biweekly links 2-21-2018

David Mack Guest Post–“Beautiful Lies: Facts vs. Story in Secret History Fiction”: “Secret-history stories propose the idea that mysterious events and unknown forces have helped to influence and shape the history we take for granted.” So at last I have a description for my genre! Mack has some sensible things to say about how far histfic authors should depart from fact, depending on how “literary” the fiction and the emotional weight of the facts.

The Magic of Love and Sex: in which supermarket checkout mags’ sex tips aren’t that different from medieval magical tomes promises of love. Mind, Cosmo never tells you how to achieve invisibility and have sex with spirits.

yellow painted cloud on dark blue background
“Vague Intellectual Pleasure” from 1901’s “Thought-Forms” by Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, an early, mystically-tinged examination of synesthesiaMore about the book from the Public Domain Review; full book at Project Gutenberg.

Is Humanity Ready for the Discovery of Alien Life?: Scientific American says it depends; I just wonder if aliens are ready for humanity.

art for art’s sake

The second draft is now safely in the hands of multiple beta readers and I’m now out of my “what do I do now?” stupor. So as I promised myself years ago I’m indulging in a sewing project (or two). New research + changed shape = I need new sixteenth century stays, so I’m raiding my fabric stash.

photo of pattern draft for a piece of historical costume. It kinda looks like a pair of rabbit ears.
Yeah, I’m critiquing too but you can’t really take a picture of that, so have a weirdly shaped muslin instead. Photo author’s own.

I’m going to use a nicer fabric than above, though stays are a foundation garment and never show. Not sure when I’m going to wear them next, either: I’ve not had much opportunity to dress up since last fall’s renaissance festival.

So why go to all the trouble of fitting and refitting with junk fabric for something no one’s ever going to see that I may not get to wear anytime soon?

Because utility isn’t the point. The result isn’t even the point, though I’ll make them as well as my skills allow.

No, it’s the experience of making.

Planning. Problem solving. Experimentation. Ripping it up and starting again, if necessary. Abandoning a project if I work myself into a corner because not everything works out. Always learning something, for good or ill. And, of course, fun.

Kind of like writing, that way.

I don’t know what’s going to become of these stays, or of the book. Maybe I’ll ruin perfectly good silk on something that won’t fit or look good. Maybe I’ve spent the past 4 years on a 300+ page turkey. Neither would be fun, and in the case of the book it’d break my little black heart if the second draft is unsalvageable.

But it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Even failed projects are practice for the one that succeeds. Or so I keep telling myself.




biweekly links 2-7-2018

A Mexican dog in an early modern menagerie: I knew the Xoloitzcuintli (say that ten times real fast) were ancient but didn’t stop to think about when they found their way to the Old World. Despite this painting’s fuzzy provenance I find it entirely plausible that it’s a painting of one belonging to Rudolf II – he collected everything else, why not hairless dogs? Unfortunate factoid: more than a few sightings of the cryptozoological chupacabra are likely pitiably mangy xoloitzcuintli.

Mexican hairless dog looking straight at the camera. Has a sharp white and tan strip of fur down the center of its head
Not a chupacabra, but certainly badass with its little doggie mohawk. Courtesy Tumblr.

AI May Have Finally Decoded The Bizarre, Mysterious ‘Voynich Manuscript’: color me intrigued, though I’d be surprised if this was the first time someone threw modern tech at the problem (anyone, anyone, Bueller?). To my untutored mind it’s impressive that the AI’s algorithm gets known languages right 97% of the time until I remember that these are already known. The folks at CipherMysteries aren’t impressed and explain why in exhaustive detail far above my pay grade. Check out their latest Voynich round-up post if you want to go even further into the weeds.

Grieve The Capital: Derek Jarman’s Jubilee Turns 40: how sad is it that I’ve only ever seen fragments of this movie? Given that it has so many things I like (punk, Adam Ant, time travel, John Dee) and I find myself with free time perhaps the 40th anniversary is as good a reason as any to track down a copy.

at loose ends

So I’ve got my book with beta readers. What now?


No, really, what now? For the first time in four(!) years I’ve not had the Work In Progress breathing down my neck (I didn’t take much time away between the first and second drafts) and it’s deeply strange. Not mourning or melancholy, but a kind of like an engine running to go nowhere. I need to feed my hungry mind.

The standard writers’ response is: start the next book! Which is smart career-wise and certainly possible as my plot idea folder is overflowing. But I need a break from long-form writing. Blogging and book reviews will continue cranking out as scheduled. Hell, maybe I’ll do some discovery writing or toss out a fanfic just for giggles.

I promised myself a sewing project so I’m trying to do that, but find myself wheel-spinning because I have too many options. Good thing I need new measurements because I can put off making a decision.

One thing I am doing is sticking to my resolution to learn by doing and be useful while I’m doing so. To these ends I’m critiquing and beta reading as I’m asked and able. I’ve given Scribophile a lot of attention and need to get back to my local writer’s group.

What about you? Ever feel like an engine raring to go without a map?

biweekly links 1-24-2018: commerce witchcraft

All of these potential additions to the extended weird section conveniently popped up in my Google Alerts this week. Never shopped with any of these so I make no claims re: quality or customer service. I just share the joy:

Hexcellent News: Occult Bookstore Catland Is Launching a Magazine: Catland BooksVenefica will be a “celebration of Brooklyn arts and occulture”. First issue coming in the spring; as of 1/18 they were still accepting submissions.

Get your senses going at the Magickal Pathways in Newton: New Jersey shop offering witchcraft supplies and classes.

The Thorn And Moon Magickal Market Offers Magic for the Daring: First Fridays of the month in Houston; if you can’t make it they have an Etsy store.

Mail-order magic: the rise of subscription witchcraft: wow, everyone’s getting in on this subscription box thing! UK article but most of the featured boxes ship internationally.

Black and white newsprint ad of a woman in 1970s Charlie's Angel hair hair holding a cat: The Academy of Mystic Arts Invites You to: Become A Witch!
Mind, weird-by-mailorder is nothing new-hell, the ads sprinkled through the old “Fate” magazine were half the fun! This one’s from the July 1973 issue; find more of the same at’s Pulp Magazine Archive.

fairies don’t exist…or do they?

The Cottingley SecretThe Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Apropos that 1) this should come out on in the centennial of the hoax* and 2) that I should be reading it this year as well (I’ve been on the library wait list for a while and my turn finally came around).

I first learned of the Cottingley Fairies through “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World”. This book is a delightful speculation about how the hoax came to be and a study of how a seemingly innocuous prank can go wildly out of control.

The two timelines are easy to follow – I admit I preferred the historical one to the present day one, but they intersected nicely. (view spoiler)

*Frances Griffiths really did maintain to the end that “…there were fairies up there, or there were then. There aren’t now.” (ACCMW [YouTube] 19:17)

View all my reviews

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?


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 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.


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?