Me and Unconscious Bias

I’m not a racist and no, there isn’t a but coming. I just wasn’t brought up that way, and it would never occur to me to treat someone differently because of the color of their skin. I think that’s stupid. But I never gave that much thought to it until I went away to college. I came home for various vacations and since I was close to my parents, I’d tell them all about my new friends at college. My mother eventually came to visit me and met some of these people, some of whom were black or hispanic. She was pleasantly surprised because I had apparently never thought to mention their color to her, any more than I had described Stewart as having dark brown hair and Willa as being blonde. (Okay, I did tell her Helen was a redhead—I mean, that hair had really made an impression on me.)

My mother later told me it meant a lot to her, because she had tried very hard while bringing me up to make sure I didn’t see a difference based on color. And when she found she had succeeded, she was very proud of herself. I hadn’t realized I’d never mentioned skin colors and when I thought of it, I realized it was because that didn’t have anything to do with who these people were to me or why I liked them.

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Just an Amusing Story

It's last week, and I get a call from Crissie, who is fussed because her husbandish, Shaun, has been abruptly called away on a business trip to Arkansas where it is apparently snowing. Crissie grew up in Florida and she has a deep-seated distrust of winter weather.

"Shaun won't listen to me," she complains. "He keeps saying that it's only a couple of inches, so they'll plow and everything will be fine."

I grew up in Connecticut and can attest to the fact that this is very true. Two inches of snow in a place where snow is a regular occurrence is not a big deal.

"They know how to deal with snow in the mountains," I tell her, trying to be reassuring.

"Mountains?" says Crissie. "What mountains?"

Crissie grew up in Florida and has a deep-seated distrust of hills.

"Haven't you ever heard of the Ozarks?" I ask.

"Silly Cassie," says Crissie, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "There can't possibly be any mountains because Shaun would never have gone off to drive around in the snow in the mountains without telling me."

"The Ozarks are really more of a plateau," I say while I hastily Google the weather in Arkansas in an effort to reassure her since my previous effort has clearly backfired. In fact, it has made things much, much worse. "We're not talking the Rockies here. Where exactly is he going?"

"Fort Smith and the rural area north of there."

While Crissie goes on about the mountains and snow and Shaun's heedlessness of her expert, in-depth knowledge of Arkansas weather, if not Arkansas geography, I find a local news site for Fort Smith. All right, I think, I'll have her calmed down in no time now.

Only the site is talking about the weather. It's the lead story. There's a winter storm warning in effect, but they seem less worried about the snow than about the ice storm.

"What's an ice storm?" asks Crissie, who grew up in Florida, etc.

"Freezing rain, like sleet," I say, still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that she may actually have something to worry about here.

"That doesn't sound so bad," she says.

"It's not, unless there's a real build up of ice," I say.

"What happens then?" she asks.

"Well, the roads can get like an ice-skating rink. And it can build up on the tree limbs and power lines, which means power outages. But that's only--oh, no."

"What do you mean oh no?"

I've clicked on the link to NOAA's website for the official warning. Build up of a half inch to an inch of ice on the roads. Widespread power outages predicted. Hazardous conditions; advisory says to stay home.

But what makes me laugh is the map, where the area of ice storm is colored in purple. Arkansas doesn't have much purple, but what it does have is firmly centered around Fort Smith and points north.

"I think you'd better call Shaun and tell him to turn around," I say.

"No shit," says Crissie.


Last weekend marked the end of my personal NaNoWriMo--CaNoWriMo if you will. I was hoping to get to the end of the first draft in that time, but I didn't make it. I logged 80,000 words, which is 2/3 to 3/4 of the book (somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 words to go). I was a little surprised (and bummed) to find that I couldn't do it in a month when apparently dozens of people do it every November. Then I remembered NaNoWriMo is based on writing 50,000 words in a month, and I felt quite chuffed. Then I listened to a Writing Excuses podcast in which Brandon Sanderson mentioned writing 16,000 words in a day and felt bummed again when I considered how pleased I had been by the day in which I wrote just over 6,000. Then again, I am old enough to be Sanderson's mother. Well, I think I am. I don't actually have any idea how old he is, but he looks quite young in his author photo.

So I've set a new goal: two more weeks to finish the book in. We'll see if I make it. For those of you keeping track, this is my new fantasy novel, which does not yet have a publisher or even an agent since Jenn has not yet seen it. *fingers crossed*

About Ghost Story

I read something awhile ago that's been niggling at me ever since. It has to do with the last Harry Dresden book, "Ghost Story" by Jim Butcher. It was this guy's opinion that the series had jumped the shark with this book, basically because the book didn't push the overall story further, it was just about Harry dealing with being dead, and everyone else dealing with Harry being dead, too.

This is an opinion that I could not disagree more with. I thought "Ghost Story" was brilliant. Starting off reading it, I was a little wary of a book in which Harry could not do magic, but in fact I loved the book to death. I'm really looking forward to re-reading it prior to the release of "Cold Days" in a couple of months.

So why did I like it so much, and why do I feel it was the very opposite of jumping the shark? In a nutshell, because the characters all developed. Plus I thought the plot was as good as any in the previous books.

For me, a series jumps the shark when the characters stop progressing and each book is just more of them doing the same thing over again. There are a number of series I've stopped reading because of that, and a number of TV shows I've stopped watching for the same reason. On TV, I've noticed that the characters tend to become characatures of themselves, endlessly playing the same note.

In "Ghost Story" the characters progressed with a vengeance. It's true that the book was quite different from the others in the series since in this one, Harry himself didn't know where things were at, and we spent a lot of time learning alongside him what had happened to these people since last time. But different is not necessarily bad--in fact, I think it's essential to keeping a series alive.

In Which My Life Becomes a Farce

I don't know who I pissed off, but they're really, really mad.

Last Friday, I went to bed around 2 a.m. and was sleeping soundly when my roommate called for me at a little after 4. There was a terrific thunder storm going on, and the noise the rain makes on the skylight over the stairs pretty much drowns out any other sound, so it wasn't until I got downstairs that I heard the gushing.

The hose from the washing machine had burst and was spraying a fountain into my kitchen. We jerked the washer out from the wall, and then I climbed up on it to try to turn off the tap, with water spraying into my face the while. The tap wouldn't budge. Carol fetched tools. Still wouldn't budge. 

So out into the rain and wind to run around the building and turn off the main. That at least turned easily enough and I trotted back inside, only to find it had only lowered the water pressure, not turned the water off. Back outside. Nope, the tap out there is as off as it's going to get. Emergency plumber time.

It's now almost five and it took awhile for the plumber to come, by which time there was two inches of water on my kitchen floor, seeping into all the adjacent closets and rooms.

So there was plumbing and Stanley Steemer and loud giant fans and the AC set at 85 degrees.

The next day I went off to take down a merch display I'd been babysitting at Sam's Club. I'd checked with them earlier in the week about when to come because they close early on Sundays and the girl at the desk had said 6 p.m. was good. So I got to work and once I was almost done, I needed some zip ties and went off to the back to get some. Which was when I realized it was awfully quiet. Yup, they'd all left and locked me into the store.

Monday passed quietly enough, making me think this bizarre turn of events might be over. But no. Tuesday morning T-Mobile shut my phone off because of a glitch in their system which said my monthly renewal was due two days earlier than my automatic renewal was set to kick in. So I missed the call from the insurance adjuster and I had to yell at the T-Mobile automated system to get a real person on the line.

I'm almost afraid to find out what happens tomorrow.

Jaguar's Buick

Jaguar has managed to make a car that looks like a Buick. God only knows why they have done this, but I am miffed. I spent a lot of time and effort creating a cool character and I gave him an iconic, cool car to drive. And now it looks like a Buick? Good grief.

On Description

I'm reading an epic military fantasy at the moment. It's a very popular one, and deservedly so, but this one aspect has really been bothering me. We've been having pages and pages of descriptions of the aftermath of the slaughter in a city. It's very graphic, gory stuff, describing streets and buildings choked with bodies and parts of bodies. Honestly, it's a bit overkill for my tastes, but my tastes are not everyone's and there's no doubt the prose is very evocative.

Except for the fact that there's no smell. In all this detailed description of rivers of blood and bodies oozing various things, of bodies packed so tightly into a house that they're holding it up and as they bloat and exude liquids, the said liquids begin to seep through the masonry--no smell. I mean, can you imagine how foul-smelling that would be? Even taking the bodies out of the equation, the smell of that much blood alone is nausea-inducing. 

Anyway, it's begun to really get to me for some reason. Every time I get to another gory description, all I'm doing is waiting for the smell to surface.

Old Memories

The older you get, the more likely your memories will be out of date. A very long time ago I visited Camden Town and what I mostly remember from that visit is an old Victorian warehouse that was being converted into flats. Camden Town was very arty back then, the kind of up and coming neighbourhood that young artists move into because they can't afford the nice, safe places. So a few years later, when I began to come up with some characters and a storyline that included young artists, Camden Town seemed to fit.

Fast forward to today. Or, really, to last year, when I brought out that old story and began to write it. I've been in London many times since that visit, but not up to Camden. So I did a lot of research (mostly involving the Google maps street view), and found flats & workspaces for all my characters, and mapped out routes for Bethancourt and Gibbons to walk while interviewing suspects. The only place I hadn't nailed down was the main one, the converted Victorian warehouse. God alone knows where the real one I saw was, or if it even exists anymore.

That bothered me, and as I began to work my way back into the book, re-reading what I'd written and such, I couldn't help but try to nail it down. And somehow, in doing this, it belatedly occurred to me that perhaps part of my problem was that Camden Town had long ago finished gentrifying and the artists had moved elsewhere.

Bingo. They moved to Shoreditch. And Hoxton. And apparently they're in the middle of moving into Haggerston. It's a pity I've never been to that part of London, or that I can't afford to go now. So I've spent all day re-working the setting for my book. It's still not done, but it's as done as it's going to get today.

State of the Writing

This week I have finished up the queries for both MSS and they are out being vetted by my beta readers. They should get back to me shortly, and then the queries will go off the Lovely Agent. She, however, is all busy with WorldCon (yes, I am jealous, I would love to go this year), and when she gets back she will no doubt be backed up work-wise, so I probably will not hear from her for awhile.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. I have a rough draft of the beginning of Bethancourt 5 (yes, that is the working title & I don't care that it's not a proper one, it's the one I'm using), which I have begun to read over to put my head back in the book. I will be working on that, though it may get interrupted once the Lovely Agent has had time to look at my queries. I also have a first draft of a Bethancourt short story which I'll be going over and submitting once it's good enough. In addition, I've got an idea for a fantasy short story. I don't know if that one's going to pan out or not, but I'll probably put some work in on that as well.

That's what's on the agenda as far as writing goes, but before I really hunker down I'm going review how to use Dreamweaver so I can update my website. And I'd like to clean up the house a bit.

Writing Update

I have finished my rough draft--yay, me! So now all I have to do is write a scintillating synopsis which will make my lovely agent pant to read the whole thing. Actually, I still have to write a scintillating synopsis for the second book project, too, and *then* I can send both off to the aforesaid lovely agent and see if she thinks either of them is a good idea. By which I mean, an idea she might be able to sell. As soon as I've done that, I'll work on the Bethancourt e-book while I'm waiting to hear back from her.

The book, BTW, is by no means finished. Being a discovery writer rather than an outliner, I have to write my way through the whole thing before I know where it's going or how it's going to get there. What I end up with at the end of this process is a book with some parts pretty much exactly the way they need to be, but with a lot of parts that need re-writing, and a lot of stuff I discovered farther in that needs to have a foundation laid earlier for it. There's also usually some repetitive stuff that needs to be streamlined, because when I'm introducing a new idea I tend to do it, and then expound on it later, and maybe then expound on it even more even later on. That's because it's still maturing in my mind, and normally I need to take the later stuff and put it where the initial bit came in.

But I'm stopping here because I don't want to spend a lot of time on a project that may never see the light of day. I already made that mistake once and wasted a year on polishing a novel that's not right for the market. Hopefully, one of these will do better and, if not, then it's on to two new projects until I hit one that somebody wants to buy.