Joxor

Your First Doctor Moment

I had this friend in college, and he and I were inseparable, like Han and Chewie.  Whenever one of us would do something, the other would follow, which was how I got roped into attending a private house party he’d heard about from a flyer that someone had given him.

I questioned both the entertainment value in a room full of strangers and also the safety of such a thing.  But he really wanted to go, and so we did.  We arrived at this house and discovered that several professors from our school’s biology department were there, and also the teacher’s aid for our natural sciences professor that semester, Dr. T.   We made light, awkward conversation with these professors, who seemed a little needled about us undergrads invading their space (we were early; there was no one else there to talk to) until one of us asked “is Dr. T coming?”  And one of them said “I should hope so; this is his house.”

Yes, we had accidentally gotten an invite to our professor’s party.  He and his partner had just had the entire house spongepainted by hand and were hosting a gathering to christen it.

His house was lovely–colorful, sparsely and tastefully decorated–and he gave us the tour.  I wandered into an upstairs office space to look at something, a desk, I don’t know.  I thought the room was pretty bare and unfinished, and then I turned around to exit.  On the wall beside the door, corner to corner, floor to ceiling, in perfect order, were shelves containing books.  Identical in size and shape.  Lovingly arranged.  Hundreds of books, at least.  Maybe over a thousand.

Each and every single goddamn one of them was a Doctor Who novel.

This was years before the current show got popular, and my only impression of Doctor Who at that point was of a British science fiction character with a big scarf.  But I was transfixed on this collection.  Even if I didn’t know a thing about Doctor Who back then, I was still an English major, and a dedicated library was something to appreciate.

Dr. T soon found me, still mesmerized.  When we spoke, it was quietly, in shared reverence of his hoard, as though we dared not disturb the books.

“I’ve been collecting them for years,” he said.

“Have you read them all?”

“I’ve read about ninety-five percent of them,” he said, completely candid; “they’re terrible.”

This is one of the weirdest memories I carry.  Since I was in the middle of a marathon sprint streaming Doctor Who episodes before I cut the TV cord, it’s been on my mind.

Zombie

Odyssey Writing Workshop 2012

If you are a writer of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and are considering a workshop to devote time to your writing, you should apply to Odyssey. It's a six-week summer workshop in New Hampshire.

I can't recommend it highly enough, speaking as a graduate. Not only do you get six whole weeks to devote to learning about, practicing, and developing your craft, but you learn how to recognize your strengths, how to address your weaknesses, and how to critique with a scalpel-sharp eye. You also--this is the best part--meet other writers and make new friends who share the same passion as you.

The deadline for this year's applications is April 7th.

Here is the press release with all relevant info:

ODYSSEY WRITING WORKSHOP ANNOUNCES ITS 17th SUMMER SESSION

About Odyssey

Since its founding in 1996, Odyssey has become one of the most respected workshops in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing community. Odyssey is for developing writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work. The six-week workshop combines advanced lectures, exercises, extensive writing, and in-depth feedback on student manuscripts. Top authors, editors, and agents have served as guest lecturers, including George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, Robert J. Sawyer, Ben Bova, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Hand, Jeff VanderMeer, Donald Maass, Sheila Williams, Shawna McCarthy, Carrie Vaughn, and Dan Simmons. Fifty-six percent of Odyssey graduates go on to professional publication.

The program is held every summer on Saint Anselm College's beautiful campus in Manchester, NH. Saint Anselm is one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country, dedicated to excellence in education, and its campus provides a peaceful setting and state-of-the-art facilities for Odyssey students. College credit is available upon request.

Jeanne Cavelos, Odyssey's director and primary instructor, is a best-selling author and a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, where she won the World Fantasy Award for her work. As an editor, Cavelos gained a reputation for discovering and nurturing new writers. She provides students with detailed, concrete, constructive critiques of their work. Cavelos said, "I've worked with many different writers, and I know that each writer thinks and works differently. We limit attendance at Odyssey to sixteen, so I can become deeply familiar with the work of each student and provide assessments of strengths and weaknesses. I work individually with each student, helping each one to find the best writing process for him, suggesting specific tools to target weaknesses, and charting progress over the six weeks," Cavelos said. Her typewritten critiques average over 1,200 words, and her handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive.

Odyssey class time is split between workshopping sessions and lectures. An advanced, comprehensive curriculum covers the elements of fiction writing in depth. While feedback reveals the weaknesses in students' manuscripts, lectures teach the tools and techniques necessary to strengthen them.

The workshop runs from June 11 to July 20, 2012. Class meets for four hours in the morning, five days a week. Students spend about eight hours more per day writing and critiquing each other's work. Prospective students, aged eighteen and up, apply from all over the world. The early admission application deadline is JANUARY 31, and the regular admission deadline is APRIL 7. Tuition is $1920, and housing is $790 for a double room in a campus apartment and $1580 for a single room.

Meet Our 2012 Writer-in-Residence

Odyssey's 2012 writer-in-residence, Jeanne Kalogridis, is the New York Times best-selling author of more than thirty books ranging from historical novels to dark fantasy to novelizations. She has written in many different genres, and has even written several nonfiction titles. Her novels are renowned for their detail and evocativeness. Her trilogy The Diaries of the Family Dracul was described as “authentically arresting” by the New York Times and “terrifying” by Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho. Kalogridis is also an amazing teacher and mentor, who has taught at the American University in Washington, D.C.

Other Guest Lecturers

Lecturers for the 2012 workshop include some of the best teachers in the field: acclaimed authors Paul Park, Elaine Isaak, Barbara Ashford, and Craig Shaw Gardner; and top agent Jennifer Jackson.

Odyssey Graduates

Graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop have been published in the top fiction magazines and by the top book publishers in the field. Their stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Analog, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Lightspeed, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Fantasy Magazine. Some of the recent novels published by Odyssey graduates are Kitty’s Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn, published by Tor Books; Spellcast by Barbara Ashford, published by DAW; Jane and the Raven King by Stephen Chambers, published by Sourcebooks; and Sword of Fire and Sea, by Erin Hoffman, published by Pyr Books.

Martin Larsson, from the class of 2011, had this to say about his Odyssey experience: “The six weeks of Odyssey were a roller-coaster ride of inspiration, inadequacy issues, laughter, tears, learning and despair. Somehow, with Jeanne at the helm, we navigated through all this and came out the other side, forever changed into better writers and better people. I came away from Odyssey with knowledge I didn't know existed and inspiration I've never felt before. Apply. Apply now.”

Comments from the Class of 2011

"I have a bachelor's in Spanish literature, an M.F.A. in writing, and a Ph.D. in linguistics, but nobody has ever taught me about writing the way I've been taught at Odyssey." --Donna Glee Williams

"The Odyssey course is amazing! What a privilege to be able to experience this level of teaching! The incredible amount of progress that each participant made during the course speaks for itself. Fantastic, inspiring teaching in a supportive and encouraging environment!" --K. V. Lavers

Other Odyssey Resources and Services

The Odyssey Web site, www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including online classes, a critique service, free podcasts, writing and publishing tips, and a monthly LiveJournal, as well as more information about how to apply. Those interested in applying to the workshop should visit the Web site, phone (603) 673-6234, or e-mail jcavelos@sff.net.
Zombie

Baking

I have this lofty dream of being a baker. Not professionally, just . . . able to bake. So far, all I've managed are some muffins. And pizza dough, if that counts. With a pizza on top of it.

There's a lot for me to learn.

Simple lessons came early. One of my muffin recipes said "mix all together in one bowl," so I added all sorts of ingredients from the list into the same bowl--wet and dry. The batter came out clumpy and was ridiculously hard to mix. And it's not like I haven't witnessed the "wet bowl vs. dry bowl" wisdom from watching cookies being made, so, no excuse. Except that the recipe skipped this instruction and I didn't have cause to think about it. Now I know. Separate wet and dry bowls.

I've recently come into possession of a stand mixer and I'm really itching to start baking with a vengeance. And I know where I want to start: bread.

Now I'm reading on the internet about different flours and the gluten content of each (mine is not a gluten-restrictive kitchen, but I do want the different types of food to come out tasting like they should). For instance: bread flour? Who knew?

There's this whole science to baking--and cooking in general--that fascinates me. I still think it's magic that adding salt to cookie batter is necessary to make them sweeter. Put ginger root in tea? Holy crap! So the chemistry of various flours and yeasts is proving to be a little overwhelming.

And since yeast is "living culture" I have of course been trying to make friends with it when I proof it. Hope you're ready to bake today, yeast. Time for your warm bath, yeast. Open wide, here's your sugar. I know it's your favorite. Now foam, you yeasty bastards, foam!

And then whenever it does, I lift my fists to the sky and shout that it lives.

Baking is fun!
Zombie

It's smarter than me

Holy crow, my new alarm clock is fancy. Granted it's just a regular clock, but soon as I plug it in, it automatically knows what time it is! Which means maybe it will auto reset during our random power blips!

I'm glad I held out for this one instead of the Hello Kitty alarm clock the store clerks were trying to push on me.

Now let's just hope it's more smash-resistant than the old one. (ahem)

Also (while it's on my mind), I read "Portrait of a Courtesan" by Megan Arkenberg in the latest and, regrettably, last issue of CROSSED GENRES. It's about an asexual female pimp, and is very good. I haven't gotten to the rest of the issue yet.


Jack: In a post-apocalyptic society, what possible use would they have for you?
Liz: Traveling bard.
Jack: Radiation canary.
Zombie

Cha-cha-cha-changes

I switched comic shops at a dinner party.

Ever since I started at my shop, I’ve been loyal to them out of what feels like obligation: they’re on my way home from work, they’re not a big retailer, they do charity drives, and most of my friends are fiercely loyal to the place. But, it lacks a welcoming quality.

Maybe our personalities don’t gel well. Maybe it’s the atmosphere where I felt the need to prove that I know what I’m talking about, an audition to be treated as an equal. Women get teased here sometimes, like we’re greenhorns on the subject matter. Whatever the reason, it has made me into a get-in-and-get-out shopper.

Still, I’m a loyal customer, and as a semi-regular they’re courteous to me. Which is why when I saw there was a new comic shop in town, my first reaction was, "well, that’s all well and good but it’s not my store."

Fast forward a few months and I get invited to a dinner party by a good friend, the guy who actually got me started on comics. Also invited were some new friends of his--the owners of this other shop, a married couple.

And they’re delightful. We talked for hours. They’re fun, passionate about the store and about comics in general, and most importantly, comfortable to talk to. They’re also big into indie comic publishing, and given recent events at the mainstream publisher I follow, that’s an alley I want to explore.

So the night ended, we’d made new friends, and I told them I’d try to stop by the shop.

Fast forward to the next day, Val and I were in the area doing some holiday chores and decided to swing by. It’s a new store--clean, but with less inventory than my usual place. Some customers were setting up a table game right in the storefront; the husband was behind the counter along with an employee and when he saw us, he laughed and said "No way!" When I told him I hadn’t read one of the new DC titles, his favorite? Without a word, he comped us the first issue. We spent the next half hour chatting with him and the other guy, who was just as welcoming. And this was all before I even brought up setting up a subscription with his store.

Which I did. On top of everything else, their offer is the better buy.

So, yeah. Change is good.

Also: I downgraded my journal to basic. I’ve always been a little squirrely about all the ads on LJ--pretty sure they’re the culprit for one of my (many) laptop viruses before I factory-resurrected it a year ago. Should’ve thought of this sooner, but not seeing any ads flashing around now is like a breath of fresh air. Phew!
Zombie

The Ruining of Thanksgiving

If there is one thing this world could do with less of, it's Corporate America.

This recently happened:

--
Dear [Company name redacted by request],

I am writing to issue a complaint against your business's decision regarding this year's Black Friday.

My partner works at one of your stores, and I was just informed that her store is required to open at 12am midnight. This is much earlier than last year, and will require her to appear at the store by 10pm on Thanksgiving Day.

Like millions of Americans, we celebrate Thanksgiving with family. This sometimes requires travel. We have always been aware of [redacted]'s policy that requires employees to work a Black Friday shift and have structured our holiday plans around this fact. [Ed's note: if you call off or request off or otherwise are unavailable for Black Friday, they fire you.] This year we were supposed to travel out of town to visit with my family, some of whom we only get to see once or twice a year. My family very much values Thanksgiving and the opportunity it affords all of us to connect with each other.

Our original plan included returning home Thanksgiving night, so my partner would have plenty of time to get ready for her Black Friday shift.

But now it has come to my attention that in order for her to get ready for her shift, and factoring travel time, we will be required to leave my parents' town, and my family, about two hours after the meal is served, effectively putting us in an "eat and run" situation, all because your company decided it would open the store even earlier. Now I face the unhappy chore of telling my parents that we will not be able to stay, after already having told them with great enthusiasm that we would be there.

Your Black Friday employee policy has cut short my Thanksgiving. I am very angry, and do not plan to give [redacted] my personal business for the foreseeable future.


Sincerely,
Erica Hildebrand
--

I sent this off electronically to their office. No reply yet. Maybe I shouldn't have edited out all the "jackasses" and "thanks for nothings." Guess I'm writing another letter.

Harumph.
Zombie

Revenge of the Tiny Chicken Sponges

In a turbo-boost towards healthier living, my household has switched to a 100% plant-based diet, i.e. whole grains, fruits, and veggies, minimal processed foods (where exactly does rice-in-a-bag fall on this scale?), minimal salt, and no animal product. More accurately, one of us is at 100%. With a couple cheats here and there, my own ratio is about 85%.

Cooking from scratch has been the norm for the past six weeks, and one of the reasons we're doing this is because the previous repertoire was just so damn boring. The parameters used to be: easy, fast, and sort of healthy. Which basically meant packaged chicken or fish, grilled or pan-seared with a swap-out of marinades, with semi-raw veggies, five nights a week, with the occasional pasta dish thrown in to break up the monotony, and oh my god does it get old.

Now, I was not remarkably unhealthy before. I eat a whole grain breakfast and I'm no stranger to fruit. Fast food for me is Subway and the occasional burrito joint. But I don't think I've been in any position to pat myself on the back, either. (Everybody goes through that Hot Pocket phase, don't they?)

I did do a sweep of the fridge, tossing out all the expired yogurt and the sour cream, but I pretty much ignored the freezer as there's really nothing in there. Well... almost nothing.

Some highlights:

--I have clung like a wimpy baby to caffeinated coffee and also cow's milk, as I've given soy milk several shots and I really can't get on board with it. (No, I haven't tried almond or coconut milk yet.)

--As it turns out, beer is vegan. Well, not all beer (pig tendon preservatives, really? these are things you learn), but the brewer I buy from brews a perfectly cromulent beer.

--We've found a bunch of new recipes to add to the mix. Awesome ones, like butternut squash and apple soup, pad thai, vegan burritos, bean chili, tahini pasta salad, etc. etc.

About a month in, though, being left to my own devices all day and lacking any endurance for actual cooking, I found some chicken in the freezer. You know, that brand name breaded chicken with the questionable meat interior possessing disturbing sponge-like qualities, which could be made of .... pigeon lungs and elbow meat, for all I know. I had no idea how old they were, but it's in the freezer, and according to my logic, everything survives indefinitely in a freezer, suspended in a perfect cryogenic stasis.

But I was hungry and lazy. So, I cooked them, and I ate them.

Two hours later, it felt like I'd eaten drywall screws and crushed glass, seasoned with lye. I can't remember ever feeling so awful. I almost passed out.

"Curse you ..." I squeaked out in agony, fist feebly shaken at the universe, "... tiny chicken sponges."

The rest of the bag went into the garbage after that. I may be a fool, but I am a teachable one.
Zombie

The DC Comics Reboot - Part 2

If you read Part 1 you know where I'm coming from and why I'm not thrilled with the decision to hit the reset button on the DC Universe. And DC seems to be turning a deaf ear towards most objections in their fanbase, preferring instead to congratulate themselves on a job well done that most people never asked them to do in the first place.

The reboot launched over four separate release dates in September. Wanting to get a feel for the stories, I opted to pick up a bunch of first issues and see what they were like, and also see which ones I might want to follow. Granted, it's not cheap, at $2.99 an issue ($3.99 for some titles). In any given month I'll usually buy two issues, maybe three. (Money aside, they also take up space.)

There are some common elements throughout. First, most of them feel like first chapters instead of self-contained storylines. The build-up is slow and it makes some of the issues not very satisfying to read by themselves. So really there isn't a whole lot to say about the stories so far.

Second, in each title they're inserting a fuscia-glowing hooded woman that's supposed to signify something. I don't know anything about where this is going but she was a player in Flashpoint. This, and the fact that there are several story intersections (places in a comic that footnote you need to read a different title to know the larger story), and that several characters are sharing turf in different titles, makes me think this reboot is more about being its own giant "event" than just a regular reset button.

And maybe one day it will all be over, the keel evens, and the DCU history is restored.

I can dream, can't I?

Anyway, here's what I got:

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Zombie

The DC Comics Reboot - Part 1

It started with a delay.

Val and I were waiting for the release of Batwoman #1, a book that fans had been expecting for years. Batwoman, aka Kate Kane, is a crimefighter in Gotham City. She is strong-willed and stubborn, great eclectic fashion sense, Jewish, formerly a cadet at the United States Military Academy who was forced to withdraw as a result of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Unable to serve her country because she is openly gay, she instead looked to the Bat symbol as a new banner under which to serve.

She's a great character. She has depth.

She's the reason Val and I really started following comics together, and the root of our shared fandom. Our interest cemented when she had a very good run in Detective Comics, DC's flagship title, which had a co-feature for another favorite of ours, the current Question, Renee Montoya, a former Gotham detective and also Kate's ex. Both features were written by Greg Rucka, a talented writer who deserves a lot of the credit for the development of both these characters. Kate's storyline featured Captain Maggie Sawyer, formerly of Superman comics and the cop drama Gotham Central, a stage which she shared with Renee. Maggie played a critical role in Renee's coming out storyline as she, too, is an openly gay character.

So, the news came that Kate was getting her own ongoing series. It was due for February of this year. Then it was delayed because of artistic reasons. If you know the art I'm talking about, you know it's well worth the wait. So it was pushed back to April.

Meanwhile, my interest was gaining traction in other titles, most notably written by Gail Simone, a creator with a reputation for good storytelling and diverse representation. I started reading Secret Six, which featured two lesbian villains in a well-written, honest relationship. And truly, the entire cast was amazing. And the plots. And the interaction--villains as friends is such a fun trope. I swear, I have yet to find a storyline where they don't all somehow end up in their underwear or pajamas, stabbing each other.

I also fell in love with Birds of Prey, a team of female superheroes, and started devouring back-issues. Also written by Simone, Chuck Dixon, and others, this long-running title received, at times, some flak for its artwork, but the stories? The stories of friendship between these women are unparalleled, and the individual character development is amazing. Renee Montoya was also recently in this book.

So in a medium known for straight white male characters, as far as representation (characters like us, and those we related to) went, we had it pretty good.

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