the finish line (may cut my head off)

OMG. OMG. As of this post I’m down to the last eight scenes in my second draft(!) This is wonderful. This is terrifying.

I’ve spent 3 days trying to congeal my anxiety into a post while John Adamus nails my mood in 140 characters.

Nonetheless, my own blatherings: Second draft = putting the whole thing in front of beta readers time. Structural errors that I could excuse as “covered in another chapter” when readers only read excerpts will now be writ large. Shallow emotions, poor cause and effect, loose ends, red herrings: all will be glaringly obvious in context.

I know – it’s why one has beta readers. I’m just nervous that these errors won’t only reveal what I need to fix but what I can’t. Maybe because it’s beyond my ability. Maybe because who am I to write about people like I understand how they work, how dare I?

Ahem.

In short, I’m afraid of what the story will say about me as a person, rather than about my ability to write.

A wise friend once told me about my fencing that no single competition defines one’s worth as a fencer or as a person–a crucial distinction for me as I too often conflate what I do with who I am. It’s no different with writing. If my book sucks it doesn’t mean I’m an awful person.

But if it sucks too badly to salvage it does mean I’ve spent four years on a cold, dead turkey. Which is a lovely “learning experience” but it sure as hell won’t feel like it.

But at the end of my chat with Mr. Adamus he posed the question:

The goal is making this book as good as I can before seeking a professional editor. But to do that I need other eyes to notice the things I can’t anymore.

I’m going to get there by [cringe] putting it out there and letting beta readers rip it to shreds. Even if it hurts. Even if they tell me things I don’t want to hear.

What about you? In your endeavors, do you ever freeze to a point that you just can’t finish what you started? How did you move past it?

biweekly links 1-10-2017

Happy new year! New year, new (well, not so new) links:

King-Slapping, Devil-Dressing, and Avoiding Blondes: The Crazy Ways Humans Have Rung in the New Year Throughout History: and to think I just stayed home with champagne.

From the Pentagon’s UFO program to death by cyanide at the UN court: 17 unbelievable stories that got lost in the relentless news cycle of 2017: some of these really would have been striking in any other year: a cholera outbreak, multiple natural disasters, ongoing wars, and smuggled artifacts.

Explore The Largest Early Map Of The World: This 1587 map is beautiful, all the more so for the incredible effort it represents. The article is a good introduction to the history of Monte’s map but go to DavidRumsey.com for truly impressive images.

Why ‘Frankenstein’ Is More Relevant Than Ever: originally published on January 1, 1818, this “first science fiction novel”*’s warnings about the hazards of abandoning of our high-tech creations still ring true.

Nineteenth century illustration of three kittens in a basket. Text: A Happy New Year.
In honor of my cat Spice, who made it one day into 2018 – RIP. Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “A happy New Year.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

*Debatable. Does Margaret Cavendish’s “Blazing World” (1668) count as sci-fi?

weird things in sensible places: the NYT UFO articles

Starting off the new year with a bang. Or is it a fizzle?

Obi Wan Kenobi: From a certain point of view
Both? Via.

After a year of news that beggars belief, I can honestly say that this is one I didn’t expect to see. This past year, or ever. And yet, it’s not as shocking or mundane as it first appears.

The short version: former DoD intelligence officer Luis Elizondo arranged the release of classified Pentagon video of…something before his resignation in October. Articles in the New York Times (on the front page, no less) and Washington Post accompanied the videos, describing the activities of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a small Pentagon effort, from 2007-2012. Much of the $22 million funding the AATIP funneled to Bigelow Aerospace, who claims to have refitted warehouses in Las Vegas to store materials retrieved from these UFOs.

Here are my meandering thoughts:

The initial impulse is to cry “Government confirms existence of UFOs!!” Which isn’t news: A UFO is by definition unidentified, and no one has denied that there’s stuff in the sky we can’t identify. But “UFO” is often conflated with “alien”, which leads us to:

“Government confirms existence of aliens!!” But it’s done no such thing. Careful reading of the articles reveal that the writers back off from the word “alien” at every turn.

“Government confirms interest in UFOs!!” Again, not news. See: Project Blue Book; Condon Report.

“At long last, it’s Disclosure™!” I never expected an unambiguous “yes aliens are here” message coming from anywhere in the government. What elected official would admit a potential security breach which they can’t identify and can’t stop? But those beating the Disclosure drum clearly did so I imagine online/print news articles with fuzzy video must sorely disappoint. So: Maybe? Sorta? “Disclosure Lite“? The irony: most Disclosure aficionados don’t appear to trust the government at all so I doubt anything would satisfy them.*

“Why isn’t this blowing up more?” 2017’s news cycle generated such extraordinary stories all year that it simply slipped under the radar. In the face of sexual assailants finally facing justice, Nazis marching in American cities, and Trump & Co’s constant outrages it makes sense that mere government confirmation of UFO research is mundane by comparison.

“How about those alien artifacts warehoused in Las Vegas?” Scientific American points out the existence of massive databases of metal alloys mean that any “unidentified” alloys won’t remain so for long. As I’m not a metallurgist I withhold judgment on this one but do wonder why Bigelow Aerospace hasn’t shared these materials outside the company, or if they plan to do so.

So what’s the real story here?

    • These articles appeared in well-regarded, mainstream news sources. Moreover, they didn’t appear in the Culture or Arts section accompanied by snide remarks; they were tagged under National Security (NYT) and Politics (WaPo). The NYT in particular attempted to curtail ridicule by describing how they decided to publish.
  • This is the first time a government entity acknowledged that UFOs present a genuine mystery. The aforementioned Blue Book and Condon efforts concluded that most reports were mistaken identity and didn’t warrant further research. This article suggests not only recent but current concern, at least as regarding national security/aviation safety.

If you were expecting the president to come on tv with dead alien bodies and crashed flying saucers this must seem very insignificant. On the other hand, if you never expected any government admission that UFOs are worthy of scientific inquiry, this is huge. I’m not sure these articles represent a permanent about-face of mainstream attitudes towards this particular flavor of weird but I’m happy to wait and see.

*The conspiracy corner has Opinions. Slate provides a rundown of the paranoia-flinging if you’re really interested/masochistic. If I read “false flag” one more time I’m gonna tear my eyes out.

References/further reading:

Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program: the New York Times article that kicked this off.

On the Trail of a Secret Pentagon U.F.O. Program: NYT explains their careful process for evaluating the validity of the story before publication.

Head of Pentagon’s secret ‘UFO’ office sought to make evidence public: the Washington Post gets in on the act.

The Pentagon UFO Study Audio-Video Media Archive: ongoing archiving of mainstream news sources linking to/commenting on the original NYT articles.

The Truth About Those ‘Alien Alloys’ in The New York Times’ UFO Story: those alloys need not be unidentified for long.

UFO-Pentagon Story Reflects Fundamental Problems: some background including Bigelow Aerospace’s connections to MUFON, Elizondo’s connections to Tom DeLonge’s Academy To The Stars, and the problem of taxpayer money paying for materials the public aren’t allowed to see.

A “Secret UFO Office” in the Pentagon? – What Just Happened In the Media: more analysis on the cascading mainstream media response to the NYT articles.

Whitley Strieber’s year-end show on the UFO articles [YouTube]: helpfully broken up into interviewee sections by time stamp in the comments. Interviews include writers of the articles plus various commentators from academia and the UFO research community.

overclocking

It’s been a rocky couple of weeks.

Between the day job, holiday preparations, a competition, competing social possibilities, and my cat getting sick it’s been a rollercoaster of ups and downs and too much at once. Even the good stuff has involved logistics that already stretch my overstretched brain. Long periods of waiting culminate in swift decision making–two things I’m particularly bad at.

Yeah, I know I need to take a chill–that’s what the holidays are for, right? Even so I feel like I’m juggling knives and can’t let a single one drop, ever.

No, I don’t smoke. I’ve never smoked. But even so…via GIPHY

So, writing has rather fallen by the wayside. The waiting gives me enough time to brainstorm but not enough for butt in seat, words on screen. What little I’ve written bores and frustrates me.

My hopes for the new year involve a schedule that calms down enough for me to work through the writer’s block. And for all my failings I have learned about my writing process: if I keep hammering I do break through to where the words flow again.

Beyond that, I’ve not got many goals for the new year (I’m bad at goal setting. Maybe learning to do so should be my goal…).

What are you looking forward to/working on/planning on for 2018?

biweekly links 12-20-2017

Merry Christmas to them what celebrate. Have some linkage:

Sex, seafood and 25,000 coffees a day: the wild 1920s superclub that inspired Babylon Berlin: Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome! Fresh from rewatching “Cabaret” for the nth time I’m happy to discover that Netflix just bought this new German show about Weimar Berlin. Fortunately (or not) movie and TV studios have the resources to recreate historical settings; in this case the show creators evidently took great pains get Moka Efti right.

Calf’s foot jelly and a tankard of ale? Welcome to the 18th century Starbucks: ye olde coffeehouses had more than just muffins and joe. I’d kind of like someone to recreate this, maybe put it inside the reproduction of the Moka Efti…

Here’s exactly how shrunken heads were made: I was endlessly fascinated by these as a kid, probably due to a childhood visit to one of the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditoriums. While I’ve read about the process I’ve never seen it done before. Not for the squeamish, though it’s only a pig’s head.

My top books of 2017

‘Cos all the cool kids are doing it. Mind, just because I read it this year doesn’t mean it was written this year. And I’ve mixed up fiction and nonfiction just for giggles.

shelf of books: Daughters of the Witching Hill, The Darling Strumpet, Hanging Mary, Marlene, Ghost Stories of Oregon
I even got through most of this year’s HNS haul!

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly: described as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” by way of “Cabaret” and it is, in all the best ways. Follow the denizens of Weimar Germany-like Amberlough City’s fringes as they navigate the perils of the hyper-conservative “Ospie” takeover.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn: based on the real WWI network of women spies in occupied France. I love the characters, especially the retired spy Evie, busted hands and all. It’s cliché but this really is a page turner, with a satisfying finish. Run, do not walk.

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff: recommended for the prose alone-I didn’t know small details could show subtext and stretch tension like this! The story unfolds slowly and is less about Einar/Lili’s transition and more about the supportive marriage that made room for such transition. So very recommended.

Forbidden Science: The Journals of Jacques Vallée 1957-1969: Vallée came in on the ground floor of two mid-century developments: computer programming and government research into UFOs. His journals document a moment in which the government took UFO research seriously while questioning the long-term utility of computer programming – oh have times have changed!-and how he manages to hold both the scientific and the mystical in equal regard. I’m definitely picking up the next volume.

Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in the Digital Age by Kristen Lamb: if you’re an author who’s scared of social media, fear no more. Connecting with readers and potential readers is easy, and [gasp!] fun! Though fluent in Twitter and Facebook this book still provided some good ideas and is a good primer for newbies overall.

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin: come for the fully formed, Ancient Egypt-inspired fantasy world but stay for the murder mystery and conspiracy. A thriller/fantasy in a ‘verse quite unlike any other.

A Song of War: A Novel of Troy by the Historical Fiction Authors Co-op (Kate Quinn, Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Russell Whitfield, Stephanie Thornton, S.J.A. Turney, Glyn Iliffe): how these folks keep taking known stories and infusing them with crazy tension I will never figure out, but every one of these collaborations keeps me on tenterhooks until the very last page.

Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century by Simon Reynolds: I’ve always known more about glam fashion than music and I sought to rectify that. I’ve enjoyed Reynolds exhaustive, entertaining work on rave culture and early 80’s post-punk and this tome (and it is a doorstop) did not disappoint. If you want history and discography and dirt and analysis, this is your one stop shop. Reading it only a year after David Bowie’s death (and Reynolds included a nice eulogy for Bowie in his final edits) made it all the more timely.

biweekly links 12-6-2017

As we go into the Christmas season, how about some devils?

The Bedevilment of Benvenuto Cellini: artist, duelist, and all-round party boy Cellini also dabbled in the black arts with the assistance of a priest. Another example of the extreme effort of necromancy: this ritual required hours of incantations, magical circles, and a virgin sacrifice (well, bait). Cellini did get his devils, but the inclusion of “drugs of fetid odor” in the process is telling.

For a Brief Time in 1978, Italy Had a Televised Satanic Variety Show: Allegedly created at the request of the Devil himself, “Stryx” ran only 6 episodes and appears to have been an eviled-up version of musical variety shows a la “Sonny and Cher” or “Donny and Marie”. Guests included Grace Jones and Amanda Lear of Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure” album cover fame.

Commies, Devils, and Mind Control: How the Christian Right Invented Satanic Backmasking: Ooh, I remember this one! I first read about it in Big Secrets and I remember my sister and I trying to play a Beatles tape (remember those?) backwards. Definitely a phenomena that says more about the listener than the music.

Just to round out the “devil” theme of today’s post. I actually prefer the Who Killed The Kennedys mix [YouTube] but this version’s visuals are more on topic (is the singer dressed up like Vlad the Impaler?):

playing in other people’s sandboxes

So I said a couple of weeks ago. I’m not alone in the sentiment if the thread is any indication. Mind, I’m biased. I got my start as a fanfic writer.

Fanfic is often unjustly maligned as the refuge of the lazy and unoriginal. This Imaginary Worlds episode explains well the origin of these stereotypes and refutes them quite well. A good number of published authors got their start in fanfic (DailyDot found these 10; Google will find you many more).

Media franchises are the modern version of mythology. People want to tell and share new stories about characters they already know and love. It’s a wonderful way to interact with other fans, speculate about future developments, offer alternatives to canon, and keep canceled properties alive.

Mind, I’ve not run into much fanfic based on historical fiction (though fic writers love to use historical “alternative universes”). Still, I nurture a foolish hope that I’ll run into Dee/Kelley slash someday. Even more than being on a bestseller list, if my books can involve people that much I’ll know I’ve truly arrived.

So: could you, would you, have you written fanfic? If so, in what ‘verses (you can probably guess one of mine)?

biweekly links 11-22-2017

Happy thanksgiving to those who are celebrating! Given that we are now entering what a friend calls the “eating season” this week’s links are food and table themed. Imagine passing these around with the mashed potatoes:

How to Make a Homunculus: “That the sperm of a man be putrefied by itself in a sealed cucurbit [a pumpkin-like gourd] for forty days with the highest degree of putrefaction in a horse’s womb”…and it just gets more appetizing from there. This article covers the Renaissance concept and creation of homunculi (including the wild claim that John Dee created some to serve as spies – that’s a new one on me) and winds up with some intriguing YouTube videos of modern homunculi (the contents of which I shudder to think).

photo of small plaster figure under glass, surrounded by alchemical apparatus and tools
Homunculus amidst the other props in the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague. I’m guessing they used plaster instead of an, er, period recipe. Photo author’s own.

A Trojan Feast: The Food and Drink Offerings of Aliens, Faeries, and Sasquatch: it’s no secret that Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” has a folkloric basis but this is the first book I’ve seen that meticulously catalogs food offered by all sorts of paranormal entities. Disclaimer: I’ve not read it (yet).

The Renaissance Knives That Will Have You Singing for Your Supper: “notation knives” combine music, food, and metalwork. Likely created more for presentation than hard use, the Victoria and Albert Museum translated the notation on the knife in their collection and posted the results. If you simply must have one for yourself, an enterprising armorer created a gorgeous reproduction based on the VAM knife.

First (Contraband) Corned Beef Sandwich in Space 50 Years Ago: oldie but goodie about the Gemini 3 prank. Turns out crumbs get everywhere in zero gravity, and food doesn’t taste as good in space anyway – though I can’t imagine corned beef tasting any worse (eww!)

the cutting room floor

As I’ve discussed before, history isn’t tidy. I made some strategic cuts to the story at the outset, mostly for my sanity. Now I’m cutting even more as they don’t add to the story I’m trying to tell, which is a damn shame as Dee and Kelley generated So. Much. Weird. that begs exploration. Just not by me:

Dee and Kelley’s possible ties to Shakespeare – interesting if true, but not relevant to my story

Nuances of alchemical process and symbolism – you’ll get your furnaces and flasks but not painstaking detail because I’m not a chemist.

Dee and Kelley’s sojourn in Poland courting the patronage of Stephen Bathory (yes, cousin of that Bathory). It’s not the story I’m telling and someone already has anyway.*

A series of incidents in which Kelley apparently conjures demons and poltergeists outside of his actions with Dee – and this breaks my heart because I so, so want to play with what was going on here! I found this delicious story in the footnotes of part 9 of I.R.F. Calder’s thesis but it’s so divided from the rest of the spiritual actions that I can’t justify including it.**

The possibility that Jane Dee was from a recusant family. I could only find one reference (since removed), and there’s more narrative tension if Jane is solidly Protestant in Catholic Bohemia.

And there’s probably more. What are you cutting, and why?

animated gif of little girl and men in suits sawing/drilling away on a piano
Hacking away. Courtesy gfycat.

*Looking forward to reading this after I finish the WIP.
**Actually, I might do a short story based on this.