Random Notions
reading, writing, and the attempt to beat every FreeCell game included with Windows XP

25 January 2009, 11:01 PM

Reading - December 2008

What I read last month:

  • Reread the first three books of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain chronicles. This was sort of an experience--I haven't read them since I was an early teenager, and I'd forgotten how uncomplicated they are. Lots of things are only a day's journey--maybe two--although this might extend as long as a few weeks if necessary for the plot. Character development is told as often as shown, although this gets a bit better by the third book. Still, they feel more like the outline of a book I'd read now than a whole book in and of themselves. I'm wondering if I'll feel the same way when I reread Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence--long my favorite books in the wrold.
  • The second and third Buffy Season 8 comic compilations. Not sure about the whole Buffy/Satsu thing. Sure, women have more flexible sexuality in general, but...somehow, in my head, just not Buffy. The Master and Xander, however, cracked me up like nobody's business.
  • Peter Sagal's Book of Vice. review--three and a half stars
  • Leonie Swann's Three Bags Full. review--four stars
  • Robert Sawyer's Hominids. review--three stars
  • Jo Walton's Farthing. review--five stars

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Reading
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) and references here (0) .

9 February 2007, 1:02 AM

The groove

I've been writing little stories to put in the Valentine's day cards I'm sending to some of my friends. I've been failing so far in my "write more" campaign--at least till now--so I'm fascinated at how much more quickly I'm able to pick up writing again than after my last hiatus.

The last one, granted, was at least five years long. And I hadn't done much serious fiction writing, even then. But I thought the process would be similar: a lot of starts and stops, waiting for the right words, constantly editing even though I know I shouldn't. But it's completely different.

I feel...like my thought processes, at least the ones not related to physics, are writerly. So even in terms of social thinking, I tend to "practice" conversations, which is an awful lot like writing a story with real people as characters. And the exercise of writing these little stories for my friends is less like laboring to come up with something that works, and more like becoming aware again that I can capture these fleeting bits of fancy my brain creates all the time. I'll be sitting somewhere, think, "Oh, that would make a nice bit of a story," and there's a beat before I remember that--oh yes! I CAN write it down! And because I'm trying to write now, in a way I haven't had time to for a while, that's more...directed than it was before.

It also feels pleasantly like cleaning out cobwebs from my mind.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Writing
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) and references here (0) .

26 November 2006, 10:11 PM

Grad school and such

It's funny--I'm much busier now with grad school than I think I've ever been, but it's much easier than my busy times in undergrad.

For one thing, I don't really have many friends here yet (I've only been here a couple of months, after all) and so I'm not spending a lot of time hanging out with people. That sounds sort of depressing but it's fine--I have some friends, just not a plethora.

Mostly, though, I think it's the lack of busy work. Most semesters I had some kind of class that was way too easy, and it's...draining. I guess it's like pushing the gas pedal on your car when you're in neutral, or something--the engine revs, but you don't really go anywhere, so you get wear & tear for no purpose. But all my stuff is hard now! Wow! But not impossibly so--it's stuff I feel like I can do, just not stuff I know how to do the minute I look at it.

I haven't been writing much so I'm determined to start doing an hour a day (probably after finals--it strikes me as a horrible idea to stick to that kind of plan the week I need to start studying, when I'm still cold). It's been so long since I've really written a lot that the normal banked oven of skill is totally dead and everything on the back burners is gelatinous and kind of disgusting, so I should build up slowly--so I'm counting correspondence and blog posts, for the moment. (I seem to have a thing for inappropriate analogies at the moment.)

In good news, I just got a Levenger lap desk for my birthday (a little early since I was home). Yay for working on soft surfaces!

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Science
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) and references here (1) .

7 December 2005, 2:12 AM

Status Update, of sorts

Grad school applications have eaten my head. One of these days I'll write another word of fiction...

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Misc
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

28 November 2005, 12:11 PM

Short Story Journal, 11/29/05

Last one! Modern short stories this week.

O'Brien, Dixon, Davis, Wilkerson

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Short Story Journal
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

8 November 2005, 4:11 PM

Short Story Journal 11/08/05

Some, uh, disturbing things in this week's edition...

Erdrich, Oates, Kafka, Ellison

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Short Story Journal
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

25 October 2005, 6:10 PM

Searching for Women in the Military stories

Does anyone know any short stories featuring women soldiers? I'm doing a paper looking at characterization of military personnel in a few short stories, and I'd like at least one sample with female characters.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Reading
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

24 October 2005, 7:10 PM

Short Story Journal 10/25/05

More genre--horror and mystery this time.

King, Poe, Hammett, Sayers

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Short Story Journal
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

2 October 2005, 8:10 PM

Reading Journal 10/04/05

Wahoo! Spec fic!

Marquez, Allende, Vonnegut, Le Guin

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Short Story Journal
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

20 September 2005, 5:09 PM

Reading Journal 09/20/05

This week's stories are a spotlight on James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. As might be expected, I love the former and loathe the latter, so...

Style and story and something-else-starting-with-s, oh my!

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Short Story Journal
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

13 September 2005, 5:09 PM

Reading Journal 09/14/05

Today's stories: "The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gilman; "A Rose for Emily," William Faulkner; "Girl," Jamaica Kincaid; "The Sky is Grey," Ernest J. Gaines

Onward and upward to the stories

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Reading , Short Story Journal
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

9 September 2005, 12:09 AM

Short Story Writing

I don't claim to have a lot of experience editing short stories--I'm still new on the workshop, of course, and I've had some but not a lot of experience in class.

One thing I've noticed, though, possibly because of that inexperience, is a proliferation of stories which read like outlines. Some of them are like this a bit, with spaces of description in between vivid scenes; others are nothing but related action. I suppose I can't really talk, because the short story I just sent off a couple of weeks ago is 3/4 the protag relating how this situation got about and only about 1/4 current action; but I hope the narration was at least engaging.

So, questions:

1. Is this because some writers try to fit novel-sized plots in short stories, rather than taking stories which are more innately suited to the short story form?

2. Is this because it's the mode of most people to start writing as a teller (not the comedian) and only gradually to move into a shower (not the bathroom fixture), and I've just found people who are part of the way there?

3. Is this because I suck as a reader of short stories?

4. How many licks does it take....er, sorry, different area of expertise required.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Writing
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

30 August 2005, 4:08 PM

Reading Journal, 08/30/05

So I'm taking this class on short stories. It's really interesting--I haven't ever studied the form as a form, just as part of the Big Class o' Stuff Known As Literature.

The teacher's asked us to keep a reading journal, and I thought I'd do it here, to educate the large number of people who .... are not reading this journal at all, really. But it's handy and I can write in it anywhere with the Net, so.

Onward and upward! Chekhov, Oates, Cather, Gilchrist.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Reading , Short Story Journal
Full pamphlet here .

17 August 2005, 2:08 PM


It's funny how nervous I get about my writing. When I woke up this morning, I thought, "Oooh! I should go check if the story I posted last night on OWW got any reviews!"

Two hours after coming downstairs, I finally check my email. I'm still trying to get up the courage to look at the actual review.

Well, I get this nervous about everything, I guess. I need to know but I'm just so worried that it'll be bad...

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Writing
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

19 July 2005, 11:07 PM

The Moviegoing Experience


To quote: His remarks were echoed by Jim Kozak, editor-in-chief of In Focus, the magazine of the National Association of Theater Owners. "When [patrons] get there early to get a really good seat, they like to have something to keep them busy, something to do besides talk to the person they came with."

I'm trying to decide what's worst about this statement: that he thinks people like the fact that movies start 15 minutes or more after they're supposed to; that he thinks people don't like to talk at the movies; or that he might actually be right...

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Movies
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

18 July 2005, 11:07 PM



I'd like to see that, only, y'know, not in Britain. Oh well.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Misc
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

1 July 2005, 2:07 AM

Music associations

I've just been going through my collection of instrumental or non-English-or-French vocal music, assigning categories to all the songs. (I don't speak French well, but I know just enough that hearing occasional words will drive me nuts.)

Anyway...I had a point...oh yes. I'm fascinated that every single piece by the Canadian Brass makes me think of mid-1800s society. See, I used to watch the 1994 version of Little Women all the time, and the score is very heavy on brass. Took me a while to figure that out, though. It's rare that I have such strong associations, but I can't stand any brass except the highest quality--the thing I hated most about percussion was always sitting behind the trumpets.

Oh, and a capella with a wide range of voice parts will always be Church Music to me. I don't know why, as I never attended church and wasn't a great fan of spiritual works; I think it may have had something to do with the choice of music in all the choirs in which I sang.

So, the short version of this is, when I'm writing spiritual stories, or stories set in a world similar to mid-1800s Western society...the songs on the soundtrack are ALL GOING TO SOUND THE SAME. Hee.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Writing
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

30 June 2005, 12:06 AM

A tribute to laziness

In this month's Discover magazine, there's a short entry in the Flash column of the R&D section on a study that was done on problem-solving skills vs. position. Apparently, you can solve problems faster when you're lying down; even the minor effort involved in sitting or standing triggers the release of norephinephrine, a stress hormone. I'm assuming this means you'd be better at other cognitive skills, too. So I'm feeling a little more justified in my recent purchase of a laptop--since apparently it isn't just my imagination that I write better prone. :>

Of course, I'm also a little puzzled at the entry two down from that blurb, which states that researchers say overweight people have a lower risk of death than average-weight people. That's the literal phrase. "Lower risk of death." What, immortals are more likely to be obese? (Insert your own joke about Buddha figurines here.) I suddenly want to write a story on that. "Well, I'm never going to die, so I might as well indulge in my vices...mmm, chocolate!" Usually when I've seen this done it's smoking. Or alternately, "Scientist proves death-defying power of Popsicles!"

Also, further to yesterday's bit on LHoD, has anyone noticed the similarity between Estraven and estrange? (This is probably because I pronounce "Estraven" as ess-TRAY-ven, rather than ESS-truh-ven, like everybody else I know.) However, Ursula Le Guin has said before that the similarity between Ged and God came as a complete surprise to her when someone mentioned it years later; this, I think, would be the same.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Reading , Writing
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

28 June 2005, 2:06 AM

On The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is one of my all-time favorite books. My high opinion of it is shared by...er...pretty much everyone I've ever talked to about it. It's also one of the books I see most recommended to people who aren't science fiction fans, which plays into one of the reasons I really enjoy it: the way the experience of the story morphs from reading to reading.

The first time I read the book, Genly Ai was a window. I didn't pay attention to his character at all; I was him, interacting with the people of Gethen, learning about them, making the journey at the end, feeling the weirdness of the final moments. The first reading for me was a mind-blowing story of politics and the study of the other; what I remember pulling from the book was a fascination with the social system involved, especially in how it may or may not have related to the word around me. I was about fourteen at the time, and this was my second Le Guin book.

The second reading, a couple of years later, was a completely different experience. Now I knew the culture and the people; the story this time was Genly's, how he grew and changed as a character, with help from a hard-to-penetrate Gethenian named Estraven. This was the first time I really paid attention to the...oh, heavens, I can't remember the word for it; the foretelling. And I paid attention as well to the structure of the story, how even the parts from Estraven's viewpoint reflect on what we can assume is Genly's retelling or translation. For a more capable reader, I assume this type of reading and the previous one would be combined.

And then the third reading. The third reading is where I decided I loved this book, because on the third reading the entire story is about Estraven. And Estraven is really damn cool. But I think knowing Genly first is a prerequisite—because Estraven rarely (to my memory) tells you anything about himself, and when he does, you have to deal with Genly's reactions. The rest of the story, and thus Estraven's actions, are also told in one way or another from Genly's point of view. So you need to know Genly, you need to know your filter, before you can understand the pain and the hope and the joy of Estraven's story.

The fourth reading was the reading of shifgrethor, but I'm very bad at social things, so perhaps it was a more integral part of the story for everybody else.

Anyway, if others' reading experiences are similar to my own, I think this is one of the reasons we tend to recomend LHoD (other than its quality, of course). Genly is an excellent proxy to understanding the world, explaining it to a level that you rarely see in sf, especially while engaging so directly with its inhabitants. Genly's attempts with the Gethenians mirror the way readers may be struggling to understand science fiction, and so the experience is less jarring than it might otherwise have been for readers used to a purely mimetic experience.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Reading
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

27 June 2005, 12:06 AM

Enjoyment and quality of genre fiction

I attend the University of Iowa, home to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, which is known as one of the best graduate writing prorams in the country. They're known for realist writing—not a place where spec fic authors are encouraged, to understate the case. Many of the teachers here are less than fond of genre writing. I've always taken strong offense to this--how can they not realize the brilliance of, say, Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness? This also goes along with the occasionally-heard statement, "Oh that's not science fiction—it's too good," another sentiment I dislike.

But then again, I don't really like most literature, as it's used in English classes. It's okay, but it doesn't speak to me the way speculative fiction does. And, eventually, this got me thinking about what we use to define quality.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Reading
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

26 June 2005, 9:06 PM


Changing the look of the site rather completely; please forgive the weirdnesses for the next couple of hours.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Admin
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

21 June 2005, 12:06 AM

Too much thinking about overarching themes

FreeCell continues apace. Why, with this stellar regimen, I could be finished with all the games in a mere 109.57 years! Go me!

In other, more interesting news, I've been thinking about...

voyeurism and Sweeney Todd.

Thus wrote Melanie in the categories: Musical Theatre
Full pamphlet here , with notations here (0) .

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