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Yesterday I bought a copy of Boa vs. Python because David Hewlett (Dr. Rodney McKay of Stargate: Atlantis) is in it and it was cheaper to buy it used than to rent it. I figure I can pass it along to some other ridiculous fangirl when I've seen it. (Any takers?) I haven't watched it yet, but here's the blurb:

"Two of nature's biggest and most terrifying scaled predators square off in an action-filled battle of fangs. When a gigantic python gets loose on a private reserve, the FBI must release an equally large boa to track and capture it as a group of wealthy big game hunters try to bag the python as a trophy for themselves."

In case it wasn't clear from that, it's a SciFi Pictures film. Hewlitt, naturally, plays a scientist, the herpetologist in charge of the boa. The boa is called Betty. I am not making this up. Fortunately, Jeff loves (I mean loves) bad movies, so he won't be cursing my name for watching this alongside me. He owes me a few anyway; I've suffered through so many wretched films because of him.

We're still debating whether we're going to make it out to see the Indiana Jones movie. I am deeply skeptical of the project and I don't really want to encourage Spielberg/Lucas/et al in their cynical opportunism. But I'm also curious enough that I'm thinking about giving them money, which only goes to show that cynical opportunism works.

We did go to see Iron Man (when we were in Madison, actually, with [livejournal.com profile] kinbote) and I loved it so much I want to go see it again. The Hulk movie just looks bad. I'm not sure what it would take to make a Hulk movie that works. Maybe a person as the Hulk instead of pixels? I really thought I would like the Ang Lee film but the script was just appalling. It looks like the reviews for this Hulk are better, but I think I'll still be watching it on tv in a year or two. Now, if it had David Hewlett in it . . .
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Back from WisCon this week, with just a little bit of ConCrud stuffiness head cold thing as our parting gift. We managed to escape the WisCholera, for which I am profoundly grateful.

A couple of people at the con said that they missed me blogging, which was a spur to my actually doing something about the repeated thoughts I have about posting.

I had a book due on the 19th, one of the non-fiction children's books I've been writing for hire. This one is about Saskatchewan. Turns out, Saskatchewan is kind of boring. I'm writing it for a packager, a new company owned by the folks who were my editors at Crabtree before we all got laid off. This series of books is for Scholastic. My editor is pretty much the bestest editor ever and wrote me just before the deadline to say that the first book in the series just came in and it was taking her longer to do than she'd expected, largely because it wasn't so great. She extended my deadline by a couple of weeks because otherwise the manuscript was just going to sit on her desk. On the one hand, I was happy not to have to rush to finish. On the other, of course writing work expands to fill the space before the deadline, so on some level I would have been happy to just finish the fucking thing and turn it in. We got back from WisCon late on Tuesday night, then I had a board meeting for the Buddhist group (more on that later) on Wednesday night, so it was Thursday before I finished the last little bit that needed to be done. I was really unsure that it was any good at all, because these province books are really episodic and difficult to write, and they're for a younger grade level than what I've done before. Younger is harder, trust me. So I sent it off with much trepidation, but my editor emailed me the next day to say that she peeked at it briefly and she was very happy with it. Thus was I made very glad and relieved of the need to fret about it all weekend long. Like I said, best editor ever.

I was offered a book on the solar system for the same age range by a different press, but I turned it down, after considering it very seriously. The book was four times longer than the ones I have been writing (which is actually a bit easier) but the pay was advance on royalties instead of flat rate (which is unusual for work-for-hire). The advance was slightly less than I usually get for writing the shorter books, so the numbers just didn't add up. It would have killed any chance of developing my academic editing practice further and probably my getting any fiction written for the next six months, between the revisions on the Saskatchewan book and the other book or maybe two that I'm doing on the provinces. I'm working a part-time office job right now, so I've got a little bit of steady money coming in, which means that I can afford to say no and also that I don't really have time to take on any more jobs for hire and still get anything else done. If I were going to take on much more freelance-for-hire stuff, I'd have to quit my day job. I'm pretty much at capacity given my energy levels at present. It's too bad, though; writing a book about the solar system is a lot more interesting than writing a book about Saskatchewan. I could regale you with many trivial and not terribly interesting facts about Saskatchewan but I think the folks at WisCon had enough of that already. I have hopes that I might be assigned to write the book on the Yukon because - Yukon! But with my luck, it'll be Alberta and/or Manitoba, the other two provinces most like Saskatchewan. However, World Fantasy is in Calgary, Alberta this year. Maybe I could go and do some research. I still feel weird about writing a book about a province I've never gotten anywhere close to.

Is anyone out there planning on going to World Fantasy, by the way?

Um, let's see. The house still isn't finished, but it's inching closer. Some people are supposed to come finish the basement floor in the next couple of weeks, and the masons are supposed to be coming to repoint the chimney and foundation sometime by the end of the summer. I planted some pansies in the flower boxes on the railing of our front porch, which made me very happy. When we first bought the house last fall I thought about how I would like to plant pansies in those boxes, and now I did. My mom's coming in a few weeks to help work on the landscaping, so that will be cool. We planted some bulbs in the fall but the squirrels are apparently landscaping critics and dug them all up and replanted them in different places. They ate some of them, of course. And then ate the flowers off the ones that came up. So that was pretty much a bust, except as a method of entertaining/feeding the squirrels. It was kind of fun to see where the squirrels replanted, though, when they started coming up in the spring. So there was some entertainment involved for us as well.

I have started doing meditation and chanting with this Buddhist group here. It's a very small group that's meeting at someone's house right now.
This is our Rinpoche. I've been interested in Buddhism and reading about different flavours of it for many years now, and sitting meditation off and on (though seldom as regularly as I would like) but I've never really practiced before. Tibetan Buddhism is fairly fancy, with lots of deity-like beings and lineage-holders that one can chant to, and lots of pretty art and things. This particular flavour also seems pretty forgiving, as opposed to some kinds of Zen, for example, which can be pretty fierce and all about striving. I don't really need encouragement to be more striving.  We have monthly video conferences with Rinpoche, who lives in LA and travels a lot, and he comes to the Niagara Region about once a year to give teachings in person.

More on this . . . )



And that's probably enough for now. More to follow on a more regular basis, I hope. I have big plans to start blogging more again, and file a big pile of papers on my desk, and to start working on fiction again at least a bit. That and $3 will get you a latte, so who knows. Probably at least some of that will happen.

memeish

Oct. 9th, 2007 12:54 pm
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That LibraryThing meme: )

Home improvements are going very slowly. More things with the wiring have popped up, and the chimney and foundation need repointing. Joy. Have resigned self to poverty forever. Am at least building equity, la la la.

Still spending a lot more time dealing with details of various problems than writing. Did a meditation/yoga class yesterday and may join a new meditation group that's starting in the area. I need to start doing either yoga, or tai chi, or some kind of physical exercise that won't overtax my joints, because I've gotten really weak. My back in particular, which explains why I've been having back trouble, I'm sure. Am somewhat sore today from holding poses, but it's the good kind of sore.

Got some editing work, polishing a grant proposal for some non-native English speakers. It's probably worth a hundred dollars or so, enough to help pay for my haircut & color, at least. I've got a lead on some other freelance work, as well, so here's hoping.
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I was going to write this in a an email to [livejournal.com profile] hhw, but then I thought it would be better to go ahead and post it for public consumption. The aforementioned [livejournal.com profile] hhw sent me a link to Sarah Monette's blog mostly because Sarah's blogging about all the Due South episodes starting from Ep 1, and DS is my newest obsession. (Yes, I am newly obsessed with a show that's been over for ten years. Go figure.) I'm really enjoying Sarah's commentary on DS, which I find really interesting and largely apt. She's been saying some very interesting things about the ways that the show builds myth and then intentionally undercuts it, which I agree is one of the most charming things about the show. So I was digging around a bit on her site this morning, having gotten up far too early and having a lull between appointments. I am trying to keep myself from wrecking my sleep patterns by taking a nap, but my body is not at all happy about this doctor's office at 8am thing. (I had to have a corn removed. When did I become elderly, is what I want to know.)

Anyway, I ran across this essay of Sarah's, Still Seeking Chloe and Olivia, which talks about the difficulties of writing strong female characters who are independent of men. I agree with Sarah that "the first obstacle standing in the way of writing strong female characters is that, even now, seventy-seven years after Woolf wrote A Room of One's Own, the great mass of tradition is against it." One of the things that is most annoying to me about popular culture is how much most female characters suck. And I agree that a large part of that suckage is the narrative dependence on men. I want female characters that have: 1) a strong will; 2) competence; 3) a specific agenda of their own; and 4) complications and darknesses. This is basically what I'm looking for in a male character as well. (Also, being hot doesn't hurt in either case, because I'm a shallow bisexual slut.) The problem with most female characters is that they almost always lack 1, 2, and 3, and frequently lack 4, unless they are a villain. Often the female character's agenda revolves around the male protagonists' agendas. Even characters like Scully or Zoe on Firefly (whom I adore, and let's stop for a moment and admire the hotness, shall we? Ahhhh.) or that woman on Stargate whose name escapes me at the moment because I hardly ever watch it, who are strong-willed, competent women are supporting characters whose job it is to advance the agenda of the male protagonist.

This is where I start to disagree with Monette, though. Because I don't really mind the supporting character thing. I think to a large extent, Zoe and Scully have taken Mal and Mulder's missions as their own agenda. In Zoe's case, I think that her agenda and Mal's basically always coincided. In Scully's case, she gradually adopted Mulder's agenda as her own. But just because it was Mulder's to start with, doesn't mean that it's any less hers now. She didn't take it on because of Mulder, per se. She took it on because she saw value in it, that what he was seeing was real (to some degree or another), because she was curious initially, and then because she believed that opposing the alien threat (whatever that threat was - let's not even get started about the plotting on that show) was the right thing to do. The introduction of the romance bothered me because they handled it poorly and because Chris Carter sucks. But the actual relationship between them seemed inevitable to me, not because it was a man and a woman working together, but because *they didn't have anyone else*. The show painted the characters into an emotional corner where they had only each other to trust, and there was no room in their lives for anyone else. You couldn't introduce a love interest into that situation without profoundly altering the balance of Scully and Mulder's relationship, and given that they were both hot, sex was bound to follow. It struck me as profoundly realistic. This is also why love relationships between male partners in these buddy shows also strike me as profoundly realistic and why I'm always wearing my slash colored glasses when I watch something like Due South. Scully didn't seem any more dependent on Mulder at the end of the show than she had been since the second season or so, and Mulder was just as dependent on her. There was an emotional bond there, but she was defined by her relationship with Mulder only in the same way that she was defined by her relationship with her work, and he was defined by his relationship with her in the same way.

I think to say that the Scully/Mulder relationship is a failure of feminism is to imply that somehow women are only strong and independent when they are not in relationships with men. While I'm all for wymmyn only spaces or whatever floats the boats of people, the fact is that most women do live in relationship with men (and most men with women). Even the most radical lesbian separatist has a father, brothers, sons, male coworkers. While I sympathize (and agree) with the notion that we need more portrayals of pure friendships between people of different genders, and that often women in narratives are stuck with no purpose other than to be love objects to men, I also think that strong female characters can exist even in relationships with men. But I would like to see a lot more balance, so that there were more narratives with female protagonists who have strong supportive male secondary characters. But on some level, I think that change takes time, and that it's good that we're getting our Zoes and Scullys now at least, because we didn't have that much not so very long ago.

I suppose that my reaction to the essay is somewhat spurred by writerly guilt. My current novel features a male protagonist, the charismatic genius type, who is surrounded by supporting women (and a few men). My first novel had a female protagonist in sexual relationships with two men and a woman and a strong friendship with a third man. That book was really about the sexual relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist. Well, it was about the protagonist working out her emotional issues via her relationship with the antogonist, primarily. I always felt a bit guilty that the sexual relationship with the secondary woman character wasn't more important, but that was just how things worked out in the emotional world of that book. I suppose I feel like I *should* be writing Chloe and Olivia (which is the underlying assertion of the essay, really) but I have these other things that are just more interesting to me, perhaps because of internalized sexism, but perhaps because I have more friction around my own relationships with men than I do with women, other than my mother. And the male protagonist in the current novel has some mother issues which are akin to my own.

I mean, this is all really complicated. In my current novel, I'm working out a lot of ideas about gender roles and masculinity, as well as a lot of ideas about parenting from the point of view of the grown child. My protagonist's father is a big part of the novel, and his mother is also tremendously important though not appearing in the book. I don't think switching his gender (which I have considered) would change his relationships with his parents much, but it would make the explorations of masculinity much more difficult, and introduce a weird vibe into the book. Because a lot of the theme of the book concerns image vs. reality, his pirate image vs. what he's really like, his confident appearance of leadership vs. his internal doubts, if you make him a woman, suddenly it calls women's ability to lead into question. Or it muddies the waters at least.

And that brings me to the line that seriously pissed me off in Monette's essay: "But it isn't feminist to write about men with breasts." What the fuck does that mean? I have never understood this idea. People talk about how some female writer's men are just girls with dicks, or that men don't write real women. This is so essentialist, it makes me want to tear out my hair. I don't even understand what the criteria for this are. Is a "man with breasts" a female character who is stoic, independent, a hard case? What's the difference between someone like that and a female character that I want to read about? Because that sounds pretty fucking interesting to me, if she's three-dimensional. And if she's not, then a two dimensional male character with the same attributes wouldn't be any more interesting. My pirate protagonist is a bit of a drama queen and considerably "girlier" than many of his female pirate supporting characters, and *way* "girlier" than his mother. By this I mean that he can be emotionally volatile, vain, prone to histrionics in his head at least. Does that mean he's a chick with dick? Is his hard-case mother a man with breasts, then? How is this kind of construction doing anything but reinforcing the stereotypes underpinning the very sexism that Monette decries? At the same time, he's also a kick-ass fighter, an engineering genius, a gifted leader (which he gets from his mother), a gifted improvisational actor (which he gets from his father), and a tactical genius as well. (And he's an overblown Romantic hero type, too, obviously.) It's certainly a sign of the sexism of the way we understand gender roles that these more active qualities are considered "masculine" but if I were writing him as a female his mix of qualities would be just the same. The character wouldn't be that different, actually; he'd just *mean* differently because of the sexist social context in which I'm writing.

Monette says "While Modernism allowed realistic fiction writers to write stories in which "nothing happens" (i.e., the action is not what we have been trained to consider meaningful), SF is still heavily plot-oriented. It doesn't have very much space for stories that aren't about Saving The World, and has even less space for stories about characters who aren't Heroes. Which leaves one with a choice. Either try to make room in SF for women's stories or make room in SF stories for women." I'm all for expanding the boundaries of what counts as SF, believe me. And I'm interested in reading stories that are more internally focused, for sure. But to say that stories about heroes and action are by definition not "women's stories" is to lock women out of the world of action. It is to lock them back in the bedroom and the parlor and say that they have no place on a gunship. And maybe no one, male or female, really has a place on a gunship in a fair universe; I'd agree with that. But I'm also interested in stories about violence and how to cope with violence from both ends of the pointy stick. To say that women can't wield the pointy stick as well as be a victim to it seems both sexist and patently incorrect. It seems to me that women have exactly the capacity for violence that men do. They just haven't had the opportunity to exercise that capacity much. I'd say that levels of aggression vary across individuals, but to imagine that women aren't aggressive and can't commit evil is to willfully ignore the existence of Condi Rice and Margaret Thatcher (and Lynddie England), just to name a few recent examples. Basically, SF just needs to be a bit more realistic in its gender mix, in my opinion.

None of this is very well constructed, I'm afraid. I'm just thinking out loud. I just get so tired of this mars/venus claptrap, this essentialism that people just seem to swallow these days without thought. It doesn't reflect my own experience, nor the experiences of many of the people that I know. It strikes me as damaging and blatantly untrue, but there seem to be very few voices piping up against nowadays. Consider this one feeble little peep, at least.
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Funky musty dog smell in basement still present STOP.

Decided to remove carpet in basement, replace with laminate STOP.

Decided to leave linoleum under carpet in place and install new floor over it STOP.

Realized should paint in there before installing floor STOP.

Pulled ugly-ass wallpaper borders STOP.

Prepped walls for painting STOP.

Pulled baseboards STOP.

Found mold in corner STOP.

Stopped STOP.

Drywall in corner must go STOP.

Paneling around stairs must go STOP.

Linoleum must go STOP.

All mold must go STOP.

All hope of ever getting basement to be usable work space now fading STOP.

Please send large burly work crew and abatement masks immediately STOP.

And crate of antihistimines STOP.

Landed

Aug. 9th, 2007 08:45 pm
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We have moved into our new house, and I finally (after a week's delay) have connectivity again. There was a wiring surprise that's still under investigation/repair, and a surprising smell in the basement that will be my office that has necessitated removing the carpet down there and installing new cheapass wood laminate. We have removed wallpaper in Jeff's office and painted in there, and he's mostly moved his stuff in. The kitchen and bathrooms are unpacked, and the bedroom is mostly unpacked. We have all appliances now except for the range hood that we have to install a cabinet over the range to attach to. So progress is definitely being made. And now we have connectivity, yay!

We're still trying to decide if we're going to pull up the linoleum that's beneath the carpet in the basement or not. The arguments for removal are that we can check the vapo(u)r barrier beneath, make sure there's no mo(u)ld under there and generally make sure that everything is properly done. The arguments against are that it's a shitty, horrible, back-breaking, time consuming process to remove linoleum most of the time, we're lazy, and I need a working office space soonest. The debate is currently ongoing. Carpet removal and the painting of the walls will probably begin this weekend.

I have a new part time job as an assistant in a life insurance/financial advisor's office. There is a steep learning curve, but eventually I hope to know a good bit about life insurance and retirement investments (in Canada, at least). I work in the afternoons and the boss is never there, so those are both good things, but being left to essentially take care of business without much knowledge and without much instruction can be a bit daunting at times. People who are insured die occasionally - seems like the rate is about one a week or so - and the stories that emerge are frequently interesting, in that ghoulish, writerly way. The pay is shit right now, as it's through a temp agency for the first three months, but it looks to improve a fair bit after that. I have cards coming, and they put my degrees in after my name, which I found highly amusing. I'm not sure how having a BFA in acting performance and a Master's in English Lit especially qualifies me to look up the balance on your retirement fund, but there you are. Good to know that those letters matter to someone, as they were certainly pricey enough.

I am not writing at all. This is to be expected because I've been consumed by the details of house moving and new job having. It sucks and it doesn't look to change much until my office is completed. I'm hoping that it will be done by the end of September (my birthday). The house is very nice, however, and the neighbo(u)rs seem friendly and interesting. The back yard is large and pleasant and shaded, and there is central air, which has been quite wonderful as it's been quite hot and muggy here the last couple of weeks. The house was built in 1924. It has all the original oak trim, a lovely golden wood in thick ribbons around the doors, windows and floors. The floors are hardwood, original upstairs and replaced downstairs. The ex-ex-owners installed extraordinarily twee wallpaper borders in nearly every conceivable space (mostly this very busy ivy pattern), so that will have to be removed over time. And it needs a good painting. We're planning on doing the whole interior in a pale yellow color with bright white accents, but we're going to do it a bit at a time. I'm hoping that the borders may come off without doing too much damage to the paint beneath, but we'll see. Overall, I think it is a good house, and all the work that needs to be done is cosmetic, except for the electrical issue, mainly having to do with adding more cabinet space in the bathrooms. There are plenty of places for cabinets, but the ex-owners took all of the things that they had in there with them, so now we have to find things to install. This is annoying, particularly as we don't have the money to do anything about it at present. But I figure we might have everything done in a year or so, if I can get enough freelance work in to pay for it.

So that's where I am. I hope you lovely people are in a less-harried but equally blessed place.
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Our work permits arrived yesterday, to our indescribable relief. The permanent residency paperwork went out in the mail yesterday as well, so that's everything on our end taken care of for the mortgage. Unless there's another unexpected problem, which isn't outside the bounds of imagination, the closing should go forward on the 27th as planned.

The new work permits mean that I can also get my health and social insurance cards renewed (and by extension can get health services should I need them), which I was going to do today but I've come down with a cold and feel crappy enough that I'm staying in bed all day instead. Jeff promised to stop and get me ginger ale on his way home, as is his sworn spousal duty.

I've been making contacts and sending queries, trying to get some more freelance work and I've finally gotten an encouraging response from one. Between that and the work permits, I'm greatly cheered, even though I'm feeling slightly sickly.

So there you go.
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We found out today that, despite our having done everything that we were supposed to do, well in advance of when we were supposed to do it, our work permit renewals may or may not be done in time for the house closing. If they're not, we're not sure at this point what happens, but it isn't likely to be good. Best case scenario is that we might be able to bump the closing back a bit until the permits arrive. Worst, the deal falls apart, we lose our grand deposit, and we have to start over with the house hunting. This is causing a lot of stress in the household, as you can imagine. We're still legal to work, there are no problems there, but we don't think the bank will put the mortgage through without work permits that are good for an extended period of time.

Your optimistic thoughts/prayers/vegetable sacrifices are appreciated.
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Financial and health woes are preventing me from going to WisCon. This sucketh beyond the telling of it, but I suppose I'll live.

I have a new, fancy-ass dentist who has all the latest gizmos, including digital x-rays, digital pics all around your mouth that produce this fancy-ass computerized diagram thingy, and LASERS. Instead of drilling, he uses lasers. I have a bunch of very small cavities that need filled (basically every molar has a bit of decay that has to be taken care of), and I had the first of three rounds of filling done a couple of weeks ago. For the laser drilling they don't have to give you novocaine unless the cavity is fairly deep. They did three fillings in about half an hour, which was pretty cool. There were times when it was a bit uncomfortable, and burning teeth smell like burning hair (for obvious reasons but it's not something that I ever gave any thought to before), and the filling stuff they use leaves a powdery residue in one's mouth. Overall, though, I'd recommend it over the previous experiences I'd had with fillings. My second round of fillings is tomorrow. Then I have to get a gum graft over the summer. Huzzah! After that, though, I should be pretty much good to go with dentistry forever, because this guy is going to do a good job with keeping on top of things, unlike my previous dentist who was of the suck.

I also have a fancy-ass new psychotherapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (first appointment in a couple of weeks) and some fancy-ass new knee braces. And I have a fancy-ass new house into which I am going to move at the first of August. I do not have any fancy-ass new employment at this point, however, though I am ever-hopeful.
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I owe book updates, since I've finished at least a couple since my last entry, I'm sure. But I've got to finish checking an index for a kid's book I'm editing before I go to bed tonight, so I'm dropping in just to offer this: a ten year old article from Harvard Magazine about book theft. I saw a tv show tonight about a guy named Stephen Blumberg who stole over 23,000 rare books from university libraries all over North America. Everybody but me has probably heard about this guy, but I was fascinated. He was independently wealthy and didn't sell any of the volumes. They were all for his own collection, for which he purchased a house in Iowa (but no climate control systems, it would appear - shame!). He was finally caught when an accomplice, who had been nabbed on drug charges, ratted him out. Anyway, I found the article very interesting, and it includes some hilarious curses that monasteries of the middle ages would put on their books to punish thieves and those who turn the corners of books down.

There's a book that includes a chapter on Blumberg called A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes and the Eternal Passion for Books which I'm planning to pick up (but return promptly and in good condition!) from my local library tomorrow.

And now, to index . . .

more books

Feb. 10th, 2007 04:06 pm
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Finished (and begun, for that matter) this morning:

Why Does My Dog Act That Way? A Complete Guide To Your Dog's Personality by Stanley Coren. This book reiterates a lot of the information in his other books, but it's also filled with charming anecdotes and some specific recommendations for how to raise a puppy to become a well-behaved, happy dog. The information about breed characteristics is interesting (though it can be found in one of his other books) and it's also interesting that puppy temperament testing isn't actually very predictive of how dogs turn out. It seems that at the age of eight weeks or so, when you're generally taking a puppy home from a breeder, they're too young for testing to be predictive of anything except a tendency toward fearfulness. Until the dog is about 18 months or so, personality testing doesn't tell you a whole lot. Now whether that means that nurture is more important than nature, or whether it means that the genetic components of a dog's personality aren't fully expressed until they're young adults isn't really clear - as usual. Nature/nurture debates are never very clear. Anyway, I enjoy Coren's writing style and I enjoyed this book despite its propensity for recycling.
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I had this idea several months ago that I should try to keep track of the books I read in this space, thinking that it would be considerably more interesting than nearly anything else I might have to say about myself. So, I'm going to give that another try.

Six Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger. I found this book very helpful. It nudged me to negotiate a higher hourly rate on some editing work I'm going to be doing for the next couple of months, and gave me a lot of good food for thought about payment per word vs. payment per hour of work done. I'm going to try to keep closer track of the amount of time I'm spending on projects so that eventually I can start making smarter decisions about work I take and work I turn away. The payment per hour of work calculation put the capper on my decision not to teach this semester and to try to earn all my money with freelancing, but I hadn't really thought clearly enough about applying it to the freelancing work itself. Lots of good anecdotes, too, from lots of different freelancers talking about how they specialize and focus their business, etc.

Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt. Anecdotes from the first violinist in the Guarneri String Quartet. Short and very conversational. Good research material for a gut feeling of how a professional violinist lives. Probably only interesting to those who have a specific interest in the topic, but I do.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I was looking at this book as possible fodder for a novel writing class I might eventually teach, in addition to hoping to pick up some tips for myself on plotting. Nothing earth shatteringly unusual here. Some good basic exercises for beginners, and a fairly straightforward, practical way of looking at structure. Reading this and the other couple of books on plot I've been looking over lately has helped me to solidify some possible solutions to problems that I'm having with the end of Blackheart Fleet, but it's less that that books have had something specific to offer and more that they've focused my attention in a slightly different way. But I don't think I'll be using anything from this book in my theoretical class.

20 Master Plots and How To Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias. A good roundup of plot patterns, that I'll probably use at least in an abbreviated version for my novel class. I think it's good to think about what traditions one's book falls into, not only in terms of plot, but also in structure, genre and writing style. I could sit down and make a list of plot templates of my own, of course, but why bother, when someone else has already done it? (Blackheart Fleet is an Underdog story, by the way.)

If You Tame Me by Leslie Irvine . A discussion of animal companions and their place in humans' lives. Part of my ongoing reading on living with and "training" dogs, in advance of our having a house with a yard so we can get a dog. An enjoyable read, again if you have an interest.

Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell. More dog reading. This book isn't a training manual, but it deals in more concrete terms with specific techniques than If You Tame Me. Some good information about thinking about the training process from the dog's point of view.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr. A book about the search for a lost Caravaggio that was found in an Irish rectory. Not highly technical or detailed, but some good anecdotal stuff about how the art world works and how a painting can be lost and then found.

First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner. This should be titled Very Detailed Outline in 30 Days, but it provides some good tools for producing detailed outlines, which I think will be particularly helpful to novice novelists. Her approach to handling plot is similar to my own, and once again not particularly earth shattering (breaking the structure into main and sub plots, then looking at each arc individually to solve problems before weaving it all together). What's nice is that she breaks the process down into a specific number of days for doing each part. I think if you could stick to this schedule and then do a NaNoWriMo-like 30 day draft, you could have a solid first draft from which to revise in two months time. I really liked working so fast the year I did NaNo, even though I did 2/3 of the 50,000 words in the last 10 days and was about to die by the end. It taught me a lot about how much time I waste revising and revising early on, and about just how fast I really could write if I'd just get out of my own way. But if I'd had an outline to start, I think I would have produced a first draft of Blackheart Fleet then, instead of getting what amounted to very detailed notes and something like a zero draft. I'm planning on using this book as the basis of the first four weeks of my imagined 12 week novel writing class, with some additional exercises from other sources and my very own brain thrown in as well.

So that's what I remember of the last two weeks of reading or so. Since the beginning of January I've read a whole bunch of dog training books, reread two books on buying a house in Canada, and some other random things as well. Almost all of this is non-fiction, which I find easy to pick up and put down, and read in snatches while waiting in doctors' offices or during my acupuncture treatments, etc. Fiction is a major investment of time for me, because I can't pick it up and put it down. Once I've opened the cover, I have to sit down and finish the thing straight through. I still read dozens of novels every year, but usually in fits and starts of two or three books over a weekend while traveling or so forth.  (In case you wondered why someone who would like to think of herself as a novelist doesn't have any novels on her list.)
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Finally starting to feel much better. So much so, in fact, that I have sifted through my office book shelves, set three boxes worth aside to be purged in some manner, and boxed up another four boxes worth to be put on additional shelves once they are purchased. This made enough room to put the piles of books on my worktable and floor on four newly-empty shelves in categories thusly: library books; fiction to be read; research - crafts (ie knitting, etc.), househunting, writing; research - cards (as in playing cards, card cheating etc.), swordplay/dueling, pirates. It's amazing how much clearer one's head can seem when one's space is clear. The surface of my desk having been cleared off a couple of weeks ago (and miracle of miracles, I've managed to keep it that way) and rearranged and one set of file organizers reorganized and purged, that just leaves the second set of file organizers to go through, my filing cabinets to purge and clean out, my office supply cupboard thingy to purge and clean out, and the closet to reorganize. Then my office shall be completely cleaned out and reorganized and I shall rightfully sing "We Are the Champions" at the top of my lungs. All the remaining stuff, though, is stuff that hides behind closed doors, so it isn't bugging me as much as the books everywhere thing was. Nevertheless, I am intent on continuing to tackle one or two of these projects at least a week. Pretty much all the other cabinets in the house are in the queue as well. Eventually I might even start writing again, too!

We've started looking for a house, our first purchase of real estate. Three real estate agents, all of whom come highly recommended by friends, are coming over on Monday to try to convince us that we should use them. We've gotten preapproval for a mortgage, far more mortgage than we actually want, in fact. Now the trick is finding a house big enough that we can afford in the approximately 30 square block area that we love.

Something highly amusing: the Voco clock, which awakes you with Stephen Fry's voice doing his perfect valet routine. It says fifty different things, all highly encouraging and yet vaguely (or not so vaguely) sarcastic. For example, "I feel sure that you have slept soundly, feel thoroughly refreshed, and await the day with the anticipation of an energetic gazelle. Good heavens, sir! I saw a pig flying past the window." This is much funnier when you actually hear Fry's voice of course; there are lots and lots of sample recordings at the site.

Also of interest: the bodybugg. This sounds like some kind of scary, space-going parasite (and who knows, perhaps it is) but it claims to be an electronic device you wear on your arm that measures exactly how many calories you've burned in the course of the day. You upload the data from the device to a website, where you can also input a daily record of your caloric intake. If you're not keen on keeping track of your caloric input, however, it can approximate a daily average intake from changes in body mass over weekly weigh-ins. Eventually, no doubt they'll have a device that keeps track of both inputs and outputs automatically and scolds you before you have a chance to put that bite of cake in your mouth. Trying to keep track of what I was burning when I was doing Weight Watchers and the gym both was always a major problem, and always necessarily very approximate, so this device is really interesting to me. There's a sweet spot with input/output calorie ratios, where if you don't take enough food in your metabolism shuts off and you stop losing weight, so it was always tricky, especially when I was hitting the gym a lot and never sure of how much exactly I was burning, to make sure that I was eating enough but not too much. I might look into this more seriously when I am ready to start hitting the gym again.
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Words of wisdom imparted to me this morning by my fanboy physiotherapist:

"There are two pop culture truths you can always rely on: 1) no matter how messed up you are, Batman is more messed up; and 2) no matter how depressed you are, Morrisey is always more depressed."
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The rest of the semester, until the middle of December basically, is going to consist of metric tons of marking and a second draft of a freelance project that I've got to squeeze into the middle of everything as well. It's not that unusual for me to disappear for weeks at a time, but that's probably the deal for the next few weeks. Thereafter, I hope to be freelancing full time, at least for a while, and so will hopefully be around more.

A brief update to catch up until the next time we meet:

I went to see a naturopath about all my medical woes. He put me on a bunch of homeopathic stuff and provided some theories as to what was going on and why, with which I will not bore you here. I'm starting to slowly feel better after a couple of weeks of being on the stuff, and I'm definitely sleeping much better than I have in a long while. So I'm hopeful that he's right in his assessment that I'll feel lots better by the winter holidays, and that next year will be the most productive in a while in terms of writing output.

I'm spending a couple of hours once a week playing music with a couple of guys. They're both very talented and I'm enjoying playing with them more every week. It's nice to do something that isn't writing-related in any way. I'm planning on taking a pottery class in the new year as well. I'd like to have a more well-rounded life. This might contradict my desire to be producing more writing, but then again, it might complement it. 

The strike at Jeff's uni continues to move forward. If they settle, I suspect it will be at the eleventh hour. This is very irritating, as they're going to settle eventually anyway so the administration may as well stop acting like dicks and get everything worked out. It's pretty much impossible to decide what we're going to do about holiday travel with everything remaining so unsettled. But it's one of those things that one can only endure. Use the Force and suck it up.  It will all sort itself out eventually, as will our holiday plans.

Sadly, my marking will not sort itself out, and so I'm off. Best wishes for a low-stress run-up to the holiday season for all of you.
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I have conquered the first draft of wheat.  Yay!

A scattering of (cool?) things:

Interview with Steven Johnson re: his new book about London and cholera.

Steven Johnson's article in the NYT about Will Wright's upcoming game Spore.

And last but not least, photoshopped alpacas at Fark.
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Fall back, baby!  Yeah!  That's right!  ::does slightly embarrassing victory dance::

I hate Daylight Savings Time, but honey I LOVE to fall back.  Especially during a weekend when I've got a deadline the next day. Suddenly, I got up exactly when I should have. 

Oh yeah, uh huh, you know it!
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You can tell I'm writing today, because I'm posting lots more than usual.  Also, I did have the thought that I should to try to post more in general. But you know how that is. I also have the thought that I need to eat less, etc. etc., the tarmac of good intentions. Items of oddity:

McSweeney's offers Indiana Jones' letter of rejection for tenure. Highly amusing. "Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist's tool kit should consist solely of a bullwhip and a revolver."

DM of the Rings, wherein a GM tries to get his players to take the Ring to Mordor. Funny if you're a gamer, skip it if you're not.

Chris De Burgh - yes the singer of "Lady In Red" fame - is said to have healing powers. This one is so WTF that I almost don't know what to do with it, but it's mesmerizing in a train wreck sort of way.

Also, Pug Vader. Self-explanatory.

I saw The Prestige on Sunday night, and liked it quite a lot, though the twists and turns weren't as unexpected to me as perhaps they were intended to be. I found Nolan's narrative slight-of-hand to be much less important than the emotional journey through obsession, rivalry and revenge, which I found fascinating. Bowie gives an amazing, very understated performance as Nikola Tesla, the standout performance of the movie to me, while Jackman, Bale and Caine all gave the expected solidly masterful performances as well. I can take or leave Scarlett Johansen, but she was perfectly fine and not distracting. Despite the lukewarm reviews, I would recommend the movie, particularly to those who like and know fantasy. I've gotten the feeling that some of the reviewers don't get the ways in which the metaphor of the fantasy elements is key to understanding the underlying point of the film. Besides, Bowie as Tesla,, who can resist that?
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I meant to add, I've been watching the BBC Robin Hood series, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. I had my doubts about Jonas Armstrong's head-tilty "I'm Sexy And Dangerous" schtick at first, but he's growing on me. Marian is woefully miscast, sadly, though fairly well-written, but the Sheriff is hilarious and wonderful. I'm not sure how much my enjoyment is based on just seeing another Robin on screen who sucks less than Kevin Costner, and how much is really due to the merits of the production. Caveat Emptor, in other words, for I'm far from an objective party when it comes to anything Robin Hood. But if you have an interest in Robin and/or The Loveable Rogue, it's definitely worth a viewing.
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First of all, great news! Congratulations to David Schwartz on the sale of his novel Superpowers! You rock beyond the telling of it, and I can't wait to purchase multiple copies for all my friends and relations.

At a party on Friday night, I ran into my editor at the children's press, to whom I owe a book. Instead of saying, "What the hell are you doing at this party? You owe me a book on Monday! Get to work, bitch!", she said, "Hey, I'm going out of town on Monday so you don't need to get me that book until next week." This is a mixed blessing, of course. It meant a more leisurely weekend than I'd been envisioning, but it also means that the book will be hanging around for a bit longer when I'm ready to be finished with it. Still, it's hard to do this freelance stuff and the teaching stuff at the same time, so I'm grateful for a bit more breathing room.

Now that my class prep is mostly done for the semester and I'm heading into marking hell, I've had a bit more time to think about what exactly I want to do about this whole employment thing. I've been glad to have the teaching work this semester for financial reasons, particularly with a strike still looming as a possibility (though there are some hopeful signs that a strike will be averted in the end). It just consumes too much time, though, and produces too much stress, and on top of that it's not really the kind of teaching that I would like to be doing. I have more and more ideas for projects piling up, and I just can't get to any of them if I'm teaching and trying to do these freelance work-for-hire projects at the same time. The freelance work-for-hire stuff is more fun and less stressful than teaching, and it's actually been coming in at a more reliable pace than the teaching work, which is always at doubt until the last minute because it's adjunct. Once the strike's decided and Jeff gets the salary increases he's owed, I should be able to spend some time trying to pick up another client or two and develop my freelance practice, which will give me time to write my own projects as well. Those of you who have freelanced are probably thinking that this is crazy talk, to imagine that I'd have more time to write if I freelance. But those of you who have taught realize that I know of what I speak.

I'm starting to feel considerably better, thanks in part I think to some supplements I'm taking, so thinking about employment strategy seems less overwhelming than it did. I got a book from the library this weekend called The Wealthy Writer: How To Earn A Six-Figure Income As A Freelance Writer. Jeff saw the cover of this and said "Six figures! In what, pesos?" That made me laugh. The book mainly focuses on freelance writing for corporations, particularly in PR and advertising - both of which kinds of writing would bore me to death - but it did include some interesting information about business planning and strategies. I don't know if I'd recommend it for purchase unless you're really interested in corporate work, but it might be worth borrowing if you're a writer trying to figure out ways to make money with your mad skillz. It also gave me some good fodder for thought about my website, which I've been wanting to redesign for a while now - one more projects for the list. For the first time in a while, though, I'm feeling optimistic that I may actually start getting to some of that stuff in the new year.
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