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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A to Z 2013: Classical Music!



Yup, folks, it's that time again -- the A to Z Blogging Challenge! The idea is to simply blog each day in April on a certain topic (excluding Sundays), using the letters of the alphabet as your guide. This year, my theme will be Classical Music. I'm not taking any particularly organized approach here; I'll just be posting twenty-six different works with a few notes on each. Some will be very well-known to me; some will be very well-known in general. And some will be entirely new to me, which is exciting. (And yes, for long-time readers, some may well have been used in Something for Thursday installments. I'm not searching my archives for each piece as I go.)

The idea? Not to educate or evangelize, just to share a lot of music that I love or might love. (Or hate, if I choose something that makes me crazy.) I had a lot of fun with last year's A-to-Z Challenge, so I hope I can have similar fun this year. (And hey, if you want to do your own A-to-Z, go ahead and sign up! There's still time. More the merrier!)

By the way, Something for Thursday will continue to exist this month, but I'll lay off the classical music for that feature until May. So in general, expect this blog to have a more musical air about it this coming month!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound! Just one item today, but it's a doozy. I can't decide where it falls on the continuum that exists with Weird on one end and Awesome on the other, but I suspect that it's right in the middle.


Bill Clinton the Lady Killer by *SharpWriter on deviantART

I am speechless...literally, I am without speech.

For them what believe....



Happy Easter.

And for them what don't?

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Centus

Fallen off the wagon again, but I'm getting right back on! This week's prompt suggested this direction almost immediately.

Our fingers entwined like ribbons of light,
the Galaxy’s power provides all our might!
So let those who do evil flee with their dread,
lest we smite them down and make ‘em all dead!”

He looked at her, expectantly. She returned his gaze, skeptically.

“I’m not reciting that every time we face a supervillain,” she said.

“Then YOU come up with a catchphrase," he grumbled.

“Don’t get pissy with me! You’re the one who wanted us to be superheroes! Look at this costume! You can see all my--”

“Fine! Change the costume, too!”

Yeah...it was a while before Bobby and Sue were ready to fight crime....

That's how the brain of a geek works, folks.

On being less mean

Yesterday I had one of "those days", when much of the external stimuli with which I had to deal seemed purposely placed in my path by some higher being in order to really test my resolve to think more positively. And yes, I found myself slipping back into old, familiar thought patterns, which left me feeling pretty icky the rest of the day. Maybe I need one of those wrist-snap things that Larry Hagman used to hawk for the Great American Smoke-out, and snap my wrist every time I feel myself slipping into familiar, but not undesirable, negative thoughtspace. (Here's a quick Instagram reaction I had to yesterday at one point.)

Anyway, I just read a message on Facebook by SF author David Gerrold (whose place in SF lore would be secure if the only thing he'd ever written was the Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles"), in which, in the course of explaining why he doesn't like laughing at photos of morbidly obese people, he says something that lines up with my thinking these days:

As human beings, we have the capacity to stand for each other, to support each other, to be compassionate and nurturing. We have the very human capacity to make a difference for everyone around us -- not just friends and family, but everyone we come in contact with. Other human beings deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

This isn't a new realization for me. It's merely today's recognition that toxic behavior of any kind makes me uncomfortable. (Last year, I edited out of my life a friend of twenty years because despite her unerring moral compass, I couldn't stand the way she bullied and abused anyone who dared to question her unerring moral compass. Instead of teaching, she attacked. Her unerring moral compass was applied to everyone else's behavior but her own. I also culled her enablers and yes-men.)

I'm not perfect, I make mistakes, we all do. But as a rule of thumb -- I make a continuing effort to NOT judge people by who they are. Instead, I respond to what they say and what they do. I look at their behavior. Because what a person says and does is the clearest expression of what he or she is up to on the planet.

I think Facebook (and all other social media) has the power to transform who we are as a society. We can learn from each other. We can learn to listen to each other. We can learn to respect each other. Or we can be a global circular firing squad.

Every time we post, we're making a choice. We're choosing to elevate ourselves and the people we connect with -- or we're choosing to kick ourselves a little bit farther down the muddy slope. I choose not to be an enabler.

Agreed.

Further Observational Matters

After the last few comments threads here, I've realized that a goodly portion of my readership consists of early risers who prefer their delight to come in the wee hours of the morning as opposed to the famed cheesy song's afternoon version, and that most, if not all of you, prefer the existing commenting system. So: there it is! Onward and upward.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Query for You Fine Readers

Does the commenting system currently in use here suffice? Or should I switch to a system like Disqus, which allows a lot more mechanisms for signing in to leave comments? Please weigh in! I'm not sure that Blogger's existing commenting system is really serving my needs, or readers' needs, as well as a commenting system should, and I see no sign that the Google/Blogger people have any intention of revising that system any time soon. Thanks in advance for your input!

(And for that matter, in keeping with my general new approach of eliminating snark and negativity to the highest degree possible from my life -- and therefore this blog -- as of this post, consider all commenting permissions restored to any and all. Thanks!)

Something for Thursday

You know what? I like this song and don't care who knows it!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A brief observation

Based on responses to this week's Random Wednesday Conversation Starter, this blog seems to appeal to an awful lot of early risers. Maybe I should start scheduling all of my new content to run at three in the morning!

PEROT IN '92!!!

Psst! Hey! Wanna waste your vote?


As far as Buffalo's recognition of blogs goes, 'personal' blogs such as this one might as well not even exist, but hey, a fellow can dream! Or he can pout. Or he can have pouty dreams. Yeah, that's it! Anyway, go to Artvoice.com for details on how to either join the rest of the sheep or throw your ballot away.


A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Name something you would voluntarily get up at 3:30 am to do.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Notes with a fountain pen

On a break today I decided to jot down some notes on the plot of Princesses In SPACE!!! II: Just When You Thought It Was Safe For the Princesses To Go Back in the Water (not the actual title), as well as some random plot ideas and notions that may or may not bear fruit later on.

I've written in the past that I don't, as a rule, do much by way of outlining. I find that even when I try to outline as specifically as I can, invariably I reach a point where my characters start doing other stuff, and I either write a lot of unconvincing stuff as I try to force the story back into the shape of the outline, or I end up tossing the outline altogether -- in which case, the original work was pretty much a waste of time.

So I don't outline much. About the only outlining I will do is very low-level, and high-focus, work in which I plot out no more than the next chapter or two. And even then I find that I can wander off the planned course, so I still tend to lay off the hyper-specifics. And if I outline the entire story, it's extremely high level -- no more than a blurb or two the describe the entire story. I simply cannot work from a detailed outline, and nowadays, I don't even try to do so.

That particular notebook, by the way? I've had that notebook for about fifteen years. Maybe a little longer. When I flip through it, I find story notes from The Promised King and, going back to even several years before this blog even started, the Star Wars fanfic that I was working on around the time I got married. Seeing those notes again always feels like an artifact from someone else's distant past...not even mine....

Just because I haven't posted anything yet today....

Here's Vidler's in East Aurora, NY, after dark. We'd just come out of Firefly Cupcakes, which is right next door. Note the giant statue-golem of Mr. Vidler, looming over all!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Is Gonzaga Porkins, then?

March Madness explained by invoking Star Wars:


Of course, the fact that a geek like this has to ask why Luke has a grenade on Hoth with which he blows up an Imperial Walker is disappointing. Come on, pay at least some attention to the movie.

(via)

Sentential Links

Whaddaya mean, you're not gonna click these links? Everybody likes links! All the cool kids are clicking them!



:: I’m absolutely spellbound watching creatures eat their lunch.

Which, most of the time, consists of other creatures.
(I used to read composer Alex Shapiro's blog all the time, and then I lapsed for a long time. Not sure why, because her blog is captivating. And I also finally got around to buying her album, as an MP3 download from Amazon. I'd like to report on the entire album, but as I write this, I'm on my third consecutive listen to the second track, "Bioplasm", which is eleven minutes long. Anyhow, her music and her blog chronicle the lifecycles of her Puget Sound island.)

:: If your response to a woman doing something you don’t like is to threaten her with rape and death, she’s not the problem.

:: There’s a feeling I’m experiencing now that I’m about to finish the first phase of a huge writing project. It’s rather like the first (and only) time I had to get off of a ski lift.

:: So when you get stuck just know, there is no Dr. House for writing. At times we’re all Frank Burns.

:: And where did he get that hat with his name on it? Smokey? Was that his name or did he name himself after he got the hat? (Erm....)

:: I don’t think you have a talk with kids about racism, any more than you would have a talk about sex. You look for opportunities to point out situations where racism exists, even today – shocking, I know, but they do present themselves – and discuss what might be the motivating factors.

:: I was thinking of the different places my family traveled on Spring Break. I remember a few.

:: “I don’t think we’ll finally get over Vietnam until everyone of that generation passes away,” I said. ”Maybe longer. Maybe me and all of their children need to be gone too.”

He shook his head.

“Humph. You wish! We’re not over the Civil War.”


More next week, huzzah!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Brief Writing Update

Work on Princesses In SPACE!!! Into Darkness (not the actual title) continues, but I'm not enamored of my record in terms of daily output. I've taken to allowing my Self-Motivation Circuit to leave messages on my daily output spreadsheet, and thus far, the SMC is not impressed.


No, the SMC does not think I'm doing a bang-up job. Two zero-word days in two weeks, and not only am I missing my current quote (1000 words a day) a majority of the time, but I'm not even hitting my previous quota (500 words a day) a non-trivial amount of the time! This is, as they say, Not Inspiring.

However, notice that I did have a bit of a bounce-back yesterday! The SMC would go lighter on me now, right?


Sigh.

Back to work.

A life, with kittehs

I don't know how I live with these nitwits.

Sumbitch takes up my entire pillow!!!! #Lester

The dummies in the windowsill #Julio #Lester

Hi, Lester.

What's better than one kitteh? Two kittehs! #Lester #Julio

Day 23a: something sweet. What's sweeter than sleeping kittehs? #MarchChallenge #tmlphotoaday #Lester #Julio

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: This is probably one of those things that everybody's seen but me already, but as it is in fact new to me, here's the Tarantula Song.


:: Buddha laughs at your paltry efforts to conquer the world through technology.


(Stolen from Tumblr)

:: Want to know how to make the Star Wars blaster sound effect? Sure you do!


More next week!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A brief observation

Those of us who were occasionally bullied in grade school (for me it was during my younger years, much less so in my older ones, and even then I didn't get bullied a whole lot, but it did happen) might remember scenarios in which the bigger kid is picking on the smaller, and doing stuff like cornering him someplace alone, and refusing to let him pass, and maybe punching him a bit in the stomach or shoulder. Maybe it gets worse, like dumping the kid's books while he's in the bathroom. Whatever it is -- it's the canonical style of bullying, what people my age tend to think of when they hear the word.

Remember what the bully always said on those rare occasions when a teacher or other adult just happened to show up, coming 'round the corner at just the right time? "I was just kidding around with him!"

"I was just playin'!"

"I wasn't gonna hurt him or anything, we were just playin'!"

"I was just joking with him!"

That's what I think of whenever some comedian says something really awful, gets called on it, and then starts in with the "I was just telling a joke!" defense.

I think that an uncomfortably large amount of comedy these days springs from the same mental space from which bullying comes. And that, no matter what the comedians might wish, is their problem, not mine.

A writer's manifesto




Borrowed from SK Waller.

Friday, March 22, 2013

On fandom and groups and such

Lynn is nonplussed by the existence of Bronies:

I cannot understand adult My Little Pony fandom, especially adult male Pony fandom, known as “bronies”. I can sort of understand adult female Pony fandom but guys being interested in the activities of cute, pastel colored ponies… well, frankly, it’s just a wee bit creepy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You can be as creepy as you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone. Viva la diversity!

But I suppose I’m stuck on the old-fashioned, out-dated 60’s notion of “real manhood.” Neither John Wayne nor Captain Kirk would have ever been caught playing with cute pastel Ponies. And, come to think of it, neither would have Captain Picard.

For those not keeping score, 'Bronies' are male fans of My Little Pony. For those who still aren't keeping score, yes, you read that right. My Little Pony. The little colorful ponies who are generally seen as the equine analog of the Care Bears.

Lynn's view is not unusual. I've come to know Lynn pretty well after years of online interaction, so I'm pretty confident that when she says she finds it a 'wee bit creepy', that's pretty much what she means: "OK, I'm not gonna lie, that's kinda weird. But whatever floats your boat." She's nowhere near as irritated by Brony existence as some other people I've seen online. A recall a while back when I went on one of my rare visits to the FSM message boards and found someone there going off on an extended rant about how Bronies are literally pedophiles.

My reaction to learning the existence of Bronies was twofold: "Huh, OK, whatever" and "Why would anyone of adult age be a fan of those?" Well, apparently the Brony 'phenomenon' is centered mainly on the current incarnation of the Ponies on teevee, via the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Having never once seen an episode of this, I had to look up the following on Wikipedia:

The show has been critically praised for its humor and moral outlook. Despite the target demographic of young girls, Friendship Is Magic has, in addition, gained a large following of older viewers, predominately teenagers and adults, largely male, who call themselves "bronies". Reasons for this unintended appreciation include Faust and her team's creative writing and characterization, the expressive Flash-based animation style, themes that older audiences can appreciate, and a reciprocal relationship between Hasbro, the creators, and the fans. Elements of the show have become part of the remix culture and have formed the basis for a variety of Internet memes. As a result in part of this unexpected cross-demographic audience interest, the series has become a major commercial success, becoming the most highly rated original production in the Hub's broadcast history.

So apparently it's a kid's show that has been crafted in such a way as to have appeal to older age groups. This is, I suppose, not at all unlike other successful cartoon franchises of long-standing -- Looney Tunes, for example, or Tom and Jerry. Again, I've never seen any of this, so I can't personally vouch for it. But I do have a good friend who also happens to be quite the MLP fan, and she strongly recommended that I watch some of Friendship is Magic, describing the show's sense of humor as 'delightfully twisted'. I have to admit that I am curious about this, and also that the main reason I haven't is the same reason I haven't got around to watching Farscape or the rest of Battlestar Galactica or [insert thing I haven't seen yet]. I just haven't got round to it.

I don't rule out the possibility of me actually liking MLP: Friendship is Magic, either. As kid-stuff goes, I am a huge fan of the show Arthur. Now there's a fun show with a 'delightfully twisted' sense of humor.

The whole 'Brony' thing interests me, though, as a larger part of fandom. I consider myself a fan of lots of stuff, and readers here can probably attest to a lot of it. Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Quentin Tarantino, The Lord of the Rings, Guy Gavriel Kay...yes, I have my fandoms. And yet, I don't really associate with any other fans of such things, at least not in areas such as online forums which are intended for interaction of fans. I exercise my fandom here, on this blog. And through that, I do meet other folks, and interact with them; but doing so in this way, rather than on dedicated sites, seems to me to allow for a wider connection with fans of things that I like. And it also heightens the likelihood that they are not fans of other stuff that I like, which is fine...but on dedicated sites and such, it can be a bit of a shock.

Back when I actively posted on the FSM boards, and Usenet before them, the conversations pretty much stuck to film music. This led to the phenomenon of discovering that someone with whom I had previously thought I was simpatico with on all things is actually almost completely different from me on everything. Talking passionately about the music of John Williams with someone, only to find out that they are a deeply conservative Republican? In Blogistan, this does not come as a shock at all. But on a dedicated site, it can be a jolt.

I ultimately don't participate in those kinds of forums because of issues like this. Not because I'm trying to avoid people who aren't exactly like me, but because when the conversation is that limited to a single topic, no matter how strong the passion can show and how deep the conversation on that topic, you almost never get a good feel for the other person beyond that particular fandom. This was one of the things that drew me to blogging in the first place, way back when: Usenet was just less and less satisfying. If I wanted to talk film music, there was that group. If I wanted to talk books, I had to go to another group -- and the denizens of that group weren't the same as the first. It was this compartmentalizing of fandom that I found so irritating: that I had to remember to which group I was talking about what. As soon as I discovered that I could set up my own spot where I could talk about what I wanted when I wanted, no matter if anyone was listening or not, that was that.

There's also the fact that people may like the same stuff you do, but in different ways. Fact is, there probably are Bronies who are drawn to it for less than savory reasons. I remember years ago when I discovered other fans of pies in the face AND overalls online -- in separate communities -- and then realized that they're fetish communities, with all the gradations that go with such things (meaning, some of which were hard-core). Again, fine if that's your thing, but not for me, thank you very much. I quickly realized that I had little to no basis on which to interact with those folks, and that was that.

Fandom is an odd thing. It's personal, but it also makes us crave connections, doesn't it? So I suppose ultimately the question becomes, what kind of connections do we want. Speaking solely for myself, I don't want connections that are based on a single shared passion for one particular thing. But, as in all things, that's just me.

Film Quote Friday: "Amistad"



I've only seen this movie once, and I liked it, but not really enough to watch it again. At the time I remember finding it well-made, well-acted, and all, but a bit on the slow-moving side and generally not too involving. But at the end of the film, when the court case in the story (regarding the status of a group of Africans, on their way to being sold into slavery, who rise up while still on the slave ship from Africa) reaches the Supreme Court, we get to hear a long speech by former President John Quincy Adams (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins), that I've watched, in itself, many times on YouTube. It's a terrific speech, and like all great speeches, the most emotionally resonant part comes at the end.

The other night I was talking with my friend, Cinque [the slave, played by Djimon Honsou]. He was over at my place, and we were out in the greenhouse together. And he was explaining to me how when a member of the Mende -- that's his people -- how when a member of the Mende encounters a situation where there appears no hope at all, he invokes his ancestors. It's a tradition. See, the Mende believe that if one can summon the spirits of one's ancestors, then they have never left, and the wisdom and strength they fathered and inspired will come to his aid.

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams: We've long resisted asking you for guidance. Perhaps we have feared in doing so we might acknowledge that our individuality which we so, so revere is not entirely our own. Perhaps we've feared an appeal to you might be taken for weakness. But, we've come to understand, finally, that this is not so. We understand now, we've been made to understand, and to embrace the understanding that who we are is who we were.

"Who we are is who we were." That's very true, isn't it? Like it or not, for good or ill, we are in many ways the sum of the experiences of our forebears. And so will our children be, of us.

Here's the entire speech:


Thursday, March 21, 2013

A few random links and stuff!

I haven't done a 'lazy linkage' kind of post in a while (of course, Sentential Links and the Sunday Burst are that sort of thing, I suppose), so here's a bit of 'lazy linkage'!

:: Neal Asher on tracking word counts in writing.

I upped this to 2,000 and still found it too easy, but then this was all my words, so next I discounted journal entries, blog posts, and stuff I put on message boards (yes, I even counted the words in them) and reset my target to 2,000 words of fiction. This is what I’ve stuck to ever since. When I get started each day I read through and correct the previous day’s 2,000 words, then start on the next. As I reach that figure I try to simply stop, and not go on until reaching a natural break. If you just stop while you know what you’re going to write next, it’s easier to get going again the next day.

I should try that...the 'not trying to get to a natural breaking point' idea. I should say, I have tried it, but I often wind up staring at the screen and thinking, "Where the hell was I going with this?" So now I'll just leave a little note in parentheses, indicating what's to happen next, like this:

"It was you!" she exclaimed.

[The murderer is the butler. Later, having solved the crime, the two Princesses have hot fudge sundaes followed by a pillow fight.]

:: Charles Stross on why he doesn't self-publish:

Anyway: this is why I don't self-publish. Yes, I could do it. But it'd suck up a huge amount of time I would prefer to spend doing what I enjoy (writing) and force me to do stuff I do not enjoy (reading contracts, accounting, managing other people). The only sane way to do it would be to hire someone else to do all the boring crap on my behalf. And do you know what we call people who do that? We call them publishers.

I do think about self-publishing from time to time. For me, it's a notion of last resort, for these reasons: I don't want to spend the necessary time doing all the marketing, design, and all that jazz. If it comes to that, I will, because I frankly believe very strongly in the book I wrote and the one I'm writing and I also believe very strongly that I'm going to get better at this (based on the fact that I can look at my writings from years past and see that I already am better at this). But I won't do that unless absolutely no one out there is willing to do the heavy lifting for me.

:: Phil Plait sums up some new cosmological findings. They are mindblowing. Go read it! As he concludes:

I still hear some people say that science takes the wonder out of life. Those people are utterly and completely wrong.

Science takes us to the wonder.

:: Ten small changes you can make to help avoid another Steubenville.

:: In the early to mid-1990s, I became quite the rabid baseball fan, falling deeply in love with that game. I've fallen away from it for many reasons, which always makes me a little sad, because I remain convinced that of all the major sports, baseball is the most inherently beautiful.

Anyway, any baseball fan from that era likely remembers the awful day in 1993 -- now twenty years ago -- when horrible news came out of the Cleveland Indians' spring training. Two of their players, pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews, were killed in a boating accident, and only by some incredible quirk of fate did Bobby Ojeda avoid the same fate. For a franchise that was on the upswing, the accident was an absolute punch in the gut. Today, I read a deeply sad but well-written article about that accident and the lives it altered forever.

The cloudless sky, the shining sun and the still waters betray the truth of what happened here.

This is where the world lost you, Tim, and you, Steve. On Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, Fla. This is where you boarded a black power boat shortly after sundown on March 22, 1993, hoping the bass would be biting on that overcast evening. This is where you saw the headlights flashing from the shore, alerting you that the rest of your friends had arrived. This is where you hit the gas, Tim, not knowing that, in the blackness of a night with a new moon, the 18-foot, open-air Skeeter had drifted out toward the unlit dock on the opposite shore -- a 185-foot-long wooden structure that extended far into the water. This is where the boat slammed, head-high, into the end of that dock.

This is where life met death.

The baseball world couldn't fathom what happened here, because ballplayers aren't supposed to die. Not during Spring Training, when optimism is abundant and nobody frets over standings or statistics. Not when they have young, growing families waiting for them on dry land.

That's why baseball fans remember the names Tim Crews and Steve Olin. They remember the way your Cleveland Indians teammates wrestled with the emotional intensity of that 1993 season. The way Bob Ojeda, who had been with you on the boat and survived only because he happened to be slouching at the moment of impact, dealt with survivor's guilt and suicidal thoughts before returning to the team later that year.

What they don't know, what they can't know, is what it's been like for your families to live with the losses. What it was like for your wives to explain to their children that Daddy wasn't coming back. What it was like -- what it is like -- for them to wonder what their lives would be like today, if only you were still here.

Twenty years. You've missed so much.

You know what's really odd? While writing this, something jogged in my memory, and I realized that I once linked, for another site, an article for the tenth anniversary of the Little Lake Nellie accident. I wonder if I'll still be here in ten years, to link someone's observation of the thirtieth anniversary of it.

Something for Thursday

Here's something I don't think I've done yet in the course of doing these posts: I'm using a piece of music of whose existence I was completely unaware just twenty minutes ago. But I heard this on the drive in to work today, and I thought, "Ayup, I'm using that for today's post." It's a piece of film music from a movie that I've never heard of, by a composer with whom I am totally unfamiliar. It's not a complex piece, by any means, but sometimes you just want a nice, lush melody that sings from the heart. With Joshua Bell on the solo violin, here is a selection from Ladies in Lavender, composed by Nigel Hess.


(Since I've stopped listening to sports talk radio in favor of returning to WNED, I've noticed that film music takes up a lot more of their programming. I find this interesting.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Answers the Final!

OK, folks, I think I can finally wrap it up in this post! Hooray and Huzzah! (And remember, if you have something you'd like to ask, always feel free. I've got tons of ways you can get hold of me -- e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, you name it. And if you want to remain anonymous, I always honor such requests.)

Charlie asks:

It's Spring 2000, The West Wing is well into Season 2 and you've decided to write a spec script to see if Sorkin might let you write a few episodes of Season 3 for him. What would your episode be about?

Huh. I've never given that any thought, actually. But since I saw this question, I've kicked it around a bit. What kind of West Wing episode would I have written?

Well, I remember reading someplace -- perhaps in the introduction of one of the TWW screenplay books that were released some years ago -- that originally the President himself was to play a much smaller role in the show. I suspect that ultimately they decided it was just too difficult to keep that conceit in place, especially since they had Martin Sheen playing him. I would have taken that concept a bit farther, and written an episode in which we never see anyone in the White House who ranks higher than Mrs. Landingham. No Sam, CJ, Toby, Josh, or Leo. And certainly no President Bartlet. Just a day in the life of Donna, Ginger, Bonnie, Cathy, Margaret, and those other two guys whose names I could never remember. How hard would this have been? Well, just have the entire senior staff and the President away on a political trip or a diplomatic trip or something, but stay in the White House. Perhaps some kind of domestic crisis could happen, and we watch as the junior staffers try to execute the instructions given to them by their distant bosses. Or something like that -- but a real, good sense of what it's like to work in the White House at that level.

And Chris asks:

Which book scene have you most wanted to live out? Must give book, scene, and which character you would be.

Which heroine (if any) have you fantasized about being?

Taking the second one first: that's interesting, because I'm hard-pressed at first to think of such a scenario. In truth, I don't tend to do a whole lot of 'identifying' with fictional characters, be they heroes or heroines. I think back to when I used to play with kids in the neighborhood, and even when we did the whole "Let's play Star Wars!" thing, I was never thinking, "I'm Han Solo!" or "I'm Darth Vader!" or "I'm Luke!" (And of course, back then, I was still in the 'girls are squicky' phase of life, so I certainly never yelled out, "I'm Leia!".) Identifying with fictional characters just has never been something I've done much of, which is why one of the most common complaints about the Star Wars Prequels -- "There's no one for the audience to identify with!" -- tends to make zero sense to me.

This extends to my writing. When I'm running my characters through some predicament or other, I almost never think along the lines of, "OK, what would I do in this situation?" I don't do that because I am not in that situation, they are. So the question I end up asking is, "OK, what is she (or he, or they, or it) going to do in that situation?" I am not one of the Princesses in SPACE!!!, so what I would do if stuck in a sticky wicket in SPACE!!! isn't much use in my story. And that way, I find that the characters really do surprise me an awful lot of the time.

Now, I have fantasized about settings of stories. Oh yes, that I've done. And I'd love to live in many of the fictional -- especially science fictional -- worlds I've read about. Less so the fantasy ones, because I'm not really cut out for the medieval lifestyle, but I'd love to be on spaceships and whatnot. And I'd love to own a lightsaber and use it to defend myself and peace and justice in the Old Republic. Or I'd love to roam the decks of the starship Enterprise. Or I'd love to have my own small ship and eke out a living in the Firefly/Serenity universe.

So characters? I don't fantasize myself into them much, at all. Settings? Oh yeah.

Which takes me to Chris's first question, which at first glance seems to have already been answered, but not really, actually. There are a lot of book scenes that thrilled me when I read them, and which I would love to see played out. Not with me as one of the main characters, but as "Man with Axe #3" in the background, or "Guy at bar". These are scenes that are incredibly vivid to me, scenes that played out in my head almost as if I was there, when I read them.

:: The Battle of Andarien, The Darkest Road, Guy Gavriel Kay. The entire final act of that book, winding down the trilogy, is so masterful that whenever I re-read the series, I basically block out enough time so I can do the entire last 200 pages or so in one go.

:: David Bowman's final trip into the Stargate, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book version, where Arthur C. Clarke is more objectively descriptive than Stanley Kubrick's odd psychedelia. (Which I greatly admire, by the way.)

:: The final scene of To Kill a Mockingbird...although I suppose the movie really caught that extremely well, didn't it?

:: One of the first scenes in Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. When a six-year-old Jesus makes his own face appear in all the town's Passover bread.

:: And there's a pie fight in Stephen King's 11-22-63. Because hey, what I wouldn't give to be a full-bore, all-the-stops-pulled-out pie fight.

And with that, I think we're done with Ask Me Anything! February 2013. Thanks for all the questions, folks! (And if I missed one, let me know and I'll do an addendum.)

See you again in August! Well, sooner than that. But for Ask Me Anything!, see you in August.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Taking a different, slightly quirkier, approach this week, you get to put thoughts in my head. Caption the thought balloon in this photo!


What am I thinking?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

And now for something completely different....

That last post is kind of a bummer, so...here's the Brady Bunch doing the Charleston!


(I don't recall exactly why Bobby is pouting at the top of the stairs....)

Boys Will Be Boys

Good article on the Steubenville, OH rape case:

Where is the challenge to the idea that their lives really are “over”? There is something deeply harmful in all of the adults reinforcing the idea that the lives of teen-age boys are destroyed when a girl says what they have done. There is also something incomplete about just replying that they deserved the consequences (as much as they do). For one thing, it can mean asking a sixteen-year-old to be the one to judge the weight of her own trauma. It isn’t trivializing the seriousness of the sentence to say that teen-agers always think, when one door is closed, that everything is over, and that it’s the job of grownups to explain that it isn’t. A different life is not a worthless one. (Absent parents, not incidentally, are a theme of this story.)

There are more important and complicated questions beyond that, both practical and ethical. Telling those teen-agers that there shouldn’t have been consequences might mean another victim, in another town, years in the future. It also affects what sort of men the boys become, and one has to think that Richmond and Mays, too, have an interest in that. Does it destroy a teen-ager’s life to take him off the path of being an adult rapist? Perhaps it is too abstractly (even annoyingly) philosophical to ask what the “better” life is—one in which you have a remote shot at being in the NFL, or one in which you might be a person who treats others decently? Still, the question is worth asking.

I've been just appalled by the tone of the press coverage of this whole thing, which reinforces my impression that we just don't take rape all that seriously in this country. Just the other morning I was listening to a podcast by a local individual in which he partly opined in favor of some comedian's "It was just a joke!" defense of a joke he'd made about rape.

These boys are teenagers. Theoretically they have sixty more years on this planet, give or take. Whether or not their lives are 'destroyed' is up to them -- and they are not off to a good start. My sympathies don't lie with them, however. They lie with a girl who was raped and then shamed for having been raped. Where are the cries for "victim's rights"?

Oh well.

Ten years....

...since the start of the Iraq War.

Sigh.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Curse you, Productivity Gods!

COWORKER: So, what're you gonna do tonight?

ME: I think I'm gonna go home, do the normal stuff -- relax, quick nap, shower, dinner -- and then get some writing done.

COWORKER: Cool!

[CUT TO LATER -- MY APARTMENT]

ME: Ahhhh, good to be home! Change clothes...put new ice cream in freezer...open up computer, check e-mail...huh, seems I got a package in the mail, wonder what it is....

Oh, productivity...how I miss you...but not right now, 'K? #GuyGavrielKay #RiverOfStars #swoon

ME: Well played, Productivity Gods. Well played, indeed.

[I look at the book I'm already reading and enjoying, but for which I suddenly feel significantly less enthusiasm....]

Answers the I've lost count....

Continuing the cavalcade of answers from Ask Me Anything!, so that I can be well-rested by the time the August edition rolls around!

Roger's final questions:

Your solution to the immigration problem.

Are we in a "post-racial society," yet, and if not, what will it take?

The US can kill Americans abroad if they are "terrorists"; your thoughts.

The copyright law in my lifetime has expanded the effective date tremendously in my lifetime. Does this distress you?

Are you concerned about MPAA/RIAA copyright overreach legislation such as SOPA?

Well...huh. In all honesty, I haven't thought much about the immigration 'problem', from a policy standpoint. That said, I'm not even sure what the immigration 'problem' even is. Do we have too many people trying to come to America? Frankly, I have a hard time seeing how that's a bad thing. My general view -- and again, I have not thought this out in any great detail and don't have any expertise to offer -- is that we should be making it easier, rather than harder, for the peoples of the world who wish to come here to do so, that they might live here, learn here, work here, establish their families here, and add to the next generation here. And I have a very hard time seeing anti-immigration arguments as anything other than "GAHHH more brown people wanna live by me!", which is not something I generally endorse.

Are we 'post-racial'? No. Not even close, I'm sad to say. What will it take? I hate this thought, but I generally think it might take another bunch of centuries of human evolution in order to squash the "fear of the other" that is at the heart of racism.

Killing American citizens abroad if they're 'terrorists': this is a really tough one, but generally, I tend to fall on the side of ensuring that due process is granted in as many cases as humanly possible. Realistically, there will be times when our soldiers abroad are in combat against someone who may have once been an American citizen but who is now fighting for an enemy. But I think what Roger's getting at here is: If such a person isn't in actual combat but we know they're sipping coffee in some cafe someplace, should we be sending assassins in to shoot them? Again, I think no, but again, I think realistically, that's what's likely to happen. But in general I'm very fearful of what the War on Terror hath wrought, in terms of Presidential power (this is, by far, my main area of disappointment with President Obama) and in terms of due process in this country. Plus -- and this is all I'll say about this -- but it strikes me as odd that one person fails to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb and we all have to take off our shoes at the airports, but mass shooting after mass shooting happens in our country, and we don't do a thing about it.

And copyright law is a train wreck that will continue to unfold. I have no doubt that next time Mickey Mouse is getting close to entering the public domain, Disney will buy another member of Congress (last time it was Sonny Bono) and get the legislation passed to make it another twenty years of copyright. As for MPAA/RIAA overreach, that stuff really pisses me off. Let's cripple the Internet because of a problem that will never be eradicated, and which I frankly refuse to believe is a problem in the first place. Those industries can tell me all they want how much money they're losing, but I'm not believing for one second the numbers given to me by an industry that tries to claim that Titanic lost money. Whatever.

OK, just a few left, I think! We'll finish up this week, for realz!

Sentential Links

It's that time again, folks. Link time! Hooray!

:: We all knew this was how it would happen, slowly but steadily. We knew it. And now it's happened to Rob Portman. It's progress. It's human. And I should be less churlish about it. (I see nothing to be gained in being a jerk about how someone comes to the conclusion that they've been wrong and joins the side of the angels. I wish it would happen more quickly, but that's not for me to decide.)

:: I miss her. I'm glad she was here. I carry her with me for the rest of my life. And that's not a bad thing. (I often wonder what kind of burden The Daughter will carry in life, knowing that for a time, she had a brother....)

:: BBC: I'm sorry, I'm afraid that we're going to have to postpone the start of your season again. Budget concerns, you know. You'll just have do make do with the back half of Season Seven and a couple of specials for your 50th anniversary.

Doctor Who Producer: But our series is a phenomenal success! It's getting astounding ratings and great audience appreciation numbers every year, year in and year out!
(And now Britain's stupid austerity budgeting is hurting Doctor Who production? NEVER!!!)

:: I’ve always been Roger O. Green, or Roger O’Green, if you will. Some day, maybe I’ll discover whether I come by my faux designation legitimately. (I find that the older I get...my level of interest in my genealogy goes nowhere. Seriously. I know nothing about my family beyond my grandparents, and I suspect that's the way it's likely to stay.)

:: What novel do you have multiple well worn copies of? If you were in an old book store would you look for another older volume of the same book so that you can eventually find a first edition? If you are a Bibliophiles, you know what I am talking about and you are my people. (I don't crave a first edition Lord of the Rings, but I do own multiple copies, for various reasons -- mainly, every few years or so I see one that looks really nifty. Ditto a number of GGK's novels. I want to get a single-volume edition of The Fionavar Tapestry at some point...and a proper Under Heaven, since my only copy of that one at this point is the ARC I got when the book was coming out.)

:: Also, house parties. I think all novels should have house parties in them. (Note to self: write a house party into Princesses II: The Wrath of the Princesses.)

:: I live it for wiser folk to figure out where she lies on the spectrum of Christian theology, but I do want to point out the hilarious middle panel, in which everyone was enjoying themselves watching basketball until she wandered in with dark warnings about the fact that death looms over us all, constantly. (Oh, Family Circus, never change!)

:: So, THE LAST DANGEROUS V… Er, I mean, THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES! October 10th. And now it’s some other writer’s turn to wear the Crown of Lateness. I have already started work on the fourth Gentleman Bastard book, THE THORN OF EMBERLAIN. (Heh...at the rate I'm going, I'll have Princesses In SPACE!!! III: The Search for Spock's Princesses done by the time I somehow get Princesses published. But that day will come, by God!!! Joking aside, I'm glad that the new Locke Lamora book is on the way. I enjoy that series.)

More next week!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Wearing of the Green!

Here's how I get decked out for St Paddy's Day!

Day 17: Green! #MarchChallenge #tmlphotoaday #overalls #Carhartt #StPaddysDay

Day 17a: Green again! #MarchChallenge #tmlphotoaday #StPaddysDay #overalls #Carhartt

Green overalls. Oh yeah, babe!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: It always amazes me to learn of cultural things that are apparently really big, and yet, somehow I don't learn about them until quite a ways into their fifteen minutes of fame. Case in point: Dorito tacos. How on Earth did I not know about these? Is this what happens when you turn away, in large part, from watching teevee shows actually on teevee, during their broadcast timeslots, with commercials?

:: Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, available for free audio download. Wow. I shall have these before the day is out, oh yes!

:: This fellow canoed the Mississippi River. I haven't dug through his posts yet, but I certainly mean to. I love stories like this. Years ago my parents had a subscription to Canoe Magazine, and one month there was a big feature article about an epic canoe journey that took two guys all the way around North America, or something like that. I read the hell out of that article, over and over again. Good travel writing thrills me!

More next week!

Blessings!




Saturday, March 16, 2013

This situation is out of control. It is out of control and we will be lucky to live through it.

I can't imagine who thought chicken-and-waffles was a viable flavor for a potato chip.

They're...well, they're OK. I would never buy them again, but I don't recoil in horror from them, either.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day!

It's 3:14 pm ET as this post goes live, so...Happy Pi Day, folks!

It's Pi Day! So here are some pies. #PiDay #CoconutCreamPie

Unfortunately I've yet to celebrate Pi Day properly, but one of these years....

Something for Thursday

I've been posting a lot of classical music lately and will likely keep doing so, but why not change the pace once in a while? Here is one of the most beautiful country songs ever written, performed by the ever-amazing Willie Nelson and the always-missed Ray Charles: "Seven Spanish Angels".


They just don't write country songs like that anymore.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ummm, Google?



WTF??!!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

I've been making my own trail mix of late, with various combinations of nuts and dried fruit. My current mix consists of salted almonds and unsalted walnuts mixed with dried dates, cranberries, and pineapple. Now, I'm not a big fan of pineapple in general, but the dried stuff is miraculous. I can't get enough of it, and it tests my self-control.

However, I also throw into the mix when I eat some -- I don't mix it right in, but just add a bit when I dish up some of the trail mix -- prunes. This is new to me, and for the life of me, after eating a few prunes each day for about a week, I cannot decide if I like the things or not.

Do you folks like prunes?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

From the Books: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter



I don't own this book yet. But I've had it checked out of the library a majority of the weeks it's been in the collection, which means that it's well past time for me to get off my ass and buy a copy, innit? Anyway, Jennifer Reese's Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (subtitled What You Should and Shouldn't Cook From Scratch) is a terrific cookbook. Not just a collection of recipes, it's a chronicle of one woman's quest to take more of a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to her family's food preparation, and the discoveries she made along the way that there are some things that you certainly should make for yourself (either because it's easier, or cheaper, or just plain better, or all three), and that there are other things that you're just fine buying for yourself at the store.

I haven't done a whole lot of cooking out of the book yet (one new wrinkle is The Wife's adoption of a gluten-free diet, which has us going in other food directions currently), but there are a lot of good insights here on food and making it yourself and the fact that sometimes it's just fine to not do things from scratch. The book is full of frank observations, like this:

If bay leaf didn't exist, would anyone miss it? I've never tasted anything and thought, This stew is just crying out for bay leaf. But I keep buying and using it nonetheless.

And Reese's explorations are hard-core. This isn't just about making your own breads or spice mixes or your own peanut butter. She writes about keeping -- and killing -- her own chickens, and keeping goats. She writes about making her own hot dogs (her conclusion? Just buy 'em.). And she writes thusly about a dish that's wonderful when made at home, but may or may not be worth all the effort: fried chicken.

One rainy Sunday a few years ago, Isabel, Owen, and I decided to pass the afternoon by watching a DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring, that movie about hobbits and elves and Orcs that we'd been hearing about. One hundred and seventy-eight minutes later, during which we neither moved nor spoke, we looked at each other, eyes glazed. We walked straight to the car, drove to the video store, and rented The Two Towers and The Return of the King. It was getting on dusk when I pulled into the Kentucky Fried Chicken down the hill and bought dinner.

My kids were shocked. Happy, but shocked. What was going on with Mom? KFC? I wondered that myself. But we were hungry and the chicken was hot and we had five more hours of Viggo Mortensen to watch. Fifteen minutes after I pulled into the KFC, we were back on the sofa with the bucket on the coffee table, eating mediocre chicken and mashed potatoes and biscuits and watching The Two Towers. It was one of the happiest nights of my adult life and my children still get dreamy and nostalgic talking about it.

Not long ago, I cooked a grand fried chicken dinner out of Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller. I bought the book based on rave reviews of Keller's chicken, which is brined and air-dried before it is dipped in multiple coatings and fried. The effort paid off; the recipe did not disappoint. TO go with that incredible chicken -- because you can't serve fried chicken without fixins -- I mashed potatoes and baked biscuits. There was a salad in there somewhere, too. Frying chicken is messy and nerve-racking because oil spatters and spits and stings your forearms and you have to do it at the last minute, which is also when you're mashing potatoes and pulling biscuits out of the oven and pouring glasses of water and calling to everyone that dinner is ready. Leave it in the pan too long, and the chicken is ruined; take it out too soon and it's a health hazard. You really have to be up for the logistical challenge.

And fried chicken comes with baggage: You expect fried chicken to be so good that people lick their fingers. Literally. You expect people to linger at the table and loosen their belts, lean back in their chairs, tell stories, pull out a bottle of corn likker. You expect people to somehow recognize that this isn't a meal like all other meals.

Sometimes all of that will happen.

Sometimes it will not.

By the time we sat down, I was bleak with exhaustion, everyone was ravenous, and we put away that chicken in about ten minutes flat. The coating formed a crispy sheath around meat that, thanks to brining, was juicy and flavorful through to the bone. The potatoes were a celestial cloud of starch and butter; the biscuits, perfection. But I don't remember a thing anyone said; I don't remember anyone lingering at the table or thanking me or recognizing that the meal was special or iconic or hanging around afterward to drink corn likker. One of these days I will forget the evening ever happened. I suspect Mark and the children already have. But that night we ate KFC on the sofa and watched The Two Towers? That, we will never forget.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that the symbols of wholesome domestic happiness -- hot biscuits, a platter of home-fried free-range chicken, a family sitting around a table -- are not domestic happiness. The family sitting in front of the TV with the bucket may be experiencing more joy and grace and love. Or, of course, they may not be.

Should you make your own fried chicken or buy KFC? Reese says there's no easy answer to that, and I tend to agree. I've made my own fried chicken, and had a good time doing it. And you can probably tell by my self-photos that I've had my share of KFC.

I need to buy this book...and even after I do, I'll probably keep checking it out periodically, just to keep its circulation numbers up.

Answers the Seventh!

And we keep on plugging away!

First of all, I need to revise and extend my remarks from the other day, regarding what fictional planet I would like to live upon. I don't think I gave the question enough thought at the time, so here are some additions:

The Mars of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (note to self: you're way overdue for a re-read) strikes me as an amazing place that I would love to see, especially if I, like the long-lived characters of his books, get to see Mars all the way from dead red planet to verdant, ocean-covered blue world. I'd love to see that. I saw these photos om Tumblr the other day, comprising what Mars might look like were it completely terraformed:




Wow.


I'm not sure about any one specific planet, but the Commonwealth of Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth novels (one duology and a later trilogy) is an amazing place. Hamilton takes the idea of wormholes between star systems and does something amazing with them: he puts them right on the planet surfaces, so that one can travel from one world to another by train.

I also very much would love to live in Iain M. Banks's Culture setting. I can't remember any specific planets (I've only read two of the books thus far), but I find the idea of a post-scarcity world deeply interesting.

Ultimately, though, I think I'd be that strange soul who doesn't really live on any one world. As long as it had room for my books, I think I'd want to live on...a ship. Yup, a ship. A good ship. With a good crew. You can't take the sky from me!

OK, and now, back to new questions that I haven't answered yet. These few will be short answers, just because I don't have long answers to offer on them.

Roger continues his queries as follows:

You get to vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. How do you deal with the steroid era players?

You get to vote in the Football Hall of Fame. Do you pick a punter? If so, who?

For any Hall of Fame, who has been woefully ignored?

I'll package those all together.

First, the steroid players. I let them in, if their achievements seem to really merit inclusion. McGwire? Bonds? Yes. Sosa? Palmeiro? Ehhhh...maybe not. Maybe those guys wait.

The problem is that Major League Baseball had no real policy for how to deal with steroids in that era. In the absence of a specific policy dealing with banned substances, I just don't see a compelling reason that a bunch of sportswriters should get to appoint themselves Keepers Of Baseball Morality. (And besides, I've grown quite tired of sportswriters in general. I love good sports writing, as much as I love all good writing, but sportswriters in this country have, in general, become an entire class of sanctimonious asses who get offended if you question their brilliant insights. The idea of some of these jerks standing up as moral bulwarks against the horror of a guy who took drugs to increase his home run production? Who cares?

To me, if we're going to decide that those players are all ineligible for the Hall, then we also have to basically vacate the results and standings of every season played during the steroid era. Otherwise, it's just selective morality.

Punters in the Football Hall of Fame? Absolutely. And special teams players, too. Those guys are football players, they contribute to their teams' successes and failures, and they should he in the Hall, if they're good enough.

That said, who has been ignored? The Bills' Andre Reed and Steve Tasker leap to mind. Every year they're eligible and don't get in, and inevitably I hear a very deeply silly argument about "How can a team that lost the Super Bowl have that many players in the Hall?" It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Super Bowl Winners, or the Hall of Stats. Tons of guys should be in who never even got to the Super Bowl.

And for my money, if there's any debate as to whether Kurt Warner is a Hall of Famer, it should end the second he's eligible. That guy goes in, or the Hall is a joke.

Finally Roger asks:

Did you watch the Super Bowl? If so, did the refs blow the (non-)holding call at the end of the game?

I watched all of the first half and a good chunk of the second half, after the blackout ended. We attended a Super Bowl party at The Wife's boss's house, and he lives...out there. Way out there. You go to the Boonies, take a left, drive past East Bumf***, and then another eight miles and you're there. We left a little after the blackout began, and got home for most of the fourth quarter. Had the blackout not happened, we would have missed almost all the second half. (Interestingly, on the way home, I got to drive through my first ever sobriety checkpoint! Luckily, I hadn't been drinking at all that night.)

As for the play in question, I was only partly paying attention at that point. I've heard arguments both ways on that non-call, and I honestly am not sure. The refs blew quite a few calls in that game, but then, Jim Harbaugh's play-calling in that situation was awful. I don't know what possessed him to get first-and-goal that late in the game, when his running game had been clicking all night and when the Ravens' defense was tired, and then throw four times. And frankly, Harbaugh's post-game demeanor was pretty douchey. So even if it was an egregiously missed call, I personally am not terribly offended. Karma, and all that.

We're getting closer to being finished! Great questions this time around...the gauntlet is thrown down for August!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lake Effect!

No, not the snow. Ice cream.

Trying this stuff at long, long last!

For the past couple of years I've been hearing about a local outfit that makes artisanal ice cream, called Lake Effect Ice Cream, after our region's most notable climate feature. Problem is, by 'local', I mean within thirty miles of Buffalo, and in the opposite direction from Casa Jaquandor. Lake Effect Ice Cream is located in Lockport, NY, which is quite a road trip from lovely Orchard Park. In other words, we weren't road-tripping just for ice cream. (What else is there in Lockport, anyway? I'm genuinely curious. If there's a good reason to road-trip, I'm game.)

But now, the Lake Effect folks have grown big enough to be able to start putting their wares in local stores, one of which actually is about fifteen minutes away from Casa Jaquandor. So off we went today to pick some up.

And...wow.

I had the Salty Caramel; The Wife had the Loganberry. I suppose Salty Caramel is self-explanatory, but for anyone not from Western New York, "Loganberry" probably needs some explanation. Loganberries are a kind of hybrid berry, between blackberries and red raspberries. They are also a very popular flavor of fruit beverage in these parts, not unlike fruit punch. There are few things more satisfying on a hot summer evening than a glass of loganberry drink accompanying a hot dog and fries. Some places have loganberry milkshakes, and now, Lake Effect makes a Loganberry ice cream.

The Salty Caramel is very, very good. The Loganberry is amazing.

We'll be trying more flavors, obviously. I saw one called "The Aud", which claims to use as a base "Labatt Blue ice cream". Ice cream, flavored like the area's favorite lager beer? Really? Can that be possible?

I will find out, and report!

Sentential Links

Time for the weekly links.

:: I am now... (this is the super-cool part)... a historian. I get to record history. For a living. (Ayup, that's pretty cool. I'm trying to make up history for a living! Not there yet, though.)

:: When I turned 50, I could think, “Maybe I still have another half a lifetime left.” After all, the number of centenarians in the United States has been growing. Willard Scott, with whom I share a birthday, BTW, still announces the birthdays of those over 100 on NBC-TV’s TODAY show, as far as I know.

Now that I am 60, though, I have to acknowledge that I’m not going to live another 60 years, even if I move to Azerbaijan and start eating yogurt soup. (And if I’m wrong, which one of you is going to write to correct me?)
(I will. When Roger turns 120, I'll be a sprightly 101.)

:: Earlier today,we saw that Batman was ready to retire, psychological paralyzed by an inferiority complex triggered when he took one measly bullet during a mission.

Superman's "brilliant" plan--set up a fake crime wave in Kandor, so Batman could solve it and get all better.

Problem--the plan misfired (duh), the menace was real, but Batman found out it was a plan and is now all "I hate you!"
(I seem to recall that exact plot from episodes of The Brady Bunch, Three's Company, and Eight is Enough.)

:: I will not buy anything I see in a pop-up ad. They are the most annoying form of advertising ever devised. I know the big problem with the internet is that no one has figured out yet how to make a substantial profit out of it. That certainly is my problem. Banner ads are only slightly effective. And newspapers and other sites have found it’s difficult to charge people for their services when other outlets will provide it for free. Why go to reputable newspapers when there are people like me in their underwear banging out blogs? (You know, this seems as good a time as any to get this out in the open: I have never, and will never, bang out material for this blog whilst in my underwear. Make fun of my overalls if you wish, but I am not blogging in my underwear. That is my pledge to you, dear Readers!)

:: Burroughs was pretty much done with Tarzan in 1914. He was feuding with his editor at All-Story over reprint rights and didn't have a lot of motivation to continue the series. But when a new editor took over the magazine and promised to work with Burroughs on his complaints, Burroughs agreed. He even accepted the new editor's idea of making the next story about Tarzan's son, Jack, running away from London to Africa with an ape. It would be the last time Burroughs set part of a Tarzan story in England. (Michael May is digging into the literary past of Tarzan. Check it out!)

:: Good morning, America! Are you feeling a little … discombobulated? Like you didn’t get enough sleep? That’s because you’re under the boot heel of the United Nations and their one-world “Daylight Savings Time” plot.

More next week!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sparkly!

I'm doing a 'photo a day' challenge over on Instagram, and today's topic was 'Something That Sparkles'. So I took this photo of my two main pieces of jewelry: my wedding ring, and my star sapphire ring. I'm posting it here just because I really like the way the photo turned out.

My wedding ring is an Irish wedding band. The Wife has an Irish band too, although hers is styled slightly differently. We got each ring set with each other's birthstone, so those amethysts are her birthstone. Her ring has mine (sapphire).

The star sapphire ring was a Christmas gift from The Girlfriend (now The Wife) in 1996, which was the last Christmas for us as a dating couple, as we were married five months later in May 1997. I've always loved that ring.

Due to the nature of my day job, I never wear my rings to work. I'm afraid that some of the things I do might damage them. I keep on the lookout for a cheap 'alternate' ring to wear to work, but I never see any that I like all that much.

Anyway, that's my 'bling', as it were. And now that I have used the word 'bling' on my blog, the earth is that much closer to the Apocalypse!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Oh Japan, never, ever change!

As LiveDoor News pointed out this week, a new trend is spreading among Japanese schoolgirls. It's called "cream puff face" ("ganmen shuukuriimu" or 顔面シュークリーム). And, you guessed it, it involves smushing a cream puff in someone's face.

This isn't exactly a new trend, as it's possible to find examples of cream puff faces as early as 2007 and 2008. And, yes, this is a spin on the old fashioned pie in the face gag. But in Japan, the trend really started to take off with schoolgirls in 2011. The Japanese mainstream is just catching on now.

Huh....

(Well, stop the whaling. Other than that, never change!)

:: Check out these detailed floor plans of teevee households. I never realized that the Simpsons have two living rooms!

:: Want to make your own 'Keep Calm and Carry On' posters? Of course you do!

Thanks to the Keep Calm-o-matic!

Another Keep Calm.

More next week!!!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Planting my Freak Flag in the soil of the Moon!

While I was on my break at work yesterday, I thought I'd take a quick look at the query letter than I'd been using for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title). Now, this letter has only gone out to about half a dozen agents thus far...which is a good thing, because when I read it, I suddenly had a massive case of The Writerly Panics. As in, OMG I can't do this am I crazy I must be nuts this query is awful no agent in their right mind would ever ever EVER want to read my book after looking at this train wreck of a letter GAHHHH!!!!

When I have a crisis of confidence, folks, I don't do it halfway. I turn into a quivering mass of protoplasm. That's what I do. And then I turn to Twitter and Facebook, where I posted the following:

If second-guessing myself was an Olympic sport, I'd be Bruce Frakking Jenner. #WhyInGodsNameDoIHaveToWantToBeAWriter

So I set about fixing the letter, and had some decent notions about it when the replies started pouring in. Here's a sampling of the resulting thread (edited a bit for clarity):

SCOTT: Because you're good at it and you like doing it?

[That one really gets to the heart of it, doesn't it?]

JASON: Fretting about your query letter?

ME: All of it. Every time I read the thing I get irritated with it.

ME AGAIN: The query letter is EVERYTHING. If I don't get that right, it doesn't matter at all how good the manuscript is, because nobody will read it.

JASON: True, but is there really a problem with it, or are you just psyching yourself out?

[The answer, of course, was 'both'. Sometimes when confronted by a problem, especially if it's a problem of my own making, I have to lose my shit first before I get down to the work of fixing it. Not my favorite part of my personal makeup, and I've made decent strides against it, but there are times when that part of me rears its ugly head.]

ME: I'm confident of my ability to tell a story. I have zero confidence in my ability to sell one. And the query letter is literally a sales letter. It's marketing, which is not a strength of mine in any way.

[This is true. I know that I wrote a good book, and tell me I didn't, I'll just tell you what to go do with yourself. Tell me I wrote a crappy query letter, though, and I'll fall to pieces.]

KERRY: If you were Bruce Frakking Jenner, you'd also be involved with all those Kardashians, so count your blessings, man.

[I had no idea that Jenner had fallen in with that particular clan. Sucks to be him...but yay me, for not knowing anything about it!]

ME: Well, if an agent or two at least requests the full manuscript, then I guess I'm OK. If not, then...there's that. I really hate this part of the process...writing a query letter and writing a novel are related skills only in that both involve a form of writing. But I keep thinking, just because there is some overlap between the tools a mechanic uses and those a carpenter uses, doesn't mean I want the guy who fixes my car to build me a house.

ME: All that said, I think I've got the letter about as good as I'm going to get it. It better be, because it's going out to more agents later!

[Here I'm trying to dial back the panic a bit. Not very successfully, but my cooler head is at least suiting for a fight against Inner Panic Guy.]

BETH: Also- bad plastic surgery would have been involved.

[I have no idea what this means, in all honesty. Hold on a second while I Google it...

(cue theme from The Dating Game as I Google "Bruce Jenner plastic surgery")

Oh. Oh no...no no no. AGGHHH! Moving on....]


JASON: I wonder if perhaps there's anyone you could show it to for some feedback or pointers? (I'm not volunteering -- although I'd be happy to give you my thoughts, for whatever they're worth -- because I'm not so good at the "selling myself" concept either. But if you're really that nervous about it, maybe someone could help...)

[Sage advice, that....]

ME: I've read a lot of online resources for query letters, so I have a decent of idea of what to do. Of course, there also tends to be a TON of contradictory advice. I see some agents saying "Do this!" and others saying "Don't do this!", when "this!" is the exact same thing. I've seen "Use conversational, marketing language!", and I've seen "Write the query in the same tone as the novel itself!" It's mostly a crapshoot...whatever works is what works.

[I should have chosen my words more carefully here, because it's not totally a crapshoot. There are a lot of good guidelines to be found as to how to write a query letter than won't be tossed in the trash on sight. The problem is in going from "The agent won't throw it out" to "The agent will be intrigued enough to request the manuscript". That's where the extra advice can be problematic and contradictory, given that agents are people, and therefore subject to preferences and tastes. And now someone new chimed in, and this particular person's entry into the thread couldn't have been more timely....]

SHEILA O'MALLEY: Keep it simple. Keep it short. And then cast a wide wide net. You can't please everyone. So please yourself - and then throw that sh** at EVERYONE - up your odds, basically, that someone out there will be the one to read it and think, "Huh. Want to hear more." But you can second-guess yourself to death. Just remember: you cannot please everyone. it's the same thing with getting actor headshots. The advice you get is overwhelming. You show people the contact sheet. Everyone tells you to pick a different shot, and give you a thesis paper as to why. In the end, you have to pick the one you can live with - that you think represents you best. Anyway: that's just more UNASKED FOR ADVICE. sorry!! and BEST OF LUCK!

JASON: I see your frustration... I agree with Sheila, though... you can't please everyone, and you can make yourself crazy with the second-guessing. Trust me, I'm an expert on that. Deep breath, do the best you can, and have a nice rum beverage after you get back from the post office.

SHEILA: Oh, and one last piece of unasked-for advice: show it to a couple of targeted people who understand your work, but also understand the business - other writer friends, if you have them. Just to get another eye on it.

KERRY: Anyone know how I can back out of a thread? I thought this was about Bruce Jenner.

SHEILA: hahahaha

[Somehow I think that Sheila and Kerry would get along very, very well.]

ME: Sheila, seems to me that when I lose my shit spectacularly on FB, I am tacitly asking for advice. So thank you and keep it coming, even if it's to slap me upside the head and say, 'Snap out of it!'

SHEILA: All righty then! Keep it short - a couple of snappy paragraphs (edit out any self-deprecating language - you can be humble "thank you so much for your time" without being "I am so not worthy" about it). Be yourself. It's your only shot, really. Because, to get all new Age-y, you're the only you there is. Some people may be like, "Ew. Can't stand this guy." Okay,then - NEXT. Because the next person may be like, "Wow, I'm intrigued." so keep the second-guessing to a minimum. and keep it short. did I mention keep it short??

ME: It's short -- only one page, 12pt, and the focus is completely on the book. I tried to write what I wish the back cover would say (other than 'JK Rowling thinks this is the best book EVER!!!' ). I say nothing about myself, other than my contact info. I have no publishing credits at all, so it seems to me the book has to do the heavy lifting. I feel better about the current draft of the letter, though! (I don't know about being myself, though...I'm not sure a lot of the weird shit on my blog would help! I can see an agent saying, 'Interesting book premise...but what's with the overalls and the obsession with STAR WARS and the pie throwing and the man-crush on Nathan Fillion?' Heh!)

SHEILA: But see that's the whole thing: some agent is gonna be like, "OMG I love overalls, and I love Star Wars too, and I love Buffalo, NY, and WHO IS THIS GUY?? HE IS MY SOULMATE." Be articulate, don't be an ass, but let your Freak Flag fly. Because people respond to those who are confident about themselves. sorry, Elvis dovetail: he wore bright pink suits in high school before he was famous. He was being himself. He looked like a lunatic compared to his peers. But that was what he wanted to do, and he did it, and 2 years later, every boy wanted to wear pink pants because Elvis was wearing them. I say don't worry about seeming "too weird". as long as you are articulate, polite, and don't waste their time.

ME: Oh, I don't worry about seeming too weird -- I just don't know how to fly my Freak Flag (and there's a phrase that is going into my personal lexicon, and I mean, RIGHT NOW) in the context of a query letter. I really don't want to call any attention whatsoever to my lack of publishing credits, but should I mention my eleven years of blogging? I put all the personal stuff way down at the bottom of the letter, on the thesis that the story of the book has to be the major focus. I want to avoid stuff like "It's been my lifelong dream to write and publish a novel!", because all the agents are unanimous, so far as I can see, that you shouldnt' do that...and frankly, it's pretty obvious why. Should it just be a "For more about me, please check out my personal blog at [url]?"

ME: (to KERRY) Sorry, I missed that comment. You go right ahead and Jenner it up! (And I just used 'Jenner' as a verb. Oy....)

SHEILA: Just be confident. Don't be self-deprecating. This is my first novel. End-stop. I write about diverse topics on my personal site (link included) and have been doing so for years. End-stop. Or whatever. Most writers have some kind of home-base where they put personal stuff, so it will be helpful to any agent to check you out - especially if you have no other published work. I wouldn't say "I've been blogging for 11 years." Just mention the existence of your site, and that you cover a wide array of topics (list a few - it will make you seem interesting, quirky, and will be part of your fluttering Freak Flag). And be totally unembarrassed about your lack of publishing experience. You can FEEL embarrassed on the inside, but don't let it seep into your language. No shame in not being published. The only shame is in not being published, wanting to be published, and not having the balls to do what you are currently now doing - trying like hell to get published. I just went through all of this with my play, Kelly...So, as you know, everything depends on the quality of the thing you have written. and you're right on: avoid any language that seems "hopeful" or "dreamy" - "I dream of this book being turned into a mini-series" "I hope you like the book" "I have wanted to be a writer since I was a wee lad." etc. None of that. You already ARE a writer. You just haven't had anything published yet.

KERRY: Maybe consider this: "Finding the Champion Within: A Step-by-Step Plan for Reaching Your Full Potential." By.... Bruce Frakking Jenner.

[Kerry seems oddly fixated on Bruce Jenner.]

ME: (to SHEILA) I already didn't have any self-deprecating language in there, so I'm good! I do think I need to rework my closing, which is the short bit where I talk about me. I think that my APPROACH is on the right track; I just worry a lot about the specific wording. I'm confident as hell about the book itself, though, which helps. I *know* I wrote something good. So when I get home, it's time to power up the laptop and get this thing honed!

And thank you for taking time out of your day for all this comment. It's been a huge help, and not just from the "Snap out of it!" standpoint, either. I'm at a point where specific advice helps most! (I hope it won't bother you that in the inevitable movie to be made from my book, there's no obvious part for Dean Stockwell.)

At least the bad news on that last score isn't limited to Sheila and her favorite actor. There's no real part for Nathan Fillion, either. But Princesses II: Electric Boogaloo is in the offing....

As for the concept of the Freak Flag, I do like that a lot. Part of what I've been trying to do here in recent weeks, what with eliminating my snarkiness and trying to warmly embrace my weirdness, is to do just that: planting my Freak Flag. I wonder what that flag would look like?


Likely something like that.

And a very public thanks to everyone who helped on that thread!