there can be only about eight hundred or so

crown

This morning I walked into my local library branch and was heralded by the announcement, “Ah! Yes! It is The Willis!”

Yeah. I was dumbstruck. My librarians know me on sight; that’s no surprise. But “The” Willis? Even one of the other librarians (also a friend) wandered out from the back at that. “What?” she asked in confusion. She figured the first librarian was probably talking about me, but it was still an unusual moment.

I come from a large family. There are about eight hundred of us—or there seem to be anyway, and I do mean that in the nicest possible way. The idea of someone, anyone, being THE Willis had certainly never occurred to me. There would have to be a highly specific genetic apocalypse for such a thing to come about.

Or, if there were some kind of family-specific Highlander action—“There can be only one!”—I’m really not sure how that would go down. We all get along pretty well. I don’t know who would throw the first punch or ninja star. There’s a fair number of athletes in the family, however, so it would be pretty even money betting on which one of us might ultimately prevail (as long as you’re not wagering on my success; I’d likely not make it past the first round).

So what was the impetus behind my librarian’s pronouncement this morning? Well, first of all, it’s Friday and everyone was happy about that. Secondly, they were running out of hold space on the shelves behind the counter and as I had five or six titles on hold, my arrival signaled the freeing of shelf space. So, naturally, All Hail The Willis!


Creative Commons image: crown by jason train.


torn between two backpacks


Executive summary: I’m torn between two backpacks. Being torn between two lovers might actually be easier.
Question for readers: What bag do you use, and why did you choose it?

Thanks to Lifehacker, I found an excellent post by David Danzeiser about how he traveled the world for a year with only a 20-pound backpack and its contents. (You should visit Dave’s website, by the way. He has an updated gear list available for subscribers, and from my limited correspondence with him I’d say he’s a decent fellow.)

Now, I’m a fan of researching and acquiring relevant gear (including gadgets and gizmos). I inherited this from my athlete father, who is particularly attracted to sports that he has to gear up for. This includes SCUBA diving and fly fishing.

No surprise that Dave’s odyssey got me itchy for getting out on the road again myself, which is unfortunately not a real possibility right now. It also got me to thinking about bags—specifically about my own set up—which is not a difficult thing to do. I’m pretty much always lusting after bags online while thinking about how to improve my system. And, let me tell you, there are a lot of bags out there to choose from.

This is both good and bad. Good, because no single bag will meet every carrier’s needs, so there should be choices. Bad, because holy crap there is a mind-numbing, almost paralyzing number of options. How can you be sure you’ve picked the right bag when one of the twenty others on the very next page or the twenty-third one after that might be the holy grail for your next jaunt? (HINT: I don’t think there is such thing as a perfect bag. You just use what works and make alterations, upgrades, downgrades, and what-have-you as circumstances dictate. But don’t be ridiculous about it. You don’t want to know how many backpacks, rucksacks, and attaches I had lying around before my latest purge.)

Here’s where I’m going with this: I’m on the fence about whether a move to a new bag is right for me at this time. Yeah, that sounded way more pretentious than I intended. Put it this way: My backpack is bothering me, enough to be an problem.

I had been using a Trager Cross Country for a little over ten years when I decided to switch to a Dakine Eve backpack in 2011. I’m not sure why I made the switch; that rationalization is lost to me now. Maybe it was because I was preparing for my International Reporting Project fellowship, which would take me cross-country and overseas, and I felt I deserved a new bag for my coming adventure. Or maybe I’m just a gear nerd and really wanted to go bag shopping online.

Both bags have traveled with me internationally. Both have been on planes, trains, ferries, buses, taxies, etc. No rickshaw action that I recall. After 3.5 years, the webbing of one of the Eve’s water bottle pockets has a significant hole and the inner lining shows definite wear. I have had to repair one of the pockets on the Trager—I stupidly left a sandwich in that pocket, and then left the bag in the car with my wolf-dog. She really wanted that sandwich. I don’t think I can fault a bag for not standing up sufficiently to a hungry, part-wolf husky. Sewing up the rip with dental floss did the trick.

I’ve noticed that the Dakine Eve, while lighter and offering greater volume (1700 cu in/28L), is too long for me. I’m barely scraping 5’4”, and the Eve is 19 inches long. The bottom of the backpack starts to curl under when I have the straps appropriately fitted to my body. Plus, this particular Eve is in a muted rainbow fabric that my boyfriend picked out for me; it does deter theft by making the bag easily identifiable, but I’m not really a rainbows-and-ponies kind of gal.

In comparison, the Trager is 15.5 inches long, 1600 cu in/26L, and bright orange with a reflective strip—making it, and me, more visible in the rain. The Trager is a little on the heavy side—maybe 3 pounds?—compared to what’s available now. It’s not perfect. For instance, I’m using the external velcro pouch as a water bottle pocket; it’s a tight but secure fit, though I wish this pocket was on the other side of the bag. There’s no “fleece” lining in any of the pockets to protect electronics or sunglasses. There is no sternum strap, but that’s easily remedied. It’s a good product and has held up well. Part of me is wondering what head injury I had that made me try something else to begin with. (It looks like Trager-USA has gone out of business since I bought my bag back in 2000.)

Neither bag has a waist/hip belt. I’m also making increased use of smaller pouches (like gear bags and mesh pencil cases) to improve organization.

So that’s my story. This is day one of switching back to the Trager. Depending on how the next few days or weeks go, I may try a new bag altogether. Or I may find something else to obsess over.

Dave has shared with me via email how he arrived at his decision to carry the Tom Bihn Smart Alec on his adventures. What about you? How do you transport your laptop, tablet, books, camera, notebooks, pomodoro timer, orange-haired troll doll, fingerless gloves, and IAmElemental action figures?

call for submissions!

Submissions are now open for the 2015 anthology of short fiction (or poetry, artwork, etc.) from the Northwest Independent Writers Association. I’m the editor of the collection again this year, and our theme is asylum.

You can find out more on the NIWA website. Submissions close on March 31, but please don’t wait ’til the last minute! I look forward to reading your stories.

serendipitous vocabulary

Shiras Moose - Grand Teton National Park

While out for my morning hike and listening to NPR on my phone, I once again lamented my diminishing vocabulary. I likely use a broader range of words in every day conversation and writing than I realize, but I frequently feel my word choices to be lacking. So I got the idea that I would look at the dictionary.com word of the day each morning and challenge myself to include that word in the day’s writing efforts.

I was a bit flummoxed at first when I saw that today’s word was moosemilk. I mean, really? Moosemilk? But then I remembered that just a couple of hours earlier I’d started making notes for a story that requires a long list of names of alcoholic beverages. Score! I laughed out loud and immediately added “moosemilk” to my outlining.

I doubt I’ll be so lucky in subsequent daily words, but a girl can hope.



Creative Commons photo: Shiras Moose – Grand Teton National Park by Al_HikesAZ.



I survived Orycon 36

The three days of this year’s Orycon in Portland went by astonishingly fast. This was my fourth time at this particular sci-fi/fantasy conference, and my first year as a panelist. I was assigned to an apparently ambitious number of events—eleven panels, plus a twelfth I was invited to join—and by some miracle I made it to every single one of them, and to the launch party for UNDERGROUND, the 2014 NIWA anthology which I edited.

After the “Hacking Biology” panel discussion on Friday night, one young man really made my day when he came up to offer me a hug. I’d been on the panel because of my own history (and knowledge) of living with chronic illness, and that embrace was his way of contributing to my well-being. When I spotted him the next day to thank him again for his kindness, he gave me another big hug. It was awesome.

The “Sherlock vs. Elementary throw-down” panel kicked ass, to no one’s surprise. My fellow panelists Dale Ivan Smith and Wendy Wagner and our moderator Brian Hunt were all in fine form for that very lively discussion/debate, and it was definitely a highlight of the con for me.

The NIWA party, as always, was a huge success, and it was great to see so many of the anthology authors in attendance and signing autographs. I was only slightly unnerved when one of next year’s programming organizers pulled me aside to ask how my panels were going and to let me know that I was being observed over the course of the weekend to gauge my performance. Apparently, I passed.

There were some marvelous readings to attend, and many more which I missed due to my own panel commitments. Wendy Wagner and Brian Hunt were stand-outs. My own reading on Sunday afternoon attracted a decent attendance and went fairly well, even though my flash cards weren’t entirely cooperative. I think I may have been the only reader employing visual aids, but that’s what happens when one of your characters speaks only through punctuation.

I was startled and a bit shaken up when a yellow jacket was discovered hitchhiking on my shoulder, as a recent sting sent me to bed (and nearly to the hospital) for two weeks. (I still need to blog about that. It was a pretty crazy experience and also frightening.) My heartfelt thanks to the young woman who was running The Guiding Tree booth in the dealer’s room for spotting the insect, and for possibly saving my life.

One of the members manning the NIWA booth, however, told me that a Klingon (in full costume) bought all three volumes currently available in the Valhalla series. I don’t know who that was, but if you’re reading this, I heartily thank you and encourage you to get in touch!

Sunday night was a challenge. I made it over to the huge sci-fi/fantasy book signing at Powells—what I always think of as the “Orycon after-party”—for some last conversations with many of the folks I’d seen at the conference. But overnight, I had some rather extreme GI distress. I’d worried at first that I’d picked up a stomach flu or was suffering from food poisoning. Whatever it was, while unpleasant, it was at least short-lived.

It’s nearly mid-day on Monday now. I’m pretty well exhausted and mind-fogged, but not as much as I’d anticipated—which is a huge boon when you consider how bad things can get with dysautonomia when there’s any kind of stress on the system. I chalk this up to the fact that I’ve been hiking several miles every morning, enforcing a strict schedule of rest and hydration, and getting better about saying “No” even when I feel pulled to say “Yes.”

That’s the short report from me. How was your weekend?



notes from the first draft

dissection of article

As I made my way through the first draft of Raven Quest*, I found charming little notes of frustration and commentary I’d left for myself while doing the original writing. I thought I’d post some of these here for your entertainment.

(* Yes, I am behind schedule on publication of this fourth volume in the Valhalla series. It’s been a rough year for me health-wise. I still hope to get this one out before 2015. Wish me luck.)

From chapter 7:
JUST TO GET A LITTLE ANGST OUT… I’M NOT SURE IF I LIKE THIS STORY. IT SEEMS THIN THUS FAR, NOT REALLY GROUNDED OR TREMENDOUSLY PLOT-DRIVEN. TRUE, I FELT THE SAME WAY ABOUT “THE BLACK POOL” AS I WAS WORKING ON THE FIRST DRAFT, AND IT WAS IN THE PROCESS OF REVISION THAT EVERYTHING REALLY CAME TOGETHER. THIS IS A FIRST DRAFT. IT’S NOT THE END-ALL AND BE-ALL OF THIS STORY. BUT I’D RATHER BE MORE EXCITED ABOUT IT AND INVESTED IN IT AT THIS POINT THAN I AM CURRENTLY. I’M HOPING THAT WILL CHANGE AS I CONTINUE WRITING. AND SO NOW BACK TO THE PLOT [OR LACK THEREOF]…

From chapter 8:
SO, YES, I’M SICK AGAIN AND IT SUCKS AND I REALLY DON’T FEELING LIKE WRITING ANYTHING BUT HERE I AM. I’M GOING TO TRY ANYWAY. I JUST WANTED TO STATE THAT FOR THE RECORD.

From chapter 9:
NOTE: GET A THESAURUS AND FIND ALTERNATE WORDS TO “STUMBLE.”

Also from chapter 9:
OR DO I WANT TO MENTION HIM AT ALL? PROBABLY NOT. JUST FORGET THAT SHE HAD ANY IDEA THAT HE WAS AROUND, OKAY?

from chapter 10:
THIS IS STUPID; FIND A BETTER EXPLANATION FOR THIS, OR GIVE MORE EXAMPLES OF HOW SALLY’S SPELL HAS IMPACTED THE SURROUNDING LAND

from chapter 11:
GAH. THIS IS SUCH A WEAK CHAPTER. DO I EVEN KNOW WHAT I’M TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH HERE?

from chapter 14:
BASICALLY, THIS CHAPTER IS A BIG FREAK OUT.

For the record, I do not draft in ALL CAPS. That’s simply how I differentiate notes to myself from the actual work. There have been times when I’ve discovered an ALL-CAP rant that ran nearly two pages in length.



Creative Commons photo: “dissection of article” by Søren Mørk Petersen.



sacrifice

Free Speech for the Dumb

James Foley. Steven Sotloff.

These are not the first journalists to be tortured or executed for their profession, or for their nationality. Not even close.

When I read the news this morning of Sotloff’s death, my heart sank and my stomach churned. I clenched my jaw and my fingers. In those moments there were no words, spoken or written, to express the rage and despair that seeped in.

I am a journalist, not a particularly important one. Reporting has not been my true passion, but I’ve enjoyed the work. I have traveled internationally on assignment—not into war zones, but to research religious diversity. As far as I know, my status as a journalist has never put my life in danger (though other things have). So I don’t claim any particularly deep kinship with the men and women of the press who actively put themselves in harm’s way pretty much every day of their professional lives.

But I am ever grateful to them for their service.

The press gets a bad name, and I understand the complaints. I’ve had some troubles myself in dealing with the media. Just as in any industry, there are professionals and whole organizations who seem to focus exclusively on feeding the lowest common denominator of their market. Many outside the media are wont to paint those of us on the inside with the same, broad brush. Though I don’t cover scandals or deal in sensationalism, I am met with mistrust and accused of seeking to ruin lives by people who have no familiarity with me or my work. Individual journalists whose ethics and integrity are unimpeachable bear the brunt of the public’s bristling suspicion, alongside the “bottom-feeders” of our profession. It’s an occupational hazard.

But beheading shouldn’t be an occupational hazard.

The press, at its best, is a challenging, rugged, and noble institution that serves the public while demanding truly everything from those in the trenches. Yet this last full measure is too much.

I’m a big First Amendment gal. If you want to get into a real knock-down, drag-out argument with me, a sure place to start is with the Bill of Rights. But know that I will dig in like a deer tick on the First Amendment—which includes freedom of speech, the press, and religious expression. These rights, while guaranteed on U.S. soil and in other countries, are not so secure in other parts of the world. And still, journalists travel to war zones and unfriendly states to do their jobs—to tell the rest of the world what’s going on. They do this knowing they might pay with their lives. They do this even after losing friends and colleagues to capture and violence. They do this for the free flow of information, to humanize global events, and to cast light into the shadows.

Sometimes the media gets it wrong—sometimes in a big way—and some may engage in egregious behavior to satisfy the salacious and base hungers of the popular machine. But most of us aren’t like that. Some of us are even sacrificial lambs.



Creative Commons photo: Free Speech for the Dumb by Walt Jabsco.