What’s in a name?

Aimless pondering ahead:

While at the dayjob, I came across the name (Chinese in origin, I believe) “Sin” (Google says it might be an alternative spelling to Xin, but that’s beside the point), and it got me to thinking about character names. Sometimes authors choose very specific names for specific reasons/meanings. Now imagine you come across the name “Sin” – what does it evoke in you? What does it make you think about? Aside from the Chinese meaning (which I couldn’t find), it has the english meaning (which I don’t think I need to explain) and is the Spanish word for “without”. 

Which was the author’s intention? Obviously if there are context clues (like the character is Chinese), then it’s possibly straightforward. But what if it’s in a fantasy world without our-world cultural references? The English major in me is contemplating all the different papers that could be written based on what interpretation you choose—and an English paper is really just a fancy form of reader impression/interpretation. Is the character named that because he bears the sins of the father? Or perhaps she is without sin (hah, see what I did there?). Or maybe there are even more translations from other languages that use those three little letters in that particular order!

Along these lines, keeping to standard (American) names, name choice can evoke very different reactions in people. I’ve seen people say they cannot read a book with their name as the main characters (which let me tell you, happens to me A LOT). Or with their sibling/parent/child’s name. Because we associate that name so tightly to the people in our lives.

And of course, even without knowing someone, a name’s meaning is open to interpretation. Is he named Blue because he’s sad? Calm? The author liked the name? Is she Grace because she’s blessed or because she’s coordinated?

No real point here, just some random thoughts about character names, author intention, and the wide possibility of interpretation. I guess the English Major in me woke up.

What Candy Crush taught me…

I was late to the phone app game, and scoffed at people who played. After all, it was just mindless entertainment. Couldn’t you find something better to do with your time?

The fact is, it being mindless entertainment is the point (that I missed at the time). Because sometimes you need something more interactive/stimulating than a TV show. It’s also colorful and gives you tiny rewards that release all sorts of positive chemicals, but that’s not the lesson I learned:

Even when you fail, you can try again tomorrow.

You only have so many Hearts. Sometimes you hit a level that you fail at again and again (and again, after watching a video to earn an extra Heart). So what do you do? You put the device down, step away, do something else. And tomorrow (or several hours later when you’ve regained Hearts), you try again. (Or you use gold bars and/or real money to buy more lives, but let’s put that aside for now.)

The same thing applies to life. This story isn’t working? Put it aside for now and pick it up later. Didn’t get everything done on your to-do list? Well, maybe you spent all your Hearts on washing the dishes, so you’ll have to do the next level tomorrow (or next weekend). For the most part, the levels will wait, and we have time to do them, or try again later if we didn’t succeed the first time.

Oh, and every once in a while, treat yourself to a candy explosion.

Unreal Fiction

For the past few weeks I’ve been watching Psych (only a little behind the times) because I wanted something light that I wasn’t going to get super invested in (I’m in season 5 now). What I find interesting about the show is the levels of suspension of disbelieve it requires to watch it.

This is not a critique and analysis of Psych and what it portrayed accurately, but rather the attitude about accuracy and the suspension of disbelief in fiction, and here I’ll mostly be thinking of contemporary romance fiction as the genre with which I’m most familiar. We’ve all seen arguments about how accurate and factual a book should be, how much research an author should do, and how stories need to be grounded in reality (if they are contemporary fiction). I’ve even seen it argued that people will use these as tool in their own life, so we’re required to present the facts correctly.

To which a big part of me says…REALLY?

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand inaccuracies throwing a reader out of a story, and that is an important consideration. (Ask me about 99% of stories involving horses and people writing them that do not know what they’re talking about.) However, I question how real reality needs to be in fiction. Because the stories are made up (and the points don’t matter), does it matter if something is an accurate portrayal?

To some degree, I think stories have to be grounded in reality because of common knowledge (ie, if you ignore that World War Two happened, the reader isn’t likely to suspend disbelief that far). But for less common knowledge, or facts that toe the line of accuracy for sake of a good story–does it matter that the author diverged from reality?

Can you have a gay romance in a small town where the two mains are both out and proud and receive no backlash? Can you have a story take place in the “now” but ignore that the government is a horror movie and the world’s on fire if you wrote the book in 2020?

Yes, because it’s fiction. (And you can feel free to disagree, but you’re wrong ;P)

Going a step further (and circling back around), can you create a premise that is maybe not grounded in reality but still has its feet on the ground (like, say, a fake psychic solving a ton of cases for a local police station)? Can you fudge the laws of inheritance to create dramatic tension? Can you ignore the reality that half your cast shouldn’t have green eyes? Can you ignore that your uterus-having characters never have to deal with a period? Can you fudge that if someone actually missed work as much as the MC did because of story drama, they’d likely be fired?

Within reason, I say yes, as long as it’s not a glaring issue that will throw the average reader completely from the story and make them unable to suspend their disbelief. IE, the story could happen in a very similar parallel universe.

I’m not judging stories that purposefully keep their stories grounded in reality–props to them–but that shouldn’t make them inherently better in some way. Because these are fictional stories.

That said, the less you can diverge from reality in a book that is meant to take place in the real world’s present, the more real your story may feel. But I don’t think we should tell writers they can’t (shouldn’t) write that story about the professional Mennonite football player (who sends all his big bucks back to his community) and the love he finds along the way, as long as the author can sell the story to the reader.

(Please do not think this post means that I’m excusing stories for being all straight, cis, and white [which doesn’t properly express reality’s diversity]. There’s a difference between changing something for dramatic story telling and ignoring that gravity exists. But I’d also argue most of those stories aren’t actively deciding to ignore a fact and more are just showing their own bias/ignorance. Many of us need to do better. I’m also not trying to excuse stories that actively do harm to people, although that is a fuzzy line and a different debate.)

Weekend Worrier

Saturday dawned overcast and wet, and with plans to paint all day, I sighed and got down to writing.

Word count in, I headed off at 9am to the communal riding arena, where my 4-H club had already power-washed the jumps earlier in the week and left them to dry. For today, we painted.

And in case you don’t know how much work there was….

And some of it you can’t see, tucked in the corner. Five adults, five kids (and a few stragglers), and five hours’ work and one break for pizza, but we accomplished our goal. Eventually the sun came out, not that we really got to see it.

I got home by five, utterly exhausted. I woke up on Sunday similarly exhausted, with my body pointing out it wasn’t used to certain things (kneeling on cement and lugging heavy coops). My body laughed at the idea of writing, so I spent the day slipping into depression and watching TV.

But unlike my umpteenth watch of GBBO, I watched new stuff! Two new episodes of Fruits Basket (2019) and six episodes of My Roommate is a Cat.

For the unfamiliar, Fruits Basket was originally released in 2001….before the manga had finished. The new anime is following the manga more faithfully, although the beginning is pretty much the same as previously. If you’re new the to show, it’s worth a watch, although it’s not without problems (I abhor Kagura’s opening episode at least) and parts feel a bit dated because of the source material.

If you’re familiar with the original but haven’t picked up the new stuff, then I’d recommend holding off until you can watch chunks at a time. Much of the beginning feels repetitious since it’s the same material with only a few new bits sprinkled in (or at least more obvious).

My Roommate is a Cat is an excellent anime if you want to watch something cute and sweet and low-key. Say if you’ve slipped into a depressive funk and can’t bear the idea of emotions. (CW: story opens with parental death, later episodes have flashback cat deaths.)

The story focuses on an extreme introvert author who is being forced to interact with the real world. While his aversion to people is being “fixed” to an extent, it’s also done in such a way that I found positive – as in, being an introvert is fine and part of who he is, but he took it too far and needs to find balance in his life.

It also touches upon found/chosen family, facing things that are difficult, and learning to do things for those you love. The episodes spend half the time in the human’s POV and half the time in the cat’s POV.

I still have two episodes left, but I’d recommend it as a nice slice-of-life story with an overall positive feel to it.

Writer’s Block, What Writer’s Block…

At the end of April I finished a project I was working on. It was a full novel and I was super excited about it. It was fun to write and hopefully will stand-up to being read. I finished it on the first morning of vacation, so I didn’t expect to write much for the rest of that weekend.

And then it happened.

I had planned on jumping back into my not-a-rock-star-any-longer story. So I brewed on it. Thought on it. Reread it. But didn’t write a darn thing. Bit of a slump, I thought after the first week. Just coming down off that finished-book high.

By the 13th I was getting worried. I hadn’t written a word all month. I wasn’t going to hit my monthly word goal, THAT was for sure! (The creeping panic of I’m never going to write again was screaming in my head, but I’ll ignore that.)

Then I saw a submission call retweeted about an alien romance. I happened to have an alien romance that I wrote yonks ago. It was roughly 2k and pretty much skipped all of the story except them meeting and the fun alien sex. So, hey, I already had a basic plot! I could write that. Not fret about it too much, get me writing again.



Well, it sort of worked. I wrote a little, then a little more, then a little more. All told, I wrote just under 4K. And then I heard about a holiday submission call, and was like this alien story isn’t due until later, let me work on THAT. And I wrote just over 6K.

In the end, I met my word goal for the month (I snuck in with 10,003) and I have two possible stories started. They might both be terrible and uninspired (one is definitely depressing), but I wrote. And that’s a big step of the process–because once you start writing, it’s easier to continue. It’s that lethargy of not writing that drags you down.

Or at least drags me down. I don’t write every day, but getting out of habit of exercising my writing gives me weak writing–in that there isn’t any writing at all.

To my brother: Yeah, you were right, I did it.

Happy Birthday to Me

My birthday has always signaled the end of summer to me (and probably still does for a lot of kids). It was always a week or so before school started, and so the free, wild days were gone.

This year my birthday just signals the end of a very busy month.

After dog-sitting a geriatric pup at the end of July, I had roughly a week and a half to breathe before rushing off to my own four-day vacation. I got back from that and immediately (like, didn’t even unpack vacation stuff) went to my parents’ house to cat-sit for them (it’s actually more like garden-sit, because I’ll be honest, the garden takes more work than the cat. Though the garden doesn’t wake me up at 3 am begging for breakfast). I drove home on Monday from THAT and here we are.

To say the least, my word count is lacking, my birthday has come (it was Wednesday), and I’m really looking forward to September! *check calendar* October!

Oh, and there’s a Christmas piece that deadlines in the middle of September that I’m trying to hit. NO PRESSURE SELF. 😛

But really, even with all the crazy, I’ll likely hit my word count for August, I had a good time on vacation, I got to ride a lot this month, and things are pretty good.

I hope everyone else had a nice summer too.

One Queer Journey

Right. So this week I’m house-sitting for my parents, and since the cat hasn’t changed much in the year since I’ve watched her, you won’t be getting more adorable cat pictures.

Instead, I decided to spend my week going through the boxes of my stuff that are still at my parents’ house (two boxes of stuffed animals, one box of books, two boxes of miscellaneous junk). One of those boxes had a shoebox full of photos (organized by film roll/date and sorted accordingly because it’s me). I also found an unused photo album, and since I’m all about downsizing, I decided to junk all the photos that I couldn’t fit in the album. That’s my childhood reduced to 160 pictures (aside from those photo albums I’ve already made).

Which meant I spent a few days going through the photos of my childhood (which involved a lot of me taking weird pictures of birthday presents, because that was a thing I loved to do. As if I was going to forget what I’d gotten). And I thought it’d be fun to share my haircut journey. Some of these I look back on and say, “Really, genderqueer, why was this a surprise?”

Back in the day I had fairly blond hair. And since I had two older brothers, my mother LOVED to put me in dresses. I was not as happy about this.

You can’t see the full extent of frilly dress-itude in this picture, but I think the bow says an awful lot.

But long hair does not a girly-girl make. My mom may have insisted on dresses for holidays, church, and special occasions, but most of the time I ran around in jeans…or cleats.

Because I played soccer! I loved soccer. My dad was a great coach, I was fairly athletic, and I got to be rough and tumble. I wasn’t a good long-distance runner, but I could sprint well and knock people (completely legally) on their butts.

The older I got, the more I resisted the dresses, the more I was a ‘tomboy’, until eventually….

Listen, I’m not saying it was a great haircut on me, but this was probably sometime in the nineties, so we’ll just go with that as the excuse. Also, I’m pretty sure it was the first time my parents (read: my mother) let me pick my own hairstyle. And the hairstylist just sort of went along with me, I think. The details are a little fuzzy.

I don’t necessarily think clothes make the man, but they sure do say something about me 🙂

And yes, in that first picture I was holding Mario Paint. It was the one video game that was MINE and not my brothers’ and I was so proud of it (even though it wasn’t nearly as fun as all the games my brothers had that I played).

In high school I let my hair grow out again, either because I do sometimes like it long (even if all I do is put it in a ponytail or braid) or because peer pressure indicated long hair was a must to attract the attention of guys (which is what all high schoolers want, right?).

So I let it grow out. And out and out and out. The picture shows the absolute length of my hair (it doesn’t grow any longer, because I shed too fast for it go do so. It also shows my hair’s tendency to have a SLIGHT wave.

The reason I took this sort of random shot?

Because it was the summer before my freshman year of college, and I once again cut all my hair off. I didn’t go as drastically short this time, mostly because I was going through enough changes, I didn’t want to look stupid (which I then felt like I looked back with my short hair).

Over the course of college my hair got shorter and shorter and shorter, until a few years after graduation, when I started getting basically the same short hair as I have now (with some variations and different styles over the years).

So here I am. Thanks for joining me on this journey down memory lane!

I’m not a frog.

Part of me wants to sit here and write a post about how I haven’t gotten anything done because I’ve been busy and now I’m dog sitting a geriatric dog who weighs about as much as me and who can’t go up and down steps in an old house that is nothing but steps. I was going to complain how I’m exhausted and sleepy and the dog is sitting at the bottom steps of the porch unable to get in because going up steps is nearly impossible. I was also going to complain about how I’ve been here a day and a half and have had to clean up two piles inside the house already. There was going to be a lot of whining here.

And I think I have good reason to be whiny and exhausted. But today I’m going to strive to be positive. My friends just had their first baby! His name is Owen and I haven’t seen him (they haven’t left the hospital yet and the pic I saw was a wrinkly little raisin), but he’s the first born among my friends, so it’s exciting.

I rode yesterday, and while it wasn’t a great ride (*refrains from whining*), I’m glad I got one last ride in before my week away (and a week of intense heat!). I also did all the barn chores, so I feel less bad about eating those three cupcakes last night while rewatching The Force Awakens. And I saw some toads, which isn’t unusual, but most of the time they are large (the size of a coaster), but I also saw a tiny one (pictured) who was roughly the size of a quarter. (Let me tell you, it’s hard to take a picture of something that small, in poor lighting, while playing the game of “how close can I get before you hop away.”)

The rest of the day was a blur of frustration and exhaustion, so I won’t go on about it. This week was pretty good in the writing avenue, and though I’m sleepy and grumpy, I’m going to try to keep that momentum going this morning. Possibly while listening to Christmas music. Because reasons 😉 Hey, it is Christmas in July, isn’t it?!

Hop to it!

I could be writing…

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, and, despite what media would have you believe, depression doesn’t actually cause you to be creative in artist outlets. So I haven’t really been doing too much writing (although I have gotten a few thousand words here and there). When I’m in this mood, I don’t usually do much reading either, and I rely on my safe movies and shows. 

And my safest show of all? M*A*S*H. Yep, it came out before I was born, but I love it. And yes, I realize it has flaws (what doesn’t?), but for a long while it was the longest-running show, and while others may disagree, it ended just as strongly as it started. But the trick is, it ended DIFFERENTLY than it started. It began as a goofy comedy just in for the laughs, but the humor matured as the series did, and it became more than humor, often taking on serious, heavy topics. 
Of course, some people might not like the changes it went through. They wanted comedy, not deep questioning of morality that strove to build character. But I think the series ended stronger than it started, although I agree it couldn’t have continued in such a  manner forever. I think it worked best that it started light and corny and grew into it’s own shoes.
Plus it offers a variety of entertainment based on your mood. Want eye-rolling jokes? Go for season one. Want heart-jerking depth? Season eleven. Want tender warmth (and often tears)? Hit up any of the Christmas episodes. The trick is that they changed, over time, from episode to episode sometimes, and used a variety of tricks and tools to keep things fresh (for the most part). Yes, there are times where the hospital chatter gets boring, but the stories that are woven throughout are worth it. 
Just to give you an idea of how much M*A*S*H sits in my heart: I rewatched the entire series over the past few months. It’s a fantastic way to turn off my brain, especially when I’m stressed.
And yes, I could have been writing. But relaxing then will hopefully help me be rejuvenated for the future!
Also: Go watch M*A*S*H (I prefer the series after season 3, when they introduce Colonel Potter.)

The Art of the Short Story

I just finished The Model Millionaire, an anthology of Oscar Wilde short stories (and named after the story with the same name). In the back, there was also a modern short story, “Tiger, Tiger” by Simon  Van Booy.

It’s interesting to look at Wilde’s short stories and compare them to “Tiger, Tiger” and some other modern stories that I’ve read recently (including those submitted in my writers’ group).

Wilde’s stories tended to be rather straightforward. They told a story chronologically, made a point, and moved on. While the stories didn’t lack subtlety (and I’m sure someone who has studied Wilde in depth would point out how much subtlety there is), I would finish reading a story, be able to quickly draw my conclusions, and move on. I’m certain if I go back and read it again, I’ll pull more from it, but I basically feel as if I “got the gist” in my first read.

However, the more modern stories I’ve read (which tend to be read as more “literary”, which may be why they come across like this), seem to be asking the reader to do all the work. Some are told chronologically, some skip all over the place, and they both tell stories, but the telling (both in the information that is provided and the information that is almost obviously not included) seems to beg the reader to understand and get the author’s point.

The stories feel like they’re nothing but subtleties. A little bit like if I don’t get the point (or take the time to get the point), the authors are going to peer down at me from their place on high and think me unworthy. I’m probably reading too much into it, but it’s not really the feeling I want when I finish reading something.

(Note: I still enjoyed reading some of the stories that gave me this feeling, and some just left me with an”Well, I see” feeling, but in retrospect I got the feeling that required deeper analysis. And while I enjoy analyzing works, I also don’t want it to be a requirement of my enjoyment.)

I’m not sure I could say whether I enjoyed Wilde’s stories or the more modern ones better, but it’s a curious comparison.

It’s also interesting to look at short stories and compare them to novels. In an anthology I started reading recently, the editor who compiled the stories noted that ‘people don’t read short stories any more, which is a shame because she’s read so many short stories that offered so much more than many of the books she’s read. ‘

After reading the first in that anthology, I got to thinking about the difference between stories and novels (aside from length) and the purpose behind them. Obviously the genre makes a difference (as a romance short story is going to be very different from a literary short story)…

But how many short stories do you find outside of literary ones? If you’re a reader of short stories, then you know which magazines to read, and you subscribe and you get those short stories–whether it’s literary or in your genre. Or you pick up “This Year’s Best Short Stories” and read that. But rarely–unless you have a group of friends who read short stories–is someone just going to recommend a short story to you. But someone will recommend a good book they’ve read.

(Money, spending, and purchasing all have to do with the decline of the short story as well, I’m sure, but I’m not focusing on that here.)

People don’t really read short stories, and I think part of this is because they aren’t just for enjoyment. And while books also may not just be for enjoyment, their agenda is wrapped in so much enjoyable story that the agenda doesn’t feel heavy to bear and compact to tear apart. Or perhaps it does, but you can enjoy the story without tearing apart and understanding all the agenda.

Meanwhile, after reading the various short stories that I’ve read, I don’t feel like I’ve been told stories so much, as I’ve been asked to ponder some things (some of which I might not really care about exploring). The brunt force of the short story’s purpose is the agenda, so the surface enjoyment is so much less that I can see why the short story has fallen out of favor with society as a whole. In a busy world like today, you would think that the short story would be in favor, but if the story is focused not on a compact telling of a story/scene/etc but rather a pondering about X topic…then it’s not really going to be seen as an enjoyable past-time.

(Note: I know this doesn’t apply to all short stories or all readers, but just in general.)

(Also, this post was going to be about short stories but a very different focus, and then I just kind of…went elsewhere with it. So apologies if it’s a little…untethered.)