Museum Monday: Fire Bad

Large_bonfireA lot of the things that cause deterioration in museums are things most people don’t think of as being destructive. Fire, on the other hand, is pretty easy to explain how it cause things to deteriorate. Quickly. Into non-things.

There have been at least two structural fires of off-site buildings that have destroyed items from my museum collections. I am still trying to determine WHAT items were in which locations that no longer exist. Both fires pre-date my tenure at the museum by decades. We’ve also had two almost fires while I’ve been there. A ventilation fan older than either of my parents ran out of lubrication one time and came very close to combusting, and an incandescent light fixture shorted and started smoking.

I also run into collection items like: strike anywhere matches, live ammunition, flammable liquids, and various potentially unstable chemicals, that could all be potential ignition sources. I’ve also had donors attempt to donate such items to the museum which has led me to craft a policy that if the US Postal Service won’t let you mail it, I can’t accept it for donation. There are two mindsets for potential ignition sources within existing collections. One is to isolate the items and remove all sources of oxygen and fuel, thus making it impossible to ignite. The other (and my preference) is to safely and legally dispose of the item. (NOTE FOR PEOPLE FINDING THIS PAGE OFF OF REALLY SCARY GOOGLE SEARCH QUERIES: Your local police department will assist you in disposing of old ammunition/gunpowder/etc. contact them via your local non-emergency number for information) I don’t get hazard pay and there are too many objects and not enough space/time/resources for me to safely store and monitor hazardous objects. Another object that can be a source of ignition or exacerbate fire situations is cellulose nitrate film. Now, clearly I’m not going to willy nilly get rid of all film I’m unsure of the chemical process of, but living in a very temperate climate our building is unlikely to reach the temperatures at which it combusts even if our HVAC fails in a power outage. Small desert climate museums may not have this luxury so these items should be kept in a cold storage situation to minimize the fire risk.

Arson is always a risk for any structure and special care not to leave combustibles in accessible locations outside the building is an important safety precaution.

Fire can also lead to smoke damage, and water damage due to sprinkler systems or fire fighting efforts. This water damage can even happen in areas not affected by the fire.  My building pre-dates sprinkler systems so we don’t have to worry about them activating when there’s smoke… on the other hand, holy crap we don’t have sprinkler systems… AHHHHHHHHHHH.

I try to maintain a good relationship with the Fire Marshal and assist the local fire department in having maps of our building, keeping our emergency exits clear, and alerting them to the location to any known hazardous collection items they might need to be aware of in a worst-case scenario.

Fire Bad. Prevention Good.

Fire Prevention Good. Bears Wearing Pants Bad.

Jinhao x450

Jinhao x450

Jinhao x450

I like cheap pens. I have quite a few of these Jinhao pens from China because they’re cheap. You can get them for less than $10 from Goulet Pens. But they’re fairly ubiquitous on ebay for even cheaper (new) or Amazon for more money.

items for scale

items for scale

I don’t know what to tell you. They aren’t what you’d expect. They don’t feel cheap. I don’t use them much. Not because they’re bad, they’re not. They write very very nice.

cap off

cap off

They’re REALLY sturdy pens. I… I kinda want to see what kind of materials you could shoot one through, with a crossbow. I realize that’s not a normal test of a fountain pen, but it is one of the things that goes through my mind with this pen.

it comes with a standard converter!

it comes with a standard converter!

The pens come with a standard converter included. I’ve had one of the converters not quite put together and had to fiddle with it, but it ultimately worked fine. I’m not sure I’d want to take one fully filled on a plane because I think it might be more prone to blurping ink, but I haven’t had a chance to test that.

Pen in the hand, no cap

Pen in the hand, no cap

It has an ergonomic ridged grip that’s relatively comfortable. The pen is HUGE. I don’t use these pens much because they are absolutely gigantic and heavy. If that’s your thing, you’ll LOVE these pens.

Pen in hand with cap on back. I absolutely can not write with the pen in this configuration because of the weight.

Pen in hand with cap on back. I absolutely can not write with the pen in this configuration because of the weight.


The Good

  • cheap enough and solid enough to mess around with customization of the nib if that’s your jam
  • variety of styles
  • firm snap-on cap
  • ergonomic grip
  • well-balanced without cap
  • nice smooth writer
  • standard cartridge and converter
  • may possibly be able to be used as a crossbow bolt in a pinch

The Bad

  • huge
  • heavy
  • short cap insert leads to ink residue
  • this pen is exhausting for me to use and tires the ligaments in my hand I have the most problems with.

Overall grade: C

I like cheap pens but I have tiny hands. If you like big pens and you can not lie… these are the pens for you.


Ghosts In the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Berit Ellingsen


Berit Ellingson is a Korean-Norwegian who writes haunting fiction such as The White. Her novel The Empty City has also been published in French as Une Ville Vide. You can find more at her website and follow her on Twitter.


Minerva Zimmerman

You and I shared my very first anthology appearance TOC in Growing Dread

Berit Ellingsen

That’s awesome!!! I didn’t know that was your first antho!

MZ: and I immediately followed everyone on Twitter and have been following you ever since

BE: thanks so much :)

MZ: I know from Twitter that you’re very science-oriented, have two cats, live in Norway, and are a pretty hardcore gamer

BE: Not sure if hardcore is the right word :D but I enjoy gaming and have worked as a game reviewer. Now I just write the occasional essay about games. And I work as a science writer during the day, writer at night. :)

MZ: you’re headed on an arctic expedition soon? Am I remembering that right?

BE: Yeah, a short trip to Svalbard in the Arctic and Longyearbyen, the biggest settlement there, it’s like a small Norwegian town.

MZ: while it’s still summer?

BE: Oh yes, because it’s summer up there too, about 8 Celsius, which is the same temperature as late fall/early spring here. Much better than when it’s 20 below freezing in Svalbard.

MZ: I very much want to visit various arctic areas in the summer, there’s just something about that environment that appeals to me

BE: I hope you have the chance to go there. The landscape is unique, and the air very clear because it’s cold and dry and still relatively unpolluted.

MZ: I think it’s the openness while still having so many secretive pockets. I’d love to go to Alaska, and do a Scandinavian tour

BE: Alaska sounds wonderful! Wide open spaces, fjords, and mountains, wild life etc. Most of Scandinavia resembles Washington/British Columbia, a bit more northern than OR.

MZ: Yeah, I grew up in Seattle and come from a Scandinavian background. Plus my family used to own a salmon cannery in Alaska

BE: Really? That is so cool! They don’t own it any more? I remember you mentioning traditional Scandinavian baking on twitter. So cool you’re continuing the tradition. :)

Did your family speak Scandinavian?

MZ: No, they sold it when I was very small. And my family is 3rd/4th generation so there’s not much language that’s hung on. A few words and things, but no fluency.

BE: Then your family must have been among the first waves of immigrants, in the mid-to-late 1800s. Language would be hard to hold onto after such a long time. The written language might not be too hard to pick up for English-speakers, many similar words and somewhat similar grammar.

MZ: I personally find it fascinating what things have been passed down and how culture changes. Yes, I can read a lot, plus I also took German in school. Definitely not 100% though, maybe 60% at most. Enough to get the general idea of what a Tweet or webpage is about. I am super good at reading food labels though :D

BE: That should make it easier. Did you see the study about half a year back where some scientists claimed English was more similar to Norse and might have taken in more Norse words than they did from Northern German, which was assumed to be the “root” language till now?

MZ: I didn’t see the study, but I completely believe it. It would make the weird grammar bits of English make more sense

BE: Yeah, the similarity in grammar and sentence syntax was one of their arguments.

MZ: I know the word “knife” has always been something we’ve said funny in our family as a homage to our background

BE: How do you say it?

MZ: like “Kah-nif”

BE: heh heh heh, that sounds Scandinavian, yes. :)

MZ: not like properly pronounced in either language, but garbled on purpose :P

BE: hybrid is good :)

MZ: Oh, I wanted to talk to you about themes in your writing. I mean this is a writer chat, I suppose we should talk a little about it :D

BE: :D Language is a part of it ;)

MZ: I’ve also noticed there’s a very stylistic almost desolation or emptiness in a lot of your work. Like I almost always imagine wide open emptiness in your various settings.

BE: Glad to hear that comes across. I like to think that comes from the open landscape I’m used to here, and also a little from zen or East-Asian art, which I like (but am by far no expert on).

MZ: It feels very deliberate not an absence of description, but purposeful emptiness

BE: Oh and also, maybe a tiny bit of it is inspired by Scandinavian minimalist design.

MZ: I personally find, at least in the US Scandinavian communities there’s this strange mix of minimalist design and warm clutter

BE: Stylistically, I think what’s not said or not said directly can be as important as what’s spelled out, like the use of negative space in minimalist design and East-Asian art.

Heh heh oh yeah, I know what you mean with warm clutter. That’s like the other end of the design spectrum. Fashion designers Moods of Norway have used that to their advantage, a sort of warm, rural clutter :)

MZ: it doesn’t seem like they could work together, but it seems to!

BE: It does, strangely enough.

MZ: Are there other themes you find you revisit in your writing?

BE: Apart from landscapes and silence, the natural world seems to come up a lot, especially in the two novels I recently completed. Animals, plants, the stewardship of those, but also space, research, technology.

MZ: are you self-publishing them?

BE: I’ve wanted to write fiction set in space, as I mentioned to a friend, not just science fiction in a distant future, but our present, which is becoming a little like sci-fi.

I’m trying to find a publisher for the novels. If I can’t find that, I’ll self-publish them.

MZ: near future sci-fi is near and dear to my heart

BE: Like Gravity?

MZ: I love taking the cutting edge technology and extrapolating how it will change in a very short period of time

I haven’t seen that yet, our local movie theater closed down. I meant more in fiction than movies though. My novella Copper takes place not too far in the future and is a world recognizable to us now.

BE:  That extrapolation is great for science fiction indeed

I must ask this: Why is it called Copper? Peak copper?

MZ: :) the word has many meanings in the story, mostly it is because they are using the old technology of copper phone lines to circumvent government monitoring

BE: Ahh, old-fashioned landlines. :) Or even telegraph?

MZ: modems! :)

BE: :) wow! I remember those. A lot of waiting for pages to load. :D

MZ: and the screeching!

BE: :D yes! Our current world is indeed a little like science fiction.

MZ: How do you think being a science writer changes what you write in fiction?

BE: I think it’s made me interested in bringing in issues and themes such as the natural world and the existence outside of human cities and human culture. I’m not a hard SF writer, though, I haven’t been inspired by physics and mathematics to such a degree. It also makes me aware of current news, and what research actually reaches the news.

MZ: I will admit I dislike the term “hard” relating to SF

BE: It’s certainly a bit of artificial separation

MZ: especially when no one can decide if biology is hard or not

BE: ha ha ha, so true! Saw that conundrum in a recent discussion about the project that’s currently mapping the neurons in the human brain.

MZ: it is SO true about what research makes the news though. I mean think about research relating to only one gender or a small population of people.. it’s rare for amazing breakthroughs in certain things to get any kind of notice at all

BE: So true. When it happens it does so bc of a concerted effort of publication specifically towards the media and the top media. I guess it’s similar to most other current affairs, what gets the world’s attention and what doesn’t. The imbalance of representation.

That’s why I think the debate about representation going on in writerly circles these days is very good.

MZ: Yes. It’d be good for it to extend to science publications too.

BE: Indeed. I saw some reports last year about how female scientists are presented and highlighted in media vs their male colleagues. One female was presented as being a good mother and good cooks, despite primarily being a top scientists.

MZ: I think some scientists could use better PR too, a lot of the time they assume the research will be important enough to spread far and wide, when a lot of the time it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grants and publicity.

BE: So true! Science needs to alert publicity and the media too.

MZ: I know in Archaeology it’s talked about as “National Geographic Archaeology” and “The important stuff”

BE: :D

MZ: cause if you’re lucky enough to get a digsite that will appeal to a NatGeo photographer and lots of full page pictorials, it’s easy to get continued funding and permits.

BE: Those NatGeo articles are lovely, though, and I’m sure they can be “Important Stuff” too.

MZ: But… so few of what actually give us amazing information also appeal to super glossy color pictures

I mean, fossilized human poop is fascinating

BE: :D

MZ:…but I don’t expect two page spread of it any time soon

BE: There was a news story about that some weeks ago. Something about early humans and their waste. Lovely. I actually didn’t read it.

MZ: lots of exciting work going on in Oregon about that right now :)

BE: :D Really? I guess it can tell lots of things about nutrition = food = culture.

MZ: the arid desert regions are full of caves that were used by early humans to North America so they’re finding lots of preserved things they don’t normally find, shoes and stuff too

BE: Soft objects, that’s nice.

MZ: Well, I probably shouldn’t keep you up all night :) Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

BE: I should probably say that not only science, but also ecology, climate change, and the not too distant present are also themes in my current work. Difficult themes, but I’ve felt it was important to write about.

It goes back to my education as a biologist and the surprise of actually living in a time of a biological mass extinction.

MZ: It is not an easy thing to accept, no.

BE: It seems like it’s not happening bc we don’t see it from day to day or notice the species being gone, but it is happening and we seem to be doing little about it.

I heard that 40% of the Norwegian bird species, just common birds that used to be everywhere in the country, are now approaching an unhealthy status. That’s unsettling.

MZ: it does seem to be happening slower in middle latitudes, so maybe that’s why people aren’t paying as much attention?

BE: It’s not just in the Amazon or Africa or the Antarctic, but in the temperate zones and near where humans live.

Yes, that’s probably part of the reason why, it’s happening gradually and slowly, or relatively slowly, and we don’t see it directly, so it’s easy to forget or overlook.

MZ: like the lobster slowly being cooked to death

BE: :D sadly, yes.

I saw one scientist in a fairly recent climate documentary say that it’s like we’re approaching a cliff, but we’re making few attempts at steering away from it.

driving towards a cliff, I mean.

MZ: I guess all we can do as writers is try to bring attention as we can

BE: Indeed. That’s why writing the recent novels have felt so important. I agree, that’s what we can do.


Adversary: Confusion



Have you ever lost your keys? I know I have. Probably a few times a week on average. Well, maybe that’s not a great example, because we use our keys all the time and tend to carry them around. Have you ever gone looking for something where you thought you knew exactly where it was but you hadn’t actually looked for it in a few months and when you went to where you remembered it being, it just wasn’t there?

Yeah… well, I hate to say this, but this happens in museum collections too. Less often than in my normal every day life, but often enough. See, there is a written record of where everything should be… but it’s dependant on someone actually updating the records as things get moved. Luckily for me, one of my predecessors was fairly anal about updating records… but if the object was moved in the time after their tenure, I often have to make an educated guess as to where it might have ended up. After working at the museum for six years, my educated guesses have gotten a lot better. There’s this thing called “institutional knowledge” which is the memory of staff and volunteers. Institutional knowledge can be the thing that saves your bacon when you just can’t make heads or tails of the cryptic note left in the catalog.

People move objects around. Sometimes it can be as simple as needing to move an object to get to another object and forgetting to put it back in place. It can be more catastrophic when records are “going to be” updated by a staff member who… suddenly stops coming to work with no explanation and now no one knows what they were working on, where their notes are, or how to go about picking up the pieces.

If I got hit by a bus right now, my coworkers would be taking my name in vain for YEARS. My paperwork and records are nowhere near up to date. Everything works FINE as long as I’m there… but if anyone else had to figure it out… Ooof. So I’ve shifted my schedule to be at the museum on Mondays when it’s closed so I can dedicate a full day to nothing but updating records and cleaning house.

I’m hoping to get everything up to date in a few weeks, so wish me luck!

Fountain Pen Friday: Monteverde Artista

I haven’t been using pens as much the past couple weeks. You see, my outside chest freezer got all rusty and I needed to put rust-eating spray paint all over it. No Big Deal. Well… So, it turns out that you really shouldn’t spend the better part of an hour pressing your finger down with hard constant pressure. I originally thought the numbness was due to being covered in paint, but it turns out I (hopefully temporarily) damaged the nerve endings. It is getting better, but slowly. I’ll be buying a spray grip for any future spray painting though.


This week’s pen is the Monteverde Artista Crystal with a medium nib (Goulet Pens, Jetpens, Amazon). This is a slightly pricier pen than previous weeks, but we’re still talking about mid $30 range. My (as always, terrible) pictures don’t do it any justice. It is a fully clear pen with chrome accents. It also comes in a number of clear colors, but I like the crystal.

Pen in pieces, freshly cleaned.

Pen in pieces, freshly cleaned.

items for scale

items for scale

The Artista has a weighted screw-on cap and uses standard cartridges and converters. The cap is designed to let you see the nib even when the cap is on. My only gripe about this is that the cap insert is very short (so as to not hide the nib and ink residue can get stuck between the insert and the cap. It’s a really nitpicky gripe and doesn’t affect the pen’s operation in any way. It just means my cap is no longer entirely clear, I have a little purple residue from inks past I’ve been unable to fully clean out.

Pen in hand cap on

Pen in hand cap on

If you like a more substantial feeling pen, just put the cap on the back and the weighted cap will oblige you.

Pen in hand no cap

Pen in hand no cap

If you’re like me and prefer a lighter pen, just omit the cap for an equally wonderful writing experience. The nib on this pen writes… just wonderfully. It isn’t exceptionally fast, but so smooth and an absolute trooper. I almost never have to fiddle with this pen.

Writing sample

Writing sample

The Good

  • very very clear
  • solid, well-made
  • gorgeous
  • writes smooth and steady
  • adjustable pen handling due to weighted cap
  • standard cartridge and converter

The Bad

  • hard grip
  • screw on cap (though the threads are high enough not to dig into my fingers)
  • short cap insert leads to ink residue

Overall grade: solid A

This is a pen that constantly comes back into my rotation and I know I can count on.

Ghosts in the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Amanda C. Davis



Why should you know Amanda? Well… go read her story Shimmer, and then you can tell me. She is one of the people I wish I lived close enough to that I could show up outside her kitchen window holding out my empty bowl like Oliver whenever she bakes. You should also check out her website (There’s more fiction links there!) and follow her on Twitter.


Minerva Zimmerman

Well, I suppose the first thing is to establish how we know each other

Amanda C. Davis

Let me see. I’m sure I got to know you on Twitter, but I’m pretty sure we were in a TOC together?

MZ: Beast Within 3: Oceans Unleashed, I think

AD: That’s the one

I actually log all my TOCs in this big spreadsheet

MZ: I don’t remember if we followed each other before that TOC or not on Twitter

AD: so I can just search it for anyone and see what we’ve been in together.

I think before, honestly.

MZ: I think so too

AD: One of those things where our circles overlapped.

MZ: Yeah, it’s weird how that happens

AD: Sometimes I follow Clarion grads just to get in on the ground floor. :)

MZ: I’m not much of a workshop person.I found I don’t actually like workshopping in general

AD: Ah!

MZ: I just found it isn’t as useful for me, personally

AD: Is it better online? I prefer to get written crits rather than verbal ones. Possibly because it’s easier for people to be vague out loud than on paper.

MZ: I prefer one on one crits with someone I know and knows me at least tangentially, rather than the workshop format

AD: Gotcha

MZ: I have really awesome Beta Readers

AD: I’ve never gotten crits from someone I didn’t know at least in passing. Not sure how that would work for me.I’ve always had great crit partners at hand, I’m very lucky. My sister, first and foremost.

MZ: is your sister also a writer?

AD: I’m thinking about that a lot lately, actually, because I’ve been brushing shoulders with some writers in their teens lately, wondering–how can I help them without hurting them? What kind of guidance gets them through this stage into the next one?

My sister Megan Engelhardt is also a writer. We co-wrote our collection, Wolves and Witches.

Available at e-retailers everywhere. ;P

MZ: :) My youngest brother is my first reader, so I do like working with siblings

though he’s 15 years younger, so we don’t have the same childhood experiences

AD: My sister and I are only two years apart, so our experiences are VERY similar. It’s good and bad in that we can usually tell what each other is trying to get at, but we might both miss the same things. And rivalry is a thing. :)

MZ: did you read the same books?

AD: Haha, we did to the extent that we let each other touch them. One or two prized books, we negotiated signed contracts. Not perfect overlap, though. More like a Venn diagram.

MZ: I bet family trips to the library were fun

AD: We had a bookmobile.

MZ: did your parents have to negotiate cease fires over who got a book first?

AD: We lived in the country, so every…month? I’m not good with time. This van full of books would park by the post office and we’d do our librarying there. Not over that! We were both fast enough readers that we could both get to the same book within hours.

The entire family warred over Goblet of Fire, though.

MZ: Oh, I remember fighting my mom over that one

AD: So my sister and I have been reading each other’s manuscripts since elementary school, easily.

MZ: Do you have other Beta Readers you use too?

AD: It depends on the project. I have a great local group that sees a lot of my short stuff, especially if we all write to the same prompt, and they’ve seen one novel. Then there’s this whole network of Internet friends who’ve seen various trunk novels, or who will be called to service sometime this year, I swear. Heads up, guys!

A lot of the time, shorter pieces will only go through Megan, or just myself.

MZ: How do you go about writing short fiction pieces? Do you go from prompts mostly?

AD: Most of my short fiction has been to prompt, or for an upcoming theme.

Deadlines are a big part of my motivation. If I just get an idea I want to write, it usually hangs back in my brain until I have something to apply it to, if that makes sense.

MZ: I think my short fiction generally starts with: Step 1: First you get a Deadline

AD: Haha, I feel that. :)

MZ: I don’t seem to finish things without deadlines as much

AD: It just helps focus my priorities.

MZ: yes, exactly!

AD: There aren’t a lot of stories I care about so deeply that they go to the top of the list. There’ve been a few. Mostly, knowing someone out there wants a specific thing is enough to float a project.

Do you remember that time I went crazy over motivation/encouragement profiles?

MZ: I will admit I focus more on your food projects

AD: Fair enough. :P

MZ: I’m more likely to remember things that make me drool for whatever reason

AD: Let me grab you a blog link. (I just made two batches of cherry jam. AWESOME.)

MZ: Did you get the big counter mounted pitter?

AD: Oh no, I did it with a paring knife and my right thumbnail. Between the dark juice and the cuts I look like I was in a knife fight. There we go:

MZ: holy cow, that’s hardcore cooking

AD: Long blog post short, I think certain kinds of writers are mostly driven by deadlines, and we are definitely two of them. So we might as well embrace what works for us.

MZ: I think I’d say that while I can be socially driven, it doesn’t result in published work

not the way deadlines do it still results in work, but just not of the type that is immediately publishable

AD: Ah, got it. Is the goal then to show it to someone else?

MZ: but that’s really important for getting through a longer fiction piece

AD: That’s interesting. Maybe deadlines work better for short pieces because it’s one and done, but if you have crit partners, getting chapters to them can be that immediate gratification you don’t get if you save a whole novel to send out.

MZ: right, cause I still need the motivation to keep going sometimes and crit partners provide that

what I’m having trouble motivating is editing longer pieces

AD: Oh, you are singing my blues right now. Have you successfully done it? Edited a full, long piece to the point where it wasn’t going to get better without professional help?

MZ: I mean, I know how to fix stuff and what I need to do, but can I afford to stop publishing short fiction for a long period of time? Plus there’s a lot of do a lot of work and then hurry up and wait to be rejected which is hard to force yourself to do.

I’ve done novella length, but not novel that’s the next hurdle.

AD: The short-term rewards are so hard to give up! :D You write a piece, you ship it out a couple times, it sells or it doesn’t, it’s over.

MZ: Oh no. I am a short fiction addict.

AD: Three years on a novel? I want to claw my face off.

MZ: /wrings hands/

AD: Haha, this is what happens when you talk writing to me, I just gripe about the novel for one million years.

Let’s talk about how much we edit our short pieces instead!

MZ: Ha, Ok. Have you ever had a piece that seems cursed?

AD: There’s something James D. Macdonald said on Absolute Write once, that I thought was smart, comparing a short story to a key lime pie: if it doesn’t bake up right, you just have to make another one. That’s how it tends to work for me. I’m much, much more likely to scrap a story than significantly rework it.

MZ: Yeah. Sigh. I once had a class with a guy who said one smart thing ever in my hearing (the rest of what he said had to do with how he was a reincarnation of either Jesus Christ or the Devil’s Son) about how some stories are just meant to become compost for new ones.

AD: That sounds about right, yeah. (The last part.)

And sometimes I can see the links between stories, chronologically, where I (apparently without realizing it) took a second shot at something I did in a previous story.

Oh boy, though, doesn’t it suck to throw away something that’s about 90% right!

MZ: Yeah, I’m still not convinced this one I’m struggling with isn’t fixable which is what is killing me right now.

AD: Have you ever managed to work through something like that?

Fixing it to your satisfaction years later?

I have two right now I’m hoping to pull that trick on.

MZ: Yes, but usually when the problem was that I wasn’t a good enough writer yet.

AD: I may have only done it once.

I’m curious, what specifically did you improve at, before you could fix the story?

And would a really good crit have helped you along faster, or do you think you had to get to that point at your own pace?

MZ: Well, partly was that I had the wrong crit partner for a long time.

AD: Ouch!

MZ: Like, I was learning a lot, but we were never going to see eye-to-eye on certain things because I’d have to destroy my voice to get them to where they were trying to get me. I just know myself and my writing and my voice better now. I know what things to ignore now.

AD: Being able to play your own instrument, rather than learn someone else’s?

MZ: Right, it was like trying to learn acoustic guitar for years when you really wanted to play electric.

AD: That’s funny. I’ve had my crit partners long enough that for a lot of them, I can recognize things that will bother them to death that I’m just not going to stop doing, so I can take that crit for what it’s worth. :)

MZ: and to take that analogy further, I have really tiny hands so I couldn’t do the fingering correctly

AD: And then if I spot that kind of thing in their work, I know they’ll want me to point it out.

I was thinking violin and tuba, but tomato-tomahto. :)

MZ: I was at least in the same instrument family :)

AD: So, but do you think voice is really what makes or breaks a piece?

MZ: Mmmm… it can

AD: I feel like it’s important and valuable, but not strictly essential.

MZ: but I think more importantly it is something that can trump other problems

AD: She said, as a devoted hack.

Ooh! Like what?

MZ: like if it is wrong it doesn’t matter how right the rest of the story is, and if it is right it can make up for a lot

AD: Ah, okay, I’ll buy that.

I think there’s room for it to be “just fine” too, unremarkable, and the story can still work.

MZ: I think you can still have an excellent story with middling voice.

AD: Yeah.

MZ: You just can’t have an excellent story with terrible voice.

AD: Unless that’s the point. :D

MZ: And excellent voice prevents a story from being truly horrible

AD: I agree with all of that!

*high fives*

MZ: *high five*

Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

AD: Nothing in particular!

I’d be happy to do it again sometime.

MZ: I’m hoping this is something that catches on. I want newer writers to understand how writers network and actually talk and how things happen.

that it isn’t some crazy conspiracy

AD: Hahahaha

(continues laughing)

(still laughing)

MZ: we just overlap and enjoy talking about stuff!

AD: What we do is, we slave away in solitude, going quietly crazy

and then get together and just complain about it for HOURS.

MZ: and trade recipes

the recipes are very important

AD: Well yes, and that. :)

The thing that Twitter has really taught me about networking

is how it’s really all about mutual interest and impressing each other.

I follow people who are funny, they follow me back if they think I’m funny.

MZ: Right. I don’t follow people back who just post links to their stuff and their blogs. I follow people who talk to other people.

AD: Writers follow each other when they share a TOC, or a favorite genre or topic, or just an interest. It’s the number one best way to find new markets, support, and awesome people!

MZ: TOC are a major way I’ve ended up following people

AD: Same here.

MZ: cause it means we generally write about the same sorts of stuff

AD: People who got into things I failed to get into. :)

Plus, it’s a conversation starter. And something to bring to cons to get signed.

MZ: Yes. I really like following people with different interests who feel very passionately about them

AD: Same! I’ve learned fantastic things by watching people gush about them.

Have you tried baking macarons, perchance? ^_^

MZ: Not yet, I’m still intimidated!

AD: Don’t!

MZ: But my brother is staying with us at least for the summer, and he adores cooking things, so we might try it together

AD: Haha, it’s like submitting stories. What’s the worst thing that happens? You fail? Come on.


MZ: Well, right now the worst thing would be eating an entire batch of macaroons :)

AD: You are confusing “worst thing” with “best thing” :D

MZ: probably :)

My Adversary: Apathy



If you can’t make people care about objects and the culture they represent, you can’t save them. You can preserve them, but you can’t save them. To make people care, you need a story. When the objects don’t come with a story of their own, it has to be hunted down and attached to the object like Peter Pan’s shadow. 

This is a gross oversimplification, but a lot of objects come to museums when their owners can no longer care about them due to death, illness, or no one in subsequent generations will care about them so the current owner goes looking for a new custodian. Most of the time objects come to the museum after someone has died or as someone is sorting out their belongings after a health scare. It’s not 100% of the time, but it is the vast majority. I do a lot more grief counseling than you’d imagine in a given year. I was lucky in that my first boss was also a chaplain so I had a good role model and assistance when I needed it as I was getting my footing. 

I give the donors an opportunity to tell me the stories (if any) that accompany the items. I wish I could tell you that the majority arrive with a story, but they don’t. Usually all I get is the name of a previous owner and a brief description of how they believe it was used. Sometimes that’s all that gets recorded and then it goes into storage. If the object inspires curiosity I will attempt to go all history detective on its ass. About 2 out of 3 times I turn up no further information or hit dead ends. But that third time I hit pay dirt and discover a story I can tell using the object to inspire the public to care about the object and its story. 

Objects that come with stories are the most valuable objects in any museum collection. A museum without stories is just a building full of stuff. 



Noodler Creaper Flex


Ooo a box

This week’s pen is the Dec 25th Creaper Flex by Noodler’s. I’ve been a huge fan of Noodler’s inks but this is my first Noodler’s pen. I bought this on sale at Goulet Pens and they don’t seem to have this particular color  at the moment but if you go check them out there are plenty of other colors.

There's a pen in the box!

There’s a pen in the box!

There's also an informative paper about the pen, how to fill it, use it, and replace its gasket.

There’s also an informative paper about the pen, how to fill it, use it, and replace its gasket.

I had read that the Creaper Flex are pretty small pens, so I was excited to get one to try out the size for my hands.

Pen in the hand.

Pen in the hand.

I can see how this might be a bit uncomfortable to use if you have larger hands as the barrel is really quite narrow, but it feels pretty good in mine.


I can see myself using this pen quite a lot in my pen rotation. It is fairly light, feels good to write with and its narrow width makes it particularly good fit for my hand.


This is a piston fill pen, which is filled a little differently.

To fill, you unscrew the back while it is dipped in ink.

To fill, you unscrew the back while it is dipped in ink.

Like so.

Like so.

The Good

  • comes in various styles and colors
  • replaceable parts
  • narrow barrel
  • writes nice
  • light without the cap but not flimsy feeling

The Bad

  • hard grip
  • no cartridge option
  • threads for the cap tend to dig into my finger

Overall grade: B+

I kind of want more than one of these pens because the narrow grip is really nice for me, but I wish the threads were just a bit higher up on the pen.


Ghosts in the IM: Conversations between Writers

So, I had this idea that I’d talk to other writers about writing and post it up our conversations for other people who don’t really know what writers talk about amongst ourselves. I’m ultimately very lazy, so I made it Instant Message conversations so I wouldn’t have to transcribe anything. I also had the ulterior motive of wanting to talk to some writers one on one that I’ve never had the opportunity to. For my inaugural conversation I chose:


Richard Dansky



Richard Dansky is a writer and game designer, an enjoyer of Scotches and watcher of Sasquatches. For more about him check out his website, wikipedia, Twitter, or y’know go buy his newest book: Vaporware


Minerva Zimmerman: Do you ever worry what Google will eventually do with your chat history after you’re history?

Richard Dansky: Actually, I’m hoping that someone’s going to go through them and compile and annotate them, so that writers of distant generations will be sure to get all my obscure Van Der Graaf Generator references.

I mean, in a lot of ways, this is the new literary correspondence. It’s just much more available to those of us with terrible handwriting.

MZ: Oh man, I’d hate to be the poor bastard that’d have to annotate writer chats

It’d be a grad student, I’m sure of it

RD: And probably their first step on the road to a career as a supervillain.

MZ: Well, they would have all of the body disposal methods writers discuss among themselves.

Now, I don’t actually know you all that well. We harass each other on Twitter and have mutual friends but I think this is the first time we’ve talked directly.

I went and did a little research (I checked your wikipedia page) and I knew about White Wolf: Wraith, and that you wrote for video games, but for some reason I never really put it together that you work on the Tom Clancy games.

RD: It’s a mixed portfolio, I confess :-)

MZ: I’m kind of curious how that happened since it doesn’t seem like an immediate fit for the spooky reputation I know.

RD: Red Storm was founded in part by Tom Clancy, and so the Tom Clancy’s games were always very much at the core of what the studio did. I actually was brought on board for another project entirely, one that was non-Clancy in nature.

But when we were bought by Ubisoft and development on Clancy games got spread out to various studios, having central subject matter experts was seen as a good thing – people who could elucidate what “Clancy” was and wasn’t in terms of games, and who could say “No, you can’t set a mission there because we did it two games ago” and so forth.

And on the writing side, my skill set was a good match for that and I was already in-house, so it just sort of rolled from there.

MZ: So you default were the game world bible, and thus became the keeper of the bible?

RD: And I was very good at generating more verses rapidly as needed, as it were.

MZ: gotcha. What do you enjoy about game writing vs. fiction? I know for me, it was the fun of doing all the world building without having to go through the full-draft and then editing process of fiction.

RD: The fun of game writing is collaboration, both with the other people working on the project and with the players. My words, combined with models and animations and physics and systems and everything else, makes something amazing that I could never make by myself, and to see that come together is a thrill. And then, once players get their hands on it and get to do /their/ own thing with it, that’s fun all over again.

At the same time, fiction’s a nice change of pace from that precisely because it’s not collaborative and the restrictions that come from coordinating with other folks – disc footprint, number of voice sets that can be loaded, etc. – don’t exist. So I can cheerfully do my own thing and have an army of dead warrior leaves in the millions without wondering if the AI engineers are going to have a heart attack.

MZ: I have a really really difficult question.

RD: Yes?

MZ: If you were a radio DJ with your own show, what section of what prog rock song would be your opening music?

RD: Oooh.

Tough choice there between something from “Scorched Earth” by VDGG or the opening chords of “Slainte Mhath” by Marillion.

I wear my neo-prog influences proudly on my sleeve. And in my voluminous collection of concert t-shirts.

MZ: I personally think it’s one of the more interesting things about you

I dunno what that says about me

RD: It says that you’re easily amused, possibly :-)

MZ: I do resemble that. I think that just makes me have a more fulfilled life though.

One of the other things that sticks out for me about you, is your Kill the Goddamn Vulture column

Is “the vulture” something you struggled with? Ok, what I want to know is; Does it get better?

I keep thinking that this writing gig will get easier and the self-doubt will ease up, but it seems to mutate.

RD: It is, and it’s something I’ve seen many of my friends, all of whom are ridiculously talented people, struggle with as well.

You see brilliant folks who are great writers or singers or musicians or designers or whatever do all the work and finally have the opportunity in front of them where it can pay off, and they decide they’re not worthy or they’re not good enough or they don’t deserve to do it or hey there’s this other thing that they’re going to focus on until the opportunity’s passed. And that’s painful.

But the good thing is if you recognize it, you can do something about it. You can spot yourself “vulturing” and not let yourself get away with it.

MZ: Are their passed opportunities in your own past that help remind you?

RD: And it helps if you have friends who love you who will point it out, too, and call you on your own bullshit. God knows I’ve needed it on more than one occasion :-)

MZ: I know that’s what’s made the difference for me in some cases, because I’ve had those times when I know I let something amazing slip through my fingers and I don’t want to do that again.

RD: I have a list of opportunities I just sort of aw-shucksed my way past, and I pull that out every so often as a reminder. Because I not only hurt myself by not taking an honest swing at those, I hurt the people who’d helped get me those chances, and that’s what really bothers me still.

MZ: Wow, yeah. That sounds really familiar.

I don’t understand people who claim they got to where they are all by themselves. I know there have been so many people who have caused me to have opportunities. I hope I’m paying it forward for other people, but sometimes I don’t know that it’s something you can ever really pay back.

especially when you didn’t cash in some of those opportunities you were given

RD: There’s a certain value to self-mythologizing, I’d guess, and I don’t mean to denigrate the hard work anyone who achieves a level of success puts in. But I know how many folks have helped me along the way, and I always try to give them credit, and to follow their example by helping others where I can.

MZ: Where do you sort of consider yourself to be in your career arc? I know I have trouble sort of seeing where I am in the big picture and tend to focus really myopically on where I am Right Now. I consider you to be a fair distance ahead of me on the arc and I’m wondering if you have a better idea of where you are?

RD: I have absolutely no idea where I am in my career arc, or if it can really be described as an arc at all. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the chance to work on some wonderful projects in multiple fields – best-selling RPGs, million-selling AAA videogames, writing a novel that got a starred review in PW – and occasionally I look at my credits list and say “I did all that?” Because it’s always easy to nitpick what you’ve done and say “Oh, I got lucky there” or whatever and downplay that you’ve done something really exciting and cool.
But at the same time, there are so many things I want to do that I haven’t done yet. I want to do more novels. I’ve got a card game I’m hoping to publish soon. I’m attempting a graphic novel collaboration with someone, and even the cockamamie sports blog I write because it amuses my father.

So I guess if I were at the end of the arc, it would be an arc that I could be proud of. But I’m hoping I’m in the middle, and that I’ll always be willing to be at the beginning for something new.

MZ: I like that. I want to be perpetually in the middle.

I like the feeling of having a long future of lots of things.

I guess I just wish I had some long fiction to point at too

RD: As Brian Upton once told me, you never add multiplayer at the end of the development cycle, because adding it means you’re back in the middle :-)

MZ: there are additional reasons not to add multiplayer at the end too :)

Is there something you wish you could tell your baby writer self?

Like, right when you were starting out and starting to take it seriously?

RD: Ease up on the Diet Coke :-)

On a more serious note, I would tell my younger self to build and reinforce my professional writing habits. It’s easy when you’re 23 and made out of caffeine and lightning and you’re immortal to say “well, I’ll just pull six all nighters in a row and BAM”, when really developing a solid, steady work process would obviate the need for that sort of heroic effort.

And probably produce better work in the end.

There’s certainly a romance to staying up 97 consecutive hours to write fiendishly, but there was also a certain romance to gallivanting over the Alps with a poofy shirt and a bad case of consumption while writing poetry, and that tended to turn out poorly for everyone except the pathogens.

MZ: Is there anything additional you would tell your 30ish self?

RD: “Get some sleep”. You’d be amazed at how much better everything is if you get enough sleep.

MZ: There really isn’t a good transition for this… but, Sasquatch.

RD: Oh dear. Yes.

MZ: One of my favorite bits of following you on Twitter is your livetweets of watching Finding Bigfoot.

RD:I have such a love-hate relationship with that show. On one hand, I love cryptozoology and I love the enthusiasm that the four cast members go out in the woods with. I mean, they’re actually going out there and looking, and they’re doing it in good faith. At the same time, sweet fancy Moses, there are moments when you just look at what they’re doing or they’re saying and it’s just, c’mon, really?

I freely confess I have never seen, heard or smelled a bigfoot, but I caught the bigfoot bug from an episode of “In Search Of” – the old Nimoy version.

MZ: I loved that show! I’m a huge fan of “ancient secrets” and cryptozoology and the like shows.

RD: The Amityville Horror ep freaked me out. I was maybe 6 or 7 when I saw it and it was pure nightmare fuel.

MZ: I have never managed to watch past the first 20 min or so of the original movie, and then to see all the “true crime” investigations of the house… AHHHHH

RD: I love those shows too when they’re done in a spirit of inquiry. When it’s “bad rhetoric 101″, like, say, Ancient Aliens, well, then it’s hate-watch time.

MZ: yeah, I’m not a fan of Ancient Aliens

RD: But I maintain affection for Finding Bigfoot. Ranae’s actually RTed a few of my snarkier comments, which means I can die happy.

MZ: Well, I should probably wrap this up before we talk all evening.

How about a couple influences you think other writers should read/be aware of?

RD: Read “The Simple Art of Murder”. Read Bradbury’s “Zen In the Art of Writing”. Read stuff you wouldn’t read by choice to broaden your horizons. It’s a big world out there with a lot of stuff that can make your writing better – be open to it.


Museum Collections: Slowing Down Time


As catchy as the song is, Museum Conservation isn’t about turning back time, or even stopping it. Museums are all about making things last as long as possible without erasing the marks of their past use and still being available for the public. It is a constant balancing act between preventing further deterioration of an object with making sure the object isn’t being protected to the point that it has no value to the public. It’s also tricky because you can’t think on a normal scale of time. You have to think about years, decades, or even centuries.

For example, a watercolor painting is actively destroyed by light exposure. The best way to preserve it would be to put it in a light free environment and never show it. That’s also totally useless. The better solution is to keep it away from sunlight (windows), possibly cover the painting itself with UV protected glass or plastic, and only show it for a limited amount of time before putting it back into dark storage for a time. The public still gets access to the painting, the length of time it can be displayed over its existence is lengthened by precautions, and its limited display time further extends the number of years the painting will exist.

I personally think the most important thing to remember in Museum Conservation is that you can’t save everything. If museums tried, they’d fail to save almost anything because their resources would be spread too thin. The most important resource is also the scarcest: staff time. I am currently the only Collections person for the entire museum I work at. Our collections span hundreds of thousands of objects in multiple locations. I only work part-time, so even if I spent 30 seconds with every object… well, even if you’re as bad at that math as I am, you can tell it doesn’t look good. I have volunteers and help so it’s not quite that dire, but the truth is most collections problems could be solved with more time. I joke I have job security, but the truth is, I can never, ever catch up. It’s just not possible. Even working full-time I could work the rest of my life on these collections and never fully catch up on every bit of preventative care, record keeping, etc.

Living with that knowledge and to keep on working anyway, is one of the hardest things in Museum Collections. I don’t wish I could turn back time, but sometimes I wish I had a time-turner.


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