Archive for September, 2018

Assessing Yourself

I’ve talked about day jobs before, and how they can be useful for a number of reasons (steady income, giving your brain time to think through plot points and whatnot, etc.). I’ve also talked about how I think, at least for me, being a full-time freelance writer/editor has hurt my fiction (or at least my motivation).

So I’ve been thinking very seriously about finding a new day job. The problem is that the options are wide open. (I think I talked about that somewhere too.) I do think I’ve decided to go for something non-freelance, something where I have to go some place and talk to other people on a semi-regular basis.

Having so many options, and not knowing what I want to do, I scheduled an appointment with my alma mater’s career services department. (Most people know you can use career services to help you find a job as you near graduation, but it turns out that they’ll help alumni too. I got an email about it and was like, “Heyyyyy…”)

(Also, funnily, the woman I got was the one I worked with when I was graduating. Uh, many years ago.)

They recommended a series of assessments to help me learn about what’s important to me and what jobs would be a good fit.

And I figured, hey, what could it hurt?

That was a few months ago, and now I’m done with the lot. There was the Clifton Strengths, which told me what my strengths were. Then Myers-Briggs for personality. The Strong for what I’m interested in. And the Values for what’s important to me in a job/work place. Then the idea is to look at all four, see what patterns there are, and make a decision moving forward based on the results.

None of the results are especially a surprise, but I bet you that I wouldn’t have been able to pull the information out of my head before hand. The strengths was probably the most useful, in that they give you your top five strengths and explain how they are both good and bad (for example, one of mine is that I absorb information easily, which means I can learn–and apply–new things quickly. But the downside is that I can get distracted by research and lose a lot of time).

But it is nice to have it all laid out. Not sure it’s useful yet, because I can see three distinct career paths that could be taken from the results.

But aside from potential day jobs, I can also see how some of the information can be useful in my writing. It’s given me some ideas on how to work, and also on some new projects to try.

So if you have the opportunity, it might be a good idea to run through these tests yourself. One of the best ways to be true to yourself is to have a good idea of how you work. These tests aren’t perfect, of course, but especially by taking the lot, you can get a good general idea of things.

Taken assessments, squiders? Find them to be of any use?

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The Same Story Across the Mediums

Isn’t it funny how when something is a hit, we’ve got remake it over and over and over and over and…

You get the point. But we don’t just remake it in the same form. We make a movie form and a book form and a television form and a video game form, and then we twist it and tell the same story again, with new twists or new settings or with some characters now a different gender or whatever fits our fancy.

(I actually took a lovely online class a few years back about how stories change to fit different mediums, which we explored by comparing the same “scenes” in the Lord of the Rings, through the movies, books, and LOTR online. Also we read a lot of romantic (time period, not romance-based) poetry and stories which form the basis of modern fiction.)

I recently noticed that the Japanese do this too–though they do it differently. The stories never seem to make it to the twisting phase. Let’s take one of my favorite anime series, Ouran High School Host Club, which is utterly ridiculous at almost all times, yet still manages to make you care about all the characters.

Ouran High School Host Club (here on out shortened to Ouran) started as a manga (for those unfamiliar with the term, manga is kind of like a comic book, so pictures and words in a sequential order) and the beginning of the manga was made into an anime (essentially a cartoon). Many anime are made from manga series, and, for the most part, anime series tend to follow their manga counterparts pretty closely.

(Manga series can be quite long–over 500 chapters–so you occasionally run into problems when the manga and the anime are running concurrently and the anime catches up to the manga. Anime sometimes goes through “filler arcs” which tell a story outside of the manga’s storyline but for the most part sticks to the same world and doesn’t alter anything major. Some of these are more successful than others. Or the anime may strike out on its own.)

Some years after the anime came out, they made a live action series of Ouran. Like it sounds, live action series have real people in real locations.

(If you’d like to see a character comparison, well:

ouran cast comp

What’s interesting is that the story doesn’t really change between mediums–when watching the live action, I recognized almost all the episodes from the anime–and when additions are made (such as a filler arc or a movie) they’re always made to fit into the world and story lines that already exist. If an anime gets too far from the manga, they remake the anime to fit the manga better.

But, as far as I know–and please feel free to correct me if I am wrong–they never twist. From Peter Pan they wouldn’t get Hook, or Jake and the Neverland Pirates, or Peter and the Starcatcher. No Wizard of Oz except they’re all insane, or everyone’s a grown up and steampunk, or told from the witch’s point of view.

You have Bleach, and Bleach goes on for 696 manga chapters, 366 anime episodes, four movies, a live action film (which JUST came out), five musicals, two trading card games, several light novels (essentially a novel with occasional manga-style pictures), and at least five video games. Or One Piece, which has been going since 1997 and has over 800 anime episodes. A story can go on forever, being retold from one medium to the next, and then, when they’re done…they’re done. On to the next thing. Or the same thing in a different form.

(Not to say that everything does this, of course. Trigun, for example, is quite manageable at 97 manga chapters and 26 anime episodes–though it is a case where the anime took liberties. Cowboy Bebop–which started as an anime and then became a manga–also has 26. And these are ~25 minute episodes in many cases.)

I just think it’s interesting, to look at how a story can mean so much that we’re willing to watch it–or read it, or play it–over and over. And to see how different cultures go about doing just that.

Am I wrong about Japanese storytelling not twisting the same story into new forms? (I know there are some manga/anime that are twists on Western stories–Pandora Hearts, which I’m reading right now, obviously has its roots in Alice in Wonderland–but I’m unfamiliar with any stories that are twists on other Japanese stories.) Favorite version of a favorite story?

Storytelling Across Cultures

They always say to read broadly, don’t they, squiders? And generally this means that if you normally read mysteries, pick up a romance every now and then, or some science fiction, or if you read novels to read short stories, or if you only read stuff from authors who are alike to you in race/gender/orientation, etc. to try authors who are different than you in one or all categories.

One could argue that reading stories from other cultures fits into this as well.

Have you ever read folklore and creation myths from different cultures? (I read a ton of creation myths at one point–I think it was research back when I was writing Shards–and it was very interesting to see what trended across cultures from different sides of the planet.) It’s really quite fascinating. I have a whole shelf of folklore here in my office–Russian, African, Hawaiian, American Indian–and even made it through the Kojiki at one point.

And stories take different mediums depending on the culture as well. And there are differences between the beats and flow even within the same medium. The kabuki theater tradition in Japan is completely different than Western theater (and is actually why people think ninjas wore black, though that’s another story). A puppet show in Europe is different than the shadow puppets of Asia.

Story structure varies as well. I was reading earlier about differences between “western” (in this case, American) and “eastern” (Japanese) storytelling. The article said that while western stories tend to depend on direct conflict and use a three-act story structure, eastern storytellers use a four act structure that goes “introduction, development, twist and reconciliation.” There can be–and often is–conflict, but it’s handled in a completely different manner. (If you’ve ever watched Spirited Away or another Ghibli film, you’ve probably seen this act structure in action.)

(Something else I read on the subject pointed out that in American storytelling, the main character is often the strongest, most interesting person in the story, with the other characters being relegated to sidekicks, whereas in Japanese storytelling, the main character is often an everyperson who is thrust into a situation where they’re surrounded by people who are more powerful and/or more interesting than they are. Which is true, to some degree, but I can also think of some examples where it’s not, so much like everything in life, there are always exceptions.)

What do you think, squiders? Feelings on stories and mediums from other cultures? Favorite stories from other countries? Thoughts on storytelling structure?

Announcing the Red Mars Readalong

All right, squiders. We’re going to do the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson for our next readalong.

I’m excited to do this one, because I have been carting this trilogy around for probably close to 20 years without reading it, and if you’re at all familiar with it, you know these are fat books. My copy of Red Mars (which is the only one handy–Green Mars and Blue Mars are currently relegated to the basement bookcase) is about 600 pages of tiny font. So not Wheel of Time fat, but pretty dang fat.

I think I picked the series up around the time I read Dune and Ringworld and books of those ilk. I think I thought the series was older than it was, since it seemed to be on all the same lists. It is a Nebula award winner, so that’s cool.

(My copy was also apparently once owned by my local library. I hope I bought it at a book sale and didn’t steal it off the shelves. It doesn’t seem to have the general library book accouterments such as stickers with shelving location and whatnot, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.)

I have also never read anything by Kim Stanley Robinson (though I believe these were some of his first books), though my husband recently finished 2312, so assuming he’s consistent in his narrative form, I have a vague idea of what to expect.

Let’s give ourselves plenty of time to get through this one. November 1 sound good?

(I will also note that I will probably read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was also on the poll, sometime in October, both because I want to, and because one of my writing groups is having a paranormal/horror reading challenge in October, and that’s the first one that comes to mind. So I may or may not talk about that one as well.)

Cool Things Round-up

Hey, squiders! It’s been one of those weeks, so I’ve decided to share some neat things for both readers and writers with you.

Reading

I’ve talked about BookRiot before, but I recently learned that they do tailored book recommendations. (To be honest, I also like how they’ve named it Tailored Book Recommendations and shortened it to TBR, which stands for To Be Read in most reading circles.) It costs money, of course. There’s two levels–recommendations only (and I’m unsure whether you get the actual books or just recommendations and then have to hunt the book down yourself) and hardcover. (…why hardcover? I don’t want a ton of new hardcover books every quarter, but I suppose people must, or they wouldn’t offer it.) If you’re always looking for new books to read, this might be worth it to you.

Two weeks ago I took over the social media accounts for Hometown Reads. (And also Hometown Authors, but that’s for the other section.) If you’re unfamiliar with Hometown Reads, the idea is connect readers with local authors, so they can support them. The website is divided into cities (alphabetical by city name), and then once you click on your hometown, it shows several pages of books by local authors. The books rotate through, so you may get new and different books each time you check. You can also search by genre, though this gives you books from all the locations, and can search books/authors by name in a search box.

Writing

One of my favorite writing teachers, Holly Lisle, is launching a new course tomorrow, called How to Write a Novel. This is a brand spanking new class, so I haven’t taken it myself, and I’m also not sure how it differs from (or if it’s to replace) her How to Think Sideways course. I think it may be more specialized–HTTS also focuses on idea generation and how to find markets and the like. So! I don’t know about this particular class, except I have seen the outline for it and it is very very VERY thorough, and her How to Revise Your Novel course was a game changer for me.

(Also, I took her free How to Write Flash Fiction course and sold three of the four stories I finished, so…)

Edit: Oh, hey, reading comprehension–apparently if you get in the early bird launch, you get a full content edit of your manuscript for free, so that’s a pretty nice perk.

On the other side of Hometown Reads is Hometown Authors, which connects you to other authors in your local area, and also offers a marketing blog and other occasional resources. You can also maintain an account that shows up over at Hometown Reads, that links your books to you and where to buy them.

Another resource I came across fairly recently is Authors Publish. This is a free resource that emails once a week or so with a selection of markets you can submit to. These tend to be themed (one week may be publishers for romance novels, another week may be themed short story submissions, another might be new publishers), and they also occasionally release ebooks on various marketing and submission topics.

Well, that’s it for me for today. Found anything cool lately, squiders?

Time for a New Readalong!

It’s been almost half a year since we read The Sparrow, so let’s pick out a new book and/or series to look at! I’ve tried to provide a wide variety of genres and standalone/series options.

Also, if you’d very much like to do a different book or series, please let me know in the comments.

Also let me know if you prefer if I just pick a book on my own. The polls are still a new thing.

Sad Cake

We recently received a free trial of Netflix. I’m not a big television watcher, but in an effort to justify Netflix’s existence on our Roku, I’ve started watching The Great British Baking Show, which I’ve heard good things about.

Full disclosure: I am a horrible baker.

(Well, I bake a mean pie. My apple pie is apparently divine. I don’t actually know, because I don’t like pie and only bake them for other people.)

The other day, I was watching the GBBS with the small, mobile ones, who were actually way more into it than I thought they would be. I mean, it’s essentially a load of people with funny accents (but then, the younger one is rather into Peppa Pig, so perhaps the accents aren’t that weird to them) talking incomprehensibly about pastries and gluten and proofing and a ton of things I don’t understand, but hey. I was tired and they were staying put.

Then the bigger one proposed that we make a cake of our own.

My first instinct was to squash that idea like a bug, but parenting, much like improv, often involves saying “yes” to things you don’t want to, so I fished out a cookbook that seemed likely to have cake recipes (Better Homes and Gardens, 12th edition) and decided on chocolate sponge cake, since the people on GBBS are always making sponge cake.

It took us about two and a half hours, all told. And we ran completely out of sugar. But we baked that cake, and we let it cool, and we finally pried it out of the bundt pan, and…

sad cake

(We’ve eaten part of it. For solidarity.)

I’ve yet to figure out how to get a cake out of a bundt pan successfully. As you can see, the top stayed with the pan. And we definitely overcooked it. And the bigger mobile one apparently had grand plans to copy the show participants and create an elaborate scene on top with frosting and candy and what have you.

(This was circumvented by pointing out that we had no sugar and therefore could not make frosting, though it didn’t stop him from sticking several lollipops into it.)

It doesn’t taste terrible. But as far as cakes go, it’s pretty sad.

Are you a decent baker, squider? What’s your favorite recipe? The small, mobile ones have expressed interest in trying again once we’ve bought more sugar.

(Tips on getting cakes out of bundt pans? It doesn’t matter what kind of cake I’m making, it’s invariably mangled in the extraction process.)