Friday, August 24, 2007

New format!

Writing -- Still editing like mad. Just wrapping up a project; am midway through another project (kind of a cool book -- basically tells new parents they don't have to buy every damn gadget to ensure their baby's success and happiness); and about to get another manuscript, probably today.

New computer rocks. I'm learning the 2007 versions of all the software and appreciating its speed.

Attended a Diversicon Con-Comm meeting the other night. Never gotten to one before. I'm not fond of meetings, preferring to work behind the scenes and just accomplish useful stuff. These are nice people, though, and the restaurant's garlic bread is awesome, so it wasn't too bad. And I just found out [drum roll please!] that the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, an African-American newspaper, will be running a front-page story on Diversicon 15 and GoH Andrea Hairston! How cool is that?

Just got a courteous rejection from Forgotten Worlds.

Family -- My last hard-copy editing project went back to the publisher with small holes in several pages, courtesy of Bootsie, the mad paper-attacking kitty! I just drew an arrow next to each mutilation and wrote "Bootsie, a cat." Earlier this evening, I passed by her cat tower and suddenly had pinpricks of pain in my arm. Sure enough, she'd ambushed me from one of her hidey-holes. Cubby is unhappy about all the rain we've been getting; he doesn't like getting his dainty feet or fur wet (except he lay down in a mud puddle at the dog park the other day, so I don't know . . . ).

Culture -- Just read Liz Williams's Snake Agent (2005), which I picked up from Nightshade Books in the dealers' room at WisCon. Wow!!! What a fabulous book! It blends science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery genres effortlessly as Detective Inspector Chen battles cyberviruses, demons, and human criminals to save the world, his wife, a ghost who belongs in heaven, and his tenuous relationship with his goddess. The plotting is tight and the settings and characters vivid. I was recently given a $30 gift certificate to, and I spent it all on Liz Williams's books.

While waiting for those to come, have cracked open a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Bear titled The Chains That You Refuse (2006), also published by Nightshade Books and purchased at WisCon. The first story was elegantly written but irritating. It's yet another SFnal tale that relies on what I call "name dropping"; that is, populating its world with famous historical/fictional characters whom the author doesn't bother to flesh out because the reader is supposed to know them already. Also, I felt that the mechanics of the magic were hand-waved a bit too much -- why is Shakespeare hanging out with Ginsberg in the bar where Ginsberg used to stash his pot? And maybe I'm just too dumb and ignorant to appreciate certain stories. The second tale, on the other hand -- kind of a female Robocop story in which the protagonist has to make impossible choices and finds a moral compass she can live with in the process -- totally got me.

Home & Garden -- From drought to flood. At least we're up on a hill, so even our basement hasn't taken any water as far as I can tell. And we're not in the flood zone of southeast Minnesota/southwest Wisconsin where houses have come unmoored from their foundations and floated down the street with their occupants screaming for help from the roofs. Now the next few days we should dry out a bit, so I hope to get a bunch of weeding and other yard work done. The plants sure appreciate the water.

  • How physics works, and doesn't, in the Loony Toons universe: New Scientist (December 25, 1993)
  • An insightful commentary on the I-35 bridge collapse from Don Blyly of Uncle Hugo's bookstore: Newsletter #79 (September-November 2007)
  • AC/DC economics. I found out about this kerfuffle from CBC's As It Happens. While waiting in the Vancouver airport, economist Robert Oxoby wrote a joke paper on the influence of AC/DC's music, as sung by the band's two different lead singers over its lifetime, on decision making. A New York Times blogger took it seriously, then had trouble apologizing graciously. Oxoby's real research interests look pretty fascinating; I wish I'd known economists did such things when I suffered through econ classes. At any rate, such work should be the foundation of a character in an SF story. The paper's conclusions?

The question as to who was a better singer, Bon Scott or Brian Johnson, may never truly be resolved. However, our analysis suggests that in terms of affecting efficient decision making among listeners, Brian Johnson was a better singer. Our analysis has direct implications for policy and organizational design: when policymakers or employers are engaging in negotiations (or setting up environments in which other parties will negotiate) and are interested in playing the music of AC/DC, they should choose from the band’s Brian Johnson era discography.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

August 13, 2007: Diversicon 15! Editing out the wazoo! Back all better!

(Maybe I can't make it rain? Jury's still out.)

Writing -- So first, I should say that after five days of virtually complete immobilization, my back got better almost as quickly as it had gone out. A few more days of moving gently, and I was good as new. I'll never know if it was walking the dogs, or sleeping on the couch, or something else.

Which is good, because I've been busy! Holy smokes, I've been busy. I've been working to the point of not sleeping, eating, or showering. (Okay, was that last one more than you wanted to know?) At one point, after getting maybe 11 hours of sleep in the last 72, I thought, "I really just don't need to sleep," and recognized my state as being a wee bit hypomanic.

And my five-year-old computer seems to be on its last legs, at least as far as running a network is concerned. I've ordered a new HP Pavilion a6150e with most of the memory and processing speed I could get and other cool stuff. It should arrive next week. I don't think I could have dealt with my back going out and my computer going buggy.

So back to being busy. Tons of editing work coming in. Got a project that was supposed to be a 350-page copyedit that turned out to be a 520-page rewrite. Prose was often gibberish, and the text was factually wrong in many places. So I had to keep pushing that deadline back and back. The darn thing kept taking longer than I anticipated; I don't know if I slowed down or if the writing got worse -- maybe some of both. Then a bunch of other projects came in. I've had a lot of variety: a book to help high school students pass a standardized math test to graduate, a book to help them pass the Advanced Placement exam in "human geography" (I'd never heard of it before, but it's kind of a blend of economics, sociology, and history), a study guide for new doctors who need to pass a test to practice medicine (the descriptions of all the icky things that can go wrong with the human body help you appreciate the body you've got), and several educational theory/practice books. Now I'm wrapping up another book for teachers and starting a book about statistics for MBAs. I like the variety. Each publishing house (and sometimes imprints within a house) has its own style preferences, though, and sometimes it's hard to keep them all straight, especially when I haven't been sleeping or eating (or showering)!

I've also been busy because of Diversicon 15. It was an awesome time. My panels all went pretty well. I got to bond with some people I have haven't gotten to bond with for a while, or ever. I got to hear Keg Salad, a folk music band with Mark Rich and Martha Borchardt and bought their CD, Touch of Life. I got to wax enthusiastic about the reproductive habits of aquatic snails, and people listened. Later, one man pointed me out to another, saying, "That's the Snail Lady." Man #2 wanted to hear all about them. I saw parts of some early SF films and part of a 2002 British SF film that looked really good (28 Days Later). I did the Program Book for the con, and I think that turned out pretty well. And I found some good books and great T-shirts in the dealer's room and got a lot of books at bargain prices at the Auction. Guest of Honor Andrea Hairston is a rock star, and Special Guest Melissa Kaercher is a firecracker. Altogether, a very satisfying weekend.

Family -- Doug's parents came for their annual visit. We had a pretty good time with them. Visiting the dog park with Cubby was a high point, as was playing Russian Rails with his dad (one of the more fun rail games, IMO -- easier to get started than many of the others). Unfortunately, Doug and I were both so zonked from working so hard and (at least in my case) not eating, sleeping (or showering), that we weren't up to doing a whole lot.

Culture -- Just read Dreamer (1988) by Daniel Quinn, the author of Ishmael and leading figure of a radical environmental philosophy. Dreamer is a really excellent book -- recommended! I guess you'd call it contemporary fantasy/horror but with a definite science fiction sensibility. (If you haven't, you should read Ishmael, too. It *will* change the way you think about everything.)

Home and Garden -- We're having the hottest, driest summer since 1988. I think before that, you have to go back to the Dust Bowl to find anything worse. Starting last week, though, we finally got a series of the furious thunderstorms one associates with June in the northern prairie, and some much needed inches of rain. I was too busy for a couple of weeks to water much, so I did lose some of my newer/more fragile plants, but what can you do?

I planted too many tomato plants, and now they're producing, and I have too many tomatoes. I gave some to my next-door neighbors yesterday, and my therapist said she'd love some, so a bag is going her way today or tomorrow. They're gorgeous heirlooms; the yellow/orange "Persimmons" are especially delish -- sweet and meaty. The pak choy/joi choy hybrid has proved incredibly hardy for a leafy vegetable; the heat and drought seemed to have killed it, but now it's coming back and growing like crazy. Too bad it doesn't taste better. Sauteed with salt and butter, like collards, it's okay. My basil is proving delicious in salads, as are my chives. I've gotten a couple of nice cantaloupes, and some beautiful broccoli is forming (and Old Dog Bill isn't around anymore to eat it off the plant!). Even some lettuce has survived, though only a small percentage of what started. The asparagus I put in the front yard this spring all came up and seems to be thriving, so hopefully next spring, I'll be able to harvest a little. And it's as pretty as an ornamental plant as I'd hoped. Have gotten lots of white, green, and purple beans and one yellow sweet pepper so far. I'd say this has been my most successful veggie garden year yet!

Fun! --
  • Squirrels and Snakes: Judging from the way they like to throw themselves in front of oncoming cars, I'd always thought squirrels had low survival quotients. But they do have some things going for them. A special protein in their blood that makes them immune to snake venom, for one. And a way of shaking their tails vigorously and heating them when venomous snakes approach. (They shake their tails but don't bother heating them up around nonvenomous snakes.)
  • Africa: It's a big continent, it's a varied continent, and it's a continent we should all know more about. The BBC World Service has a great page dedicated to news and information from all parts of Africa.

July 14, 2007: Back Pain! Rejections! Editing Projects Gone Astray! Woe is me!

(But I really can make it rain.)

Writing -- Got a quick rejection (one-week turnaround) from Jim Baen's Universe. On the first couple of e-mails the assistant editors sent each other about my story, they hit the "reply all" button, so I learned they felt my story was either "boring" or "too dark." They were discussing three stories, so I'm not sure which category mine fell into. My story is a bit dark -- it involves a disabled baby who dies and a lot of other innocent people who die -- so for the sake of my self-esteem I'm going to assume it's not boring. I sent it back out again right away [vigorously patting self on back].

Also got a very courteously worded rejection from the Machine of Death anthology. They got about 700 submissions! Good grief. Of course an author improves her chances of acceptance by writing a high-quality story, but still . . . the sheer numbers are discouraging. However, they also take the sting out of the rejection. I just keep telling myself, "Write and submit. Write and submit. It's the process that matters, not the outcome. I control the process; I do not control the outcome."

Have opened up another story I wrote at Clarion that just needs a few tweaks and another page or two to flesh out the ending before being ready to go out into the world. "Lunge endings": I do them in just about every first draft. I get so excited about finishing a story, I lunge for the ending. "So a 16-ton weight dropped on the dragon's head, and the princesses lived happily ever after. The End." We need to know where the 16-ton weight came from and a little more about what "happily ever after" means to these characters. :-)

Editing-wise, knocked off another book on educational practice in good order. I'm enjoying these books on teaching and school leadership, particularly the cogent criticisms from different perspectives of No Child Left Behind. This book was my first project for my newest client. As usual with a publisher I haven't worked with before, I had to ask some "obvious" questions, and I still misunderstood what I was supposed to do! However, the project editor was very nice, and at least I turned it around quickly and (my opinion) did good work.

For another house I work for, I was expecting a proofreading assignment to show up on my doorstep by the end of this week (and it hasn't), I got a copyediting assignment via e-mail (but I only got a couple hundred graphics files I can't read with any of my software and no book manuscript that I can discern, and I didn't notice the problem until the project editor had, very reasonably, left for the weekend), and I'm expecting a copyediting project early this week (hopefully nothing will go amiss with that).

I also have a manuscript for another publisher that's with the authors for review, and that should be coming back to me this week.

So I've got lots of work. Just none of it's on my desk right now, which makes me itchy. However, that's probably just as well, since on Monday, I woke up to agonizing lower back spasms. I ice, stretch, change positions, take OTC painkillers (which do nothing), apply BenGay (which isn't supposed to work, according to the "experts," but relieves pain better than anything else I've tried), and spend a lot of time resting/sleeping on my side with a pillow between my legs. I've also had a couple of chiropractic treatments. Five days and counting, and still can barely sit, stand, bend, or lie down. That leaves . . . ?

Family -- Lost a couple of Glowlight Tetras to the last heat wave (which was miserable -- 88F heat index as the low one night). One just disappeared; presumably its corpse was eaten by something. The other was clearly not doing well -- a combo of "velvet" (a parasite) and a bacterial infection, I think -- but I didn't jump on it in time. I was pretty enervated by the heat myself, and then by the lower back sprain/strain.

In other aquarium news, my floating Water Sprite, which started in February as a few leaves, overran both tanks. I took in a bunch to my favorite fish store for credit (like trading in used books to a bookstore for credit). I'd never brought in anything to a fish store before, but the clerk was very patient, explaining how much was "a bunch" and that damp newspaper or paper towel was better for transport than bags full of water. She even gave me a bag of various baby plants -- she'd just cleaned the plant tank -- to take home. I also left with a new Colombian Ramshorn Snail to be a partner for my old one (though I have no idea how to sex them). I still have two huge Water Sprite plants in my 55-gallon tank, with bitty babies hanging all over them, and the 20-gallon is full, so I'll probably bring in more next week.

Bootsie enjoys being an athletic kitty at night. When the weather is cool, we open the double-hung windows, and sitting on the lower sill just isn't good enough for Empress Bootsie. She must be on the top sill, no matter how much silly effort it takes!

Culture -- No reading with my back the way it is. Do TV reruns count as culture?

Home and Garden -- Pfft! Can't pick anything from my wonderful garden with my back out. Thank goodness, just before my back went out, I'd thoroughly soaked everything with the hose, resulting in about an inch of rain. (I can make it rain!) Since then, it's cooled off, and we've gotten a trace of rain and may get more. The Twin Cities are still running a 5"-7" rain deficit, though, and it's a pain. I certainly can't water anything with my back the way it is! I also want to clean up the place before Doug's parents arrive for their annual visit, but I don't know how much I'll be able to help with that.

Fun --
  • Merriam-Webster's is adding about a hundred new words and phrases to its dictionary. I guess I'm surprised that words like smackdown and Bollywood aren't already in the dictionary. For writers who want to write character dialog on the cutting edge, here's the Double-Tongued Dictionary, a communally maintained online dictionary of "fringe English, focusing on slang, jargon, and new words."
  • Check out the Dependable Erection blog (named after a North Carolina fencing company's slogan). I found it after a Google search on some lyrics from a TV beer ad I couldn't quite understand. This guy had the lyrics up, confirming my hunch that the ad was incredibly stupid. He also had up an analysis of how stupid the ad was, and I read a bunch of his other entries about national politics and media and enjoyed them muchly.

July 4, 2007 (U.S. Independence Day): Market List (Anthologies/Contests) Updated! And I really can make it rain.

Check out the updated Quick Reference Market List. BTW, now that I'm updating it regularly again, I expect to revamp the page layout soon, perhaps with the August update. So hopefully it will be easier to read, navigate, and use.

As I've long suspected, I can make it rain. One way to make it rain is to plan an outdoor wedding; other ways include planning a picnic or washing the car. My way is to water my garden. My green leafies were wilty, so I turned the hose on them, and BOOM! There had been zero rain in the forecast, but suddenly a "pulse thunderstorm" formed. The climatologist on the radio said it covered only about 20% of the metro area. So it really was personally directed at me. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! :-)

July 2, 2007: Writing, Submitting, Baby Birds!

Writing -- I've been methodically going through my backlog of unsold stories, unsold because I've hardly sent them anywhere, brushing them up, and submitting them to top markets. It may be a complete waste of time and postage, but maybe it isn't, and anyway, I am a writer and it's what writers do. The point is to participate in the process, not to achieve a certain outcome. Also, after being stuck for a while, I'm working again on the horror story set in Colombia and having a good time with it. Edited another book about school leadership, this one for principals ("headteachers" in the U.K. -- I hadn't known that) about being sensitive to their teachers' feelings will improve students' learning.

Check out the Diversicon 15 Media Guide. I had a lot of fun pulling this together! Also wrote up Wikipedia articles on Diversicon and SF Minnesota. Learning the basics of Wiki was fun -- it's been a while since I've learned a new way of telling computers what to do.

Am working on the Anthologies section of the Quick Reference Market List today and should get it posted.

Family -- Lost the Rainbowfish 24 hours after my last entry. Lost another male Rainbowfish about a week later. Not sure what happened to him. We'd had a stretch of very hot weather, the tank temp had risen to 85F. Then it cooled off drastically overnight, and the heater didn't entirely keep up with the cool wind coming through the open window next to the tank; it got down to 77F or so. That's when I noticed that the fish wasn't swimming as actively as the others and wasn't eating. He also seemed slightly swollen through the abdomen but wasn't dropsy-like. Other than the behavioral changes, there was no outward sign of infection, fungus, or parasites, so I didn't move him to the hospital tank as I wasn't sure what I would treat him for. After a few days, I found him dead with Mr. Snail sitting on top of him. He's now feeding the flowers. On a brighter note, the Head-and-Taillight Tetra with severe fin rot has mostly grown back its fins and got moved back to the main tank last week. Among bigger fish, he's not nearly as mean to his fellow Tetras!

Culture -- Does aerobics music count as culture? Probably not. Have just starting Andrea Hairston's Mindscape. It's all very interesting, though I'm having trouble getting my bearings with her world and characters. It will probably make more sense once I get further into it.

Home & Garden -- The veggie patch is going great! I've got an amazing amount of pak choy. The lettuce and spinach are starting to come into their own. The tomatoes are amazing (and I put in way too many tomato plants -- already asked the neighbors if I could put a bag of tomatoes on their porch later this summer) and the peppers and cantaloupe are blooming and starting fruits.

In the perennial beds, it's weeding, watering, weeding, watering. I just want 0.5" rain a week. Is that really so much to ask? Those poor folks down in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas would probably be happy to give me some of what they've got. Lone Star racetrack, between Dallas and Ft. Worth, had to cancel races the other day when it got nearly an inch of rain in 15 minutes. Yikes! Got to say, though, that the lone delphinium I managed to start from seed a couple of years ago is looking amazing -- such a brilliant blue, and so many blooms!

And it's baby bird season once again. Gaping mouths, fluttering wings, and feed me! feed me! I'm pretty sure I saw a Black-Throated Gray Warbler at the feeders the other day, which I don't think I've seen before. It was a very striking small bird with lots of contrasting black and white and gray. We also have a small red squirrel (not a chipmunk) this year that we've never seen around here before. Haven't seen the larger gray squirrels visiting the feeder for a while, though. Maybe the red squirrel is fierce and chases them off?

To escape the heat wave last week, dropped into a Wild Birds Unlimited for the first time ever. Oh my! What a fabulous place. Their suet has no artificial junk in it, so I got some of that -- the kind with the dead bugs in it. Doug thinks that by providing the birds with pre-dead bugs they don't have to catch, I might be spoiling them. You think? I *love* spoiling them! I also got a bag of seed, which they're going through at an insane rate. Doug picked up Birds of Prey of Minnesota, one of a series of hand-sized field guides organized by the birds' colors and sizes -- much handier than those organized by family-genus-species. I already have the ones for Minnesota and Wisconsin, but it's nice to have one devoted to raptors because it shows what their silhouette looks like from below and from the front/back in front.

Fun -- What could be more fun than baby birds???