What’s on LaShawn’s iPod? Well, nothing since I don’t have an iPod…but I do have a reasonable enough facsimile…

So I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. It’s been an unexpected benefit of working part-time. That’s not to say that I haven’t been listening to podcasts before–in my SAHM life, it’s mainly what I did to keep from turning on the TV to, say, Oprah or The View. Cleaning time was done to podcasts. Playtime with Daniel was done to podcasts. Writing was not done to podcasts, because it distracts me. And besides, I got the Geico commercial for that…

But ever since I started working, I’ve been using my mp3 player a lot more than normal. I use it when I’m walking to work. I use it at work when I’m filing. I use it when I walk to Daniel’s daycare to pick him up. And I use it when I’m at the Circle M farm, pulling weeds or planting seeds.

It’s weird. Ever since I started working again, it’s freed up a lot of listening time. I like it, because it’s allowed me to catch up on a lot of writing podcasts that’s been building up in my iTunes. And I’ve even been able to add a couple of others I’ve been meaning to get to, but never had the time–such as short story podcasts and indie music. Having gotten around to start listening to novels, but I’m working on it.

Anyway, since I’ve been listening to so many podcasts as of late, I’ve decided to make it a weekly feature at the Cafe to give brief links to the ones I find interesting. I’m hoping to bring a bit more exposure to good stories and interesting topics. For instance, I just listened to a short story on Podcastle called “Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery” by John Schoffstall, a surrealistic tale of a woman receiving ‘notes’ from her ex-boyfriend. The woman comes across as rather pedantic (I’ve been dying to use this word all day) and bitchy, but the things her boyfriend sends her are hilarious and touching. I mean, what would you do if your ex sends you Spain to try to make up with you? It gets a little gory near the end, and that’s a lot from a surrealistic story, but I do have to say that the ending itself is a very nice touch.

I’ve also been catching up on my writing podcasts, which is awesome, because by the time I get home, I’m itching to write. Mostly good interviews: Mur Lafferty interviewed Matthew Wayne Selznick on “I Should Be Writing”. I just finished listening to the “Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing” interview with Kelly Link, and oooh! They just put an interview with Neil Gaiman in the feed! Better load that up!

So I’ll going to try to make this a regular feature at the Cafe. Gotta spread the love, man.

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New Quest: Finding a Writer’s Group

Good grief, I got to get out of this role-playing mode. It’s beginning to affect everything I write.

So after a lot of hemming and hawing, I am finally starting my writer’s group search. I got a couple of leads, one from my daytime job and one from my farming job. I’ve also been checking out various websites and postings on Craigslist.

Also, I’ve been reading up on details on how exactly to find a writer’s group. For instance, a blog post at The Fix talks about what makes writing groups work. Holly Lisle got an article about on her site (actually, she has a lot of good stuff on there). And I’ve been considering my own experience of being in a writer’s group.

When I started writing again back in 2004, there were a couple of groups that I shuffled between. Both met at the libraries near me, and mainly had roughly 15 to 20 people. We dutifully brought our work which we passed out to each other, and we spent a good half-hour reading silently their work. Then we came together to critique. Most of the time, I was the only fantasy/sci-fi writer (there was another guy who wrote sci-fi, but considering he had put “himself” in the story, it became blatantly obvious that he was really living on a different plane of existence than us). Everyone else wrote poetry or literary stuff or non-fiction essays. Everyone thought that their stuff was the best–and that the publishing companies would weep if they could bother to read their stuff; but no one actually made any effort to publish (I later learned that one person was indeed published–at fanfiction.net). After a couple of weeks, I stopped going. I wanted to do serious work, not just go to the group and pat myself on the back for finishing another story that would sit on my hard drive.

Then after some searching around, I heard about a group that met at a local Barnes and Noble. When I went in, the first thing I noticed was that they met in the coffeeshop area, which nicely evoked images of chain-smoking, nails-bitten-to-the-quick artistes who argued about POV styles over lattes. That charmed me. (Well, there really wasn’t any chain-smoking, considering that you couldn’t smoke in any building now in Illinois, but that’s besides the point.) The group was smaller, though at times it did stretch to about 12 or so. Sitting closer together, rather than in a humungous square at the library, made it feel more intimate. More friendly.

I think that’s what really drew me to this group. The people were actually friendly with each other and wanted genuine criticism on their work, not just a pat on the back. They wanted to know what worked. And though not everyone wrote in the same genre, there was a sense of respect of each other’s work. In fact, it helped me learn how to critique other genres, and use them to sharpen my own skills.

It was a nice group for where I was at the time. Now that I have several published stories under my belt, however, I think it’s time to find a group that’s more genre-specific. A group where I can discuss how to write speculative fiction, perhaps do some reading of fantasy/sci-fi books and discussing their styles. I want to find a group where I can hone my craft at.

All I got to do is just…find it.

Friday YouTube Fun with Vocaloids!

So now that things have settled, I’ve been catching up on Youtube–seeing what’s out there. I stumbled upon a very interesting phenomenon: vocaloids.

Vocaloid is a synthesizer program that creates vocal music. Simply put, it is a synthesizer for the human voice. You can program it to sing, talk, do anything vocally. In Japan, there’s a special series called the “Character Vocal Series”, where each voice is assigned a ‘character’, with a name, age, and “favorite” type of music it likes to sing. The voices are based on samples from Japanese anime voice actors. Just input the music and lyrics, and out pops a song.

vocaloid

What’s cool is that not only are people create songs, they also create music videos that are uploaded to the Net. Most range from flat, amateurish pap with only a crudely-drawn sketch, to beautifully-drawn moving portraits.

Below are a few videos that I thought was done extremely well. The music’s wonderful, and at times, you forget that it’s only a program that singing, not a real person (though the voice is based on a real person–aw, you know what I mean…) All the singing’s done in Japanese. And yes, most of the videos below are of the young blonde hair girl, because I like her. She’s called Rin. The boy next to her is her brother Len. Both are done by the same voice actress, Asami Shimoda.

This video is called “Salvage”, and it’s about Rin learning that her brother accidentally got deleted. So she goes into the Recycle Bin to save him. Yes, it sounds hokey, but it’s actually more moving than you think.

This one is called “Kokoro”. It’s subtitled in English, so I won’t go into details, other to say that KOKORO in Japanese means “Heart” or “Soul” or “Mind”. This one happens to be my favorite video.

This one is the same is Kokoro, except it’s done by the point of view of the scientist, using Len’s vocals. It’s not subtitled, but if you’ve seen the one above, you get the gist of it.

This one is rapidly becoming my favorite as well. It’s subtitled, it’s twisted, it’s demented, and it’s absolutely divine.

And just to show that I do listen to other Vocaloids other than Rin/Len:

You can find more vocaloid videos at YouTube. Just type in “Vocaloid”. Watch out though. You just might get hooked.

LaShawn’s New Year’s Writing Resolutions for 2008–or rather, for the rest of 2008…

So I’ve been wondering why it’s been so hard for me to get back into the groove of writing. Not that I haven’t been writing…considering all that I’ve been through, I’m quite proud I was able to finish revising my short story. It’s just that I feel aimless, wandering, distracted. I sit down to write but instead, I start to play video games. Websurf. Post in some forums. I don’t get it. I would’ve thought that by now I would be knuckling back down into writing, but I’m not.

Then I realized, the reason why I’m not doing anything is because I haven’t done any planning on my writing since…since September? The last time I set up writing goals was the beginning of 2007. It is now halfway through 2008.

That’s a long time.

Well, better late than never. Let’s look at what I had done in 2007. Let’s see, the first thing I wrote for my 2007 blog was: “I always face the new year with a hint of foreboding. It’s less this year, but it’s there. A full 365…well, okay 362, days that will come. Anything could happen in 2007. Anything at all. Good or bad. It freaks me out, not knowing the unknown…”

Wow. Is there a way to reach into time to smack myself? Sister, you weren’t kidding! And by the way, I hope you like cheese. Lots and lots of cheese…

I went on to wonder: “I should be more optimistic. After all, 2006 was a year full of surprises for our household. Daniel having two febrile seizures, my sister-in-law and my mother getting married, hubbie getting a job. It’s been quite a year. How will 2007 follow that up? Will it be nice and quiet, giving us a chance to adjust to normal life? Or will it be full of pitfalls? Will we wind up living on the streets? Will someone in our family wind up in the hospital? or even die?”

Nice and quiet, my ass.

Actually, I can’t really complain all that much. 2007 was good to us–it just got stressful at times, starting in May when we put a new roof on our house. I did go to the Midwest Writer’s Conference on scholarship; that was a great time. And I potty-trained Daniel, which was a real biggie. It was only in October that things went KABLOOEEY!

So let’s see what I had down for writing goals in 2007:

Willow: Finish rough draft by end of this year. Spend 14 hours or write 2 chapters per week. (With Daniel going to daycare starting this month, my hours should increase.)
Well, that goal got met in July. So hey, I just realized it’s been a full year since I finished writing Willow. Huh.

Short stories/Essays/Poetry: Write six stories, five essays, three poems and submit them. Spend at least 10 hours on 2 other works (short story/poem/essay).
Let’s see: Looking back for the year, I wrote 8 short stories, 1 poem and 3 essays. Out of the stories, three got submitted: “Crimson” was the only one to get published. I have two stories out making their rounds to publishers (one is actually submitted to the Writers of the Future contest, but that won’t count for 2007). I just finished polishing “She’s All Light” and hopefully, that will be going out soon. The others are waiting to be polished.

All 3 essays got published, though one of them was more of a newsletter article for MOPS. And I haven’t done any poetry revisions, so I have not submitted any poems.

Critiques:Do 2 critiques per month for my email writing lists.
Yeah. That didn’t happen.

Contests: Enter at least 1 entry-fee contest and 3 non-entry fee.
Hmm, trying to remember. I did enter a story into the Speculative Christmas contest that had an entry fee of $5, so that counts for the paid. I also submitted a story for the Verb’s “Here’s Looking at You” contest. I can’t remember any other contests, though.

Craft: Take at least one class in writing. Go to two workshops, one free, one paid. There’s an Indiana workshop that I can try getting into for free (that can be part of the contest goal). There’s also the Midwest Literary Festival. I want to save money to go to the full-day seminar they have the day before. There should also be free workshops at Schaumburg library.
I didn’t make it to the Midwest Literary Festival, but I did go to the Midwest Writers Workshop. As far as classes go, I didn’t get around to it. But that’s okay. What I learned at the MWW made up for it. Wait…the scholarship! I wrote that the scholarship did count towards the contest. So that makes 2 non-entry fee contests I entered. And I did win the scholarship (though it never got published…wait, what am I talking about? It was a small excerpt of Crowntree. It did get published! Score!)

Consider going to a fantasy convention? Windycon maybe.
Hmmm. Windycon may be out of the running now, but Wiscon is now possible. Perhaps maybe even more preferable.

Reading: Read two books a month, one fantasy, one other genre. Every other month, read craft book, like Stephen King’s On Writing.
Can’t recall how many books I was reading in 2007, but I think I stayed up on it. I didn’t read as many craft books as I liked to–mainly because I find it easier to just write. Prose’s book doesn’t count–I read that in 2008.

So looking at this, I can say that I had a pretty productive year for most of 2007. The question is, how do I make 2008 just as productive, especially since half of 2008 is gone?

Well, let’s look at the state of things. I haven’t done much ‘writing’ since October 2007–just revisions on “She’s All Light” and reading of Willow. Currently, I only have two stories floating out, so I need to get more out there. It’s nice to run out of stories to get published, but it also means that there are stories sitting on my hard drive that aren’t published. I need to get cracking.

The problem is, I’ve been ‘revision mode’ for a very long time. I want to get creative. I want to do some ‘fun’ writing. Some fun flash writing. Work on some stuff that’s not so serious. Then I can tackle something a little more heavier. If I could get five stories out the rest of this year, I would feel good.

Then there’s Willow. I need to get back on a schedule of reading that. At this rate, I won’t get to actually editing this thing until the fall, maybe winter, and that could take another whole year. Ugh. But then again, it might not be so bad, especially since I chopped the book in half.But one thing’s for sure–each day I don’t do a read-through adds another day it will take longer to finish. So I think my first couple of priorities is to get reading on Willow, and get some more stories out. Long term, I want to finish reading Willow and start working on edits by October of this year.

I think the main thing as far as critiquing goes is to find a writer’s group here in Madison. I’m mainly looking for a group that will challenge me and will also include other people who are serious about publishing. Luckily, I have a couple of leads, so I don’t think I’ll have a problem meeting this goal. At least, I hope I won’t.

As for essay writing, I’ll keep it at three essays to write, edit and send out, and for the poetry, I’ll bump the goal to just two poems to send out. I’m also thinking that I should work on these things now since I’m a little fried on the short story revision. Switching to non-fiction or poetry for a little while would be nice.

So let’s see how the goals for 2008 shape up:

Willow: Finish reading by Fall 2008, start edits by Winter 2008.
Short Stories/Essays/Poetry: Polish 5 stories and submit them. Write 2 essays and submit. Polish 2 poems and submit.
Critiques: Do one a month. Find a writer’s group.
Contest: I’ll give myself a break. Enter 1 contest, fee or non
Craft: Attend the Wisconsin Literary Festival in October (I don’t know when the Midwest Literary one is–the website seems to be down). Plan to attend Wiscon in 2009.

Well, alright then. Now we got some goals to work towards. I now feel all set to work!

Tomorrow…

After many years of waiting, the Quest is in sight (maybe)

http://www.reuters.com/article/filmNews/idUSN0932864920080709

I only pray that it’s animated. But still–exciting news nonetheless. Hmm…so giving stuff out for free can have some good in it after all…

And what did YOU do this weekend? Played an ARG, of course!

Here it is, Wednesday. And I am not doing any work on Willow. Why?

Because I can’t stop reading about this stupid alternate reality game.

Last weekend, I watched “Artificial Intelligence: AI” for the first time. It was okay. A little creepy in parts. I totally understand why people say it should’ve ended 20 minutes sooner; but at the same time, I understand why it ended the way it did. Overall, I liked it.

But while reading the IMDB entry, I noticed one bit in the trivia:

“The elaborate series of promotional websites included information about the characters’ lives after their last appearances in the film. For instance, one website revealed that Martin Swinton grew up to be an architect who, after being traumatized by David’s disappearance, spent his career building sentient AI houses.”

That intrigued me. After all, the movie mainly focuses on David, the boy-robot who can love. I was pretty bummed that the movie didn’t follow up on David’s family after he ‘disappeared’. Such an event would have emotional consequences for them. (And yes, I know I’m including a spoiler for the movie while at the same time being vague. If you haven’t watched the movie, then watch the movie. It’s interesting.) So I figured if I go to this so-called Cloudmakers website, it should include some information on what happened to David’s family in the movie. I thought it would be a webpage or two, at least.

Webpage? Turns out to be a lot more than that.

In 2001, a bunch of Microsoft folk got together and created an interactive online game using puzzles buried fake webpages, journal entries, emails, faxes, voice mails and the promotional posters of AI. Through all of these, they told an elaborate story of love, hate, betrayal, murder, insanity and hacking–not bodily hacking, but website hacking. All this set in the world of AI, where robots are gaining personalities and consciousness for themselves. The game ran from April to July 2001, but there is a well-documented guide that details the entire story from start to finish. And better yet, the website hosts nearly all the webpages used in the game. So basically, you can still ‘play the game’ for yourself.

So that’s how I wasted a whole weekend. And Monday. And Tuesday…and, today, I guess.

Part of the thing is that I’ve never seen anything so elaborate used to tell a story. Well, yes, I heard about such websites games before, mostly lame, obvious commercial tie-ins to movies or products that are featured prominently in the story. This game is different in that it is telling an actual story. A massive complex story (so much that the game has been nicknamed “The Beast”).

And the story’s good. Real good. It starts off with the boating accident of a man named Evan Chan, whose personal homepage you can visit here. From all accounts, it looks like an actual webpage of a man who lived, had a family, loved, life, enjoyed boating. You get pictures of his family and everything, including links to his company and to family friends, Jeanine and Laia Salla, who may be connected with Evan more than you think. Jeanine is mentioned in the AI movie credits as a ‘Sentient Machine Therapist’. Following the webpages, you learn that Laia suspects that Evan’s death wasn’t accidental and that foul play was somehow involved. And we get our first puzzle that will take you to an interesting letter…

I’m not going to go into much detail–if you want to see for yourself, read the guide. But the websites and the clues and the puzzles work to pull you in, where you act as both sleuth and observer. And you start to forget that this is a game promoting a movie–the movie itself is more of a foundation, a surrounding environment for the game and its characters, both human and artificial. When the movie characters do show up in the story, even they are characters in their own right rather than supporting characters from the movie. It’s like…it’s like a fanfic.

Take that, Enter the Matrix video game that wouldn’t load on my computer.

What really impressed me about the whole thing was the writing. Obviously, the story used different formats to tell the story from puzzles to emails to players calling phone numbers to listen to voice mails. But the writing! Take, for instance, one of the ways you got into the game. On one of the billboards and a few trailers, there are notches in the words that correspond to a phone number (don’t ask me how). If you call the number, you will get a message that directs you to a website that spawns an email message for you to send. Then on a certain date, you get an email back:

“Once upon a time there was a young man who dreamed of the sea. The waves, he thought . . . the waves beat like the world’s heart, crashing and hissing against the shore.

Crash and hiss.
Crash and hiss.

He loved the sound of the swell as it slapped and gasped against the hull of his boat.

Slap and gasp.
Slap and gasp.

And he was thinking about the rocking ocean, gentle as a mother’s arms, at the very moment he was murdered.

A mother’s arms.
A mother’s arms. “

“Slap and gasp”…Man! That’s good!

You get pages written in hacker-speak. Transcript style interviews. Rambling diatribes. Alice-in-Wonderland nursery rhymes riddle taunts. A written analysis on a woman slowly sinking into insanity. Letters written before someone’s death (and by the way, to the person who wrote the last Svetlana letter–I’m so not worthy to be a writer. <much bowing and scraping> So not worthy, so not worthy…and I’m never going to take a bath again…) So much good writing here that doesn’t translate well in book form. This game shows that not only webfiction can be done, it can be done well. (It certainly helps that the head writer, Sean Stewart, is a science fiction/fantasy writer.)

Well. I certainly didn’t expect this to turn into a review of a now defunct webgame. I was going to bemoan the fact that I wasted a good part of the week reading and absorbing this thing. That means no writing. No reading of Willow. No looking for markets for “She’s All Light”. And no cleaning. No laundry. No emptying of the dishwasher.

Oy.

But you know, I just need to process this. This whole game was a wonderful way to get a story across. And just think–this was all done in 2001. Before YouTube. Before Twitter. Before broadband. Imagine what would happen if they released that game now? It boggles the mind. Of course, there are now ARGs all over the place, as well as their cousins MMORPGs. None as complex as “The Beast”, but who knows? Course, I got dishes threatening to top over onto the floor, so I think this will do for now. Maybe I’ll use an ARG as a treat once I kick myself into writing again.

Ah, so glad I got that out of my system. Now I can get to work again. At least, until the next new fad hits me.

I don’t think I’ll watch any movies for the rest of the week.

Finally! I’m done with my short story (now I just have to proofread it and re-edit it and market it…)

I did it. After nine whole months, I finished my fourth (and hopefully final) draft of my sci-fi short story “She’s All Light”.

Whew.

Of course, as you can tell by the title, there’s still a whole lot of work to be done to it. Now that I got the storyline down the way I want it, I need to get readers so that they can tell me if what I wrote was the best thing they’ve ever seen or that I basically wasted six months working on crap. Then I need to process their comments, perhaps fling myself on the floor in a bit of rage, or perhaps stare dully at a wall for a couple of hours, then somehow work up the courage to go over the story again to incorporate their suggestions…or just trash the whole thing and go work full-time as a secretary. Then there’s the finding of a market to send it to, and formatting it so that I can send it to that market, and spell-checking and grammar-checking and fact-checking…

But really, I am done with the story.

I think this is the first time I worked so long on a story. Normally, it would take me at the most three, maybe four months to do a story from first scribblings to final draft. But that was when I had oodles of time at my leisure. When I started working on the fourth draft way back in September, I figured it would take a couple of months…December at the latest. Boy was I wrong.

Part of the reason why it to so long was that the story itself is picking long–almost 13,000 words. I might be able to get away with cutting out some words during the final grammar/spell check, but when I worked on this fourth draft, I intended on making it as tight as it could. So it will probably stay at it’s high word count. Another reason was that this was a deeper story than I realized. I needed to go slowly just to make sure the story stayed in line.

And the real reason? My life exploded.

Between October and May, my writing slowed to a crawl. There were days when I could only work on SAL for 10 minutes. The days when we worked on the house to get it ready for sale…I’d do some painting, go revise a sentence, do some more painting, revise another sentence. Ugh. Not that it wasn’t a good thing. The slow going helped me to focus, making sure each sentence, each word contributed to the story as a whole. (And it helped that I started reading Francine Prose’s book on reading slowly).

But revising that story felt like pulling out a mouthful of teeth. One molar at a time.

I’m pondering now if I should focus exclusively on re-reading Willow to get it ready for its editing. But part of me is crying to work on something new. Some poetry, maybe or another short story, one that is more light-hearted than SAL. I want to work on something cute and fluffy.

Guh. I really have been writing drama too long.