Watched: The Quest

I’m not sure how my life has been complete before I discovered this: ABC’s new fantasy-meets-reality-tv series, The Quest. If you’re anything like me, right now you’re thinking to yourself, “Fantasy…? And reality tv…? In the same sentence?”

And then your mind is blown.

The good news is that it’s really really well done. In fact, it may be the first reality tv series that I actually would want to go on. (If, you know, I could ride a horse, and shoot a bow and arrow, and swing a sword.)

The basic premise is that 12 ordinary people are taken from their every day lives to a magical kingdom in order to fulfill a prophesy and save the kingdom from an evil being (halfway through the season, we haven’t seen him yet, so I’m not sure if he’s meant to be human or monster). The Paladins (as they’re called) are each given a piece of a magical artifact, and (because it’s a reality tv series) have to complete challenges every episode, and go through an elimination process to find the “One True Hero.” In short, it follows an archetypical fantasy plot. And, for that matter, the typical reality tv format.

The idea of a reality tv series set in a fantasy storyline could be laughably bad, but it’s not. It’s pretty great, actually. It has some fantasy movie big names behind it, and while I don’t know how much suspension of disbelief had to be done on the part of the participants, for the viewers, it’s seamless. The creatures, the set, and the fight scenes look real. In addition to background actors who work in the castle and courtyard, there are several actors who engage with the Paladins: Crio, Royal Steward, who plays the part of host, explaining the world and leading them around from scene to scene. The Queen, their supporter, and her Grand Vizier who very much does not approve (I suspect he may be the mole). Then there’s Sir Ansgar, who is the Head of the Royal Army, and largely responsible for training them. In the first couple of episodes, he was a hardass, but as he’s gotten to know them, he’s warmed up to them. And then there are the three Fates, who are exactly as otherworldly and distant as you might expect Fates to be.

I’m super impressed by the actors: they must do a fair amount of improv, and they seem to be very good at staying in character. Little things, such as when one of the Paladins early on called the Queen “milady.” After he walked away, she turned to her courtiers and said, “Did he just call me ‘lady’?”

The Quest does some things that I wish more reality tv series could learn from. For one, the elimination is not actually the last scene of every episode. Because there is a driving plotline outside of “I’m going to be the winner of ‘The Quest'”, the elimination takes place about 3/4 of the way through the episode, and once this week’s eliminated participant has been banished (which is nicely portrayed by having them walk out of the Hall of Fates and turn to smoke), the remaining Paladins return to the castle, where they almost immediately run headfirst into a new plot twist, which serves as that episode’s cliffhange. For example, in one early episode, the Queen joined them at their dinner table and is poisoned. The next episode’s challenge was to discover and then make the antidote for her poison.

And because the overall goal is to save the kingdom, there is a spirit of camaraderie, not competition, amongst the Paladins. Each week, they have to choose from amongst the bottom two to be eliminated, and in the discussions that take place before the choice is made, there is a great deal of thoughtful emphasis on which Paladin brings the most to the table to ensure the success of the one true hero (whoever that may end up being). Though there are clearly friendships being formed, trying to form alliances and “play the game” ends up actually hurting one Paladin (whom I was glad to see go!), and a great moment is when one Paladin stands behind one of the bottom two just so that she wouldn’t be left standing alone.

So, clearly I love this show, and having binge-watched all 6 available episodes, am anxiously awaiting the next one. But even more, I hope that this kind of “reality tv show with a story” spreads–I think it really brings something new to the table in terms of reality tv shows.

Podcast Love: 2005-2006

Podcast Love: 2005-2006

I love podcasts, and have since I first started listening to them in 2005. Since then, they’ve always been a part of my life: company on long car rides, while walking the dogs, or just sitting at home knitting. Some podcasts, I can even remember exactly when and where I was when I listened to a specific episode. This is a multi-part series on podcasts I love, past and present.

Circa 2005-2006
I first discovered podcasts as a college student, when my mom sent me a magazine (Real Simple, maybe?) that happened to have a tiny 1/2 page feature about podcasts. I was intrigued, and started exploring. It took a bit of trial and error to find podcasts I really enjoyed, but back then, there were few enough podcasts that it was (almost) possible to listen to them all.

In 2005, you had to download a separate podcast aggregator, and then manually load them into iTunes (it was huge when iTunes opened up it’s podcast directory!), and from there, onto your iPod (at that time, I had one of the bulky early gen iPods with a click wheel). I was always running out of hard drive space in those days, and had to be careful to delete the files twice: once, after I copied them from the aggregator to iTunes, and then again after I listened to them.

The Dragon Page: Cover to Cover
News and interviews with sci-fi and fantasy authors–in 2005 when I discovered Cover to Cover, it was hosted by Michael R Mennenga and Evo Terra (who went on to create podiobooks.com). The Dragon Page spawned Farpoint Media, which of course is still known for the Parsec Awards. Several huge authors came to my attention because of Cover to Cover–in particular, I remember walking our family dog Rosie one night on a visit home from college and listening to an interview with an author who had just released his first book: Elantris. Of course, Cover to Cover also brought me to several Big Name Authors in the podcast fiction community such as Mur Lafferty, Scott Sigler, and JC Hutchins. In later years, Mike Mennenga was joined by Michael A Stackpole, and focus shifted to publishing trends and news, ebooks, and general writing advice.

I was going to put this one in the “sadly podfaded” category, (though there are over 400 archived episodes available) but actually, I just went to the Dragon Page site to see when the last episode was, and there are several new episodes in 2014. Re-added!

Cast On
One of the Big Momma podcasts of the now-expansive knitting podcast community. Cast On was one of the very first knitting podcasts, and I suspect a large reason why there is such a great community of knitting podcasts today. Hosted by Brenda Dayne, an expat American living in Wales, Cast On has great production values and really high quality content and essays. One great thing about Cast On is that early on, Brenda decided to structure Cast On into “series” (British use of the word) with a handful of episodes–often thematically linked–followed by a brief (or not) hiatus. Although she’s stepped away from podcasting several times, she never truly podfaded, and has picked up the mic again in 2014.

Of course, we all love the “Today’s Sweater” segment, which is a essentially the story of a single handknit sweater: the yarn, the pattern, the changes in plans and modifications that were made during the knitting of it, and the repairs made after. But one of my personal favorite episodes is one of the earliest: Pulling a Geographic. I remember listening to the episode on a cold, rainy Northampton day during my last semester of college, knowing that I was about to have to leave my beloved school and go into the real world. That feeling of pulling up your life and moving elsewhere, into the unknown, was terrifying and exciting all at once, and the timing of the episode was perfect.

Connect Learning
I found Connect Learning early on in my podcast explorations, (possibly even earlier than Cover to Cover or Cast On–I remember listening to it on one bus trip to New York during spring semester 2005) at a time that I was really falling in love with museum education. There weren’t really any museum ed podcasts at the time (though there were some museum-based podcasts, primarily ones that served as either formal or informal audio tours), but I found my way to several interesting education podcasts. Of those, Connect Learning is the one I remember as having the biggest influence on me, and in fact, remains a major influence in how I think about technology and learning in a 21st century world. It is very much podfaded, but several episodes remain archived by the Internet Archive.

Scott Sigler’s podcast novels: Earthcore, Ancestor, and Infected
Scott Sigler was probably the very first author to see potential in podcasting a full length work of fiction, and he did it brilliantly, starting with Earthcore in 2005. As mentioned above, I found out about him via Cover to Cover, and listened to these first three novels as he released them in real time. They’re all great horror novels, and I highly recommend them, but I think in some ways, his real legacy is the entire mini-genre of podcast novels (including several others which will make it onto this list of mine.)

In two weeks: I pull a geographic of my own, move three times, and go through almost as many iPods.

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are” (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation on my journey forward in 2014. Part 1 can be found here.

When we left off, our intrepid heroine had just found a new full-time job which she loved, thus fulfilling her vision of “Forward,” her One Little Word for 2014. But it was only halfway through the year.

And so here we are. I’m happy in my work. I still actually have two jobs, (there no way I was going to give up my second job–I love it too much), but now I feel fulfilled across the board. Personally, I’m still more of a mess than I would like, but with less stress in my life, I feel like I can take the time to do something about it. It’s funny, because I’m technically more busy than ever, in terms of hours a week working, but whereas before I had a lot of free time, I was stressed out, and exhausted, and felt like much of that time was required for me to simply relax and recharge my batteries enough to face the next week. (I will say, though, that two-day weekends now feel quite short.)

I’m not sure what “forward” is going to look like the rest of the year. I keep thinking about things like NaNoWriMo, which I haven’t participated in since 2008, massive knitting projects, or picking up blogging again (which is why I’m here now). I want to completely make over our home. I was lucky enough to win a free seat in Big Picture Classes Phone Photography Project 2 this summer, and so I’ve started getting serious about doing something with the dozens to hundreds of iPhone photos I take every month. (Many of which you can see on my instagram feed.) I have all these ideas bouncing around in my head, which feels great.

But I think the trick, for me, is to get better on the follow-through. To find a way forward with some of these goals and ideas. To continue to work towards a happier, healthier me.

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are”

I love this quote. It is a reminder that the only way forward is to grow, to change, to learn, to experiment. And so here I am. Forward bound.

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are” (Part 1 of 2)

I came across this quote in, of all places, a So You Think You Can Dance episode. (note: I have no idea if SYTYCD episodes are a good place to come across quotes, because I never watch it–we stumbled across this particular episode by chance while doing some channel surfing on hulu one afternoon.) But I liked it enough that I actually made my partner stop and rewind so that I could write it down. 

My One Little Word for the year is “Forward”. I’ve heard about the idea of having a word for the year for several years now, but this is probably the first time that I chose a word and really made it stick. In December/January, when I was thinking about choosing a word, I wasn’t in a great spot, personally, professionally. I was struggling with depression and feeling stuck. I had been out of graduate school for a year and a half, and working two part-time jobs to (just barely) make ends meet. I had health insurance and a regular paycheck, so even though I was struggling, and not happy, I didn’t have the strong kick in the butt I needed to motivate myself. So I chose “Forward” for my word, and when I chose that word, the forward motion I saw for myself was finding a new, full-time job.

Ever since my time as an undergraduate working in the Smith College Museum of Art, I had a very clear vision of what my future would hold. I thought I’d work in museums the rest of my life–I loved working in museums. After several years working outside the museum field, I went back to graduate school as a way to fulfill that vision. And graduate school was an amazing, life-changing experience.

But when I started looking for jobs after graduate school, nothing seemed quite right. I found a part-time position that came with full benefits and a fair amount of flexibility, doing something that was not terribly challenging, but was fun and mostly enjoyable. I thought I would stay there until the perfect full-time position came along–6 months, maybe a year at most.

Instead of a perfect full-time position, I found a perfect part-time position about 6 months later. (This was early 2013.) It wasn’t ever going to pay the bills, it was only 15-20 hours a week, but when I saw the job posting I (very literally) pointed at it, and said “I want that job, that job is perfect.”

Of course, I procrastinated sending in my application until the very last day, and then was on pins and needles waiting. A couple of days after the day I was supposed to hear back, I was convinced I hadn’t gotten it because I hadn’t gotten a response. Then I searched my inbox and found that gmail had incorrectly categorized a general response email saying that the selection process was going to take a little bit longer than originally expected. I was delighted a week later when I was contacted for an interview.

Long story short(er, anyway), I got the job, and it was just as perfect as I thought–I loved it, they loved me back, and I thrived. The work was both challenging and fulfilling, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like my skills and strengths were truly able to shine. And the fact that I was so happy in this position made me re-evaluate what I wanted out of my career.

I love engaging with visitors in a museum–that three-way conversation that happens between the visitor, myself, and the artwork (or the object). I always will. I love working in museums, getting to see the galleries before everyone else comes in, or examine a piece of artwork in a conservation lab, where you can get so close you can literally touch it (as long as you’re wearing gloves, of course).

And yet, there was something missing. I had been casually looking at a wide variety of job postings in museum ed for over a year, and almost nothing was hitting the “that job is perfect” button for me. In fact, the closest that came was a position for “Digital Project Manager” (which also ended up being the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever received.)

So by the end of 2013, I decided that I was going to expand my search, and look outside of the museum field. And with “forward” in the back of my mind, urging me on, I applied for a couple of jobs, did a couple of interviews, but nothing came of it, until, in April, I found a job posting that absolutely hit “this job is perfect”. I said it, when family members heard about it, they said it… and despite some serious snafus during the application process, I ended up getting it!

I’ve been at the new job for just over three months now. It is perfect. It’s flexible, there’s a nice mix of challenging and yet familiar work, I’m able to do some things I love but have never gotten to do before (podcasts!), and in just the last month, I’ve even been able to start take on some new responsibilities (writing the newsletter!). The team I work with is great, there are free snacks and juice at work, and when that isn’t enough to convince me to face a 3 hour roundtrip commute (bus and metro), I can just as easily work from home.

And all of that was meant to be the first paragraph or two of what this post was really supposed to be about… But since that was such a journey in it’s own right, I think I’m going to break this story up into two parts. Stay tuned–part 2 will come on Tuesday.

Today

So far:

Once locked out of my own home
One not-so-flat tire
One very ill dog
One very large glass of spilled milk
One forgotten lunch
One mostly-flat tire
One broken milk bottle
One not-so-flat tire
And one half of a cat sticking out of an open third story window.

Days like today, I wish I could call my mom, tell her this story, and have her explain to me that the reason for all of this is because Pluto is opposing my sun, (or something) and not to worry because it’ll all pass… in a week.

Public vs. Private on Twitter–squirrel!

So, it’s been approximately a year and a half since I’ve blogged (at least in this particular blog, my own little private slice of the internets), and interestingly, when I came back to it, I found that my last half-finished saved blog post was one in which I mused about my decision to protect my twitter feed. That decision ended up making the twitter-sphere a lot less interesting for me, and over the last year and a half, I’ve been spending a lot less time there. But I’m taking a class this semester (burying the lead, hey folks, I’m in graduate school now, fulfilling my long-time goal of getting a master’s degree in Museum Education!) that requires students to be active on Twitter.

So I decided this class could be a kick in the butt to get me back into tweeting regularly, and along with it, decided to reopen my feed so I could be a part of the larger conversation again. One of the things I missed the most when my feed was protected was that I couldn’t just tweet someone at random, and know that they would see it. I felt very shut out from it all.

(An aside. This is going to be one of the most parentheses-heavy posts ever, I can just tell. I’m not saying that deciding to protect your twitter feed is always a bad thing. In fact, it’s not, and there are many reasons to choose to do so. I’m just saying that protecting my twitter feed prevented me from using Twitter in a way that I found valuable. One real life example from before I protected my tweets: I was complaining about my internet service being down, and a customer service rep contacted me via twitter to help solve my problem. A real life example of something I wasn’t able to do after protecting my feed: call out an author whose book I was really enjoying and give him the mad props he deserved.)

So, I’m diving back into Twitter. I’m using hootsuite to manage my lists (all private, as it’s just my way of organizing the groups of people I follow) and the various hashtags I’ve been following (my newest one is #iTunesU… I’m slightly in love with the new app!). And because it’s been a while, I found that I had some cleanup to do, and in the midst of doing that cleanup, I discovered that one person I used to follow, had blocked me!

I won’t lie. At first, that discovery upset me. I took it personally–what had I done, what had I said? But after thinking about it a bit, I decided that it probably had nothing to do with me at all, and really, was my world going to end if I didn’t know what this person (who I had only ever known slightly in real life), was thinking every moment of the day? The answer is no, probably not.

This post began as a lot of things. A musing on what it means to be private vs. public on twitter–that same post I began so long ago. A musing on how much social media relationships matter to us. An announcement that I was going to try blogging more (yet again. But I mean it this time. I think blogging can help keep me sane, and I need all the sanity I can get.)

Instead of really doing any of the above, I think I mostly ended up babbling. But you know, sometimes, it’s good to babble. So anyway, here I am. I’m in school, so I can’t promise to be anything like prolific, but I’m going to try for one post a week, at least. No guarantees on topic. The usual suspects (food, writing, critters, technology, knitting) are all sure to make an appearance, and I’m sure museums and education can be added to that list. If you want to follow me on twitter, I’m @wingcolor, and once again, open to everyone.

Reader’s responsibility

I take my responsibility as a reader pretty seriously. Now, I don’t mean that in the sense of analyzing every sentence that crosses my path for proper grammar and creative use of metaphor. I mean it in the sense of supporting the authors whose work I read.

And I mean “supporting” in the fiscal sense.

As someone who reads quickly and ravenously, and who sadly, does not have enough money to buy every book she wants to read, or even just the books she wants to own, (as a life-long book collector, this number is smaller, but not by much) I find this responsibility weighs heavily on me at times.

A large number of the books I consume, I acquire in ways that do not directly fiscally support the author. Before you start having visions of me sneaking into bookstores in the dead of night and carrying out sackfuls of books, you should know that the means by which I consume these books are legal and often, intended or even encouraged by the authors. I check books out from libraries. I participate in book swaps on sites such as Bookmooch.com, and purchase used copies of books that look interesting at yard sales and thrift shops. I listen to podcast novels via sites like Podiobooks.com.

Because I do all of the above, I take my responsibility as a purchaser very seriously when I walk into a bookstore to buy a brand new copy of a book. When trying to decide which of the dozens of books that I’d like to take home with me, actually will come home with me, I’ve developed a loose set of rules that help me make my decision.

  • First, I rarely buy a book by an author that I haven’t read before. I will admit, this is probably the rule that gets broken the most.
  • Second, I try to only buy books by authors that aren’t already huge bestsellers. I figure that if you’re a household name, my purchase of your book will not matter as much to you as it would to someone who’s just starting out. (I know that unfortunately, just because you’re widely known or a bestseller doesn’t guarantee success in your career. However, I know that the chances, however slim, are better for you than for most of the other authors who have their books on the shelves.)
  • Third, I try to buy books by authors that I like and want to support as soon as possible after their initial release. The sales numbers within the first week after release are the most important numbers.

These rules are not for everyone. I’m not trying to say that they should be. However, I feel that it’s my duty to walk into a bookstore, and put my money  to the best use I possibly can, supporting authors that I like and want to see more of. These rules make some decisions easier for me, because it really just comes down to two questions: will my purchase make a difference to this author, and if so, is the author someone I want to support?

Why am I mentioning all this now? Well, a couple of days ago, I was led to a blog post written by the inimitable J.C. Hutchins, in which he explains his reasons for deciding not to continue to put out his fiction for free over the internet.

(A digression. I found J.C. Hutchins through the SF podcasting community back when he was podcasting the first novel of his 7th Son trilogy. I’ve been known to curse his name a time or two, such as when he ended book 2 with a massive cliffhanger, but wow, what a great storyteller! I almost don’t know whether to love him, or just be massively jealous.)

His post is impossible to summarize, but a central point is that the two books that he had published, which includes Book 1 of the 7th Son trilogy, underperformed to the point that his publisher has decided not to publish Books 2 and 3.

And that brings me back to my sense of personal responsibility. Because just a week ago, I’d listened to a couple of interviews that Hutchins gave to Mike and Mike at the Dragon Page Cover to Cover podcast in which he talked about the 7th Son novels and everything he was doing to promote the print version. The interviews were several months old (I’m perpetually behind in my podcast listening), but as I listened, I thought to myself, “Wow, has time passed that fast? I didn’t realize the book was out already. I really need to make sure I pick up my copy.” A couple of days later, I went to my local bookstore, and actually searched for the book, hoping to find it. They didn’t have it. I was a little bit concerned, and definitely disappointed, but decided I would purchase it on Amazon when I got home.

Reading Hutchins’ blog post was like a blow to my gut. I felt that as a reader, I let him down. I loved the novels when he so generously shared them for free–I’d had every intention of purchasing the novel when it was available. On a rational level, I know that the one copy I’d have purchased would not have made the difference in St. Martin’s press deciding not to publish the subsequent 7th Son books. But every drop in a bucket does make a difference.

Writers and readers depend on each other. Readers depend on writers for the raw materials that they turn into words and sentences and characters and story that keep us entertained. Writers depend on readers to support them, to allow them the time and the opportunity to create and to share their creations.

You could call it a reader’s responsibility, but it’s entirely selfish, really. I want to be able to keep reading J.C. Hutchins’ writing. In order to do so, what do I have to offer in return? Believe me, next time he has a book coming out, I’m marking that sucker’s release date on my calendar in flashing neon. First week’s numbers, and all.