Saturday, November 14, 2009

coffee and soup

I have never had such dry hands before in my life.

Don't get me wrong; it could be a lot worse. This is nowhere near as bad as either of the times eczema flared up on my hands. That was painful; this is just kinda weird. Before starting this job, I have never never had dry skin on my fingertips before. Unless calluses from playing guitar count. But that still feels different.

Excuse me while I go get lots and lots of lotion.

There, that's a start. I'll probably feel the need to apply more in about two minutes, but for now my hands feel much better. In other news, I love my job. :) It's going quite well, and I am slowly gaining a sense of stability that has been lacking in my life for about the past year.

My mother will be arriving in just a few hours, and instead of cleaning when I got home, I started cooking soup and making a bigger mess. And now that the soup is happily simmering, I am updating my blog instead of cleaning. Not that things are terribly messy around here, but a girl does like to be able to show her mother a neat home when she's living alone for the first time in her life.

Oh yeah, I'm also still looking for a new roommate. I'm growing unfortunately fond of having this place to myself, and I need to put a stop to that because I can't afford to keep it all to myself.

Well, I should probably straighten up at least a little bit before picking my mother up from the airport. A very happy mid-November to you all. :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

finally, some good news

Lately I have been enjoying the rare luxury of a few relatively stress-free days. The primary reason for this, without a doubt, is the fact that I am now officially employed by Starbucks! :) The number of areas in which my life has already improved, before I've even started the actual training, is ridiculous. Right now I'm staying up late to make "yay I work for sane people" cookies, following Andrew's famous chocolate chip recipe. It's safe to say I'm feeling pretty good.

Earlier today I was digging through my drawers looking for something to wear, and I suddenly remembered that I don't need to worry about saving nice enough things for fudge-selling events anymore. That realization was pleasing in a small, insignificant sort of way, especially compared to the other things I no longer have to worry about. For example, even though I wasn't on the work schedule for the past couple days, I don't have to worry about whether that means my boss doesn't like me anymore and doesn't intend to schedule me ever again. I don't have to worry that I won't be told if they decide I'm not wanted anymore. I will no longer show up when I'm asked to, only to find that no one is there and the door is locked, and wait an hour and a half only to finally be told to just go home. I will receive a schedule on a weekly basis, rather than being told the night before I'm supposed to work. I'm fairly certain that if I call my manager with a question about work, he'll return my call. I will no longer be paid as a contractor so that my bosses can practice some creative tax evasion. There is no need to worry about being fired for lodging a valid complaint. And best of all, I no longer have to work for people who tell me to my face how much they appreciate everything I do, and then tell malicious lies about me behind my back. So, all in all, I'd say this is a pretty good week.

After the job I finally get to quit, anything would seem fantastic, but I'd be pretty excited about working at Starbucks under any circumstances. I was so disappointed last winter when they went into a hiring freeze just as I applied to a couple dozen locations. I think I'm going to like being a barista very much, and Starbucks is a company I feel like I can be proud to be part of. My first real training shift is on Monday morning, and I am so incredibly excited. :)

On another note, it's almost time for another round of NaNoWriMo. Can I write 50,000 words in a month while also learning my way around a new job? We shall see...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

books books books

I am exhausted - but a happy exhausted, because the first couple boxes of my books arrived!

:) :) :) :)

It's going to take quite awhile to get my entire collection over here from Jersey. Books, in case you were unaware, are heavy. And I own lots of them. My mother asked me which of my books she should send to me first, since it just isn't possible to send them all at once. I felt like she was asking me to pick my favorite children or something. I love my books, and I've missed them all! Even when I'm not reading them, it's just a comforting feeling to be surrounded by them.

In the end, I chose the Guilty Pleasures and the Crying Books. You know Guilty Pleasure books - they're the ones that aren't really all that great, but you just love them anyway even if you don't know one single other person who does. And yes, I do also have specific Crying Books. They're the ones with scenes that are sure to get me tearing up when I need a safe emotional outlet. I feel it's important to have stuff like that lying around so that my inevitable emotional buildup doesn't end up spilling out into the lives of everyone around me. You have to be careful with Crying Books, though - if you use the same ones too often, you get desensitized.

Well, then. Being exhausted as I am, I believe I will go and rest, and possibly read a bit about Herald-Mage Vanyel. (That one would be a Guilty Pleasure.) :)

Friday, July 31, 2009

videos and ideas

I've hit the "new post" button several times in the past couple weeks, but I always end up canceling because I'm not sure what to blog about. I'm still not sure, but I'm a little fed up with neglecting the poor blog. So, just for kicks, here's a video for your enjoyment. Don't forget to pause the music first.

I hope that works. I've never tried to embed a video on my blog before. Hey, who among you would read urban fantasy set at Rutgers? I've been bouncing random silly ideas around my brain, and so far that's the one with the most promise. (As in, it sounds like it would be the most fun for me at the moment.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

it is alive

Hi everyone. My life is crazy. Today's triumphs consist of the acquisition of internet and the assembly of a kitchen table. Slowly, I am building a home. :)

Anyway, now that I have internet maybe I'll find some time to post more frequently and relevantly. I'm still going to be incredibly busy for awhile, but I no longer have to schedule a few hours out of my day to make it worth taking my laptop someplace where I can find wifi.

All this moving related stuff has really been quite stressful, to tell you the truth. I think (or hope) that I am nearing the end of the major tasks, and then my new roommate and I will be able to really settle into our new home. (I'm sitting in the kitchen right now, and it's a disaster area with stuff half-unpacked. But there's a table in it now!)

So, I exist, I have internet, and I even sort of have a home. What I don't have is any clue what you guys would like to read about on here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"People were always upset to hear someone like Alan casually saying things like 'easier prey.' "

It's unusual for me to have things I want to post on this blog and then not get around to it for awhile. More often when I don't post it's just because I can't think of anything to say. But I've been meaning to follow up on my post about The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, since now I've actually read it and I did say I would tell you how it was.

It did not disappoint, not even a little bit. It was such a fun read, clever and witty while being dark and kinda scary with a main character who was violently angry more often than anything else. As I understand it, one of the ideas Sarah had while writing this book was to actually get inside the head of that dangerous, mysteriously aloof, and devastatingly handsome character you see so often in fantasy novels. Well, she did that, and she did an excellent job of it. It was really interesting to sympathize with Nick while actually empathizing more with all the people around him, whom he just couldn't understand.

She also did a really good job of slowly tearing Nick's world apart. I saw some of the plot twists coming, but their delivery was perfect. Especially the big reveal at the end. That one I sort of half-guessed, but the way it came out - the last line of that chapter - it really was stunning. And it was bold, too. I was very impressed.

In short, The Demon's Lexicon wins. That title, by the way, is so much more clever than I realized at first. I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel.

Is it next June yet?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

more upcoming publications! (or just one)

Do any of you know people who shy away from fantasy because of all those multi-volume epics that are just so freaking long? Are you perhaps one of those people? I have to admit that I personally love multi-volume epics, in spite of the wait between installments – if they’re written well. But they do get overwhelming sometimes, and it’s refreshing to come across a good standalone fantasy novel.

Warbreaker is the novel Brandon Sanderson was finishing the last few edits on when he was first contacted about finishing The Wheel of Time, and we are now finally approaching its scheduled release date. It won't come out until next week – but since Brandon Sanderson posted this book on his website as he was writing and revising it, I’ve already read it. So I can actually give you an informed recommendation! Aren’t you pleased?

The last version of Warbreaker available online lacks the final copyedit, but it’s complete enough for me to be able to say that Brandon Sanderson has definitely improved since the start of his published career. I’ve enjoyed every single book of his I’ve read (umm… that would be all of them), but you can really see the progress he’s made.

Let me just take a moment to comment on how pompous I feel talking like that, especially considering how far I have to go with my own writing, and the fact that I have yet to figure out how to piece together an entire book. But I’m trying to be as specific as I can about why I think Warbreaker is such an excellent book. After all, the whole point of recommending it is to get you to read it. :)

Anyway, much as I love Brandon Sanderson’s other books, there are some issues with them that I think Warbreaker improves on. The first thing I noticed about Elantris was that the writing was a little rough (understandable, since that was his first published novel). Eventually I got so caught up in the story that I stopped noticing the rough spots, but they were still there. Also, out of the three point of view characters, only one went through any kind of significant development.

Mistborn was better in terms of both writing and character development – and many other areas, too. Still, there were parts that felt a little awkwardly cobbled together. I think it still worked, and there were so many wonderful plot twists… it’s a great trilogy.

Now, Warbreaker… this is a book that brings all of its separate elements together into an amazing whole. There are four viewpoint characters in four different situations, each with their own problems and goals.

Siri is a princess of Idris, sent to marry the immortal and terrifyingly powerful God King of Hallandren. It’s a last-minute change to an arrangement that has been in place for years: Siri’s eldest sister, Vivenna, is the one who has prepared her whole life for this marriage.

Vivenna, feeling bereft of purpose and place, takes the first improper action of her life when she decides to go after Siri to Hallandren and save her little sister from the fate that should have been hers.

Lightsong is one of the Returned – immortals worshipped as deities in Hallandren. The problem is, he doesn’t believe in his own religion.

And then there’s Vasher. Vasher’s a loner. He doesn’t share his goals with anyone, let alone his plans. And he carries around this very strange, very scary sword.

I kind of love the exchanges between Vasher and this sentient weapon. They tend to go something like this:

NIGHTBLOOD: Let’s destroy evil!
VASHER: You don’t know what evil is.
NIGHTBLOOD: What about those guys over there? They look pretty evil to me.
VASHER: Shut up or I’ll put you back in the bag.
NIGHTBLOOD: No! I need fresh air! And sunshine!
VASHER: You are a sword.

The pieces of the story come together perfectly, and the whole they create is all the more impressive for having come at it from four different angles. The character development that was lacking in Elantris is very much present here, in all of the main characters. In fact, I think this book contains my favorite Brandon Sanderson character ever. The world is as full of depth as you would want in a longer epic. And Brandon Sanderson’s trademark of creating extraordinary, innovative magic in each of his books continues in this one.

Warbreaker is hitting bookstores on Tuesday, June 9, and I cannot wait to bring a copy home with me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Obviously this is the place to come if you want to get murdered by lunatics."

I am incredibly tired and need to go to sleep almost immediately, but I have something very important to tell you all.

It is June.

That means that tomorrow (ummm... today, rather) The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan will finally be available at bookstores near everyone. I am a firm believer in supporting authors I particularly like, and while I haven't read any books by Sarah Rees Brennan in the past (that would be kind of difficult since this is actually her first published novel), I do read her LiveJournal constantly because on the rare occasions when it doesn't make me laugh out loud, it at least makes me smile a whole bunch. My eternal thanks to Poonam for directing me there however long ago that was. :)

Anyway. I'm too tired to say much more about the book at the moment, but I think I'll go buy it tomorrow. I've got time; I'm off work. I'll let you know how it turns out, shall I? I mean... I won't tell you how the book turns out; I'll just tell you how it is.

Like I said, tired.

I have high hopes for The Demon's Lexicon. I think it's going to be a very enjoyable read.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

come and sing that song for me

Wow. This blog has been experiencing some serious inactivity. Sometimes I don't know what to write about; other times I get busy; other times the only issues in my life are not ones suitable to post about publicly. But there must be something to talk about, right? If nothing else I can't let the entire month of May go by without a single post.

So, I've been working for about a month now, which is very good because I find that paychecks are a necessary part of life. I should get my second one very soon! *beams with pride*

I figured that working for the fudge shop would be very different from my last job, and it is. For one thing, there is more fudge involved, and less books and seminars. That makes the tiny similarities stand out oddly in my mind. One day early in the month I was answering the phone a few times and thinking how the only difference in my words was the company name. Immediately I began to fear that I would slip up next time and say the wrong name, just because I thought it. Thankfully this has not happened yet.

Those of you sitting within reach of wood, would you care to hit it for me a couple times? Thanks awfully. :)

Something else happened in my first week of work that made me think of my last job.

COWORKER: Let's have some music in here. Ruthann, do you want to put on your iPod?
RUTHANN: ...Wow. Serious deja vu. Sure thing, what would you like to listen to?
COWORKER: Oh, I don't know. Something nice. You decide.
RUTHANN: And again with the deja vu!

It seems that certain parts of my life will never change. Or at least they haven't yet.

Also, sometime in the next month I will finally be moving into a place of my own, with a roommate arriving in the beginning of July. :) :) I'll have to send everyone new address information once I'm actually there. I cannot wait for boxes of my lovely books to arrive in Portland! I have missed them so! I must prepare shelves for them. And while I'm at it, maybe I should find a bed, and some other furniture. I hear those are useful.

I'm going to have a home!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

my four walls transformed

A few things:

First, Holly Black rocks my socks. I didn't think I was a very big fan of urban fantasy until I read Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, all modern treatments of Faerie set in the wonderfully familiar tri-state area. (I actually read Ironside first, but the above order is the correct one.) They are dark, and real, and rough, and they're about Jersey teens getting mixed up with dangerous faeries. (Well, "dangerous" pretty much describes all faeries, in fact.) You definitely don't have to have Jersey roots to enjoy them (I first heard of them on the blog of an Irish writer who adored them), but I did like that extra sense of familiarity. Like in Valiant - the main character, Val, pulled out NJ Transit tickets she'd been carrying around for weeks, and I remembered that I actually still have a ticket between New Brunswick and Hamilton in my wallet.

Anyway, loved these books. They're full of compelling characters who do so many things wrong but you're rooting for them anyway. Valiant did an especially good job of combining the dangers of living on the streets in New York with the dangers of dealing with the realm of Faerie. You've got dysfunctional families, deception, deals with faerie courts, serious drug addiction, and (dare I say it?) a hot troll, all right there in the same book. I finished it last night, and the ending was amazing.

Second, John Brown has interesting things to say about writing groups and reader feedback in general. I've never read any of his work, but I follow his blog because it frequently contains helpful insights about writing. This particular post, in case you don't feel like following the link, talks about how important it is to get feedback based on effect, not a catalog of problems or suggested fixes. He also makes a point about how it can be counterproductive to give the same group of people multiple revisions of things they've already read, because (and I'm paraphrasing here) with each reading they'll become more desensitized to the effect of the work and just notice the mechanics more and more. This makes me question the wisdom of allowing my group of alpha readers to include pretty much everyone who expresses serious interest in reading drafts of my story. But I suppose there are other things I should worry about before that detail - like actually finishing the story.

Third, you guys all lose at the comments game. (Although some of you gave me comments personally and I appreciate that.) And there was so much to argue about in that post... *sigh*. The debates we could have had on the validity of the examples, or the definitions of love and evil... and of everyone who read that post or heard me talk about it, only my mother bothered to try calling me out on the moral problems with portraying love and evil as compatible, as I suggested I might do someday. Of course, I still intend to do it. And I will infer from general comment silence that no one has any examples for me of love and evil coexisting. Right? I mean, you guys wouldn't hold those back if you had them, would you?

Monday, April 20, 2009

"when I say I love you..."

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the portrayal of love and evil in fiction, both written and on the screen. The relationship between the two interests me quite a bit, because they always seem to be in direct opposition to one another. That may seem like a statement of the obvious, but I really do mean directly in opposition – it’s like they’re combatants in their own personal duel. If evil has a mortal enemy, that enemy is love.

Love is constantly found at the root of evil’s destruction. Consider examples from popular culture. Darth Vader turns against the Emperor out of love for his son, and thus is redeemed at the last from the evil within him. Love is what sheltered Harry Potter from Voldemort for years – and love is what causes so many of Voldemort’s followers to turn against him in the end. Snape, Narcissa Malfoy, Regulus Black… each of them loved someone enough to defy their master. And Voldemort himself is the only character in the series who never loved at all, which could be why he didn’t realize that he was pushing his minions past a dangerous line. But that would be a different topic. Back to the point!

Love and evil mix about as well as oil and water, or orange juice and toothpaste. Or a new germ introduced to an indigenous culture. (Bonus points in the comments: what else mixes like love and evil?) That’s why I am fascinated every time I see a villain who loves someone. Love is always a great source of story conflict; it complicates matters even for the very best couples. For villains who love, though, the conflict comes to their very nature. And because that conflict is so ubiquitous, I would really like to see the exception to the rule: a truly evil villain capable of true love, in a scenario where neither love nor evil is diminished by the other. Does such a character exist? Or are love and evil always shown to be mutually exclusive?

I love to see evil couples in a story. I always want them to last. I don’t want them to win, but I want them to stay true to their love for one another, just so that someone will prove that it’s possible. This hooks me into their relationship right off the bat. I immediately evaluate the couple to see if I think their love is real, or if it's simply a relationship of convenience. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell the difference. I’m still highly amused when I remember the episode of Gargoyles where Xanatos proposes to Fox:

“We’re genetically compatible, highly intelligent, and have the same goals. It makes perfect sense to get married,” says Xanatos, like he’s making a business proposition. In part, he really is. “True,” Fox says, “but what about… love?” And Xanatos says, “I think we love each other, as much as two people such as ourselves are capable of that emotion.”

Beyond the initial reaction (who on earth proposes like that??) I love this scene because of the issue they’re really getting at. Xanatos is admitting that as villains whose goals, motives, and methods are all quite dark, love is not traditionally supposed to be in the picture for them. Like many classic villains – and many classic heroes – Xanatos considers love a weakness. Nevertheless, he and Fox team up in pursuit of the same thing most evil couples are after: an eternal lifetime to spend together, preferably in a position of power. Since they figure that power will naturally follow on the heels of immortality, though, finding a long-term escape from death is the first priority.

That's the goal of the monster in The Mummy, and what provides the foundation for the story. Imhotep’s love for Anck-su-namun is the reason he was killed in the first place, and when he is raised the first thing he does (apart from consuming people to gain strength) is to work on resurrecting her. In the second movie he succeeds in that goal, and the two proceed in their attempt to secure their future together by gaining the power of the Scorpion King.

Spike and Drusilla of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are already immortal, but they do prioritize taking care of each other in turns. Their love, obvious from their first appearance, is all the more intriguing because as vampires they don’t have souls. And yet, in spite of that fundamental lack which one might think guarantees the absence of love, our first introduction to Spike shows us how important taking care of Drusilla is to him. You can see the affection in his expression when he looks at her. As Buffy’s enemy and the leader of the other vampires, he is vicious and ruthless, but he is tender with Drusilla. His primary goal is to protect her and make her strong again so they can rule together. When she does regain her strength and he is injured, she starts taking care of him.

Unfortunately, it all starts to fall apart after that. Drusilla’s attention begins to stray. She ignores Spike in favor of the stronger Angel. Still, Spike’s every thought is for Drusilla. He’s desperate enough to make a deal with his enemy to bring Angel down and get Drusilla away safely. But his best efforts are still not enough, and in the end he can’t hang onto her. She loses interest, is unfaithful, and finally just leaves him.

For villains who love each other, a failed relationship is always portrayed as an inevitability. They’re unfaithful, or double-cross each other, or leave each other to die. Their love is never true enough, because their evil nature doesn’t allow for it. I have yet to see a pair of evil characters whose love is not in some way inferior to the love of the heroes. In the end, they prove to value themselves more than the one they love.

That’s what happened to Imhotep and Anck-su-namun. When their moment of truth arrives, Imhotep selfishly asks Anck-su-namun to risk her life to save him, and instead she abandons him to save herself. This is shown in direct contrast to the heroic couple of the story, Rick and Evy. Rick tells Evy to run, and instead she comes back for him. The funny thing is, I doubt anyone would have blamed Evy for wanting to live. Some might even say it was foolish for her to go back. After all, if she and Rick had both died, their son would have been left an orphan. The fact that she did go back, though, makes Anck-su-namun’s self-preservation seem all the more cowardly.

Honestly, that scene cheapened the whole story for me. Every single action those two had taken previously in the story was for each other. They had already died for each other, and we were never given any reason to suspect they wouldn’t do it again. And yet, in the end, after all they went through together and sacrificed for each other, their love was still not strong enough.

In contrast, Xanatos and Fox pull through together the first time their love is put to the test. In several instances where it would be easier or safer for one to let the other die, or even for one to kill the other, they choose the harder path to keep each other safe. Despite the way they try to dismiss love as the least significant factor in their relationship, they repeatedly demonstrate that they care very deeply for each other.

Here also, though, the show hints at how love could ultimately provide a path out of evil. Our hero, Goliath, chooses to help Xanatos save Fox because he sees hope in the possibility that people like them are even capable of love. While it might not be clear at the time even to Golaith, what he’s really doing is making an investment: if he saves Fox, thus giving Xanatos someone to love, perhaps Xanatos can one day be saved from himself.

It becomes much more difficult for evil characters to reconcile their love with their nature when the people they love aren’t evil. They may try to hang on to both sides at once for awhile, but eventually they come to realize that they will have to choose between evil and love. Or, alternatively, they might believe that the one they love should forsake goodness.

Lanfear of The Wheel of Time is possibly the most frightening example of the latter, for several reasons: her “love” is more like a stalker’s obsession; the guy she’s obsessed with is the reincarnation of her former lover, and only gradually remembers his previous life; he doesn’t love her; and, given the chance, it would be within her power to force him to turn to evil whether he chooses to or not.

Others are less scary, but still seductive. In Dragonlance there’s Kitiara, who has a history with Tanis and tries to persuade him to join her in serving the evil goddess Takhisis. This is a tempting choice for Tanis, because his love for Kitiara is also real. I could probably write another essay altogether on Tanis’s inner conflict throughout the books, and how Kitiara represents one half of that conflict… it’s an involved subject that I won’t go into here. When Tanis does make his choice, though, Kit has to choose too: does she let him go for the sake of the love they once shared, along with the woman he has chosen over her, or does she kill them both in the service of her Queen?

Kit lets them go, and for that reason she’s probably the most ambiguous of all my examples. It’s pretty clear that she’s chosen evil, but does she also still love Tanis? Lord Soth thinks that she does, in spite of her claim that she only let them go because they don’t matter anymore. She also tells Soth, somewhat vindictively, that Tanis and Laurana will be forever in her debt, and that her memory will be a slow poison to their love.

It’s hard for me to believe that Kitiara is completely unaffected by any lingering feelings for Tanis, but if she is, those feelings are at odds with the evil she serves. Her mercy to Tanis was in defiance of her mistress. Love and evil could never both be at full strength in Kitiara.

Lanfear has a choice to make too, when Rand irrevocably rejects her. The difference here is that we’re already pretty sure what Lanfear is going to choose. With Kitiara there was a chance that some affection might still linger; with Lanfear, it’s uncertain whether she ever felt affection at all. What she feels for Rand is possession, and Lews Therin’s memories indicate that he believes she only ever used him to further her own ambition. So it doesn’t really come as a surprise when she looks coldly at Rand and says, “If you are not mine, then you are dead.” Love and evil never had a chance to coexist in Lanfear, because the love was never really there.

Sometimes it's not romance, but parental love that proves to be the most powerful, as in the complicated case of Demona, another Gargoyles character. Like Kitiara, she was once in love with a hero. When Demona fails to persuade Goliath to join her, however, she has no trouble casting off her love as though it never existed. She wouldn’t hesitate to kill Goliath – in fact, she tries to kill him many times. She makes no concessions to their former love, and seems incapable of any affection at all in the face of her hatred for humankind. Then, she discovers that she has a daughter.

By this point in the show, it’s a pretty well-established fact that Demona is not to be trusted under any circumstances. True to character, she repeatedly manipulates and lies to her daughter in order to achieve her goals, and in doing so loses her trust and any chance of developing a real bond. And yet, when there is real danger, Demona steps in to save Angela. She will not allow anyone to harm her daughter, and she won’t cross the line herself and carry on with a scheme that would harm her.

Children providing redemption for their parents is another frequent theme in the struggle between love and evil (again, I point to Vader). Demona, however, rejects that redemption. It’s clear that she feels something for Angela, whether it's affection or just protectiveness. Whatever she feels, though, it is not enough to stop her from searching for a way to destroy humanity. And since that goal is more important to her than anything else, the possibility of a loving relationship with her daughter disappears. Once again love and evil battled it out, and evil won this round, even if the love exists.

Xanatos and Fox aren’t lost, though, and it’s their son Alexander who causes the real change in them. Shortly after Alexander's birth Goliath and the other gargoyles help Xanatos and Fox to keep their son when others want to take him away – acting, perhaps, on the same impulse that prompted Goliath to help Xanatos before. He certainly had no reason to believe that his help would be appreciated or repaid, but in the end it was. Xanatos provides shelter to the gargoyles just when they need it, and an uneasy alliance is formed that eventually grows into friendship.

“Goliath saved the world,” Xanatos says to another character. “More importantly, he saved my son.” (And once again Xanatos's ego pulls through to give me one of my favorite lines ever.) Xanatos may not be a paragon of virtue, but you can’t fault his family values, and he does cease with the diabolical schemes that Goliath constantly had to stop in the past. Xanatos and Fox remain true to each other and their son through the entire show, perhaps indicating that villains can feel true love, too. Still, even this happy family can’t make the case for love and evil existing in harmony, since by the end they have effectively switched sides.

Such is also the eventual fate of Spike when he falls in love with Buffy. From that point on, his character arc is all about the struggle between love and evil. He is a vampire who loves a vampire slayer. He has no soul, craves blood, and concocts evil schemes, but he also can’t stand to see Buffy in pain, watches her back when she needs it (even when that means killing other vampires), and in some ways understands her even better than her friends do.

Joss Whedon seems to like that kind of character conflict, because it’s also the central theme in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. The story plays with our conception of good and evil by giving us a sweet villain for the protagonist and a self-absorbed jerk of a hero for the antagonist. Then we watch Dr. Horrible’s character transform through the show’s forty minutes.

For Dr. Horrible, villainy is a way to change the world. He wants to join the Evil League of Evil and win the prestige he needs to make a difference. However, there are certain lines he is uncomfortable about crossing. The influence of Penny, whom he has secretly loved for a very long time, just might be the only thing that could keep him from crossing those lines. The entire story builds up to demonstrate that there is no room inside of Dr. Horrible for both his evil ambitions and his love for Penny. And I’m not going to say any more than that, because seriously people, if you haven’t watched this yet, go look it up on Youtube or something. You can spare forty minutes to watch something this spectacular.

Spike’s story, on the other hand, takes a few seasons to unfold – and just to warn you, I’m about to give a spoiler for my absolute favorite plot twist in the entire show. The essential conflict is the same for Spike as for Dr. Horrible: either love or evil must win out. For Spike, it’s even more obvious that this is inevitable. Penny is really more of a bystander in Dr. Horrible’s story (albeit an important one), but Buffy is Spike’s natural enemy. By definition, he’s a demon, and her life’s purpose is to slay demons. Something has to give.

For Spike, perhaps more so than any of the previous examples, matters come to a head with a very deliberate choice between evil and love. Spike comes to the conclusion that loving Buffy is more important to him than anything else – and that is a realization that requires certain sacrifices.

So he travels across the world and takes on a torturous series of trials in order to win his soul back.

And here’s the thing: he doesn’t do it because he expects to return and claim Buffy’s love at last. He’s not expecting a magical happy ending. He does it because Buffy deserves to be loved by a man who has a soul, not a man whose very nature is evil. (I could write yet another essay, by the way, entitled Why Spike is a Better Man than Angel, but now is just not the time.) This evil, soulless character had enough capacity for true love to prompt him to do whatever it took to turn his whole nature upside down. To be perfectly frank, in this particular case love kicked evil’s ass.

So, why have I gone on at such excessive length about all these characters? Well, because I love them, and I love their stories, and because I get to talk about what I love on my blog. :) But also because as much as I love them, there is still an empty place in my heart just waiting to be filled by that perfect evil couple: the two villains who are totally committed to each other and to their nefarious schemes. Please tell me – has anyone found them yet? Or am I going to have to write them myself?

not the one you've been waiting for

I've had a request for a post about my trip to the coast this weekend. Well, nice as that trip was, it can't really be described as eventful. I'm afraid there just isn't much to tell. I'll try for something, though.

The worst disadvantage of my vampiric heritage struck again on Saturday: my face has been mildly toasted. It's a really good thing the vampires are so far back in my ancestry, or things would be so much worse. Also, I apparently have very weak ankles. It seems that an extra long walk on wet sand in bare feet can stress my ankle to the point where I end up limping for the next two days. This just proves once again that I don't get nearly enough exercise.

Also, as the afternoon wore on, someone suggested in jest that I write a beach haiku... so I did. Keep in mind that I was very cold at the time.

Beach Haiku

Feet buried in cold sand,
I watch the bright waves roll in.
Let's go inside now.

Really, we had a wonderful time. It was very relaxing, and the Oregon coast is just beautiful. A few of us walked from the campsite to the beach after dark on Saturday night, and I couldn't believe how many stars I could see. I was really tempted to update Twitter from my phone with a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I decided not to, mostly because I've never actually seen or read it. I've just heard the line often enough to be familiar with it.

Anyway, that was the coast!

Monday, April 13, 2009

not about what is, but what is not

I started off my day in the usual way: by walking into semi-random stores and asking the people inside for a job. Today was a little different from the usual experience, though.

STORE EMPLOYEE: How may I help you?
RUTHANN: I was just wondering if you are hiring?
STORE EMPLOYEE: Yes! Would you like an application?
RUTHANN: ...I am so not used to hearing "yes" to that question.

That scenario was repeated a few times throughout the morning, which, needless to say, was very encouraging. My characters really like it when I can afford food and rent. When I get too distracted their lives stop moving forward, and that makes them unhappy. They're needy like that.

Unfortunately, they're not always very giving in return.

RUTHANN: *writes happily* This is going well!
CHARACTERS: *dig in heels* We are not happy.
RUTHANN: What? But it was going so well!
CHARACTERS: This is not what happens. We don't do that.
RUTHANN: You don't? Well, what do you do?
CHARACTERS: Figure it out!
RUTHANN: The moment you guys cut your puppet strings, I knew this could not end well.

They know better than me, obviously. But they have sharing issues. Clearly I did not raise them well enough.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Name of the Wind

I was a little afraid to try writing this post, because I’m not sure I can adequately explain just how amazing this book is. But I was just reading something online about The Name of the Wind, and suddenly found myself almost tearing up, and not just because I’m a bit overemotional these days. It was because I wish I could write as well and as beautifully as Patrick Rothfuss – which, by the way, is somewhat similar to wishing I could write poetry like T.S. Eliot. (I wish that too, in fact.) That was when I realized I have to at least try to describe this book, because it deserves to be mentioned, especially to people who might then go read it.

Part of the problem is that it defies categorization. How do you tell people about a book that isn’t quite like other books? Yes, it’s a fantasy. One could also call it epic. But it doesn’t conform to the traditional structures one usually finds these days, in fantasy or other literature.

To quote the author: “As far as I can tell, my story is part autobiography, part hero's journey, part epic fantasy, part travelogue, part faerie tale, part coming of age story, part romance, part mystery, part metafictional-nested-story-frame-tale-something-or-other.”

The Name of the Wind is all of those things, but since it is all of them, it is also none of them. How do you predict what’s going to happen when all of those ingredients are thrown together into the same story? Sure, in some ways they can line up, but in many more ways they force each other in directions they wouldn’t ordinarily go. This is part of what makes the story so hard to describe, and also part of what makes it so wonderful. We like to read the traditional story forms, but we also like it when they do things we don’t expect.

Usually, then, when I mention The Name of the Wind and someone asks me what it’s about, I fall back on choosing one of the many things that it is, because that’s faster and less confusing. What I tell people most often, though, is that The Name of the Wind is beautiful.

There just isn’t a better word for it. The story is gripping and fantastic, but the language leaves me awestruck.

I’ve been in awe of books before, for many different reasons. Robert Jordan’s world-building capabilities staggered me. With Melanie Rawn, it’s the characters. (She does characterization so well that once she made me cry for two characters who died just a couple pages after she introduced them.) Usually, though, it takes the highest quality poetry to make me feel the way this book’s prose did.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, that’s no good. If I want poetry I’ll go read poetry. I don’t need it in a novel.” Let me assure you: in this case, you really do. This isn’t a matter of wordy descriptions that detract from the story flow. I’ve read books in which the narrative goes off on so many descriptive tangents that by the time it returns you to the conversation the characters were having, you’ve forgotten that they were talking, let alone what they were talking about. That’s not what Patrick Rothfuss does. These are well-chosen words that never fail to make the story more powerful than it already was.

Beautiful language would not be nearly so impressive if it didn’t go with an amazing story. I’m not going to try to tell you about it here. The blurbs in the link above don’t do it justice. It’s one of those books that you really just need to read for yourself.

Go. Read. I recommend The Name of the Wind with absolutely no reservations.

UPDATE: Locus reviews books better than I do, if you'd like to get some sense of what it's actually about.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

this cake is great

Let me paraphrase a recent conversation with my sister.

RUTHANN: …and it wasn’t until I was working on that rough draft that I realized this character is kind of an arrogant jerk.
RUTHANN: I was so surprised when he and his sister started fighting in every other scene! I said, “I thought you guys got along really well!” And they said, “Well yeah, usually we do, but he’s being such a jerk right now!”
BECCA: ...What?
RUTHANN: What do you mean, what?
BECCA: You are talking like your characters… like they’re… you just told me about a conversation in which they talked back!
RUTHANN: Well, yeah.
BECCA: …Well, I guess you wouldn’t actually be part of the family if you were normal.
RUTHANN: What did I say?

I guess I knew that writers think a little differently than others. What I didn’t realize is that the others aren’t as aware of it as the writers are. I just assumed that my sister would take it in stride that I treat my characters like they’re actual people, even though she has never experienced anything like that herself. Somehow, even after all this time being in the same family as a storyteller, she never caught onto the fact that this is how writers and their stories interact. I don’t know how that happened. I thought I talked like that often enough (usually with much crazier scenarios than the conversation described above) that people in my family would be used to it by now. But maybe I’ve only talked that way with other writers. Is this a secret we keep among ourselves? Should I just not bother trying to talk about it with others?

I’ve talked with enough other writers to know that the way my characters can sometimes grab the steering wheel away from me in the middle of a story, flashing me completely unrepentant grins as they push me aside, is not at all unique. I’ve even heard people suggest that if this doesn’t happen, the story is too flat. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that some of the very best story elements come from characters doing things their “creator” never saw coming. My effort to communicate this to my sister was something less than sophisticated.

RUTHANN: I’m not the only one!
BECCA: Did the voices in your head tell you that?

Maybe I’m breaking some kind of writers’ taboo by talking about this where people who don’t tell stories can see. Nevertheless, I am here to reveal the truth about stories. You see, people who only read stories see them as the product of the writer, constructed and controlled by them. Writers, on the other hand, know that stories are alive.

I don’t mean something like Dr. Frankenstein’s, “It is alive!!” I’m talking more like Genesis, when God breathes life into his creation. That’s what writers do with their stories (albeit on a much smaller scale). And like Adam, the stories take on their own life, complete with free will. Have you ever heard a writer talking about the need to keep a story outline flexible? They don’t mean, “in case I come up with something better later.” They mean, “because I have to be ready for the characters to take it in a different direction.” Because that is what characters do. It’s not the exception; it’s the norm. Good thing, too; we can only be so clever on our own power, you know. It's not just good to get that help. It's necessary.

Now you may either express your dismay at my crumbling sanity or reaffirm my belief that all of that is actually true.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

somebody take us away

I just got off the phone with my mother after an interesting conversation. She was looking for some good books to give to my youngest cousins, ages ten and twelve. The twelve-year-old in particular is the same kind of reader I was at his age - which is to say, he reads a ton, gets easily absorbed in books to the exclusion of most other activities, and loves fantasy.

Did I say the same kind of reader I was at his age? I probably meant the same kind of reader I have always been and still am to this day.

Researching YA books with my mother brought to my attention once again something that I've been noticing more and more recently: YA fantasy is really big right now. I hear it over and over again, and the evidence is right there in libraries and bookstores. Young people are reading a lot of fantasy. I don't know enough about reading trends or marketing to tell you why that might be, but it does seem logical to conclude that lots of young people developing a taste for fantasy now will lead to lots of slightly older people looking for more fantasy in another few years. Of course, to really keep them hooked, the books they're reading right now - and the books they find when they go looking for more - need to be good quality.

I'm sure a great deal of the YA fantasy out there is good quality. I'm also sure that a lot of it isn't. I've read just enough YA recently that I was able to give my mom some good recommendations for my cousins, but it made me wonder what else is out there. I started thinking about the books that led me into fantasy when I was younger, and the ones I somehow missed. And then of course there's this whole new batch of YA fantasy that I've hardly touched. I wonder which current authors have the unfortunate habit of "writing down" to kids, and which ones challenge them to expand both their vocabulary and their thinking. I wonder which stories are written with enough skill and depth that the kids reading them now will look back at them with fond reminiscence instead of mild embarrassment in ten or twenty years.

Well, I don't have the answers. I haven't read a whole lot of YA lately. I'd like to read more, though - both new material and older books I may have missed when I was younger. So here are my questions for you (and don't think you have to limit this to fantasy): What books did you enjoy when you were growing up that you would still enjoy today? What are the common elements in those books? If there are books you used to read that no longer impress you quite so much, where did they go wrong? Can any of you recommend some good recent fiction geared to a younger audience? What are some areas in which the current YA fiction is falling short?

Yes, that's right. It's an interactive blog post. Get used to it, because there are more on the way. :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

welcome to my secret lair

Wow, I haven't posted in a really long time. Sorry about that. I do want to post here more, and I've been thinking of a few things I could write about, but tonight isn't the time to get into all that. This post isn't much of a comeback, but I wanted an excuse to put this song, Skullcrusher Mountain, on here. :)

Today in an effort to distract myself with hilarity, I began listening to Death by Cliche, a podcast novel by Bob Defendi that I've been meaning to check out for several months. I'm enjoying it quite a bit so far, and I think some of you would, too. A bit of gaming experience goes a long way in appreciating the humor, since the story is about a man who finds himself somehow inside of someone's badly-written RPG. The other members of the party are actually playing at the gaming table with their dice and think he's an NPC (non-player character, for those of you who aren't geeks - that means the Game Master is controlling the character). His presence there is somehow "waking up" the actual NPCs in the game, and the results as each of them begin to consider their motivations and situations in life for the first time are varied and quite funny.

My favorite character so far is the villain - of course. :)

Anyway, Skullcrusher Mountain is the song that plays in the ending credits of each episode, and as soon as I caught the lyrics I couldn't help laughing. I just wanted to share it with others. Some of you will likely find it more funny than others, but I hope you all enjoy it at least a little. :)

I'll try not to be gone so long in the future.

Friday, February 27, 2009

and the key is... there is no key

It's amazing how many times I can come to the same conclusion over and over again, and still feel like it's something new every time. A few times a year I realize that routines and strategies do not work for me. Or, to be a little more accurate, they work for a short period of time, and then they gradually become less and less effective.

Several months ago I decided that sending chapters to a group of alpha readers would keep me moving along at a steady pace, with the bonus of getting feedback that might help me with subsequent chapters. That strategy lasted for two chapters before I abandoned it for NaNoWriMo, thinking that it sounded like a rewarding and productive experience, and then I'd have all sorts of material that would only need revision before I could send it off to the alpha readers. Well, NaNoWriMo was productive and rewarding, but most of what I wrote that month remains unrevised and my alpha readers have seen nothing from me since late October.

Next I decided I needed a more detailed outline, and set to work on that. I got most of the way through it, and then decided that the last remaining questions would not be answered until I wrote my way through them. I began to write parts of the story I had neglected during NaNoWriMo. Very soon, I was stuck again.

Seeing the pattern yet?

During all this time, I thought I needed to finish the story at hand before I could start coming up with some new ideas. I decided to finish a complete draft of the novel and then let it rest while I wrote some short stories. A couple weeks ago, frustrated with the novel, I decided its temporary retirement should start immediately instead, and I started brainstorming ideas for short stories. I came up with an idea I liked, made lots of notes on it, couldn't decide what direction it needed to take, and soon I was writing poetry instead.

This week, I read a book that did lots of things wrong. It gave me lots of concrete examples of what not to do in a fantasy novel, and before I knew it, I was thinking about my novel again. Today I went back to work on it, so far with success.

The moral of the story is: I can't set my writing strategies in stone. It seems like just about every time I say I'm going to put something aside, I get a new idea for it. So I'm not going to work exclusively on the novel, or the short story idea, or my poetry. Writing seems to go much better when I just follow my impulses wherever they're trying to go. At the very least, switching projects is far more productive than sitting at my computer in frustration because I can't figure out the next scene. There's a difference between working at writing and trying to force it when it just isn't ready. I think the trick for me will be figuring out the difference.

Monday, February 16, 2009

from the ashes

Let me tell you something I love about Portland. This evening I discovered that street parking downtown is free on President's Day. I discovered this because when I attempted to pay for my parking, the little kiosk told me I didn't have to. I feel this compares favorably to that time in Princeton when I accidentally parked in a space with a 30 minute meter and only realized that the time had stopped increasing after I had put in an extra, useless dollar's worth of quarters.

But Princeton still has the Bent Spoon going for it. That's not just tough to beat; it's impossible. :)

This evening's excursion downtown was something of a landmark for me: I found my destination and my way back to the Broadway Bridge without consulting the handy little Streetwise Portland I keep stashed in my glove compartment! :) I really am starting to learn my way around! This was very reassuring, since just last week on my way somewhere new I got in the wrong lane of an exit and ended up about half an hour late to my appointment. Fun times. There's one more piece of Portland I learned a little bit more about...

Anyway, this isn't another epic-length post. I don't have any fun new anecdotes to ramble on about. Life continues. The music is coming along; I can play the first two and a half pages of my favorite piece more or less smoothly. My novel is going into temporary retirement while I turn my attention to short stories. I'm putting together a synopsis for one right now. It's still not fully developed, but it involves fire and amnesia. Oh, and a phoenix.

Well, I still have tasks on my list before I'm allowed to sleep. Not that putting off sleep is going to be all that difficult, what with that espresso I had about three hours ago. It'll probably still be awhile before that runs its course. Still, I should be getting back to work. And establishing some rules for myself against evening caffeine consumption. I should be doing that too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

setting change

I made it prettier.

Monday, February 9, 2009

pressing on

On Saturday, I learned several things I would like to share with you:
  1. Elevation takes some getting used to.
  2. My siblings are capable of pushing the bounds of my endurance farther than I previously thought possible.
  3. The halfway point of a snowshoeing trek is not, in fact, the point at which you stop and prepare to turn back. It is earlier than that.
  4. Item 3 should be kept in mind when planning when to eat lunch, especially when the snowshoeing doesn't actually begin until approximately 12:40 pm.
  5. Halting an uncontrolled slide down a snowy slope works differently with snowshoes than with a snowboard.
Perhaps I should elaborate on these lessons?

The story has a preface: I was sick all week. Well, sort of. I was only really sick on Monday, but I didn't really feel healthy again until Friday, partly because I kept trying to run around Portland with Rachel and Jack and eat like a normal person, which my body told me very firmly it was not yet ready for. On Friday it finally told me that it supposed I had let it rest enough, so I felt more or less ready to go snowshoeing with my sisters and their husbands on Saturday. You know, aside from the fact that they're all much more fit than I am...

So, on Saturday morning, equipped with borrowed clothes and rented boots and snowshoes, I set out with the other four on the lengthy drive to Mt. Rainier. Much of the drive was beautifully misty, but by the time we reached our starting point on the mountain we were at an elevation of about 5,400 feet and had left the pretty mist behind. This was a very good thing, because it actually turned out to be an unusually clear day up there, and the view we had of the Cascades was absolutely amazing.

We strapped on our snowshoes and headed in a direction where signs indicated there were trails, but all the snow kind of covered the trails themselves, so we pretty much picked our own path. Or, rather, we let Adam pick our path, because he knew where he was going. I had been a little afraid that the snowshoes would be heavy and clunky like snowboarding boots. Luckily this was not the case. The snowshoes were pretty light and relatively easy to maneuver in, as long as you didn't try to step backward.

We started immediately uphill, and it felt like we'd barely gone anywhere when I was already tired and engaging in a minor battle to keep breathing. Before long I felt... well, not really sick, but like it was an echo of a possibility. Yeah. Not so much used to being way high up on a mountain, and going higher. I had dressed in layers, but the first time we stopped for a second I stripped down to my borrowed t-shirt. It was really sunny, and we felt quite warm for being surrounded by so much snow. Luckily I keep a bottle of sunscreen in the glove compartment of my car, which I remembered at the last minute and we took up the trail with us, so we fragile-skinned redheads remained unburned (though I swear that even with two coats of the stuff on my face I thought I could feel my skin lightly crisping). It was my one contribution to the trip. Well, besides my car.

Thus it was that very shortly into our trek I was already really feeling it, and started to be unsure of my ability to keep up with the others. But you see, when I do things with my siblings, that doesn't really matter. My mind doesn't really admit the existence of options. They were snowshoeing, and I needed to keep up with them, so I was going to keep up with them. I blame Becca for this little quirk in my psyche. You see, she used to make me come with her on walks.

Yes, that's right. Walks.

I somehow don't think that word is conveying the ominous sense I was shooting for. If you'd ever tried to keep up with Becca on a walk before, you'd understand. Walks with Becca are intense. They are very fast and very long. In the beginning, I used to complain when I had trouble keeping up or if I had a stitch in my side. Eventually I learned that this was not effective, as Becca's response was usually, "Suck it up." She told me if I ignored it and just kept up the pace, it would go away. She was right, but sometimes I hated that she was right. Not hated her - just that she was right. Anyway, walks with Becca taught me endurance. So you're snowshoeing with your siblings and your leg muscles are already burning and so are your lungs? Well, suck it up. Keep up the pace; it'll go away.

Thank you so much, Becca.

We pressed onward, and I found that very short rests and sips of water gave back an amazing amount of energy, and also let my breathing slow back to normal. This was a good thing. We went up steep slopes, onward and upward (which phrase abruptly reminds me of Willy Wonka's glass elevator). Being already pretty high up on the mountain, we had awesome views on every side. There was the actual peak of Mt. Rainier above us and looking deceptively close until you saw the dots that were actually people, putting everything into more accurate perspective. And behind us sprawled the Cascades. As we went gradually higher and higher, Mt. St. Helens started to peek up from behind the range, and other mountains came into view.

Then came the Lunch Conversation.

BECCA: Is it time for lunch yet? Who else is hungry?
OTHERS: We don't know.... We could eat here, but we could also climb that really big slope first and then eat.
BECCA: Well, which do you want to do?
EVERYONE: *is indecisive*
RACHEL: If we eat too soon we might be really really hungry by the time we get back down.
RUTHANN: Seems like it would be easier to come down with a full stomach than climb up with one.

Oh, the unwise Ruthann of Saturday afternoon! We trekked onward without eating just yet. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in front with Becca. (See! I could keep up!) We looked up at our destination, a still-distant and very high and steep slope from which we hoped to get a fantastic view.

SLOPE: *looks intimidating*
RUTHANN: That looks farther away than it did earlier.
BECCA: Yeah. It's also steeper than it looks.
SLOPE: *looks frighteningly steep already*
RUTHANN: *no longer thinks she really wants to climb that slope at all* Did I really think it would be a good idea to climb that before eating lunch?
BECCA: Why yes. Yes you did.

I don't have any of the pictures from Saturday, but even if I did, they would not give an accurate impression of just how steep that slope was. A couple times my snowshoes actually slipped, but not far enough to even make me stumble (the real slipping came later). I started counting out a hundred paces between breaks for breathing and water. It's good to have small goals. :)

Eventually we did make it to the top, and the view was totally worth it. The day was so clear that we could even see Mt. Hood in the distance. We celebrated by finally breaking out the homemade PBJ sandwiches - homemade bread, homemade jam, and... well, not homemade peanut butter, but the tasty kind from Trader Joe's, which is more than good enough for me. :)

Gentle Reader, I would like to tell you that the triumph of our ascent was the conclusion of these adventures, but alas, it was not so.

BECCA: We'll get down the mountain faster if we sit down and slide. Plus, it's fun!
RUTHANN: How does one go about doing this? Do we still wear our snowshoes, or do we take them off and hold them?
RACHEL: Seems like a lot to hold, along with the trekking poles.
BECCA: This is true. If you dropped a snowshoe, you'd have to climb back up for it.
RACHEL: Plus we don't want to accidentally impale ourselves on the snowshoes. I'm keeping mine on; I think I can slide while still wearing them.
EVERYONE: Let's all slide down the very steep mountainside while wearing our snowshoes!

Despite the general enthusiasm over this idea, we began our descent by cautiously walking. Becca decided it would be a good idea to get a better view down the slope and make sure there was no one on it before we all came careening down. Missing this memo, Adam whooshed by us all from behind. He either did not hear or did not heed Becca's calls of "honey there are some people just below the lip here coming up, honey you should slow down, there are people down there HONEY WILL YOU STOP SLIDING BEFORE YOU KILL THE INNOCENT CROSS-COUNTRY SKIERS!"

Fortunately, Adam descended on the opposite side of the slope from the column of innocents. Behind me, Rachel began her own controlled descent that made her giggle with glee. I still don't know how she picked up the knack of being able to stop quickly and easily. Sadly, at that time I did not realize that I wouldn't figure out how she picked up that knack.

RUTHANN: That looks easy and fun.
SNOWSHOES: we will betray you to your death
RUTHANN: ...What now?

I sat down and made what I thought was a pretty good attempt at imitating Rachel, only to discover that once I'd picked up a bit of speed in my slide, I was having a world of trouble coming to a stop. I tried to dig in the ends of my snowshoes, but this was ineffective, and I was wary of clamping them down into the snow while going too fast for fear that this would cause me to flip straight over them and tumble on down the mountain. Instead I tried turning them sideways and digging the wider ends in, which is how I would stop myself on a snowboard. This does not work so well with snowshoes. I think I may actually have begun going faster. I scrambled around trying to find a way to come to a stop, digging in my feet, my elbows, the handles of my trekking poles but not the points for fear of flippage. And also my hands. My hands that were stupidly wearing fingerless gloves. I finally came to a stop below Rachel and Becca and just above and to the right of Jack.

RUTHANN: I think I should walk the rest of the way.
SNOWSHOES: we will betray you to your death
RUTHANN: Shut it, you!

I attempted to stand, and the treacherous snowshoes slipped right out from under me and sent me on another uncontrollable slide - this time approaching the lip below which a column of innocents was slowly ascending.

RUTHANN: Jack, help me!
JACK: *reaches ineffectively* I can't!
HANDS: (long suffering) We'll take another one for the team.

I managed to stop again before reaching the ascending party, but my poor hands were numb and stinging. My thumbs later felt like they were bleeding, even though the skin wasn't broken. I mentioned this to Becca.

RUTHANN: I think I got snowburn on my thumbs.
BECCA: *laughs* Snowburn? That's an oxymoron all by itself!
RUTHANN: All by itself? What's an example of something that's an oxymoron not by itself?
BECCA: ...Shut up.

Anyway, I thought it best to stay where I was until the other party had climbed up past me. My sisters and Jack slid past me with much less difficulty than I was having, and I eventually made it down through a combination of scary and painful sliding, which unfortunately led me through a section riddled with deep, lumpy footprints, and some very careful walking. The rest of our return trip was much less eventful.

And that is the story of our Snowshoeing Adventures! In conclusion, I enjoyed snowshoeing, but when it comes to sliding down a mountainside, I much prefer the control one has with a snowboard. I actually saw a couple guys snowshoeing with snowboards strapped to their backs. Maybe someday... but a ski lift is much easier. :)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

the night's like coffee to my tongue...

My music came today! It's very exciting. :) I haven't had new sheet music to work on in a long time. Of course, since I wrote in my last post that I haven't worked on my old music enough to master it, that shouldn't really mean much... but it's exciting to have new stuff, especially since some of the songs are ones I've wanted to learn for a few years now.

I've been practicing my new music pretty much since it arrived, with breaks to cook dinner and then to eat dinner, and now my back kind of aches from my poor piano playing posture, so I'm taking another break to write this. :) As I suspected, they're difficult pieces. If any of you play the piano, you were probably taught to practice new pieces one hand at a time until you're comfortable enough with each separate part to put them together. That method is impossible with this music - at least, it is for me. These songs have tricky timing that I can't count out without playing both parts together. I actually think it would take a lot longer to learn them separately and then have to figure out how they fit together. They don't really make sense without each other.

Speaking of tricky timing, the time signatures on some of these songs are crazy. I think the winner was the song I put on the music player on this page, called Eric's Song, which I'm leaving up for now since I'm talking about it again. Do you know what the time signature on that thing is? 9/8. I don't think I've ever seen that before. I'm still trying to figure out the easiest way to count it out while I play. It's tempting to just time it by ear, but then I get lost in the more difficult passages. Until I can adjust my mind so that the cadence feels natural when I play, I'm stuck counting.

Some songs already seem promising. I wish I could find Momentum on so I could put it up here. It's my favorite song on the album, and it's coming along well enough that I can actually sing parts of it- really, really slowly. The time signature is another one you don't see too often (4/2) but not as confusing to count.

Ok. Break's over. :)

Friday, January 23, 2009

waking hour

Every now and then - whenever I happen to think about it - I make a quick visit to just so I can peek at the merchandise page and see if there's any new sheet music there. For the combination of her beautiful voice, poetic lyrics, and wonderful skill on the piano Vienna Teng is one of my favorite musicians. A few years ago all the sheet music I could find of hers - a grand total of three songs, none of them my favorites, but I figured I would take what I could get. They're incredibly difficult, actually, and I haven't mastered a single one of the three. This, I think, is partly because they're not my favorites, and partly because I just don't have a whole lot of patience for practicing the piano. I love to play it, but I don't practice much. I usually wish I could just sit down and play something pretty. Practicing would probably help with that... but the kind of repetition it takes to really drive a piece home can be bothersome to pretty much everyone in the vicinity. Plus I'm just not patient. :)

Anyway, I used to check her website a whole lot to see if any more sheet music would be released. I even sent an email to ask about it - never got a response, which wasn't unexpected. I don't check much anymore, figuring that the first three transcriptions just must not have been successful enough to merit investing in any more. So I was really surprised today when I went to the website for the first time in ages, and the first thing I saw was that her entire first album has been transcribed into a songbook. :)

I've been trying really hard to limit the money I'm spending on myself to just coffee - mostly - but that songbook has been ordered and should ship pretty soon.

I'm excited about it. :) There are some really good songs on this album, a couple of which are ones that I particularly wanted to learn - like the one I've just put up here, which I think is the first song of hers I ever heard. We'll see if that pushes me to actually make more of an effort to practice them. :)

Monday, January 19, 2009

"putting the 'prod' in productivity"

Have I told you guys about Write or Die? It's this fantastic program designed to get writers moving by providing tangible consequences for not writing, as opposed to the intangible rewards we usually look forward to, which aren't really as good at providing motivation. You can access it here. Basically, you plug in a word goal or a time limit (I use the time limit). I've started using it on Kamikaze Mode, which means that once I start typing, if I stop for too long my words start disappearing at a rate of about one per second, starting from the last one written. You have no idea how effective this is in keeping my fingers moving on the keyboard. Just today I set Write or Die for an hour and wrote 1278 words before it was over.

And now I'm putting off editing that rough writing by posting this.


Friday, January 16, 2009

up and up

I'm back! I kind of think that most people have stopped reading this blog since I've been such a slacker about posting, but oh well. Some of you are probably still there. Have I ever mentioned here the Demotivator poster on blogging? It seems appropriate. Let me link you to it... here. is the best... in a depressing and yet hilarious way.

I live in Vancouver again, which means my phone has a hard time in the house again. I keep getting voicemails without missed calls. Texts seem to come through ok, and I even had a conversation with my sister, but we got cut off three times in the course of things. I think the moral of the story is that I need to take more walks. Walks are conducive to phone calls. They might also help me sleep better. That would be a bonus.

Today I wrote morning pages for the first time in months. I think I need to make it a habit again. For those of you who don't know, morning pages is longhand stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning for maybe two or three pages. (Three is recommended, but I have small handwriting and it takes awhile.) It's an exercise I picked up when I went through the book The Artist's Way, which was a course on creativity and how to break some of the mental restraints that tend to block it. Morning pages are supposed to be a place to pour out all the hectic thoughts that flood your mind, so you can give them form and see the answers (and more importantly, the questions) more clearly. It calms the mind, because once all those things are down on the page, they're released from your head and not as much of a burden anymore. And it's also utterly unself-conscious writing. You're not meant to read or judge what you've written. It's a safe place to be completely honest with yourself. Kind of like therapy, actually, without the therapist.

I stopped writing morning pages shortly after graduation, because with full-time work and a commute of about an hour each way, it looked like I had to make a choice between morning pages and writing my story. The only way I would have time for both was if I completely stopped spending time with people, and I didn't really like that option. If I could have figured out a way to write that story while driving a car... but, well, I'm not one for dictation, even if I had a way to make good quality recordings. I need to see the sentences I'm constructing. So I quit morning pages, and instead I would get up early and head over to Starbucks to have my tea and spend an hour and a half writing my story before leaving for work. With that time in the morning, I could usually get almost all the way to my daily page goal before ever leaving for work, which left me more time in the evening.

Now, though, I'm feeling the lack of the morning pages. It seems like everything in my life is unfocused. There's too much formless (or vaguely formed) worry in my mind, and I can't get a grip on it without pen and paper. Everything takes form on the page, and I can only solve it when it has a form. So I started this morning, and it actually already helped. That's enough incentive for me to keep at it.

So once again, I'm back. Back to the blog, back to morning pages, back to people, and back to life, and I'm putting up a new song to mark the occasion. :)

Friday, January 2, 2009


Wow, two posts in one day! A record!

Don't forget to read the one below; it's moderately important for people who actually visit this page, which apparently you do.

I was just overcome with the need to share this video with you:

Go watch it, and don't forget to smile! :)