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I live… mostly. April 30, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Life, Musings, News.
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Just an update, I finished my last final exam today.  Thus far I have 2 A’s! Wahooo! I was really worried about my linguistics test because it is far from my strong point, now I just have to get all my papers written and manage to pass another semester and be halfway to ABD. (All But Dissertation).

In other news, an amusing observation. Houston doesn’t apparently have a lot of need for parallel parking. How do I know this? Well one, as J can attest, I can’t parallel park. I’ve tried to figure out the physics of it, tried to draw it, reason it, and tried it on occasion with the theory that I should be able to “figure it out” through observation and trial.  I cannot.

I submit to you Exhibet B of “why obviously parallel parking is an unnecesary skill”, there are four parallel parking spots in the prime parking zone at my apartment. Three of the slots inevitably get filled, leaving one open… that stays open, even when every other spot is full. Why is this? Well that is when it is required to parallel park, because now you can’t simply drive into the space and “fake it” because there are 2 or 3 open spaces. This space is almost always open, which leads me to conclude that in Houston parallel parking isn’t a common skill.

Exhibet C: When I took my Texas driver’s test, parallel parking was not a required component.

So on one hand this means I should really learn how, so I can take that inevitably open parking spot. On the other hand? If so many people avoid it, it MUST simply be “Just That Hard.”

So there it is.

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Wednesday Book Promo: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher April 29, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Debut, Book Review, Book Series, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy.
1 comment so far

Heya there loyal readers and those who we are related to and have to read this blog because of family ties and cookies.  You may have noticed some lack of content in the last few days which is explained by the fact that Kristen is studying for her end of semester finals and papers and Jana’s house just sold and she’s trying to arrange for new house and somewhere to store all the stuff and people until new house is settled.  Ergo we are both crazy.  So forgive us if updates aren’t as frequent, but still come and visit.  I figure with everything I’m cleaning out I’ll likely find a good prize or two for a Yay I moved contest in June.

Moving on to our book of the day.  We’re featuring Turn Coat by the ever impressive Jim Butcher.  Turn Coat is the 11th Dresden file novel out of what will be, according to Butcher’s site, a 23 book series.  Not quite half way there, though I can tell you I want all of the books RIGHT NOW.  Waiting for another twenty years to have the series complete is good for the author’s continued career, but may just kill the fans with anticipation.

Rather obviously I’m a big fan of this series and this author and Turn Coat did not let me down.  Some of the things I love about this book and the series in general is that the books aren’t just about Harry Dresden, wizard, but the ‘secondary’ characters are vitally important and help to create a well rounded world.  In this book in paticular there are many changes happening.  It’s a turning point book where politics are in full swing and people who have been around for a while are coming into their own.  This is another big point for me.  The characters in the Dresden universe change and grow.  They tend to remember past mistakes and try, not always successfully, to keep from repeating them.  It’s a relief to read a series where the same stupid mistakes are not repeated ad nauseum and the characters don’t forget all the important life lessons they learned a few books ago.

If you’re a Dresden fan this is a must have.  For those coming into the series the book does stand alone well, however a lot of the details of personalities and where things came from are lost without having a background.  I’d personally suggest reading the earlier books and working upto this one myself, but definitely start reading.  Harry Dresden will save the world…or he’ll die trying.  Maybe both.

As an extra benefit there is a wonderful interview with Jim Butcher over on Bitten By Books.  They have a contest and he’s answering questions in the comments section today as well.  Go see it HERE.

Genre:  Urban Fantasy

Age: Adult

Content: Sexuality, language, violence

Overall:  BUY!!!  Right now would be good unless you’re like me and you want it in paperback.  In that case borrow and then stew until you can buy it.

Amazon

Indie Bound

turncoat

Use of Language April 24, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Life, Musings.
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My husband and I are big fans of the reality show Hell’s Kitchen.  We don’t watch many other reality shows, well…I guess Iron Chef counts, but still…not much in the way of reality TV, however, last night we noticed something interesting.  Just for brief background information the premise of Hell’s Kitchen is a dozen chefs brought together and put through the wringer of restaurant services, challenges and craziness in order to win a job as an executive chef for Gordon Ramsay.  It’s the job interview from hell.  The contestants are usually interesting little people who go through all the reality show tropes and at least one or two tends to have a nervous breakdown before the end of the show.  Interesting to me, though, is the way Gordon Ramsay is portrayed.

Now, you have to keep in mind that this is a television show so, of course, he’s playing to the camera and is much more reactionary than he likely is under normal circumstances.  However, he’s played up as an arrogant, demanding, foul mouthed taskmaster with the foul mouthed being emphasized by said mouth being blurred and beeped out every time he curses which he does a lot.  The interesting thing to me is that this tendency is used to build up this fictional caricature which I don’t believe is totally accurate.  Chef Ramsay is a native of Scotland where the term ‘f***’ (I’m a family friendly blog, but you know what I’m getting at), is part of common speech in a lot of areas of the country.  I remember wandering around Glasgow when I visited the city and it was as common as hells and damns in the United States and got about as much reaction.  This is why when he calmly tells the contestants ‘f’ off all of you’ he’s so calm.  There isn’t a huge emotional push behind the words because to his ear and speaking patterns it’s just another word, unlike for many of the listeners where such speaking brings up memories of getting your mouth washed out with bar soap.

As a writer I find this method of creating a character through language interesting.  Using something so inherent to one culture to cause a big reaction in another.  How many customs in speaking cause a huge barrier in communication and gut reactions in the listener which paint immediate impressions of who and what the speaker is?

For another example:  I was in WalMart the other day and greeted the cashier.  He stopped what he was doing and looked at me then asked “Where’s the accent from?”  I blinked and looked confused.  Then he looked confused and went on to explain that I sounded like I was from England or Australia and carried myself well, so he’d assumed I matched what he heard.  Truthfully, I’m from a small town in the middle of Utah where we have a tendency to drawl out words and turn o’s into a’s, but a few years of speech therapy as a child, good friends who are English and Australian, voice training and choir and a LOT of reading has skewed the way I generally speak to be much more precise and enunciated.  The truth breaks the stereotype formed by initial impression.

So now I’m left thinking about the books I read, the books I write and the people around me.  How does the use of language create or destroy initial impression and what happens when the impression is far from the reality?  I think that ground is covered all the time, but maybe it’s worth a closer look.

~Jana

Rejection Letters April 23, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Rejection.
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So several agents have been blogging lately about AgentFail and protecting themselves against the perceived attacks by angry writers-to-be. Nathan Bransford had an interesting “agent for a day” contest where the readers had the chance to read 50 queries, and respond to them. Rachelle Gardner wrote about how she experimented with more personal rejection letters, and Victoria Strauss (not an agent, but a good resource to avoid unsavory agents) blogged about the possible source of such anger against agents, and the “uneven power of agent and author”.

Anyway it got me thinking. I’m with most people, the “we’ll only respond if interested” is frustrating, because of the fact you don’t know if the Monster at the end of this Internet Line ate your query, so there’s a decided uncertainty factor that a form rejection will alleviate.

The written rejection is a little more encouraging, but I do find the “this is a very subjective business” line somewhat annoying, I know how it’s meant but it bugs me. Rachelle Gardner did want to know if her personal rejections were better or worse. My thought is this… most of what she wrote wouldn’t be something that would help me to “fix” my novel, and in a way… I don’t think many agents can actually tell you what to fix in that first pass. After all, we all have books we hated for some reason, and books we loved. Jana, for instance, is mostly indifferent to the Amelia Peabody series, which I have read until it’s tattered and falling apart. So… here’s the sad fact… when an agent tells you “it just didn’t grab them” unfortunately, that’s what it means. Think of all the books you’ve picked up and were able to finish mostly because you paid 7 bucks for it. Now think of the books you read off and on… and then think of the books you stayed up til 5am to finish. How many are there of the 5am catergory? That’s the representation catergory.

It’s daunting, and frustrating. It means the best answer is probably “Luck in Numbers”, you’ll find someone who wants to stay up til 5am to read you, hopefully. Otherwise, start on the next book, if you sell enough, you may get another chance at the others.

And Rachelle Gardner? For what it’s worth, even though I haven’t queried you, thanks for responding to people with a little more insight. Don’t listen to the idiots goofs who take offense to your response, at least you cared enough to give one and in my book that’s pretty good.

Wednesday Book Promo: Two For the Dough April 22, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Mystery.
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‘allo there gentle reader.  It’s that time of week where in we speak of books read and enjoyed or not so enjoyed or…well…something.

First though, I want to draw your attention to a contest happening over at Bitten by Books, which is a faboo website no matter how you cut it.  One of our favorite authors, Anton Strout (yes, his second book wasn’t my favorite but I still have faith) is being interviewed and answering questions and there is a fabulous prize to be won.  Go and read.

Anyway…moving onto the book for today.  Two For the Dough by Janet Evanovitch has been around for ten years or so and is a mystery/chick lit/humor piece.  I have a hard time defining it, but you can find her books in the mystery section of most libraries and book stores.   This series is going on sixteen books and on a whim I started rereading (Or relistening too, audio books good) the series in the last couple of months.  Two For the Dough features Stephanie Plum, an ex lingery sales woman from the Jersey Berg who has hired on as her cousins bond bail enforcement agent (bounty hunter) and the trouble she gets into.  I like these books a lot.  They’re a decent mystery with the amusement of a woman with a family with recognizable amounts of crazy, friends who are even more so, boyfriend situations that swing between sweet, sizzling and rage all backed by pot roast and trips to the beauty salon.  For me this is a fun brain candy series of books and I find I can step into the series at just about any point and get my barrings enough to read and enjoy.  I don’t feel any need to own all sixteen volumes, but definitely a fun ride.  Stephanie is smart and sassy, but still very much a girly girl even though she gets much better at her apprehending folks as the books go on.  Perhaps my favorite technique from this book is a stun gun to the rear end of a perp who thinks mooning her will make her go away.  He…like everyone in the series…should learn it takes more than that to get rid of Stephanie Plum!

Genre:  Mystery/Chick Lit

Age: Adult

Content: Brief sexuality, language, severed body parts

Overall:  Borrow

two-for-the-dough

Amazon

IndieBound

Tuesday Randomness April 21, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Critiquing, Urban Fantasy.
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It seems that with my paper deadlines coming up, there’s simply not enough time in the day to get everything done. I’m just taking this as training for when publishers are demanding revisions, and I suppose college professors are going to be just as demanding! On top of that, though, I also have Finals to study for, when I’d rather be devoting all my time to compiling information from my research materials.

Anyway, so… I concur with Jana that Magic Burns and Magic Strikes simply rock. I read through both books this weekend, when I should have been reading stuff for class. Magic Burns kept me up til 4:30 in the morning because I just /had/ to finish it. Of the two, Burns has the better plot with more intriguing twists and turns, but Bites has several very satisfying endings to a couple story arcs. I think what I like the MOST about Illona Andrews’s books is the very unique Magic-Tech Atlanta, it’s very different than what most other UFs have with the near-reality world. I also like that they stop teasing the reader with Kate’s “blood secret” and you get to find out just what it is. Curran is a delightful character as well, definitely kind but determined, genuine, just and I love his mischievous sense of humor. How very feline!

Some contructive points: I do sometimes get lost in the descriptions, so I wish they were a little clearer to give me a way to visualize these unusual places she’s describing.  The world is SO strong that some better descriptions would kick it up into the Completely Awesome of All Awesome range. I’d also like to see more from Jim the leopard, he’s the most flat of the characters. Dali the white tiger is… a hoot, ya’ll have to read to find out.

So… go. Get. Buy. You won’t regret it.

Twitter Telephone April 20, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Life, Musings.
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I admit when it comes to social networking sites I’ve been a bit behind the curve, but I finally folded.  I studied MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and a bunch of other places and decided that Facebook and Twitter seemed to be the most interesting to me.  So I signed up on both and started poking around.  Facebook was first, and I love it because it’s a good place to keep up with friends, relatives, authors, agents, all kinds of people and the pace is pretty slow.  I can pop around as I like and I can playMafia Wars in pleasant 10 minute bursts.  So color me happy.

Then I tried Twitter and I’m not so sure what I think.  I’m an IM fan from way back, ICQ, Trillian, MSN, YIM, BBS, forums…I’ve used them all and tend to have 5-6 IMs open most of the time.  Based on that I figured I’d like Twitter.  But the problem is Twitter is like being dropped into the middle of Grand Central Station and having to claw your way through what is just noise and what are conversations you want to pay attention to.  There are some great threads that happen on Twitter and it’s a great place to gather links and keep up with industry news, but it is spazzmodic and keeping up nearly impossible.

The other problem I have with Twitter is the way the telephone game works there.  For those who never played the telephone game as children, I will explain.  If you know what it is skip this bit!  😛

The telephone game was one of those games I played at slumber parties as a child.  Everyone sits in a circle and the first person whispers a message to the person on their right, who whispers it to the person on their right, on and on around the circle.  Then the very last person announces what they heard and it’s compared to what it started out as.  The results are usually hysterical.  Chocolate pancakes becomes chicken spankings or such.  Great game.

So applied to Twitter there is a phenominon called retweeting.  When you can just cut and retweet the whole message retweeting is a nice thing.  It helps some of us who couldn’t be in the conversation earlier catch up on vital bits, however…there is a 140 character limit on Twitter so if the person doing the retweeting wants to add an opinion then often the initial tweet gets ‘edited’.  Sometimes the editing doesn’t make any difference, but other times it completely changes what was meant and now the conversation goes in an unexpected way and gets confusing.  When you’re the one who put out the original tweet and you see what it’s become and what it’s lead to it can be disconcerting.  It’s particularly alarming when this leads to private messages berating you for something which you never actually said.  Yeah, I’m speaking from experience and no little annoyance, but I’m not going to get into the details.  Maybe in another post.

So all in all will I stay on both sites?  Will I get a MySpace page?  Or whatever comes next?

Yes, no, maybe.  I think the good out weighs the bad for the most part as long as I can balance how much time I spend on any one site and avoid the Twitter Telephone.

Jana

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Storytelling in Television April 16, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Musings, Science Fiction, Writing Craft.
Tags: , ,
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*taps the mic* Is this thing on?

Hi folks, I’ve been falling into the dark hole of “End of the Semester”, which means lots of papers and lots of presentations. Somehow I ended up with most of my presentations at the end of the semester, through poor planning on my part. I just finished the last today and got a /really/ good grade on my Midterm. Wahoo!

But this does mean I haven’t spent much time reading my Fun Books and a lot reading Class books (they’re fun too, but it’s a different sort of reading… ) Anyway to stay sane I have been indulging in my favorite tv shows, some current, some revisited.

And I want to say… J. Michael Straczynski is a very talented story teller. He’s the creater of the Sci Fi Epic Babylon 5 which can be seen on Hulu.com and Aol.com. What is so impressive with B5 is the ongoing plot arcs that he manages over several years of writing, mingled in with the delightful interpersonal relationships for the characters. The Christian subthemes also intrigue me, considering there’s several plots dealing with death and resurrection, ultimate sacrifice and “he who lay down his life for a friend.” There’s an intertwining of classic philosophy themes as wella s a good natured poking-fun at American (and human) culture. One memorable scene involves two aliens debating the meaning (or lack there of) of the Hokey Pokey. The show also left me with some of the most haunting and thought provoking quotes, that I recalled for years after the show went off the air. I’ll leave you with one:

“The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make this station and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are star-stuff. We are the Universe, made manifest, trying to figure itself out. And, as we have both learned, sometimes the Universe needs a change of perspective.” Delenn, Minbari (probably a nod to Carl Sagan)

 

A Distant Star: Babylon 5 Season 2

 

Beyond that, I count myself a Geek (or Nerd) or whatever word is most prestigious in your neck of the woods for “Intellectual who doesn’t mind admitting to loving board games, Star Trek, Art,  and Physics”  The show The Big Bang Theory is ‘our people’, fellow nerds. It’s smart, savvy, and full of great Nerd-Culture-References to make you giggle. The comedic timing is perfect as well, with the actors managing to use words and body language to portray the comedy.

Enjoy:

Wednesday Book Promo – Magic Strikes! April 15, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Book Series, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy.
Tags: , , , ,
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It’s a miserable rainy day in Utah, and all I can think about is how much I’d rather be home curled up in a blanket and reading a book.  Not to say I don’t love my job – Any boss type people reading this note I love my job – but rainy days seem to call for books and blankets and hot chocolate.  I find it ironic that most creatures are smart enough to spend rainy days in their dens.  Human beings pull out the umbrellas and keep chugging along.  Who says we’re the smartest species?

Anyway, complaining aside I’m excited to talk about Magic Strikes today.  I found my copy on release day and devoured it in about 6 hours.  Then I went on vacation and didn’t have much time to write about it.  So, here we go.  I love this series and this book in particular.  For the uninformed Magic Strikes is the third Kate Daniel’s book by Ilona Andrews.

The Magic series takes place in a magic ravaged Atlanta where magic and technology flow back and forth in sudden unpredictable surges.  I love all the options this provides as people try to decide if the tech will be up long enough for them to drive somewhere, or if it’s all about riding a mule.  Weapons can range from guns to swords to paranormal fists, each having greater or lesser strength depending on what’s going on with the magic surge of the moment.

I also like Kate a lot.  Yes, she’s an urban fantasy butt kicking heroine, but what I love is that she’s well rounded and a character who grows from book to book.  She has female friends without the jealousy and vain stupidity which is often seen in UF books.  She has a ward who is a smart kid and, surprisingly, often does what she’s told and for the right reasons.  Kate has a past which she’s protecting, but she’s also trying hard to relate to the people around her, and that’s really what this book is about.  Yeah, there’s a supernatural cage fight aspect, but the heart of the story is about Kate protecting those she cares for and them doing the same in return.  I buy her emotional attachment and I think I’d like to go to lunch with her.

I also much love the Kate/Curran interactions in this book.  They’re this funny mix of playful and aggressive and there are some really nice moments here of sweetness and humor.  He does one of the things which I think all women dream their man will do and that’s to come for her when she’s really in trouble, against all odds and against all conventional wisdom.  So, yeah…le swoon.

Love this book.  Love this author.   And she has a new series coming out in October which I suspect will also have to come visit my shelves.

Jana

Genre:  Urban Fantasy
Age: Adult
Content: Brief sexuality, LOTS of violence and gore, some language
Overall:  Buy

magic-strikes

Knee Jerk Reactions in the Twitterverse April 13, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Critiquing, Musings.
2 comments

Hello there gentle reader.  Yes, I’m blogging twice in one day.  It doesn’t happen often, but I’m annoyed so here we go again.

To catch up those who might not know over the weekend there was a mistake made at Amazon which caused books with ‘adult’ content to be deranked on the search engine.  So when you searched for something like “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” it wouldn’t ever come up and definitely wouldn’t come up on the ‘you might like’ or ‘other books like this’ lists.  Pretty immediately there was a cry of outrage that erotic, GBLT and other such books were being ‘discriminated’ against.

Evil Amazon wouldn’t let people read the books they wanted to because they were marginalized!  Oh noes!  This lead to an explosion of conversation with the #amazonfail tag on Twitter, google bombing, name calling and general unpleasantness.  The joy of the internet is that the masses tend to be lead by whomever is shouting the loudest, particularly if they’re shouting about something which gets people up in arms anyway.

Today the news is that it was a mistake.  Not a policy, not a hack, not anything else sensational, but a mistake.  Someone clicked the wrong button.  Amazon was not trying to chop off the hands that feed it, but technological mistake made.  For a lot of people the admission isn’t enough.  It’s just not possible that there ISN’T a conspiracy.  Now there are new hash tags showing up in Twitter to keep the anger flowing, and I just don’t get it.

From a technical point of view the data deselection makes the most sense and as a Quality Assuance Engineer I can attest that this kind of thing happens.  I know I can turn off all of a product of a given nature in the systems I work on just that easily.  One sql statement, one deselected button and it all goes buh bye because of the nature of databases.  Amazon has a huge task in keeping all of the data on all of the products they carry sorted and easy to search.  Such a database has to be tabled and maximized for efficiency and sometimes the very maximizing which causes efficiency also opens up problems just like this.  I think it’s a shame that we have created a situation where we are so quick to jump up and down and scream that we’re being ‘injured’, but not so quick to give anyone, particularly a company which most of us use FREQUENTLY the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe it’s a reflection of the economy, of the distrust created by companies and goverments, or just flat human nature.  It’s more fun to bitch and moan than it is to be patient and wait and see.  Yeah, Amazon should have said something official sooner, but that’s also the bane of a large company.  You can’t do anything ‘official’ until all of the right parties have been talked to and everyone understands the situation.  They look like bigger idiots when there are several ‘official’ statements which rise to the top or unofficial statements which everyone jumps on, which we’re seeing in this too.

In the end no one ‘wins’ these things and it’s kinda sad to watch the state of the human pack.

And before I get slapped around as being pro censorship let me assure you that is not the case.  I think ‘adult’ books serve a purpose and they should not be deranked, but I also think that people enjoy building a conspiracy and seem leery of a simple solution, though Ocham’s Razor states that the simple solution most often is the right one.

Jana