Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Meanderings

During the Christmas craze, I binged the first season of Westworld in about four days.  I thought even the subtle details were very well done.  Taken objectively, the concept of a massive park populated by synthetic flesh androids requires significant suspension of disbelief, but I found it easy to become immersed in that world.  Until one thing jarred me.

The employees in management and supervisor positions swore like sailors, often directing curt profanities at each other.  More than once, I found myself thinking, "If you talked to your boss like that, you'd get fired."

That got me thinking (always a dangerous thing).  When you're building a world that requires people to imagine circumstances far outside their own, what often determines whether the reader can suspend disbelief is not the fantastic element so much as the mundane details surrounding it.  The weirder the fantastic realm, the more important it is that the people act in ways that make sense; that clothing rips; that cobwebs gather in disused corners.

I considered another show I watch, this one grounded (mostly) in our reality:  Suits.  Suits arguably has a similar corporate environment with an almost equivalent amount of cursing.  (I will credit the disparity to the difference in network:  you can get away with a lot more on HBO than you can on USA.)

So why haven't I ever questioned the cursing in Suits?  The answer might be that since the world of Suits is otherwise much like our own, my suspension of disbelief doesn't get as much of a workout.  In this mode, the cursing is essentially a fantastical element.  In the end, Suits is an imaginary version of our world - it's just that the differences are less drastic and obvious.

Just in case I had drawn any firm conclusions, I commented about the cursing disconnect in Westworld on Facebook, and someone jumped in to comment that in their corporate environment, such cursing was common.  This surprised me ... and got me thinking.

How much is suspension of disbelief based on truth, and how much is based on what we *think* is true?  This comes up a lot in historical / alternate history, I imagine, where many popular misconceptions influence what we'll believe in a historical novel.

Every time we're making a claim against popular knowledge, we're spending a kind of "belief capital," and the amount a viewer/reader has varies from person to person.  Another way to phrase this is "imagination overhead."  As a society, our imagination overhead has grown a lot over the past few decades; it's what makes fantasy-based shows possible and even viable on regular network television.  The ones that succeed make sure to do everything else right:  to show that people are people, no matter how exotic.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Song Styles

We interrupt our regular Sunday program of themesongs to make a recommendation of music for fantasy readers, writers and anyone else who doesn't mind a dash of the fantastic in their listening.

Dark, reflective, powerful, yet driven by the artist's dance music roots, Sophie Ellis-Bextor's album Wanderlust adds a liberal dash of fantasy into each song.  I'm convinced that the track "Young Blood" is actually about vampire romance, but that's not the most obviously arcane selection.  If you try out only one song to see what I'm talking about, check out:

Love Is A Camera

Even before I saw this music video, I was convinced that the mysterious woman was the protagonist of Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby" all grown up.

Sophie has a strong, clear voice with a hint of rasp.  She's equally at home with the upbeat pop that is her signature style and with more powerful ballads.

For the record, my favorite from the CD:

13 Little Dolls

(Ignore the transcribed lyrics; they're entirely inaccurate.)

Other albums I've been grooving on lately:

idina. from Idina Menzel.  Most of you probably know her as "that singer from Frozen," but my first encounter with her was as Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) in Wicked.  Her voice is phenomenal; she's a powerhouse, without having that overwhelming vibrato that seems to be a signature of opera-style singers.  This is solid, quality pop music.  What sets this album apart is not so much the songs or instrumentation, but the singing.  Her vocal acrobatics have shades of Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, but she does it much, much better.

I'll even forgive her the e.e. cummings style title.

Stand-out track:

Queen of Swords

Joanne from Lady Gaga.  Yes, I do listen to Gaga.  I'm not one of those superfans who adores everything she does, but I enjoy her voice and her evolution from album to album.  (I also appreciate her willingness to put herself out there.  Now that she's out of the meat-dress stage, it seems very genuine.)  In that respect, the songs in Joanne do the best job so far of standing back and showcasing her voice:  raw, powerful and deep.  

My main complaint about Gaga's CDs is that the songs within each album are very similar - with Born This Way, the melodies blurred together.  Joanne does not suffer from this problem, taking a number of different directions - they may not all succeed, but the songs are generally quite distinct from each other.  There's a range here, from a few classic Gaga dance tunes - "A-Yo" and "John Wayne" - to slower and more contemplative.

Ironically, the title track is one of the weakest on the album.  My favorite - I can't stop hitting repeat on it - is the haunting Angel Down.

Final CD and thoughts:  Ellie Goulding's Delirium.  I've been a fan of Ellie since I stumbled across "Lights" years ago, and I have to say that, if you're not familiar with Ellie ... pick up Bright Lights or Halcyon Days, not Delirium.  (And do be careful - each of her CDs annoyingly has a regular and a deluxe version, and there's no other way to get the deluxe songs unless you buy them as individual MP3s.)  

That's not to say Delirium is bad, but the tracks are much less varied than in the previous two.  Especially if the only thing you know of her is "that song from the Fifty Shades movie" - that song is probably the weakest track on Delirium and it doesn't even do a particularly good job showing off her voice.

For those who already knew Ellie, Delirium showcases her lovely, floaty voice and her rhythmic quirks - she has a lot of fun playing with rhythmic variance in her music.  It's a worthy addition.

My favorite track is on the second CD, aka the Deluxe part of the album:

Winner

Monday, January 09, 2017

Monday Meanderings

The recent death of Carrie Fisher has brought up many tribute posts and memories.  Some that catch my eye are from female writers who credit Leia as being the first time they saw a female heroine on the screen who could rescue herself.  It was the lightbulb moment:  women can be warriors, too.

For me, I don't consciously remember ever having this revelation.  There wasn't one shining moment when I realized that girls could fight, too:  it was simply something I never questioned or doubted.  I took it for granted, and when I stopped reading "kid's books" (YA and MG, in current parlance) at a fairly young age, I was generally irritated by the paucity of heroines in "adult books."  To me, the absence wasn't a societal proscription or prophecy:  it was a lack on the part of writers that I just couldn't understand.  Why wouldn't you write about awesome women, too?

One moment that sticks out in my memory where I stumbled into a different outlook was with a Reader's Theatre production of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.  For those not familiar with Reader's Theater, it focuses on presenting books in script form, but typically without staging, etc - individuals read the characters seated.  Or at least, this was the version I worked with at the time.  

I was bound and determined I was going to read the titular role.  Gender swap?  Well ... Wilhelmina Wonka, of course.  I was bitterly disappointed that the vote went against me, and my mother said that she thought the others had trouble imagining the character as female.  I simply couldn't understand why that would be such a big deal.

So I guess I've been fortunate enough that I feel I've always been steeped in the "women can do anything" mindset to the point where not only don't I question it, there's always a tiny part of me that's bewildered when someone else has to make a point of saying it.  Wait, doesn't that go without saying, like the fact that gravity works?

It should be noted that I'm in a traditionally male-dominated profession, but even my time in culinary school was often dominated by the girls.  In savory classes, they were often half the class; in pastry classes, it would sometimes be all female.  (In these latter classes, I tended to end up being the tallest person in the room, so I spent a lot of time getting things down from shelves and the ceiling.)  I remember getting into it a bit with one of my (male) instructors for giving us extra credit work to write about five current up-and-coming chefs ... all of whom were male.  I was polite, but to me, that was pretty much unacceptable.

Of course, I will admit that sometimes, I have the opposite problem.  I had an editor request some changes to a male romantic lead because he suffered from love interest syndrome, where the character seemed to exist only for that purpose ... something usually only found in female characters.  Whoops.  (I won't name manuscript because some spoilers implicit.)

So I try to stay even-handed ... but I've got to admit in my mind, I'm always cheering on the ladies.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Song Styles

I have not yet found a character who fits this song, but it's a very appropriate tune for writers, artists and other creators, sung by an artist with a gorgeous voice:

Beyond Imagination - Sissel 

Highly recommended listen.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Road To Dog Fostering

Today marks my one-year anniversary of having a rescue dog in my home as a foster parent (for LuvFurMutts rescue, if anyone is curious).  It was a twisted road getting here, but the experience and sweet little Ami have changed my life.

Like many kids, when I was young, I was desperate for a dog.  I couldn't have one, though, because of allergies.  I also had other severe environmental allergies, so my parents didn't want to add to the strain.  They finally decided something had to be done, though, when they caught me snuggling the hamster.

(Willow.  Very friendly and gentle, but dumb as a box of rocks.)

So my parents did some research and discovered the Bichon Frise, a hypoallergenic breed.  Most kids want a car for their sixteenth birthday.  I was jubilantly happy to get a puppy - or more specifically, the promise of a puppy, for the litter hadn't been born yet.  It came from a backyard breeder; at the time, my parents didn't know enough to be alarmed by this.  When the litter was still only a few weeks old, I went to visit and chose a puppy.  Since they were all little white puffs, the family marked the one I had chosen. 

Fast forward a few more weeks, and my family goes to pick up the pup.  We're watching them play in the yard.  One pup detours off from the rest, and the others follow.  Uhoh.  The alpha.

My mother:  "Which one is ours?"

"Oh, that one."

So that was Nimi (rhymes with Timmy) - short for Nimue, the Arthurian Lady of the Lake.  As new dog owners, she ran the whole family ragged and knew exactly how to get what she wanted.  She was also a cuddly sweetheart ... and then the problems started.

It should have been alarming that Nimi developed kidney stones at three years old.  She had surgery to remove them, and for a while, all seemed well ... but then she started getting sick, involving multiple trips to the emergency vet clinic.  Her system wasn't processing / flushing toxins properly.

She needed subcutaneous fluids for months.  To do this, I had to gently pierce her skin with a needle and then massage in liquid from an IV bag.  Because it would pool up, we used to call it "saddlebagging."  It could not have been a comfortable experience, but she dealt with it valiantly.  As for me, I swallowed my panic; I've always been deathly afraid of needles.

Again, Nimi recovered.  When she took another turn for the worse, I knew she wouldn't last long, but I was thinking in terms of months.  I was stunned when I took her to the vet and he indicated organ failure.  We had to make the decision to put her down.

Our wonderful vet gave us - basically at cost - powerful anti-nausea meds so Nimi could have a few comfortable days with her family.  We spoiled her, gave her car rides, ice cream and everything a pup could want.  And then my mother and I took her in for her final journey.

She was just shy of her ninth birthday.

The experience broke our hearts.  It also (then) firmly set my resolve:  I would only buy a dog from a highly reputable breeder.  I couldn't go through this again.

It was a little over a year before my family could find the heart to welcome in another dog.  This time, we dealt with an approved breeder in the north of the state.  There was a single female pup, pictures emailed back and forth, and even a name tentatively chosen:  Sophie. 

My mother and I drove up together.  Besides the pup we had come to see, there was a second puppy who had been a stud pick.  (That is:  the breeder's dog was the sire of another breeder's litter, and her payment was a pup from the litter.)  While the female we had come to see bounced happily along, this second pup immediately tried to climb into my lap.

The breeder pushed her aside.  "Oh, this one's needy," she said.

Well ... needy was exactly what we wanted.  It took the whole drive home before the new addition had a name:  Lexi, a Greek name which means "protector of humanity."  Pretty hilarious in hindsight, considering she plays guard dog ... and monitors both her younger sister and my foster dog, barking loudly if they act sick or are doing something they shouldn't be.

Speaking of her younger sister ... a few years later, I added Peri to the pack, and things were never quite the same.  She was - and still is - a little diva.  She's also never been quite as healthy as Lexi, but her problems are minor:  ear infections, a cherry eye, etc.

Fast-forward five years more.  My mother started this one:  she had become interested in animal rescue due to the story of Caitlin the pitbull and started sending me pictures and success stories.  I loved seeing the dogs flourish and find homes, so on Facebook, I added a local rescue to my feed.

Then a tiny boy chihuahua mix popped up and I fell in love.  "Oh, my gosh, I want him!" I gushed ... and my mother egged me on, so I applied.  It was pure whim.

It was also the first of a handful of negative experiences I had with larger local rescues.  My applications were either brushed off with "we got a ton of applications, so we will only be in touch if yours made it" or I was pushed to adopt right away.  Considering I had two resident dogs to think about, I wasn't going to make any decision rashly.  Lexi is fairly easy-going and I was pretty sure would be okay with a new dog, but Peri is an attention-seeking prima donna, so I wanted a trial before I committed.

What about the question of health, which so worried me?  After my first whim-filled application, I did more research and found that often, mixed breeds are healthier than their purebred counterparts.  And ultimately, too, I think seeing all the tough stories of the dogs and all they had been through showed me that there are no guarantees ... and all pups needed love and happiness.

After a few sincere disappointments - in particular, a pup I had fallen in love with, only to be informed that someone else had priority - I contacted another area writer, Laura Resnick, via Facebook.  I had been watching her cat fostering posts for a while and asked her if she knew of something similar for dogs.  She pointed me to LuvFurMutts.

Now usually, LFM's adoption events are/were on Saturdays, which is difficult for me since I work catering.  By pure happenstance, though, the next upcoming event had been shifted to Sunday.  I decided to go.  I wasn't really interested in any of the dogs who were "attending" the event, but LFM had a litter of just-born puppies.  It wouldn't hurt to feel out the rescue and meet folks.

That event went very well.  I made some canine friends and just "clicked" with the LFM folks.  The coordinator that day suggested that I foster until I decided to adopt ...

... and poor fool me, I applied.

Now, this was right around the holidays, so they were closing down intake and events until the new year.  And when that year rolled around, the request came:  could I take Ami?

At first, I thought I had made a big mistake.  With a new dog in my home, I felt I had to be hypervigilant - not just because of her, but watching Peri and Lexi.  Ami was frightened and clingy.  And then ... she started to relax, and I started to relax, and it worked.

I've watched Ami grow and improve tremendously.  I'm as proud as could be and looking forward to some day helping another dog.  Now, after this long and winding road, I don't know if I would consider anything else but fostering and adopting.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Monday Meanderings

It's been a crazy year, probably one of my most tumultuous and change-filled.  I've been tested, frustrated, run mad, and come out stronger for it.  I've finished numerous short stories, poetry pieces, and a novel(la), had a novel accepted for small press publication and begun edits, started a new part-time job, had a work location close, change in bosses, change in responsibilities, added a new student, minor car accident, unraveled a health mystery, chopped my hair and dyed it purple, started fostering for a canine adoption group ...

I'm not entirely sure that's the complete list.

Nothing has been simple or straightforward; it's all been complicated, twisty, and often piled atop each other in a way that no one would believe in fiction.  "Come on, it just happened to occur in that order?"  It may not have been easy on my nerves, but I think I'm stronger for navigating it all.

To those setting New Year's resolutions, I salute you.  Sure, it's an arbitrary unit of time, but so are most self-imposed deadlines ... and deadlines can be liberating.  I believe in concrete goals, no matter when you choose to set them.

For myself, at least on the writing front, I will not be setting long-term goals - not because I'm a hypocrite, but because achieving my goals ultimately depends on someone else (an editor, agent or publisher).  I can take as many steps as I can find in the right direction, but success needs a green light from someone else.  I'm thinking particularly that my next hopes are to get an agent and a short story in a pro-level anthology.

So I have ... hopes?  Hopes for the New Year and new change.

But I'd take a calmer year, too.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Song Styles

When it comes to wishes for the new year, both this song and the accompanying video seem appropriate to me (and this song is fantastic by itself - I'm a bit obsessed with it):

Trip The Light 

I need to know I can be lost, and not afraid ...

For me, personally, this song found me during 2016 and is a reminder I needed going forward:

Live It Up

Happy New Year, y'all!