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Pirate Story Story Ends Happily February 27, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in fiction, history, narrative, Other, writing.
6 comments

It took me quite a bit of time to decide whether to put a comma after the word “Ends” in the title above. 

Anyway, I finally came up with a beginning section that made the story work, so I’m sending it in to Shimmer tonight.  I don’t expect it to be published, of course.  But the editors claim that they always comment on submissions.  And then, in a few weeks, I’ll be able to try to rework it for a different market.  

The key, I realized (or probably more accurately my wife realized and then said it in words that even I could understand) late last night, was that I wasn’t having any fun writing it anymore.  No fun for me = no fun for readers.  It’s an ADD thing, I guess.  If I’m not engaged in the story, I just can’t make it work.

I was in school with this guy once who was substantially smarter than me (I was meaner than him, though, so most people never suspected).  When he was having trouble focusing on a paper he would make it intentionally harder on himself.  He would tell himself stuff like: Well, fine and dandy, you need to write a paper on recent holocaust scholarship, which you know like the back of your hand.  Let’s see how quickly you can do it in iambic pentameter.

Once I told myself that I was free to create outrageous, illogical characters, that somehow I’d make the story work anyway, it all just clicked. 

I guess I had some practice, too.  That was the fifth introductory section I had written for the thing.   

Take the Picture Already February 26, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Dogs, Other.
6 comments

I don’t have enough time today to write a real post.  And I couldn’t post yesterday because the transformer for my laptop died, leaving me computerless for the day.  Normally I post pictures on my other blog, but there is again something wrong with blogger’s mobile blogging functionality.  Blogger currently ignores all the pictures I post through my cellphone. 

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So you get this picture of my dog today.  Maggie is nine months old now and has perfected her how-long-are-you-going-to-make-me-sit-her-when-I-want-to-play-ball? look.

Arrgh! February 24, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in fiction.
4 comments

Last week I was trying to figure out how I would have enough time to finish the story I was working on for the contest at Shimmer magazine.  Today I’m beginning to wonder if I should bother. 

Some stories, I am beginning to think, will simply not gel.  Doesn’t matter how much work you put into them, they will never be the kind of thing that you would feel comfortable urging people to read.  This story might be one of those.  I have trouble looking at it anymore.

So I was in the shower this morning and thought of another story.  And I spent this morning’s writing time drafting it, instead.  Already it is better than the damnable pirate story. 

What’s your theme song? February 22, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Other, Philosophy, Rock.
12 comments

My wife recently read an article, Find Your Song (and Sing It), in Real Simple magazine (written by Gail Blanke) about the power of music to motivate.  And recent articles in some of the blogs that I read, notably Tales from the Reading Room and Hyperpat’s Hyperday, have discussed how integral music is to peoples’ lives.  So it got me thinking about this stuff. 

Blanke’s article was about the motivational power of having a “theme song.”  The idea being that when you really need to be excited about things and perky and seem energetic, it is a good idea to think about (or possibly hum or even sing) a song that will get your blood pumping.  So it got me thinking about how I don’t really have one of these. 

Earlier in this space I wrote about how I always have a song going through my head, and that it is a particularly monotonous tune.  It can be driven out of my head on a temporary basis by other songs.  Sometimes that’s a good thing; sometimes it’s not.  (My son and I will be watching some Speed Racer tonight, so I expect that the theme from that will occupy my thoughts far into the foreseeable future.) 

And I do listen to (or think about or hum or whistle or even sing) music to alter my thought patterns.  For a long time, on my way to the tennis courts, I would play in my car stereo the song “Burn, Don’t Freeze,” by Sleater-Kinney.  But it wasn’t to get pumped up.  I did it because keeping track of two simultaneous guitar parts and two simultaneous lead vocals drove every other thought from my head.  It was a sort of musical Zen thing.  But that’s not the sort of thing that Ms. Blanke was after, I think. 

Anyway, does anyone out there have such a song?  What is it?

Books–Tribulation Force February 21, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, narrative, Other, speculative fiction.
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Left Behind Series #2–By Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

I’m guessing that this will be the least memorable of the Left Behind series, because it is mostly set-up for the events of the next few books.  The first book in the series was action-packed, since it covered the rapture and the rise to power of the Anti-Christ.  The second book takes a small band of new believers, who missed out on the rapture but understood that they had better become Christians very quickly, and positions them so that we can see the seven-year period of tribulations through their eyes.  It is, thus, a little tedious.  And I wouldn’t post on it at all, except that wanted to be absolutely certain that I never say to myself at some future point “Hmmm, I wonder if I read that one.”

All of this positioning in the service of later installments in the series will be forgiven, of course.  Harder to forgive is the fact that the book is also really, really, really, really, really wordy.  Really. 

My favorite part:

The book contains a romance, which is also a comedy of errors.  The errors, the “Three’s Company”-style misunderstandings, are supplied by the Anti-Christ. 

Warning: Spoiler Ahead.

Two of these new Christians are naturally having difficulty with the idea of falling in romantic love during this period in history.  There are only seven years left before Armageddon, after all.  Is this any time to think about raising children?  And what if we really want to, you know, but don’t want children.  Shouldn’t we be thinking about more serious sorts of things?  I’d be confused, too, folks.  But other things complicate the already complicated affair, most notably, somebody anonymously sends her a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  She thinks it’s him, as a sort of apology for her accidently finding out that he already has a fiancee (he doesn’t–that’s another misunderstanding).  But it is finally revealed that the Anti-Christ sent her the flowers so that her father would accept a job as his personal pilot (reasoning that having secret admirers is dangerous, he would move them both to Washington, DC.)

That’s where we get the word “devious,” folks.

Journal of Negative Results in the Kitchen February 17, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, lifehack, Other, science.
5 comments

A few years back some biomedical academics decided to start a journal called the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine.  The idea was that people only publish articles about scientific experiments that go the way the researcher expects them to go.  When their ill-considered hypotheses are demolished by experimental results they tend to bury their ideas.  But you get great information from failed experiments, of course.  So here’s mine.

My son wanted French toast for breakfast on Thursday.  And so did I.  But we only had unsalted butter, which I hate, because when you put syrup on French toast with unstalted butter, the sweetness overwhelms everything.  So I told him we’d salt our own butter.  Apparently 1/2 of a teaspoon of salt for 1/2 a stick of butter is a little much.  I can still call to mind exactly the taste, and it was not a pleasant one. 

He’s a good sport, and ate half his breakfast.  He made some faces, but I don’t think he intended to.  I finished mine, cause I was really hungry. 

I’m thinking that next time I’ll try 1/8 of a teaspoon.  And I’ll find some way to mix it up a little better.  Granules of salt in your French toast are not pleasant at all.

Books–The Husband, by Dean Koontz February 16, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other, statistical analysis.
5 comments

I wasn’t feeling well on Wednesday, so I read a Dean Koontz novel while trying not to throw up.  The Husband is easily the best Dean Koontz novel I have read for some time. Suspenseful and thematically interesting, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Still, there were a couple of sentences that were just, well, jarring. I don’t know whether Koontz does his own editing, or whether he sometimes ignores the advice of others, but surely there must be some way in the future to avoid things like this:

“Remember coming to my wedding three years ago?” Mitch asked.
“Sure. You had great seafood tacos, but the band was woofy.”
“They weren’t woofy.”
“Man, they had tambourines.”
“We were on a budget. At least they didn’t have an accordion.”
“Because playing an accordion exceeded their skill level.”

It’s that last sentence that I find so troubling, I guess. This little snippet of dialogue was only five pages in, but it had already become clear the person speaking was not bright.  But even if he were, this is simply not the sort of sentence that a normal person utters.

How about “playing an accordion was too hard for them.”?
Or “too complicated, too many buttons.”?

I’ve sometimes thought that sentences like this must serve some purpose in Koontz’s books (in some, like the Odd Thomas series there are a lot of them). Maybe it’s like when poets want to draw particular attention to a word, so they mess with the meter. If so, they don’t really serve their purpose, because they often run counter to the other purposes these sections are attempting to serve: establishing the tone of a particular relationship, explicating some back-story, etc.

Another troubling phrasing that Koontz often uses is of the following type (for which I will now coin the term Koontzian simile of central tendency:

“Finally she pulls up her sweater and secrets the nail in her bra. She isn’t as extravagantly endowed as the average female mud wrestler, but nature has been more than fair.”

Why “the average female mud wrestler? I guess it’s not much of an analogy, not effective except upon those who watch female mud wrestling and can sum up bust sizes and then divide by the number of busts.
But I don’t think that Koontz is depending upon our knowledge of mud wrestling. I think he’s relying on stereotype to get the point across. But if so, why the average?  It boggles the mind.

Finally, another one of his descriptive passages, which seems, other than dialogue, to be where his editors have the most difficulty.

“Mitch drew slow deep breaths. The heavy fragrance was so sweet as to be narcoleptic.”

Probably the word there should be “narcotic.” But I love the image of a fragrance falling asleep and hitting its head on the desk, spilling its coffee. I would have marked that one “stet,” too.

Contest Winners Announced at The Moon Topples February 15, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, fiction, Other, writing.
2 comments

Congratulations to the winners of the short fiction contest at The Moon Topples. As I predicted, mine was not in the running. And I was only mildly surprised by the ranking of the winners.  I couldn’t cast votes for a few really good stories, there were too many good ones. 

I offer mine below for those of you who asked to see it, both of you.

Ampullae DeLorenzini

Jeremy’s plans were unfolding like a Triple-A roadmap. After only three years of carefully calculated pandering he had secured an invitation to the boss’s house, an opportunity to charm and overwhelm his daughter. She wouldn’t know what hit her.

“Glad you could come, Jeremy,” the old man said. “Let’s walk to the main house.”

Jeremy raised his eyebrows.

“We just greet guests here. Come, let’s tour the grounds while we chat.”

“Chat, sir?” Normally DeLorenzini of DeLorenzini was all business.

“I want to keep the company in the family, son. I’ve long hoped to find someone suitable to help my daughter preserve our fortune.”

“I’m honored, sir.”

“You’re smart and hardworking, Jeremy, but it was your charm and diplomacy that the company needed, your people skills, trustworthiness.”

Jeremy blushed, just enough.

“Don’t worry,” the old man smiled, “if she doesn’t like you, you still work for DeLorenzini.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Jeremy. Amy’s completely blind.”

Two more eyebrows lifted in concern. “From birth?”

“Accident. Point is, her other senses are heightened. Hearing, of course, but her senses of touch and proprioception support a sense entirely novel. Bats use echolocation. Her method, developed in childhood, combines all her other senses. We have no name for it.”

Jeremy briefly wondered about disfigurement. It didn’t matter, really, not for this kind of money. DeLorenzini continued as Jeremy evaluated the property, thinking: the driveway cost more than my house.

“She reads a room’s air currents, body heat. She sees gestures, Jeremy, posture, perhaps even facial expressions.”

Jeremy blinked.

“You’ll find her behavior odd,” he continued, past the heliport and garage, the legendary car collection. “Careful not to dissemble.”

Jeremy’s nostrils and eyes burned as they entered an opulent, Regency Era, oven. DeLorenzini shed his jacket and tie.

“Warm, dry air is easier to read, she says.” He shook his head, smiled. “She’ll be right down.”

Jeremy saw her atop the stairs and gasped. Early twenties, long, straight, golden hair in a pony tail, she was tall, athletic, in shorts and halter top, no shoes, radiant and exquisite.

She descended quickly, lightly, nowhere near the railing. Her eyes, nearly shut, lent a relaxed, dreamy air to a half smile. Jeremy’s jaw dropped.

Introductions made, she began a strange dance composed of slow arm lifts, measured pirouettes, oddly paced, shifting postures, while they talked small. Limbs arrayed antennae-like sought the perfect fix on his signals. She circled hypnotically, quizzing him about his education, his childhood, facing him to speak, maintaining her fairy waltz.

Eventually, she asked what had brought him.

“Oh, some business,” he said, quickly regretting his mistake.

With a shout, “you pompous thief!” she rent the exchange, just as he decided things were going well.

She is insane, thought Jeremy, reeling on his heels, and then aloud, with a hurt and patronizing tone, “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, Amy,” throwing pleading eyes at her father.

Amy stepped smartly between them and punched Jeremy in the throat.

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Vote on Moon Topples Writing Contest Today February 13, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, fiction, Other, writing.
4 comments

Be sure that if you intend to vote on the short fiction contest over at Moon Topples, you do so today.  The contest ends at midnight tonight.

There are some really good stories over there, and I had a bit of trouble deciding on my top picks.  I ranked all of my choices with stars and I’m going to be interested to see whether I have a good feel for the way readers responded to them.  I’m predicting mine will be just barely out of the prize categories.  But I’m hoping for more, of course.

The Code February 12, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in fiction, literature, Other, Philosophy, Science Fiction, speculative fiction.
2 comments

Both my son and I were sick this weekend with some sort of stomach/intestinal plague that’s going around.  So yesterday I went to the video store to find something to stare at for a few hours.  He used to be interested in Dinosaurs, a phase that lasted only about four or five years.  So when I saw that Dinotopia, a miniseries, had been released on video, and that it was in the “Family” section of the store, I hoped that he might retain enough interest to agree. 

My interest is not in dinosaurs so much as utopias, although I certainly don’t mind dinosaurs.  I love reading utopian novels because the authors self-consciously attempt to make a whole society fit together.  These tales tell every bit as much about the author as they do about the society the author lives in, and they stretch “systems-thinking” to its limits (usually they go past the author’s ability to think about social, economic, and environmental systems, and that is sometimes their charm.)  Utopian novels, of course, also delineate the authors view of contemporary problems, which is also fun.  Speculative fiction often does these things, too, but speculative writers are usually too narrow in their interests to make a good case for social change (and often they are writing about technological change as their primary interest anyway).

Anyway, he agreed to watch it, and I think he enjoyed the four-hour-long set of two DVDs.  I certainly did.  The original Dinotopia novel, by James Gurney, lays out the foundation of Dinotopian society as a code.  I love it when utopian writers codify their thoughts so concisely.  In the novel the code is:

  1. Survival of all or none
  2. One raindrop raises the sea
  3. Weapons are enemies even to their owners
  4. Give more, take less
  5. Others first, self last
  6. Observe, listen, and learn
  7. Do one thing at a time
  8. Sing every day
  9. Exercise imagination
  10. Eat to live, don’t live to eat
  11. Don’t p..

Late in the miniseries you find out what the 11th rule was, and it’s kinda dumb, mystical.  But I prefer my own interpretation, which for this weekend was: Don’t puke.

Rules to live by.