5 Interesting Links for 06-14-2019

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Baking (Art)

Lauren Ko has been delighting Instagram followers with her beautiful pies. She’s inspired by an artwork or just follows the path color and pattern leads her, figuring out how the filling and the crust can recreate a geometric design or spectacular image. (Via Phoebe Darqueling)

Health (Caregivers)

Caregivers take on a huge amount of stress that, if not addressed, will burn a person out. Here are some tips and resources to help.

Technique (Editing)

Some ways authors can polish their own manuscripts before handing them off. Not all of these work for me, but it’s a good starting point if you’re trying to figure out what techniques can help you. (Via Boris L. Slocum)

Short Story (Fiction)

An evocative fantasy about what drives a person and how they endure. It has some lessons to teach. The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker:

Fashion (Steampunk)

Have you heard a lot about the steampunk aesthetic but lack a clear picture of what that means? Here’s a summary of the fashion with a look at the variety of approaches and philosophies behind them.

War Child: A Fantasy Short Story

Posted in Art, Music, Crafts, etc., Culture, Editing, Foodie, Health, Interesting Links, Short Stories, Writing | Leave a comment

Immortal Hunter by Kait Ballenger

Note: I lost track of some NetGalley ARCs when my first Kindle died and have been catching up with them ever since I discovered I had them after all. Immortal Hunter is one of those, so these comments are on the ARC.

Immortal Hunter by Kait BallengerThis book starts slow with some awkward writing, enough so I considered giving up. What kept me going is the fascinating world where there are supernatural beings blended beneath mundane existence and hunters sworn to keep the evil ones in check…as much as possible.

While a paranormal romance, the initial scenes are pure hunter with a lot of introspection and guilt from David along with a blunted affect. Allie isn’t much better as she begins in the victim role (literally in a medical coma), but she wakes up fighting. She is far from distanced even though Allie has to claw her way through a drug fog as she heads off to protect the innocent.

We learn about their prior relationship in detailed flashbacks that set the scene for the present. This technique worked for me, though normally it wouldn’t have, because the past had never been resolved, making its feelings firmly entrenched in the present regardless of when the conflict occurred. It also helps to see how the present day David has matured from his Paladin/hero past self.

I ended up liking both main characters though it took some time to engage with them. I can’t mention specifics without spoilers, but one of the reveals deepening Allie’s character is a complex real-life situation I felt was well handled. Their main conflict first appears to be a simple miscommunication, but there’s nothing simple about it. The resolution comes over a series of interactions and seems more realistic than often found in suspense-based romance. They have a second chance and are willing to do the hard work to succeed this time.

I found the interactions between the hunters equally amusing and annoying because, before they focused on business, the hunters were all heavily alpha male in their speech patterns and behavior. How they came across as distinct despite the he-man posturing is well done as is that they don’t demonstrate these characteristics as much in broader circumstances.

One of the weaknesses I noticed is in how the story, while not exactly contradicting itself, deflates the power of crises with later reveals. Oddly, things that appeared initially as close to continuity errors were strengthened by later reveals as well. The read requires a willingness to trust the author, possibly why it is now the second (or third depending how you count the initial novella) in the series rather than the first.

This is a dark story with graphic violence. The point-of-view is shared with both secondary characters and the villain, so we get a greater understanding than just reviewing the crime scene after the fact. There’s also swearing and on-screen, detailed lovemaking, so this won’t be for all readers. All of it has meaning within the story, though, and the relationship struggles felt real to me. They offered some hope against the dark background because David and Allie remained committed to each other whatever they tried to believe.

One more mention of the world, but we see reactions from outsiders and glimpses of the Execution Underground organization that lay down clues all is not right in there. It both deepens the world and hints at more to come in later books. This kind of complexity is a significant part of why I kept reading long enough to become fully engaged with the characters and story.

Ultimately, I found the world intriguing, the characters grew on me, and the story had enough layers to pull me in and overcame any weaknesses I saw with the exception of the marketing blurb. That text gave away the big reveal and helped make the story feel slow at the start because I was expecting the final conflict from the start. Here’s an alternate (if rough) blurb that speaks to how the book read for me.

Young and driven, David never expected his need to save people would cost the love of his life and yet Allie had stomped out the same day he committed to the Execution Underground never to return. He never forgot her or loved another. When his failure to defeat a demon puts her in harm’s way five years later, all his protective instincts roar to life along with the guilt of knowing he failed her.

Allie wakes from a coma in a hospital room after being kidnapped and tortured by a demon. Instincts she’s suppressed since the day David chose demon hunting over their chance at a life together surge to the fore. She escapes into the cold, her hospital gown flapping around her, to hunt once again. Fae skills let her commandeer a taxi to take her to an address where she senses demon activity, but she’s too late. The family inside has been brutally murdered and none other than her ex-fiance has arrived to investigate.

Unresolved feelings and long-held secrets cannot chill the heat that still sparks between them, but can Allie forgive David for what he unknowingly allowed to happen? Can he understand the secrets she kept then and even now?

With demon plots afoot and the enemy at her door, no way is David going to risk Allie a second time. If only they can make peace, he’ll never leave her unprotected again no matter what it takes.

It’s not perfect, but that’s the essence of the story for me while carefully skirting the big reveals that are worth the wait.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest read.

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BayCon 2019 Con Report, Part 2 – Behind My Scenes

To see the traditional report for 2019, go here.
BayCon 2019 banner
This year’s BayCon was a strange one for me, and my expanded con report below reflects this, which is why I’m prefacing it with why. There is some duplication where my energy management directly impacted my activities, but I will try to minimize this. I am providing both, as I said in the previous report, because invisibility is a real problem for those with disabilities, even visible ones. Therefore, seeing the con experience from someone with physical and mental limitations might both encourage those so affected and help with understanding.

I’ve been marshaling my energy at BayCon for many years at this point, making sure I reserved enough for my commitments when I used to spend energy in every direction and experience the full variety of what BayCon has to offer. After WorldCon last year, though, my time ran out. I lost my voice, something rather necessary for a panelist as I’ve been for BayCon a while now. It was only the most dramatic sign, though. My ability to walk under my own power and to concentrate have declined, too, as those folks waiting for me to finish editing Apprentice can attest.

When I was invited to be a 2019 panelist, I was already in a desperate scramble to figure out how to communicate again. Talking like the Swedish Chef on the Muppets might be amusing as a party game, but it is not that successful in communicating. I’d made great strides, all things considered, but I did not have reliable control over my voice and the effort to speak coherently took so much energy there was little left to think. Not an ideal characteristic in a panelist.

I really believed this year would be my last BayCon ever, and the thought tortured me.

First step was declining the invitation. I had no guarantees I’d ever be able to speak conversationally again, much less contribute on a panel.

Still, I first came to BayCon as a member, and until I started having to watch my energy consumption too closely, I continued to participate as a member when I didn’t have responsibilities. Over the years, BayCon has become my Spec Fic family, a place where I can have all those deep conversations real life avoids, and explore the impossible, improbable, and things I hadn’t realized I wanted to learn about. I’ve made good friends for all we see each other once a year, especially since I moved out of the Bay Area. It’s my community, and has always recharged me to create and to ponder.

I had a lot to lose.

A few months after declining the invitation, months spent working intensely with a speech therapist and compiling a treasure trove of mechanical and programmatic assists, I felt in control enough to offer to do a workshop for teens interested in storytelling. My thoughts were two-fold: 1) For all high school is a nightmare for many, teens (especially con teens) tend to be more flexible and open than adults when faced with difference. I think it’s part of how many things are changing around them, but for whatever reason, it’s generally true. 2) With so many video games using Text to Speech (TTS) voices, they’re better trained to understand me if I had to resort to my basic TTS system. Without knowing whether I could relearn to speak, I hadn’t laid out the costs for a sophisticated TTS system but rather adopted a free one called eSpeak. It works, but does not sound human.

My speech therapist knew my goal was to be able to talk to my friends at BayCon and then to give this workshop. She focused on techniques to help me control tone and word management as well as energy, but I was nervous about whether it would hold up under a live test. Nervous, but hopeful. I also put everything into my voice and concentration, committing to being pushed around in a manual wheelchair when I grew too tired to use Grover. Walking takes energy I couldn’t afford to waste. Even before BayCon began, I’d been planning and training for months.

I forgot, in all my stressing, to account for the BayCon factor. These are my people. Even those I hadn’t met before had more in common with the openness of teens than often found in the adult world. Instead of burning energy being self-conscious of how I sounded like a caricature of myself, I explained the problem and just went with it. People who didn’t know me thought I had an accent while those who did enjoyed my new voice as a fun addition to the whole that is me. I’m a natural mimic, so accents often came out in my storytelling before this.

I was better able to accept my own limitations because everyone around me accepted the difference. I didn’t feel like I had to apologize for how I spoke or push myself to minimize its visibility, which inevitably makes it worse.

Sure, it was exhausting. I had to run off and nap whenever my energy dipped low enough to steal my voice (and usually returned with the wheelchair). I had to make choices based on reality rather than just doing what I wanted to (I never got to any of the concerts, for example). But I had been struggling to accept this as my last year. If it had just been a physical decline, I could have worked around it, but losing the ability to talk (or so it seemed) and with how quickly my brain fries, I thought I’d have nothing to contribute and no way to enjoy myself.

Instead, the welcome and delight with which I was received, and the joy in my offers–however limited–to contribute, all boosted my confidence and calmed my fears.

My workshop was not heavily attended, but with the late hour, I’d accounted for that in my planning. I kept the structure flexible so I could adapt and borrowed pieces instead of following the structure at all. We had an intensive session focused on the differences between oral and written storytelling, how to understand your characters through seeing through their eyes, situational comedy, and half a dozen other things tailored to their existing characters and needs.

Everyone seemed to have fun, and from the feedback I received afterwards, it had been a grand success. I certainly enjoyed myself learning about their fun stories and helping hone their skills. Their enthusiasm and willingness to explore made a real difference. As many teachers will tell you, no matter how good the lesson plan, if the audience isn’t involved, it’s going to fall flat (oddly a storytelling lesson as well).

Not only that, but I’d been able to fulfill my commitment to BayCon in doing my part. I didn’t even need to resort to the TTS system (though I did have a Dr. Pepper to assist in energy management). In my copious spare brain time (yes, Apprentice comes first), I’m thinking of tidying my notes into a short workbook so the more structured prep doesn’t go to waste. We’ll see if that happens as the same is true about my prep notes for the panel on Body Language at WorldCon, but who knows what the future holds.

I ended up able to fulfill to my promises (a big thing for me) and enjoy myself at the con despite all the necessary adjustments to make it work. I went to a couple of interesting panels on the first day, spent a lot of time talking with friends, and even held the fort at Gaming for a bit to give Angelo a break. I spent off hours when I wasn’t napping in Gaming, using it like the Oasis (the quiet space) by working on puzzles, teaching Angelo (and observers) how to play backgammon, and gazing longingly at the replica game machines that were adorably miniaturized (joystick games and I have long since parted ways because of arm issues).

On Monday, I joined in on a Kaiju panel that was missing a panelist, something I would never have thought possible, especially on the last day, a few short months before. Thanks to the timely contribution of a Dr. Pepper from my friend Anne to ease the migraine, a topic I have a sideways position on, and the willingness of BayCon members in the audience to help recover movie titles I couldn’t produce, I had a fabulous time. Even more, so did the other panelists and those who came to hear us. It proved I can still provide entertainment as a panelist and contribute to off-the-cuff discussions. When assigned a panel normally, I write myself cheat sheets with titles and items I want to bring up, but it’s the dynamic and spontaneous nature that makes for an excellent discussion.

This BayCon was a wonderful gift as far as I’m concerned. Whether time (and new meds) brings improvements to my condition or not, next year I’ll still have BayCon to look forward to. Someday, I’ll get my cyborg body and not have to worry about all this anymore, but for the time being, it’s good to know careful and flexible planning still makes BayCon possible.

In case you’re curious, here’s a run of the tricks I used:

  • As mentioned above, I used both Grover (my innovative LifeGlider walker) and a wheelchair.
  • I now carry Cafe Rio caffeine toffees from Trader Joe’s with me always (not just at the con) because my migraines are aided by caffeine and it’s a quick, portable treatment while the sugar helps with my energy levels.
  • I put a turmeric ginger tea bag (Newman’s Own) into my water bottle to make an anti-inflammatory tincture I was constantly drinking.
  • Every morning, I had a protein-heavy breakfast of eggs and hash browns from Apple Fritter (a short drive from the con)
  • I drank tons of coffee. (If you order plain coffee at the hotel restaurant, it comes in a carafe to keep it warm and contains more than three cups, at least if you use cream!)
  • But the main thing was I listened to my energy levels. I took the downtimes in Gaming where I could still visit with friends but didn’t have to expend much energy. I found places to rest or sit down when having hallway conversations so I didn’t become incoherent. And I accepted the need for naps (which for me is huge as I don’t like to miss a minute).
  • I also didn’t stay up as late and so got more sleep each night than I used to require, more even than the 1-2-6 guide for cons (one shower, two meals, and six hours of sleep).

Bottom line: I had to be very flexible and willing to enjoy what I could without berating myself for the things I couldn’t. But, none of it would have been possible if I’d been wasting energy left and right trying to maintain the appearance of normalcy like I do by instinct in normal life. At home, I do an hour outing, and the cost is often two to six extra hours of sleep or useless fog time. It’s wonderful to learn the energy BayCon has always offered me still exists even though my years as an Energizer bunny are now behind me.

That’s the full story behind this year’s BayCon (the main stuff though I’m sure I’ve missed some pieces). It’s a learning process, and I failed to maintain at one point, but no one is perfect. I just try to learn from my failures and minimize them going forward.

Whether or not you are working with limitations, share some of your favorite con tips in the comments. What may seem obvious to you could really benefit someone else.

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5 Interesting Links for 06-07-2019

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Accessibility (Concerts)

While I’m not a fan of big rock concerts, some of my favorite music memories come from outdoor festivals. It’s lovely to see the efforts being made to make these experiences accessible. Even if there are stumbles along the way, people who may never have had the chance to experience a music festival might be able to. (Via The Ehlers Danlos Society)

Web Comic (Fiction)

Zoophobia comes to you with my son’s recommendation and mine as I’ve been sucked into the multi-layered storyline with fetching illustrations. There are a few typos (inkos?) and you need to work around bad links by using the archive, so it says a lot that I’m including it here. I think the story is worth the effort even if it’s on a long-term hiatus. Each chapter forms an arc (so far) so you’ll still get four full stories in a fascinating world.

Excel (Programming)

Conditional Formatting is a neat feature for Excel (I use 2010), but once you extend beyond the automatic offerings, things tend to mess up quickly. I’ve been fighting with a formula to highlight future dates, and this post gave a viable answer. It’s not all future dates, but future by “X” date is flexible enough for me. The only trick I had to figure out is to select all of what you want it to consider before creating the rule for the cell at the top of your selection.

Innovation (Shelter)

Architect Abeer Seikaly has come up with a creative tent design to address problems faced by Syrian refugees in camps. Once the design is production ready, this tent will adapt to weather conditions, becoming more or less enclosed, collect rainwater for basic sanitation and even produce electric energy from solar radiation.

Philosophy (Writing)

While the article sees unique elements where I see restoring older styles, this is a good look at what the big epic novel or series offers to authors and readers, and why it’s sometimes worth breaking with modern convention.

Life and Law Sharable

Posted in Art, Music, Crafts, etc., Culture, Health, Interesting Links, Philosophy, Programming, Reading, Technology, Writing | Leave a comment

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch

The October Man by Ben AaronovitchI have fallen behind on the series, but this novella reminded me why I became a fan of Aaronovitch after reading the first book in this series. The October Man is a police procedural written in a matter-of-fact, dry style despite the case revolving around barely understood magic and centuries-old river goddesses. The style matches my memories of the London-based stories enough for the narration to be familiar, but the use of German terminology and circumstances protected me from confusing the main characters.

The neighborhood feel draws you in while the dry reporting is supported by beautiful characterization and nice humorous elements to put the reader in an accepting mood. That’s a good thing, because there’s much in this story beyond the boundaries of our known world.

I’ll admit to being a little lost in the beginning because we’re tossed into the story with an unnamed first-person narrator and a situation new to me. Re-reading the book blurb before starting would have prevented this, but it wasn’t included in the Advanced Reader Copy. Still, it didn’t take long before someone called him by name and things clicked into place.

An easy example of the humor is when the main character, Tobias Winter, acquires his sidekick in the form of local police liaison Vanessa Sommer. She has more than her name to offer, though, as her eager exploration of the magic she previously doubted runs a good counterpoint to Tobi’s frustration with how little they know and well-founded fears about what he will face. She brings the wonder; he gives the cautious side. I am particular satisfied with how Vanessa’s arc progresses and resolves whatever Tobi might think.

There’s a sizable catch-up in the beginning to ground the reader in the international rules restricting human and magical interaction along with how these rules are falling to pieces before Tobi’s eyes. It would be an info dump, and technically is, but it provides necessary background in a humorous and quirky account that held my interest. We also learn a lot about Tobi’s feelings toward his job, both the magical aspects and the risk of obsession.

One reason I like the narrative style so much is because it reflects a refreshing attitude toward magic rather than being all about craving power whether for good or evil purposes. This is just a world where magic exists and is hidden from most humans. Someone has to investigate and clean up the mess when magic is abused.

Ultimately, the novella offers a fun read with a nice pair of main personalities who are very distinct, especially in their reactions to magic. There are interesting minor characters who are sometimes amusing in their eagerness to perform, whether the enthusiastic medical examiner or the magical cleaner crew getting to burn something down. The take on magic and the world adds to my enjoyment, making this a fitting addition to the series and an intriguing expansion beyond the Rivers of London.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest read.

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