Impending NaNoWriMo

I decided I’m going to try being the hare rather than the tortoise for the month of November.

I’ve never been lured in by NaNo before. Last year I did a modified version and wrote 500 words a day. I’m quite a slow writer. I sit there and ponder. I outline fairly extensively. I chip away at a MS. I write in little spurts of 300 or 400-word days. Thus, when I have a full draft, it’s usually in fairly decent shape, but it takes me awhile to get there.

I’m going to see what I can knock out in a month, fully giving myself to write whatever comes into my head. I only have a very loose outline. I’m allowed to go off on tangents and write myself into corners and magically find a way out of them to race on. I’m just going to run with it and see what I come up with. The story, which is a fairly-straight-forward paranormal romance (something I enjoy reading for escapism but probably wouldn’t normally write) is set in another country of my made-up world. So even if I’m left with nothing but a huge, steaming pile of rubbish, I’ll at least have a better grip on that corner of the world I made up in my imagination.

I don’t know I’ll be a “winner”, but I’m sure as hell gonna try.

Who else is giving it a go?

Dewey’s Read-a-thon

For the past few years, I’ve seen these Dewey read-a-thons crop up every six months or so. I always found an excuse not to participate. I was too busy. I had something else on. Too much homework. Needed to feed my cat or wash my hair.

But as I wrote in a recent post, I had been in a bit of a reading slump the past couple of months. Part of it was that, yes, I am busy–I work full-time, I write, and I study part-time. Put them all together and I work a 70 hour week most weeks, easy.

I’ve also been reading slowly, but still adding onto what I read and starting new projects before I’d properly finished the older one. Before the read-a-thon, I was concurrently reading…seven books. If I kept bouncing around between them in the little amount of time I had to read, of course it would take me ages to finish and leave me feeling frustrated at my lack of progress.

And so lo, the reading challenge!

I decided to use it as an incentive to actually sit down and plow through some of the books I’ve been reading and enjoying at a snail’s pace. I started at 2 pm yesterday and read pretty much the whole day. My husband had some friends over in the evening, so I half-watched anime and read as well. I slept, woke up, read a bit more this morning. My pace gradually slowed as time passed. Had I pushed myself, I could have easily read a couple hundred more pages, but I wanted this to be fun and relaxing.

What I read:

Department 19 – Will Hill – the last 309 pages

I’d started this book after meeting the author at FantasyCon and really enjoyed it, but due to a lack of concentration I’d set it down and not had a chance to pick it back up. I was at the part of the book where young Jamie Carpenter by necessity had to be taught about the secret history of Department 19, which meant the pace had slowed somewhat. I picked it up, parked myself in my comfy beanbag, made myself a coffee, and went for it. In just a few hours, I’d finished the book. I’ll give this one a proper review of its own later on in the week.

The Passage – Justin Cronin – audiobook – 70 minutes  – equivalent of say, 40 pages?

I’ve been listening to this slowly for the past couple of months while I walk to work or go to the gym. It’s 950 pages, though, so listening to it on audiobook takes 37 hours. It’s excellent and I recommend it. He’s very skilled at giving each character his or her own nuance. I’m about 80% finished with it now.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever – James Tiptree, Jr. – two stories: “And I have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways” and “The Women Men Don’t See” – 48 pages

I’ve been reading this short story collection on and off for ages. I like her work (yes, if you don’t know, James Tiptree, Jr. was a woman writing under a male psuedonym. She had a sad and interesting life–read the wiki), but don’t feel a great rush to finish. I’m savouring them. I wasn’t too keen on the first story, but the second one was wonderful. A slightly-unlikeable protagonist goes on a trip to Mexico to fish. He takes a small carrier plane with a mother, a daughter, and the pilot. The plane crashes onto a sandbank and the Mayan pilot is injured. The daughter and the pilot stay on the sandbank and the protagonist and mother go searching for help. It’s more complicated than that, for the mother is acting odd and the protagonist’s paranoia tingles. The supernatural element doesn’t appear until quite late in the story.

Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb – last 89 pages

I’ve been re-reading this for the past week and a half. Robin Hobb is my go-to comfort read when I want to sink into a world and escape. This must be the fifth or sixth time I’ve read this book, but the first time I’ve read it since I’ve written a novel (I last read it in 2007). It was interesting to read it and deconstruct the plot and examine what about this book appeals to me so–the lush prose (even if there are a few too many adverbs for my liking now), the deep characterization, the niggling mystery of the Fool and the threat of those discovering Fitz’s various secrets.

“A Song for Lya” – George R.R. Martin – short story – 56 pages

I finished up with a “short” story by George R.R. Martin. I’m a huge fan of both his longer and shorter work, and this was no exception. Two humans come to a planet called Shkeen, where humans and aliens live fairly harmoniously. The humans, Robb and Lya, are a couple with abilities–Robb is an empath and Lya a telepath. They have been summoned by the planetary administrator, Dino Valcarenghi. I’m sure the name is a Star Trek homage, as it’s mishmash of “Vulcan” and “Ferenghi.” The character has some elements of both races–he represses his emotions and he’s quite shrewd.

Dino is concerned because some humans have been converted to the Shkeen’s religion–one that involves a believer being willingly infected with a parasite. After a time the believer merges with the larger parasite and the human host dies.  He wants Robb and Lya to investigate why humans converting. They learn that the religion is a lot more complicated than one might expect.

Written in the 1970s, it has a lot of similar themes to “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Heinlein. It’s a damned good short story that raises a lot of questions–What is a cult? Is it wrong if love is so all-consuming? Where and what is God? I loved it.

Summary:

Pages read: 542

That’s the most I’ve read in one day for absolutely ages, and before this I’d probably been reading 500 pages every two weeks. As a result of the reading challenge, I feel rejuvenated and I think I’ll find a way to work more reading into my daily life. I now have fewer projects warring with my other books I’m reading, including a friend’s book and a beta-read, and so now I’ll be able to devote more energy to them.

It’s a bit like NaNoWriMo for reading. Gets your ass in the chair and an open book in front of you. It reminded me of all of the lazy afternoons I’d had not long ago, losing myself in other’s words. I’ll definitely be participating in more of these in the future.

Women of the Future

The blog Retronaut (which you should all read), has an interesting series on women of the future, as imagined in 1902. These have been circulating the net for a few weeks, but they popped up on my Twitter feed again and I thought them too wonderful not to share on my blog.

It’s strange to look at them. They’re flirty, and might have been taken as pin-up titillation, judging by the corsets and some of the costumes with bare arms. Now, women are all of these things (well, maybe there aren’t that many drummer boys), but in 1902, they were still fantasies or extremely rare. To put it in perspective, my great-grandmother, Sissy, was born in 1901 and died in 2003. Her life as a woman in her 20s was very different to what mine is, today.

I love the expressions on their faces–playful, and proud. And they know they’re cute.

But I wonder how they felt, taking these photos.

All of the costumes can be found here. I have pasted my favourite below.

Me, My Sex, and I

Boy, Girl, or Other?

Watch Me, My Sex, and I on BBC iPlayer

A few days ago, BBC aired one of the best documentaries on intersex or DSD (Disorders of Sexual Development) I’ve seen. Though not intersex myself, I’m invested in the cause for awareness and changing legislation after researching different aspects of DSDs for my novel.

Sex, like gender identity, is not a false dichotomy. It’s not XX or XY. A person can be X or XXY. Someone you would look at and swear is female and would identify as such might actually be genetically XY, and vice versa. There are a variety of DSDs that are a lot more common than one would think. As stated in the documentary, in a city the size of New York City, as many as 100,000 people could have DSD, ranging from minor hypospadias to 5-alpha reductase deficiency or androgen insensitivity syndrome.

Yet even though it’s more common that one would think, few people appear to know about it. Can you name an openly intersex celebrity, for instance?

The documentary was very well made and touching. I found myself tearing up several times while watching it. For many people born in the 1960s with DSD, surgery was the most common solution, even if the ambiguous genitalia functioned just fine. Parents were told that this surgery–which sometimes, due to complications, could become as many as twenty surgeries–was the best hope for their child to have a normal future. And so many parents agreed. Some call this gender mutilation, and several children were left essentially castrated, numbed and with health complications. Infant surgeries still happen today, though on the whole on a lesser basis, and I am against it unless there is a pressing medical need. It is not the parents’ body. It is not the doctor’s body. It’s the baby’s body, and the baby’s choice once he or she can make it.

Though the documentary did not shy away from the difficulties those with DSDs, overall it was hopeful. Their DSDs do not rule their lives; rather, it is a facet of who they are. It was wonderful for them to bravely share their different stories.

I could go on and on about this for ages. Please watch the documentary. It’s a good one.

If you’d like to learn more:

Intersex Society of North America (sadly defunct)

The UK Intersex Association

DSD Families  

Youtube also has some diaries of intersex people and snippets of other documentaries.

I Miss Reading

This is a misleading blog post. I still do read, and I read more than your average person. Perhaps 70 books a year. I log the books on Goodreads (shameless plug–feel free to add me!). But before I started writing seriously, I was reading 150 books or more per year. Every other day, practically, I’d finish a book, reading at least 110 pages per day. I’m amazed that I was able to keep up that pace for so long.

Now, between writing and having one of those adult full-time jobs, reading is very much pushed to the background. A lot more time is spent reading online articles through my Google Reader. I still read a little fiction every day, but due to a myriad of worries and obligations, it’s been a very long time since I lost myself in a book for a full afternoon. And I miss it. Desperately.  I think when the next one of those readathons come along, I’m going to choose a book I think I’ll lose myself in and schedule the day just for that.

What I choose to read has also changed. I do more beta-reading or reading books friends have published. Which is wonderful–I’m more than happy to do this, and I particularly enjoy seeing books in their embryonic stage and offering my own suggestions. I read books that are in a similar vein to my books, so I am aware of who my closest peers in the publishing industry are. It’s very rare that I re-read a book, unless it’s one of my all-time favourites. Before, I’d read unself-consciously–a Raymond Chandler followed by a young adult novel about mermaids, followed by a memoir of a Russian Cosmonaut in space. Didn’t matter. I’d read anything and read it quickly.

Now it feels as through my To Be Read pile is still growing exponentially, but I’m falling further behind. The old adage of “so many books, so little time” is so unbelievably true.

Perhaps it’s just a slump and I’ll go back to my voracious reading habits, though I doubt I’ll ever read 150 books in a year again.

How have your reading habits changed? Do you read more or less than you used to?

FantasyCon through the eyes of a Newbie

I have now been to two conventions. I attended Comic Con in San Diego in 2009, which is now a hazy recollection of lots of queuing and a blur of media previews and people frantically pressing freebees into my grasping hands.

FantasyCon was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The only queue was waiting with a friend to check into her room on the first day. 450 people or so attended, and it was a nice blend of readers, writers (both established and hopeful), bloggers, and industry professionals. The programme was packed full of panels, readings, and book launches, and there was even a disco and a Lovecraft-themed burlesque, though I’m afraid I didn’t watch much of that. Nipple tassels just aren’t quite my thing, you understand, even if there are tentacles involved.

I went not knowing what to expect or quite how to act. I ended up just being myself, though I squashed my nerves as deep as they would go. I made lots of friends, learned a lot about the industry, and I hope I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself. I have plenty of genre fans in my day-to-day life, but it’s always nice to get into in-depth discussions with near-strangers about all sorts of geeky subjects. I ended up ranting a couple of times about my thoughts on gender and sexuality in SFF (sometimes at great length depending on how much gin I had ingested for courage), but people put up with them graciously.

I ended up not attending as many panels and readings as I’d initially planned due to losing track of the time and consistently misplacing my programme. I attended the Judging a Book by its Cover Panel, which was interesting as I’d never really thought about the process of cover art, aside from wondering why cover artists sometimes ignored what a character was meant to look like (like the beautiful American cover art of Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb having a blonde Fitz). I also attended The Rise of YA Panel, Dealing with Agents and Editors, and How to Market Your Novel.

A few times in the panels, the issue of women writers in SF was brought forth before industry professionals, as there appear to be far more men writing in the genre than women. Jo Fletcher (of the new imprint of Quercus, aptly titled Jo Fletcher Books), said that she felt it a travesty, but for some reason science fiction with female names tended to sell less. Juliet E. McKenna brought up an excellent point that it’s not so much that there’s a gender discrepancy in the gender of writers, but than men are receiving 70% of the reviews, which thus lowers the visibility of female science fiction writers.

I only attended a few readings, and for my next con, I plan to go to more. I went to Adam Christopher’s and Anne Lyle’s. I knew Anne online and befriended Adam pretty early on and so it was wonderful to get a taste for their writing, but I also wish I’d sat in on at least one author I didn’t already know.

I also attended a MasterClass with literary agent Will Francis, of Janklow & Nesbit, and I really enjoyed it. As a hopeful writer who’s queried a couple of agents without any luck so far, it was nice to ask questions and have more of an idea of what it’s like from the other side of the query.

Mainly, I spent a lot of time in the bar, chatting with people. And that’s the main strength of these conventions—making friends and connections. Writing is a solitary activity for many. I’m lucky in that my husband also writes, but many do not have that support. And the genre community in the UK is lovely and welcoming, and so even if you’re a nervous newbie, I can’t recommend going to them enough.

See the gallery below for two photos of the beach and the Royal Pavilion.