The Freelance Life

Note: I’m no longer working freelance jobs as my primary source of income. Considering how much I struggled in the slow business times while freelancing, this is a definite yay. But someone asked for this post many months ago, and I wrote it and then forgot to post it. So just replace a bunch of the present-tense stuff with past tense.

I’ve mentioned casually in the past that most of my day job involves freelancing. Basically, I’m not an employee of any company, but companies hire me to work on various projects.

As you might expect, I get questions about this somewhat regularly from curious folks, people who want to do the same thing, and my family–often the same questions. What’s it like to work from home? How do you get started building your own gig? Do you really get to work while sipping a cocktail on the beach?

Good question. Let’s try to answer them. Continue reading

Let’s talk about spoilers (and anxiety)

I have a confession, Internet. Okay, I have a lot of confessions, but one in particular stands out today.

Getting spoiled isn’t a big deal for me.

There. I said it.

I understand why other people get upset at hearing major spoilers. Maybe knowing the plot twist ending ruins things for them, and that’s valid. People can take in their media however they want. But if they’re reading an online article that’s clearly about a given book or movie or whatever and then complain about getting spoiled, well, that’s on them. It’s like complaining about mixed nuts containing nuts.

In fact, even if someone does reveal a twist, that doesn’t spoil everything. It doesn’t explain how the characters got there, or how the story developed, or even why the twist is such a big thing in the first place. A good story will surprise me with the circumstances that lead to the ending. This discovery is part of the experience for me, and this doesn’t change with knowing end details of a story.

For me, spoilers are a source of anxiety. Not the idea of spoilers themselves, but the idea of accidentally ruining something for some stranger. Has this person watched or read whatever I’m talking about? Heck, sometimes I haven’t seen or read whatever I’m discussing, but I know about it through Internet osmosis. I once posted a tweet showing off my newly-acquired TARDIS notebook. Someone replied with “Spoilers.” I hadn’t watched the show at all at the time and genuinely thought I was spoiling something. It took awhile to realize this was an element of the show (and specifically, one of the characters) and not a genuine spoiler.

But what is the statute of limitations on a spoiler? I once accidentally revealed the big death in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to someone who hadn’t read that far… two weeks before the seventh book came out. Considering those past two years were filled with discussion on this death and its impact on the seventh book, I’m impressed that he managed to avoid finding out for so long. I know people who get upset over spoilers from ten years ago, not to mention ten days.

And what’s the proper etiquette about publicly discussing spoilers in public forums, anyway? On sites like Twitter, you can use a hashtag. That way, people who don’t want to be spoiled can use a client like Tweetdeck to mute that hashtag. But this assumes people have enough characters remaining in a tweet to include the hashtag, as well as remember to use it in the first place. It also assumes everyone has a way to mute that hashtag or keyword, which isn’t necessarily true.

So is the solution to avoid talking about the thing publicly? Of course not. Word of mouth is one of the most effective forms of getting the word out, and for good reason: people want to talk about things they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy). While private messaging–whether through Twitter’s DMs, email, or instant messaging) is an option, it leaves out the fun in discovering who else likes the thing you’re talking about. When someone jumps in on a Twitter conversation and I discover they like the book or movie or whatever, this creates another bond between that person and me, along with another person I can make joking references to about that book or movie or album.

And even bigger: What IS a spoiler, anyway? I keep thinking back to that tweet about someone not knowing Hamilton gets shot in the end. (To be fair, this is kind of understandable for someone not familiar with American history.) Are trailers spoilers? What about the circumstances of the story? Heck, even competition shows and sporting events can have spoilers–who got eliminated, who won, what someone sang or cooked or danced to. Math can have spoilers, for Baty’s sake. Yes, there are more infinities and more geometries, and the complex numbers aren’t the end.

There is so much media out there that if I tried to avoid spoilers, I would be avoiding almost everything with the remotest chance of revealing spoilers. I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings books or a bunch of those so-called classics associated with high school and college literature classes. I haven’t read or watched all of Game of Thrones. I haven’t read everything by Shakespeare (nor do I particularly want to, to be honest). If I’m never going to consume that media, then why stress about spoilers? There are bigger (and smaller, let’s be real) things to worry about.

This isn’t your invitation to spoil me on everything ever. Yes, I know Rosebud is the sled and Han shot first. But I can’t live in fear of avoiding spoilers, nor in fear of spoiling someone else.

Night of Writing Dangerously on a budget, revisited

One of the most common replies I hear when discussing NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously (NOWD) is “I’d love to go one year!” with “one year” meaning “some vague time in the future, likely when they have the money and time to do so”.

While I’ve estimated my budget for my first Night of Writing Dangerously, I thought it’d be fun to revisit the topic with more budget specifics (and for a longer trip). I did my best to save every receipt; where that fails, I have my bank account history and my occasionally unreliable memory.

Want an idea of how much money to set aside for a NOWD San Francisco trip? Keep reading for my experience. Note: All of these prices listed include all applicable taxes.

Or if you want to add to my fundraising page, you can do that right here. Continue reading

What I’m Reading, June 2017

It’s the end of a month and beginning of a new month, so you know what that means: book review time. I read a lot in June. As in, I’m pretty wowed by how much I read this month. While it may not be enough to win my library’s summer reading challenge, I’m very close to my total from last June and July (minus all those Baby-Sitters Club books, of course), so I’m happy with that.

I’m also two books away from completing my 2017 reading goal of 100 books. I may have a book problem.

What else is happening? It’s Camp NaNoWriMo time, and I plan on researching and planning for 20 hours on my parallel worlds novel.

Anyway, here we go: the reviews.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson: This book tells the story of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till’s lynching in 1955 Mississippi, as well as the trial and events following the murder. While the beginning (particularly the part on Carolyn Bryant’s story) was a little slow, the story of the murder, trial, and politics surrounding the trial had my full attention. The author does a good job at connecting the dots of the murder while weaving in big-picture context of the politics and life in 1950s Mississippi. Read this book, but be prepared to be enraged and saddened that stuff like this is still happening. (4 out of 5 uprisings)

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz: Man. This coming-of-age book featuring a high school senior, his close friends, and his gay adopted Mexican dad is just beautiful. Sure, there’s not a Point A to Point B plot, but the characters make me wish they were real (well, that most of them were real) and the overall storyline and writing are beautiful while still showing the realness and rawness of being a teenager. And best of all, there’s no romance within the main teenage trio. Side note: Can I have Sal’s dad, please? (5 out of 5 yellow leaves)

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: This is the first book of Baldwin’s that I’ve read, chosen while I was browsing at the library. I wanted to like this book so much, but then… I couldn’t. There didn’t seem to be much of a connection between the narrator and Giovanni, nor with the narrator and Hella. The characters feel like they were put together out of nowhere, with little connection between them. While I enjoyed the prose itself and the narrator’s stories of his past, the present was much less riveting, and it didn’t help that Giovanni was an insufferable asshole. (3 out of 5 drinks)

Find Me by Laura van der Berg: I really did not like this book. The premise sounds interesting enough, but the story moves at a crawl, with no real motivation to keep reading. The characters and plot are ill-developed, and the ending is really disappointing. I managed to finish this one, and boy was I thankful when it was over. (2 out of 5 diseases)

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: This was a NaNoWriMo novel! That was enough to get my attention, especially one as well-known as this one. It’s a sweet YA romance featuring a high school senior from Atlanta being shipped off to boarding school in Paris. That’s enough to get my attention. While the story starts off slow with an annoying (and occasionally not so bright–how did she not know Paris was a film hub?!) narrator Anna, it picks up quickly once school starts and she starts meeting the other characters. And now I really miss France. (4 out of 5 cinemas)

The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo: Much like with the previous book, I thought I wasn’t going to like this book based on the beginning–Mattie, 30, pregnant, broke, and jobless, takes off from Florida to Gandy, Oklahoma to claim her part of her grandmother’s estate. But once she gets to Oklahoma, she talks to people and discovers that her mother just disappeared, as well as learning (a little at a time) about her mother and grandparents. The characters were well-flawed and felt real to me, and the story kept me wondering what would happen next. (4 out of 5 family histories)

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: After zooming through the last few books, this one took awhile to slog through, and not just because a paragraph could easily take up two pages. No, I couldn’t get into Clarissa Dalloway getting ready to throw a party that day and all the switches in points of view, telling about other characters and their pasts. This isn’t the first Woolf selection I’ve read, but I think I’m good on reading Woolf now. (2 out of 5 parties)

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – And Us by Richard O. Prum: I listened to this book, which talks about how ornamental traits that have no other purpose have evolved–in other words, beauty. It was a long and dense read, but I rather enjoyed it. If the external speaker on my iPod touch worked, I would have blasted the section about duck sex in retaliation to the guy listening to a religious video without speakers. (4 out of 5 birds)

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven: Yes, another YA romance, this one featuring Jack, a face-blind high school senior and Libby, a high school junior known for being so fat she once had to get cut out of her own house. Yes, really. Oh, and Libby is just now starting back at a regular school after being homeschooled for so many years. Despite the lack of chemistry on Jack and Libby’s part, the main thing that bugged me about this book was the lack of developed stories among Libby and the rest of the supporting cast. Come on, she hasn’t been in a regular school in years, but she immediately jumps back in with old friends and new ones (who barely show up in the story)? But I enjoyed Libby’s love of dance, and I have to admit, their actual date was pretty adorable. (3 out of 5 unrecognized faces)

The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World by Anne-Marie Slaughter: I listened to this book, and I’m still not sure what this book was trying to accomplish. It’s a very broad introduction to network theory and politics, but it does the network theory much better than integrating that with politics. Still, I do want to keep learning more about these topics. (3 out of 5 networks)

George by Alex Gino: This is a really sweet book about George, a ten-year-old trans girl who is struggling with being seen as a boy all the time. All she wants is to be Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web but she doesn’t get the part because only a girl can have that part. But… she is a girl. So George and her best friend Kelly come up with a plan to let George be Charlotte after all. This is a great book to get kids thinking about LGBTQ+ topics, but it’s also good for teens and adults. (4 out of 5 school plays)

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman: I’ve been tryign to read more short fiction (not that you’d believe it from what I’ve been reading lately), and Gaiman’s latest short story collection got my attention. It seems like I’m the only person I know who didn’t adore it to bits and pieces. Sure, there are some good stories; I like the one about the made-up girlfriend, which appears pretty early on in this collection. But for some reason a lot of these stories fell flat to me. It’s not because of the prose itself; Gaiman is a good writer. But maybe it was because I was reading while trying not to be distracted by having my family around over Father’s Day weekend. (3 out of 5 disturbances)

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: I’ve been meaning to read this series for ages, and I’m glad I didn’t put it off even longer. Blue is a non-psychic who lives with psychics, and she’s always been told that if she kisses her true love, they’ll die. Then she sees a spirit as the soon-to-be-dead walk past, something that shouldn’t be happening for non-psychics. She finds out who this boy is, meets his friends, and joins them on their adventures. The first thing I did when I finished this book was check out the second one on Overdrive… and then curse the fact that my library’s Overdrive doesn’t have the third book available. (4 out of 5 ravens)

80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower by Matt Fitzgerald: I listened to this book. The general idea is that 80% of your workouts should be done at low intensity, while the other 20% should be done at moderate to high intensity. This means you’ll probably be running longer and for more miles, yes, but you’ll get more out of it. While a lot of the examples he gives are for elite runners, there’s still a lot to learn for casual runners. I haven’t had a chance to implement everything the author suggests, but I did go on a run a little more slowly after finishing this book and found myself able to go farther and longer than at my normal faster pace. (4 out of 5 slow runs)

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar: I read this book for my library’s book club. While the prose is beautiful, I found the story itself to be confusing. There are several points of view divided into sections, but within those four sections there are multiple perspectives, shifts from the past to the present and back again, and more narratives that are hard to piece together, especially with the large cast of characters (heck, this book includes a family tree at the beginning and a glossary at the end). While there is theoretically a plot, it’s lost in the shuffle as the story shifts from era to era. (3 out of 5 iloks)

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: This is book 2 of the Raven Cycle books, and it did not disappoint. There’s plenty to keep the story going while building the relationships between the characters and ramping up the suspense, as well as answering the question of the last few lines of book one. Thank goodness I planned ahead and had this book ready to read. (4 out of 5 dreams)

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: I read this book in one sitting (well, minus a brief break to grab a snack), and it’s a light YA romance that still stands out. The book stars Dimple and Rishi, two Indian teens who find themselves at the same computer camp in San Francisco. The main characters are huge nerds in different ways, Dimple is fierce, Rishi is a lovable dork, and I found myself rooting for both of them at the same time, even when they hated each other at first. There are a few plot elements that felt like they were just thrown in there to make other stuff happen (the talent show? seriously?), but the book deals with some big issues like racism, social class, and gender while still being a fun read. (4 out of 5 spilled drinks)

Killing It: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart by Sheryl O’Loughlin: I listened to this book, written by the former CEO of Clif and Plum Organics. The author talks frankly about topics that entrepreneurs need to know about but often ignore: building relationships within and outside of your business, dealing with investors, making time for family, and even mental and physical health. These topics often go ignored when talking about business, but O’Loughlin tackles them well without making the book a pure memoir. (4 out of 5 team members)

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser: I wanted to like this book. It is, after all, supposed to be one of the best books on writing nonfiction out there. I enjoyed the sections on mechanics and finding your voice, despite thinking Zinsser would hate much of today’s writing if he were still alive. But the third section–discussing writing for humor, business, technology, and other topics–made me want to quit reading altogether. There were plenty of examples, but not enough information on what made those examples good. I skimmed most of those example texts and attempted to get to the point. These sections should have been their own book instead of trying to cram all that content into 20-page chapters. (3 out of 5 adverbs)

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman: I listened to the author narrate this book, which is one part memoir, one part tell-all about all the vacation boyfriends she had during her single days. It was funny for awhile (she is, after all, a comedy writer), but the story eventually settled into more of the same stuff happening over and over again. I get it. You slept with a lot of guys and partied hard. Get to the point. (3 out of 5 vacation boyfriends)

What I’m Reading, May 2017

May was a relatively light month for reading, a term used loosely since I still read ten books. I don’t even have NaNo or Camp NaNo to blame for this; I’ve just been concentrating on other things this month and trying to make better use of my time. (She says while checking her phone for Magikarp Jump training points.) Here goes!

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: I wanted to like this book. (This is becoming a theme lately, isn’t it?) The truth is, I loved the last 20% of the book, but reading the first 80% to get there was a huge, confusing drag with not much actually getting resolved in the end. I might read the next book or two, but I won’t actively seek them out. (3 out of 5 security badges)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari: I listened to this book, an overview of humanity from our pre-Homo Sapiens days to how humans developed things like agriculture, currency, science, and empires. The book also goes beyond humanity on to what we could do with all the things we’ve created. Could we wipe ourselves out? Could we become immortal (or amortal, as the author puts it–that is, immortality barring things like catastrophic accidents)? Can we become cyborgs? There are some parts that could have been less Eurocentric, but overall this was a good read. (4 out of 5 humans)

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: Oh man. I stayed up past my bedtime to zoom through the end of this book. I’ve read and loved Flynn’s other two books, and this one was no exception. The characters popped right off the page, fascinating as ever, from the main narrator Libby Day to her brother who was serving a prison sentence for murdering his mother and two of his sisters (minus Libby). The pieces of the mystery came together beautifully and gave depth to the story. And the writing, oh the writing, the way Flynn really gets the reader inside the characters’ heads. The only thing I have to add is that the inside of Flynn’s head must be a really disturbing place. (5 out of 5 murders)

When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins: I listened to this book. I like memoirs and love languages (not too surprising, considered French was one of my college majors), so this book seemed like a natural read. Personally, I found the discussion of the history of language and culture way more interesting than the author’s own experiences with her life in French. The books switches back and forth between the two, with her own stories wandering away from the point frequently to the point where I often found myself wondering if some of the later stories had a point. Still, this book left me wanting to get back into French and linguistics, which is never a bad thing. (3 out of 5 translations)

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab: This is the final book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, and it is great. As usual with Schwab’s writing, the tension starts at 10 and works its way up even further, the characters change and grow so much throughout the course of the book, and of course the writing itself gives me something to aspire to. This was a wonderful conclusion to an already-great series, and if you haven’t read them already, you need to. (4 out of 5 Inheritors)

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer: I listened to this book. The late 19th and early 20th century are one of my huge gaps in US history, in part because that part of my AP history course consisted of me being out on frequent field trips and extracurricular outings. This book helped to fill some of those gaps with the familiar (and unfamiliar) figures while not being too dry. Even though this book was a little hard to listen to at times thanks to all the characters and events, it was still overall well-done, and I got a lot out of it. (4 out of 5 imperialists)

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel: I listened to this book, which tells the story of a man who lived in the woods of Maine without interacting with anyone for over twenty years, not even to let his family know he was still alive. The author does a good job of capturing the story and the character of hermit Chris Knight, who faced a lot of challenges in order to live the way he did. These challenges led some people to become skeptical. How’d he live out in the woods so long without suffering much from the consequences of Maine winters? Or without getting sick or suffering major injury? Spoiler: in the end, it was theft from the cabins in the area that ended his adventure. (4 out of 5 cold nights)

The Shining by Stephen King: I read this book because I apparently own the sequel. This is my second King novel, and I just couldn’t get into it. The writing is good, but there’s not enough going on in the first half of the book and too many flashbacks, making the last quarter of the book come out of nowhere. Still, this is early classic King, so maybe I’ll like the sequel better. (3 out of 5 bad feelings)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: I listened to this book, which tells multiple stories at once. There’s the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cells would eventually become the HeLa cell line used by many scientists today. There’s also the story of Lacks’s family left behind after her death, particularly her daughter, who bonded with the author over the time when this book was written. And then there’s the story of the cells themselves, from the Guy lab to the questions posed by informed consent and profiting from cells and other body matter. The book takes on a lot but does it well, weaving the stories together so there’s not too much to take in at once, even in the science chapters. (4 out of 5 cell lines)

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis: I read this book for my library’s book club and finished it fifteen minutes before the meeting started. (Good thing I live five minutes away, right?) I’m still not sure what to make of it. The book plays with a lot of ideas: free will, alternate history, robots, servitude… it sounded like something I would love. But while the last quarter of the book flew by, I still had to slog through the first 300 pages with really dense writing and slow storytelling. This may have something to do with the fact that I was reading this book a chapter at a time instead of zooming through the book, but even then, reading it chapter by chapter was a slow process. This book is the first of a completed trilogy, and thanks to the end I’m interested enough to pick up the rest of the books… just not in a huge hurry since my to-read list with deadlines is haunting me. (3 out of 5 clackers)

What’s next? I started listening to Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till today. I also plan to start reading The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz tomorrow or the next day so I can count it for the library’s summer reading challenge and because it’s due back at the library in a week. Let’s get on that, self.

Wikiwrimo’s Regional Directory Challenges

I founded Wikiwrimo almost seven years ago when all I had going for me was some spare time on my hands. A year or two in, I introduced the regional directory as a way to keep track of regional histories, from MLs to stats. While Wikiwrimo’s contributors and I have gathered a lot of information on 600+ NaNo regions, there’s still a long way to go on a project that may never be complete. There’s only so much one person can add to Wikiwrimo about regional histories and cultures; that’s why one of the biggest things you can do for Wikiwrimo is write a little bit about your region, especially if you’re not in my region.

Chances are good that I am the only person outside of NaNo HQ interested in such minutiae of maintaining this directory, so writing all this information down is mostly for me to outline all the challenges bouncing around inside my head while figuring out next steps to take. But hey, maybe you’ll find it of interest too. Continue reading

Creating My Own Social Life

I’ve previously discussed how hard it is to make friends as an adult, and I’ve even asked the Internet for advice on making friends as an adult. Besides the usual “how?”, there are a couple of challenges in making friends as an adult: one, I have to get up, get dressed and leave the house, which can be hard to do when it’s cold outside and I might be walking to my destination. And two, some of these meetup groups are established groups where everyone knows each other, which is one of my major sources of social anxiety.

Let’s do something about this. I made a declaration on Twitter last month:

That’s roughly once every two weeks. I can manage that, right? That still gives me every other weekend to be lazy or do things that other people initiate.

So what counts? A social event meets the conditions of the declaration if it meets at least one of the following conditions:

  • I attend a meetup or event where social interaction is a primary focus. This can include (but is not limited to) meetups for anything from board games to science, group running events, and more. Going to events like festivals or concerts where social interaction is nice but not essential does not count unless the second condition is met. Howerer, I may make an exception if I find myself socializing with someone else at the event beyond small talk.
  • I invite them (and not the other way around) or attend alone. I added this condition because I am horrible at inviting people to do things with me. This is in part because I don’t have a car and many of my local friends live in the suburbs, so impromptu get-togethers are less likely to happen.

There’s a lot of room for what ifs and figuring out if something counts under these conditions. What if someone invites me to something I was going to go to anyway? What if I like a meetup group so much that it finds its way to my regular social calendar? What about NaNoWriMo events? I don’t have solid answers to the first two questions yet; if they come up, I’ll figure out an answer then. As for NaNo events and write-ins, I probably won’t count them, but that could change. Besides, I’m usually more social than usual during NaNo’s main event season. Funny how that works.

I’ve completed this challenge for April (and for March as well, come to think of it). Among other things, I invited a friend to an author event and chatted with people for awhile after a free yoga event. I’ve also attended social events where I didn’t do the inviting. As for May, I’m not sure what I’m going to yet, but there are a few game groups nearby I haven’t checked out yet and plenty of stuff happening in this city. I’ll figure out something.

Anyone else want in on this challenge?

Camp NaNoWriMo 2017: Aftermath

The first Camp NaNoWriMo session of 2017 is over, and I completed the challenge with 30 hours (1803 minutes).

This year I went with something completely different, even considering my past unusual projects for Camp. Planning, an unusual adventure to take considering I’m usually a pantser when it comes to writing. I discussed the reasoning behind my Camp project in a previous post, and all that reasoning still stands.

So how’d my planning turn out? I got a lot of planning and research and character development done during Camp NaNo, but none of these plans are complete. The Anxiety Girl novel still has a huge blank for the middle of the book because I decided to kill one character before the story starts (the main character’s grandmother, who died during the story in the first and second drafts) and decrease the role of another (the main character’s father). One major problem with this novel is that my main character isn’t well-formed enough for me to figure out what she really wants. She’s undecided about almost everything, doesn’t know what she wants in life, and is generally a passive person. This makes for a boring character and a boring book, something I’m still working to solve.

The other big project I did planning and research for is my parallel worlds novel that I’ve been dabbling in since 2010. I’ve been putting off the research and planning ever since finishing the second draft due to complications in figuring out parallel worlds and photography and the overall plot. But at some point I was just putting these things off with no good reason, so Camp NaNo gave me a chance to dig into this novel and figure out more of the science and story behind these parallel worlds.

Completing Camp NaNoWriMo with planning and tracking by hours was difficult in its own right. One thing I learned quickly was that sure, I can write 5,000 words in an hour if I’m pressed for time, but I can’t do an hour’s worth of work in 30 minutes. My goal averaged out to an hour a day over the course of the month, which I kept up with for the first week. But as the month went on, I fell behind. I was busy, I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer screen and think through a full hour of plotting and research, and sometimes those ideas just wouldn’t come. Sometimes I’d poke at character traits or plotlines and have no idea what to do with them. Other times I’d find myself switching between projects, trying to find some kind of plot hole I could fill in or some setting quirk to add. Falling behind meant playing catchup in the last week, often to the tune of planning for several hours at once over the last weekend.

But I did it, I won, and those novels are a lot closer to the third draft. Overall, I’m glad I embraced planning and research for Camp NaNo. I’m trying to keep the momentum going for as long as possible, although not necessarily at the rate I was working at during camp. That’s the only way these books will get written, after all.

What I’m Reading, April 2017

April feels like a light month of reading for me, but in reality I did most of my reading with my ears instead of my eyes. And boy, was there a lot of listening.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christoper McDougall: I listened to this book, which is one part stories of the Tarahumara (a tribe of distance runners), one part analyzing why we get running injuries and how to prevent them. As a runner nowhere near being able to run ultras (yet?), the stories of some of the toughest ultramarathons in the toughest locations in the world drew me in and occasionally made me want to start training for some of these ultras. The characters are memorable, and the stories are educational and entertaining. I just wish there were more about the science and culture of running through history. (4 out of 5 ultramarathons)

The Barefoot Executive: The Ultimate Guide for Being Your Own Boss and Achieving Financial Freedom by Carrie Wilkerson: I listened to this book, narrated by the author. Truth be told, this book just annoyed me. I got tired of hearing all about Wilkerson’s personal life without its applications to starting her own business. Look, I’m sure losing a hundred pounds and raising a special needs kid has its challenges, but without telling me what this has to do with starting a business, I can’t bring myself to care. There’s a little bit of practical advice in here, but most of it is buried under the same material over and over again, which is only made more annoying by the chipper sound of her voice talking about profits. (2 out of 5 profit margins)

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet: This book took over a week to read, and I’m not sure why; it’s not a thousand-page tome, and I enjoyed reading it. Maybe I was savoring the prose, the character studies, relating to being the first in the family to go to college, remembering what life was back in 1999 and 2000, even though I was in middle school, not college. It’s a powerful book, one that you might like if you like character studies as opposed to plot driving the story. (4 out of 5 new environments)

Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time by Bill McGowan: I listened to this book. I’m a wee bit awkward when it comes to conversation, so this book turned out to be really useful in picking out speech traits that I need to improve. Whether you’re giving a speech, an interview, or just trying to get away from that one person who won’t stop talking about their fungus, there’s something in this book to help out. Even better, most parts of the book can help you in other areas of communication, so don’t neglect a section just because it doesn’t sound relevant to you now. If you’re seriously looking to improve your speech and communication skills, I recommend buying a physical copy of the book so you can mark it up and refer back to specific parts as needed. I may do this myself. (4 out of 5 speech tips)

Northbounders: 2,186 Miles of Friendship by Karen Lord Rutter: My friend’s mom wrote this children’s book, a tale of hiking the Appalachian Trail from the dog’s perspective. Copper’s point of view is perfect for the voice of a children’s book, and seeing the hike through the dog’s eyes lends a (and okay, some explanation of what’s going on so Copper–and the reader–will know what’s happening). Since I’ve read my friend’s entire blog while he was hiking the trail, I was already familiar with a lot of the stories (and was there for the end). True to the style of a children’s book, there’s a summary at the end of each chapter (state) of what happened and main takeaways. Example: don’t mess with skunks. Sadly I wasn’t the first to rate and review on Goodreads. Alas. (5 out of 5 mountains)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: This is one of those books I somehow made it through childhood without reading. This book tells the story of an orphan girl who moves from Barbados to a stern Puritan community in Connecticut. She hates everything and only feels like herself in the meadow when she visits an older Quaker woman. Unfortunately her relatives don’t take well to this as that woman is seen as a witch to everyone else. I wish I had read this book as a kid, but I enjoyed it as an adult. This is a great example of a book that shows a children’s book can be just as well-written as adult lit. (4 out of 5 witches)

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker: I listened to this book, which tells a history of food and flavor and how the flavors of food have changed over the last 60 to 70 years. This has led to spices and other artificial flavors being added to foods, often adding more calories and making us crave more of that flavor. While his thesis is well-argued, his solution is not practical for many people. He suggests seeking out fresher, less processed foods. This problem isn’t unique to his book; most of the food books I’ve read have suggested this. Still, this is a good read with research I hadn’t heard before. And now I want to ask my dad about how food tasted when he was a kid compared to now. (4 out of 5 Doritos)

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: Even though this book suffers from several things I hate in books–instantly falling in love, little coincidences everywhere–I still enjoyed this book. Why? The characters. I enjoyed getting to know Natasha and Daniel and exploring the little things that made them well… them. Their hopes, their dreams, their natures and how they take in the world. Since one of the novels I’m working on for Camp NaNoWriMo is more of a character story than a plot-driven tale, this book was a good one to read in order to study how characters can be fully explored. (4 out of 5 insta-loves)

Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime — from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door by Brian Krebs: I listened to this book. While hearing about the spamlords and connecting some of the events to things I’ve heard about in the news was interesting, the book also had its dull parts. There was also a lot of information about Krebs’s personal life that I found kind of boring: his time on the Washington Post and all the not-so-juicy communication with the spamlords, among others. I can tell the author is a blogger; some of the content would have worked well as a blog post, but as a chapter in a book, not so much. If you’re interested in cybercrime history, you might like the informative parts of this book. (3 out of 5 spam messages)

The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain’s Journey by Linda Greenlaw: I tried so hard to get into this book but just couldn’t. The prose itself wasn’t bad, but I didn’t feel a connection to the author or the cast of characters, not to mention I cannot stand fishing. It takes a lot for me to abandon a book and it usually happens about once a year, but here we go. The 2017 abandoned book. (no rating)

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier: I listened to this book, and it is lovely. I already knew a little bit about big data and tracking before reading this book, but this book still added to my knowledge. More impressively, this book got technical without getting so technical that only security experts could get something out of this book. It’s well-written and engaging, and if you have even an inkling of interest in data and surveillance, you should read this. (5 out of 5 bits of data)

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller: I listened to this book, and ugh. I was ready to dismiss this book as some legitimate findings mixed in with some BS, but then it got worse. The authors claim that there are three attachment types in adult relationships: anxious, avoidant, and secure. Sounds okay so far, but the authors use the most exaggerated cases to show these types in action. The anxious types are exactly what you’d think of from a stereotypical clingy partner, the secure types don’t have any kind of worries at all in a relationship, and heaven help you if you’re an avoidant type because the way they’re characterized in this book reeks of emotionally abusive partner. There are a few good parts, such as the quizzes to help you figure out what type of partner you are, but otherwise, skip this book. Read something less exaggerated instead. (2 out of 5 potential partners)

You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers: I listened to this book, which is a memoir of living with faceblindness and growing up in a really messed-up family. When the book began and Heather mentioned a family secret, I was expecting something much more lewd than what had actually happened, like maybe Heather’s husband was once married to her mother and she didn’t recognize him because of her faceblindness. (I’ve read too much fiction, I know.) But no, the actual secret was quite dull in comparison. The story didn’t flow too well, either, and there was a lot of jumping that was hard to follow while listening to the book. I learned a lot about faceblindness, but I wish the story were more about faceblindness or growing up in a messed-up family because the two combined didn’t mesh together all that well. (2 out of 5 unrecognizable faces)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This is the YA novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and… damn. I read this book in one sitting, stopping briefly about halfway through to heat up some soup for dinner and keep reading. This book is wonderful, the author is wonderful (seriously, I met her at an event here in Atlanta a month or so ago), and everything in this novel is just spot-on–the characters, the prose, the realness of the book, the significance of the events, everything. There were some parts that made me stop and think “Would that really happen?” but then realized that this was my privilege talking and yes, these things really do happen. Stop reading this review and go read the book for yourself. (5 out of 5 protests)

The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman: I listened to this book, which is a tl;dr of a traditional MBA program. The author first makes the case that you don’t need an MBA to succeed in business. He has a point, although some people go into these programs for other reasons. What Kaufman does instead is give an overview of most of the business and psychology concepts you’d hear about in an MBA program. Since this book is a summary, there is much more breadth than depth, and Kaufman acknowledges this. But there’s enough material here to give you a taste of what you’re interested in, as well as resources to continue your studies in the area of your choice. (4 out of 5 business plans)

A Passage to Shambhala by Jon Baird and Kevin Costner: I read this book for my library’s monthly book club, and unfortunately this book was a bit of a dud. The book takes place during World War I and is told in alternating prose and graphic format. While the art was great, the alternating storytelling method made the story itself hard to follow. The characters were also hard to distinguish in the art since the images weren’t in full color, but this could be a personal quirk of mine instead of an actual complaint. Despite my worries that I’d be the only one at book club who disliked this book, everyone disliked it. Whew. (2 out of 5 WTF moments)

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: I wanted to like this book because hello, bookseller! Bookstore on a boat! In Paris! Main character going to find themselves! If there were math in this book, I’d say it were written for me. Jean Perdu is a bookseller who believes some books are remedies for what ail us, but he can’t seem to find a cure for his own ailments of the heart. After finally reading a letter from his lover who left him years ago, he heads south in order to make peace with his past. Good premise with interesting secondary characters, but the execution was disappointing and felt cobbled together and predictable. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the book was translated from German. If you like sweet predictable books, then you might like this. (3 out of 5 book barges)

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu: As I’m writing this review, I’m switching between this site, Twitter, IRC, email, Godville, and tracking a package out for delivery. This book delivers a compelling history of all the attention merchants trying to grab our attention, from commercial breaks to reality TV to Internet ads, and how we’ve been fighting back: adblockers, not paying attention, and the like. If you’ve ever wondered about how we’ve come to accept all these distractions in our lives, read this book. It’s a fascinating read. (4 out of 5 distractions)

What’s up next? I’m currently listening to Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Strangely enough, I’m not reading a physical copy of anything and haven’t in several days due to being busy with other things. Time to change this.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2017, Week One: Adventures in Planning

If you’ve been following along on Twitter, you may recall that my Camp NaNoWriMo project is planning for 60 minutes a day. To be specific, figuring out plot, character, and pacing for three of my past NaNoWriMo novels: the pumpkin novel, the parallel worlds novel, and the anxiety girl novel. (Surprisingly, the last one is the only one without a pending title.) I’ve been tracking my progress via minutes, which has turned out to be the most useful metric for this type of project–tracking words is nearly impossible, and tracking hours makes it hard to track partial hours. Tracking minutes has also been useful since most of my progress has happened in chunks of less than an hour, usually in sessions of fifteen to thirty minutes.

Why planning? I hate planning. I’ve always been that kid who wrote the first draft of a paper, then outlined it whenever a professor asked for an outline. I’ve tried planning for novels before, trying to figure out scenes and key events in a story, but this usually results in me staring at the paper or the screen and saying “I could stare at this paper and figure it out or I could just write the freaking thing.” Or “Who cares what color the character’s eyes are? There are too many options? How can I choose just one? Can’t I just write the thing and figure it out that way?” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which route I’d take instead.

So I avoided the planning process. Even the times I attempted to plan something, I’d quit a few minutes later and never come back. And then I’d go right back into pantsing my way through a new first draft (or the occasional second) out of a vague concept, even if it’s like pulling teeth at times. (But then again, what act of creation doesn’t involve some teeth-pulling at some point?) This method isn’t a bad one in itself; for me, it works great for the first draft, and occasionally for the second, provided I reread the first draft before attempting a second draft. But since I base the second draft off my first draft, both of them are still disorganized messes that require lots of time, attention, and focus to turn those messes into something less messy.

Therein lies my problem. I now have at least three past NaNo novels that I’d like to see developed further. I’ve completed first and second drafts for all three of them (and an adapted screenplay for one of them, RIP Script Frenzy). But since I took the same approach to both of those novels, I wound up with two messes. Messes with some salvageable gems, sure, but messes all the same. If I’m going to continue working on these novels, I need to take a serious look at what I’m doing so I don’t screw up the next version as much. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do for camp: figure out characters, events, pacing, and everything else a novel needs so I can write a third draft that I can use as a base for editing.

Most of my time so far has been spent on the anxiety girl novel. This isn’t surprising since I worked on this novel most recently of the three (2015 and 2016 NaNoWriMo). I did switch over to working on the other two projects a few days ago after getting stuck on planning for Anxiety Girl, but the next day I went right back to that novel with more inspiration than ever. On Wednesday night I found myself still full of ideas after half an hour but knew I needed to go to bed if I was going to get a reasonable amount of sleep that night. Alas.

Those flashes of inspiration are finally coming back. I remember that joy: the joy of coming up with an idea and furiously searching for some way to scribble it down. The small notebooks with the occasional page of novel concepts and character ideas. I used to have these flashes of inspiration for past novels, but for some reason they stopped. I don’t know what happened, but over the last few years, I rarely found myself getting excited over ideas and scribbling them down. Maybe it’s because I’ve been concentrating so hard on word count for the last two or three years. I don’t know.

But I do know some of that joy in writing is starting to come back. And I can only hope that it’s ready to hang out for awhile.

Coming later this month: things I’m good at when planning and things I need to work on