New Desk!

I have a new desk!

I went out yesterday to buy a new mattress for the ninja’s new Big Girl Bed (she’s three, and loves getting into grownup beds, so the cot is being retired) and bought myself a new desk as well. It’s much wider than the old one, with drawers for putting important things in, and a little socket for putting the hard drive into, and it doesn’t have a hutch like the old one so it will be much less cluttered.

See how pretty it is?

See how pretty it is?

This was a big step for me. Losing my little shelves and all my clutter will be hard, and I hate change.

But being reasonable about it… I don’t *need* any of this stuff. All these CDs have been ripped to mp3 and are safely stowed away in my computer and backups. I don’t need fifteen-year-old game disks or the belt to a cardigan I lost years ago or extra cords that I don’t even know what they’re for or the old remote for the DVD player that broke or the sleeve I always forget to put my tablet into and holy crap there’s a lot of stuff up here.

All the things in my desk that I actually need – my tax information, my address book, my current games and so on, will fit perfectly well in the drawers of the new desk. And my working area will actually be clear and useable for the first time in a long time.

I think this is a good thing. I think this is progress.

And honestly, the pain of change is greatly eased by the fact that I got $80 knocked off the desk because it was a scuffed floor model. I don’t care if it’s scuffed. A white desk is going to stay pristine about eight seconds in this house. It will get its first baptismal coffee ring within the first 48 hours, I know this to be the case. So who cares if it’s scuffed, it was cheap!

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A Place In The World

Something that drives me right around the bend, especially when reading fantasy, is blank-slating the protagonist. Killing off the parents is very popular. Brothers and sisters too, if they exist – and it’s sad how often they don’t. If the protagonist is the long lost heir to something or other, then – like Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru – the foster-family will usually bite the dust by the end of the first chapter.

Unless they’re evil, of course. There’s the Cinderella trope, where the protagonist has no ties because her family/guardians/whatever just hate her even though she’s sweet and wonderful and beautiful and all that crap. Or the protagonist could be a loner for one reason or another, living by her wits, thieving or hunting or whatever it is she does all alone with no family ties to interfere with the story….

No, no, and hell no. This is the absolute laziest, least original protag-starter there is. It’s easier to write a tie-less character setting off on an adventure, yes, this is true. But easier is not better.

Look at Katniss. She volunteers because she loves her sister, because she has a life and ties and someone she loves enough to give up her life for. And that is so meaningful and important and the story would be utterly different if she didn’t have that intense, personal love and motivation. (I haven’t even read the damn book and I know this)

People want to connect to other people. Our herd or pack or group or whatever instinct is powerful. The NaNoWriMo group I belong to is full of people (including me) who come to regular writing events and drinking-get-togethers despite a whole rainbow of social and anxietal issues, because even the most anxious shut-in sometimes wants to hang around other people, and fellow shut-ins are kindly and safe people to hang out with who know how to cope with a panic attack.

It is vanishingly unlikely that a protagonist would have no ties at all. There are exceptions – Anna from the ‘Alpha and Omega’ stories starts out having been deliberately isolated from all outside ties by her pack, and that forced isolation is clearly presented as abusive and wrong. Nevertheless, she has made a friend whose phone she can use to call for help, and the isolation is ended in the course of the story because it’s an awful thing to do to someone. Don’t do it to your protagonist!

Dorothy Gale has a loving family she wants to get back to.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie have parents they are forced away from by circumstances.

Spock loves his parents, but leaves to pursue a career that is meaningful to him.

Miles Vorkosigan loves his parents, as far as I know.

Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez have parents and siblings who are part of their daily life.

Yet somehow, their authors manage to pitchfork them into adventure anyway.

A protagonist does not and should not exist in a vacuum. Unless you’re writing a very fresh post-apocalyptic, in which whole swathes of the human population have been killed in some way or another, they shouldn’t be functioning alone – and if they are, then there needs to be a good reason for it, and a history behind it. There are ways to get rid of the family tie – youthful dedicates to a religious organization, for example, young apprentices sent away from their homes, there’s loads of ways to put parents at a distance or out of the picture. But don’t strip your protagonist of human connections altogether.

Give them friends – not just one, who can be killed off at the beginning for motivation and manpain, but more than one. Acquaintances, teachers, that annoying guy who hangs around with your group and you don’t like him but you can’t tell him to fuck off or everyone else will get mad. Nothing humanizes a character – and gives you a basis for them not being a raving sociopath – like having a place in the world. Ties to people – and to places, such as Harry’s deep love for Hogwarts – gives them that. Makes them more, for lack of a better word given that not all protagonists actually are human, human.

A good protagonist doesn’t leap from the page, blank and empty, without ties to place or person and ready to be filled with purpose. She needs to be uprooted, gently or harshly, from her place so she can move forward, but she must have roots to begin with. (And if you must kill off her family, for heaven’s sake, let her be upset about it. That kind of loss is devastating.) It’s not quite as easy, but it’s a lot more interesting.

Getting Started

I’ve heard it said that the hardest thing about a new endeavour is to get started. Make a commitment.

This is utter bollocks.

Getting started is easy! Anyone can start writing a book, or reading a book, or cleaning their bedroom, or eating healthier! Anyone can produce two hundred words, or a load of laundry, or a lettuce!

Finishing, now. Finishing is hard as hell. There are many hurdles between you and your finish line. Here are some (not all) in no particular order.

Hurdle One: Later. “Meh, I don’t feel like it any more. I’ll do it later. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.

Hurdle Two: Lost Inspiration. “Where did all my ideas go? Man, I’m tired from picking up all these clothes. Cooking from scratch is hard. I’ll leave it just for now. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.

Hurdle Three: It Sucks. “Everything I do sucks. I might as well just give up and watch a movie while I balance a pizza on this pile of dirty laundry.”

Hurdle Four: Equipment Failure. “I don’t have the right research books, and the vacuum cleaner is making a funny noise and I think the broccoli’s gone limp. I’ll have to pick this up again when I have all the stuff I need to do it really properly.

Hurdle Five: Haven’t I Done Enough? “Well, I’ve got half the first draft, I can see the floor, and I ate a vegetable just yesterday. I think that’s enough for now. Hooray for me!”

Hurdle Six: I Am So Very Busy. “Well, these other things really are more important. I’ll have to get back to that side project of all my hopes and dreams and also my bodily health after I finish alphabetizing these paid bills.”

Hurdle Seven (optional): Perfectionism. “My first sentence is terrible! I think I saw a cockroach poo in one of my drawers so the whole house needs fumigating! I’m still putting sugar in my coffee! I CAN NEVER BE FINISHED UNTIL IT’S PERFECT.”

Side note: I quit processed sugar once. Turned me into a raging harpy for three straight months. My husband eventually begged me to give in and eat some chocolate, if I loved him or our daughter at all. It turns out that while I can give up coffee and *almost* all forms of sugar relatively painlessly, I am hardcore addicted to chocolate and the sugarless kind doesn’t do the business.

There are lots more hurdles, of course. A lot of them are personal ones (a major one for me at the moment is the fact that sitting down at the computer makes my kid think ‘ooh, lap’ and come over to sit on me, which makes typing quite hard), but these are a few that I’ve discussed with others and know are at least somewhat common. All you can really do about them is get to know them well enough that you can see them for what they are – a trap and a snare, not the voice of reason they pretend to be – and go around them instead of being tricked into trying to jump and winding up flat on your face on the track wondering why you even bother.

You can’t always do it, of course. Three and Five still get me on a regular basis. But knowing your enemy can help!

 

Two Days In One

So I really did think I’d posted yesterday. But when I looked today, I found a little untitled draft reading thusly:

I have got to start writing my blog-post ideas down. I keep having them and thinking ‘oh, I’ll write about that tomorrow’…. and then when tomorrow comes, I got nothing. And I’m too sleepy to work up a good rant. So

Apparently something shiny flitted across my vision at that point and I forgot to finish.

Have you noticed that you can get ideas from other books or movies, but the idea often doesn’t resemble that book or movie at all?

On the international flight home, I was watching Prince Caspian and thinking about skewed gender representation in fantasy, you know, as you do, and I got hit by the Idea Fairy. As best I recall, it went something like this.

Ooh, pretty.

I don’t like the plot coupons though.

Looking for missing people.

Evil magic.

Plot coupons.

What if they weren’t plot coupons? What if the series of tasks was actually, you know, not cumulative but they were just doing all different things to try to achieve an end?

And then somehow I was imagining this city, right, which is being invaded, and our Plucky Heroes have to resurrect the city’s old magical defenses but nobody knows where they are any more or how they worked and it turns out the seven ancient protective spells are curses enacted by mages killed in battle, and their spirits are in buildings and books and statues and shit and they have to get woken up so they can curse the invaders again but it’s hard and takes sacrifices  and they don’t actually need to find all of them or anything it’s just ‘let’s find as many as we can before they get here’ and there’s a couple they can’t find but the ones they do find turn out to be enough except at least one of the heroes actually dies because that mage demands blood sacrifice so they die for the city or something.

I got all of this out of ‘let’s find the magic swords’ and ‘ooh, pretty scenery’. I mean, you guys remember the Rise of the Guardians thing, where watching RotG made me think about a story featuring a ghost who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, right? I swear, I wonder how my brain makes these connections sometimes.

I like it, though. I like the idea of a story where the Plucky Young Heroes have to Find The Things and they don’t have to find them all, and they don’t find them all, because it’s not a game it’s just a matter of finding all the weapons you can because there’s a war going and you just want to save your home. When a plot coupon is not a plot coupon. I like it.

What are your feelings on plot coupons?

Words

I love words. Here are some words I particularly like.

Mellifluous.

Limned.

Catastrophic.

Sinuous.

Pulchritudinous.

You will notice that they’re all descriptive words. Here’s a quick writing exercise for you – write down the first five words you think of when you think ‘some words I like’.

Whatever kind of words they are – verb, adjective, criticism, descriptor, long words, double-meaning words, words starting with X – they’re likely to be the ones you use just a bit too often. I forget where I read this, but I have consistently found it to be true. I grew up reading Tolkien and other high-fantasy authors heavy on the….

on the…

GODDAMN IT WHY DO I ALWAYS FORGET THIS ONE WORD ARGH THAT WORD YOU KNOW THE ONE IT MEANS WHEN YOU TELL WAY TOO MUCH IN A BIG CHUNK EXPOSITION! EXPOSITION THAT WAS IT!

Ahem. That’s actual stream of consciousness right there.

Anyway. I actually like exposition. I love old-fashioned novels that spend the first three pages dumping backstory on you in a charmingly prim, sternly punctuated sort of way. I like reading long descriptions of the country our heroes are travelling through and what they eat on the way. I’ve heard many criticisms of Tolkien’s obsession with talking about food, but have never agreed with them – food’s important when you’re travelling. And hard to get. And heavy. It’s actually a thing, here!

Did you know that Enid Blyton deliberately included many descriptions of delicious food in her novels because she was writing for children and children like to eat? I vaguely remember reading that somewhere and it seems legit, but I couldn’t be bothered to look it up, so, you know, trufax. Except now I’m feeling guilty for not doing my research. Half a mo.

Google did not immediately turn anything up on Ms Blyton’s motives, but here’s a nice Scotch Egg recipe I found.

So. Back to the words. If you really like a certain kind of word – or any other writing quirk, like the abuse of the ellipsis – you probably use it a little too often for your potential reader’s tastes. In the same vein as ‘kill your darlings’, cut your favourite words unless they’re absolutely necessary. If you’re anything like me, your definition of ‘absolutely necessary’ will mean plenty of them survive the culling.

I hope you all have a great day. My daughter just came up to me and gently stuck a purple smiley face sticker on my forehead. I liked it. So here is a virtual smiley face sticker, from me to you. Stick it on yourself somewhere conveniently visible!

 

 

Security!

So on my way back to Australia, I was wearing a new bra.

Riveting stuff, right?

The damn thing set off every metal detector I walked through. Suddenly I was a Slightly Interesting Person to the security people.

Only slightly interesting. Being a white, English-speaking female wearing a suburban-mum outfit travelling with an American (and male) spouse and carrying a sleepy three-year-old apparently puts you fairly low on the list of dangerous types. Nevertheless, I was removed from the line and patted down and such.

I’ve read accounts of this that made it seem very upsetting and scary. And I’m sure it was, for those people. Certainly I think that our pallid-middle-class appearance stood us in good stead. But seriously, the TSA people were just so nice! The first time I set the detector off, the guy gave me about five tries to get through without jostling it, then waited while I passed the sleeping ninja to the spouse and waved me through to speak to one of the female TSA people. (Officers? Peons? who knows?) She took one look at my not unimpressive bust and said it was probably my underwire, and did I buy my bra at Nordstroms by any chance?

I had.

She nodded wisely and said that yes, that usually happens. The lines carried at Nordstroms use a heavier gauge of underwire or something. She asked a couple of times if I knew what a patdown entailed and if I wanted to have it in private. (I said no, but it was nice to be asked). The pat-down itself was barely noticeable, and another TSA lady very kindly assisted my husband with our copious carry-ons, stroller, and dozy little ninja while I was otherwise engaged. They were all very friendly and nice about the whole thing, and I was warned that since I knew my underwire would set off the machine, I should just offer to go through the body-scan machine at LAX, when we switched to the international flight, so I wouldn’t have to get patted down again. The TSA lady giving me the patdown assured me that she worked around the machine all the time and had absolutely no worries about safety, radiation-wise, which was a nice effort to be reassuring.

Unfortunately, there was no scanner in the area I went through at LAX, so I had to be metal-detected again. And once again, the lady doing the pat-down was very nice about it, offering me privacy and apologizing a couple of times for having to feel around in the waistband of my jeans. Once again, someone else helped the spouse manage our bags, piling them up on a bench out of the way while he had to wait for me and helping him manage stroller and ninja. They even hurried my mobile phone through the scanner so it could be handed back to the ninja, who is besotted by a new nursery-rhyme program I downloaded for her.

So if you’re traveling to or from the USA, and have heard the scary stories about the TSA… well, sometimes they’re true. But sometimes they can be awfully nice and helpful, too!

And wear a bra with thin underwire.

The Simple and Easy Pad See Ew!

Oh, my. This looks delicious, and I want it right now! Except that it’s nearly five am (hello, jet lag) and no time to go shopping for ingredients!

The High Heel Gourmet

Easy Authentic Thai Pad See Ew 28

I know a lot of my friends are going “Bingo!” with this post, and maybe it’s the same for you. I’ve gotten several requests for my “Pad See Ew” recipe, but I didn’t feel like this was something so special that it needed its own post. It’s so SIMPLE. It’s beyond simple. To me it’s like posting a recipe for a hotdog!

Okay, what is Pad See Ew, you might ask. It’s a big fat rice noodle stir fried in sweet soy sauce with meat, egg and vegetables. (I’m starting to feel ashamed…already. Am I really doing this?) Pad = stir fried (You better know this word by NOW.), See Ew = Soy sauce. There are so many See-Ew, I know, but this is the sweet, dark, sticky one.

There are several spelling of Pad See Ew, Pad Si Io (Wikipedia uses this one), Pad Si Ew or even Pad…

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