Monday, November 25, 2013

Something to aspire to

So Janet Reid, from whom much literary wisdom flows, posted about Michael Seese. He's a writer who just spent all of October submitting a story or poem or something each day. Which is awesome.

See, if you want to get published, it isn't enough just to write. This is a grave disappointment that each of us reaches at some point in our, er, "development". As I commented on Ms. Reid's post, nobody's going to do this for me. It isn't like Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery where her Uncle Jimsy finds her trunked manuscript, thinks it's good, and sends it off to a publisher who accepts it right off and BAM Emily is successfully published. She's one of my favorite L.M. Montgomery characters and, unlike the Anne books, the Emily books are only a trilogy.

So. We write but it isn't enough. We much write and spit shine and sand edges and shellack and polish. Then, we must write the Dreaded Query Letter™, which must be hooky and snappy and explanatory and not clichè unless it's just the right kind, and which must be a distilled 250 word form of mind control to make somebody want to read your pages. And request your full. Then talk contract. Then sign. Then send it around to publishers. The Dreaded Synopsis™ is in there somewhere too (and I need to write one for Learn to Howl come December, if I'm going to make the Angry Robot Books open submissions deadline).

So it's important to get your work out there. Get eyes on it (or ears on it, as I did last week with the help of my friend Jacob Burgess). Write, write, edit, write, and submit. Since I just received a rejection from Glimmer Train, I looked the story over again, edited it a bit more, and sent it off to Agni. I sent another one to Lakeside Circus, which is published by Dagan Books (I actually almost sent this one to Strange Horizons, then realized I'd already received that particular rejection from them. It pays to keep a spreadsheet for your submissions and rejections, kiddies!).

I don't have 31 spit-shined works of fiction to sub so I can do 1 a day for a month, but I've been poking around in my "Writing" folders, looking at what I thought was finished, what I know isn't finished, and all of those irritating files I have which are only a couple of sentences and were clearly meant to go in a direction at one time. I have stuff I can work with, and stuff I need to "bring up to code", as it were (removing 'that' whenever possible, that kind of thing). It's funny how organic a process writing is, how things change shape even as you're doing them.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Put this in your earholes!"

Cribbed from my voice actor friend, Jacob Burgess, "Put this in your ears" is exactly the sentiment I want to put across to you.

See, Jacob is doing a project where he reads a new story every week. This week, he did a fun (and funny) Scifi short story of mine entitled "Housekeeping".

You can find Jacob here on Twitter, here on Facebook, and he even actually has his own website, Make Words Happen. Give it a listen, and check out other great things he's done. Like his page, share stuff far and wide, etc. etc.

I hope you enjoy!

(You can also just listen to it here on Sound Cloud, but Sound Cloud doesn't appear to link to anything else, profile wise or anything, and that's frustrating to me. If I find somebody I like, where are the breadcrumbs to lead me to them? Maybe I'm just missing it.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Living History

The Smithsonian just came out with a book called The History of American in 101 Objects. They also had a full issue of their magazine devoted to said objects, if a bit more briefly than the book clearly does. Flipping through the magazine, I got caught up a moment on how many modern things were there. "How can it be history," I thought, "if it's modern?"

Well, silly me. Just because we're living it doesn't mean it isn't history.

Years from now, something that happened today will be history. Hell, something is history as soon as it's happened. Whether it's important history is to be decided later, obviously.

Some things are apparent. When Buzz Aldrin et. al. were on the Moon missions, it was history. They knew they were making history, living it. Funny thing: one of the 101 objects is Neil Armstrong's Space Suit. Another member of my household left the magazine folded open to that, and I happened to lay the book I'm reading, Moondust by Andrew Smith, on top before I took notice. I'm not very far into it, but the introduction was fantastic, and the first chapter is also delivering. I scored it in the library book sale for $1 the day after I decided I was writing a Moon novel. How's that for the universe taking notice?

I actually met one of the Moon landing astronauts, when I was 6 or so. He came to the Jersey Shore Medical Center, where my grandmother was a secretary in the Pathology department. I'm not really sure why the astronaut came to the hospital in 1989 or so, but whatever. The program was supposed to be for children 8 and older, but my dad lied so I could go. I didn't realize the importance, not really, but he realized for me. I'm thankful.

It was Charles "Pete" Conrad, and I have an autographed photo of him that my grandmother framed for me. He died in 1999 due to injuries from a motorcycle accident and is buried in the Arlington Cemetery. He was the commander of Apollo 12, and he was one of the first people to board Skylab.

One of the things I learned from American Gods, which I'm able to generalize a great deal, is a quote from Herodotus: "Call no man happy until he is dead." The notion being you can't take stock and make decision of an entire life until it is over (I may have paraphrased. I don't think it changes the point of the quote if I did.) I have, in the course of dog message board discussions, said "Call no man healthy until he is dead." Because that's the thing: if people are breeding dogs for health, they don't exactly know the "final results" until after a dog has lived his or her entire life. Some Dobermans drop dead as early as 2 or 3 from DCM. Others don't until they're 6 or 8. Some live a great deal longer. Some get cancer, some get bloat. But you don't know, not really.

But you don't know about anything. You just try to do the best you can.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Setting and Soundtrack

So I already discussed this in Theme Song: my actual 2013 NaNoWriMo project (as opposed to my original idea) is taking place at the Jersey Shore. And if you mention that reality show to me here in this space, so help me....

But yeah. Nostalgia city.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Question of Voice

In the 90's, if you picked up and read a Stephen King book, you damn well knew it was a Stephen King book. Even if it was a Bachman Book (which is something he addresses in the introduction to my worn, red covered paperback collection of The Bachman Books, of which Roadwork is probably my favorite, though it fights sometimes with The Long Walk). His voice was strong, familiar, recognizable. There were certain bits of diction, and dialogue tags, that would make you smile and nod your head. Yup, Steve is in fine voice today. This one's good for the long haul.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Two Year Anniversary

Two years ago, I wrote the Pilot post of this blog.

At the time, I was under contract to publish an anthology of short stories with a small press. The date kept getting pushed back, though, and then the publisher went on hiatus. So I asked for my rights back. Said publisher seems to not be operating as such any longer. So, I guess I dodged a bullet?

I started this blog with the purpose of "building my platform", getting people interested in my writing, et cetera. My intent for this blog has always been more than Buy My Book! shilling, though. I wrapped up that very first post saying

"I feel that a good writer needs to read.  I believe that a good writer learns about the world, and never stops learning, regardless of whether there's a classroom. Writing, authoring, is a process and a journey, and I hope you enjoy coming with me. "
I still believe these things; it's one reason I'll post on seemingly random topics, like black market rhino horns and James Bond's pants. They're things I've learned about, and find interesting, and all of that is story fodder. I will probably never write a story that revolves around said pants or rhinos, but it might come up in conversation. I might throw it in for flavor, a cultural reference instead of a literary one.

So, to those of you who are still reading, thank you! To those of you who are new, thank you and welcome! I hope you enjoy my crazy train of thought here, and I hope to one day be able to write a post in which I do, in fact, suggest that you buy my book.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My First Poe

My first Poe exposure was from the Simpsons. It was their very first Treehouse of Horror special, in the second season, in 1990. I realize now what a very long time the Simposons has been going, and also how long it's been since I've watched it (years and years). My dad would watch it with me, and In Living Color, which came on right before if I'm remembering right. He ascertained, correctly, that over-my-head jokes wouldn't bother me because they were, y'know, over my head.

But I digress.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Use a Goddamn ponytail holder

I've bitched about this on Twitter a couple of times, but limited characters means limited bitching. Plus, I keep seeing new instances.

The issue? Inappropriate long, loose hair.

As a frequent owner of long hair that is occasionally loose, I'm aware of when I should have my hair tied back. When cooking, for example. While walking the dog. While driving. I love my long hair, and get many compliments on it, but that doesn't mean I need to be all flowing locks all over the place.

Televisions shows and movies don't seem to understand this. If a woman is a woman, then her hair is long, and loose, and flowing! Otherwise, how will she be free?  (while obviously wearing some kind of titanium bra, because boobs do not move).

In Masterchef, a "reality show" I confess to enjoying, I see this a lot (men and women). They're in kitchens, they're doing challenges, they're cooking. Their hair should be pulled back. Gordon Ramsay et. al flip their shit if they find a hair in their food. It's gross. Pull your Goddamn hair back.

If I'm watching a female do action-y things, she should pull her hair back. Or have short hair; that's a pragmatic decision. I will engage in combat today, I don't need hair in my face and mouth. I don't need a three foot long handle for my opponents. But you've probably seen, say, Elektra, or at least ads for it. Nope, loose hair. I yelled at the screen for a lot of the movie; my fiancè was not pleased with this. This was also a frequent issue on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though I loved it dearly for several seasons. Also Firefly and Serenity.

My latest example: forensic scientists on the television show Hannibal. What's that, you're investigating a crime scene? Looking through microscopes or whatever at evidence? Pull your fucking hair back, because you risk contaminating things.

Do we cling to Victorian ideals of "a woman's crowning glory is her hair" so much that we need a woman in any and every role to have long, loose hair? This has nothing to do with strong women, or gender roles. It's common sense. Hair gets caught on things. Pulled hair is painful. Use a ponytail holder.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Steve was bitten by a zombie. Chelsea is coming down with cholera.

Me: I can't say I regretted going to Awakening, though.
Fiancè: I can. I wasn't even there, but I can regret it for the both of us. I'm Regretta Garbo.

Me: Wait, "The Girl From Ipanema" has words?
Male Coworker: Yes.
Other Coworker: Yes. Wait, why are you talking about "The Girl from Ipanema?"
Male Coworker: You're missing the point here. We both knew something that she didn't.

Me: So I was playing Organ Trail and live Facebooking it.  Like, my station wagon kept catching on fire---
Fiancè: Wait, you had fires in your station wagon?
Me: Yeah. Well, that would happen in Oregon Trail too, remember? But anyway, I blame that bitch Rolanda, who keeps getting typhoid and shit. And Larry got measles so I killed him. That shit's infectious.
Fiancè: Rolanda?
Me: Yeah. I was like "Rolanda, stop lighting up in here." And Larry got measles so I killed him. That shit's infectious.
Fiancè: What is wrong with you?


Bryan: and then you reach a point where you say "fuck this shit" and flip your goat. But you have to reach that point on your own. Nobody can teach it to you.

Fiancè: All right, but remember to share your flan
Me: After all, if you've got it, flan-t it!
Fiancè: is so hard not to stab you right now.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What you write with. Literally.

 Funny, I just wrote about office supplies, and now I read Flavorwire's Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors, which inspired me to write further about my own writing tools. Other than a computer, obviously. 

I do not like pencils. I never have. I probably never will. They're a "necessary evil" for gaming (character sheets require a lot of erasures, for your health if nothing else), and they were required in math class in school, but other than that, I don't use them. And I no longer have school, and thus little math.

I do like fountain pens, as many of the 20 writers the quoted article favor. I have a couple of cheap ones that tend to run out of ink through evaporation before I've written it all down. I've also used Varsity disposable ones, discovered in my college store. I just got a new one (brand forgotten already) from Walgreens. It's "steel" and the cardboard package is green; that's all I remember so far.

If I'm hand writing something, though, I like pens that are felt tipped. Flairs are great (pictured in my previous post with the rad wolf journal). Bic has some that aren't too bad. Sharpie pens are surprisingly disappointing; they're too rigid at first, the lines too draggy and skinny, and then they die soon after they're "just write". I do like a regular Sharpie, and occasionally I've written in a sketchpad using a Sharpie. This works well for the legibility of my handwriting as well. Like a kindergartener, a larger writing implement helps with my manual dexterity.

The (horrible) epic fantasy novel I wrote in high school was written using Pilot vball pens, and also sometimes Pilot precise, which had a way of leaking onto the first knuckle of my middle finger, leaving me with a smudgy blue smear. I flip flop between using blue ink versus black. More than 1000 pages handwritten on loose leaf, in one of those Pilots or the other. I'd like to think that I got it out of my system.

I've been on a black ink kick for several years now, so that might be the one that stays.

Monday, August 12, 2013

If only I still had my Petster

Remember Petsters anybody? Mine was a cat, with blue eyes.

For those who don't remember, Petster was a big round animal robot thing (my understanding is there were non-cat ones available as well) that rolled around on the floor, meowed once in awhile, and changed direction based on obstructions and sound. I have memories of using a Petster during a thunderstorm while my grandmother was vacuuming (which might have, in fact, caused its little robot brain demise. I don't remember).

So why am I talking about Petster? Well, Roomba really reminds me of it, actually. They're disc shaped, they have directional capabilities. Roomba, however, is considerably smaller than Petster was (the above linked article said it's seventeen inches long and nine inches tall, compared to Roomba's 13 inches long and 3 1/2 inches tall). Where. Uh. Where does the vacuumed up stuff go? Does it have an internal combustion engine which uses vacuumed debris to power its cleaning primary directive?

No, it docks in a wall charger.

Okay, and it's wireless, so there isn't a little vacuum tube that runs along the ceiling and directs the stuff to some internal house waste bin.

Teleportation? No, I don't think the science on that is quite up to par.

How Stuff Works has an article on Roomba how they work (which you should look at at least the first page of, because it shows a neat picture of the Roomba's cleaning algorithm, which determines the path it takes. Said article also says:

You typically need to empty the dirt bin at least once for each room the Roomba vacuums, and possibly two or three times depending on how dirty your floors are. Roomba doesn't know when the bin is full -- it just keeps going. There's a filter you'll need to replace when it gets too clogged, but there's no vacuum bag -- you just dump the bin and put it back in the unit.
 So, not as World of Tomorrow™as one might perhaps desire. It isn't intended for thick carpeting and it doesn't know when its internal dust bin is full. So, I guess we're still a ways away from a self cleaning house, so far as tiny robot vacuums are concerned. Of course, the Roomba is just the brand name one everybody knows about; somebody could be working on a Jetsons-style Rosie and we don't know yet, though God, is Rosie named that because of Rosie the Riveter? That's just as bad as the recent Swiffer commercials (and I already dislike Swiffer and will not buy them because of their Cesar Millan endorsements).

Friday, July 19, 2013

More Realistic Space Travel for a Brighter SciFi Future

I've mentioned numerous times (though not enough for them to give me money, apparently) that I'm a reader of Their articles tend to be well (or at least amusingly) written, they give lots of links, there are pictures. I don't watch the videos, or look at the fan photo things. No, I look at the list posts. In the past, has also filled this sort of "fascination niche" for me.

Though I'm not currently writing any kind of SciFi space offering, I intend to one of these days. I sort of did, for the NaNo of 2008. I'm pleased with parts of it, though not really the scale, and it's hung on enough of an Atlas Shrugged framework that the Ayn Rand institute would not appreciate my homage, I daresay.  What does this have to do with Cracked? Well, they have articles on space, as one might imagine. One in particular that caught my attention and my writerly focus is 6 Reasons Space Travel Will Always Suck. In science fiction, the concerns this article brings up aren't typically addressed, with few notable exceptions. The Cold Equations is one of them.

Also  (and I'm surprised at myself that I didn't talk about this here at the time. I meant to, certainly), I'm probably one of the only people in the world who, when they saw Chris Hadfield's "Space Oddity" cover, wondered if he smuggled that guitar onboard because I knew weight was such an issue with packing for space (though it occurs to me as well that I read Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, in which I'm sure she addressed these rules and their more recent changes). On December 16, 1965, the guys in the Gemini 6   in Earth's Orbit played "Jingle Bells" on their contraband sleighbells and teeny tiny harmonica, which you can see in this Smithsonian article.

Another Cracked article is the 6 Weirdest Dangers of Space Travel, including things like static electricity and being unable to stop. Less glamorous aspects of the Space Opera, certainly, and by "less glamorous" I mean "nobody in Star Wars once had a problem getting zapped by a random thing they touched." Or, for fun, draw your own comparison.

So, while Science Fiction I write is still going to be far more fictional than sciencey (that's just the way it goes), I'm still a big fan of using enough factual material to lend reality to the story I'm building. It's easier to suspend one's disbelief if there are facts in the mix; it makes the falsehoods a less bitter pill to swallow.

I'm still pretty sure I'll leave out the unicorns, though.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

James Bond's pants and the nature of suffering

I feel less bad for my inadvertent shoe hoard when I discover things like a blog devoted to James Bond's clothing. Which James Bond? Well, all of them of course. Including "Literary Bond". Ah, the Internet. Something for everybody.

Now, I'm not a huge James Bond fan. I of the Pierce Brosnan ones. I don't even know which one. There was a brunette, and a red car I think. I watched some of the Sean Connery ones when they were on TV in the summer while I was in high school, but I don't remember which ones. In all honesty, I probably just had the TV on while I was busy writing my tremendously bad fantasy novel.

I do like the Daniel Craig Bond films. I haven't seen Skyfall yet (NO SPOILERS) but I watched the others on DVD in the comfort of my home. I think I even own Quantum of Solace for some reason. I haven't read any of the Bond novels yet, though I did read Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was by Ian Fleming as well. The movie's casting has a bit of an in-joke, actually, as three James Bond movie actors were in it as well, confirmed by IMDB: Desmond Llwelyn, who played Q, Gert Fröbe who was Goldfinger, and Anna Quayle who was in the original Casino Royale.

The Bond stories are fairly compelling, though. Suave hero guy gets the girl (mostly), kicks some ass, and solves......well, whatever it is he's solving. My main detraction for the Craig ones is that there are. So. Many. Chase. Scenes. In cars. On Goddamn boats. On foot. People are fleeing James Bond, and he is after them, like one of the Queen's hunting hounds. I mean, I assume she has hounds, in addition to Corgis that bark all the time. Coincidentally, our across the street neighbors sometimes have a Corgi that barks all the time, causing Elka to bark as well. It's a grand time.

I will that that the foot chase at the beginning of Quantum of Solace with its parkour was pretty neat, and I had the added bonus of Bear Grylls telling me, while I was watching Man vs. Wild that British Special Forces uses it, prior to him running across a bunch of rocks and stuff. Bear Grylls makes me think of James Bond sometimes, given that they're both British, and also seem to have a stoic need to suffer. Bear Grylls' suffering is poignant, typically enacted when he's eating something horrible for the benefit of the camera. James Bond's is a bit more...visceral (that scene at the end of Casino Royale with the chair and the rope, anyone?)

Now, even though I haven't watched much Bond, as a child, I watched Danger Mouse. Religiously. I even remember the marathon that Nickelodeon had when it was going off the air. I remember watching episodes with my dad, and he didn't watch children's programming just to humor me, he definitely had to be able to stand it. It contains many of the same elements (it's supposed to), and I in fact got the complete collection on DVD from Woot! at some point last year. I haven't rewatched them yet; I'm not sure if they've stood the test of time for me (I know Dinosaurs sure hasn't, boy howdy).

What is it about suffering that makes characters more compelling for us? Fiction is rife with orphaned children, damaged war veterans, rape victims, and widows. So is real life, granted, but even when these things haven't happened to you personally, they seem to perform some strange function wherein they gain the audience's attention and relax the tight grip which we hold on our sympathies. Suffering and what a character does to overcome it seems to make them all the more real to us, evne if they're tux wearing sociopaths in Her Majesty's Service.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Just one more thing

I frequently have trouble going to bed. Want to do "just one more thing". Corollary, I'm sure, to the morning ritual of "five more minutes". I end up emailing or texting myself story or blog post ideas (like this one), dog groaning to sleep next to me, phone too close to my face in the dark because I've taken out my contacts.

I discovered, quite by accident, that while my phone has a miniature version of Word on it, there is no way to, using the Word app, send the file to myself. There is, however, a way to have my phone read it to me, which was startling to find out in the dark one evening. Text to voice programs tend to be fun, when one uses them voluntarily. Listening to the little robo voices can lend interesting perspective. And they are unforgiving if your sentences are crap.

Funny thing, though. In those dim days a few years back when Limewire was still legal, I got a copy of Ginsberg reading "Howl" at some university or another. It was amazing, because "Howl" is always amazing, but it was also interesting because he sounded somewhat like a text to voice program.  Obviously, there was a depth of feeling in Ginsberg's voice that I have yet to hear one of those canned voices replicate. I'm still wrapping my head around "Howl", even all these years later (though I can recite the beginning of it from memory), and I hesitate to declare what emotions I think those were necessarily. A certain defiance, but also a certain level of wistfulness. It's a unifying poem at times, particularly in the third part, with the "I'm with you in Rockland" refrain (which I've seen, on the Internet, make a neat tattoo).

The "I'm with you in Rockland" part makes me think of other...mental hospital? Sanitorium? poems. "Flee on your Donkey" and "The Music Swims Back to Me", both by Anne Sexton, both just as wistful. There's also a disarming level of frankness in Ginsberg's work, and Sexton's, that can at times make you check to see if anybody's watching you read. Or make you check to see if your fly is done or whatever.

Poetry, even if I don't like it so much, is so very naked at times. It lays you bare, past the clothing, flays you right down to the bone.Fiction, though I dearly love it and feel actually comfortable writing it, still leaves you a shirt at least. Most of the time. I think because it's longer it gives you time to catch your breath, adjust your mask.

This isn't to say there aren't fictional pieces like poetry. Sometimes the language a writer uses is just so. You savor it, rolling the words over in your mind like a smooth stone, or a new vintage at a wine tasting. You explore what they evoke. It's hard to maintain that paragraph after paragraph, page after page.

Monday, June 17, 2013

You could Google that. Or maybe you shouldn't.

I was going to include a different picture but I was afraid to Google it.  Oh, the times I wish I'd had such foresight!

Let's see. There's the time I found out "Asian Cowgirl" was a sexual position (see, I just figured that because there were Asians in the Wild West, at least one of them had to have been a cowgirl as well. Didn't even think twice and then....a .gif. Yeah.)

Plus, as we know, Rule 34 means there's porn of it. Is rule 35 that there's an infographic of it? Because I found an infographic of global porn searches, linked by Popular Science no less (NSFW, natch). It isn't actually what I know to be an infographic, and is rather more interactive than that. But it's what they're calling it, and who am I to argue with PornMD? I'm kind of weirded out now and feel like I need to wash.

Then of course there's the "couch diagnosis" Googling; the pictures from things of that nature can be harrowing. And I've had conversations with people (I haven't done this myself) who have done things like see if the rash (or whatever) they have matches up with the Google Image Search.

On the other hand, there is the joy of discovery in random Google searches. There's the Wikipedia freefall, which I feel applies to web browsing in general, not just Wikipedia. Or Cracked, for that matter. It's the "web" for a reason, I suppose.

Plus there's this lovely number. I'm not even sure what I Googled in the first place to find it. But I take it out once in awhile to look at.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tell the Truth

I follow The Worst Things for Sale blog. It goes without saying that there are many horrible things for sale, and I'm surprised there's only one blog on the topic (though I'm sure there are more. Perhaps even a Tumblr.)

Sometimes the object in question is.....well, I won't say "good". I'll say.....fascinating? Obliquely delightful? Like the USB polygraph. Now, I am not an officer of the law. Nor am I even a Private Investigator. I'm unlikely to be any of these things, ever (I have a distinct aversion to things like push ups and getting shot at), but can you imagine being out in the field with your laptop, and having a suspect make one of those "You can polygraph me any time you want! I'll take one of your lie detector tests!" and just...throwing down? Like, "Touché, sir, here it is and here you are. Buckle up!"

As The Worst Things for Sale says, though, "Official court opinions (including those of the Supreme Court) have been issued stating that polygraph results cannot be used as evidence due to their inaccuracy."  This is interesting, because 1. most people know at this point how to "beat" the polygraph (it was discussed in at least one of my college psychology classes, probably more) and 2. a local newspaper article on a murder and the fact that the suspect's girlfriend is "standing by him" has mentioned how she's taken a polygraph.

(again, I am not an officer of the law, but for the defense lawyer to say the dude's girlfriend is an "honest person of integrity", even though she was sleeping with the married man who is suspected of killing his wife who was, incidentally, her friend? Yeah, no. That one will not be a slam dunk for the defense.)

Despite what I know (or think I know) about the polygraph, it hadn't occurred to me to wonder if they were in fact still admissible in court. I am also, however, not a lawyer, so I think I'll just let this one lie. But, if you're interested, there is an American Polygraph Association. Can you imagine what their conferences must be like?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Demon, Out

They say the pope performed an exorcism on some guy from Mexico. Just out there, in front of God and everyone (heh), whilst walking through St. Peter's Square. I don't think he did.

Not because I don't believe in exorcisms, mind you. But because I believe if the pope is in fact an exorcist, he would not be so irresponsible as to carry one out off the cuff in public, without any level of preparation. I'm fairly confident in saying that no exorcist worth his salt would do such a thing. 

 Also, evidently, the man who the pope prayed for says he's still possessed, and will be so long as abortion is legal in Mexico City.

Now, far be it for me to think I know more about demonic possession than the guy who's demonically possessed, but if you say you're possessed by demons because God wants to send the world a message about sinners passing an abortion law......well, yeah. I mean sure, it's possible to really read into the book of Job and think of Satan as doing God's works (I guess he has to be, if God made him in the first place), or you're probably actually say, schizophrenic or some other mental illness. "I have a message that only God says I can give, with X condition".

This is actually an important facet of modern exorcism (to the Catholic church, anyway): it is necessary to determine that the patient is not, in fact, simply mentally ill. This is one reason (I think) people in movies and things always have such a terrible time getting the Church to help them. If just anybody who was all "lol, possession" could get an exorcism, it diminishes the weight of the matter. The Bart Simpsons of the world would amuse themselves by filling out the web form and getting priests to come to their house. It's also an unfortunate facet of some peoples' mental illness that they think God is punishing them, or the Devil is speaking to them, or has done something to their children.

People of other religious affiliation are apparently not so fastidious, as we hear tales of autistic children dying at the hands of misbegotten exorcists. These are not, I will hasten to point out, Catholic exorcisms, but rather Born Again flavored instead. This isn't to say that there has never been a death in a Catholic exorcism; the case of Anneliese Michel comes to mind. The movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on her case, and really what got me interested in the niceties of all this to begin with. See, I am Catholic, but grew up in the 80's. Mass was not in Latin, and Sunday School was, regrettably, a little more like Catholic Arts and Crafts other than the years where we were taking a sacrament. They didn't tell us a whole lot of the "good stuff" (not unlike history class in school, really). I can make a nice rosary, at least.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What is that called, anyway?

So, I got an email from CampNaNoWriMo that they're "cleaning out the cabins" or whatever in anticipation of the July session. I groaned a little, thinking a number of things. Isn't this camp motif being taken a bit too far? (I, being the antisocial person I am, opted out of cabins) Isn't July too soon? Do I really want to do this again?

Then I thought, well, I could write my memoir, but fictionalized. I don't mean with like, added superpowers or anything; just filling in blanks and telling a story that isn't entirely mine, but with some of my details. I've actually had people (well, my grandmother) tell me that I've had an interesting life. I dunno. It's my life. Obviously I'm enamored of it, but that's not necessarily a commercially reliable thing. I like a lot of things that were not commercially successful, like     and the movie Push (which you should watch if you haven't).

Then I thought, wait, what the hell is that called? It's not properly a memoir. Nor is it properly a novel. There's the "autobiographical novel", which sounds all well and literary, but not really waht I'm talking about. Here's a list of Top 10 Infamous Fake Memoirs, but it's really kind of boring and doesn't really get juicy until #8 (A Million Little Pieces which, working at a library, I saw some of the fallout of that "reveal". Including a woman in her 70's who slide it across the counter with a disgraced moue, saying "I am so disappointed." I then had to read it, of course. So, lady, disappointed? In what, that he wasn't actually a degenerate junkie scumbag? This is another one of those books I'm a bit shocked and perhaps appalled that my grandmother has read, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and #9 (Love and Consequences, which I had never heard of before and sounds hilarious). I actually keep waiting to hear that Dave Pelzer actually made all of his shit up. People steal A Child Called It all of the time, and I'm unclear as to why. Pointers? Rolling papers? It certainly isn't "inspirational", though I suppose perhaps it's intended to be.

But, I digress.

I'm coming up with my own name for "fictionalized memoir" or "autobiographical novel". And that, my friends, is "moirvel". Say it with me. It's a bit like "marvel", which every life is, of course (*cue the rising music*). I wondered about novoir, which sounded like it should have to do with noir, which my writing only has when I wrote some short stories for my coworker. Memnov sounds like a Russian chess player or perhaps nuclear scientist (or both!)

Nope. Moirvel. I'll make the tshirts if you want 'em. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Excuse me, is your brain fluid leaking? Well hadn't you ought to stop it?

In recent years, I've seen not one, but two! instances of somebody whose leaky nose turned out to be brain fluid. I don't think it's unreasonable to be alarmed about such a thing.  I mean, really, brain juice should stay in your brain. This is one of those incontrovertible personal truths, like preferring your blood to also stay on the inside. Apparently, your cereobrospinal fluid can also leak out of your ear. Isn't this delightful?

I mean really, in this most recent incident of SCSFLS (spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak syndrome, because everything needs an acronym), the man's nose had been running for eighteen months. I guess intermittently, one would think. Perhaps temporarily cleared by blowing his nose? I have no idea. It freaks me out. Especially because in the most recent incident, the patient also ended up with meningitis, perhaps because whatever it is that normally keeps one's brain juice in had been compromised, allowing for the entrance of bacteria.

In the prior incident I read about, the woman had only let it go on for four months, rather than eighteen. Her leak seemed worse, granted, but I wonder if this kind of thing is also representative of who is willing to say, pick things up that got knocked on the floor, and who just hopes those things will go away or get taken care of by somebody else?

But, I digress. There are other symptoms that go with SCSFLS like tinnitis and vertigo (and, y'know, a disproportionate amount of not-snot coming out of your nose). It's apparently a rare thing, but it's alarming enough to make me wish there was a test kit you could get at Walgreens. You know they have a section by the pharmacy where you can buy paternity test kits and drug test kits? The pregnancy tests, though, they leave those by the condoms. Which are also in the sock aisle. Again, I'll let you draw your own conclusion regarding the significance of that detail. But would it be a bad idea, to have a cerebrospinal fluid test kit? I think it would be worth the peace of mind, if you don't have a cold, don't have allergies, and you're on week three of nasal weeping with no health insurance in sight.

I wondered about the treatment of SCSFLS and spent a moment starting to Google that. Then, in this abstract here, I noticed one of the methods mentioned was "Gelfoam" and that made me think of the Fix a Flat stuff that you inflate/seal your flat tire with long enough to get to a gas station or whatever. And I figured I was about done.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Teddy Fucking Ruxpin

Housemate: I made a bad choice. I just brushed my teeth and tried to eat this. I'm going to put it back in the fridge until I can chew it properly and not feel horrible about myself.

Fiancé, catching sight of Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls on the coffee table: What the hell are you reading?

Mahria: You know what I get a lot? "Why do you know that?"
Me: Me too! And "What is wrong with you?!"
Mahria: Yeah, that too. Sometimes people say "Why are you so nice?"
Me: No, people never say that to me. 

Me: Val Kilmer was amazing in Tombstone.
Coworker: Aw, come on, Top Gun?
Me: He was a dick in Top Gun.
Coworker: He was a good dick.
Me: You're a married woman!

Fiancé: What are you so happy about?
Me: Teddy Ruxpin, and Grubby, and the airship tape. $19.95
Tim: What? Where?
Me: Ebay.
Fiancé: You're not bringing that into the house
Me and Mahria: It's Teddy Fucking Ruxpin. And Grubby!
Bryan: What's Grubby? A dirty bear?
Me: No. His friend who was a grub. Duh.
Fiancé: I never understood why he had a friend who was a grub eiher
Me: You know, I think I still have the airship tape
Fiancé: I'm going to work now.
Me: I might also still have a Hugga Bunch tape.
Door closes.

Housemate: And now I'm typing only in symbols. You must understand what I'm saying. Goddammit fingers. I mean really, it's /?>

Coworker: I've heard about that selling your eggs thing, but I don't know what's involved.
Me: Oh, well you take medications so your cycle lines up with the woman who will be implanted or whatever, and then when you ovulate, they go in and take it. I guess it's kind of like a crane game.
Coworker: What is wrong with you?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Collecting collections

I have a thing for picking up rocks. It's something I've always done, perhaps fostered by growing up on the shore gathering shells and beach glass. I've never sought an explanation, really. It's a thing I do.

My fiancé, though, finds it a little odd. Perhaps a further example of my "touched" nature. He doesn't really discourage me from it, just teases me when he sees evidence of what I've gathered. like lately, when I emptied out my on-loan laptop bag for my swag new one: I had a number of plastic figures, some animal, some not. I had a couple of rocks. And I had a little "medicine bag", given to me by a coworker who's recently left. He looked at my gatherings, examined the medicine bag, and (quite diplomatically, I think) said that I should take up leatherworking, so I can make my own medicine bags to put these batches of things in. My own "big medicine."

(Disclaimer: I am not Native American in any way, and these comments are not made in a denigrating or derogatory manner. It's just that, if there is medicine, personal is better.)

I've got a couple of completely round rocks that I've found. Round and flat.

I've got a piece of beach glass that's almost the entire bottom of a light blue bottle. Finding beach glass nowadays is rare, what with things like recycling instead of ocean dumping. Finding blue glass (even though this was light blue) is even more of a rarity. Though according to the article I linked, orange is the most rare. And, thinking on it, I can say that I don't think I've ever seen a single piece of beach glass that was orange; of course, orange also one of my least favorite colors, so I didn't really miss it.

I had a dream the other night wherein I just had to go fishing. I'm not sure what I was after, but I was using one of my dad's saltwater poles (Rhino brand, I believe it was). I happened to idly look through the little canvas fishing backpack he sometimes used; in one of the inner pockets was a collection of several rocks he had to have found, of varying sizes and shapes, a piece of beach glass that was part of the vertical tube of a bottle neck (brown), and some beads that looked like the king faces from a suit of cards. Later in the dream, I was at my grandparents' house, and realized my grandfather had secreted the fortunes from every fortune cookie he'd ever eaten in a side compartment on the couch (this one was rather odd, as I don't think they have Chinese food very often, nor have they had the same couches for, y'know, 80 years).

I guess it's a point of interest to disclose that my "senior quote" in my high school yearbook (they let us pick a quote to put under our senior picture, which were all uniformly taken at the school in the summer, with black shoulder wrap things provided for the girls and suit things provided for the guys) was "It is perhaps a better destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire", attributed (that I know of) to Robert Louis Stevenson.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Something to relate to

I haven't yet read a book by Hilary Mantel, but after reading Hilary Mantel: By the Book on the New York Times website, I was amused and intrigued. I can definitely relate to having a somewhat strange vocabulary as compared to those around me. I also was largely surrounded by adults, which really inhibited any board game play, let me tell you. People would buy me board games, but then hardly anybody would ever actually play them with me. As an adult now, I can understand. Sometimes it's less than fun to play kid games, even with precocious kids.

Interestingly, also like Hilary Mantel, I received collections of Children's Illustrated Classics for things like Christmas or my birthday, and so was exposed to Great Expectations, Black Beauty (which I don't know how I didn't mention in this post), and others when I was very young. I remember the copy of Kidnapped was misprinted, and so restarted on page 71 or so, and then jumped to 221 in the middle of that, so I've still not read the whole story. I also never revisited Great Expectations, even during my Dickens reading period at 11 or 12.

Mantel recommended a book in her "By the book" article as well (as another author has shown up this week, I guess it's going to be a regular thing in the times. Which is pretty rad, really), entitled Religion and the Decline of Magic, by Keith Thomas, which I feel I must get my hands on. Of course my library system doesn't have it, but the paperback is reasonably priced on Amazon; it's not one of those mythic out of print books you hear about and only see surface every once in awhile for hundreds of dollars.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Top 5 Posts (in my opinion) from Before I was Cool

Of course, that's assuming I'm cool now. But, soldiering onward, here are five posts that I particularly like, for one reason or another, that are in the archives.

1. Where Am I to Go, Now That I've Gone too Far: written when there was a piece floating around on the Interweb about whether Young Adult writing had gotten "too dark" (plus, I like the song the title is pulled from. "Twilight Zone", by Golden Earring. You should listen to it.)

2.  Notes to Myself: Self explanatory. I still do this, as bad if not worse. I have a blog post in the making regarding the belongings I cleared out of the laptop bag prior to the one I own now (you know, the Thomas Dunne bag!)

3. Brain Tricks: Written soon after the Sandy Hook shootings took place, though not really about that specific incident.

4. Putting Yourself in Their Shoes (or Head) ~Schizophrenia: This one apparently gets Google searched a lot (the topic, anyway. Not my blog specifically).

5. City in Ruins: Wherein I talk about my "favorite" abandoned city. Because of course I have one of those. It would be rather odd not to.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Your tongue is your ambassador

Fiancé: Your head has too many angles, like a thirty sided die.
Me: So what, I can play that French racing game?
Fiancé:Wow, good on you for coming up for a place the d30 is actually used. I have a keeper.

Bryan: I assume it's so high fantasy that you can't breathe the air up there.

Coworker: We were watching the beginning of the walking dead, and [my Fiancé] felt bad about the horse.
Me: Well that was totally Rick's fault. He was too much of a pussy to go into that house with the dead people.
Coworker: After all he's seen.....
Me: No. It's the zombie apocalypse. You go big or go home.
Coworker: YOLO.

Me: Look, it's the Bremen Town Musicians!
Fiancé: Does anybody ever know what the fuck you're talking about?

Bryan: I loved the fuck out of Sailor Moon at the time. Look at their faces. And it's stupid. Tuxedo Mask. Dumb as shit.

Fiancé: It's a fourth wall breaking knife YOU'RE IN A VIDEO GAME.

Me laughing
Fiancé: What are you doing?
Housemate: I just told her that I didn't know where we should put curtains.
Fiancé: They go on windows.

My fortune cookie: Your tongue is your ambassador
(I laughed until I cried. For five to ten minutes. While the rest of the table kind of awkwardly finished their meal.)

Me: So the AKC is following me on Twitter now.
Fiancé: They should. You're a crime against dogmanity.
Me:  .....what?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nature red in tooth

So, part of my job "requirement" is to be up on the news, in case patrons talk to us. They don't, much, other than to bitch. But, things happen. So, I saw this headline in The Atlantic: Walk for your lives! Deadly giant snails are invading Texas!  I was intrigued, of course.

Before I clicked on the article, I also (of course) immediately had expectations. Perhaps you've read the delightfully chilling short story by Patricia Highsmith (yes, of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley fame)? "The Quest for Blank Claveringi"? I think I first read it in an Alfred Hitchcock short story collection in 6th or 7th grade. I honestly thought you could read it online, but am having a hard time locating it.

 (Giant African Snail, from Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Six degrees

So, my trains of thought (perhaps crazy trains? Though Crazy Train is the best song ever.) are odd voyages. I don't normally think so, because they're in my head. Normally I just think they're interesting, but sometimes by the time I open my mouth to share with somebody, I just get a completely blank look. So then I have to explain how I got there.

Example: I was telling one of my coworkers that the fiancé  and I were watching Hemlock Grove on Netflix (which, by the by, is quite good so far if you haven't watched it. I'm only up to episode 6 or something. I don't know how many there are. No spoilers). Only I kept wanting to call it Cypress Grove, for no good reason. Which made me think of China Grove, the Doobie Brothers song. Which then made me think of this Juicy Fruit commercial:

Once I'd explained this train to my coworker, she said "Your six degrees are always....interesting." I kind of laughed, and then thought on that for awhile. Because most people play the Six Degrees From Kevin Bacon game, but I don't really care about Kevin Bacon (though he's been very good on The Following, which I'm also not up to date on. But, James Purefoy is a serial killer, and that's what got me watching it in the first place. No spoilers.) So I asked her (probably after far too long a pause): "Six degrees of what?"  She said "What?" I explained that most people do the Kevin Bacon thing. So what was I doing? She looked mystified. So then I figured it could be dogs. Because after Juicy Fruit, there's the Big Red commercial, also from the 80's, where at the end the kissing couple is pulled apart by an Olde English Sheepdog.

Then I told the story to my fiancé, who said he would have taken it in a different direction, Big Red to Clifford, the Big Red Dog. Which is all well and good, but "Big Red" can also go in two animal directions. It's the title of a book by Jim Kjelgaard about an Irish Setter, or it's the nickname people usually use for horses. If I remember right, both Man o'War and Secretariat were called "Big Red" by the people around them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Black market rhino horns, Irish Gypsies, and bitcoins

So, I promised you in A Lesson in Reading Labels that I would tell you a tale of international rhino horn sales. These are not, of course, legal rhino horn sales, because it seems there isn't such a thing any longer. It also would seem that Vietnam's nouveau riche has taken it into their heads that rhino horns are hallucinogenic, and will drink them ground up in wine (which, strangely, is a lot like the "identify" spell in 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, only that required a pearl ground up in wine). Rhino horns are made of keratin; y'know, the stuff our hair and fingernails is made of? Somebody should be making a killing off of these people selling "already ground rhino horn" that is in fact something more like "sweepings off the barber shop floor". Recycling, and it would serve them right.


Monday, May 13, 2013

A Dovetail of Interests

Last week on the Poodle (and Dog) blog, there was a post about an anthropologist and his dog. The kicker is that both have shuffled off this mortal coil. The anthropologist, Grover Krantz (evidently"the world's foremost Bigfoot expert") donated his remains to The Body Farm in Tennessee on the condition that his dogs must not be separated from him. Doug Owsley, a Smithsonian Institute forensic anthropologist (and one of the people who identified bodies at Waco, Texas, after the raid on the Branch Davidians), used Dr. Krantz's remains along with those of one of his beloved Irish Wolfhounds in an exhibit, which shares a title with Owsley's book, Written in Bone: Bone Biographer's Casebook. Doug Owsley is not to be confused with Owsley Stanley, the storied LSD provider (cooker, even?) for the Grateful Dead. Only so many degrees away, though, I guess.

Well. These two things are a match made in heaven for me. Dogs and forensics? Perfect!

The Body Farm (Colloquially named; its actually the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center), if you don't know (have I posted about it before? If not, I've been remiss), is where forensic students may study the decay of human bodies in various conditions. That's right; people who donated their bodies to science may then be out in the elements, in a garbage bag, in a car, etc. so that scientists may better learn about the stages of decomposition in those circumstances. Having hard observations of such things are extremely valuable when discerning cause and time of death in a death investigation. Bill Bass has written several fantastic books on the topic, and it's also mentioned in Mary Roach's book Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers (a book I really just ought to own).

Anthropology is another one of those "missed majors" I had in college. I really enjoyed the anthropology classes I took, but it never occurred to me to switch to that from psychology. Might I have been happier? Might I have discovered my interest in forensics all those years ago instead of now, and have collegiate education in it instead of my frenetic layperson's research? It's funny; the job my grandmother had for years and years was as a secretary in the hospital where I was the pathology department. I spent a little bit of time there in her office, every once in awhile, if there was a gap in daycare, or secretary day, or really I don't know why I was there. But I remember spending some time on one of those visits drawing animal "skeletons" and telling people I was going to be a veterinarian. I may or may not have received a Barbie veterinarian just prior to that visit, complete with pink scrubs in dress form, a white coat, and a white dog. I'm sure her shoes were white pumps as well, for the total practicality. I certainly know I didn't really know what skeletons looked like at the time. But it's funny to think back on these little breadcrumbs through my life, and put together my interests now, and paths I could have taken.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Why Rummage Sales are Worth It

At times, I'm bad about impulse purchasing. I've really improved, and was never a shopaholic, but I do have a compulsion to go to rummage sales, rubberneck at garage sales, and periodically peruse Salvation Army (which really, you should, as you end up with pieces of the Berlin Wall, or a Sushi cookbook in Spanish that you can give a friend for Christmas). I'm not quite so bad as, say, Gallagher's wife, whose explanation (per his standup routine) was "But it's on sale! Somebody else might buy it! Then it's our stuff in somebody else's house!" But I've felt like that on occasion. I don't want to miss something that would change my life.

So. The church next to the library has a twice yearly (at least) rummage sale, in the Spring and at Christmas. I go to it regularly, even though 4 out of 5 times, I don't find anything I need. But, I've been looking for a laptop bag for some months now. I had a bag that was suede (or more like wash leather, I guess) from Wilson's Leather, but it was Jim's, on perpetual loan. Then the strap started fraying because for a little while I had a paracord bracelet on it, and though it was plastic, it started the woven strap unraveling. So. Rather than thoroughly ruin his bag, I sought a new one.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Horse Crazy

The horse I picked to win the Kentucky Derby did not. I'm disappointed, but not, because had he won, I would not have won any money. I don't bet on the Derby, nor do I have the opportunity to watch it in real time. Once a year, I just look at the horses, glance at their pedigrees, and make my choices. Really, I thought Revolutionary was going to win, because he had such a beautiful head. I almost put Orb (the actual winner) on my list because he was the only one with Nijinsky in his lines, and then I did not. I picked Java's War, and then Mylute because black horses are my favorite (and, had Mylute won, it would have been the first time a female jockey rode to victory in the Kentucky Derby). Interestingly, every horse in the derby seemed to have Native Dancer in his pedigree; I didn't realize we'd reached such a bottleneck with thoroughbreds. A couple had Secretariat and thus also Seattle Slew.

 (public domain image of Churchill Downs May 14 2008 from Wikimedia Commons)

I first read The Black Stallion by Walter Farley when I was six or seven. I fell in love with every aspect of it; the survival story near the beginning, the friendship between the boy and the horse, the pounding crucial heartbeat of the track. I of course thought my adult life would be devoted to horses and horse racing, nevermind that I had, to date, only been on a couple of pony rides at fairs. In fifth grade, my class went to some thing that they had at Brookdale Community College for elementary school writers. One of the classes was with Walter Farley's brother, whose name escapes me, and he had a little "contest" for the essays we wrote for him. I won, and got a copy of The Black Stallion's Filly, in which he wrote his brother would have wanted me to continue writing. That thrilled my ten year old soul.

My family did not run out and rent or buy me a horse (probably wise of them). I got many of the Walter Farley books, and books on horses. I got  a few lessons a summer, probably about 6 Thursdays a year, given to me on my birthday in July, starting when I was 8 or 9, finishign the year I turned 15 (16 was the year I took a 10 day trip to Ireland with one of the local schools, and then I had a job after that. It never occurred to me, I guess, that I could get my own lessons.) When we went to Cape Hatteras, one of my aunts or the other would take me for the hour long horse ride you could "rent" there, walking on trails on the widest portion of land that the sandy spit in the ocean has. Pure heaven, all of it.

It's a particular smell, horse. The sweat of the horse, and your sweat. The saddle leather, the horse's mane, the hooves when you pick out the packed dirt and hay. The dust from a horse ring is so very fine as it hangs in the air and settles in the lines of your knuckles, the seams of your jeans.  The carrots in your pocket for the end of it, when you've walked the horse and rubbed him down. You become aware of balance as a Thing, a cantilever of toes, knees, hips, shoulders. You hold the reins in your hands gently, as though they're raw eggs that you might crack. You pay attention to the breathing animal beneath you, ears flicking just ahead of your gaze, head bobbing with the steps. The horse, those lesson horses, they know what you should be doing. You learn from them, and from the teacher, standing down there in the dirt watching you and calling out directions.

My fiancé even went to far as to tell me, in college, that he would buy me a horse if I never got a motorcycle. He's never bought me a horse, per se, but Elka is pretty close. I've heard that a lot of Doberman people are horse people, in fact. She's big, she possesses that sort of equine grace and gallop, and sure stomps on us pretty frequently (more than horses ever did, in fact). I know so much better, now, how to listen. How to read shifts of muscle, stiffness of lines. If I ever make it back to horses, I can only hope that even as an adult novice, I'm more perceptive than I was as a teenager, easier on mouths, less stiff of back.

The memories are so very vivid for me even now. Certain smells bring me back to a riding ring, or the summer sky a certain particular shade. We've all got memories like this, locked away in the recesses, to be brought back by a smell, or taste, or texture. These are the goldmines that we writers loot when we have the chance, because to make things that much more real is to make your story that much more alive.

Zenyatta is the horse to listen about here: Watch how she comes from dead last to second. Her jockey erred gravely at the beginning and she still almost won.

Friday, May 3, 2013

When Seahorses Attack

Me: Why would you cry at your wedding? Maybe I am a sociopath.

Me: Nobody puts Debra in the corner. Okay, now we have to sing Time of Your Life. From Dirty Dancing, not Green Day. What a different movie that would have been! Where would you even do the lift in that?
Coworker: Nope, I'm done.

Patron: I used to drive for two people, but they've since died.
Me: Yes, that happens. *After she's gone, I turn from the desk to see both my coworkers, red-faced to keep from cracking up.* What?
Coworker: She's all "Those people died" and you're like "Yeah, they do that."

Fiancé *making a character on Dragon's Dogma*: Can I get bushier eyebrows on this? I want like, caterpillars having sex.
Housemate: They don't put that in games anymore.

Overheard from the porch party across the street: "I'm a PUREBRED, man, I can't break the bloodline!"

Again from the party across the street: "Steve, put the Goddamn cigarette away! Put the cigarette away, we're dancing!"

Coworker: Aren't pandas the gentlest of bears?
Me: Maybe the laziest. They don't even have sex right.
Coworker: What?
Me: Pandas in captivity. They don't reproduce right for some reason, so they show the panda porn.
Coworker: Why do you know this? Does Jim know you know this?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Categorizing Categoricals (themes, genres, age groups....)

I've realized (or perhaps known for a long time) that many of my novels (not necessarily the stories) are hung on a framework of restaurants and road trips. My recent delight in Google Street View has fostered this, as one must imagine, but even before Street View, I did this. I think part of it has to do with the impression that characters undergoing physical motion are getting somewhere. No pun intended. The characters drive somewhere, the plot moves. Certain things happen at certain landmarks. Read American Gods; Neil Gaiman does it. Read Neverwhere; he does it again. Read The Sun Also Rises, and Hemingway does it too. Characters in motion are learning and growing and speaking in motion, and so the plot carries itself along. Most books don't take place in one room. Even As I Lay Dying involved travel, motion, momentum. The Grapes of Wrath.

I say "my novels" in as grand a way as possible, of course. They live on my hard drive. Not a single other living soul has read them. I'm working to change that, obviously (it's always after something, though. After I finish this next draft. After I finish the query), but that's how it currently stands. I've even been researching agents who seem to be looking for what I offer! Genre wise, I mean. Not riveting descriptions of snarky conversation over coffee in a Southern roadside diner.

My short stories are less restaurant and road trip themed; I'm not sure I could attribute any one label to them. They aren't "literary" either, though that term for me has become so elastic I'm not sure it would hold my pants up. What is literary? What is genre? What the fuck does it matter? I mean, some things are so genre it hurts, and they've become a parody of themselves. You can look at a cover image and know how things are going to go, whether virtue is going to be chastely lost on page 120 after the gloves are taken off, or whether the main female character will be a badass, or whether the main male character will be somewhat bumbling but good-hearted. My short stories are not really O. Henry Award or Pushcart Prize contenders; it would be cool if maybe one of them made it into something like The Best American Nonrequired reading (Which tend to be awesome and interesting yearly collections; I especially like the year that had "The Death of Mustango Salvaje", which was about a female bullfighter. 2005? David Eggers may have been the editor). I like trying to think of story as character driven; perhaps my time as a tabletop role playing gamer has fostered this. Perhaps not. I once won second place in the Dungeons and Dragons "competition" at a gaming convention. I got a Hellboy t-shirt (it's when the first movie came out).

Which then brings me to the age categories for the novels. Children's (nope), MG (middle grade; nope), YA (Young Adult, which I guess my Steampunk offerings would probably fall under. They're full of plucky heroines, friendship, and fairly clean), the Learn to Howl Books (this is a toughie. I think they're Adult, though the narrator, Allie, is young. Like 17 young. But, the narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is very young, and so was Scout Finch, and so is Huckleberry Finn, and Alan Bradley's main character, and those are "adult" books. But I keep hearing this term "New Adult" bandied about. Do we need that? What makes one thing one way and another not?").

Does genre affect classification? The Alan Bradley books (the first is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) are Mysteries. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is typically shelved in the Adult Fiction section (that I know of), and is certainly viewed as literary. The Chronicles of Narnia typically involve children, and my library has them in the Juvenile section (MG, I'd guess, in publisher speak). I'm trying to think of science fiction novels with younger characters. Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright starts out at a boarding school, and revolves around known world mythologies; shelved in the adult section (in my library system). Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children; mostly adult, though some libraries in the system have it in YA.

Is it something worth fighting over? Is there any kind of "stigma" attached to being a "Young Adult Author" who then writes grown up books? An adult author who switches to YA? In the eyes of a lot of the reading public I interact with, there seems to be. There are people who were excited for a new John Grisham......until they realized it was YA. People who didn't read Harry Potter for its age designation (and, presumably, the fact that it was about magic) are clamoring for The Casual Vacancy. 

Frankly, I feel that "real" readers read across the genres, the ages, ignore the foiled covers, sink their teeth into the wordy worlds nestled in the pages. But sometimes I'm put off by a cover, or a blurb. I don't really read mysteries (though I will read thrillers, and there's some overlap there). I'll still read picture books (This is Not My Hat is one of the best that's come out recently, as its Caldecott win attests), Jay Asher's YA Thirteen Reasons Why, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Juvenile), etc. etc. Good books are good books, across age and across genre.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A lesson in reading labels

So, I've given up soda, yet again. But I'd been reading some on artificial sweeteners, and was becoming increasingly alarmed. And drinking diet soda had clearly not been doing me any favors on the weight front. So. Cold turkey, no soda, diet or otherwise. I've done this a few times now (and even talked about it here at least once); maybe this time it'll stick. I've been drinking coffee (with milk and cocoa in it) and tea and lots and lots of water.

So. We have an iced tea maker I got at Wal-Mart for like ten bucks, which is a quick and fabulous way to have readily drinkable tea in the house. Typically we go for green tea, and then I'll use like, three bags of green tea and one of chai, or two green two Earl Grey, that kind of thing. We ran out of our regular green (though there is some in a multipack we have, now that I think about it) and so I got a new box (also at Wal-Mart, ugh) the other night. I guess I didn't really read the box (mostly because my misanthropy is such that by the time I make it to the tea in Wal-Mart, it is only through sheer strength of will that I don't lose my shit). I was doing some dishes, and making a cup of coffee, and I turned around when I heard the tea maker stop dripping because I was going to unplug it and was like "OH MY GOD, BLOOD TEA!"

Only the dog was awake to share my dismay. She was more concerned with her rhino. I would be too; I just spent some time down the rabbit hole of international rhino horn sales. But that is a post for another day.

As it turns out, the tea is strawberry orange green tea, not just green tea. Red antioxidant green tea, which is made with hibiscus and rooibos and stuff. So, all right. But that was kind of a bad surprise. Read the labels, kids, or else you too might end up with blood tea.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Word Association exercise

Word associations can almost make a poem in and of themselves, no matter where you start. Now, whether that poem makes sense to anybody but you is up in the air, but what's that Stephen King says? Write your first draft with the door closed, edit with the door open? That's a lot like "write for yourself", isn't it? That's what so many of us do, isn't it? I say that a lot, probably. Because really, who else am I writing for right now? A hypothetical future? Hypothetical children who will be embarrassed by my badness or boldness?

You can start with a simple thing. A state.

Bruce Springsteen
Asbury park
sun gold summer
dewy green grass
lightning bugs at dusk
stars in the gloaming
Cheshire smile moon
Andy did you hear about this one?

The words that come out of you can be a punch in the stomach, a slap in the face. Writing is so private and so raw, sometimes. We're naked, it the audience knows how to look. We're inscrutable if they don't. Friends, strangers. Sometimes it doesn't matter. The worlds in our heads are of our own creation, and the windows we create to them can be so small.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quotes around the house (and work)

Housemate: I'm really hungry. But I ate all the cereal.
Me: I'm sorry. Wait, no you didn't, there's rice squares.
Housemate: I don't want rice squares.
Me: Why not? You  can put sprinkles on them!
Housemate: Where do you come from?! 

Coworker: Wait, what are you talking about?
Me: Forensics. Really, what do I ever talk about, other than that, nukes, and dogs. Well, and serial killers. Which is forensics again when you think about it.

While playing D&D (well, Pathfinder):
Me (to housemate): That's right, I hit your box!
Tim: You can't hit her box back.
Mahria: That's not a friendly square.

Me: You don't understand me!
Fiancé: Oh, I understand what you're saying. I just never know why, or what you're doing exactly. 

Me: Well, that's a nice little town. Apartments there might be cheaper, too.
Coworker: Yeah, but they had that murder suicide there recently.
Me: They did, but those things are usually pretty self contained.
Coworker: I guess they are, but there is definitely something wrong with you.

Me: According to this, apparently Funny Foam has/had butane in it.
Coworker: Maybe that explains the things you're interested in.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Process

My process, such as it is, tends to be rather private.

Or, at any rate, I'm not really social while I'm writing. When I'm really into it, sleepwalking the dreamscape of my inner mullings, transposing them onto the page, I don't want to be bothered. I don't want to talk. I don't want to be interrupted.

Sometimes I listen to the same song, over and over. For the mood I'm in, or the emotions it evokes, or the memories it dredges up from that subconscious I try to mine while I'm awake. For The Last Song, there have been a few songs: "One", covered by Warren Haynes at Bonnaroo. "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", covered by Nirvana. A lot of Nirvana in general. "Everlong", by the Foo Fighters, both the acoustic version and the regular album one.

I remember the first time I heard the acoustic version of Everlong. It was on the radio, probably Rat Rock, and I was driving home uncommonly late one night. Had I gone to see a movie? That seems likely. I was in my Honda, a 1992 five speed hand me down from my dad, with its Grateful Dead Space your Face sticker in the rear passenger window, and the Shrinky Dink fish, fishing lined to the rearview mirror. It was summer, so all of my windows were down (I eschew air conditioning, for one, and it had also broken in said Honda a year or two previous on the return drive from Cape Hatteras, NC), and it was the dewy, overcast pink skied Jersey Shore summer that happens sometimes, where it isn't raining and probably won't, and the next day will be a completely clear, perfect, humidity free beach day where the edges of everything seem just a little bit sharper, and you probably forget to apply, or reapply, your sunscreen. There was nobody else on the road, and I slowed down. The limit on the back road I drove was thirty, but I didn't want to get home before the song was over, and I dipped to twenty five, twenty, dropped it to second gear. I'd kicked off my flip flops and drove barefoot, toes curled over the top of the gas pedal, right hand on the gearshift. When the song was over, I turned the radio off. I didn't want to hear any other songs, any commercials, any other voices. I didn't want the spell to be broken.

So, when I listen to songs on repeat, or listen to a certain sequence of songs on repeat, I don't want the spell to be broken. I want to sustain it for as long as possible, make it as complete as possible. I don't want anybody in the room to remark upon my musical choices. I don't want anybody to ask me what I'm doing. I don't want a phone, or social media. I'd prefer Elka not have to go out. I don't want neighbors. Just the words on the page (text on the screen). Just the characters of my making, living their lives, thinking their thoughts, feeling their feels.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

On Derek Walcott and Inspiration

I went to see Derek Walcott read.

He came to my alma mater, and it was a nice excuse to get out of work for a day (because everything in the world I want to do typically happens within my working hours).  I confess, I was largely unfamiliar with his work, though that was all right; he read from his most recent book, White Egrets.

I was interested to learn, during the introductory speeches, that Mr. Walcott actually had something of a long relationship with Hartwick College. He'd written a play, Ghost Dance, for the Cardboard Alley Players, directed in 1989 by Duncan Smith, who was still in the theater department at the time of my attendance. I wasn't a theater person, not really; I auditioned for things, I knew a lot of theater people, I belonged to CAP freshman and sophomore years (interestingly, the slogan on our t-shirts was "Get off your high horse and ride the pony"). Rubbing shoulders with fame and all that (history? Giants?)

I took notes through the reading, because I thought I'd be a good doobie and blog about it. Of course a number of weeks has passed, and of course my notes are nearly incomprehensible. I got down something of a "set list", but since he read only from White Egrets, it's unnecessary to relate here. It was my first real poetry reading, and it was interesting for a number of reasons. The college president, newly elected a couple of years ago, gave a speech that could literally have preceded any "creative" visitor. One of my former writing professors gave a considerably better one, having (one assumes) previously interacted with Mr. Walcott.

When Mr. Walcott read, he did so in a straightforward manner. He paged through to the poems he was going to use, did not patter in between, and engaged in no theatrics. He made the occasional wry comment; "As you get older, you write more elegies." When he came upon yet another, he said "Oh, here we go." It was a situation in which most of the room seemed not to know if it was permissible to laugh. I did.

There was a short question session before they let him off the stage. One professor I did not take classes with went on about his use of light in his poems, and asked about painters he admired. One student said that she was interested in poetry again, because of him. One student asked where he got his inspiration, which gave me pause.

We're in the room with a Nobel prize winner, having just heard scraps of wonderment from his lips, and you're asking him about inspiration?

I wonder if some people think inspiration is a rare beast, the white whale that we Ahab writers quest after across the years, braving storm tossed seas and certain death in order to fling that harpoon and yes, finally find flesh. I wonder if some people are enamored with the idea of writing, but don't much write themselves, and hold dear to their breast the idea "If only I had the inspiration." I wonder if some people never write at all, only read, and wonder at these bright things writers put on the page, these bits of sea glass that we cannot recreate, only pick up and wonder at in the sun. I say all of this not to make fun, but in wonderment of my own.

Mr. Walcott's answer was the beauty around him. He came from Saint Lucia, a beautiful place, still a young place finding its voice, and how such a thing was very fulfilling.

One of the last questions was a young man, asking Mr. Walcott's advice to young writers. In another moment of muted laughter, Derek Walcott deadpanned "Don't do it." After we quieted, he said "No, I don't mean that. The elation you feel, you still have it. But you should learn humility. Don't be arrogant, or suicidal."

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Look, a Fifty Shades Generator! (totally raunchy and ridiculous and NSFW or whatever the hell. But if you're online at work, I salute and envy you. I can kind of go online at work, but it's mostly to look at stuff on Amazon [for when people are all "I'm looking for a book. I don't remember the title or author. The cover might be blue? It came out last year. Maybe it has 'nights' in the title'?" Some of these I magically know {the above is Blue Nights, by Joan Didion}, but seriously people? If you don't remember anything about it, how the fuck do you know you want to read it? Pick something else! AT RANDOM. It'll be just as good. Or bad. {But that reminds me, I wanted to read Slouching Towards Bethlehem by her. So thanks, guys!}])

(You can rent paperbacks on Amazon? Oh what the hell. Go to the fucking library.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Fiancé: I need to put a wifebeater on and start slapping Jen to keep her from talking back
Me: I don't know if that'll work.
Fiancé: What, putting the wifebeater on? I've done that before
Me:  Keeping me from talking back. We know it's impossible for me to keep my mouth shut. Well, that's not true. I have a low success rate for keeping my mouth shut.
Fiancé: I don't know. Slapping you might work.
Me: Or it might just be hot.
Fiancé: I don't know, if we're getting all Streetcar Named Desire--
Me: Will you be calling me Stella? Can my new name be Stella?
Fiancé: You're ruining this.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What's your legacy?

A pet peeve of mine (and by "pet peeve", I mean something that has potential to send me into a ranting froth rage that nobody else cares about) is when an author writes somebody else's work. I'm not talking about plagiarism; I'm talking there even a word for it? Completionism? (Google says no. It also says "else's" isn't correct.)

An example: Frank Herbert wrote Dune. He created Arrakis, wrote six books pertaining to it, of varying quality (At the very least read Dune, if you have not). But those are, without question, Frank Herbert's. Frank Herbert passed away in 1986. Then his son, Brian Herbert, came along with Kevin J. Anderson. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have produced a number of Dune books that I'm not even going to count. I've heard tell that he had permission from his father, and I will tell you I don't give a single fuck. Because those are not his words. They are certainly not Kevin J. Anderson's words (and I'd in fact have more respect for Brian Herbert were he to have continued his father's legacy by his lonesome).

Another: Robert B. Parker passed away in 2010. I wasn't terribly familiar with his works, having only read (yet enjoyed) Appaloosa. However, there are a number of people finishing Robert B. Parkers' series: Robert Knott, Ace Atkins, Michael Brandman. Maybe he wanted this to happen. Maybe he sold the writes to the characters. But it's weird. To me. From my side of the library counter, patrons aren't so pleased with this change in authorship. They wanted Parker's characters to be Parker's characters, not belonging to Knott, or Atkins, or Brandman. They're not concerned with copyright or anything like that, that I can tell. They're just concerned with the characters they once knew are not quite the same people.

The list could go on. Erik Van Lustbader with Robert Ludlum's books. Dirk Cussler with Clive Cussler's books. I fully confess my ignorance to the wishes of these authors. Maybe they didn't care. Maybe the ones whose sons have taken over gave the reins with well wishes and fondness in their hearts, that their sons carried on their legacy.

Do you ever wonder about your legacy? Are you published? Unpublished? I heard tell (perhaps apocryphally) that Emily Dickinson wished her papers burned upon her death. So private that she wouldn't even allow her doctor entrance to her chambers, she had any number of tiny book bundles of poetry that she'd sewed together. That somebody picked the stitches out and shared with the world.

Was this right?

Would Jane Austen have enjoyed peoples' interpretations and reinterpretations of her characters? Would she have cared?

Would Margaret Mitchell have cared that two different people wrote two very different companions to Gone With the Wind (one being Scarlett, by Alexandra Ripley, authorized by the estate and not so bad. The other was Rhett Butler's People, by Donald McCaig which I found ridiculous and didn't like at all though I wanted it to be not bad)?

Would Daphne DuMaurier have objected to two very different companions to Rebecca, one a direct sequel and one a bit more removed (Mrs. DeWinter, by Susan Hill and Rebecca's Tale, by Sally Beauman . The latter I quite enjoyed. The former was a bit too Patricia Highsmith in its building of dread in a helpless situation.)

I have any number of stories, half written, finished, barely started. I have a number of completed novels, and a number of partially finished ones, or opening gestures. Few of them have been seen by anybody, for any number of reasons: nobody asks. Or they ask and never read it. Or I ask and they never read it. Or I don't think it's good enough to see light of day. Or it's personal. Or my household really respects privacy. Or my filing system is entirely inscrutable.

Whatever the reason, should my "papers" (i.e., electronic files) be stumbled upon, and then organized, and then published, is that my legacy? What would it say about me? Albert Camus' last novel was published, unfinished by him though somewhat edited by his children. I found it unreadable, and felt they should have just left it in whatever trunk they found it. Something like that does no justice to the writer who went before, and to the work that they brought to the world. It's a shame, and I feel like Camus would have been embarrassed by it. Or maybe he wouldn't have.

But, bottom line? I don't care of the manuscript is in your hands. If it isn't yours, it isn't yours.