Short End-of-2020 Catchup

I haven’t done any posts for a while so here’s a short end-of-year post.

Well, it’s the end of 2020. This astonishing, difficult, and unprecedented year is finally ending. I actually believe (and hope) that 2021 will be a much better year for the world, for the USA, and for me personally.

During the rest of the year I primarily worked, wrote, and tried to stay fit and maintain good eating habits. I mostly succeeded. Definitely did the first two (working and writing). Was very good about bike riding and some strength work. Eating, again not bad, but probably more snacks and cookies than I needed. I blame the pandemic!

On the writing front, I have spent a good chunk of my non-work time writing plays for The Pulp Stage in Portland. I am now part of their in-house stable of writers. Pulp Stage does online (Facebook Live) productions of short 10-minute plays. I’ve had two monologues and three plays produced by them, with a fourth coming in January 2020.

The plays are “prompt-based”, meaning the audience suggests prompts at one production and the writers incorporate those prompts into plays for the next production. For example, the prompts “staircase” and “first breakup” were used to create the November 2020 plays including my play “Alien Abduction” (which was a lot of fun to write). Working on the plays has been a definitely highlight of my 2020 pandemic year.

In 2021, I do want to get back to short fiction while continuing to write plays. Hopefully my dialogue skills and STAB (Stakes, Trackability, Accountability, Build) skills have improved through working with Pulp Stage. I’ll have to see how much the rest of the skills (such as narrative voice and sensory communication and character voice) have withered away.

I’m very ready to put 2020 to rest. I looking forward to 2021 in very many ways as I move forward in my life.


My Life, A Status Report


  • Busy Jan/Feb, then Coronavirus
  • Marriage Separation
  • Working at Home, Layoffs Pending
  • Some Exercise
  • Getting Back to Writing
  • No Math Contests
  • Solitary Existence
  • Overall, feeling pretty good

I haven’t posted to the blog in 3 months. That’s because the first three months of 2020 were astoundingly busy. At least, the first two months of 2020 along with the first week of March, were astoundingly busy. The rest of March was, well, March. A March haunted and altered by the coronavirus epidemic.

January and February I was busy with work deadlines, and running about 8 math contests, and taking a Writing The Other online class, and trying to exercise, and just trying to keep up with the rest of life. I was stressed, I was tired, I was realizing that I was overloaded but there was nothing I could change about it I just needed to get through it.

By the time I left for the Rainforest Village Writers Retreat at the end of February, I was worn out. Luckily the Retreat was incredibly relaxing and a great recovery. I could feel the stress just melting away on the drive from Portland with Dale Ivan Smith, and the four days there were a tremendous recovery. I was also very productive with writing as well!

While there I heard that there was a coronavirus outbreak in a nursing home in Seattle. Fellow attendees mentioned that family members told them there were shopping runs on toilet paper and cleaning products and milk. But still, we didn’t worry about it too much.

I came back from Rainforest for a few days of work and then the FOGCon sci-fi convention in the SF Bay Area. By then, we were all more nervous about coronavirus so we made sure to practice non-touching greeting (the Vulcan Live Long and Prosper was the favorite) and wash hands all the time. FOGCon was nice, I saw people I hadn’t seen for a while.

After that it was a week of more coronavirus news from China, and Italy, and Iran. The new was getting more and more dire. The Bay Area had a recommendation for people to work at home, and that recommendation was quickly becoming a requirement. We were hearing similar things in Sacramento and Yolo Counties (where I live and where I work).

Monday March 16 I took home most of the computers I use at work, for both development and testing. Wednesday of that week Yolo County issued a mandatory stay-at-home and the work buildings closed. Luckily, I was well equipped and could be productive at home. I actually have the best development/test setup of any of the engineers, so while I’m primarily architecture and development I’ve been doing a lot of testing as well.

In the middle of the start of coronavirus and the job issues, my spouse and I separated. The separation had been a long time coming. We’d drifted apart over the years, and a few years ago realized the relationship wasn’t working. We started therapy sessions to understand what happened and where we were and what we wanted to do about it. The result was there wasn’t really enough connection between us to keep the marriage going.

So last October we agreed that separation was what we both wanted. We held off doing anything until we could talk to our daughters (who are 25 and 19). We were going to talk to them at the holidays, but didn’t because our younger daughter was stressed about school. In February my spouse moved into an apartment, so at the end of February we went down to Santa Barbara and told our younger daughter, then told our older daughter when we returned. They both did okay with it. We were all sad, but we emphasized to them that this was an amicable separation, we were both still friends, we were still a family, and they would always have a home.

So I’m in the house right now, just me and the dog. Longer term, my spouse’s plan is to work in New Zealand for at least 6 months starting in August. I’ll stay in the house until she returns, then I will likely move to Davis, where my work is.

That is, if I still have my job.

Two weeks after we started working at home, it was announced that layoffs were coming. Business had decreased dramatically (we are adjunct to the oil and gas business), so dramatically that the money from corporate along with our own revenue wasn’t going to be enough to keep everyone employed. I’m in software, and we’ve long been told that software is a critically understaffed resource in that every project needed software and we didn’t have enough software people (one of the downsides of being fairly close to the Bay Area). So we’ll see how deep into the software group the cuts go, and if the cuts take me with them. Supposedly, the decisions have been made. I’m assuming we will hear this week, quite possibly Monday (April 12).

I’m surprisingly mellow with the layoff possibility. I’m lucky in that I’m in a desired field, and more importantly I have a lot of money saved up. And I don’t get my health care from work, but through my spouse (for now). So if the layoff happens, I plan to take some time to consider what I want to do next. I want to work in robotics for the rest of my career, so I’m wiling to make changes to make that happen. I could see moving to pick up a job I really want, versus just taking any job that comes along. After all, I’m not tied to this area. I can really go anywhere.

In the middle of the busy January/February, exercise and fitness suffered. For my birthday, I used a previous work bonus to get a basic, but good, bike, and once I moved home I started riding it at lunchtime. This was a tremendous help for my fitness, but also for my sanity and well-being. The rides have been brief, but intense, and really help burn off stress and anxiety. I’ve also started doing basic bodyweight workouts a couple days a week as well, and those too are very helpful.

In the midst of all this, writing suffered. I hadn’t done much in January and February. I took the Writing The Other class, but immediately fell behind and wasn’t able to contribute as much as I would have liked. This was a shame, as the class was excellent and exactly what I was looking for.

I also applied to Clarion and Clarion West, because why not? I was not accepted to either workshop, nor was I waitlisted. I wasn’t surprised. I honestly don’t think I’m a good enough writer to get accepted and that my writing is not as fluid and literary as I believe both workshops are looking for. No worries, I’m just going to try to improve and keep applying.

But I have been bringing writing back the last week, writing a couple mornings and doing some on the weekend. I also linked up with the Pulp Stage Players in Portland (run by Matt Haynes) and have been contributing to their writing collective, so hopefully I can finish some pieces which get performed in Pulp Stage! My involvement is really bringing back the old theatre bug, and I’m enjoying the experience.

No math contests, of course, since math contests are very much an in-person experience and thus would be great locations for coronavirus to spread. So, we’ll see when they can come back safely. I have been doing some online coaching as part of what would have been prep for the nationwide ARML contest.

So here I am. My weekdays I write or workout in the morning, work all day with a lunch break to ride my bike or workout, then in the evening I either email or chat with friends or watch some TV and keep the house clean. I’ve been doing a lot of ZOOM video sessions with friends and family on the weekend, some math coaching, and general hanging out in the house (catching up on TV/movies).

One thing I’ve realized is I need to start minimizing my life. My goal is to be living in only part of the house so that when I move to an apartment or smaller house in a year I’m not overwhelmed with stuff.

It’s funny. My mental model had been that once my spouse and I had separated, I’d take time to just be myself and figure out who I was, and what I wanted, and how I wanted to live. Well, now I have plenty of time to be myself and be by myself. I’m finding I like it. I do miss being around people more often, but I like doing what I want when I want and how I want. I guess I’m an introverted extrovert or extroverted introvert. Or something along those lines.

But overall, I’m in a surprisingly good mood. I’m less stressed, amazingly, I think because I have less going on in my life. I’m looking positively towards the future.

A lot has occurred in the last month (March felt like FOREVER), and since the start of 2020, and even in the last few years. My life is changing and will keep changing. I feel like I’m at the start of a new phase of my life. I’ll just have to keep moving forward and see how much “new” I get.

– yeff


Review: THE BOYS (TV Show)

(I actually wrote this post back in September and realized recently I hadn’t posted it. Here it is).

I like a deconstructionist superhero narrative. I like a story that tries to look behind the superhero genre and actually create real characters out of the archetypes that form our images of the superhero. WATCHMEN is still one of my favorite superhero stories. Superheroes like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones are my favorite because they seem like real people. In some of my writing, I like to create superhero stories that treat the superheroes as real people and explore their needs and wants.

Superheroes in the “real world”, with flaws and issues, is a subject I find intriguing. A show like THE BOYS would seem to be entirely in my alley of interest. And it definitely was. I’ve been curious about the show since it premiered.  I binge-watched it over the course of about 3 evenings.

There are aspects of THE BOYS which I enjoyed. As mentioned, these superheroes are also real people and they have interests, and flaws, and character quirks. These superheroes exist in a corporate-driven world, which treats them like property to be molded and marketed and sold to benefit the corporate interests. It’s a blend of sports heroes and movie characters, and the show does an excellent job of having the superheroes be images to be marketed (lunch boxes, store displays, movies, tv shows, school visits, public appearances, etc.). I find this totally “realistic” in a believable yet disappointing yet inevitable way.

There are also levels of superheroes, in terms of ability and prominence. Some superheroes have almost no ability (I recall someone who could make flowers grow). Some superheroes grow spikes out of their arms and are solid hand to hand fighters but end up doing soft-core sexy superhero movies (Popclaw). Some are supremely power and end up part of The Seven, the top superhero group in the USA. (Maybe even the world, but we never get any information about that.)

THE BOYS is about two people who become involved with The Seven. The first is a young man, Hughie, whose girlfriend Robin is accidentally killed by superhero A-Train, the “Flash” equivalent of The Seven, who run through her in the street. The second is a young woman from the Midwest, Annie, who is a superhero with the name Starlight and ends up being invited to join The Seven.

Hughie ends up teaming up with a vigilante named Billy who is out for vengeance against The Seven because his wife, who worked for the corporate entity behind the Seven, was raped by Homelander, the “Superman” equivalent who leads the Seven.

Annie quickly discovers that being a part of The Seven is not at all what she thought it would be. She is manipulated into sex by The Deep (the Aquaman equivalent). She is lecherously spied upon by the invisible man. She discovers that Homelander is a controlling megalomaniac. Queen Maeve (the Wonder Woman equivalent) is burned out and disenchanted with everything about being a superhero.

Hughie and Annie meet innocently and fall for each other and begin a relationship. During this, Hughie continues his vigilante actions against the superheroes, ending int he death of Translucent. Eventually all is discovered, and the first season ends with relationships torn asunder, characters dying, and the rules seemingly changed

Again, a deconstructionist superhero narrative with many interesting aspects.

But where the show THE BOYS falls down for me is where so many shows and narratives fall down for me nowadays. The narrative is designed so that you end up “rooting for sociopaths” (a phrase I heard on Pop Culture Happy Hour).

Most of the characters of THE BOYS are sociopaths. More specifically, most if not all of the male characters are sociopaths. Homelander, The Deep, Translucent, Black Noir, Hughie, Billy. They are all maladjusted, dangerous, people who don’t care about others but just care about themselves and their needs and their wants. The women of THE BOYS are there to be the moral centers of the show, to soothe and forgive the actions of the men (Queen Maeve, Starlight). Or they are there to be murdered and revenged or manipulated or exploited (Billy’s wife, Hughie’s girlfriend, PopClaw) Even the lead of the corporation, Madelyn Stillwell, a powerful woman who is able to manipulate the superheroes into doing the corporate bidding (and who notably was a male in the comic book) still ends up existing at the whim of Homelander.

In addition, the story is completely America-centric. Towards the end they do bring in the existence of superheroes in another country, and it is of course in the context of a super-powered terrorist who attacks American troops. It looks like this plotline will be the central plot line of the second season. The construction of the show, with a corporate injecting a super-serum equivalent into children via vaccinations is also unfortunately designed to accentuate anti-vaxxer sentiments and make it real. Which adds another aspect of sociopathy to the situations of the show.

While I was binge-watching THE BOYS I wondered what would happen next and what turns the narrative would take. Eventually it felt like so many other shows in that it’s really about the sociopaths who drive the narrative and it is designed to make me root and cheer for them.

One could say that the world works like this. There are powerful people who are sociopaths who are able to manipulate the systems of the world and get their way. American is the dominant world power in terms of cultural influence and economic influence. Why should superheroes be any different?

It’s a good question. I’d like to see a narrative that is different. I’d also like to see what happens when that assumption of the previous paragraphs runs into people who are determined to make it a different narrative, whether they have superpowers or not. Not because their wives/girlfriends were injured or killed by the current situation, but because they realize it needs to be different. THE BOYS could be that show, but it’s not. Instead it relies on what feel like tired tropes of narrative and power and in the end tries to get viewers to root for the sociopaths.

– yeff

RIP, MacBookPro2012

The Saturday before Thankgiving, I was running math contests. I was getting ready for the last event called Countdown, in which I project problems on a screen and pairs of students race to see who can solve the problem first. I use my MacBook Pro throughout competitions to handle scanning and grading students tests, and I use it to run Countdown.

I closed the MacBookPro, walked over to the testing room, opened it, and … nothing. No screen display. I’d had some battery charge flakiness recently, so I powered it off, plugged it in, and powered it on. Nothing. It looked like the computer was on as I could see light under the keyboard. So I tried again. I tried opening and closing it again. Nothing.

Eventually I had to cancel Countdown. At home, the same behavior. I left it plugged into power overnight, and tried again Sunday. Same.

Monday I took it into the local repair shop, which has repaired it in the past. They called and said that the computer was really dirty, and that the video chip needed re-sautering. So they did that, and Wednesday it was ready. In the shop, it powered up just great. I took it to the office, and it wouldn’t power up. Back to the shop, it did power up. Obviously it liked the shop a lot.

I said I’d try it over the Thanksgiving weekend and see how it went. Over the next few days, I tried powering it on again and again. I got it to turn on maybe twice. Once, I did a bunch of email. The next time, I tried a backup before going to sleep but when I came in the next morning the computer was off and wouldn’t turn on again.

Back to the shop after Thankgiving. They called after a couple days and said the motherboard was dead and couldn’t be saved. Their recommendation was just to buy a new laptop. So, after some decision and financial review, I’m now the proud owner of a 16-inch MacBook Pro.

And the 2012 15-inch Mac Book Pro is no more.

I’ll be selling its parts (screen, cables, keyboard, etc.) to the repair shop for them to transplant into other needy computers. I am, of course, keeping the hard drive after I get my data from it and onto the new computer.

When I buy computers, I like to buy computers that will last me a very long time and I have a track record of making good choices. I purchased the old MacBook Pro in the tail end of 2012, when I had decided to leave HP and join Schilling Robotics. While at HP I used my work Windows laptop for everything, so this was the first MacBook I’d had in a while (I had a PowerBook100 and PowerBook170 in the late Apple and early HP days before getting a work laptop, and I’d missed Mac laptops).

Since then, the MacBookPro2012 and I have been constant companions. We’ve traveled around the world – England, Ireland, Canada, Cuba, France, Japan – and all over the United States. I’ve run tons of math contests using it, have written a bazillion emails, and created many stories that I’ve enjoyed and even some that I’ve sold. I replaced the keyboard at least once, replaced the battery, and also the screen connector. I spilled chai tea all over it at least once, it had a dent in one side from my rough handling, and it was missing a few screws (just like its owner).

I basically ran my life through that MacBookPro for more than seven years. It was a good, faithful, productive laptop until the day it went to the great beyond. I’m getting a little dewy-eyed just thinking about it.

I’ll post some pictures on twitter (@jeffsoesbe) when I get them together.

Here’s to you, 2012 MacBookPro. You were awesome. Your successor will have a lot to live up to.

— yeff

2019 Story Sales!

Quick update to talk about story sales that have occurred in 2019.

“Scales and Fire”, my “dragon noir” story, sold to ABYSS & APEX in mid-2019. It will be appearing in the July 2020 issue. This story was the one story I wrote in 2017, so it’s nice that it sold.

The origin of this story was a Writing Excuses Podcast prompt of “take something you like and something you never write about and put them together”. I like noir. I never write about dragons. So I wondered what “dragon noir” would look like. Eventually the first line of the story came to mind – “Once I torched the apothecary, his wife started talking.” After that, I had the world and characters and went from there.

“The Void and the Voice” sold to DIABOLICAL PLOTS in Sept/Oct 2019. It will appear in the March 2020 e-book anthology and on the website in March 2021. This is my FIRST PRO-LEVEL sale!

The genesis of “Void” was a “ghosts on drugs” writing prompt. I started free-typing on various concepts. I had a concept of “i’m on a spaceship with my dad and he’s almost dead but he keeps the spaceship alive and the drugs keep him alive” and I just kept going. I knew I’d “hit a pocket” of story and went with it. I’m especially thrilled that “Void” was my first pro-level sale, as it has been close at a lot of various pro-level venues (including being a WOTF Finalist) and the story itself has a lot of meaning to me.

“All That Was Left Behind” (aka “the poop story”) sold to HARBINGER PRESS for their Flash Fiction Fridays. It should be appearing by the end of 2019. “Behind” has a long history and a funny backstory.

It started as an idea for a Spam Flash Fiction writing contests at WEIRD TALES in 2008. I’d just had to get a colonoscopy (family history), and was also getting many “colon cleanser” spam e-mails, and was thinking about the idea of spam phishing. Out of that, the story emerged.

I sent it to WEIRD TALES as an entry. The winners came out, my story wasn’t one of them. So I moved on to submit it elsewhere. About a month later, I received a check for $15 which it turned out was from the WEIRD TALES publishing company. I contacted Stephen H. Segal, who was the publishing editor, and he said the story was Honorable Mention and the $15 was the prize money and that the story would eventually be published in WEIRD TALES! Cool! Then WEIRD TALES folded. So, no publishing at WEIRD TALES for me.

2009 arrived, and I went to World Fantasy in San Jose. At a snack table I found myself across from Anne VanderMeer, I told her “I got money from you for a story” and she said “Which one was it?” I said “It was for the Spam flash fiction contest, the story was called All That Was Left Behind.” She about spit food across the table and started laughing. Then she gestured to someone across the room and said “Jeff! Jeff! Come here!”. Jeff VanderMeer walked over and Anne pointed to me and said “This is the guy that wrote the poop story!” He laughed and said “We read that story out loud and everyone cracked up!”

So I’m pleased that “the poop story” finally found a home and that it will at long last see the light of day.

And those are my 2019 story sales. Hopefully more will come in 2020! I will have to write more stories, but I’m on that.

– yeff

The Selfishness of Writing

I’ll do a fuller post on FOGCon 2019 later, but I’ve been thinking about this subject and want to do a quick post.

During the intro to the Writing Workshop, Karen Joy Fowler and Becky Chambers talked about various challenges of writing. Karen made the point that writing is an inherently selfish act. You are taking time away from family and work and other responsibilities. You have to learn to be okay with being selfish to make your writing time.

This hit me hard, in the chest. As much as I enjoy writing, I always feel the pull of responsibilities for work and home and family and volunteering. I feel guilty for taking time to writing. I have at times received grief for taking time to write.

While they were talking, this image came to my mind: Carving out time for writing is like a knife fight, in a dark pit, and there’s monsters, and sometimes (often) I lose. Which partially explains the long periods in my life when I “fell out” of writing after a few intense and productive years.

And now I need to finish this blog post, get back to writing time, then go to work. So I’ll stop now. More on this, and on the joy that was FOGCon and Rainforest, later.

— yeff

Morning at FOGcon

Once again, I am attending FOGCon in Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I attended for the first time two years ago, after saying to myself for years that I wanted to attend, and instantly fell for it. FOGCon is definitely the most socially aware con I’ve ever attended. I find myself more enlightened on issues of gender, race, and sexuality after FOGCon, and I consider myself fairly socially aware! (But I apparently still have a lot to learn).

I drove down from Sacramento last night, getting here about 8:45 PM. Checked in, then sat in the lounge and had a glass of wine while reviewing my critiques for the writing workshop. FOGCon has a writing workshop, and this year my critique group is led by Karen Joy Fowler! Karen Joy Fowler! Oh my. I am rather intimidated, and I wish I’d submitted a much better story 🙂

Today is panels, the Banquet Luncheon, Codex Group Dinner, and Karaoke! FOGCon was where I fell back in with karaoke two years ago. I’m going to do something fun for this one (hint: Elvis).

Off to the con!

— yeff


WorldCon76 was in San Jose, California this year. So of course I went!

I had a fantastic time. It was everything I hoped it would be. I caught up with old friends and made some new friends. I attended entertaining and insightful panels. I listened to enjoyable readings, and learned a little something from each one. I went to parties, I was social, and I danced the night away at the Eighties Dance Party. Codex Breakfast, VP Brunch, local dinners – all were just great. It all topped off with attending the Hugos on Sunday night.

What were my favorite moments?
– The Eighties Dance Party, O-MI-GAWD. Three AWESOME hours of dancing to a great mix of 80s hits, both famous and more obscure. The next morning my feet and knees hurt, and I was certainly tired. But it was totally worth it. FER SURE. TO-TALLY!
– The Eurovision Science Fiction Panel. Five devoted Eurovision fans gushing about how much they love it and why, how wonderful it is and why, and showing plenty of videos. I’d been intrigued by Eurovision before, but now I’m hooked and can’t wait for next year’s shows.
– The Non-Toxic Masculinity Panel. Four people at various places on the gender and sexuality spectrum talking about toxic and non-toxic masculinity, with examples from media and thoughts on how they perceive it. I try to be a non-toxic male, so this was interesting and useful for me.
– The Afrofuturism: It’s Not New panel. It became the Steven Barnes Inspirational Speech panel at times but he is certainly persuasive and insightful and inspirational so I really enjoyed it and took a lot away from the panel.
– The Hugos. Seeing stories I enjoyed being celebrated, hearing award-winning authors talk about their community and their path to these moments. Funny and emotional and triumphant, all at the same time.
– Just hanging out with con/writing/scifi friends: Curtis and Deanne, Cylia and her son Damon, Heather and Rabbit, Julia, Stephanie, Katrina, Christopher, Daryl and making new friends from VP and Codex and SFWA lounge.

The whole experience really gave me a charge of energy around scifi and writing. It will certainly serve as fuel for me to get back on the track of writing my stories, challenging myself to do my best, then sending them out into the world to find their home(s). And reading. And watching shows. And talking about them. And getting a little bit of that WorldCon energy into my life, every single day.

Yay Worldcon!


Summer is here!

First days of summer and it’s going to be 95 F Thursday, 104-105 F Friday and Saturday. That’s 35 C and 40 C.

And I’m going to be doing junk hauling from the yard to the curb Friday, and attending an outside reunion of an old work group at a winery. Gonna be sweating.

Summer is here!

Scene from OUTLANDER writers’ room

We’ve been watching OUTLANDER. The most recent episode we watched (Season 2, Episode 8, “The Fox’s Lair”) sparked thoughts of what conversations must be like in teh writers’ room. Perhaps like this?

OUTLANDER Writers’ Room, S2E08

Newbie: So, in the may-be 30 minutes time it takes Ian to swim to the nearby small island and retrieve the treasure, a previously unseen boat comes over the horizon, sails to that specific small island, and a small dinghy is rowed from the boat to the island. Just as Ian comes down the hill with the treasure.

Showrunner: Yup, you got it.

Newbie: That’s a little … outlandish.

Showrunner: Have you seen the name of the show?

(And how was he planning on swimming back with that heavy box of treasure, anyway?)