Book Flood Bracket

I recently read about Jolabokflod (which describes the December-heavy Icelandic publishing schedule that is tied to their tradition of giving each other books for Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading). This naturally sounded very cozy to me, though not quite workable as is to fold into my family’s existing holiday traditions. AND THEN…I came across this stupendous post about how to host a March Madness style book tournament and realized that, while that specific how-to focuses on classrooms, I totally have the tech chops to work out the same sort of thing. If you’ll look carefully, you will see nothing up my sleeves. *Clears throat and makes a grandly dramatic gesture.*

I will now attempt to connect more with friends and family over books during the darker days of the year without adding more pressure to socialize in person to anyone’s plates.

Want to play?

Here’s how it’s gonna go:

Step 1: Suggest a read before the end of November.

What were your favorite reads this year? All genres/formats welcome. Individual short stories and poems are okay. If you suggest a complete collection of either, however, I will buy a copy to beat you with, so it might be in your best self interest to stick with thinner volumes. (Kidding. Sort of. But I won’t include collections directly in the Step 2 voting list because I want to see each piece evaluated on its own merits.) Leave a comment here (or message me on Twitter or Facebook, whatever). Do it before the end of November.

Step 2: Vote on what you want to see in the lineup.

I’ll put up a ranked voting sort of poll once everyone’s suggestions are in and send the link out to everyone who gave me book suggestions. You’ll have approximately a fortnight to rank your picks according to either what you have read or would like to read.

Step 3: Make predictions!

On my birthday (December 16th), I will release a tournament line-up based on the top 16 choices. This is not a money-betting game, unless you all want to come up with a way to turn it into a fundraiser for a cause that supports literacy education (which I will totally contribute money to, but don’t ask me to figure out fundraiser logistics–if anyone volunteers to manage it, I’ll help with the communication of logistics). You can, however, make your guesses about the outcome in the comments in order to receive either public praise or mild humiliation for your predictive skills once the total tally comes in. (I will figure out some easy way to fill out a bracket for this by then…definitely going one step at a time here.)

Step 4: Read and vote!

I’ll set some arbitrary timeline for completely this thing (probably sometime in January) when I put the lineup together. In the meantime, we will all go out, read each other’s favorite books, have good conversations about said books, and vote on our favorite choices. Don’t ask me exactly how the voting mechanics will work: I will figure it out by December 16th and let you know then. (See above re: one step at a time. : )

Step 5: Win!

This is one of those things where “winning” is getting a feeling of satisfaction from doing something that’s good for your soul. This means, of course, that you really can’t lose, so why not give it a whirl?

Sound like fun? Great! Leave a comment and tell me what you want to vote on!



Grant Us Courage

My heart is breaking for Paris right now. I think most of the world’s heart is breaking for Paris right now. My heart is also breaking for Raqqa. My heart is also raging, because I’m sure that the official response is going to include violence, and one of the reasons that guerrilla tactics are effective is that there’s no head of the snake or body of the lion in the way there is with traditional fighting forces. Innocent bystanders will be killed in the course of a military response, and those deaths will not all be caused by the terrorists we’re fighting.

The most difficult piece for me personally is that I understand why there will undoubtedly be a “show of force” in response to the attacks on Paris. When people that are included in our sense of tribe are hurt, we want to return the favor to the people who did the hurting. We want to make the people who did the hurting incapable of hurting anyone else again, so we hurt them. To death, if we can find them.

I struggle with my emotional understanding of this inclination, because it’s very much at odds with something that I have come to believe with increasing strength as an adult: life is better when we can all see each other as part of the same tribe. And as much as the violence in Raqqa and Paris makes me sick to my stomach, as much as the epidemic of school shootings makes me clench my fists, as much as the egregious misuse of police force against black people makes me ashamed of the brokenness of our law enforcement system…those terrorists and lone gunmen and undertrained cops are still part of our tribe.

And we are failing them.

I was watching Phantom of the Opera a few weeks ago, and this scene hit me like a ton of bricks:

For those of you who don’t know the story, the Phantom was treated very badly as a child because of his deformity and found solace in both the opera and his love for Christine. His connection to both is threatened. At this point in the movie, he has kidnapped Christine and trussed up her beloved and told her that she either has to agree to marry him or her love will die. She manages to find compassion for him, and her kindness in reaction to his violence is what persuades him to let both her and her lover go.

This moment is the reason I love the Phantom of the Opera: that rare story that has the bravery to suggest that maybe, just maybe, there is a solution to terrorism that doesn’t involve gunning down those who have harmed us. And maybe, just maybe, it starts with trying to understand what has caused the terrorist to feel so thoroughly divorced from the tribe of humanity. Why does the terrorist feel demonized to begin with? How do we change the world so that the terrorist might have grown up feeling like a worthwhile part of a community instead of a spat-upon villain whose voice is never heard?

I’m not a politician, I’m not a military commander, I’m not a historian, I’m not a sociologist. Off the top of my head, I can’t speak to historical case studies or make plausible predictions about how any “strong response” will play out. I won’t try to make some blowhard statement about what the world should do in response to the ongoing issue with terrorism because my broken heart just doesn’t know. What I am is a writer and what I can offer is the work of my imagination. So here are some ideas about what we can do, at home, ourselves, on a local scale, to try to make the world a place where every single piece of our tribe feels like they are welcome and cared for and important and part of us.

Help refugees.

The plight of the families trying to flee Syria and reach safety is appalling. Relocating a lot of people quickly is always going to be a hard logistical challenge, but kicking them when they’re down is a great way to make them think that the very people they’re fleeing might just have a point about the rest of the world. Let’s feed them, shelter them, hire them, and get to know them. They are human beings. They are part of our tribe. Let’s not isolate them.

End poverty.

People who have the means to make a decent living (and that means pretty damn far above the minimum wage even in the U.S.) are less likely to feel marginalized and desperate. I’m assuming: it seems like a common sense assumption, though, so I’m going to go with it. Poverty is a real problem. If I were young and hungry and watching society slap my family with demeaning labels in exchange for barely enough to get by on, I’d probably listen to anyone who offered me hope of something better. So let’s be the solution. Let’s end poverty. Let’s end hunger. Let’s build a world in which it’s actually possible for all people to both do valuable work and earn enough to support themselves and their families. (Personal political opinion: I have more hope that Bernie Sanders could support this goal than any of the other U.S. presidential candidates, so…let’s make “Elect Bernie Sanders” an action item under “End poverty.”)

Prioritize education.

Better access to education is part of ending poverty and creating wealth. Education can be tough to improve, especially for those who need it most, because poverty has some tough impacts on learning too. But I CANNOT stress this enough: EDUCATION MATTERS (pdf). It opens doors to a quality of life and it opens channels for communication, for spreading the idea that we all thrive when we manage to treat each other with kindness and dignity. So let’s make education possible for every human being.

Cherish the difficult people.

I joke sometimes about starting a Church of Enlightened Self Interest. Our only piece of dogma: life is better when we all do our best to be nice to each other. I hear the news coming out of Syria and Hungary and Paris, and I wonder if I should stop joking and take action, because this inability to see Self in Other is hurting us all. It’s like stabbing ourselves in the eye with a hot poker and pretending we didn’t need that eye anyway because it was twitchy or it had cataracts. So here’s a personal challenge for you: ask yourself who you’re most afraid of, who you would be most likely to strike out at with an animal’s sense of self-preservation if you met them in a dark alley. Make an effort to get to know more about that person and what makes them operate in the ways that scare you. Find some small piece of human connection that let’s you feel even an inkling of compassion. I won’t pretend I’m good at this: it’s damn hard to find a way to take the perspective of people who are willing to hurt me. But I think if we all practiced changing our habits of mind around people we have a hard time understanding, we’ll get better at imagining ways to prevent these violent people from turning violent in the first place.

Airdrop kindness.

In the service of ending on a note of hopeful imagination…what if we used our capacity to drop stuff at remote locations to send care packages to our enemies? What if we responded to violence with, for example, coloring books and colored pencils? I’m not saying that the positive benefits of coloring would improve the outlook of ISIS or change anything meaningful, but I am positive that dropping bombs on them isn’t going to make the world a kinder place on the whole. So why not try sending them little presents? Nothing important, nothing that would make it easier for them to carry on killing and raping and maiming…but little tokens to say that we want to find a way to communicate. That we want to be able to find a compassionate way to live together on the same small planet.

We cannot tolerate the violence of terrorists, I know, and I will never suggest we should sit idly by and ignore gross violations of human rights. But neither should we tolerate a world which systematically fails to treat human beings as human beings. Maybe, just maybe: if we work harder at the latter, the strength of the former will start to shrivel.

What are YOU doing Saturday afternoon?

Now that I’ve finalized my decisions, I can announce that I’m the judge for the Teen section of the 2015 Joy of the Pen, a statewide literary competition. I will be at the Topsham Public Library this Saturday afternoon, handing out prizes. The Teen portion is a new piece of the competition, so all you English teachers and school librarians whom I dearly love, this is for you: Joy of the Pen is an awesome chance for your young writers to stretch their wings a little, so pretty please keep an eye out for the deadlines for next year and encourage your fledgling authors to send in their work!

If you’ve got some spare time this weekend, come on by the TPL to listen to this year’s winners read their work and give them a massive round of applause!

jop2015 reception poster

The Most Chaotic Time of the Year

It’s November. Again. And for the fifth year in a row, I am going to join that mad literary endeavor we call National Novel Writing Month. I maintain the opinion that November is a terrible month for a novel writing odyssey of epic proportions, given the obscene number of social obligations that always end up heaped on my plate with the encroaching holidays. I have, however, managed to hit more than my target word count three out of those five years. The lesson I have to take from this is that even if I have no time to write, I have time to write…if I make it.

On the years that I have failed to make my word count, it’s worth noting that my reason for failure was not actually lack of time. In 2011, I didn’t manage to finish the sequel to Autumn’s Daughter for a very simple reason: I hadn’t finished editing the first book and I was fighting against gaping plot holes and badly defined character motivation. Having pneumonia didn’t help, but my primary problem was lack of a story. It was still a worthwhile effort, because those struggles with the sequel gave me the questions that I needed in order to finish pulling the first book together into something that was workable and helped set the stage for the next book.

In 2012, I failed again with The End of the World Survival Society. Once again, the primary problem wasn’t time. I mean, it was a little bit–John and I had just bought our house, which was trying to kill us in subtle and horrifying ways, but the real issue was that I didn’t have an outline or a clear motivation for my character. In the years since, I have figured out that I can muddle through with poor idea of plot or poor idea of characters, but if I’m lacking both and have only a somewhat tired sci-fi scenario to fall back on, the story will die for lack of oxygen. And even that year was a useful learning experience–I learned a lot about the value (i.e., time-sucking necessity) of research in writing sci-fi and the challenge of juggling a large ensemble of main characters.

Comparing my failing years with my winning years, I have a few thoughts on things that are useful for getting through NaNoWriMo:

Write an outline.

It doesn’t have to be detailed. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It can be a sloppy plot arch scratched onto the back of a napkin with a restaurant crayon, but it should give you a clear sense of the story’s primary problem, how the main characters relate to each other around that problem, and what the outcome should be. You don’t need to stick to this outline, and you can trust yourself to fill in the details as you flesh out the world, but trust me: something like an outline or plot arch will make it easier to get started.

Write down what your main characters want.

What do your heroes want? What’s making it hard for them to get it? What do your villains want? How far are they willing to go to get it? Why are their wants are odds with one another? You don’t have to answer all of these questions or stick to your answers, but having at least a peripheral grasp on what makes the people you’re writing put their feet on the floor every morning will help you find their voices and give them skin and bones and believability with less of a mental hernia.

Plan for research time.

How much do you know about what you’re writing about? If you’re a psychologist who works with troubled teens writing about a character with an eating disorder, you probably have a good chunk of the knowledge base you need in order to put together a life-like and rich scenario with minimal research. If, however, you’re a copywriter who wants to tackle quantum mechanics, you should assume that research could take as much time as putting words on the page. Possibly more.

Be a little selfish.

I’m not saying you should let your kids go hungry or put your family finances in peril by not showing up to work for a month. But making the time to put down 1,667 words on a page every single day  does mean communicating your intentions to people who don’t have mandatory claims on your energy and making firm choices for yourself. You can tell yourself you’re just going to cut the Netflix bingeing, but word to the wise: don’t. Part of writing is mental compiling, and that happens better during whatever counts as lazy time for you. Of course, I’m an introvert and refill my energy tank from being alone. That’s not true for everyone, so I don’t have a universal step-by-step plan for keeping your brain fresh. Just be self-aware about what gives you energy vs. what saps it and cut back on what saps it. The writing will take everything you can give it.

Find a nemesis. (Or team. Whatever.)

My last and final tip is a little selfish: I like working with other writers, so I like finding more to rope into my circle. Thanks to the kindness of the Topsham Public Library, central Maine folks have a chance to do the same starting this Tuesday (Nov. 3) at 6 p.m. I’ll be there, doing something vaguely like leading the show, but mostly, I want to help writers find other writers who can motivate and support their writing. The why isn’t critical: competition and encouragement are two sides of the same coin with writers, but whatever the internal reason, other writers are great at helping one another find problems and solutions with their work. Also, and especially during NaNo, it’s nice to have a whining circle. There’s nothing quite so refreshingly cathartic as a mutual whinge-fest.

So there it is, my top five tips for making it to winner’s circle for NaNoWriMo. Bonus tip: If you’re blogging (or reading blogs), you’re probably procrastinating. Let’s both knock it off and get back to work, shall we?

p.s. Don’t forget to save your work regularly and back it up (to the cloud or a secondary hard drive) daily. Online file management services like Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive have tools for managing version control, so you can just upload a new copy of your backup every day without having a glut of files overtake your email.

p.p.s Also, remember that failing is still winning, because at the end of the month, you’ll have more words than if you didn’t try and you’ll have learned your own set of lessons about what slows you down. Certainty of failure is a crappy excuse to not try.

Okay, seriously this time: Let’s write.

Too Many Apples

For those of you who don’t live in New England, it has been a record year for apples. I assume. I don’t actually know who keeps the records on how many apples New England produces annually, or who counts them, for that matter, and it seems like an unimportant detail to verify because the reality is that we’ve all picked and processed so many apples that we’ve given up doing anything else productive with them and have taken to randomly chucking them at innocent passersby.

Related: does anyone know a lawyer who has a good defense record for assault with undeadly fruit?

It’s a shame, really, because October is actually when many of the really good variety of apples usually ripen, but I am done, done, done. I will not process another apple until 2016. Not one. Even John is exhausted by trying to pick up the apples we haven’t used from our trees, and his brewing hobby has made hime mildly obsessed with the things. We’ve produced about a dozen gallons of cider, a half-dozen pints of applesauce, and a dozen half-pints of apple jelly, and as it turns out, the jelly was my breaking point.

Here’s a little life lesson for you: if you want to make apple jelly and you have the option of starting from cider or juice, do NOT waste your time cooking down the apples. Just press and strain. Maybe you’ll need a little more pectin if you’re not cooking all the weird bits in with the juice, but trying to strain off enough juice for jelly is beyond tedious and you will probably all but ruin your stockpot in the process.

I did, anyway. I swear, that thing hates apples. Thank heaven and Billy Mays for Oxiclean.

My Sunday was basically eaten up by trying to very patiently cook down some wild apples in this crazy mass in order to strain out the juice, so when I actually had enough juice to start the mad science which is messing with pectin and boiling sugar, I had no enthusiasm left to cope with the two pints of jelly which escaped my pot in a mad rush as I struggled to get the heat down far enough to keep the rest of the contents from following suit. If you’re sitting there thinking that four cups of jelly isn’t all that much, you can come clean it off my stove next time and try to salvage that lost 20% of my entire damn day.

Life lesson #2: in all candy-like culinary endeavors, or which jelly is absolutely one, your pot should probably be 30% bigger than you think it needs to be.

Life lesson #3: If you’re making jelly in an undersized pot in bare feet and do not own a dog, you will probably be cleaning burned sugar from between your toes for a week.

Life lesson #4: There is such a thing as too many apples.

The Whale of Human Bias

On today’s episode of Melissa Chases the White Whale in Long-Winded Fashion, we’re going to talk about human bias, the challenge of unlearning what you have learned, and the general difficulties of epistemology. Grab your spacesuits and hitch your belt to New Horizons: first stop, Pluto.

You’ll always be a planet to me.

The solar system has changed since I was a kid. We used to learn there were nine planets, and I bet a lot of us loved that weird little outlier called Pluto the best because we associated it with the lovable Disney dog instead of the probably more apt Greek god of the underworld. Remember the cranky-but-sassy villain from Hercules? Blue-haired dude called Hades? Same guy, mythologically speaking, but that didn’t stop us from dreaming about our little ninth planet and what lay beyond. And then in 2006, the International Astronomical Union shrank the solar system, leaving us with only a measly eight planets and a demoted (and not unique) but well-known dwarf planet. It’s science, nothing personal or spiritual or philosophical, but dear lord, you’d have thought the Giants had busted Eli Manning down to water boy, or the Pope had reclassified Jesus as a mere saint.

This isn’t religion, folks. It isn’t sports. We’re talking about science. SCIENCE! For goodness sake, this is supposed to be the realm of the impartial, the land of those led by the data and not by conviction. And yet…there are t-shirts and memes and memorials to Pluto’s planetary status, as if redefining it had smashed it to smithereens instead of merely drawing a lot of publicity to the generally challenging task of classifying celestial objects.

Speaking of the challenge of understanding celestial objects…

I had the immense pleasure of attending the Carl Sagan Prize lecture during WorldCon, which was given by Br. Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory. His talk was “Discarded Worlds: Astronomical Ideas That Were Almost Correct,” and I’d recommend it when you’ve got an hour. If you haven’t just now, the broad point is that science is habitually wrong. It’s part of the process of science, of course, but science is also capable of being wrong even if we have the tools to correctly collect or interpret the data. Why?

Human error, and human bias. Which is to say, even scientists, the gatekeepers who understand sound experimental design and the math that is important for making sense of experimental data, are capable (even prone to) calculation errors that go unchecked for really long periods of time, questionable interpretation of the data to fit their pet theories, and even, now and again, deliberate suppression of data.

…Which leads me to a little light statistics.

So there’s this thing in statistics called a p-value. Don’t ask me to get into the math, but the point of a p-value is to check whether or not a particular effect could have been arrived at by chance. It’s basically the Bechdel test of science, which is to say that it quickly sorts an experiment into one of two broad piles, but doesn’t actually say anything about whether the math can really be used to draw the conclusion the authors are trying to draw. It has become the golden standard of publishing, but it’s problematic. Fidgeting with the numbers to get a publishable p-value is enough of a problem that it has a name: p-hacking.

We’re not talking about scientists at the dawn of the Renaissance who are afraid of being burned alive for defying the church if they don’t doctor their numbers. We’re talking about modern scientists. I mean, it’s not like they’re at risk of anything important, right? Like their funding, or livelihood, or meaningful place in scientific history…

Ah. That’s the rub, isn’t it?

Let’s talk truth and consequences.

We live in a world where being wrong is the worst thing ever. Make a sarcastic remark that gets deliberately misconstrued as racist by some self-righteous internet troll? Your career could go down in flames. Decide that you disagree with some minor point of doctrine in your church? Heretic – get thee behind us, you are now shunned! Fail to get publishable p-values out of your experiments? Bad doctor, no tenure for you!

Fighting internet trolls is a hopeless battle. (Here’s a raised hand in favor of giving people a little more benefit of the doubt and a little gentler dissent when we think they’re wrong, though that’s an ongoing struggle for me.) Convincing some religious folks that it’s hot hurting anyone for others to disagree with their beliefs is a Sisyphean task on a good day. (And I get it, I do–faith can be a real house of cards, logically speaking, but if that house of cards is the only thing standing between you and the indifferent tornado of life, you’re gonna stick with it, even if it means the shingles of your belief are inflicting supersonic papercuts on the rest of the people who are trying to survive the storm, but that’s a story all on its own.) Persuading scientists that it’s acceptable to be wrong, however, should be as simple as not punishing them for doing science, i.e., being wrong in a lot of ways that help define the body of knowledge.

10 years later and academia has made a lovely about face to support researchers…

Imagine this shift in academia has happened. Imagine that being published isn’t about p-value or being right, but about communicating how things have or haven’t worked in order to help other researchers ask smarter questions. Science is doing the thing science is meant to do and sitting comfortable with the importance of being wrong. Hypothesis: we’re still going to be slogging against bias and unnoticed calculation errors. “What about peer review?” you say. Or, “What if we gave scientists genuine financial motivation to find basic calculation errors in the studies they review?”

All well and good, if you don’t mind throwing acid on an already frequently toxic academic dynamic, of course, but even if you’ve got academics taking each other down with the gleeful commitment of wizards vying to be head of the Unseen University, there are still limitations to the interaction of human bias and science and my reason for thinking this begins with socks.

Knit’s about to get real.

I’ve been knitting since 2007 and making up my own patterns nearly as long, though it took me maybe three years to start sharing patterns. By the time I designed and submitted my first sock design to a publication, I was pretty confident that I knew a thing or two about knitting.


So my pattern was accepted (yay!) and sent off to the technical editor (*trembles*) and then I get an email. “Hey, can you check your gauge again? Stockinette stitch shouldn’t be square…”

That’s weird, I thought. Stockinette almost always comes up square for me. I took some measurements of the sock in question and some close photos and sent back the evidence. My gauge was, indeed, square. It just wasn’t stockinette. For those of you who don’t knit, stockinette is essentially the most basic stitch when you’re working in the round. It’s the foundation of all knitting. It’s one stitch all the time and it’s the stitch that everything in knitting was based on and I WAS DOING IT WRONG. I was getting away with it because I know how to work with gauge and design modification (the math is pre-algebra stuff, we’re not talking rocket science here), but I was using a non-standard base stitch to get there in a way that effects both fit and wear over time…and is therefore a massive no-no in commercial clothing pattern design.

“Wait,” I hear you saying. “Isn’t this an example of peer review working to clue you in on something you didn’t know?”

Yes, yes it is, but there’s more. The tech editor, who is a gem of a human person, offered to Skype with me and help me figure out what I’m doing wrong. She took one look at my hands in action and said, “Oh, you’re wrapping the yarn wrong.” I frowned and fussed, “I don’t understand. A knitting instructor told me I was wrapping the yarn wrong when I was going the other way.”

She shook her head. “I wish people wouldn’t try to teach when they don’t know what they’re doing. You must have learned how to knit the way they do in Eastern Europe, so your stitches are oriented differently on the needle, which makes a difference. What you’ve got to understand is that what matters isn’t so much how you make the stitch as how the stitch comes out. You’ve got to understand the nature of the fabric.”

I’m paraphrasing, but the general point was a good one, and it’s pushed me into spending a lot of time thinking about how we arrive at a set a beliefs about what we know, and how we break them if we don’t have someone with a legitimately deeper understanding of subject X to look at our work and say, “You don’t even understand the question you’re trying to ask, do you?”

I swear, this post really is about science.

My friend Dan reminded me recently that science, while not perfect, is really the best tool that we have for not lying to ourselves. I agree with that statement. I also have a lot of confidence in at least the hard sciences to work through the bias bit by bit, because EVENTUALLY there’s bound to be a dataset in an experiment that points out the wrongness of some conclusions and we can make progress, even if that progress is tiny and incremental.

What is extremely, very not clear is how well the process of science can function when the parameters of study that make science work are not available for ethical or practical reasons. The psycholinguists in the room are probably chuckling creepily to themselves and imagining an experimental design inquiry into the importance of nature vs. nurture. I’m edging slightly further away from them and looking at my knitting and wondering how science can help me make sure that my next knitting design won’t be rejected for some other small but critical error.

And the answer hit me last night, with the help of my husband, the crappy wiring of our old house, and Doctor Who.

Let There Be Minor Electrical Fires

So John and I live in a house that has seen the turn of two centuries. Because the last century has seen an incredible leap in technology and availability of that technology for managing day-to-day tasks, our house has been put through several wiring changes and is due for another. We’ve been swapping out outlets here and there, but we still have a few that only have two prongs, which we compensate for by using the ground adapters, and like probably 99% of Americans with old wiring, we were using them wrong until I read that the reason they have the little metal tab that everyone breaks off is because if you take out the outlet cover screw and reinstall it through that tab, it will ground the outlet.

I shared this tidbit with John while he was in the middle of dealing with a possible wiring issue that was putting strain on his UPS, and he decided I was misinformed, which came out while we were discussing another old outlet.

“There’s no grounding wire to any of these outlets,” he said. “That screw just connects the tab through to the grounding wire screw. It won’t do any good if there’s no grounding wire.”

I squinted at him. “Why would an ungrounded outlet have a grounding wire screw?”

He opened the garage door and waggled a finger at me. “I’ll go get the old outlet so you can see!”

Thirty seconds later he comes in without the old outlet, but with a screwdriver and a grounding adapter that we have not broken the tab off. “Okay, so it doesn’t have a grounding screw,” he says. And sure enough, when he tested the circuit before and after attaching the screw, it went from “open ground” to “correct.”

I’ve been poking around the internet a bit, and it seems like there are plenty of circumstances under which this would not have worked, but our ancient outlets still use the metal boxes and conduits, so I lucked out and ended up being right to think John was wrong for blowing off the bit of advice I had picked up from some dubiously more knowledgeable source online. (So gratifying, that, and rare in the case of home improvement questions.) The only reasons I pushed the issue here, however, are (1) I have a history of being slightly less wrong than John where electricity is concerned, hey-o Radioshack! and (2) my baseline assumption is that I don’t know a damn thing about how house wiring functions except what I have been told by people who do know how house wiring functions, in so much as anyone can know how house wiring functions given that a lot of houses are patchwork monsters of wiring systems from various eras. John had stopped pushing the question on the adapters only because he thought he had figured out how they worked.

All of which led me to give the Doctor a mental high-five for the line from the new season, “I try never to understand. It’s called an open mind.”

And that’s the kicker at the heart of science, isn’t it? Not knowing. Anyone who stayed awake long enough to pass their 101 science requirements in undergrad knows that you can’t ever prove a theory, not really. You can repeat results that fit with the theory enough times that people get comfortable with the notion that you’re right, but at the end of the day, science is about hacking away at the wrong possibilities, which are plentiful. And whether we’re talking about Pluto, or p-values, or socks, or ground adapters, I think what science does best is remind us that none of us knows nearly as much as we’d like to think we know.

Out on the Open Mind

Still with me? Bless your patient heart, and here’s the tl;dr decoder ring at the bottom of the serial (see what I did there, eh, eh?) box…

  1. Unknowing stuff is hard.
  2. Other people can help us unknow stuff,
  3. But sometimes they don’t know that they don’t know stuff either.
  4. This is fine, because nobody really knows stuff.
  5. So what can we do?
  6. Mostly, just keep in mind that we don’t know stuff, and, of course…

Keep looking.

If You Give a Writer Twitter

If you give a writer Twitter, there’s a good chance that she will turn to it for camaraderie in the middle of an otherwise lonely and boring editing session.

“Love being able to delete large swathes of text first thing in the a.m.! #editing,” she will start to write, and then stop, because Twitter is the only way she connects with some of her professional contacts, and some of them are published and even have agents, and…

“Is ‘swath’ the best word choice? Is that even how you spell the plural? Swathes, swaths…”

The writer will definitely need an online dictionary, and while she’s there, she might as well take a look at the etymology of swath. “Did you know that in Middle English, ‘swath’ was a specific measurement referring to the width of a path cleared by the arc of a mower’s scythe?”

If you give a writer an interesting etymological tidbit, there’s a good chance she’ll want to share it with her friends. She’ll get halfway through typing another tweet before she realizes a Google infograph is not a reliable primary resource, and she would hate to mislead anyone, so she’ll start looking for scholarly resources related to farming practices in feudal England and get all the way through the abstract of something really boring before she realizes that she could have avoided this entire scenario if she changed “swathes” to “chunks” in her tweet, and besides, she’s much more interested in trying to remember what it’s called when you read a word so many times it stops looking like a word.

“Semantic satiation. Oh, that’s always fun to talk to writers about…”

But then “semantic satiation” eats up too many characters to be a good topic for a tweet, so instead, she’ll start to write a blog post instead. She’ll get halfway through a page before she has to look up another word and remembers that she was supposed to be making progress on the boring edits. With a deep sigh, she’ll save the post for later and return to her manuscript.

After she makes a fresh cup of coffee, of course, because the first one is already gone, and everyone knows it’s pointless to try to edit anything without coffee.

Inevitably, the first note she reads will speak deeply and universally to the plight of all writers, alone at their keyboards. “Excessive gerunds,” the writer will think. “Everyone hates finding excessive gerunds in their work! I bet my Twitter friends can relate.”

Spokane: Too Twee to be True

This is the clock tower in Riverfront Park. The sun is more scary than gorgeous here: that haze and odd sky color is smoke from the forest fires.

This is the clock tower in Riverfront Park. The sun is more scary than gorgeous here: that haze and odd sky color is smoke from the forest fires.

Spokane (Spoh-can, not Spoh-cain), Washington is too cute. I do not say this lightly. Spokane is so cheek-pinching adorable that John and I kept joking that it must have some hidden dark secret fueling the bizarre cleanliness and friendliness and usability and walkability of the city. I made this comment to a local and she laughed. “Yeah, we have to sacrifice to the dark ones every couple of decades.”

That’s it. Forget Maine. I’m moving to Washington.

Spokane is the cool, lesser known cousin of Portland (OR, that is)–in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s where all the hipsters go once they decide that Portland is too mainstream. But enough of the general huzzahs. Let’s get specific.

Travel tip#1: If you fly into the airport (possibly on a prop plane, sorry my fellow easily-queased), a taxi ride into downtown will run you around $30 including an okay tip. Or you can find the chipperly labeled bus stop and take Bus 60 into town. Fare is $1.50, exact change required. The trip is about twenty minutes. You can take the same bus just as easily by picking it up in the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza at Zone 8.

Stuff Your Face with Cuteness

This list represents a scant fraction of the delightful looking eating spots downtown. We would have tried more, but we were busy scavenging for free food or eating on the floor of the convention center with good company for quite a few meals, so these are the only ones I can report first-hand experience.

Manito Park Bench Cafe

The quality of the food here wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was solid sandwichy type stuff for under $10/person with a few vegetarian options. It was circumstantially incredible because we were tired and hungry after walking through the park from the other side, and this was an unexpected oasis of shade and live folk music. Definitely get their beverages – I had fresh lemonade, John had their peach green iced tea, and we were both thoroughly refreshed.

Luigi’s Italian Restaurant

Set in a refurbished Salvation Army building with a long history, this place has a formal yet cozy feel. It’s one of the closest restaurants to the convention center, so it was swamped when we went in, but the service was still fast and friendly. Excellent food, nothing unexpected. The meat sauce was a little heavy on something green and strongly herbal for my taste (rosemary? oregano?), but I would eat there again. Absolutely possible to eat for under $20/person, but only just.


Nitro cold-brew iced coffee! If you need me to say more, this place provides job training for at-risk youth, donates a meal for every bag of coffee sold, and has an honor system for basic and quick cups of coffee, which is a very humanizing way for folks who can’t afford a cup of coffee at regular prices still enjoy a hot drink. Worth supporting, and your tongue won’t regret it.

Black Label Brewing Company @ Saranac Commons

The Saranac Commons, not to be confused with the Saranac Pub just down the street, is a little conglomeration of businesses, one of which is Black Label, which kindly put up with the r/fantasy Drinks with Authors meetup completely overtaking their space. They’re a beer and cider place, and we had something called d’s Wicked Baked Apple Cider…a choice which rippled like a wave through the folks around us to the apparent pleasure of everyone. I went back later to try one of the other businesses and Black Label had live music going and, with a less hectic crowd, the atmosphere was very relaxed.

Frank’s Diner

Frank's Diner

We mostly stuck with the free continental at our hotel for most breakfasts, but by Friday I needed something different lest I lose my mind and start flinging boiled eggs madly at everyone who walked into the breakfast nook. We were planning to check out the NWMAC (it’s coming, keep your pants on), so we chose something in that general direction to break up an otherwise longish walk and ended up at Frank’s Diner. A+ on the experience, A++ on the food. I got some vegetarian twist on Eggs Benedict, which made me really regret that I’ve outgrown licking my plate in public. The fun bit about Frank’s is that it’s set up in an antique railroad car—lots of polished wood and leaded glass. We ate at the counter, so we got to watch the very professional chefs in action for even more fun. It’s also a place that operates on the farm to fork model, so it manages to be more of a hipster spoon than a greasy spoon.

Madeleine’s Patisserie

Trés français, if you’ll pardon my probably wrong French. Dusty blue and ecru (it’s not the sort of place that just uses white or cream, of course) with dark wood and reclaimed industrial details with flourish bits here and there make for a very cute little coffee spot. In college, they would have been hard pressed to kick me out if I needed a spot to read post-modern philosophy. Oh, right—they also have very nice coffee, and the croissant I had was buttery fresh and bigger than my face. Fortunately, my face is like a Tardis: bigger on the inside.

The Stacks at Steam Plant

I have no idea if we ate at the Stacks or the Steam Plant or the Steam Plant Brewing Company…too many names in one place. The size and mazishness of the place probably merits the confusion – dinner and entertainment! Getting from your table back to any exit is just like being locked in a puzzle room, no extra charge! A steampunk puzzle room, no less. The building is exactly what it sounds like: an old steam plant, converted for commercial use, and the environment is gorgeous. The food was more-ish…my pasta was obviously fresh, and our dessert had candied bacon on the top. I have no idea what else you could possibly ask for from a nice dinner out.

Sweet Frostings

I saw a sign on a shop window advertising cupcakes our first night in town and spent the rest of the week trying to find a time to return…and then where to return to once I realized I hadn’t made note of the shop’s location. The quest was worth the bothering of three different local folks. Recommended cosplay: amigurami based on anime characters. Seriously. An adorable sugar monster vomited cuteness and scrumptious cupcakes all over this place. I especially love that the cupcakes were reasonable cupcake size with normal amounts of frosting, which means (1) you can eat an entire cupcake by yourself without fear of instant death from sugar shock and (2) the cake was nice and moist. I liked their coffee better than Madeleine’s, but to be fair, I always like coffee better with good chocolate, and that cupcake was very good chocolate.

Mediterrano @ Saranac Commons

I hadn’t managed to work my way through the food line when we were at the commons for the very crowded Drinks with Authors thing, so I doubled back Saturday night to try the little Mediterranean bistro. I didn’t love the dolbas, but in retrospect, maybe I was confusing dolmas with something else, so cold minty rice (I think?) in a grape leaf was not quite what I was expecting.  The falafel gyro, on the other hand, transcended all other falafel I have ever put in my mouth and left me craving more in the sort of way that will drive me to eat nothing but falafel until I find a local place that’s at least vaguely comparable. It may have been that good mostly because I was hungry enough to start wondering how passersby would taste with ketchup, but still: it was good and fast and inexpensive and reasonably healthy and I would eat there all the time if I worked nearby.

Enjoy some fresh air (but if it’s fire season, maybe check the air quality report if you have breathing sensitivities)

We lucked out an had some lovely walking days in spite of the fact the Washington is more or less entirely on fire. It’s bad though, folks, to the point that FEMA declared a national disaster, so if you’re close by, be safe and keep an eye on the air quality reports. If you’re not there, organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross always need support for taking care of people who have been evacuated.

Riverfront Park

Louff Carrousel

This park is right downtown, and if you’re in town for a convention, you’d be nuts to not walk to the center along the Centennial Trail instead of on the boring old sidewalks. There are all kinds of odd little sculptures and some damn gorgeous landscaping. And ducks. And geese. (Pro tip: don’t sit on the grass without first thoroughly inspecting for geese poop. You’re welcome.) There are at least half a dozen bridges crossing to Canada Island and over to the other main bank over some gentle falls, and every single one of them has a view worth considering backwards and forwards. (Pro tip #2: Taking a walk? Turn around once in a while. Scenery looks different from the other direction.) There’s a little permanent carnival, a skyride over the falls, a historic working carrousel in stellar condition, a splashpad which also manages to function as art, the world’s largest Red Flyer Wagon (which is also a slide), and a clock tower. It’s all relatively flat and there are many shady places to sit and think a bit and lots of signs with interesting notes about local history including the Spokani and tribes.

Manito Park & Botanical Gardens

First, how to get there without a car: (1) Go to the STA plaza, which is in the middle of town and surrounded by buses and signage and impossible to miss, so quit yer bellyaching about public transportation. (2) Get on the 44 with exact fare ($1.50) in hand. It doesn’t matter which 44 route you take. There are two 44 routes, but they go around opposite sides of the park, so whichever side you end up on, you can just pick up the other route on your way back. (3) Listen to the nice, clear announcements, and when you hear the one for Manito Park, pull the cords to request a stop. (4) Get off and enjoy the free and breathtaking park! If you’ve ever seen more roses or dahlias in one place, please tell me where so I can go there. A bit of strategy for you: the Nishinoyima Garden is on the Bernard St. route and is generally considered the back of the park. The Park Bench Café is on the Grand Ave. side. So you might plan which route you take where such that you end up at the café when you’re hungry. Either way, in between you’ll find incredible roses, wonderful dahlias, a gorgeous perennial garden, a massive formal European-style garden, and (if you don’t go on a Wednesday when they’re spraying pesticides) a conservatory which is presumably as impressive as the rest. (We went on a Wednesday, so that bit was closed.) The gardens are by and large very well populated with signs identifying the various plants for ease of copycatting their designs at home. We walked through good chunks of the gardens and had a leisurely lunch in less than two hours, which is important to note for transportation reasons: the $1.50 fare gets you a 2-hour pass, so if you still have time on that pass when you head back, you don’t have to pay a second fare. Bam! You’ve been hit with a knowledge stick.

Huntington Park

So you’ve done the Riverside Park and you want a chance to get completely winded. No problem. When you get to the Bloomsday statue (all the runners, it’s a local thing involving an annual fitness-oriented celebration of lilacs and the statue features a diverse pack of runners…including kids and a wheelchair racer—I told you these folks are almost creepy in their profound delightfulness), instead of going right or across the grass, go straight and left after City Hall. This will take you down to a view of the larger falls and the dam system and some more lovely landscaping and stunning rock formations. The only downside is that it’s steep and eventually you have to drag your butt back up it (if you’re unlucky like us, you’ll be lapped by a high school track team RUNNING up and down the hill while you’re praying for a quick death), but they do have switchbacks and steps and benches to make it more manageable if you’ve got time and are sufficiently divorced from your dignity. Or you can cough up the dough to take the skyride thing–that’s where it runs.

Coeur D’Alene Park

First of all, just say it with me. Cour dalaine. I’m just going to sit here repeating it to myself until someone gives me a funny look because I love the way it sits on my tongue. Other than the name, though, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to find it—it’s in Browne’s Addition, away from the downtown area, and is very much a functional park for walking your dogs and small children. The gazeboish thing at the center is lovely, though, and if you (cough, cough, good job me) fail to plan your time appropriately and end up in Browne’s Addition an hour before the NWMAC opens, it’s two blocks up along Maple St. and a nice place to sit with a book. OR…you could just wander around the neighborhood. The architecture and landscaping are completely worth a wander, especially if you happen to be keeping company with someone who has a degree in architectural design and a good eye for the particularly unusual details in old houses.

Feed some starving local creatives

Auntie’s Bookstore

Okay, yes, maybe going into a bookstore when you’re at a literary convention is a good way to end up with more books than the airline will let you check in your suitcase. Whatever. Auntie’s is a local icon, and it’s phenomenal. It also had a few things that the convention was lacking: postcards and a robust section on local history. It’s also got tons of used books, conveniently organized right alongside the new books in easy to peruse section. And character out the wazoo—one more awesome place making great use of a refurbished historical building.

Pottery Place Plus

Right next to Auntie’s is a coop shop for local artists. It’s mostly pottery, as the name implies, so not a ton that’s ideal for bringing home in a suitcase BUT…they ship! So bring your Christmas club money, get your holiday shopping done, and have your purchases waiting cheerfully on the doorstop for you when you get home! There’s also a good bit of jewelry, some unique magnets, and plenty of local nature photography and prints. The way the coop works is that artists take turns running the counter, so you can always get someone talking about their work and why they love it.

Get cultured like yogurt

Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture (NWMAC, like you’ve all been waiting for, or the MAC in local parlance)

Salmon statue at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Admission is $10 for adults usually, but Spokane has a First Friday thing too, and if you happen to be in town for a First Friday, admission is free. The exhibits running while we were there where 100 Stories for the Centennial (perfect backdrop for a con that was themed around stories!), which has components inside the museum and out. Fun tidbit: Did you know that Bing Crosby and Benny Goodman both took formative career steps in the Spokane jazz scene? (Did you even know that Spokane had a jazz scene? Bam! Knowledge stick!) The eclectic mix of art and history paints an interesting overall tale of the area, which was boosted by the selection of local artists showcased in a parallel display. And the museum was running a book sale at their gift shop with a massive and eclectic collection of little books of local art and history for $1…seriously, I am going to have to set at least a novella in Spokane to justify everything I picked up.

Mobius Science Center

Thumbs up to every city with a kids’ science museum! We didn’t go here ourselves (adults with no kids get funny looks wandering around places that are designed for kids, sadly), but the Mobius people came to the con on Super Science Saturday! I enjoyed some massive exploding foam, a lift demonstration in the form of a toilet paper thrower (party over here!), some fun with a van de Graaff generator, and a glowing pickle…and I only caught one of their shows. I bet the center itself has a wealth of awesome learning opportunities of the sort that inspire future geeks of America to join us in our mad science. MWAHAHAHA. (ahem)

Stonerose Interpretive Center & Eocene Fossil Site

This place is technically not in Spokane and technically I didn’t go there, but I did enjoy their display at the con and wish I could have made it, so let’s count it. This is an active dig site for Eocene Epoch fossils consisting mostly of plants, insects, and some fish. If you had asked me last week what I though of flora fossils, I might have shrugged, but the level of detail you can see in the fossils made by these incredibly fragile bits of nature that were around 48 million years ago is captivating. Did I mention you get to dig up fossils and keep a few too? Cuz ya do.

Lay your weary head to rest…

Which Davenport is on first?

I only walked through parts of one of the ten thousand different Davenport something or other hotels, but my review is: lush. Aside from that, I have two comments on the Davenport hotels. (1) Good luck figuring out which one you’re staying at. (2) The first one was built by a waffle magnate. Bam! Knowledge stick again. You’re welcome. Again.

Hotel Ruby 2

Art outside the Ruby2

(Seriously, are there any uniquely named hotels in this town? So confusing.) I was initially a little wary of staying here because (1) the name conveys a very rent-by-the-hour business model, which does not imply clean and safe, and (2) it was way too cheap too seem like a safe and clean place to stay. I booked everything on the late side, however, so it was the only con-affiliated place left, and it did have both the con stamp of approval and decent Yelp reviews, so I rolled the dice. Sevens all the way, baby. I would have been less afraid of eating off the floors there than off the plates in some restaurants, it was that clean. The exterior windowsills got wiped down EVERY DAY. The beds were comfortable (and apparently the exact ones used in one of the Davenports where the rooms are about five times as expensive). There was a solid continental breakfast—nothing fancy, but fresh enough for me and plenty of it, and hella good coffee, for a continental. I have paid more to stay in worse places. The biggest drawback is that it is motel style and opens towards a working railroad track, so it’s not dead quiet, but I didn’t find the clacking of the cars on the rails to be disruptive of my sleep. The walk over to the convention center is 15 minutes if you meander through the park, 10 if you hoof it directly on the streets.

The State of Fandom is Inclusive

I knew that coming to Sasquan (aka SmokeCon, aka WorldCon 2015, the con put on by the World Science Fiction Society, which administrates the Hugo Awards) would be interesting, but having never attended any kind of con before, I didn’t know quite what flavor of interesting to expect. The opening ceremonies, which began with a song and stories from some of the local tribes (Spokani, Nez Perce, and Plateau, I think, but I may have misheard, so please correct me if you know better). The theme that the conference organizers talked about was stories and how they bring us together, because whether we use art, words, or costume, we’re all telling stories which, fanciful or not, hit at the heart of something about what it means to be human. The storyteller (someone who took better notes – do you know what his name was? I’m having trouble finding it) ended his piece with asking questions that he didn’t want his listeners to answer right away because it is a sign of respect among his people to demonstrate that you’re taking the question seriously by saying, “Let me think about it.”

I’ve been doing a lot of listening this week, and a lot of thinking about the stories and questions I’ve heard, and I would like to tell you what the Fandom and its con look like to me as a new member.

The line between fans and creatives is somewhere between blurred and non-existent.

I’m not just talking about the way congenial superstars (like George R. R. Martin) wander the halls admiring costumes and graciously letting fans thank them for their work. I’m also, and maybe even mostly, talking about the way that fans love each other and lift each other up and honor fan art and fiction and commentary for the value that it has in giving well-loved works an even bigger presence in the community. People who have done the often invisible work of simply going out of their way to make new fans feel welcome and included get the same affectionate praise as the creators of the most popular art.

The “Imagi-Nation” works hard to figure out how better to make everyone welcome.

Diversity and cultural appropriation – two sides of the same coin – were taking up a lot of space at the con, which made me happy, because I wrestle with these concepts in my own writing. I had some wonderful conversations with many people about how to write about people who are different from ourselves without either stealing from their beliefs or representing them only as Other, and while I have so vastly much to say on this that I will probably return to it in multiple future posts, the clear trends that emerged were (1) do as much research on the culture you want to write about; (2) support creatives from minority cultures and boost their signal to give them room to be heard; and (3) we just generally need morefrogs and dogs and bears and chickens and whatevers. (Thanks to the inimitable Tex Thomspon and Kermit the Frog for that connection – the point being that the more you have of any particular group, the easier it is to represent the group as itself diverse and fully human.) The level of diversity is imperfect, but everyone seems to know it and care about actively making it better.

The only intolerable thing is intolerance itself.

You may recall that the Hugo nomination process this year was attacked by trolls disguised as puppies. A flame war commenced (which makes it oddly appropriate for the con to have be re-named SmokeCon, given the air quality levels that were as bad as they’ve been since Mt. St. Helen erupted in 1980, as Washington faces a national emergency). Names were called on both sides, people threw things: shit got ugly. I’ve got a little more perspective on the fight after attending the con, and I think that the reason the sad/rabid puppies got upset is because the Hugos are a tradition of a community that historically does engage not only with the works, but with the people who create those works. Creatives who do not respect the community rules of non-judgmental inclusiveness really aren’t all that welcome, and much of the ideological divide that separates folks who are overlooked from folks who make the awards has to do with the divide between inclusiveness and intolerance. I’m sure there are awards where the beliefs and attitudes of a creative are not primary criteria for judging the work, but with the Hugos, they matter. That’s the nature of this community of fans coming together to celebrate their mutual love of science fiction, and honestly, the environment that this principle engenders is like snuggling with a kitten while drinking hot chocolate in the middle of a snowstorm, so I can only say that I’m pleased to have found my way here.

Speaking of the Hugos…

For those of you who missed the livecast and aren’t inclined to watch the full ceremony, here’s the full list of winners…and let me share a very quick list of highlights from what was a very delightful event which I’m so pleased to have been there for:

  • Tananarive Due and a team of red shirts faced down Death. (Death, incidentally, was created by this IBM engineer named Kevin Roche who is both involved in bringing a quantum mechanics fueled leap to computing technology and one hell of a costumer.)
  • Robert Silverberg sang Hare Krishna with a tambourine and then got the entire audience singing with him. It was a thing.
  • Wesley Chu got political: he has announced his candidacy for the Republican party run for president of the United States. >D
  • Connie Willis was bitten by a bat and now thinks that Twilight is the best literature ever. Related: David Gerrold just about lost his shit laughing, which was a needed turnaround, because the memorial noting just how many friends and heroes the community lost in the last year was like being kicked in the chest by a mule. (This too was another lovely example of how fans and creatives are on egalitarian footing at WorldCon – longtime fans who passed away were named alongside well-known stars like Sir Terry Pratchett and Leonard Nimoy, and it’s clear they will be missed every bit as much, if not more.)
  • A dalek joined the MCs to present the dramatic presentation awards. I would not have thought a dalek capable of comic chemistry, but there you have it.
  • The Hugo for best novel was awarded by Dr. Kjell Lindgren, from the International Space Station.
  • The “No Award” option has been used five times in Hugo history. Last night, it was used for five different categories.
  • And most importantly, history was made as two translated works won awards, including best novel – a first for the Hugos, and one that I think points again to a community that cares about making space for diverse voices.

So these are some thoughts on WorldCon and the Hugos and this community in general, and generally speaking, I’m hoping I’ll be able to find my way to Kansas City in 2016 and Helsinki in 2017. This is only the very tip of the iceberg from the trip…I’ll be doing a series of posts following up on travelling in Spokane (which you had no idea you wanted to do, but trust me, you do) and some of the specific events and conversations and books I’ve been exposed to. (I’m going to try to post at least quick reviews of every book someone handed me for free, so this could take a while. “What do you mean my bag is overweight? It was fine coming out here.” Baggage officer unzips the suitcase and the airport is quickly buried in an avalanche of books. “Oh, right…”)

Alright, off to the airport. Safe travels, my beautiful tribe of glorious and good-hearted weirdos. :)


I am pleased as pie to be ready to introduce you to Phase 1 of my current Brilliantest of Plans: drumroll, please…Here is!

Um, okay. Why?

I am so glad you asked that question! A little less than a year ago, I published Autumn’s Daughter, along with a rambling manifesto of sorts (like I do) about why I chose to start with self-publishing instead of hunting around for an agent and a publisher. In the time since, I’ve made a few more writer connections, done some thinking, and come up with a list of things that I think are essential to keeping your head above the water as a writer in general, and especially as one who is sufficiently lacking in a sense of self-preservation to try publishing alone.

  1. Writer friends who are willing to exchange editing input on manuscripts because you all recognize that human brains are by and large incapable of effectively catching all the typos and plot holes in their own work.
  2. Writer friends who will eat pastries and drink coffee and sit at a table with you, working and filling you with the sort of guilt for not working that translates into getting work done.
  3. Writer friends who have more experience than you and are happy to point out resources and pitfalls to respectively exploit and avoid.

I have some absolutely magnificent long-distant friendships that serve these points and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. If you don’t have those people in your life, however, finding them online can be tough, so this endeavor got started when I was putting together my lesson plans for some writing workshops at the library and thinking about how being physically proximate to one another might be leveraged to help writers build a nice, supportive community for one another.

“Buy Local” is a big thing in Maine, and I imagine in a lot of places right now, and it occurred to me that, beyond just connecting writers to other writers, there are probably a lot of avid Maine readers who would love to give the books of Maine writers a try and a lot of local folks whose services (free-lance editing, cover design, etc.) would help writers produce a better book and a lot of local bookstores who are pushing Maine writers.

ReadMaine is my attempt to create a place for all of those people to connect.

How does it work?

I was completely serious about being in Phase 1. Right now, I’m just trying to build a database of Maine writers. As soon as I have a good number, I’ll start publishing listings, so the very first goal is just a quick and dirty author listings database. If you know any authors who have published something (self-published books and traditionally published short pieces in someone else’s collection count) and who live mostly in Maine, please either let me know who they are or encourage them to submit their info. (It’s all free and I intend to keep it that way–I’m a big fan of the philosophy that we all thrive when we work together to help each other out.)

What makes this site distinctive from some others out there, from what I can see, is that independently published authors are just as welcome as traditionally published. In fact, I would really love to see ReadMaine turn into an incubator of sorts to help Maine indie authors set the bar for what quality self-published work can look like, and if you have any ideas/energy for putting any of these long-terms goals into action, please do let me drag you into a “leadership role.” :)