It’s my weekend with my people.
It’s time for one of my favorite events of the year–Penguicon! Michigan’s SF/Open Source/Maker con is happening in Detroit, and I’ll be there all weekend. There will be costumes and ice cream and movies and games as well as panels about literature and science. I have three days to nerd out with other nerds. You know, my people.
I usually do a few panels and a reading, but this year, I decided to mix it up and propose a writing workshop, and to my surprise and delight, the con committee said yes! On Saturday, I’ll be presenting a workshop for writers called “No Hero Wants to Save the World.”
My introvert friends are amazed that I’d want to do a solo workshop rather than rely on the safety of a four or five person panel, but to me, this is actually easier. I’ve been giving writing workshops at the Ann Arbor District Library for years, so this is in my wheelhouse.
I’m also doing SF/F MadLibs. Remember MadLibs from summer camp? One person has a story with blanks in it, and the other person has to fill in random nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Hilarity ensues. The Penguicon twist is that the panelists have written the MadLibs and the audience shouts out the words to fill them in. The words they shout are usually somewhat dirty. (Okay, they’re filthy.) I wrote several MadLibs based on my favorite movies and I can’t wait to see how my fellow con-goers wreck them!
My last panel is Self-Publishing in 2018. Things have changed a lot since I started publishing my own books in 2011. It will be interesting to discuss all the changes that our industry has undergone in such a short time.
In addition to panels and workshops, I hope to see old friends, make new ones, drink a beer, see amazing costumes, and at some point, stop and wonder how the geeks somehow turned into the cool kids, and wonder even more how I became one of them.
No matter what you got your mom for mother’s day, it’s not as cool as what my kids got me.
I have wanted a unicycle for years. I was always delighted to see one-wheel riders in parades and shows. Seeing a unicycle for sale made me sigh wistfully. I watched videos on YouTube and thought “someday…”
Then I came across this quote.
It made me think about what I was capable of. And then I realized why I’d never bought myself a unicycle and why I’d never tried to ride one.
For twenty-five years, I lived with a partner who didn’t think I was capable of anything. He didn’t think I could be a successful writer, or a good mother, or a skilled editor, or an inspiring teacher. Even when I clearly was all those things, he insisted I was not. He second-guessed every independent decision I made and never once told me he was proud of me. When we divorced, I told him I’d be fine. He snorted, “No, you won’t.”
But I am. I am more than fine. In the past few years, I’ve learned just how capable I am on my own. I sold my house and bought another. I dealt with evil realtors and surly bankers and the odd rules of court. My son needed surgery at a special clinic in another state, so I arranged it and financed it. I launched my oldest kid into college. I held my little family together.
Turns out my kids were watching the whole time. And they always knew what I was capable of. So when I asked for a unicycle for mother’s day, they didn’t try to talk me out of it. They didn’t undermine my confidence by asking, “are you sure?” Without any hesitation or debate, they pooled their money and bought me the exact model I wanted.
They gave me more than a unicycle. They gave me a symbol. Every time I ride it, I’ll know how much my kids believe in me. No matter how many times I fall off, they expect me to get right back on again.
I’ve been practicing twenty minutes a day, wobbling up and down the driveway, clinging to the garden wall. Losing my balance, falling off, getting on again. But I’m not giving up.
I’m going to learn to ride this unicycle.
Because I can do anything.
You don’t have to be an artist to make your sign a work of art.
Marches are a regular part of my life these days, and every good protester needs a sign. I used to just grab a piece of cardboard from the recycling bin and throw some words on it. My signs were legible, and my message sincere, but my designs left a lot be desired.
With three protests in April, I needed to up my sign-making game. After all, if I care enough to march, I care enough to make a good sign. The problem? I don’t have much free time, I refuse to buy any new materials like stencils or paints, and I’m terrible at art.
So I had to figure out a way to make a decent sign in less than an hour, for less than a dollar, with zero artistic ability. I’m not saying my method—or my sign—is the best. But it is a cut above my recycled cardboard ones, and looks quite good for the amount of time/money/effort I put into it. Want to make one too?
Here’s what you’ll need:
Poster board (One sheet cut in half to make two signs)
An index card
A ruler or yardstick
Markers, pencil, and scissors
I had all these things on hand except for the poster board. That cost me 79 cents.
Here are some optional things:
Artwork printed off the internet
Here’s how to do it in ten easy steps:
1. Decide what your sign will say. Shorter is better! The experts say fewer than seven words is ideal. My sign for the tax march says “No one is above the law.” That’s a message I think we can all agree on!
2. Measure your space. Now that you know what you want to say, you know how many letters per line you’ll be writing. Be sure to count the space between words! In my case, I was doing two words per line, so my longest string was “is above.” I’d need eight spaces for that.
3. Do the math to figure out how big each letter should be. My poster board was 14 inches wide. Therefore, each letter could only be 1.5 inches wide. (8 x 1.5 = 12 inches, plus .25 inches between each letter for a total of 14 inches.)
4. Make a rectangular stencil out of your index card. I made mine 1.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall. That’s the orange rectangle in my photo.
5. Very lightly, in pencil, trace around the index card as many times as you have letters. For me, that was 6 boxes for line one, 8 boxes for line two, and 7 boxes for line three. Remember that the space between the words counts as a box! (Also: I discovered that with fewer letters on lines one and three, I could make those boxes slightly bigger. But let’s pretend for this tutorial that they were the same.)
6. Now you have neat little boxes to make your letters in. Every letter will be the same size and you won’t run out of room. A good artist would simply freehand the letters at this point, but I am not a good artist. I penciled in every letter. It didn’t take long and made me more confident with the markers. Make your letters really thick! Thin ones can’t be read from far away.
7. Color in the words with markers. This is always my favorite part. I love to color.
8. Erase the pencil lines. Also my favorite part.
9. How about some artwork? Here’s my big secret. I simply found an image I liked on the internet, printed it, cut it out and glued it to my sign with glue stick. Done! The sign is ready to be carried to the march. But what about that second piece of poster board?
10. If you want to, you can use the other piece of poster board to make a second sign. Tape the signs back to back, and put a yardstick (or a cardboard tube) in the middle for a handle. Your sign will be more visible if you carry it above your head.
Have a good march! Make new friends. Yell really loudly. Connect with important local organizations. Remember to stay hydrated and always clean up your trash. Peaceful assembly is your constitutional right and speaking truth to power is one of the very best things Americans can do.
Especially when our signs don’t suck.
Women make minute-by-minute calculations about their own safety all day every day. And sometimes we get it wrong.
I was waiting to cross the street. Waiting through two light cycles. The crosswalk signal changed from “stop” to “walk” for the second time, and still I hesitated. Because like all women, I’m constantly scanning my surroundings, and I could see what was waiting for me on the other side.
I don’t know if he was dangerous or not. It was hard to tell, and I didn’t want to risk finding out. All I know is the guy standing on the other side of the street scared me. He was underweight, unwashed, wearing lounge pants and a t-shirt and a camouflage necktie as a headband. He was yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs. He stood on the balls of his feet, his entire upper body leaning forward in an aggressive way that said he was going to take a swing at the next person who got too close.
This was in broad daylight, about 11:30 in the morning on a Thursday, downtown Ann Arbor on the corner of Main and Ann, across from the courthouse. There were other people around, but not enough people. Nobody else seemed to be going my way.
I couldn’t cross on the other side of the street. Sidewalk repairs. Street closed. I’d either have to walk a two-block circle or take my chances with yelling guy.
I was about to take the detour when I saw him. A man of about thirty, in a dress shirt and pants, walking in my same direction down Main Street. He wasn’t huge, but he was big enough. More importantly, he looked confident. He sized up the situation and maneuvered himself to stand on the other side of me, so that he’d be between me and yelling guy when we passed him. We crossed the street together.
“Thanks,” I said when we’d put half a block between us and yelling guy. “I really didn’t want to walk past him by myself.”
“No problem,” he said. He held out his hand. “My name is Christopher.”
“I’m Alex.” I shook his hand. “Thanks again, Christopher. Have a great day.” I kept walking.
Christopher kept pace. “Are you single?” he asked. “Can we be friends?”
I stopped walking. My jaw dropped. “Are you serious right now?”
“What?” he asked. “We can’t be friends?”
“Don’t be that guy,” I half-whispered. “Please, don’t be that guy.”
“Yeah, all right.” He smiled as he sauntered off. “Have a nice day…Alex.” He added that special little lilt at the end, the one that says, “I know something about you.”
I had at least ten years on Christopher. Maybe fifteen. My hair is going gray. I was wearing what I describe as “mom shoes.”
None of that mattered. Christopher had walked me across the street. He had bought my attention.
I should have taken my chances with yelling guy.
And that’s what I hate most about this whole thing. Of the two men, Christopher looked like the safer bet. Women make these moment-by-moment calculations all day every day, and sometimes we get it wrong.
It was a small encounter, more annoying than dangerous, but it might not have been. What happens when a man like Christopher walks a woman to her car, in the dark? What happens when he insists on being more than friends?
I told this story to some girlfriends and they sympathized with me. They understood it because they’d all been through some version of this. But my guy friends all said, “Oh no! What a tool. I would never do that.” And I believe them. They wouldn’t.
But guys, here’s what you have to understand. For every one of you, there is at least one Christopher out there.
And he’s ruining it for the rest of you.
[Image: Google maps]
This week is all about mingling with the science fiction community.
First, I’m over at SF Signal, participating in their “Mind Meld.” A group of authors was asked the same question: “What’s the best writing advice you ever received?” Visit SF Signal to find out my answer!
This weekend is Penguicon, Michigan’s SF/Open Source/Maker con. I’m on four panels in the literature track, and I’ll be doing a reading/signing. I’ll also be enjoying other events as an attendee, because that homemade ice cream thing looks amazing…
Here is my schedule:
Friday, 6:00 pm Social Media for Writers What social media trends are necessary for writers building a web footprint? What are some important things to do, and what should you not do? (with David Erik Nelson, Michael W. Lucas, Christopher Purrett, Mark Oshiro, and Mary Lynne Gibbs)
Saturday, 10:00 am First Things First: Story Titles How do you title your stories? Should the title make sense upfront, or only after the story is read? (with Jon David and Christine Daigle)
Saturday, 2:00 pm Reading (with Ferrett Steinmetz) Ferrett Steinmetz and I are sharing this reading block. Since Ferrett’s stuff is wacky and fun, I’ve decided to read the most fun chapter of LIVING ALL DAY, where my heroine’s high-tech surveillance goes hilariously wrong.
Saturday, 4:00 pm Writing Fast and Slow What’s the expected output for writers in today’s publishing world? Is more than a book a year the new norm? (with Jen Haeger, Jim Leach, Catherynne Valente, and Jeff Pryor)
Saturday, 9:00 pm SF MadLibs We create madlibs, the audience fills in the blanks, hilarity ensues. What could possibly go wrong? (with Andrea Johnson, Jackie Morgan, Jen Haeger, and Catherynne Valente)
Sunday 10:00 am Self-Publishing 2016 What’s new in self-publishing? (with Michael W. Lucas, Jen Haeger, Christopher Purrett, and Robert Kroese)
Is that a great con schedule or what? Cool people on interesting panels is exactly what I’m here for.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She loves meeting other people in her tribe almost as much as she loves writing.
(Image: Russell Murphy | License: Creative Commons Attribution)
Taking the “duh” out of traveling.
I’m tired of reading about “travel hacks” that promise to save you time and money, but in reality, only save one or the other. Of course you can spend extra money to save time. Of course you can spend extra time to save money. That’s not a hack. That’s the kind of trade-off everyone already does. That’s travel 101.
In short: duh.
There are very few true travel hacks: things that save both time and money, without being inconvenient or tedious. If there were, we’d all be doing them and they wouldn’t be called hacks anymore, they’d just be called “travel.”
I’m a casual traveler, flying to other cities only once or twice a year. But isn’t that most of us? Perhaps experienced travelers will laugh at these, giving me a well-deserved “duh” of my own, but I’ve found three things that truly help me save both time and money and I’m sharing them here in hopes that other casual travelers will find them helpful.
1. Don’t fly to small cities. It’s almost always cheaper to fly to a big hub, and you get more choices of flight times. Flying to a hub does not mean you have to rent a car. Look into shuttle services that will take you by bus or van to your final destination. For example, last year, I went to a conference in Colorado Springs, but I flew into Denver. A quick google search turned up three different shuttle services that would take me from the Denver airport to my hotel in Colorado Springs an hour away. I spent $50 on the shuttle instead of an extra $250 for a flight, and I saved time too, because I never changed planes. Closer to home, my relatives in Lansing always fly in and out of Detroit, relying on the Michigan Flyer motorcoach to take them the rest of the way.
2. With airlines charging for every checked bag, it makes sense to pack everything into a carry-on. With a little thought and effort, it’s not hard to pack for a whole week in one 25 x 14 x 9 inch bag. But the trick is to pack two carry-ons, one a small suitcase and one a small backpack. The backpack should contain all the in-flight essentials as well as your computer and any medications you need.
Then you simply wait for that magical announcement at the gate, when the staff desperately tries to get you to check your carry-ons at the gate. By all means, give up the larger carry-on at that point. It’s the ideal way to check a bag because it’s free and you know it won’t get lost because it’s going on the same plane you are.
3. When I vacationed in San Francisco last year, every taxi driver wanted to take me on a magical mystery tour of the city. I suppose they thought I wouldn’t notice they were driving in circles, even though I had the GPS on my phone working the entire time. After my second tour of the city, I swore off cabs altogether and decided to take the bus. But how to navigate public transport in a strange city? It’s easy with a free app called Moovit. Just tell Moovit where you want to go and it will tell you when the next bus is coming and how to walk to the stop. Once you’re on the bus, it will count down the stops and vibrate when yours is coming up. After you leave the bus, Moovit will guide you the last few blocks to your destination.
This app does everything except ride the bus for you. Not only did it save me time and money, it lowered my stress. Instead of trying to second-guess the cabbie while watching the meter climb ever higher, I was able to relax and enjoy beautiful San Francisco. When I got home, I kept using Moovit for my local bus trips. It’s available in most American cities and many international ones too.
Those are the three best travel hacks that I know, but those just cover getting from place to place. I bet there are equally good hacks for hotels and restaurants. If you know of a way to save both time and money when going out of town, please share in the comments so we can all be better travelers.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead. Her characters only use the word “hack” when they are talking about computers.