Friday, November 30, 2012

How to Train Your Dragon (11.0)

I write. A lot. On my laptop, which I place on my lap, not on a desk at eye level. One of the things that has happened as a result is that, at an age when according to Men’s Health I should be in my physical prime, my body is essentially 90. I can’t turn my neck properly anymore; I wear a wrist brace when I type (which a friend helpfully pointed out is “exactly like the one my grandma has”) to help with the encroaching tendonitis and, on occasion, an eyepatch to combat the eyestrain. Not the pirate kind. 

Last year, I invested in what I hoped would be the most body-saving tool yet: Dragon Naturally Speaking Voice Recognition Software. Version 11.0.

With Dragon, I would be able to dictate my writing, open computer applications, and send e-mails—completely hands free! My only prior knowledge of Dragon came from my adolescence, when my dad bought version 0.0005 or whatever to help him dictate medical stuff. I remember a lot of frustration. Tears. Bad words. What I don’t remember much of was success.

Surely the technology is better by now, I told myself, as I bought version 11.0 off the overstock shelf at Walmart for half price.

I took it home, opened it up, and prepared to enter the world of technologically enlightened.

The first thing I had to do to “train” Dragon was read a passage from Alice and Wonderland so that Dragon could document my little voice quirks. I was a bit disappointed about this, since if there’s one thing I do well, it’s enunciate, and I kind of liked the idea of feeling superior to all the people out there who might struggle to use Dragon because they were Mumblepantses. I try to take the small victories where I can get them.  

But no, you read for four minutes so you can train your Dragon to recognize your unique voice and speech patterns and pronunciation.

You can also, if you’re someone who makes up words/names, train Dragon to recognize your creative additions to the English language. All you have to do is say “spell that,” spell the word, then say “train.” You record yourself saying the word, and Dragon will ostensibly recognize it in the future. This is more time-consuming and infuriating than it might sound. Especially since Dragon often doesn’t recognize words that are clearly words—like “asswipes” and “fuckwad.”

I don’t actually use Dragon much. Mostly because it fucks up. Constantly. Then I end up yelling at it, forgetting the microphone is still recording. I’ll look at my screen and see sentences that make no sense, followed by “fuck fuck you stupid piece of crap ass shit.” Often it devolves into a full on argument between Dragon and me.

Dragon has also made writing sex scenes incredibly awkward. For some reason—maybe it’s the lingering influence of my theater years—I can’t get it through my head that Dragon doesn’t care how I say things. Making my voice go up at the end does not mean Dragon will insert a question mark. I have to say “question mark”—which Dragon inevitably transcribes as “Russian mark.” Emphasizing certain words doesn't mean Dragon will use italics. Still, I insist on vocally acting out what I’m saying on the off chance this will help Dragon understand. It makes me feel like I’m in a porno. And the dog’s always listening, and it’s just…weird.

I’m probably better off just typing and taking a lot of painkillers. But recently my wrist has been acting up and I’ve been hitting the Dragon hard.

Here are some of this week’s Dragonisms. These are sentences as transcribed by Dragon. Followed by what I actually said into the microphone.

Dragon: “Him him that Playboy,” he said. "Why don't you all the him." I said to him she should, you cheap piece of shipped.
What I Really Said: “That’s him, that’s my boy,” he said. “My dog popped all the balloons.” I said popped all the balloons, you cheap piece of shit.

Dragon: Instead of the long white beer Santa usually weren’t pictures
WIRS: Instead of the long white beard Santa usually wore in pictures

Dragon: Siler stops the cross meets this.
WIRS: Siler’s cock spilled across Nate’s fist.
Dragon: What is so far about coffee and this?
WIRS: What is so hard about cock and fist?
Dragon: Did I stutter question.
WIRS: Did I stutter?
[J.A. enunciates “Cock. And. Fist.” Dragon promptly Copies and Pastes a passage from another document.]
Dragon: Maybe I should dedicate I linking like that do end the diving bell and the butterfly. Would you like that Western mark if I replaced you with some blinking soft were you discount candy ass been of my existence?
WIRS: Maybe I should dictate by blinking like that dude in The Diving Belle and the Butterfly. Would you like that? If I replaced you with some blinking software, you discount candy ass bane of my existence?

If this is the future, take me back to my childhood with that boxy computer with the black background and the green text and the floppy disks. At least the screen was at eye level.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Giveaway and Interview at Kay Berrisford's Blog

I'm over at Kay Berrisford's blog this weekend, talking giant spiders, favorite characters, and why I can't write mysteries. Every comment on the post gives you a chance to win a choice of my backlist titles. All comments on any of Kay's contests over the next month also enter you for a chance to win a copy of her new m/m paranormal, Simon, Sex, and the Solstice Stone and a $15 Loose Id voucher. Free stuff!

Monday, November 19, 2012

$3 Wine, $8 Sauce: A Thanksgiving Tale

This post has nothing to do with writing, or Thanksgiving for that matter. But with my favorite holiday almost upon us, and since I don't really have anything writerly to blog about today, here's a story about food.

I’m a bit preoccupied with how much food costs. I think this comes from being a grad student and having two conflicting desires: the desire to eat things that are cheap, and the desire to eat things that are good for me.

If any of you are patrons of Walmart (I go there every once in a while, lured by the siren call of their Everyday Low Prices), you may be familiar with Oak Leaf wine, which costs $2.97 a bottle. $2.97. It’s a bottle of wine…for $3. Less than $3.

The first time I had Oak Leaf, I think I was already a little tipsy, so I didn’t pick up on an important fact, which is that the stuff is legitimately toxic. It tastes the way I imagine a mixture of urine and Lysol would. My dog won’t even touch it. And she loves wine.

I once bought a bottle of the Chardonnay to help me through a final paper. I couldn’t even finish one glass. Over the next few weeks, I tried to cook with it, flush wounds with it, offered it to friends, tried drinking it on nights I was so depressed I convinced myself I only deserved $3 wine…and finally I had to pour it down the sink.

But every time I go to Walmart, I have to stop myself from buying a bottle. Because it’s only $2.97. Can I afford not to drink it?

I’ve started texting good friend MC Blackman when I’m faced with the temptation, and once she reminds me You get what you pay for, I’m usually fine.

The other day I was in the pasta aisle at SuperTarget to get some sauce. I headed for my usual Ragu, and on the way I passed a jar of sauce that cost $8.

The jar wasn’t any bigger than a jar of Ragu, which costs $1.52. Was the price a mistake? What the hell could be in a jar of tomato sauce that would make it worth $8?

I picked it up and checked the ingredients. What was so incredible about it, I discovered, was that it was made from tomatoes. Not tomato paste and water, but actual tomatoes, imported from Italy. I put it back on the shelf and shook my head, wondering who would be stupid enough to pay $8 for sauce.

I picked up the Ragu. My arm was halfway to the cart when I stopped. Looked at the ingredients. Tomato paste. Water. Sugar. “Natural flavoring.” I set it back on the shelf and stood there, casting glances at the $8 sauce.

Do not, I told myself, Do not attempt to find out what makes that sauce cost $8 by buying a jar of it.

I texted MC. It probably tastes a lot like the $1.52 sauce, she replied.

But what if it didn’t? What if it tasted so good, so fresh, so real, that I had some kind of transcendent experience when I ate spaghetti? How would I know unless I tried it?

I mean, what did MC always say? You get what you pay for.

I looked at the Ragu. What the hell is sodium benzoate anyway? You know what $8 sauce is made of? Fucking tomatoes.

I grabbed a jar of $8 sauce and put it in my cart. That was three bottles of Oak Leaf I’d just have to refrain from buying in the future. I checked out and went home.

I had some gnocchi I was sure would taste good slathered in $8 sauce. I opened the sauce jar and sniffed. It smelled delicious. I only had one clean pot, so I figured I'd cook the gnocchi first, then do the sauce in the same pot. I set the lid back on the jar, not bothering to screw it on, and got out the gnocchi.

Once the gnocchi was cooked and on a plate, I rinsed the pot and put it back on the stove. Then I picked up the jar of sauce and gave it a good shake to mix it up.

Suddenly, sauce was everywhere. On me. On my floor. On the wall behind me. I stood there, dripping marinara, and watched as my dog came over and started licking the sauce puddle off the floor. When she was done, she walked over to me—I was still frozen—and licked my pants.

“That cost eight dollars,” I whispered to her.

Professor Anne thinks $8 sauce is delicious. She also thinks dead squirrels are delicious, gum wrappers, Bluetooths, and hefty helpings of sofa.

There was enough $8 sauce left in the jar to have a little on my gnocchi. And yeah, it was good. I’d pay 5.50 for it, I texted MC.

To which the ever-wise MC replied: You already paid eight.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Score One for the Spankos

Check out this awesome article by Jillian Keenan in the NY Times about revealing a spanking fetish to a vanilla partner. Very brave, and touches on a couple of points that really interest me about the Wonderful World of Spanking.

1)      The idea that a spanking fetish is both sexual and asexual. I struggle with this one a lot in my books. How do I write an erotic romance if the BDSM activity that interests me most as a writer is the non-erotic disciplinary spanking? Can readers find an activity sexy if the characters don’t? Usually I solve this by having characters engage in both disciplinary and erotic spankings and drawing a line between them. I also like blurring that line. Because for my characters, there is something sexy about discipline—about the trust it requires, and the closeness. And as Keenan points out in her article, spanking is sexually stimulating, from a physiological standpoint.

2)      Mainstream culture often links BDSM interests with mental illness/childhood trauma. Keenan mentions 50 Shades of Grey and the go-to movie for all kinksters, Secretary, both of which portray BDSM as a way of manifesting/coexisting with demons. This is a pet peeve of mine, because it often seems like the only way pop culture is okay with BDSM is if it can be explained, a cause identified. BUT, I do enjoy stories where characters who have suffered abuse, depression, and other traumas or disorders discover in BDSM a positive alternative to self-destructive behaviors. It happens in real life. I mean hey, whipping therapy is supposedly a thing in Russia, right? It’s just important to remember BDSM is not a cure for psychoses, or an excuse for codependency. But yes, if we could see more happy, healthy mainstream characters who just happen to enjoy a good spanking, that’d be awesome. Just to balance it out.

There’s a lot of great stuff in Keenan’s article. I’m thrilled she had the guts to write it!