Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stuff and fluff

First, a public service announcement for all women who buy clothes at Target: Avoid the jeans. Target has a fantastic system in which you determine your size and length, and whether you're curvy, and they will have jeans that fit you perfectly. They even carry tall jeans for 6-foot gals like me. But there's a drawback. The first jeans I bought there split right down the ass after only a few weeks. And, no, I do not have a large behind. I figured I had just gotten a bad pair, so I bought a second one. Two day ago, that pair split in the exact same place. So unless you own pretty panties that you enjoy showing off to the world, buy your jeans elsewhere.


NPR has a short piece on its website called "My Accidental Masterpiece: The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster. My dad came home one nothing-special day and gave me this book, which he had bought that afternoon. I loved it. The Phantom Tollbooth ranks up there with Narnia and Prydain as the best reading experiences of my youth. Two bits of interest in Juster's NPR article: He had not intended to write the book, and it sparked controversy after publication because:
"Many said that it was not a children's book, the vocabulary was much too difficult, and the ideas were beyond kids. To top it off, they claimed fantasy was bad for children because it disorients them."
In rebuttal to the ridiculous idea that children should be treated as less, I will once again quote Mr. Juster because he says it better than I could:
"The aim was that no child would ever have to confront anything that he or she didn't already know. But my feeling is that there is no such thing as a difficult word. There are only words you don't know yet ..."

Hurray for Norton Juster.

Writing progress: I'm about 500 words into what will be a science-fiction story of very short length. Probably flash fiction. The intention is to put some distance between me and my next Writers of the Future entry before I start revising that story.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I hate getting older

I pulled a muscle in my back this morning while attempting to pick up my daughter. Granted, she's big for a 4-year-old. But this sort of thing never happened a few years ago when my son was at that age. I now smell of Icy Hot because of the medicinal patch I have plastered to my back. It's the only way I can get through eight hours at my desk.

The last day of MileHiCon was anticlimactic, as the last days of all conventions tend to be. People are packing up and heading home; therefore, panels are more sparsely attended. The day's only panel with a full room was An Hour With Connie Willis. She was charming and engaging while talking about her upcoming projects, romantic comedies and the National Book Award fiasco. I neglected to bring my camera for the third day in a row, so I have no photos to share.

In writing: My critique group has really come through in nailing the primary problem with my WIP: I open with an "event" story and somewhere in the middle switch to a "character" story. Not good. This is going to take some serious rewriting, which is frustrating. I had hoped for the time to write a second story this quarter, but it probably won't happen.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

MileHiCon Days 1 and 2

Last night, I was too exhausted to blog after getting back from Day 1 of MileHiCon here in Denver, so here's a brief rundown of the first two days.

Friday: I attended panels on Exploding Writing Myths, world-building, Why Anthologies are Important, Conspiracy Theories and Earth Science, and Carrie and the Midnight Hour. That last one has become somewhat of a con tradition in recent years, in which Carrie Vaughn stands in her for heroine Kitty and hosts a radio show to help callers (i.e. people from the audience) with their paranormal problems. Most of what I got out of the other Friday panels was validation for what I already knew: the writing profession is difficult and unglamourous; anthologies serve as a sample box that can introduce readers to a new favorite writer; 2012 will not be the end of the world (and neither was Friday, btw). I also got many books signed and had a short chat with Carrie Vaughn about Doctor Who.

Saturday: My dad joined me for the day, and it was fantastic to have company. He even sat through 90 minutes of Buffy musical/Doctor Horrible singalong. The best panel today was on collaborative writing, featuring the husband and wife team of Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta; brothers Dani and Eytan Kollin; and Jeffrey Lambert (minus his wife Anne, who had been double-booked for another panel). Going into the panel, I had no idea how writing collaboration works. For Anderson and his many writing partners, they outline the book, divide up the chapters and write their portions on their own, before merging the two halves and smoothing out the rough edges. It's best to collaborate with a writer whose knowledge base and writing method compliments your own. From what the Kollin brothers said, it seems they do as much arguing as they do writing.

There was also a panel in which Connie Willis, Gardner Dozois, James Van Pelt, Van Aaron Hughes and John Stith shared their lists of the top 12 short stories published before 1980. I took down a lot of names and titles and now have a long reading list. Some I've read: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes; The Man Who Lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon; Third Level by Jack Finney; Air Raid by John Varley; and There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury. On Sunday (tomorrow), another panel will tackle stories since 1980.

Maybe tomorrow, I will remember to bring my camera so I can post some photos here with my wrap-up.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

MileHiCon this weekend

This weekend, the Regency Hyatt in the Denver Tech Center is the place to be for MileHiCon 43. I'll be there all three days. I won't be on any panels or doing any readings or signings this year, which means if you want to find me, it'll be in the audience or the hallways. I'll post a couple of updates here throughout the weekend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stuff and fluff

In real life: My doctor today diagnosed my perpetually sore shoulder as a neck spasm, which will require large daily doses of ibuprofen and muscle relaxants, and possibly physical therapy. Fun. She says I likely aggravated the issue with my non-ergonomic posture at my work desk for eight hours a day.

In writing: None today. I've been doing critiques this week.

In television: I finished watching Torchwood: Miracle Day this afternoon. I plowed through 10 episodes in about a week, so I'm going to give it a day or two to percolate before I write up my thoughts and post them here. Look for a Torchwood post by the weekend. My immediate impression was of too much filler and too much deux ex machina. It was not as good as Children of Earth.

And, just for fun: Funny or Die's "Clinton Foundation: Celebrity Division"

Monday, October 17, 2011

The good, the bad and the rainy

It's a cold, blustery, rainy day in Denver and the first day in months for which I had to put on a coat before leaving for work. That has fed my already gloomy mood.

The good news first: The first draft of what I hope will be my quarter 1 Writers of the Future entry is done and in the hands of my critique group. In turn, I've received four stories for critique in the past 48 hours, so I'll be working on those for the rest of the week. I want to finish with critiques by Friday, which is when MileHiCon begins.

The not-so-good news: As a writer, some days there are successes, and other days the rug gets pulled out from under you. In neither case do you have control over the situation. Such is the nature of the business. I had a rug day this week. Now I am focusing on the things I can control: what I write, how much I write and where I submit my stories. Hard work and perseverance are key to success.

I also have to remind myself that whatever weirdness happens to me, there's always someone else who has it worse. Man, oh man.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Last night comedy. Today, protesters.

Last night, I went to a comedy club for the first time in 13 years, and only the third time ever. The opening act at the Improv in Denver, Alex Scott, attended the same high school in Culpeper, Va., that my husband did and they are Facebook friends. So Alex set us up with some comp tickets. We had a great time.

I had no idea going in who the headliner was. In fact, I had no idea who the headliner was until halfway through his act. Then he mentioned something about 7-Up commercials, and it clicked. Orlando Jones. In my first two times at comedy shows, the headliner wasn't anyone I'd heard of and I certainly don't remember now. So it was interesting to find myself two rows of tables away from an honest-to-goodness celebrity whom I'd seen on television on and off since the 1990s, and I didn't even know it until a half-hour into his act. Wow, I felt clueless.

In other news: In the street outside my work building right now, about 2,000 Occupy Denver protesters are marching through the intersection of Colfax and Broadway and mucking up traffic. It's sure not something I see every day, and if I had a camera with me, I would have snapped a shot and posted it. After a month of putting articles about these folks in the newspaper, I still can't figure out what exactly they want. It's a general outpouring of frustration over economic inequity, but do they have a leader? A goal? Or do they plan to march with their signs, yelling about the 99 percent and getting themselves arrested, without having an endgame in mind?

Friday, October 14, 2011

It's a matter of priorities

I've been procrastinating on finishing my work-in-progress, even though I have only one scene left to write (and a short scene at that). Every day I say to myself, I have to finish that story. Then I don't. And that has me thinking about my priorities, which go something like this:

1. Family. Anything important that concerns my husband and children (and to a slightly lesser extent my parents, sisters, nieces and nephew) trumps all other concerns, every time.

2. Day job. I need to put food on the table, which means the 40 hours a week I spend in the newsroom comes before everything except family emergencies.

3. Household duties. When the pantry is bare or the laundry is piling up, I take care of those concerns before the things I'd rather be doing, which are ...

4. Writing. I try to find time to write every day, but I don't always succeed in that thanks to Nos. 1-3 on the list.

5. Exercise. This is interchangeable with No. 4. I like to work out for at least a half-hour every day. Sometimes when I have only half an hour to spare in my schedule, this will trump writing. Sometimes not.

That is why, in a busy week, I don't do any writing. This week I've dealt with multiple medical appointments for my children, a parent-teacher conference, a night out with my husband (this is a good distraction, though), a full work week and a long list of chores and errands. Despite all this, I will finish the WIP this weekend. I'm making that one of my highest priorities.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bye-bye braces

We had a banner day in the Hicks household today when my 15-year-old son got his braces off. This is how long he's had them: His 4 1/2-year-old sister has never seen him without them. The braces were put on about six months before she was born. It's been so long, in fact, that it's going to take some time to get used to seeing a bright white, straight smile.

My 7-year-old son is probably going to need braces in a few years. The jury is out on my daughter. And my dentist is pressing me to get some orthodontics, as well. My teeth are slightly crowded, but mostly it's because of the popping and locking issues in my jaw. If I decide to go that route, it will come after I get around to having my wisdom teeth removed. The problem is affording all this. Dental insurance doesn't cover what it used to.

In other news, I'm six episodes into the most recent season of Torchwood. It's uneven. Episodes five and six (in the overflow camps) struck me as mostly filler, and I don't know what to think about setting up a pharmaceutical company as the bad guy of a science fiction show.

And in reading, I'm about halfway through "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" and am unlikely to finish it by the time the book is due back to the library. One scene in particular really struck home. Erika Berger, the new editor in chief of Stockholm's daily newspaper, is arguing with the financial folks over whether to cut newsroom staff. She argues that if staffers are cut, the quality of the product will go down, the newspaper will lose advertisers, and the downward spiral continues. Stieg Larsson knows what he's talking about.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Netflix takes it back

Thank goodness Netflix has come to its senses, at least about one thing. The whole idiotic idea of separating DVDs and instant streaming into two companies has been nixed. Netflix will remain un-split, which means I will not be dropping my subscription. Now, if only they would take back some of that price increase, too.

Meanwhile, I've discovered that the fourth season of Torchwood (which aired on Starz over the summer) and The Walking Dead are on instant streaming. That will give me something to watch now that Doctor Who is done.

Today in real life: Mostly, I caught up on chores: laundry, dishes and vacuuming. With my daughter's help, I also raked up enough leaves to fill three trash bags. However, that's only the start. Most of the leaves are still on the trees.

Today in writing: Nada. Third quarter winners were announced for the Writers of the Future contest. Two writers in my online critique group were finalists, but, alas, neither made the top three.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stuff and fluff

In writing: About 640 words last night. I've written 7,100 words total in the work-in-progress and have one short scene left. The story will probably end up being about 7,500 words, which is about what I expected it would be when I started.

In reading: I'm working my way through "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson.

In real life: The Denver area is getting its first snowfall of the season today, or so I've read. The parts of Denver I've been in have gotten only cold rain, emphasis on the cold. The one thing I really dislike about living in Colorado is that the snow season generally starts in October and doesn't end until April.

Because of the nasty weather, I did not go running this morning as planned. Instead, I did a pilates abs workout I have on DVD, or rather I tried to do the workout. I used to scoff at living-room workouts as being for out-of-shape wimps. The one I attempted this morning is for iron men and women. My abs now hurt every time I breathe. But after two weeks of serious work on my core muscles, I think I'm starting to see some improvement.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Magicians" on television

Now this is interesting: Fox has optioned Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" with the intention of adapting it into a television series. Fantasy seems to be big on the networks' radar since the first season of "Game of Thrones" did well and earned a pile of Emmy nominations. Wil Weaton tweeted his interest in being cast, without stating a specific role. He might make a decent Quentin Coldwater.

However, this whole thing strikes me as odd. I'm not sure anyone but HBO would have the budget to pull it off, let alone allowing the necessary creative freedom. The home of "American Idol" and "Glee" seems like a strange home for a dark, adult serialized fantasy series. (Not to mention, the characters aren't exactly the sort of people you root for.)

Would they try to squeeze the entire book into one season? If so, any series would be short-lived because, as of right now, Grossman has written only two Fillory-related books. Or would they take the True Blood route and let the writers go their own way with it? And the biggest question of all: Will this really come to fruition and reach the small screen?

Monday, October 3, 2011

We talk healthy, then eat our words

An Associated Press article this morning starts this way: Americans talk skinny but eat fat.

The article goes on to say that despite first lady Michelle Obama's crusade to slim down our overweight country, most people still order burgers and fries over more healthy choices. According to a survey last year by food-research firm Technomic, 47 percent of Americans say they want healthier menu options, but only 23 percent order those foods. In other words, a lot of us are hypocrites.

My first reaction is that I'm not surprised. We are an unhealthy country that is generally in denial of that fact. But there's a critical bit of information missing, which is how often these polled Americans eat out.

I'm not a health nut, but I choose fruits and veges over chips, and I exercise regularly. I try to maintain a healthy weight. My body mass index fluctuates between 20 and 21. But when I go out to eat, I never get the salad or the boiled chicken with rice. If the menu includes a big, juicy bacon cheeseburger with fries on the side, I'll probably order it. I eat out about once a month, though, so this is not a regular meal for me; it's a treat.

I'd like to think that's the case for most people. Especially in this economy, who can afford to eat at a restaurant or order fast food every day? Most people's problems probably surface when they eat junk food at home, too - when it's not a treat but a major part of their diet. When given a choice between, say, yogurt or a few handfuls of potato chips, they go for the chips.

Menu choices at restaurants are a problem. KFC's popular Double Down sandwich - bacon and cheese slapped between two pieces of fried chicken - has 610 calories and 37 grams of fat. Hardee's Thickburger has a gut-busting 1,170 calories and 83 grams of fat. But restaurants are not the only problem. Before we point too many fingers, let's all take a look at what's in the pantry and the fridge, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song

Season finale! I've watched it twice now. I spent most of the first viewing stewing over the myriad inconsistencies (more on that later). The second time around, I enjoyed the episode quite a bit more.

Spoilers ahead.

At its heart, the story is a simple one. The Doctor goes to his death in Utah. The event is a fixed point in time - it must happen - but River refuses to kill him. As a result, time goes wonky and can be set right only if River does the deed. The universe at a standstill is fun and interesting, but it's all smoke and mirrors. Nothing much in this episode matters except for what happens on the shore of Lake Silencio. In the end, it's a robot body that is shot and burned. The Doctor is fine.

This story pretty much concludes the saga of River Song. All the big questions have been answered. We now know whom she "killed" and that, yes, she is the Doctor's wife.

However, I could not help but feel disappointed for how this last chapter played out. Ever since her introduction, River has been strong and sassy, with a hint of something dark beneath the surface. Now we see she has always and only been a pawn - first of the Silence and then of the Doctor - and her love is unrequited. I find that sad. She is ripped from her family at birth and brainwashed. Finally she gets a chance to kill the Doctor and falls in love with him instead. Next time they meet, the Doctor uses her to fake his own death and she goes to prison for most of the rest of her life. After she earns a pardon (for a crime she didn't commit), she sees her Doctor for the last time and dies for him.

However, a lot of what happens to River in this episode feels forced. It happens because the show's writers have said (or strongly hinted) that it would happen and now they have to deliver a payoff. But it is done sloppily. My two main points of contention:

River kills the Doctor. This has been hinted at since the weeping angels two-parter last season and was confirmed in "Let's Kill Hitler." The question all along has been: Why would River kill the best man she's ever known? What horrible, tragic circumstance would force her into such a position? It turns out she does not do it of her own free will, and that cheapens the act. The spacesuit moves itself, which raises the question of why she or anyone has to be inside it in the first place. What kind of idiot bad guy puts the one person inside who might manage to find a way to stop the Doctor's death from happening? Oh, and then the Doctor addresses my issue from last week by saying twice that River won't remember doing the deed. But unless there is a Silent standing behind the Doctor when she fires the shot, that makes no sense. A satisfying payoff this was not.

River marries the Doctor. Why did he do that? I mean, really ... why? He says five minutes before that he does not want to marry her. She says she loves him, and he ridicules her for that. On the pyramid roof, he calls her stupid and says she embarrasses him. Rarely have we ever seen the Doctor act so cruelly toward someone. Then he marries her? All he has to do is whisper in her ear that he's inside a teselecta robot. She would let him take them back to the lake after that, with or without marriage vows. The only reason I can think of for the Doctor marrying River under these circumstances is, as I said above, that their marriage has been hinted at many times and Steven Moffat wanted to squeeze it into the finale whether it made sense or not. If the Doctor showed even a modicum of affection for River during the pyramid sequence, I might have bought it. But he doesn't. It would have been so easy for Moffat to write it differently. Why he didn't, I will never understand.

And, as a side note, it bothers me that the Doctor and River marry in an alternate timeline that gets wiped from existence and never happened. It seems that for a legitimate marriage, which from all appearances this is not, they should go through the ceremony again. Maybe this time, he could tell her his name.

Despite these gaping holes in logic (time isn't the only thing disintegrating on this show), I still managed to enjoy most of the episode. I like super-tough, resourceful Amy and her devoted Captain Williams. I liked the reason why the Doctor goes to his death: He knows a secret that must never be spoken. And I like the question he must never answer: Doctor who? I like that we'll see a semi-reboot next season with the Doctor going more under cover than he has in a long, long time.

There's a lot to like. If only the writers could work out the bugs in the internal logic, I would be a very happy viewer instead of one who's mostly happy but left yearning for the finale that could have been.