Sunday, June 30, 2013

What's GetYeDone been doing lately? Glad you asked!

You might be a writer if your to do-list goes:
-talk to X about aprt
-Pay credit card balance (!!!)
-Aurmid has never had a family or given her daughters one--there is only the Empire.

Revisions of One Hundred Days are going very well after this most recent Staycation, and as I'm thinking more about the story I keep encountering new insights.

But writer or not, most people have to-do lists, and if you have a to-do list, the odds are it's near unmanageable. Back in March, I first posted my review of the interactive, RPG style to-do list Challenge Accepted

Since then, I've continued using it with only a bit of a lapse while I was traveling at the end of the semester. While a few complications have come up, the site also shows a lot of promise for growth.

The lapse proved to be less of a problem than I thought--I just return to the site after a week or so and check off all the tasks I've accomplished in my absence. Score! Not only do I sweep up the points (at higher levels you earn more points per task, but also need more points to move on to the next level, in standard video game XP inflation style), but this also means GetYeDone serves as a record for things I plan to do, but forget to write on my paper lists and planner.

GetYeDone also serves as a way to record what I have done, because completed tasks are saved in your account as well. When I added my internship experience to my resume I consulted my GetYeDone to-do list for Therese Arkenberg: Intern to see what my primary jobs and accomplishments were.

The main complication is that, while Challenge Accepted (url: allows hierarchical lists in the form of tasks within quests within odysseys, a 3-level list is proving inadequate to my needs. I want to further refine my tasks. Partially because it's my nature to enjoy crossing off many small items rather than one big one (although Challenge Accepted gives you great fanfare for completing gigantic 'boss monster' tasks), and partially it's because I try to sort my to-do lists by all my various identities: Therese Arkenberg the intern at FINCA, Therese Arkenberg the assistant of Zahara Heckscher, Therese Arkenberg the science fiction writer, Therese Arkenberg who needs to clean out the fridge. This adds up quickly!

However, speaking of interns, I see Challenge Accepted now has several. It looks like a lot is going on with social media outreach on the blog and FaceBook page, some updates to the party system (I haven't yet joined any parties, but the new 'open party' options look encouraging), and in what was especially interesting to me, and invitation to submit your own ideas for the flavor text 'adventurous happenings'. Which I promptly did.

So what else is left on my to do list after Staycation? A surprising amount! There's the apartment search, the remaining revisions to One Hundred Days (of course it'd take more than a week--but I got more done in that week than I did in years), lots of intern tasks, and completion of the Starter Guide for Professional Writers which also went very well. I gave a presentation over lunch Friday on steps to getting work published, which has generated yet more insights and FAQ-type tidbits to add to the guide.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blogging from the Writer's Staycation

After my work with Zahara proved so rewarding last semester, I've continued as her assistant over this summer. This means I've been able to attend not only one but two Staycations--and this time as an apprentice Fellow, which means this Friday I'll be an opening and lunchtime speaker.

It also means that, with four weekdays dedicated to my own projects, I finally have time to ressurect some of the old draft posts for this blog.

So what is the Staycation, exactly? SomeECards explains:

Except instead of cupcakes we have healthy snacks (and some carefully guarded chocolate covered raisins for emergencies), and the internet access was spotty on the first day because of router and bandwith issues. Which made this Monday one of the most productive of my summer.

The idea is that writers who aren't able to swing a Writer's Retreat in the Rockies by a cristalline mouantian lake may find it easier to take some time away from 10-5 every day for a week, and get all the productivity, sociality, and some of the treats at much less cost. Personally I have never appreciated 'me' time so much, to say nothing of the treats and, indeed, the social side of things. It's especially great when I can meet up with people who write in my favorite genres. And writers can spark off each other. The other day another writer overheard me talked with my sister about how "Something has to change or I'll be killing her off, too". The callous extermination my character inspired this fellow writer to look at her own cast, and lead to the erasure from existance of one of the protagonist's multiple siblings. My (late, but not forgotten) character would be proud to leave such a legacy of destruction.

This week I've done some polishing on short stories, but my major efforts are going towards The Starter Guide for Professional Writers and One Hundred Days. I'm not moving linearly through either of them, but I'm finishing about a chapter a day plus scattered paragraphs and margin notes. While the substance of the Starter Guide is mostly there, it needs much more organization than I at first realized, and while taking with other Staycation writers and learning their questions and advice I've found even more content to add. I expect to have the final version complete soon!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What does it say about me...

...that the instant Rusty the Red Panda disappeared from the National Zoo, my sister and I receive multiple emails to the effect of "Did you really!?"

Just because we were in Washington, D.C. at the time.

And an admitted affection for red pandas.

Well, did we really?

Monday, June 17, 2013

List: Everything That Can Go Wrong (a Mix-n-Match Adventure)

Storytelling is problem solving--to have a plot, you need a problem for your characters to confront. Then the plot needs a reason behind it, and you have to make clear what's at stake if the problem isn't solved, while having some idea how your characters are going to solve it.

Over the weekend I started brainstorming problems-stakes-causes-and-solutions with a particular series in mind (another one!? Yes, another one). But as I went on I realized this list might serve as a more general resource. It does betray my particular interests as a speculative fiction fan and also my studies in international politics, economics, and development--but then, I think those need to be featured in more fiction anyway! This list is not exhaustive and I'd love to see others adding to it, as well as sharing it around with your own ideas.

These problems are all stated rather generally, and can be used in combination with each other (you'll probably see ways solutions will lead right back to problems). Some should clearly be used with sensitivity, and some have been done a lot, but there's always room for fresh and thoughtful iterations.

Threats (to your character--the stakes):
Other violence, assault
Loss of free will
Loss of identity
Loss of purpose or direction
Separation from loved person, place, or object
Exile, being very very lost and never able to return home
Failure at a crucial project
Abandoned dreams
Unmet potential
Loss or damage of a precious possession
Losing to a rival
Making the wrong decision--loss of opportunity, trust, confidence
Disappointing a loved one, losing regard or approval

Problems (society-wide, usually affecting many people but perhaps including your character):
I've tried to divide these into broad sections, but there remains a great deal of overlap
Political, Social, or Cultural
Oppression (legal, political, de facto) and cultural, linguistic, or legal barriers because of sex, race, religion, loyalties
--resistance to the above
--civil war
--uprising or rebellion
--coup, power seizure
--police violence, abuse
Collateral damage of violence, disaster
Violence threatened (unrest, breaking up of diplomatic relations)
Government corruption or incompetence
Taxation (excessive, unequal or unjust)
Betrayal (large-scale treason or interpersonal)
Colonialism, Imperialism
Unjust laws, obstruction of justice
Broken-down systems, infrastructure
Loss of cultural value--burned books, censorship, destroyed art
Education and childcare--orphans, abuse, homelessness
Migration, exile
Immigration, stigma, culture shock

Financial collapse
--Including of an individual business
--- because of boycott, blockade, mismanagement, sabotage
Corrupt corporations
Talented figure languishes in unjust obscurity
Shortages, scarcity of vital resource

Unfortunate natural phenomenon/disaster (meteor strike, heath death of the universe)
Experiment gone awry (Frankenstein)
Discovery, revelation of things which should not exist (mystery or danger)
Experiment, invesitagion, or expedition is potentially worthwhile, but extremely dangerous

Threats to environments--deforestation, desertification
--especially threat to beloved or sacred environment (ex. the Shire)
Water--droughts, floods, pollution
Pollution in general, trash or dangerous wastes (ex radioactive fallout)
Species extinction
Creature threats (everything from invasive species to monsters)
Loss of a staple crop, animal
Loss of fertility of the land
An inhospitable environment--from Mordor to the Haunted Woods

Individual illness
Famine or starvation (interrelates closely to economic, environmental problems)
Disability, maiming
Fertility or infertility
Mental health issues: from depression to amnesia to trauma

Threatening supernatural entities
--Malicious (Demonic or vengeful entities)
--Indifferent but threatening to humankind by their very nature (Lovecraftian entities, TV Tropes' 'starfish aliens')

Reasons/causes of the threats and problems:
Deliberate lies
Mismanagement through incompetence
Unsustainable system or situation continues too long
Lack of planning
Ignorance of crucial information
Malice, mismanagement through malice or sabotage
Perverse incentives
Opposing incentives between equally worthy parties
-Between two people, tragically star-crossed
-Between two factions: power struggle
Distrust between two sides that should work together
Jealousy or rivalry
Soulless bureaucracy
Unintended consequences/externalities
Cosmic Evil--or Cosmic Good
Chance, luck, or fate
Security issues/fear
Sadism (of the non-sexy kind)
The death drive/will to nothingness

Divine intervention
Communication and collaboration
--Calling upon allies
Finding a satisfactory deal
Character makes a sacrifice or trade-off
Technology (a new invention or new application of existing solution)
--Science saves the day
--Return to the Old Ways saves the day
Market-based solutions (why do these never appear in fiction?)
Banding together to institute a new world order (to balance market-based solutions, I offer a socialist revolution)
Public relations, Inspiring Speeches
Education or revelation
Compassion, hearts softening, the power of love and/or forgiveness
Crisis reveals corruption or sparks revolution
Characters 'dodge a bullet', escaping through sheer dumb luck (can be quite effective in horror stories, comedies or as lead-up to a final confrontation where luck won't be on their side)
Shouldering responsibility
Averting a mistake just before it's committed
Violence, or the threat of violence (against people or objects)
--by protagonist
---utilizing a special weapon or clever technique
---sabotage a diabolical plan before it goes through
--or by a greater threat (pursuing shark is swallowed by an even bigger fish)
Nonviolent resistance, defiance
A trickster solves the problem through manipulation, deceit
Use of disguises, hiding to avert or escape consequences
Feat of Strength
Money or wealth--access to adequate resources solves the problem
"Robin Hood" (vigilante justice)
Leadership--the rightful king, or free and fair elections
Heroic gesture inspires love, confidence, proves character's worthiness
Specific character's choice or judgement is upheld (the cute dog has to decide who he belongs to, the Gods are appealed to, the judge hands down her ruling at the end of an episode of Law & Order)
Evidence is uncovered to prove a character's argument or point
Evacuation or rescue--escaping danger by running, finding a place of refuge
Deliver a cure or solution that already exists elsewhere (Balto, in the movie of the same name, bringing medicine through icebound wilderness)
Deliver a warning
Though doomed, accept or transcend one's fate (the famous sci-fi story Cold Equations, and pretty much any Victor Hugo protagonist). This may or may not have any effect on the broader world.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"An Honorable Aunt" at Silver Blade

Silver Blade Issue #18 is live, and includes my fantasy story "An Honorable Aunt".

This was one of those stories it was fun to write simply because I was getting inside the heads of people who view the world so differently from me, that it was a stretch of intellectual--and perhaps empathetic--muscle to show their thoughts and feelings. I think once you read the story it'll be obvious what I mean, but I will say, just about every character in the story did something to surprise me at some point. Caris especially. Although in hindsight, it couldn't have turned out any other way.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Print Books that are *Good* for the Planet

Being surrounded by the printed word (and intending to remain so my entire life--much as I enjoy ebooks, I like to keep paper copies for backup), I remain acutely conscious that it's called "dead tree"s for a reason. Also, ever since my trip to Ghana I've had a horror of plastic. It's bad enough seeing litter at the side of the road in the US, but I saw bags and discarded packaging piling up in places I never would have expected--water canals, forest, even the borders of cemeteries--and on a staggering scale. The thing is, Americans produce far more of the stuff than Ghana does, we just cram ours in landfills where it can't be seen...for now...

So I was ecstatic to discover it is possible with current technology to make books out of recycled plastic. I know of only one book made this way so far--Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart--by I live in hope that the method may catch on. 

Simon and Schuster also has a series of children's books printed on recycled materials.

I'm disappointed that the only recycled books I can find so far are explicitly on environmental topics. The innovation runs the risk of remaining inbred, while I think if it works it should be used where it counts--in all genres, fiction and nonfiction. Especially since plastic books, being waterproof, can be read in the bathtub. And I don't know about you, but I'm much more likely to read sweet romances or can't-put-it-down thrillers in the bathtub than proposals for environmental policy, however well-presented.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dancing to Replace PowerPoint: A Modest Proposal

I confess it, I'm a TED Talk fan--the videos are short enough to appeal to my attention span, interesting enough to make me feel smart of watching them, and free--and this is now one of my favorites.

If you also enjoy modest proposals, the Onion Talks are excellent, too.