Monday, October 31, 2011

Are you a Psycho?

In honor of Halloween, I have a fun little test. I actually have to hand it to Big Black Cat for reminding me of it just in time for Halloween.

The rules for the Psycho test.
1. Read all the text
2. Write down your answer
3. Do not change your answer, so write it down somewhere (or post it below)
4. I’ll respond to posters with the results as I get them, but I’ll post the answer to the psycho test tomorrow.
**I don't think I really need to mention, but this test doesn’t actually tell you if you’re a psycho, but the answer might creep you out

Are you ready?

The Psycho Test

Maria’s mother died. At the funeral, Maria sees a really hot guy. She’d love to try to meet up with him, but funerals aren’t really the place for that sort of thing, so Maria finds out who he is instead. The really hot guy is the son of one of her father’s friends.

Two weeks later, Maria kills her sister.


Post your answers, and I’ll let you know if you’re a psycho or not…

Oh, and just so as everyone knows, according to this test, I’m a psycho. (Shocked?)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Couch Slayer

First off, I’ve been sort of a bad person. I received some blog awards, and I didn’t acknowledge them here. It’s not that I’ve been too busy, but these blog awards are difficult to send back out into the world. I keep coming up with the lists of people I’d give the awards to, but then I forget and another month goes by. So that’s coming up, maybe over the weekend, we’ll see.

Today’s story is about Indiana, the couch eating dog.

Here’s a picture of him. Isn’t he sweet and cute? 
Indiana, couch slayer

But beneath that teddy bear like exterior lurks the heart of a couch eater. Well, actually, his palette is not so discerning as to have a preference. Oh no, he eats all manner of things from wallboard to rocks, and everything in between, and it is only by the grace of Cernunos that the dog still lives.

When we first brought this sweet dog home, he was everything a person could want in a dog. He was sweet with soft fur and strong personality. He quickly charmed the other two dogs of the house, and generally made himself at home. But then we went out for dinner with my parents.

When we came back our cute little teddy bear was lying on the floor, wagging his tail, looking much like the cat who ate the canary. Then we saw the first tuft of carpet. Then we saw another. Our horror only grew as we found a hole 8 feet wide and 8 feet long in the carpet. Everything was gone, the carpet the carpet pad; it even looked like someone had licked the cement slab. We just stood in horror staring at the hole in the carpet. Then someone said “What did he do with it? He didn’t eat it, did he?”

We searched, but found only a couple puffs of carpet fiber. He had actually consumed the vast majority of the carpet. *Sigh*

That weekend we tore out the carpet and laid down tile. $1000 (My peeps are awesome sauce when it comes to doing tile floors).

We thought that would solve the problem, I mean seriously, good luck eating tile flooring dog.

The next time he was left to his own devices, he chewed a hole through the wallboard. I patched it up with some putty, but I can still see it.

Floor boards? Chewy snacks.

Books? He just devours them. And not because they were just laying around. No, no, he went and pulled them off the book shelf and eviscerated them in the middle of the living room. I could have cried—okay, I did cry.

DVDs? They’re good for cleaning the teeth.

Plastic bags, thread, the sewing machine, the garbage, anything and everything, including things I had previously thought impossible to consume. I was wrong. When he ate rocks we took him to the vet, and she just laughed. Looking back at that moment, it was a lot like watching the nurses trying not to laugh when I said my daughter had stuffed cheerios up her nose.

Except the kid cost $15 to have her nose looked at. The dog: $1500.

For weeks we’d come home and there’d be a trail of detritus that started at the door, and we’d just follow it with dread. He could climb up onto the counters, so nothing was safe: Coffee maker, knives from the butcher block, dirty dishes, remote controls, power chords. Nothing was safe—I kept my laptop in a drawer or in my backpack.

And every time we’d come home, he’d just look at us like “Hi, I took care of the demon possessed throw rug you bought. Also, I think the tea pot may have been poisoned, so I ate it just to be sure.”

Having consumed every challenge known to dog kind, he set his sights higher: the couch. Surely no dog had ever eaten a whole couch. Well, the love seat actually. Now, I have to be truthful: I hated that couch set. It was black leather, and we’d really worn it out. There were some things that were great about it, but it was guilty by association. I’d written my master’s thesis while sitting in that couch, sticking to the cushions, and alternately melting or freezing depending on the time of year. It never looked clean, and it always looked frumpy at best, lounge lizard at worst.

But then we came home and there was a tiny tear in the back of the love seat. Indiana just wagged his tail, but we all knew it, he’d marked his next victim. The loveseat was a goner if we didn’t do something and fast. We went straight out and bought a slip cover (which we should have done long before, really). That night, he tore apart the slip cover, and in case we hadn’t figured out how he felt about it, he peed on the pile of torn canvas. Still, the couch had lived through the night. The next day he tore off a single panel and ate it. Just one. It was like he was savoring the couch.

We moved the couch up against a wall so he couldn’t get to the back panels. When we got home the next time, the couch was pulled away from the wall, and there sat Indiana looking smug, fat and happy. He’d eaten the entire back of the couch.

The next day, it was a cushion.

The day after, an arm.

It was like watching some horror movie aimed at living room furniture. For a while he was content to just eat the skin off the couch (great mother of science that sounds really twisted), but then he started to eat the stuffing. In one afternoon—actually we were only gone for an hour or so—he reduced what was left of the couch to a skeleton with a few scraggly bits of leather hanging off.

And we never found the pieces…

That’s not strictly speaking true, it’s just impolite to talk about where we found the pieces.

So yeah, Indiana the twenty thousand dollar dog. Maybe I’ll get a Chihuahua next time…

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Just a quick note

People often ask me what is so great about being a scientist, and here it is in a nutshell.

Today a good friend of mine defended her dissertation (Yay Dr. Ninja!). We had champagne afterward in the director’s office. One of his jobs is to collect meteorites and have them categorized. So he passed around a meteorite.

A meteorite that might be from Mars.

Seriously, I just held a chunk of rock that’s probably worth a million dollars (it was about the size of my fist). No matter what it turns out to be (though Mars is pretty damned likely given the other evidence, we’ll have to wait for the smoking gun later), this rock fell from the sky and is a piece of another planet.

Yeah, I held a rock from another planet today. That’s why being a scientist is so cool.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It is better to Give than Receive, Part 2: Giving

Some of you have received my crits before, so you know the style of them, I dive right in. I put on my scientist hat and go with “just the facts, ma’am.” I praise when it’s due. I offer advice and examples of ways to clean up the text. It is straightforward and as professional as I can be. Sometimes crits aren’t easy to swallow, and giving them is no piece of cake either. I have a long way to go, but it’s part of the writing process, and nothing makes me see my own work nearly as well as critiquing others.

If you wanted a long, honest breakdown of my critique giving journey, then just read on. If you’re not interested, can I suggest instead Symphony of Science?

I love that one. Seriously, it’s on my iPod.

Learn from my Fail, Critique edition.

My first foray into critiquing land had precious few examples for me to follow, so I went with my masters advisor’s technique. It wasn’t pretty. I was honest but also condescending, which was pretty funny because my English skillz weren’t exactly what one would call, good. Needless to say, my vocabulary hadn’t been dusted off since my high school honors English teacher and I disagreed about something and I quite writing for the next 8 years (what is it about English teachers that can crush the dreams of us youngins?). So I went into that critique with my evil english teacher sitting on my shoulder and the example of my masters advisor to follow. It wasn’t pretty. I was rude, and intolerant of plot points. I said the writing wasn’t that great, and the story was boring. I called it unbelievable, the characters were unmotivated, and every action they took was so far outside the realm of likely as to be ridiculous. I suggested a couple of ways the writing could be tightened (no need for a particular that, and do you have to use the verb gotten? And had gotten? That seemed pretty unnecessary).

And here’s where people say “Wait, those are actually really good things to point out.” True, but it’s never about what we say but how we say it. I was rude. I was condescending. My crit partner had been an English major, dreaming of publishing since early high school (right when mine were being crushed by my inability to enjoy the Scarlet Letter), and he felt like he knew more than me and was embarrassed to have these things pointed out to him. Oh, and I’d also just received the worst critique on my own work ever—this is the “your novel is too amateurish for me to really give you help with it” crit time—so I might have been taking things more personally than usual. I was hurt. It did not go well. I think we both left that crit session as determined as ever that we were completely in the right and the other was a complete moron. Not productive.

We both shelved those projects without any further attempts at revision. Years passed.

We tried another crit group together—amazingly we are still friends even after all of this—and in the second crit group we had an English teacher and another writer who was also a close friend. By this time I was at my current university and had the Advisor with “Humor.” Now, when I say that there is nothing as damaging to your ego as a bad critique, that’s one thing, but when the person giving the critique has stuck their neck out to take you on and then writes things like “this is complete crap and I never want to see a manuscript in this condition from you,” well, it’s pain on a whole new level. He made jokes in my dissertation, he teased, he cajoled, and when it was bad he made fun of it. Yes, he actually made fun of how bad my writing was. He would go through and make hundreds (actually hundreds, Word counts how many comments there are) of scathing comments to detail my shortcomings as a writer and a scientist. And this is the model I brought to my newest crit group.

It took me exactly one critique to realize that you can’t put any humor into a critique. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t make people happier about the feedback. It doesn’t make them see it your way. What it does is hurt feelings, make people lash out and otherwise muddy the water (no matter how accurate the critique is).

The person who received first argued, questioned and generally put on a very stubborn face. After all three of the other writers had exactly the same thing to say (note, the whole group was trying to introduce sense and sanity) this same person wrote us off as crazies.

And that’s when it happened: for the greater good of mankind we were going to make this author see the light of day. We pushed, hoping for some sort of acknowledgment, recognition that we might have read a book or two, and that despite some of our grades in English classes, we knew the difference between who and whom. The writer pushed back.

The next writer to go got an unmitigated tongue lashing by the first writer. It was like blood was in the water, and the sharks were circling. The first writer tore through the others (including me) without any real regard for what was actually written. Note: if you ever see a writer shaking while receiving a critique, don’t ask them to deliver crits to the others. They live on planet OMG they hate my novel and me.

For those of you who have seen crits from me, this is why I always ask what you really want in a critique. It’s because I’ve given honest feedback to someone who was not ready for it. I gave feedback to someone looking for a fan club and thought they could hack it in the real world.

That crit group fell apart because we were working too hard (we met once a week and crited more than 20 pages for each member every week—it was like a second job), and really we were like the blind leading the dumb. We didn’t know anything, least of all how to give critique.

Now, it would be fair to say that there is a difference between honest and tactless, and I’m still learning the art of tact. I’ve read a whole bunch of books on critiques and critgroups. Truly some of the stuff I said didn’t go over well, and while I stand by every critique I’ve ever given, I do wish I could go back to those times and handle certain people better. I feel as much at fault for the tongue lashings the rest of us received because I couldn’t find the right way to tell this writer the bad news.

Here’s what you should learn from my Fail:

It’s not funny to them. Ever. It’s best to approach this with the same decorum as you would a friend who’s just received very bad news, because honestly, unless your crit is “This is ready for the publishers” you are giving someone very bad news. No matter what they really know about the novel, they were hoping it was ready for prime time. The news that it’s not is often devastating.

If the person you are critiquing comes back with excuses and arguments instead of listening to what you have to say, ask them if they are interested in an actual critique. If they say yes, then politely ask them to let you finish. If they can’t hold their tongue, then they aren’t ready.

I see a lot of people ask for brutal honesty on the internet forums, and really, you don’t want brutal honesty. No one does. There’s a difference between “I wouldn’t have kept reading this after five pages if it wasn’t something from a friend” and “This is complete crap, try again.” The first is an indication that for whatever reason—be it voice, grammar, whatever—the book wasn’t holding their attention. The second implies that everything, even the very words, are lacking in the ability to convey a story (which is something that I doubt, just about everything is fixable).

If there was something about the story that you liked, be sure to mention it. It’s much easier to point out the parts of a story that aren’t working than it is to lay hands on the parts that are working.

Brutal honesty is not license to be a d1( K. Brutal honesty means you have to back up every “this is crap” statement with solid feedback (such as your prose needs a major overhaul because you have a serious double verbing problem, or your characters are dropping into and out of character so fast that I’m wondering if there’s a quantum equation of state just for your characters).

It is okay to say “Something here just didn’t work for me, and I don’t know what it is. I’m sorry I can’t be more concrete.” If you are silent, your silence will be taken as an indication that nothing is wrong. So if something is wrong, speak up, even if you don’t know how to fix it. If you do know how, try to give that as well.

And wow, that was another amazingly long post. Hope that helps.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I lived through Balloon Fiesta

One of the great things about living in Albuquerque (and seriously, I’m so immature that every time I write the name of the city, I think of Weird –Al’s song Albuquerque), is Balloon Fiesta.

It starts early, and by early I mean that in other times in my life I would have simply stayed up to attend the launch at dawn. This year we left the house at 4:45 and made the field by 5:30. Since the action doesn’t actually start until 6, but when it does:

As you can see, hot air balloons in the dark before dawn look rather a lot like lanterns. They actually work on much the same principle, so just imagine that scene from Tangled (and if you haven’t seen Tangled, honestly, do yourself a favor and go watch it, it’s awesome), with all the lanterns.

I have some video of it, but I can't dump it into blogger :-(

Each of those colored bits become full sized balloons.
So they all launch and the rest of us wait on the field freezing our butts off (did I mention it snowed a couple days ago, and we’re standing on the world’s biggest lawn in nothing but jeans and jackets? I have a terrible case of the dumb this year).

After the dawn patrol, the world looks something like this as the balloonists wait for the go ahead to inflate.


 Usually they launch something like 800 balloons, but on Sunday they only put 500 up (yeah, I know, only) due largely to conditions on the field. When they do start to inflate, it’s like the world suddenly gets lost in rainbow valleys. No really, Valleys of Rainbows. 

Then they inflate the cow.

Actually, I have a few pictures of the giant cow, and it looks like she’s—yes, she: her name is Airabell, a take on the dance maneuver she’s doing, the arabesque—a zombie rising from the dead "graaaiiinsssss."

I love all the balloons, 

Yeah, so hearing the imperial march right now.

but my favorite is this one.

I have better pictures from other years, including a bad photo of me standing with a storm trooper a full head shorter than me. It was awesome. This year it was no less awesome.

And does this have anything to do with writing?

Yeah, no, not a thing. Sometimes, I just like the silly gas bags (that's what we cal them here).