Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Presents of 2011

Here we are at the last Tursday of the year. But it's still a Thursday, so that means the new Tib story is up. The last one introduced the Man with No Eyes; this one is titled "The Man with No Eyes." Go check out all the evilness he's up to. Oh, yeah, and Michael, too.

Which brings us back to the last Thursday of the year... It seems that there are a lot of "year in review" type posts going up, so I'm just going to skip that one. There's really nothing I can add to those lists. Well, except for one thing, I published a book. Go buy it.
Oh, well, okay, fine. I also bought a house and got a dog, but, really, I published a book, and you should go buy it. Then, you, too, can be a part of my year.

Everyone is on vacation this week, which hasn't left a lot of time for writing. If I hadn't started this week's Tib story last week, I wouldn't have finished  it for today. All of that to say that I don't have time for normal verbose post today. However, I will leave you with some images of the best presents from Christmas.

It was a mixed blessing where my daugher is concerned. Her favorite present was a sock monkey hat. We've had to return my daughter because of it. Yes, we no longer have the sweet, little girl we used to have. Now, we have:
If you notice the shirt, she sort of had a sock monkey Christmas.

My oldest child is into all sorts of geekery. As he says, "I'm so glad I belong to a family of nerds." Here's his reaction to his favorite present (picked out by me):

And the present:

For those of you that don't know, that's a sonic screwdriver, Dr. Who's "weapon" of choice.

The middle child was in all kinds of paradise. He got enough Legos to occupy two entire days of building. This is the prize in his collection, though:

If you don't know what that is, there's no hope for you. Not even from Obi-Wan Kenobi. His little Lego people were so happy, they through a party:
Yes, that is Santa Yoda you're seeing in there. And a Christmas tree.

Me? I got a jacket. Which I desperately needed. I was very happy to receive it, and my kids loved giving it to me. But for cool factor? I got this:

That makes ice cubes or chocolate bars. I think I'm going to start with Han Solo peppermint bark (no peanut butter, because, for all of his talk, my son still hasn't tried that out).
My wife got earrings, but I have no picture (that I'm allowed to post).

So... I hope you all had a very wonderful holiday. Of whatever variation you observe. Or don't observe.

Have a Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let's go for a walk... Part 1: The Turkey Tree (or Why Stories Matter)

One of the things that's changed in the household since getting the dog
is the need for walks. Walks are a good time for allowing the dog to do her business (no picture available), but they are not for that purpose. She has special "potty breaks" in the mornings and evenings that are just for the purpose of taking care of said business, but she needs some real outside time, too, so that means walks. Beside the quick trips outside at 6am and 7pm (15 minutes or so each), she also gets at least one walk of at least one hour every day (some days she gets two) and at least one other potty break.

As I may have mentioned, we have a park right next to our house. Through the park, there is an entrance to the path by the creek that runs through town. My wife and I like to bike together on the path on the weekends and have been doing that for a few years. Previously, though, we had to bike to the path before we could bike on the path. The path is really nice, and the city does a pretty decent job on the upkeep of it. Having the creek path right there is very (extremely) convenient. Of course, one of the criteria we had in looking for a house was that it had convenient access to the creek path, so it's not a coincidence that we're in the house we're in.

One of the things I've learned from these walks is that my family doesn't do walks in quite the same way as most people do them. Mostly, this is my fault (I think). However, this post isn't about any of that, but I felt it needed saying at the outset, since it's what made me think of doing this series of posts. Part 2 will probably be about the troll bridge and the dragon crossing; then, you'll understand.

But back to this post:

Raise your hand if you would believe me if I told you that turkeys roost in trees. Yeah, I know. Me, too. That's a crazy suggestion, and I wouldn't believe me, either. That has about the same level of believability as if I told you that dogs can climb 10' tall chain link fences. Okay, not all dogs, but one particular dog that I used to know. But that's a different story. At any rate, when presented with a blunt fact like that, it's often less than believable.

So let me tell you a story:

This happened back in the middle of November when it was still light enough when my wife got home from work to get the whole family out on the evening dog walk. Make a note of the fact that this was prior to Thanksgiving. Not that it's exactly important to the story, but it, in my mind, at least, it makes it more interesting.

Whoever has the dog goes first. Not because there's a rule or anything, but the dog sort of insists on being out in front. Generally, that person is me. [Especially back in the first weeks after we got her when she was still trying to eat every bike and jogger that passed us.] This actually results in a weird yo-yo effect, because she stops to smell things and dig and stuff, so the family group will pass the dog by while she's busy. Once they've reached whatever distance ahead of her that she deems is "too far," she makes a mad dash to catch up, so whoever is holding the dog (me) has to run (and I do mean run -- this is no jogging doggy) to catch up and, then, pass the family group by at least 20' to 30' before she can slow down again.

So, on the day of the walk, I was out in front with Tessa. We were rounding a curve in the trail. Off to the left, behind a fence, was a field area, and, in the distance, a great white bird rose up out of the nearly knee high grass and flew up into a tree on the other side of the curve. Tessa is kind of into chasing birds, so she started running to get to where the bird was. But, like I said, it wasn't a straight shot, because we were on the curve, and we had to go around to where the bird was, which meant losing sight of it.

We got around the bend, and Tessa began looking for the bird. She's not really very good at searching for things in trees (except squirrels), though, so she got busy sniffing the ground for it. However, I was curious as to what kind of bird we'd seen, so I was looking up in the trees while we waited for everyone to catch up. And, then, I saw it. It was a big, white turkey sitting on a branch up in the tree.

Just a word about turkeys: we have wild turkeys that roam around our city. Just last week, my wife and I saw a fairly large flock of them roaming around the train tracks just a few blocks from downtown. Wild turkeys are not at all like what Americans usually think of when we think of turkeys. We think of the grossly obese birds we eat for Thanksgiving. Wild turkeys are not these turkeys. So this turkey up in the tree wasn't some huge blob of meat waiting to be eaten. When I say it was big, I mean that it was big in that it was 3-4 times the size of a crow.

I stood there in a state of amazement. Not only had I never seen a turkey in a tree before, but I had never even entertained the thought of turkeys in trees. And it wasn't just the one turkey, either. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom of the gathering dusk, I saw that there were a couple of other, smaller, turkeys up  in the branches, too. They were more typical adorned in grey and brown, so they were a lot harder to see than the white one.  As I watched, another turkey flew up into the branches.

I ran back down the trail yelling for my family to hurry up and catch up to us. I had something amazing to show them. I turned back around and ran back to the tree. The dog was really confused by all this back-and-forthing. She knew there was something to be excited about, but she couldn't figure out what. After all, there were no squirrels that she could see. Right?

My family finally caught up to me. My daughter, first, because she's the most willing to run. We all gawked at the turkeys up in the tree... after I made the kids scoot back so that they weren't right under them. I figured no one needed a mouth full of turkey poop. We watched several more turkeys join the others until there were about eight turkeys roosting in the tree.

We eventually tore ourselves away from the weirdness of the flock of turkeys up in the tree, but I went back looking for them everyday for about a week. I really wanted a picture of them up in the branches, but we've never found them up there again, and I didn't have my camera with me that one time we saw them. Not that I would have been able to get anything usable; it was too dark.

That tree is a landmark on our walking path, now: the Turkey Tree. Here are some pictures of the bare branches. Bare of turkeys, that is.

Now, you probably all believe that turkeys roost in trees. Why? Because the story gives the statement validity. This is an example of a true story backing up a fact, but all of this holds for fiction, too. Our stories give validity to the fictions we write about. It's what allows people to get drawn in and become apart of our worlds. And it's what makes people from history real to us today. Or people from our lives have real pasts. Like my kids great-grandfather and how he once lost $50,000 in the ocean. That's one of those statements that makes you go, "No way. You're lying." But when you hear the story... well, another time, maybe.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stealing Science

Another Thursday... and we all know what that means, right? Well, by this point, I hope so. Except not today. What? What am I even talking about at this point?
Well, unfortunately, there has just been no time to get the next Tib chapter written up this past week. I guess it's a good thing I'm not getting a grade on it. heh Except I don't have my creative writing kids today, anyway, because they're having a big Christmas party, so I'm not letting any of them down. Which is NOT why I didn't get it written up for this week. It is, after all, all in my head. I just didn't have time to write it down. So to speak. Since I wouldn't be doing any real writing.
Just know that, right now, Tib is sitting oblivious in class at school NOT waiting for Christmas break but waiting to see his friend Officer Williams after school at the diner. He's having a hard time focusing, because he's worried about his mother and what he's going to say to the cop. He'd have an even harder time if he knew that Fred Williams had encountered the Man With No Eyes.

In other news, we went to the California Academy of Science in San Francisco this past weekend. It's one of our favorite places to go. My kids love it, and there's always stuff to see. Even the stuff we've already seen. Really, we just can't spend enough time there to get to see everything as much as we want to see it. Right now, they have reindeer. Live reindeer. That was pretty cool, and I'd love to tell you all the things we learned about them, but that's not what this post is about. I will, however, show you a picture:

We took the kids to the gift shop this time, which is something we never do. I hate gift shops. They're full of (mostly) cheap crap that is way overpriced. Like movie theater concessions. Which I do love, but that's because the "butter" they put on  the popcorn in movie theaters is addictive. It's so addictive that it can get you just be its scent, which is really not fair, since it's highly impractical to only go to the movies when you have a cold and can't smell the popcorn. Not that we ever buy popcorn at the movies, because it had to go at the same time we gave up sugar, but I still want to buy the popcorn at the movies. I suppose it's a good thing I don't actually get to go to more movies.
But I digress...

So we took the kids to the gift shop, because we never take them there except to look. And we'd prefer not to do that, because looking always leads to asking and asking leads to begging and begging leads to, well, unpleasantness and that leads to the dark side. If you have kids, you know what I'm talking about. But this time... this time we were prepared to buy them something. You can only put it off for so long, and, on our last trip to the Academy, we finally broke down and said "next time." This was "next time."

One of my issues with the Academy gift shops (they have 3 (no, don't ask me why they need to have 3 different gift shops in the same building, but they do)) is that they are full of rocks. Sure, they're pretty rocks, but they're still rocks, and my daughter always wants to buy them. I don't know why, but I have something against buying rocks. Maybe, it's because there are plenty just laying around outside. Sure, they're not as pretty as the ones in the gift shops, but, I'm sure, if she looked hard enough, she could find some good ones. And for free. Yes, my daughter chose to spend her money on rocks. But that's still not what this post is about.

My younger son is really into building things. And robots. He hasn't started building robots, yet, but we're waiting for that  to happen. If only we could afford to get him the Lego Mindstorm set, we'd have little Lego robots all over the house, so, maybe, actually, that's a good thing. He found this robot kit that was within the budget we allowed him, and I really wanted him to get it. However, that was not to be. Because the gift shop had Hex Bugs. Or, more specifically, Hex Bug Nanos. In the end, he and his brother pooled their money to buy a glow-in-the-dark Nano habitat. My issue with that was that he could have gotten that at Target, and I would rather have had him buy something that he couldn't get at Target. Like the robot kit. But that's still not what this post is about.

[And with that, I have to go pick up my kids from school, so you'll just have to hold your breath until I get back. Don't worry; if you pass out, you'll start breathing again on your own. I have it on good authority, at any rate. I've never tried that myself. Why flirt with death, you know? I've heard he doesn't take to that very well.]

Okay... and... we're back! Or, at least, I am. I'm just assuming you guys are still out there. Hopefully, still conscious.

So... stealing science... that's where all of this is going. Of course, it's not real science. It's just gift shop stuff. And there's a lesson to be learned here.

While at the gift shop, my younger son was playing with a butterfly finger puppet. We were there for a while, because my daughter doesn't make her shopping decisions as quickly as the boys do. So he has this big box of Nano habitat and a finger puppet. He thought he put the finger puppet back. And I never knew I had it. At some point, while still waiting for my daughter to make her decisions, we sent the boys off to use the restroom, since we were heading back home as soon as we were finished in the gift shop. They passed their loot to me, and I carried it around with me along with a few things for my niece and nephew. Once my daughter finally had her rocks picked out (because she would not be dissuaded), I took her stuff and sent her off to go to the bathroom, too. Along with my wife. I went to pay. I placed all of the items up on the counter, and the cashier rang them all up. I never saw a butterfly finger puppet anywhere in there. Neither did the cashier.

However, when we got home and were unloading everything from the bag, there was a butterfly finger puppet in the bottom of it. Presumably, the same one that my son had been playing with. He felt horrible. I did not. I figure it was like one of the real butterflies in the rain forest there in the Academy. They can, sometimes, try to hitchhiker out of the biome on the backs of the guests, and they have people at the exist to make sure you aren't carrying any tiny passengers. None of us know how the butterfly got in the bag. Maybe it wasn't even the same butterfly my son had been playing with. But he handed the stuff off to me, and I handed all of the stuff off to the cashier. I watched her ring it all up, and I watched her put it all into a bag, and I never saw a butterfly. The main thing is that it wasn't the fault of my son.

The butterfly now lives on our Christmas tree.

And, now, the real point to all of this:

As writers, sometimes, ideas, other people's ideas, work their way into our writing without us knowing about it. And, you know what, that's completely okay. A million different stories can be written about the same idea. I'm sure it's a million, because I'm sure that there are at least a million stories out there about little orphan boys. Or orphan girls. Orphans. They're really popular. Just ask Disney about it. Sometime, we get really hung up about discovering that someone else has used the same idea we've used, and our impulse to trash our idea and go look for a new one. Sort of like my son getting upset about the butterfly. Because he thought he stole it. Yes, we didn't pay for it, but stealing takes intent, and there was no intent on the part of anyone to take away anything that didn't belong to us. But, sometimes, these things happen. Like ideas working their ways through our thoughts and minds.

And, then, they come out when we don't expect them to. Like the butterfly.

But, you know, it's okay to use the same ideas as other people. No, you don't want to take their stories, but it's hard to get away from ideas. Especially when ideas sort of permeate society and people will often have the same ideas even though they live thousands of miles apart and have never met. Like the Professor in that Giligan's Island movie where they finally return to civilization and he's found that all the things he invented while on the island have already been invented. Fortunately, books are more complex than just things, so it's really unlikely that more than one person is going to come up with the exact same story.

So... don't be afraid to embrace the butterflies that hitch a ride in your thoughts. Make them parts of the stories in your head, and don't be ashamed of it. If you ever think you ought to be, just look out there at all of the stories about orphan boys. Or orphan boys with an unknown heritage. Just to give a brief example of how that one small idea can be turned into stories that are vastly different, I'll give you some names: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Garion.

And, as an added bonus, just to show Briane Pagel that he's not the only one to ever think that having dinosaurs on your Christmas tree is a good idea:

There are more, but I've certainly gone way over my picture allotment for this post (since that's, well, zero), so I'll stop here and wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Unexpected Applause: The Fourth Wish

My latest Unexpected Applause piece is The Fourth Wish by Elizabeth Varadan. Along with my own views on the book, I am going to add in my younger son's (middle child), since he fits the target audience. And he's having a different experience with the book than I did, so I think it will provide a more rounded picture. Just a note about my son (for those of you that may have missed me talking about this stuff previously): he's the most well-read 10-year-old I've ever known (or heard of). It's not just that he reads a lot (he does), but he's very eclectic in his reading choices. He's read Kafka (how many adults can say that?), Dumas, and RL Stevenson (more Stevenson than me, actually). He's also read Eddings, Douglas Adams, and (currently) Zahn. All of that to say that his view is worthwhile not just because he's in the target audience but because he has a good spread of prior reading material to base it on.

Let's deal with the technical stuff first. Grammar and editing. Fun. But it wasn't too bad. Especially for a piece that wasn't done professionally. The biggest (real) issue is that there are places where there's a word missing here and there. Those always throw me. [I can't complain about this too much, though, as I know of at least one spot in The House on the Corner where I have a missing word (actually, it's just a missing letter, but it changes the word. So far, no one else seems to have noticed).] It can be a hard job to catch all of those things in your own work, and, overall, it's not too bad. There are some comma errors, especially when the author chose to begin a sentence with a conjunction and follow it immediately with a comma when there wasn't a dependent clause present, i.e. "But, I wanted to." When there is just the one independent clause following a conjunction, a comma should not be there. This is one of those pet peeves I have, so I found those annoying. Still, as the only real (consistent) grammar error in the book, I can't complain about that one, either (I mean, more than I am). The only other issue is the author's use of question marks in many places when the sentence is not interrogative. I actually asked her about these, and she said they were purposeful, to show the inflection of the speaker, but I found them more confusing than anything. [I'm waiting to see how my son reacts to them as they are more prominent toward the end of the book, and he is still shy of half.] If I was grading the book (which I sort of am), I'd give it a B on its technical merits, which is pretty good, I'd say.

The story is where I ran into some problems. But, then, it may just be a function of being about 30 years past the target audience. I was unable to engage with the story and the characters. My son, however, is fully engaged. This is one of those stories where the status quo becomes disturbed, and the characters spend the rest of the story trying to put things back the way they were. Possibly, while learning a lesson or two along the way. Mostly about appreciating what you have or being satisfied with your circumstances because they're not as bad as they could be. The vehicle for this is wishes...

I'll make an example of the magic show at the beginning of the book. Once the first wish is made, I found the magic show to be predictable and cliche, but my son loved it. And I don't really want to give any of it away, so I'll leave it at that.

I suppose I'll just say what didn't work for me:

The second wish seemed to just arbitrarily fail. Yes, the wish was supposed to fail so that things good get more messed up, but, really, it wasn't significantly different from wish that fixed everything, so that bothered me.

Daisy's Doughnuts. The whole place just seemed to be yanked out of the 50s, so it just didn't seem right to me. Plus, the kids, inexplicably, bring Christmas gifts to "Daisy;" although, they don't seem to have any special relationship with her that would warrant that.

Speaking of Christmas, the revelation that it is Christmas comes quite a bit farther into the book than I was comfortable with. It took me by surprise, and I had to readjust my view of what was going on in the story.

There's no real motivation for several of the primary characters. At least, none that I could fathom. Especially for Mrs. Seraphina.

And what did work for me:

The relationship between Arthur and Cory and the way they interact with Melanie (even if there wasn't a reason behind the whole "Scorpion Queen" thing (sorry, but that's the kind of nickname you want to know where it came from)).

Melanie's diary and her collection of postcards from her dad.

The struggle of a single mom trying to raise her kids while she's off working all the time and the pressure that puts on the oldest child.

Mostly, though, the story just never came together for me. Not that it was a struggle to read (I mean, there were no feelings of dread any time I stepped near the book like there was with that Turtledove novel I talked about a while back); it wasn't. I just felt like I was back where I started from when I finished and that nothing significant had happened. Now, that may not actually be true if there is to be a sequel, but, as it is, nothing significant happened.

But! See, my son, he likes the book. When I gave it to him, I just told him to read the first few chapters to see what he thought about it. I sort of expected him to give the book back to me and tell me he didn't like it. But, instead, when I asked him about it, he said, "I like it. You're not... you're not going to take it back, are you?" Because it's my book, and he thought I was only letting him read three chapters. It made me laugh. But the book is laying next to his bed, and, I'm sure he'd be finished with it already if he wasn't reading two other books when I gave it to him.

All of that to get to the point:

I think this is probably an above average middle grade book as long as you're one of those middle graders. From an adult perspective, I see it as a pretty typical story, and it didn't thrill me, but my son thinks it's a lot of fun. I'd certainly recommend it for anyone in the 8-12 range. As far as I can tell, it ought to appeal fairly equally to boys and girls. It has a female lead, but my son is enjoying it just fine, so I don't think the central female character is too off-putting for boys.

For a comprehensive grade, I'd give it a C+ to a B-. Currently, I'm leaning toward the C+, but that could change based on my son's final evaluation. Heck, if my daughter likes it, it could go up to a B. At any rate, if you have or know kids that like to read and are in the age range, it's a book worth checking out. If nothing else, it should be fun for them.
And then you can listen to them go on about how to go about getting 5 ka-billion doughnuts for themselves!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blahgfest Humbug!

So... today is the day of the infamous
being hosted by the Grumpy Bulldog himself.
Today being Thursday, December 15. At least it is as I write this; although, I can't say with any certainty that this will get posted on Thursday. I suppose we'll see. It's just been one of those weeks where I haven't had time to get everything accomplished, so this may well bleed over into Friday.


I really love Christmas. It was a magical time when I was a kid and one of only two times in the year when I was pretty certain that I would get to see all of my cousins and family. That being as it is, the task of coming up with 12 things I don't like about the holidays seemed a pretty daunting task. If my wife hadn't started throwing out ideas, I may not have been able to do it. By the way, she says that she gets credit for at least half of this post.

12. The United States Postal Service: I had to go to the post office this morning on business unrelated to shipping anything. But I had to wait in line anyway. There were about two dozen people in line when I got there. One postal worker. Yes, one postal worker. I was there early (not by choice), and they are always busiest right after they open, so you'd think they'd plan ahead about things like that, but, no, it's the post office. People can wait in line. We should be glad to wait  in line, in fact. This is why the post office isn't going to make it. It's not just the internet; it's because no one, and I mean no one, wants to go to the post office. The only place that might by worse is the DMV. Oh, gee, both government agencies...
Anyway... about halfway through the line, a woman got to the window with a big bag of parcels she needed to mail. At that point, they finally brought out a second postal worker. Not that that sped anything up, because the second person almost immediately got bogged down with some issue with a customer and was still with that same customer when I finally left. The post office is no one's idea of fun, but at Christmas, it's a very special kind of Hell. In fact, I think that is one of the levels of Hell.
The only reason that the Post Office is not higher on the list is that I pretty much avoid it. Today was one of those rare exceptions.

11. Wrapping: I do... I hate wrapping presents. Ever. Christmas just compounds the issue. The main reason is the waste. I understand that children love to open presents (it's part of the Magic), which is why I'm willing to do it. But I wish that presents for adults could just go unwrapped. They can be in the shopping bags. It serves sort of the same purpose. My wife tells me I'm just wrong.
Then there's the part of it where I'm spending a lot of time and effort on something that's just going to get ripped off in a matter of seconds. It's like making the bed. Why even bother? My wife tells me I'm just wrong about that, too.
Plus, I suck at wrapping.

10. Making room for the Christmas tree: I hate rearranging furniture. Part of that goes back to my childhood when my mom would decide every couple of months that the furniture needed to be rearranged for no good reason. This included moving the piano upstairs once. And another time moving the washer and dryer upstairs (so that they would be closer to my parents' bedroom). And all sorts of other things. At any rate, I hate the whole process of making room to bring the tree in which is just going to be undone when the tree goes back out.

9. Food: Not that I hate food, it's just that there's so much more of all the stuff you shouldn't eat being provided pretty much everywhere. It's like everyone becomes secret food agents: XX7 -- license to eat.

8. Time: This one is related to the food in concept. Time is finite. Stop trying to cram so many activities into the few weeks leading up to Christmas. It's not like time gets fatter at Christmas, unlike people (who gain up to 10 lbs the last 6 weeks of the year); there's not any extra to go around, so stop trying to cram so much into it. The events are just an excuse to offer up more food that no one needs, anyway.

7. Music: I hate to list this one, because so many other people did, but there's way too much bad Christmas music. And why do they play the same stupid songs over and over again. Does anyone over the age of eight like "Run, Run Rudolph"? Seriously. Stop playing all this crap. And, with a few exceptions, you can skip any artist's Christmas album. Mostly, these don't have anything to do with the artist; it's just the music industry moguls squeezing more bucks out of people while someone (>cough< Bieber) is popular. Compilations tend to be a bit better, because the artist picks a song s/he/they really like, and do just the one. You may get a few bad songs on a compilation, but you tend to get a few real jewels, too.

6. Money: There's not enough of it, and it becomes really apparent in the month of December. Let me give you an example of what December is like:
Back in the early 90s, the (then) owner of Marvel Comics tried to bankrupt the company. And he almost succeeded. It went like this:
Ghost Rider was an incredibly popular series, so he thought he could make more money if Marvel produced another six series just like it.
The Punisher was an incredibly popular series, so he thought he could make more money if Marvel produced another three or four Punisher titles.
The Uncanny X-Men was immensely popular, so he thought he could make more money by throwing an X into the title of anything and everything that wasn't Ghost Rider, The Punisher, or Spider-Man.
The problem was (and is) that the pie was only so big. Increasing the number of titles Marvel produced, especially all at once, didn't increase the size of the pie, it just meant that people had to start buying different pieces. It didn't make people happy, and Marvel imploded, along with the rest of the comic market, in the mid-90s.
Christmas is like that. The pie, like time, doesn't get fatter just because it's Christmas. We budget for presents all year to make sure we have those covered, so it's not  the presents I'm talking about. It's all those other things that people want to convince you to spend your money on just because it's Christmas. Just stop. I don't want jingle bell earrings nor do I know anyone I want to buy them for. Maybe once my daughter has her ears pierced that will change, but, then, we'll have that budgeted into presents.

5. Telemarketers and charities: Stop calling my house! See the previous entry. Not only do I not have extra Christmas money laying around; in fact, I have less. Because of all the other extra expenses that pop up this time of year. Like the heating bill.

4. Controversy: I'm not coming down on one side or the other on the whole "is Christmas a religious or a pagan holiday" thing. The truth is it doesn't matter. I'm just tired of people arguing over it. This is supposed to be the season of goodwill toward men no matter from what angle you come at it, so everyone should just act like that and let other people celebrate the way they want to. Personally, I don't put an X in my mas (I wouldn't want Marvel coming after me), but if other people want to, for whatever reason, go ahead. This country is supposed to be about freedom and freedom of expression, but, most of the time, everyone spends their time acting worse than my kids. (Yes, I'm looking at you democrats and republicans.)

3. People: They're everywhere. Here's the thing about people, and this has been proven, meaning there have been actual studies done around this phenomenon, and it has been shown to be real, is that the more of them you put together in one place, the lower the collective IQ goes. People are stupid enough as it is; we don't really need large gatherings to bring down the intelligence even more. And this includes the roads. I hate driving anywhere during December, because driving also does something to intelligence. Or entitlement. Or something.

2. Commercialization: Really, it's getting to the point where the only way my family can celebrate the holiday the way we want to celebrate it is to avoid it. Or, at least, the way it's presented out there in the world. Whatever happened to the season of giving? Oh, yeah, that's right; we've turned it into the season of buying. That's all it's about anymore. Buy BUY BUY! And then go out and but some more. And take your family out to eat a few times while you're busy buying. See how all of this stuff flows together. But the pie still isn't any bigger.

1. Length: When I was a kid, Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving. It was like a law. Like the blue law. It restricted when Christmas stuff could be sold. Not the blue law, that just meant you couldn't buy stuff on Sunday, but the Thanksgiving/Christmas law was like that. You could go into a store the day before Thanksgiving, and it would be just like any other day of the year. The day after Thanksgiving, it was transformed into a Christmas wonderland. Like Magic. It was wonderful.
Now? I hate (HATE) seeing Christmas decorations out on the shelf with all the Halloween stuff. It's just wrong. And there's no magical transformation of, well, anything anymore. It's all just this long process from the beginning of October through the end of November until it's all there in December. No magic for the kids. No anticipation. No waiting to go look at all the wondrous Christmas displays. It makes me sad.
The thing is, it's really just this one thing that I hate about the holidays. Except that this has happened because of the whole commercialization thing. I could drop numbers 3-12 completely off the list, in all reality, because, although annoyances, I can deal with them. But these last two... they kill my spirit. Christmas should be a time of joy and generosity and MAGIC. And we've taken that all away.

So... there's my list. I haven't made it through all of the others, yet, but I will try to get to them all over the next couple of days.

Merry Christmas!

1/2 A Beer for the Shower

[This has been one of those weeks... you know the ones, where all of your time just sort of gets sucked away into a deep, dark abyss, swirling away into nothingness. Okay, well, it might not have been quite that bad, but it sure has felt like it. Today is the day of the Bah Humbug Blahgfest over at Grumpy Bulldog's, but my entry into that will be one day late, so make sure you come back tomorrow to find it. Also, being Thursday, today is the day for the new Tiberius chapter; it's the introduction of the man with no eyes. My wife says it's freaky, so make sure you click that little Tiberius tab up there and give it a read (and let me know what you think).

However, the big news today is that I have 1/2 of the A Beer for the Shower team over here for a guest post. We've been doing some chatting about writing and discovered that we have similar views about agents. His story is one of the reasons I have the views I do. Yes, I know this is not a representative sampling of agents, but it is a good example of why I don't like to have to put myself in a position of being dependent upon someone else. At any rate, Beer is one of those blogs of which I make sure I read every post. They're funny, irreverent, and offer a unique look at the world around us. Plus, they use pictures. Pretty colors. Oh, and they're totally not PC, which is kind of nice. If you don't already follow them, drop by and check them out. I'll see you in a few days... you know, once you've managed to drag yourself away from their archives of comics. And, with that, I'll turn you all over to Bryan (I do want them back in one piece, though, please :).]

Hi all, I’m Bryan, one half of A Beer for the Shower, and, in a recent post I put up, I mentioned how I got royally screwed over by an agent. The comics showed a brief, joking glimpse, but our friend Andrew wanted me to come here to tell the full story… so here I am.

Before I do, though, let me introduce myself. I’m a full time writer, in which I mean that I’m unemployed. In my free time, I draw crappy MSPaint comics in my “unemployment uniform” (aka my underwear) and post them up on Blogger for laughs.

I do all of this on a $200 netbook that’s way too slow for its own good. I like to call it my “Jewish laptop” because it’s so Jewish with its resources.

So now that you know a little bit about me, let’s begin. About 3 years ago, I had just finished my first novel, Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship, a dark but funny comedy/drama (dramedy?) about a frugal slacker taking care of his autistic sister in a yuppie neighborhood where everyone hates his guts. I brought it with me to a writer’s conference, and got it in the hands of a prominent agent from a very prestigious literary agency. The agent, who I’ll call Bob, told me that my book was amazing; it made him laugh, it made him smile, and the ending even moved him to tears. He wanted to represent me, and he wanted to make sure that I never had to work at a regular job again. “You are a writer,” he told me, “and I’m going to make sure you do what you were put on this earth to do.”

These were heavy words from a well-respected man, and it lifted me to a high I’d never imagined; I was sold. I had achieved the most difficult part of writing, which was to find an agent. From then on, all that was left was for him to sell my book and me to start thinking about book tours, right…?

Not quite.

He flew back to New York and told me he’d start pushing out my book immediately. Months flew by, and I heard nothing from him. Something started feeling wrong, so I dropped him a quick e-mail just to ask what was going on.

He replied—one month later. He had pushed my novel out to only one small publishing house, and they said that they loved the novel, and were huge fans of the unique style of writing, but weren’t looking to buy anything at the moment. He said we’d keep trying, and he’d push out more submissions this time.

More time went by. One month became four, then five, then six. I began to e-mail him again, but got no response. I tried to call his office, and even his cellphone—numbers he gave me personally and said to use at any time—but he was always away at lunch (no matter what time of day I called). I had all but given up.

And then, after not hearing from him for 8 and a half months (and 1 year after he’d initially promised to sell my book), I magically got an e-mail from Bob the agent. It was a huge apology. “I’m sorry,” he wrote. “The past year has been so chaotic, and I’ve had a lot of personal problems. My father suffered a stroke and I went to be with him. I truly believe in your novel, and I want to get it out there, which I plan to do immediately.”

I wrote back and told him that I accepted his apology, and that I was happy to hear he was ready to pitch the novel. I told him to keep me updated of his progress. I was uplifted again, and in high spirits that I was going to finally get published…

That was a year and a half ago. I haven’t heard from him since. Believe me, I’ve e-mailed. I’ve called. I’ve left voice messages. …I’ve given up.

In the end, this agent’s empty promises have wasted almost 3 years of my time that I could have spent shopping my novel around somewhere else. What’s more, he screwed me over because no one knows who he actually submitted it to. Because of this, agents are afraid to touch my book, because let's say, for example, Bob sent it to Random House under his name. If another agent sends Random House that same book, then the new agent looks like a jackass. "Why are you sending me the same book twice, but from a different agent?" I can't win.

About 6 months ago I Googled Bob’s name to see what I could find, and sure enough, in the last year, a slew of people complained about him promising them publication, getting their hopes up, and then completely falling off the face of the earth. He is a flake, through and through, with a short attention span and a penchant for laziness; in the past 6 months the only thing he’s sold was that twat Bristol Palin’s ex-boyfriend’s tell-all-book, which, let’s face it, was already a guaranteed sell since everyone was all fighting over it anyway.

So what should you take away from this? For starters, I’m not saying to avoid agents all together. What I’m saying is that before you invest your time, and more importantly, your faith in an agent, research them heavily. Make sure they’re the right agent for you. Make sure they have a clean track record with clients; make sure they have open communication. Because just like there are bad writers out there, there are also plenty of bad agents who will ignore you, or forget about you, or jerk you around.

As for me, hope is not lost. Sometime soon I want to release Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship as an ebook, and hey, even if it only sells 10 copies, at least it’ll get a chance to be read by someone that’ll enjoy it. That’s more than I can say about the promises I got from Bob the flaky agent.

Cheers, friends,


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Editing Christmas

As I've mentioned before, I hate editing. I mean, it's like the least fun thing in the world to do. Sort of like geometry. Or, at least, geometry in my high school geometry class. I've heard that in other places it isn't as bad as that was. [Just a note: I excelled in geometry (ending the year with greater than 100% in the class (even having episodes where getting 100% on a test would bring my grade down)), but I hated it all the same.] I want everything the way I want it the first time and going back and having to pull things out and add new things in is absolutely no fun for me. And you people out there that like to write fast and dirty and fix everything in the editing...? You people are insane! I mean that.
By the way, George Lucas believes movies are made in the editing room. To him, filming is analogous to gathering your materials, but you actually build your movie in the editing room. But writing isn't a movie, and I don't like editing.

We got our Christmas tree this past weekend. The arrival of the tree each year always means jiggling things around. Of course, at the old place, it was jiggling things around in the same way every year. There was really only one place in the apartment that the tree could go, and we'd just clear that spot out for it, stick it in, and, a few weeks later, pull it back out. This year, though, is different. We don't have a place for the tree to be. Not an established place. We don't really have the house arranged the way we want it, yet. Part of the reason is because of Christmas; we knew we'd have to re-arrange anyway, so we just put furniture where it would work till we got to where we are now.

But we're here, now. Or we were a few nights ago.

The living room was still in rough draft form, but we'd kind of gotten used to it. Isn't it interesting how quickly that happens? But we had this new scene, the Christmas tree, that had to be edited in. But the tree was making the word count too high. Clearly, some things had to go. A lot of it was stuff that should have been taken out already -- extra words in the form of boxes with knick-knacks and stuff (like packing tape and tools). Some was just stuff that needed to be moved. Like the piano. We'd thought we had it where we wanted it, initially, but it was becoming more and more clear that it needed to be shifted. We just hadn't gotten to it. However, some of it was stuff I'm attached to but clearly had to go to serve the higher purpose of including the Christmas tree in the new draft of the living room. You know those bits in your writing that you really like, but they don't do anything for the story? Yeah, those... the ones you just want to leave in for your own benefit even though they detract from the aesthetic of the overall work.

Needless to say, the editing project didn't go as smoothly as my wife and I would have liked. But we got through it, and the room is sort of the way we want it. Maybe. Actually, I suspect, there will be some more tweaking. As my wife says, our furniture is fat. We've been trying to get the couch and, especially, the matching chair to lose some weight, but it hasn't been very effective so far.

And the actual decorations aren't up, yet. Just the tree. So there's still some polishing of this draft to do. Hypothetically, the decorations go up tonight.

There's always a but...

Not only do we have this new scene in the living room chapter, but we have this whole new plot thread in the form of our dog. Including convincing her that she'd rather drink from her own water bowl rather than the Christmas tree stand. How's that for conflict for you? That aside, she's been weaving her way into the overall structure of the piece, and it's working out nicely.
[And just in case you've forgotten what she looks like, here's a gratuitous picture of her keeping warm:

Part of all of this is knowing your audience. I mean, if it was just me, I wouldn't decorate at all. Or have a tree. Although I like the tree and the decorations, that stuff is somewhat like eating crawfish: too much work for what you get out of it. I don't care how good it tastes. I'd just go around looking at other people's decorations, and I'd be fine with it. But I have these children, my audience, and they like all this stuff. In fact, there would be massive protests if we didn't have a tree, possibly even riots. There'd probably be an Occupy Dad movement or maybe even a coup. So, knowing my audience, I edit the room, and, this year, the front of the house, too (this will be our first time since we couldn't decorate the outside of our place at the apartment). See, the amount of editing required largely depends upon your audience.

Anyway... that was my deep thought of the weekend. I'm not really sure if there's a point other  than making the comparison, so take from it what you will.
Merry Christmas!
And good luck with your editing. I mean decorating!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Peanut Butter and Peppermint

It was a rare summer morning that my great-grandmother did not cook a huge breakfast. Often, there would be a dozen or so of us packed around the table covered with bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, sausage, sometimes pancakes. I formed a lifelong love of biscuits and gravy at that table. But that morning, there was no breakfast.

My cousins, Becky and Sam, and I didn't really mind, as much as we loved those breakfasts, because that meant we got to have cereal. Cereal was something of a treat down at my great-grandmother's, because there wasn't often an occasion to have it. My aunt kept it around, though, just in case. I'm sure I was having something with those fake marshmallows in it, because my mom would never buy those kinds of cereals for home. Probably Boo-berry. The adults were all gone off somewhere, so it was just the three of us.

"I wonder if cereal would be good with ketchup on it," said Sam as we were sitting down. To put this statement in context, Sam ate everything with ketchup on it. Well, everything except cereal, evidently. Ketchup on his mashed potatoes. Ketchup on his eggs. He would literally trail the ketchup over everything on his plate for things like Thanksgiving dinner. It was kind of gross.

Not that it was entirely his fault. As a baby, in order to get him to eat baby food, my aunt would mix ketchup into it, so it was a flavor he couldn't separate from the idea of food, and, at not yet 10 (he was three years older than me), he certainly didn't have the willpower on his own to try. Heck, he was still eating everything like that when he graduated from high school.

Becky gave him an immediate response, "It would be gross."

"I'm going to try it."

"No, you're not."

"Who put you in charge?"

"I'm the oldest." And, indeed, she was. By a few months.

"So. You're not the boss of me."

"That's gross. You can't put ketchup on your cereal."

Sam turned to me, "Do you want to try ketchup on your cereal?"

"No way!"

"Well, I'm going to."

Becky was getting mad, "No, you're not!"

"You can't stop me!" And Sam got up from the table to fetch the ketchup bottle from the kitchen.

"If you put ketchup on your cereal, you're going to eat it!"

"Of course, I'm going to eat it. It's going to be great!"

Sam sat down at his bowl. I stopped eating to watch him. This was before the days of squeeze bottles, so he had to wait to for the ketchup to slowly make its way to the lip of the bottle. The three of us sat there watching, waiting, until finally a blob of ketchup fell onto the cereal. He slowly circled around the bowl, making a red ring. By the time he returned from putting the ketchup away, his milk had turned pink.

Becky and I were finishing up our bowls of cereal as Sam spooned up his first bite.

"You're going to eat all of that!"

"I already said I am!" and he popped the bite of cereal into his mouth.

But he didn't swallow it. He did that thing that people do when they put something too hot in their mouths but don't want to spit the food out. Trying to hold it in their teeth so that their tongues don't get more burned. But it was cereal, and that didn't work. He couldn't get his tongue away from it. Or the pink milk he'd created.

"Swallow it," Becky commanded.

But Sam's face came down over his bowl, and the glob of cereal fell out of his mouth into his bowl.

"I told you it was going to be gross," Becky smiled. "Now, you have to eat it."

"I'm not eating that!"

"Yes, you are! You agreed!"

"I'm not eating that! It's disgusting!"

"Well, you're not leaving this table until you eat it!"

"Says who?"

"Says me!"

"You can't make me!"

Becky squinted her eyes at Sam and gave him a hard look, "Yes, I can."

And she could, too. Sam and I both knew it. There had been an... altercation... proving it not all that long before. But Sam was my idol. Not that I didn't also look up to Becky. After all, she'd beaten Sam up in my defense, but I spent the whole summer with Becky every year and saw her on holidays and other times besides. Sam, I only saw a few times a year, so he automatically went up in esteem due to the limited time I had with him. Not to mention that he was also a boy. But I was backing Becky all the way on this one.

After all, the conditions had been clearly set at the outset, and Sam had agreed to them. It was only right that he eat the cereal.

So we sat there, the three of us. A battle of wills between my cousins, and me growing more and more bored by the minute. I wasn't good at bored. But, then, what 6ish year old is?

In the end, Becky and I left Sam sitting there at the table with the admonishment not to leave until he'd eaten that cereal. Under threat of "telling." But I no longer cared; I just wanted to go play.

I'm not sure how long he sat there at the table staring at that bowl of pink milk and the soggy substance within, but he did eventually join us. That meant a trek back to the house so that Becky could verify the truth of his statement that he'd eaten the cereal. There was no sign of it, and a search couldn't turn it up. She even looked under the table. Ironically, Sam had actually hidden the bowl under the table as he told me later, but in the time it had taken Sam to find us, someone else had found the cereal and dumped it into the tray for the dogs outside.

Let me just be clear about this: the dogs would eat anything. They got all of the table scraps all the time, and they always ate everything. Including boiled okra. But they didn't eat that cereal. Much later in the day, Becky and I found it in the dog tray. Hours and hours later. Stinking in the heart of a summer day in East  Texas. Flies buzzing all around.

Sam was lucky that day. He'd had to leave for some reason that I don't remember, which is why he wasn't with us when we found the cereal. Becky would have pounded him if he had been. She wanted to remember to beat him up later, but, by the time we saw him again, she'd forgotten.

My oldest son and I were at  the grocery store recently when we were both overcome with a desire for peppermint bark. I love peppermint bark. Actually, I just love peppermint, especially with chocolate. Most mornings, I have peppermint cocoa or a peppermint mocha as my morning beverage. However, buying peppermint bark wasn't really an option as we have a fairly firm prohibition in our household about buying candy. Especially when the kids still have buckets of the stuff from Halloween and more coming at Christmas. But! The conversation about how we both wanted peppermint bark lead my son to decide that he needs to invent peppermint and peanut butter as a "thing."

I had an immediate flashback to the above story about the cereal and ketchup which I then related to my son. He was unimpressed and maintains that his idea is going to be "Epic!" "Awesome!" and, even, "Epically awesome!" I remain skeptical.

Which is not to say that I don't think he should try it. After all, I imagine that there were people who were skeptical about the first mixture of peppermint with chocolate or peanut butter with chocolate. Which is his whole rationale behind this madness. If both of those items, peppermint and peanut butter, are good with chocolate, it must be true that they will be good together. My taste buds are already recoiling at the thought. (But we don't have any peppermints in the house, at the moment, so he hasn't been able to try this atrocity. Yet.)

Still, how often do we find that things we don't think will go together actually meld quite well. Like the accidental discovery of a friend in high school that french fries are really good in vanilla ice cream (seriously, he was just playing with his food, and trying to gross everyone out at the table when that discovery was made). That became a thing with us at McDonald's after that. And I had a friend in college who loved thousand island dressing on pepperoni pizza (I couldn't get behind that one, but he loved it). Or, you know, science fiction and fantasy. Who'd a thought, you know, before it was actually done the first time.

So... even though I foresee a disaster approaching of the magnitude of "Don't leave that table until you eat every last bite of that," part of me wants it to be good. Because it's trying things that don't seem to go together that makes life interesting.

[It's Thursday again. Man, these things just keep happening, don't they? The new Tib chapter is posted up there in the Tiberius tab (or you can just click here). This one is called "The Cop." Next week will be the first appearance of the man with no eyes in the chapter that will be called "The Police Car."

Also, I only have a few copies left on hand of The House on the Corner, so, if you want a signed copy in time for Christmas, order now! I'll be ordering more copies soon, but I'm not sure if they will get here in time to be sent out before Christmas.]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Bedroom Window

Just a reminder (because no one has glanced at it since I posted it), Tib #3 is posted up there in the Tiberius tab. Tomorrow, #4 goes up: The Cop. Next week, in part 5, the man with no eyes will be introduced. Don't miss out!

You can leave me a comment here about the current chapter if you so desire.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Problem of People

I'm not a huge fan of people. In fact, you wouldn't be wrong if you called me a misanthrope. Don't get me wrong, I like individuals just fine. Well, at least, I can like individuals just fine, but the mass of humanity... not a fan. I don't believe in the inherent goodness of humanity or anything close to it. I think people are pretty not-good, and it's closer to the truth to say I believe that humans are inherently selfish morons. This is not to say that I don't believe that people have the capacity for good. I do. I believe that (most) people have great potential for goodness. But that's all it is. Unused (or rarely used) potential.

I'm not saying any of this to imply that I'm any better, either. I'm sure that I'm not, but, at least, I'm aware of it, which is more than you can say for most people. It's like that whole thing about wisdom beginning when you realize how much you don't know.

Yes, I have examples:

1. I was driving the kids to school yesterday morning. Driving to school is not something I'm really enjoying having to do, at the moment, although I'm sure my kids are. But the dog isn't crate trained, yet, so she has to go with us, and I haven't been able to have the work done to my bike that will allow her to ride on it with me, so we've been in the car since the dog acquisition. (I'm hoping to get that changed after the new year.) Anyway... We were running a bit later than normal (yes, it was my fault, but I'm blaming the dog :), so I was feeling rushed. However, let me just be clear: I don't speed. (There's a long story about that and being late to a final during college (NOT my fault).) We're coming up the street to where we need to make a right onto the street their school is on. The light is green, and the crosswalk had the big red hand up barring pedestrians from entering the intersection. However, I see on the sidewalk on old woman with a bundle of sticks on her back (yes, I'm totally serious) making for the intersection with no signs of stopping. She didn't look around, she didn't slow down, she didn't act as if she realized she wasn't out in the middle of the woods gathering said sticks on her back. She also didn't stop at the corner. She walked straight out into the intersection and proceeded on her way. This is the kind of behavior that can kill you (you may now refer back to the "selfish morons" comment). Let's pretend that I was driving the same way that she was walking, especially since I was in a hurry. What we would have had was a dead pedestrian, a wrecked car, injured children (and dog), and sticks all over the street. But, as it was, I gritted my teeth and mumbled something about stupid people as I came to stop at a green light so that someone could cross against their own light.

2. Some of you may have picked up on the fact that we're big Star Wars fans in this house. Some of you may also know that Star Wars was recently (I use that term loosely) released on blu-ray. This was a cause for much debate and angst in our household. On the one hand, we own way more copies of Star Wars than anyone needs. I have a very special limited edition collectors set of the movies on VHS that have a leather case, a holographic cover, a book that only came with this edition of the movies and a 4th tape that was also limited to this edition. These are quite old at this point. I also have the last release of the original trilogy on VHS before Special Edition came out along with the Special Edition release of the movies on VHS. And we have them on dvd (it was the dvd release that actually prompted our first dvd player purchase). The original trilogy and the prequels (and The Clone Wars movie and the first two seasons of the show and a bunch of spoofs and parodies (Thumb Wars, R2-D2: Beneath the Dome, Hardware Wars, etc)). As my wife put it, "we don't need another set of those movies. Which is, objectively, true. But there's supposed to be all of this special, never before released stuff on the blu-ray edition, so "I wants it, my precious." (to mix a metaphor (except not)) My kids also wanted it. Hence, debate and angst. Not to mention the complication of the 3D versions which begin coming out next year, and I know I will want to buy those, even if I can't watch them in 3D, at the moment. So... do I buy the blu-rays knowing full well that I'll be repeating that purchase in the near future when the newer versions begin coming out on blu-ray 3D?

I began doing some research into the reaction of people about the blu-ray collection. I also mentioned to a friend of mine the dilemma we were facing, and his response was, "Oh, we pre-ordered them. You can borrow them when we get them." This was awesome. So we're in the midst of "borrowing," right now. But I was still doing research.

When the blu-ray collection came out, people began to immediately complain about Lucas tinkering with the movies again and all of these scenes that got added back in and how they all sucked and how Lucas has just continued to ruin everyone's childhood by messing up a good thing. There were even references to specific scenes in some of the reviews and how they sucked and made the movies suck. Because the implication of every review that I read was that all of these scenes had been edited back into the movies.


The collection is 9 discs (which could  have been reduced to 7, thus reducing the price by $20): 1-6 are each of the movies, 7 is special features (including deleted scenes) for the prequels, 8 is special features (including deleted scenes for the originals), and 9 is documentaries and featurettes. There are no new scenes in the movies themselves. The only tinkering is with the sound in a few places, the removal of the scream as Luke falls down the shaft in Empire (which was the only thing added in the Special Edition that I really couldn't stand, so I'm glad they took that back out), some bits of dialogue between holo-Emperor and Vader in Empire (which is the only thing that's a significant change), and a cleaning up of the blaster exchange between Greedo and Han so that it's less clear who shot first (that change having already been made, this new version is better than the first). None of the deleted scenes are added into the movies. They're on completely different discs. In fact, they are no different than deleted scenes from every other movie, and it's just stupid to get all upset that Lucas is letting us see them. Personally, I find it interesting to look at what was cut from a movie, especially if there's an explanation as to why it was cut. (And some of those scenes I've been waiting since I was 7 to see, so I think it's awesome that Lucas finally put them where we can see them if we want to do that. There's nothing to force anyone to put that other disc in or to watch the deleted scenes if you think it will shatter your delusions.)

In the end, the uproar over the deleted scenes is another example of the stupidity of people.

And, although I'd really love to own the blu-ray edition (mostly because of the Luke/Biggs scenes that are FINALLY included in the deleted scenes), I've decided to save my $90 and wait for the 3D releases.

3. Have you seen the news about the post office? In an effort to become more competitive in these troubled economic times, they will be lowering the quality of their service. Not that it will become cheaper.

It's no secret that the post office has been struggling due to loss of business to the internet. Why send a letter when you can send an email. It's both faster and cheaper. Physical letters are on the verge of extinction. Even cards are becoming endangered. Starting next year, in an effort to save money, the post office will be doing away with 1st class, next day delivery. Even if it means holding the mail because it's within the same city. In fact, they're kind of saying that delivery times will be sporadic and unpredictable. This whole move strikes me as something more along the lines of punishing us for not sending enough mail. A move of smite.

See, the smart thing to do here would be to figure out how to become more competitive. But of the three main shippers in the US: USPS, UPS, and FedEx; USPS is the worst. They cost more and offer less already for any kind of service that allows you to track your package. And for anything of any real weight, they cost quite a bit more than UPS, and UPS offers FREE insurance. However, instead of looking at ways that they could, you know, become viable, they decide to stick their tongues out at us and take their ball and go home.

It's a good example of the power of the dark side. Reacting in fear is quicker, easier, and this shows every sign of a fear reaction, which is the general way that people react to these types of situations. I'm not going to start making a list of historical examples of people reacting out of fear due to economic upheaval, but, if you want to do the research, you should quickly find enough on your own.

4. Which brings us to the publishing industry. I only mention them specifically, because their way of reacting in fear to the decline in traditional publishing affects many of you guys out there. They're being the same as the post office in many ways. People are buying less books, so, instead of figuring out how to be competitive, they hike prices and squeeze their authors. This, of course, prompts people to buy less books and the authors to start looking for alternatives.

Fear is the path to the dark side, people! Go back and watch Star Wars again!


I could go on with this stuff all day, I'm sure. As you can see, I'm not overly impressed with people.

Let's just call this post practice for Grumpy Bulldog's upcoming BlahgFest
You know, in the spirit of the holidays.

Merry Bah! Humbug!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

She sits and waits...

[Before I get into the post, I want to remind you that it's Thursday. Oh, you already knew that? Well, being Thursday, it's the day I update the Tiberius tab with the next installment of his story. No, I didn't update it last week, so, yes, technically, I'm a week behind. It's going to stay that way. Tib is not my only writing project, so you'll just have to deal. Also, I'd love more feedback about Tib. You can leave it, well, anywhere, really. Except on the Tib page. Because I haven't figured out how to allow comments on the non-post pages, yet. I'll get around to it. Figuring out how to get the PayPal button up for signed copies of The House on the Corner used up all of my allotment for fiddling with tech stuff for... well, a couple or few weeks, at least. Speaking of signed copies, The House on the Corner would make a great Christmas gift, so order your signed copy now! (while I still have them on hand)]

I promise this isn't going to become a blog all about dogs. I did manage to make it more than a month before devoting an entire post to her, after all. But I did have a thought, a particular thought, about the dog when I came out of the bathroom the other day. In fact, it was what the last post was supposed to be about, but I got all caught up in the story of getting the dog and figured 2000 words was enough for one post. Before I go on, how about another look at her?

Dogs have a pretty uncanny ability at figuring people out. They are the only non-primate animal (maybe the only animal, but I'm sure about the non-primate part) that scan faces in the same way that humans do. It allows them to have great empathy for human emotion and is what has made them such a great companion for humanity for the last 15,000 years.
It also allows them to quickly discern their alpha.

Before we had even left the shelter with Tessa, she had already determined that I was her alpha. I'm pretty sure she decided that she was going home with us before I decided it. She just knew. Being the alpha for a dog can be a lot of responsibility, and other people can't always fill in. Some breeds, like Chows, can be very hostile to anyone other than their alpha. Fortunately, Tessa isn't one of those obsessively clingy, needy dogs that has to be attached to its alpha 24/7.

We picked Tessa up the weekend before my kids went on fall break, which was nice, because they had a full week with her right off the bat. It gave Tessa a chance to get acclimated to "her people." Still, the first time I had to go off and leave her with them, she freaked my kids out. I just had to make a quick trip to the store to pick something up. I was gone, maybe, 20 minutes, but she sat at the front door and, according to my kids, howled and moaned the whole time I was gone. She was so happy to see me when I got back that I believe them. The dog did have to learn that it's not going to be abandoned, and, I'm sure, that's worse for a shelter dog that has already been abandoned and had all sorts of strange people dealing with it for months. I can't really imagine the kind of panic the dog must have been going through when I went off without her.

She has learned that I'm coming back, and I can leave the house, now, without having to worry about her crying and howling the whole time I'm gone. But that first week was rough. I couldn't even go to the bathroom without her whimpering at the door the entire time I was in there. It was kind of like having an infant again. Just a furry, mobile one.

The other thing with being the alpha is that her attention tends to always shift to me. For instance, if one of the kids is playing with her and I walk by, she runs over to me to see if I will play with her instead. I have to be careful, because I want the kids to have a good relationship with the dog, so I don't want to pull her away from them. As I've said, though, she's smart, and she's learned that my daughter is, in many ways, her personal playmate. If anyone is playing with the dog, my daughter cannot keep herself out of it. She's the only other person in the house besides me that's willing to play rough with the dog, too. My younger son is her cuddle monster. If she wants loves, she goes to him. He's also good for catch, but not as good as she'd like for tug and wrestling, so that's my daughter. The oldest is really only good for the occasional pat on the head. He's a teenager; what can I say?

But to get to the point...
The other day I was coming out of the bathroom, and there she was on the floor in front of the door waiting for me (That's much more likely to happen during  the day when it's just me and the dog here at home). It occurred to me that people are just like that. Sitting and waiting. All the time. For something. For someone. For anything, really. We make our lives dependent on some other alpha.

Sometimes, that alpha is a person. We wrap ourselves up and become dependent on them for, well, everything. We don't have to make decisions that way, and we don't have to be responsible that way, and, let's face it, life's just a lot easier if you leave things to someone else to take care of. Honestly, I think most people live their lives like this.

Sometimes, it's a job. That's slightly better than when it's a person, but not by much.

Sometimes, it's... well, we don't know what it is. We're just waiting for it, and we don't know what it is. Maybe, that's really the lack of an alpha. A person that wants or needs one, some one or some thing to give him direction, so he just drifts along waiting for it to happen.

And authors suffer from this problem as much as anyone, maybe more. We make our writing dependent on "inspiration." That was the specific thought that struck me when I saw my dog waiting for me outside of the bathroom. That I was her muse, and she was waiting for me to lay some inspiration on her. I do have to say that it makes the whole being a writer thing a lot easier. When you can blame your lack of productivity on a lack of inspiration. "Hey, it's not my fault. I'm waiting for inspiration."

Now, I'm not knocking inspiration. It's great to write when you're feeling inspired. I am knocking sitting around and waiting for inspiration to happen, though. And I've lost count of the number of blogs I've seen with the author complaining about not being able to write because she (and I'm saying "she" because I haven't seen this on any of the blogs of male authors that I follow (I don't know why that is, but I'd like to know)) "hasn't been inspired lately." Look, no responsibility!

Here's what I've found interesting. When I'm home working during the day, the dog lays around most of the time waiting for some attention. Waiting for her inspiration to strike, so to speak. When she's just laying around, I tend to not notice her. Meaning, I'm busy writing, and I leave her to lay there. I do have other things to do besides play tug with her all day, after all. However, sometimes, she'll get up, go get her ball, and start tossing it around. It's very cute, and, guess what, I notice her. When she decides to stop laying there waiting for me and to take some initiative, it draws my attention, and, usually, I'll go over and play with her for a bit. Even when I'm busy. Because I just can't help it.

That's how inspiration works. It doesn't come to us when we're just waiting. Why would it? It would have to come over and slap us around to get our attention. Inspiration doesn't want to do that. Inspiration wants to see us working on something. When we are, it says "ah-ha!" and wants to get involved and comes over to play with us and, pretty soon, we're typing away with inspiration sitting on our shoulders egging us on. And, you know, if inspiration doesn't come along, we often come out with good stuff anyway, because we're capable of writing some pretty cool stuff all on our own. But none of that happens when we're just waiting for it.

Put yourself in inspiration's shoes. Who are you going to pick: the guy just laying there or the guy trying to make something happen?

To approach it more objectively, though, most of the time, it really takes writing to be able to write. What? I was having a conversation with someone recently, and he was saying how he'd really like to write someday. He's someone that just discovered I've written a book and was all excited to know a "real" author. Long conversation ensued. I've actually had several of these conversations with people at this point, people that think that one day, some day, they'd like to write. But they're waiting for something. And they don't really know what it is they're waiting for. Except that what it is that they're waiting for is for someone else to come in and show they how to do it or what to do or... whatever. They're waiting for that nudge to get them going.

That thing, that whatever it is, is different for each person, but it's always something that comes from inside that person. That moment when they figure out that they have to quit waiting. And, as I said, it's not just writing, it's everything. It's life. So, quit waiting for life to happen to you and make it happen. Get up and do something. Write something. Be something. Take the ball in your mouth and start tossing it around. It's cute, just ask my dog; someone will notice and want to join in.