Sunday, May 22, 2022

State of the Schafer: Breaking Silence (Again)

I've been pretty silent on the internet the last few months, not just here but on social media as well. That is mostly because I've been very busy! In March, I started a full-time remote job as the lead data scientist and algorithm designer for a New Zealand start-up called Narrative Muse. The company's mission is to help people discover books, movies, and TV shows by or about women and gender-diverse folks. They've developed a recommendation engine called "Matchmaker" which is based solely on the content of books and movies, not sales or rankings or number of reviews or anything else driven by the amount of money spent on publicity. 

This is hugely exciting to me, because I've long been aware of how many excellent books slip through the cracks and never reach the readers who'll love them. I've written posts over on r/Fantasy about the hidden biases and echo chambers of publishing, and I've tried to draw attention where and when I could to books that deserve more love. But that felt like building sandcastles constantly washed away by the tide.  

Maybe the trick is to build from rocks, not sand. 

I'd been thinking for a while that a better way to address the root issues would be to develop content-based recommendation systems--and lo and behold, Narrative Muse has built one! And I get to upgrade and expand their algorithm and apply all my technical engineering skills toward helping people find new authors to love (and movies, and TV shows)! Woo hoo! I love my job, y'all. My co-workers are likewise passionate about the company mission, and fun to work with, and it's just a really neat environment. 

(If what Narrative Muse is doing sounds cool to you, then come join the fun! The algorithm depends (for now) on human curation of book and movie content, and we're seeking more folks to join the curator community. We're also seeking someone with full stack developer experience for a Head of Technology position, so software engineering friends, go check out the job description.)

If you want to see what recs the Matchmaker will give you, go sign up and check out the platform--it's free to use. And let me know your thoughts! Over the next months, I'll be working on a big update of the "taste" questions and the algorithm, so I'm all ears for more feedback on what needs improving.  

It's definitely been an adjustment to work full time again. Fitting work and parenting and dog-exercising and chores into a day is a challenge in and of itself, let alone trying to squeeze in writing and skating and other hobbies. 

If the pupster gets a full hour of off-lead exercise, then he snoozes while I work. For a while. Then we repeat the process again. 

Yet the scant free time isn't all bad. Weirdly, I find I'm more productive now with writing than I was before. I guess when I know I have very little time, I am more motivated to make the most of it. At the same time as I started my job, I also started a Wednesday night "write club" for SpecFicNZ members, where we get together on Wed night via Zoom and chat, then write for an hour, and chat again. That helps make sure I get some writing time in the thick of the work week. 

So, more good news: I've completed the draft of The White Serpent, a.k.a. the Cara novella, which, um, is no longer a novella but a short novel at 60,000 words. (Yikes! Longest "short story" ever.) I'm tweaking a few things about the ending and then it'll go off to beta readers while I work on the Lena and Ruslan stories that I hope will accompany it. Then it'll be back to The Dreaming Sea, which I hope will be better for the time spent percolating in my subconscious. 

I want to keep up my writing momentum, plus it's skating season and will soon be ski season, so I expect I'll remain pretty quiet online. I'd like to keep sharing all my New Zealand scenery pics somewhere where friends can see them, though. Twitter no longer seems like a good place for that, so I'm thinking I'll fire up my long-neglected Instagram account and see how that goes. If you want to de-stress with mountain and puppy pics, I'm happy to provide. 

Autumn brings calm, clear days