no Lyft app. If you want to get a ride, you’re going to need your phone.

And the Uber app, while it exists, is broken. I made the mistake of going downtown without my phone, and had to have a friend call a Lyft for me to get home (like a barbarian!), because the Uber app insisted I needed to “setup a payment method” before I could use it (nevermind that I called an Uber to get down there, which presumably was paid for somehow).

So what seems like a natural fit for the watch (damn, I lost my phone somewhere, let me call a cab home) isn’t something Uber or Lyft cares about.

Final Judgement

I’m keeping the Watch. It’s still not perfect, but it is ideal for most of the things I need it for: tracking exercise, staying in touch when I’m away from my desk, and leaving my phone at home.

It’s still frustrating that I have to manage the Watch itself (settings, notifications, etc) with my phone. And it’s weird that Siri can lookup the location of a random city in Norway, but can’t add “Apples” to a grocery list. But these are quibbles, and fixable ones at that.

Now I just need to get one of those new Mac Minis so I can start writing my own Watch apps…

Keeping Score: November 5, 2018

Still on target, if just barely: 2,256 words written last week.

I’ve reached the “ye gods, when will it be over” stage of writing this book. I know I’m close to the end, and I know basically where I’m going, but it feels like a slog to get there. Doesn’t help that I changed how to get to the ending a while back, adding another 10-20,000 words to the story.

Thanks, past me.

So I’m blowing things up. Shoving obstacles in front of my characters left and right. Tweaking personalities of minor characters to make them more interesting (with notes to go back and make them consistent later). In general, just merrily running a drill through the story until I get to the ending.

Who knows? Maybe all these changes will end up being cut. Or maybe I’ll end up twisting the rest of the story so they fit.

I’ll only know once it’s done.

Keeping Score: October 29, 2018

Last week was my first week back to a regular writing schedule, after traveling in Ireland for almost two weeks.

I worried I wouldn’t be able to jump right in to writing at my previous pace, but I hit a writing streak on Friday, and blew past my writing goal: 2,400 words written!

And thank goodness, because next month I’ll have been working on the book for a year. I’m ready to finish it off, and move on to the next project. (Well, until I come back and edit this one).

Very much hoping to be done with it before the end of the year. Would be nice to head into the holidays with the work complete, and have earned a little break from the daily word mines.