Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Orville Might Be the Best Star Trek Yet

I recently finished watching the second season of The Orville. For those unfamiliar with the show, it's a Star Trek-esque space-based episodic story with some longer arcs in which the crew of a starship encounter adventures as they explore the universe.

Similar to Star Trek in all its iterations, the crew are part of a an interstellar alliance with military rankings and rules. Their mission is both political and scientific. It's a show that gets really mixed reviews. Even people who love it don't seem to love it without criticism. I think I'm the same: I like it, but I can't quite love it.

While I have enjoyed several Star Trek series in my life (the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, the old movies, the newer movies), I've never considered myself a deep fan. Watching Orville helped me realize that this is because I don't connect strongly with most of the characters.

They tend to be static--arriving on the scene fully realized and ending the series no significant changes to the core of who they are. The tension on your average Star Trek show is all external.

That's one way The Orville is different. Interpersonal drama is often as important or more important than external conflict in any given episode.  Throughout seasons one and two, we've watched a once-married captain and first officer figure out the parameters of their new relationship. We've watched a married couple become parents and discover deep-seated philosophical differences and cultural dissonances. We've watched several other characters foray into romance with varying results.

Fans might argue that these sorts of character arcs are seen on Star Trek as well, but for me, any such storytelling is solidly in the back seat in those shows. I like this more character-driven exploration of similar themes. These characters grow and change within the series more than I've ever seen on a Star Trek show. For me, that's the major selling point of The Orville: it's Star Trek, with more fully realized people in the roles.

I also enjoy the "ordinary Joe" feel of the characters. Among the people in my life, I can find people who are similar to Lt. Gordon Molloy, pilot and longtime friend of Captain Ed Mercer or Dr. Claire Finn, the ship's doctor who is also a single mother.

Competent and effective, but quirky, too. That's very different than giant icons like Jean-Luc Picard, who while wonderful, was too much a paragon to make stupid choices in love or leadership.

From the early days watching reruns of the original series with my mother, I've always loved the allegorical storytelling bent of Star Trek--exploring human issues with non-human characters offers contrast and comparison that an all-human cast has to work harder to achieve.

The Orville does this, too. There's emotion vs. logic in Isaac, the Kaylon emissary and science officer. There's exploration of the line between cultural respect and individual rights in the gender issues of Moclan, home world of Bortus, the second officer.

The discussion might be a little more subtle than it was when the black and white faced people of Ariannus refused to see each other's values (star bellied sneeches, anyone?), but the tactic is the same. And it's still a good one.

An aspect of The Orville I'm less fond of is the mixing of tones. Traditionally, Star Trek has had lighter toned and heavier toned episodes, but a single episode of The Orville may offer comedy and drama side by side, an effect I sometimes find jarring.

Individual episodes also suffer from inconsistencies and writer convenience sometimes (example: the fabulous warrior women who escaped Moclan to live life on their own terms and were skilled enough to do this suddenly lose all fighting and observation skills and need to be rescued by the crew of The Orville when the attack they've always anticipated finally comes).

All in all, The Orville captures much of what I love about Star Trek while shedding the baggage I didn't love as much. It's a love letter to the place the Star Trek universe holds in our hearts while also being its own creation. Worth watching.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Going Home

Some of the new I liked: a bit of whimsy down an alleyway
As I write this, I'm just returned from a trip to visit my parents who still live in my childhood home of Bellevue, Kentucky, located four blocks from Ohio. It's a small town still, but with easy access to the big city. We used to walk to Reds games and other downtown events rather than pay for parking. In fact, lots of what people think of as "Cincinnati" places are actually not in Ohio, but in Kentucky (like the airport and the Ohio River for starters).

I've been trailing the nostalgia fairy. I imagine her as a mermaid, beautiful on top and a stinky old salmon on the bottom, who will delight you with a beautiful memory one moment, then turn around and swat you in the face with the smelly fish tail of the ugly side of change.

Fairfield Mrkt where Mom used to bank.
Like a lot of small towns, Bellevue has seen a lot of change in recent years, some for the good, and some that make my stomach churn.

Bellevue's avenue seems to be flourishing with independent restaurants and small businesses and that makes me happy. I like seeing Fessler's hoagies and pizza (I knew it as Pasquales, but the food is the same as always) and Schneider's Sweet Shop still serving the delights they've served my whole life from the same locations and that any changes have been expansions and improvements.

It's kind of fun that the storefront that used to house my childhood used bookstore is now a Thai restaurant, the first apartment we lived in is now a pretzel restaurant, and my mom and dad's old bank is now a chi-chi dining place (chi-chi here is defined as too "fancy" to take my blue collar Dad to), still with the bank vault (now a wine cellar). I spent my week's visit eating lunch in childhood haunts that weren't restaurants then.

We've got art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, craft shops, and funky gift shops in all the old buildings along the avenue and most seem to be doing strong business. That's good to see. Good for the life of a town.

At the same time, swaths of old houses along the riverfront are simply gone, wiped off the map and replaced by tall, expensive, and horrendously ugly condos and apartments that are completely out of character with the look of the town. More are being built as we speak, and they look even uglier and suck up the skyline so us plebeians who have always lived here can no longer see the river. My dad's childhood home was nothing special, but it's just completely gone now, along with all the neighboring houses that used to offer something lower rent for those who needed it.

With them we got a bunch of chain restaurants and a lot more traffic and parking problems.

I don't like rich people generally (in my admittedly limited experience with wealth, rich people do not become rich by being kind, generous, or noble) and I don't really want them to move to Bellevue…but I do want the town to continue to exist and be a safe place for my parents and old friends to live. "And so it goes." Here's hoping Bellevue can keep the heart of what it has always been while staying afloat in the 21st century.

Bellevue houses: lots of brick, with charming details. From the tiny to the giant. I used to dream about owning that top one when I was a kid. 

The first apartment I lived in with Mom and Dad, now a pretzel sandwich place.

Cincy views from around Bellevue

My childhood movie theater.

Van Voast bridge still scares the heck out of me. Worse when a train is running beneath.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

IWSG: Am I my Characters?

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

This month's wonderful co-hosts are Erika Beebe, Natalie Aguirre, Jennifer Lane, MJ Fifield, Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

Be sure to check out their blogs (and others on this great blog hop) when you're finished here! This month's (optional) question: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

I try not to just write characters that are analogues for myself--I'm rather dull, really: reliable, steady, not-that-dramatic. If I took "write what you know" to mean "write characters just like you" no one would want to read my work. Heck, *I* wouldn't even want to read my work.

I like my real life nice and boring and regular, but not my fiction, thanks. How many quiet and reliable schoolteachers who love the man they are married to and do what they say they're going to do on time would you read about?

Yeah, me either.

But I do find that fiction is accidentally confessional from time to time, revealing biases, prejudices, and preferences that I may not even really be aware I have until after I see them reflected in a character. Things that bother me in real life may end up bothering one of my characters, too. It can be a good way to take myself down a peg, too--my favorite person to poke fun at is myself.

Patricia, of the Menopausal Superhero series, is impatient with newbs. She's got her own way of doing things and doesn't like to be slowed down by having to explain herself to others.

There's a bit of me in there, always tempted to look away when they're looking for volunteers, hoping that maybe I can just do the work and not have to help someone else do it at the same time. Impatient with youth and inexperience when it slows me down.

(This is mostly in my teaching life; in my writing life: mentoring and being mentored has been a lot more natural, organic, and useful. The uselessness of most teacher training and evaluation programs could be a whole ranty blog post by itself).

Of course, Patricia isn't nearly as polite as me.

From Going Through the Change, the first in the series:

"Patricia rubbed at her forehead as if she could reach the headache forming somewhere deep behind her right eye. She had worked for this man for how long now, twenty years? A good ten years before that for his predecessor. He knew damn well she preferred to work alone and absolutely detested any kind of group project or partnership. Yet, this was the third time he had assigned her an intern to mentor. Always women, too. Or really, girls. Skinny little milksops with no real backbone. he actually used the word nurturing, like she was a freaking wet nurse. Didn't he remember that she had sent the last one home in tears?"

I also remember that when I got to the end of the first book I ever finished (unpublished, women's issues fiction: His Other Mother), I was surprised to discover that I'd written something very much like a gender-switched relationship dynamic from my first marriage. Oops. I didn't know I was doing it at the time.

Of course, there are small things, like a character who likes a food you like, or prefers the same kind
of pillow, or drives a similar car. Those slip in on me all the time because I need a small detail to add some life to a moment and I understand my own preferences from the inside, so they're easy to use.

But, I don't usually intentionally give my characters my own characteristics. I'm not using my fiction as disguised memoir. My imaginary friends are much more interesting than I am--and I like it that way!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Sometimes I feel I've got to run away: Writer's Retreat!

I love my family and my teaching life, but sometimes they feel like they're going to squash me. At the worst of times, it's like people are grabbing chunks of me and carting them off, and at the end of the day, all that remains is a pile of vibrating nerves that no one else wanted.

All my life, writing has been where I run away to when there's too much. It's solitary, but creative and productive: at the end of it, I've created something. It's personal and self-expressive even when it's fiction. It satisfies something deep within me that can't be soothed by any other means. It's why my daily writing time matters so very much. Even when my writing feels stymied, it's still a selfish little moment that is only about what I want to create. It really is a mental health release valve for me, even more than walking (and walking helps me immensely, too).

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get run away from my regular life for three days for a writer's retreat. I spent those days in a lovely mountain house with six other writers, writing, talking, walking, reading. I didn't make a meal, wash a dish, wash anything, or give ANY of my time to something that wasn't about my writing life.

I'm discovering that short bursts of focused time like this are essential to my writing life. I can't always take a trip and surround myself with like-minded folks, but at least during summer vacation, I'm fortunate that I can arrange a few days during which I am only a writer, during which I can bring the full force of my considerable concentration to my current creation and push the rest aside, just for a little while.

I send the youngest to camp or to visit Grandma. I tell my family that I'm off the grid. I cash in all those gift cards I received for teacher appreciation day on take out meals. I prep ahead with snacks and tea so I don't have to go anywhere. I don't answer the phone.

I don't think I'd fare well if this was my life all the time. I am a writer, but I'm also a teacher, a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister, and various other kinds of human and even though I run towards introverted, I'm not willing to give up all my other loves JUST for writing. Even Emily Dickinson had people visit and wrote letters, after all. I do need and want people. I'm not really a hermit, even though the idea is tempting sometimes.

But as a respite, it's wonderful to run away from everything else for a little while and give myself over completely to my life of words. May you all find a respite like this when you need it, an oasis that lets you refill your well and gives you the wherewithal you need for harder times.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Summer Writing

Summer is here! As I write this, I've been on summer vacation for (checks watch--remembers I don't have one and checks phone) 1.5 days!

As a teacher-writer-mother, I look forward to summertime all year for the control over my schedule and ability to focus more on my writing life instead of shoehorning it in around school demands. And I've made it! I'm a full time writer, for almost two months in a row.

As a 21st century woman though, I always want more out of my time than I can actually get, so here are my tips for managing a mother-writer summer schedule.

For context, my kids are currently 12 and 19, with the 19 year old living forty-five minutes away from home, near enough that I can see her often, and be there to help her when needed, but not part of my daily dinner plan.

1. Chunk your time: I'd love to have all day every day of summer for my writing life, but that's not realistic given the parameters of my life, so I just snag *part* of each day for writing.

I tend to think of my day in three chunks: morning, afternoon, evening. Because my tween will sleep as late as I let her, it generally goes: morning for me, afternoon for house/daughters, evening for family. This keeps things from bleeding into my writing time too much, but still leaves me pretty flexible during each chunk of day.

I get up when my husband gets up for work even though I could probably get away with sleeping later. I'm a total wimp about the heat, so I get outside for my exercise first: a walk or a run with my dog immediately before the summer sun is fully awake and trying to bake us alive. This has the added benefit of waking up my brain in a pleasant environment.

Then, I start all the appliances, so clean dishes and laundry (and sometimes even lunch: go rice cooker and instant pot!) happen while I'm not looking, and it's breakfast and writing time. I try to stop at lunch time.

Afternoons are for running errands and making sure the tween has some fun and doesn't turn into a total lump of lazy. Often I can write during this time as well, jotting down thoughts in the notes app on my phone and handling the social media commitment of a writing life during the waiting moments. If there's a playdate or mom couch time and my interaction level is lower, I steal that for writing, too.

Evenings are for managing home life aspects that require all of us (after the husband gets home from work) and for enjoying time together: games, movies, outings, etc. Sometimes I sneak extra writing time during this time, if there's dad-daughter time going on.

2. Make arrangements for a few ONLY writing days:

For me, that means sending the youngest away (camp, visiting Grandma, overnights at someone else's house, etc.) or sending me away (writing retreat!). I can usually only manage about two weeks of full time writing life across a summer, but they are heaven on earth when they come.

It requires being strict about protecting that time. If the youngest is at camp, I AM NOT filling that time up with errands, even pleasant ones like lunch with my sister. I grab those hours with both hands and hold on tight, refusing to let anything shy of an actual emergency wrest them from my grip.

I also have to be strict with myself about using the time well when I get it. I set priority lists of what to write in what order and am careful not to let myself fritter the time away on social media or writing the wrong things.

My rules for prioritization are: passion level, publication expectations, promises made, and watching out for burnout. Just like every other part of my life, choosing how to spend my writing time is a balancing act, too.

3. Planning ahead helps.

Generally, we plan and shop on Sunday for the entire upcoming week, making note of al the "extra" (not in the usual schedule) things we need/want to do, and making meal plans.

This really helps, because I don't have to spend time on Monday-Friday deciding on meals or shopping them. Those decisions have already been made; all I have to do is follow the plan. That frees up brain space for more fun things like deciding why my male lead's secret twin was a secret.

I plan ahead for my writing time as well, figuring out which day will be spent writing a blog post, which a short story, which focused on the current novel, which on promotion, and so on. I can't do all those things every day, and it helps me to compartmentalize them, promising each task its spotlight moment in turn.

After all this time, I'm good at figuring out what kind of writing I'll be able to do given the constraints of a day: how much time a row I can get, likelihood of interruption, need to devote extra time to other parts of life, etc.

So, there are my ideas for managing a writing life among the other demands I've taken on. How about you, kind readers? Any tips that work for you? How do you protect and arrange time for your creative endeavors?

Monday, June 10, 2019

Wording Wednesday: Always

Fellow author Andy Brokaw offers a writing prompt each week for her "Wording Wednesday," so called because the prompts are released each Wednesday.  You can check it out and participate here if it catches your fancy, too. You can see what I wrote for the first five prompts herehereherehere and here. This one is the last in the current series, but you can participate at any time, and she'll be back with more prompts soon. It was interesting how many of these evoked a story of love or romance from me, my favorite kind of Beginning.

Today's picture-prompt is by Agnes Csiszar Russo.  You can see the story it inspired for me below the art.


Formal events usually made me pray I'd come down with something contagious and blotchy so my mother wouldn't make me go. So many people forced to be polite while uncomfortably dressed and gathered in a room inevitably either too hot or too cold. The roiling emotions churning through a crowd like that were overwhelming. Weddings were the worst, with matchmaking on the mind of every family with an unmarried child.

But this was Ananya's wedding. I couldn't miss it, even if I did actually have something contagious and blotchy. It might be the last time I'd get to see her. Her husband was a very successful businessman. That meant they would go wherever his business demanded, even if that took my best friend to the other side of the planet and beyond my reach.

We'd had our weepy goodbyes already, and I'd kept my feelings of abandonment and loneliness to myself. I wouldn't taint her happiness with selfish concerns. She deserved a life of laughter and gaiety and I wouldn't be the mopey friend who brought her down at her own celebration.

When the day's festivities began to wind down, I slipped out the back of the pavilion, hoping to make it back to my own room before the crush of the departing crowd. Outside, the night spread almost moonless, and the stars shown like jewels in the sky, all the brighter against the darkness. Though I could still hear the thrum of music behind me, the comparative quiet was a relief and I released a sigh that threatened to become a sob.

"A beautiful night, isn't it?"

I quickly wiped the wetness from my cheeks and turned to face the man who addressed me. Arjun stepped out from under the trees, his gold brocaded coat catching the rays of the streetlights and making him glow. Not that he needed lighting to glow. He had long been regarded as the most handsome man in our social set, but like me he was quiet and preferred to remain in the background. Many a mother lamented that he didn't seem to have any interest in taking a wife.

When he reached for my hand, I let him take it and press it to his lips. I stifled a laugh at the formality of the gesture. It seemed so strange from a man I'd known since we were small children. A suppressed smile made his own eyes turn down and I knew he was teasing me, so I swept into an elaborate curtsy, spreading my blue and green skirts around me like sea foam.

"So, our Ananya is leaving us."

The smile fell from my face and my barely contained tears threatened to break their dam. I took a deep breath and let it out shakily. "Yes. They're going to New Zealand for their honeymoon, and then to France. Sai has offices everywhere."

He nodded. "Everywhere but here."

I dipped my head. His finger stroked my cheek and lifted my face. "It will be all right, Diya. You won't be alone. You will always have me."

My eyes widened. What did he mean? I turned to ask him, but he had already melted away into the darkness under the trees. I touched my cheek where his fingers had brushed it, and turned to find the path to my room. My step was lighter now, and my heart felt full.

Always? did he really mean that? I had to admit, part of me hoped he did.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

IWSG: Choosing Favorites

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

This month's wonderful co-hosts are Diane Burton, Kim Lajevardi, Sylvia Ney, Sarah Foster, Jennifer Hawes, and Madeline Mora-Summonte

Be sure to check out their blogs (and others on this great blog hop) when you're finished here! This month's (optional) question: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

I've written the most superhero, so you might think it's my favorite, and I do love my superpower set.

But the truth is that what I really love writing is something I haven't written before. 

That's why I've spent the past year writing young adult dystopian romance (three things I've never done all in one project!) and why my next project is a Gothic romance.

It's why my back burner project list of partially complete manuscripts includes a paranormal middle grades, a historical fiction trilogy, and a work of women's issues fiction.

My short story catalogue is even more diverse, from superhero, to Golden Age exploratory science fiction, to daylight ghost stories, to Southern Gothic, to mad science, to horror (upcoming release!).

Pretty much, my motto is: "variety is the spice of a writing life."

I really love exploring something new and finding my own take on it. Both as a reader and a writer, I'm looking for something I haven't seen before, or at least a new twist or angle on something I feel like I already know. For me, it's a way to keep my enthusiasm high. As soon as I feel like I've mastered a challenge, it's time to take on a new one. The spice must flow!

How about the rest of you out there? Are you devotee of any particular genre or more of an omni-reader/writer? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.