Wednesday, September 23, 2020

 Here in the Northeast, the weather turned chilly this past week and the fall colors are popping out all over. I've put up the autumnal decorations around the house, changed my drawers from summer to winter clothes...and of course, this weekend the temperatures will be back in the 80's. A last hurrah, as it were.

I don't mind. I love summer. Traditionally, Spring has been my favorite ever since I was a little kid. I love the rain puddles to splash in, the bright colors of the first flowers, and the hope that comes with each new planting. As the years progress, however, I'm finding a new appreciation for the warmth of summer, warmth sometimes so thick you can wrap it around you like a blanket. But my blood runs a little thinner nowadays, so that's not as much of an issue as it used to be.

Autumn is my husband's favorite season, but for years, I associated it with going back to a job I hated. The last few years of teaching were onerous because I was burned out. I'd used up all the energy I had to put into education and ran on fumes the last year. 

Now that I'm retired, however, I'm re-discovering this season. I still don't like the coming of the colder weather (see above, summer's warm blanket), but I am appreciating the color changes for the beauty they hold, even as they warn that winter is on it's way. Where I used to cringe at the first sign of yellow in the leaves, I now simply acknowledge - and then watch for the reds and oranges to appear.

Needless to say, winter and I don't get along. It was kind of nice for COVID to come along in March and force me to stay inside and not go out and drive in that mess. Yuck.

As the seasons change, I've been working on a new story (Not telling much yet. Don't want to jinx it) and doing a little more reading. I know it isn't the end of the month yet, but I'm going to post my list to date now before I forget.

I finished off The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch the first few days of the month, and then read the remaining two books in that series: Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves. Apparently there are to be more in that series, but he hasn't written them yet. What do you think your name is? George RR Martin? Get to it, man!

From there I moved to more lighthearted fare: 16 Ways to Defend a Walled City and How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It  - two books by K. J. Parker. He also writes under the name Tom Holt and I'd read The Outsourcer's Apprentice by him last month. Fun, easy-to-read entertainment!

Moved back into the romance genre for the next few books: Forever Summer (2 novellas) by Nora Roberts, Heiress for Hire by Madeline Hunter, and A Duke to Die For by Amelia Grey. I'm a sucker for a good Regency.

So only seven books so far this month. I'm slacking! And the book I'm currently reading will take a long time: Grant by Ron Chernow. He's the same author who wrote the biography that Lyn-Manuel Miranda turned into the musical, Hamilton. The book is a fascinating look at not just the Civil War general-turned President, but a look at the times as well. Not something that's skimmable, however, so I'm taking my time. :)

Play safe! Wear a mask!

Diana


Monday, August 31, 2020

Summer's bounty - a reading list

 As the nation still struggles with a pandemic, racial issues, and politics that are running amok, I took the summer to do something I haven't done in ages: read.

And I don't mean read a few books here and here, as is my usual M.O. I mean READ like I used to before kids, before marriage, even. Read like I was back in junior high and going to the library every week to get books. Read as in pick one up just after breakfast, remember to stop long enough to make myself a sandwich for lunch and get to the dinner table when my husband's holler pierces through the story I'm encased in. My mom used to say she could set a bomb off next to me and I wouldn't notice if my nose was stuck in a book. This summer, my husband learned the same thing.

Because we couldn't go anywhere physical, I've spent a lot of time down at the cabin, where Internet is spotty at best. While there I puttered around on odd jobs that took less than ten minutes, and then settled in with a good fantasy series - and stayed there.

So what's my list? I already put up part of July's; here is the rest of what I read that month:

By Peter V. Brett: The Skull Throne, The Daylight War, and The Desert Spear (I'd already read The Warded Man, the first in the series and said so in my other post)

In August, I finished off Brett's series with The Core. Overall, good series. Liked most of the characters and the action, although a little too bloody for my tastes. And one entire culture I did not care for At All. Perhaps because he was so good at describing it and it is opposite everything I hold dear. But if you're looking for an immersive world...he certainly achieved that!

I then decided to revisit Pern, so I dug out the Anne McCaffery books I already have and added a few more. Figured I needed something not so bloodthirsty. :) I read:

Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon, Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums. I then read one by her daughter, Dragon's Code by Gigi McCaffery. While Anne has said the books should be read in the order in which she wrote them, this one took place immediately after Dragondrums, so I snuck it in.

I continued with Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, Nerilka's Story, Dragonsdawn, The Renegades of Pern and All the Weyrs of Pern. By the time you get to Dragonsdawn, the story has become much less fantasy and much more science fiction. An interesting blend, to be sure. This puts me at halfway through the full set of Pern books (there are 12 to go!), but I needed a bit of a break, so I headed off to Barnes and Noble to find another series.

I'd read The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Finch before - and kept the book, which is a sure sign I liked it (I only keep books I might read again - take a look at those shelves! There isn't room for more!). I found the next two books in the series in the store, so picked those up. Also found some more lighthearted fantasy fare, so bought three of those, of which, I've only read The Outsourcer's Apprentice by Tom Holt so far. I also re-read The Lies of Locke Lamora in prep for the next ones.

If you're keeping track, that's a total of 14 books in July and 15 books for August, with a total of 46 total for the year. Yes, you read that right. I've read 29 of the 46 books in the last two months! Considering this is the last day of the month, the book I start today will go on September's list since I won't finish it today.

Playsafe - (and yes, I've been working on a new story in there as well!), wear a mask,

Diana

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Retreating, Resetting, and Reading - the new 3 R's

Right now, I should be in my third week of my residency at Storyknife in Homer, Alaska. COVID, however, put the kibosh on that - they ended up having to cancel the entire season; we can reschedule for next summer. Disappointing, but I can handle delayed gratification.

So what to do with my July instead? I'd intended the time to be used writing (and finishing? One can hope!) The Companion. Long-time readers know this is the Work Of My Heart and is a fantasy that is HUGE (currently clocking in at 150,000+ words and only halfway through). An entire month's stay in a cabin in Alaska would certainly help me get closer to the finish line.

But wait! I own a cabin in the woods. I can get away and take the time to work on it and be only an hour from home. Let's do this!

Not as easy as one might think, I discovered after spending the last ten days there all by myself. First of all, I had to clean the cabin and remind the mice that, during the summer, they live outside. Second, I have to cook all my own meals. Only problem? I don't cook. Well, I can - I just don't like to. Thankfully I married a man who is wonderful in the kitchen. But he is directing a show right now (more on that in a moment) and couldn't come down with me, so I was on my own. Thanks goodness for take-out!

Third, the cabin is remote. Perfect for privacy and no interruptions. Not so perfect when one comes up for air after a day of writing and there's no one there to talk to. At Storyknife, the authors get together for dinner and conversation. At the cabin I started talking to the chipmunks (Seriously. I even got one to take a peanut out of my hand!). 

Fourth, there are bears - and one took down a hummingbird feeder my third night there. That curtailed my walks as I know better than to wander around the woods when a bear is nearby. So mostly staying in the immediate area around the cabin.

Fifth, and this one is a plus...a BIG plus...it gave me time to read. Before I left, I visited a nearby Barnes and Noble and used up $50.00 in gift cards I'd accumulated over the past two Christmases. Bought six books: the third in a trilogy I'd started and wanted to finish, two books in the start of a six-book trilogy, another single book that started a trilogy -- and yes, these are all fantasies, which are my favorite to read. The fifth and sixth books were a stand-alones but one of them had been on my list for a while. Took them all with me -and what a pleasure it's been. 

As for the amount of writing I did during those ten days? I averaged 1000 words/day, although some days I didn't write (the bear really threw me for a loop and I spent the day in a funk) and other days I wrote lots (breaking the 2000 word barrier at one point). 

So, you might think The Companion has moved forward by 10,000 words, right? 

Nope. Not even by a single word.

Why? 

At the start of June, I came across a story I'd started a year ago. I'd written a few thousand words on it, then set it aside. That day, I realized I knew what happened next, so I wrote it. And then I wrote what happened after that...and now THAT story is 10,000 words to the good.

Not giving clues as to what it's about - or even to the genre. Don't want to jinx it. But if the characters keep talking (and they haven't stopped even though I came home this weekend because of the heat - and to do laundry), I should be finished by the end of August or early September. Then it will be off for edits and - God willin' and the creek don't rise - there will be a new Diana Hunter book ready by October!

And no, I don't even have a title for it yet. One thing at a time.

Here's the list of books I read since my last Books update:

March: finished Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (then COVID hit and I was too busy putting my Comp I class online to read anything else)

April: The English Wife, and The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig. Also When I Was Wicked by Julia Quinn (still in COVID mode, so not much reading - too much scrambling)

May: a Nora Roberts novella (can't remember the title); also a Debbie Macomber novella (and the name escapes me. Forgot to write these two down). Also read Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara - which is a very scary book because it details the events leading to the American Revolution but it reads likes today's headlines. Recommended!

June: didn't read a single book. Not one. Retreated, reset, and remodeled a closet (see below).

July: Here's the list so far:

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Crouse & Crouse (this was a young adult book I'd had as a kid. After watching the musical, I dug it out and was surprised at how well-written it was)
A Royal Kiss and Tell by Julia London (romance)
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (ostensibly a science fiction, but deals with a pandemic. Written in the 1990's, it also reads as if she's simply reporting today's headlines - and social media posts. Recommended!
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Loved the series - loved the book. :)
A Promise of Fire, A Breath of Fire and Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet. Fantasy erotic romance trilogy. Hot and really good.
The Selection, The Elite, and The One by Kiera Cass. I'd bought only the first and ended up buying ebooks of the remaining two because I wanted to know what happened. Young adult fantasy.
The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett. This is the six-part series where I bought only the first two books. Have now ordered the rest of the series - another good one! Will be starting the second book today.

So, twenty-eight books so far this year. I'm behind!

Oh! And that thing my hubby's directing? Geneva Theatre Guild is producing Almost, Maine - it's a wonderful series of scenes (no more than two people on the stage at any time) that take place in Almost, Maine. They're doing it online, live. The performers are scattered - one's in New York City, several are in Rochester, NY, others are in various locales around the Finger Lakes. But this is NOT a Zoom call production. This is live theatre where you would swear the two actors are in the same room. Come check it out - this is the future!

Play safe, and wear a mask!
Diana

PS. Before and after pics of the closet remodel. This is off my study - probably deserves a post in an of itself, but am proud of what I got done!

Before: Not 1, but 2 layers of
wallpaper
to be scraped off!
After: painted, lit, and NEATLY
 filled
     



Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Taking a stand

I have spoken about the need for masks and social distancing during the time of COVID (here and here).

I have spoken out about the differences between the BDSM lifestyle and abuse.

I have Marched for Science and I've protested at my Congressman's office more than once (although I did not write about them here).

The only reason I haven't spoken about what's happening right now? I've been at the cabin and my Internet is spotty at best. But I don't shy away from taking a stand...so here:

I was once asked by a student why all my protagonists were white - why I didn't write any stories about people that were her color. I told her it was simple: I am white, of Irish and German descent and so those are the people who populate my books. My husband is of French and Italian descent and, after so many years of watching his family, some of those traditions (and characters) also show up in my books.

But I am not Black. I am not Asian. Nor am I Native American, Indian, or any other race. And I would never wish to insult anyone by writing a character whose culture I don't fully understand. At best, I might get some of it right; at worst, I'd fall into a stereotype. I also don't want to relegate any of those races to the role of best friend - that's been done far too often and with deleterious effects. I encouraged my student to write the stories she wanted to read. That's what I had done in exploring the BDSM lifestyle - since I couldn't find any books (at that time) that showed a loving relationship and not an abusive one, I wrote my own. If she wants heroes and heroines that look like her, then write them!

But what about fantasy, you ask? You don't know those cultures - the culture of made-up worlds and peoples. Yet you're comfortable writing those!

Sure - because it's totally made up. I make the rules. I decide how people act, I decide how they greet each other in the morning and if it's different from how they greet each other at night. I decide when someone's crossed a societal line. When things need to change, I change them as I want. My story, my imagination, my will at work.

That is not the case when writing of real cultures. I don't know what it's like to be a Black woman in America. I don't know what it's like to grow up Asian. And I will not insult them by pretending I do. Because using my imagination to put myself in other cultures and passing myself off as knowing and understanding is a form of racism. To pretend otherwise is to foster that racism.

When I was younger and full of self-righteous ideology, I often spouted the mantra, "I don't see color when I look at a person. I only see the person." A very wise woman took me to task when I spouted that in a conversation one day. She said, "You better see my color! My color is a part of who I am. You don't see that I am Black? Then you are denying me who I am."

I have never forgotten that most glorious take-down. She could've dismissed me as just another white girl spouting her ignorance, but she didn't. She educated me. I will always be grateful to her. My students of color should be grateful to her as well, because I learned to stop preaching and start listening.

So no marches this time around, no protesting from me (COVID is still keeping me home). It is time to listen. It is time to learn. Those who are protesting have much to teach.

Black Lives Matter.

Play safe,

Diana 

P.S. I just read Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara. It follows several of the participants in the days before the American Revolution. HIGHLY recommended. In fact, reading the first three pages was like reading the headlines from today's newspapers. If you think we're NOT on the road to revolution? Read this. You'll change your mind.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

One day more!



One day more - that's all that's left to pre-order Diamond Submission at the sale price of $1.99!

Once Friday comes, the price goes up, so order it now and get the reduced price. You can order from:
and Apple 
(although I'm a PC user and still can't figure out how to access their site!)

Play safe -- stay safe!

Diana

Monday, May 18, 2020

Rant


This happened yesterday and I can’t get it out of my head. 

For the past two months I have been staying home, staying safe, and (mostly) not venturing out. Even when we need groceries, I stay in the car while my husband goes inside. We figure we halve our chances of catching anything if only one of us is in the population.

However, on Friday, he had surgery on his heel, so he’s not going anywhere but the front porch for a while. He’s keeping his foot elevated and staying off it. Why? Because the doctors told him to. Just like the doctors are now saying to wear a mask when in public spaces.

To give him a treat, I went to the local ice cream/hamburger stand yesterday because he had a hankering for a burger and onion rings.

We’re doomed.

When I pulled up, there were two women in line, both masked, both standing about eight feet apart. The first woman placed her order as I joined the line, keeping a respectful distance. There are no fewer than four signs that say, “Please wear a mask at window” and the high school girls inside all wore them.

As soon as Woman One finished placing her order, she whipped off the mask and turned to Woman Two. “I hate these things.” They then started a conversation about their inconvenience (although Woman Two kept hers on). When Woman One went back to the window to pick up her sundae, she didn’t bother to put her mask back on. Idiocy #1.

Woman Two ordered, kept her mask on as the two of them continued their conversation, picked up her ice cream, then they went and stood by a car, both now with their masks off, to eat their ice cream and socialize about two feet from each other. Idiocy #2. Yes, I understand it’s hard to eat while wearing something over your mouth and nose, but sit in the car! Don’t expose the rest of us.

I place my order, then retreat to my car, standing outside it with the pager they’d given me (hamburgers and onion rings take longer than an ice cream cone). I’d parked to the side of the lot, so was about twenty feet from the window – and the family that now arrived.

Three of them: a husband, wife and older teen daughter. Only the husband wore a mask. The daughter, upon seeing me waiting – and masked – pulled up her sweater so it covered her nose and mouth. The wife remained with a naked face the entire time.

As they waited for their order (staying close to the window and unconcerned with social distancing), another family got out of a pickup truck: father, mother, two younger teenage daughters. Only the mother wore a mask. She did the ordering while the other three stood in front of the truck, which was pulled up right in front of the window. After a moment, the two teenagers pulled out their phones and went to sit in the truck to wait. I suspect this choice had nothing to do with staying safe and everything to do with being a teenager.

The wife removed her mask as soon as she’d finished ordering, and gave it to her husband, who went to the convenience store beside the ice cream stand. I cut them some slack here, even though two people sharing a mask isn’t the best idea. But I figured, they’re married and her germs are his germs. Not a choice my husband and I would make – see note above about halving our exposure – but maybe he left his mask home (I keep an extra one in my car because putting it on as I leave the house isn’t a habit yet).

But then he came back, not wearing it, and my sympathy turned to appalled as his wife asked, “Why aren’t you wearing the mask?” and he replied, in a tone sounding very much like a twelve-year-old, “Nobody else was wearing one.”

Okay, so you’re wearing a mask mostly to protect others in case you have the virus but don’t know it yet, but also partly to protect yourself from others. Taking your mask off because they’re not wearing one? Idiocy #3 – BIG time.

I posit that the establishment needs to change it's signs and remove the politeness of the word "Please." People are taking that as a request - it should read "YOU MUST wear a mask when approaching the window." Period. Whether ordering or picking up. Wear the mask. Protect those girls inside from your possible contamination.

And why does anyone think they can pick and choose between and among doctor's orders? Doc says, "Stay off your foot for three days," my husband stays off his foot for three days. Doc says, "Wear a mask in public" - as every doctor has been saying for weeks now - then wear the damn mask in public!

T.S. Eliot stated, in the last lines of his poem, “The Hollow Men”, “This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.”

He was wrong.

It ends with a whine.

Play safe – stay safe – keep me safe – wear a mask!

Diana
PS. 60% off my titles at Smashwords ends Wednesday. Prices go back up to normal on June 1st (they'll be 30% off for the last week and a half of May).



Sunday, May 17, 2020

Update - and a prediction

Scene: 1979. My senior year in college. Classroom. 

Class: Teaching Techniques (or some such title - it was a long time ago!)

Characters: Teacher (female, but not sure it matters), mid-thirties
                   myself (an energetic dreamer), 21 years old
                 
Assignment: I don't remember the particulars, but I was doing a presentation on using technology in the classroom focusing on the use of the 1) slide projector, 2) filmstrip projector, 3) 16 mm film projector. And if you remember what any of those are, you're not much younger than I am!

ME (finishing my presentation with a flourish!): And the last piece of technology isn't in the classroom here in New York yet, but it is in California. (Holds up the very first Apple magazine.) This is a brand-new technology called a "Personal Computer". They are already being used for teaching basic concepts and I predict that, in the future, every student will have one and I will teach to a room full of students using them. Thank you. (ends presentation)

TEACHER: Well, this was a very good presentation, if we remove the last minute. You were supposed to only deal with reality, not fantasy.

ME: It isn't fantasy. It's already in the classrooms of California. Mark my words: someday these will be in every classroom.

TEACHER: Next presentation, please.

(Note: I got a "C" on my project because I was "too fanciful" and "not realistic")

Flash forward 35 years:

Scene: a classroom in 2014. Class of 20-some students are all busily doing research on their laptops and posting their essays to a wiki to be peer-reviewed by others in the room. A few have logged into the class discussion board where there is a vigorous debate about what happened to the Ents in the Lord of the Rings and where the Entwives might have gone. They add their two cents to the conversation and start a new one on whether Merry and Pippin were braver than Frodo and Sam. The teacher (ME) wanders the room answering questions and generally staying out of the way of students learning on their own.

* * * * *

So yeah, my prediction came true - in spades. My vindication was complete when I looked around the room and realized I was teaching to a room full of computers - and the students running them.

Why is that important? Because I'm going to make another technological prediction, based on what I see happening in my own household. To wit:

* * * * *
Scene: the living room where my husband had raised his laptop with the aid of several boxes, making it eye height so people won't be looking up his nose. There is a pole lamp to his right and his left, a hanging light to his right and a fresnel-type decorative lamp he's positioned right in front of him.

DAUGHTER: What you need is a bounce screen so you don't have that harsh light right on your face. You come in too hot.

HUSBAND: I just can't figure out how to mount one in here. Need to work on that.

* * *
Scene: My husband's studio (he's a painter). He and Daughter are setting up a 3-camera system so he can teach his painting classes online.

ME: Too much in the background here. Maybe hang a sheet? - and that one camera is old, so the picture's a little fuzzy. Maybe use that for the palate rather than the painting.

HUSBAND: And I need better lighting. It's good when the sun is shining, but if it's a cloudy day, there's a glare on the canvas from my overhead lights.

DAUGHTER: You need another bounce board. And will you only teach during the day? What about night classes?

* * *
Scene: Son's room. He's a gamer. Already has most of what he needs. Except bandwidth. We're running out of that.

***
Scene: My study. Conversation between my daughter, my husband, my son, and me.

ME: I didn't need video this past semester because I used a discussion board and a wiki to finish off my classes when we moved online. But we didn't use the wiki well because I couldn't teach them how in such a short time frame. Next fall, if we're still online, I need to do videos. And I don't have a camera.

HUSBAND: We can buy a new one, although I could use another for my painting classes. Maybe we should buy two, just in case. Or three - because one of mine is old and gives a fuzzy picture.

SON: I'm fine. Just up the bandwidth to the house or none of us are doing anything.

DAUGHTER: I can teach you both how to use the programs. Buy bounce boards.

* * * * *
My prediction: 

In the future, every home will have a "broadcasting" station: a place where Zoom calls are made and live videos uploaded. Classes will be taken and taught from this location and conversations will be held with people across the street and across the world. They (both the place from which we broadcast and the quality of the broadcast) will look professional and smooth because we bought packages (or bought the house with the room already created).

The physical space will be comfortable for the user with backgrounds pleasing to the viewer (although the ACTUAL background will  be a green screen so visual effects are easily added). Just as in the 20th century where the phone was the center of the household, the BA (Broadcast Area - although it might end up being the Z - Zoomer. We do have a tendency to name things via a particular brand, even if we don't use it. I'm looking at you, Kleenex and Xerox) will be the heart of communication in the future.

Of course, it won't remain static for long. Static, as in being in one place. Technology will upgrade quickly and that will only be a passing phase. Eventually, we will carry the technology with us on a wristband or a ring and it will project via the air. But, as my 1979 teacher would say, "too fanciful, not realistic."

Mark my words: In the future, every single one of us will be a performer/broadcaster/creator and we'll do our jobs from professional studios in our own homes.

That's my prediction and I'm sticking to it.

Endnotes:
The conversations above are condensations of actual conversations we have had in this house over the past few weeks. For dramatic purposes, I've re-assigned some parts of the conversation to others in the room at the time. My daughter is a LOT more helpful than just recommending bounce boards (which she actually did only once. Love you, Sweetie!).

And yes, I still have that Apple Magazine from 1979. 

Play safe - and stay safe! and see you in the future!
Diana