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The Squatter and the Podcast

This past week I hit another milestone: first podcast appearance! I learned about The Word Count podcast through Marie Haskins, whom I met as a fellow contributor to the Abandoned Places anthology.

What is unusual about this podcast is the authors do the primary narration, and the host, the fab RB Wood, adds the intro and writer bios.

Now, I’ve never done this sort of voice work before. I’ve recorded dialog for training software, but never a complete story. This one, “Burial Detail,” runs about 1,000 words, which clocks in just under 7 minutes. I was on deadline, so I did one rehearsal, then recorded it. (In retrospect, I could have practiced more.)

What surprised me most when I listened to the playback was the timbre of my voice. It had gone from “rough baritone” to “broken baritone that really needs to hydrate more.” I’m not a smoker, and I wasn’t sick before the recording. Apart from the normal aging process, the primary alteration to my voice has been come about because of  The Squatter.

You may remember that I had a tumor removed from my sinus back in 2016. It turned out to be more annoying than we first thought, and required a second cleanup surgery. That procedure, while successful, also streamlined my breathing passages.

You’d think that’d be a good thing, right? It is, up to a point. You want the air to flow, but as I’ve learned, you always want a certain rough texture to the sinus cavity to retain moisture. Without the nooks and crannies, the normal mucus just goes where it will, and that means excessive drainage (in certain sleeping positions) and — ironically — drier air. Over time, that continual irritation has changed my voice.

Not many people are thrilled when they hear their own voice via recording as opposed to their own skull. For me, it almost sounds like a stranger.

Not sure if I’ll be looking to do my own readings in the future. With luck and perseverance, I’ll sell to markets that can hire that sort of talent.

I’m okay with that. And I’ll take the hit on my voice over a brain-threatening tumor any day.

 

2018 reading: some thoughts

I’m finishing up The Golden Compass tonight, and I doubt I’ll get through another book before Jan 1, so it’s time to look back on the year’s reading.

Overall, it was a good year. A very good year. 43 books (with a target of 40, but some of these are pretty short, so I consider it a wash).

According to Goodreads, I awarded 5 stars to 29 books, and 4 stars to another 13. Only one novel, Very Hard Choices, was something of a disappointment and earned 3 stars.

I read from a number of series. Some of my favorites:

  • The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne) Cole, Myke
  • Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire) Lee, Yoon Ha
  • The Collapsing Empire  (The Interdependency) Scalzi, John
  • Foundryside (Founders) Bennett, Robert Jackson
  • The Moons of Barsk (Barsk) Schoen, Lawrence M.
  • The Lady Astronaut of Mars (Lady Astronaut series) Kowal, Mary Robinette
  • Revenger (Revenger) Reynolds, Alastair
  • Annihilation (Southern Reach) VanderMeer, Jeff
  • The Night Masquerade (Binti) Okorafor, Nnedi
  • All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) – Wells, Martha
  • Hymn: The Final Volume of the Psalms of Isaak – Scholes, Ken
  • The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) Pullman, Philip

For beautiful prose, check out:

  • In the Vanishers’ Palace – Bodard, Aliette de
  • Forest of Memory  – Kowal, Mary Robinette

Noteworthy standalones:

  • Sea of Rust – Cargill, C. Robert
  • The Prey of Gods – Drayden, Nicky

Weird and wonderful!

  • Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach – Robson, Kelly
  • Blackfish City – Miller, Sam J.
  • Space Opera – Valente, Catherynne

Craft & miscellany:

  • Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative – Wendig, Chuck
  • Roger Zelazny – Krulik, Theodore
  • The Ides of Octember: A Pictorial Bibliography of Roger Zelazny – Kovacs, Christopher

My TBR shelf is still — unsurprisingly – full, and many delights await on my Kindle library as well. I have no doubt next year will be a bounty of favorite authors and new voices.

Looking forward to it.

Winter Solstice 2018 – Writing numbers

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

— Thomas Mann, novelist, Nobel laureate (1875-1955)

The calendar year is almost over, so I’m pretty confident there won’t be any last-minute submission, rejections, or sales. (If a seasonal miracle occurs, I’ll be sure to update this.)

This was a slower year for me, writing-wise. I was very focused on getting a new job (which happened), helping my spouse with her business, and dealing with family drama and new kittens.

Since I sold a decent number of stories last year, the available pool was greatly reduced, and my usual writing getaway didn’t come together. That resulted in fewer new stories seeking their fortunes.

2018 Submission Grinder stats:

New things

  • “The Last Feast of Silas the Wizard” (short)
  • “The Last Good Shoppe” (short)
  • “Jazmin’s Diary” (micro fiction)
  • “Burial Detail” (flash)
  • “Seven Cups of Landfall” (poem!)

Total number of submissions: 18

Sales:

  • “Just Another Night on Telegraph” – Factor Four Magazine
  • “Supply and Demand Among the Sidhe” –  Strange Economics
  • “The Carpetbaggers Ball” – Stupefying Stories

Pending response: 5 (1 in second review)

Works in progress:

  • Short stories: N + 3
  • Novella: 1

Awards Eligibility 2018

Yes, it’s that time again!

Thanks to the randomness of publication schedules, a lot of my previously contracted work appeared in this calendar cycle. All these stories are eligible for Nebula consideration.

Short fiction (which appeared in three brand new anthologies)

Short fiction (magazines)

That’s all for now. I really must shovel some more words into the Submission Grinder for 2019.

Last of the Gray & White

We never intended to have gray & white cats. Seriously. My spouse is fond of black cats, and I had no real preference. A few years ago, however, we found ourselves in possession of THREE identically decorated beasts.

Three? Yes, well, we never intended to have 3 cats, either. Before we embarked on parenthood, I offered my spouse a deal: we could have a child, or we could have a third cat. But not both.

Our daughter is now 16.

However, what I didn’t factor in my ultimatum were the child’s wishes. Funny how that happens. When Lilly-Karin was in elementary school, she decided that since Mom & Dad each had a cat, she needed one. After some discussion, I capitulated. However, I said we couldn’t get a gray and white one.

Our last two acquisitions (from two different shelters) were that color. Enough, I thought. What are the odds?

Well, Mr. Lukas came along. He was found by some construction workers and brought to the Oakland shelter. He was a mere wisp of a feline. A tiny ball of gray and white fur. Ha! We fell in love.

Little did we know, he was Maine Coon, or possibly a MC and Norwegian Forest Cat mix. In any event, he turned out to be HUGE. So we found ourselves with three.

It caused some confusion among the neighbors, who could never really tell just how many cats we add. There was always one prowling the street, or sunbathing in the yard, or running up to greet us.

Our middle cat, Ratrani, died in early 2017. Mr. Lukas passed away just after Christmas, leaving us with our matriarch, Elin.

Well, that wasn’t sufficient. So by and by we found ourselves with new kittens, Decaf (AKA the Panther) and Cheerios. Back to three. At least this time, we thought, they were distinctive.

Cheerios (front) and Decaf, the new kids

Elin never really connected with the kittens. They were too fast, too feral, and didn’t respect her rights to the couch (and laps) of the humans. Still, she kept her dignity and insisted on directing the house, especially around meal times.

This past Thursday, Elin ate breakfast, crawled under my desk, and refused to leave my side for several hours. Around noon, I found her in the kitchen, panting (never a good sign with cats). A quick trip to the ER confirmed that her heart was failing. She passed away soon thereafter, closing the door on our gray and white chapter.

I’m sure in some other realm Elin, Ratrani, and Mr. Lukas are sharing a couch, as long as the sun is warm and the humans are nearby.

3 gray cats
Elin (front), Mr. Lukas, and Ratrani (rear)

Back on the clock again

After more than 18 months of actively searching for a new gig, I finally gave notice at Kyocera. My last day was Thursday, October 18, 2018. So I managed three and a half years out in Concord. 

 I had given myself Friday to decompress before starting a new contract on Monday, October 22, at Kaiser Permanente. However, things didn’t work out that way. While there wasn’t any issue with my background check, or my drug screening, or my education reference, the IT group couldn’t commit to completing my account and hardware setup by that date. The slight irony here is that I took a role with Kaiser IT. But hey, everybody takes a number and waits their turn. Especially when you’re a contractor. So they told me to wait. Then they said Wednesday. Then they said I might as well take the weekend and we’ll start fresh on Monday. New week and all, etc. So I ended up with a sort of vacation. Got in some reading, did some house projects. Drafted a new flash piece. I also worried a bit. For reasons:

  • For the first time in four years, I was moving into a completely new role as a contractor, with few benefits and no guarantee of a paycheck. It also meant getting back into the strict 40-hour headspace and showing up at the office every day. All day. And no aloha shirts.I was returning to a company that had downsized me after a lot of turmoil in the department (4 bosses in 13 months) and a general realignment of finances, i.e., reduction of force. Would that count against me?
  • So what am I doing as a Technical Consultant in User Engagement and Enablement? Herding cats, basically. Updating the IT group’s WordPress sites, writing copy, tweaking workflows, doing meetings (lots of those), helping with strategy, advocating for users. You know, general web stuff. If all goes well, the contract will turn into a regular gig. In the meantime, I’m…

    • Figuring out the best configuration of limited parking optionsLooking to take the bus a few days/weekWorking from HOME on Fridays. Huzzah! Seriously, this group likes to be away. They gifted me with a dedicated remote access point so my laptop thinks it’s directly connected to mothership whenever I take it home.Extending my insurance with COBRA because it was actually cheaper than getting coverage from the contracting agency. Jeez.Making myself useful. I brought Finnish chocolate and Swedish tea this week.Dialing down the snark to appropriate levels

    It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure. I have to work in locked-down corporate systems, and security has no sense of humor. Try forgetting your badge or modifying your config files and see what happens. Still, the money will pay the bills for now, my core projects have immediate and obvious goals, and my contributions are improving the bottom line for healthcare. Certainly beats documentation for printer drivers. Oh, and my customers and team members are based in the US. No more late night/early morning conferences with lousy connections to Germany and Japan. That’s an improvement.

    Does this mean I can’t decorate my cubicle with swords?

    It’s the story, stupid

    I had a pile of laundry to iron the other night, so I fired up Solo (A Star Wars Story). It was one of those films I wanted to see, but didn’t manage to catch it in the theatre.

    After an hour, I finished the laundry. And then I turned off the movie.

    More to the point, I switched over to a BBC nature documentary, which had maybe 5% of Solo‘s shooting budget but a much more compelling set of characters. And story.

    There’s the rub.

    Solo isn’t a bad movie, but it didn’t engage me. It certainly didn’t pack the punch of Rogue One, which had a set of (mostly) unknown characters and a we-knew-it-was-coming ending. We all went along with the ride since it was a ride. The characters had agency, they had conflict, they had cool stuff to do.

    In contrast, Solo started with a vehicle chase, shoved in some quick background, attached another vehicle chase, then quickly flittered to war scene/montage/introduction of cool kids and THEN A TRAIN ROBBERY.

    How exciting.

    I didn’t care. And I was annoyed at the level of expository dialog that felt like the writers (and I’m sure there were many) were checking all the Star Wars boxes:

    • Solo wants to be a pilot
    • Solo does the “thermal detonator” trick
    • Chewbacca needs a nickname. Why not “Chewie”?
    • The Millenium Falcon is won in a card game. Or is it?
    • There’s a Kessel run.
    • Et cetera.

    Two of the most interesting characters were killed early in the process, leaving some rather second-string folks to carry the show. (Okay, I’ll give props to Donald Glover for his turn as Lando Calrissian. But poor Paul Bettany – someone told him to BE EVIL, OKAY?)

    I didn’t read reviews beforehand, or troll the film blogs, and perhaps that was a mistake. If I had known about the director swap, the rewrites, and the reshoots, I probably would have set my expectations accordingly. As it was, I thought I was going to get a high-quality popcorn flick that played off my nostalgia and (maybe) brought something new to the table.

    Nope.

    The takeaway for me is focus in storytelling. Pick an angle, a theme, a character. Run with those. Give your audience something to care about, and then drag them along. Hell, they’ll come willingly.

    Second, don’t be afraid to walk away when it doesn’t deliver. The BBC is always there with life and death struggles of snow leopards in the Himalayas.

    Strange things, indeed

    Ironically enough, my appearance in the new anthology, Strange Economics, was delayed due to… production problems. Things didn’t arrive on time, or in the wrong format, and printing was delayed, which meant we missed launching during Worldcon (and my birthday). Oh well.

    But now everything is back on track and you can have your very own copy. Get the physical version and I’ll sign it (if we meet) or send you a nice thank you note. Something. Seriously. I was tickled to find this Kickstarter project and even more pleased that they decided to give a home to my leprechaun mafia.

    Enjoy!

    Strange Economics cover

    Living in a climate change world

    The original title for this post was “living in a science-fiction world” but I changed my mind since this isn’t Fiction but reality here in California.

    Today I did the semi-annual maintenance on the house solar panels. That starts with cutting back the clumping bamboo we planted to give my daughter’s room some shade and privacy. It works well, but once the bamboo crests the edge of the roof it starts growing over the solar panels so it has to be tamed. Once I’ve cleared a path, I check the gray water connections to the laundry.

    Then I perch myself on a ladder, wash down the panels, and capture all that runoff into rain barrels, which I use to water the Japanese maple tree out front. Otherwise, I let it soak the bamboo so it does its thing.

    Finally, I rake and sweep and generally tidy up, collecting everything for composting. (More importantly, I cut back/disguise all the plants that were, ah, damaged during my efforts).

    So next month, the city will do its audit, and if it’s been another dry year, all that extra sunlight will mean I’ve produced more electricity that I consumed. I’ll get a rebate check.

    And probably buy more bamboo. It’s easier than a lawn.

    The dilemma of work

    In my post-Worldcon funk, I had to deal with an interesting ethical dilemma.

    Last night, my daughter complained that she was getting “bug bites” and feeling frustrated with her new school schedule (plus the difficulty of returning to school after summer and surgery). My wife and I went for a walk, and when we returned, we found our daughter in something of a panic, with all manner of skin irritations.

    Now we do have 3 cats, and one of them spends a lot of time outside, but I didn’t think we had suffered a massive flea infestation. Spiders? Mites? Bad-tempered pixies?

    So we moved her to the study and began cleaning her room, washing all the bedding and stuffed animals and getting ready to spray the floor. But then we realized a simpler answer might be at hand: drug reaction. For the past week, my daughter had been taking a prophylactic dose of antibiotics to deal with what appeared to be a minor infection following her jaw surgery.

    A quick internet search confirmed that this particular drug had certain less common side effects, including hives and (rarely) irritability. Ah ha. We called an advice nurse, who hooked us up to a doctor, who then prescribed some countermeasures.

    This morning, the teen was in better shape, but needed to rest, so my wife began re-arranging her schedule so she could keep an eye on things. I went off to work.

    And felt miserable. I work remotely 2 days a week, but this wasn’t one of those days. I had no project deadlines. So I sat there, worrying about my child and our loss of income (my wife is self employed). Finally, I told my manager I was heading home to do remote work for the rest of the day.

    The dilemma: my work at home schedule is an experiment, and I’d already pushed the issue during my daughter’s surgery and recovery time (since I couldn’t take enough vacation time to cover everything). Doing it again so soon after my Worldcon vacation might bring unwanted attention to me, and that’s never a good idea at a traditional Japanese firm. Conformity and consistency are safe. Doing your own thing (even if you meet your goals) is dangerous. 

    While I have a responsibility to contribute income (and health insurance) to the household, I also have to be a parent. The choice was difficult. And clear.

    You have to work, but how you work is up to you.