NaNoWriMo 2016

It's that time of year, friends! And by that I mean: NaNoWriMo time. Thirty days. Fifty thousand words. Awwwwwww yeah it's happening!

Almost every year I mean to do National Novel Writing Month, and with uncanny frequency, some big chunk of something-or-other renders it impossible. Houseguests and holidays to Disney World. Conventions and conflicting deadlines. There was that one showstopping year with the hurricane and ensuing two-week power outage. As a rule, June, July, and August make much better novel writing months for me. (I've done the summer version before, Camp NaNoWriMo, with great success.)

But not this year, baby. The stars are aligning, and everything is poised for this to be the best chance I've ever had. I'm already clearing my decks—I'll be turning articles and posts in early, finishing the last couple of episodes of my K-drama in progress, getting proactive with all the little fiddly things I could do but don't have to do yet. I know this can't and won't be the only writing I do in November—I've got some other deadlines to hit—but I'm laying the groundwork to give myself the best possible chance of success. 

Even so, I'll be honest: I'm... kind of cheating. Technically. If you care about rules or whatever.

See, I'll be working on a book I've already started. Right now the manuscript stands at about 9K words, and I've got another 5K that may be rescued from a prior draft. But my goal is to get to 70K in all, not just the 50K NaNoWriMo standard, so I think that's fine.  If I add 50K, that'll be a triumph. Because the secret of NaNoWriMo is that even if you don't finish and "win," you've still won by trying. Even if you write only 20K words, or 5K, or just 500. If it's more than you would have written otherwise, that's a victory!

One of the most delightful things about NaNoWriMo, though, is that you're not in it alone. So if you'd like to work along with me this November, maybe we can be writing buddies? I'm andrhia over there. I'll be happy to cheer you on, and I can take all the cheering I can get, too. Because something always comes up in November. Always. But I bet if we try, we can all pull it off anyway!

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Nintendo Switch

Yesterday, Nintendo released a trailer for its next-gen device, a console/handheld hybrid. There are some weird moments in the trailer—really, you're highlighting a built-in kickstand?—but in all it looks like a cool piece of tech. The upshot is ultimate portability and versatility: you can play a game on your big TV at home, then literally pull the device from the dock and take it with you. You can use the two-piece portable controller separately, or slide them onto the mobile screen to turn it into something like the PS Vita. You can watch videos. There's Mario, there's Zelda, there's even... Skyrim? And sports games? Huh.

It looks pretty cool, I have to admit. Take a look.

But as cool as all of that is, I have some questions about how big the market will be—if nothing else because the single-use portable games device is definitely a dying breed, just like the single-use e-reader is. Nintendo's competition here isn't the PS4, the XBone, or any future-gen device. It's the iPad and the Kindle Fire. It bears nothing that when my own kids got Kindles, their much-beloved and heavily-used DSes were stuck in a drawer and never really came out again.

It looks like you can watch videos on a Switch, sure. But can you chat with your friends? Play around with Can you take selfies or play a little Hamilton or check to see if your ride home is getting close? If you can't, then the Switch is a runner-up device at best, and will always lose out. (That's not even getting into the huge psychological difference between $40-$70 console games vs. $5 mobile games, no matter how the playable hours-per-dollar works out.)

There's also a space issue that gives me pause. I live in a multi-user and multi-device house. The dock to your big TV is great, but what happens if you get three or four of those bad boys? Do you get a new dock every time, like it or not? Since it's mobile I'm assuming there is another way to charge, or do you need to dock for, say, crucial software updates? The thought that I might need four docks in a row sitting in my living room is already annoying me, and the device isn't even out until March.

And those tiny little snap-on controller the configuration as a single remote controller it looks unusably tiny to me. It's going to be even more difficult for a small child with developing motor skills, usually Nintendo's core market. And it's just begging to get lost, stepped on, cracked—it does not look like a robust piece of gear. Guess Nintendo lost the memo about how fewer moving pieces makes for a better and more durable device. 

And finally, I'm not actually sure that taking your games with you is even as big a draw as all that. It sounds great, yes, but different games excel in different environments. Skyrim on a mobile screen isn't going to seem quite particularly sweeping and epic; it's going to feel crowded. There's a pretty fundamental difference in how to design games for seven-inch and seventy-inch screens, so are designers going to need to essentially create two distinct games and interfaces in parallel?

It might be great. It might sell millions or billions! And I've been wrong about this stuff before. But I can't get over the feeling that this would have been really, really, really years ago, before the iPad changed everything.

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Queen Seon Duk: The Worst Soldier

I've been watching K-drama a lot lately, and I think it's about time I talk about it somewhere besides Twitter. Lucky you! 

As with with my Bollywood binges, I'm transfixed by what I'm seeing because the stories feel gorgeously fresh and unexpected to me. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of them is that Korean storytelling just doesn't use all the tropes I've been trained to expect. There are tropes, absolutely—just a different set. This means I can be taken by surprise more often and more deeply than in Western media. 

Right now my show is Queen Seon Duk, which you can stream on Drama Fever. It takes place in roughly the year 700 and is absolutely and amusingly anachronistic—just as a starter, the show has featured crystal water goblets, French hook earrings, and endless tall chairs and tables, which I am about 99% sure were not things that existed in Shilla at that time. And that's not even starting in on the subtitle translation, which is fodder for a whole different post.

Forgive me, but I'm going to spoil roughly how the first third of the show goes to give you an example of what I mean about this whole "different tropes" thing. 

See, early on in the series, a young woman disguises herself as a man and becomes a soldier. I've seen this story a hundred times before, and I know how it goes: the young woman struggles at first, but she's all heart. She works harder than all of the men. She gradually earns their grudging respect, and in the end, she becomes the very best soldier of them all.

You've seen that story too, right?

Except that's not what happens in Queen Seon Duk. Our young woman absolutely tries harder than anyone else, yes! She is all heart. But despite all of that, she is a shitty soldier. She's slower than the rest. She's weaker. When the time comes for a real battle, her commander looks at her with pity and contempt and says, "Just stay behind me so you don't get killed."

I kept expecting a crowning moment of glory and physical prowess, where all of her hard work would pay off. And yes, she's smart and cunning. Yes, she performs heroic actions. But all of them are through cleverness, and not battle strength. She is just a really bad soldier, and she never really gets better.

Here I was all primed for a story that it turns out I wasn't going to get. The wrong trope. And it had never even occurred to me that it could go a different way—that all of that heart and trying might not be enough to actually become good at something, much less the best. I kept fighting with myself: "Well of course the GIRL has to be a bad soldier, because SEXISM" vs. "But... actually that's not entirely unrealistic, and it's not like she isn't proving her leadership value at every turn, so why do I need her to be also very physically fast and strong?"

I'm a strong believer that creative people need to feed their brains a very careful diet of interesting ideas and experiences. Part of that means going off the beaten path of your peer group. I could be watching Stranger Things and Luke Cage right now, sure. But then I'd be thinking mostly the same thoughts as all of my friends and colleagues who are watching those shows.

The kind of dissonance I get from K-drama is exactly what I need right now. It's good for me as a writer, because my brain is opening up to a much broader and more interesting array of possible narratives than I could see before. And it's good for me as a human being who needs down time, because I can more easily shut off the part of my brain that analyzes and rewrites the show as we go along so I can enjoy the experience as actual entertainment in a deeper and more genuine fashion.

It's pretty great on basically every possible level. And you're going to be hearing much, much more about K-drama from me over the next few weeks. Brace yourselves!

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Imzy: Off to a Good Start

Kace Alexander posted a couple of really amazing Medium pieces recently about how toxic Twitter has become and why that's never going to change, and the new contender on the horizon to become the next big social media thing: Imzy. Kace is very, very smart, and you should go read those pieces now. I won't be repeating that stuff here.

My personal experience of Twitter isn't actually bad on a day to day basis, but I am keenly aware of some harsh realities. I'm a woman. I work in games. I hold extremely left-wing politics. I've had a few scuffles with MRA-types that blow over fast, but the sword of Damocles hangs over me, just waiting for the right moment to fall. The better my career goes, the worse Twitter will be for me. 

I really need to start fostering other spaces that give me the same benefits in having a public-facing persona, the ability to connect with new people, and access to water coolers for talking shop and letting off steam that encompass entire industries.

So! Imzy. I have a community on Imzy already, and I'm happy to hand out invites—just give me a holler. I don't have the hang of Imzy yet, but it took me a long time to get the hang of Twitter, too. And the lesson I've learned from that is: I need a critical mass of other people there to make it more than just an extra chore.

Right now I'm using my community as a personal space to repost stuff from this blog and from Instagram. In turn, one of the reasons I woke up this blog is to start moving some thoughts off of Twitter. But I'm sure that usage is going to evolve over time, as Imzy's culture grows more established and best practices emerge.

Maybe join my critical mass on Imzy? And help carve out a kinder, safer space on the internet, where moderation exists and abuse isn't tolerated? It may work and it may not, but I feel like the right thing to do here is give it a vigorous and honest try.


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The Cultures 170: Amazon Echo, the iPhone 7, and Disobedience

Remember back in 2013 when I told you I'd started up a new podcast called The Cultures with Adrian Hon and Naomi Alderman? We're still running strong all these years later, and yet it turns out lots of people don't even know I have a podcast. Because we never talk about it, we just do it!

It's podcasting verité—no editing, just roughly 30 minutes a week of unfiltered chat about technology, art, culture, politics, religion, how to be a better human, and how all of these things intersect one another. I treasure recording these podcasts because I get to spend time talking to two smart, wonderful people about interesting topics. Maybe you'll enjoy listening for the same reason?

In this week's episode, Adrian reviews his new Amazon Echo and Alexa, I review the iPhone 7 Plus and Siri, and Naomi talks a little bit about the development of a film based on her book Disobedience. You can find us on iTunes or on LibSyn, whatever works for you! And from here on out I'll try to post a podcasting reminder on Mondays. Because what's the point of doing a podcast if you don't actually tell people about it?

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