GRE is to career planning as escalation is to…

If a protagonist has only one problem to sort through, there isn’t much of a plot. It’s by layering demands on our heroine that a story becomes interesting, especially if they’re in competition with each other. Apparently I am taking this formula to heart, because in addition to work, in addition to this project and in addition to trying not to become a hermit who can’t cook for herself, this week I accidentally signed up for the GRE.

“Accidentally” is a strong word, but it’s nearly accurate. One minute I was reading about application deadlines, the next I was giving my credit card to ETS. To put that in context, I’ve been resisting grad school since about 2005. I’ve always known I wanted to go, but I don’t want to be in academia, and I knew I couldn’t justify more school (and more debt) unless I was certain the degree would steer me toward a real career. Thanks to a recent graduate school fair organized by Idealist.org, I think I’ve finally found it — or rather, I’ve now got the name for the thing I’ve wanted to do all along. Which is great — a huge relief! I finally have a path, a plan, a set of options to pursue.

I also now have the GRE to study for, applications to compile, essays to compose, visits to arrange, decisions to make. This on top of work, friends, family, freelancing and Innogen. It was the right decision, but my timing is hilarious. Onward!

Last week Imogen got quite the suckerpunch, meeting Cloten, who looks just like her best friend and acts nothing like him. Let’s see how she’s going to deal with that!

One song

“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” by Nancy Sinatra [lyrics]

Hey, remember that time when your certainty in the most solid thing in your life got yanked out from under you? Man, that was rough. Poor Imogen. Now she has to spend an entire dinner party with it.

Two links
I’ve mentioned before that most of my knowledge about the Roman Empire comes from the Asterix comics, which means my general idea of what food in Ancient Rome looks like is something close to this:

From Asterix in Helvetia

Luckily there are scholars who disabuse us of hilarious, parodic simplifications, and who publish cookbooks of actual recipes from imperial Rome! I’ll never be embarrassed by my ignorance of how to properly cook an ostrich again. By Toutatis, I’m relieved.

The second link is mainly visual, and explains why I’m really writing Innogen.

Three lines

“Even Argus wasn’t invincible when Mercury came to play him to sleep.”

Rigantona smiles. “The Romans have gods, stories and much else, Lady Imogen, but I assure you, they do not have this.”

That’s it for now. Swing back Tuesday to see how it all comes together! As always, no knowledge of steampunk or Cymbeline is necessary to enjoy Innogen and the Hungry Half, but if you’d like to read the play, MIT has the full text available for free online.

Teasing: The second best part

Ironworks over Chicago River

To date, I have attempted five rounds of National Novel Writing Month. I’ve been a winner twice, which came at the heels of a solid month of no socializing; even my parents know I’m usually doing something that requires alone time during Thanksgiving. Last year I decided to stop, because while quickly writing 50,000 or more words of a story you’ve been idly dreaming up is incredibly satisfying, it’s also a recipe for six months of burnout, at least for me.

However, I will always be grateful to NaNo for slapping my fear of the blank page out of me. It’s done marvels for pushing me to stare down a new document and put some words on it. One of the reasons I started “Innogen and the Hungry Half” was because I wanted a big project, something that’s been thin on the ground for me this year. I’m thrilled to share that the first chapter should, barring catastrophic edits, be up for your delectation early next week. (Even if the edits are catastrophic, I’m one of those nerds who lives for editing. I love it. It’s like a puzzle for me.)

As I geared up for putting those first sentences on the page, I could feel NaNo roaring away in the back of my head. It sounded like Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”: Valhalla, I am coming! I’d spent weeks thrashing out reams of notes, going in circles, unable to get the shape of the thing. I tried starting in about three different places, none of them right. In the end, it meant sitting in my chair and telling myself over and over and over again that it didn’t have to be perfect, not yet. On the first day, I got about 500 good words (which became 700 around bedtime, because naturally that’s when lines start to flow); on the second, 700 more. Yesterday, I did a full-on 1700. NaNo has trained me well.

Now, of course, the real work comes, because while I’ve had the beginning minutely envisioned for a while, the lumpy middle now stretches before me. Now comes the fun part! (She says, semi-wretchedly, laughing as she does so.)

In the spirit of experimentation, and also of my love for previews, teasers and trailers, I’m kicking off what should be a weekly feature, in which you all get a glimpse of what’s going into the writing and — oh yes — the seat-of-my-pants research. (Wikipedia, let me love you.)

One song

“One Beat” by Sleater-Kinney [lyrics]

I worked at a student coffee shop in college, and a group on constant rotation with one particular cohort was Sleater-Kinney. I hated them as much as they hated my Bjork, but this track redeemed the shift every time. It’s fierce and beautiful and it’s either about nuclear energy or fractal geometry. Either way, it’s a great thematic pace-setter, which I hope, in a story about Shakespeare, makes you curious!

Two links
I’m a nerd, but I have some big gaps in my knowledge base. The largest of these is anything to do with Ancient Rome. I’ll blame learning to read on Asterix comics: I could never root for the empire! Luckily for me, I not only have Classics-nerd friends to pester for help, if it comes to that, but I also have Roman-Britain.org. It’s not snazzy, but it is informative. I came for the Latin abbreviations (which I find fascinating!), I stayed for the lifeline to world-building.

Another gap in my knowledge base: steampunk everything. I’m skimming through a lot on Tesla coils and the Great Exhibition of 1851, but one of the neatest sidetracks has been learning about early animation — specifically, the praxinoscope. It’s a one-off detail in the story, but I really like how it looks. There’s something sort of eerie and dreamlike and lovely about it.

And, because YouTube contains all things: yes, it comes in the steam-powered flavor too.

Three lines

“But is that life? The most vital connections come to us by speech, which cannot be touched, even if it can be felt.

“I propose a future cut like the Gordian knot.”

So that’s that! Intrigued? I very much hope so. Again, barring catastrophe or natural disaster, the first chapter should be up early next week. You don’t have to know anything about steampunk or Cymbeline to enjoy the story, though of course, if you’d like to read the play, MIT has the full text available for free online. For a lighter, quick summary, you can watch the short video linked at the bottom of this post. I assure you the original text is exactly that ridiculous, wonderful and strange.

Hope you all have a marvelous weekend — catch on the flip side, chapter in hand!