Better than You Since 1980

Dominating the Undead for Fun and Profit

Things I Have Opinions About, part 1 of about a million: Audiobook Narrators
word warrior
laura47 was asking on Facebook for recommendations of awesome audio narrations, and I might have gone a little crazy on her. Most of what I read, I consume in audiobook form, and I have developed some strong likes and dislikes.

I guess generally I would put the audiobook readers I’ve experienced into three categories: The first is truly great audiobook narrators, who bring something to the narrative besides just narration, whose voices become the characters for me.

This category is fairly long. I was going to make a comment about how authors shouldn’t narrate their own books, but then I realized that there are several examples of that in here, and they’re all amazing. (I've heard tales of Zelazny's truly abysmal narrations of the Amber books, however).

Basic format here is author (books I’ve listened to by them). Followed by comments:

- Neil Gaiman (his own The Graveyard Book). I hear lots of people would listen to Gaiman read the phone book. I don't love him quite as much as some people do, but he’s still quite quite good.
- James Marsters (Jim Butcher's Dresden Files — I've only listened to Storm Front and Side Jobs myself). As I have often said, his voice IS Harry Dresden to me.
- Martin Jarvis (various Wodehouse: Carry On Jeeves, Heavy Weather, My Man Jeeves, etc)
- Jonathan Cecil (more Wodehouse: The Inimitable Jeeves, Leave it to Psmith, Something Fresh)
- Kevin Stillwell (Steven Brust's Khaavren Romances). He brought a poignancy I didn't imagine existed to the scene in The Phoenix Guards where Kathana and Uttrik reach the Pepperfields and finally have to duel. Also he makes the worst of Paarfi tolerable. If I have one complaint, it’s that to portray the vast number of disparate voices, he sometimes uses... unexpected accents. So we get the occasional Australian bandit, or Scottish Dragonlords.
- Mary Robinette Kowal (her own Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass... I haven't gotten any further in the Glamourist Histories). While Mary is overall excellent, I must dock her some points for her French pronunciation in Glamour in Glass. As a result I still have no idea how any of the French/Belgian names are spelled. Is the family Jane and Vincent stay with the Chastains? The Chassetemps? Who knows!
- Casaundra Freeman (N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). She is amazing. As Laura told me when we were talking about her, "I want her to narrate all the sex scenes I read. Or at least the ones with gods." Unfortunately, Laura's post came about because there appears to not be a narration of the final volume of the Inheritance trilogy on Audible, which is sad.
- Michael Page (Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards sequence). When Scott appeared on Writing Excuses this season, and they did Lies as the book of the week, he made the joke that Michael Page gets more fan letters than he does. With good reason! When I read GB fanfic, it’s Page’s voice I hear in my head for Locke and Jean and all the rest. I'm also impressed that he manages to return to characters in RoT that he hasn’t voiced since Lies, with perfect consistency.
- Lauren Fortgang (Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy). Mostly, I just love her sexy Darkling voice. I would like her voice, with select Darkling quotes, to lull me to sleep every night. She also does very well with Bardugo’s idiosyncratic pseudo-Russian pronunciations, so I’m pretty sure she must have consulted with her. (She pronounces "Genya" as "Jenya," for example, which is incorrect for Russian transliteration but correct to how Bardugo wants it pronounced, from what I understand). It's funny because I'm reading--not listening to!--Ruin and Rising right now, and I still hear those damn voices. Even minor character’s...Zoya’s haughtiness, David’s flat affect, the Apparat’s wheedling "Sankta Aliiiiina"s.

The second category is serviceable narrators. They get the job done, and don’t annoy me, but I’m not sure they add much to the story.

- Steven Pacey (Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself)
- James Saxon (Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle). I can’t remember anything about him, so he must not have been terrible.
- Jeremy Sinden (Wodehouse’s Full Moon). Same as above.
- Michael Kramer (Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series). Perfectly cromulent, but unmemorable.
- Claudia Alick (Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead).
- Simon Slater (Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall).
- Emily Bauer (Kameron Hurley’s God’s War). I can’t tell the voices of Nyx’s team members apart very well, which, combined with the fact that Hurley tends to have a light hand on tagging conversation, can be trying.
- Stephen Thorne (Simon Schama's A History of Britain). History narrators have a hard task. He does fine.
- Jeffrey Woodman (Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time).
- Bernard Setaro Clark (Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books). There’s nothing wrong with Clark’s narration, but... I dunno. I had high expectations for the inside of Vlad’s head, and this doesn’t quite do it for me. I feel like Clark just can’t muster up the enthusiasm for this narration that is required to bring Vlad’s dark humor to life. Matt and I will always joke about the fact that Loiosh sounds like Peter Lorre. Occasionally we turn to each other in the middle of Vlad/Loiosh conversation and say, "Hide me, Boss!" That said, I do like how he sets up a divide between Easterners and Dragaerans by the use of highbrow, RP-style British accents for the Dragaerans, versus American accents for Easterners. Kragar sounds aggressively English, and it’s surprisingly perfect.
- MacLeod Andrews (Steven Gould's Jumper). Perfectly fine, and yes, he is the voice of Davey for me, but... I’m just not that excited about it. Also I spent a lot of time wondering if he was Nick Podehl. Speaking of which.
- Nick Podehl (Pat Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle). Again, Podehl is the voice of Kvothe, but I just don’t care that much. He did a nice job with the interminable Felurian sequences in book two; I’m not sure if those are as obviously verse in text as they are in audio, but it was a pretty cool effect. I like his Devi voice. I wish he didn’t decide to change the pronunciation of "Devi" between book 1 and 2, though. Maybe I should promote this guy, because anyone who can bear up until 72+ hours of Rothfuss' (beautiful, but sometimes complex) prose deserves a cookie.
- Jonathan Davis (Fritz Leiber's Swords and Deviltry). I literally remember nothing about this narrator, only the awfulness of the book. (Sorry, classic fantasy fans). Despite the promise that Neil Gaiman is one of the narrators, that is a damn dirty lie—this is part of a series where he collated his favorite books, and while he has a brief introduction, he does not actually narrate.
- Ellen Kushner (her own Swordspoint). This was actually a special audio edition, a dramatization with a cast and some sound effects. That part was pretty neat, and there’s nothing wrong with Kushner’s narration, but I’m just not excited enough about it to put it in the upper category.

The third--thankfully rare on Audible--category is for really terrible narrators. I've only come across a few of these.

- John Wells (Wodehouse's Summer Lightning). Just… ugh. His female voices are painfully high-pitched, and Lord Emsworth sounds like a toothless octogenarian. Do not recommend.
- Various LibriVox readers. LibriVox: our motto is, hey it’s free! I mean. The dramatization of Pride and Prejudice was okay; some readers were better than others (I still have painful memories of the flat Russian-accented Charlotte Lucas, though). Most of the The Three Musketeers readers were just dreadful, though. I kept wondering who this guy "Monjour" around the siege of La Rochelle was, and then realized it was an awful mispronunciation of "Monsieur."

In defense of Sabetha
word warrior
For reasons that are complex to explain, I was reading reviews of The Republic of Thieves the other night (the third Gentleman Bastards book, by Scott Lynch). This morning I found myself mentally arguing with some of the reviewers on my drive into work.

I finished reading/listening to the book back in the summer (I think?), but never really said much about it here, did I? On Goodreads I rated it 3 stars, which is a solid “I like it.” In my humble estimation, RoT didn’t blow me away like The Lies of Locke Lamora did (5 stars), and was not quite as strong as Red Seas Under Red Skies (4 stars). This is normal, and I don’t expect otherwise.

But reading the reviews on Goodreads, so many of the reviews were about the character Sabetha. About finding her a disappointment, or finding her and Locke’s renewed relationship unbelievable.

I could not agree less. Whatever problems I may have with the book (mostly around the bondsmagi being increasingly implausible), I actually think Sabetha is a pretty cool character, and I like how her personality is informed by the struggles she, being female, would have had being raised in the same milieu as the other (male) Gentleman Bastards.

Before I counter some arguments, here are some caveats:

1) As I said, it’s been a few months since I’ve read this, and I’ve only read it once. Excuse me if I misquote or misremember or misspell things. Especially misspellings, since I mostly listen to these books.

2) Scott Lynch could probably publish Locke and Jean Read the Phonebook and I would buy it in every possible edition.

3) I only started reading these books in 2013—I finished Lies on the first day of VP!—and so I did not have to wait through the Interregnum Where Scott’s Life Fell Apart.

4) There are spoilers all over this thing, for all three books. Read carefully.

These are three of the primary objections I’ve heard to the character of Sabetha:

Objection #1: ”I was expecting more from this person Locke has idolized his whole life, who has been built up for two books.”

Yes. We all were. And this is the crux of her character, and is completely intentional. To be anything other than anti-climactic would stretch verisimilitude.

Let me explain why.

The problem is, primarily we’re in Locke’s POV. I’d argue Locke isn’t in love with Sabetha as a person—he’s in love with this mental image of her he’s built up while obsessing over her for his entire life.

Have you done this? I have, although not quite to the same extent. There was a boy I was obsessed with pretty much throughout high school. That’s only four years—well, five for me, because I spent a year in France halfway through.

Looking back on him, this guy was actually kind of a nebbish, but I had built this whole mental model of who he was that bore only a slight resemblance to the truth. It was a model that accentuated the things I liked about him (that he spoke French, or that he was tall), and downplayed the aspects of him that were problematic (like his complete social tone deaf-ness). The person I was in love with wasn’t him—it was this impressionist painting of him.

So it is, I think, with Locke and Sabetha. He hasn’t seen her for five years at the start of RoT, he hasn’t shown interest in any other women in that time, and if there’s one thing above all he obsesses about, it’s her red hair. (What’s the quote from Lies, when they visit the Guilded Lilies? “Throwing blondes at Locke Lamora was like throwing lettuce to sharks”—or some such). I think these are signs that Locke’s mental model is seriously fucked.

Then we actually meet Sabetha, and of course it’s anti-climactic. She’s a real human being—that is, a well-defined fictional character, which we accept as being the same thing here. She has agency and her own desires and her own five years of history that have nothing to do with Locke and his poorly-conceived plans. We see, as readers, what Locke does not—that she is not just an object.

The upshot of this is, when I hear these criticisms, I hear, “Sabetha wasn’t the Manic Pixie Dream Girl we wanted her to be.” And I can’t accept that.

Objection #2: ”I don’t think it’s believable that Sabetha would eventually fall in love with Locke after growing up with him.” “I don’t find their getting back together in the frame story of RoT believable,” eg. variations on, their relationship isn’t believable.

This is so much a matter of reader taste. I didn’t feel like anything about their relationship stretched believability, personally. (The only thing that came close was when she poisons him; I saw that coming and was like, “oh please, Locke, don’t be an idiot.” Locke was an idiot, of course).

One can grow up close to someone as family and still want to bone them. (*cough* paging GRRM…) One might just as easily laugh off their attempts at flirtation. I think either is equally believable. Hell, I seem to recall there’s a bit in the interludes where Chains is telling Locke pretty much the same thing.

Notice how when Sabetha finally “chooses to be charmed” by Locke, both in the frame story and the interludes, it’s when he stops treating her as a damsel, or an object, and starts understanding that she has her own unique experiences of a shared life. I seem to recall that not long before they bone in the interludes, she’s telling him about all the awful stuff she had to deal with growing up that he didn’t have to, just because she’s female—and for once, Locke is actually getting it.

I thought the whole “the Jeremites do this terrible thing to red-haired virgin girls” was a bit overwrought, but it was supposed to express the fact that things between them aren’t “fair” because they’ve never been playing on a level field. The world of the Gentleman Bastards is fairly gender-equal, for a fantasy world, but it’s clear inequalities still exist, and that they have informed who Sabetha is.

(What is the quote? “Men can be as unpleasant as they like, but the world gets angry when women refuse to crap sunshine on demand?” Seriously, if for nothing else, like Sabetha because she gets some epicly awesome lines).

I feel like this gives Sabetha this implied backstory which is, how incredibly harder she’s had to work than the other Bastards. We don’t know what happened to her family. We don’t know why she left the Thiefmaker, or why that required faking her death. (Maybe that happens to all the child-thieves who leave Shades Hill, but we don’t really know). We don’t know yet why she left the Bastards and Camorr.

Don’t you want to know? Doesn’t this make her more fascinating to you?

It’s also worth noting that there’s a difference between thinking Locke and Sabetha’s relationship is believable, and thinking it’s sustainable. I think their relationship is about as sustainable as an equatorial iceberg, but the train wreck is (to me) believable and fun to watch. Their cycles of adoration/realism/loathing read like something real couples would do.

(This is something I’ve noticed in reviews of other fantasy novels, too. I’ve heard reviewers of Django’s The Shadow Throne talking about how they don’t buy Winter and Jane’s relationship. Of course, it’s a terrible fuck-up of a relationship. But that doesn’t make it any less plausible. People get into bad relationships all the freakin’ time, more often than they do healthy relationships).

(… and somehow now I am comparing Jane to Sabetha. Namely that they both have red hair. Interestingly, High School Crush Boy was also obsessed with redheads. And now I’m realizing that there is an entire generation of male geeks who imprinted on Lyta Alexander…)

Finally… how do we know Sabetha has really been charmed by Locke? We do have some POVs with her in RoT, I think, but I don’t recall there’s anything that definitively says she’s not faking all this for her own nefarious purposes ;)

Objection #3: “The frame story should have had more symmetry with the interludes—something where Sabetha sacrifices herself for Locke’s sake, like Amadine does in the play.”

This is actually a much more sophisticated critique than the line above, and I’m going to link you to my Twitter pal G. Derek Adams’ review. Basically he argues that the whole point of the interludes is to reinforce the frame story—with which I do not disagree—but that the symmetry between the two falls down near the end, and that an Amadine-like sacrifice would do more to show the growth of Locke and Sabetha both.

While I agree that symmetry would be good, I also think we’re intended to get symmetry in that Sabetha is gone, banished by Patience at the end of the book. It’s somewhat muted in effect, because right after that we’re treated to a bunch of Stunning Revelations. But it’s there, and I think we’re supposed to take it like a loss; to understand that Locke has once again fucked up and lost Sabetha.

And I, for one, would have been really pissed off if Sabetha had made the Ultimate Sacrifice of Ultimateness, because she would have become the Women in Refrigerators trope—sacrificed to provide motivation to the male characters.

You could almost argue we came close with what happened to Esri in RSURS (and look at how fans hate that!), so I’d argue that Lynch was so not going to do that twice. He’s killed all the other Bastards except Jean, so prooooobably not going to do that, either. He could gender-reverse the trope, but… then he would be killing his protagonist, three books into a seven book series. While that would be an interesting experiment, I think That is Not This Book.

In conclusion, I think there are criticisms you can make of The Republic of Thieves, but this is why I don’t feel Sabetha is one of them.

Things that have happened since the last time I posted
word warrior
- We got a new car. Well, new to us. It's a 2011 Subaru Forester, which, MST3K nerds that we are, we named "Clayton." It's a dark grey/black color, and the trim level, while not particularly high, is still higher than the Yaris (a.k.a Chiyo-chan, the Blueberry, etc).

- We got a new printer, an HP M451nw, a color laserjet.

- I printed out the full-sized version of my invocation circle for 5th Gate. Obviously I had to print it as a poster, and Matt did the hard work of piecing it back together for me.

- I did #PitMad and #SFFpit, two Twitter novel pitch contests. Sadly, I did not get much out of it. I am unlikely to do any others, at least not with this novel. But I thank people for their RTs and their support!

- I finished the outline for Lioness v.2.1, and have picked up the writing where I left off.

- I went to Alison's Christmas party on Saturday and came home with two volumes of Victorian erotica. This is the kind of charmed life I lead. Especially since I didn't even participate in the gift swap!

- On Sunday I went to an Intercode 2 hack day and succeeded in getting Bootstrap up and running, and bootstrapifying the menu bar. My git and Sass skills acquired at work served me in good stead, but not so much my Bootstrap skills, since it has incremented a version since I last used it. It was uncanny to be working directly in the git master branch.

- I have begun Christmas shopping. I also received my Christmas cards, and can begin writing and sending them. Probably will not do a letter this year.

- I have writing group tomorrow. Need to read the submissions.

What we talk about when we talk about perfection
word warrior
I've come across what has been the most valuable bit of the NaNoWriMo StoryBundle thus far--Kristine Kathryn Rusch's series of essays called The Pursuit of Perfection and How It Harms Writers.

I found the first essay, "Perfection," particularly inspirational--you can read it online here, although I highly recommend the StoryBundle if you can still get it.

"Perfectionist" is one of those labels I've resisted. I have a very clear mental image of a perfectionist--a particular high school friend of mine--and it's not me. I get things done. I meet deadlines. Maybe I suffer along the way, but...

Some of this article reminds me of stuff I heard at VP: "no one publishes an unsubmitted manuscript." "Your best advertisement is to write another book." "Trust a reader when they say something didn't work for them; don't trust their diagnosis of why." I think what VP did right was that it wasn't all about the critiques; there were writing exercises and lectures (about craft as well as business) and games and just hanging out drinking bourbon and singing.

I'm going to take some of this to heart in my writing and in my writing group. I already try to give the "this is where I had a hard time staying with the story" advice when it's appropriate, but I always feel the urge to speculate as to why. That helps no one.

It also tells me that G&F does not need another round of edits, no matter how tempted I am. Maybe it needs to rest. Or maybe I just need to query more agents. Hell, I have a better query letter now, and I've only sent it to eighteen or so. That's small potatoes, by industry standard. I suspect eventually I'll end up self-pubbing it, but in the meantime I'm doing what I need to do.

I'm writing the next thing.

I miss people posting on LJ :(
word warrior
Last day of my Thanksgiving break, and it was a good one--a fine mix of productivity and fun.

I worked from home on Wednesday (a half-day), which was a good decision, because heavy snow started falling about the time I would have left work. We ended up losing power twice--once in the late afternoon for maybe an hour or so, and then once at around 4am on Thursday, until about 10 or 11am. Unitil, thankfully, has been super good about restoring electricity promptly since the 11-day outage back in 2008 or so.

Things I have done:

- Finalized my invocation circle design for Fifth Gate. Here's the actual version, sized down from the full-sized, 41" x 41" version:

I still need to print it out to transfer it to the fabric, but Matt realized yesterday that a) our printer is needs a new yellow toner cartridge, b) it's now so old you can't get the color toner in stores. So instead we are considering replacing it. This kind of planned obsolence pisses me off--it is still a perfectly good printer. It just won't even print black and white without the color cartridges >.<

Matt is off to buy a new one right now, actually. I understand why, but I'm not thrilled. Especially considering we still need to buy a freakin' car this month.

- Hacked away significantly at my Lioness v2.1 outline. I'm calling it v2.1 because it's making some significant changes over v2, but it's not a complete rewrite--just significantly revising certain sections. Which I probably won't do until I write through to the end, anyway.

- Wrote some Twitter pitches for G&F for PitMad and SFFPit, which are coming up.

- Read some of my huge backlog of stuff I have to beta read for people. Of course this backlog is so huge that this means "knocked off a significant chunk of one novel I'm reading" (Mike G's, in fact). If you've given me stuff to read; I haven't forgotten, I just seriously am way, way behind. In the future I need to limit this rather severely; reading for Django and for my writing group is enough to keep me busy full-time.

- Visited laurion and asdr83 for board games yesterday. Really it was for seeing good friends and their new cats, Abelard and Heloise, because I sat and worked on my outline and dicked around online while other people played games.

- Bought the Nano-themed story bundle and read a couple of the (very short) books out of it (Million Dollar Productivity, by Kevin J. Anderson, and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing, by David Farland). Two conclusions I came to:
* David Farland sure does love Tolkien.
* I will never be productive as Kevin Anderson, simply because I need to sleep more than 7 hours a night.

(This is somewhat facetious. They actually did have useful tips, although I think it's a lot of stuff I already know. Really, one of my biggest motivations for buying the bundle was to support my pal who has a book in it, Jessica Brawner).

(And the sleep thing actually bugs me, a lot. I wish I didn't need as much as I do. I wish I were functional on less than 9 hours, but I don't seem to be. I don't think it's a matter of "wanting to write more than I want to sleep," as Anderson would put it. Most days, I literally am not mentally capable of making decisions other than "go back to sleep" when my alarm rings at 5:45. Part of the problem is it takes me a long time to fall asleep, so my actual time in bed is high relative to other people. Maybe I need to have my sleep data pulled by the pulmonologist who handles my sleep apnea, because I feel like I've gotten worse about this in just the past few months).

- Played a lot of FTL. Got to stage 3 of the final boss once, so I think I'm pretty close to beating it. Played a little Prison Architect, too, just because alpha 27 just came out.

Anyway, that's enough vamping. Back to working on my outline. Maybe I can finish today...

Sewing failures and successes, 5th Gate planning, and FTL
word warrior
This was a blessedly free weekend, during which I:

- Worked on the new outline for Lioness. Trucking along through the middle now.
- Had lots of sewing failures, and some sewing success?

First I finished everything but the facings on the shift in this pattern, only to discover the size I'd made (24) was basically falling off me. It's a combination of problems--my short torso, the fact that I have tiny arms and shoulders relative to my bust and waist, and the epic 13-14 inches of ease to the pattern!(!!) I really should have taken the ease into account when I decided which size to cut. I could have probably gone down to an 18 and still accommodated my bust and waist measurements. I could literally take four inches out of it all the way around and still have it fit. It'd still be falling off my shoulders, but...

I set that aside, because it was not a high priority--I just wanted to finish it before I began work on sewing for 5th Gate. Instead I turned to this pattern, purchased when Joann's had its last 99 cent sale on Simplicity patterns. I started to cut out the tissue, and in the process I discovered that I had accidentally purchased the 6-14 size instead of the 14-24 size. *headdesk*

Giving up on that project, I started making my cloak/invocation circle instead. I used a tutorial, and some blue velveteen my mother had bought for a cloak when I was 15 or 16--I remember it was right before I went to France, and I had ideas of embroidering it with silk ribbon embroidery, which was trendy at the time.

Luckily, third time was a charm. The only complication was that making it out of velveteen required some additional finagling to keep the nap going in the right direction and not crush the pile. But I managed not to fuck anything up!

Then, however, I needed to figure out what the hell the design of my invocation circle was going to be, because it needed to be embroidered/appliqued/otherwise attached before I either lined or hemmed the cloak--as hand-work will probably stretch the material. Which led to another thing I did this weekend:

- Designed my invocation circle for 5th Gate. Or a first draft of it at least. See below:

This needs significant adjustment. For one, I need to actually get all the geometric patterns to line up--I suck at Photoshop, and in the process of making this learned a lot of better ways to do things. (For example, the ability to make circles of fixed size rather than always trying to eyeball it. Or how paths work). Also I didn't so much make use of layers, which makes future adjustments difficult.

Yes, Illustrator would probably have been a better tool for this, but I suck even more at Illustrator than I do at Photoshop

For another, I need to orient the symbols and the text so that when I am wearing the cloak, they are all facing the same direction -- so everything needs to face outwards from the center. I also think I will move some objects, as it is somewhat unevenly divided between front and back.

Funnily enough, almost everything in this circle means something--except the colors! They were mostly just to differentiate one piece from another. But the other stuff had meaning. Sort of.
If you're curious as to what everything means...Collapse )

Somehow still in this weekend I had time to...

- Play some FTL, poorly. This was my "fuck sewing, let's do something instant gratification-y" activity. At skyknyt's advice, I decided to use the AE stuff ("advanced equipment?"), and since I've unlocked it, I used the B version of the Kestrel, called the Red-Tail. I still didn't manage to win, dying mid-Last Stand a couple of times.

This was perhaps a poor choice of an instant gratification game, because nothing is more frustrating than losing a crew member to a random away mission which suddenly involves face-eating spiders.

An SCA sampler
word warrior
I went to my first SCA event yesterday, the Simply Allegorical ball, which I posted about earlier. I ended up wearing bess's hand-me-down Italian Renaissance garb, which fit me surprisingly well. I had to adjust the shoulder straps on the overgown/giornea, because I am notoriously short-torsoed, but the height and other measurements were just about perfect.

I was incredibly anxious going to the event. A large portion of it was just that as I get older, I get more and more hesitant about trying new things. There's also lot of protocol and jargon among the SCA crowd, and I just kept being afraid I would do or say something wrong. Though I've been wanting to be involved since I was a kid, I've just never managed to make it happen, mostly because I've been intimidated by the tightness of the community.

Since I was running a bit late, by the time I paid up and got into my garb, they had begun teaching the dances, which were mostly Italian Ren dances (appropriately enough). The dancemaster was Jesse W (I don't know his SCA name), who played Jehan in the Intercon run of Cracks, but he was ably assisted by Karen/Thyra/Her Majesty the Queen of the East. As Bess is also a former dancemaster, I did not lack for instruction. However, there were still a number of dances they didn't teach (they didn't even try to teach the galliard--having seen it, I understand why).

I bungled my way through the Bal di Fiore, which I had missed the walkthrough of; then I danced the Belfiore and the Chirentana in the first set. I honestly can't recall many of the other dances we danced--I remember the Pinwheel game in the second set, and the Anello in the final set, but after a while all the Italian names blended together. I recognized the Pivan/Pavane as the Belle Qui Tien Ma Vie pavane from Arbeau, which I use as the dance in Cracks, but I didn't dance it, as I was eating at the time.

Most of what I took away from the dances was a bunch of new steps. I already knew (sorta) about singles and doubles; now I learned the piva, the saltarella, the reverenza, the continente, and other things I am probably misremembering or misspelling. I need a ton more practice, but as I hear there are dance practices at Camelot...

The food was great, too--lamb with lentils, blanc mange (chicken and rice cooked in almond milk; not the British dessert), beef stew, a grape and fennel bread, and, for dessert, a subtlety that one of the members had made, a marzipan fish with lemon slices. (Incidentally, she was also the person I voted for in the costume contest--I forget exactly the name of her representation, but it was oceanic in some way, and she was wearing a gorgeous royal blue velveteen dress and a headdress of seashells).

(I also have to spare a moment to mention cristovau's amazing costume, which was really just his harlequin costume on top, and a set of faun legs from a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream on the bottom. He called it "Satyrday," and had entirely too much fun playing with the, erm, bits of the faun costume)

In addition to Chris and Bess, the instigators of this outing, I saw lots of people I know from different contexts--dkapell and Mark W/Justin, who I mostly know from Intercon and board gaming, Jen/Lily who plays Talira in Shadows, nomadmwe and _kria_ who I also know from boffer larping, of course, being all herald-y and stuff. I even recognized Their Majesties, and knew them by their mundane names, as they'd come out to NPC for Shadows a few times.

I think what was really strange is the number of people I barely knew who said to me, "Oh, I just assumed you were already in the SCA," probably because I am already involved in a lot of other nerdy activities in the greater Boston area.

There was court, too, since the King and Queen were present. I watched a bunch of kids get Tiger's Cub awards, someone got an award for costuming, and then, much to my surprise, they called up everyone whose first event this was. It was a group of about eight of us, and Their Majesties thanked us for coming and gave us all pins with the East Kingdom arms. It was such a welcoming gesture that I didn't mind so much being put on the spot.

All in all, it was a delightful sampler of the SCA, and I was glad I got over my anxiety and went. Nobody pointed at me and intoned, "INTERLOPER," which, yanno. Is good. More events in the future? I think so.

Also, oh man--even though I was home before 9, I was completely wiped out for the rest of the evening, and today I am so so hurty. All those pivas take a toll on a girl, I guess.

I'm alive and doing stuff
word warrior
I was in Queens and then Long Island this past weekend for the wedding of my college friend Mike to his partner Josh. Mazel tov! Mostly it involved a lot of driving, playing Tales of the Arabian Nights with friends who live in the same complex as they do, and then a Sunday morning wedding where the power went off thanks to heavy winds. Wheeee!

All in all, I've been traveling every weekend for the past month or so. It's not a lot of downtime, and I feel ragged. Looking forward to this weekend as my first weekend off for a while...


I'm not sure how much I mentioned it--just a little, I think--but I'm planning to play in Fifth Gate starting in spring. PC registrations opened just as Matt and I were returning to our hotel on Long Island late Saturday night, and we jumped on them, even though Silverfire is the far less populated faction. We received confirmation at 2am this morning that we had gotten in, and, it looks like, most of our planned group/warband.

This will be my first boffer larp as a player, provided I don't chicken out like I did when it came time to play Cottington Woods. I have to say, I'm glad now that I have the NPC experience I do. I have a better sense of what type of character I want to play and what types of fighting styles I like; what kinds of characters get attention from Plot; the dynamics of groups. It's more than I had before.

So I'll be playing Ianthe Florizel of the Order of the Arcane Circle, in the warband called The Eyrie. I'm going to be a healer/ranged offensive caster, taking the headers Circle of Enlightened Invocation and Orb of Battle to start. I'm going to have a half-cloak with an alchemical transmutation circle on it for one of my required Foci; this glowing blue orb for my second, too many packets, too much hair, and wearing something like the view on the left in blues and silvers.

(Hell, just look at my Fifth Gate inspiration board on Pinterest)

Matt's going to be Rolant, my older fun-ruining brother (sword and board line fighter, also Arcane Circle, starting in the Halo of Deflection header). He just put in an order with The Ring Lord for a whole lotta scales to make scale mail armor.

I'm hella looking forward to it. I anticipate many long winter nights spent in companionable silence, Matt working on scale mail, I working on costuming and embroidery, with RiffTrax/MST3K on in the background.


I'm going to this SCA ball the weekend of the 15th. It'll be my first SCA event! Still trying to figure out what I'm going to wear. Either the dress I made for Venezia--which is appropriately Italian Renaissance, just kind of shapeless, since Kass of Reconstructing History doesn't make patterns for people with boobs--or borrow something from bess. I suspect I have enough time between now and then to finish the Tudor-era shift I'd been working on, which will at least give me something to wear underneath the ugly Venezia dress ;)


I had some shower brilliance yesterday morning and started working on revising "Powder of Sympathy" again. It's the only writing-related thing I've done in nearly a month. I don't want to say too much, though, for fear of jinxing it.

Since writing has been so hard for me lately, I'm considering writing some fanfic to get the creative juices flowing again. In specific, I've been giving some thought to writing a novelization of the events in my larp Cracks in the Orb.

Matt and I have been re-reading/listening to the Vlad novels in the car, and I just finished Yendi, which brought to mind a whole bunch of pre-Interregnum Dragaera stuff, including my "the Sorceress in Green is secretly Seodra" crack theory. And now I want to do something more with that than I do in my larp.

(so yes, I guess this is spoilery that Seodra is not secretly a Yendi in my larp, but oh well).

Of course, the events that lead up to Cracks have taken place over literally thousands of years, so it'd be a challenge to know where to begin, or whose perspective to tell the story from.

Something to cogitate on.

Larp kit wishlist
word warrior
This spring, I'm going to be NPCing two boffer larps (Shadows and Cottington) and PCing one (Fifth Gate/Silverfire), so I need to upgrade my larp kit. Well... "need." It's always a relative term. But here's my list:

Better thermal underwear, preferably ones that don't have logos on them. My LARP characters do not need to be sponsored by Duofold or Underarmor. Right now my thermal "blacks" are a Duofold shirt I got when I was working for the ADK in 2000, and a pair of thermal fleece leggings my mother gave me equally long ago. There's nothing wrong with the leggings, but the shirt has two problems: one, the honking big embroidered ADK logo on the chest (and a Duofold logo on the sleeve, though I can probably black that out with a marker); two, the zippered neckline with a standup collar, which doesn't work well under many costumes. (But is great for sleeping in!)

I've been eyeing WinterSilks, which are expensive, and also bring up some difficult choices. Their silk long underwear come in three weights, three colors (black, white, and nude), and a variety of necklines. I think the most versatile addition to my larp wardrobe would be a midweight crew-neck shirt, but I can see other weights and collars being useful conditionally. My planned Fifth Gate costume could benefit from a black or white turtleneck, for example. The heavyweight ones could be useful for the Fifth Gate crossover event, which is scheduled for December 2015 (!)

I could also go with less expensive options--stuff from Dick's or Cabela's ("redneck REI") or from department stores. *shrug* We'll see.

A cloak. Black and warm as a first priority. Walking around the campsite with my BRIGHT RED trench coat is kind of distracting. I can probably make something like this. I think my Circle of Enlightened Invocation focus is going to actually be a half-cloak, so this would be something that can go under that, weather permitting. Given enough time, I might like a lighter cloak, or one made of waterproof tablecloth material (like bess has), but I think a simple one is a good start.

Boot covers. There's nothing wrong my wearing my hiking boots around, except for the fact that they look somewhat modern. Having some sort of spat or boot cover that blends with the brown leather and extends up my leg would certainly make it look fantasier.

Some sort of belt and pouches to carry my weapons/focus/packets/other goodies. There are a few Butterick patterns that might work for that; I'm just waiting for them to go on sale. Also, there are also lots of leatherworkers on Etsy...

I've debated about more period-looking light sources than my Maglite. I looked into battery-powered replica hurricane lamps for Shadows, but they cast light up rather than to the sides, which makes them less useful. As an NPC mostly I don't care about this, and as a PC light sources are often moderated by the game, so I'm not sure how important this is.

"What's the deal with the tiger pimp?" (NPCing Cottington Woods)
word warrior
(warning: long)

This past weekend I NPCed for Cottington Woods, the larp Matt has been playing since late 2012 or so. It's late in its life now--the final event is in fall 2015--but I thought I could get some more experience and CP that I could put towards Fifth Gate, which I'll be PCing in the spring.

It was an experience, all right. Friday night was kind of harrowing, and I was literally making plans to make my escape. By Sunday, however, I was solidly having fun.

I really only have NPCing for Shadows as a basis for comparison, so take that into account for any unfavorable comparisons I may make in what I'm about to write. I don't think Shadows is a better game--the stories that Cottington is trying to tell are just as interesting, and the staff and players are just as invested--but I do think there are organizational aspects which make things easier on the staff and NPCs at Shadows.

I arrived on site about 6pm on Friday, and there was almost no one around on the staff/NPC side of things. There was another NPC napping in the cabin I chose, and there was a staff member in Monster Camp 2 frantically writing plot, but that was about it. That was my first sign of alarm. When I show up at 6 or 7pm at Shadows, nearly all the staff is there; the latest I've seen anyone arrive is 8pm. And yet, game start for both games is 10pm. John M. didn't even arrive with the truck full of stuff until 9pm; Michelle M, even later, as she'd apparently had to go back home and fetch something--and they are the game owners. Considering it takes at least a half hour to unload the truck, it seems optimistic to expect things to run on time with that kind of late start.

The rest of the night I spent mostly having a panic attack. The two mods I was in that night were designed to run back-to-back, so they both had to be ready before we could go out. The first of these mods, Jaime, a perm NPC, was the plot runner for--a fact she didn't know until she arrived. The writeups weren't printed out, and I had to wait for the wireless to get set up and the printer to come out of the truck before Jason, who runs the schedule, could give it us. Jaime was trying to set up for the mod, and couldn't find half the supplies she needed. Where were the chess pieces? Where were the streamers? Only Michelle seemed to know, and by that time she was out as a face NPC.

The write-up was incredibly vague, too, and again, Michelle, who wrote it, wasn't around to answer any questions. This would be a recurring problem throughout the weekend. It seems like the Ms have way too many face NPCs for the fact that they also write 80% of the plot. Once again, a rule I've heard from Shadows comes to mind--don't be the main contact point for a mod you're actually writing. (Of course, at this point in Cottington this problem can't be fixed, as Michelle and John are now the faces for those characters).

Basically I spent most of Friday in a helpless limbo, knowing I should be doing something, but not having any resources to make it happen. It made me panicky, and I was seriously calculating if I could call up acousticshadow2 and ask for a place to crash for the weekend (since the game was at a campground near Sturbridge and the CT border). At this point Keri G, who also perm NPCs, gave me some advice--"look at it as a Zen exercise in letting go." This seems trite and hokey, but it actually allowed me to relax a little. Later on her husband Alex P added to the advice: "Not my circus, not my monkey." It wasn't my responsibility to make mods happen, ultimately, and if anyone needed me, they could find me.

Ultimately, the mods that were supposed to start at 11 ended up not going out until 12:30. They went well enough, for all that I was very confused about certain things--after a certain point I realized it was totally okay to just make stuff up. I was the Weaver, who was Totally Not the Lady of Shalott, and met the player who also is Totally Not the Lady of Shalott. I was a fairy stealing the PCs' names, and was bribed with honey and games into giving them back.

I slept like a log, and at 9am the next morning Michelle poked her head into my cabin to wake us all up. I actually appreciated this gesture (maybe not in the moment, but later!), as I don't set an alarm on my phone when I NPC (to risk waking everyone else up), and it's easy to oversleep.

Saturday went a lot better, mood-wise, for me. Schedule-wise, it was completely borked, but I was at peace with the disorder. Other staff/NPCs confirmed that usually what happens is that this game runs perpetually 1-2 hours behind, until some time on Saturday we get so far behind we can't keep track, and then Michelle tells Jason and hanasaseru what mods have to run that night, what mods can be put off until Sunday, and what mods have to be scrapped. And then we make it up for the rest of the weekend.

Who was it who said, "Time is an illusion, and teatime, doubly so?" This is so very true for Cottington Woods.

(Another thing that I think makes a difference--Cottington schedules in one-hour blocks. I find it hard to get anything done in a one-hour block! Maybe you won't always use the two hours that Shadows allows, but at least you have them. There's also way more plot in a weekend than we can get through, but expect that's a good problem to have).

At one point when I still knew where we were on the schedule (we were two and a half hours behind!) I realized I was the hook for a certain mod. There was no plot runner listed, but I figured the hook is as much of a plot runner as anyone. So I tasked myself with making sure that mod ran--I wrote down who was in the mod, tracked them down and recruited extras where necessary, got everything set up, and made it happen. I had to make a lot of "I really don't know what is supposed to happen" disclaimers, and I'm fairly certain I set the tracking clues up wrong, but it happened, goldurnit. Now I knew how Jaime felt the night before.

I will say, the disorder and inability to ever talk to the game owners engenders a sort of solidarity among the rest of the staff and NPCs--you really feel like you're struggling against the odds to make something happen, and you feel like the other folks want to do what they can to help you. Likewise, you want to help other staff/NPCs. At one point Matt S was frantically asking around for the transfusion kit, and I happened to have seen it when I was looking for something, so I was able to lead him to it. At another point, I worried at Alex that I wouldn't be able to remember my calls for a fight, and he suggested something I could change it to.

I also think the fact that the schedule goes to hell gives you somewhat more freedom than I experience as an NPC in Shadows. For the most part Shadows happens on schedule, and sometimes it's trying to know you have four mods uninterrupted in a row, and you have to be there, because they will happen and people will notice if you're not around. When everything is haywire, no one cares if you disappear to take a shower or a nap. When someone hollers out, "Okay, I need six bandits," you can decide you're not interested in fighty roles at the moment and--so long as someone can fill it--not feel guilty. Obviously this wouldn't work for face NPCs, but right now, I don't really have any of those.

Having assumed this timeless nirvana, I actually had a lot of fun on Saturday and Sunday. Some mods that bear mentioning:
- I was an herbalist in a mod on Saturday morning. For all that I was basically human set dressing, I had a great time. I went out in the woods around the cabin and picked mushrooms and plants to decorate the shop--mostly desiccated asters and one really disgusting mushroom that someone had dislodged from a stump--and Jaime, who was also in the mod, was impressed; the mushroom was actually a really good representation of Sticky Goo, one of the herbal components in the game.
- The mod I organized, involving a bandit attack, was notable, mostly because I felt like I made stuff happen, and it gave me a lot of room to improvise.
- I enjoyed being an elemental getting the magician players to play games with us to win components.
- I liked being a chaotic wood witch, stealing Sebastian's (Cam's character's) sense of law and order and putting it in a jack-o-lantern that someone had carved to look like him. (It had an adorable "oh no" expression on its face).
- I enjoyed being the necromantic "heart," standing in the middle of the field with glowing wires attached to me, calling out imbues and grants to the undead around me.
- I happened into one of my most fun mods by accident--at one point on Sunday, staffer Lisa asked if I wanted to be a witch. "Sure!" I said, since the Sunday schedule was a complete fiction, and I didn't feel like fighting. She filled me in on a lot of backstory, and then sent me out as a conflicted wood witch who was the apprentice of a PC's rival, who had to come to terms with the fact that everything she knew was wrong. I had some really awesome interactions with the player of the Fen Witch as a result. I hope it worked for him, too :)

I will also note that the facilities at this camp (Camp Frank A. Day) are a lot better than at East Boston Camps, where Shadows runs. Part of that is just that it's an active YMCA camp, not a former scout camp that was abandoned and then bought by the town, and only occasionally maintained. The showers are still kind of gross, and the water smells like warm blood from the iron in the pipes, but the buildings aren't falling apart, the water heater in Monster Camp isn't busted, and there is no scaaaaaaary toilet.

I guess in conclusion, I had a great time, but Friday night was kind of a rite of passage. I totally understand why there are NPCs who don't come back, but I also knew I was able to push through that anxiety and find my place. I like to think I was a welcome addition to the group, but I also feel like they could do so much more with the sheer number of behind-the-scenes people they have, if they just had a little more organization.

(The title of this post, btw, was a question I asked in Monster Camp on Saturday. I had seen one of the staff wandering around with cat or tiger makeup, wearing a purple hat and suit with animal-skin details, and "tiger pimp" was the best thing I could come up with. This was endlessly amusing to long-time staff, as he was none other than the Cheshire Cat, who, along with Alice, opens and closes every game with a story).

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