Posted by: Lili | January 29, 2013

Moving Blog to http://www.liliontheloose.com

Hi everyone! I’ve bought my own domain and am transferring my blog to http://www.liliontheloose.com

This blog will focus more on travel and other things in my life, instead of just strictly writing. This is because I really haven’t had time to work on my novel ideas, so I’m trying to build in the habit of writing by writing a travel blog! Wish me luck!

Posted by: Lili | March 7, 2011

One Identity to Rule them All

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened. –Obi Wan Star Wars

For those that are talking, the buzz is certainly about Facebook’s commenting system and the death of anonymity on the net.

TechCrunch recently implemented this commenting system, requiring a facebook login and showing your photo and name with it. They say the trolling died immediately, and a new strange “lovefest” has taken its place. While the system isn’t perfect some are hailing it as saving the internet, taming it to becoming more professional.

And then the buzz words start flying. A common principle of marketing is Branding, the awareness of a consistent identity. Some proponents claim that Facebook Comments would help reinforce your own Brand. That people shouldn’t have a “work persona” and then a different one when hanging out with friends.
But that is exactly how we are. We act and speak and wear different clothes depending on the social groups we are with at the time. I don’t talk to my boss about “getting wasted cause I was too afraid to sing Karaoke by myself” and I don’t talk to my friends in my customer service voice (aka the voice and language you use when talking to say, my grandmother) when I explain something they don’t understand.

For instance, in Japanese society the language itself is based on situational awareness. The word isn’t just “Mother”. If I’m talking about my mother it is “Haha”, if I’m talking about your mother it is “Okasan”. There are different honorifics added to names depending on their social standing with you, and how well you know each other. For example Armstrong-San is a more general term while Armstrong-Chan would be said by friends who find me endearing.
The nuances of the language go even deeper than just names. I remember in college spending a few weeks on the simple verbs of giving and receiving in Japanese Class. Due to the complexities of interpersonal relationships, the verbs change depending on where you fit in the hierarchy. Not to mention there is an entire subset, almost its own dialect, when speaking to people who you must show honor to. And of course Japanese have slang, as I found it was sometimes hard to comprehend when I was in Japan.

But this is not about being two faced or inconsistent, it’s just how society works. We modify ourselves out of necessity.

Should we be forced to choose one single identity to show the world, we essentially cut off ourselves from changing, from discovering the new, from even expressing ourselves. Without dissent we become a homogeneous society. (And we’ve all seen those types of movies, it never ends well.)

And this “one identity” crazy is a relatively new thing. I remember as a teen being told NOT to use my real identity on the internet for protection and privacy. My mom didn’t want some creepy perv to be able to track me down and kidnap me. I thought it was silly and a bit of promoting hysteria but I crafted my “Jade” identity to pacify her and to allow myself a degree of freedom.

And I had a hell of a lot of fun as Jade. Starting in Yahoo! Clubs I bounced around various fandom realms before my obsession of Harry Potter took hold. I then created numerous clubs with brand names such as “Hogwarts” (that was until a Yahoo mishap robbed me of my top level club names but that is another story.) I put together great websites and brought together a community of thousands and not just teens, but also including adults. I was spotlighted by Yahoo for being the best club and site in the Harry Potter fan category.

And with this popularity came the trolls and the hackers. I cannot pin point when it started but other Harry Potter RPG groups started getting hacked and deleted. And then it was obvious I was next. As a middle schooler my website was everything for me, and my faceless comrades communicated via posting and email, only heard in the rare voice chat, were my best friends. This little corner of the internet was, our life, and we would fight for it!
Now the hackers were originally the trolls of the community, who elevated themselves to the so called “Dark Arts” hacking group. Every day I would rush home, flip on the computer’s power, and wait as the dial up connected. We only knew our enemy by their screen names but two stuck out GTownGuy and Robbie the Jackal. And they tried their damnedest to end us. I fondly remember getting an email from “YahooStaffmember85” or some other such nonsense pretending they needed my password to investigate the hackings. (And I took quite delight in saying my password was various forms of “HarryRonHermoine” and they saying they noticed I changed my password and asked for it again. Round and round it went.) Then the cloak and dagger started. The enemy created fake accounts pretending to be allies to get into our “closed door meetings.” While we created other identities as well to get into their “top secret planning meetings.” I remember pretending to be my own bored “twin sister” who wanted to help the Dark Arts so that way “my bossy sister would get off the internet and I could actually use it.”
All in all, during this time of my life I had more than 30 identities, each tailored for different situations. This died out a bit when Yahoo stopped offering free email forwarding, mainly because I just forgot most of the log ins and passwords.

While this part of my life could have been easily preventing by not feeding the trolls, I must say, that was probably the best time of my grade school life. As high school started and life became more complicated, none of us, not even the enemy, had time for our games and it stopped suddenly.

But growing up did have its advantages, although I was still known as Jade, my Harry Potter friends started revealing more about themselves and I revealing more about me. When college started I remember one of these anonymous friends told me about this great new site, Facebook, had just been released to my school. I joined, a little bit of fear mixed with regret of having to use my own name. And then found facebook in the early days was a desolate place. There were only 8 other people signed up for my college, none of whom I knew. I thought the site was pointless, who wanted to use their own name? Those that know me are either “In Real Life” and thus accessible, while those on the net worth talking to only know me as Jade. But my reasons for hiding were gone. I knew these people, even if I didn’t know their real names, I still knew I could trust them and that I didn’t need to hide, they had already accepted me. So we started seeking each other out. Most of the others of the group were on the east coast and their schools had already been hit by the facebook craze, so it wasn’t hard to request to be “Friends.”

This foray into public identity was, thankfully, limited to only others of my age, of those who were in college. So facebook became another haven like the old Harry Potter forms did of like minded individuals, this time with faces and real names thrown into the mix. But still, this was only with people I knew, I wasn’t ready to give up Jade, as now Jade was a part of me.

But then came the turning point. I was interested in photography and had started sharing my work under the name Jade through Deviant Art. And this community started giving feedback and encouraged me to do more. While Banksy may do well being anonymous, for me I realized I would need to work under my own name. I started doing concert photography for local bands. It was strange being called “Lili” my name is so unique it is a beacon strait to me, no hiding. And then slowly in more professional circles it became “Lili Armstrong”.

This transformation took a long time. I had to prefect my internet social skills and my writing. I had to grow up and discover myself. I had to go through phases and fads. But I was able to do this all as Jade. I fear for the future generation that is so focused on being identity centric.

I recently read an article about expectant parents picking names that were currently “available” and purchasing these as domains, setting up email addresses, and reserving twitter usernames for their future offspring. While the article was in jest, you can’t help but think there are parents actually doing this (just like there are those sad pet lovers who have their dog twittering.) What is a generation going to be look like when everything about themselves is freely shared? With technology able to save and preserve nearly anything that means any mistakes could be readily pulled years later.

And with facebook eroding privacy on a nearly constant basis, we’ve already been flooded with inadvertent advertising of what friends like, where they are, what they are doing. And now we are going to add every thought, every comment they post? Do we want a single “for profit” company to compile this much about us?

Now I’ve been a forum moderator, I’ve dealt with trolls and spam posts and can appreciate how hard it is to sift through all that crap to have a dialogue with real actual people, but I’m not convinced this is the way to do it.

Some proponents talk about creating a solid Brand for yourself and how facebook comments are going to be a way to do this. While it’s nice to throw around this buzzword and in professional circles Brand is a good thing to establish they are ignoring other key features of marketing such as market segmentation. All the big Brands do it, they target a certain segment and change their message just a little bit. Many times the other segments won’t know of the different messages sent to different segments. So this allows the Brand to adapt to the segment they are trying to reach. If you on a daily basis had to be hit with every different adaptation, message, and marketing of say Coke and what they do around the world, you’d go mad! People don’t want to see all of it. They have a basic idea of what the brand is, and then use the situational clues to learn more.

I am Lili, I am Jade, I am Geek, and I am going to be a hundred other identities before I die. I am not a single identity or a Brand, I am rich, diverse, sometimes contradictory, and ever-changing. I will not limit myself, my ideas, my speech to remain “consistent” nor do I feel everything I say must carry the weight of my name. I reserve the right to anonymity, and those that do not grant me that right will not silence me, instead another fractured identity will be born.

More Reading on the subject:

Facebook Comments have Silenced the Trolls… -TechCrunch

…the right to be anonymous – Engadget

Death of online anonymity – PCWorld

Posted by: Lili | August 30, 2010

One Post it at a Time

Starting to organize ideas on notepads.

Putting the new easel pads to use, putting down notes and ideas for the various books and characters down!

I’m starting to organize my thoughts onto the large easel pads and post it notes. Hopefully this process will help keep me organized! My writer’s group is going on hiatius for the next two months, so I hope to use this time to make progress on my planning!

Posted by: Lili | August 27, 2010

Farewell to Thee

Today my little sister leaves to study abroad in Kenya. I can’t say I’m not going to be worried about her, but everyone tried to talk her into going elsewhere but her heart was set on Kenya. I wish her a safe flight and a wonderful experience with her host family.

I have always felt I’m not a great writer. I was good at art: painting, ceramics, drawing, web design, photography. But writing? I’m a tough critic. I use to write poetry, but felt it wasn’t very good. However in high school I showed it to a teacher, and he said it was great and encouraged me to keep writing. My ideas for poetry has dropped off as my mind has become obsessed with my novels, but I think a key factor in me not writing anything for Heartstone yet is because I lack confidence in my own abilities.

But that has never been a problem with my little sister. She has always had a way with words both written and spoken. However, technology has not been her strong suite. So to my shock she announced that while in Kenya she would be writing two blogs.

The first, called Hatrixs is actually a blog between my sister and her two best friends, all of which are great and witty writers. While my sister will be in Kenya, one of her friends will be in Buenos Aires and the other in DC. The blog follows a premise similar to, or making fun of, the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants“. Instead of magical pants, its a magical cowboy hat. The hat will go to Buenos Aires for four weeks, then DC for four weeks, and then onto my sister in Kenya for four weeks. It should be interesting to see what these girls come up with!

The second blog is called Beyond the Brink, the name based off of an organization my sister started called “Social Brink” at her university.

What will this blog be about? Well here is her tagline:

The life and thoughts of an aspiring social entrepreneur confident in her generation’s ability to use social enterprise to move beyond the brink of radical change.

See why I think my sister is a better writer than me?

I will be following these unique word-smiths in hopes that their eloquence will rub off somehow.

Posted by: Lili | August 25, 2010

Romantic Sensibility

Beyond the huge notepads for keeping track of character notes and plot points, I have three journals that I write in.

The first is a simple small journal that I can throw easily into my purse that I use just for notes and ideas for my Saturday writer’s group meeting. Like many journals I’ve had, they sat blank and unused.  Mainly because I felt I had nothing worth writing in them, and if I had nothing worth writing why should I deface those beautiful blank pages?

This particular journal was given to me as part of a prize. My last semester in college I won the grand prize for the Italian Department’s Photo Contest for a photo on the Amalfi Coast, which included a purse, a gift certificate to a local restaurant (which I just found and need to use) and a journal with a map of the world saying “Travels.”  This notebook I took with me on many a trip, but never actually wrote anything down as I tend to blog about my trips after the fact. It wasn’t until I was running late for a writer’s group meeting and realized I needed to bring something to write on that I grabbed this little journal, and I’ve been using it ever since for each meeting. I alternate blue and black pens to differentiate the days.

My other two journals are two different sizes and styles of PaperBlanks journals. I have to say I love the style of PaperBlank journals, especially the ones that look like old Renaissance books! A few years back I purchased two journals from the stationary shop up in Estes Park, only because they looked awesome! I didn’t plan on actually using the journals, because once again I didn’t want to screw up their beauty.

I certainly wasn’t going to use them as typical “Journals” to write about my daily events, mainly because as a child I would loose interest and stop writing. I found countless journals with only a few entries in them. Thank god blogging was created, because then, for a time, I did write about my days.

But back to these pretty journals. After I brought them home, I toyed with the idea of writing my novels in them, because what story wouldn’t be awesome written in ancient and stately looking journals? At some point the little journal I started using as an idea book for Heartstone so I could take it with me wherever I go. I must say this one is my favorite, just because it just…fits the style of the novel I think, and so helps inspire me.

The 2nd and larger of the two journals I actually didn’t start to use until this past month. It will be my research journal, keeping all my notes from the various books I read. I feel bad, because when I take notes, my handwriting sucks horribly. Back in high school, the French teacher asked me to stop turning in handwritten papers because she couldn’t read them. Well…since I’m passive aggressive and disliked my French teacher, and the fact that she couldn’t require one student to type up every homework assignment over another student, I instead wrote all my homework in my left hand, which was even harder to read. Just one little battle in the war of French class or at least that is what it seemed to me back then.

So armed with my 3 journals, my 4 HUGE notepads, and boxes of notecards and post it notes, I think I don’t have any excuses that I can’t find ways to organize my thoughts.

Posted by: Lili | August 23, 2010

Ideas have a new home

Now that Heartstone has moved beyond just a single novel to a multi novel series (I refrain from stating how many novels I plan, as I mentioned it to an agent or two on twitter, and they freaked) my blank walls of my condo just aren’t big enough. I’ve been searching for a PC based writing program that I could use to collect and organize my thoughts, but haven’t found one I like. The one I was really interested in, Scrivener, is Mac only. So I decided to keep it oldschool and continue to use my stockpile of notecards and post it notes. But what should I put them on?

After much thought, I went out and bought huge easel note pads. You remember, the kind they’d use in school, the kind used in pictionary, etc. I’m debating weather this was a good idea after seeing how huge they are, as the only place to use them is on my dining room table or on the floor. I’m wondering if I should have considered getting an easel as well. However the benefits is that I can tape the sheets together to form HUGE plot lines and have them for each of the novels in the series. I also can use one as a character bible to put all the post it notes and ideas on a character in once place.

My main fear is that this means no backup of ideas. Computer based ideas I could backup to a hard drive, email to myself, or host offsite. With these notecards should something catastrophic happen I’d loose my notes. However, if something catastrophic happens in my home, I’d loose everything I own, not just these notes. So I’d probably have bigger worries there.

The other issue is that means my ideas are not portable. I do carry around a little notebook specifically for Heartstone ideas, but that means I cannot reference something if an idea hits me, I just have to write it down and try to remember where it fits with all the other ideas.

In either case, what is done is done. Easel pads are terribly expensive, but at least I won’t have to keep taking down my notecards off the wall when company comes over, instead I can neatly pack up the notepads and put it in the closet.

I’m hoping this new system will get me to start working harder, as now I can move back and forth between the different novels as I plan.

Posted by: Lili | August 18, 2010

Traveling to Ancient Roma

Out of happenstance the first book I’ve read for historical research was called Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak. I picked this one as it was the smaller of the bunch, so I figured I could get through it quickly. It took me a few weeks to read it, not because it wasn’t interesting, but just because I was busy.

This book is superbly written and I think a good first choice to delve into roman history.  Why did I like it so much? Because it is written like a witty tour guide book…for ancient times! Perfect for me, since I’m trying not only to get the history right, but get a feel for what it may have been like to live in ancient Rome. And this book worked wonderfully for that, introducing me to customs and areas of the ancient capitol.

I wrote a lot of notes, mainly to remind me of things that I might want to research further later, or new tidbits I hadn’t known before.

One of the key things I was trying to figure out was what profession my roman character would have. Before any research I was debating gladiator, charioteer, or a member of the roman legions. While things may change, from this book I got the idea of having the roman be a beast hunter, someone who captures beasts to be used in gladiator fights as well as someone who helps train gladiators in the school, but doesn’t fight others directly. I’m still toying with how this will affect the story, so it may change but I would not have come up with that idea without doing research.

This is just the first book I’ve read and there will be more to come as there is still so much to learn!

Posted by: Lili | August 16, 2010

Library Learnin

This past month I got a Library card for the first time in about 10 years. Why had it taken me so long? Well first, I love purchasing my own books (generally used), keeping them in my own personal library. Second, I was afraid there might be a huge fine on my past library cards, and so didn’t want to go into the Library to find out.

Why am I not sure if there is a fine or not? Because I didn’t checkout the books. My little sister had the unfortunate habit of loosing library books, and in some cases never find them. Because of this, her card was generally maxed or wouldn’t allow her to checkout any more books, so she would borrow my card, my mothers, my fathers, etc without telling us. One time I went in to find a $100 fine on my card. After that I shredded my cards, and never let my little sister use mine ever again. Hence why I’ve avoided the library in the next town over (my current residence) because I was afraid of another massive fine.

But I decided to get a new card, thinking if there was a fine I’d pay it and then hit my sister up for the cash. Luckily they either didn’t find a fine, or didn’t check for one, so I just opened up a new account. Yea! I then celebrated by getting about 10 books on various parts of history. And this is where I learned a few important lessons. The library no longer provides bags, and I had parked a few blocks away. Carrying a lot of heavy books sucks. Secondly, I learned I do not have the ability to read 10 research books in the 3 week time alloted. I only got through one of the 10 books. So next time I’ll make sure to get one at a time, and just plan on going more often to the library.

Posted by: Lili | August 13, 2010

Hydra

I cannot pinpoint when Heartstone grew and inspired me to start writing a  series.  It was a story that was just one of my “writer’s block creations”, something I thought about when I was stumped on “the big one”, but instead it took over all my ideas.

The story started simply enough: boy meets girl, boy crushes girl’s heart, the end. Heartstone was going to be a tragic dark fantasy hi-lighting the perils of falling in love with the wrong person.  Like most writers, I wrote loosely based on personal experience. But as I thought more and more about the story, I realized that a tragic ending wouldn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, tragic endings can be perfect, but since the story was based on my own experience I couldn’t let the story end tragically…at least not just yet. I needed the story to go on, because at the time I was struggling to figure out what to do in my own life.

And from this desperation I started thinking, what happens next? The main character cannot just collapse in on herself, drowning in depression.  So I started wondering about others who had lost their hearts and their society and what it was like.

As I develed into the story with each twist and idea it started to become clearer. The story is not about loosing one’s heart, but trying to survive after the fact. I’ve created a cast of characters, all with dealing with their own sorrow or pain, working towards a common goal. The setting is based on historical past ranging from ancient rome to recent history. The common goal? Well it is more similar to heist movies.  As such, I have a lot of research to do both in history and in how to write heists and writing itself. As such, in this blog I will from time to time write up notes or comments from the research materials I’m working through.

Posted by: Lili | August 11, 2010

No Longer Blank

Some stories begin with a blank piece of paper, mine started with a blank wall.  I had just purchased my first home, a one bedroom condo, and was going through my things to try to downsize. I had found a box of blank notecards, something I had been carting around from place to place for years after high school. I just couldn’t get rid of them, they looked so full of promise and it seemed like it would be such a huge waste to just throw them out.

At the same time, I was trying to decide how to decorate my new place. Strangely, in all my previous dwellings in college I had tacked up everything I could think of to completely cover the walls. I think that had been an overwhelming response to freedom, since growing up my mother never let me put anything up on the wall fearing it would ruin her sense of decor or the walls…or maybe both. But now as a homeowner I paused. Maybe I shouldn’t put posters up using thumb tacks? Maybe the pirate flag and other random objects collected in my travels shouldn’t be displayed in my living room? I was growing up, but the problem was I didn’t know what I should instead use for decoration. So as any good indecisive person, I didn’t do anything.

True, I could have made prints of my photography, but I hadn’t done any wonderfully awesome photography in a while.  All I would have to put up is the same photos I’ve seen every day at work. (Working in the photo industry is great until it kills your desire to do photography.) I fantasized about putting up classy black and white prints of Petra, Egypt, maybe Greece. Only problem? Haven’t gone to those places yet. So as any good procrastinator, I bought books.

Amazon.com, how I love thee! At a moment’s notice I can search for any subject that comes to my mind! And the best part? My mind doesn’t have to remember my credit card info, or my body doesn’t have to walk over to my purse. Just click! And soon I’ll be salivating by the mailbox. (And sadly, this is the only time I get real mail. Which is why in college I would buy .30 cent VHSs every few weeks, but that is another story.)

While I was searching for books on Egypt I started thinking. If I wanted a huge photo of Egypt to display, I’d need to buy a better camera. Then the thoughts slowly started to creep in. I’d need to save up a serious amount of cash if I want a new camera, let alone a trip to Egypt. It was going to be years before this idea may get off the ground. Years. With. Blank. Walls.

Drat. I can’t stand blank walls. I started searching through my various hard drives to see if there were any photos that I might want to make prints of to fill up some of the negative space in my condo. Instead I stumbled upon a short story I wrote in college called Heartstone.

I had always meant Heartstone to be a novel, I just never could figure out a way to write it. In high school I had started to write a sci fi novel which was supposed to become the next great American novel. The problem was, I didn’t write out an outline. Oh in my mind I knew what would happen further along in the plot. But the beginning? That was a bit up in the air. Undeterred I started writing. I’d write a few chapers, and then let it sit, and then would reread and rewrite those first few chapters. Over and over. I did that for years, rewriting and revising. I think I never got past “writing” chapter 5.

With Heartsone I realized I needed to try something different.  And thats when I started looking at the long blank white wall of the dining room not as a wall, but as a canvas for my writing. That box of colored notecards that I’d been carting around? They became my decorations for the wall. I color coded the cards. Blue for Plot. Red for questions I needed to figure out. Green for character motivations. Orange for character facts. Yellow for themes. I then organized in multiple sections a visual representation of the arc of the plot.

At one point it looked like a multi colored pixelated dog was on the wall. Not soon after moving in, my neighbor who lived directly across from my balcony invited me over to a party. I was thrilled, but as I’m a little socially awkward I was afraid of weirding out my neighbors. I shouldn’t have been so worried. After being handed a Smirnoff I chit chatted with the other people about music, the weather, and other such boring topics. As the night wore on I felt a little more comfortable with them, as they did with me. Then suddenly the host and his best friend eyed me. “So…not to sound strange or anything…but as you notice, from the balcony we 3rd floor people can see pretty much into all the condos directly across from us.” I realized this included my own, looking over to see my dog asleep on the couch. I was shocked just how far you could see in, you could see everywhere but the closet and the toilet because at the time I hadn’t purchased blinds yet. He went on, “We’re not peeping toms, but you know…sometimes its fun to people watch.” His friend then interjected, I think in hopes to make the conversation less creepy, “Anyway, we have a bet. You see, we are trying to figure out what the heck is on your dining room wall.”

“Oh that…I’m writing a novel.” I said meekly, still reeling at the shock of now knowing I had been watched. My host got excited as his friend passed him a hundred bill. After that I turned in, and a day later got blinds installed. Each night I’d wavy to my neighbor as I closed the blinds. We never did talk again after that.

Its been a year since that party, and my ideas have overgrown the wall. My simple short story called Heartsone has now blossomed in my mind to a large scale multi novel series. With so many ideas, and with it being a story loosely based on personal truths, I am determined to do this right. I’ve joined a writer’s group which meets weekly, and I’m arming myself with books on every part of the writing process. My goal is to get the plot, the characters, the world, and details all planned out, for all of the novels in the series, before I even begin to seriously write. Hopefully then, with all the planning done, the story will just flow out of me.

This blog will detail my journey of learning how to be a better writer as well as my process of gathering ideas and information. For those of you that read this, I apologize, and promise that when I write my novels, they will be more eloquently written then these senseless ramblings.

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