Archive for June 2009

Second Life: Round Two

June 19, 2009

This is not the first time I’ve set up Net Identities different from my real self, of course. Back when we geeks were the only ones on the net and all the internet social life was on discussion boards, I had a variety of identities, each of which suited the venue in which I was working or playing at the time. But the Interwebs have grown up since then, and it’s become an extension of real life and real business. Transparency is important. Man, if you work in social media or have even read about it more than twice, how often have you heard that axiom? So it is somewhat of a mental shift for me to return to the idea of creating an online identity that is not Me.

I log back in to Second Life. This time the decision-making is easier: I just make the same avatar and first-name choices I did last time. Then comes the Big Moment: the last-name pull down. Most of the names are unexciting, but there’s one winner:

@barbarfriendish Success! I have scored the last name “Scorpio” on #secondlife! #fb

I lock it in and begin working my way through the rest of the registration. Nothing unusual here: real name, email address, etc. During this process Daniel, who, incipient college student that he is,  rolled in around 9 this morning and has just awakened from a restorative nap, wanders downstairs to see what I’m doing.

He is profoundly disgusted by the whole affair. Really, how can I be this stupid? This is not a replay of his earlier resistance to my joining Facebook, where he feared I’d be “all up in his grill”; he just thinks the whole thing is pointless. I explain that it develops there is more going on in Second Life than interactive porn, stuff that may turn out to be useful in the publishing side of my life; he snorts, unpersuaded, and withdraws.

Leaving me to try to select a Community and Start Location.

If Wynette gave me advice on how to choose these, I don’t remember. I poke around and look at the choices.

Choices that stand out, although none of them feels Inherently Right:

  • Dublin in SL (SL meaning Second Life)
  • The Faery Crossing
  • Steampunk Victorian Caledon
  • Second Life London

I would probably find the highest percentage of kindred spirits in Steampunk Victorian Caledon, but I am not a Steampunk Kid. And I do not have a high enough twee tolerance to be happy with most of what I am certain goes on in The Faery Crossing. The series I’m working on in my writing life does have ties to London–but if I get to retire on that side of the Atlantic, it’ll be much closer to Dublin than London. I’m choosing Dublin.

INSERT SWEARING HERE! Imagine it’s very loud! It develops that while I was doing other things (like taking my time to evaluate a starting location), Second Life logged me off. Once I choose Dublin, I’m bumped back to the initial screen. AAAARRRRGH!

I am not excited about any of the last names it offers me this time…

Second Life: My First Foray

June 19, 2009

I’ve taken care of the emails and assorted other things that must be handled first-ish, and sit down with Second Life. First, the obligatory tweet:

@barbarfriendish Cue the dramatic music…I’m GOIN IN…to #secondlife

Oh crap, there’s a download involved! We’re upgrading my computer this weekend; I’ll probably just have to redo stuff. But I promised to be there tonight…

First, the system informs me, I must choose a starting look–I remember Wynette said this is just how you start, and there’s tons of customization to be done, new avatars to buy, etc. But this may be how I show up tonight. I find one with a funky hat and blue hair that does not offend my sensibilities. If I can’t have blue hair IRL I will definitely have it in SecondLife.

Now I must choose a first name. Usually I go around the net as myself. But I think it may be fun to have an amusing name for my avatar, and on Second Life you don’t get to choose your last name: you must choose from a list the system generates. So I really can’t go around as Myself in this venue.

Actually, this is kinda cool, if you think about it. This is my alternate persona I’m building here. My alternate persona is, of course, much cooler than I. What shall I name her?

And here we stumble over another of the ways in which Second Life allows you to re-think things: the gender issue is worth some thought here, because in Second Life you can use whatever avatar you can download, buy, or create. I frequently feel as if I am a guy in a chick body. I happen to be female, of course, and I have given birth to my own children, but being female is not part of how I define myself, merely one of those facts into which I was born, like having perfect pitch or being nearsighted. As a guy I’d be mostly gay, of course. But I can definitely see, if I get invested enough in SecondLife, having secondary avatars who are male. So an androgynous name might be a good thing…

Have I mentioned that I suck at naming? This is probably the hardest decision I’ll make all week.

Let’s try Paris. It’s androgynous, and I don’t have to commit, from what I understand, so I plug that in and move on to the less flexible part: the system-generated last names. There’s a drop-down, which I open, hoping for something as fabulous as the last name (Frequency) Wynette scored. My selection now includes a number of OK names, none of them fabulous. Though “Xubersnak” cracks me up.

I have a moment of real flirtation with keeping this name. But then I’ll have to choose a first name that goes with it, and that’s going to change the whole tenor of my persona. I will do as I have been advised in the event that I don’t like any of the options I’m offered: quit and come back later today, when the system will generate me a new list. I still have a few hours.

Welcome to My (Second) Life

June 19, 2009

I’ve never visited Second Life. Until recently it seemed something I could safely ignore. But my friend and former business partner, Wynette Hoffman, author (as W.A. Hoffman) of the Raised by Wolves historical fiction (with gay men and buccaneers, not pirates thank-you-very-much) series, is hosting an event on Second Life today. And damn it, I think what she’s doing may turn out to be important. So now I have two reasons to show up.

As those of you more versed in Second Life than I already know, I’ve got my work cut out for me if I’m going to show up looking decent. And it occurs to me that the Second Life virgins may find my adventures today useful. Naturally it is time for a liveblog.

I will be tweeting as I go along, as @barbarfriendish. I have other deliverables today, and an errand or two, so this will not be all in one block the way my #russbooks liveblogs have been. But there will be a blog post in the end…

Wish me luck.

The Jagged Edge of Forever

June 16, 2009

Isn’t that a great title? That is the name of the newest of Rev. John Cunyus’s highly-respected translations from the original St. Jerome Biblical texts. I have the first-ever copy here on my desk, and it’s blowing me away. Look at this awesome cover:



Full disclosure: John and I went to college together. As so often happened with our generation, we lost touch until the miracle of Facebook reunited us. We are better friends today. I wish all clergy were like him.

Bragging: John dedicated this volume to me. Little ‘ol me. I am quite overwhelmed.

The coolest thing about this series, IMO, is the scholarliness John brings to the work. For those of you who aren’t Bible geeks (and I’m not, but I can learn) the St. Jerome texts are considered the authoritative translations from the original Aramaic Torah/Old Testament (choose the label you like) into Latin. Evidently St. Jerome studied with the rabbis in order to develop sufficient mastery of Aramaic to do the texts justice.

(Aramaic is a hard language. Rachael speaks Hebrew but is more often than not baffled by Aramaic.)

John, a Latin scholar, is doing what may turn out to be the authoritative translations of St. Jerome’s work.

There is, as you may have deduced already, a whole series of these translations, with more on the way. If you are interested in reading texts in English that have been translated as faithfully and with as little bias as the translators could manage, you should check them out.

Fun with the “Which Fantasy Writer Are You?” Quiz

June 14, 2009

Yeah, everybody’s taking it.

Here’s what it said about me; who knew?

Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?

Mary Gentle (b. 1956)

33 High-Brow, 21 Violent, 23 Experimental and 7 Cynical!

Mary Gentle (b. 1956)

Congratulations! You are High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical! These concepts are defined below.

Mary Gentle is a UK author whose work has received some acclaim. Her great break-through came with 1984 fantasy novel Golden Witchbreed, which depicts the travels of a UK envoy on a planet, Orthe, where the inhabitants have, by choice, abandoned a high-tech society for a seemingly less advanced way of life. Though nominally science fiction, the novel is generally called fantasy, partly because Orthe has the feel of a fantasy world. Nothing is what it first seems to be on Orthe, however, and the envoy’s journey across the planet gradually reveals a vividly imagined alternate society, where nothing is ever over-simplified or, for that matter, easy. Gentle revisited Orthe in 1987, when the sequel Ancient Light was published.

Since then Gentle has written the White Crow sequence, starting with Rats and Gargoyles (1990), which has received some acclaim, not least from other writers; China Miéville, for example, put it on his list of “50 science fiction and fantasy novels socialists should read”. She has also written Grunts! (1992), a novel set in a Tolkien-like fantasy world, but told from the point of view of the orcs, as well as several other books.

Gentle is not one to shun away from difficult issues in her works and is equally unafraid of discussing and depicting violence. Neither has she settled to writing the same kind of story over and over, and, while being at her best a great entertainer, she has the ability of twisting and bending fantasy environments and themes at her will, making unafraid a key-word of her career as a writer.

You are also a lot like Gene Wolfe.

If you want something more gentle (no pun intended), try Philip Pullman.

If you’d like a challenge, try your exact opposite, J K Rowling.

Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you’re at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn’t mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.

High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received 33 points, making you more High-Brow than Low-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, rather than the best-selling kind. At their best, high-brows are cultured, able to appreciate the finer nuances of literature and not content with simplifications. At their worst they are, well, snobs.

Violent vs. Peaceful

You received 21 points, making you more Violent than Peaceful. Please note that violent in this context does not mean that you, personally, are prone to violence. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you are, and you do, then you are violent as defined here. At their best, violent people are the heroes who don’t hesitate to stop the villain threatening innocents by means of a good kick. At their worst, they are the villains themselves.

Experimental vs Traditional

You received 23 points, making you more Experimental than Traditional. Your position on this scale indicates if you’re more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, experimental people are the ones who show humanity the way forward. At their worst, they provoke for the sake of provocation only.

Cynical vs Romantic

You received 7 points, making you more Cynical than Romantic. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you’ll find the sentence “you are also a lot like x” above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, cynical people are able to see through lies and spot crucial flaws in plans and schemes. At their worst, they are overly negative, bringing everybody else down.

Author picture by the talented artist “Molosovsky”. Visit for more!

Compared to other takers

  • 99/100 You scored 33 on High-Brow, higher than 99% of your peers.
  • 94/100 You scored 21 on Violent, higher than 94% of your peers.
  • 92/100 You scored 23 on Experimental, higher than 92% of your peers.
  • 37/100 You scored 7 on Cynical, higher than 37% of your peers.

My go-to writing book

June 13, 2009

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if you’ve never heard of Building Better Plots by Robert Kernen; there are many books on writing that get much more attention. I’ve gotten a lot out of reading Sol Stein’s and Stephen King’s ideas on craft; I spend more time re-reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces than any other ten books. I coach writers all the time, of course, and recommend those and other books on a regular basis, particularly when I’m working with a writer whose story structure has a problem. But when I feel at sea with a plot, I reach for Building Better Plots.

It may be that one of the reasons this book doesn’t get passed from writer to writer is that one really must have mastered plot pretty thoroughly before this book becomes a truly useful tool. It doesn’t set out to teach a writer how plots are constructed or how they function; what it does is provide a sort of virtual coaching, by making the writer who sits with it and gives it her full attention birth thoughts she might not otherwise have.

That’s what I’ve needed lately, as I resume what I believe will be the final retooling of the novel I’ll be bringing to press next spring, The Shadow of the Sun.


A bit of well-deserved credit for comics and graphic novels

June 10, 2009

Rachel Fulton is a professor of history at the University of Chicago, a geek, and a person whose depth of thought goes right down to the center of the earth. Oh, yeah, and we went to college together.

Rachel turns a perspicacious eye on comics on her blog today:

Fencing Bear at Prayer: Guilty Pleasures

For those of you who think novels are important work but graphic novels or–heaven forfend!–comics are somehow lesser works, Rachel does a formidable job of dissecting the reasons why works incorporating both text and image have such impact on us…and why, just maybe, it’s okay to love them.