Letters from home

Why did I end up sticking with this particular naming scheme? No idea. But I guess I’m rolling with it.

Classes started up again this week. It’s nice to have structure, even though I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of the Zoom calls. I’ve stopped going to some of the professional development calls, because it’s just . . .

I’m an extravert. I like working from the office because there are people to chat and I run into people at the Keurig and we can keep up with each other. I live with other people – more people than I ever have before, right now, but I’m deeply uncomfortable living alone. I like being around other people. But wow this is so many Zoom calls, this is kind of too many people. It’s like a high-volume meeting day except every day. The only upside* is that I can do so from the comfort of my own home.

But the sheer volume of contact means that I’m finding it incredibly relaxing that Tristan and Alexis are currently on Flour Quest.

Maybe I should back up. Today Tristan and I needed to go pick up prescriptions at Walgreens.

I wore a scarf over my face for part of it, because that’s following CDC guidelines. Tristan didn’t. The Carrs, when they went to pick up our CSA share, also didn’t. Which makes it feel a little pointless: a household is as susceptible as the least cautious member. But I wasn’t the only person in Walgreens with a mask: they’re apparently becoming more normal. And they had safe distance slots for queueing marked in tape on the floor, as you can see above.

But we still needed to actually go, because controlled substances such as a couple of our prescriptions cannot be sent via mail. This seems generally problematic, because immune compromised people can still need medications that you currently need an ID to pick up. Hopefully we’re not all going to be sheltering in place for much longer, but I do think that it’s something policy would do well to address.

So we went to pick stuff up, and got Subway while we were out: ordered online, then only me going into the store, staying as far as possible from the only other customer there, who was in as representative of his family, with two kids waiting in a truck outside.

When we got home, Alexis and I got talking about bread. Our CSA share, we get bread as an add-on, but I think we’ve also both been seeing everyone making their own bread on social media. Alexis has sourdough starter on the stove: I hadn’t noticed it before. But it should be ready by midweek, which is when we’ll probably be out of our other bread. And I’ve been wanting to make bread, though I’m nervous as I don’t think I’ve made yeasted anything before. So we talked a little about that, and then came to the realization: we’d go through flour really fast if we started making bread, and there have been shortages. King Arthur Flour, which is what Alexis really likes, is several weeks backordered on most of their more popular flours. I went through their website as Alexis went through grocery websites, seeing where we could get flours. But King Arthur is down to just flours that aren’t suitable for most breads, because we are far from original in this idea.

I think it’s really worth noting that a lot of shortages right now aren’t due to panic or mismanagement: they’re because people are at home. There’s a great article on Medium talking about the fact that commercial toilet paper is not what’s selling out now. Likewise, people suddenly eating lunches at home (for themselves or for kids who normally eat at a cafeteria) are using a lot more bread in sandwiches, and people with a lot of free time and energy and boredom are looking at shelves that are light on bread and deciding to make their own. People are, in many cases, more bored than worried. And bread is an ideal antidote for people working from home in that it is a staple that takes a lot of hours where you need to be nearby but not necessarily paying a lot of attention. Also you can Instagram it.

Alexis doesn’t care about Instagram, but she does care about bread. So she and Tristan (because Alexis doesn’t drive) hit on the idea of going to the local Asian grocery, as we’ve both heard about them generally being better stocked right now. The plan was, if flour couldn’t be found in the grocery store a mile away, they’d head across town to the Asian grocery, and pick up flour and maybe more Lysol wipes so we can sanitize stuff that comes into the house more thoroughly.

So it was very quiet for a while.

But now they have returned, triumphant, and later this week we should have sourdough.

*This is a lie: another upside is that no one can see when I’m playing games on my tablet the whole meeting.


At one point, I had ten weeks of posts queued here.

I am down to two, because I keep forgetting and losing track of days.

Part of that is that I’m just involved in different conversations about writing, on different platforms. I spend a lot of time on tumblr these days: mostly involved in fan things, but discussing writing and story structure nonetheless, and reading a lot more about social justice and science.

I’m also not freelancing, or particularly on the hunt for freelance work. I’m writing as much as I’d like, and don’t need this to push myself to write or talk about writing: if anything, I need more of a push to get off the internet and talk to people.

So we’re coming off a weekly schedule. New posts will happen whenever, so some manner of subscription will probably be the best way to keep up if you’re interested.

Happy writing!


One of the reasons I’m on Blogger rather than WordPress is that I love the back end. It’s high-contrast and the writing area for posts is big and there are fewer buttons.

I like simple. I like clean. For this blog, I don’t need the advanced design and media that come with WordPress, because all I’m doing is blogging. WordPress is where I work, Blogger is where I play.
I didn’t leave everything completely default, though. I have pages – all there visible at the top – because I do things and you can give me money for them. In my sidebar I have a short bio and a pic because it tells you who you are reading, and a list of links to find me on those other sites that I regularly use, and a place to subscribe by email or publicly recommend my blog. I have my archives, neatly in drop-downs, so that you can navigate. I have a cloud of tags, to give you another way to navigate and also because it amuses me greatly that the tag ‘Seneca Crane’s beard’ has more than one post attached to it.
I have a blogroll of other sites to check out, because some of my friends and family also have internet presences and that’s neat. I also have the World Community Grid square there, because that’s a neat project that more people should be involved in.
Most of the blog is black and white, because that’s easy to read, and I like easy to read and simple. The background is yellow because I wanted some colour, and yellow is cheerful. I also picked yellow because I looked up some stuff on colour-blindness and it looks reasonably similar no matter what kind of colour-blindness one has. That was a thought, because my dad is colour-blind and I’m ridiculously sentimental.
Sometimes design is about more than just branding, or other factors, like wanting it no-fuss, will inform branding and design decisions. For me, it was important that these decisions be made deliberately, because I didn’t want to put something together only to change it later when I thought of something better.


I never wanted to write this post.

I am from the West Coast and from Madison, Wisconsin. I am from liberal places that pride themselves on being liberal and forward-thinking. I went to high school in the city that hosts the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention, WisCon.

I also abhor ad misericordiam (I am sad so I am right) arguments or anything that sounds like them at all. Logical fallacies and fuzzy thinking are more objectionable to me than a great deal of sexism.

I’m just going to copy and paste part of a conversation here, because all of this is part of a broad conversation about society and what we think of it and how we are working on the parts we don’t like.

  • Mason: You interested in two articles on Sexual harassment in hacker and literary conventions?
  • Me: yes, definitely
  • Mason: http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/08/12/220224/is-sexual-harassment-part-of-hacker-culture
  • Me: unless it’s about readercon
  • Mason: Lolz
  • Mason: Then ignore the readercon link
  • Mason: And go with the Defcon one
  • Me: lolk
  • Mason: It’ll pop into a few articles about various hacker cons
  • Me: yeah
  • Me: it’s interesting
  • Me: I am glad I am tall
  • Me: I get very little physical harassment
I shared a story about work, which made him say ‘bleh.’
  • Me: and it’s better here than it was in the midwest
  • Mason: Really?
  • Me: it’s been over a month since anyone called me ‘sweetie,’ and no one has called me ‘doll’ here even once
  • Me: I get maybe a customer a day who drifts to talk to a male coworker at some point
  • Me: I get an average of a customer a week who will ask me and a male coworker the same questions and only believe his answers
  • Me: this is -better- than Madison
  • Mason: I was just going to ask if sweetie was that bad, but I can’t imagine it being said in any capacity that doesn’t convey condescension
He ended up linking me to the Red/Yellow Card Project, which is really neat, especially in that it does not require me to continue to be verbal. That’s important, as I tend to shut down when people are behaving inappropriately. If someone is making inappropriate comments or staring at my chest, no matter how much I object to it in principle and wish the behaviour would stop, I can rarely find the words, or am not brave enough to say them because it’ll make the whole group awkward, and so I smile vacantly and don’t associate with the group again if I can at all help it. This is not good. I am letting myself be cut off from social interactions, and they are not being told that what they are doing is not okay.
Those awkward moments that come from someone being called on behaviour are important. One of my coworkers didn’t learn until his late 30s that ‘gypped’ referred to being cheated, as by gypsies, and has now wiped it completely from his vocabulary. If someone had pointed it out earlier, even if it had caused some momentary awkwardness and tension, if would have stopped him saying such things in front of people who might have been hurt by it.
White Knighting is a related but opposed concept. If you are in a group, and someone is saying something sexist to a woman present, and you are a man, before you step in to call the person on it (which is going to be your first automatic reaction, because you are a decent human being), consider: how is the woman reacting? 
  • Does she look like she’s gearing up to tell him off?
    •  If so, cutting her off is part of denying her agency, and is also a problem. 
  • Does she look really uncomfortable and unsure how to respond? 
    • Then your calling the other person out is probably appropriate. Refer to Seebs’ guide on calling people out for generally good principles and ideas on how to communicate that you want him to stop the behaviour without inducing defensive behaviour.
  • Is she ripping him a new one? 
    • Reactionary vitriol is not constructive: shout at everyone.
      • Don’t do this.
I never wanted to write this post, but I realized I had to when Mason asked my about my experience of sexism and misogyny and I responded that it wasn’t that bad. I should not be minimizing and making excuses. I want to be the kind of person who can call people on their nonsense no matter the context. Part of that is admitting that the problem exists, and it is a problem.
It’s the kind of problem that escalates into the ReaderCon fiasco, the kind of problem that means that I hadn’t heard of WisCon until after I moved away, the kind of problem that means that pay disparity still exists. Just because it’s not much of a problem for me personally doesn’t mean I’m allowed to ignore it, which is why I had to write this post.

Comic Books

I had a brief, intense love affair with DCs new 52 when they relaunched. By ‘intense’ I mean I spent a few hundred dollars on comics over the course of several months, and by ‘brief’ I mean I still haven’t read all of them.

I’ve been reading webcomics since 2005 or so, and those are a different experience completely: they update usually at least once a week, instead of once a month, most are not quite so sweepingly epic as superhero comics, and most have a specific end-point that they will eventually reach. All of these things, and the fact that they are free, make the emotional investment in the story easier for me.

But movies aren’t made about webcomics (usually, Piled Higher and Deeper being the only exception I know of), and most won’t recognize a Halloween costume as Kano from Kagerou (though more people should: it is an excellent comic, and fully as epic as any superhero comic). It felt like an important cultural thing that I was missing out on, so when the new 52 made everything fresh and accessible to a new reader, I went straight for it.

The week they launched, I was in Florida on vacation, and I and the person I was with scooped up all of the ones that had come out and spent the afternoon reading. It was really cool, seeing the different ways paneling was done and the various distinct art styles. So when I came back, I went to a couple of the local comic shops until I found one that I really liked – Legends on Johnson St – and asked them about setting up a pull list (so that they would set aside issues of all of the comics I wanted to read as they came out). I also started reading Fables and Batwoman, starting with the compilation Batwoman: Elegy.

They were amazing. I have a weakness for fairy tales, and Fables is done amazingly well. Batwoman: Elegy had amazing art and a complete storyline in one book and an admirable hero with no superpowers. Then everything else started coming out. Aquaman was neat in the way he was so incredibly grumpy and no one took him seriously in-world. All Star Western had horror and gore and Western stuff and lots of whores in can-can dresses. Wonder Woman had takes on myths that were interesting in their own right, as well as the superhero aspect.

But then, across the board, the whores in can-can dresses proved to be some of the most conservatively dressed female characters. I have no problems with fanservice (otherwise I’d have objected to the gratuitously shirtless scene Chris Hemsworth had in Thor), but it seemed that most shots with female characters were about fanservice. Many more socially aware people than I have talked about the issues with that, like Escher Girls. I didn’t have explicit problems with that at the start, just the kind of instinctive ‘meh’ that I also get around video games where the high-level armour for female characters would get someone arrested for public indecency. Batwoman and Wonder Woman were the exceptions to that, but Wonder Woman didn’t grab me as much as Batwoman, in part I think because I’m not as familiar with Greek myth as I ought to be.

It was also that the stories didn’t go anywhere. Sure, they killed or avoided killing bad guys and there were conspiracies and things blew up, but there was no real character growth or change in the world, and I’m aware enough of comics to know that before the reboot, they’d gone a good 50 years without sitting back and going ‘okay, this is done now.’ The prospect of nothing ending was one of the major factors in my disengaging, I think. I want my reading, whether it takes three hours or twenty, to eventually yield a conclusion and let me walk away. If it’s well done it’ll haunt me and I’ll want to revisit it or hunt down other things the creator has made or wish desperately for just one more sequel, but it’s done. Comics don’t give you that very often.

I have that issue with book series, too, like Animorphs or the Aurora Teagarden books. If I can’t see some manner of wrap-up looming on the horizon, I lose interest. Given the popularity of long-running series, I am not necessarily part of any kind of overwhelming majority there.

That’s a rough summary of my love affair with comics. I’m glad I had it, as I have more context to be excited now when superhero movies come out, and I understand a bit of the culture around it. I also have most of the components of a fantastic Batwoman costume.


At work, we can now directly email people their receipts. This is a handy feature, as a few weeks ago I managed to accidentally explode the printer for a while (it got better). It is reliant, of course, on people having email.

Modern life more or less requires some level of electronic engagement, even if it’s just a cell phone. I’m usually the odd man out in a group in that I don’t have one. I have a laptop and an old laptop that’d work if I just got a charger and a Wii and a Kobo Vox, but I’m still cell phone free (I make up for this by nearly constantly being on my laptop and having a Skype number). Most cell phones now come with the ability to browse the web – thus the rise of QR codes. Which means that even ads on the sides of busses now have an online component.

This is a long lead-up to tell you that, if you are an author, you need a website.

They’re not hard to set up – WordPress.com and Blogger both have easily navigable back-ends. They both make excellent blog platforms, but it you have no wish to blog, then you can set up a static site, just listing your works and where they can be purchased.

That is a bare minimum for engagement, in this modern era. Giving readers a way to contact you or interact with you is a better route: a contact email (set up a free webmail account if you don’t want it sent to your personal email), or a blog. A forum is perhaps not quite the thing unless you know there will be interaction on it, but it is an option as well.

The More I Blog

The more I post on this blog, the more it becomes for my own enrichment.

When I started, I had grand visions of it helping me find clients and leveraging into an advertising revenue stream as well as sending people my way.

The fact of the matter is, though, that I don’t blog enough for that to happen. Blogging in a way that keeps people engaged requires doing so more often than I do: daily works well for many people, and microblogs like Twitter thrive on many more than that.

But I like talking to friends, or reading blogs, or writing fiction. When I have chunks of time I could dedicate to prolonged fiction writing or blogging or polishing my rusty art skills, sometimes I’ll just choose to watch a movie and knit (my well-used Netflix subscription can attest to how often ‘sometimes’ is). I guard my time jealously.

If I were spending a great deal of my fiction-writing time putting the finishing touches on something just about to hit the market, I’d spend more time researching it. If I encountered more new things I didn’t expect to have changed dramatically in the next few months, I’d spend more time researching that, too. But, with no pressing need to know exactly which channel for publication will work best for me (KDP Select looks best, especially if you make sure you get reviews before you use your promo days, but I’ve only spent a couple hours researching), it’s easy for me to get caught up reading social justice blogs or fanfiction or meta-analysis of video games.

And this post is my permission to myself to do just that.

This blog stands as a reminder that I should always be researching and trying to improve my writing, but it’s okay if I do other things sometimes, as long as I am still able to churn out a coherent chunk of writing-related non-fiction every week.


I had, until tonight, never watched Labyrinth. I’ve read things about it, seen meta discussions of it, and been subjected to pictures of David Bowie’s hair from it, but I had not seen the thing itself.

Since it’s rather ridiculously late at night, I figured I may as well liveblog it. And by ‘liveblog’ I mean ‘write it up and the queue it for like three weeks from now in case I am lacking in bloggable ideas.’

Seven minutes in, and Sarah is really ridiculously melodramatic. She makes me cringe. Liked the transition in the garden with setting jarring stuff, though.

The goblins are amazingly adorable.

David Bowie’s eyebrows are amazing, and I think it’s Sarah’s voice that I hate.

The Labyrinth itself is really, really neat.

Something I love about the visual medium more than the written one is clothes. Specifically, David Bowie’s coat. But also Seneca Crane’s beard. Reading about gaudy things and internalizing ‘okay, yes, ridiculous and blingy and wasteful’ and seeing absurd and fabulous are different things.

It’s like the problem of translating Lord of the Rings to film: long passages of the books are encompassed in a single long shot of New Zealand. As a corollary to that, an accurate description of David Bowie’s coat would most likely be boring and overdone and ruin the pacing of the story. The coat may be as awesome as the eyebrows.

I had been worried, momentarily, that at the end she would be required in proper bildungsroman fashion to leave childish things like goblins behind at the end of her journey. The dance party is excellent. I am glad she left David Bowie’s creepy love/possession thing behind, though.

Dance Magic is possibly my new favourite song.

The Hunger Games

So, I just saw The Hunger Games tonight, but I’m delaying this post because, well, there are spoilers, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who wants to see it in theatres still.

I really liked the movie, and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. The scene where she volunteered instead of Prim made me tear up, and I loved the way she looked really tomboyish and aggressive and out of place in a dress when she was declaring herself.

I found myself both annoyed at how long it took to get to the Capital and disappointed that they took out the Mayor’s daughter completely. Taking out the Mayor’s daughter changes some of the symbolism of the Mockingjay pin – in the books, the pin was given to her, starting the cycle of all of her symbolism being given to her. Cinna does a spectacular job and makes her a symbol of District 12, Haymitch and Peeta make her a symbol of star-crossed lover (yes, she plays along, later, but she does it to please Haymitch: she understands PR pretty much as ‘things that will please Haymitch’), and pretty much everyone else makes her a symbol of rebellion, the mockingjay embodied. She plays her part, and largely fulfills the roles she’s given, but she doesn’t consciously or deliberately choose the roles themselves. She takes what is presented to her.

Without the Mayor’s daughter, she chooses her symbol herself. It’ll be interesting to see if that crops up later on or if I’m just a symbolism nerd. It was understandable from a time point of view to cut a very minor character, but the method of storytelling effects change even without that sort of cut.

Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss was not the only reason I liked Katniss more in the movie than the book. Not being able to hear her thoughts makes it a lot easier to like her. When we are in Katniss’ head, the thought that she can’t go home without Peeta because they’ll hate her makes sense: we understand it. But when all we can see is her face as she looks torn, it’s easier to be charitable to her. Empathetic characters, and first-person narrators, are not always as likable as third person characters. I really loved the cuts to the Capital, as well.

Especially Seneca Crane’s beard. Seneca Crane’s beard kind of stole the show. Which, it seems, everyone already knows:

Ender’s Game and character building

Ender’s Game and the subsequent books were important to me, not just as a smart, alienated teenager, but as a writer. The second point is less trodden into the ground, so let’s go with that.

Han Qing-jao of the novel Xenocide was one of the only reasons I enjoyed that particular installment in the series. She’s part of the nobility of the planet Path, a Chinese-inspired culture where nobility and meritocracy are comingled by means of genetic programming. The nobility of Path are known as the ‘godspoken,’ because along with brilliance, they are ‘gifted’ with crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that is understood as service to the gods.

In Xenocide, this was done deliberately by the government as a means of controlling their geniuses.

It was the first time I really noticed that many totalitarian shadow regimes – sometimes know as authors – cripple their characters in this way. Not all of them, and many times in novels starring primarily adults it’s backstory and not current concern, but enough that I have a long and thorough and distressing list.

I understand part of the motivation for crippling characters. We want to want to write characters readers will want to connect to emotionally, because nothing’s quite as satisfying as being told someone cried at something you wrote. A lot of the time, we do that by trying to create characters readers will not necessarily fall in love with, but will identify with.

Sometimes – often – this involves taking extraordinary characters and giving them quite notable flaws to make them seem more ‘human.’ Crippling flaws, usually. In the Enderverse, this is mostly shown through smart people having really, really awful lives. Like Ender, perpetually guilt-ridden over his xenocide. Like Virlomi, who’s smart enough to set herself up as a religious figure for political power, and stupid enough to get caught up in her own hype and therefore totally useless. Like Bean, the most brilliant character in the series and so also with a genetic condition like severe giantism, which will cause his body to break down and eventually kill him horribly. And like Qing-jao, slave to her own brain.

The flaws are supposed to make them feel closer to hand, partly because real people go through things that suck, too, but partly – and this is the important bit – because writers want to make being spectacular in some highly visible way seem as if it has a price attached. Making people reading political space adventures and also wars feel better about not proceeding to start a religion or contribute to a new world order or discovering a new life form (and then going crazy, but we don’t talk about that) encourages complacency.

Speculative fiction is about reaching out and exploring, and that shouldn’t be just an authorial privilege. Remarkable characters don’t have to be horribly flawed to be relatable, and achievement on a large scale doesn’t have to be made out as sin or suffering.