German: Why do I do this to myself?

The short answer: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Duolingo app, a quasi-free online tool for getting started in a foreign language, has been much in the news lately. The Duolingo team has been fairly successful in gamifying language learning by turning into a competition. How easily we are manipulated, right? This is what we do with kids — “Let’s play a game and see who can clean their room first!”

Well, it worked on me, which probably says volumes about my emotional maturity. I thought I would just take the app for a test drive to see what it was about, and picked German seemingly at random. The first few lessons taught me some basic vocabulary. Frau. Mann, Kind, Hund, Katze. Hallo. I thought, this isn’t so hard.

That was in 2015. Little did I know at the time that Duolingo is akin to a gateway drug. Today, I am taking classes at a local Deutsche Schule, have an online native speaking tutor, attending a local Stammtisch twice monthly, read novels in German, reading the news at Deutsche Welle, watching TV shows on Netflix with German language options selected, playing video games with German subtitles, and wondering how this all came to take up so much of my attention. It’s not like I ever had an urge to read Goethe or Nietzsche in the original.

There is a Facebook page for German learners using Duolingo. There are probably several. About once a week, a new member will ask, “How did y’all get started learning German?” The answers could probably be set up to be selected from a drop down menu:

  • I have a German lover.
  • I want to visit family in <German speaking country.>
  • Rammstein
  • My firm’s HQ is in Germany.
  • I want to live and work in Germany.
  • I’m studying philosophy, and I need to read Kant in the original. (I don’t buy this one. Being able to read Wilfrid Sellars in the original English certainly doesn’t help.)

None of these reasons apply to me. Instead of simply shrugging my shoulders and making vague hand-waving gestures, I made up a reason:

“I found this puzzle box on one of my recent campaigns. Solving the puzzle was difficult, and it contained a letter in German. Pre-reform German, with lots of references to arcane knowledge. I had to battle a dragon, three trolls, and a horde of undead in order to retrieve it, and I’m not about to let a language class stand between me and reading the damn thing.”

Nobody asks me why I study German anymore.

I was grossly misled by the early steep learning curve. I now appear to be eternally stuck somewhere in the pre-intermediate skill level, measured on how difficult the books are that I can read. I know I’m learning new words, but still struggle with prepositions.

And, as you all know, it’s much easier to read and understand the spoken language than it is to create new sentences from scratch. Friends at the Stammtisch have become accustomed to my silence, and show great patience when I do try to make a contribution to the dialogue. Sometimes, the whole table, including the native speakers, grows silent in anticipation while I navigate the grammatical minefield.

I need to schedule a trip to Bavaria for research for my next book. Never mind that the story takes place on other planets.

Corporate Catharsis, an Anthology

From the inside jacket of the book:

It’s a widely-held belief that writing is a form of catharsis — not only for the author, but often for the reader. It’s all about our author’s and the stories they want — and sometimes need — to tell.

Catharsis isn’t so much the airing of frustration,s as it is the process of letting those frustrations brew down and condense into the fuel that drives the creative spark; the fuel that leads you to reassert your imagination, your creativitiy, your humanity. It’s the reclamation of the possibility of a better world, a world that isn’t so extractive, and that retains the elements of the fantastic that we can visualize as being a part of it.

You hold in your hands twelve stories written by people who have passed through the corporate world with their creativity intact. Some are realistic; most are fantastic. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed gathering and bringing them to you.

Local Libraries

I work from home, and those of you who also do this know that there can be some awesome good points and frustrating bad points.

First off, you have to love the commute, which goes from my bedroom, to the bathroom, to the kitchen to pick up a cup of coffee, then to the study to log into my remote office. In truth, the traffic in the hallway can sometimes slow me down, making the trip 10 or fifteen seconds longer.

One of the downsides is that The Employer expects me to be online and productive by six in the morning, which necessitates waking up at – ugh – 05:30. This is my fault, though, as it was one of the many selling points I used to convince The Employer to let me work remotely.

And when I say remotely, I’m being serious. The Employer’s main office is in the SF Bay Area, and my study is in a wide spot on the 99W highway in the Willamette Valley. It’s not the worst remote set up, for sure. I have colleagues who work remotely from India, Mexico, and Europe.

What’s the advantage of working remotely? You mean, other than the fact that the current population of the San Francisco Bay Area (depending on how it’s defined) is about 7 million, and the entire state of Oregon has only about 4 million people? Really?! You have to ask?

I’ve never been a fan of crowds. In spite of the mega-cool music, I’d’ve gone insane at Woodstock, probably to be discovered by the cleanup crew, curled up in the fetal position under a rock. I lived in Los Angeles during the summer after my sophomore year in college. I didn’t like the town before I lived there, and spending three months there didn’t improve my attitude any. Though, I’ve been told that L.A. has matured since then.

Don’t get me wrong – Los Angeles is a fine city. But it’s not for me. Big cities are a fine place to visit but … you know the rest. Besides, I’ve been conditioned by a lifetime of weird decisions, and I can’t think of L.A. without thinking of the old Freddy Martin song, Pico and Sepulveda.

However, I sometimes get tired of sitting in my study all the time, and take full advantage of the remote technology to work from a local library.

Panoramic view of the front entrace to the public Library in Corvallis.
Atrium of the Corvallis Library

We have some very fine libraries near-by. Though that depends on what you mean by near by. The Monmouth and Independence libraries are close enough to ride a bike to, but they’re closed on Sundays, so I sometimes use the Salem Public Library or the Corvallis-Benton County Library. The Salem Library is closer, bigger, and very comfortable, but because of the way the highways are routed, it takes just as long to drive there as to Corvallis.

All of these libraries have comfortable places to set up, and provide power strips for the electronics, and free Wi-Fi. Though I’m paranoid of open public Wi-Fi, so I alway bring my own. All of them have free parking within walking distance, except for Salem, but it has free parking on Sundays.

So, that’s it. That’s my favorite aspect of working remotely. The only downside I’ve encountered to working in a library is when I have Skype meetings. Then I pack everything up and go somewhere else.

Memory and Metaphor released in digital, paperback and hardcover

Memory and Metaphor (Google+)

My Freshman novel, Memory and Metaphor. Available in digital, paperback, and hardback, today, February 1, 2019, at Amazon, Barns & Nobel (bn.com) and Lulu. You can get signed copies from me, also. The best way to do that is to order it through the publisher, Paper Angel Press, and tell them I sent you, and said you could have a signed edition.

No, really.

Civilization fell. It rose. At some point, people built starships.

 

A millennium after the Earth was abandoned to climate change and resource depletion, Sharon Manders wakes up in a body that used to belong to somebody else, and some say she was a terrorist. She has no idea how she could be digging for Pleistocene bones in Africa one day, and crewing on a starship the next. That was just before she met the wolfman, the elf, and the sex robot.

Struggling with distressingly unreliable memories, the expectations of her host body’s family and crewmates, future shock, and accusations of treason, Sharon goes on the lam to come face to face with terrorists, giant bugs, drug cartels, AIs, and lawyers.

All things considered, she’d rather be back in 21st Century California.

Memory and Metaphor at Amazon February 1

I started this project in 2013, writing the first 15 thousand words in a fever during a long weekend. We all know what happened after that, right? Yeah, it progressed slowly, a couple thousand words at a time for two years.

I presented it at a Writers’ Clinic at BayCon in 2015, and the critics were generally impressed. Enough so that I was encouraged to press on and finish it. One of the panelists gave me the calling card for her agent saying, “She’s looking for a good space opera.”

Turns out she wasn’t. Or, at least, wasn’t looking for my space opera.

After putting the final touches on the book in the fall of 2015, I spent the next two years trying to find an agent. To no avail. Literary agents, it would seem, are much more difficult to impress than panelists at the BayCon Writers’ Clinic.

The project languished in my hard drive, all but forgotten.

Then there was WorldCon in San Jose, California. I was feeling pretty good about myself for reasons unrelated to writing. I had lost 30 pounds on a new diet, made some new, very cool friends in the Royal Manticoran Navy, and it was a gorgeous day in the South Bay. I wandered around the vendors’ area, purchased a few books for future reading, and admired the crafts of some very imaginative and creative people.

And stumbled upon the booth of Paper Angel Press. I don’t remember, at this late date, who it was crewing the booth, but she mentioned that they were looking for new writers.

Hmm. Maybe?

I took their business card, and when I got back home I dusted off the digital manuscript. Made some changes, and submitted the first 10 thousand words.

Then forgot about it. I went back to daily life, lost more weight, and considered ideas for a new writing project.

The publisher, Steven Radecki, sent me an email two months later. He wanted to see the rest of the manuscript!

So, here we are. Five months later, and the book will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble (bn.com), and Lulu on February 1.

Where do we go from there? A sequel, obviously.