Category: writing

Black & White 3: The Platform

Black & White 3: The Platform

This is Skimbleshanks. I name all my laptops after cats in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and the prior ones have been Macavity and Mistoffelees. This is part of my larger computer naming scheme, the poems of T.S. Eliot, of which I’ve had desktops bearing the names of wasteland, prufrock, and hollowman.

I bought Skimbleshanks in 2013, and even though I bought a top of the line gaming computer at the time, it’s starting to show its age. The nice graphic card burned out because the laptop had a heat problem. The ports on the right side of the computer don’t work because, in trying to release a busted DVD drive from the slot, I accidentally dropped it, forcing the little USB receiver that goes with my mouse which I had left in a USB port to shove the motherboard to the left. Most recently, I managed to spill water over the computer. Thankfully, it only killed the keyboard letters z, x, c, v, m, period, comma, right shift, and enter. That’s why there’s a second keyboard in front of the laptop.

Alas, money to replace anything doesn’t exist, so I’ll just have to deal with Skimbleshanks’ quirks and hope it doesn’t get worse. I hate not having a job.

(LJ/Dreamwidth readers: The crossposter I use for both these services does not attach the featured image, so you will have to click through the link at the bottom of the post to see the image.)

Prior entries in this series:

I have a new blog

I have a new blog

So my friends Zibb and Mal, and I have started a new blog where we’re talk science fiction and fantasy and mastering Ahri from league of legends, in all corners of the media world from books to movies to games. You can find us over at Conceptual Neighborhood and while we’re still ramping up, there’s some good stuff there. (PS: thanks for the name suggestion.)

I will probably still post here occasionally about things I’m thinking of that don’t necessarily fit the baliwick of Conceptual Neighborhood.

I heart Reddit Secret Santa

I heart Reddit Secret Santa

I walked outside with bare feet and only a short-sleeved shirt on, no jacket. The temperature was about 44 degrees outside, which isn’t much for the East Coast contingent, but is starting to border on cold for Californians. By the end of the trip, I had regretted forgetting one of those items, and no, it wasn’t my shoes.

It was a beautiful night, though. It’s rained recently, it’s chilly, and there was a rather stiff north wind blowing today, and between the three, it’s always clearest night to look up. Tonight, as I stepped out, I could see Orion climbing up the sky from his perch in the east. Yes, it’s winter, when one of my favorite constellations disappears and the other one appears. (The other one is Scorpius, which I have some attachment to because it’s my birth sign, and it’s, just like Orion, very easy to spot in the summer sky.)

The box!  There's something awesome in here for me!
The box! There’s something awesome in here for me!

I walk across the street to the mailbox, wondering if a package has arrived. And sure enough, with the mail, there’s a key to the parcel mailbox in the mail. Sure enough, inside is a box for me, and the return address is labeled Secret Santa. I’m shivering by now, but I extract my package and finish pulling the mail out of the box, and head back across the street. In the west, the moon grins a Cheshire cat smile, almost as if it’s as happy as I am.

I distributed the mail to the various members of the household, set my box down and poked through the letters. Nothing interesting — well, that’s not quite true. One of the state job announcements I could most definitely do and it sounds fun — being part of the intrusion detection team at the California Franchise Tax Board, the folks who collect California’s state income tax. But I’m getting off subject. Finally, I pull out the box and prepare to open it.

Let me pause to explain. Believe it or not, Reddit has a Secret Santa tradition. You sign up for it — all that’s needed is an active Reddit account. On a certain day, signups close, and then they metaphorically shake the hat using fancy algorithms (that may or may not have been invented by Al Gore) and they match folks up in one long chain. That is, I give a gift to somebody who has a completely different person to give a gift to, who then has another person, and so on and so forth. Your gifter is not your giftee. [1]

So…this box was from my secret santa. Cool! What’s in it? Let’s open it up!

When no knife is handy, resort to mailbox key!
When no knife is handy,
resort to mailbox key!

I have three different pocketknives/multitools with a blade on them. I have no idea where any of the three of them are, so I hack at the tape with the mailbox key. This took a bit. My Secret Santa put good tape on that sucker. But I hack at it valiantly and finally managed to get the box open. Here’s the moment of truth. What did Santa bring this year?

So, in the box were three very wonderful things. One of them is a classic Mario amiibo. If any of you know me, you know I love these things, and when I get my room cleaned up, I’m going to hang a beautiful shelf my papa made for me to hold them. I did actually have this one before, but it’s cool, because I had been toying with getting a second one to make a custom with Luigi’s classic NES colors. So now I have one to do that with!

Cool things for me!
Cool things for me!

The next thing is a deck of cards, but they’re not your ordinary playing cards. No! These are Writer Emergency Cards! So when you’re writing a story, there’s Idea Cards, which are illustrated and contain an idea, and Detail Cards, which give you helpful suggestions and specific tips. I haven’t pulled these out of their package yet, but it’s awesome!

And the last is a notebook. I love notebooks, and this one is pretty cool. It’s large (I love large notebooks) and it’s got faint lines on the page so you have the lines to center your writing, but it doesn’t get picked up in scans. I am certain I’ll get use out of this.

So this was a good Secret Santa haul.

And last, there was this wonderful note buried in the box.

lovely note from my secret santa
lovely note from my secret santa

I love reddit Secret Santa, and mine in particular.

[1] At this point my brain wandered off on a tangent involving a secret santa group I was in freshman year. I’ll explain later.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

As much as I didn’t want to leave the fun that was Corflu, alas, all good things must come to an end. I wandered out a bit after ten last night, and got home a bit before 1. Time: about two and a half hours of driving, all told. I was less sleepy than I thought I’d be, which is somewhat of a miracle.

I’m still trying to process the weekend. Maybe with a full night’s sleep, I’ll be able to attempt to write some of it down.

Short of it, though, is I had an amazing time, and I’m going to do my best to see you all next year in realspace. In the meantime, I’ve got a first issue of Rhyme to put out. (For those of you not at Corflu, I introduced Rhyme, but deliberately numbered it ½ so that it wouldn’t be the first issue — I’ll get the electronic copy to Bill later in the week, I suspect.)

Meanwhile, I think some sleep is needed. My cat has already found the pile of fanzines, declared them cromulent, and sacked out on them. Mebbe she’s a fan, too.

Rhyme & Paradox

Rhyme & Paradox

Yeah, that’s going to be the title of the fanzine I’m putting out. And I’m looking for contributions. I have the first year pretty much planned out as to topics. (I’m going to go approximately quarterly, so that means four topics.)

The first topic is ‘Beginnings’; I’ll need things by New Year’s for assembly and layout in early January. I’ll take anything folks want to throw at me, but my most pressing need would be a cover. I’ll probably end up having to whip something up using photographs since I don’t know how to ask for help (read: too nervous to ask), but I wanted to lay that out there as a thought.

The second right now seems to want to be called ‘Dreaming of Rockets’; my thought on that is Hugos, not the space race. I’m sure it’ll come up soon. That, I’m going to say, let’s shoot for a deadline of the Ides of March. This is a little more fluid, talk to me in January about it. I just wanted to throw the idea out there.

My email is katster AT retstak DOT org, or you can poke me via all the usual places (including the comments of this blog entry.)

most awesome birthday weekend ever

most awesome birthday weekend ever

So yeah, this weekend went really well. If I had to ring in the start of another lap around the sun, this is about the way I want to do it. Bear with me, for long kat is long.

It started at work Friday, where there was cake. We do this for birthdays at work recently, but one of my co-workers made sure there was cake for me. It was supremely good cake, too.

Saturday started out a bit meh, as I had to go do schoolwork in the morning, but once I was done with that, I headed out to Folsom, stopping along the way to treat myself to In-and-Out for a hamburger as my celebratory birthday weekend. Yum.

Then, at Folsom, we had a party. It was supposedly for those not going to SF the following night to have fun, but they decided to let me come and celebrate my birthday. One of our Wrimos even baked me a cake. This was sweet.

And then to top it off, Saturday was also the 112th Big Game, which I was fairly certain Stanford was going to win. But my Bears somehow came out of nowhere, had the score close at halftime, and then proceeded to first pull away, and then let Stanford back into it before sealing the deal with an interception. It was Cal Cardiac Football at its finest, and so I got a nice surprise gift — an Axe. It was pretty funny because I was so not writing at the party, but listening to my game, and towards the end, the feed started cutting in and out, which made it hard to follow. The feed cut out just as Toby Gerhart tried to win the game for Stanford, and didn’t come back up until I heard the word “INTERCEPTION!” in my headphones and was trying to figure out what had just happened and whether that meant my Bears had won the game.

And then there was Sunday. Oh god, what can I say about Sunday? Besides the fact that San Francisco is probably my most favorite city on the planet and I love any chance I get to visit, the Night of Writing Dangerously was way more fun than I was expecting. It started simply:

It’s about 5:40 in the evening. The scene, a round table in a ballroom high above California Street in San Francisco. Seated there are seven people from Sacramento: myself, Richard, his wife Jennifer, Jenny, Candace, Temperance, and Stephanie. There’s some idle chitchatting about where people are and stuff like that. In front of the room, the bell is introduced — you come ring the bell when you’ve become a winner at NaNoWriMo (that is, hit the 50k mark). And that’s when the following happened:

Temperance: “So, Kat, you going to hit 50k tonight?”
me: “You’re kidding, right? I’m nowhere close.”
Temperance: “You’re in the forties, no?”
me: “Well, yeah, a bit over 43k.”
Temperance: “There you go. You can hit 50k tonight.”
me: “I’m not so sure about this idea.”
Temperance: “Look, how many words do you have?”
me: “About forty-three five.”
Temperance: “That’s about 6500 words. We’ll not count this hour. But six — we’ll not count seven — eight, nine, ten. That’s four hours. You only have to write about 1500 words an hour.”
Rest of table: “Yeah, c’mon, Kat, you can do it.”
me: “Okay, fine, you all. I’ll try.”
me (thought): This is going to be impossible and I’m going to fail and feel rotten at the end of it. Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Table: *cheering*

So I spend most of the evening sitting and writing frantically, although there were several breaks to take advantage of the candy pile and the hosted bar (too bad I don’t drink, but there was plenty of ginger ale and soda) and eat something resembling dinner. Oh yeah, and there were the most crazy donuts I’ve ever had with toppings like Cocoa Puffs and Nilla Wafers and Oreo cookies and Butterfingers and …the list goes on and on. Also, I went and took my author photo.

But most of the time I was writing. It was a write-a-thon after all. And after frantically typing all evening, writing a grand total of 6,481 words — a personal NaNo daily best — this happened.

Later that evening, about 10:15 PM:
Jason (peering over my shoulder): “So did you make it?”
me: “Give me a second, I just put it in the wordcounter.”
NaNo website: *loading*
Everybody: *waits*
NaNo website: katster has 50,182 words.
me: “Wait, what, I made it? I made it!”
Table (and Jason): “Go ring that bell!”
me: “Give me a second to recover and bask in my glory.”
*moment*
me: “Alright, now I’m going to go find Sarah [the coordinator of this glorious event] and let her know that I made it before I ring the bell so she doesn’t have to come frantically running.” [Backstory: People had been ringing the bell all evening, leaving poor Sarah frantically running to the stage. I felt bad, so I wanted to make sure she didn’t have to run.]
*By sheer random coincidence, Sarah walks by at just that moment*
me: “Hey Sarah! Just to warn you, I hit 50k!”

…and so I nicely followed Sarah to the podium where I grasped that bell and rung it just about as hard as anybody had that evening.

And the rest of the night I wore a crown on top of my Cal hat and a manic grin. Kinda like this:

me, after it’s all said and done. Photo by my friend Richard

All in all, the best birthday weekend ever. Thanks to everybody who helped me make it to the Night of Writing Dangerously — cards should go out next week.

And no, I don’t know how I’m going to top this next year.

Meet Joey Breen

Meet Joey Breen

I need to go back and add yesterday’s server-maintenance delayed post, but it will be up. Meanwhile, today, I’m giving you an excerpt from my novel-in-progress.

Help me get to the Night of Writing Dangerously! I only need about 16 more people to throw $10 at the pot!

Anyway, this is told from the point of view of a reporter character who is doing a series on a Congressman and would-be presidential candidate, and in this bit, goes to interview the Congressman’s son.

Read More Read More

fried

fried

So it’s November. November means it’s NaNoWriMo month, which means that I’m running around like a crazy person. Then I stupidly said, “Ah why not, I’ll update my blog every day this month. It’s not like I don’t have enough to do.” Since I’m sure there’s folks out there that want to keep me honest, guess I’d better get the month started.

Anyway, it was a good day. The kickoff was nicely attended, and I got a good chunk of writing done. I added another six hundred words at the write-in we did for TV. I haven’t watched the clip yet, so I don’t know how much of me made it in, but my highly awesome co-ML, , got interviewed and didn’t do so bad. (Ah, here’s the clip. I’m in the background a lot.)

But the combination of staying up way late for write-in, and then getting up way early for the morning write-in, alongside the timechange, is just making my brain go *splat*. And since that means I’m not coherent, that means it should be bedtime.

But I have nearly four thousand words, and I saw a nice sunset. It was a good day.

Why you should never let katster play with her food

Why you should never let katster play with her food

So the neighbors made us cupcakes for Easter. This, of course, ends with me goofing around with cupcakes, microwaves, and the digital camera on my Blackberry…

Our story starts with an innocent Peep on an innocent cupcake, a normal residence of Cupcakelandia, on the fair continent of PlasticaPlate. Obviously, all is right with the world. But little does our peep know that the world is going to get very … interesting. Yeah, that’s the word we want, interesting. It is a tale most foul…

Of course, in Cupcakelandia, sitting on a cupcake without the permission of the monarchs is a crime. So our innocent little peep gets thrown to the wolves and is oppressed by the two Peeps who sit in judgment on the Cupcake Thrones! Help, help, we're being oppressed!Photo by retstak
Oh noes! Our innocent little peep is being oppressed! What is there to be done? Well, it seems the rulers of Cupcakelandia are looking for a peep to be experimented on! And they pick our poor innocent peep! What will become of him or her, as we completely failed to give our peep gender when we started this story!

At the Kenmore Nuclear Test Chamber, our peep is strapped to a gurney and placed inside to be radiated by powerful forces for thirty whole seconds! Will our peep survive such awful treatment? In the wreckage of the test range, we found a journal with the following entry:

Incident at Kenmore Nuclear Test ChamberPhoto by retstak
Subject Y. Peep was accidentally placed in the test chamber for approximately thirty seconds. Subject emerged as a irradiated SuperPeep and stormed off in the direction of the capital muttering something about those bastards on the Cupcake Thrones. I fear the worst.

The scientist who recorded this missive was obviously lying on at least one point, as the irradiation was done quite deliberately and with malice aforethought. Also, I suspect SuperPeep trashed the Kenmore Nuclear Test Chamber before going on his mission to destroy the Peeps on the Cupcake Thrones! This would make sense given his awful treatment at the hands of the scientists at the place. Perhaps our mystery scientist was trying to cover up his role in this plot. We may never know.

Uh oh!Photo by retstak

News photography in Cupcakelandia brought us this last image before we lost all transmissions. It shows an obviously larger SuperPeep behind the thrones, just before SuperPeep ascended the thrones and destroyed them and their rulers. It was a marshmallow bath, folks, and that sort of thing is just not okay for the kiddies to see. I mean, marshmallow all over the place? Are you some kind of pervert or something? It didn’t really matter, though, as our cameras lost power, possibly from SuperPeep’s irradiated hide, shortly thereafter.

(Read: katster got bored with taking pictures and decided to eat peeps instead. Note, microwaved peeps are not as good as normal peeps, as the chewy goodness becomes sugary tasting rubber.)

katster’s handy fix-it-down and do-it-to-yourself type tips for winning NaNoWriMo with your sanity (mostly) intact…

katster’s handy fix-it-down and do-it-to-yourself type tips for winning NaNoWriMo with your sanity (mostly) intact…

katster’s handy fix-it-down and do-it-to-yourself type tips for winning NaNoWriMo with your sanity (mostly) intact…

This is a reprint of an article I put in my LJ last year.

The first and most important is that “It’s Nano. Embrace the suck.” (This is actual advice I gave last year to the Sacramento Nanoers. It’s advice I will be giving again this year. “Embrace the suck” has become the unofficial Sactown Nano motto.) Authors are not the most objective when it comes to their work, and will go on and on about how much the book sucks. Granted. It’s Nano; you’re writing 50k words in one month. Of course it’s going to suck. If you embrace the suck, it makes it that much easier to get through it.

Two, it really does help to write a bit each day. Actually dividing it out shows that one needs to write approximately 1,667 words in a day; Chris Baty and the other folk at NaNo HQ suggest two thousand words a day so that you can have slack for days when you absolutely cannot write. But try to get a few words down every day. Whether it’s three or three thousand, every word is one step closer to that magical 50k. (That said, I’m shooting for 2,500 words/day this year. I have to get on a plane and go back east before the month ends, and I want to be done before I get on that plane.)

Three, do not go back and edit. If you can avoid it, do not go back at all. Because seeing text on the screen seems to draw what Chris Baty calls “the internal editor.” You do not want the internal editor to show up! It makes it that much harder to make it through 50k. This ties into my first point about embracing the suck, because the internal editor is the guy mumbling that your work sucks, and well, if you just change this word to that word, and delete that sentence…the internal editor wants you to get *rid* of words, and that’s fatal when you’re trying to make word count. Lock the internal editor in a box, and don’t let him out until May at the earliest. June’s better.

Four, get started. Write as much as you can while you’re still bright-eyed and raring to work. Because it will slog later in the month, as the rest of the world, who doesn’t understand this whole Nano thing, will start making demands on your time, and you’re also going to hate this writing thing and curse whatever deities you believe in about letting you think you could actually do this. That’s natural. Plus, if you get behind on word count early, it’s somewhat discouraging. I know this one well because I didn’t get started until November 8th in 2005. I still managed to win, but that’s because I’m a fast writer, and the story suddenly just avalanched onto the page. I do not recommend this technique to anyone.

Five, use nasty tricks to get your word count. Is your character baking cookies? List out all the ingredients. Trying to figure out what to order at a cafe? List the menu. Another great one that was given at the Sac Nano meet and greet last year was “When in doubt, describe.” Description eats word count like nothing else. And if all you feel like writing that day is “I hate this; what got into my mind?”, go ahead and write it into the file. Yeah, it’ll end up a bit disjoint. That’s okay. Your inner editor is locked in a box, and when you let him out in May June, he can take stuff like that out. Right now, all you care about is word count, and that sentence is eight words closer to it. If you write it a dozen times, suddenly, you’re 96 words closer to your word count. Plus, it’s a good frustration reliever. Also, RaBiChi, from the Sactown Nano group reminds me: Eschew compound words! Don’t shove words together! For example, it’s word count, not wordcount! Another suggestion to think about would be to get rid of all your contractions. But do not take this to extremes…unless you want to sound unnatural, that is.

Six, you don’t have to write in chronological order. There’s a neat invention on the computer called “cut and paste”, which you can use to move chunks of your novel around later. (Don’t do it in November. That’s dangerously close to editing.) If you have to write chronologically, but you can’t think of a scene, write “And then something happens” and go to a scene you know about. Remember, style doesn’t count for much anything in Nano.

Seven, it isn’t Nano until you kill somebody in your novel. In 2005, I killed a minor character, but it lead to wonderful things happening. Also, I found out I can get in the mind-set of a sociopath. It’s not a good place to be, but it makes the character that much more believable. Just to have more fun, I started 2006 off with a mass murder. And if you’re looking at me like I’m insane, folks at the meetup last year suggested being even more drastic, like killing your main character. Yeah, it seems insane, but death scenes take up lots of word count. And if you have to kill a few kittens along the way, well, at least you’re just doing it on paper. (You *are* doing it only on paper, right?)

Eight, if you haven’t grasped it from everything else I’ve said, your mantra is “Word count. Word count. Word count.” Whatever you do, just keep putting words on paper, and trust that your brain knows what it’s doing when it comes to this writing thing. I once saw a sticker on a friend’s laptop that read, “You have 213 bones in your body. Surely one of them must be creative.” Trust that creative bone, and keep trudging.

Nine, ignore those punks who write their entire Nano in a week. They’re overachievers. Or they have *way* too much time on their hands. You’re not in competition with anybody unless you want to be. (That said, competition is sometimes a good way to get your creative juices flowing.)

Ten, if you have the time, find a local Nano group and hang with them. Sometimes, just knowing there are other actual people out there suffering under the same delusion that they could write 50k words in a month makes it that much easier to go from delusion to reality. Plus, there’ll be folks who have done it before, and they’ll offer you nasty tricks on making word count and support when you cry that 50k is just too much! (Seriously, the Sactown gang is what got me through Nano the last couple years.)

Eleven, you’ve won just by attempting this thing. The word count is immaterial. So what if you only get 15k or 30k down before you run out of steam? Yeah, it’s not 50k, but it’s still an accomplishment. 15k is 30%. 30k is 60%, which is more than half. It’s an awfully big commitment to write a novel in November, and if you manage anything towards it, that in itself is an accomplishment. That said, it feels nice when Nano declares that you’ve written 50k, even if bells and whistles and confetti are only going off in your mind.

And that’s pretty much all of my Nano tips. If you know any others, feel free to share in comments.

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