Tag Archives: travel

Stalled, but only briefly

wpid-0626152133.jpgSo it’s been a minute or two since I last updated (ha ha). It’s turned out to be a seriously busy summer. So far I’ve been to San Francisco, NYC, Madison, Bar Harbor, Buffalo and coming up there’ll be a short trip back to NYC. There’s been a bit of life upheaval (nothing major, don’t worry) and as a result I’ve had to spend a lot of time and energy on things that aren’t what I’d like to be spending my time and energy on.

The result? Most of my personal creative projects – a TV pilot, a couple of ideas for plays, my Agent Carter suit, this blog – have been shoved to one side to make time for the things that need to get done. And even when I do think I’m going to set aside some time and dig in, something keeps coming up.

wpid-0712151318-1-1.jpgI spent a very large chunk of my writing life – which is now hovering around 20 years, if we go back to my first paycheck – adhering to the strict rule of writing every single day. Creative writing, every day. I gave myself deadlines, I banged out first drafts, I ran a successful scripted web series (back when everybody was on dial-up, so basically that meant managing eight or ten people, editing, planning plot arcs and then posting scripts on a regular basis), I wrote more fanfic than I can actually even remember…and I kept pushing myself to do more. And more. And more. This carried on into my late teens and then my early-to-mid twenties.

And then, one day, something changed. I think it was when I moved back from Scotland and down to New York City. I was going through a period where I didn’t feel particularly inspired, I was getting settled in a new place, and I decided it was time to refill my creative fuel tank, so to speak. It was a difficult choice, especially for someone who didn’t (and still doesn’t) believe in writer’s block. To willingly put down my pen and go out to experience life, instead, was a really difficult thing to do. But also a very necessary one. And I’ll never forget the time I was walking through Brooklyn with a friend and another woman (a friend of the friend), and we were talking about creativity. “Are you working on anything right now?” asked the woman, who I think was some kind of junior producer at a music television channel (not the two you immediately thought of).

“No,” I said, “I’m just absorbing life at the moment.”

“Oh,” she said, in a tone that let me know exactly how much respect she had (or didn’t have) for this decision.

The break ended up only lasting a handful of months, but when I went back to my keyboard it was clear that taking the pressure off had been a smart idea. For me. For my mental health. For my writing.

I’ve talked about the pressure writers put on ourselves in the past, and every so often I have to remind myself that those few months I took off from work resulted in some really great projects that I probably wouldn’t have completed without that time. I learned about myself, about my writing, about how to create the optimal conditions for creativity. Sure, I can still sit down and pound out 500 words if I have to, but feeling like you “have to” when it comes to creative writing is never a good feeling.

All that said, writing fiction is liberating (to me, and to at least a few of you) in a way that other writing and other activities aren’t. So I know it’s something I have to do and have to make time for. But it’s nice to have the confidence to put the pen down from time to time, as well, without the fear that ALL THE WORDS WILL BE GONE when I’m ready to pick it back up again.

So, while life at the moment has sped up and creative output has slowed (though it’s still trickling), I’m trying to feel okay about that, reminding myself that sometimes life takes the wheel and my plays and pilots have to ride in the way back for a while. At least we’re all in the same car. Though they are getting suspiciously quiet back there…

My guess is, they’re plotting against me. Or life. Or both.

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Stretching Your Writing Limits

This is going to be a bit of a ramble. I hope you don’t mind, and would appreciate your thoughts at the end via comment.

For the last year or do, I’ve been working on an ambitious project: a series of novels spanning epic concepts of philosophy, religion and mythology, with my friend @sareliz. Both of us wrote first drafts of two chunks of narrative last November as part of NaNoWriMo, then earlier this spring I knocked out a 50K first draft of a third book. As I’ve chipped away at rewrites, however, I’ve become more and more aware of one simple fact: in order to be true to the reality of my protagonist’s world, things are going to have to get a lot darker and more brutal than I ever anticipated, which is going to require a metric f*ckton more research than I’ve done so far.

The book isn’t supposed to be gritty or hard-hitting in a way that features depictions of extreme violence or torture, so there’s also going to have to be a balance stuck between realism and the fantasy world of the series. The more I research, the more I question: can I do this? Have my ambitions gotten ahead of my ability?

This story story, currently planned as the first novel in the series, involves a reporter who travels to a corrupt county to look for a friend and colleague who’s gone missing. As part of my research I’ve been reading about reporters in war zones and oppressive regimes (which plays into another aspect of the series’ overall plot), and with each article I read I realize that the draft i have so far actually features what could be called “danger-lite.” Terrifying things happen to journalists who travel abroad to investigate corruption. They are beheaded, jailed, tortured, ‘disappeared’ and more. The citizens of the countries they investigate are far from immune to brutal treatment, too: look at the kidnapped/murdered Mexican teachers, girls kidnapped and sold into “forced marriages” by Boko Haram, and activists murdered by drug cartels. Even in America, police Senn able to act with near impunity when out comes to summarily executing American citizens in the street.

While there are certainly overlaps in how oppressive regimes the world over treat their citizens and their media figures, (Pakistan and Myanmar are currently in the spotlight on this issue) specificity is key in writing what you don’t know, perhaps top an even greater degree than when writing what you do know. After all, I might take poetic license if I’m writing about a bar in Buffalo or a subway route in New York City, but that’s an informed choice. Blundering the details in a novel about another country or another culture just comes across as lazy ignorance.

Even the small chunks of reading I’ve done so far have highlighted my own ignorance while at the same time pouting my research in stark contrast to lived experience. Reading books like THE BRIEF WONDEROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz, being immersed in a world where a revolutionary leader reigns over the lives of citizens with sadistic whim, is nothing like living under such a regime. ‘They’ say to write what you know, but what chance do I have (thank goodness) to understand the lifestyles of people in those circumstances with any degree of accuracy in fiction? How does someone like me write inclusive, relevant, diverse novels on topics like this without fucking it up royally?

The only answer I have is research.

So I’m trying. Really hard. I’m reading what I can, trying to get a feel for both the human, day to day lives of people living under the repressive circumstances the story needs to portray, but also trying to gain more knowledge of the truly horrifying acts oppressive governments can subject their citizens to. At the same time, Itry to find a way to retain the ability to see the monsters responsible for these reprehensible acts as humans, with motivations that made sense to their own internal logic, because it’s a rare human being who sees themselves as a villain, no matter how vile they might be. I try to think of ways i can portray the horror of human suffering at the hands of others while being honest but while avoiding graphic depictions of circumstances that don’t fit the tone of a series of fantasy novels. And then I question myself and start to feel paralyzed. And then i remind myself I’m still working on a draft. There’s always time for another rewrite.

There are bright spots in my research. My trip to St. Martin last year and the one i just took to St. Thomas both informed me on climates, terrain and cultures that will also figure in to the stories my cowriter and i will be telling. And I keep reminding myself of the importance of this, whole trying not to get to bogged down in the details. But when a simple hike through a national park demonstrates that you’ve completely miscategorized your story’s setting, how can you ever know when you’ve researched enough to get on with the writing? And even writing  this, I cringe, because I feel like I’m wading into waters where it would be so easy to give offense.

They say to write what you know, but it’s also critical that writers be willing to learn what we don’t know so we’re can write accurate, diversity populated fiction in terms of our characters, settings and cultures. Whether it takes the form of readings, conversations or traveling, the only answer to this conundrum is research.

Oh, and asking for recommendations. Anybody got any suggestions on trying material or media I can consume? Please leave them in the comments. Your thoughts would be very much appreciated.

Saturday So Far – Geek Girl Con

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Race in Costuming and Performance Panel

After waking up later than intended, my friend and I made it to the con around 10am. We had just enough time to dash around looking at art before our first panels – mine was RACE IN COSTUMING AND PERFORMANCE, with panelists The Shanghai Pearl and Chaka Cumberbatch. I was particularly interested in some of what was talked about in regards to cultural appropriation and “homage”, and power structures. It reminded me a lot of the Penny Arcade controversy and general discussions of sexism in geekdom.

So, some fantastic discussion there, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about on the Black Girl Nerds podcast tomorrow.

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Then I headed on to Best of Both Worlds: Careers where STEM meets the Humanities, where I heard some really great advice on getting into a career where an interest in science can merge with communications and social media.

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Now I’m on a break that’s involved checking out the art and vendors, as well as the companies recruiting for geeky careers, and I’m strategizing my panels for the afternoon.

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More coming up as the day goes on, including audio recordings of both the panels I attended this morning. Check ya later!

Geek Girl Con weekend: Friday

There’s a puppy sitting behind me on the plane. If it wasn’t a service dog, I would be fighting the desire to ask to hold it.

We’re flying over Canada today on the way out, and supposedly the weather in Seattle will be good and I’ll have a view of Mount Baker as we fly. I already had a view of sunrise over Queens, this morning:

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In six hours or so I’ll be touching down in Seattle. Last night I had the obligatory last-minute panic over every single thing my brain could dredge up to panic about, but I was able to identify what was going on as a panic attack rather than actual thoughts to pay attention to. I guess that’s what’s called progress.

They’re closing the doors, so that’s me out – catch you all later!

Geek Girl Con & a Podcast Appearance!

geekgirlconThis time next week, I’ll be coming at you from Seattle, WA and Geek Girl Con.

The conference is focused on celebrating the female geek, and I’m super-stoked about the panels I’m going to be checking out. Geekdom and Race, Women and STEM careers and Romance as a Feminist Genre are just a few of the ones I’m looking forward to – plus there are opportunities to see Bechdel Test Burlesque, costume competitions and more. Those attending will also have the chance to hear Jane Espenson (Husbands, Once Upon A Time), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and others speak, as well.

On Sunday at 7pm EST/4pm PST, tune in to hear my thoughts on the con during the Black Girl Nerds podcast. I’ll be appearing with Jaz from the LxL – League of Extraordinary Ladies – and maybe even a surprise guest panelist from the con. From the BGN site:

GeekGirlCon celebrates and honors the legacy of women contributing to science and technology; comics, arts, and literature; and game play and game design by connecting geeky women world-wide and creating community to foster continued growth of women in geek culture through events.

Attendees Rachel Brody and Jaz will be featured on the podcast to provide us up-to-the-minute information about the event and how important this con is for nerdy girls.

–  Black Girl Nerds

If you’re free, I hope you’ll listen to the podcast and call in to discuss Geek Girl Con with us next Sunday afternoon (October 20th). If you can’t listen to the live show, make sure you download the podcast after the broadcast after it airs!

 

Ask A Local: Coming to NYC With The Family

One of the reasons I moved to NYC – aside from it being a great place for writers – was that I knew it was the kind of  place my friends might be likely to visit. I’ve gotten into the habit of fielding questions from those making trips, and a recent email from a friend made me think: maybe it would be useful to post this and other travel-related discussions online.

Feel free to add to this in the comments; if you have a question about NYC or other cities I’ve lived in, get in touch and I’m glad to help out when I have the time. 🙂

So, my inaugural edition of Ask A Local…

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Q: Hi Rachel! We’ll be in NYC from June 8-13. Since we’re driving we’ll need somewhere to park the car as well. I was thinking of maybe looking for somewhere in Brooklyn on airbnb. In terms of budget, we were hoping for $200-$250 per night, not sure if that is realistic? The hotels that I looked for seem to be either really cheap and really dodgy looking or really upscale and expensive! We’ll mostly be out and about so don’t need fancy just clean, safe, and somewhere to have breakfast would be good. The kids are small and can sleep in one bed together so we really just need two doubles/queens. Thanks for your tips. Excited to meet you too!

A: I had a quick look into hotels and I think Brooklyn would be an awesome option for a family trip.

Williamsburg has seen so much influx of $ the last few years that their hotels will be mostly new builds. I am slightly wary because I don’t know the bedbug situation in Brooklyn these days (i don’t say that with any alarmist intentions, it’s just a thing modern travellers must be aware of) BUT the solution to this is easy; you just look the property you’re considering up – a Google search like “[PROPERTY NAME] review bedbugs” should tell you everything you need to know, and if u aren’t sure how to interpret something, link me and I’ll give u my opinion. Williamsburg is very cool and relaxed now, lots of hip thirtysomethings and lower who can afford east villiage prices but prefer Brooklyn/the burger for whatever reasons. Cafes, meatball shop, good vegan/vegetarian, cocktail bars and beer halls. If u like video games and nouveau-retro and beer, barcade. Know where you’re going before you leave the house bc lots of blocks and poor signage generally; well-documented on yelp.

The other neighborhood I would feel confident recommending in Brooklyn is Carroll Gardens or park slope. Slightly older and more professional crowd. Kids probably in the range of 3-7 on avg? (based on math taking place in my brain, grain of salt.) A bit twee. Grocery stores (trader joes), bars, near downtown Brooklyn, excellent downtown Manhattan access.

Can you recommend other accommodation or neighborhoods for this friend, visiting the city with her family? This was all off the top of my head, so if you know the ‘hoods I’m talking about, or feel there’s something I left out…join in the discussion. 😀

Review: Who Do You Love? Polyamory, Politics and Affection in Caroline Lark’s EROS #theatre #christchurch #polyamory

 While Christchurch, New Zealand, has spent the last week or so recovering from a major earthquake, the Earth doesn’t quite move for the characters in Caroline Lark’s EROS, playing now at the Forge Theatre in Christchurch’s Arts Centre. EROS is a play about polyamory, a quote-romantic-unquote arrangement by which groups of consenting adults knowingly enter into sexual relationships with multiple partners in a closed circle.

Lark’s play deals with a group of six people who are trying to determine whether or not they’ll be able to function within a polyamorous circle; there are the circle’s two founders, Ingrid (Ali Harper) and Jake (Toby Leach), the third member of their circle, Andrew (Matt Hudson), nanotechnologist Natalie (Laura Hill) and her dysfunctional married friends Julia and Reuben (Claire Dougan and Jon Pheloung, respectively). Initially, Jake is looking forward to an interview with Natalie, trying to determine her suitability for a position – pardon the pun – within his relationship with Ingrid and Andrew. Natalie drags her friends, whose marriage is failing, into a weekend away with the circle – to see if having sex with additional partners will be able to prop up their relationship.

In an extended playwright’s note, Lark explains her motivations for writing about the two major topics of her piece: poly and nanotech.  Her fascination – and outsider status – in regards to both topics is revealed in the candid note; she has clearly done research on both topics, although once this note is read it’s hard not to suspect that her personal position on poly has colored the ultimate resolution of the play. While the poly aspect of the play is obviously central, Natalie’s position as a nanotechnologist never quite bridges the metaphor gap; it illuminates aspects of her character – her scientific and emotional myopia – but her profession never quite twists into seamless integration to feed the play’s major themes – the need for openness and compromise in healthy relationships.

One of the most interesting facets of Lark’s play is the constant struggle for power between people who are supposedly trying to form a meaningful relationship with one another. The relationships in the play are polar – Ingrid and Jake, Ingrid and Andrew, Julia and Reuben, etc. – rather than fluid, and traditional in their sexual relations and roles. It’s unfortunate that the central couple, Ingrid and Jake, seem to have entered into a poly situation more because of Ingrid’s insatiability and need for control rather than out of a true desire to engage in relationships with multiple partners. This undercuts the philosophical integrity of their stance, and for audiences with little to no direct experience with those who engage in this lifestyle it seems to re-enforce the stereotype of poly individuals as people who are looking for multiple physical relationships, rather than individuals who have found nurturing emotional stability in a group of more than two. Then again, polyamory is a complicated thing in practice; perhaps Lark’s presentation is a true representation of reality rather than a sanitized look at relationships with multiple partners.

This comedy of EROS is often biting, but Lark avoids most of the the obvious sexual cracks and instead wrings humor from lines about tectonic plate shifts (provoking uneasy laughter from the Christchurch crowd, members of which have been dealing with aftershocks from the quake for days at this point) and Reuben’s traumatized, East German history. Ingrid’s ruthless machinations are pulled out from under her in a surprise switch at he end of the play, and those who have championed poly through the rest of the play find that the gravitational pull of a polar relationship ultimately fulfills their sexual and emotional needs.

EROS offers a strong production with good pacing that keeps the play moving quickly along as it pursues a light investigation of poly; the themes never get too heavy and the characters never quite transcend their easy categories. While it’s doubtful that Lark’s creation will win over those who are on the fence about poly in their own lives, the play gives its audience an acceptably-sanitized-for-prime-time view of an esoteric practice that is gaining pop culture ground.

EROS is playing at the Forge at the Court (theforge.org.oz) in Christchurch, New Zealand, until September 25th.