Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Answers the Seventh!

I'm cranking out this post because I'd like to be able say that I got all of the questions for Ask Me Anything! August 2012 done before...October. Wow, maybe I should have not run the game during the same month I was trying to crank on a writing project. Anyway, I think that this post should wrap things up...but if I missed your query, let me know! It's been known to happen. I'm as fallible as...well, something that's really fallible. Mitt Romney, there we go! He's pretty fallible!

(The person responsible for the immediately preceding political comment would be sacked, but as he's the owner of this blog, he won't be. But he will feel a bit of remorse.)

Lynn asked: If Firefly had been allowed to keep running for several seasons, as it should have, do you think they might have brought back Jubal Early (one of my favorite villains ever) for another episode? We didn't see him actually die so I've always wondered about that. What if you were hired to write the Return of Jubal Early episode? How would you do it?

Yeah...the Jubal Early episode is a particularly saddening one for the series to end on, because that's when the crew finally figured out how to accept River Tam for who she was. In that episode she became part of the crew...and then the show stopped. Yes, the Serenity movie dealt with that somewhat, but you really started to get a feel for the show's direction when it got dumped. All together, now: Curse you, FOX!!!

But anyway: I'm of mixed mind on Jubal Early. He's a great character, the best of villains: someone with a clear ethos. He's a bounty hunter with the same attitude as Mal Reynolds, with regard to getting the job done. He does the job, he gets paid. He tries to avoid sentiment; all there is, is the job. Plus he was played with nice, calm, businesslike malice by Richard Brooks, which is always a good thing.

Problem is, as Lynn notes, how do you bring him back. See, after infiltrating the Serenity and nearly getting away with River, Early is making his way back to his ship (meaning a spacewalk) when Mal gets the drop on him, and kicks him off into space. Early is last scene just tumbling through space in his spacesuit. Would he have returned? And how? Space is awfully big, and even in a heavily-traveled part of the 'Verse, I can't believe that something so small as a person in a spacesuit would be noticed by anyone in a ship, unless they had a scanner that was actively sweeping for really tiny bits of space flotsam and jetsam.

Unless, of course, Early has some kind of emergency transponder in his suit, which he could activate as some kind of emergency, last-ditch, probably-won't-work-but-you-never-know kind of thing. In itself, that might not be a bad idea; I imagine that in any spacefaring society, a spacesuited person becoming separated from their ship would be a deeply feared thing. (OK, now I'm drawing a blank, because I know that I read a SF novel in the last few years that featured just that as the society's most feared means of dying. Gonna bug me until I remember.)

And then, any writer of such could just punt the whole deal and have Jubal Early turn up again, very much alive, very much still on River Tam's trail, and just never explain at all how he managed to not float through space until he died. That, in itself, could lend him some kind of mythological status in the underworld of the 'Verse; in the words of another Firefly baddie, it could make his reputation 'solid'. Maybe the "Return of Jubal Early" episode could end with Mal asking, "How did you not just float away into space forever?" and Early just shrugging.

By the way, I just looked up Jubal Early to find out who played him, and apparently Joss Whedon himself indicated that Early was not going to just float around until he ran a tad low on oxygen. So, I wonder how Whedon planned to do it?

(OHHH! The novel I remembered above is Michael Flynn's The Wreck of the RIVER OF STARS. I've still got it, baby!)

OK, moving on. Richard asks: When do you plan to visit Vancouver, Canada? I notice you've visited Toronto on many an occasion...but Toronto is not the only nice city in our fair country!

No, Toronto's not the only nice city in Canada, but it is the only one within a very close driving range to Casa Jaquandor. Unfortunately, the types of trips that require (a) flying and (b) spending at least a week off tend to be out of our price range at this point. But you never know what the future holds. Maybe the book tour for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) will include a Vancouver stop! (Wow, talk about getting ahead of myself....)

Seriously, though, I would love dearly to get to Vancouver. It always -- always -- looks like a staggeringly beautiful city. (A favorite movie of mine, Cousins, was filmed there, in a way that made it look really beautiful, and not like a dank stand-in for every other dank place in the United States for four seasons of The X-Files.) Frankly, the only thing that really stops me from wanting to live in the Pacific Northwest is the fact that everything is so far from everything else. I'm spoiled by the idea of living within a day's drive of half the country. But I do miss it out there, even having not been back to the Northwest since 1981.

Christopher asks: I know you have a great love of music, I wish I did, but never have. If you had to choose between them, and one was to be gone forever. Written words or music?

Hmmmm. A couple of different ways to take this question. Do I lose the sense of sight or hearing? If that's what's being asked, I'd lose sight, every time. I can figure out a way to get stories into my head and out of it without seeing, but losing music? Ugh! That would be truly awful.

But keeping the ability to hear music and understand it, but somehow be rendered unable to read while keeping sight? So I wouldn't be able to process stories at all? That's...horrifying. And there's an interesting story there, I think...hmmmm....!

Kal asks: I would like to send you a Luckie Loonie coin for all the support you give my blog. Can I have your snail mail addy to do that?

Kal, let me know if this offer still stands! Meantime, folks, if you're looking for a blog chock full of geeky goodness, you could do far worse than to wander through the archives of Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness for a while. I don't get everything that he posts -- I'm not sure yet about Selena Gomez, for example -- but I'm sure there's stuff he doesn't get about me either. If you haven't look, go!

Two anonymous queries (not anonymous to me, but they request to be so to you): DO you have a Super Bowl prediction?

Ummm...no, I don't. This NFL season is off to an insane start, even by NFL season standards. Seriously, this could be one of those weird years where the two best records in each conference are 11-5, and where some 9-7 wildcard team gets blown out 49-3 late in the season, and then gets hot and goes all the way to the Super Bowl. I got nothin', in terms of predictions. Weird year thus far!

(I'll say this for the Bills: I think that this year is the referendum on Ryan Fitzpatrick as a starting quarterback in the NFL. If he doesn't play well -- and I mean, really well -- I think the Bills have to make next year the "new franchise guy" year in the draft. The good news there is that by building the team around Fitzpatrick, the Bills have guaranteed that a rookie quarterback stepping in next year won't be doing so for a crappy team. We're not going to be seeing the second coming of David Carr, who might have been good if he hadn't been sacked something like 287 times in his first couple of seasons.)

You haven't been pied in a while. What gives?

Yeesh, it's not like that happens on a daily or weekly basis. I'm a writer and a handyman, not a vaudeville performer or a clown! It only happens to me once, maybe twice a year. More than that and it might get routine, you know?

(But...watch this space. Pies may fly in my face's direction sooner than later!)

And finally, I give the last word to Andy: Were you more of a Dukes of Hazard guy or more of a Knight Rider man????

Knight Rider. All the way. Yeah, I watched Dukes for a few years as a kid, and it was entertaining an all, but I grew out of it fairly quickly, and that one year when John Schneider and Tom Wopat were replaced by...two other guys, playing the Duke cousins or something, pretty much did in my interest in that show. Besides, well...it just wasn't that interesting after that long. There's only so many times you can watch the boys elude Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, so many times the General Lee can jump over something, so many dirt road chases, et cetera that you can watch before it all looks the same. And to be honest, the show's popularity was a bit early for me to grok the whole notion of Daisy Duke in those Shorts +4 of Ultimate Shortness.

I always wondered about all those dirt roads, too...was Hazzard County's annual infrastructure budget all of $1.67? Surely they could afford some road grading and paving, if they could afford to buy the Sheriff a new ride every week.

But Knight Rider? That appealed to me a lot more. There was the James Bond-ish kind of thing going on, with Michael Knight ending up someplace else and in some other adventure each week, and of course, as teevee cars go, KITT trumps the General Lee, every day of the week and multiple times upon the Sabbath. Knight Rider was more my speed, and it was so for a lot longer, than The Dukes of Hazzard. Oh, and by the time I realized that women were Teh Awesome, Knight Rider had Rebecca Holden. Whoa nellie!

And that, I believe, should do it for Ask Me Anything! August 2012. Hopefully my answers in February will be more quickly forthcoming! Thanks for the fine queries, folks. As ever, everything was thought provoking and fun to write about!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Something for Thursday

From the John Willaims score to Superman, here is "Leaving Home". The eerie music at the beginning comes just after Pa Kent's funeral, when young Clark Kent finds the remnants of his ship from Krypton hidden in the barn cellar; this is followed by some of the most gorgeous Americana Williams ever wrote as Clark bids farewell to Ma Kent before heading north. Williams's gift for melody in this phase of his career was so prolific that the wonderful theme that dominates the second half of this cue is heard in this one scene, and this one scene only.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What supernatural creature of legend and lore do you really kinda wish actually existed?

As of today....

I have now spent 41 years on this planet.

I'm starting to think that the Mother Ship isn't coming back for me....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Answers the Sixth!

Continuing my catch-up detail on Ask Me Anything! August 2012, I'll wrap up all of Roger's questions!

Here's something I plan to do, so I'll let you try first: come up with a list of the 20 (or 25) most important/influential people in your life. I'm particularly interested in those people who may be out of your life now (a music teacher, a lost friend) who you look back and see their impact.

With respect...I'm going to save this one for a future post. This one will take a lot of thought!

What do you think of the 1986 Paul Simon album Graceland? I know you hadn't heard the album, but were you aware of the controversy over Simon going to South Africa, albeit to record with black South Africans?

Some background: a while back, I admitted someplace (was it here?) that I had never heard Graceland, the Paul Simon album from 1986. I didn't ignore the album out of any dislike for Mr. Simon. It's just that, like many things, it slid by me when it came out because I was into other things at that time, and it remained pretty much forevermore one of those pop culture artifacts that I just plain missed at the time. (Not unlike, as I've noted many times, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.)

Well, Roger decided that this constituted a fundamental failure on my part to explore a fine work of art, so he sent me a copy of the album, which I have now listened to in its entirety about seven or eight times (with some internal dipping here and there). I realize this falls into the general category of "Water is wet, film at eleven!", but...Graceland is just wonderful.

I knew going in that Graceland features musicians from South Africa, and that this represented quite a cultural event in the 1980s, since Apartheid had not yet ended in that country. What I didn't know was the general upbeat nature of the album. I was kind of expecting a more meditative work, dealing with issues of heavy import such as the relations between the races in a divided country. Instead, the record is...well, I found it a much for fun listening experience than I had expected. That surprised me. (I was also completely unaware of any controversy surrounding the album; I just looked that up, to discover that some people felt that Simon had broken sanctions against South Africa in going there to record his album. I can kind of see the point, but to me, economic sanctions are different from cultural ones.)

I was also surprised that the African elements in the album aren't as forward as I had expected. I have a sad suspicion that this represents some kind of stereotype-based thinking on my part, but I honestly expected the kind of faux-African sound that marks the score to The Lion King. I wasn't even aware that I had that expectation in my head until I listened to the album the first time and realized that some of it is just straight-up pop, and when the African sounds become undeniable and unmissable, they are...well, they're uniquely refreshing. My favorite track on the entire album, for this very reason, is "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes".

The song is also effective, as are most on the album, because Simon's lyrics tell a story. These songs have the feel of poetry combined with music, instead of many song lyrics which just sound like nonsensical rhymes set to a catchy tune.

Anyway, Graceland is just terrific, and I am indebted to Roger for finally getting it into my hands.

And a more general question: How many times do you need to listen to an album before feel that you know an album? (It's three for me, BTW.

I've never really considered this. It's a good question. I'm not sure what it is to 'know' an album. I can get a general sense of the album's ebb and flow after a couple of listens -- two or three -- but for a more thorough exploration of an album's themes, it takes me longer than that. Sometimes it can even take years, depending on the album! It's not uncommon for me to listen to some work or album that I've 'known' well for years and still hear something new, or suddenly grasp something about a particular song, or the like.

Ultimately, I'm not sure that I ever really 'know' an album. But then, I am possessed of a constant fear that I am, in fact, a dolt who is masquerading as someone who knows something about anything. This is a useful attitude for a writer, I think -- if nothing else, I'm motivated to create works that by definition I will know better than anyone else.

Have you made any plans for your funeral? I assume your wife knows your desires, but do others (e.g., embalming v cremation, organ donation,) should you and your wife die at the same time?

Not asking who, but have you made a decision where your child should stay should both of her parents pass away? What were the bases - her familiarity with them, their income, their values (religious or otherwise), their politics, the size of their house, their age?


Yeesh...I've given this very little thought at all, actually! I like to joke about being cremated and then snuck into pepper-shakers at some restaurant or other, but that's obvious gallows humor. In truth, my attitude on this is basically for those left after I shuffle off to do whatever they feel is easiest and best for their peace of mind. I'm reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when a Klingon dies and Picard or someone asks one of the Klingon survivors what they want done with the body, and the response is, "The body? That's just an empty shell. Do whatever you want with it." I know that a lot of people have definite desires for what is to happen with their remains -- where to bury, where to be scattered, et cetera -- but in all honesty, I have little such opinion, as I figure that I'm not likely to care afterwards, so why care now?

Having said that, I suddenly realize that I've never signed my organ donor card. I should probably do that. And I have always admired my paternal grandmother, who had her body donated to a medical school after her passing, so that the next generation of doctors might learn something from her. I'd be lying, though, if I didn't envision something along the lines of the opening credits sequence of the old Jack Klugman show Quincy, which showed Quincy starting an autopsy for a group of police academy cadets, only to watch them all pass out.

OK, that's it for Roger! Next time, we'll wrap this whole thing up with some more lighthearted queries.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ayup....

So I just finished doing the manuscript mark-ups for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) a short while ago, so blogging can start again. Thanks for hanging in there, folks! (Although the pace will remain on the light side, as I'm starting a vacation this coming Thursday and I have a second draft of the book to generate.)

I have no idea at this point if I'll be successful in cutting the word count down by the nearly 20,000 words I'd been hoping for, because although there were many spots in the book where I sliced and diced with liberal used of red ink (I refilled a fountain pen with red ink three times for this job!), there were a number of places -- not a large number, but a number nonetheless -- where I had to add material. So we'll see how the second draft shakes out, length-wise. That work will begin tomorrow, and I expect it to not take quite as long as the first manuscript mark-ups -- I'd love to have the second draft done by mid-October.

And now, to bed....

A fine ship

Waving Goodbye (Original Mix)



Farewell, Endeavour. Surely another ship will one day bear your name; may she sail as faithfully and true!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

OK, radio silence starts...now!

Folks: it's crunch time. I have less than a hundred pages of manuscript left to mark up, so I'm going to do something drastic: I'm going into radio silence here until I'm done with the entire manuscript. Next time I post here, I will have moved on to generating the second draft!

Here's what this entire process looks like, for those wondering:


Catch you all on the flip side -- and as ever, thank you for your patience!

"I'd rather be in jail than be in love again!"



Years ago, when we'd been dating a year or so, The Girlfriend (now The Wife) rented a movie for us to watch. It was a British comedy that I'd never heard of, called Hear My Song. We both absolutely loved it, and it's been one of those movies that I've wanted to watch again ever since, even though it's been really hard to locate a copy, to the point where it then became one of those movies of which I have greatly fond memories that maybe I don't want to revisit, on the off chance that my memories of it are more nostalgic than accurate. Or, to put it another way, I was afraid that maybe this movie had been visited by the Suck Fairy.

Well, Hear My Song is, as of this writing, available for streaming on Netflix, which proved to be a temptation too great. So I watched it, and...absolutely loved it again.

Adrian Dunbar (who co-wrote the movie, and who would later secure semi-immortality in Star Wars lore by playing Senator Bail Organa in The Phantom Menace, only to see his scenes cut entirely from the film and the role recast with Jimmy Smits in the subsequent Prequels) plays Mickey O'Neill, a young man who runs a dinner club and musical revue. The place isn't making great money (in the first scene, Mickey has to take the stage himself) and he isn't popular with his landlords, who decide to evict after a scheme to let word of mouth sell tickets for a crappy singer named Franc Cinatra results in bad blood. His next money-making effort is to book Irish tenor Joseph Locke, who is legendary in this town but has lived in Ireland for more than thirty years because he's wanted for tax evasion.

Locke is the Maguffin of the movie. First, no one is sure if the guy claiming to be Locke is really Locke or not, and second, Locke didn't just evade taxes as much as he literally ran out of town, avoiding arrest by inches (and by pushing a cop off the boat on which he was fleeing) and running out on the affair he was having with a local beauty queen. This beauty queen turns out, later on, to be Mickey's girlfriend's mother, and after she has a late-night tryst with the man claiming to be Joseph Locke, she loudly announces that he is not. Ouch. Mickey loses the theater, his girlfriend, everything...unless he can get to Ireland and bring back the real Joseph Locke.

There's nothing in this movie that's really all that surprising at all, at least until the end, when things turn in a way that is reminiscent of endings like The Shawshank Redemption's, in that elements that have been in place the entire way suddenly turn out to be relevant in surprising and deeply pleasing ways. I don't want to spell it out, but this movie has one of my favorite endings, ever.

But an ending can't work as well as this one does by being clever; it also has to have the emotional heft to it, and this one does. This is a movie about likable people who have, occasionally in their lives, done unlikable things, but in most cases they are trying to atone for them, or recognize their misdeeds when they come back to haunt them. There isn't a single unflawed character in this film, all the way to Mickey himself, who seems emotionally stunted in some ways, and whose main skill in life seems to be a gift for bullshit. (One of his favorite tricks is to appeal to the older generation, who lived through World War II, by giving a speech that starts off with "I grew up in peacetime."

With comedies like this, it's easy to describe them in such a way that makes them sound like serious dramas. Hear My Song is most definitely a comedy; in fact, it ranks high on my personal list of funniest movies I've seen. A scene involving a bar full of Irishmen trying to assist one of their brethren with a dental problem is hysterical, and the best gag involves our two drunken heroes and their curiosity as to the depth of a particular well. More than that I must not say.

Hear My Song is, for me, so good that I don't understand how it's managed to fall so completely off the radar. It has a wonderfully witty script full of memorable characters, it's photographed beautifully, the music is fantastic, and the cast is tremendous, led by Dunbar and by Ned Beatty as Joseph Locke (the real one). And if you've ever watched Star Wars: A New Hope and wondered just how good an actor William Hootkins really was (he sadly died a few years back), well, Hear My Song will give you an answer.

What a wonderful, wonderful movie!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Answers the Fifth!

I know, I know...with all this editing work I've been doing, I've been ridiculously remiss in getting Ask Me Anything! August 2012 done, to the point that we're closing in on October 2012. Oy...but herein I'll take another whack at getting some of these queries answered!

From Roger:

Should Sally Ride come out as gay sooner, as in during her lifetime? It wasn't a secret to her friends, but some have suggested that it may have been more inspirational.

It's easy to say that, and I tend to agree that it would have been pretty inspirational to have Sally Ride go open with her homosexuality earlier in life. I think that every openly gay person who lives a normal, productive, and in Sally Ride's case, exceptional life moves the needle toward 'Gay Acceptance' a little more, and that's a good thing.

But...Sally Ride wasn't just an inspirational figure, she was a person, and even though circumstances of her life made her an inspirational figure, I can't hold her to account for choosing not to be such a figure in all aspects of her existence. I am in no way disappointed in her reluctance to come out, if indeed it was reluctance at all. If her line of thinking was "That part of my life is mine and it's nobody's business but mine", I have a hard time taking her to task for that. So ultimately, no, I don't think she should have come out sooner, unless she wanted to. Which it doesn't seem that she did.

Do you think the punishment for Penn State in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal was too strong, too lenient, or appropriate? What do you say to those who believe those who did nothing wrong (current students at Penn State, e.g.) are suffering the bulk of the punishment?

I think it was just about right. That program needed to get hit hard, because the 'football is king, and coach is God' mentality there led to a sickening coverup of a child molester. And I'm not interested in all the Oliver Stone-esque readings of the Freeh Report, or the red herring chases that people engage in who are still slavishly in thrall to the Ghost of Holy Joe. I have seen nothing compelling to make me think that things happened pretty much as they're said to have happened, and I suspect that things may have actually been worse.

As for who I feel sorry for? Well, I feel sympathy here for two, and only two, groups of people. The first are Sandusky's victims and their families, and the second is the current players who have to take the field wearing the scarlet A. They didn't sign up for this, and I do feel sorry for them. In fact, I think there's something admirable about players who opted to stay put and try to help make things there better again -- but at the same time, I have zero problem with any player who looked at the carnage and said, "Yeah, I want no part of this shit" and took the transfer to someplace else. I can understand both viewpoints and I don't see either as more moral than the other.

Who do I not feel sorry for? Penn State students and alumni and fans. Sorry, but you do not have a God-given right to root for a great football program, you do not have a God-given right to your mental picture of Doddering Old Joe Paterno as a figure of Christ-like reverence, and even more than that, there's nothing super-special about Penn State and its students and "the experiences and the special bond they share" than there is at any other college. In general, I tend to find the whole college-nostalgia thing really odd. I loved my college years and it was a deeply formative time in my life (not just because I met The Wife there). But I graduated nearly twenty years ago, which means that as far as I can see, I have no more 'special bond' with someone going there now than I do with someone going to, say, the University of New Mexico. Hell, I'd be surprised if more than three or four professors I had classes with are even there anymore, so for me to start chanting "We are Wartburg!" just feels like a lot of lame clinging-to-a-past.

Everybody had wonderful college professors, everybody made friendships in college that will last their lives, everybody had experiences at college that they will carry with them all the rest of their days. Everybody. The Penn State notion that there's something special! mystical! transcendent! about Happy Valley that other schools can't touch is just so much mental self-boosterism. Ultimately, to me, Penn State is just the latest big institution to get caught doing Bad Acts.

In 2013, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens will be eligible for the baseball Hall of Fame. If you were voting, what you you do? Also your votes re: Mark McGwire, Raffy Palmiero, A-Rod and Manny Ramirez (eventually), and, what the heck, Pete Rose?

I'd vote them in, every one. Except for Pete Rose.

Baseball's steroid era is an unfortunate time, but it was also a time when MLB really didn't have any strong policies in place to deal with it -- just a kind of "You'd better not do this!" kind of thing. If baseball was really serious, they'd have implemented testing with clear guidelines for punishments in the result of failed tests. Having someone get outed years after they played of having broken rules that weren't really rules doesn't seem strong enough a case to keep someone out of the Hall of Fame, especially if, in the case of a Bonds or a Clemens, they were awesome anyway. I'm not sure that steroids made Bonds such a baserunning threat or helped him in the field.

Here's an analogy: a third-grade teacher addresses her class on the first day of school. "OK, Kids, here's the rule. In each of your desks is a candy bar that I put there. You are NOT allowed to ever, ever, EVER, eat the candy bar. It is FORBIDDEN for you to eat the candy bar. Now, I will never check your desks to see if the candy bar is there. I will not watch what you eat at lunch time, and even though I will leave the room unattended for ten minutes each day, I will still NEVER look to see if your candy bar is there." So the school year goes on, and ends, and the kids move on...until ten years later, when someone rats out Joey, and the school says, "Well, gee whiz, Joey, you don't get a diploma then." That make sense to anyone? Not me.

But Pete Rose? Well, baseball does have clear rules about gambling and betting, and he broke them, and he's never shown any real remorse. If he wants to really apologize in a way that makes Bud Selig happy, that's fine, but his grudging approach of "Fine, I'm sorry, you happy now? Gimme me plaque at Cooperstown now." is just really off-putting.

Now, if they wanted to induct Rose into the Hall with an asterisk on his plaque explaining that he was banned and why, I don't have much of a problem with that. But as it is now? He broke one of baseball's most sacred rules, and he needs to pay the price.

More answers to come!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Macaroni and cheese: crunchy stuff on top (like bread crumbs) or no crunchies allowed?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wowza!

You'd think that after doing the whole blogging and social networking thing for as long as I'd have, I wouldn't be surprised that a tweet I quickly tossed off after reading about what a cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch Mitt Romney is actually got some attention, but...yeah, it's a nice surprise. In a collection of reaction tweets to Romney's waving-of-the-flag for conservative assholedom, Andrew Sullivan quoted mine. Woot!

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Sacre Bleu!" (musings on a Christopher Moore novel)

(So I read Lance Mannion's review of this book, and I wanted to refer to mine...only to discover that I wrote it but never posted it. Oops.)



Any serious reader has, I suppose, an honor roll of authors whose work is so worshipfully and reverently awaited that matters of economics do not factor into the decision to buy the new book – in other words, an "Authors To Buy In Hardcover Immediately Upon Release" list. Now, my list of these has been terrifically short for a long time: it's basically Guy Gavriel Kay, and...that's about it. Except that I think it's time I put Christopher Moore on the list as well. I haven't found Moore's work as consistently good as GGK's, but Moore hits heights that, for comedy, are for me as sublime as GGK's best fantasy work. So Moore is officially one of my "Buy in hardcover" authors. I'm sure this news will thrill him deeply. (Or it won't affect him in any way whatsoever because he won't know about it because he's a successful author and I'm a blogger who gets two hundred hits a day and a lot of those are people searching for photos of Melissa Rauch.)

All of this brings me to Moore's newest book, Sacre Bleu.This is a novel about...the color blue. I kid you not; Moore decided that he wanted to write a book about a color, so he did just that. So, how does one write a book about a color? Well, if you're Moore, you delve into the inner world of the French Impressionist painters, and you posit that there's a certain kind of blue paint that they can only procure from a certain, mysterious individual who travels around with a woman who sometimes seems to be...someone else. And if you're Moore, you add in supernatural goings-on, gonzo explanations for things that happened in real history. And if you're really fortunate, you get to have your book on the color blue printed with a blue cover and with the body in blue ink, and you get to have many of the paintings you mention in the course of the book depicted right in the text.

Yes, they really pulled out all the stops for Sacre Bleu. It's a fine physical specimen of a book to begin with. But is it worth reading? Well, we're talking about Christopher Moore here, who as far as I can recall hasn't yet really had a dud (although I wasn't entirely thrilled with You Suck or The Stupidest Angel, and I have yet to read Bite Me).

The book opens with one of the seminal events in the history of human art: Vincent Van Gogh's suicide. Although, for Moore, it actually isn't a suicide; it's an attempt by Van Gogh to procure more of the special blue paint that goes awry. All the rest of the book's shenanigans descend from this event. And, as we're talking Moore, there are a lot of shenanigans.

What I've found most thrilling in the best of Moore's recent books is his willingness to move beyond his early, California Coast-centric work for more ambitious subject matter to mine for madcap comedy. Here he takes on one of the most fruitful eras in the history of Western art, and it's clear that Moore has done his homework. He spices the book with an amazing degree of period detail, not just in the setting of late 19th century Paris, but in the specifics pertaining to the art itself and the community of painters that lived and worked at that time. Even as Moore's unique brand of lunacy unfolds, the period details are totally convincing.

What helps here is the design of the book itself: it is printed in blue ink, and the text actually includes – very helpfully – actual images of the paintings themselves which are mentioned in the story. This one aspect of the book really helps ground the visuals of the book for me, as a reader.

This is Christopher Moore, of course, so there are also familiar tropes to be found as well. Our hero is a likable, earnest young man who is also at times slightly clueless, who is drawn into a somewhat strange tale involving a woman who seems far older and wiser than he. He is surrounded by a cast of characters that is idiosyncratically memorable, and all this is treated in the usual Moore way, with more than a few laugh-out-loud moments to be found along the way. My only complaint about Sacre Bleu is that it takes a bit longer to get a hold on things with this book than usual, but as he almost always does, Moore won me over.

And by the way: I read Sacre Bleu immediately following George RR Martin's A Dance with Dragons. As I noted back then, Martin's approach to writing sex scenes is, well, not my cup of tea. Here, by contrast, is how Christopher Moore does it. (Writes about sex, that is. I have no idea how he...well, you know.)

He stepped up to her, took her in his arms, and kissed her. And off came the chemise, off came the pantaloons, then his shirt, then the rest, and they were on each other, on the fainting lounge, completely lost in one another. There may have been pounding on the door at one point, but they didn't hear it and didn't care. Where they were, no one else mattered. When, at last, she looked down from the lounge, at him, lying on his back on the floor, the light from the skylight had gone orange, and the sweat sheen on their bodies looked like slick fire.

It's night and day, isn't it? Moore writes simple, elegant sex scenes that include a smattering of detail: the fact that Lucien is on the floor after, while she is not, and the orange glow of late afternoon through the skylight on their bodies. Contrast that with George RR Martin's apparent bonus he gets from the publisher for each use of the C-word.

Long live Christopher Moore!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A brief update, before I disappear, hippopotamus-like, beneath the bubbles....

Well, I'm about 150 pages shy of the last page of the Princesses In SPACE!!! manuscript, so things are coming along nicely on that front. I want to have the markups done by two weeks from yesterday, so it's really grindstone time now....

Bear with me, Constant Readers! New content here will show up, I promise!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Something for Thursday

I feel like some Eurythmics today...so here they are! I love me some Annie Lennox, and I especially love how they always embraced the idea of music videos as a place to indulge their impulse for sheer WTF weirdness. Here's "There Must Be An Angel".

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Memoriam 9-11-01: "The City of Dead Works" and "Elegy"

Tribute in Light, 9/11/03

I re-post this every year on this date. It is the first piece of fiction I wrote after the awful events of 9-11-01.

"The City of Dead Works"

There is never any rest for me, the Ferryman of the Dead.

I pole my barge across the black waters and up to the pier. So many wait this time, many more than usual. I wonder what has happened, what event has sent me this many. "Come aboard," I say. "I will take your coin for passage." One by one they file past me, each handing to me the coin that they never knew they had. It is the coin which determines where they shall be taken to rest, its metal shaped and determined by life. The coins of these dead are gold, every one of them purest gold. Six thousand come aboard my barge, and each has passage for the farthest and greatest of destinations. In that moment I know that something truly dark has happened; the gold coins are always forged in moments of darkness. I am the Ferryman. I can give them no answers to what lies behind their haunted, questioning eyes. I can only take them on this, the last of all journeys.

When they are all aboard I take up the pole and push away from the pier. The barge always feels the same, no matter how many stand upon its decks. Whether six or six thousand, it is all the same to me. I guide us out onto the River Styx. Some of the people look worried, but there is no need for fear. This river can do them no harm. They are already dead.

This is to be a long journey, I know – it always is, to this destination. As I guide the barge through the black waters, I look on the faces of those who have come to me. As different as these people all look, they all have the same expressions of shock, disbelief, and withering sadness. Here is a man of business, talking into a cell phone. He is trying to call someone, anyone, who will tell him that it’s all a dream, that it didn’t happen, that he didn’t die in a blast of fire, smoke, glass and steel. There is a mother who is explaining to her daughter that they won’t be going to Disneyland after all. And there, a group of firemen stand together, realizing that soon they will meet all their brothers-in-arms who have gone into the infernos before them. So many now – colleagues once in business and now colleagues in death, people who have never before met but now have the gravest thing in common. As the current takes hold, I look back at the pier. There are more gathering there. There are always more. They will wait. Time does not exist for the dead.

"Please," a young man says as he turns to me, "I have to go home to my daughters."

"You are going home now," I reply. "To the home where all eventually return." Two black rocks slide past on either side, the rocks that mark the passage of the circling Styx.

"This can’t be," a woman cries out. "My mother needs me."

"She will be with you soon enough."

"When?" Her voice pleads, and yet there is no solace that is mine to give.

"I cannot say," I reply. "The Ferryman has no hand in Fate."

The tears come then, tears from the six thousand that run over the gunwales and into the river which has been fed by tears for centuries. All tears are born in the River Styx.

"Where will you take us?" someone asks.

"To the place you are promised," I answer. I recall the words of a poet: Will there be beds for all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come.

One our left we approach the Hills of the Damned, an endless stretch of shattered lands which reach away into the blackness. The waters echo with the cries of all those who have been taken to the Hills for the agony they have brought on the living. I consider the bag of six thousand gold coins, and I realize that I will have to journey to the Hills this day. There will be a person, perhaps more, who will pay me with a coin of black tin; but not on this journey. As the hills recede behind us, the unending cries of the damned become fainter and fainter until they are drowned out by the lapping of the waters upon the sides of the boat and the marker stones that we pass. The six thousand fall silent, each realizing that it is not a dream. I would offer solace, but as ever I cannot. I am the Ferryman.

We come around a particularly dark bend, and before us lies a very wide expanse of water, as if the Styx has become an ocean – which in some sense it probably has. And beyond that expanse are the thousands of twinkling lights that I have come to know so well. One man, a fireman, sees them too. "What is that?" he asks.

"It is the City of Dead Works," I reply. The lights of the city glow on the horizon, and every one of the six thousand turns toward them as the Styx impels us onward. As we come ever closer to the city, the glittering lights reflect off the black water.

"I don’t understand," someone else says. "The City of Dead Works?"

"Aye," I reply. "Behold!"

From behind us, golden light: the Sun of the Dead is rising as it always does when the dead come near the City. Above us the firmament is turning purple, then blue; soon the light of the Sun will illuminate the City of Dead Works. As the sky lightens, the true scope of that city becomes plain: it stretches away into the land, farther than any eye could see. Not even the highest-soaring raven, cavorting in the breezes and zephyrs of the dead, could take it all in. It is bigger by far than any one city ever built by the hand of men, because it encompasses some part of all of them. Perhaps it is bigger than all of the cities ever built. Now the sun’s first rays come up behind us, and the first buildings can be seen down by the water.

"That one looks Egyptian," a woman says.

"The Great Library of Alexandria," I tell her. "Once the greatest repository of learning the world had ever seen, now only a memory to the living and a reality only to the dead."

A man points to a building high upon a rock. I nod.

"The Temple of Solomon," I say.

"There are ships in the harbor," says another. Thus for him I name the ships: Arizona, Indianapolis, Lusitania, Bismarck, Wilhelm Gustloff, Cap Arcona. And many, many others. I scan over the impossibly vast city and spot Dresden, as it was; and beside it the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And how many smaller villages, tucked into the hills beyond the City? None can say. The Sun of the Dead shines upon those hills now, and the great stone statues in the likeness of Siddhartha Gautama.

"I don’t understand," a young man says. "Why this City? Why here?"

I only shake my head as we continue to float by the City. I do not point out the fairly small, nondescript office building that sits near the water. It is not a particularly remarkable building; nor was it, really, until the fuse was lit. The six thousand almost don’t recognize it.

Almost.

Not one word is uttered as we slide past the Alfred Murrah Federal Building. Then we turn away from the City of Dead Works, and head again down the waters of the Styx toward distant hills and the place where these people will join their brethren.

"Who lives in that city?" It is a priest in a fireman’s coat.

"No one lives there," I tell him. "The City of Dead Works is not for people. It is for the buildings and the ships. It is for the books and the music, the sculptures and the paintings which are gone forever. It is for everything destroyed by craven people in the name of foolish wars, for everything judged forfeit in the face of transitory desires."

The Styx takes us into the Golden Hills. Soon we will be there, and the six thousand will go where they belong. And then the Styx will complete its circle, taking me back to the pier where more dead await.

"We will be there soon," I say. "Soon we will be at the Elysian Fields, where all heroes go – for that is what you all are. It is what you have bought with your lives, with the shaping of your coins into gold." No one replies. We near the last bend now, and before us lie the Elysian Fields, where peace reigns and where heroes dwell; where all is light and voices are always raised in song. The Sun of the Dead shines warmly on Elysium.

But they do not see it. They, the six thousand, all gaze back behind us upon the City of Dead Works. It will soon be behind us forever as we round the last bend of the River Styx into Elysium. I know they all need one last look upon that City, and I do not grudge them that. For myself, I do not look back; the eyes of the Ferryman are ever forward. But I know. I know that the City of Dead Works is different now. I know that it has changed. I know that the people who come with me now to Elysium, the dead around me, look back on the two soaring towers of steel that now rise above the City where there had been no towers before.

I know these things.

I am the Ferryman of the Dead.

Finis

And this, a piece called "Elegy" by Mark Camphouse, is the first piece of music I was able to listen to after that day. It took me three days, if I recall correctly, to feel like music again. This piece has stayed with me ever since I played it in the Wartburg College Concert Band back in 1989-1990, as a freshman. It remains, to this day, for me one of the most profoundly effective musical meditations on grief and death and, ultimately, hope for a better tomorrow that I have ever heard. This performance is by the United States Marine Band. I made the video using images of the World Trade Center and the events of 9-11-01 that I found online.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Revising my Remarks

A couple of commenters point out a couple of deficiencies in my Answers post from yesterday, dealing with The West Wing.

Firstly, most seriously, Roger points out that I forgot CJ Cregg. Ugh. I can't believe I didn't include her. She was in most of the clips I pointed out, but somehow, it just slipped my mind to actually include her.

And that, in a way, is pretty illustrative of CJ's character arc through the entire series. In the first season, it quickly becomes clear that while she is seen as an able press secretary, she is not really seen as an effective voice for policy, and the 'inner circle' of the White House senior staff seems to view her as a potential danger, given her close friendships in the press corps. This leads to an incident where CJ is told that nothing more is going on and that she can release the reporters for the night, only to have to call them back an hour later when Leo tells her that a pretty big military operation is underway. But she gradually learns to take charge, learning more and more about her job, until finally, five years in, President Bartlet makes her his new Chief of Staff, a position she holds until the series ends with the inauguration of President Santos.

Here's a nice moment where CJ stands her ground before a couple of high-ranking military men:


And here's another where CJ decides to smack down a snotty reporter who had earlier taken her to task on her own news program for taking time to change clothes before briefing the press on a suicide bombing in Israel in which two American teenagers were killed:


One of my favorite storylines in the series's final episodes was CJ's wondering about her own future. She had an opportunity to oversee a massive philanthropic fund, a welcome change from the White House; but she also had a vague job offer from incoming President Santos. At the same time she had a growing relationship with reporter Danny Concannon, and she had to figure out just what it was that she wanted to do once her time with President Bartlet was over. Seasons Six and Seven were really quite good.

Ben asks, what about Toby and Will? Well, in Charlie's original question, he mentioned that I'd already addressed Toby, and I did in this old post of my favorite episodes, in which I make clear that Toby is my favorite character, as my list is pretty Toby-centric. Ben also asks, what about Will Bailey. And, well...I just never warmed up much to Will. He really wasn't the most interesting character to me. Will came in as basically a replacement for Sam Seaborn, and after Sorkin left just half a season later, Will ended up being the Chief of Staff for the new Vice President. This kind of hobbled the character, because the writers made it clear that Vice President Russell was a lightweight who had no business being Vice President at all. Seeing Will in the employ of a lightweight made Will look pretty lightweight, so Will Bailey just never really rose to anything in my mind.

Still, his first meeting with Toby is a nice scene:


OK, there we go!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Two Very Public Service Announcements

One: Even though I'm not doing any kind of hiatus, blogging will be sporadic until I get the manuscript mark-ups done on Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title). You knew that. But also, I've decided to forego the Sentential Links feature until after the election is over, because it's just too tempting for me to post a bunch of "Romney sucks!" linkage. I don't want to do that. It's easy enough to find that sort of content about if you really want it. Any political things I have to say that I just gotta get out, I'll either Tweet or post on my Tumblr, which is basically a collection of useless stuff, anyway. I'm a terrible Tumblr-er.

Two: I won't be posting any regular recaps of the Buffalo Bills' games this season. It's not that they suck, it's just that I don't really want to write much about football anymore. So...I won't!

Back to our regularly scheduled insanity....

Answers the Fourth!

Thanks for bearing with me, folks...writing the novels is still the priority here, but I do need to get some new stuff up here once in a while, right? So anyway, let's crank out a few more answers for Ask Me Anything! August '12.

Charlie, who follows me on Twitter, asks: You do a nice job on your blog of listing your favorite Toby moments. What are your favorites for other WW mains?

Huh. Interesting question! I've made no secret of the fact that I am generally a lot less happy with the work of Aaron Sorkin nowadays, where I used to be a raving fanboy of his. A while back I re-watched the first three seasons of The West Wing (those are the only ones I have on DVD), and I found that the shows just don't flow the way I remember them doing. I also find that the show isn't nearly as liberal as many assume. Yes, it's about a Democratic President and a Democratic White House, so there's a generally liberal bent, but in large part, real honest-to-God liberalism just doesn't carry the day very often on The West Wing. On the rare occasions that someone actually puts forth a strongly liberal idea, the conversation invariably tilts away from the liberal idea and instead to why it can't happen, why it can't work, how wouldn't-it-be-nice-if-we-lived-in-that-world, et cetera. And additionally, for such a liberal show, the conservative viewpoint carries the day awfully often.

But anyway, that's not what's asked. What we're asked is, what are favorite episodes of mine from a standpoint of the actual characters?

President Bartlet's finest episode, for me, is "Two Cathedrals", the finale to Season Two. This episode finds Bartlet at his lowest point. He has just revealed his multiple sclerosis to the nation, and his beloved personal aide, Mrs. Dolores Landingham, has died in a car wreck. He comes terribly close to just chucking it all and refusing to run for a second term, after an amazing scene in which he takes the National Cathedral all to himself and scolds God in English and Latin. How Martin Sheen did not get an Emmy for this episode is beyond me.




Sam Seaborn's best episode? I'll pick "And It's Surely To Their Credit", in which Sam must come to terms with the fact that, on the President's orders, Leo McGarry has hired conservative commentator Ainsley Hayes to work at the White House. Hayes (Emily Procter) had demolished Sam on a teevee show a few days prior, and he's still angry with her on that level and on the principle that they're Democrats, dammit, let the Republicans win the White House if they want to have Republicans in the White House. Sam is openly hostile to her, until someone else is even more hostile towards her -- sending her a bouquet of dead flowers with a card simply reading "Bitch" -- which acts like a glass of water thrown in his face. The best episodes are the ones where the heroes don't always look their best.


Leo McGarry's finest moment comes in the third season, "Bartlet For America", when Leo is called before Congress to testify about Bartlet's failure to disclose his MS during the first Presidential campaign. This episode mixes in flashbacks to the campaign, starting with the very moment when Leo came to see then-Governor Bartlet at the New Hampshire Statehouse and proposed that Bartlet run for President. John Spencer had to carry this episode, not just in the flashbacks, and in the Congress scenes, but at the end, when he had to describe what it's like to be an alcoholic. It's an amazing episode.


Donna Moss's best moments, to me, came much later, during the last season, when she had a string of great moments, not any particularly great episodes in themselves. She eventually became a high-ranking member of the Vice President's campaign, a campaign that lost (to Congressman Matthew Santos), and which drove a wedge between her and Josh Lyman. But they eventually reconciled, worked together again on the Santos campaign, and finally came together as a couple as Santos won and as Lyman became White House Chief of Staff and Donna became Chief of Staff to the new First Lady.

Actually, you know what? Donna did have a great episode, "Stirred", which included a subplot in which Donna is trying to get Josh to have the President declare a National Proclamation or something like that for her retiring English teacher from High School. This scene is the result:


Josh Lyman? His standout moment comes in "Noel", the Christmas episode for Season Two, which deals with Josh's PTSD after he had been shot and very nearly killed during the assassination attempt on the President. This is an episode that really can't work until we've been around these characters a while; it has to seem natural that Donna is the one who picks up on Josh's erratic behavior and that the breaking moment comes when Josh raises his voice to the President while standing in the Oval Office. Bartlet doesn't get angry, he doesn't even say anything. He just glances at Leo, who takes Josh out of the room and orders him to sit with a counselor. And, at the end, this:


First Lady Abbey Bartlet's moments come in "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen", just after the President has been shot. Her first instincts are to react as a doctor, so she is asking all kinds of medical questions about what has happened. Then she realizes that she has to tell the anesthesiologist about the President's MS, and she has to break the news to the rest of the team how bad Josh's injury is. All this happens in and around flashbacks to the early campaign, when it wasn't even clear that Bartlet even wanted to run for President and wasn't really inspiring his team.


Here's a great moment from a first season episode, in which Abbey and President Bartlet have their first Oval Office argument:


Charlie Young is an interesting character in that the spotlight usually isn't directly on him, but he's always there, as Personal Aide to the President. He's one of my favorite characters, because he stands in pretty stark contrast to everyone else on the show: he is a lot younger than anyone else in the White House staff, and he is smart but not totally immersed in this world until he gets plucked out of a job pool (he wanted to be a messenger) for consideration as the President's personal aide. Through the show's run we get to see Charlie's slow maturing and growth, during which he catches the eye of the President's daughter Zoe, which causes the President all manner of fatherly annoyance.

In the episode "Celestial Navigation" (which happens to be the episode that made me a fan of the show, after I missed most of the first season to that point), this happens:


Did I miss anyone?

Charlie also asks: What's your take on pros in the Olympics? Should celebs like LeBron or Federer leave the spotlight for others?

I have never been able to figure out my exact take on this. I really haven't. While I can appreciate that basketball fans may have loved seeing the original Dream Team all together on one squad, it just looked ridiculous to me. Blowouts aren't really all that interesting unless it's your team doing the blowing out, and aside from a generic sense of rooting for American athletes, I really don't care about basketball. But having pros in hockey at the last Winter Games really made for a magnificent tournament, didn't it? So I just don't know. I think that a case can be made for the Olympics to showcase the best in the world who choose to compete, which would include pros, and a lot of those sports don't even have real pros anyway.

Ultimately...I just don't know how I feel about this. I mean, sure, a Roger Federer is going to take away some spotlight from someone else, but if the Olympic Gold is therefore won by some amateur who couldn't even hope to win a set against the likes of a Roger Federer, well, what's the point of an Olympic Gold? So ultimately, I guess I can see some of the arguments against pros in the Olympics, but I'm just not really bothered by it. Wishy-washy? You bet!

More answers to come, and more quickly. I think. I've said that before, you know....

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Making Piece



Grief is an odd emotion. It's deeply unpleasant at first, and it pretty much stays unpleasant the longer it's there. But you eventually reach a point where even though it's unpleasant, you don't mind grief all that much, because at least it means that you're remembering. It just becomes a part of the deal, the cost of doing business. It's either accept the grief or force yourself to never, ever indulge the happy memories. Grief is the price of admission to memory.

And besides, what's the alternative? I suppose you could live a life where you never have to grieve – but in order to do that, you have to live a life where you never love, where you never open yourself up to something so much that it hurts forevermore when you lose it. There are lives, I suppose, that are grief-free, but they are either too short to feel anything or too stunted to feel anything. A life that was worth living, a life that was lived well, involves grief.

Obviously I've had to deal with grief a lot over the last seven years (or eight, really – Little Quinn's life brought grief of its own, as soon as it began). One thing I've found is a certain kinship with those others who are visited by grief; it's almost as if, having encountered grief myself, other people somehow become more real to me when I learn that they, too, have encountered it. That seems a bit silly, frankly, but there is a certain 'club' feeling when it comes to loss. You meet people who are grieving, and they become more than other people. They are fellow travelers on a sad road that you're traveling yourself.

One such person is Beth Howard, the blogger behind The World Needs More Pie. I discovered her blog, of all ways, by looking not for fellow travelers in grief but for fellow travelers in overalls. Reading her blog quickly made clear that she had taken on a fairly Quixotic mission for herself: she was an evangelist for the power of pie to heal and to forge connections between people and to just generally make the world a better place. She makes pie constantly, and she teaches people of all walks how to make pie, and she sells or gives away pie. About the only she doesn't do with pie is throw it, but as she blogged once, I've got her covered there, anyway! She does all this in a trusty pair of overalls whilst living in the American Gothic house in Eldon, IA.


Reading her blog, I soon learned that she was also grieving. Her husband had died, very suddenly, of a heart ailment, just a couple of years ago. It was all very raw for her, and she was still processing it all. She was processing it through making and sharing pie, through caretaking the house in the background of one of the most famous paintings of the last 150 years, and, eventually, through writing a book: Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie. I've been lucky enough to get to know Beth Howard a little not just through blogging, but through Facebook and Twitter; I was able to follow her adventure of getting her book published, and it was truly exciting to see it finally come out. (I'm honored to have received a shout-out in her acknowledgments.) It took me a little while to get to reading it myself, but I do recall that I was rather nonplussed by the book's review in the Buffalo News. The reviewer took the book to task for being too much about grief and not enough about pie. But the book's very subtitle puts pie third, behind love and loss. What did that reviewer expect?

It's really very proper that a book that deals with grief should be, to some extent, dominated by grief, because grief dominates. It just does. When grief comes, it comes hard, and it doesn't just demand attention – it commands it. Grief is the only thing you feel, and even as it's awful and unpleasant, there's a strange guilt that sets in when you suddenly realize, for one second, that you're feeling something else. It's almost as if your mind says, "Oh my God, I've stopped grieving for a moment!"

Ultimately, the specific details of any one person's grief are utterly different from any other person's. It's the quality of the experience of grief that is universal. It's in the thousand little ways that grief seems, for a time, to take over one's life. Beth's book captures this very effectively.

The other half of the equation is, of course, dealing with grief. How does one 'move on'? Well, you don't, but that's a story for another time. What you do is find a way to channel the grief into a positive use of energy. In Beth Howard's life, that turns out to be pie: and not just the baking of pie at home, but making a life mission out of pie. She teaches people how to make it, how it brings people together, how many memories can be shared over the making and eating of it. Beth spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out how to best execute her new mission in life: a bakery? A TV show about pie? Her life eventually brings her to Iowa, where she finally comes to live in the American Gothic house. She bakes pie there, runs her little pie stand, and judges pies at county and state fairs, where her attempts to describe her reaction to a French Silk pie in erotic terms doesn't quite make the other ladies on the judging panel happy.

Making Piece is not really a food book. It's a personal narrative, much of which centers on food. It's about injury and healing, and the way food plays a role. There's a zen quality to Beth's writing, and in her approach to her life, in following passions and ideas and interests, and in finding a way through pain by taking pleasure in doing a certain task, over and over again. It's almost as if pie serves the role of a mantra in her life. Making Piece is her confessional: sometimes warm, sometimes raw, sometimes uncomfortable, and always honest and compelling.

True confession time: I have never made my own pie from scratch. This winter, I think it's time to scratch that from my list.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

(Before the question: I have not forgotten about the outstanding Ask Me Anything! queries! I swear I'll get to them. I'm behind on posts I want to write, but I'm farther behind on other stuff. I'll have that shield down, you've got to give me more time!)

OK, the question: What is your favorite 'polite' (i.e., you can say it in front of your mom without fear of getting your mouth washed out with soap) expletive? For SF readers, what's your favorite fake expletive or curse?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Stepping Small

Neil Armstrong was laid to rest last week. He lived near Cincinnati, and fittingly, the moon on the night of his burial was full and, as it happened, blue.

Blue Moon (201208310018HQ)

I haven't said anything about Armstrong's passing, because so many others have said what I would have said and said it better. I remain firm in my belief that humanity's future ultimately lies beyond this world, and I hope that Armstrong's footsteps won't have been the first of just a few that were never taken again.

Neil Armstrong

Monday, September 03, 2012

A few random opinions on some stuff

Random stuff!

:: Hey, Pittsburgh Pirates: I'll be fine with it if you don't quite make the postseason. But if you find a way to get to 82 losses after the season you had up 'til a couple of weeks ago, well, bite me!

:: Having watched Clint Eastwood several times as a presenter at the Academy Awards, I could have told the Republican convention organizers that he's an awful public speaker. I could have. Not that I would have, because I think it's just hilarious that the two biggest memes to come out of their convention was that Paul Ryan is a big liar and that Eastwood is a cranky geezer. You wouldn't know that their Presidential candidate even gave a speech!

:: Hotel Hell is just kind of dull. It's Kitchen Nightmares in a hotel. That's it. I watch it, because I still fall into the "Watch anything Gordon Ramsay does" category, but...it wouldn't break my heart if this show went away. What's next? Hardware Horrors, in which Ramsay helps failing hardware stores? "I can't believe it. It's a hardware store, and not a single Philips #1 screwdriver to be had. This is simply dreadful...but I'm going to help them turn it around!"

:: It looks like I may be adding cucumbers to my diet. I've never liked them before. In truth, I'm not in love with them now, either, but their presence in a salad no longer prompts me to lift it out and hand it to The Wife. Weird. It's like I don't even know who I am anymore!

:: Words With Friends is more fun than it should be.

:: Today, on Labor Day, it was in the high 80s here in Buffalo Niagara. I accept these temps in July, and I tolerate them when they crop up in August, but I find the high 80s unacceptable in September. I am emotionally ready for overalls weather, so where the hell is it?! GAHHH!!!

That's about it. Now that I've got all that off my chest, onward and upward!

Writing in August...or not....


Writing in August...or not, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Well, August 2012 will not go down in my personal annals of writing productivity. I had four different stretches of three or more consecutive days in which I did not produce a single word in Lighthouse Boy! (not the actual title), and my hope of having the manuscript markups for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) by Labor Day also did not materialize. In fact, I didn't even get halfway through the manuscript. Ugh!

It wasn't all laziness on my part. August tends to be our more active of the summer months, and this year was no exception; we even had company, via a welcome visit from my Father-In-Law. But writing just didn't get done, much of the time.

It wasn't a complete loss, as I did get some plotting finished and figured out a couple of the "Meh, figure that out during the editing phase" problems with Princesses. One such difficulty -- the clearing up of a certain mystery -- gave me great pleasure when I figured out the solution, because the solution I was originally going for (just leaving that particular question as a "To be answered sometime in a later book in the series" kind of question, since I didn't have an answer for it just now) struck me as unsatisfying. And I figured out some stuff on Lighthouse Boy!, so there's that, too.

Well...on with the work. Now I am hoping to get the manuscript markups for Princesses done by the time I go on vacation, at the end of this month. This works out to getting through at least 11 pages a day between now and the 28th. Onward and upward....

(And yes, blogging will still be on the light side as I get this work done!)