Monday Earworm: Beck

You know, every time I hear another Beck song, I think about how much I love so much of his work. It’s such a great mix of mellow and dance, perfect house party music, and quite a few of his songs that were big hits when I was in college hold fun memories for me.

Enjoy this wake-you-up-easy track on a Monday morning when I am, as it turns out, heading into a day full of meetings, because the school year has officially begun. But I promise I’ll be back later this week or next with some fabulous news as soon as I can reasonably share it, so stay tuned.

Until then…

Relief Efforts for Beirut

Many of you know I am of racially mixed heritage. Some of you know that I am half-Arab. In fact, I am Lebanese. My father’s entire family is Lebanese, in every direction and all the way back. So the news this week has been troubling.

In an effort to help with relief efforts in Beirut after the massive explosion there this week, I will be donating proceeds from sales of my books and poetry art cards to the Lebanese Red Cross, which is the largest national humanitarian organization in Lebanon, according to their website. They provide most of the ambulance services in the country and have been setting up first aid and triage stations as well as temporary shelter for the victims of the blast. (For other helpful places you can donate to help relief efforts, click here.)

So how to participate in my fundraiser? Go to my brother’s online shop, Ella’s Apothecary. There you will find my books and poetry art cards for sale (along with a bunch of other really excellent things my brother makes). For every copy of Finis., The Sharp Edges of Water, The Milk of Female Kindness, and my poetry art cards you buy there — from now through this Sunday, August 9th — I will donate proceeds to the Lebanese Red Cross. Feel free to spread the word on this, too.

Here are a few examples of some of the poetry art cards. All thirteen designs are listed at Ella’s Apothecary in more detail.

Thank you so much for helping out with these relief efforts. Stay safe.

Monday Earworm: Michael Penn

Michael Penn is an extremely underrated artist, especially for being arguably the most talented of the three famous Penn brothers (including actors Sean and the late Chris). He’s definitely the only one who can write.

Enjoy this complex and darkly charming song. It’s hard to identify the mood it evokes in me, but I know I don’t mind sitting with the discomfort of it because the music is so good.

Achievement Unlocked: Camp NaNoWriMo

So this month I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time. And I won!

Now, you might be wondering a couple of things: what is NaNoWriMo, and what does it mean to “win” it?

NaNoWriMo means “National Novel Writing Month,” and traditionally it is held in November. The idea is to write 50,000 words of a manuscript in 30 days. One might argue that 50,000 words is just the very barest minimum you could have for a manuscript and consider it a full novel, and in some ways one would be correct in thinking so.

There are some generally accepted word length requirements for different types of fiction forms, which can be verified in multiple places on the Internet, should you choose to do so, but for simplicity’s sake, feel free to go with these distinctions:

  • microfiction: under 100 words
  • flash fiction: under 1,000 words
  • short story: under 7,500 words (sometimes under 10,000 words)
  • novelette (which seems to pop up primarily in the various genres of speculative fiction): 7,000-17,000 words
  • novella (which sometimes encompasses novelettes as well): 10,000-50,000 words
  • novel: over 50,000 words

Obviously one will find some overlap here and there, but these are general guidelines.

And what does it mean to “win” the NaNoWriMo? Completing your goal!

You might be wondering how anyone can get that much writing done in 30 days, especially when we have day jobs and (in the US) the Thanksgiving holiday and other things going on in our lives. That’s a totally fair question. For me, as a full-time high school teacher who also has a family and who hosts Thanksgiving, the idea of writing 50,000 words on a single manuscript during the month of November is unrealistic at best (and insane at worst), and my thoughts on that craziness are well documented. And apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way, because NaNoWriMo also now hosts “camps” — such as the one which occurs in July every year.

Anyway, I have been working on a new novel and made it a goal for 2020 to reach 50,000 words on it, and my friend Christa encouraged me to do Camp NaNoWriMo with her this month, and we did, and I made it past 50,000 words! Yes!

Is my novel done? Hell no!

And there are a few important reasons for that:

  • first, this novel is probably going to be closer to 100,000 words long when I finish the first draft;
  • second, once I get to the end of the first draft, that only gives me something to then work with;
  • third, the path to publication is long and sometimes winding and definitely has a lot of repeat steps on it (see also: revision and editing).

(One thing that has unfortunately given self-publishing a rancid name is the slew of first-draft NaNoWriMo projects that turn into badly written self-published ebooks on Amazon every January. Ah well. It’s a shame, too, because there are quite a lot of self-published and independent authors who are churning out excellent work, and their marketshare is tarnished by the people who don’t quite fully participate in all parts of the writing process.)

Some brilliant novels got their start as NaNoWriMo projects: one of the more famous examples is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. If I’m not mistaken, I think I read that she worked on it three Novembers in a row. (Case in point of how really good literature often takes quite a long time to make really good.)

Anyway. I’m just pleased that I managed to unlock this achievement, and I’m going to keep working on the new novel in addition to my other projects. (More on those later.) I’ve created a new goal for this manuscript for August and will keep doing so each month until this manuscript is done.

Have you done any version of the NaNoWriMo? Drop a note in the comments here about your experience!

So, cheers to you. Stay safe by staying home when you can, wearing a mask when you can’t, washing your hands frequently, and paying attention to science over nonsense and legitimate doctors over politicians. All the best.

***

Want to read more of my writing that’s already published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books at Blue Willow Bookshop and my books and poetry art cards at Ella’s Apothecary, and I hope you will! 

Monday Earworm: Barenaked Ladies (Again)

I love this song, and I love this version, which has Steven Page on it. I know he left the band some time ago and that there was probably some drama — I didn’t keep up with it — but Steven Page has one of the best male singing voices I’ve ever heard, and BNL won’t ever be the same without him, as far as I’m concerned. In the studio, he’s divine. And even live — I’ve seen BNL in concert at least twice, maybe three times? — he does a bang-up excellent job.

This cut comes from their first album, Gordon, and features some of the thoughtful details that put this band on the map: harmonizing vocals, instrumental flourishes in the background, clever and smart lyrics, an engaging storyline. At the height of their abilities, BNL was probably my favorite band, even for a while edging out the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Depeche Mode. (But they never could touch those queens Ani diFranco and Dar Williams. They definitely reached nostalgic The Bangles status, though, easily.)

Do enjoy this. And good luck not doing a little bit of a swaying dance while you’re at it. And then? Give the whole album a listen. Good, good stuff, even if their band name sounds like some frat boy nonsense gone wrong.

Monday (Tuesday) Earworm: Petrol Bomb Samosa

I was in physical therapy a lot of yesterday and didn’t have time to post an earworm. So you’re getting one today. Surprise!

This is a song that I’m actually using to help me with my injury, in fact: I feel better if I’m in motion, and this song is at just the right tempo and has just the right heaviness of percussion for hip drills, which helps stretch out the muscles that have clamped themselves so tightly — from too much sitting and from stress — that I cannot comfortably sit.

Also fortunate is that this weekend my husband and I rearranged the furniture in my office, so now I can access my standing desk. Yay! You may expect a different background for future livestreams, perhaps.

Anyway, enjoy. And get up and move. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Retraction

It has recently come to my attention that the song I included for today’s earworm was by a band whose members included a known perpetrator of sexual assault. I had no idea. The song I played here is the only one by that band that I ever really knew, and I hadn’t paid attention to anything else they’d done. I regret that and hope that my post, which has now been edited to remove the song, didn’t cause anyone distress.

 

Monday Earworm: (Deleted)

EDIT:  It has recently come to my attention that the song I included here today was by a band whose members included a known perpetrator of sexual assault. I had no idea. The song I played here is the only one by that band that I ever really knew, and I hadn’t paid attention to anything else they’d done. I regret that and hope that my post didn’t cause anyone distress. I will leave up the anecdote but not the reference to the song, which I’ve removed.

Instead, please feel free to post in the comments on whatever music or book you’re enjoying right now to make your own part of the world better and more enjoyable for you. 

 

I’m cleaning out my classroom at school this week. Plans for the fall semester are still in flux, of course, but I know that some stuff needs to come out of there, so. One thing I’m doing is bringing home my classroom library so I can make more room on my shelves. These are primarily books which have been withdrawn from our school library and given away free to a good home. These are books which belong to me personally that I keep around for my students when they are looking for something to read for fun and need some inspiration.

Those who know me well know that I might be slightly obsessed with books. They were my most enduring form of entertainment the whole time I was growing up, and that has never really changed for me. I’ve been reading stories on my own since I was four and writing them since I was eight. And I cannot seem to stop acquiring books.

One of the reasons I have a Little Free Library — aside from the desire to provide free books of quality to anyone walking past my house — is so that I don’t feel I need to hoard books. So I brought home a literal carload of novels and culled through them this afternoon to figure out which ones I wanted to keep and which were going to the Little Free Library, either because I already owned a copy or because the story blurb didn’t interest me overmuch. Four large bags of books are destined for the LFL, and one large bag went up to my bedroom….

…where I already have a TBR stack that is, I kid you not, an entire bookshelf plus three tall stacks on top of my dresser plus two stacks on top of my nightstand plus my Kindle.

I might have a problem.

And what have I chosen to read for fun this week? I’m rereading Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston because it is, hands-down, my favorite alternate timeline I wish to all the gods that have ever been that we were living in right now. It’s also hilarious and sexy and deeply smart and character-driven and just all-around well-written. It makes me genuinely happy to read it.

*le sigh*

In the comments, tell us your favorite book obsession — whether it’s your favorite storyline or your author obsession or your book boy-/girlfriend. Inquiring minds want to know!

 

Movie Night: Picard

So recently we watched the new series Picard, a long-after sequel series to Star Trek: The Next Generation. ST:TNG was my favorite of the Star Treks, and it was probably the only one of those series I watched in its entirety. My college roommates, who thought me kind of an odd duck in the best of circumstances, didn’t mind watching the show with me on television every week, but they were perhaps less sure how to explain to their non-sci-fi-loving friends about the poster I had of Jean-Luc Picard on our dorm room wall.

It was pretty similar to this one, except without the text at the bottom.

Picard was a decent sort of man, and a much better captain for a modern woman to look up to and feel safe around than that James T. Kirk ever could be, that was for sure. But mostly I just really liked the show and really appreciate Patrick Stewart as an actor. (His version of A Christmas Carol remains to this day the only movie version of that novel I enjoy watching and have made an annual tradition.)

So when Picard was announced, I was understandably enthusiastic.

In preparation, I did not go back and rewatch old episodes of ST:TNG, nor did I rewatch any of the movies from that series, although I liked some of those as well. (For what it’s worth, the newer movies, with Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana and Chris Pine and a host of other excellent casting choices, are hands-down my favorites. Even the middle one with Benedict Cumberbatch was pretty good, though the weakest, I think, of the so-far trilogy.) My point is, I came to Picard with my memories of the original character of Jean-Luc, and I was satisfied with that.

This made, perhaps, the elder statesman of Picard a little more interesting to watch. I’ll try not to get too spoilery, but here’s the gist of it, for me: Picard is a character who, in his retirement, must grapple with the same thing that a lot of men in the 21st Century must grapple with. He no longer has carte blanche to act any damn way he damn well pleases. He faces pushback for his actions, for his attitude, and for his way of thinking.

This is not to say that there was anything particularly wrong or untoward about the way he was. But he is a person whose ego has been reduced. One could argue, I suppose, whether it really needed to be reduced in the first place, but the new series definitely makes the point that something had to give.

Now, is Picard someone whose past actions have caught up to him in a way that makes people feel gross about liking him before? No, not at all. This show is not reflective of the #MeToo or #TimesUp movements, nor does it make explicit commentary on the more disgusting and disheartening aspects of the sci-fi (and other) literary community today. In short, I’m not trying to imply that allegations of Picard being an asshole to women have suddenly come to light and he now must fight through disgrace for his past actions.

No, this new storyline maintains the character of Jean-Luc Picard as someone worth looking up to and admiring, but someone who still has room for growth. I respect and appreciate that. (And from a narrative craft standpoint, what other point would there have been in making a new series, if he didn’t have an arc to ascend?)

So, Picard gets to be taken down a peg and then allowed to climb his way back up, at least in a sense. He does so in a thoughtful way. Great!

The other elements of a good sci-fi series one might eagerly expect are there, too: compelling characters, both new and familiar; exciting technology; cinematography that at least borders on lush; worthwhile commentary on the human condition; just a good storyline.

While I won’t say that Picard was something I was desperate to watch and is a show I would have utterly lamented not seeing, I’m quite glad we gave it a chance. It became more engaging and more compelling with each episode, and if another season comes up, I’m pretty sure we’ll watch that one, too.

By all means, wear a mask and wash your hands if you really have to go out, but––

If you can, please just stay home and watch some good content. Picard fits the bill.

Monday Earworm: REG Project

Somehow on Saturday I reactivated an old hip flexor injury. I don’t know how I did it, except by literally turning around while I was collecting laundry. I exacerbated it further when I later bent down to help my daughter apply sunscreen to her back. At my age, I guess this is just my life now? Whatever.

As I’ve been doing my physical therapy to soothe this old injury, I keep thinking of what my physical therapist told me back in September the first time I had to take care of this nonsense. “Quitting bellydancing was the stupidest thing you ever did for your body.”

And he was right grumble grumble grumble.

Please enjoy one of the songs I choreographed and taught to several dance troupes back in the day.