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Local family needs help

Our neighbors were asleep when a tree crashed through their roof in this last storm. Cat is a teller at our local community bank, someone I know on a first name basis. I can only imagine how terrifying it was to awake under the sudden weight of a fallen tree, with broken ribs, and redwood dust filling your mouth when you try to scream.

Today I talked to the folks at the bank where Cat works and the family is receiving emergency temporary shelter through Valley Churches United, which was founded years ago to help families made homeless during another winter storm. But it's only a short-term situation.

If you have a few pennies to spare or can boost the signal, this family could use your support in this holiday season.

The Tajji Diaries: Rainy Day Dogs

Tajji in meadow
First, a confession: the title is misleading. Every German Shepherd Dog we’ve owned has not cared at all about rain, even Oka, who thought water on the ground was poisonous. Puddles, lakes, the ocean – not going there. But water from the sky seemed to be unworthy of notice. It is, however, noticed by the resident monkeys, who have devised utterly senseless rules regarding what must be done before entering the house.

First, the rubdown. There is no need for this from the dog’s perspective. German Shepherd Dogs have double coats: an outer coat of long hairs that form a water-repellant layer, and an inner coat of soft, fluffy fur. (When bathing the dog, it takes forever to wet the inner coat and even longer to rinse it and even longer to dry it. Fortunately, GSDs “blow their coats” – explosively shed the under layer – twice a year, so there’s no need to bathe them often.) So the dog’s skin is dry and warm while the outer coat gets covered with drops of water. Tajji sees no reason why she must be massaged with a towel, but she enjoys it anyway. Then comes the belly and inner sides of her legs, also fine. Then lower legs and paws.

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Career Chat: Writing Progress Goals

Fall of Neskaya
One of the most common questions I get asked is how I schedule my writing time. Non-writers often think we either write only when the muse strikes (and then, accompanied by quantities of alcohol, swathed in tobacco or other botanical smoke, and living in the most depressing garret imaginable, surrounded by the wreckage of countless relationships) – or we get up at 7, sit down at the computer/typewriter at 9, take a one-hour lunch break at noon, and work steadily until 5. I am quite sure there are writers who do follow those schedules, but I’m not one of them.

Some writers need long stretches of time to dig deep into their stories. I’m not one of them, either. I’m a slow-and-steady plodder. There’s nothing right or wrong about either way; each writer discovers what’s right for them. So the following comes from my own experience.
If I’m going to write a novel and a couple of short stories every year (or two novels in 18 months), I need to write consistently when I’m in the early drafting stages. All bets are off when I’m writing proposals, rewriting, or revising to editorial order. Most of the time, I find daily goals helpful, so long as they are achievable. I don’t find it at all supportive to post my progress in terms of words of pages. One writer of my acquaintance used to post not only words written but anti-words; words the writer had deleted. I like that the writer acknowledged that not all progress can be measured by the total number of words.

A better goal for me is to write well.Read more...Collapse )

Holiday book giveaway

Hey folks,

I'm giving away autographed bookplates and signed books, some of them hardcover, as my holiday gift to you. Here the link.

[links] It's been a while...

prancing horse
Neil Gaiman takes on fairy tale stereotypes: "You don't need princes to save you," says Neil Gaiman, speaking about his new fairy tale, The Sleeper and the Spindle. "I don't have a lot of patience for stories in which women are rescued by men." And so, in his slim, gilded, wicked book, a beautiful young queen calls off her own wedding and sets out to save a neighbouring kingdom from its plague of sleep.

Yogurt lives up to its rep as a healthy food: Yogurt was linked to a significantly lower risk of diabetes. And this was true even after controlling for factors linked to diabetes risk like body mass index (BMI) and diet. The team then pulled in data from previous studies to add to theirs, and calculated that 28 grams of yogurt per day was linked to an 18% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

We've got a candidate for life outside of Earth: Scientists think Europa is the best candidate for life outside Earth in the solar system because life depends on three key ingredients - liquid water for chemical reactions, essential chemicals and an energy source - and Europa seems to have all three.

Dogs and humans co-evolved. The scientists found that dog owners' aroma actually sparked activation in the "reward center" of their brains, called the caudate nucleus. Of all the wafting smells to take in, dogs actually prioritized the hint of humans over anything or anyone else.

In memory of Jay Lake's wonderful [linksalad]

Midwifing A Story: The Trusted Reader

Some writers do all their work in isolation. They are the creative hermits of the literary world. When they get an idea for a story, they tell no one. This isn’t always the misplaced fear that the other person will “steal” their idea. Few ideas are so strikingly original that they have not already been told in a myriad variations. Even if the other person were to write a story on the same idea, the stories would have different executions. Knowing this doesn’t seem to make a difference. Some folks just work better alone. I’ve heard some of them say that if they discuss a work in progress, the very act of telling it aloud dissipates the creative energy: they’ve told the story, so there’s no reward for writing it. Some of them never improve as writers, but others seem able to teach themselves and to produce work of quality.

I’m not one of them.

First of all, I am, as the French say, “très sociable.” I flourish with regular chats with other writers. More importantly, I learned early on in this business that if I am left to my own devices, I will come up with the most dreadful poppycock and think it’s great. My stories will have plot holes you could ride a tyrannosaur through. And let’s not mention grammatical atrocities, inconsistent characterizations…you know the drill. Fortunately, my second and third drafts are a whole lot better than the drivel I throw together as a rough draft. I revise a couple of times, just to get the words on the page into some correlation to the story in my head, before I let anyone else see it.

At some point, however, I need feedback. I need an ally. Better yet, several. I benefit from having a “story midwife” to help me with the process of pushing and squeezing and ruthlessly pruning a story into the form that is most true to my creative vision.

A “story midwife” is someone whose insightful feedback helps me to make the story more fully what I intended it to be. It is not a person who rewrites my work to their own agenda, sabotages my writing efforts in order to make themselves feel good, or who goes about claiming credit for having salvaged or inspired my work. These things happen (and they’ve happened to me), but they’re not only not helpful, they’re potentially devastating. All these things happen because the person reading the story has motives other than being of help to the writer. These folks are often unsuccessful writers themselves.
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Often the person who sees an early draft is not a writer, but an astute reader whose reactions I can trust. Usually it’s best that this not be a relative or close friend. It’s possible those folks could give honest feedback, but more likely than not, they want to make me happy. I don’t want to hear what a fantastic writer I am or that this deformed raw effort is the Great American Novel. I want to know where I lost the reader’s attention, or where I misled or confused or infuriated the reader. I don’t necessarily want to know how to fix the problem or even what the problem is.

Interestingly, when I was a new writer, I tended to discount the feedback of trusted readers because of their lack of writing experience. Whether I knew it or not, I was searching for teachers, not readers. This is an important point. There are many kinds of “story midwives,” and trusted readers are only one. Often, we need different types of feedback at different stages in our growth as writers, or in the development of a specific story. So a beginning writer may need a mentor or teacher and then a skilled editor, as well as a trusted reader.

Now I value the feedback from trusted readers. They are in touch with how they feel and can articulate what thoughts pop into their heads as they read. To me, as an experienced writer, these reactions are pure gold. I’m not looking for explanations of the elements of writing craft (and how I’ve mangled them!). I want to know where I connected with the reader and where I failed. It’s up to me to figure out what the problem is and what I want to do about it. For example, if something wasn’t clear, it could be because I didn’t set up and foreshadow adequately, or it could be that I myself was not clear, that I needed to delve more deeply into the story. If I’m unwise enough to follow advice (uncritically), then I may end up patching up the surface instead of doing the hard work to uncover the diamond within the rough. Trusted readers, by and large, don’t go for the spackle and the duct tape. “I just don’t get this,” is often a prelude to revealing structural flaws, inconsistent motivation, or poorly thought out world-building, all of which I am grateful to know about while the story is still in formation (as opposed to when it’s solidified in print!)

I try to keep all this in mind when I act as a trusted reader for someone else. I try to go along for the ride, noticing when it gets bumpy for me. Some of the things that boot me out of the story or cause me as the reader to lose trust in the writer may not be true for someone else. This mode of reading is more focused than casual reading for enjoyment, but much less analytical then when I’m critiquing. I try my best to leave my editor’s hat at the door.

That said, I’ve sometimes run across stories where the roles change or blur. I set out to read a story with one intention in mind but find it requires a different level of engagement and feedback. I cannot overstate it enough that changing gears requires clear communication! I’ve been on both ends – giving and receiving – of an unannounced and unwelcome switch. In one instance, several decades ago when I didn’t know any better, a fairly new writer asked what I thought of a story that had been published in a fanzine. I gave the writer a thorough critique, analyzing the structure and peppering the manuscript with suggestions, when all the writer had wanted to know was if I’d enjoyed it. Now, unless what the writer expects is clear from the beginning, I will say, “What kind of feedback do you want?” And as a trusted reader, I strive to be trustworthy.

In future blog posts, I’ll discuss other “story midwives:” critiquers, beta readers, editors, and those who carry us through difficult times with their support.

The painting is by Jules Ernest Renoux (1863-1932)

The Tajji Diaries – Unexpected Help

Tajji in meadow
It’s been a while since I posted our adventures rehabilitating our retired seeing eye dog, Tajji. We’ve had her about 8 months now and she has made progress on her reactivity to dogs (and sometimes people) that made it impossible for her to continue service work. Most of our focus has been on learning to read her signals of distress and teaching her ways of self-management as we keep her safe.

Our promise to her was that she would never have to work again. Guide dog work is not only stressful psychologically and physically, it amounts to sensory deprivation for the dog. A working guide dog cannot follow normal canine behavior or even respond to the richness of sensory input that a normal dog enjoys. Dogs, even “sight hounds” have keen olfactory senses, but a working dog is taught not to sniff. Imagine Tajji’s delight when we not only permitted but encouraged her to sniff while on walks! A working dog must be constantly alert (hypervigilant) for dangers to her handler, and must make rapid decisions. We let her take her time assessing a new situation, removing her as best we can when she shows signs of discomfort. (In our reactive dog class, we modify this by giving her simple, pleasurable tasks like nose targeting or eye contact to help her reduce her own anxiety level.)

Because we never ask Tajji to do seeing eye harness work (nor could we -- we do not own such a harness, and her front-clip harness of soft webbing is quite unlike the rigid one she used to work in), we do not encounter her trained behaviors very often, other than manners and basic obedience. One notable exception is that she has been taught not to move when she is lying or sitting and a person approaches. This makes sense in terms of letting the blind person know where she is (and will be in the next minute). Our other dogs have scrambled out of the way, especially at night. Tajji doesn’t budge.

One afternoon, while rushing about the house in my bare feet, I caught one of my little toes on the corner of a book case and dislocated it. (Pause of OUCHOUCHOUCH.) I realigned the toe and hopped over to grab some ice. Ice, wrapping the toe against the rest of the toes, elevation…you know the drill. I was dismayed at how painful it was to walk on. A few hours later, I encountered Tajji-on-the-floor. She stayed put, but I stumbled and jammed my toe, although against what, I’m not sure. Most likely, her body. (More OUCHOUCHOUCH.) But when I set my weight on my foot again, the pain was miraculously reduced. My guess is that the collision with Tajji had adjusted the joint back to its proper position. Now all I had to deal with was swelling and maintaining stability.

Our family joke is that Tajji deserves a chiropractic license now.

Best kids Halloween costume ever

I've been following this delightful, mind-opening blog "Raising My Rainbow - Adventures in Raising my Fabulous, Gender Creative Son." I love the phrase "gender creative" and the love and support that shines through every entry. This one is a standout, as Mom proudly shows what a gender-creative son chose as a Halloween costume.

Here he is:

Mom says:

There are three very important reasons why C.J. selected this costume:

3. He likes the movie.

2. He likes to wear long blonde wigs.

1. The costume came with a pink purse with a tiny plush Chihuahua inside. (This is the main reason.)

Of course!!

Ebola: Why We Need Research Funding

It's no surprise that folks who think the government should not spend money on anything have targeted such agencies as the National Institutes of Health. After all, the private sector has created the world's best health care, right? (sarcasm glyph) But public health is about a whole lot more than decent sanitation to prevent typhoid or antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. It's about continuing research into prevention -- vaccinations -- and treatment of diseases we don't face in our ordinary lives. Like Ebola, once viewed as a serious but remote disease, something to use for action/thriller movies like Outbreak.

People who suffer from rare disease know all too well that the private sector -- for-profit pharmaceutical companies -- rarely invest their research dollars when there is a small market for a drug or a population of patients who can't afford expensive treatments. Ebola had both strikes against it, plus it happened to people "over there" -- black people, at that. We are all one world, and if compassion doesn't inspire us to address diseases like this with the same fierce dedication as those closer to home, than the ease of transmission across oceans and continents should. "Over there" can be our own backyards in a matter of days. We have a much more robust health care system than do many of the African nations where Ebola deaths are mounting, but we as communities are just as vulnerable. Here, as there, those who care for the sick are not only most critical in stopping the spread of the disease but are the most vulnerable in terms of becoming its next victims.

What if we as a nation, with all our scientific and medical knowledge, backed by the financial resources of our government -- the way we collectively fund such things -- had continued our search for effective treatments and vaccines? What if we had been able to ship those treatments to Africa when the current Ebola outbreak started? What if every health care worker -- there and here -- who might come into contact with an Ebola patient were vaccinated?

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has "slowed down" research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.

"NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It's not like we suddenly woke up and thought, 'Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'" Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. "Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready."

It's not just the production of a vaccine that has been hampered by money shortfalls. Collins also said that some therapeutics to fight Ebola "were on a slower track than would've been ideal, or that would have happened if we had been on a stable research support trajectory."

"We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference," he said.

Convolution report

For the last few years, I have rarely attended a convention where I couldn’t commute from home, and they are few, so I was delighted to invited to attend Convolution, a fairly new convention, held at the Hyatt Regency near the San Francisco airport. It was a bit of a drive, but Dave Trowbridge, my lovely spouse, was invited to be a guest, too, and that meant help for the long, late trudge home over twisty mountain roads. For both of us, the convention was an enjoyable, stimulating, and worthwhile endeavor.

The first thing both of us noticed was the quality of the programming: interesting topics over a wide range of interests. Every event (panels, autographing, reading) that I was included on was something I wanted to be on. The logistics were supportive, too: when I commute, I often face the challenge that the programming folks do not listen when I ask to have my panels grouped together. These folks paid heed, and gave me a wonderful lineup of events. The panels were scheduled every 2 hours, with half an hour for break or wending one’s way along the loooong periphery of each floor.

Registration for guest panelists was smooth and uncomplicated, despite the fact we got there early on Friday afternoon, when chaos typically reigns over convention organization. The Green Room – often a place I dash into and out of because of the loud monologs by a few folks who treat it as their private preserve – was a welcoming place, in no small way due to the warmth and friendliness of the volunteers staffing it.

As a result of having many panels at the same time and the remoteness of the locations, many events were sparsely attended. (Not all, as Dave told me that one of his panels – Religion in SF – was packed.) At first, I found this a bit disappointing, until I wandered into the GoH klatch (informal discussion) and found myself in a room with 4 other people and Tanya Huff, so I have decided it did have its compensations!Read more...Collapse )