I’m off to Calgary

Goin’ to Alberta soon,
Gonna be a dental floss tycoon!

Ok, maybe not precisely that, but I will be attending Calgary WordFest, giving exciting talks on the 10th and 11th. If you’re in town, come see me!

If you’re nowhere near Calgary, never fear. I will leave you with interesting things to read and think about.

First, at Lady Business, an informative post on Gender Balance and YA Award Winners Since 2000. I notice they did not include the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award, so I include the stats here (with the caveat that some of the books may be middle grade and at least one looks like nonfiction) — 7 male, 5 female.

Zoe Marriot has some interesting things to say in response: Women Dominate? In What Universe?

Also buzzing through the YA blogosphere yesterday, an article from Read Now, Sleep Later about perceived stigma around the very label “Young Adult” – YA Shame and Stigma.

I come from comics and from SF/F, so I’m not entirely convinced YA has much of a stigma, or at least not universally. Sales don’t reflect that. Rapid expansion of the genre doesn’t reflect that. And honestly, are there books with NO stigma from anyone? Don’t we all turn up our noses at genres we dislike (or haven’t tried)? We are creatures of habit, and we prejudge things readily on little evidence. My personal stigmatized genres include “books where doggies die” and “adult literature that takes itself way too seriously”. I’m almost certainly missing a lot of great books because of these irrational biases, but what to do? I’m also missing a lot of great books by virtue of not having time to read them.

All right, darlings, take care. Be excellent to each other until I return.

Writing RUSH

If you know me at all, you know I love the band RUSH. I didn’t always; they put something in the water here to make you impress upon the first Canadian music you hear. Could’ve been worse. Could’ve been Bieber.

Anyway, I got their latest album, Clockwork Angels, for my birthday and have found it completely impenetrable. Now, I’m used to a certain amount of this from RUSH. All their songs sound like noise to me at first. This album, though, is requiring more stubbornness than usual.

So when I heard Clockwork Angels was also going to be a novel, I had mixed feelings. I couldn’t decide whether it sounded awesome or vaguely embarrassing. Or, y’know, utterly impenetrable.

Well, having read Anderson’s guest post over at Scalzi’s, I’m feeling somewhat reassured. The author really likes RUSH, anyway — in fact he seems to like a lot of the same prog rock as me. (Now I am vaguely embarrassed, because I actually had dinner with him in San Diego, and I didn’t talk to him at all. In my defense, I was at the other end of a long table, and I was exhausted, but still. I wish I’d made more effort). In fact, I only realized who he was (the writer of all those latter-day Dune novels) as I was leaving (before dessert, because I was exhausted). So: my apologies, Kevin Anderson. I hope we run into each other again sometime; I shall have more to say to you.

I’ll take a look at the book, certainly, but I reckon I should come to better grips with the music first. Still, super fun to read about the role music plays in someone else’s process! And it will be interesting to look for the music in the book.

ETA: thanks to Paige for the link!

ETA2: As my friend Dave astutely points out in the comments, before this album or its novelization, there was a wonderful graphic novel called Clockwork Angels by Lea Hernandez.

I’m trying not to waste time

But that doesn’t mean I can’t waste your time, right? You’re dying to procrastinate, I can tell. Well, I’m here to help, because I’m thoughtful like that!

At my son’s guitar lesson last week, his teacher showed him something called a “step sequencer”. Here’s a website with one you can use. Click on the squares and listen to the interesting results.

This keeps my boy busy for… well, for as long as I’m willing to let him play with it. Which is sometimes, I confess, probably longer than I should. But it’s fascinating, right? No matter what you do, it comes out sounding like music, and that gets one thinking about music. What is music, exactly? Why is this randomness (or not, depending how you approach your note selection) so musical?

Part of the answer is the regular rhythm. Part of it is the fact that they’re using a pentatonic scale, so none of the notes really clash. But part of it is, I think, the tendency of our brains to want to make sense of things, to gravitate toward patterns and find meaning in them.

My son enjoys drawing pictures and writing words with the squares. The result is the Smiley-Face Song, or the Sound of Hello. As intently as he listens, I sometimes wonder whether he’s trying to see if he can tell what the word or picture must be by listening, extrapolating backwards from the sound. I wonder whether that’s even possible.

Did I say I’m trying not to waste time? Apparently I can waste time without even trying!

Petit linkage

  • Fellow writer and internet pal Elizabeth May gives us Five Things to Consider When Creating Realistic Characters.
  • Irish YA author Peadar Ó Guilín is this week’s featured author over at Random Buzzers. His Bone World Trilogy features a cannibal as the main character, which sounds most excellently bizarre to me. The second book is called The Deserter, and I am so desperate to make a pun with the word “dessert” that you see, I’m not even bothering to set up the joke properly, I’m just flinging it out there. Make it yourself. It’s a good one.
  • Here’s a Medieval career planner, which will come in handy once my husband builds a time machine (thanks to Sonia for the link, IIRC). It’s a list of occupations, in fact, but it’s an interesting list and there are lots of jobs that I think should make a comeback somehow. Like “eggler”. Once again, I wish to compose a joke but am not getting very far. A bodger, a fewtrer, and a pavyler walk into a bar…
  • What? Working? Uh. Yes. Yes, I was just about to. Really.

Why yes, I did fall off the face of the earth

But now I’m back, briefly. It’s been a complicated week: Vancouver teachers were on strike for three days, so my boy has been home with me. I’ve been working hard on a super secret project (which may not be super secret in fact, but I’m trying to err on the side of caution these days), and it’s been rough going due to aforementioned boy and the nature of the project. And my own nature, let’s be frank. If you ever need a visual image for “slow and steady”, my picture is probably as good as anything.

Spring break starts next week, which means MORE boy-at-home. We’re travelling for the second week of it, so you may find that posting is light in March and that’s just how it’s gonna be. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you; it means I have too much to do and too few brain cells with which to do it.

I leave you with what may very well be the best algorithmic Hungarian folk dancing you’ve ever seen (hat tip to my friend Josh).

Check out their other videos too. There’s nothing like mathematical folk dance! No, really. Nothing is like it.

My breakfast with Wallace

It seems to be performance week here at the blog!

Here’s an article by Wallace Shawn that just blew my mind. I know. Inconceivable, right? The article is also about Socialism – take that or leave it, as you wish. What really interested me, what punched me right in the stomach, was this:

We are not what we seem. We are more than what we seem. The actor knows that. And because the actor knows that hidden inside himself there’s a wizard and a king, he also knows that when he’s playing himself in his daily life, he’s playing a part, he’s performing, just as he’s performing when he plays a part on stage. He knows that when he’s on stage performing, he’s in a sense deceiving his friends in the audience less than he does in daily life, not more, because on stage he’s disclosing the parts of himself that in daily life he struggles to hide. He knows, in fact, that the role of himself is actually a rather small part, and that when he plays that part he must make an enormous effort to conceal the whole universe of possibilities that exists inside him.

Actors are treated as uncanny beings by non-actors because of the strange voyage into themselves that actors habitually make, traveling outside the small territory of traits that are seen by their daily acquaintances as “them.” Actors, in contrast, look at non-actors with a certain bewilderment, and secretly think: What an odd life those people lead! Doesn’t it get a bit — claustrophobic?

That’s how I feel about writing. That’s it exactly. All these latent potentials that real life has no room for, and they have to come out somewhere. They come out in dance, too. That’s one reason I can get up in front of people and dance: because I am also that. I am also a dragon trapped in human form, and a princess, and a fretful lawyer, and a little Porphyrian boy. It’s all there.

Sometimes I fret that I’m kind of out there for thinking all arts are one art, but then I read something like this and think, no, that’s exactly right.

I (don’t) smell

Fascinating article on synaesthesia in The Economist this week: Smells like Beethoven.

It turns out that people who would not normally consider themselves synaesthetic will still relate musical sounds to flavours – and with an interesting consistency between individuals.

Sweet and sour smells were rated as higher-pitched, smoky and woody ones as lower-pitched. Blackberry and raspberry were very piano. Vanilla had elements of both piano and woodwind. Musk was strongly brass.

Also of note: the same toffee tasted different depending what background music was being played while the subjects ate it. The right music could add bitterness to it.

Ah, brains! Aren’t they wondrous, with all their crossed wires and obsessive (mis)interpretation of data! I don’t find the article surprising at all, but it’s nice to see scientists actually attempting to explore and document the phenomenon.

About seven years ago, I lost my sense of smell in a tragic olfactory accident (not really: I had a rhinovirus so terrible [according to doctors] that it left scar tissue in my nose). My sense of smell has recovered enough that I can now distinguish a fair number of odours, but it’s still far from great.

Back in the early days, however, when it was truly terrible, I used to experience smells oddly. I would use eyesight as an analogy: many of us have glasses, so we know there are gradations of sight. Legally blind people often have some sight, enough to make out large shapes, or distinguish light from darkness. That makes intuitive sense. Gradations of olfactory ability are less intuitive, but they exist. When I first began detecting smells again, for a long time my nose was only sensitive enough to tell that there was a smell present. I couldn’t discern what it was.

The next step was a sense of pitch – or alternately, of brightness. I could determine whether a smell was low (dark) or high (bright), but again, not what it was exactly. That was a very weird bit of information to have, but not as useless as you might suppose. Low-pitched smells often required my attention — diapers, mould, dinner burning.

I can smell all kinds of things now, even some I wish I couldn’t (dog poop), but I’m still not 100%. The thing I smell most clearly: oregano (which I’d say is bassoon-like, ha ha). Oranges, I fear, may be lost to me forever. They have a low, bitter, vomitous dissonance lurking beneath the high, sweet orangy smell; the sweet smell is the stronger of the two, so most people never notice the other one, but it’s the sweet smell that is still muted in my nose. Instead of tasty orange, I mostly smell vomit (trombone?)

Hehe. “Vomit trombone”. I suspect my amusement at THAT juxtaposition says more about my brain than anything else here.

Art and neuroscience

An article from the NYT: Art and the Limits of Neuroscience.

Very interesting. I suspect I have things to say in response, but I’m going to have to let it stew for a few days. Also, the dog is whining to go out, which really has to take precedence over almost anything else. Whatever else is true, dog pee on the floor is not art.

Cold fish

Hello, all! I had a very nice Canadian Thanksgiving, right up until the part where I came down with an ugly cold. I’m still getting over it – and getting over travelling, which is its own special kind of headache.

I’m not up for much of anything today, which made for a frustrating writing day. I’ve been listening to Talk while I write, which is what got me obsessing about YES in the first place. Over the weekend I listened to Time and a Word, which Els’s comment reminded me existed. It had never been one of my favourites, frankly. It always struck me as kind of loopy, but this time I found it delightfully, exuberantly loopy and I don’t think it was the cold meds.

While I’m convalescing, here’s an exuberantly loopy Chris Squire concert solo called “Whitefish”, illustrating why he’s one of my favourite bass players.

Oh, all right, I always have a soft spot for bass; I was a cellist back in the day. But that’s one reason Squire stands out to me: his travelling, almost melodic bass lines remind me of Baroque music. It’s almost a basso ostinato; in some of his solo work, it absolutely is.

And now that I’ve been THAT NERDY, maybe it’s time to sign off.

And a very merry Canadian Thanksgiving to you!

It’s Thanksgiving this weekend, darlings. I know a number of my readers may have been unaware of this fact. I hope I’ve told you in enough time that you can still do something festive.

Here in Vancouver, it is traditional to drink coffee and pretend it isn’t raining. Some days that’s harder than others.

I’d meant to have a more interesting post up this week. I’ve been working on it in bits and pieces for days, and it is gruesomely nerdy. It’s about the band YES, which isn’t even my favourite band. It’s just the band that has the most trivia lodged in my head, along with a outrageous opinions about which album is their best (Drama), whether Tales from Topographic Oceans is even remotely listenable (it is), and who would win a Jon Anderson vs Chris Squire cage match to the death (Squire, no question).

Every time I was about to hit publish, one of two things would stop me. Either 1) I thought of something else I really needed to say about YES (Talk is my second favourite album! Take that, soulless minions of orthodoxy!), or 2) I remembered that most people have only ever heard “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, think it’s kind of stupid, and really won’t give a crap about the rest of it.

Which makes me sad, I admit, because “Owner of a Lonely Heart” really is kind of stupid.

I was going to just delete the whole damn thing, but then I was at White Spot with my son (note to non-Canadians: White Spot is like an upscale Denny’s [minus the all-day breakfast] where you can get wine with your chicken Caesar salad), and I suddenly noticed the background Muzak wasn’t Muzak at all. It was “Siberian Khatru” — not a bowdlerized version, no, but the real thing. And I said to myself: Look at all these old people grooving out over chicken pot pie and yam fries! YES is still relevant. Even Siberia goes through the motions!

I realize only the very meanest teachers give homework over Thanksgiving, so here’s an extra credit project, if you care to undertake it. Go listen to a Yes song that isn’t “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. If you are conversant in Classic Rock Radio and already know “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People”, then challenge yourself to find something more obscure. “Starship Trooper” or “Onward” or “Don’t Kill the Whale*” (stop laughing!) or “Gates of Delirium”. Then I’ll come back next week and you’ll understand the lecture.

Or, y’know, you can sleep through class next week and borrow somebody’s notes. The midterm isn’t until the end of the month.

* “Don’t Kill the Whale” is also kinda stupid, but it has the distinction of also being kinda hilarious. It’s got this insane shrieking electronic hornpipe thing going on in the middle, I swear, bookended by ridiculously earnest lyrics and Chris Squire just about as loony as he’s ever been on bass. Funny, funny stuff. I think I’ll go listen to it right now!

(Catch you all next week! Happy Thanksgiving!)