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Archive for April, 2022

On this date in 1926, Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama.

A few days after she passed away in 2016, Berkeley Breathed published the above tribute, and it’s my favorite. It still brings tears to my eyes.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most important books in my reading life. I am not sure how many times I have read it — at least five. (The only book I can think of which I may have read more times is Charlotte’s Web.)

Mockingbird is my touchstone for empathy and self-respect. It is my reminder to treat others with dignity and respect even (and perhaps especially) when they don’t extend to you the same courtesy but not at the expense of your own self-respect and personal convictions. You still need to stand your ground, and you need to be able to live with your actions and their consequences. Just because a point of view or course of action works for most everyone else doesn’t mean that it has to work for you.

It’s a tough balance, but it is one I work towards every day. It may be time for another reading.

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This little heart-knitting gnome is pretty famous on the internet, I think. I have seen him used in knitting and non-knitting contexts, and pretty much never with credit to the artist responsible for the kntting and the animation.

The other day I learned that Anna Hrachovec is the artist behind this little gem and so many others. Her website is mochimochiland.com. She has patterns and tutorials and a blog and links to more animation and all of her social media accounts.

She is teaching a class in the fall as part of a program called KnitStars (there is a link on her website), so you can check it out, too.

Me, I am going to watch the little gnome knit hearts a while longer.

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Felicity “Felix” Ford is one of my knitting heroes.

She started out by connecting sound with wool. Well, that may not be where she started at the very beginning, but it is the first endeavor of hers that I found. She recorded the sounds of sheep grazing, and captured a landscape. She went to a mill and recorded the sounds of the machines. After collecting sounds, she put them together in a podcast. (There is another sound-related project she has been working on where she translates the punch cards from music boxes into knitting patterns, but I am not sure of the status.)

When it comes to knitting, her design aesthetic, her artistic approach, her attention to detail, and her seemingly limitless patience are incredibly inspiring. She breaks down and explains her processes with an enthusiasm which is completely infectious. She finds beauty, creativity, and inspiration in the details of the mundane and everyday, and she translates those details into colorwork knitting patterns. Not only has she published the patterns, but her methodology as well so that you can make your own observations and design your own patterns using the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and the Stranded Colourwork Playbook.

Colorwork and fair isle knitting are techniques which continue to intimidate me. I have made a couple of hats and one sweater involving stranded knitting. They turned out fairly well, especially the sweater, but the process of knitting stiches in different colors on the same row is a slow and tedious process for me. I love the results because they look like complicated magic even though every stitch is knit. What I really need to do is practice, and I could probably do with some encouragement and feedback along the way.

Also, trying to go from image to inspiration to pattern to project can be a daunting undertaking, making it feel like another project which was bigger than the time and energy it deserves. I could tackle it in the increments of which I have become so fond (which I may still try) … or I could sign up for the new pattern club and workshop put together by Felix and three of her friends.

In a nutshell, the Colour to Knit e-Book and Club Membership guides knitters through playing with color (or colour) and provides pattern templates for designs that you color in with pencils or pens (whatever your preference). Et voila! A stranded colorwork pattern! Four different designers means four different approaches and four different patterns which appear in your inbox from May until August. In addition there is an online group and there will be several hour-long video sessions.

From the detail page: “The four projects are ordered by complexity. The eBook begins with the easiest and most accessible project and concludes with the most ambitious. As a collection, these projects take you through different creative approaches, building your skills and confidence as you go. Each design is accompanied by enabling worksheets and colouring-in pages for you to print and recolour as many times as you like.”

That paragraph says to me: lots of opportunities to try ideas, see what works and what doesn’t, learning as you go, always with the option to go back and try again. No pressure.

Sign-ups close on April 30th, so there are only a few more days to sign up for the full club, but if you miss out, the book will be published and available in August.

I’m in for sure. (I couldn’t sign up fast enough.) Anyone else up for a knitting adventure?

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Who knew?

Probably lots of people, but I was not one of them until today.

Slow River was on my shelf for years. I am not sure whether or not it still is, and I am quite sure that I have not yet read it. (I went through a phase where I was trying to make room for an ever-growing yarn stash and knitting far more than I was reading, so I overdid it with culling the library. Plenty of books have not been missed, and it was fine to send them to other homes. Others were a mistake to release. Live and learn.)

Today I read her Big Idea entry and learned that she also writes stories about magic — the old, wild magic of Britain and Wales.

As a result, Hild and Spear are now on my reading list. Spear is new and easily had. Hild is not and will require a bit more effort.

There is more to say, but I am extremely tired, and I must be up much earlier than usual tomorrow morning, so more will have to wait. In the meantime, click the links and amuse yourselves.

Good night.

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Hello and welcome, new followers! (I am so never going to get tired of being able to say that from time to time.)

Also (and I realize that this is a random aside), I just learned that if you start a post one day and don’t finish and post it for a few days, the post shows up dated the day you started it rather than the day you posted it. That behavior irks me somewhat as it makes it looks like I broke my streak, and I didn’t. Harumph. Should you wish to read a few thoughts about Lego blocks being used in curses, just scroll back to April 16th.

With those housekeeping items out of the way, let’s talk about Paris, shall we?

I finished reading Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan, and it was for the most part delightful. It is not as frothy as I think that the cover and title suggest. There are certainly lighthearted moments and nice variety of romantic relationships, but there is serious appreciation of Paris, art, Joan of Arc, the genius and demons of artists, and the complexities of blood and chosen family in this novel. It is worth reading for all of those things.

Once again, I found the third act a little bit disappointing. The plot twist which brought things together wasn’t too far-fetched, convenient, or unbelievable. There were a few surprising revelations, but they were fitting. What did not work so well for me was how and why the theft had been planned. I read the explanation, and I watched the characters go along with it after varying degrees of suspicion, anger, and resistance, but I wasn’t completely sold. And then the story got tied up in a bow pretty quickly as if the author had run out of words or had to meet a deadline. When that happens, stories fall a little flat for me and sometimes feel rushed. Now, I am writing this post less than an hour after finishing the book. I may feel differently after I sit with it for a while.

Maybe it’s me because conclusions and endings are something with which I struggle. Even writing these posts, I tend to get to the end or run out of things to say and click publish. Most of the time I know that I could have done better, that it could be smoother. It is one of the parts of my writing which I hope improves with practice (and revision). I figure that at some point, I will have a post that ends with a real conclusion that is not abrupt. The process will click, and I will have an example that I can reapply and reproduce.

Until then, I will keep reading more third act examples, learning from them, and critiquing them.

If anyone has and recommendations of books with third acts that really do justice to all of the prep work done in acts one and two, I would love to hear them.

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If not, it should be. I need more nerd fiction in my life.

And I don’t necessarily mean science fiction, although I wouldn’t necessarily exclude it. I just don’t want far future, space travel fiction.  I want contemporary fiction which happens to focus on AI.

I started with a search for ‘AI fiction’ and then tried ‘artificial intelligence fiction’ because I have been enjoying having AI show up in some of the contemporary fiction I have been reading. Sourdough had a significant AI component. Does that make it science fiction? It is fiction with science in it. The same is true of Lost and Found in Paris. One of the characters runs a tech company which uses AI, among other things.

The books have other elements I would consider nerdy. In Sourdough, there is some nerdy stuff about yeast and bread and mold and cheese and the history of food and the future of food. In Lost and Found in Paris, there is nerdiness about art history and modern art and architecture and even fashion.

I think I am defining “nerdy” as being enthusiastically knowledgeable about a subject. In Lost and Found in Paris, Joan of Arc plays a significant role, especially the art devoted to her. I know a bit about her history, and I know that she is significant to French political history, religious history, and art history, but I was unaware of just how much art is devoted to her.

Maybe I am looking for fiction that will teach me something, but that feels like much too broad of a category. I learn something from every book I read.

The AI part really has me intrigued at the moment because it’s not science fiction anymore. It is science.

I am a bit of a Luddite at heart. (I love my pens and paper, and I read only paper books.) I believe that computers make us stupid. (How many phone numbers do you know any more? Can you read a map without GPS?) But computers and machines can do absolutely amazing things for communication, for manufacturing, for medicine, for textiles, for agriculture. The list is practically endless.

What I found when I searched for AI fiction: 24 Best Artificial Intelligence Science Fiction Books – The Best Sci Fi Books (best-sci-fi-books.com)

20 Fascinating Artificial Intelligence Books, Fiction & Nonfiction | Book Riot

A number of the books on these lists are the same and sound like good recommendations.  I do still need to read Neuromancer, but some of Gibson’s newer stuff might do the trick, too.  I have plenty.  At the risk of insulting the genius and fans of folks like Ellison, Clarke, and Asimov, I want to read books written closer to the here and now when AI either exists or is getting close.  I want more Sourdough, more Lost and Found in Paris, even more Machinehood.

Any ideas or recommendations?

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There are probably things that I should have done today other than what I actually did today, but it is too late to worry about that problem now.

What I did spend a lot of time doing is reading. I decided to catch up on John Scalzi’s blog, and since I wasn’t sure where I left off, I just started with the beginning of April. That seemed like a fairly safe, not too time consuming plan. Silly me. Down the rabbit hole I fell, and gladly.

There have been five Big Idea posts so far this month. Well, actually, there have been six, but I skipped the Wil Wheaton post. The others were from Leah Cypess, Adam Oyebanji, Nancy Werlin, E.C. Ambrose, and John Dodd. I am not familiar with any of these authors, but now I am intrigued by them all. Is every single book the kind of book I like to read? Not necessarily, but that part isn’t important. There are all sorts of books for all sorts of readers out there, which is as it should be. Something piques your interest? Check it out. If it turns out not to be your thing, then put it down and pick something else.

All of the posts dovetailed nicely into my current enthusiasm for learning about storytelling and writing processes. Leah Cypess wrote about how and why she used the same idea twice. She retold the same fairy tale in two different books and from two different points of view. I like retellings. I like different points of view. What really perked up my learning antennae, however, was the part about the difference between writing a story from an adult’s point of view and writing one from a child’s point of view. What can a fully grown person do that, say, an 11 year-old cannot? What are the differences in options and choices?

The first story “Stepsister” is available for free on the author’s web site. Glass Slippers is the new middle grade novel, available at your bookseller of choice. I look forward to reading both. (By the way, Glass Slippers is the second in a series of retellings. The first, Thornwood, is a Sleeping Beauty retelling.)

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji might not be too high on my reading list because I am not a big fan of space exploration stories, but his line of reasoning for how he developed the story is insightful. It meshes well with the concept I wrote about in my Plan Comes Together post from a few days ago.

He started with a dream he is passionate about and that he would love to make come true and then built the story as a way to make the dream come true. He explains it way better than I am summarizing it, so just go read his post. I like the conflict in the premise, so I downloaded a sample. If I like the writing style and the characters, I will add the book to my list.

E.C. Ambrose followed a similar path to write Drakemaster, except that instead of following and reasoning out a dream, he followed a paper trail of research. He started small, with a footnote referencing a medieval Chinese astronomical clock. That’s a pretty specific starting point, right? His research led him to the rise of the Mongol Empire, which eventually covered more contiguous land than any other empire ever. Needless to say, that was a bit much to cover and too far away from the clock which started him down this path, so he went back to the city where the clock has been built and found the conflict he needed for his story in a rebellion against the Mongols.

The authors describes Drakemaster this way: “A team of rivals in a desperate race across medieval China to locate a clockwork doomsday device. The rest, in this case, isn’t history—it’s the future.” Historical fantasy — sign me up.

Healer & Witch by Nancy Werlin and Ocean of Stars by John Dodd both had to wait their turn, and the books had to wait years between original writing and finishing and publication. They are both labors of love, and they are firsts for their authors. Healer & Witch is Werlin’s first middle-grade novel, and Ocean of Stars is Dodd’s first published novel.

Werlin had to put her story aside (a story which she wrote out longhand by the way) so that she could fulfill a contractual obligation for another book and because she was told at the time that there was another similar book already on the market. (The story sounds pretty unique to me, but I certainly haven’t read everything.) In the end, that story waited patiently in a cabinet for 25 years to be rediscovered as a source of comfort for the author during the pandemic. Of the group, Healer & Witch is the book I am most excited to read. (Yes, I am technically a grown-up, and yes, I love reading books written for all different age groups. A good story and well-drawn characters are worth reading no matter the age group targeted by the author or the marketing team.)

In 2014, John Dodd wrote a million words. A million. In a year. He finished six novels, but the seventh, Ocean of Stars wouldn’t behave and wouldn’t be finished. He put it aside for a while, and then he got some input. Then he worked on it more and got more input. Eventually he wrangled it to completion, and it is now his first published novel.

Based on Dodd’s Big Idea post, I would call the story alternative futuristic historical science fiction. As a space story with time travel, the book doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I am going to give it a chance because I am interested in the character Caterina, who sees that the mistakes of the greedy and powerful continue to be repeated and who wants to take the necessary stand to stop it.

Well. So that was a good chunk of my day in a very large nutshell, and I haven’t even gotten to reading the excerpts I downloaded. They need to wait until I get at least one book read this month. I might have more to say once I get that far. In the meantime, if you want to read these and other Big Idea posts, they are all grouped together here, starting with the most recent.

Happy Easter!

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Many writers, myself included, are drawn to writing tools, advice, and inspiration. Do they have to potential to make us better, more productive, and happier writers? Yes. Is at least half their appeal the opportunity for distraction and procrastination? Assuredly.

(Knitters have the same sort of relationship with the website ravelry.com. Is it a fabulous resource for patterns, techniques, and support? Yes. Do we fall down rabbit holes looking at patterns and posting in discussion groups and admiring projects when we could be spending that time actually knitting? Without a doubt.)

Today’s distraction, er, tool comes to you courtesy of the amazing story collective The Moth. Stories shared during Moth events are told by a person standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people. It is not recitation or speechmaking. There are no notes, and there is no memorization. It is an organic, ancient, and undoubtedly nerve-wracking process, but it is not without preparation. These spoken stories involve as much craft and revision as anything written.

Over the last 25 years, The Moth has developed a program to help people tell their stories, to take an idea and learn how to not only share it but bring the audience into it. On April 26th, aspiring storytellers will be able to get their hands on How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth.

Have I read the online excerpt on the Random Penguin website? Yes, I have. Have I read the sample on the website of the largest online bookseller? Yes, I have. Am I tempted to preorder it from my local independent bookseller so that I can get a pre-order bonus? Most certainly. (Do I have unread books about the craft and skill of writing on my bookshelves? Indeed, I do. Is that an impediment or a deterrent? No, not really.)

Based on what I have read so far, this book is not only for writers and performers. It is for anyone who wants to share a story with anyone else, to build connection and community. Isn’t that connection something we need in these wild and crazy times? I think so.

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Poor Legos. They have been weaponized. When did that happen?

It is a common curse I have seen on social media — something along the lines of wishing someone a Lego block under every barefoot step.

I read a blog post about exercise, and the author had taken up running but didn’t much care for it. He thought that he should have pursued something easier and more pleasant, such as walking on hot coals or jumping up and down on Lego blocks.

The Smithsonian magazine even published a big article about why stepping on Legos is more painful that walking on hot coals or ice.

My version has long been the little green army men, ever since I saw a friend’s mother step on one, and I felt powerful to stop it even as I watched it happen. It was one of those slow motion moments.

Maybe little green army men aren’t as painful because the plastic isn’t as strong? I would think that they would have a higher chance of becoming embedded, which would be extremely painful. Then again, it might be splitting hairs at that point.

It has been a mostly sleepless couple of days (nights?) this week, so weaponized Legos are all I have tonight. Pick up your toys, kids!

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Or maybe I love it when order starts to emerge out of chaos. I sort of had a plan for Camp NaNoWriMo, and then in the face of having rather a lot of things on my plate, it went a bit off the rails. I could call it project scope creep. I could say that I incorporated multiple goals or disciplines into one so that I wasn’t really giving up any of them, but the focus had shifted.

Then I read about a brainstorming exercise which is brilliantly perfect for writing. Maybe I am the last to know and everyone, or at least lots of people, writes this way, but it is completely liberating in the sense that it allows you to jump around between different ideas and don’t have to try to follow a linear plot or outline.

Let me see if I can explain.

I am about halfway through Lost and Found in Paris (and loving it). I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I need to provide a little bit of context, most of which can be found in the book summary.

Our heroine Joan flies to Paris with some obscure but valuable sketches for a potential buyer. The sketches are stolen. The thief leaves behind a clue which includes a poem\riddle\invitation and a copy of a page from one of her father’s notebooks. She figures out the first message, and when she arrives at the appropriate location, a security guard hands her a second envelope.

Nate, her romantic interest who is trying to help her recover the stolen sketches stops her from opening the envelope right away. He asks her to tell him what she thinks is in the envelope. What might be the next piece or pieces of information based on what they already know? Joan is skeptical.

He explains the exercise this way: “My sister leads the brain-storming sessions.  She went to business school, so there’s a method to her madness.  It works.  It gets your brain pumping before you have to zero in one the question at hand.  When we’re trying to anticipate what might go wrong or right with a project, it opens us up to other avenues of inquiry when we think about all possible scenarios.” (pg 139)

They proceed to brainstorm possibilities, following different avenues of thought, looking for connections.

The concept didn’t make any sense to Joan at first, but it totally clicked for me.

I don’t have to write a linear story, even if I want to eventually end up with one. I don’t have to stress about picking a direction. I can start with an idea, a scene. I can set up the scene in different ways, and then I can tell the same story different ways or create different stories altogether. I can follow each thread from each starting point, or I can mix and match later on, keeping what works together and setting the other parts aside.

Instead of having to know what “really” happens and committing myself to one narrative, I can try out a whole bunch of different scenarios — no matter how ludicrous — follow each one as far as a I care to, branching this way and that as I go, and then backtracking to a certain point and starting a new branch or thread. (Yes, I am just going with the mixed metaphor.)

I tried it out with one of the ideas in my Camp NaNoWriMo project, which I decided to use as a month-long brainstorming session to just get ideas out of my head and into a document, so I think that I was pretty close to this newly-discovered process already. The problem is that I was letting myself get stuck on not knowing where to take a story or how to explore an idea for fear of not getting it right (even though I know it is not about getting it right the first time).

Now I can ask myself, “What are the things that can go right with this storyline or scenario? What are the things that can go wrong?” Do a little preliminary troubleshooting and then start trying out the possibilities.

The more I write out this idea, the more obvious it feels, but it was a complete watershed moment for me this afternoon. Maybe it’s the magic that starts to happen about halfway through a NaNoWriMo project. Whatever the case, I am feeling inspired, creative, and energized! I look forward to a weekend of writing.

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