Writing Again

This past week, I've felt the need to have something I focus on in my spare time. I may not have a lot of spare time these days, but I don't have nothing, and I'm happiest when I spend that amount of time doing something fulfilling. I thought about getting into a video game I played a few years ago, and I even tried it for a few days, but I quickly remembered the reasons I put it down and decided against it. I've felt sad that I haven't managed to do much writing these past couple months, and I figured, why not try to channel this new-found energy I have into writing again?

I've decided to put aside my novel for a while, and start on this new story that's been nagging me to be written. Don't know if it's a short story or a novel yet. If it's a novel, probably not a series. I figured, though, that the first thing I should do before I get too far with it is re-read those critiques I posted about last time and try to apply any good writing tips to this new story.

The time away really helped. One of the two critiques (#1, referring to my previous post) was the most helpful, giving me a lot of good advice. The main points seem to be that I needed more well-defined characters, settings, and more attention to staging detail--they suggested drawing a map of the area for use when you write a scene, to get locations of things right. It's not that I didn't have any of it, I just needed more of it. They pointed out where I did well, so I get an idea of how to do it right. It's just a rougher draft than I thought. Most of the benefit would be from planning before actually writing... so that's what I'm doing, with a new story. Why work on an old story that doesn't excite you anymore?

This whole process has given me so much energy to write and get this story out that I've fit it into my spare time any way I can. Maybe half an hour to an hour a day (and longer this weekend). Not sure how long it'll last, but I'm gonna try my best to keep it going. I'm positive that this perfect setting and tone in my head for this story won't be as perfect once it's on paper, but I can't stand not trying to get it out.

One great idea I've had is to keep a Pinterest board of images that inspire me, and it's really helped get me in the right frame of mind for this story. Take a look here, if you're interested:


The Problem With Critics

In February this year, I entered my book in a writing contest. I sent in two copies of the first 30 pages and a 1-page synopsis. The best part about it was that I'd get two critiques, no matter if I ended up a finalist or not. I hadn't had an editor (let alone two) with no relation to me take a look at my work and give me honest advice before, and it was a great opportunity.

I found out sometime last week by email that I wasn't a finalist. I was a little let down, but not heartbroken. There were 900 entrants, and they had to pick 10 finalists for each of 12 categories (two from each category actually win money and a chance to chat with agents and editors at a conference). I can't imagine having to choose between so many people. I didn't let it bother me. They said the critiques would be mailed out the following week, and would be scored out of 50.

The critiques were in the mail today. Interestingly, so was the next issue of the New Yorker, which happens to be entirely fiction this time. Today I also received two old issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from a coworker as a suggestion of a place I could submit short stories to if I wished. Turned out to be a day to face where I wanted to go as a writer.

To be blunt, the results were not what I was hoping for. Critics can be harsh, it's true, and not all of them are good at giving both negative and positive feedback. But these ones are honest, and not affected by their relationship to me. They weren't even shown my name when they critiqued it (and I wasn't shown theirs). They likely didn't see each other's critiques either.

Both of them are of the opinion that it needed a rewrite. The whole thing. Their overall reasons appear very different. Critic #1 (who gave me a 31/50) says I need to either change my story somehow so that it stands out from the rest of the fantasy genre, or make the writing much stronger (many suggestions are given for this), but says it cannot succeed as is. Critic #2 (who gave me a 22/50) says my main problems are that I rely too much on dialogue to carry the story, and that the world I've created does not have enough of a fantasy setting.

From the time that I've spent in critique groups, I know that the best way to really get use of critiques is to notice where multiple critiques all point out the same issue--even if they suggest different ways to fix it. The important thing is to see where they end up agreeing on a problem. If you understand what they mean, you can fix it in the best way for you, rather than them. It's going to take a lot of re-reads and dissections to find that here. I've got a full 6-7 pages from each critic. Of course, first I need the stomach to sit down and read it carefully.

I don't know what I'm going to do. Do an entire fresh rewrite? Ignore the critics and submit to agents anyway? Take a break (not that I've spent a lot of time in the past few years working on it) and write something else? Maybe short stories for a change, if I can figure out how to write them? How much of what they're saying is opinion, and how much should I listen to? Do I really want to continue with this story? And, how much longer is it going to take me to do a rewrite now that I have a full-time job?

This is why I like science and computers; there's a right answer and a wrong answer, and no in-between. I'm so grateful that I enjoy my day job and that I'm good at it.

I love it to pieces, but writing is hard.


The Downside

I am in a very unique position in life, and I don't quite know how to deal with it.

Nine months after graduating with a BSc in Computing Science, I've moved country, got settled in a new apartment, and been hired into a well-paying, rewarding full-time job. This may sound great--and it totally is, mostly--but there is one big challenge that comes with it that I've really found difficult: my social life.

I am a young woman in a software development role. I am younger than literally everyone else at work (because I graduated a year ahead of most students in the US), and at least a few years younger than the average age. I am one of perhaps 10% of the women in the engineering department, half of which are managers. Both of these facts are why I'm sure it's difficult for people at work to relate to me about anything other than work. My 40-hour week and 30-minute-plus commute means that by the time I get home each day, I'm hungry and exhausted, which often means I'm in no mood to go out on the town and socialize. Being a geeky introvert also means that some days, when I interact with a lot of people during the day, at the end of the day I just want to wall myself off from other people with headphones. This doesn't mean I don't need someone to talk to.

The other difficult part of all this is that I'm "new" to the area. Even though I grew up near here, I spent three years away, and grew apart from most of my good friends. Most of the friends I feel closest to these days live in Scotland, which means they've all gone to bed by the time I get home in the evening. There are only a few people I can count on to be there for me when I need them, in my time zone.

This is not to say I don't go to (nearly) every social event I'm invited to. I do, and I enjoy it. I am doing my best to meet new people all the time, and it's fun. But I can only do so much. I can count on there being days where I come home and just want someone who understands me to talk to, and can't. I would say it's not such a bad problem to have, as problems go, and I feel selfish for feeling this way, but this matters a lot to me and it's not going away. Perhaps I have not given it enough time, though I have been away from Scotland for six months now. All I can do is wait, keep cultivating the friendships I have, and hope any new friends I make turn out to be kindred spirits.

When all else fails, I take myself out for sushi.



When I travel these days, it is often alone. Maybe I'm meeting someone at my destination, but the actual act of traveling is done alone. I don't resent this at all, in fact I think it helps me enjoy the journey more. I have so much more freedom to go at my own pace, visit shops and restaurants as I see fit, or linger in a place just to people-watch. My introverted nature can be at peace.

Something comes over me when I travel alone. No one I know is around me to judge, so I occasionally do things out of the ordinary, when it strikes me. Little things usually, like ordering food I haven't tried before, or going to a coffee shop I've never heard of rather than going straight to Starbucks, or wandering a bookstore without planning to buy anything, just because I can. Of course my options to do these things are limited in an airport, but I can still enjoy them.

On my flight to Phoenix yesterday, I read the recent issue of the New Yorker. The article written by Joseph Mitchell, as the first chapter of a memoir, made me feel a bit wistful. I got envious of his ability to wander around New York at random, ride buses all day if it fancied him, visit beautiful buildings whether or not he was allowed to. This was where he lived, too, not just somewhere he went to travel. Reminded me how much I love my own city, Seattle. I should explore it more.

I also love people-watching. I don't do it obviously, staring or clearly writing about people around me. It's more that I observe things happening. Perhaps I don't look at people directly, but I'm paying attention. The diversity of people on my plane to Phoenix struck me. I was in an aisle seat, and the guy in the middle seat to my right was an Asian man that seemed drunk when he sat down, but immediately fell sleep, and slept a bit fitfully through the whole 2-3 hour flight. The guy to his right was a middle-aged white man with a full beard, who mostly either looked out the window or played solitare on his laptop. A row in front of me to the left was a younger man with an army-camo backpack. I made the assumption that he had been in--or was still in--the military, since his hair was cropped short, and before the flight, the captain made a comment about thanking the men in service on board (and veterans).

To my left was a couple with their young toddler son, who was incredibly well-behaved, and also slept through the majority of the flight. There were other kids too, some of which wailed a little before the flight took off, but after that were pretty quiet, even making those cute comments only kids feel the freedom to make. When the captain announced we only had 30 minutes until we landed, a girl a few rows back started making a song out of the words. Later, when he announced the people on the left side of the plane could see the Grand Canyon, it seemed like everyone on the plane perked up and looked out the window. There was a gorgeous sunset out of the window near me, on the right, and I overheard another kid saying, "Is that fire?" I had to admit, it looked it.

I could not live happily without a bit of traveling in my life. It's my chance to eat and drink and see new things, to notice the beauty of the world, and realize that we really are all the same, as cliche as that sounds. There were so many different kinds of people on that plane, but as soon as the Grand Canyon came in view, everyone was interested. They put aside their unspoken social rules about not wanting to bother other people and leaned toward the windows, if only for a few moments.

I think once you travel far away once or twice, it's common to catch the traveling bug, and want to just keep doing it, go everywhere, see and try everything. If you haven't caught it yet, I highly recommend it.


Ignorance Is... Strength?

I've fallen behind on my book reviews, and I don't intend on catching up. I feel it would be more appropriate if I just blogged about books that really meant a lot to me, positively or negativley. So, here I am.

I don't often read dystopian fiction, and I don't often read classics, but quotes and ideas from this book have started to feel so ubiquitous to me that I thought it was about time I read it myself. I think I appreciated it more because it wasn't something I had to read for a class, I could take my time with it and really absorb things (though it didn't take me long at all).

Spoiler alert! If you haven't yet, please read this book and then come back to my review... it really is best, I think, to approach the book before hearing opinions of it. Yes, even you. Everyone should read it.

Here's the review I posted on Goodreads, with my 4 star rating:

I did not know what to expect. I found that in turns, it horrified me, excited me, and terrified me, and I never knew what was coming next. I instinctively think there are things in this book that can never happen, that humans would never do this or that. But then I think about what I know of history, and in small ways, those things have happened. Maybe they have not persisted, but they have happened. And while this book is in no way a direct reflection of society, it is utterly haunting, to the last word. There are bits of truth. I cannot say that I loved this book, because it so horrified me, but to affect a reader's emotions so acutely, Orwell absolutely deserves 5 stars. I just can't imagine myself ever wanting to read it again. I would say, though, it is definitely worth reading once. Everyone should read it once, if only to have more of an appreciation for the society in which we live.


A Sunny Seattle Morning

Every single day on my way to work, I am reminded of how glad I am to be in Seattle. To be working downtown, especially. There is a small bridge my bus goes over that has a fantastic view of the city skyline, be there rain or fog or sun. Once we get downtown, there are cafes open along every street--not all of them Starbucks--serving coffee or pastries or other goodies. Particularly on days like today, when it's sunny, the city is out in all its glory in the morning. It's true, the dreariness of the usual clouds are so very worth it when the sun comes out. Even in the cold, people have their collars turned up and scarves wound tight, but they're always smiling. It feels like such a happy place.

This morning, instead of going to work, all I want to do is go for a nice long walk in the chilly (but sunny) air, and then sit in a cafe with a pastry and a coffee and read, or perhaps write... I want to get lost in the moment and appreciate the world around me. This post is all I have time for, though, and it will have to do.


Deck the Hall Ball

I went to Deck the Hall Ball this year, alone. And I am so glad I did. It was the most incredible concert I've ever been to--I haven't been to many, but I don't expect to go to anything nearly as good anytime soon. I wanted to share a bit about what I thought of each band, and suggest a few good songs. I wished I could have done it via Twitter during the show, but any kind of phone service in a stadium full of people is impossible. The event was put on by my local radio station, 107.7 The End, which mostly plays alternative/indie rock/folk/whatever, so be forewarned if you don't like that kind of thing (but I have no idea why you wouldn't). The photos below, and more, can be found here.

The Lineup

The Joy Formidable, from Wales - I hadn't paid attention to this band much before the show, mostly I just enjoyed the single they played a lot on 107.7, Whirring. These guys were so incredibly energetic, and props to them for playing in a half-empty stadium. The show started at 3pm and went until 11pm, so people slowly trickled in, and they made the whole thing start with a bang. So much guitar, and an awesome female lead vocalist. I would suggest more songs by them but I haven't spent a lot of time with their album yet.

Of Monsters and Men, from Iceland - With two beautiful voices (and people) as lead vocals in this folk rock band, I couldn't help loving them. I first heard their single, Little Talks, at a club in Glasgow (of course it's not really something you'd expect in a club), and it was amazing to see it live. I suppose since they're mostly acoustic, it's no surprise they sound so much like the album. Another of theirs that they played a lot on 107.7 was Mountain Sound. A couple they played live that were just amazing were Dirty Paws and Six Weeks. And Lakehouse. I love the whole album.

GROUPLOVE, from Los Angeles, CA - I was a bit surprised by this band, I hadn't really cared for their music, and then heard them live and fully enjoyed it. Loud and passionate. You can just tell from their sound that they're from California, I can't really pin down why. Their big hits are Itchin' on a Photograph and Tongue Tied, but I actually like Colours (with the British spelling) a lot, and Slow is my favorite of theirs at the moment. There are others on their album that are good as well.

The Lumineers, from Denver, CO - Another folk band that just sounds gorgeous (and looks it). A bit quieter and more intimate than Of Monsters and Men. Their big, fun hits are Ho Hey and Stubborn Love. Flowers In Your Hair is beautiful, too. A lot of their other songs are slower and good to cozy up with on a slow Sunday morning. They were amazing live, really got the crowd involved in the music, clapping and singing along.

Passion Pit, from Cambridge, MA - These guys have been around for a while. Upbeat, a bit of an electronic vibe, different. They released a new album recently, which has taken some time to grow on me, but I really enjoyed their first album. They played quite a few hits from their older album, including Little Secrets and Moth's Wings, my two favorites. The single from the new album is Take A Walk, which I do like but has been overplayed a bit on 107.7. The show itself was great, and for some reason that night they all looked like they could have come straight from MIT, a bit geeky. In a good way.

AWOLNATION, from Los Angeles, CA - This band was by far the crowd pleaser of the night. You have perhaps heard Sail, their big single, and their next best is Kill Your Heroes. Both awesome. The lead singer even had us do the wave! During the singing of All I Need, he asked for everyone to get out their lighters and phones, and the sight was unbelievable in a venue as big as Key Arena. He said the view from the stage was incredible, and he'd never forget it. I'm not likely to, either. Their sound ranges from almost metal--there was definitely headbanging, from everyone in the band at times--to funky and upbeat, like in Guilty Filthy Soul. They're loud and passionate, like GROUPLOVE. Maybe that's what LA sounds like.

Metric, from Canada - This has been my favorite band for a long time, and is actually the only band I've seen at a show like this before. Surprisingly, I've discovered I'm not a huge fan of their live performances. I wish Emily Haines would engage the audience more. But their music is excellent. Great beat, great guitar, even keyboard at times. Instead of linking to their big singles that you might know, Breathing Underwater is the one 107.7 plays all the time that is very good, and Clone is my favorite off their new album. Check 'em out.

M83, from France - A bit of trivia: their name comes from the spiral galaxy Messier 83. Their sound is very synth-heavy, and largely instrumental. I wasn't sure what to expect from their live performance, but truthfully I thought it was the most amazing of them all that night. They brought an insane light show onto the stage with them, complementing the music so well. I had to stand up in my seat for a few of them, just to fully experience it. The two main vocalists have amazing voices, and they use a style called shoegaze, where their voices are indistinguishable from the sounds of the instruments. Their big songs, and my favorites, are Midnight City and Reunion. The latter is my favorite, but really, their whole album is worth a listen.

The Killers, from Las Vegas, NV - This was my favorite band a few years ago, and it was amazing to see them live. They were the headliners of the night, and their show was great, with a big video screen and a light show to rival M83's. If you know anything about popular music in the last 5-10 years, you've heard one of their songs, like Mr. Brightside. They played quite a few favorites from their old albums, which definitely pleased the crowd. I don't know if I like their newest album all that much, but the singles from it are Runaways and Miss Atomic Bomb. It's good music, just not a style that I'm in love with these days. Wikipedia describes them as "heartland rock" which sounds about right, especially about their newest album. But boy, do they know how to put on a hell of a show.

Seeing a big show like this by myself allowed me to really be absorbed in the music, and not wonder about whether the people I'm with are enjoying the show as much or as little as I am... I'd highly recommend doing it someday, if you never have. Hopefully I've got you hooked on a few new songs.