The Ghostbusters and Me

When I was a kid, I adored the Ghostbusters Saturday morning cartoon. My favorite character was mad scientist Egon Spengler. Over and over, I imagined that I was the Ghostbusters’ secretary, like Janine in the cartoon. I imagined myself dating Egon and helping the Ghostbusters, in a behind-the-scenes, support-staff role.

Yesterday, I saw the new Ghostbusters movie. Afterward, memories of my old Ghostbusters pretend games flooded back. I wondered: if I’d seen this Ghostbusters when I was a kid, would I have imagined myself as Dr. Jillian Holtzmann instead of as Janine? Would I have imagined myself being a heroic mad scientist, rather than dating one? I think I would have.

I’m sure that somewhere in the 1980s, some girls did imagine themselves being Ghostbusters, but I never did. Yes, some children can identify with a fictional role model who doesn’t look like them, but my memories have viscerally reminded me that some children won’t. Representation matters, and this is why.

Starting Twitter: Advice for the Intimidated

I started my Twitter account in 2009, but I found Twitter intimidating, and I let my account lie dormant. After hearing a presentation from Alex Arnold (@AlexYArnold) at a SCBWI regional conference, I was inspired to try again. In the last ten months, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with Twitter. Here’s my advice for people who feel the way I did in 2009.

Setting Up Your Account and Profile

The main parts of your Twitter account/profile are your handle (the part that includes the @ symbol), your full name, and your picture. You can change any of these at any time, but I recommend picking a handle you want to keep. The handle is what people will type in to contact you, and it’s in the URL of your profile. The full name part and the picture both appear on your profile and with each of your Tweets (Twitter messages), but they’re more cosmetic and more easily changeable.
For example, my Twitter handle is @jenmoser and I use “Jenny Moser Jurling” in the full-name slot. My Twitter profile’s URL is
It’s wise to pick a short handle so that other people can type it into their Tweets and it won’t take up too many characters. (Each Tweet can only be 140 characters, including handles.)
You can also type a description of yourself and put in your URL and location, but these are optional. I recommend putting in at least a description of yourself.
If you want, you can also choose background images for your profile, but that is not a big deal.

Setting Up Your Feed

Now that your account is set up, find people you’re interested in. Search for them by name, or type in their handles. Follow them by visiting their profiles and clicking the blue Follow button. Suggestions:
  • Your friends
  • Your colleagues
  • Professionals in your industry whom you look up to
  • Official accounts for media outlets you read or watch
  • Official accounts for brands you like
  • Your favorite authors, actors, or musicians (Really big-name stars may have a blue check mark icon by their names to show that Twitter has verified that this account is really them.)
Once you’ve done that, look at the lists of people that they follow, to see if anyone seems interesting.
These people’s Tweets will become your feed. When you go to (just the home page) while signed in, you will see the latest Tweets from these people.If you see a handle/icon you don’t recognize, it might be a Retweet (aka RT). If so, it’ll say “Retweeted by Name You Do Recognize” underneath. This means somebody you follow liked that Tweet and wanted to share it with his/her followers. If you find it interesting, you may want to go to that person’s profile. If you like what you see, why not follow her too?
If it isn’t a Retweet and it says “Promoted by,” it’s an ad.
After you have done all that, you might try the Discover tab in your Twitter account, which will show you things it thinks you’ll like, based on what you already follow.

OK, What Next? Using Your Feed

Go to the Twitter homepage while logged in and read your feed. (I strongly recommend that you do this part on a desktop computer while you are learning the ropes.) If you see something confusing, look for a “View Conversation” link on it. This will show you what it is a response to, and you can read the whole conversation. (Then again, if it doesn’t have a View Conversation link, it might just be a confusing Tweet.) The Android app doesn’t have the View Conversation feature, which is why I recommend sticking to the desktop at first.
If you see something interesting, you have four basic choices. You can do any or all of them, though probably not both #3 and #4.
  1. Reply with your own thoughts about it. Your reply will be public for anybody to see, but primarily directed at the original Tweet’s writer. Don’t be upset if the person does not reply back to you.
  2. Mark it as a Favorite. The person who wrote it will be able to see that you did so. This will give her warm fuzzies. Then Twitter will keep all of your Favorite Tweets handy in a special section of your profile so you can look at them whenever you want.
  3. Retweet it directly. This puts it in your own outgoing feed, with the original person’s name, picture and handle still attached, for your followers to read. The original person will get notified of this.
  4. Write your own brief thoughts about it. Copy the text and the person’s handle, and add them to the end of your thoughts with the letters RT. Use this order: Your words, RT, other person’s handle, original Tweet. Post this as a new Tweet from you. Your full name and picture will appear as the author of this new Tweet, but the “RT” plus the person’s handle will give her attribution. For example, if I Tweeted, “Patrick Stewart is my favorite actor.”, you might Tweet, “Mine too! I loved his work in the X-Men movies. RT @jenmoser: Patrick Stewart is my favorite actor.” Tip: If you see “RT @somebody” in the middle of a Tweet, treat it like an e-mail chain and read the second part first.
You can certainly post your own original Tweets too, but I recommend spending at least as much time engaging with other people.

What Should You Know About @-Mentions?

If you include somebody’s handle with @ in your Tweet, she will get notified of it. (Maybe with an email, but maybe just in the Twitter Connect tab interface, depending on her settings.) Using someone’s handle if you do not intend to invite her to comment is rude. If you’re going to Tweet about somebody in a derogatory way (or if you just don’t want to draw her attention to it), just use her plain name, not her handle and not with @. She can still search for her name, so it’s not private. Remember: Twitter is not private! Fantasy/sci-fi author Seanan McGuire wrote an excellent blog post about this concept: The terrible intimacy of @.

(Note: Twitter does have a private-message feature called Direct Messages, which I am not going to discuss in this post. Regular Tweets are not Direct Messages.)

If you start a Tweet with somebody’s handle, Twitter thinks you mean it as a message to that person. This is not the same as a Direct Message. This is not private. That Tweet will appear only in the feeds of people who follow both you and the recipient. If you want to write a Tweet that appears in the feed of everyone who follows you, put a word or a punctuation mark in front of the person’s handle. People commonly use a period for this.
  • For example, you might write “Hi @jenmoser, I think you would enjoy my lemon cookies, and so would everyone else following me!” or “.@jenmoser, I think you would enjoy my lemon cookies, and so would everyone else following me!”

What Should You Know About #Hashtags?

Putting a # in front of a word is called a hashtag. This turns the word into a clickable link, leading to a search function for all the other Tweets with that hashtag-word in them. There are several main uses of hashtags:
  1. Pure search. You might post a Tweet that says “Here’s a great story on the latest #NASA reveal: url here” and then people could find it when they searched for #NASA.
  2. Curated chats. People often organize Twitter chats using a certain hashtag at a certain time of day/week. Everyone includes that hashtag in their Tweets and you can follow the chat by clicking on it and reading everything that comes up in the search. One of my favorites is #FP, an every-Friday micro-fiction fest. #FF means FollowFriday. It’s a tradition for people to post Tweets on Friday with the #FF hashtag and the handles of cool people on Twitter whom they recommend you follow.
  3. Games. Someone posts a Tweet including a hashtag something like #FailedMovieTitles. It becomes a game to make funny Tweets that match the hashtag.
  4. Just humor. People might post #oops or #gofigure or something else similar at the end of a Tweet, the way you might say it in conversation.
A Tweet full of hashtags gets annoying. Two per Tweet is a good maximum.
Hashtag use only works with just one word, not a phrase. If you really want a phrase, run the words together with no space and no punctuation.
Tip: Promoted Tweets (sometimes irrelevant ones) often appear at the top of a hashtag search. Just scroll down; you’ll get to what you want soon.

Real Snowflakes

My Oregon hometown has very mild winters. On our rare snowy days, the white stuff fell in sullen clumps. I’d seen pictures of six-pointed snowflakes, but I assumed that they existed at a microscopic level.

During my first winter in Rochester, the first several snowstorms brought a heavier version of the snow I remembered from childhood. One day, my fiancé (who’s now my husband) told me that he’d seen perfect six-pointed snowflakes falling that morning. I thought he was teasing me.

A few days later, I was outside when the conditions were just right. Delicate lacy snowflakes drifted down onto my gloves, like a picture from a storybook. I was stunned: snowflakes are real!

Now, real snowflakes are my favorite part of winter. They often stay distinct after they pile up, building fairy-tale cities on outdoor railings. I was eager to walk outside in yesterday’s heavy snow, just in case. There weren’t any real snowflakes yet, but I know they’re on the way!

Words Are Funny: In-Laws

I had a grand time at a family reunion last weekend. I’ve been thinking about the words we use in English to talk about the people who become our family by marriage. For example, think about your brother-in-law or your sister-in-law. (You can’t think about mine: I’m an only child married to an only child. If you don’t have any either, let’s think about the Weasleys. They have plenty.)

“Brother-in-law” means both “sibling’s husband” and “spouse’s brother.” Why don’t we have different words for those two relationships?

Step down a generation, and the linguistic differences disappear even more. English has the old terms “aunt-by-marriage” and “uncle-by-marriage,” but they aren’t in common use. When I was young, my parents’ siblings and their spouses were all just “Aunt” and “Uncle.” Certainly I knew the difference; I adored stories about “When Mommy Was A Little Girl.” I knew which aunts and uncles appeared in those stories as Mommy’s sisters and brothers. It never struck me as odd that the others were Mommy’s “in-laws” but they were just my aunts and uncles too.

When I was a teenager, one of my aunts by marriage brought her niece to a family reunion. It was a little strange for me to realize that she had her own whole family too, in which my own uncle was the latecomer. Her niece is about my age, and we hit it off.

“So your aunt married my uncle: does that make us anything?” I asked her. We decided that it probably didn’t make us anything … except friends.

Nifty Requests for Help

Many calls for help focus solely on what the requester needs. These two go beyond in different ways. I found them refreshing, and I’ve supported both.

Buy an e-book to help author Eugie Foster with cancer treatment

When she faced cancer treatment, Eugie Foster didn’t request outright donations. Instead, she asked people to buy one of her e-books.

“The Storyteller’s Wife”, a stand-alone short story, cost 99 cents, and I highly recommend it. I’m also enjoying the stories in the anthology Returning my Sister’s Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice. Ms. Foster has one other anthology and many other stand-alone short stories.

John Joseph Adams promotes a cat shelter along with Kickstories

John Joseph Adams is running a Kickstarter to fund his anthology HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! & Other Improbable Kickstarters. The anthology consists of sci-fi and fantasy stories told in the form of Kickstarter pitches. Let’s call them “Kickstories.” (Yes, I made that up.) You can read the first Kickstory, “HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!” for free online in Lightspeed.

The intro screen for the Kickstarter video perplexed me, with its slogan-in-a-bubble of “Watch Our Video: It’s Full of Cats!” I wondered whether the other Kickstories would be about cats. When I obeyed the slogan, I found that the felines had nothing to do with the anthology.

Mr. Adams opted for “Shameless Catsploitation” (his words). While he talks about the project, you can watch cats playing with toys, pouncing on each other, and nuzzling human hands. He explains that all the cats in the video (save one, his own, at the end) are available for adoption at his local shelter. He encourages local residents to consider adopting one of them, and he gives the URL of the shelter in the video. His own cat is clearly labeled as such with on-screen text.

I loved the idea of Kickstories and the first Kickstory itself. I would have backed the project anyway, but I did enjoy the Shameless Catsploitation.

Somebody Wrote in My Book!

I decided never to mention the flaw in my grandmother’s gift, because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

You see, I knew that it was very naughty to write in books, and my new copy of Dinotopia had been written in. Right on the title page, somebody had used a gold pen to write, “To Jennifer: Follow Your Dreams.” At age 8, I could read those fancy printed letters. Underneath that message, however, the somebody had written his or her name in mystifying cursive.

It was okay, I decided. The writing was only on the title page. Ramona Quimby had been much naughtier in Beezus and Ramona, when she wrote on every page of the library book. This writing didn’t keep me from enjoying the pictures or the story.

I read Dinotopia over and over. My teacher showed us how to write cursive. Finally, I knew enough cursive to decipher the somebody’s name. I realized that he was James Gurney, the man who wrote and drew Dinotopia!

I ran to my mom.

“James Gurney signed his name in my Dinotopia book!”

Mom laughed.

“Yes. Your grandmother stood in line for a very long time to get him to sign his name in your book!”

Listen to a Book: Get Dialogue Previews

My husband and I combined Steven Brust’s Dragaera fantasy series with housework. He’d read aloud while I chopped vegetables. I’d read aloud while he washed the dishes.

Dragaera was a reread for my husband and a new discovery for me. During The Paths of the Dead, late in the series, a mysterious warrior bars the young heroes’ way. My husband delivered the warrior’s dialogue in the distinctive bouncy voice we had used for a character in previous books.  Our young heroes were unsettled, but I was excited to see an old friend.

After a terrible week when we both had sore throats and couldn’t read aloud, we switched to audiobooks. Now my husband can wash dishes and I can fold laundry while James Marsters or Mary Robinette Kowal reads to both of us. Even better, we both benefit from that “dialogue preview phenomenon” on the first time through a book. Our experience grows closer to that of the main character. After all, she or he would recognize the speaker’s voice, even before the reader reached the dialogue attribution.

I wonder how the lack of that minor suspense changes my experience of the story, compared to that of someone who reads the book in print. Have you experienced the dialogue preview phenomenon? What do you think of it?

If You’re a Tree Stump, Sprout!

Tree Stump 3Sidewalk construction interrupted my regular jogging route. Along my detour, I passed a tree stump whose cut surface had weathered to gray. The chainsaw had sliced gashes in its roots. Around its perimeter, small branches sprouted a bevy of healthy lime-green leaves.

That tree suffered the worst tragedy available to its species. Yet the chainsaw couldn’t cut its deepest roots, and the tree perseveres.

I hope you’re never a tree stump. If life turns you into a tree stump, I hope you find your roots and sprout.

Words Are Funny: Buffalo Spaghetti

When I saw “Leo’s Buffalo Spaghetti” in the Table of Contents for the latest Penzeys Spices catalog, I flipped right to that page. I like Buffalo-style chicken wings, but I’d never thought about using that flavor profile with spaghetti.

I expected the recipe’s picture to show a creamy orange sauce with cubed or shredded chicken.  Instead, I saw a tomato-based sauce with ground meat and vegetable chunks. I glanced down at the recipe text. Rendered in all capitals, the herbs and spices stood out among the other ingredients.

“Hmm,” I thought. “The recipe has a little crushed red pepper, but otherwise it uses standard Italian herbs. I don’t understand how this is supposed to taste like Buffalo wings at all!”

I read the full ingredient list and found the answer. Leo’s Buffalo Spaghetti contains ground buffalo meat. I started laughing.

Actual buffalo might be pleased to learn that, upon hearing their name in connection with food, my mind leaps first to hot sauce.