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Today my daughter is two months and one day old. Somehow all three of us are still alive, still sane, and even thinking that this might just have been a good idea. Especially as the little bird becomes more and more aware of the world around her. In the first weeks home there were really three states that she would exist in: sleeping, eating, or crying. Sometimes she could multitask, eating or crying while sleeping. But there wasn’t really a state of being awake, not actively eating, and not crying either. You know, that state that most of you reading this blog exist in for vast swaths of the day. I’m doing it right now.
The purpose of life can boil down to just one question: what do we do during these periods where we’re not eating, sleeping, or crying? It’s when we work, when we engage in recreational activities, and when we strive to obtain what we’re going to eat the next time we eat. The world exists to bombard us with ways to occupy this time. It always has. It always will. But what if you’re a baby?
I’m in awe of what the little bird can find interesting. Everything she sees is novel. What sort of miracle is a wall? They’re absolutely massive and provide so many things to look at. Oh, sure, that one spot just three inches to the left of your monitor might look identical to the spot a foot above. It’s the same color, the same texture. But, my god, it’s the same color and the same texture! What sort of witchcraft is that? There are times that she can keep herself awake just looking at things.
She’s starting to understand that the world around her isn’t just random splotches of color. There are things in the world. The challenge now is determining which of these things is another person. In doing so she has derived, from scratch and with no prompting, the scientific method. Test, observe, retest, correlate results. The test involves smiling at things, something she’s getting very good at. The smiles are fleeting, I haven’t gotten one on camera, but they’re amazing. Her hypothesis: the blotches of colors that are there to help her will smile back. So she’ll smile at us. She’ll smile at the cats. She’ll smile at the walls. She’ll smile at random spots in the middle distance. She correlates all those results, then keep smiling at the things that react to her smiles. It’s a brilliant little survival mechanism. Be cute, and continue being cute to the things that respond positively to it.
At its heart, that’s also the scientific method. And it really drives home how elegantly simple the scientific method is. Now, we create more robust and complicated hypotheses that are then worried over by tests far more rigorous than being cute at things (though that would make the Higgs boson hunt more interesting), but at the base level it’s the same. Interact, observe, then do it again until the results are significant. What’s spectacular is not the method’s simplicity, it’s that it took so long to codify it. Sure, we’ve been using this method since the 17th century, but we also didn’t fully utilize it out until the 17th century! When every baby ever born knew it innately, but then forgets it. Think of it. All of modern science built out of a childlike sense of wonder, a wonder I hope my daughter never loses. Never entirely. Just like I hope she never gets tired of smiling at me.
What do you mean it’s the second?
2012 Goal: Query Nickajack. Last night started a new phase for Nickajack that will see my wife and I find a half hour, even if it’s in two fifteen minute chunks, to read at least one scene of Nickajack out loud a night. It’s a great way to hear the adjectives, the filtering, and the misworded dialogue. The intent is to fix these on the fly and to identify spots where props appear or disappear, character motivations aren’t as strong as they could be, and other plot weaknesses that we can then go back and fix up. This is the novel moving forward in a substantive way for the first time since the birth of our daughter, and it feels good to be back into it. If we push hard and have a good product on our hands, we hope to be ready for the first round of alpha readers by January. No later than March is my hope.
The ultimate plan is two rounds of external readers, the first likely drawn from those who have seen the novel as we’ve crafted it, and the second drawn from those who have no knowledge of the plot or the twists. Each will be followed by a round of editing based on comments. After both rounds are done, then we’ll be querying this bad boy. We likely wouldn’t have made the 2012 query goal even if we hadn’t had a kid, even if we did work straight through, but I’m still glad I set the goal so high. Occasionally you need something completely out of your grasp to keep you jumping.
If you fall into either of the camps that we’re looking to draw readers from, keep an eye out. I’m not looking for volunteers yet, but I will be soon.
In other writing news, I’ve accepted final edits of my story for Old Weird South, and the publisher is hoping that the anthology is out by December 1. I know that dates like this frequently slide, we’ll see about when it will actually come out. If it does hit that date, or up to 30 days later, that will be three short stories published in 2012. Which is awesome. I’ll need to get my ass in gear if I want to match or top that in 2013, and set my sights on some professional rate sales.
State of the author’s beer. Man…I’ve got to bottle that stuff. It’s okay to hang out in the fermenter, but yeah, I’ve got to get that bottled. Maybe that’s a this weekend thing.
State of the author’s bees. They survived the storm in one piece, and now we’re focusing on winterizing them. This means keeping them fed with sugar syrup and pollen so they have reserves to make it through the hard months ahead. That’ll probably be its own post in the next month or two.
State of the author’s baby. Eight weeks old now and super cute. She should start “hatching” over the next few weeks, but she already looks at us and smiles. This is all part of the process by which she’ll learn what is and isn’t a face, and what is and isn’t a person. So while she smiles at us, she’ll also smile at the cats, the wall, and random spots in the middle distance. Still, any smiling is smiling, and it’s awesome to see.
This month is Nanowrimo. The editing I mentioned above is my primary project, but I think I’m going to pick two other goals.
- Redraft Vampire of Mars
- Finish draft of Antioch, 1098
That’ll be a great start if I am going to try to top this year’s three published stories. Jen Brinn, sage leader of the Cat Vacuuming Society, always cautions to not make sales a goal since they’re beyond the writer’s control…but it would still be nice to at least match this year’s output.
If you’re doing Nanowrimo, best of luck with your projects!
Update: Earlier version of this post stated my baby was eight months not eight weeks old. They grow up fast, but not that fast.
The Little Bird is fussy lately. I’m told that’s to be expected. Largely by my wife who is devouring books on what to expect during the first few months of a baby’s life, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt her. Six weeks is when a newborn’s fussiness typically peaks, and it has done just that since Friday. Even if we’d planned to attend Capclave, the sleepless night she gave us on Friday put us in no condition to wake up at 8am and drive to Maryland. It was for the best that we’d decided to not go several hours earlier so we weren’t saddling her with ruining those plans. It would have unfairly added to the stress of the evening.
Today she is six weeks old. Halfway to three months. One of the books my wife read calls three months “hatching.” It’s when a newborn, a wiggly thing with limited control over their own limbs and limited stimulus-response actions, becomes a baby. It’s when then might recognize mommy and daddy’s faces, mimic facial expressions, even smile or laugh. It’s when parents can really engage their children, distract them, interact with them meaningfully for the first time. After she told me about hatching, I held an idea in my head I called the “fourth trimester.” It wasn’t until I hit Google a little later that I discovered this is a common term for these first three months.
Here’s the thing with humans. We’re born premature. All of us. You, me, your children, your parents, people you interact with every day. Even if we make it to 40 weeks or beyond, we’re all born shockingly premature. Oh, certainly, predators throughout the animal kingdom take advantage of being born a little early then developing more outside the womb. It’s one of the four main birth survival strategies: (1) have so many kids that some will reach adulthood just through sheer odds (2) have kids born capable of running from predators within an hour of birth (3) taking care of helpless newborns or (4) be a marsupial.
Marsupials, man. Ever see a newborn Joey? Even if you haven’t, I wouldn’t recommend clicking this link for a video.
We humans have taken strategy three there and run with it. Sprint with it, even. We’re born shocking premature, and helpless even for an apex predator. If one wants to look at the period between birth and hatching as a fourth trimester, we’re all three month premature. Compared to the level of development seen in newborn chimpanzees, our closest relatives? Some research suggests we’re born, comparatively, nearly a year premature. Why? From that io9 link:
One longstanding theory among evolutionary biologists says human babies are so completely dependant after birth, as a consequence of our bipedal architecture. Our upright stance limits the width of the birth canal, and thus the size of the baby’s head that can pass through it. But now, new research has thrown this idea into question by suggesting that there’s a more important limiting factor involved — namely, the mother’s metabolic rate. According to this idea, a fetus can only grow so large and consume so much energy before it needs to make a hasty exit.
Mom can’t take it anymore, and that’s perfectly reasonable. There are a lot of metabolic requirements to gestation, and humans just reach the end of what they can sustain and give birth. In the end, maybe we’re more like those marsupials than I ever thought. We don’t have pouches, but the only newborns in the animal kingdom more helpless than a little baby human is that tiny pink joey climbing towards the pouch. Hell, we’ve even invented a wide variety of pouches over the millennia, from papooses to modern Baby Bjorns carriers.
I come up with weird theories when I’m spit balling a blog post. “Humans are pouchless marsupials” was not my intended thesis going into this, I swear.
We’re holding on, as best we can. Some nights are rougher than others, and I really have to say my wife has been just awesome as all hell through this. Baby, I know you look in here occasionally, I love the hell out of you for everything you’ve managed to do these last 6 weeks…and 46 weeks…and, really, everything since I’ve met you and probably most things before, too.
Alright, enough baby talk and sentimentality for this week. Later in the week, look for some talk of Flashathon (NEXT WEEKEND!), a new Writer Reviews, and hopefully a new Ace Double review I’ve been not writing for a few weeks.
It’s once again Banned Books Week, a week designated to celebrate the freedom to read. I make it a point to talk about this week every year, whether here or over on Unleaded, because I love books. Really, it’s nothing more complicated than that. I love books, I’ve always loved books, so I support and defend them. However, Banned Books Week this year arrives with me now the father of a one month old daughter, and on the heels of my wife and I having our first conversations about her future media consumption.
Books are only a part of this. I can only hope they will be a big part. I’m already collecting books appropriate across a wide range of ages, starting with Bob Shea’s Dinosaur Vs books that are excuses for daddy to make a lot of silly roaring noises, though YA classics like the copy of Wizard of Oz I grabbed at the Arlington Central Library booksale this weekend, to modern YA by authors I admire, like the first two books of Cat Valente’s Fairyland series. I plan to complete my collection of Lemony Snicket books, because it’s important to know that sometimes book series don’t end well. These are books and writers that I love dearly, and they are books and writers I hope my Little Bird will love as well.
My wife and I plan to curate her reading. We want to go into books knowing what she’ll encounter, knowing what we might want to talk about, and knowing if a book isn’t yet age appropriate for her. We hope to do this with all her media consumption. We plan to limit television and video game times, we plan to supervise her when she is around any of these glowing rectangles that fill our lives and my house. This is what my wife and I view as responsible parenting, being aware of what our child is exposed to and choosing proper media experiences.
There’s a line, however, between parents curating their child’s experiences, and parents attempting to use the government to curate other children’s experiences. This is the line that Banned Books Week shines a light on. I’m not going to pretend that all media, whether books, television, games, or movies, is appropriate for all audiences. I’m certainly not going to read my Little Bird 50 Shades of Grey when she’s six years old, just as I wouldn’t sit her down to watch The Host or let her play, or watch me play, Assassin’s Creed. Some lines are harder to draw. What’s the right point for the first Harry Potter book…or the fourth one, or the last one? What’s the right age for Star Wars? Or The Hobbit (movies or book)? There will be an ongoing series of these decisions that my wife and I will make, and have been empowered to make by the fact that the hospital handed us this squirming baby to take home one month ago, and society has now tasked us with turning her into a productive adult.
Some will be tough decisions, and some may involve a lot of discussion between my wife and myself, and potentially some sit downs with our Little Bird as she gets older. But these decisions will be made, and they will apply to her.
And only to her.
Age appropriateness is one of the common complaints when books are challenged within school libraries. And it’s the only complaint that comes up that I can understand. It is the job of a school library to properly curate its collection for the children. Just as I wouldn’t read 50 Shades to her, I also wouldn’t expect to see it in her elementary school library. This is an obvious line to draw, and I’m using 50 Shades in part as an extreme example. However, there are books that rest on the line of questionability, books that some parents may allow and others may not depending on the reading and maturity levels of their children. These are the cases where I would be more likely to side with librarians. What can I say? My mother worked in a school library for two decades, so I tend to side with school librarians.
However, age appropriateness is not the only challenge that comes up for books, if it was we wouldn’t need Banned Books Week to bring our attention to them. Of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2012, only three list age appropriateness as a reason, and never as the only reason. Books are also challenged for their religious viewpoints. For their attitudes towards human sexuality, especially positive portrayal (or even daring to mention the existence of) non-heterosexual characters. For their morality. Now we get into territory where parents are not curating what their own children are reading, but are seeking to actively control what other children have access to. In some cases, the complaints aren’t even from parents, but from individuals who aren’t stakeholders in the situation. In some cases they aren’t complaints but individuals taking directed action, secreting books from their library shelves and destroying them. In some cases we’re talking public libraries, not school libraries.
People challenge these books because these books challenge them. Which is a damned shame. Books should challenge us. They should present us with a world that is not our own, make us ask questions of ourselves and society. Oh, perhaps not all of them, escapism is a wonderful pastime. But we can’t, and shouldn’t, get rid of books just because they make us uncomfortable. I hope my daughter starts reading books that make us sit down and have a conversation. And I’ll be right there reading them along with her, so I know what questions she may ask so I know what answers to give. That’s called parenting. But if I don’t like the questions, or the answers I may have to give, I’m not going to complain and demand that no one be able to read the book.
That’s called censorship.
I guess this all boils down to…parent your children. Know what media he or she is consuming. Especially books, because they’re the hardest media to monitor as both the quietest and most portable. If you don’t agree with the message a book gives, you’re within your right to say your child can’t read it. But you’re crossing the line if you say my child can’t read it. And look…I’ll do the same for you.
I’m starting with those words only because I promised, at the beginning of the year, that I would start every State of the Writer post this year with those words, to remind me that was my goal for the year. At this point it’s now the second of October, and we’re not even to beta readers, so I can say it will not happen. Does that make me regret the goal? Not in the least. It’s been a fire under my ass all year to keep working on the novel. But…life gets in the way sometimes.
I didn’t write this blog post yesterday. I had the Add New Post page open, ready to go, but I didn’t write it. Because I knew what it would say. That’s cheating. The entire reason I started these monthly posts back in February 2011 was to not only trumpet my accomplishments, but to keep myself honest as a writer. During September of 2012 my only writerly activity was to accept the edits on my story for the upcoming Old Weird South anthology. For which I was immediately paid, making this simultaneous one of my least and most productive months ever as a writer, depending on the criterion you want to use.
Writing with a baby has proven to be difficult. It’s hard to write when you’re not getting as much sleep (though I’m getting less not sleep than my wife, who is busy being the awesomest mom ever, sorry my mom). I was going to kick back into writing yesterday, but we had an opportunity for a date night with my wife to have sushi and go see a movie. When you’ve got a baby, those are the nights you cannot pass up, no matter how much you want to get back into writing. We saw Looper, and last night is one of the few nights I don’t regret not writing in the last month. Tonight, it’s back to the grind. My goals at first are going to be modest. 500 words of writing or 30 minutes of editing. Every week night. Morning writing has ended for now, it may return with the new year as I learn what my new morning schedule is. It may not if the new schedule will not accommodate it. If it doesn’t, I will find another 15 minute chunk of time daily that is exclusively for first drafting. One of my first goals will be prepping Vampires of Mars for circulation among some pro-rate markets. I hope to have it out to the first stop (wherever that ends up being) by the end of the week.
I have the best possible excuse in the world for not writing, not just a baby, but a fantastic baby. Going forward, I will likely refer to her as Little Bird in this blog and on Twitter, following the habits of Tee Morris, Chuck Wendig, and others of not referring to their children by name online. It’s ultimately up to her to craft an identity connect with her name on the internet, which she won’t be doing for a good long while (more on that later in the week, likely). I’d been planning to give her an online nickname for awhile. Little Bird is one my wife started using, and I rather liked.
State of the Authors Beer: Hoping to bottle π Stout this weekend, especially since I promised some bottles to coworkers yesterday.
State of the Authors Bees: It’s been a rough summer for nectar in Northern Virginia, not just for my bees but across the region. That’s probably why my one hive was robbed. To prepare the bees for winter, we are feeding them 2-to-1 sugar syrup so we’ll hopefully not lose both hives our first year.
Today, as I write this blog post, it is September 25th. According to…I don’t know who, just people who are asserting it on the internet, today is National Comic Book Day. Which is odd, because I would think that Free Comic Book day would be a better choice for that, but the internet claims otherwise. And who am I to argue with the internet? I don’t read many comic books. Watchmen (but not the Before stuff), Locke and Key, Fall of Cthulhu, maybe the occasional one-shot with a premise that interests me. But I fully support comic books, and comic book days, and recognizing that comic books are awesome. In part because I love comic book movies, and without the books, the movies wouldn’t come out.
So there’s that. But there’s something more important being honored today. No, not National One-Hit Wonder Day. Today is National Voter Registration Day, and unlike National Comic Book Day, this actually has a website. And this is absolutely and critically important. This isn’t a Democratic or Republican thing, this is an American thing. There is a presidential election approaching, thirty-three senatorial elections, and four hundred thirty-five house of representatives elections happening this year. No matter where you are, if you are over 18 you get to participate in at least two of those, and likely all three. Not to mention down ticket races and local issues that will be part of that November 6th ballot.
But only if you are registered to vote.
Voting registration deadlines are rapidly approaching. The earliest deadlines are next Saturday, October 6th. By the 10th it will be too late to register in 21 states. The full list of registration deadlines can be found here.
That’s my little call for civic awesomeness, go register, then remember to go out and vote. I’m not going to say who for. Educate yourself, come to your own decisions, search your feelings, you know it’s true. Wait, wrong cliche. But this is my further call for a little synergy.
Today is not Free Comic Book Day. That happens next on May 4th (see, more Star Wars). However, if today is going to be both National Comic Book Day and National Voter Registration Day, why not Free Comic Book For Registered Voters Day? Alright, yeah, that’s clearly unfair to kids under 18. Know what? In this instance, I don’t care. It could also be argued that we shouldn’t have to bribe people into registering to vote, and questions could come up about whether apolitical people might register just for the comic book. To the former, I agree. To the latter…if it pushed anyone to voting who might not before, I think that’s a net positive to the nation.
If you’re registered, go find someone else who isn’t, and get them to register.
And if all your friends are registered…go enjoy some comic books. Job well done.
…are doomed to repeat it. At least, such is the classic trope. We are warned to remember the mistakes of the past so we do not make them again in the future. Which is all well and good when it comes to a broad societal level. However, as a writer recently caught up in relearning world history, may I instead say that those who study history are blessed to repeat it.
My education into world history (which currently involves the 180-someodd part The History of Rome podcast and the University of Houston Youtube course on the Crusades) has taught me things I didn’t know, reminded me of things I’d forgotten, and filled me in on details of events I thought I understood. Above all else, it’s given me story concepts. These largely fall into two broad categories, but I’m certain others will arrive.
Reliving history. I first learned about Prester John during the Crash Course World History episode on 15th Century maritime exploration. For those not aware of the story, he is a mythic Christian king cut off from Christendom (by which people typically meant European Catholicism) but still keeping the faith. One day he would rejoin with the devout and help kick the asses of any non-believers in the way. At times his kingdom was meant to be in India, at times in Africa, always just beyond where Europeans were comfortable with the geography. At one point in history, Prester John even rose up and led his armies out of the far east to tackle the nascent Muslim threat spreading through the Arab world and knocking on Europe’s door.
Only…yeah, it wasn’t so much Prester John as it was Genghis Khan. Easy mistake to make, I’m sure.
Prester John shows up, or rather fails to show up, for several centuries, especially during the Crusades. The story naturally brings to mind a plotline I came across both in Earthman, Go Home and Delusion World in my Ace Double readings. It’s the story of humanity spreading so quickly among the stars that planets get lost or forgotten in the process. Take this trope, sprinkle in some Prester John, and now there’s a space opera spinning around in my head.
Rewriting history. Anyone who is looking to write alternate history must first be comfortable with the real history. Largely because not everything will change. But this isn’t even about that aspect of alternate history. This is learning about points in history that I now want to change. Especially in connection with the Nickajack world, asking questions about what is different about this earth not just in the 1860s, but in the 1760s or even 1060s. Yeah…maybe I’m thinking about writing a Steampunk story set during the Crusades. I’m still trying to figure out what the story even is there, but you can bet Baldwin of Boulogne, aka Baldwin I will show up.
So get out there, learn a little history. The stories of the past are fantastic fodder for genre fiction, and are sometimes just fun to learn.
Two thoughts after one week.
Thought the first: Baby has a lot of hiccups. This is apparently very common among babies, and not a problem unless the hiccups bring up stomach contents, at which point it’s a baby version of the condition I suffered through a few years back. In researching this, however, I came across a discussion of baby hiccups, and what doesn’t work to cure them. Long and short, like human hiccups there are few known causes or cures, but plenty of folk remedies. Here were the “cures” that the site specifically pointed out don’t work:
Don’t try to cure hiccups by startling your baby, pressing on her eyeballs, pushing on her fontanel, or pulling her tongue, which are common folk remedies in some cultures.
The fontanel, for those keeping score at home, is also known as the soft spot, a place where the skull hasn’t yet fully fused. I was surprised that some parents may need to be told, hey, maybe don’t poke the soft spot.
Thought the second: Today is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It’s impossible not to look at things in terms of my now one week old daughter. She was born not just after the attacks, but after the 10th anniversary of the attacks. This is an event that so defined lives of multiple generations that will only ever be a history lesson for her. I was trying to put that in some personal perspective, so I checked out the year-in-history pages on Wikipedia for 11 years before both my wife and I were born.
For my wife, the 11 years ago event was Apollo 13. For myself, it was the assassinations of RFK and MLK Jr. It’s stunning to think that she will be as removed from 9/11 as we are from those events. The world keeps going, and the present very quickly becomes the past.
This blog will probably return to normal next week.
“What the hell?”
We’ve had bees for a summer now, so I’m used to seeing them in the yard. Even a lot of them in the yard. End of the night when they’re all coming home. After their hives were toppled by a branch during the derecho. This was different. The sun was setting, right at a perfect angle to illuminate the entire yard with nearly sideways beams of light, catching each bee and turning them into golden streaks. So many golden streaks. They filled the back like a galaxy.
Something was very wrong.
The right hive, the domain of Queen Victoria, had two full bee beards, one around the entrance, and one clinging to the out cover. Bees would occasionally drop off, straight to the ground. We thought at first they may be swarming, dissatisfied with the hive, the amount of space they had, the queen herself, there’s any number of reasons why a hive of bees will split and become two, an odd reproduction. Mitosis on a massive scale. Suited up, we examined a few clumps of bees, carefully looking for the old queen ready to take her faithful retinue off to form a new colony, leaving her successor behind.
The bees weren’t swarming. They were fighting. Each little battle was one-on-one combat as bee grappled with bee. The whole of the hive was at war, and there was only one reason for that sort of whole scale combat. The hive was under attack.
Bees will rob bees. If one hive comes across another and perceives weakness, decides that it’s easier to fight off other bees than to collect their own pollen and nectar, then the process will begin. We’d taken every listed precaution against the possibility. Wire screens across entrances which made it harder to fly in and right back out with honey. Keeping the bees fed so they’ll be healthy. Sometimes it still happens. We opened up the hive, and it was heartbreaking. Frame after frame of drawn out comb, all completely empty. By the time the robbing started, by the time we saw bees flying everywhere and fighting it out, it was already too late for anyone to do anything. Us, the hive, it was all over.
Soon we’ll have one hive. The robbed hive won’t make it through the winter, there’s no way it can store enough honey and pollen between now and then. The process is easy enough. Lay down a sheet of newspaper across the top of the healthy hive, cut a tiny slit so pheromones can pass back and forth, then stack on the supers of the robbed hive. Give it a week, and the bees will acclimate to each other, chew through the paper, and two hives will be one.
The only problem is Queen Victoria. A hive can only have one queen. She either has to be segregated with a few workers, or disposed of. I was glib about regicide while learning about beekeeping, but we’ve hit the first time where that’s an option. It feels silly actually giving a damn about an insect. Not bees in general, not our hives, but one specific bee who we’ve seen perhaps three times total.
So who robbed the hive? It’s impossible to know. I actually hope it was our other hive. First because it means they now have all the resources of both hives, and that’s not lost honey and pollen. Second because the alternative is an aggressor robbing hive somewhere in a three-mile radius of our house that could come back for our other hive. It’ll be bad enough losing one, losing both would be a real blow to our beekeeping spirits.
We always prepared ourselves to lose a hive, perhaps even both. Beekeeping isn’t easy, and even our mentors who have been in the hobby for years don’t have a 100% success rate on their hives. But it was a little brutal to actually witness, if not the actual death of the hive, at least the fatal blow being struck. Hopefully the combined hive will be healthy enough to overwinter, and come spring we’ll have all the wood ware to start a second hive, whether swarmed off the surviving hive or a newly created package or nuc.
This may put a serious delay in my dreams of fully homemade mead, however.