Music & Stuff


Howdy, folks.  Kinda didn’t blog last time! :/

I have no thoughts on anything writing-related at the moment.  However, I have been creative this week.

Some of you may know that I play piano by ear and also that I’m a big Mass Effect fan. 😀 As such, I decided to put my YouTube account to use and post a video of my interpretation of a song from that video game series.

Here’s a link to the original song, and here’s my video:

I recorded this on my phone, so it isn’t the best quality video… I should probably use my Kodak camera next time, heh.

Anyway, hope you enjoy!



Subtlety, Progress & More Mass Effect Stuff

‘K, this post is just gonna be a jumble of things.  Thought I’d warn you now, heh.


A couple of days ago I went to see The Hunger Games in theaters (and it’s really wonderful, btw), and fellow writer Jay Noel and I got to talkin’ on Facebook about whether we thought the movie or the book was better.  We have different opinions, though my primary reason for liking the movie best was a matter of personal taste, I think.

I thought the novel itself lacked subtlety.  Everything was made so obvious that I didn’t really have to use inference at all.  And maybe it’s because it’s a YA novel, idk, but I like having a mixture of things you have to figure out for yourself and outright explanations.  Personally.

Anyway, this got me thinking about subtlety in fiction and the challenge of achieving it.  Soon enough I was on Google seeing what other writers had to say about it.  I came across two really good articles that were more or less saying the same things, just differently, though they were both insightful, imo.  I think the one explains things more in-depth, but the other is good, too.

Check ’em out, if you’re interested.


Hey!  I’m actually making some progress on editing!  (I change the color of the progress bar some whenever I advance a percentage point or more, hehe.)

It’s been hard getting back into some kind of rhythm after all that’s happened, but excuses aren’t going to get things done.  (Sometimes I feel like I need permission to work on this thing, as it currently does not bring in any income.  Maybe that’s silly, but it can be hard internally justifying a time-consuming effort when you have no guarantee whether its fruits will be lucrative.)

Anyway, my goal is to sift through a minimum of 500 words every day until the end of June.  (Might sound like very little, but I’m not just making quick fixes this round.)  After that, I should be ready to start sending chapters for critique out to first readers–yay!  Maybe I get done before then, but in any case that’s gonna be my mandatory deadline.  We’ll see how that goes.  (So far I’ve been doing considerably more than my daily goal, so I’m off to a good start, at least.)

More Mass Effect Stuff (SPOILERS!)

Last time when I talked about playing Mass Effect 3 a couple of folks requested I do a “spoiler-y post” on my interpretation of the game’s ending.

I give in.

My thoughts aren’t just my own, however.  When I finished the game I knew something felt “off”, but I didn’t realize that this could have potentially been Bioware’s intent all along.  And, after considering other people’s theories and thinking in retrospect…I had to come to the conclusion that maybe the writers at Bioware are just incredibly clever folks (and not the sloppy plotters so many fans are making them out to be).

As I said once, the ending felt really strange and eerie to me, like what was happening wasn’t the “real” ending.  Then I watched a few videos like this one and thought, “Whoa…that explains almost everything!”  Perhaps there was a reason I felt so out-of-sorts at the end; perhaps I, the outside player, was experiencing a simulation of the in-story phenomenon of Reaper indoctrination (brief 87-second video).

I have to tell you, this theory changed the entire way I looked at the game.  It truly blew my mind.  The fact that I had no idea what was going on at the end of the game and, according to this theory, quite literally fell into the trap of the Reapers (by tossing myself into the energy beam that would bring about the Synthesis of organic and synthetic life) is just brilliant; it’s also sad.  If I were actually Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect universe, I would have voluntarily doomed the galaxy to Reaper control.

And I didn’t even see it coming.

Now I’m kind of determined to replay the game and make the theorized “best” choice at the end, the one that has mattered all along: destroying the Reapers.  Still, I enjoyed my original gaming experience with my “guinea pig” character Genevieve Shepard, whom I’ve used on my first play-throughs for all the ME games.  In any case, I do think Bioware should release free content with some real answers. 😛  (I suppose I get why they might hold back answers for a while, though.  It does encourage a lot more discussion and theorizing.)

In the end, I guess it’s still possible that all the available endings are failures, depending on how you interpret them, but I guess us fans will just have to wait and see.

Mass Effect 3


Some of you might know that I’ve been *ehem* neglecting the editing of my novel in order to do a play-through of a game called Mass Effect 3, developed by Bioware (now a division of Electronic Arts).  I’ve been a huge fan of their games since they released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  I don’t play a lot of video games, but when I do many times they’re role-playing titles by Bioware.

I love the idea that gamers can make decisions that can compound and actually affect the storyline (and, in this case, even carry over into other games).  Bioware thus far has done an incredible job of exploring the possibilities of this feature in their games, and Mass Effect 3 is no exception.

I’m not really here to do a game review, though.  I just want to point out some of the highlights of my gaming experience with Bioware’s latest title and reflect on some things I can take away from it as a writer.

Mass Effect 3 Is Not Afraid To Explore Dark, Gritty Themes

There were missions in this game that really made me cringe and wonder thoughts like, “How can anyone do that to another human being?”  It took me to places I’d, quite frankly, rather not go (were they real) and affected me on a surprisingly emotional level.  The game portrays humanity not only at its best but also at its absolute worst, particularly when things go terribly awry with certain technological advancements.  It shows a possible future that is staggeringly bleak and forces you to engage it head-on.

There were many a time during the game where things got so depressing that I truly questioned our hero(ine) Commander Shepard’s ability to unite a galaxy and defeat an overwhelmingly powerful enemy.  The foes are mighty and the stakes are insanely high.

No picnics here.

Mass Effect Asks The Tough Questions

Should humans develop artificial intelligence?  Do A.I. have the right to life?  Just what are organics (humans, alien races) really capable of?  What is the purpose of organic life?  How far should we take genetic engineering–or any scientific process, for that matter?  What is the next step in human evolution?

These are just some of the many questions that this game poses to players (very similar to Battlestar Galactica, actually) and asks them to make tough decisions about.

Mass Effect Makes You Care About What Happens To Characters

No small feat.

When I cry three times during one game (I’m not even kidding)…then I think the writers and creators have done something right.

Throughout all the games in the Mass Effect series players are given the option to cultivate relationships (both platonic and romantic) with other characters, and those can continue to grow over time.  In a story about galactic war, it goes without saying that some of the characters players grow to love (or hate) will end up dying–and I, for one, felt it.  The main ones, even some minor characters, all had their own personal stories and reasons for fighting, stories they’re willing to share if only the player takes the time to get to know them.  This made the playing experience all the more personal.

Also, I’m Still Trying To Suss Out What The (apparently controversial) Ending(s) Means

I get the feeling that things aren’t really as they seem to be on the surface… The “ending” (the one I chose, at least) felt very haunting and eerie to me and leaves a lot to the imagination (see here *spoiler alert*), making me suspect there’s more to come.  Whether in DLC (downloadable content) and/or another game, who knows?  Either way, I plan to stick around and find out.

Anyway, What I Took Away As A Speculative Fiction Writer

  1. Be brave in taking players (readers) to places they haven’t gone–not just philosophically or as far as using one’s imagination goes but also emotionally.  It may start in a foreign world/environment with exotic lifeforms but it really happens though characters who ultimately, alien or not, must feel human.  (See #3.)
  2. Ask the “what ifs” and try to provide some answers.  “How would a galaxy full of various alien races fare against a superior sentient machine race hellbent on annihilating and/or repurposing all advanced organic life?”  The Mass Effect series is the answer to that question.
  3. Develop distinct characters who have their own personal motivations.  If people can relate to their plights, then chances are they’ll actually care and the story will have more meaning.
  4. Endings are tough to pull off well; consider them carefully.

And…yeah, I think that about sums it up!

Anyone Else Playing This Game?

If so, what do you think about it?  Or, if you aren’t, have you ever played a game from which you were able to take away some writing lessons or goals to be inspired by?

Discovering The Soul Of Your Story

Yesterday I was reading a post by Madison Woods, in which she muses about the cheesiness of outlines, hehe, and the suspension of disbelief.  But then it got me thinking about something else…

Discovering the Soul of One’s Story

(Or the core themes, I suppose.)

If I had to briefly summarize what my story is about thematically–which I hate doing because, as Madison kind of talked about, this can sound cheesy…I’d have to say it’s about uncovering truths; understanding the relationship between freedom and manipulation; discovering one’s place in the world; and making tough decisions.

Even though a lot of times I’ll use a whimsical, lighthearted voice in the story, there are actually a lot of darker threads running through it.  I think a major influence for this has been playing the Mass Effect series.  One thing I love about the games is that they force you to make some really tough decisions.  The morality of the choices put before you isn’t so black-and-white, which lends the game a fair amount of grittiness.

I wanted the same thing in my story–along with antagonistic forces that were also morally gray and not just 100% pure evil–but also with an air of fun and adventure similar to that found in Joss Whedon’s Serenity or in the movie The Mummy.  (In dieselpunk TV Tropes terms, I could say it starts off more “diesel deco” and ends up “diesel noir”.)

So that’s more the spirit of the story.

Plot- and character-wise, my protagonist, Voi, is seeking a way out of a seemingly hopeless situation, which gets her involved in some darker underground aspects of her world that she never even knew existed.  During this she learns more about herself and her position on the totem pole of life.  She doesn’t like what she learns and tries not to be involved in it at first, but then she realizes that she already is involved and this frustrates her even more.  Eventually, however, she must decide to take a stance and choose a side.

Wait a minute…we’re not all that different, actually.

It’s kind of funny, now that I think about it, because I’m actually in a similar position myself.  For the longest time I’ve been brought up to believe in certain religious truths, but I didn’t entirely understand those truths and what they demanded of me.  Then, when a deeper understanding did come to me…well, the world suddenly seemed a less cheery place to be in.  The concept of “freedom” became blurry, almost an illusion.

So I’ve tried distancing myself from what I’ve been taught to accept, and like my protagonist I realized that I’m already part of it all and there’s really no escaping it.  (Can you tell I’m purposefully being vague here?  I like to do that every now and then.)

So, then, I’m left with a decision: do I continue denying it?  Rebel against it?  Embrace it?

Voi faces the same dilemma in her world.  At certain points she feels manipulated, trapped, in the dark, hopeless, and completely out of her depth.  I think, once I can share the story, others will be able to feel an emotional resonance in it because I share many of the same sentiments as my protagonist.  I’m just writing about them in a different, much more exotic context.  (My story is actually not about religion at all, oddly enough.  Sure, it has religions in it, as many fantasy novels with extensive worldbuilding will, but they are never the focus.)

Voi is older than me in her story, though only by a year now.  (I guess I’m slowly catching up to her, heh.)  It’s not something I’ve done intentionally, but I think her life, though radically different from mine, is actually an allegory to mine, in some ways.  I just never realized that until…well, now.

So maybe I’ve been using this writing experience to help with sorting some things out.  I’m not entirely sure.

<sarcasm> Great, thanks for sharing your life story. </sarcasm>

Sorry, this is kind of me just thinking out loud, so I hope this hasn’t been too useless to you, dear readers.  Are there better places to ponder these things?  Probably, but I needed something to blog about today. 😛

I am prone to analyzing things like this, when certain insights come to me, though I try not to make too much of it.  Voi’s life isn’t mine and vice versa.  Still, maybe I can learn something from this.

When did you discover the heart and soul of your story/stories?

Is this something you typically know coming into a project, or something that seems to reveal itself to you later?  Is it different with every story?  Also, have you ever noticed parallels between what happens in your stories and what happens in your own life?

Gardening: Hydroponic Style (Part II)

(Check out Part I if you haven’t already!)

So I’m finally coming back to my hydroponic experiment.  I’ll try not to talk too much about it, since it has nothing to do with writing really!  Though, I can’t make any promises.

Step 1: Purchasing a Kit

At first I thought maybe the Home Depot might have some hydroponic products, but to be honest they don’t have a whole lot.  They basically told me I’d have to go to a place that specializes in this stuff.


So I went back home, hopped onto Google and started looking up local places that sold hydroponic products.  I came across a store called Sea of Green (they had one right by ASU on University and Dorsey, for any locals that are interested).  What’s nice about the place is that they have their own plants growing there using hydroponics so you can see how they set all the equipment up and place them by windows that get a lot of sunlight.  The people there were really friendly and willing to indulge my first-timer questions.

After chatting for a bit, they suggested I try Emily’s Garden.  Being the penny-pincher that I sometimes am, I asked how much is this going to cost?

…let’s just say it was over $100.


I’m too BROKE for this kind of thing.  Don’t you understand? I am a COLLEGE student.

“Well,” they said, “this is pretty much the most basic kit you’re going to find here, so…yeah.”

*deep sigh* I wanted to be all experimental and get into my Senior Project, so I just bought the thing.  (Of course, I didn’t actually respond this way.  I’m just dramatizing.  And paraphrasing.  I do that a lot.)

Oh, but that’s not all I had to buy.  Don’t forget the fluorescent lights.  Oh, and the starter cubes–which actually come with the kit, btw.  You can’t grow seeds in a bed of clay pellets (also included in the kit).  Speaking of seeds, have you bought any yet?

Lucky for me, I did buy some while I was at the Home Depot.

Good, then you’re also going to need some plant nutrient solution.  That’s how your herbs are going to get their nutrients, since that usually comes from the soil.

Of course, says I.  Secretly, I’m thinking, This was supposed to be easy.

The more they tried to explain all that was involved, the more I started feeling like Commander Shepard in Mass Effect.  My original endeavor to grow the cute little herbs I had in mind was beginning to look more like this:

Try conquering that plant species.  As Shepard said, standing at the foot of this four-story-tall monstrosity that’s keeping her from saving the galaxy:

Nothing’s ever simple, is it?

Nope, nope, nope…

So I foot the bill.  Bring home the kit.  Five minutes out of the store I’ve forgotten all about how much money I just spent (you don’t understand how much $100+ means to me, lol) and am beaming to everyone about how I got a shiny new hydroponic kit.

Now, if I could just get these seeds to start growing and set this kit up right…

Step 2: Growing the Seedlings

Before I can put the seeds into what are called starter cubes (which are made from an expandable material called rockwool), the instructions tell me that I actually have to soak them in nutrient solution for 12 to 24 hours.  And I have to test for pH levels.

Lame, right?

Okay, so this part was really new to me.  Well, maybe not completely new.

If you own a pool, then you know that maintaining the chemical balance of said pool is pretty important stuff.  You can hire someone to do it, or you can do it yourself.  My dad was doing ours for a while when we has a saltwater pool…but that didn’t work out so well, haha.  We had lots of little algae friends hanging out in the back for a while.  (Though, I am pleased to say they have long since been evicted.)

The same sort of thing can happen with the starter cubes if you have no idea what you are doing–which I did not.  But that’s okay because I learn by making mistakes.  Sometimes.

I got this organic solution called FloraNova Grow (a smaller bottle, mind you).  To start off, I poured a gallon of water into a pitcher for hand-watering the starter cubes.  The label tells me to mix 1/2 teaspoon of solution per gallon of water, so the common household pitcher worked out pretty nicely.  So I mix the stuff in…

…and then it’s on to checking the pH levels.  Not too hard, really.  My kit came with all of this stuff, so I just had to take a sample of the mixture, put it in a test tube and add a few drops of the test indicator.  It has this color chart on the indicator bottle where you can gauge whether the mixture is in the target pH zone (between 5.5 and 6.5, it says).  If it’s not, then they have you add an acid or base solution to the mixture and re-test it until it’s at the right level.

Lucky for me I haven’t had to do this yet, heh.  Our water is apparently at the perfect levels–sweet.

What NOT to Do

Eventually I got to put the seeds into the cubes.  I actually made little labels out of toothpicks, paper and double-stick tape (so I’d know what the heck I’m growing in each cube) and then stuffed some seeds into the cubes.  (Btw, you shouldn’t put them in too deep or else they won’t get enough light and grow!  Yes, I made that mistake, too, with some cilantro seeds.  Bah!)

Now, sometimes I get so excited about things that I forget to read ALL of the instructions…

…which happened when I started watering the cubes with my nutrient mixture.  The instructions clearly say:

Keep the starter cubes lightly moistened, but not over saturated, in propagation tray with a humidity dome (ensure that the cubes are never sitting directly in stagnant water as this could hinder the germination process).

Yeah, I totally skipped that part.  (Besides, no one mentioned that at the store!)  So guess what?  Both of my oreganos and my cilantro died in the process.


Oh well, live and learn.  Moral of that story: Don’t suspend your starter cubes in an unnecessary amount of water.  Okay?

Anyways, next week I’ll get more into the actual kit–because I have successfully failed at keeping this story under 1000 words.  How about that!

Got any tips for growing hydroponically?

If so, I’d love to hear from you.  I’m sure I’ve broken many rules by now, but I must be at least doing something right because the other three are still growing!

(Btw, I have no idea why the text keeps changing colors.  It’s driving me nuts, but I can’t fix it!)