Sunday, August 24, 2014

somethig to keep track of

I did write thiswee, which is a definite improvement, but I did not write every day. Even so, I wrote  928 new words in three days. Wahoo for me!

Unfortunately, it's all pretty un-compelling writing. Back story stuff I need to write but nobody else needs to read. Next week I'll have to do more, both in terms of writing and in terms of making things exciting.

In the pursuit of making compelling writing, here's a check list of items tothink about for every scene. Lots and lots to think about, but will be critical to go though during revisions.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New goal

I'm struggling to get back into writing, both on my blog and on my projects. I think about them (more about the novel than about the blog, to be honest) but sitting down and doing the writing is hard right now. I don't have any of the excuses I've had for the last, oh, nearly year (no visitors, no pregnancy, and my baby is very nice to me sleep-wise so I'm not terribly sleep deprived) but I'm having trouble sitting down and forcing myself to write.

The best I ever do with writing is when I sit down and write a little bit every day, like 300 or so words. It's a little more than a page and I can usually bang it out in 20 minutes or so if I've even remotely planned. So, here's my new plan: I'm going to write about 300 words a day for the next week and then post next Sunday what I've done. Then I'll have something for both writing and blog. Win-win!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Best cinnamon rolls

Sometimes books are about food, even when they aren't.

I read Robin McKinley's "Sunshine" a few days after I had Kip. It's a book about a girl and a vampire, but in addition to being our protagonist, that girl also happens to make the world's best cinnamon rolls (something that's only mentioned every third or fourth page of the book). Perhaps unsurprisingly, I craved cinnamon rolls for weeks after I finished devouring the book.

Today I made my favorite cinnamon rolls.

My husband and I disagree on how the best cinnamon rolls are made. He thinks cinnamon rolls should be spread out so they don't touch, so every roll is completely separate. I think cinnamon rolls should be baked in a pan, in as much contact as possible so they come out soft, almost gooey when they're fresh from the oven.

He loves a straight cinnamon roll, with lots of cinnamon and butter, and with raisins and pecans in the filling but not much else. I'm less of a traditionalist and love to throw in hints of orange peel and cardamom to make my cinnamon rolls almost like a Christmas Julekage, though I'm not opposed to other fillings, like chocolate or brown sugar and marmalade, though I'm not sure I've ever gone quite as crazy with toppings as these.

No matter how I make them, they must be topped with cream cheese frosting.

Sadly, I took a nap this afternoon and, in my absence, my children ate all the cinnamon rolls. The only evidence of their existence, dirty plates and small piles of discarded raisins and pecans.

Thanks to the connection with the world's greatest cinnamon rolls I will think about "Sunshine" every time I make my own world's greatest cinnamon rolls. The power of food, not to be underestimated.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

MaddAddam

Oh, Margaret Atwood. How I used to love you.

What burgeoning feminist teen wouldn't love "A Handmaid's Tale"? Especially with the science fiction-y vibe.

Oh, excuse me. I mean speculative fiction-y vibe. Because, as Atwood reminds us subtly in her acknowledgements, she doesn't write science fiction. What she writes could really happen. Really.

Okay, that's probably enough snark.

"MaddAddam" is the third and final book in the MaddAddam trilogy. I read them out of order, starting with "The Year of the Flood," which I enjoyed, and then moved on to "Oryx and Crake," which I finished.

"The Year of the Flood" is primarily a survival story about two women who, through luck and their wits survive a global pandemic. The two women were both for a time part of an organization called God's Gardeners, where they knew each other and learned some skills that helped them keep themselves alive. The story was compelling for me largely because the women, Toby and Ren, were sympathetic, compelling characters. Toby is especially compelling as she survives some pretty terrible circumstances; Ren perhaps a bit less so, though largely because she's young and lackadaisical enough to just be less interesting. The world Atwood imagines is an interesting one, if dystopian in ways I simply find unbelievable, particularly regarding painball (convicted killers fighting one another to the death and then being released if they win).

"Oryx and Crake" wasn't as enjoyable because most of the story is about Jimmy, who I found whiny and unsympathetic. Part of the problem is that the protagonists in the story are Oryx (a former child prostitute) and Crake/Glenn (super genius), Jimmy's friends. I find reading a story from the perspective of a character other than the protagonist is often less satisfying, most especially if the non-protagonist main character is slimy and whiny. You can kinda get away with it if we're watching a likeable character, or if the story is short, but this is a novel and Crake is just about as slimy and ultimately far less sympathetic then even Jimmy.

Anyway.

I didn't dislike "MaddAddam" as much as I disliked "Oryx and Crake" but it wasn't a book I enjoyed much. Atwood is a literary writer and so she does some literary things that I found tiresome, like telling parts of the story as a story being told to the Crakers (the noble savages Crake/Glenn engineers before destroying the rest of humanity). The Crakers come off as imbecilic with the constant interruption, the dumbing down of events to something my two year old would find overly basic, and their perpetual misunderstanding of 'adult' concepts is a little too much for me. The one 'joke' in the book is a misunderstanding of the term, 'fuck,' which the Crakers interpret basically as a prayer to a demi-god/helper of Oryx named 'fuck.' The joke isn't funny when it's first told and it doesn't become funny through repetition.

I'm also not a huge fan of the literary conceit of giving every character a terrible childhood. Yes, parents are all monsters in some way. I'm a mom and sometimes I'm aware I'm being a monster, even when I try my best not to be. But I'm not that bad. This time around we get to hear about Zed and Adam's childhoods, which involved horribly degrading abuse and murder. Yes, I know, it's a novel, but seriously, is it feasible for that high a percentage of your population to have such terrible backgrounds?

I also can't turn off my science brain enough to suspend disbelief about the world Atwood creates. Despite Atwood's claims about the realism of her science, I found her science severely lacking. Sure, there are transgenic organisms out there, but assuming putting human frontal cortical tissue into the brain of a pig is going to make it super smart, and assuming the genetically engineered noble savages will be able to communicate with the super smart pigs is a bit of a stretch beyond 'speculative fiction.' If she just asked me to sit back and enjoy a piece of science fiction that we all know is only partially feasible, sure, I could do that. I'm not capable of letting her claim pigoons and Crakers and diseases that turn victims into frothy jell-o in a matter of minutes are truly speculative, as in within the realm of truly possible.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Campelltown Writers' group

Locally, I'm part of a writing group. I've only been going since last September, and I've missed several meetings thanks to children or morning sickness. Overall, it's been a good experience. I enjoy meeting with other writers and hearing what they have to say. Some of them are quite good, others not so much; all of the ones who are coming consistently are great to have in the group.

It's a nice change from last year.

The first few meetings I went to last year were pretty hit and miss. The format's been pretty consistent the whole time (chit chat, then a quick free write, then sharing our pieces based on the theme decided upon at the last meeting) but at the end of last year the group felt like it was seriously imploding. We had a less than stellar workshop one month, then a bitchfest the next month in response, at which point people kinda quit coming.

Somebody reached out to the Campelltown council (who is paying for the Writers' Group) for help, and in response they sent a woman to lead the group and keep it going. She's been coming for about the last six months.

Tonight was her last meeting. I won't say her presence was horrible, but I will say I'm glad to see her go. There were good things about having her there. She was good at providing structure to the meetings and I think for the group to have a hope of surviving we needed someone to just be a solid, consistent presence for a few months.

Unfortunately, she just wasn't into the whole writers' group thing. At least not with us. She was not so good at hiding her disinterest in us as writers and in our writing, or her impatience to end every meeting as quickly as possible. I was thoroughly annoyed at her nearly monthly 20 minute diatribe reminding us how much she hated being there.

This month, as her parting gift, she kicked it up a notch by inviting in a speaker to tell us how to run a self-sufficient writing group. Kind of a kick in the pants, show us out the door kinda last meeting with her, with someone else taking up our entire meeting time with the message she loathed being there. Fun, fun.

So, next month'll be just us. We'll either sink or swim as a group and I am totally happy with that. I hope we swim, but even if we sink, at least it won't be because some annoying outside person kept wasting our precious writing and discussion time.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Never let me go

I read this a while ago, so my recollection might not do it quite the justice it deserves. This was not nearly as good as I expected it to be.

The story follows Kathy, who is a carer for donors and who grew up in a secluded private school in the English countryside. She's primarily an observer and a bit of a blank slate. We as readers are obviously supposed to inject ourselves into her experiences since she so rarely has an unusual reaction to anything going on around her.

I wasn't a huge fan of the way the book was written, which I'm sure is part of why I didn't like it that much. It's written as a memoir and as such has a meandering, journal-like quality to it. It failed for me as a memoir, though, in that 'Kathy' every so often throws in some little comment that's supposed to create some suspense, I suppose to help draw me as a reader through the next ten pages of peripherally-related memory before she reveals what she was referring to. Sure, that's how some people talk, but I found it more than a little contrived and there were a few spots I was definitely annoyed.

While I liked Kathy, her friends were both jerks. Ruth rather obviously, from the get-go; Tommy less so, though I hated the way he treated Kathy before his fourth donation and completion. Kathy nurses Ruth, who doesn't deserve her friendship, to the bitter end, but Tommy, who supposedly loves Kathy, sends her away. The message seemed to be that people suck at the end of their lives. Maybe that is how it really is, that there are some people who want to renew or maintain relationships at the end of life while others would rather turn inward and shut everyone out, but in the end it felt awfully bleak.

I know, it's lit fic so it's not really about the science fiction-y elements, but as a science fiction buff I was unimpressed with the handling of the cloning humans as organ donors trope. I've seen it handled much more interestingly by other novels (Nancy Farmer's _The Scorpion King_ comes to mind; there are several others whose titles escape me, but they're out there). It's creepy how matter of fact Kathy is about her impending demise. She knows she's slated for a horrible, prolonged death, and she's worked long enough helping her friends going through that transition I suppose it's believable she's come to accept it. Still, I wonder how she could be so calm about her situation. I wonder why she's spent so little effort looking for a way out. Creating people with the express purpose of killing them is horrifying, no matter how nice a childhood you give them, and perhaps Ishiguro is trying to highlight that horror by creating such a banal narrative around it. If he was trying for some kind of extended metaphor (some have suggested racism) it's a little too obtuse for me to pull it out.

Still, I gave it 3/5 stars on goodreads since it is well-written and interesting enough that I did want to finish it. It's one of the more enjoyable literary novels I've read. I shouldn't have gone into it with the expectation of a more science fiction-y novel.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Science, er, Monday...

Okay, science Sunday happened for what, three weeks? Yeah, then I figured out I was pregnant (love that morning sickness) and basically gave myself permission to do nothing except eat and wallow in my misery until the bad part of pregnancy passed.

Guess what! I feel better now! And it only took 'till about halfway through the pregnancy. Wahoo! So, since I now feel more like myself, I'm going to go back to blogging a little bit of science and how it intersects (or could intersect writing) every week. Even if I'm the only one reading this blog, hey, at least it makes me feel productive. Who knows, I might even throw in a flash fiction piece once in a while to turn this into a REAL writing blog.

Anyway.

This week's easy. This article reviews recent advances in reprogramming cell lines, specifically looking at neural cells. Cell types do what they do because of the genes that are turned on and off. During development cells go from what's called a pleuripotent state, in which daughter cells can become any cell type (stem cells) to a differentiated state, where all daughter cells have the same function as the parent cell. A couple of years ago, the Nobel Prize was awarded to John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for demonstrating that cell lines can be returned to a pleuripotent state using the right signals, and from there turned into any cell type.

The review above specifically talks about turning non-neurons into neurons. Shades of "Flowers for Algernon" anyone? As cool as the science is I got shivers thinking about how eerily prescient "Flowers for Algernon" might just be.