December 26, 2007


Organizers of the first annual National Hanging Out in the Street Night were disappointed Sunday when inclement weather forced the cancellation of their long-planned event. "The late December snowstorms that covered most of the nation took us by surprise," said Eugene Dipwad, event organizer. "It's the kind of freak occurrence you can only hope will happen on someone else's special day instead of yours."

The National Hanging Out in the Street Night committee, or NHOITSC ("The second N would just make it sound silly," said the group's treasurer, Harriet Pibrayne), tried to get word of the cancellation out early. Still, many people seemed determined to carry on with the festivities. Streets everywhere held more pedestrians than usual.

Some revelers looked tentative, justifying their existence in the middle of the road by standing near open car doors. Others were more bold, marching two or three abreast beside perfectly clear sidewalks. The one thing all had in common was a confidence that drivers sliding through intersections and fishtailing down parkways would regain control before hitting the celebrants. Their trust was made even more touching by the prevailing whiteout conditions.

Dipwad beamed when informed of the impromptu festivities. "With indomitable spirits like those by our side, National Hanging Out in the Street Night can only be a success. Next year, we'll have contingency plans in place for this kind of thing. Whatever the weather, we'll pack the streets. You can count on us!"

December 20, 2007

An Atheist's Christmas

Because it's the time of year when we turn our backs on the dark and celebrate the return of the light:
May your days be merry and bright, y'all.

November 24, 2007

Ravioli, er, Thanksgiving Update

Thanksgiving came and went and, oh, goodness. I couldn't have predicted how well the squash ravioli would taste. True, it ended up more squash lasagna after baking, but, oh.

The sauce was a very basic sherry cream sauce. About 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots, sweated in 2 tablespoons butter and more salt than I'd have used if I'd remembered to put any in the filling. Add 2 cups sherry, turn up the heat, and breathe through the nose (oh) while it reduces to about 1/3. Add 2 cups stock, then two cups heavy cream. Whisk thoroughly and pour over a 10 x 12 baking dish full of frozen ravioli. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or so.

That went (quite well) with the rest of the meal:

- Two grilled turkeys, one stuffed under the skin with garlic and rosemary, one with jerk seasoning
- Gravy from drippings and milk (about a cup of honey wine poured in the bottom of each pan pre-grilling kept the drippings from burning and caramelized nicely), made with a roux while the turkeys rested
- Potatoes mashed with sour cream and butter
- Steamed broccoli topped with melted cheese
- Sage dressing with sunflower seeds and dried cherries
- Grandma's cranberry relish (ground cranberries, a tiny bit of sugar, crushed pineapple and mini marshmallows, folded with stiff whipped cream)
- Chewy, whole-grain bread with homemade elderberry and cherry jelly
- For thems as wanted it, a nice chardonnay that stood up to all those flavors better than it had any right to
- For thems as didn't, fresh, unfiltered apple cider

Dessert was hours after dinner, by long tradition and popular demand.

- An apple-pecan pie from the orchard
- Spicy pumpkin pie (fresh nutmeg, ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and plenty of all of it) from fresh pumpkin
- Cinnamon ice cream to go on top

Everything was done when expected and at the same time. Everyone was cheerful except my niece, who had a good excuse and mostly slept it off on the couch. Everyone brought something, so we only provided the turkey, gravy, cranberries, ravioli, and pumpkin pie.

(I keep telling myself that I'll learn to make good dressing someday, but I don't believe it. Fundamentally, I just don't believe in bread pudding. I think it knows that somehow. Or maybe I simply can't make myself put that much butter and that many eggs into a single dish.)

Later, we were asked to show our vacation photos. Then we introduced folks to Super Rub-a-Dub, a PS3 game involving rubber ducks and wind-up toy sharks. Brutally simple and highly addicting. Even Ben's mom and her boyfriend had to play.

All in all, we couldn't have asked for the day to turn out better.

November 17, 2007

Oh, the Cheer

I walked into the lobby at work this week to find a barbershop quartet singing "Cabaret." I winced. Then I made a bet with myself. There would be no Elsie in this version of the song.

Remember Elsie, who "rented by the hour"? Well, no, unless you like the musical, you probably don't. Popular versions almost exclusively leave her out, despite her being central to the message of the song.

I hate the beigification of music. Kander and Ebb's musical was (and is) popular because it wasn't sickly sweet sap. "Cabaret" is a powerful song about defiantly grasping moments of joy in a grim life--until you take out Elsie. Then all it says is, "Party on, dude." It's like turning Mack the Knife into the next best thing to Robin Hood by leaving out the verses about rape and burnt children. Or taking "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" up tempo and major key. It's a special sort of sacrilege.

Not that I have anything against good covers. Insane Clown Posse's "Let's Go All the Way" is a sheer delight (and their only song that doesn't make me giggle--I'm so not their target market). My favorite Siouxsie and the Banshees album is Through the Looking Glass. I highly recommend the new Madness, The Dangerman Sessions. Covers that do what covers are supposed to do are beautiful things.

What are covers supposed to do? One of two things: pay tribute to the original or add to it. Smash Mouth paid tribute to "I'm a Believer" by saying it didn't need updating to be worth listening to today. Cake's "I Will Survive" updates the original by stripping off the polish to emphasize the anger and determination. Both rock. Covers that merely render a song down into pablum? Blegh.

Of course, I won my bet. No Elsie. Not even a "cradle to grave." Double blegh.

November 03, 2007

Thanksgiving Prep/Savory Squash Ravioli

I know it's a little early, but I started cooking for Thanksgiving today. We decided, oh, about the time that winter squash came into season that we wanted to serve squash ravioli for one of the vegetable dishes. So today I picked up a couple of small acorn squash and baked them in a tiny bit of water until pliable.

I like squash ravioli in restaurants--for about the first four ravioli. Most places use a filling that's essentially squash, butter and nutmeg. It gets cloying. I wanted to do something with more complex flavor and texture. Into the food processor went about 3/4 cup chopped pecans. I dug in the pantry a little further. I'd originally thought dried cranberries, but how many cranberry dishes do you want in one meal? Ooh, smoked dried tomatoes. Just a very small handful.

Then it was on to the spice drawer. I wanted rosemary, but I saw the oregano on the way, so I grabbed both. I did my favorite test to determine which spice to use. Sniff the squash. Sniff the oregano. Not bad at all. Sniff the squash. Sniff the rosemary. Also making my mouth water. Repeat. They were both equally appealing after repeated tests, so I went with a very healthy pinch of oregano. One of the turkeys will likely get rosemary and garlic stuffed under the skin pre-grilling.

I ran the processor a bit to break down the tomatoes, then scooped in the squash. It wasn't quite both of them, because I decided I wanted about 1/5 squash for myself. No fun in cooking only for other people, you know. And I'd just been sniffing the stuff. I ran the processor again to mix it all up, then threw it in the fridge while I made pasta.

It will make about five dozen medium ravioli--once I get more eggs and make more pasta. That's okay. I can only freeze so many comfortably at one time. Based on the taste test, I achieved my flavor and texture goals. There's just a bit too much smoke when eating the filling on its own, but that should be perfect when I bake the ravioli in a sherry garlic cream sauce.

Yum. I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving.

November 02, 2007

Dance of Diplomacy

I had one of those moments today, when the big details of planning the next book start popping up and falling into place. The darn thing's been simmering for months (since before I finished the last book last December) but hasn't really felt substantial until now. I felt like I was short a subplot.

Yesterday I realized I was telling a story that put a nineteen-year-old boy and a sixteen-year-old girl with very different backgrounds in close proximity for a long period of time. Even with an alien chaperone, they're going to at least explore the idea of romance. Duh. There will be flirting or fighting or (ideally) both.

Fourth plot line in place, I think I've got a book. Today seems to have proved it, as all the plot lines started to fill out and jostle for position. I'm not ready to start it yet (good, since I have a couple of shorts I want to finish before starting another long project), but I know where it all has to start. It won't be long until I've figured out the order in which everything has to happen.

Now I just have to get that hula research done.

October 17, 2007

Breaking Rules, Part I

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe appeared in 33 novels and 39 shorter works. He is one of literature's most perfectly delineated creatures of habit. Some things I know about Nero Wolfe's household:
  1. Wolfe does not leave the brownstone.
  2. Wolfe is not to be interrupted between 9 and 11 a.m., 4 and 6 p.m. each day, when he is in the plant rooms.
  3. Wolfe will not discuss business over meals.
  4. Food for Wolfe's table is procured to his specifications.
  5. Wolfe considers it an abomination for anyone to skip a meal.
  6. Archie (assistant), Orrie (operative), Theodore (orchid tender), and Fritz (cook) work for Wolfe.
  7. Archie requires eight hours of sleep to function.
  8. Wolfe does not take Archie seriously when he speaks of getting married.
  9. Wolfe does not shake hands.
  10. Wolfe, being terrified of women, does not converse with them except in fulfilling the requirements of business.
  11. Wolfe does not take cases, except when the bank balance is low and the fee is high.
  12. Wolfe's clients come to him.
  13. Wolfe's clients are innocent.
  14. Wolfe does not allow himself to be used.
  15. Wolfe, being a genius, determines the identity of the killer before Archie.
  16. Wolfe does not use his operatives for any job requiring simple manpower. That is left to the police.
  17. Archie and Wolfe maintain a strained relationship with the police, particularly with Inspector Cramer.
  18. Cramer calls Archie by his last name.
I could go on, but that's enough to make my point. If you've read more than one Nero Wolfe story, you should notice something about this list: every one of these rules has been broken. Stout kept his series fresh by never letting the routine become routine. Every single story he wrote happened on the edge of his characters' normal lives. He never stopped messing with them.

Not a bad piece of advice for any fiction, really.

October 11, 2007


On the upside, despite having migraines and not knowing what they were, I've thrown a party, completed my book revisions and started to distribute betas, and gotten a compliment from Steve Brust since my last post in September. Not too shabby for a defective kid.


I added a new word to my vocabulary last night, but I'm not as thrilled as you might think. I'm apparently a migraineur, whether I like it or not. I mean, I already knew I got migraines--not much to like there. But migraineur makes it sound as though I'm a purveyor, like I cause the stupid things.

The phrase I added along with migraineur is migraine variant, which is much more useful. It means all those migraines I get without the headache. Didn't know you could get migraines that don't hurt? Neither did I until a few years ago. That was when I discovered that I wasn't getting 3-4 migraines a year. I was getting 3-4 of them a week.

Sure, they didn't hurt (unless I had a tension headache on top of them, which did happen). I was just photosensitive, sleepy, and unable to think beyond about two steps of complexity. The surface of the world sort of rippled with light. My face was numb and my fingers were cold. I didn't hurt; I just felt like crap. Then I took a nice little beta blocker (adrenaline antagonist) for a year, which made them mostly go away.

Last night I was reading a post on Science Blogs about Alice in Wonderland syndrome, in which people feel like they've been obeying the "Eat me" and "Drink me" signs. Their bodies seem to have changed dimensions. My reaction was "Wait. You mean not everyone feels that way? So why am I waving to my feet right now?" Then the article mentioned a link to migraines, and I knew why I'd felt like crap for the last few weeks. It explained the two days of dizziness and sleepiness over my birthday and a whole host of other weird symptoms that didn't quite fit allergies or a virus.

Sigh. So now I have three choices.

(1) I can rearrange my life to avoid adrenaline. I suspect my very stressful spring and summer have a lot to do with undoing the progress the beta blockers made. But I've learned so much since I've taken on my more stressful job, and I've accomplished things I don't want to turn my back on. This is my least favorite choice.

(2) I can try to rebuild my response to stressors--stop producing so much adrenaline. I've taken so much of my life apart and put it back together that this seems possible, but I'm not sure. I've been shy since birth, phobic since not long after, and somewhat emotionally abused. Weird to say, but I've never really not been stressed, except when I was on the beta blockers. Even then, I was producing adrenaline, I just wasn't sensitive to it. Still, I think it's worth a try, at least until "not being stressed" becomes just one more thing on my to do list.

Then it's back to (3), my lovely little blue beta blockers. They're not bad, really. I just have to remember to take a deep breath every time I sit or stand up. They only made me pass out once (not a recommended work activity, by the way).

One way or another, migraineur no more.

September 12, 2007

Political Joke

Q: How many dead Minnesotans does it take to change a Republican governor's mind about funding infrastructure?

A: Apparently, more than 13.

You don't think that's funny? Me neither. Just true.

August 28, 2007

A Question of Timing

So, I'm not always great at guiding readers through the passage of time, but even I can tell that two months is plenty of time in which to both consult an attorney and enter a plea "quickly and expeditiously." I suspect the good senator has his lawyer on speed dial.

If you have to lie to yourself, sir, that's one thing. If you lie to me, though, you'll find I'm a somewhat more critical audience.

August 27, 2007

Writing Meme

Kelly started it, and while I'm feeling too busy to play, I'm also feeling like a bad mother to my blog, so here goes.

What do you find _______ about writing?

Hardest? Making sure the plot makes it to the surface of the story.

Easiest? Dialog and character tics.

Most fun? Breaking the rules, with malice aforethought, and making it work.

Most tedious? Submissions. I'd much rather just write, but I know I need to keep measuring myself against the higher standard to make myself improve.

Coolest? Discovering that maybe I did know how to do that after all. It's always nice when I hit the dreaded bit and just write right through it.

Least cool? Knowing that in some ways, I'm ten to fifteen years behind the trends in my genre.

Best? Being able to scratch that creative itch and know that what I made beats the hell out of any sticker-laden, ribbon-bound, specialty-sheared, cutesy, disposable scrapbook.

Worst? Never quite grasping what I'm reaching for.

August 04, 2007

Managing Your Writing Addiction

5. If you win big, enjoy! But remind yourself it will probably never happen again.

Oh, go read.

July 26, 2007

Why Harry Potter

What Rowling doesn't have going for her:
  • >> Solid grasp of punctuation (grrrrrr)
  • >> Strong pacing
  • >> Economy
  • >> Any idea that names precede character development
  • >> Great originality
What she does:
  • >> Poster child for "show, don't tell," sometimes ad nauseum
  • >> Fundamental conflicts, both good v. evil and child v. adult
  • >> Characters who are recognizable "types" but still all individuals with their own goals, preferences, habits and failings
  • >> Deep understanding of the myriad ways in which people are cruel to each other
  • >> Humor
  • >> Eye and ear for mannerisms
  • >> Main character who is the reader's stand-in for the introduction to all that is weird, wonderful and scary

July 02, 2007

Being a Writer

One of the standard pieces of advice for aspiring writers is to identify one's self as a writer, claim it as part of one's identity. I've always resisted doing that.

Part of my reaction is that I don't like being tied down to a single identity. It feels like being a butterfly pinned to a board, wings outspread, and labeled. Every one I've seen like that was dead. Not that being alive in that situation appeals any more. I've spent a good chunk of my life flitting from display case to display case, and I want to be able to do it again if warranted.

The other reason not to identify myself as a writer is that I'm pretty sure I could stop, unlike most writers I know. Why don't I? After all, writing is a vale of tears, self-torture, humiliation on demand, etc. ETC.

Yeah, right. This stuff is a hoot.

Where else in life do I get to make up as much nonsense as I like and persuade people to take it seriously? Where else can I march people around without worrying about hurt feelings and trampled rights? Where else can I funnel the creative urge, which makes me edgy and unsatisfied if not indulged, into something that has a shot making its way in the world? Where else can I stretch myself this much, learn and risk failure without real-world consequences?

And how much of that would change if I told myself I was a writer? How much more seriously would I have to take it if it were something I am instead of just something I do?

No thanks. I think I'll stretch my wings a bit longer on my own before I go looking for that pin.

June 08, 2007

Writing Thoughts

Wyrdsmiths are saying interesting things about writing humor. Lots of people with multiple perspectives.

And Eleanor Arnason is talking about why she doesn't kill characters. I'm with her on this one, but for different reasons. Too many times, killing a character feels like tacking on an artificial cost to the story. Yeah, I know, people die in real life. But characters rarely go to the bathroom in fiction because it doesn't serve any purpose in the story. If a death doesn't serve a story purpose that can't be served any other way, it feels artificial. I feel cheated.

Spoiler alert: If you haven't read War for the Oaks, well, why not? Go read it. The illustration will be stronger for it.

War for the Oaks is where I first noticed the problem. When Willie dies, it doesn't do anything that injuring him (making him less attractive, taking his ability to play) wouldn't do. In the process, it stops his story. And he was just getting interesting--in ways that maiming him could have amplified.


So if you're going to kill your characters, make it part of their story. Make sure it doesn't derail your own. Or just leave them alive. It isn't always the weaker choice.

June 01, 2007

Insomnia... not my friend. But that doesn't stop it from hanging around hoping, no matter how sick or tired I am. I've tried ignoring it. Doesn't work. Damn thing can't take a hint. I think I'll try being mean next.

Wish me luck.

Oh, and for the record, I don't really hate the ice cream truck. I just wish it weren't audible four blocks away and didn't hang around our corner for fifteen minutes at a time...and didn't use a bad midi (not redundant) version of "La Cucaracha" to attract customers. Okay, maybe I do hate it a little.

May 28, 2007

WisCon Top 10 Moments

Because it wouldn't be a blog without lists.

10. Knowing that I traveled hundreds of miles to spend a weekend mostly with people who live less than 20 miles from me.

9. Being welcomed back by the bartender in the Governor's Club. He's ours and we're his, even if we only see him once a year.

8. Getting called for telling people things about themselves that are absolutely characteristic but never acknowledged, unique quirks that people don't necessarily love about themselves but that I find charming because, without them, this person wouldn't be the person I like. The phrase she used was, I think, "It sounds so complimentary--and so vicious."

7. Having said person apologize the next day for doing to me exactly what I'd just done to her.

6. The child-free panel. It only ended an hour after it was scheduled to. I don't think I'd realized how much I self-censor on the topic until I saw no need to. That one will happen again.

5. Catching up with Tracy. It's always a highlight of WisCon. It might, in fact, be enough of a highlight to explain why we don't talk the rest of the year. Counterintuitive but true.

4. Creating instant happiness with sock monkeys.

3. Meeting and chatting with sdn. It was an exercise in reverse perspective. She got more life sized the closer she got. Way cool.

2. Discovering that someone I've always liked but haven't had many opportunities to talk to is the friend I thought he might be. Getting to have a few brief moments of that conversation.

1. Total fangirl squee moment. Having Ellen Kushner tell me to go write the story of one of her characters because she wasn't interested in doing it. My writing skills are currently wholly inadequate, but if I'm ever able to do the story justice, I may have to take her up on it.

May 23, 2007

Time to Take a Risk?

Cognitive Daily, my I-haven't-completely-abandoned-my-college-major daily read, has a link to this NPR interview with a probability expert on the futility of trying to predict the next Harry Potter phenom and other highly unlikely things. My favorite part (of course) of the Cognitive Daily article:

He also mentions the propensity to risk more to avoid losses than to make gains. This can explain why publishers are so quick to reject even promising works by unproven writers. Taleb suggests that publishers should be offering more contracts to writers because that small risk can have such a vast reward.

I'm all for that. Now, how do we convince them?

May 08, 2007

Why SG-1

Over on Making Light, there's a thread about Entertainment Weekly's list of the top 25 SF movies and TV shows from the last 25 years. Stargate SG-1 is not only not on EW's list, it isn't recommended in the 233 comments prior to mine at Making Light. Torchwood (blegh) was listed, but SG-1 wasn't. That floored me.

Full fangeek confession here: Not only do we own five seasons of the show, we also get together with friends on Fridays for dinner and to watch. When the show is on hiatus, the only thing we've done that's more than a placeholder is watch the new Doctor Who. Otherwise, we're just waiting for our stories to come back.

I'm not sure why it's less than cool in the SF fan community to like SG-1, but I'm not ashamed to say that I do. In the interest of combating lists with lists, here's why.

  1. The writers know how to pay me back for an hour of my time. Too many shows right now go in for soap opera storytelling, where I have to put in hours of watching before anything is resolved. Not SG-1. The arc goes on, but something is resolved every hour (or two).
  2. The characters are geeks. Each of the team (including rotating members) has an overriding passion.
  3. The characters are bright. They're risk takers, since it's the nature of their profession, but they mitigate the risk where possible.
  4. There are consequences. Decisions made in one episode affect the events in later episodes, later seasons. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes expediency proves to be terribly short-sighted.
  5. There are non-fatal consequences. The writers trust me as an audience member enough to ease up on the stakes from time to time. These episodes are still compelling.
  6. Enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends. In fact, enemies have become (uneasy) allies when a new, bigger threat looms.
  7. Our allies don't have the same priorities we do. Our friends from other planets and races have responsibilities to their own people that come first. Everyone wants to know what the risks and potential for gain is for them before deciding whether to help.
  8. Ascension may be a long-term goal to be aspired to, but nobody's really ready to leave behind being human while they still have another choice.
  9. Ba'al. Woof. (Four Ba'als in one room? Intriguing, but a little creepy.)
  10. The characters have frequent philosophical differences. They are rarely resolved.
  11. Nobody seems to be afraid that being funny means they won't be taken seriously.
  12. There are good scientists and bad scientists, pragmatic scientists and space cases. Being a scientist doesn't keep a character from being a human being. Ditto for women. Ditto for people in military or government service.
  13. Our main characters are highly competent people, but they work at it. They don't spend a lot of time, say, in front of the TV.
  14. The new big gun/shield is always a stopgap. Technology never stands still.
  15. There's plenty of fan service, but it never overruns the story. Except maybe episode 200. I'm not sure. I was too busy laughing for most of it.
There's more, but that's the top-of-the-mind list.

April 22, 2007

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

Jo Walton has created a new holiday, International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, as a way of turning crass idiocy on its head. Today is a day to post professional quality work online in celebration of our "technopeasanthood."

What this means in practical terms is an opportunity to check out lots of artists' work for free before buying a book that may or may not be a good match for your tastes. Go. Read. Revel.

In honor of the day, I'm posting my story, "The End of Eternity," on my web site. I hope you enjoy it.

April 18, 2007

Perfectly Happy

I've written here about a movie and music experiences that have disappointed me. I'll do it again, because it helps me understand where the artist/audience contract broke down. I don't want to repeat the mistakes myself. However, when something makes me really happy, I want to share that, too.

I've picked up two albums in the last couple of months that just keep making me happier. (Really, I downloaded them off iTunes, but at least I didn't call them records.) The first is The Killers' Sam's Town, which I wasn't too sure about the first time I heard it. It isn't quite like anything else I've heard. Every time I think I know where it's going, it doesn't. But the more I listen to it and take it on it's own terms, the more I love it, because that unexpected choice is always right. I liked their first big album, but this blows that out of the water. If you like your music instantly accessible, this isn't for you. If you like things a bit more complicated, give it a try--or two or three.

My most recent acquisition is Cat Empire's Two Shoes. It's a...uh...well, it.... Okay, look; it combines ska, hip hop, Cuban funk, and Aussie punk attitude--generally all in the same song. I was listening this morning on the way to work, and I just grinned like an idiot. The scratching and the trumpet combined soooo beautifully. It was all wrong and completely right. This one you'll have to listen to on your own to decide whether you'll love it or be driven insane by it. But by all means, listen.

If you like it, I recommend Madness's "Swan Lake," Royal Crown Revue's "Barflys on the Beach," and the Insane Clown Posse cover of "Let's Go All the Way." No, really. And if you think all this means I like weird music...oh, yeah.

April 13, 2007

The Egg, of Course

There are things we say without thinking about or knowing what they mean. "I could care less." (Really. Then why do you sound so scornful?) "Penultimate." (You know a prefix changes the meaning of a word, right?)

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Grr.

This one's bugged me for years. I grew up in the midst of dinosaur mania. I've seen the fossilized eggs. I knew what birds descended from. The second I stopped to think about it, I knew which came first. Whatever the first chicken's parents were, they hatched from and laid eggs. That chicken had to wait in line.

It all seemed so transparent that anytime I heard somebody ask the well-worn question, I had to check whether I was dealing with a closet creationist.

Turns out I was wrong. Sort of. We didn't know until recently. So, to everyone I've looked at funny over the years, I'm sorry. I was making assumptions I had no right to make. Please accept my humble apology.

But can we stop saying it now?

April 04, 2007

Generic Books

sdn, over on her lj, asks the following:

my inflammatory comment of the day: why do books that are clearly generic ripoffs of other books (a) get ridiculous deals, (b) sell in large quantities to actual, presumably intelligent readers, and (c) get good reviews from established sources? is everyone high? this applies to all age ranges/categories/genres of books, by the way, not just books in my particular world(s).
Since LiveJournal hates me, I'll answer here.

I think the phenomenon in question has more to do with the good books they're ripping off than it does with the bad books. Really good books are often good because they make us uncomfortable, challenge us while offering us enough in the way of story and language to keep us moving through our discomfort. They stick with us because they changed us. Sometimes I'm too tired to put myself through that again.

A generic version of the same book repackages the story without the discomfort. Those who read the original can read the weak carbon and be reminded of their experience with a good book without undergoing the trauma. And since the new book is generic, it can have that kind of resonance for several good books--and lots of readers. Hence the sales. Hence the deals.

It doesn't explain the reviews, but I've never claimed those were explicable.

April 02, 2007

The Boys in the Band

I went to see a bunch of very good musicians on Saturday. It's a band I've liked for a long time, playing material I love, and I was deeply disappointed.

Okay, so some of it may have been due to the car breaking down in the middle of the street earlier that day, or a disappointing dinner someplace that serves its beer 20 degrees too cold and dripping down the outside of the mug (and onto my jeans), or the scent of patchouli hitting me in the face when I walked in the door. But I think there was more to it.

The lineup of the band has changed since the last time I saw and enjoyed them. (I saw them once in the transition process--WAY too many musicians who hadn't rehearsed together. Highly annoying.) Their lead singer and guitarist has been replaced by two people. They're both hugely talented. Their original fiddle player has returned to the fold. He's not the virtuoso their interim fiddler was, but he's perfectly competent. They'd even rehearsed.

So why was I getting more disgusted by the minute?

First there was the lack of energy. These are killer tunes that in the past have had me dancing so long and so hard I could barely move the next day. Saturday there were pauses to tune and discuss in between each song. The fiddle player was under amped, so every time he took over, momentum dropped off. And the lead singer kept "jazzing" up the lyrics by singing them with no regard for the beat. You just can't do that and keep your audience stamping their feet.

Every time he sang one of my favorite songs, I wanted to throttle him, but I'm not sure he would have cared. He might have viewed it as his chance to stop singing that song forever.

When they played a new song and the energy of the place jumped, I figured out the problem. Their lead singer wasn't having a good time. He was bored with the music he'd written fifteen years ago (the first time he was with the band), and the fact that we liked it didn't matter. He wasn't playing for us. He didn't care whether I had a good time. Somewhere along the way, he'd lost the realization that I'm not paying him to sit on a stage and tootle a tin whistle; I'm paying him to entertain me.

The last guy was a bit of a showoff. He was at least as talented as this new guy, and he did some silly stuff on stage to keep himself from getting bored. But he always brought it back to the songs, and he always took his audience with him for the ride. To me, that means he met the bigger challenge, one the band was failing Saturday night.


What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Drama Nerd

You sure do love the spotlight and probably have a very out-going and loud personality. Or not. That's just a stereotype, of course. Participation in the theatre is something to be very proud of. Whether you have a great voice for musicals, or astounding skills for dramas/comedies; keep up the good work. We need more entertainment these days that isn't television and video games (not that these things are bad, necessarily.)

Science/Math Nerd

Literature Nerd

Social Nerd

Artistic Nerd

Gamer/Computer Nerd

Anime Nerd


What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace

It has some trouble differentiating between historical and current geekery. It's been eighteen years since I was last on the stage. And interestingly, singing is not musicianship. My choir director might have had something to say about that.

March 10, 2007

Saw 300 Last Night


It isn't exactly a bad movie, but it is a remarkable exercise in not trusting your story or your audience. Just as less is sometimes more, sometimes more is crap. We were in a theater packed full of people who were staying up past their (well, my) bedtimes to see the movie on opening day, and I was far from the only person giggling at inappropriate times.

I wanted to see this movie, and I really wanted to like it. I mean, come on, the Battle of Thermopylae! How cool is that? Not cool enough, I guess.

Apparently one of history's great examples of tactics and self-sacrifice just wasn't interesting enough for the filmmakers. The precision and cooperation of the phalanx wasn't as showy as a Spartan soldier standing alone swinging his sword at the Persians who were kind enough to approach one at a time. The odds weren't bad enough without half the Persian army being supernatural creatures and the Greek soldiers failing to fight. It wasn't bad enough that Ephialtes was a traitor; he also had to be a hunchback with elephantiasis. The priests weren't villainous enough unless they had albinism and leprosy. Xerxes couldn't just be a power-mad tyrant; he had to be a seven-foot-tall pincushion and talk like a Goa'uld. The Spartans weren't brave enough unless they went into battle in Speedos and flowing choke-me capes instead of their armor (yes, the guys in the red capes died). We called them the March of the Abs.

Then there were the guitar licks out of left field.

Oh, and to look at the few women in the movie, it was apparently filmed during Mardi Gras.


Did the movie have an up-side? Of course. They kept the historians' good lines. It's visually arresting, straddling the line between blood porn and still art. Not even the director could make David Wenham declaim all his lines. There are some nice hints of politics wedged in between the historically ridiculous fight scenes.

As I said before, it isn't exactly a bad movie. I just wanted more. And I'd have been happier with so much less.

February 28, 2007

Being "Broken"

There was a bit of a to do over at Wyrdsmiths over the "lie" of epiphany and cathartic healing. Elizabeth Bear had posted her thoughts on seeing it in stories--namely that it makes her blood boil, since it just isn't true. There are some good responses in the Wyrdsmith's post and in the comments.

I'm not sure mine was entirely relevant to the discussion at hand. It was more a reaction to the pervasive idea among lit'rary types that good things happening in stories are either less artistic or less "true" than bad events. This idea bothers me, in part, because it doesn't fit my world view. It also implies either that everyone reads for one reason (to experience Art) or that reading for pleasure, comfort or escape is less worthy. I guess if writers want to restrict their audiences that way, it's up to them. I see these discussions as a flag for writers whose works I'm unlikely to enjoy.

Completely aside from artistic arguments, one thing I noticed in the debate was a difference in the use of the idea of "broken" characters. It's pretty common to hear writers talking about the ways in which their characters are broken. After all, too perfect characters gall quickly (my main problem with Princess Academy). But it became apparent that those of us talking about the issue were once again divided by our common language.

On one hand were the posters who thought broken simply meant not whole or fully functional. The CD keeps skipping fresh out of the box. On the other were those who felt that broken meant, literally, someone who had been whole at one point and had been cracked or shattered. And the second point of view had simply never occurred to me before.

It shouldn't have been a surprise. There's a cult of childhood in our society. This should logically mean that some people enjoyed their childhoods. Presumably some of them even made it into adulthood without major trauma, with most of the skills they need to thrive in adult society until something big whacks them hard. But it's so alien to my past, thinking about people this way makes them feel less real to me.

I started with a couple of handicaps. I picked up more along the way. Fixing broken could never mean returning to an ideal starting state. It meant filling in the gaps, gaining skills that allowed me to patch the problems. Admittedly, I call this being defective, not broken, but it's the lens through which I've always seen the brokenness of my characters.

I guess it's time to learn a new set of characterization skills.

February 14, 2007

Who Is This Strange Person?

I’m currently revising a novel, making sure I keep writing new things, and playing beta reader for a couple of friends, so the blog is going to continue to be underloved for a little bit. Here’s a meme running around that will at least give you an introduction to the person behind the stock CSS. Thanks to Doug Hulick for the idea.

1. What bill do you hate paying the most?
The car, which replaced a much loved car that died in an accident, is the only bill I still have to put in the mail. Everything else only requires that I not do something silly enough to lose my job.

2. Where's the best place to eat a romantic dinner?
The only qualifications are that we have to stop whatever else we’re doing and pay attention to each other and that it can’t be too noisy.

3. Last time you puked from drinking?
I think I was about fifteen. I woke up the next day with the flu, so I’m not sure it was the brandy, though.

4. When is the last time you got drunk and danced on a bar?
One word—acrophobia. Actually, drunk and dancing are mutually exclusive. The particular high of dancing doesn’t often come if I’ve got more than a wee buzz.

5. Name of your first grade teacher?
I’m pretty sure I was in first grade. My mother thought it would be bad for me to skip it and be two years younger than everyone else in my class. I just don’t remember any of it.

6. What do you really want to be doing right now?
Carving out a big enough chunk of time to really get rolling on my new story.

7. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A teacher, until I realized it meant being on stage all day. A dancer, until my joints betrayed me. An astronaut, similarly ruled out by my body. A counselor, until I discovered that there was no evidence that most types of therapy had any lasting value.

8. How many colleges did you attend?

9. Why did you wear that shirt you have on right now?
It’s warm, clean, and I haven’t worn it in a while. That and it went with the handiest pair of clean pants.

I walk to work, so I don’t have a lot of personal stake. I’d like to see prices accurately reflect our society’s investment in oil, but I’m pretty sure that the brunt of any changes would be borne by the people who can least afford it.

11. If you could move anywhere and take someone with you?
I’m awfully happy where I am, and I’d have to take a bunch of people with me to be happy anywhere else long-term. However, I’m rather fond of Edinburgh, Flagstaff, and PEI.

12. First thought when the alarm went off this morning?
The first three beeps somehow worked into my dream at the time. Then my first thought was, as it always is, to shut it off before it disturbs Ben. This is silly, since my alarm doesn’t wake him up even when he has to get up first, but I never claimed to be brilliant before dawn.

13. Last thought before going to sleep last night?
Heck if I know. Falling asleep is almost always a long process of the brain winding down.

14. Favorite style of underwear?
Ones that fit.

15. Favorite style of underwear for the opposite sex?
Favorite cut depends on the cut of the guy.

16. What errand/chore do you despise?

17. If you didn't have to work, would you volunteer at an art gallery?
Nope. Art museum—maybe. Art gallery—no.

18. Get up early or sleep in?
What am I trying to accomplish today? Sometimes sleep is its own goal.

19. What is your favorite cartoon character?
Danger Mouse. Well, it might be Penfold, actually.

20. Favorite NON sexual thing to do at night with a girl/guy?
Stay up talking until the world takes on that slightly surreal glow and anything can be said without worries.

21. A secret that you wouldn't mind everyone knowing?
Nope. Sorry. Either someone knows, so it’s not a secret, or it’s dying with me.

22. When did you first start feeling old?
Getting arthritis at 13 made me a bit precocious.

23. Favorite 80's movie?
Real Genius.

24. Your favorite lunch meat?
Smoked turkey.

25. What do you get every time you go into Sam's Club?

26. Beach or lake?
Lake with trees and rocks along the shore. Someplace nice to sit and just stare at the water.

27. Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual that was invented?
It works for me.

28. How many people do you stalk on Myspace?
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a Myspace page once.

29. Favorite guilty pleasure?
Sambuca or Drambuie. Depends on the day.

30. Favorite movie you wouldn't want anyone to find out about?
I don’t usually scream to the world that I have a small collection of Danny Kaye movies, but I don’t care if anyone knows, either.

31. What's your drink?
See 29.

32. Cowboys or Indians?
Never played either as a kid, but I’m some tiny part native Canadian.

33. Cops or Robbers?
Both. I usually root for whomever is smarter.

34. Who from high school would you like to run into?
Evan. Erin. Jackie, if it were still possible. Pete. Stacey. I'm sure there are others I'm missing.

35. What radio station is your car radio tuned to right now?
I don’t drive. Ben keeps it on the Current until I’m appalled by what I’m hearing. Then it goes on the local alternative station until the commercials come on.

36. Norm or Cliff?

37. The Cosby Show or the Simpsons?

38. Worst relationship mistake that you wish you could take back?
There was a lot of being young and a lot of learning. I’d spare some people’s feelings if I could, and there were a couple of boys who weren’t worth kissing. For that matter, there were a couple who I should have just gone ahead and kissed, circumstances be damned. But I’m happy with where it all got me.

39. Do you like the person who sits directly across from you at work?
Uh, there’s no one there, but most of the people I work with are cool. I try to keep the ones who aren’t from realizing it.

40. If you could get away with it, who would you kill?
"Whom," people, whom would I kill. Are you trying to make me homicidal? Seriously, though, I think the consequences of killing even an awful person would be too hard to predict.

41. What famous person(s) would you like to have dinner with?
Alton Brown (for the conversation more than the cooking), Alan Cumming, Miss Snark, Oscar Wilde—almost anyone clever and not too sweet.

42. What famous person would you like to sleep with?
And dispel the mystique? You’re kidding, right?

43. Have you ever had to use a fire extinguisher for its intended purpose?

44. Last book you read for real?
The last one I finished was a Tamora Pierce YA. I’m reading Mary Roach’s Spook currently.

45. Do you have a teddy bear?
I think I still have a Gund that was given to me tucked somewhere in a closet. I have a stuffed dinosaur, though.

46. Have you ever brushed your teeth?
Duh. Ew.

47. Somewhere in California you've never been and would like to go?
I’ve never been to California. Seeing M5 Industries would be cool, though.

48. Number of texts in a day?
Now I know you’re kidding. Do you know how few cell minutes I use in a month? I'm a poster child for a shared plan.

49. At this point in your life would you rather start a new career or a new relationship?
I’m working on the new career, although I don’t expect it to replace the current one.

50. Do you go to church?
Aside from weddings, christenings, and funerals, maybe twice in my life.

51. Pencil or pen?

52. What do you want to achieve in life?
Perfection, but I’ll manage if I never get there.

53. How old are you?

54. Where do you see yourself when you are 40?
I plan for retirement, since it helps to start early (mmm, compound interest), but my other long-term goals are pretty fluid. So far, adult life has treated me well. I think I’ll hang in there and see how it goes.