Monday, September 30, 2013

Sentential Links


:: The Goddess wears her cloak of flowers, the earth is lush, fresh and fertile.

In my patch of the world, green and yellow dominate the landscape. Fields of golden-yellow canola sit side by side with green crops of wheat. It’s a wonderful time to slowly drive the back-roads, just taking the time to admire the vista.
(One of my Instagram friends.)

:: What was the Alliance, er, network, thinking? (John Kenneth Muir is blogging his way through well as lots of other good stuff. Gotta remember to read him more often.)

:: A long time ago when I asked a friend, the late Leo Wilson, maitre d’ from P. J. Clarke’s and a character out of the pages of P.G. Wodehouse, what it was about Neary’s he liked so much (Neary’s is a legendary pub in midtown Manhattan), he craned his neck, jutted out his jaw, tugged and pulled at his collar like Rodney Dangerfield (all a part of his repertoire when searching for THE word), then said with a sniff and a huff, “It’s positively civilized!”

:: When I say Miller looks like Sherlock Holmes, I mean he looks like how I pictured my ideal Sherlock Holmes whose image my imagination pieced together out of Sidney Paget’s illustrations for Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, what I gleaned from the stories themselves, and my own wishful thinking about what I’d look like when I grew up: very tall, very lean, with a very high forehead, a very sharp nose, blue-eyed, fair-haired, and…young. (This turns out to be a repost from some months ago, but ignore that.)

:: The schedule prompts the Siren to go public with one of her deepest, most tenaciously held opinions:

Laver's Law applies to cinema.
(I am, in all honesty, not entirely sure I understand this post.)

:: No matter how many Star Wars books I've flipped through, I'm always coming across new-to-me behind the scenes photos. They seem to come from a never-ending fountain that bubbles with memories from the galaxy far, far away. Archives are wonderful like that. I can't think of a treasure chest I'd like to explore more. I hope the making of the new sequel trilogy is documented to the very last detail so that 30 years from now we'll still be seeing images we haven't seen before.

:: And the cover copy... Sheesh! This Superman KNOWS he's 50 years old, his powers are "supernatural" in origin, and look! He's losing the drug war! Whatever happened to fact-checking?!

More next week!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Answers the Ninth!

Wow, looks like I may end up dragging this thing out into October, which is a new record for personal futility. Oh well!

Roger had a bunch, as always, so his constitute the bulk of the outstanding answers. So let's get going:

How do you feel about casting folks who aren't the category they portray? I was thinking about Johnny Depp as Tonto, but there are tons of other examples. Should only a gay man play a gay man, e.g. Related question: how do you feel about casting a character that had been traditionally white differently? I'm thinking about making Kingpin, the white villain in the Daredevil comic books as a black man, or the black Asgardian in the Thor movie that made parts of fandom apoplectic.”

I think it can vary from character to character, in a lot of ways. Generally speaking, if a character has a specific ethnicity or ethnic makeup, then surely you can find someone of that ethnicity to do the part. This is why it rankled me a bit to have Benedict Cumberbatch, a white Brit, playing Khan Noonien Singh, an Asian villain, in Star Trek Into Darkness. (And yes, it does kind of bug me after-the-fact that they had a Latino actor, Ricardo Montalban, originate the role -- but that was in 1967, when views on such things were depressingly different.) I could go on and on about that particular casting choice, because it felt like (a) the producers just had to have Khan in their movie, and (b) the producers also just had to have the Flavor of the Month actor in their movie, so there it is. No, I don't think it worked. (And I'm not being dismissive of Cumberbatch's talent in describing him as the Flavor of the Month; he's been a hardworking actor for a while who is now EXPLODING in popularity. That's all.)

Perhaps the worst example of this is, of course, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, in which he plays the Japanese Mr. Yunioshi in a racial-stereotype performance that has to be seen to be truly appreciated in all its awfulness. Another example that leaps to mind is Louis Jourdan, a French actor, playing "exiled Afghan prince" Kamal Khan in Octopussy. And if you really want to get right down to it, you could even make a case against Patrick Stewart, a Brit who played a Frenchman in Star Trek: The Next Generation, although with that one, the ethnic differences are lessened, and the showrunners oddly completely ignored Jean-Luc Picard's French heritage most of the time after the first season.

On the flip side, I like it when ethnic actors show up in roles that make zero reference to ethnicity at all. I'm thinking of Native American actors Graham Greene and Wes Studi, in Die Hard With a Vengeance and Heat, respectively, for example. But making the Kingpin a black man in Daredevil? Well...I don't know that that's so much of a big deal. Changing the race of a fictional character for a movie doesn't really bug me all that much. Denzel Washington cuts a nice figure in Much Ado About Nothing as Don Pedro, whom I'm sure Shakespeare didn't envision as black. But then, in Shakespeare's time, a man would have played Beatrice.

Where's the line, then? Is it OK for a Japanese actor to play a Chinese character? I'm not sure. I can sure tell when the line is crossed, though.

I'm going to lump the next questions together, because they're all shared topics:

Who will be the first woman President in the US, and when?

When will the first Hispanic be elected President? Any idea on who?

When will the SECOND black person be elected President?

Spitzer and Weiner are running for office. Why shouldn't they, with former SC gov Sanford now a member of Congress?

I wouldn't want to even begin to try picking future Presidents. I know that Washington media loves to talk about who wants to be President and all, but ten years ago I had never even heard of Barack Obama, and ten years before that, the idea that we'd give the keys to another member of the Bush family would have struck me as deeply silly. And just five years before that, you had the Governor of Arkansas giving a disastrously bad speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, which I would have thought would pretty much doom him from national politics forevermore.

Right now, I'd think that Hillary Clinton would be the most likely First Female President. I think we'll have a Hispanic President within twenty years. The second black President? No idea whatsoever. Sorry, but these particular tea leaves are impossible for me to read!

As for Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, well...that shows how long it's taken me to answer all these questions, because since Roger asked, both have been defeated! In terms of issues and views, I am actually pretty simpatico with both of those fellows, but their personal lives sure brought them down in a hurry. It does strike me as funny that marriage-based peccadilloes only seem to be politically fatal to Democrats. I do follow a couple of Republicans on Twitter who were endlessly crowing about how Democrats could POSSIBLY vote for anyone so VILE as these admitted adulterers -- but when Mark Sanford got elected to Congress, one of them praised South Carolina voters for their "common sense". So who knows.

(By the way, here's my reminder to you all that the phrase "common sense" is one that you should never, ever use.)

Generally speaking, I try to never base voting decisions on candidates' personal lives, unless they involve actual criminal activity. I didn't marry these people, and I've read enough history to know the truth behind the great line of Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly: "Seems to me that every man who's ever had a statue built of him was one kind of sumbitch or another."

Relatedly, though, I am starting to believe in term limits. But that's for another time!

A few more to come, I think!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: You could do a lot worse, when wasting time on YouTube, than watching old clips from Whose Line Is It Anyway. The British version is preferred, but the American version (not the current one, the one with Drew Carey hosting) had a lot of good things going on. Here's a clip I like a lot:

Whose Line's American version seemed almost designed to force the players to have to deal with things going awry, like here when the music stops and yet he's so into the moment that he keeps right on singing.

:: Seen on Tumblr today:


:: Want to know what pen you should use? The experts tell you. I'll have to get one -- I don't think I've ever used the one they recommend! (It's an article on cheap pens. We're not talking $350 Pelikan fountain pens, here.)

More next week!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rule of Acquisition #109

On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Ferengi are established as having a culture so built around business and the pursuit of wealth that they are governed by a series of aphorisms called the "Rules of Acquisition". I always like #109:

Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack.

I agree. The hell with dignity. I'll take the pie in the face every time.

Answers, the Eighth!

Good Lord, this really got away from me, didn't it? What a strange month, September was. I figured to get ahead, but instead I fell behind! Oops. Anyway, we march on, with the remaining questions posed by a constant (and patient!) anonymous reader:

Do you have "comfort books", that you read when life is tough?

I've actually had to think a bit about this, and it turns, not really. There are quotes from books that I recall in times of stress, but even then, not too many. The words of Gandalf the Grey tend to be very meaningful to me, when he says, in reply to Frodo's wish that the Ring had never come to him, "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide."

I've known people who pick up the Bible or the Qu'ran or other such books when their lives are going through dark periods, but I've honestly never much been one to do that. I also don't very often use my writing as a way of processing the demons, although I have done so in the past (here is an example). I'm not really sure if my reading really reflects the mood of my life's "current events", whatever those may be. Hmmmm...maybe it should.

How does the music you listen to vary with mood or stress?

Would you believe...kinda sorta the same way? Weird, huh?

Although, there are times when I do try to use music as a mood-enhancer, something to shake me out of my inner doldrums. Songs along this line include:

"Hello Goodbye", "Octopus's Garden" -- The Beatles
"Dreams", Van Halen
"Land of Make Believe", Chuck Mangione (the 12-minute liver version, though)
"Human", the Killers (no, the lyrics do not make any sense, but what an infectious song anyway)
"Dancin' in the Street", the cover by David Bowie and Mick Jagger (Shut up, I like it.)

And so on.

When I listen to music while writing, I find that nearly anything works. I don't try to match music to the mood of the work in progress, although sometimes I do that. I might listen to Star Wars or Star Trek music while writing one of the Princesses books, or perhaps some horror music while writing GhostCop, but not always. I like to use music as a way of shutting out the world a bit while I work, but I don't always try to match the music's mood to the writing's mood.

Sometimes, if I'm writing a scary scene, the music's mood can actually create a nifty feeling of incongruity. I like when this happens. It reminds me of Johnny Mathis's "Chances Are", a song which forever creeps me out because of its brilliant use in the abduction-of-Barry scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

More answers to come, I promise!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Something for Thursday

It's my birthday today, so I'm gonna listen to some Star Wars. (Not like I wouldn't listen to some Star Wars on days that are not my birthday, but anyway....)

May the Force be with you, friends!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How to guarantee that I'll never watch Breaking Bad

This ought to do it:

I have watched two episodes of Breaking Bad: the pilot, and the one from last week that had everybody rending their teeth and gnashing their garments. All I saw was a bleak, depressing show that made me feel bad about things, but hey, that's just me. No, what really gets my goat is the undertone of nearly everything said about this show of late, that it is so good that if you don't watch it, you are literally -- and not "figuratively" literally, not the new OED literally, but really actually literally -- deficient in some key aspect of your life. I've read tweets, more than once, that said: "I feel sorry for people aren't watching Breaking Bad."

And now comes Kelly Oxford with this. And I love Kelly Oxford. There are fewer funnier people on Twitter, and I loved her recent book, too.

It seems to me that there's an awful lot of commentary that suggests, either through tone or just states it outright, a moral or other kind of failing on the part of those who might have a different view. I know I've been guilty of that, myself. But I'm going to try and stop.

And for the record, I don't watch Breaking Bad, I am not going to watch Breaking Bad, and I am not a f***ing idiot.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sentential Links


:: It is an icky story. And I can’t help wonder if 30 black and/or Hispanic kids had broken into someone’s house if there would be as much “kids will be kids” reaction among some.

:: Will bringing it all back somehow allow me to let go of the past? (This is quite a question. I do not know. This blog belongs to one of my favorite Instagrammers, by the way. Instagram is a lot of fun!)

:: The phrase "Where's my jet pack?" has become an American idiom of late. It reflects the disappointment in the mid-century Utopian promises of technology. Walt Disney was among the top perpetrators of the hype. His forays into documentaries and comic books featured glowing predictions for scientific progress which seem overly optimistic from the vantage point of 2013. (Have you ever 'ridden' the Carousel of Progress at Disneyworld? There's perhaps no better illustration of this philosophy in action than that attraction.)

That being said, a bit of blind faith in the wonders of technology is a healthy thing. As we stand and watch NASA defunded and a super-collider shut down, we lose a little hope. We lose a little enthusiasm for what tomorrow brings.

:: But you wanna talk about something that looks good on a resume? Emmy winner is right up there with “former Prince of Liechtenstein.”

:: Can I sit on a manuscript for a month before I hack at it? Well, no. But I can wait a few days, and that my friends, is pretty darn amazing. (I'm waiting three months. And it's killing me.)

:: Books- A journey disguised as a small paper filled with wonderful words. A time capsule. A portal of wonderment.

More next week!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Louis C.K. is full of crap.

You know how Germans always have the best words? The nice long words that they seem to make up on the spot, words specifically tailored to capture a hyper-specific feeling? I wonder if they have one yet for "That feeling I get when I encounter something that everybody thinks is brilliant but which I think is full of shit." Case in point: comedian Louis C.K.'s almost instantly-legendary rant against smartphones. This thing lit up the Internet over the weekend; everybody was linking it, and one person I know cited that in her epiphanic decision to downgrade from an iPhone to a dumbphone. But when I heard the rant, I thought, "That guy is ridiculously full of crap".

And I say that as someone who (a) has enjoyed Louis C.K.'s work in the past, and (b) who does not own a smartphone. So I don't exactly have a dog in this fight, and in some ways, I'm a bit sympathetic. I've noticed that people spend an awful lot of time staring at their phones, absolutely. But are they really? Is that an accurate snapshot? As I write this, I'm sitting in Panera Bread. The dining room is mostly full; families, couples, and single parties abound. And off all the people in this room right now, guess how many people are looking at a glowing screen? Exactly one. Me. And I'm writing.

And you know what else? It's not hurting my engagement with the world. I'm not shutting things out. A little girl at the table next to mine knocked over her drink, and I noticed enough to pass over a few extra napkins I had. I see another girl, an employee on break, using her smartphone. She's not staring at it as she texts, though. She's talking into it. Like a phone. While she does her homework, with a pencil.

When I see lots of folks looking at their phones, what are they doing? Are they really staring at it for long lengths of time? Stopping to think of it, I have to admit...not really. Most take them out, glance at them, and if they do anything at all, it's to tap out a quick text and then put the thing away. Yes, I have seen folks who take it too far. I've seen guys who go into the restroom and text away with one hand while they use their other to...well, handle administrative details pertaining to urinal usage. (Ahem.) I'll be blunt here: I ever find out that anyone texts me from the bathroom, I'm blocking their number. Or something.

Frankly, what I see people do the most with their smartphones is keep them in their back pockets, pulled up just far enough so that one corner sticks out, visible. Phone as fashion accessory. Well, why not? That's why we have expensive wristwatches, and I remember an outfit from which I bought fountain pens back in the day marketing them as "jewelry for men".

But back to Louis C.K.'s rant, which strikes me as just another version of the "Isn't it awful what the kids are doing these days" thing, albeit more poetically delivered. But much of it is deeply, deeply misguided and/or silly. And that's after it starts off with him saying something that stopped me in my tracks and made me actively hostile to whatever else was to come in his argument.

I think these things are toxic, especially for kids...they don't look at people when they talk to them and they don't build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it's 'cause they're trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, 'you're fat,' and then they see the kid's face scrunch up and they go, 'oh, that doesn't feel good to make a person do that.' But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write 'you're fat,' then they just go, 'mmm, that was fun, I like that.'

Now, let's break that down a little bit. To start with, "Kids don't look people in the eye when they talk" is not a new complaint. Not by any stretch of imagination. I heard that all the time when I was a kid, and that was in the 1970s and 1980s. "Look at me when I'm talking to you!" is an admonition that is as old as the hills, predating cell-phone use by...well, I'll bet they were saying this in Ancient Egypt.

But then there's the bit about kids "experimenting" with being mean, and his notion that when they see how much it hurts a kid's feelings when they call them fat, they'll realize they don't feel good or something.


I have to wonder if LouisCK ever actually knew any other kids, or if he ever saw any bullies at work, because I remember being a kid, and I remember that even as the kid who was often on the receiving end of the bullying, if I managed to say something to someone else and saw hurt in their eyes, I wasn't thinking, "Oooh, that didn't feel good." What I actually felt was, "Ooooh, that hurt him! I've got me a weapon!" And remember, I was the fat kid getting picked on a lot. How do you think the normal kids responded? Or the actual bullies? Seeing the hurt in someone's eye when you say "You're fat" is, for a kid, not a bug. It's a feature. The actual reaction is, "Now we got ourselves a show."

LouisCK is completely full of crap on this point, totally and utterly. It's not a good start. But he keeps going:

You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That's being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it's all for nothing and that you're alone. It's down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you're not watching anything, you're in your car, and you start going, 'oh no, here it comes. That I'm alone.' It's starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it...

That's why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they're killing, everybody's murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don't want to be alone for a second because it's so hard.

No. No, no, no, no, no.

First of all: why do we need this ability to just sit and do nothing? What's so great about sitting and doing nothing? Where's the virtue in that? And how is it desirable? Standing in line at the DMV, waiting at a doctor's office, whatever – are we supposed to lament the fact that we've somehow lost the 'Zen' of such things? Well, I'm not sure there was ever that much 'Zen' there to begin with. Standing in line, just being there, just being "a person"...was boring. It was a waste of time. Now, I'm a bit less prone to boredom in such circumstances because I can always kick my Writing Brain into gear and start working internally on some stories. But I do that anyway, and I suspect a lot of people do, too.

More importantly, though, how is that being "a real person"? This seems to me just another example of the notion that online interactions aren't real, that only physical world interactions are worth anything at all. I've long rejected this notion. You know what? If and when I become a published author, it will be with the help of an awful lot of people I've never met. Real people.

Which is why I think the rest of LouisCK's bit here is just a bunch of goofy existential twaddle. Ultimately we're alone? Meh, not really. And we're using our phones as a way of pushing away that loneliness? Meh, not really. People aren't texting and driving because they're afraid of being alone. They're doing it because they aren't rationally and realistically appraising their abilities to do two tasks at the same time, both of which are complex tasks that only seem simple. There's no need to appeal to Sartre here. People text and drive not because they're trying to push away the intrinsic loneliness of life. They text and drive because they are idiots.

And then he tops it off with some more stupidity:

And I go, 'oh, I'm getting sad, gotta get the phone and write "hi" to like 50 people'...then I said, 'you know what, don't. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.'

And I let it come, and I just started to feel 'oh my God,'and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You're lucky to live sad moments.

And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.

The thing is, because we don't want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die. So that's why I don't want to get a phone for my kids.

Again: No. No, no, no, no, no.

This is another sentiment that's been around forever: that people aren't allowing themselves to really feel what they feel, that they avoid high flights of emotion, et cetera. Again, we don't need to drag smartphones into this at all: many people are uncomfortable with those high flights of emotion. LouisCK is doing nothing more than taking old complaints and using them as a cudgel against something he doesn't like, all by itself.

And besides, who is posting or tweeting or texting everything? Really, who is doing this? There are people who post more than we would, but that's no the same thing as posting everything. This distinction seems lost on Louis, but even if not, so what? If someone posts that a certain song made them feel a certain intense feeling or set of feelings, you know what? I frakking love that. I do. I think it's awesome. If someone shares with me something that gives them a feeling of some kind of passionate level, that's great. It gives me an insight into them, and it helps me to find things that may create similar feelings in myself.

Sharing is not bad. I like sharing. I don't share everything. Some folks share more. Others share less. And I know people who share a lot more than I would ever feel comfortable sharing, but that is, again, not a bug but rather a feature, because that's the only way I ever get to know what is to feel certain things. When we complain about "Those people sharing everything on Facebook!", it seems to me that what we're really complaining about is "Those people who are sharing an awful lot of stuff on Facebook that I do not personally find interesting!" Which is, of course, a different thing entirely.

We are obviously more connected now than ever before. But I am not one bit convinced that this means we are more distracted now than ever before. Believe me, I have always had great ways of wasting time. In fact, I remember teachers occasionally castigating me for daydreaming. Which means I was just doing the simple act of sitting there, doing nothing, staring into space, not much paying attention to anything at all. That's was LouisCK wants back. The wheel does turn, doesn't it?

Finally, I also wonder if part of this isn't born of my general sense – and here I'm mainly talking off the top of my head, with no real well-considered evidence to support it – that, aided by technology, a world which has been long-dominated by extroverted people is starting to tilt in the direction of the introverts, and that is making an awful lot of extroverted people really uncomfortable. But that's a post for another day.

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: I've seen a bunch of these before, but even so, they remain ever-fascinating: 31 haunting images of abandoned places. The hotel in Colombia is particularly haunting.

:: A couple of guys decide to go into a couple of restaurants and tip their servers a couple hundred bucks. I love this.

More next week!

It's all in the details.

I have a half-arsed theory that one thing that makes stories work, be they in book form or movies or teevee shows, is in the little details they include. It's not the "details" as in the various plot points and making sure they work, or things like avoiding anachronisms.

(Say, you know what anachronism always bothers me when I see it? People in movies or teevee shows drinking Coke from glass bottles. You can still get glass bottles today, so it's easy, right? You just buy those and film away. Problem is, those are 8oz bottles. Back in the day, Coke bottles were 16oz. Those tiny bottles always stick out like a sore thumb to me.)

But anyway, I was thinking a bit about Superman (1978), after watching it a while back, and there's this tiny little thing that happens in one scene. So tiny you wouldn't even notice it, but I think it's just terrific, because it really does add a tiny bit of realism to the film's world.

It's the start of the film's third act. Lex Luthor has reprogrammed the two missiles, and he's about to use his ultra-sonic broadcaster to speak directly to Superman. Clark Kent arrives in the Daily Planet newsroom, as his fellow reporters are clustering around a teevee set to watch the nuclear missile test. Clark comes over, asks what's going on, someone tells him, and then tells him that Perry White wants to see him. Then the guy says, "You're blocking the set, Clark," and Clark says, "Oh, sorry," ducks his head, and walks to Perry White's office.

But before he gets there, he turns back to the reporter he'd just been talking to and says, "Hey, how's Judy?" The guy says "Fine", and Clark says "Great!" or "Good!" or something like that.

The whole interaction lasts all of five seconds, but that last bit -- "Hey, how's Judy?" -- is the kind of perfect detail that makes this film's world seem that much more real. Clark isn't just hanging out at the newspaper for something to do when he's not fighting crime and working for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. It's his job, these are his coworkers. Clark Kent knows this guy's wife's name and asks about her. That's great.

I think what I'm getting at here is that even the most spectacular fantasy worlds are, at some point, mundane. There are people in every single fantasy world who are just going to jobs and asking how the kids are and the like. When writing such details into worlds, you don't have to draw attention to them or underline them or make them stand out. And you certainly don't need tons of them, just a few, here and there. But they work wonders when you realize they're there. It's like the two stormtroopers in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, chatting about stormtrooper stuff while Obi Wan Kenobi turns off the tractor beam. It's the acknowledgment in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that a party the size of Bilbo Baggins's birthday party is going to involve a lot of dirty dishes.

What examples of such little details -- the mundane little bits of the fictional worlds -- do you recall from favorite books or tales in other media?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"One thing led to another, and I forgot to kill myself that day."

I like this a lot. Mr. Ferguson rambles a bit, as comics are wont to do, but I think I see what he's getting at, and it speaks to my general attitude regarding snark these days.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hurgle flurp.

This is the kind of week it's been:

Not awful, and nothing serious going awry...just daily grind, bring more grinding than usual; just...frustratingly annoying, and a lot less productive than I would like. Gotta do better! And I will...once I've finished the job of strangling this work week and leaving its decaying remnants buried behind me.


(Stay with me, folks. Better content is on the way!)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Something for Thursday

I'm not a big fan of the movie, but I like Maurice Jarre's music for it, so here is "Keating's Triumph" from Dead Poets Society.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Filling my rocket quota

Here's a nifty rocket launch. Oooh, aaah!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What's a noted attraction or cool thing within a short drive of your home -- say, an hour or two -- that despite its proximity, you've never been to?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sentential Links

Linkage, for them what like links....

:: I have a reasonably large vocabulary, I suppose. Some words, particularly newer ones, apparently elude me, however. Twerking and selfie have been added to the Oxford Dictionary of English recently, and I had been largely oblivious to both terms. (I am still unclear as to what exactly 'twerking' is. And no, I am not requesting an explanation.)

:: I need to constantly remind myself that there is no reason anyone should have any idea what I am talking about. My life includes farriers, horse carts, cheese making and medieval archery. It's about fiddles and cider brewing and I make a living talking about it all on the internet.

:: One of the hidden gem moments of the Avengers had to be the conversation between Agent Coulson and Captain America when they first meet face to face. (I'd forgotten that moment. I really need to see that movie again....)

:: There are three topics that one is not supposed to talk about in the wardroom: sex, politics, and religion. We’ve had recent threads about both sex and politics, so it’s time for religion. To that end, here we go.

:: Whatever the case, both those poor souls look like they would be seriously cheered up by a little kid walking in there and cramming more potato chips into his mouth than anyone would’ve though humanly possible.

:: I wish I had more of the analytical, explaining talent. Then I could maybe really communicate to people this feeling, or even explain it better to myself. I know we all experience this kind of thing from time to time, and I'm glad. I think it's one of those things that truly connect us as souls, that truly gives us friendship. But I'm still working on being a good teacher and explainer and analyzer of all these things, rather than just a student and sponge of awesomeness. We're all just doing our best to add to the awesome, right?

Maybe you don't see this feeling as spiritually or important as I do, and that's okay. But it's like the TARDIS says. We humans, we're bigger on the inside.

:: My true self is my baggy overalls self. It’s imperfect. It’s in process. But it’s beloved by God apart from appearance or accomplishment or titles. (Overalls as metaphor for ultimate acceptance? Works for me!)

:: This attitude is nothing new, obviously. There's a strong belief among the Beltway pundit class—even among a lot of liberals—that a true commander-in-chief is someone who is always and everywhere ready to go to war without doubt and without misgivings. Even if the war is wrong, you need to keep up a steely facade.

I sometimes wonder how it is that so few people seem to recognize just how insane this is. Even speaking as someone who thinks Obama handled Syria pretty poorly, I don't have the slightest problem with the fact that he was obviously conflicted about it. He should be conflicted about it. This isn't self-defense. We're not defending democracy. We're not responding to any danger to Americans. It's a close call. And it would be something like our eighth—or tenth, or twelfth, depending on how you count—overseas military action in the past two decades. What kind of person doesn't look at a record like this and at least consider the possibility that a full-bore bloody shirt campaign by the president might not be in order yet again?
(I can't stand the constant drum-beating for war. I find it unbelievably depressing, each and every time it happens. I am more and more convinced that it is simply chest-beating at a national level. I, for one, would be very happy to never, ever, ever hear again the foreign policy thoughts of Senator John "I love war!" McCain.)

More next week!

How I feel when the entire Internet goes into "OMG BREAKING BAD" mode. Yeesh.

So a week or two ago I watched the pilot episode of Breaking Bad, figuring to finally catch up a bit on what is apparently, to judge by online reaction, the single greatest Artistic Endeavour in the history of the television medium. (And that isn't remotely hyperbole on my part -- that is an accurate summation of opinion.) My reaction? I didn't like the episode, so I decided not to bother with the rest of the series. (Please don't try to talk me into going back into it. I'm really not interested.)

Now, this goes into my general sense of ennui with pop culture's current (and, to my way of thinking, disturbingly ascendant) fascination with villains and antiheroes -- what I've come to think of as Awful People At Work And Play. But I'm also interested in this whole phenomenon of binge-watching teevee series. I see people online talk about watching an entire season of some show or other over a day or two, and my mind reels -- after one or two episodes of something, I'm ready for something else. Even things that I really, really like, such as Battlestar Galactica or Arrested Development (which The Wife and I are watching now). I find that I am simply not wired for binge-watching.

I also discover that a common argument for teevee series is, "Well, you gotta give it five or six episodes before it hits its stride." And that is true, to an extent -- but when confronted with an entire series on DVD or streaming, my eyes glaze over at the prospect. "I gotta watch six hours of this thing just to know if I like it enough to keep going?" That can't be right.

I'm encouraged by the existence of teevee series that are intended to tell a single story, instead of being open-ended unto an inevitable limp toward cancellation. But by the same token, a lot of such series constitute way too much of a time investment for me. With movies and teevee, I don't get to control my rate of experiencing the narrative, and in any event, a teevee series is really built around a weekly schedule. Binge-watching just doesn't feel right to me.

How about you folks? Do you binge-watch teevee series?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Ever wonder what the sport of parkour looks like to those actually doing the...umm...parkouring? Wonder no more:

(This video may be triggery in people with problems with vertigo. Or people who just don't much like the idea of plummeting great distances to injury.)

:: Never let it be said you can't keep a good idea down! Sure, a disaster involving an enormous fireball and a number of deaths can be a setback, for decades even, but eventually we were bound to get back to the airship, weren't we? I would love to see these in the sky!

:: It kind of bothers me that I remember each and every one of these.

More next week!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Holding Pattern Delta!

Just a brief post to allay any fears that I've forgotten about finishing up the queries from Ask Me Anything! August 2013. I've had a busy week, but it's almost over, so that work will get done, I promise!

Meantime, here's some nifty science fiction music for you. This is from the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series, but it's a wonderful musical nod to the show's first incarnation, in 1978. The famed brassy main theme from Version I was repurposed for the reboot series as the "National Anthem" for the Colonials. And this treatment is terrific!

Something for Thursday

I suddenly felt in the mood for some Mozart, so here's some Mozart: his Symphone #41 in C Major, sometimes called the "Jupiter" Symphony. If Mozart had only written one twentieth of the music he wrote, and this symphony was one of them, he would still be considered one of the greats.

Note to self: Watch Amadeus with the kid. She's as old now as I was when it came out.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The City of Dead Works (a repost)

I wrote this not long after the awful events of 9-11-01, and I repost it every year on that date, marking the time as one of America's worst days makes its inevitable transition from Memory into History.

"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.


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.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The truth is out there....

The X-Files debuted twenty years ago tonight. Wow.

I need to get back to my long-stalled rewatch, don't I?

Monday, September 09, 2013

Sentential Links


:: I write because I love it. I create the best art I possibly can because I’m passionate about it. I obsess over word choice and plotlines and character development because I won’t give you anything less than my best. And I share my work with you – for free – because I’ve seen how quickly a person’s dreams can be shattered. I would rather give you my art, without asking for anything in return, than come to the end of my life with unrealized dreams. I just can’t wait any longer. (I saw this post linked on Twitter today, and it really hit me. I'm not desperate to have a paid career writing, although that is my dream and my goal. But, like I indicated last week, I also deeply love and believe in the stories I am creating, so much so that my real dream is to be read. I'm not sure I'll give it away for free, but who knows -- if I can't publish, and if for some reason I can't self-publish, then I'll just give it to the world. Worse things have been done.)

:: For now, I just need to... well, I was going to say get through the next day and a half. But I really don't want to just get through them. I want to experience them. (SamuraiFrog continues his brave struggles with anxiety. I really think that people writing and blogging about these things can only help...even if it's to help others who don't suffer be more empathetic. Nothing's worse than the "Stiff upper lip, just choose to be happy!" crowd.)

:: Nothing is more fun than the all-true, guaranteed to be correct information features on the inside covers of crime comics.

:: It’s nuts when you think about it. We very briefly had a neverending rainbow of home cinema, the largest film selection available to any generation ever, period, end of story, and we’re regressing from that. How depressing is that?

:: A.C. Crispin will be missed for her vigilant devotion to sticking up for writers, her wonderful candor, her thoughtful and exciting writing, and most of all, for giving the fans of various fictional worlds sweet and unforgettable gifts.

Thanks, Ann Crispin. You’ll be missed.
(I hope the fact that Crispin was probably best known for her media tie-in work won't hold back her reputation in the future. She really was a terrific storyteller, and she could find things in established universes that were so good, so true, that it's hard not to consider her additions 'canon'. She will be missed.)

More next week.


GhostCop (not the actual title) is going in fits and starts. I'm having trouble building up a sense of momentum on this one. I do suspect this book will be quite a bit shorter than either of the two Princesses In SPACE!!! books, both of which hit right around 180,000 words in their first drafts. This one looks to be leaner, maybe about 120,000 words.

Anyway, that's where things stand right now in the WritingVerse. Back we go! Zap! Pow!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Glenn Beck's psychodelic road show. I actually kinda want to see this, just for how gonzo it sounds.

:: Need a reaction GIF from a Hayao Miyazaki movie, tailored to a specific emotion? Here you go.

:: Lots of weird stuff in the Amazon. It's all probably hostile, so hey, Brazil? Could you bulldoze the rest of the Amazon faster, please? Thanks!

:: Finally, a salute to a typewriter repairman who died last month at the age of 96, working almost to the end. I used to dink around on a typewriter a lot as a kid, and I imagine typewriter repair was a nice niche field to be in for quite a few decades, there.

More next week!

Friday, September 06, 2013

Mr Pastis will take your lunch money now.

The last two days, Pearls Before Swine (one of my favorite newspaper comic strips) ran these two installments:

They're OK, not all that funny, really. But these characters -- the polar bear and the penguins -- have never been seen before. Since Pearls often abounds in meta-style humor and the breaking of the fourth wall (creator Stephan Pastis often includes himself as one of his own characters, with the characters commenting on the quality of his work), I figured that something was up. Meanwhile, each day, there were people in the comments section offering the complaint that "Polar bears are Arctic beasts, while penguins are Antarctic." Which is true.

But then, today Pastis pulls this:

Heh. The last two days were mere set-up for this, which wouldn't have worked if the comments sections and message boards didn't do exactly what he figured they'd do when he drew these strips months ago.

Well played, Stephan Pastis! Well played, indeed!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Something for Thursday

I've come to like this band a great deal. Here are Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, in a lovely song about unrequited love: "Someday".

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Anybody got a sports page?

From 40 Behind the Scenes Photos from Classic Horror Movies, which is exactly what it says. Really nifty stuff, and even though I don't like the movie, this one's my favorite:

I just love that he's just sitting there, waiting for whatever.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

First day of school, when you were a kid: "Oh cool, this again!" or "This again? Kill me now."?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Some Lazy Linkage!

Just a few links to some nifty stuff seen 'round Blogistan of late:

:: Cal reports on a saloon in the Yukon that serves a cocktail with a pretty odd addition. No cocktail olive or Maraschino cherry up there, nosiree, Bob....

:: SamuraiFrog has been blogging off-and-on, and pretty bravely in my view, about his struggles with anxiety and depression. We do not, as a society, tend to appreciate nearly as much the degree to which such things are a major struggle for those who suffer them, and the degree to which they can turn what non-sufferers see as normal events into harrowing ordeals. Here's his latest report on this. As always, I wish him the best in conquering these particular demons.

:: Roger reports on attending a taping of an NPR radio show. The show is Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, a quiz show with a live studio audience.

:: Ken Levine on being asked to do an improv scene...with Robin Williams.

:: John Scalzi went to Worldcon, and brought himself back some hardware. I'm not a big fan of the book he won the Hugo for, but as I've indicated elsewhere, it's not a function of his writing but rather that it's just not my cup of tea (being "meta-fiction" and all). But still, congratulations to him. He's having a terrific career, and it's interesting to recall that I first got wind of him a little over ten years ago, when a story circulated Blogistan of some blogger who had stuck his book online and then had a publisher pick it up. Now he's winning Hugos. (Should the plural of Hugo be Hugi?)

:: Help a clown to deliver a pie to his 1000th face. I'm on board with this, obviously!

Ooooh, football season!

What it feels like to be a Bills fan these days

I usually make some kind of quasi-official (read: half-assed) prediction of how the Buffalo Bills will do each season, so here it is, even though I'm not returning to blogging about each individual game. My new rule, as stated a week or so ago, is that I won't watch any more Bills games until the team reaches four games over .500. If that takes them until the 2015 season, so be it. Watching what will almost certainly be bad football doesn't strike me as a good use of my beloved autumn and winter weekend hours, so there they go.

But anyway: the Bills are going with a youth movement. They have a new rookie quarterback, whom they took in the first round this past year: EJ Manuel, who was off most scouts' radar for some reason. From what I've read, I'm not sure why that is, but then, I'm not a scout. He seems to be an intelligent player who works hard and who played quite a bit in college. Works for me. We'll see what happens. Other than that, the Bills pretty much stink everywhere else except running back. And maybe the offensive line.

It's a year for youth, so I expect lumps a-plenty. My best guess for their final record is 4-12. Yippee. Go team, rah rah rah, if you can't do it, the other team can!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Caillou in Inappropriate Places

Here's an awful thing that popped into my head one day that I couldn't resist: using Photofiltre to insert Caillou, everybody's least-favorite four-year-old, into terrible scenes from history. I've been doing this on Tumblr, and here are the ones I've done so far, below the jump (because this is really in bad taste)!

Sentential Links

It's that time again....

:: Clearly Someone Didn't Want The Saxophone To Be Invented (Wow.

:: In my career, I’ve been on the other side numerous times. I’ve been the one reading and judging. I always write nice rejection letters, even if the script sucks eggs. I feel that good, bad, or indifferent, the person (or team) went to the effort of writing a script and the least I could do is let them down easy.

Plus, who’s to say I’m always right? I’m not. Along the way, I’ve rejected a few great people who went on to long and successful careers. When a writer friend of mine was story editor on ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE he rejected a script by the Coen Brothers. It happens to all of us.

So when you get rejected – and we all do – take heart. You never know who’s going to turn out to be an A-lister.
(You know, no matter how many pieces like this I read, my reaction to a new rejection is always the same. It's a mixture of "Oh who the HELL am I kidding I'm an untalented WRETCH who should apologize to all these people for inflicting my work upon them!" and "I will etch your names on a wall of granite, such that they will remain for all time a testament to the FOOLISHNESS of turning ME away! ONE DAY I WILL FEAST UPON YOUR SOULS AND THOSE OF YOUR NEXT SEVEN GENERATIONS!!!!". Luckily, these two feelings pass pretty quickly, and then I'm onto the much more reasonable and practical "OK, who's next?".)

:: I believe that to read like a writer, the best way is to read a piece of literature as if you were going to teach it. (Interesting approach. I tend to read like a fellow storyteller.)

:: As a Doctor Who fan, one of the most frustrating things is the inability to watch a complete run of the series. 106 episodes of the series - one-in-eight of the total number - are missing from the BBC archives.

:: I was just wondering… Is there any kind of protocol for ending a texting conversation? (I wonder about this myself. It's kind of like discussions on blog comment threads, which inevitably just kind of peter out as the post drops down the front page. It reminds me of something someone said back in the hey-day of political blogging: If you touch off a controversy and invite lots of traffic and bile on something you write, just keep posting. The post in question will drop farther and farther down until it vanishes into the Archives, and it'll be forgotten. Not quite about text messaging, but conversations in texts just seem to stop, don't they?)

:: Don’t you people get it? There’s only one way out of autumn. No matter how nice it seems, it always dumps you right in front of that spooky shed out back where you must sit inside on the dirt with your knees pressed against your chin while blowing into your hands for three months. Watching your breath quickly appear and disappear like memories of basking on the beach under golden light the summer before. (Old post, but the author linked it on Twitter yesterday. He's a fine writer, which is a shame because he's SO SO SO wrong! I adore Fall and Winter! Come, cool weather and snow! Huzzah!!! Check out his site, by the way. Lots of interesting and well-written stuff there.)

:: When President Obama suggested that we look at race again in light of the Trayvon Martin case, that Obama could have been Trayvon 35 years ago, some, such as TourĂ© at TIME, thought it was a brave personal observation. He wrote: “The assertion that blacks are hallucinating or excuse-making or lying when we talk about the many very real ways white privilege and racial bias and the lingering impact of history impact our lives is painful. It adds insult to injury to attack all assertions of racism and deny its continued impact or existence.”

More next week!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Answers, the seventh!

Continuing the answers!

Andy asked: Have you ever thought about self publishing your novel and bypassing all the rejections the clowns at the publishing companies give ya??????

Oh, yes, I have indeed. And yes, I will self-publish...but only when I am satisfied that it's just not going to happen the traditional route.

Self-publishing has been around forever, but technology is really driving it into acceptability nowadays, which is a very fascinating development. The growth of new paths around the traditional gatekeepers may become one of the most important developments in the literary history of this century. So, what are my thoughts about it?

Well, first off, I want to go the traditional route, if I can. The reason is that the infrastructure already exists, and there are people – agents, editors – who help you navigate that infrastructure. Marketing, book design, all those kinds of things are already in place, so all the writer has to do is write. (I know, this is an oversimplification, but we're just riffing in a blog post here.) I'm not sure how good I'd be at the whole marketing area, for example, but if the time comes, I'll get myself up to speed pretty quickly.

However, the plain likelihood is that Princesses In SPACE!!! isn't going to sell, for various reasons. The odds are just against it. I'm an unpublished author, so the bar gets set even higher; the book is on the long side, at roughly 160,000 words. (In ballpark terms, that's a roughly 400 to 450 page mass-market paperback novel.) Now, I'm biased, but I think that I wrote a book that moves those pages along pretty quickly, but still – newbie authors don't often get to break in with long books. It does happen, though – witness Patrick Rothfuss and his doorstop debut, The Name of the Wind. (Not that I'm comparing myself to Patrick Rothfuss.)

Used to be that a new writer would write a book, shop it around, and if it didn't sell, well, that was just one of every author's "practice novels", their training camp, so to speak. The idea is that every writer has to produce a few clunkers just to learn what it is they're doing, so that when they do break through, it's with a book that's as good as they can make it. With the rise of Indie publishing, that's not so much the case anymore.

Is this a good thing? Don't we need the gatekeepers to keep the marketplace from filling up with crap?

Well, maybe...but then, I'm not entirely sure. It seems to me that gatekeeping may take a different form, and the literary community may become something like, oh, Trip Advisor or Urban Spoon or some of those sites. My mother has become quite a traveler in recent years, and she relies heavily on Trip Advisor to find out things like where to stay and eat, what to do and how to do it, how to get around, and that sort of thing. A restaurant in a town that gets terrible reviews on Trip Advisor is at a substantial disadvantage, and the same may apply in the future to writers who put poor books into the marketplace. And besides, let's be honest: it's not as if the gatekeepers aren't an impenetrable bulwark against the tides of crap. Lots of crap gets through, for various reasons: one person doesn't think it's crap, or their crap detector malfunctions at a key point, or that crap is what's selling so they'd better get some of their own similarly-scented crap out there on the shelves, too. Who knows. I return to William Goldman's statement, which I think should be known as Goldman's Law: "Nobody knows anything".

So, yes, I will self-publish Princesses In SPACE!!! when the time comes. I suspect that won't be for at least another year, if not longer, which kind of frustrates me, because I really want this story to be out there as soon as possible. I want people reading it and hopefully liking it and telling other people that they like it and so on...but the wheels of publishing turn slowly, and I don't want to jump the gun. Maybe I just haven't put the book in front of the right agent yet; you never know, and there are a LOT of fish in that particular sea.

There is one benefit to waiting that long, though. My current plan is to edit the first draft of Princesses II in December and get it to beta readers no later than the Super Bowl, which means that I'd be able to generate a third draft sometime next spring or early summer; by next fall, I hope to be writing Princesses III: The World Crime League (not the actual title). The upshot here is that, if I end up self-publishing, I should be able to – at least as the series starts – issue one novel per year in the Princesses In SPACE!!! Saga. If and when I have fans, I don't want to subject them to any George RR Martin-style waits between books!

Ultimately, I'll self-publish when the time comes because while I'm a newbie unknown in the eyes of the publishing world, I'm not a newbie unknown to me. I'm not content to let this be one of my "practice books". I believe in this story, I know it's good, and one way or another, as long as I'm drawing breath, it will get out there.

(Not that anyone asked, but I'm hoping to complete the first draft of GhostCop by December – using its back half as my NaNoWriMo project for this year – and then move back into Lighthouse Boy, a project which is starting to recrystalize a bit in my head.)

OK! Next up, an anonymous reader asked: How did you put together/find the people who review and edit your book?

I had six people beta-read Princesses, and I'll likely go with a similar number for Princesses II. I didn't want a large number of beta readers, so I went for diversity, which really paid off. There was my friend Matt Jones, whom I've known since fifth grade and who has been reading my drivel for exactly that long. (Interestingly, he liked the book least, but that's what I expected, since his literary tastes have developed along lines of terse and economical prose, Hemingway-esque, if you will, while my own tastes run toward long and poetic sentences that have their own rhythm and frequently go on way too long but I don't care because that's how I like it and I enjoy reading sentences like that, sentences you can lose yourself in. Hmmmm.) Only one other is someone I know in real life, a friend from work who reads quite a bit but who doesn't know SF very well. That was important to me, because I'm trying to write a book (or sequence of books) that don't assume a good deal of familiarity with a genre that can be offputting to people entering it. Ditto an online friend who is one of the writers I respect most; she's an experienced writer and spinner-of-tales, but SF ain't her thing, either. The other three are all online friends who are familiar with SF, but whom I know to have different tastes within SF.

Everyone had interesting commentary to offer, from a genre standpoint or from a "Hmmm, the story seems to slow down a bit through this" standpoint, or a "I'm not sure it makes sense for this character to do that right then" standpoint, or from the extremely helpful standpoint of "Hey dummy, you've spelled the same made-up word five different ways. Make up thy mind!"

These folks all have standing invitations to beta-read my stuff in the future, and I may add one or two, but in general I intend to keep that group fairly small. (There were a couple folks I asked who had to decline on the basis that they had too much to read already. Gotta respect the "To read' pile.)

Finally, Roger asks: Your feeling about ebooks v physical books, both from a reading experience and all that complexity of who owns the items when one wants to pass on the book.

There's always been a tough divide to find between physical property and intellectual property. I once knew an artist who sold an original work to someone, who later decided that they didn't want it anymore and put it on eBay. Was that person out of line? I'm not sure, but I can see how it could be viewed as such. Owning books is a pleasure, and I'm less thrilled with the idea of not "owning" anything when I buy something; we're moving toward a model where our money buys us a license to enjoy something, rather than owning it. I'm not wild about that, but I can only shout at the rain for so long, too.

As for the actual reading of e-books versus physical books, I do definitely prefer the physical book. But as a matter of convenience, the e-book is just undeniable. Carrying around a little tablet that is loaded with dozens of books and comics is just too cool for words, and it's a fabulous way to get hold of great literature...with certain concerns. Reading an e-book is, in terms of experiencing the content, pretty much exactly the same as reading a physical book.

There are differences, though. The screens have come far enough that reading on a screen doesn't bother me at all, which is cool. The apps I use all have different ways of navigating, though; my favorite, Perfect Viewer, I use for reading comics, and it advances the page by tapping on the left side of the screen. This seems slightly counterintuitive, but I hold the tablet in my left hand, which means that tapping the left side of the screen requires a simple flick of my left thumb. The Kindle and other e-book apps I use all use a tap on the right side, however. (I find that Kindle's "sweet spot" is easy to miss, too, so I usually just swipe the page to turn.)

Some e-books use too large a font or have too much spacing, so I end up having to swipe quite frequently. Also, there's no physical sense to progressing through the book, which takes some getting used to. You don't get the physical shift in the weight of the book over time, as the weight of flipped pages moves from right to left; you don't get the feel of the book's right-hand side dwindling. All you get is a little page counter at the bottom, or a progress bar, or a number indicating what percentage of the book you've read. That's a bummer – part of the tactile feel of reading a book isn't there. But I don't miss that enough to consider e-book reading a 'lesser' reading experience.

Somewhat more problematic for me is that I like to dip into books I've read, or refer back to passages as I progress through a book. This is much easier in a physical book, where I can roughly recall how far back a given thing I'm looking for is, and I can land on a certain page, jog my memory a bit ("OK, that happened before the bit I'm looking for"), and then act accordingly. With e-books, all you have is that sliding bar at the bottom to move back and forth in the book, so tracking down memorable bits is difficult.

Also, I've noticed that the formatting still hasn't become standardized enough. For the most part, books you buy on the Kindle store are pretty solid, but not always. You can get Kindle editions of classic literature pretty cheaply; many are even free. But you lose something in formatting, which can often be messy or buggy. This applies to books provided by other sites, too, in Kindle format. Here's a screengrab from a page of the Project Gutenberg Complete Works of William Shakespeare:

See, that doesn't work at all. The entire play isn't like that, but still, that's a bummer. I do have another edition that was just a couple bucks on the Kindle store; that one has excellent formatting, but it has a totally different flaw: none of the plays includes the Dramatis personae. That's a headscratcher of an omission, and for me, it keeps me searching for a better edition. The Gutenberg one has the character lists, but you can see the formatting issues there. PDF files tend to work well, but the problem there is that you can't change the color of the background, so every PDF is black text on bright white. I prefer not-quite-black text on a not-quite-white background. Not an option on a PDF.

So, in terms of content, I find e-reading a different experience, with its own problems that I expect will get better over time. My biggest problem with e-reading on my tablet? It's not even reading. It's the fact that I can do all these other things on the tablet. Like checking e-mail. Flipping through Instagram. Websurfing. Reading blogs via RSS on Feedly (which I highly recommend as a successor to Google Reader, by the way). I can even watch Netflix on the thing.

But I can also read comics! That's pretty awesome.

More answers to come!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Old School FRP is a Tumblr blog devoted to vintage art and paraphernalia from the early days of role playing games -- think late 1970s and early 1980s. This is the image that greeted me the first time I saw the blog:

Oh yeah. That's the stuff. Poor Sheboygan!

:: I had no idea that the "Spider Man no more!" image was as iconic as it apparently is:

Cal has more. I could do this myself, leaving a pair of overalls in a trash can in a rainy alley. "Jaquandor no more!"

(But I won't. What else am I gonna do with my life?)

::  This is the strangest short film I have ever seen. It synchs a bunch of improvised trills by a trumpet player with close-ups of hand gestures by various cast members of Three's Company. It's oddly hypnotic, as you consider how each individual trumpet improv bit matches each individual set of looped hand gestures.

More next week!