Friday, October 31, 2014

A Very Public Service Message: Don't Order Pizza Tonight

(An annual repost)

Hey folks, I've mentioned this before on some previous Halloween's, but I think it bears repeating. I write from my experience as a one-time employee of one of our nation's many fine pizza-serving and delivering establishments. Basically, tonight's Halloween, so you might consider refraining from ordering a pizza for delivery this evening. Why?

For one thing, since there are tons of kids about on the streets, with many of those dressed in dark clothing, many pizza delivery places will be quoting abnormally long delivery times, both because business might be up and because they may well be instructing their drivers to take as long as they need to deliver. Halloween is NOT the night to order a pizza and expect quick service. Believe me.

Secondly, if your household is not observing Halloween and will therefore be leaving all of your outside lighting off in order to dissuade trick-or-treaters, please oh please don't order a pizza for delivery. Delivering pizzas at night isn't rocket science, but it's not ridiculously easy, either, and running deliveries on Halloween is actually pretty stressful when you're trying to watch out for kids and figure out what house to go to. And if your lights are off, it makes your house even harder to find.

If you still feel that you just must order a pizza for delivery, despite the above, then at the very least, have some sympathy for the driver and increase your tip accordingly. Or just give him a tip at all, for you cheap jerks out there.

Or, you could just go get a pizza yourself, showing up early at the pizza place so you can eat before going out trick-or-treating or whatever. But if you do that, remember, you're not the only person thinking along those lines; the pizza place will likely be getting an abnormally large number of orders significantly earlier than usual, which will have the expected slowing effect on service.

So, if pizza is on the menu tonight, adjust your service expectations accordingly and don't be jerks. Or, just make it yourself!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Explodey Spaceshippy Badness

Here's what the Antares launch site looks like, post-disaster.

When I refer to "explodey spaceshippy goodness", I'm talking about the actiony bits of a good piece of space opera fiction. In real life, exploding spaceships is not a good thing!

And remember, let's not make fun of this failure or use it as ammunition to mock our space program, OK? There's a reason we use the phrase "Hey, this ain't rocket science", so let's show a little respect to the people who are actually doing rocket science.

Something for Thursday

Need some music for Halloween? I've got you covered!

Plus, if you want more, check out this list of the creepiest country music murder ballads.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Does it bug you when teenagers come trick-or-treating in fairly lame costumes?

Chapter 3!!!

I've just posted the third, and final, sample chapter from Stardancer. Go check it out! In two weeks, the book itself will be available. I can't believe it's this close!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Holding Pattern Delta!

OK, folks, I've got the final revisions to apply to Stardancer after I finished the last round of proofreads this week, so meantime, here's something funny I stole from...someplace (I don't even recall where, which is a bad habit on my part). Apropos of my recent post on Shirley Jackson!

And now, if you'll excuse me....

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Stuff

Late today with the post, I know. Holy crap, are the next few weeks shaping up to be busy! Anyhoo, a few things:

:: Things you should know about guns. Not an article about gun issues or politics relating to guns (I have my own opinions thereof, obviously), but rather a useful article for writers and storytellers about how guns work and what they actually do when they're discharged and that sort of thing.

:: The Five Scariest Grammar Issues for Writers. Another useful article, although my own personal grammar bugaboo isn't mentioned. (And what's that? Well, I will go to nearly any length to avoid the whole lay-lie-laid-lain-lied thing.)

:: New life goal: A trip to the British Isles where the only places I go are these bookstores. (Certain family members who like traveling to Britain may find this article worth bookmarking.)

More next week!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Countdown to NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month, or "NaNoWriMo" as it's usually called, starts one week from today. This year will mark my third go-round, after completing the goal the last two years. However, oddly enough, even though I cleared the NaNoWriMo goal of 50000 words in November both times, I still haven't finished either manuscript!

The first year was Deliverance, eh? (not the actual title), a supernatural thriller involving a kayaking trip in the wilds of northern Canada. I still like this story and have every intention of returning to it at some point. I set it aside because it reached a point where I wasn't sure how to proceed and I didn't like the direction I had taken, and then I decided that it was time to write Princesses In SPACE!!! II (not the actual title), because it was about that time that I knew that if I wanted the Princesses series to be a thing, I needed to get going on a second book ASAP. So the kayak-trip-from-hell book is safely awaiting a revisit, maybe in another year or two. after I write Princesses III and a sequel to GhostCop (not the actual title).

Last year I used NaNoWriMo to finish GhostCop and then resume work on Lighthouse Boy, which has again been set aside so I can continue working on the Princesses series. I've discovered over the last couple of years that while I can be prolific and always have something in the hopper, I can really only work on one project at a time, whether it be editing an existing manuscript or cranking out a new one. It's just the way my mind works best, on these sorts of things; I tend to focus strongly on one thing, be it editing or composing, and trying to do both never works as I invariably end up gravitating toward one or the other. So I don't even try anymore. I have time for Lighthouse Boy, anyway, since my current notion is to finish it and then serialize it as a series of cheap e-books. I suspect that doing something like that will be better accomplished once I've established my "brand" a bit, which means getting at least the first two Princesses books out there and at least launching the GhostCop series.

But anyway, NaNoWriMo isn't really about finishing, anyway. It can be, but my experience is that it's more about the work. It's about setting a high goal and working toward it, relentlessly, and with some camaraderie that can't always be found in real life. Fifty thousand words in one month is absolutely doable, but it's also not the easiest target to reach if you're not used to it, and it's particularly devilish that the challenge comes in a month with only 30 days and one of the major holidays of our year. (Well, for now, anyway, since we seem hell-bent as a culture on making Thanksgiving about as relevant a holiday as Columbus Day, but that's a rant for another time.) NaNoWriMo is about producing a big chunk of work, regardless of worrying about if it's good or not. So, in that vein, if you're considering participating in NaNoWriMo this year, here are my thoughts on how to best approach it for success:

1. Know what you're going to write.

Have your mind made up so as soon as you sit down at the keyboard on November 1, you can charge out of drydock, thrusters on full. Don't sit down at the keyboard and then try to decide what story you're going to tell.

Now, "Know what you're going to write" has some wiggle-room. I'm the type of writer called a "pantser", meaning, I write by the seat of my pants. I don't outline entire novels prior to writing, and if I do any outlining at all, it's merely a scene or two in advance just so I can work out the timing and sequence of events in my head in the very near term. Other than that, I rarely have any great idea where the story is going.

Perhaps, however, you're an outliner. You like to have a detailed outline ready to go, or maybe you like to figure out your characters in gory detail prior to writing. Lots of writers spend lots of time doing this kind of prep work -- outlines, character sketches, that sort of thing -- and if you're one of them, have as much of that done as possible before November 1. November is not a time for prep work, if you're doing NaNoWriMo.

2. Choose your style, and the simpler, the better.

Remember, NaNoWriMo is about producing a lot of words in a specific timeframe. Therefore, it's not really the best time in the world for experimenting with your literary style. If your default style is toward the florid but you've had a hankering for writing a crime novel in a kind of Dashiell Hammett style, maybe November isn't the right time. Likewise, NaNoWriMo really is not the time to write your near-future dystopian tragedy in rhyming Iambic pentameter.

3. Give your internal editor the month off.

Again, you're looking to cover a lot of ground in November. You can edit later. There just isn't time for revision, unless you realize that your story has gone well-and-truly off the rails and that you simply must backtrack to Albuquerque so you can take that left turn you missed. If you have to do this, fine, but don't delete the work you've done. Leave it in there. Move it to the end of the file, past a couple of page breaks, but those words are still work you did. When it comes time to verify your wordcount at the end of the month, all Na NoWriMo will do is count your words. Nobody is going to read your work to make sure it's coherent.

So: if you really have made a story error, by all means, go back and take another stab at it, without deleting what you've already produced. Generally, though, NaNoWriMo is not the time to try and make every sentence sing and put every word in its exact place.

4. Know when you are going to write.

This might actually be the most important thing. If you've been noodling around with writing for a long time but new to the crunch of NaNoWriMo, you'll likely be very surprised at the amount of work and time involved in producing 1667 words in one day, much less every day for thirty days. Plan your writing time, right from Day One. It's important. Know when you are going to write. If you normally get up at 7:00 every morning, maybe get up at 6:15 and write until seven. If there's usually an hour after dinner when you're unoccupied, set that aside for writing. On Sundays, maybe join the football game in progress after 2:00 instead of insisting on watching the whole thing. You have to budget your time, because while the NaNoWriMo goal of 50000 words in thirty days is doable, falling behind is also very doable, and getting caught up once you're behind by even a day or two is a lot less doable. Make every effort to start the month ahead, so that if you need to take a day or two later on to produce less than 1667 words, you can afford it.

It's good that this year NaNoWriMo starts on a Saturday (unless, of course, your job doesn't give you Saturdays off). Getting off to a strong start is essential, and with two weekend days to launch, the schedule is quite conducive to it. Take advantage! Don't tell yourself that you can make it up with a couple of 5000 word marathon sessions at some point, because quite frankly, you won't.

What NaNoWriMo really helps is to train the brain -- mindhack, if you will -- to see writing as a job that can be approached in discrete chunks, as opposed to some mystical process driven by the capricious magic of some Muse. Believe me, there's enough magic and mystery in writing already, so it can also be seen as a job where a daily word count is similar to a pro painter's "Get this many square feet of the wall painted today".

5. Don't let friends and family guilt you about your focus this month.

Luckily, this has never been a problem for me, but I know it has for others (there's a long thread about it on one of the NaNoWriMo message boards). If anyone gives you shit about writing, be firm in claiming this time for yourself. If they press, tell them that you have set a personal goal for yourself and you are working toward it. Would they guilt you if the goal you set was, say, running a marathon and you were doing a lot of training? I'm guessing not. Well, it's the same thing. A personal goal that needs met is still a personal goal, no matter what. And if the other person is mocking of your personal goal? Well...I can't really offer advice there, except to note that mocking someone's goals, dreams, and efforts to make those things come true isn't really something that should be endured from a "loved" one.

6. Interact with other people pursuing the same goal!

NaNoWriMo is a fairly big deal. The website has a lot of separate forums, from genre forums to forums for people of similar age groups to regional forums so you can connect with people in your area. Some areas even have "meet-ups", where you can actually go and hang out with other writers who are having their own sessions. I've never done that (in this area, the meet-ups always seem to be held in the Northtowns, which is a bummer), but I wouldn't mind someday. Find NaNoWriMo people on whatever social media you use -- Twitter and Instagram have a lot of them -- and share thoughts and success stories and kudos and cheers and vexing frustrations. Writing can be lonely, but it doesn't have to be.

7. Don't lose the story.

It's about telling a story, after all. So go ahead and tell it!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Something for Thursday

Here's some great music from the epic World War II television documentary series, Victory At Sea, by Richard Rodgers and arranged by Robert Russell Bennett! I got to play some of this stuff in a shortened version at a band camp in high school, and I've loved it all ever since. The "Guadalcanal March" is a particularly fine march.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

And on the twenty-second day, the second chapter did he post....

That's right, folks! Chapter 2 of Stardancer is now up at the official site, Go read it! Next week I'll post Chapter 3, and then, after that, the only way to find out what happens next is to buy the book starting November 12!

(What are you reading this for? Go! Click that link and get caught up!)

(Seriously, you need to go. Now.)

(My, you are the stubborn one, aren't you? Here's another link. Will that make you go read Chapter 2?)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

When driving around in The Wife's car, we often enjoy listening to her SiriusXM radio thingie. Most often we seem to end up on the 80s Channel, because that's the stuff that we grew up with, and they often play quite a bit of somewhat obscure stuff along with the "big hits". It's not just "Walkin' On Sunshine" or "Come On Eileen" all the time. And what's really cool about that is that the shows are often hosted by the original VJs from MTV. (The ones that remain, anyway -- JJ Johnson passed away ten years ago, sadly.)

Anyhow, for those who may have formative memories from that period, who was your favorite?

Refreshing the memory, we have here, from left to right: Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and JJ Johnson. My personal favorite? A toss-up between Nina Blackwood and JJ Johnson.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Peanuts and Cracker Jack

So the World Series kicks off tonight. I know, that's the wrong metaphor. Sorry. I used to be a huge baseball fan, and I still find the game itself utterly beautiful to watch unfold, a game of moments where things happen one thing at a time. Baseball may be the last major sport that isn't a constant flow of motion. As for rooting interests, as the League Championship Series started in each league, I noticed that of those four teams, none were a team I dislike in any major way. Generally, my approach in such cases is this: when there are no teams left for whom I have a rooting interest (be it rooting for a team to win or for a hated team to lose), I root for the remaining teams in order of how long it's been since they won. In the AL you had the Orioles versus the Royals, whose last World Series wins were in 1983 and 1985, respectively. The Royals haven't even made the postseason since then. (The Orioles have, but have not won any pennants.) As for the NL, it was the Cardinals and Giants, two teams who have each won it at least twice in the last few years. So no matter who won the AL pennant, I would root for the AL champion in the World Series. Hence, go Royals!

The remainder of this post is a book review. My sports fandom is nowhere near what it once was, and I see little reason to expect it to rebound in any significant way in the future. That said, I do still enjoy good sports writing, and John Feinstein is one of the betters sportswriters out there. He has a new book about baseball, called Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball, and it's definitely worth a look.

Minor-league baseball is sometimes seen as the more "pure" version of the baseball experience these days, where you can still go to the ballpark and take in a game for a few bucks, where goofball promotions are often used as enticements, where ads for local businesses still cover the outfield walls, where players still endure long bus rides from town to town, and where brushes with true baseball celebrity come mainly from young phenom players or Major Leaguers sent down to the minors to work their way back into the game after an injury.

Feinstein's portrait of the minors has all that, but he also captures something that a lot of fans may not come to realize: that the minors are, in addition to being a training ground for guys not yet ready for the Majors, a place of frustration. The fact is, especially at the AAA level, nobody wants to be there. This is a fact that everyone must acknowledge, and some managers come right out and say it. Nobody wants to be in AAA baseball, because AAA is the cusp of the Majors. When you're in AAA, your dream is almost there, constantly tantalizing you and torturing you with every single injury with the big club, with every time the manager's phone rings, with every invitation to spring training. Triple-A baseball is a land of players who are this close. For some, it's just a brief spot, while for others, it's a place to spend years without ever getting to "the show".

Feinstein focuses his book mostly on just nine men: six players, two managers, and one umpire. Some have made it and will make it back; others haven't made it yet; some have made it and will never make it back. The central fact of this book is that while dreams do come true, they don't always stay true. It's a hard lesson for some of these players, and it's very easy to understand why they keep signing up for one more year, why they keep trying to catch on someplace, even as they pass their 30th birthdays and start approaching their 40th.

It's interesting to me, as well, that Feinstein includes an umpire in his journey through AAA baseball. Fans don't think too much about umpires, really, and the only time their names really come up is when they screw up. If a baseball fan knows Don Denkinger's name, it's almost certainly because he blew a call in a World Series game; and even then, it's not like umpire's names stay in the memory for long. I couldn't tell you the name of the umpire who screwed up a call a couple years back that cost a pitcher a perfect game on what should have been the final out. (For the record, I still think that MLB should have reversed the call and credited that guy with the perfect game. The idea that umpire's calls are sacred and must never be changed, ever ever ever, is deeply bizarre to me.) Umpires work their way through the minors just like players do, hoping for that call to become an umpire at the Major League level. What I didn't know is that umpires' time is limited even more than players. A player can stay in the minors as long as some organization is willing to have him, but not so an umpire: you only get so many years, and if by that time the people who choose the Major League umpires don't think you have it, that's it: you're done. There are no career minor league umpires.

I was likewise surprised at the degree to which winning isn't much of a concern in the minors. They like to win, but winning is mainly seen as a function of playing well, and playing well is seen as the means to the end of reaching the Majors. Feinstein depicts the feel of a championship-winning minor league clubhouse as a pretty surreal place. It's an accomplishment that nobody much gives a shit about. This reminds me of the great movie Bull Durham, which spans an entire season and yet except for one brief segment in the middle of the movie, you get almost no sense for how the team's doing in the standings. No one cares. All that matters is who gets the call to go up, and who gets the call to go home.

Minor leaguers, it turns out, put up with a lot of crap. They'll fly with their team in the morning to a new city for a day game, only to be told as soon as they plane lands that the big club needs an arm for that night's game, so they're to turn around and get on another plane entirely. Mets pitcher Chris Schwinden, for example, got a call up to join the Mets in Toronto. After sitting in the bullpen, he flies with the team to Pittsburgh, where he's told that he's been sent back down already, so he has to turn around and get to Buffalo. At this point in the night, a direct flight from Pittsburgh to Buffalo isn't available, so they fly him to JFK, where he's supposed to catch a flight to Buffalo. That plane is delayed for two hours, so the team sends a car to drive him from NYC to Buffalo. After a series of mechanical mishaps with the car, Schwinden finally gets back to Buffalo eighteen hours after leaving Pittsburgh. This whole passage had me laughing, because you can drive from Pittsburgh to Buffalo in less than four hours.

Feinstein is an honest sportwriter, which means that he can't just depict baseball's poetic and pastoral beauty. Baseball keeps going, and as big as some players get, there is no player so big that the game can't keep being played once they hang up their cleats. Throughout the book, Feinstein makes clear that each and every person is aware that they are just minor cogs in the game's history and that the game will go on without them when they're done, almost as if they were never a part of it at all. At times this aspect of baseball can be bluntly heartless: near the end, when the umpire is finally told that he simply isn't good enough and that his career is over, one reason given is the time he has missed from umpiring. How much time did he miss? Two weeks once, for the birth of his own child, and two days one other time, so he could attend an uncle's funeral. That's pretty brutal.

The emotions go the other way, though, and Feinstein shows this as well in many passages. Why do these players work so hard to chase a dream that few will ever get, for whom the odds get smaller with each year? This passage, from the introduction, explains it perfectly.

Every player knows how much the first call-up means. Which is why there is almost always a celebration of some kind in a Triple-A clubhouse when someone gets the call for the first time. Everyone understands what an extraordinary moment it is in a player's life. Those who have been called up remember what it meant to them; those who have not know how much they want it to happen.

J.C. Boscan's story isn't quite the same as Jimmy Morris's, because he never stopped playing. He signed with the Atlanta Braves in the summer of 1996 at the age of sixteen and spent the next fourteen seasons bouncing around the minor leagues. He first reached Triple-A in 2002 but couldn't take the next step, because, even though he was a solid catcher, he just couldn't hit well enough to be regarded as a serious big-league prospect.

He left the Braves for a couple of years to play Double-A and Triple-A for the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds. He signed back with the Braves in 2008, because the people running the organization had so much respect for him as a clubhouse leader and someone who would set a good example for younger players that they were willing to bring him back – knowing he was unlikely to ever play in Atlanta.

Two years later, playing in Gwinnett, he had his best offensive season. Nothing spectacular, but a career-high five home runs and a batting average of .250 – higher than his lifetime average of .222. Late in August, Boscan began to hear that he might be on the September call-up list.

Every year on September 1, major-league teams can expand their rosters to as many as forty players (the regular roster size is twenty-five). Rarely do they bring up more than five or six players. Those who are brought up usually provide depth in the bullpen or on the bench of are young players being given a taste of the major leagues. Every once in a while, a team will give a player a "good guy promotion" – bring him up so he can make major-league pay for a month as a reward for being a good guy and not complaining about being stuck in the minor leagues.

Boscan had been in the minors for fourteen years and had never seen the inside of a big-league clubhouse except during spring training. At thirty, he was a long way from being the bright-eyed teenage prospect the Braves had brought to the United States from Venezuela in 1997.

On August 31, the word in the Gwinnett clubhouse was that the Braves were going to make their call-ups after the game. Boscan remembers being more nervous that night than at any other time in his career.

"I walked on the field that night, and all I could think was, 'If I don't get the call tonight, it's never going to come,'" he remembered. "I honestly thought this was my last shot and my best shot to ever get to the majors. I could barely keep my mind on the game. All I could think about was what was going to happen after it was over. I was praying to God to let this be my time."

When the game ended, Boscan sat in front of his locker and picked at the postgame meal. Hitting coach Jamie Dismuke had been designated by manager Dave Brundage to bring players into his office so they could be told they were going to make the thirty-seven-mile trip down I-85 to Turner Field. As Dismuke worked his way around the clubhouse, that thirty-seven miles felt more like a million to Boscan.

The first player called in was Freddie Freeman, the twenty-year-old phenom, who was hitting .319 and was considered a lock call-up. He came out of Brundage's office with a huge smile on his face and was engulfed in congratulations.

Dismuke continued his rounds. One player after another walked around the corner to Brundage's office and came out wearing the giveaway grin. The congratulations continued. No one had made a move to leave because this was a happy night – for those going up.

Six players had gone in to see Brundage – entering as Gwinnett Braves and coming out as Atlanta Braves – and there was no sign of Dismuke for a couple of minutes. Boscan's heart sank. That was it – six guys. His dream had died.

Dismuke appeared again, this time walking directly toward Boscan.

"Skip wants to see you, J.C.," he said. He wasn't smiling. Boscan panicked. Maybe Brundage had gotten the good news out of the way first, and now he was going to let Boscan know that the team needed him in Double-A to work with a young catcher. Or, maybe he was being released.

Brundage was, in fact, preparing that kind of speech for Boscan. "I was going to look very sad and tell him that sometimes things don't turn out the way you want them to in baseball," he said. "But when he walked in here, he was shaking. I couldn't go through with it."

The entire Gwinnett staff was in the room when Boscan walked in.

"Have a seat, JC," Brundage said, trying to look grim.

Boscan sat on the couch across from Brundage's desk.

"You ever been to the big leagues?" he asked – knowing the answer.

"No," Boscan said, shaking his head.

Brundage couldn't keep up the charade.

"I was going to mess with you, JC, but I can't do it," he said, feeling himself start to choke up. "This is your day. You're going up."

Boscan burst into tears. Everyone else in the room was fighting to hold tears back.

"I've been a minor-league manager a long time," Brundage said. "I can honestly say that was the best moment I've ever had."

After Boscan had thanked everyone and shaken everyone's hand and been hugged all around, he walked out of the office. Brundage's office is in a hallway that leads to the clubhouse area where the players' lockers are located. When Boscan turned the corner to reenter the locker area, the entire team was waiting for him.

Feinstein doesn't reveal what became of JC Boscan after he finally reached the Major Leagues after fourteen years of minor-league toil, because that's really not the point of his book at all. But I couldn't help wondering, so I looked it up. That's the thing about baseball: you can always look it up. He only had one plate appearance with the Braves that fall, in which he drew a walk to load the bases; he would then score a run when a subsequent hitter doubled. Over the next two seasons with the Braves and then one season with the Cubs, he appeared in a total of 17 Major-League games, collecting 7 hits in 28 at-bats, for a .250 average. He has 2 career RBIs, and zero home runs. After the 2013 season he signed with the Dodgers organization, and he's still there, playing Double-A ball with the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Baseball abides, man.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Clobberin' Time, no more?

I was never a really big fan of the Fantastic Four during my comics-reading days*, but they are one of the iconic comics team, featuring characters nearly as foundational as Superman himself.

And now, Marvel is apparently canceling The Fantastic Four, for reasons that are...give me a minute, I'm struggling to come up with an apt descriptor for them...umm...F***ING STUPID.

Sorry, but that's really all I can think of to describe this nonsense.

(Original link via Roger.)

* When I say "my comics-reading days", I refer to that period when I was buying individual issues of comics on a monthly basis. I didn't stop reading comics.

Sentential Links

Linkage time!

:: Always be ready for inspiration to strike. For this reason I have more than a hoarder’s share of notebooks I travel with, not to mention my phone with several apps dedicated to jotting down ideas. For this reason there is no excuse for me not to write. If I want to finish all these ideas I have I’ve got to write write write. Morning, noon, and night. (I know the feeling!)

:: Uranus is the only planet to have been named after a Greek God, Ouranos. (Those outer gas giants are so fascinating. It's amazing to me that we're still only a century out from them even being known to exist in the first place. I read a story by one of the early 20th century science fiction writers that had spaceships landing on the surface of Neptune. Wow!)

:: I'm going to be published.

(Great news and congratulations!)

:: So where have I been? I suppose I've been off being terribly, terribly angry. (Yes, this has been a banner couple of months for the "Everything is terrible" crowd.)

:: Just because I have a new baby doesn’t mean I don’t love my first baby.

:: Because of course that’s the thing: Even when these idiots declare me “not a real man,” it doesn’t change that I am always seen to be a “real man,” and that I get all the benefits that accrue to me for being biologically male, identifying as a man, and conforming to social standards for what both of those mean. The worst these dudes can do is be mean to me on the Internet. It doesn’t change anything about what I get from the world.

:: For some obscure reason, I’ve read old journals/diaries of mine from the 1970s and 1980s, and much of it is cringeworthy. The only reasons I keep them are these: 1) I could use some of it to cull out family and FantaCo history; 2) all the terrible stuff I could throw together as a roman a clef.

:: I believe in being kind to old cars.

Somebody sure had been kind to this one.

More next week, I hope!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Burst of strange and odd stuff

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Remember the first scene in which Jeff Goldblum appears in Jurassic Park? He does this really weird and kinda creepy laugh that is one of the quintessential Jeff Goldblum moments in anything. Well, someone set that laugh to music...or rather, they translated that laugh into music. If you can believe such a thing. There's a video over there where you can hear that very laugh. Wow.

:: The tale of Shane, the Wal-Mart deli guy. This can't be real, can it? I wish it was, but....

:: Amazing photos of lighthouses. This may be useful when I return to writing Lighthouse Boy.

More next week, maybe.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Don't go away!

It's an unusually busy weekend here at Casa Jaquandor, so stick with me! Meantime, here's a bit of Glenn Miller.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

If we ditch Columbus Day, what should be celebrated in its stead? (Assuming that we keep some kind of Federal holiday in October. )

Chapter the First! And so it begins!

OK, folks, want to actually meet those lovely Princesses? Now you can! It's Chapter One at! They're not in SPACE!!! yet, but they soon will be....

Monday, October 13, 2014

Secret Weddings

SamuraiFrog writes about two cues from the Braveheart score:

It's sort of a touchstone for me now. Becca and I had been dating for about six months when this movie came out, and it was really this movie that made me aware of how much Becca actually liked film music. That was a passion I didn't share with many people, mostly because people my age seemed to think it was weird to not be into pop music or rap or whatever was right there on the radio. Becca listened to this soundtrack over and over, and we grew closer over a shared love of film scores. That was sort of important to me; sometimes she's just not into something that I am, and I'm glad this is one thing that she shares with me.

This rang a bell in my memory: I wrote a post in appreciation of the Braveheart score myself, some time ago; turns out that it was more than ten years ago. Wow.

And yet...I still return to this CD, again and again, because of the first ten tracks (which comprise the music up to and including Wallace's victory at Stirling). In the film, Mel Gibson strove for a very dreamy atmosphere, in which gestures are slowed down, dialogue is spoken at a measured pace, and characters hold one another's eyes. The emotional core of the film comes early, in those scenes of quiet courtship between Wallace and Murron (Catherine McCormack), when love is expressed by a quick and private smile or a shared glance as they pass each other within a crowd. This is where Horner's score shines.

The two tracks to listen to here are "Wallace Courts Murron" and "The Secret Wedding", both of which are long and quiet, and yet, surprisingly complex. The only rhythm in these two tracks is provided by a harp that is so distantly placed one is at first not even certain if it is even there. The melody Horner creates for these two lovers is a very long one indeed, and he varies it slightly each time it is heard -- first in the violins, then in the wavering tones of the kena flute (played with thick vibrato) and finally, most memorably, in a long line for solo oboe that is as heartbreaking a passage of music as I have ever heard.

The first half of Horner's Braveheart score constitutes some of the finest film music I know, haunting and atmospheric and lyrical. The score's back half does let up somewhat, as does the film, but that first half is so strong that it carries what comes after.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Writer Guy Speaks! Listen to Writer Guy!

So, what's going on in my writer-verse of late? Let's talk!

As noted the other day, I finished this stage of proofreading on Stardancer, so hopefully I don't find a bunch more errors when I get the next proof copy, thus necessitating another round. That's where we stand there, though: nothing to do until that copy comes in the mail.

::  I dug out the manuscript of GhostCop (not the actual title). Remember that one? Me either!

Kidding aside, I let that manuscript sit unexamined a lot longer than I usually do, not because of that book but because the focus this year has been on Stardancer and Princesses II. This is the first time I've had a real opportunity to look at that book in more detail, so I'm now in the process of marking up the manuscript. The goal is to be done with that process by Halloween. (This is hopefully possible since, among other things, GhostCop is a significantly shorter novel than any of the other books in the hopper, at only around 100,000 words. By the way, GhostCop is an example of a time when I'm not being coy by using the working title. At this point I genuinely don't know what this book's actual title is!

When will GhostCop become a reality? At this point I'm not sure. I'd like to have it out sometime in 2015, though.

::  As for The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy (not the actual title, and again, because I have no idea yet what the actual title is): we're back on the back burner with that one. It'll get done, eventually, but right now I'm kicking around not releasing it as one large book but rather serializing it, a few chapters at a time, maybe for $,99 a pop. Who seems to me a good way to honor the book's Dumas/Dickens inspirations, but to be successful, this may have to wait until I've established my "brand" a bit more. And besides, that book wouldn't be ready for at least two years anyway, since I'm not even done writing it!

::  Let's see, what else...oh yes, I created a page for myself on Facebook.

A "page" is different from a Facebook "profile" in that there's no "friending" involved. All you have to do is "like" the page, and you're able to interact there. I don't know how much mileage I'll get out of it, especially since Facebook tends to hold page-based content hostage for money, but there it is. The page will be another way to interact with me. I'm not sure how I'll divvy up the content yet, but I figured I should at least hang out my shingle there, so consider it hung!

::  Finally, I've decided that Princesses In SPACE!!! III: The Search for the Last Crusade (not the actual title) will be my NaNoWriMo book this year. I'm already signed up and everything!

Obviously I won't be cranking out the entire book in November, as my target length for those books is 180000 words, and the focus of NaNoWriMo is 50000 in thirty days. I really have to get that manuscript going, so the book can be ready for its target release in November 2016. I'll have more to say about that as the process moves forward, and I'll talk more specifically about The Song of Forgotten Stars as a series on the main site after the book comes out.

Wow. I'm, like, busy and stuff!

Sunday Burst

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Nifty video footage of the Atlantic Ocean Road in Norway. I'm not sure the video lives up the "OMG this road is an insane trek of DEATH!!!" that the surrounding article portrays, but it's still a very cool-looking drive. Yes, I'd drive it!

:: Twenty lesser-known travel destinations you should see. I had to look up the first one, a lake in Iceland that the article claims straddles the boundary between Europe and North America. It turns out that this lake is a rift-valley lake, and that valley lies where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates come together. Now you know. (The other nineteen places on the list are also interesting.)

:: I'm sorry, but I read this article and all I can think is, "That poor bastard." This young man suffered one of the most bizarre and humiliating deaths I've ever heard about, and to make matters worse, when he was buried, they put a marker over his grave with the manner of his embarrassing death engraved right on the stone. Wow.

:: If you always felt the prose in cookbooks was a little too nice, and you've been looking for something a little more, say, Jersey Turnpike-ish, here's how to cook a f***ing steak. (Lots of salty language there.)

:: Finally, in this week's Great Moments In Pie In The Face History, an outfielder from the Houston Astros shows up at the Sports Illustrated headquarters to dispense some kudos-in-pie-form.

More next week!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Don't take MY word for it! (Again)

Another of my beta-readers weighs in. Getting SamuraiFrog's approval was really huge to me. His tastes and mine intersect frequently, but we have enough areas of disagreement that I knew he wasn't a sure thing, and he's whip-smart, so if he doesn't like something, he can tell you exactly why, with often brutal force and surgical precision. That he responded to the book as warmly as he did (while still making some useful observations along the way) is a definite boost in the confidence I feel for my own story.

And if you haven't seen them yet, check out the book trailer and the cover art at! This coming Wednesday I will post the complete Chapter One.

Friday, October 10, 2014

From the Books: "Come Along With Me", Shirley Jackson

After last week's entry, a more positive extract, this time, from the same book: Shirley Jackson's anthology Come Along With Me. This is from an essay titled "Notes for a Young Writer". I don't read a whole lot of writing advice these days, figuring that at this point in my life I'm either going to swim or sink whilst valiantly attempting to swim. This, though, is an old favorite of mine.

In the country of the story the writer is king. He makes all the rules, with the only reservation that he must not ask more than a readaer can reasonably grant. Remember, the reader is a very tough customer indeed, stubborn, dragging his feet, easily irritated. He will willingly agree to suspend disbelief for a time: he will go along with you if it is necessary for your story that you both assume temporarily that there rally is a Land of Oz, but he will not suspend reason, he will not agree, for any story ever written, that he can see the Land of Oz from his window. As a matter of fact, you would do well to picture your typical reader as someone lying in a hammock on a soft summer day, with children playing loudly near by, a television set and a radio both going at once, a sound truck blaring past in the street, birds singing and dogs barking; this fellow has a cool drink and a pillow for his head, and all you have to do with your story is catch his attention and hold it. Remember, your story is an uneasy bargain with your reader. Your end of the bargain is to play fair, and keep him interested, his end of the bargain is to keep reading. It is just terribly terribly easy to put a story down half-read and go off and do something else. Nevertheless, for as long as the story does go on you are the boss. You have the right to assume that the reader will accept the story on your own terms. You have the right to assume that the reader, however lazy, will exert some small intelligence while he is reading. Suppose you are writing a story about a castle. You do not need to describe every tower, every man at arms, every stone; your reader must bring his own complement of men at arms and towers; you need only describe one gardener to imply that the castle is well stocked with servants. In your stories, then, set your own landscape with its own horizons, put your characters in where you think they belong, and move them as you please.

The entire essay is well-worth tracking down, especially if you are in the company of a writer.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A brief update

After my Argleblargle of the other day, I'm happy to report that we're back on track. The CreateSpace "review" of already-reviewed files ended that night, so I was able to re-upload the new files, which have also passed review-muster. So now I am awaiting my second (and, hopefully, final) review copy.


Love Is All Around

Sk Waller and her love, Nettl, are finally able to get married.

We get a lot of stuff wrong in America, which makes it all the sweeter when we start getting certain things right. There are an awful lot of problems that I'm not sure we're going to solve, but I can take a certain small amount of solace in the fact that we are slowly getting out of the business of legislating the business of love.

I can't attend the ceremony in person, but if anyone there sees some kind of weird spirit-form lurking in a corner, and the spirit-form seems to be wearing overalls, that's me.

Something for Thursday

I saw this on Facebook the other night and it was immediately clear what this week's entry had to be: this astonishing cover, featuring a small army of great musicians, of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" -- which just happens to be my favorite Beach Boys song ever. (Yes, this might very well be by virtue of the song's perfect placement at the end of Love, Actually.)

Here it is. Amazing!

More info on this cover here. This thing made me incredibly happy.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


So, this morning I finished my first round of proofreading and minor edits on Princesses In SPACE!!! Stardancer (wow, it feels weird typing that after so many years of the working title), and it came time to upload the files. I'm using CreateSpace to create the book, and the process is pretty simple: when you're done typing and formatting and whatnot, you export the innards of your book as a single PDF, which you then upload to CreateSpace for their "Review Process". This process involves the CreateSpace folks looking over your file to make sure it meets their standards for printing. This is all about typographical and design stuff: do you have illustrations or text too far outside or inside their margins, will your fonts work on the page, et cetera. This process takes twenty-four hours or so, after which time they notify you that you're either good to go or you need to do some tweaking.

After that point, you can do one of two things: Order another proof copy, in which case they send you a copy of the book to go over again, or approve the proof for publication. If you do more proofing and you find things to change, you have to then make a new PDF and re-upload it so they can do the Review Process again.

So, this morning I reached the point where I was ready to re-upload the new PDF of the book's guts. However...I screwed this up, and actually initiated the Review Process without uploading anything new. So they're reviewing the files they've already reviewed once before, and I have to wait twenty-four hours for this because there's no mechanism for canceling this process. It would be nice if they gave you a ten-minute window, say, in which to cancel the review if you uploaded the wrong thing; or, maybe, have warning pop up along the lines of, "You have no uploaded any new interior files since the last review process. Do you wish to continue with the Review on the already-existing and uploaded files?"

As the title of the post says: Argleblargle!

Look, this isn't a huge deal, really. It isn't. But I'm at the point in this project where days matter. I'm releasing five weeks from tomorrow, and it takes about a week to get the review copy. So losing a day of production work actually hurts at this point...I want to be able to finalize the book by the 24th of this month, so I can upload the final revised contents (if I have to make any more corrections) and then be able to get things rolling so I can have my beta-reader and family-and-friend copies in hand before I officially release on the 12th of next month. This is the point where losing a day is not a good thing. Not fatal, either, but still: Argleblargle!

(Oh, and don't forget to visit tomorrow for the Big! Cover Art! Reveal!. But you won't forget, because you're awesome, and I'll remind you tomorrow anyway.)

But don't take MY word for it!

Jason Bennion speaks about a subject near and dear to my heart: my book!

He was/is one of my beta-readers, and he provided a lot of useful comment regarding various matters within the book's pages. In fact, I was on the fence about one entire scene until he commented favorably upon it, so that scene stayed. Anyway, hopefully that whets the appetite a whee bit!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Sentential Links


:: Overalls should be large enough to wear a cable knit sweater UNDER them. Overalls should have wide enough legs to go OVER boots, not tuck into boots. (Agreed! Oh, and scarves go perfectly with overalls. I love my scarf collection and am planning to add to it.)

:: One of the shows I used to watch religiously was MASH. Indeed, I liked it so much, I’d often watch the summer reruns. But somewhere about season 8, I stopped watching the reruns. This article by Ken Levine, who wrote for the show in the later years, touches on why; they started, generally inadvertently, recycling plotlines. Why would I need to watch the rerun when the story itself was being replicated? (We don't rewatch stuff a whole lot here, and I always get a bit antsy when binge watching. There's always something new to find, but we do rewatch things once in a while. As for M*A*S*H, that show's a bit fuzzy for me. I literally grew up with it; it was on the air my entire childhood until, I think, fifth or sixth grade. By the time I knew what it was about, I think it had gone on too long, and I never felt a great deal of fondness for it. Later on, though, in high school, I discovered through syndicated reruns that the early seasons really were all kinds of brilliant. Oddly, apparently there was a huge M*A*S*H craze at my college the year before I got there, and everybody was watching the reruns at 6:30 or something like that. Weird. This was over by the time I got there. Oh, and this seems as good a time as any to bring up a usual complaint: Where the hell is Season Three of Once and Again?! It has never been released in any format. I do worry that some worthy items will slip through various cracks and never be seen again.)

:: It deeply bothers me that we've basically erased all of the cultural gains made by The Cosby Show and a well-off suburban black family is suddenly a big mystery again, and too many white critics can't relate to it if Dre isn't trying to get the family to out-black themselves every week. (Speaking of teevee...I hadn't even heard of Black-ish until this post. Shows how much attention I pay to teevee seasons at the outset; we only attend to returning shows we already watch, and then we wait to see what's highly-regarded and/or becomes a hit. This was we avoid the "Hey, this is good!'s canceled!" thing. I'm hearing good things about this show all of a sudden, though, and if it survives, we may check it out.)

:: What a tawdry, mean, ugly, unhappy time that was.

And it’s not just the reminders of what it was like back then.

It’s learning there was even more tawdriness, meanness, ugliness, and unhappiness than I remembered.

Or ever knew.

Like the sudden, sharp rise in the price of meat.

:: I watch HOUSE and believe I have whatever mystery ailment the patient of the week has. My doctor then assures me that bleeding out of my eyes is normal, just drink a glass of water. (This is funny because, in light of Roger's quote above, we've been watching/rewatching HOUSE on and off for the last few months. We didn't watch the show regularly until its seventh season; before that it was something we occasionally watched and enjoyed but never paid much attention to. Now we are picking up on some of the standard story beats, and of course, House's lack of social skill is quite legendary and the dialog is whip-smart. Of course, there is a danger with HOUSE that sometimes we watch it expecting a fun medical mystery...and then it's one of the sad ones where the patient dies. It's good to have a comedy or two in the back pocket.)

:: She was a high-school boy’s dream and my mother’s worst nightmare, a five-foot-three gymnast who styled herself after the “Like a Virgin”-era Madonna. I can’t remember how or when we first met — in fact, I really only remember a handful of moments I shared with her — but there was chemistry between us.

:: From a storytelling standpoint, I'll take The Mummy every time. (Michael May is blogging about horror movies all month long. Check it out!)

:: I am interested in the story possibilities of such a moment as this.

More next week!

Sunday, October 05, 2014


Recent photographic dispatches from my little crazy corner of the world....

Dog shadow.

Yeah, we really need to find a natural predator for these little bastards.

I don't know what I was drinking, but it made me happy!

These are...OK. Not awesome. I don't regret them, but one package is enough.

The sun coming up over Casa Jaquandor.

Nice doggie. Nice. (I'm still not sold on this whole "dog" business, though.)

Reflections of a writer.

When this dog gets up a head of steam, it's impressive to watch. Interesting, he was apparently a poor racer in his brief career, never placing higher than 7th!

No, I have no idea what makes a normal battery a QUANTUM BATTERY. I used this one at work for a wall clock, which seems an inadequate use of a QUANTUM BATTERY.

Leaving a pen in the work pants turns out to have not been the best thing in the world to do. Luckily none of my shirts were rendered unwearable, but some of them do sport a few dark spots that weren't there before. Luckily they're already dark, and in some cases the spots will be hidden when I inevitably wear those shirts beneath a pair of overalls.

Peanut-butter-filled pretzels. These things are like crack to me. Seriously, they should be a controlled substance with a street value!

Another sunrise at work. Morning skies are always amazing there.

Two brothers, looking out the back door.

Still working....

Cane has to smell my car whenever he goes for a walk. I don't know why, but it's the first order of business whenever it's walk-time!

I took The Daughter to our favorite local outside burger joint the other night. That little white light behind the sign? That's the moon.

The WNY countryside as autumn harvest time looms!

At long last, sweaters-and-overalls-and-scarves weather has arrived! I rather like the way this outfit looks, if I do say so myself. (I bought that pair of Dickies overalls twenty years ago, and they're still going strong!) This was my outfit for our annual day in Ithaca, NY.

A little writing while The Wife gets ready to leave our hotel room.

My PF Chang's fortune cookie says that I will be a successful writer. (Of course that's what it means! And yes, it's right! Never question the soothsaying cookie!)

Driving. Lots of driving yesterday. Next year we try to book two nights in our Rochester hotel, instead of driving all the way from Ithaca to Buffalo.

I was taking a photo of The Wife looking at Taughannock Falls, but she turned and looked at me at the last second. Oh well! (Isn't she pretty, though?)

Taughannock Falls.

Fried chicken and waffles at Waffle Frolic, one of our favorite places to eat anywhere. Just a wonderful, wonderful meal!

The Ithaca Apple Festival. It's a bit screwed up this year, because Ithaca is rebuilding its downtown Commons. It should be back to normal next year, though.

Behind the hubbub of the Apple Festival was this church. This entrance seems to me like something out of a Stephen King novel.

There was a terrific jazz band playing yesterday. I could have listened to them a lot more, and we did linger over them! I very nearly took a candid shot of a young couple, two college kids maybe, dancing as if they were all alone with the band in the world. I decided not to, though. Some moments should be left as memories in the hearts of those who experienced them.

And then, during the band's break, the toilet paper mummy wrapping contest!

On our way home, we crossed from the Cayuga Lake valley into the Seneca Lake valley, in time for the skies to clear and the sun to shine on the waters of Seneca Lake. I adore the Finger Lakes region.

Morning coffee as I start the back half of my vacation. Aside from finishing my proofreading, what to do next!

Friday, October 03, 2014

A few things

I'm on vacation now, so I won't be posting until Sunday at the earliest and Monday at the likeliest! Anyhow, a couple of things:

:: Hecklers can ruin comedy shows -- but sometimes comedians get the last laugh. (Salty language alert!)

:: Inside Steven Spielberg's JAWS vault. A look at ephemera from the making of the movie. Awesome!

:: Interesting video about hot sauce and hot sauce labels:

For the record, my favorite hot sauces are Franks, Cholula, and Sriracha with the rooster on the bottle. I have no use for Tabasco. It tastes funny to me.

:: All 32 NFL team helmets imagined as Star Wars-themed. I, for one, would proudly root for the Buffalo Banthas!

::  Interesting article about near-death-experiences and what they tell us about dying. I'm not sure I totally buy into everything here, but I don't know nearly enough to say one way or the other. I'd like to believe that something endures after death, but...well, there's only one way to know and no way to report back, thus far.

::  The Baltimore Orioles are pretty cool in that when they do a post-game pie-in-the-face for the game's hero, they don't put shaving cream on a towel. A local bakery makes their splatting pies for them, out of real edible stuff. I respect that and partially root for the Orioles on that basis alone! (Although I think I'm rooting for the Royals now, since the Pirates got bounced by the Giants in the wildcard game. Get 'em next year, Buccos!)

::  Finally, speaking of pies in faces, you may recall from when I did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that I expressed hope that a pie-in-the-face challenge would come around next. Well, a bunch of them have been going on, pertaining to a number of ailments: depression and suicide awareness, Huntington's Disease, Parkinson's, Childhood cancer, and even cerebral palsy. (Obviously that last would hit too close to home for me.) Well, seeing as how a lot of the good in these "viral" fundraising bits of goofery lies in the idea of "raising awareness", I was fascinated to see a pie challenge for a syndrome I'd never heard of before: Porphyria. This thing is both nasty and rare, so I decided that's what I was going to do. Yesterday morning I launched my vacation by taking the Porphyria Pie Challenge.

Pies and a good cause: you can't go wrong with that. (Yes, I donated as well.)

::  Oh wait! Really finally: check out my Official Author Site, if you haven't done so already! The ACTUAL TITLE is revealed!

That's really it. See you all in a few days!