Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Car Crash

Three weeks ago, I was involved in an accident on the freeway.

I was in a brand-spankin'-new car, one that I'd owned for a month, and I had, ironically, stopped at the dealership to get my tires checked before heading out to pick up my husband from work. Listening to my favorite Japanese CD and thinking about my plans for the evening, I watched the green signs for my exit.

A red car in front of me stopped suddenly as they were cut off. I slammed on my brakes, hoping that I had kept a good following distance behind. I sighed in relief when I stopped, then tensed again as I heard squealing brakes. I lurched back and then forward like a whip, the car spinning counter-clockwise. My breath caught, and my fists went white, tightening around the wheel.

I don't remember what I thought at the time, other than that I was facing the wrong way. I do remember looking out the driver's side door, wide-eyed at the silver grill of a giant white truck. He stopped. Thank God he stopped.

Then, my body was a whip again, thrown to the side as someone struck the rear door of the driver's side. Everything felt numb. I watched as two other cars pulled over, reluctantly letting go of the brake and driving myself to safety--the car thumped. Flat tire.

Understatement. That tire was demolished.

When I had parked, everything became blurry and surreal. A man with a blue bag knocked on my window and asked if I was okay. My wrist--my shoulder--everything else was numb. I nodded. "Yeah," I said.

My CD was still playing. Kaze wa tomari kotoba wa--I clicked it off. I needed to call my husband, let him know I wasn't going to pick him up. But when I heard his voice, all that came out of my mouth was a garbled mess. And when the policeman knocked on my window and handed me a paper, I was so confused and shaky that I couldn't even recall exactly what had happened, doubting every word that came out of my mouth.

I mean, it doesn't look that bad... The hatch wouldn't open, but...

Was I okay? Was I really rear-ended? Was I sure I hadn't hit anyone else? I said "I don't know" at least 30 times, and cried for a full two hours. I had a hard time filling out paperwork and listening to my husband's voice on the phone was about the only thing that kept me awake. The only things I was sure of were that I was upset about my car, and that my wrist was killing me.

...oh.

It wasn't until the next day that I realized I had been in shock and that I had terrible, terrible whiplash. Fortunately, things like ibuprofen and heating/cooling packs exist, and I'm almost back to normal.

On the downside, rental cars are expensive and I'm afraid of squeaky brakes. 

On the upside, I have more life experience, something to draw on for future writing, and a greater appreciation for good friends, family, and coworkers. Thank you for the rides, hugs, and good advice.

-Rachel

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Video Game Girl

     Once upon a time, a girl named Rachel was driving home from writing group, thinking about how she was going to fix her latest scene, when lo and behold, flashing lights blinded her, reflected in the rear-view mirror. She pulled over, wondering why in the world she'd had to stop when she was clearly going the speed limit...
     "Do you know why I pulled you over?" The policeman said as Rachel rolled down the window.
     "No," she said, sounding more like a choking sheep than an innocent driver.
     "Your tail light is out. Wait..." The policeman checked the decal on the rear windshield--the royal crest of Hyrule. He looked back at the girl, then at the decal again. "Is this your car?" he asked.
     "Y-yes," she stammered.
     "Really?" He raised an eyebrow, then shook his head before asking for license and registration.
From Wikipedia. Mine looked much cooler than this.
As silly and innocent as it seems, the important part here was the cop's disbelief at my love of The Legend of Zelda. I could see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to understand why I would have the Triforce emblazoned on the back of my vehicle. Maybe it belonged to my father, brother, or husband. But certainly the car couldn't be mine. After all, I was a twenty-something female.

I remember being a little angry, beneath all of the genuine niceness of the cop who pulled me over to let me know my car needed a new light. I guess that's because it's not the first time someone has seemed so surprised by my interest in video games. This is a common occurrence. Usually it takes a form similar to this cop's hesitation. Sometimes I'm told, "That's so hot." Occasionally I am called 'fake' or a 'liar' or drilled on my knowledge of the games I play. Rarely I am called nastier things.

---

My online experience has been kind of awful. I can play a game like StarCraft under my husband's account and be treated like any other player--but if I play as Tsira, I am a slut or whore and I am ruining the game, especially if I am winning. If you can stand the language, you should check out Not In The Kitchen Anymore, which chronicles the everyday sexism that one gamer girl faces just for playing online FPS (first-person shooters, like Call of Duty and Halo).

Some might say, "Well, that's what happens when you play online, so you just shouldn't do that anymore!" But here's the thing: this is a major, major portion of these games, and if you like shooting virtual aliens and terrorists, that world is closed to you simply because you have a female-sounding name. Because you dared to be born with a pink label clipped around your wrist at birth.

I have given up because I can't stand it. Those games are not even fun anymore. But here's the thing: I shouldn't have to deal with it in the first place, just as no one should be bullied for walking into a library, store, school, or any other public place. Yes, these games are marketed to boys, but even decent men are chased away by the vitriol hurled at them in online games. As for local play? Well, you'd better shell out more money, because these games now only support 1 or 2 players.

---

Anita.
A feminist critic named Anita Sarkeesian started analyzing some of the more negative aspects of women's typical roles in video games and of course she's gotten all kinds of threats for it. Putting the word feminist on anything makes it a topic for spewing hatred from people who claim feminism isn't needed while simultaneously proving why it's still necessary: using words that dehumanize and/or objectify whatever woman identifies with the term.

People act like she's demonizing video games. But she's not saying, "All games that have a damsel in distress, etc., are evil and must be purged!" She's saying, "This is a tired old trope and we can do so much better in the future."

As stated here and in previous posts, I'm a huge Zelda fan. And even I have to admit that the Princess tends to be damseled. A lot. I can make counter arguments as to how women in the Zelda universe are respected, powerful beings--Hyrule Warriors kinda proves this, with more playable female characters than male (and only two of those males being "good guys"). But in pretty much every game, at some point Zelda is captured and you have to go save her. In the rare case that Link is captured, he saves himself.

Why can't the Spirit of the Hero reincarnate as a female Link? Why can't there be a Prince of Hyrule, or a new female villain (because it doesn't count if Ganondorf is still involved). Can we have a discussion about this without devolving into trolls and terrorists? Because that's what I'd like, but I'm afraid the internet is showing me it's not ready for that.

---

Just a concept, by Jaron Frost.
I've started writing a script for a video game. In it, you are an art student at a university by day and a monster hunter by night. It's kind of like Persona, actually, with less grinding and a more diverse cast--starting with a female lead. If the big name companies won't do it, then the indies will just have to take the world by storm. 

-Rachel

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: **^ (2 1/2 of 5 stars)

Divergent is the story of Beatrice, or Tris, as she leaves her faction of Abnegation to become a Dauntless, and the trials that follow. If I didn't think about what I was reading, it was fine. But... *rant follows*

I had a really hard time suspending my disbelief about the state of society. The idea that someone must choose what they're going to do for the rest of their life at age 16 (when a human mind is in a state of serious turmoil) is bad enough, but the people you know and love decide they all hate you and never want to talk to you again if you move away. The people I would consider regular people, who still love the child they gave birth to, who recognize that humans are complex and maybe there's something to the idea that people can be more than one very narrow thing in their lives, etc, are the rare "Divergent", who are purged from society. I'm sorry, but I just don't think people are wired this way.

Second, the instant we see the Dauntless and find that in the first ten minutes someone is left behind and someone dies, and then the recruits are narrowed down to about 10 people per year, well... how does this faction survive? The combination of violence and daredevil theatrics would result in 90% of this faction wiping themselves out. And they don't have the numbers to be picky, IMO. So there's that.

And then... there's the sort of abusive relationship we see between Tris and Four, which teen fiction seems to LOVE these days. Granted, it's no Twilight, but he's still a jerk and she's still an idiot.

*end of rant*

Good points about this book:

1. Obviously I made it all the way to the end, and I don't do that if I don't care about the characters or have some curiosity about the end result. I was entertained.

2. Some of the support characters--not the obviously evil ones, which were boring--were really interesting. Tris's family and the tattoo artist were pretty fun to see.

3. There's a Q & A and soundtrack list and such from the author at the end. I didn't care enough to read any of it, but I realised that it made the book about a hundred pages shorter than I thought it would be! (Okay, that was low. Sorry.)

-Rachel

View all my reviews

Friday, July 11, 2014

Random Thoughts


  1. My youngest brother turned 20, and I'm not sure how I feel about that yet. I'm not in the "he'll always be a baby to me" camp, but it does seem odd that my entire set of seven siblings are all grown-up and moved away from home. 
  2. Writing a query is hard. Rejection is harder. Close rejections--"you have talent," "your story was compelling," "I just didn't fall in love with it,"--are hardest.
  3. There is no reason why the Hero cannot be a girl. But I'm not going to go all radical and say that the Hero must be a girl or I'll stop playing video games. If the story is good, who cares what gender the character is? 
  4. Along those lines, however, if you're toting your characters as hugely customizable, don't ignore half the human race, mkay?
  5. A sex positive environment is important. And it's sadly lacking, especially here in Utah. 
  6. Sushi is the greatest food in the world. I could eat it every day. I like savory more than sweet.
  7. It's okay to be a little self-sacrificing for others' happiness, so long as it's not at the complete destruction of your own.
  8. People who walk into the library expect shelvers to be well-read librarians. I can tell you that Shakespeare is in 822.33 and that Jane Yolen has some cute books about Dinosaurs, but I cannot tell you what grade level that book you're holding is and if it would be good for your smart six-year-old. I'm not that educated.
  9. Along those lines, I'm a picky reader and I spend more time on video games, writing, and painting than reading, so I can't tell you if Janet Evanovich or Nora Roberts or Nicholas Sparks are good or not, just that they're popular.
  10. Diabetes is not the worst thing for a cat. I've heard a lot of people say it might be time to let Luna go, but if I had to choose between getting pricked twice a day to have lots of energy, and death, I'm pretty darn sure I'd take the insulin.
  11. People don't read. If you say, "The expansions aren't finished yet," they say, "Expansions! How come my copy isn't here yet?" 
-Rachel

Monday, May 19, 2014

My Writing Process (Blog Tour)

I'm sure many of you are already familiar with the blog tour that's spread like wildfire across the blogosphere (especially considering most of you seem to have already participated -_-,). Being the slacker that I am, I hadn't heard of it until the hilarious Michael G. Munz approached me on Twitter and asked if I'd like to participate. You can read his entry here.

And I apologize in advance for the length of the following post. All right. On with the show!

What am I working on?


A lot of things. I have to split my time between projects, and I give myself waaaay too many of them.

I'm currently querying Tsirash, which is a New Adult Fantasy novel. Octras works as a bodyguard for Tsira, who may or may not be a witch. She's being watched by someone with a connection to the drold--giant, scaly creatures with a tendency to slaughter everything in their path. Octras has a dark history with the drold that may have to come to light... The book is filled with mostly dialogue, interesting places, intense battles, and romance. (Yeah, I am super-good at making my book sound the greatest in the world.*) Tsirash is my biggest priority right now. Then there's Najra, a sequel to Tsirash, where cool stuff with Dragonkin, a master thief, politics, and magick happens. I'm writing that while I wait for responses. So far they've been mostly, "Sounds interesting, but it's not for me, sorry."

I'm also illustrating a children's book, which is about inspiration. I need to work on it more. Here's a picture of the main character, Lily, for those who haven't seen it yet. There's also Dungeonball, which I might not be doing the artwork for after all *sniff*, music for Gaialite, which has been suspended until further notice, and the script for a Monster Hunters Visual Novel/RPG game. I also paint minis when I feel like it.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?


Fantasy tends to have world-driven or plot-driven story lines. They're always these sprawling epics where the fate of the world lies in the palm of some chosen hero and his sidekicks. (Look at Lord of the Rings, Shannara, The Sword of Truth, or any number of others for examples.) Tsirash is character-driven and small in scope. Yes, I think Octras is special, but he's not busy saving the world, he's just trying to keep his employer alive. The story remains very personal. It's all about their interactions with each other.

I also changed up the stereotypes commonly found in fantasy. Octras is not the calloused, emotionless badass a mercenary is expected to be. Tsira is socially inept and bad at fighting, but she recognizes her weakness for what it is, which is why she asked for Octras's help in the first place. My religious healer figure, Shenra, does not follow the same god as her peers and doesn't have a magical cure for every wound. Cute little Jake is a mixed-race boy who is not bullied for it as his sister suspects--nope, he's the one picking fights. And yes, my book passes the Bechdel test, though I've been told it's even more interesting and rare that Octras and Shenra can have deep discussions without being romantically interested in each other.

Why do I write what I do?


Because the books I wanted to read didn't exist yet (to my knowledge). I have an over-active imagination and I love the idea of otherworldly places and people, but I don't want the world to bog down the story, nor the story to get in the way of the characters' natural interactions. I admit I drew inspiration from LoTR, with my developed fictional language, from Dungeons and Dragons for the Vaen race (who look similar to the Drow), and video games like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda. I love the fantastic. I have since I was a kid, whether that was as an ice-powered witch or a nature-loving shapeshifter or a thief with a prehensile tail. I just think that the genre needs a big expansion. I mean, how much of Fantasy relies on the classic Elves/Dwarves/Humans/Halflings/Orcs that Tolkien made so famous? I want a Fantasy story that doesn't use these things.

How does my writing process work?


As far as ideas go, there are too many to fit into my brain. I'm inspired by pretty much anything and everything. A distinct smell, the distorted reflection of my face in a raindrop, the way someone's mouth moves when they talk. Characters frequently walk up and introduce themselves to me, requesting or demanding that their story is told. I have vivid dreams in which anything is possible--heavenly and hellish alike. As for actually writing these ideas down, however, the basic structure goes as follows:

Designate time to write. I have a hard time with the 15-minute window some people like, because I get really involved. I can sit down for 8 to 10 hours without getting up to eat or go to the bathroom or speak to anyone. My husband is aware that if he asks me something while I'm writing, he's either going to be ignored or shushed. 
Write. It doesn't matter what the utensil is. I like my laptop, but if it's not available or it's taking too long to load, I'll use another computer or a notebook. I frequently have several notebooks AND my lappy open, with pictures I've drawn to the side for assistance. I also frequently edit myself as I'm writing, which makes my word count rather low per day, but good enough that I don't have to chop 15K when my draft is done. Actually, Tsirash went from 50,000 to 70,000 with the last draft, not the other way around. I had to add a lot more than I had to take out. 
Read. I like to read what I've written out loud. It helps with the flow and pacing. When I start the next day, it's easier to remember what I've already done if I've heard it first. The more senses you can engage (i.e. looking AND listening) the better off you'll be.

Next on the tour...


Nathan Cunningham tends to write sci-fi with poignancy and humor, and LDS fiction. He also happens to be an awesome guy that I know in person. He's very fond of puns. Watch for his post next week!

And, as I stated, most of the other people I asked throughout the week were already participating. So here are some awesome people's writing process posts:

Heather R. Holden - who has a webcomic called the Echo Effect, which is a modern-day Narcissus and Echo.

D. Wilder - who writes dragon-centric fantasy that challenges the stereotypes. (Be warned, this post is a long one!)

Juliana L. Brandt - who has been a great help with my own work and has graciously allowed me to critique a few of her works. Her imagery is the stuff of legend.

Until next time!

-Rachel

*Note sarcasm.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Multi-book Review

I've been working at the library for a while now. (I passed my six-month evaluation shelving test with flying colors!) Essentially what this means is that I see certain books a dozen times a week, and I wish I had time to read ALL the books. But I don't. So I pick a few which stand out or are recommended to me throughout the day and check them out. Not that I have time to read all of those, either. Usually I check them out, read a few pages, renew them, scold myself for not reading them, renew them again, read a few chapters, renew them again, and whine that I have to return them before I had a chance to finish. I'm like that.

That being said, I did finish a few good books since I last posted.


The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Night Circus is a beautiful example of a world-driven story. The world, though magic, is vibrant, deep, and complex. It is easy to get lost in the stark black-and-white tents, the performances, the smell of popcorn, the cool lighting. It is also a long game and a romance, but those come second to the wonder and exploration of the world.

I'm not suggesting that I want it to be this way. I had hoped for more between the main characters, Marco and Celia. They lead very separate lives throughout the entirety of the book, and while this was by design, I wanted to see more interaction. My favorite scenes were of their brief encounters. But the book focuses primarily on the construction and function of the circus itself, even placing one of the primary viewpoints with a young boy named Bailey who becomes embroiled in their world.

The timeline skips around a lot, which adds to the surrealism but can make it hard to follow unless you have a pen and paper or an amazing ability to remember dates. At one point I thought a scene with Bailey and a scene in the circus were happening simultaneously, only to later be confused when I discovered they were a year apart mid-scene. It pulled me out of the story and I had to go back and track dates to make sure. This could be made easier to follow with a "one year earlier" type of note but all that's listed are generally arbitrary dates.

I was also a bit disappointed with the ending. It was good, but not great. I feel like there were some wasted opportunities there, especially with the development of seemingly small roles which suddenly became large. As a world, though, The Night Circus is amazing. It is intricate, delicate, and beautiful. The people and places feel real. The magic is visceral, the world tangible. The writing is fluid. It was so easy to forget myself and live in the book.


Bad Kitty (Bad Kitty, #1)Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was pure, lighthearted fun. Aside from Jasmine's distinctive, quirky voice and the footnote commentary, there are silly scenes dealing with underwear, crushes, and pretending to be celebrities. It is part teen romance, part mystery thriller. I laughed out loud at the sheer silliness of certain situations, just along for the ride. It was crazy, yet predictable. I had everything figured out before the end, excepting the identity of Alex (that's my superpower).

This is not to say that the characters weren't believable. Jas deals with many of the same concerns over body image and boys and talents that most teenage girls do. She says everyone has a superpower but her. (She has one, and it's staring us right in the face, but she can't see it. Sound familiar?) She has a love/hate relationship with her dad. She doesn't know how to relate to kids.

The only thing that really bothered me about this book was that by reading the back and excerpts, I got the impression there would be more... I dunno, Cats. The book is called Bad Kitty, after all. And it promises cat mayhem with the introduction of Mad Joe at the beginning. But it doesn't deliver on that promise.

Overall, awesome book. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes quirky, fast-paced writing and mystery stories.


-Rachel

View all my reviews

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pendulum - Witchcraft

I am the worst at keeping a regular blog. Apparently.

My life is in the midst of a major makeover. Lots of big decisions hanging over me. Our Kickstarter for Villages made over $130,000 when we were asking for $1,000, so there's that. And thinking about buying a house. And dozens of little things. But I can't use any of those things as an excuse, since I somehow managed to finish Dream Team and watch entire runs of a few animes...

I do have a few big posts planned. I've procrastinated them, though. So in the meantime, have this awesome song:


-Rachel

PS. Why is it a requirement that music videos be so weird? Seriously.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Link Between Worlds

 
I'm a huge fan of The Legend of Zelda. I have been since I picked up A Link to the Past as a kid. I was pretty terrible at it then, but it wasn't long before Ocarina of Time came out, and then I was pretty much addicted. So you can imagine how much I fangirled (yes, it's now a verb) when A Link  Between Worlds came out at the end of November. I beat it the week it came out. And I loved it.

But here's the thing. I'm not sure it deserves all of the praise it's getting.

Before you throw me out, remember, ALttP was the first Zelda game I ever played, and ALBW is a giant love letter to that game. The layout is almost identical, aside from the dungeons, and you travel between two realms, dark and light. Beyond that, Majora's Mask is my favorite Zelda, and there are references and Easter eggs for people like me buried all over the place. Plus the dungeons were well-laid-out, puzzling and creative.

So what's the problem?

The bulk of the praise comes from the fact that it's an open-world game, where you can beat the dungeons in pretty much any order. That, and they say it's "unabashedly difficult" or "incredibly hard." Tell that to this picture:


I do feel awesome that I never died. But I also feel like the game was far, far too easy, mostly because of the enemies, particularly the bosses. See, there was this problem when they created the open world that everyone wanted. In making sure you could beat any dungeon with only 9 hearts (I say this because I'm sure I had either 7 or 9 hearts when I got to the dark world), they made sure you could beat any dungeon with only 9 hearts. In essence, once you get to a certain point, the game never gets any harder. In fact, it only gets easier as you collect hearts and equipment.

The bosses didn't deal enough damage and weren't even interesting. Well, with the exception of the thief's hideout... which unfortunately was the first place I went. After that, it was disappointment after disappointment. More Moldorm! Right, because that wasn't already the lamest boss ever. I didn't even come close to dying after the first few minutes in Lorule.

Which brings me to the second half of the problem. The second all the items were made available, I rented them all because I had plenty of money. And I never had to give any of them back. So I had every item with me no matter where I decided to go. No going back to get the fire rod before I tackled the ice temple; nope, it was already with me. After beating a couple of dungeons, I bought the items just in case. But the game only got easier. Even the final boss was ridiculously easy. I lost what, four hearts? Six? (I admit figuring out the last trick was difficult, but only because I'd tried it before the last shot and the arrow didn't go all the way around. And I got hurt 0% while I worked through it.)

As for the story, it's kind of interesting how a lot of reviewers didn't like it that much, because I really enjoyed it. Nothing came as a surprise because I had played ALttP and I was paying attention to it, but that was part of what made it fun. I wanted to see what they would do with it, how they'd present it. And there are a lot of little, subtle things throughout, like the broom coming by itself, that people tend to forget about.

***Spoiler Alert***
Yuga refers to 'her grace' and 'her majesty' and says he's doing it for her multiple times. And a pink bunny from the dark world? Hello, that has "This is Lorule's Link" written all over it!
***End Spoilers***

In short, it's a Zelda game, and it's fun, but as for "Game of the Year" and 9.5/10s, I'll reserve those for better titles. It gets a 7.5/10 from this Zelda geek.

-Rachel

(PS. Between helping to run a Kickstarter for Villages, working, and taking care of my diabetic kitty--who is doing great, by the way--I've been really busy, so I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere. Hopefully things will settle after the KS is over.)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sick Kitty

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you're probably aware of this already, but... my cat Luna has been feeling pretty sick.

Not too long ago, she lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time. This was concerning, of course, so we took her in to see the vet, and they told us her blood sugar was high. Really high. She has diabetes. Nothing too major, they said; it could be treated with a special diet and some daily insulin shots.

Except they didn't warn us about ketones, or test for them. (I read that about 40% of cats have these by the time they're diagnosed, so...)

We went on our merry way, making sure to give Luna her shots and monitor her food. She was doing fine for about a week, and then she just stopped eating. She wouldn't even touch wet food, which she usually goes crazy over. Now very concerned, we rushed her into a pet E.R. on New Year's Eve. Her condition was degrading quickly. She just laid down on the exam table and took a nap.

I was terrified. Luna is usually very affectionate and vocal, and well...
she was pretty much non-responsive.

The vet there knew what the problem was almost immediately: she had developed diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA for short. Basically something called ketones, which are produced in energy emergencies, had made her blood thick and toxic, and she became extremely ill and dehydrated. (Oversimplification, but yeah.) It cost us pretty much most everything I had saved up to let them take care of her. 

After 2 days of treatment, Luna was ketone-free, and we were hoping to take her home. 

Nope. Apparently she has an insulin resistance. So they treated her for three more days, trying different kinds of insulin and higher dosages, and still her blood sugar was absurdly high. I was in tears. She seemed healthy, happy, but couldn't come home. 

People certainly didn't help. "She's old, sometimes you have to let them go..." and such make me cry like a baby. "She's FINE," I'd think. "And she's only eleven. So STOP IT." (Cats can live to be twenty, man. I keep saying Luna had better live for at least another five years. Or eight.)

But there's hope. Late last night we got to bring her home, and while treatment options are still in the works (and I'm sure a lot more money-dumping will be involved) she seems as happy to be home as we are to have her here.

Look how perky she is! See, no worries!

I love you, Luna. Be strong for me, okay? We'll figure this out.

-Rachel