Where to find me: Life, The Universe & Everything Symposium

 

I lack the capacity to play it cool. I can never act like “Oh, I casually have this awesome thing coming up, but no big deal.” I’m more like:

tenor

So it is with extreme uncool excitement that I announce my speaking schedule for the upcoming Life, The Universe & Everything Symposium February 16th and 17th.

Aircraft at War

I’m the moderator for this panel, which means I’m the boss =)

 

Octavia Butler

I’ve read nothing but Octavia Butler for two months straight in preparation for this panel. Go read Kindred if you want to get punched in the face by literature.

 

Capture

I majored in psychology and I haven’t been able to leave it alone ever since. Prepare for me to go on and on about how our every-day mental illnesses manifested in totally different ways in earlier time periods and the historical treatments–oh the treatments!

 

I hope to see you at the symposium. I will *try* not to embarrass you with my Labrador-levels of enthusiasm.

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Robots Overlords, the Cones of Dunshire, and Star Trekonomics

I’m really excited for robots to take all our jobs.

i-for-one-welcome-our-new-robot-overlords

That’s not the right beginning. Let me start someplace else.

My brother in law is designing a new board game. The family play tested it several times to help him get the mechanics balanced just so. He scribbled notes while we moved pieces around the board and complained that he should make it easier. He grinned. He’s committed to doing an excellent job even though there’s no paycheck attached to this task.

I got all bouncy and bright eyed when he talked about all the little tweaks and adjustments he planned to make. At first I couldn’t figure out why this had me so excited.  Board games are OK, like they make a good gift occasionally but I don’t want them every single Christmas. STOP BUYING ME BOARD GAMES FOR CHRISTMAS, SHANE.

 

But this had nothing to do with board games, not really. I was excited because my brother is making cool stuff and making cool stuff is sacred.

I think back to time periods when humans had basically no leisure time. Most of the painting, inventing, and embroidering was done by a tiny segment of the population. Art and science take time and money. Now thanks to mass production we can hand a six-year-old a crayon and say “go crazy with it kid.” It doesn’t matter if they break the crayon because there are literally 151 more.

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More importantly, that six-year-old has nothing more important to do than drawing pictures. No working in the fields, no apprenticeship as a chimney sweep, not even a factory job. That kid’s only responsibility is to listen to the teacher and raise his hand when he has to pee. That’s awesome progress; good job humanity.

Speaking of progress, almost 50 percent of Americans worked in agriculture back in 1870. Now that number is down to 2 percent and we’re feeding even more people than before (though imports factor into this decrease as well.) It takes fewer and fewer people to provide the basic necessities.  Pretty soon a fast food joint will just be a bunch of machines and one mechanic.

So what about those former fast food workers? Good news: we’ll have more and more time to consume and create media and technology. Not only that, we’re getting better and better at finding content tailored to our weird and specific taste rather than just watching whatever blockbuster movie premiered that weekend.  I’m talking about fashion bloggers, indie scriptwriters, amateur musicians, and those youtubers who make stupid amounts of money by unwrapping toys in front of a camera. All this means that instead of a few people “making it big” in entertainment, lots of people can “make it medium.”

Same things goes for science. We’ve come a long way since the Victorian days of gentlemen scientists, but we have further to go still. People like me would LOVE to spend our whole dang lives taking college classes. The fact that we have to spend money on dumb stuff like food and shelter is a major impediment to that dream. Automation has the potential to make those essentials cheaper and cheaper.

More than any other technology, the replicator allows the post-scarcity economy of Star Trek. Once you eliminate want, you’re free to travel the universe and kiss and/or discuss philosophy with aliens–depending on what kind of captain you are.

As living essentials become easier and easier to create, everyone could finally have the leisure time to be an artist or inventor. We can’t all make it big, but with more of us consuming a wide variety of content, lots of us can make it medium. I envision a future where we consume small, strange media made by obscure creators.

Because everyone deserves to participate in the sacred work of making cool stuff.

THE FRANKENSTEIN METHOD FOR OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL

Someone recently asked me about my process for outlining a novel.  I have been waiting for this moment my entire life.

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I snapped into action and emailed him a nine paragraph response complete with links, attachments, and commentary. And now dear internet, you too can benefit from my unhealthy obsession. My method is a monstrosity of cobbled together body parts—I mean methods—stolen from other authors. Buckle up because you’re about to discover THE FRANKENSTEIN METHOD FOR OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL.

tenor

Step 1–Freewriting

This is the part where I take a few pages and write down everything that I already have in my head. What matters to me, what I think should happen, cool elements I want to play with etc.
Many of these elements don’t make the cut. For instance, there are no Aztecs, Incans, or Cowboys in my current draft (more’s the pity.)

Freewrite

Step 2–Dan Well’s 7 Point Story Structure.

I made myself a worksheet to help me come up with the major plot points. This keeps me working towards specific events and drives the narrative toward the things that matter most. 7 points

Step 3–Pitches

In this case I don’t have a one sentence hook yet. I’ll get there eventually. However I do have a brief logline AKA a twitter pitch.  (Which I first discovered through Pitch Madness)

“Wait a second,” you might say, “aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? You’re supposed to write the book first and then pitch it.”

Yep. This logline might not even be accurate by the time I’m done with the book, but it helps me get to the heart of my novel–the juicy still-beating heart–so that I stay focused on what really matters.

Pitch
Sorry guys, I can’t find where exactly I got this formula, though I did find this blog I’ve never seen before that goes into it in more detail.

Step 4–Outline, outline, outline.

This is how my English teachers taught me to outline a novel and now it’s how I determine which scenes go where. I currently have 28 scenes in all but since this is a space opera, I anticipate that I’ll add at least seven more as I go along.

outline

Step 5–The Scrivening!

Last of all, I enter the scenes into scrivener and write a paragraph or two about what I expect to happen in each scene.

Scrivener

Step 6–Extra Credit or Overkill?

I wrote a synopsis just so I would have something to share with writing groups as I bounce ideas off of them. It’s too long to use for querying agents, but it will one day form the bones of my professional synopsis.

Synopsis

Step 7–I have an outline, now what?

That’s up to you. I used to go front to back but now I bounce around. On second or third drafts I like to start at the end and work my way to the beginning. Writing the actual words on paper, that’s the tricky bit. Good luck.

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More on this thread here

 

Additional links. (Stuff I haven’t really tried but I hear good things about.)

Perhaps the popular Snowflake method will appeal to you. I can’t quite wrap my brain around the visual aspect of it.

 

The Mice Quotient is a good tool to have in the toolbox but I don’t use it for my outlining like some people do.

 

 

And I always, always have to recommend this podcast Writing Excuses. I believe that listening to their podcast added about two years of experience to my seven years of writing experience.  Here’s what popped up when I searched “Outline”

Not Dead and Not in Texas

You probably haven’t heard from me in a while. I’ve been silent on social media, the blog, and I’ve had limited contact with the outside world. I am, however, alive.

January is a soul-destroying grind of a month, December was full of Christmas, November was occupied by a cross-country move …

Right. The move.  I mentioned it once on facebook and I told my Utah friends, but I realize that several good friends of mine don’t know. My bad.

I have an excellent problem in that my friends are scattered all over the nation. Some of them are scattered all over the world (I’m looking at you, my single consistent reader from Norway. You’re awesome.) This wide dispersion makes it hard to stay up to date on details like geography. I don’t know where all of my friends live—I’m not even one hundred percent certain where all of my siblings live. So it’s understandable that some of my favorite people have no idea what state I’m in.

To make matters more confusing, I told lots of people that I was moving to Texas. The FEMA assignment changed suddenly and now I’m in Atlanta, Georgia.

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It is a beautiful city with a garbage infrastructure.                                                                             Photo by Pana Vasquez on Unsplash

 

 

Life is finally calming down a little and I have a smidge more time to stay active online. For now I just wanted you to know that I’m not dead and not in Texas.

 

 

P.S. Who are my Russian readers? I only know two Russians and I don’t think they follow my blog, yet I get hits from Russia almost every time I post.

Me and the Sorting Hat

hatty hat

Sorting Hat: Let’s see, Hufflepuffs are all about hard work, patience and fair play so that’s a no for you.

Me: Fair enough.

Sorting Hat: You’re basically a coward so let’s rule out Gryffindor too.

Me: Not gonna argue with you there.

Sorting Hat: You’ve already established that you’re willing to take down anyone who competes with you for the “smartest kid” title.

Me: Yep. So I’m clearly a Ravenclaw.

Sorting Hat: Yeah, about that…

Me: I’m all about learning. Seriously, I could be a student all my life and be perfectly happy.

Sorting Hat: Liar. You’re not happy until you use what you learn, preferably to show off.

Me: I’d like to point out that I write stories, which is one hundred percent a Ravenclaw thing to do.

Sorting Hat: And why do you write stories?

Me: mutters For external validation.

Sorting Hat: I’m going to read a list of traits to you and tell me if they sound familiar: Ambition, Resourcefulness, Self-Preservation, Determination, and not to be redundant, Ambition.

Long pause

Sorting Hat: Look, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.

Me: Ravenclaw.

Sorting Hat: Are you sure?

Me: RAVENCLAW.

harry eyes shut

 

Because we get to choose. Harry chose Gryffindor and I choose Ravenclaw. Ambition is a worthy trait, but Slytherin isn’t the house for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the little girl who wants to be a lion tamer and lawyer and geneticist and comedian. There’s still the voice in my head that says “If you don’t personally save the Mountain Gorillas, they will all die because of your indifference.” Also, I’m still campaigning for the position of dictator-of-the-world. I think I’d do a bang up job.

But I chose happiness over ambition.  I did a little research about would bring me long term joy. The answer was relationships. Research, anecdotes about dying wishes, and basic observation all confirm it. So I live a quiet life without that shiny doctorate degree I once coveted. The Mountain Gorilla continues its march toward extinction, unsaved by me. The position of dictator-of-the-world goes unfilled, which is probably a good thing.

I theorized that I’d be happiest if I put people first: marriage, a kid, a community of people who share my interests. They all yield data pointing to an amazing life. Logic led me to love. I hypothesized my way to joy.

That’s very Ravenclaw indeed.

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Book Recommendations for Garbage Times

Every time I start a blog it warps into an outraged thought piece on Charlottesville. Each time I realize that I have nothing new or profound to add to the conversation. I’m angry, you’re angry, and I don’t have any fresh insights into racism in America.

However, I do have some book recommendations. When I feel like garbage, it helps to read something on the subject that’s bugging me. Maybe it’ll help you too.  I made a brief list from lightest to heaviest because some people want to get right into the thick of things while others don’t want  to read a depressing book that’s big enough to crush a chihuahua.

  1. When Dimple Met Rishi

dimple

It’s a #OwnVoices book but it’s not really about race; it’s more about heritage and balancing family with personal ambition. It’s a level-headed and charming love story involving arranged marriage and web development.

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Diary

I’ve recommended this one before. If you haven’t read it yet, then please pick up this story about a kid from the reservation who decides to go to the local white school. Hilarious, irreverent, and thought provoking.

  1. The Hate U Give

Hate

There’s a reason this book has topped the bestseller list for weeks and weeks. Imagine a cop shot your friend right in front of you. Everyone hears about it, everyone has an opinion, and almost no one knows that you’re the only witness. The book manages to be funny and fair even while dealing with heavy themes.

  1. Small Great Things

Small

This one hurts to read and it’s a major time commitment. It’s told from the point of view of a black nurse who has always smiled pretty and done what’s expected of her, a white supremacist trying to understand the loss of his son, and a lawyer who is basically the living embodiment of white guilt. This book has a way of making abstractions terribly and a believably real.

 

Happy reading! I hope that diving into problems in story form makes real life easier to digest. I know it does for me.

Gotta get this off my chest…with GRAPHS!

Last night I critiqued a fictional account of a retired prostitute explaining the world to a sexually abused pre-teen. The prostitute asserted that men are cruel and therefore successful predators. Then she explained that women are victims and have to be devious in order to survive. I didn’t dispute it because a prostitute could believably hold that opinion.

Smarter version of what I said:

“I can see why the character would say this, but the narrative voice doesn’t dispute her so it reads as if the author agrees. It’s like when a character says something racist the reader wants to be reassured that the book itself isn’t racist.”

The writer looked at the table for a moment before he met my eyes. “You know there’s a reason why men are more successful. I mean you look at the upper echelons of business and you see men. It’s hard wired into us. We succeed because testosterone makes us more competitive. You can’t dispute that.”

I could have.

My psychology degree touched on neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. For fun I read books on the science of attraction, the evolution of gender roles, why nine year old girls suddenly lose interest in math, and what differences actually exist between male and female brains.

math
Yes, there is a difference in SAT math scores. Is the gap so significant that you can guess my math skills based on my gender?  Most gender differences resemble this. There’s almost always some difference, but it’s never strong enough to mean much for individual cases.                    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/good-thinking/201403/why-the-gender-difference-sat-math-doesnt-matter

I could have discussed testosterone at length. I could have told story after story to support my numbers. I could have cited studies, quoted experts, and asked him scorching rhetorical questions.

women in computers
So why did women suddenly lose interest in computers? Do we just hate making money?

But it wouldn’t have mattered. He wouldn’t have trusted my facts. He would have dismissed the scientists as “politically correct.” In the end, I sat there while he assured me that women have other skills. (The prostitute taught the little girl about fashion and how to manipulate men, presumably those are the “other skills” at which I naturally excel.)

I gave him a look, patted him on the shoulder, and left.

I want you to know that he is a sweetheart. I also suspect that he has reasons to believe it’s a dog-eat-dog world full of predators and prey.  If pressed, he would never say that women are unequal to men. Yet he cannot tell me that they I am a natural victim without insulting me. He cannot say that I lack the natural capacity to earn money and expect me not to take offense.

When someone goes on and on about how different women are, they are really saying less than.

Hit ‘Em Up Style Nostalgia

During my junior high/ high school years I was devoted body and soul to Evanescence and Metallica. I remember weightlifting to those CDs and feeling so hardcore. Yet my best memories are set to songs I never would have chosen for myself.

The first time a boy ever serenaded me he chose “Shorty you’re my Angel” and assured me that I was closer to him than his peeps. When I wanted to increase my vocal range I sang “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys in different keys until I could hit all the notes. Usher’s “U Got it Bad” was totally our song for me and boy who never actually knew about my crush.

CD
When my husband saw this picture he said “You can stop looking. This is the one. This is 2001.”

To this day it takes a supreme act of willpower not to sing along to “Ignition.”  I cannot say lines like “Crystal poppin’ in the stretch Navigator” in public. I mean, have you met me? I’m the most uptight-looking human being in existence. I radiate middle-age respectability and I’m not even thirty. People give me funny looks for using everyday slang like Salty or FOMO. Yet despite all that, I will always, always, sing the chorus to “Apple Bottom Jeans.”

One song stuck with me longer than all the others. It’s a petty, vindictive, regretful, breakup song. All of my breakups have been civil yet I adore breakup songs. It’s one of the few times when it’s socially acceptable for a woman to unleash righteous fury.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMOKlXfXn50

hit em up

Did you see that hat? That is the hat of a woman who doesn’t take crap from anybody. You mess with her you mess with a cast of dancing store clerks.  She possesses a level of cockiness that I can only aspire to. So while I would never hold a garage sale full of someone else’s stuff, it gives me a little swing in my step to hear about it.

As a parting gift, I present the same song as a bluegrass cover. Visually nothing much happens, but the sound is worth it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKTXJUYiAT4&list=RDwKTXJUYiAT4#t=288

carolina

Stuff I’m Doing Instead of Blogging

Stuff I’m doing instead of blogging

You may have noticed that the blog has been a bit sparse lately.  My calendar reminds me to write a blog every Monday, revise on Wednesday, and post on Friday. Every week I delete those reminders because shut up calendar, you’re not the boss of me.

So in lieu of a proper post with intelligent thoughts on Wonder Woman, toddlers, or writing, here’s a list of things that have recently taken over my life.

Refugee Action Network

I’m the new content creator for RAN. I write their YouTube scripts, monthly newsletters, and in the future I’ll contribute to their blog.  They’re a small nonprofit based in Provo UT and they’re run almost entirely by volunteers.  Instead of just plunking refugees into new communities, they have a fifteen month education program designed to help these families become self sufficient and feel thoroughly at home here in Utah.

I almost didn’t sign up to volunteer because I thought “I have zero time, limited mobility, and this toddler I have to carry around with me. Why sign up if I can’t follow through?” But I believe that thirty percent of success is just showing up so I gave them my info and they found a job for me. It’s a pretty good position because I can work from home in the short snatches of time that I find.

I can vouch for this charity. If you don’t have time, please consider donating money.  If you don’t have money, please select them as your charity on Amazon Smiles so that they get a small donation every time you buy something on Amazon.

Buying a New Car

Yep, that ’95 Toyota Camry finally died. It was young by Camry standards, not even 300k miles. Yet with the sagging ceiling, the dented back door, the peeling paint—let’s just say that she was past her prime. My husband and I have never bought a car before so the process is a bit daunting. It’s been two weeks but every time we bring a car to the mechanic he shakes his head and says “I don’t want to tell you what to do but…” followed by a long list of fatal engine flaws.

So we’re still looking for a fuel efficient four door reliable car. Cheap, boring, even ugly if the engine runs well. Cars were never a status symbol for me. That’s what book collections are for.

Utah Valley Writers

I’m stepping down as Vice President of the Utah Valley Writers. I’ve learned so much and met so many people because of this position. Hopefully I’ll be able to volunteer again in the future when a few things in my life settle down. It’s hard to walk away from this job but I know the people replacing me and they’re going to do amazing things. If you’re a writer, even if you’re just starting, I highly recommend this group.

Revision

All of my personalized rejection letters say the exact same thing. “I liked it but I didn’t love it enough. Could you fix (A) and (B) and then send it back?”  This is actually a good thing. If one agent told me to fix (C) and (D) while another agent told me to fix (E) and (F) then I would be at a loss. Instead, the clear advice makes this revision a relatively easy fix.

However, every revision is work. Once you fix one problem you run into consistency errors throughout the book such as characters referring to things that happened in a deleted scene. So I have to take the time to check the whole dang manuscript to make sure that everything fits just so before I can send it out all pretty and polished into the world.

Wrap Up

That’s my glamorous, glamorous life right now. Writing, car shopping, more writing. Ok, there are some exciting things too, like I’m writing this as I travel to Las Vegas but it’s not what you think. It’s basically a giant play date for my son and the other toddlers in my husband’s extended family. Imagine the tamest family vacation that just happens to occur in Las Vegas, subtract the booze and add some board games. That’s it, right on the money.

Sorry about the inconsistent updates. Please accept this picture of a baby elephant sucking its trunk like a human baby sucks its thumb.

baby-elephant-eating
Photo credit: Matembezi, Africa Geographic, https://africageographic.com/blog/baby-elephants-just-wanna-fun/

 

The Sticky Embodiment of Joy

I try not to blog too much about parenting in general or my son in particular. I’m not an expert. I’m not a mommy blogger. Often I’d rather discuss anything EXCEPT children just so I can have some variety in my life.

But this was special and I thought that posting it might contribute to the pile of good things on the internet. This is my little boy with his very first ice cream cone.

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He was being ridiculously well behaved but he refused to eat anything for six hours straight. Ice cream was the solution.

iceream

We walked on a trail for about an hour. Everyone with even a little bit of a soul smiled at him because a sticky toddler is the pure embodiment of joy.

icecream after

You’re welcome internet.