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The Baroness's articles
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The Accidental Podcaster: Blessings
Nov 23rd 2016
As I type this, I'm curled up in the reading chair in my office, surrounded by three walls papered in post-it notes for story bits and RCM to-do's. Baron's joyous tones are booming through the house as he battles through the Darkest Dungeon; in my headset, Killer and Varyar are waging a battle of their own. In the room next to mine, a fourteen-pound turkey is thawing in my utility sink for Thursday's dinner; its 21-pound big brother is already in my kitchen fridge, waiting to be roasted in the morning. Provisions are laid in for the next several days so I don't have to deal with stupid people. I have a little bit of cleaning to do in preparation for hosting the Thanksgiving celebration, but most of my time this week is split between catching up on some RCM odds and ends and catching up on my reading (I've already finished two books and am about to end a third). Oh, and by the time this posts Wednesday morning, we'll be just a few hours off of the autumn Steam sale - an excellent bit of timing, considering earlier this evening the web ninja and I finished the pre-sequel for Borderlands and are ready for something new.1
In short, life is good.
It wasn't always this way. Thanksgivings of my childhood rarely ended with the warm and fuzzy Norman Rockwell images of chubby children curled up lovingly with their equally chubby dogs in front of a fire, Father puffing at a pipe over his newspaper while Mother in her Donna Reed-esque getup finished putting the dishes away. Our Thanksgivings of yore, like most holidays I had between the ages of eight and nineteen, were mainly spent waiting anxiously for our mother to get home from her shift at the nursing home (she almost always worked holidays for the extra pay), trying to make things nice in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, her deadbeat husband would be in a better mood by the time she returned. It wasn't likely, but hey, holidays are the time for goodness and miracles, right? We had to believe that not all holiday spirits came in a cheap brown bottle.
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The Accidental Podcaster: Election Night
Nov 9th 2016
I've known Dave since I was six years old. Our families lived five doors apart from each other, my siblings and his brothers were always at one another's houses, and I've always looked at them like they were my own brothers. 95% of my interviewing and questioning skills come directly from mock newscasts done with Dave as a child. My first "anchor" position was behind a cardboard box on his mom's lawn while he shouted his on-location news report over from the sidewalk. His grandmother may have asked us to stop doing that, which is why ten minutes later I got my first editor job publishing the short lived "First Street News" (Dave was the reporter for that, too, and I'm pretty sure we still got yelled at for being loud).
This doesn't mean we always agreed on everything, and as adults, we still don't. Dave went into this election as a big Trump supporter; I was so horrified by both main choices that I cast a conscience vote for someone else (no, not Johnson or Stein, either, and yes, it was a real political candidate). But on the areas where we differed, Dave always did something that a lot of people don't: the issues he was most passionate about he backed up with solid reasoning, but he also actively sought out people with different viewpoints as a challenge to his own. Even when we were kids, playing schoolhouse in their play room or pretending to be news reporters on the sidewalk outside my house, he always asked questions, sought opinions, checked facts. He wasn't content with just having his own opinion; he was actively interested in yours. It was a trait that served him well later in life as a news reporter, and sets a strong example for the students in the media classes he teaches.
So when I sat down tonight, I had a different piece I'd intended to be finishing for this column (late, per usual. I think I'm more honest with these posts when deadlines are looming). But I've been utterly captivated by Dave's independent election night coverage through Facebook Live. Titled "Tough Talk," their group put together a diverse and entertaining panel representing both sides of the political spectrum and led probably the most balanced and engaging political discussion I've seen all year. Ray, Ivan, and Deismond were well spoken and highly entertaining, their chat was lively (always helpful with panels), and I enjoyed how everyone, both on panel and in chat, had some really good questions and comments.
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The Accidental Podcaster: Music Notes
Nov 2nd 2016
There is one point on which I will always give Stephenie Meyer mad props: from her second book onward, in her acknowledgements at the end, she lists out the main playlist of music she listened to while working on each novel. Using music to set the tone while one is working isn't in itself particularly groundbreaking. We all do it. But it's rare to see an author take the time to publicly acknowledge and share the music that helped shape each of their own works. In having that knowledge, the stories suddenly have an entirely new dimension; one can feel the tone more vividly than with words alone, and I would argue it helps bring the reader closer to the picture in the author's mind.
Continuing the Meyer example, I am not a Twilight fan. I was 28 when I decided to read them,and only then because every female I knew wanted to talk with me about the series "because I read books" and I can't have an opinion on something I haven't read. The first book was about what I expected - the writing was a little rough, decent idea for a story but not really my cup of tea. I thought the secondary characters were rather well done, but hated the protagonists with all their stupid angsty teenage issues (seriously, you'd think at 100 years old and having travelled the globe that Edward Cullen might possibly have learned more social skills than silently staring creepily at young girls. That's not sexy, that's...disturbing). The second book was a little more polished, writing-wise, but again, I was past the stage of caring about whiny teen issues. I was ready to drop the series for lack of interest when I caught the playlist Meyer listed in her acknowledgements. Meyer writes that the core of her playlist for all of her novels was an aptly-named rock group called Muse; for the second book, her playlist included a lot of Coldplay, The Fray, My Chemical Romance (YAY GERARD WAY REFERENCE!), The Arcade Fire, and others. Suddenly a lot of things fell into place - of COURSE the protagonist was whiny. Of COURSE she annoyed the crap out of me - she was at a stage of life where she was trying to transition to adult decisions, but on top of conflicting feelings and lack of life experience, now she was also dealing with being caught in a love triangle with an equally angsty werewolf and a sparkly vampire who, again, should have known better. It's a lot to cope with. But having listened to a lot of the same music when I was at that period of life, I was brought back to that mindset for a little while, and started to understand why there were so many fans - coming from that perspective, Meyer nailed exactly how Bella and probably most teenage girls would act in that situation,and had enough realism with the secondary characters reactions that it created a very nicely balanced story that I did, in fact, see through to the end (I finished with Bella and Edward's ill-advised vampire marriage the night before I got married myself). The music, though, is what gave me the key.
Now, as Varyar works through his conniption about Twi-talk making it to RCM's front page...
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The Accidental Podcaster: Lessons
Oct 26th 2016
I had my annual performance review for my day job the other morning. I never worry about these things - for me, they're more of a formalized recount of what I've learned over the prior year and what I need to get to where I want to be. I've been very fortunate over the past ten years to have worked for a place that actually challenges me in a way that leads to self-growth, and been managed directly by a succession of women who have each been exactly the mentor I needed at exactly the time I needed their particular contributions. Each of them brought something very different to the table that contributed to the overall picture, so if I get to be called an operational badass now, it's in big part to the lessons and perspectives each one brought me. Today's lesson was one that's been bugging me for a while, something I've been working at diligently for some time but still feel I've been failing at miserably.
Let me start by saying that I have a very analytical approach to tackling problems. When a challenge is presented, emotion takes a backseat while I focus on how to first stabilize the situation and then move forward with the plan for whatever needs to happen next. Sometimes that course is pretty clear, other times I need data to form a better picture of what's needed, but the core process is always the same: finding the paths to get from the present situation to the desired outcome, then presenting the possibilities to assess the best course of action, and then putting that plan into motion. Results are clear - was the objective met or not?
But the same does not necessarily apply to management of people. It isn't always clear what, if any, tangible progress is being made. You can't ignore emotional factors when dealing with people, and the most logical way isn't always the best way of handling people issues. This has led to a number of faux pas over the years which make me very, very anxious about the reactions of others, particularly in a working environment. It wasn't that I was trying to be callous or cold (though in the past I've certainly been accused of both, and worse), but my focus was on solving what I was understanding to be the problem. When it was brought to my attention that this approach was alienating, I started second guessing ALL of my interactions - would this criticism hurt the other person's feelings? Was what I wanted really worth the argument? When I corrected people, how were they receiving the message? Did I need to be warmer and fuzzier, and if so, how does one go about that?1
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The Accidental Podcaster: All About Me
Oct 19th 2016
Years ago, in that weird adult-but-not-really transition time of being in college, there was a fad of sending insanely long chain emails under the header All About Me. The messages consisted of a list of questions - LOTS of questions - with the idea getting to know one's friends better. Most of the questions were pretty inconsequential (Coke or Pepsi? What's your favorite color? Do you have any brothers or sisters? What's the most recent movie you've seen at a theatre?1), but some of them got pretty deep. There was one I stumbled across recently from a letter that Baron sent me shortly before we graduated. It started with the question What is your dream? (note: I didn't say goal. I want your dreams.) My answer at the time was as follows:
Many of my dreams are goals in disguise, and I think the opposite works as well. But one in particular, something I'd love to do but never will for reasons that are pretty obvious, is I'd love to just run away and disappear for a while. Just get in the car early one morning and leave everything behind, run away to somewhere I've never been before, see where the road takes me. To me, that's the ultimate adventure: just go to some random place entirely different from anywhere you've been before, to strip yourself of the comfort of familiarity and really experience life. Obviously, this will have to remain a dream, just because people would go totally ballistic and panic if I actually carried through on this. I couldn't do that to the people I care about.
Interesting how so much changes in a decade, and how so much doesn't. *eyeballs Iceland*
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The Accidental Podcaster: Plans
Oct 12th 2016
So last week I talked about the death of Dream A, which meant a refiguring of where I want to go and what I want to do. This week, life has decided to keep with the curveballs, but at least in a positive way: yesterday I found out I'll get an extra six months to figure out what I want to do and prep for the Next Big Thing. This mucks with my travel plans a bit for next fall - I don't think I'll get away with my rapidly expanding trip of essentially gypsying around England and Scandinavia for a month before taking a meandering oceanliner back across the Atlantic - but overall will be a good thing (for one, having six more months of pay to afford said meandering journey).
I've already come to terms with the fact I'll need a decent day job for a while yet, which is fine - I'd rather not have to worry about decent healthcare for a while, and have more time to allow RCM's revenue building angles time to strengthen and grow (we're almost ready to launch the RivalStore and I am SO EXCITED ABOUT IT!!!!). But at the same time, I'm really not worried about that part. I've had quite a few requests filter in for potential new things, but nothing so far has really grabbed my interest. I feel like I'm waiting for something specific that I can't quite put my finger on, but will know when I find it.
The more important tasks, however, are the ones where I have a lot more control over their success or failure. So my priorities for RivalCast, in no particular order:
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The Accidental Podcaster: The Death of a Dream
Oct 3rd 2016
I'm not gonna lie; I'm crying as I type this.
The announcement came out Friday afternoon that after fifteen years of publication, mental_floss magazine is ending its print publication with the November/December 2016 issue...which went to print Friday morning.
Words can't begin to describe the sense of loss I'm feeling right now. The first issue I read was found on the end table of my then-boyfriend's parents house in 2005, and it was just an insanely well-written conglomerate of interesting topics. But nobody back home had ever heard of it, and so it wasn't until the spring of 2007 after I moved to Cleveland that a friend re-introduced me and I fell in love all over again. I was just out of college and out on my own, making barely enough money to pay my bills and keep my clunker car on the road to get to work. PB&J's and store brand macaroni and cheese were my primary food staples that first year, but every other month on the day a new issue would hit the newsstands, I'd scrape together a little bit of cash, make the trek out to the Barnes and Noble store in Westlake (the only place that carried it), and get flossin. Such was the joy it brought me that I remember in particular a phone conversation with my sister that fall, where I was lamenting having missed the new issue because I'd been sick and had to use all my extra cash on prescriptions and doctor's bills. Two days later, I got a letter in the mail with a twenty dollar bill inside and a note with my sister's unmistakable scrawl saying "just get a damned subscription already."
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The Accidental Podcaster: Down the Rabbit Hole
Sep 27th 2016
Colleen Mondor puts out a monthly blogletter chronicling her research and progress for her book on the 1932 Cosmic Ray climbing expedition on Mt. McKinley. In last week's missive, she details a side story she came across in her research regarding a friend of that expedition's leader by the name of Elbridge Herron, who was a fellow climber (and, creepily, looks kind of like our own SaladBooty). At the age of 30, Herron was returning from his own expedition to Nanga Parbat in the western Himalayas when he stopped in Cairo for a day trip, climbed the Second Pyramid, and was killed when he fell off.
Herron was not a part of the Cosmic Ray expedition (also ill-fated; the aforementioned friend and expedition leader, Allen Carpe, had been killed during that expedition a few months before), and Mondor only learned of him by accident when looking for something else. As she laments in her missive, "I have a running list of names of fascinating people I find in all this research (thank goodness for Field Notes) and I just continue to add to it every damn time I open another old book. But how to do your resist a story like Herron's? How do you not want to know more?"
I completely get where she's coming from. For the new RCM adventure story (debuted yesterday!), I had a general idea for a three-book story arc that was going to need a lot of research to do right. Without giving too much away, the team will be battling a numbers-based cult that I decided early on to build from scratch, mixing in elements of Druid beliefs, numerology, stargazing and astrology, interpretation of ancient prophesy, and more, delineating between the actions and beliefs of actual religions against the decidedly darker perversions of those beliefs taken on by my cult. What started out as a simple, and I thought would be quick, research into some historical secret societies and how to write up a proper numerology profile has morphed into what has (so far) been an eight-month odyssey into the history of magical practitioners in an insanely vast spectrum of spell casting and divination fields, secret rites, mythology, and more. I have librarians in three separate libraries helping track down materials as I need them, and also tagging books and other things they find that they think might be useful. What we've found so far has taken on my bare-bones concept of the heart of the cult and its motives and given it such a rich fullness of detail that aids and fleshes out the story I want to tell.
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The Accidental Podcaster: We The People
Sep 13th 2016

Last week, as I prepared materials for our campus resource room, I got into a discussion about why schools across the United States at all levels have to have activities and discussions centered around Constitution Day. It was a valid question, and I explained about how the observance came about because so many people didn't have a good understanding of what the Constitution was and the importance of the framework the document provides. "Right," my fellow conversationalist replied, "I get why it's important and people should know about it, but really, how often do they use that in their day to day lives?"
The question threw me a bit, because if you're an American citizen (as we are), the answer is "all the friggin time."
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The Accidental Podcaster: I Am The Greatest Detective
Sep 6th 2016
Today, we learned I am the World's Greatest Detective.
In Borderlands, we've been playing through the various side quests and things and having an insane amount of fun with it, even though I'm pretty certain I have to be about the most frustrating co-player ever for someone who knows what they're doing (I still fall off of things a lot). Today, the web ninja seemed very excited about a particular side quest because he knows I like mysteries and puzzles, and this was supposed to be a classic, logical whodunnit. The premise is that there was a murder in Sanctuary, and there were four identical-looking suspects. The player (in this case, me) was supposed to ask questions of the townspeople to kind of piece together what happened (what kind of shots, did he get injured, etc) and rule out suspects until only one remains. What actually happened was that the foot I had tucked up underneath me in my chair was falling asleep, and when I shifted during the instructions, I accidentally hit the button to accuse one of the suspects as being the killer (whoops). As stated, we weren't even through the instructions yet - I technically hadn't even seen the body. Poor Hax was flabbergasted, but more so after it turned out the accused was in fact the killer! Clearly, this makes me the World's Greatest Detective. I'm so good, I didn't even need the facts of the case to nab my man.
The web ninja will dispute this, of course. In his view, accidentally nudging the keyboard in such a way as to make the game think you're issuing your verdict before it's even completed the instructions does not constitute detective work, even when it turns out the accidental accusation was, in fact, correct. He calls it "cheesing it." I say my skills of deduction are just so advanced I have no need of wasting time interviewing "witnesses" and gathering "evidence." I should also point out that this isn't an isolated incident, either; my playthrough of Portal contained some of the most amazing accidental bank shots that I'm fairly certain I gave Hax at least one headache trying to contemplate how I managed to keep doing it.