Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lessons In Character Motivation From A Passive-Aggressive Fish

The daughter was home from college for the semester break for two days when her roommate called and asked, "Um, did you bring Beanie home with you?"

Thankfully Beanie wasn't a dog or a kitten or a human baby, but Beanie was a betta fish, and for a full month he was alone in a dorm room. Probably the dorm room, anyway. They couldn't be sure they didn't set his container down in the parking lot while packing up their cars.

So of course, the girls were fully expecting to return to a dorm room that smelled somewhere between sway-inducing and ferocious. Imagine the shock when roommate arrived this afternoon to find Beanie swimming in his bowl, right on the dresser where they left him. How is this possible, people?

While I was wondering if this was some sort of alien or zombie fish, my friend Shelli Cornelison suggested on Twitter that this could lead to a fun picture book idea. How did this heroic fish survive on his watery island during his month of neglect? Did he leap into the air out of desperation to grab a packet of Ramen Noodles? Scrounge for crumbs from Little Debbie Snacks?

Just as we were discussing this, Daughter called to tell me that Beanie the Wonderfish had the nerve to DIE. Yes, after all that time, he died as soon as he was given his first flake of food.

And now I'm really intrigued. How could he die now, after all he'd been through? Perhaps the food was a shock to his system, but I couldn't help but think of possible motivations Beanie had for hanging on for so long, just to die as soon as help arrived:

  • Closure: Maybe Beanie was clinging to life for weeks, but couldn't bear to leave without saying goodbye. As soon as the companion he'd been waiting for arrived, he embraced the sweet release of death. Very Barbara-Hershey-in-Beaches of you, fish.
  • Despair: I'm sure he assumed that something terrible happened to his humans. Certainly they wouldn't abandon him for so long, leaving him helpless and hungry. And then they walk through the door and he realizes, "Oh. There you are. You're all right. I guess you would abandon me. I don't think I want to be a part of this anymore."
  • Passive-aggressiveness: One can't play the victim without an audience, so Beanie refused to succumb to starvation until he could look into someone's eyes and say, "Thanks for the food, bitches. Peace out."
What other reasons could there be? 'Cause I'm baffled. Obviously, it's perfectly acceptable to attribute human characteristics to a fish in any explanations you can come up with. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How Audiobooks Will Help Me Dust More Often & Other Reading Habits For The New Year

I mentioned in this post that I kept track of the books I read last year and noticed that almost all the books were YA novels. One thing I plan to do now is catch up on some mid-grade novels I've missed; I'd like to get at least a couple good ones read before the ALA Awards, because I'll have no idea who to cheer for when the Newbery is announced. Yes, I'm that much of a book nerd--I'll wake up early to watch the live webcast online.  

And my list had just three audiobooks. I've never listened to audiobooks much because I had trouble paying attention to them. Once in a while I try to listen to one while driving, but before long I have no idea what's going on in the story. Or I'm really into the story and thinking, "What a great book! Where the hell am I?" 

But I discovered something interesting last year--when I was painting my house or laying a new kitchen floor, I was able to pay attention really well to what I was listening to. Really well. I can remember the exact wall I was painting in the bedroom when E! True Hollywood Story about Beyonce was on. If I knew back in college that I had this kinesthetic-memory connection, I'd have painted the walls of the dorm every day while listening to professors' lectures on tape.

We'll see if it works for housecleaning just as well. When I'm reading a good book I tend to ignore everything else that needs to be done. I look up after closing a book and wonder who ransacked the house and who these starving people in front of me are. So this year I want to try listening to audiobooks while I clean house--I'll get to read more books and my house will look better. 

I'll also be participating in the Debut Author Challenge hosted by The Story Siren. If you join the challenge, you take on the goal of reading at least twelve midgrade or young adult novels from this year's debut authors. I've been looking forward to so many books on the list, so I know I'll be reading a lot more than twelve of them. Anyone can participate, so check it out if you'd like to discover some new favorite authors and win some fun bookish prizes.

So those are my reading plans for the year: catch up on the midgrade books, listen to more audiobooks, and read a bunch of the 2011 debut author novels.  What about everyone else--any changes to your reading routine this year?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dubious Honors I Present to Authors As I Glare At Them Reproachfully

I'm always reading something, so I've wondered for a long time how many books I read in a year. I really had no idea, since it takes a while to finish a book if I'm busy with other things, and other times I'll read a couple books a week.

This year I kept track for the first time. It turned out to be a pretty long list--thirty-nine books, including three audiobooks--but I not as long as I would have guessed. It's heavy in young adult novels, probably because that's what I was writing this year. I'll be catching up on my middle grade books now because I know there were a lot of good ones this year I don't want to miss out on.

I loved so many of the books I read, it's almost impossible to choose my favorites, but I'll mention a few in particular here. Some of the awesome books I read are 2011 releases; I'm not including those authors on my awards list below since this is about some of my 2010 favorites. Later I'll be saying more here or elsewhere about this year's releases, like agent-sister Veronica Roth's Divergent, Will Write For Cake member Christina Mandelski's The Sweetest Thing, and those by Elevensies authors I've interviewed for The Apocalypsies blog--Kristi Cook (Haven) and Beth Revis (Across the Universe).

I've seen a lot of "Best Books of the Year" and "Favorite Books of 2010" lists, so I'll do something a little different. 
It's an award list, of sorts.

Authors Of 2010 I Blame Things On 

1.  My year began with Jo Knowles and not enough exercise. As soon as I finished Lessons From A Dead Girl, I had to get Jumping Off Swings, which I liked even more. The guy I hated at the beginning had me crying by the end because I loved him so much. Although I read the books fairly quickly, there were a few days there when I really meant to get out and exercise, but couldn't bring myself to put the books down and get off the couch. So I am blaming you, Jo Knowles, for my big butt. Don't give me any excuses about too much chocolate having something to do with it, or how a few days couldn't make that much of a difference. This is all on you. Imagine my scowl as I hand you the Trophy of the Sofa Butt. (Don't imagine what the trophy looks like, just my scowl.)

2.  And you, C.J. Omololu. I love shows like Hoarders, so I was sure I'd love your book. But how's this for irony? As I read Dirty Little Secrets, about a home that's pathologically messy, my house just got messier. I really felt like cleaning my house. I honestly hoped there wouldn't be an emergency, because I would be too embarrassed to call 911 and risk paramedics seeing how long it had been since I did the dishes. But I had to keep reading to see what Lucy was going to do about her predicament. When I finished the book I was motivated to clean the house pretty well, but it was bad there for a while. So to you, C.J., I give the Failure of a Housekeeper Award. It's a mop. Don't worry, it's clean.

3.  Then there's Jandy Nelson. I must tell any writers who pick up The Sky Is Everywhere: you will throw this book down in despair and shake your fists at the heavens while you wail, "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!" Don't say I didn't warn you people. How dare someone write a first novel that's that good? Sure, she's probably working on her 17th writing-related master's degree as I write this, but still, could she have been a little more considerate and toned down the awesomeness? It's enough to make the rest of us want to give up on the whole writing thing. For that reason, I present the Throw In The Towel award to Jandy Nelson, and I am throwing that towel really hard.

4.  You're next, Carrie Ryan. I'll admit, reading The Dead-Tossed Waves inspired me to make some cool little forts in the living room, but who am I kidding? My card table and couch cushions aren't going to protect me when the real zombie apocalypse hits. And when will that be? We don't know, do we? They could be at my window right now. How many nights did I lie awake and wonder about every noise I heard? And do you know how silly it feels to leap out of your chair and scream with fear, so startled when toast pops up? Not since Nightmare on Elm Street have I been so afraid to fall asleep. For you, Carrie Ryan, The Too Exhausted to Fight the Zombies Award. It's a black shopping bag, symbolic of what you've done to the area under my eyes.

5. And where do you think you're going, Josh Berk? Don't think you're off the hook. There I was, enjoying every minute of The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin. How many people can pull off writing a murder mystery that's also laugh-out-loud funny? What a great character that Will Halpin is. And what part to I get to when I'm reading during a break at work? His post-lobster-ravioli um, "upset stomach," if I'm putting it euphemistically. ("Explosive diarrhea" if I'm not.) And what do you think I'd brought for lunch that day? Yes, lobster ravioli, dammit. Do you know the odds of this happening? About one in however-many-days-I've-been-alive, since I'd never had it before. I had it in an insulated lunch bag, but how reliable are those things, does anyone really know? So I threw it away. Which means I had to buy a replacement lunch which probably cost me like, $7 or something. So here, Josh Berk, The Lost Lunch Award, since you quite literally made me lose my lunch. Your trophy is a lunch sack filled with warm lobster ravioli and wrath. Enjoy.

Which authors deserve an award from you? Just make a list of your shortcomings and look over your reading list, you'll come up with something. Think how much better you'll feel.

And watch it, authors of 2011. I have my eye on you.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Get On It, Science!

A lot has happened in the past decade, technologically speaking. We could get online ten years ago, but most of us weren't connecting to the Internet on our laptops wherever we stopped for lunch. We weren't yet keeping in touch with everyone we knew through Facebook. We weren't entertaining ourselves by watching Miley Cyrus and kittens riding a Roomba on YouTube. We were listening to music on CDs. Our cell phones didn't play music or take pictures or connect to the Internet.

So we've made some great strides, and our gadgets keep getting smaller and faster. It's hard to imagine how much more we can do. According to Back to the Future II, we're only four years away from getting our flying cars.

Not sure if that will happen, but here are a few things I'm hoping we'll see in the next ten years:

Vehicles like those bank tube things. Once I punch in an address into the GPS, I should be able to hit "Send" like I'm making a deposit in the drive-through lane at the bank, then take a nap or read a few books on my b-reader while my tube car whooshes me to my destination.

Which brings me to...

The b-reader. I read a lot of books this year (Thirty-five if I counted right, including a couple of audiobooks.) But there are so many more I wanted to read. Before I can get to the next book in my to-be-read pile, I hear about five more I want to read right now. Downloading instantly onto an e-reader wouldn't help much. I need something that downloads a book instantly into my brain. 

One end of the b-reader will plug into a USB port on your computer, and the other will stick to your forehead like an electrode. Click on what books you want to buy from an online bookstore, and the whole story is transmitted to your brain. It should just take a couple minutes, so keep your wish list full.

Video call Photoshop application. With videoconferencing like Skype and iChat, video calls may become more commonplace. But do you want to worry about how your hair looks every time the phone rings? What if it's 2:00 in the afternoon and you're still wearing your pajamas? Or you're at the mall while taking a sick day from work? With a couple clicks on our phone's touch screen, we should be able to select a hairstyle, touch up skin imperfections, and choose background scenery. By the time you answer the phone you'll be looking well-rested yet productive. (Unless you're supposed to look bad because you're at home sick. In that case, click the "death bed" background.)

Rosie the Robot. The Roomba's been around for a while, but The Jetsons had their own robot that did all the household chores, and I think it's time we each have our own Rosie too. Maybe we're not too far off: I found this article "Finally: Rosie the Robot Comes To Life" in the science section of the Houston Chronicle blog. The robot "completed 50 out of 50 attempts to fold a single towel and also folded 5 out of 5 towels when they were presented in a group." That's more housework than I accomplish in a week.

The kittens will just have to find something else to play with.

So, what are you hoping to see in the next decade? What would make your life easier and free up some time for what you really want to do?

A Few Minutes In The Life Of A Sign Language Interpreter

When I'm not at home writing on the computer I'm often out working the day job (and sometimes night job) as a sign language interpreter.

One thing I love about the job is that I go to different places every day. Some interpreters like a consistent schedule and do work primarily in one location, but I like a lot of variety.

These are videos I made about some of the funny questions we interpreters get and the responses we wish we could give. If these scenarios are exaggerated, it's not by much.

Thankfully I haven't met anyone quite this bad (most professors and teachers I've met have been really accomodating), but this is the video people have enjoyed the most, whether they work in the interpreting field or not.

I had four videos on here and things kept getting messy with videos overlapping with text and such, so I've put "The Job Interview" and "The Medical Appointment" videos into separate posts so I wouldn't have to keep fixing it.

Any weird questions people ask you about your day job? Ones that make you fight the little sarcastic voice who wants to answer for you?

A Few Minutes In The Life Of A Sign Language Interpreter: The Job Interview

The latest video I made in the "Few Minutes In the Life Of a Sign Language Interpreter" videos.

An interpreter wishes he could escape the pre-interview questions:

Others in the series are "The Classroom" and "The Medical Appointment."

A Few Minutes In The Life Of A Sign Language Interpreter: The Medical Appointment

These are the first two videos I made in the "Few Minutes In the Life Of a Sign Language Interpreter" series. These have the same script, but I remade it when I realized the program offered a hospital scene I'd overlooked. Even though I'd used a police station as a stand-in for a clinic's reception desk, a lot of people like the original better. Probably because of the awkwardness in the second one, with the patient lying right there in front of them. But I kind of like  that.

If you enjoy these videos, you can see the others I've made so far, "The Classroom" and "The Job Interview."