Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bye bye, Blogger! Hello, real website!

Hi, folks. This will be my last post to this blog. From now on, you'll be able to find me at www.nicolelorenz.com instead!

It's always been my dream to be a full-time creative person someday - writing and doing art for a living - but that's a long ways down the road. I recently realized that if I want to get there eventually, the first step is becoming a part-time creative person. So that's what I'm doing. I just launched an Etsy shop where I'm selling drawings, paintings, wood burned plaques, and eventually prints and coloring books. I'm buckling down on shopping my novel around to agents. I'm getting business cards with wee little birdies on them. I've also got some changes going on with my day job and student status, which I'll talk about on my new site once things are official.

All these changes equal one seriously excited Nicole. I hope you'll update your links and follow me to the new site!

P.S. Yes, the Max sweater pattern is still go - and soon! Watch the website for an announcement.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Update, sort of

Busy working on big things. Things which may rhyme with "Betsy" and "mebsite."

Lots of changes in the works.

Back in a bit.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The story of my epic bike humiliation

Allie Brosh's Bicycle post brought up a resurgence of emotions in me: nostalgia, pain, and hatred for that most secretly malicious of transportation devices, the bicycle. My traumatic bike experience came when I was 19. It was then that I learned the horrible truth about bicycles: given the chance, a bicycle will gleefully turn on you in the most embarrassing way possible. This is their way. Every bike accident I've had has been in front of a public audience, with a high humiliation factor and a low chance of dignity recovery. This one took the cake.

I was home for the summer, and classes at my high school across the neighborhood were still in session, so it seemed like a great time to visit my old English teacher. Hopping on my bike, I thought of how awesome I was gonna be, walking into his classroom like a BAMF college student and regaling him with tales of, like, literacy or something.

Still daydreaming, I decided to cut through the parking lot of the middle school next door to my high school. And still daydreaming, I saw the curb coming up and thought, "I'll just jump it." I don't know why I thought this. I'd never jumped a curb before.

My front tire slammed into the curb, and I went flying over the handlebars. My face hit the sidewalk and skidded, making this horrible grinding sound. When I sat up, blood pouring from the left side of my face, I couldn't see anything out my left eye. I started sobbing hysterically, convinced I'd ground my eye out against the concrete.

A mom waiting nearby in a minivan came over to help and escorted me to the front office of the middle school. Everyone in the office gasped when I entered, making me even more certain that I'd irreparably mangled my face. the rest of my life was going to be like that Mel Gibson movie, and I'd have to find some underappreciated kid to teach stuff to. But what stuff? WHAT STUFF?

A student aid took me to the nurse's office. The nurse sat me down, wiping blood and grit off my face, and said, "What grade are you in, sweetheart?"

"A--a--c-college fruh--freshman."

The sympathetic look fled from her face as she realized I was just a short, wussy pseudo-adult and not some poor child, and she said, "Oh, stop crying. This won't even need stitches."

Fifteen minutes later, fresh from the middle school nurse's office with a bandage over one eyebrow, a black eye already forming, and my dignity severely injured, I skulked into my old English teacher's classroom. "Oh my god," he said. "What happened to you?"

I told him, and he tried really hard to keep from laughing. I did not regale anybody with tales of literacy or something, because every time one of his students wandered in, they immediately asked what happened to me, and I had to repeat the tale while my former teacher tried not to laugh.

On my way out of the building, I caught two middle school pricks trying to steal my bike. I should've let them take it. Haven't used the damn thing since.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Moved.

Kiah and I moved into our new apartment Saturday. I have no brain or photos of the place (two facts which might be related), so have some doodles about the new place.

Our landlords, who live in the apartment below ours, have a gorgeous German shepherd named Heidi. She's friendly in a voyeuristic sort of way and will follow you in the windows if you're outside the duplex. It doesn't matter if you're juggling furniture or just standing there staring at the concrete - SHE MUST KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
The big disappointment of the move was our couches. Kiah and I had two giant 90's furniture monstrosities that were extremely comfortable and well-loved. They fit in the front door, up the stairwell, around the landing, and up to the inner door to our apartment...and then got stuck between the wall and the door, unable to angle their Sasquatch-proportioned frames far enough to slide inside. So close, and yet, so impossible without a chainsaw.

We set up the couches on the curb and put up a free ad on Craigslist; they were gone in less than three hours. What we're left with is something like this:

There's also a chair with cardboard boxes wedged decoratively around it. We're investigating options for new furniture that doesn't involve cardboard.

Until I figure out whether I'm going to be dropping several hundred dollars on new furniture, I'm trying to avoid spending more money before payday by eating what's already in the fridge. The previous tenants left some stuff in the freezer, and it's not...completely terrible.

One of these days I'll have food and furniture again. Will report back when that happens - or when I have photos, whichever comes first.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Break out the champagne and obnoxious party horns!

I got this news less than twelve hours after the writing contest news, but it was immediately followed by a four-day weekend of con, sleep deprivation, and very little internet access, so this kind of got lost in the chaos, but...

I GOT MY FIRST PUBLICATION!

My short story, "No and the Walking House," is now online in the first issue of Kazka Press. They write:
It’s tough to create memorable, believable characters in such a short space, but Nicole Lorenz does so with her No with energy, sharp language, and a strong sense of direction. We’re proud to have her short story, No and the Walking House, as our first published short story here at Kazka Press.
So much flaily hands, you guys. SO MUCH FLAILY HANDS.

I love Kazka's philosophy on drawing out new voices in fantasy. They pitch themselves as a place for "the fantasy author looking for a home," and that idea couldn't be more fitting for this story.

"No" is my favorite piece of short fiction I've ever written. It's about about a little girl whose touch brings well-loved objects to life - and the dangers of leaving such a child in garage sales, artists' living rooms, and mid-renovation 1910's Sears homes. To me, the heart of this story has always been No's struggle to find a home where she's welcome. I never expected this story to be published - I wrote it at the last minute for my Clarion application two years ago, praying it wouldn't suck, and only showed it to friends and family before submitting it to Kazka on a whim. The fact that this is the first story of mine to find a home gives me both the writer happy and the Nicole-sees-symbolism-in-everything happy.

"No" is dedicated to my Aunt Suzy, whose perpetually mid-renovation house was its inspiration and the place where it was written. Credit for publication must be given in part to my friends on the Very Longest Thread on Ravelry, whose loud love and encouragement for this story first made me think it might be worth submitting anywhere.

Read "No and the Walking House" here.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 MISFITS/GPS Writing Contest results...

I WON FIRST PLACE!

*happy dance*

GPS (formerly MISFITS) is a fabulous organization, and I'm proud to have been involved with them in some form or another over the course of the past decade. Congratulations to the other winners! Including Abby! Because she placed second, and I'm going to share part of my Amazon gift certificate with her!

What a perfect way to kick off con weekend. I was wrapping up my workday when I got the news. On the walk home, my iPod launched into "Rock of Ages" as if it wanted to make me feel even more awesome. Now I've got four days of nerdery, costumes, and friends ahead of me. Then fireworks.



Rock on, life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pre-move WIP round-up!

CONvergence is in a little less than two weeks, and I move in a little less than three weeks (squee! flail! embarrassing squeaky noises!). Moving prep and con prep are near the top of my priority list, so some of my work-in-progress projects have had to be pushed to the backburner. My novel WIP and illustration project are now on hold until I have time again. Because of that, I've currently got fewer WIPs on the table than I've had in years. There are four, total.

1. "Liashlynn Vs. the Kudzu" - the custom short story I donated to the CPAaG Haiti auction in January - is almost done. It's just had a major rewrite and currently stands at 42 pages and 11k words. This week I'll be rereading it, forcing it on others, and tweaking it to (with any luck) call it finished.

While I was typing this, a bunch of crows perched on the power line outside my window and started chattering back and forth. Crows play a big part in this story, so their timing gave me a dorky grin.

2. The multi-chapter fanfic I've been working on is inching along, as usual. Yes, I'm working on fanfic instead of original fiction - it's low-stress, purely for fun writing that I can knock out anytime, and that's what fits into my life right now. Plus, it has zany road trip sequences. I mean, c'mon, how can I say no to that?

3. I've been finishing up some woodburning pieces for the CONvergence art show. They just got their first coat of varnish.





I might make more if I have time between packing sessions. Woodburning is weirdly calming, and in the past, it's sold well at the con. After I move, I'm planning on finally setting up the Etsy shop I've been plotting for years, so I'll have someplace to sell these things more than once a year.

4. My second Max hoodie is almost to the hood now, and I've been revising the pattern as I go. Because of the hands, this sweater goes through an awkward phase where it looks like I'm knitting a muppet.


Accordingly, the curmudgeonly muppet-dog has taken to using it as a pillow whenever I set it down. I think he feels a camaraderie with it.


A bit of advice: If you plan on varnishing a project and knitting something in the same day, don't do the varnishing first. Unless you enjoy having little bits of wool stuck to your fingertips all day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

+5 Apartment of Awesomeness

A while back I mentioned Kiah and I having found a new apartment. We signed the lease weeks ago, but the reality of it didn't really sink in until yesterday, when we got the chance to go over to the place to take measurements and pictures.

The apartment is the upper level of a duplex built in 1922. It's a little over 1000 square feet, with three bedrooms, one bath, and a sunroom. I'm paying extra to have one of the bedrooms as my office. (I didn't get a picture of it, but my office has a frosted glass window on the door like a detective agency, and I'm going to get window cling letters and spell out "WRITER" on it.)

Our landlords are empty nesters who live in the lower level, and they seem like very kind, laid back people. (The wife sings ABBA around the house, speaks with one of the best Minnesotan accents I've ever heard, and has "warned" us that she might feed us her baked goods. She asked if I'd be willing to teach her to knit. Um, only YES TOTALLY, AWESOME LADY.) The two homes on either side of this building are occupied by their family, so they can vouch for the neighbors, too. In the years I've been renting, I've never felt like part of a community, but we've already had an offer to join a neighborhood book club here. So, awesome landlords, lovely neighborhood, and oh, did I mention the apartment itself is GORGEOUS?

I mean, look at it.


LOOOK AT IIIIIIIIT.


That's where our mail will go. And this is our sunroom!


You can't really see it from the picture, but that sunroom? Freaking HUGE. 15'x7'. And it faces out over a park. Behind these trees is a totally epic playground with like three sliders. Our hands are going to build up some great calluses.


90-year-old lightswitch!


I think I'm going to love cooking in this kitchen. It has more counter space than my last three places, a built-in spice cupboard on one wall, and two huge windows facing out over the neighbors' yards. Plus, we have geektastic decorating plans for this room. Oh ho ho it's going to be fun.


You might have noticed the pink. There's a lot of it - including an eye-searing Pepto Bismol shade in my bedroom, which isn't pictured here. All of these pink rooms will be not pink when we move in, because we get to choose our own colors and the landlords paint for us. The previous tenants were three college girls who'd never gotten to decorate their own space before, and...well...yeah.


That ~*~inspirational~*~ message is on the wall in Kiah's room, which is going to be sage green. The Pepto in my bedroom will be painted over in a denimy blue, the sunroom will be a pale blue-green, and my office will be a sunny yellow.

This is where I'm going to finish my next novel.


And the one after that. And hopefully the one after that. It feels like a place we can really make into a home.

We move the second weekend of July.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

IT MOVES

If anyone was following my plan earlier this spring to build the world's largest paper mache fist and punch the universe in the crotch, you may be interested to know that the universe's crotch is on the move. A few months ago, Google Maps pointed to a small bookstore in New York City when I searched for "universe's crotch" - now, it points to a sports equipment store in Madison, Wisconsin.

AND I WAS JUST IN THAT CITY TWO WEEKS AGO!

Not that I actually need to punch the universe in the crotch so much at this particular moment. I mean, I did just finish a major revision of a story I've been trying to finish for months, and I get the keys to my new apartment in just a couple of weeks...but still. It's kind of maddening to have the object of my vengeful punching suddenly within my reach juuust after the thirst for vengeance starts to wane.

Someday, universe's crotch. You and my gigantic paper mache fist. Right place, right time. I've got my eye on you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Costumes and gender fuckery

God, I love costumes. When I was a kid, I wanted Halloween to happen every month so I could do multiple costumes each year. Now that I'm a grown-up geek, that's what conventions are for. I didn't do much for WisCon because it was my first year, but when CONvergence rolls around, it's gonna be Halloween all weekend.

I am so freaking excited. And not just because I get to pull my corset out of the back of the closet, or wear my Max hoodie in a place where I'll be recognized as that character instead of the weird girl in the bunny coat. This year at CONvergence, all day Saturday, a group of friends and I are going as girl versions of the main cast of Supernatural.

Can I get a FUCK YEAH?

There's something freeing about spending a day in costume - but even more so if you're with a group of people who are similarly dressed and willing to totally nerd it up with you. And if you're all fucking with genders while you're at it? Better still. Much as I love Supernatural, the series is Man Town, population: MEN, and it's difficult to find myself reflected in those heroes. Swapping out all the lead characters for women, even in cosplay, makes me absurdly happy. (I've had two novel ideas with female protagonists spawn from this show because I want so much to see female characters in a world like that. One of the novels is my current WIP.)

Kiah and I took a Goodwill trip today and assembled most of the missing pieces of my Dean Winchester costume. I now have the hair, the jeans, the shirts, and the boots. A Sculpey amulet is currently cooling on my kitchen counter. The costume so far:


They had better have "Eye of the Tiger" at karaoke.

My favorite part of this plan is that instead of two 6-foot + dudes, the Winchester siblings will be two short, busty chicks with girly voices who giggle a lot. Well, that, and the day before this, I'll be wearing a boobtastic corset with a poofy sleeved shrug and full-on glam makeup. And the day after this, I'll be running around dressed like an eight-year-old girl.

I can't wait for CONvergence, OMG.

After Goodwill today, Kiah and I were at Arby's, talking about how awesome our girl!Winchester costumes are going to be and how we should put them on immediately when we get home and watch TV in character. We had a brief in-character conversation then, in Arby's, about pie.

Then a guy passed by outside dressed in a trash bag poncho, speed-walking in the barely drizzling rain, and we stopped mid-sentence.

"Wow," I said, "what a nerd."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dead or aliiiiiiive

It's a good thing I'm going to have a roommate again soon, because living by myself is making me crazier. Not that I don't love having my own place, but when I spend too much time by myself, I end up having conversations like this:

Me: "Do you ride a steel horse?"
Hobbes: ??
Me: "Have you seen a million faces?"
Hobbes: ???
Me: "And you've rocked them all?"
Hobbes: *head tilt*
Me: "No? Well, then, how are you ever going to be a cowboy!"

This dog is mostly deaf, and he didn't even like Bon Jovi when he could hear. Yeah, moving next month will be good for me. At least when I crazy-babble at Kiah, she crazy-babbles back.

Between moving, various social engagements (w00tstock tonight! Huzzah!), projects, and CONvergence, I wasn't expecting to have much downtime between now and mid-July. But my boss has been encouraging me to take more time off - in a "you deserve it" way, not a "get your crazy-talking ass out of here" way - so I'm taking Wednesday through Friday of this week off. For those three days, I have no obligations other than my own projects. I think I'll be working on my auction story revision and my Max hoodie 2.0 (which, once it's done, will give the a-okay for me to release the pattern in its current incarnation).

And vegging. Lots of vegging.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wrestling Buddies and unicorns: a personal reflection on gender

This post is for the Hack Gender project, a collaborative online exploration of gender.

The Wrestling Buddy was the first hint I was doing gender wrong. I was six or seven years old, and I had "Wrestling Buddy" at the top of my Christmas list, because hey, Wrestling Buddies! They were these awesome stuffed dolls in the shapes of WWF wrestlers, and you could pound the crap out of them without them complaining (unlike my little brother) or get a pony ride from them while Dad was watching TV (unlike Dad). On Christmas morning, I tore into my presents, fully convinced that I'd have my very own pro wrestler BFF in minutes. But no, there wasn't a Wrestling Buddy under the tree for me.

There was, however, a Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy under the tree for my little brother, who hadn't even asked for one.

How could life (and Santa) possibly be this cruel?


I asked my parents how come my brother got a Wrestling Buddy and I didn't, and they said, "Because he's a boy."

I sat with that thought. The unspoken corollary was quick to sink in: "Because you're a girl." Girls, evidently, didn't get Wrestling Buddies. We also didn't get (if my Christmas list vs. Christmas loot was any indication) Tonka trucks or Ninja Turtles. We were also supposed to wear (if my family's Christmas photos were any indication) skirts and dresses for formal occasions, whether we liked them or not. There were rules to follow - rules I didn't get.

Being a girl wasn't something I thought about much as a kid - beyond the toy-related injustices, anyway. I lived in a patch of nowhere just outside a suburb, I was shy and awkward, and I'd much rather draw during recess than play with the other girls in my class. Gender didn't seem all that important at that age.

Then middle school hit, and gender was everything. Boobs happened. Dating happened. Cliques happened. Suddenly, if you came to school presenting any kind of flaw, it was like asking to be pecked to death by a flock of chickens. The flock saw a laundry list of flaws in me, which they picked at daily, most of them relating to my gender presentation: I was slouchy and uncomfortable with my overweight body, I wore boys' jeans, my haircut was utilitarian instead of trendy, and I didn't wear a bra.

I wasn't a tomboy; I just didn't care enough to present myself as A Girl. And so they pecked.

Secretly, I wanted to run away with my brother's Wrestling Buddy (which he still slept with every night), bind my boobs, and live the rest of my life as a boy.

Even more secretly, though, I wanted to be a girl - and not just any girl, but a capital-G, trend-setting, epitome of femininity, datable, respectable Girl. I had the right biological accouterments. I had the right level of socialized self-consciousness. Thanks to my parents' unintentional sexism around the holidays, I had the right toys in the back of my closet. What was wrong with me that kept me from being a Girl?

Near as I could tell, other girls had access to some sort of mythical well of girliness - some ace in their perfectly pressed sleeves that I didn't have.


I felt like I must've been out sick on the day they taught How To Be A Girl in school. Once I found that missing element, I thought, I'd be just like them - a perfect Girl.

And I tried. The funny thing was, every time I thought I had finally had it down, the definition of Girl seemed to shift. Gender was like fashion, and I was always a year or two behind.


There was a secret no one was telling me, but it wasn't what I thought. It took me a few heavy Women's Studies textbooks to figure out, and years after that to really examine in terms of my own actions:

Gender was just a performance. There was no binary boy/girl system, but rather a whole spectrum of ways to present gender.

I was putting on a show, hoping to mimic the people I thought represented the mythical Girl. There was no one true Girl - the girls I'd looked up to as examples were just putting on a show, same as I was. They had their own idea of what being a girl meant to them, and they shaped their appearances to reflect that. I didn't have to share the same idea - I could invent my own idea of my gender.

Slowly, I learned not to compare my version of my gender to other people's in a critical way, and slowly, I stopped feeling like I was somehow doing it wrong. I'm still developing my own presentation of gender that's just mine. I'm not femme. I'm not butch. I don't really identify with any sort of label - and not because I'm hard to categorize, but because I'm still figuring out how I want to play this part. I care about how I look because my presentation of gender is a way that I express myself, not because I'm worried that I won't fit someone's Girl mold.


Or at least, I'm trying. Gender is weird and amorphous, like so many other intrinsic parts of human life, and I find it difficult to talk or write about. Maybe someday I'll feel confident writing about it without illustrations to distract from my only partly-coherent written observations.

Maybe someday I'll buy my own Wrestling Buddy on eBay and we'll skip off into the sunset together, like it was always meant to be.


Postscript:

Nicole grew up to collect cute secondhand skirts and do crossplay at conventions.

Her brother is twenty-two, and the Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy still lives on his bed.

No one has heard from the unicorn since the makeup party at WisCon.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Confessions of a project shark

I have a history of taking on too many creative projects. And by "a history" I mean "an ongoing, near-compulsive habit." To badly mangle a quote from Glee, I'm a project shark - if I stop moving, I die. I have conversations like this a lot:

Me: "Oh god, I'm going to die of busy! Too many projects!"
Kiah: "Didn't you say you weren't taking on any new projects, like a month ago?"
Me: "Yes."
Kiah: "And didn't you then knit yourself a new hat?"
Me: "That was hardly a project. It was just one ball of sock yarn!"
Kiah: "And then didn't you set an unreasonable deadline for yourself on that one story?"
Me: "Yeah, but I should've been able to revise ten thousand words in a week."
Kiah: "...And then didn't you agree to illustrate a children's book for a hospital?"
Me: "Hey, that book is about an EAGLE whose favorite hobby is SMILING and it's gonna be EPIC."
Kiah: "All I'm saying is maybe you should cut back on the projects."
Internal John Locke: "DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO!"
Me: "Yeah, what he said."

2010 so far has been The Year Of Not Meeting Deadlines, and that has forced me to reexamine the way I collect projects. My biggest problem is unreasonable expectations. I think I can do everything at once - and I hate to admit that I can't. So I listen to the little Locke voice in my head and think, "Hey, yeah, I can totally get both those novels written in one summer!"

No, I can't. I have limits as a writer.

I also have limits on my time, which is my other blind spot. I work 40 hours/week and spend another 10 minimum doing school stuff. Add to that creative projects, downtime after a busy workday, and the social life of someone who's trying very hard not to become a hermit who will be eaten by her pack of yapdogs...and I don't have much time for sleep, much less new projects. But the more I want to be done with school, the more I find myself imagining my life as it will be after graduation - no homework, less stress, and a vast stretch of hours open for creative pursuits. And then, when it comes time to prioritize things, I find myself planning for the creative life I want, not the one I have.

This past weekend was an eye-opener for me. WisCon is a place with a high level of creative energy, and many of the attendees are writers. While talking with other writers, I kept thinking, "How are these people able to manage their lives, jobs, and writing? Why can't I?"

(Internal John Locke: "DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO!")

The answer is, of course: I can. It will just require work. And taking responsibility for my own priorities. And sacrificing some projects I would like to do right now to make more space for the projects I know I can do right now.

The night I got home from con, I faced the wipeboard that contains my current project list and picked up an eraser. After several swipes and one loooong hesitation, I pared the list down from 10-12 items to this:
  • Revise auction story (10k words)
  • First draft of Wendigo Girls novel (60-70k words)
  • Finish the multi-chapter fanfic I've been working on (20-30k words)
  • Illustrate Eddy the Eagle book (24 pages of simple illustrations)
Conspicuously absent from this list is the final book of the Fantasy Series What Ate My Life, which took me multiple tries to work up the guts to erase. I've wanted to finish it for years, and I'm ready for it to be done, but given my limitations this summer, I'm not going to rush it. I've been working on that story for almost twelve years, and it's not going to suddenly fizzle and die because it has to wait another few months to get dedicated writing time.

I have other, smaller projects cataloged in a mental list of things I can do as well, but those have no deadlines. They'll get done, for sure - I find that with fiber arts projects especially, I work better if I don't set ETAs for myself - but I'll work on them without expectations. I'm hoping I can turn 2010 into The Year Of Finding A Balance.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dragons of different sorts

On the way to WisCon, Lisa and I slayed a dragon. That pretty much set the tone for the weekend.

It was a Thursday morning, and the MagiQuest in Wisconsin Dells was deserted, a dim four-story labyrinth of painted tree murals and fake treasure chests. We left our shoes at the base of a rope stairway and ran around like unsupervised kids, casting spells, going on quests, and using the slides instead of stairs whenever possible. Our last adventure was defeating the dragon, a cave-dwelling CGI beast you have to freeze and shoot ice arrows at. MagiQuest is intended for small children, but there's something satisfying and addictive about playing pretend on such a massive scale. Which explains why, had anyone wandered into that location around lunchtime on Thursday, they would've seen two grad students dancing a jig in a fake cavern, yelling, "Suck on that, motherfucker!" at the dragon on the projector screen.

Maturity WIN.

After an epic road trip sequence, we arrived at WisCon...only to skip across town and go hot tubbing with the Black Hat Collective (Lisa's comic group) at a smaller convention across town. We did this a couple times throughout the weekend, because we knew more people at the smaller convention. I've never before had the opportunity to cheat on one convention with another, and it was...interesting, visiting Nakamacon while in the WisCon mindset. WisCon is a thinky convention - you're constantly encouraged to examine books, TV, culture, and yourself with a critical feminist eye. It's hard work. In comparison, Nakamacon - a fledgling anime, steampunk, and furry con - seemed to be about buying into geek culture.

Looking back now, I realize most cons I've been to have been about buying into a culture rather than examining it. That's what makes WisCon unique - at this con, you're not just there saying, "Hey, we have these things in common! Let's enjoy these things!"; you're there to say, "Why do we love these things? How do they work? Where are they failing us and what can we do to make it better?"

In large part because of that questioning attitude, the atmosphere at WisCon is also unlike that of any con I've been to previously. It's intellectual, obviously, but with an undercurrent of "SQUEE!" that colors even the most serious conversations with fangirlish glee, and an openness that fosters earnest conversations and a sense of welcoming. People launch into meaningful discussion with strangers without preamble. I had a conversation with someone in the hot tub where I was tempted to say, "So, now that I know how you were conceived...what's your name?" (Hello, mystery stranger, if you're reading! It was lovely talking with you.)

Friday morning was the writing workshop, which was useful and full of awesome people. I've been in a masters program for creative writing for three years and have had about the same amount of luck finding other genre writers to geek out and trade manuscripts with as I found in one day at WisCon. Between the workshop, the post-workshop cake and coffee, and the first-timers dinner that evening, I feel like I actually made some friends. I've met con-friends before - those wonderful folks you see and adore for one weekend a year but don't interact with outside of 2AM overcaffeinated Battlestar Gallactica conversations - but never people I might consider friends outside a convention setting.

As awesome as the people were, I still found much of the convention programming intimidating at first glance. The description of many panels boiled down to: "We all know and/or love Subject. But is Subject a win or fail for feminism?" I find it difficult to pin down feminism, and personally, I kind of suck at putting my own thoughts about gender and related issues into words. I only spoke in a panel once the whole weekend, and it was about fan fiction. But still, the panel discussions wormed their way into my brain, and hours later I found myself still mulling over and engaging int casual conversations about them.

And drawing things from them. I mean that literally - in the Fat Sex panel, one of the panelist asked, "Why aren't there any fat butch characters in space?" and I wound up drawing a fat butch in a space suit. And then other fat ladies in scifi getups. Now I have five pages of fat scifi ladies in my sketchbook and one (the original space butch) gifted to the aforementioned panelist. When I showed the sketches to people, they said, "OMG YOU SHOULD MAKE A COLORING BOOK OF THESE."

So I am.


(That's the space tourist, totally bored by my notes. I think each of these ladies needs a story to go with her, but I'm not sure if it's going to be a single-sentence caption beneath her image or a 50-100 words short on the opposite page. I suppose that depends partly on whether I do the whole thing digitally or find a place that will print a coloring book cheaply enough that I could sell it.)

Peer pressure works amazingly well on me, especially regarding creative projects. I have to thank Marianne and Julia for this particular round of peer pressure (and also for the totally fab makeup on Saturday night).

The people, the programming, and the atmosphere of WisCon were all amazing, and I will definitely be back next year. But for me, the highlight of the whole con was the reading.

Oh god, the reading. I was prepared for it to go so wrong. I couldn't read my story all the way through without stumbling over words, so I figured in front of a roomful of people, it would be ten times worse. A hundred times worse. I half expected myself to be struck with a sudden anxiety-induced inability to say anything but the most embarrassing possible words. (And, when I first started reading, my brain tried to sabotage me with a lovely sing-song refrain of "Cocks cocks cocks cocks cocks!" It didn't work, thankfully.) I read last in a group of four writers, and even when I was absorbed in the other writers' stories, my heart was hammering against my ribcage so loudly I couldn't believe the whole first row didn't hear it.

But when it was my turn to read, I sat up straight, opened my mouth...and rocked it.

You guys, reading aloud to a crowd is SO MUCH FUN. A crowd responds immediately. If they like what you're reading, you can see it in their faces and posture; if they think it's funny, they laugh. You can read the audience and adjust your reading style to their response - drag out the tension slower if they're getting into a dramatic piece, pause for laughter on a humorous part, vary your tone to fit the piece better. If you've got a theatrical storyteller hiding under your everyday introvert like I do, it's surprisingly easy to let that part out and really get into the reading.

And everything is funnier when you're in a roomful of people. Lisa (who read just before me and also rocked it) read an apocalyptic short story about the sun dying, and the audience picked up on subtle humor in that story that Lisa hadn't even realized was there. Having that response to react to influenced the way she read, and in the end, that story ended up with a whole 'nother layer of depth read aloud.

Immediately after the reading, she and I started scheming about other opportunities to do public readings. Next year's WisCon readings. Arranging some sort of readings at upcoming cons. Standing on street corners and reading to passers by and squirrels. Anything. It's a thrill. A victory.

Not unlike slaying a CGI dragon. (She says, doing a jig.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

WisCon reading!

If anyone out there is going to WisCon, you should stop by Conference 2 Friday at 4PM to see the "Disappearing Acts" group reading. I'll be with that group, murdering the English language. (No, really - that's what my story's about.)

First public reading.

Gulp.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Once again, not dead - just wilting.

I finished the semester. Let us never speak of it again.

(Actually, let us speak at length and in capslock of how TOTALLY AWESOME AND USEFUL my Business of Writing class was, because that nearly salvaged a terrible semester. But not today.)

It was in the mid-90s today, and the air was so thick with heat it felt like soup. I live in an attic apartment with a struggling AC unit and a built-in loft bed that gets no air circulation. Now, normally, my bed is my favorite place. If I could, I would set up a gift shop for my bed and send my friends confusing "Wish you were here!" postcards from it. Bed is my friend. Bed does not judge me for the Dragon Ball Z t-shirt I still wear as pajamas. (And neither should you, if you know what's good for you. I still have my tenth grade fan fiction, and I will read it to you, and you will not like it.)

Tonight, I miss bed. It's stifling hot up there. I'm currently camped out on the cool tile floor near the dog's bed with a pillow, a notebook, and my laptop, putting my inability to sleep to good use by writing. Three things come to mind:

1. One piece of advice I've heard in just about every writing class is "Learn to write anywhere," but I'm pretty sure those instructors meant writing in planes and cafes and things, not lying on my stomach on the floor with an elderly yorkipoo snoring in my ear.

2. How the hell does Hobbes get this much kibble on the floor? There's a path of dog food debris from his bowl at one end of the apartment clear to the other end of the apartment and sometimes winding into the bathroom or my shoes by the door. It's like those Family Circus cartoons where the dotted line traces the path that little Billy has taken around the house, except with kibble.

3. I need another fan. This thought inevitably leads to Mitch Hedberg's joke about oscillating fans:
I've got an oscillating fan at my house. The fan goes back and forth. It looks like the fan is saying "No". So I like to ask it questions that a fan would say "No" to. "Do you keep my hair in place?... Do you keep my documents in order?... Do you have three settings? ...Liar! My fan fucking lied to me. Now I will pull the pin up. Now you ain't sayin' shit."
If I had an oscillating fan right now, I think I'd ask it, "Will sleeping in front of you help?" We'd both already know the answer.

Friday, April 16, 2010

State of the--criminy I need more caffeine.

The last couple of weeks have been mostly school, work, and semi-disastrous attempts at knitting. I wish I could show you my semi-disaster projects, but my camera is broken.

I mean, it's been broken. I got it in 2003 and it's been broken in one way or another since about 2007, but now it's really broken. This camera has slowly been working its way toward becoming a battery-eating vortex for a while now. It started by burning through two sets of batteries in a week, then it ate three sets of fresh batteries in the half-hour photo shoot I did for my Sylvi coat, and now it's taken the next step and eaten the batteries completely. They're just gone. There were batteries in the camera a few days ago, and now - without the camera having moved from the pile of art supplies it was nestled in - the battery case is empty.

I'm taking this as evidence that my camera has progressed to full-on vortex mode, and it will soon begin engulfing other things, so I should probably get it out of the apartment before it gets the dog.

Unless the Roof Dweller snuck in and took the batteries. There's something living on my roof that creeps around at night, making the ceiling groan in a really unsettling way. Judging by how big it it sounds, the loping rhythm of its footfalls, and the turkey bones it keeps leaving on my deck, it's either a very large raccoon or a disturbed but ambitious neighborhood child. (A friend suggested it might be Spider-Man, but he's way lighter on his feet than that.)

Anyway, I had a point. Coffee, where was my point? Oh yeah. Camera.

I would replace my camera were it not for two very exciting but expensive things going down this week:

1. The vanquishing of the Stink. On Tuesday, Hobbes spent all day at the vet getting a dental cleaning and tooth removal - as well as some fine sedatives, which he loved because my dog is a fuzzy little junkie at heart. When I got him home, he spent 22 hours straight lying in one spot on a blanket in the living room, occasionally giving me "YOU DID THIS TO ME" looks. Now he's back to his old self, minus the Stink. I've held back on saying it because I was afraid the Stink would make a sudden resurgence like the supposedly-dead killer in a slasher flick, but it's been four days, so I think we're safe...

Ladies and gentlemen, the Stink is dead!

My dog's breath smells like dogfood and not like a repository for the stenches of every wild animal that's died in the last month. Which means that I'm no longer living with a creature that belches near-visible fumes as he walks across the room. I can't describe how happy this makes me. Hyperbole doesn't cut it.

2. Kiah and I found a new place to live! We sign the lease tomorrow and move in July. I'll hold off on squeeing too loudly about it until the signatures are dry, but I'll tell you this:

The ideal new apartment we were envisioning included: two bedrooms and a den/sunroom/smaller third bedroom for me to use as an office, a sane and responsible landlord, a decent amount of space for the two of us, nice neighbors, proximity to the bus lines we frequent in a neighborhood not too far from my campus, and a fenced-in yard.

The only thing on that list we didn't get is the fenced-in yard. Everything else exceeded our ideal by quite a bit. And the yard doesn't really matter, because the duplex is right across the street from a park. Right. Across. The street. And that has a truly epic playground, which Kiah and I are excited about, because we're grown-ups.

Further evidence that we're grown-ups: I'm planning on having a small potted veggie garden in the sunroom at our new place. When I pitched this idea to Kiah, she didn't even hesitate before responding, "I will put little dinosaurs in all your potted plants." Cue an excited conversation about how the sunroom will be the perfect place for our plastic dinosaurs because they need to keep warm.

I've got my fingers crossed that this will be an apartment in which we can be grown-ups for a good long while.

And that's what I'm up to.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Rise of the Fort

Forts are awesome. There are many types of forts - pillow forts, box forts, forts made of the neighbor kid's building block set, bedsheet forts - and all of them are works of beauty. If you disagree, I'm gonna come right out and say it: you, sir, are wrong.

Building a fort is one of the purest joys in life, and not just for kids. As a grown-up, building a fort is an act that taps into childhood nostalgia and glee, forcing you to embrace the part of yourself that will always be six years old and think chocolate milk is ambrosia from the gods. That part of you knows that when you're in a fort, you're protected from anything, be it obnoxious little brothers, bedtime restrictions, or America's clusterfucked political system.

It's also an act of defiance. Building a fort in your living room says, "I can't afford a mortgage and my landlord won't let me paint the walls, but I am going to make this my kingdom." It also says "I do not accept society's ageist bias against fort building," which is an important statement in itself.

I myself am a lifelong fort builder. As a kid, I was a fort-building master, covering my babysitter's entire basement in forts. (My brother helped, but I was always Queen of the Fort.) Up til high school, I would occasionally turn my room into a fort, making myself a sleeping and reading nook under a canopy of Ninja Turtles bedsheets.

It was college that killed it. College killed everything fun. I tried making a fort out of my loftable dorm furniture, but it just wasn't the same.

Then, there came the 2008 presidential elections. I remember election day fondly, in part because of the feeling of history being made and the grins on the faces of all the people I passed on the way to my polling location - but mostly, I remember the fort. The election day fort was magnificent. My roommates and I had decided to host an election night party, which morphed into an election night regression party, where everyone built a fort to hide in, wearing pajamas, hugging stuffed animals while we watched the election coverage.

And drinking. There was a lot of drinking. I think that was the night I discovered my level 6 of drunkenness (which is marked by the thought, "Hey, the cat's bed looks like an awesome pillow!"). But that's beside the point.

The point is, that night, as Barack Obama was voted in as president of the United States, a new era began. The Age of the Fort.

The forts began again. They were small but classic, bedsheet tents attached to the overhead fan in my attic room. Last June, when I was preparing to move, the attic forts culminated in one glorious hybrid fort made of moving boxes and bedsheets. It was storming that night, and my friends and I went outside in our pajamas to puddle jump and wild rumpus in the rain, then we retired to the fort to hang out, sprawled across a heap of pillows like lazy royalty. That was one of the best nights of my life.

And then there was the Post-Move Fort, which was small and ineffective, mostly me figuring out the layout of my new apartment.

And the "Abandon All Hope" fort downstairs, which Kiah and I built in which to watch an episode of Supernatural we knew would kill off characters we loved. (The reasoning being: forts protect you from anything, even your own emotions. And yes, it worked.)

This weekend marked the greatest fort-building endeavor since the great Pre-Move Fort of 2009: the Easter Weekend Fort.

Pictured above: the fangirl nest.

This fort served multiple purposes. Kiah and I were re-watching an episode of Supernatural that had torn out our hearts and stomped on them, and after that, we had planned an Easter marathon of the show: all the episodes in which one Winchester or another rises from the dead. There was an obvious need for protection from emotions. The fort was also necessary in that we had a lot of leftover snacks from the most recent Drunk Star Trek Night and needed an environment in which eating nothing but snack food was not just acceptable but encouraged. This led to a wonderful weekend of vegging and TV, insulated in our fort.

And this fort...well, it made me proud. In spite of the ottoman/table/cupboard that blocked easy entry, it was one of the most functional arrangements I've had a hand in making in years. More than that, it showcased Kiah's and my ability to fort-build as a team - the whole thing went up in under half an hour, with zero arguing over placements. I think this marks a turning point in our fort-building relationship. Once we're roommates again at the end of our current leases, wherever we live will have an abundance of well-constructed forts. We may never take them down. I have a whole trunk full of cartoon themed bedsheets just waiting to become something magical.

The Age of the Fort is upon us, and my life is better for it. Embrace the fort, friends. You'll thank me later.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How I learned to stop worrying and love the blog

In ninth grade, we had to pass a state-mandated writing test. Every student submitted a 5-paragraph essay on the same general topic, and they were graded on a 6-point scale, 3-5 being passing and 6 being extraordinary (or the result of a grader's pen slipping, I'm still not sure which). I was one of those obnoxious teacher's pet types who thrived on those extra little notes of praise that came back in the margins of my papers, and I looked forward to the state essay test for weeks. I was going to destroy this test. The graders would have to raise the high end of the scale to account for my superior 5-paragraph essay writing abilities. My incredibly boring English teacher would throw her hands up and cry in her monotone voice, "That's it! I can't teach you anything! Class, Nicole will be your teacher from now on."

Never mind the fact that I hadn't written much besides English assignments and Dragon Ball Z fan fiction. Those margin notes on my class assignments had filled me with the ego of a god. On the day of the essay test, I walked into the cafeteria testing area with a swagger, sure of my imminent victory over the English language.

The subject of the essay was "Write about a time when you learned something." I wrote about learning how to draw in anime style, and I went through every element of the essay carefully - introduction, three supporting paragraphs, conclusion - writing exactly as my English teacher had told us to write. Transition sentences to link paragraphs. Restatement of the point in the conclusion. Impersonal tone with no "I" voice. I wrote the most by-the-book 5-paragraph essay any kid has ever written about how to learn to draw in anime style.

I scored a 3 - just passing.

My best friend wrote about a time when she learned how to walk across a log without falling off it. She scored a 4. Another kid I knew wrote some bullshit about learning to pilot a spaceship or something, and he scored the legendary 6.

Looking back on that essay, I understand now why it was just passable. First off, have you ever tried to write about drawing? Without context or personal stakes, it's about the dullest subject in existence, short of writing itself. Second - and this, I realized years later, was the big one - writing about something as personal as art without a personal voice doesn't work. I wrote my essay like an instruction manual, impersonal and redundant as the instructions my English teacher gave said to do. I eliminated the personal voice that had gotten those comments from my instructors, and all that was left were clunky statements of fact and redundant sentences. My friends who scored better had bucked the rules, used the dreaded "I" voice, and written what came naturally to them.

Now that I'm at the graduate level in writing, every text I read on how to write an essay encourages the "I" voice and the natural style of writing. Tell a story, they say. Give the reader something personal to carry them through even if the topic isn't in their field. Plunder the 5-paragraph essay format for structure tips, but otherwise, fuck it.

And further, "Don't alter your voice to fit your subject," writes William Zinsser in On Writing Well, a book I'm reading for class right now. It wasn't until I came across this sentence tonight that I realized I've been making the same mistakes as I did in that stupid essay test, right here on this blog.

I've been blogging here for a little over a year, and I've never gotten comfortable with it. I came to Blogger after parting with my 6-year-old LiveJournal blog, which was mainly about life stuff because mostly just my friends read it. I loved that LJ. It gave a relatively accurate view of who I was during the years that I kept it, because I wrote what came naturally and I didn't censor myself. But it became just a social tool for me, so I left the site to make a proper project blog, like all these knitters and writers I admire had been doing.

So I set up this blog, aiming to write about writing and crafts and art and only those things, without writing about myself. And I promptly fell into the same pothole I hit in ninth grade: writing about art (or writing or knitting) on its own is boring. Just posting "Here is a thing I made. This is how I made it," like I've been doing for the majority of the last fourteen months, doesn't make me excited to update. I've been slowly starting to write posts that don't bore me to tears, but the project-centric nature of the blog makes me feel limited to posting only on certain topics.

Meanwhile, on my fandom blog, I've taken to posting almost every day, when I have time. That blog has become a much better depiction of who I am, and a more interesting read, because it's uncensored. I'm not worried about how I might come off to random internet stranger over there, so the voice is 100% unadulterated me, and the topics range from inane babble to creative work to academic rambling. It reads like I actually sound, while most of this blog reads like a watered down, project-focused, scarcely nerdy version of myself. Hopping between these two blogs is jarring.

So I'm taking Zinsser's advice. This marks the end of me censoring myself, in terms of both language and content. I'm an open book elsewhere online and in person, so I'm going to aim to be more open here. (Not to the point of confessional poetry, but y'know.) I want this blog to be a reflection of who I am, not just what I make.

Here goes.

I ate a Dorito off the floor earlier.

...Okay, probably not what Zinsser was advocating, but I'll work on it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Three outta four ain't bad.

I've been in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin for almost a week now, staying at my usual retreat: my favorite aunt and uncle's house. This trip had been planned and thwarted twice in the last six months by events out of my control, and finally getting to go has been such a relief.

My aunt and uncle's house is outside a small town on a few acres of wooded land with pockets of rusted horse-drawn farm equipment and 50's era car husks. The biggest excitement of the week is driving down to the recycling center. The coffee pot starts brewing at 6:15am every morning, and I wander out of the spare bedroom and curl up on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a blanket until the wood stove warms the house. I'm never happy about being awake before 9am except when I'm here. At home, being awake before 9am means I've got a workday ahead of me or a massive to-do list looming. Here, being awake before 9am means drinking a hot cup of coffee, having breakfast cooked up for me with a side of sarcasm by Uncle Larry, and getting a good view of the day ahead, which is always laid back even when I have a to-do list.

Aunt Suzy's cat Kolipoki demonstrates how I feel most days that I'm here:


Yeeeeessssss.

On top of the laid back lifestyle up here, this house is just about humming with creative energy. Suzy is a jack of all arts and crafts. She's painted, drawn, woodburned, thrown pottery, carved, and probably some other things I'm forgetting. The house is covered with her handiwork - my room is the one least touched by Suzy's art, and it still has a lamp she woodburned, two framed paintings, and a large underwater mural on drywall screwed onto one wall. Being surrounded by things she's created makes me want to surround myself with things I've created. She's been working on a new carving while I've been here, but it's large scale and won't be done before I leave.


Larry is an inventor. He spends most of the day up in his shop, welding together weight lifting machines of his own design. Three days a week, he's also the personal trainer for the household and his and Suzy's friends. He invents things other than weight lifting machines, but they're not for sale. He makes up songs to sing as he walks around the house, episodes of CSI that ought to get shot, ways to tease me, and over J-term of 2008, "Bidet in a Box" - which, combining his singing and inventing talents, had its own theme song at one point. Every morning for three days when I woke up, Larry would pass me at the coffee pot and say, "I made probably a million dollars this morning working on my Bidet in a Box idea. What did you do this morning?"

It pains me that Bidet in a Box will never be an actual product, not because Larry won't get his millions but because I would love to see a commercial with a cartoon box of toilet wipes singing, "Bidet in a Box, Bidet in a box! Buy it and you'll feel smart as a fox!"


(To answer your questions about this picture: No, he only wears a coat when it's below 0 degrees F; about 65 years old; and yes, he could bench press you.)

Anyway, so: Peace? Check. Quiet? Check. Crazy creative people? Double check. Perfect creative sabbatical.

My to-do list for this trip was:
  • Finish a chapter from Sum (AKA book 3 of The Fantasy Series What Ate My Life)
  • Finish knitting my Sylvi coat
  • Write the first chapter of an upcoming novel, which I plan on submitting to the WisCon writers workshop at the end of the month
  • Work on the multi-chapter fanfic I've had in my head since the fall
On Thursday night, I finished a chapter of Sum that I had started in 2008.

On Sunday night, I posted the first chapter of the fic.

And today, with the exception of buttons and a good soak and blocking, I finished this:



This coat was the knitting project mirror to Or Your Money Back, a project I took up thinking I could sit down and knit on it when I was stuck on the story. It turned out that the story itself had few places to get stuck, and the coat turned into more of a symbol of my confidence regarding the project. For a long while it was on hiatus, then it came creeping back into my current WIPs once I was submitting queries, and this week, watching my aunt read (and cry over) OYMB, I finally worked up the guts to finish it.


Like the book, the coat turned out whimsical, twisty, and just a tad shorter than I expected. It also took a mad dash of what seemed like for-fucking-ever to get the finishing done.


I did wind up making some progress on that first chapter I need to get done, but not as much as I had hoped. Normally, not hitting an intended deadline drives me a little nuts. Today, though? Too much else has gone right, and I am far too relaxed to care.


Big dumb grins all around.

I go home tomorrow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sketchy: Asif riding a unicorn

My coworker bought me a desperately needed energy drink and sugary things to go with it. I traded him a sketch of himself.


I think I need to engage in this form of bartering more often.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rainy day comic.

Click for big.
This never happens when I'm singing along to AC/DC or something that will make me seem cool. Only Miley.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Where do story ideas come from?

Well, I'll be watching Torchwood with Kiah, and...

Kiah: "Why are cannibals always country bumpkins?"

Me: "I don't know. They should be in the city sometimes."

Kiah: "They should be hipsters!"

Me: "YES! 'We spent too much money on jeans, so we couldn't afford food.'"

Kiah: "'Why are you doing this?!' 'Because we don't have money for food!' 'But we just went shopping for jeans!' 'Exactly.'"

Me: "And then they eat their friends!"

Kiah: "'We ate Henry because he was really loud.'"

Me: "'And he didn't like Sigur Ros.'"

Kiah: "'He was always playing Top 40 hits.'"

Me: "...I really want to write a story about hipster cannibals now."

The creation of stories is a mysterious process, you see - almost spiritual. Collective unconscious, muses, the genius in the walls, etc. Very weighty stuff. Difficult to explain. *puffs pipe*

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Excerpt: Or Your Money Back

From Or Your Money Back. The POV is Seb, a dream who was brought to life and is now working for his creator.
_________

I am beginning to learn the business of The Dream Doctor. Thaddeus says it’s a slow season for dream actualization, so there are fewer clients to admit. Even Gail the protester seems to realize this, and she spends more of her time in front of the shop talking on her cell phone than hoisting her sign and shouting at passers by. I tilt the blinds beside my desk sometimes when I get bored and watch her eat her lunch. Every day she brings an orange, and she peels it a bit at a time, biting into the exposed flesh like it’s an apple instead of breaking away the individual segments. It leaves a mess on the sidewalk for me to clean up, but asking her to bag it herself only results in an argument - according to Gail, if God grew it from the ground, it’s not littering. I’m not sure God is mentioned in the city littering laws, but she leans so close to my face when she argues with her eyes so wide that I’m a little afraid to confront her with the facts.

Because of the slow stream of clients, it’s easy for me to get in time for my routes. And the routes are where most of my learning occurs.

I learn that I am in the business of wants. No one needs what we are selling - not really. For some, like the boy in the middle of the map who asked for a six-foot tall tiger emperor, their commission from The Dream Doctor actively complicates their lives. This boy’s mother complains to me because her son’s tiger has declared the house his kingdom and demanded to make a throne room out of her craft room.

“Derek never plays with him anymore,” she tells me, rolling her eyes. “‘His royal majesty’ has made a mess of my scrapbooking supplies, and he used up most of my beads making himself a crown.”

I add her comments to her client page. “Would you mind if I spoke to the, uh, emperor myself?”

“Do what you want, but he doesn’t speak English,” she shrugs with a small huff. To herself, she adds, “Wish I’d thought to get the Fail Safe.”

I try to ask my predecessor’s questions to the massive tiger who’s seated on a throne of cardboard boxes in the craft room, but all I get in return is growls.

A man living in a squalid rental house near the park has an elderly woman with large sheer wings living on his back porch. The entire time I’m talking with him, she’s puttering around in the kitchen, baking cookies. There are piles of cookies scattered all across the countertops, cookies on the end tables in the living room, cookies stacked precariously on the banister leading upstairs, and cookie crumbs everywhere. The man eats three cookies while answering my survey questions, and his dream offers me one. It’s warm and gooey, a perfect blend of bittersweet chocolate and toffee.

“Does she cook anything else?” I ask.

“Why?” says the dreamer, as if I’ve asked something incredibly stupid. That’s when I notice the pizza boxes stashed under the kitchen table.

One older widow on the top right corner of the map has at least twelve dreams living in her house, all of them cats. As I sit in her parlor between a stack of old magazines as tall as myself and a collection of ceramic angels, trying not to make a face at the mildewy air, she introduces me to all of her cats by name. All of her dream-cats were once real cats she had - and, she informs me, all of her real cats are destined to one day be reborn via Thaddeus’s business, assuming she dreams about them. I can’t tell the difference between the real cats and the dream cats.

A young woman in an apartment complex near the shop has a pet hedgehog that rides in her shirt pocket, whispering directions to her when she gets lost. I think this is my favorite use of Dream Doctor technology - until, that is, her boyfriend points out to me that she could have bought a GPS device instead and wouldn’t need to feed it.

Yes, it’s definitely a business of want. Listening to the dreamers talk about their dreams fills me with wonder. How can one world contain so much want? I was content when I was a figment of Bella’s imagination - I wanted nothing, needed nothing. Now, I find myself eyeing everything appealing around me, trying it on for size in my mind: clothing in shop windows, apartments I visit, lives belonging to other people. I think of what Sky asked me about wanting someone other than Bella, though, and I still can’t imagine that.

But I am beginning to figure out something I do want, above and beyond the shop windows and casually tried-on lives. A calling, maybe, like he was talking about. I think…I think I want to help someone. And I think I know just the someone to start with.

Yes, I have sombrero pictures. No, I'm not posting them here.

I searched Google Maps for the universe's crotch, but all it brought me was a bunch of sports equipment and gun stores and a bookshop in NYC's West Village. So, either the universe's crotch isn't on Google Maps, or its location is in a retail store. Equally likely options, I think.

Life in general has improved a lot since my last post, so to borrow a tradition from the Very Longest Thread on Ravelry, I'm going to post...

Five Cheerful Things:

1. The agent hunt is underway! This gives me a big dumb grin. I've gotten nothing but rejections so far, but I find the whole process oddly thrilling. (The last time I queried literary agents, I proclaimed myself a letterhead hunter and started tacking rejection letters up on my wall like trophies from a big game hunt. Writer friends have told me this isn't normal behavior. They're probably just jealous because they lack safari hats.)

2. Hobbes may be an old dog with an old dog bladder and old dog ears, but he still seems to be enjoying himself. And because of the hearing loss, he can't hear the front door opening anymore when he's sleeping on the couch. Which means instead of waking up and doing his "OMFG A PERSON BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK" routine when I get home from work, he's been waking up to me petting him. Which means I get to come home to a sweet old dog sleeping in a patch of sunlight.


(Five seconds after this peaceful sight, he's awake and breathing the dreaded Stink at my face, usually while I've got my mouth open to say hello, and then there's gagging and a momentary plea for the merciful hand of death. You can't smell the Stink through the internet, you lucky reader.)

3. My birthday was last Thursday, and several cheerful things happened that day, which I'll condense into one item on the list: I got the day off work, my brother washed all my dirty dishes, and my friends took me out to Boca Chica for dinner, where a waitress put a tiny pink sombrero on my head and gave me a free sundae that was about the same size as the sombrero. Oh, and I baked show-offably good cookies.


4. Supernatural, a show that's given me years of fangirlish glee and more than a couple of plot ideas - a show that I never expected to reach the five seasons its creators had planned for it (because how do weird little shows that I love ever live that long?), has been renewed for a sixth season. I'm a little embarrassed by how happy this news makes me.

Actually, fuck embarrassment. I LOVE THIS SHOW! I love the characters! I love the world! I love that it tells the kinds of stories I would write if I were on the show's writing staff, but twists them so they're even better than what I'd come up with! I don't think I've ever been this invested in a TV show. Every time I think about having one more year of that, I start grinning.

5. I'm not on fire, falling out a tenth-story window, or being chased by zombies at this particular moment. Always something to celebrate!

My knitting mojo is still gone, and I've had to place a moratorium on new projects due to lack of time (thanks, school!), but the projects I've got in progress seem to be coming along nicely. I'll post some writing tomorrow.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Good News, Bad News -or- My New Hobby: Threatening the Universe

It's been a tumultuous two weeks. Allow me to break it down for you.

Good news: I spent the first week of February getting a good chunk of writing done.

Bad news: ...while I was at jury duty, not getting selected for a jury, listening from afar as hordes of orcs ravaged my workplace, set fire to the consultants, and forced my boss to run sobbing into his office. At least, this is the picture that's been painted for me by the consultants. It may be an exaggeration - my office didn't smell like orc when I got back.

Good news: I've been making good progress on reading The Princess Bride aloud to my dog, a goal I took on for 2010.

Bad News:
...because I figured out last week that Hobbes is quickly going deaf, and I feel the need to finish reading him the book before he can't hear my voice anymore. Yes, it's irrational. Yes, I'm a crazy person. But I've had this dog since I was ten years old, he loves it when people talk, sing, or read to him, and reading aloud has always been a passion of mine, yet somehow I've never read an entire book to him. It seems wrong.

Good news: I won't have to shovel the deck stairs of my apartment next winter!

Bad News: ...because last week I found out that the bank is foreclosing on my building, so I have just over six months left in this apartment I love so dearly before the bank starts trying to sell it out from under me. This apartment where I was planning on spending three more years. This apartment that was so perfect for me because on top of its unique space, its proximity to everything I need to get to, and the fact that there are freaking fruit trees in the back yard (fruit trees, people!), it's owned by a friend of mine who has been the best landlord I've ever had.

So you understand why I haven't been blogging lately. I've spent this last week stomping around fuming and making threats to punch the universe in the crotch. My friends say, "And how will you find the universe's crotch?" and "But you have very small hands," but goddammit, I'm sure Google Maps can give me a vague idea, and if I need to sculpt a giant fist, there's always paper mache.

But then, on the other hand...

Good news: Thanks to feedback and a kick in the ass from a fabulous new writer-friend and beta reader I found through Ravelry, I now have a polished draft of Or Your Money Back that's ready to be shopped around to literary agents! Which I'm planning to start doing this week! And I'm so excited about it that every thought that has anything to do with the querying process ends in an exclamation point! I should print out address labels! I think there's still some nice paper in my desk drawer at work! Do I have envelopes?!

Bad news: No, I think I used up all my envelopes! (But I'm sure I can borrow some from work!)

Yeah, that's it. I've got a query letter almost ready to go and a list of my four top pick agents sitting on my desk! I've been excited to start the agent hunt since I finished the first draft of this novel, and this week I'm finally doing it! I'm hoping that all the crap that's come my way these last two weeks is the universe's way of balancing out something really awesome that's on its way. Maybe something publishing related, even.

And if it isn't? Well, then, I'll plow ahead on the agent hunt and spend my spare time making that giant paper mache fist.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Countdown to rumpusing

Max is with the test-knitters now and officially has her own pattern page on Ravelry.

I rather like the cover page.
I rather like all of it, actually, but it remains to be seen if the pattern makes sense. This is one of those times when I'm afraid I'm secretly writing gibberish and no one's had the heart to tell me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I don't even.

I'm going to throw some numbers at you.

$201.42.

This is how much a friend on Ravelry just donated to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to win a custom short story from me and a gorgeous necklace from FrkHansen (who will soon be opening an Etsy shop for her jewelry, upon fear of tackling by the herd of Ravelers who now covet her work).

$425.01.

This is how much another Ravelry friend donated to MSF last night to win a custom colored pencil piece from me and another gorgeous FrkHansen necklace, which his fiance is now planning on wearing for their wedding. (425 is also about the number of times I've had to fan my hands at my face to keep from crying out of joy and gratitude since this whole thing started.)

$3,329.42.

This is the amount of money that has been donated to emergency relief funds at places like MSF and the Red Cross from the Completely Pointless and Arbitrary Group Group's charity auction in the last three days, as of the most recent update to their tally. It's not a lot when compared to the big picture of all that Haiti needs now and in the coming months, but coming from a group of this size, it's amazing.

And what's as amazing to me as the numbers is the good nature of the people I've been interacting with on this auction. Not only has there been an astonishing amount of generosity, but even in the most heated bidding wars, everyone has been friendly and supportive of one another whether they're winning or not, never losing sight of the fact that this is all for a good cause. (And of course, this being the group that it is, there have also been copious pervy jokes and tangents about selling our dogs for necklaces.)

I've spent most of this weekend staring at my computer screen, trying to put together the words for how astounded, grateful, and proud I am about what this community is doing - and how lucky I feel to be a part of it.

I still don't have those words.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Read this.

An absolutely perfect rant on gay subtext, the need for GLBT heroes, and how slash fiction plays into that.

My favorite passage:

I want those main characters to fall in love and make out because it means that fans of their characters will have to come to terms with their gayness, exactly like they would have to do in real life. It's one thing to start out a book, like Swordpoint and Havemercy did, introducing your main characters as gay from the start. Because from the outset the reader knows, the reader can choose whether they approve, or tolerate, or whatever. They can put that book down and walk away.

But reality doesn't let you choose. Reality is when your best friend turns to you and says, "the thing is, I'm gay," and your entire world turns upside down.

The most empowering aspect of slash for me is that it takes beloved, known characters, and strips away their heteronormativity. Yeah, countless people have accidentally discovered Harry Potter slash on the internet, and gone "ACK MY EYES" and hit the back button as fast as they can, but that also means that for half an instant, countless people were forced to grapple with the idea that someone they loved was gay, even if that someone was a fictional character. And maybe they didn't get it, but maybe that moment brought them closer to acceptance or tolerance or empathy.
A-FUCKING-MEN.

Fiction has always been vitally important to me. When I was growing up, TV shows were my safe place to retreat to when life sucked. But there were virtually no queer heroes in them, and those few queer heroes who existed had either no romantic interests or romances that ended in tragic deaths. I stayed deep in the closet until late college, and looking back, I wonder if part of that was due to the influence of the stories I loved on TV. When your safe place tells you, "There is probably no one like you, and people like you only die horribly anyway," it's hard not to take that to heart.

This is why GLBT characters end up in my own writing often. This is why, two years ago, when a central character in the novel I was writing surprised me by starting up a same sex relationship in a subplot, I pulled it to the foreground. Because it needs to be text, not subtext.

I'm writing myself a new safe place. With any luck, someone else will find themselves in the heroes here, too.

Friday, January 15, 2010

ATTN: Ravelers!

If you're on Ravelry and you'd like to help a good cause and get some neat swag in return, check out the Completely Pointless and Arbitrary Group group's CPaAG loves Haiti and wants to help thread! It's a charity auction and an entertaining read, too. I had to push back my lunch break today because I couldn't tear myself away from an auction of canned jams and fruits, and I wasn't even bidding.

I've got
two things up for auction: a custom drawing (penciled or inked) and a custom short story. If you're on Ravelry, go check it out!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A cavalcade of hats

It started with Kiah's hat. That's the one that opened up the flood gates.

See, I'm not a hat knitter. I swear I'm not. I actually don't really like knitting hats. But when I find a hat pattern I really enjoy, it pushes the Temporary Insanity button in my brain and makes me think I love knitting hats and want to marry hats and raise a whole family of woolly little hats with names like Hatthew and Margarhat. This is a serious affliction.

Because when it happens, like it happened with Kiah's hat in Ysolda Teague's Icing Swirl Hat pattern, it gets...scary.

Like so:


I've got chills just looking at it. That's my former roommate Abby dressed as Mary Tyler Moore on Halloween, sporting another Icing Swirl that I knit her in a few evenings.

And this, knit a short while later, is a Ribbed Beanie in Malabrigo Chunky for my landlord. (Which my landlady nearly fell over praising. I tried to explain to her that it was just a plain black ribbed beanie, but that had no effect.)


Then came the (blurry) colleague retirement hat - Helping Hat, Knit Picks Swish Bulky.


And a bastardized Icing Swirl for me, knit in my own thick and thin handspun (the first stuff I spun on my wheel) with colorwork and a thick brim. It's become my default winter hat because it's so warm, but it's not terribly pretty.


Then a shortened Scotty's Hat in Cascade 220 for my mom.


A last minute "Did my mom just trick me into saying I'd knit Opa a hat for her to give to Opa for Christmas?" hat, improvised in leftover Malabrigo Chunky.


A Fish Hat in Cascade 220 for my brother, shown here pouting about his impending digestion.


And finally, my first project knitted entirely in 2010, a happy, sunny Icing Swirl Hat for myself in Cascade Baby Alpaca Chunky. Pictures don't do this hat justice. It's such a bright yellow it's like wearing a miniature sun around - perfect for January.


This, I hope, is where the hatalanche ends. I've texted hats to let them know it's over, and I'm moving on to the sweaters that have been sitting unfinished in my craft area since October.