Friday, November 30, 2012

The First Day of Chocolate

As I've mentioned before, I'm into titles. A good title on a book will catch my attention way before any artwork will. As such, I'm always jotting down ideas for titles. I usually lose these. Until I find them again years later and have to stare at the paper for five minutes trying to figure out what all the disparate phrases mean. Sometimes, I even think of stories to go with the titles or, at least, chapters, which is almost just as good.

Children end up being a good source for these kinds of things, and, lately, my daughter has been an especially good source. It all started last Christmas.

We got our kids Advent calendars for the first time last year. Not expensive ones or anything, just some little things we picked up with a Christmas shaped chocolate candy for each day. Yeah, you didn't know Christmas had a shape, did you? Well, it does. But I'm not telling you what it is. Anyway, at some point during the whole Advent thing last year, my daughter said something about the first day of chocolate, and it made me laugh and, then, it made me write it down. It's a great line.

And I've spent the last year trying to come up with a story to go with the title "The First Day of Chocolate," but, you know what, I haven't come up with a single thing. Or, rather, I've come up with a lot of things that I've immediately discarded. At any rate, I haven't come up with any ideas that I felt were worthwhile. Of course, my daughter knows I wrote it down, and, every so often, she asks me if I've written that story yet, and I have to tell her no. That's probably more disappointing to me than it is to her, because I hate having a great title with no story to go with it.

I have a list of things she's said in this past year that are title ideas, but I'm not gonna share any more of them with you. They're mine, I tell you, mine! Hopefully, some day, I'll start putting them to use.

So... here we are, and it's "The First Day of Chocolate." Yes, it is. And, yes, that's permission to go get yourself a piece. Preferably something dark and minty, but, really, just go with what you like best. If you're a woman, I bet you don't even have far to go from where you're sitting to get a piece. Yeah, my wife's gonna hit me when she reads that part, but I'm pretty sure it's worth it. Now, I'm not gonna tell you that you should follow this holiday and have chocolate everyday; that's for you to decide, but you should certainly have a piece on this first day of this wonderful chocolate holiday.

Merry Christmas everyone, and have a wonderful First Day of Chocolate!!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Generally speaking, there are two professions that we speak of as a "practice": law and medicine. Lawyers practice law and doctors practice medicine. The whole practicing thing was something that really bothered me when I was younger. I mean much younger. It was just one of those thoughts in my head that wouldn't go away, "Why would I want to go to a doctor that's only practicing?" I wanted to go to one that was through practicing, if you get what I mean. It just wasn't something that inspired confidence.

And here is why I learned not to rely on my parents for information: I asked my mom why doctors only practiced (see, that's how young I was), and her answer left me feeling more dubious about the whole situation. Something about how it was medicine and you could only ever practice it. Sort of like that time my brother (who is six years younger than me) came out to eat with some of my college friends to a Chinese restaurant and he felt compelled to ask the server, "What's curry?" Of course, the real issue was that the server answered completely seriously, "Curry is curry." And that is why doctors only practice medicine.

Anyway, this whole thing about what is a practice and what's not crept into my thoughts recently. I mean, I suppose there was a time when a mechanic was just a mechanic. A mechanic could land at the top of his field and literally (or close enough) know everything there was to know about engines. That's probably not true anymore. You can't even find out what's wrong with a car these days without a computer to tell you. A plumber... well, plumbers probably still can know everything there is about plumbing, but in this age I wouldn't feel confident that things will stay that way.

But all of that's kind of beside the point, whatever the point it. No, wait, I do have a point! My point is that I want to be a practicing writer. Of course, my wife is telling me that this is not what this means, but, you know what, I looked this up in several different places, and none of them had a good definition of what it means to have a practice or why it's called a practice or anything. The only clear thing is that to have a practice, you have to be doing it. So I've decided I want to be a practicing writer.

I like the sound of it, and I am doing it, so I'm claiming it. The thing is, anyone can be an author. Okay, well, that's not true. It is true; anyone could be an author if that person decided to write something. But it only takes one book or short story or whatever to be an author. You can call yourself an author the rest of your life off of just the one thing even though you never write anything again. However, you have to be writing to call yourself a "practicing writer." If you're not doing it, you can't claim to be it. At best, you could say "I used to be a practicing writer," but that just doesn't carry the same implication, now, does it?

Of course, once you've become a doctor or a lawyer you can always say you are those things. I mean, you never hear anyone saying "I used to be a doctor." No, that person is still a doctor, just not practicing anymore. And I'm pretty sure lawyers never say "I used to be a lawyer" they've been disbarred or something. No, they're just not practicing anymore if they've gone on to other things.

So, yeah, I'm a "practicing writer." It's what I'm doing right now. Don't start on me about clients or patients or whatever; I'm calling it what I want to call it. We'll call it poetic license, and, since I'm a practicing writer, I get to do that.

Now... I just need to figure out how to implement this whole idea...

A winner has been established from the comments left on Monday's
The Merry Christmas To All (e)Book A Day Traveling Blogathon (of Doom!)
post, and that winner is... um, wait... those winners... Well, it's the guys from A Beer for the Shower. I guess they can cut it in half? Can you do that to a digital copy? Maybe they can just fight over it? Yeah, I'm for that. Let's dig a hole in  the ground and toss in one beer. The one that makes it out gets a copy of The House on the Corner. How does that sound?

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Relationship with Death (part 2)

Death comes in two forms: the ones that happen that you aren't expecting, striking like lightning from a clear sky and the ones that creep up, the ones you see coming but can't do anything about. It's hard to say which is worse. I don't think knowing it's coming prepares us for it any more than when it just happens, and I don't think having it just happen lessens the pain of it not being drawn out. It really just comes down to the importance of the person in our lives.

When I was in high school, my uncle put my great-grandmother, who would sit and watch TV eating sticks of butter like candy bars, in a nursing home. She was in her 90s, and she couldn't be left alone during the day while he was at work; there was really no other option for him. When I was a little kid, my great-grandmother had been a significant figure in my life. She liked to take my cousins and me on long walks down the dusty east Texas road out in the country where she lived. We'd pick her wild flowers for the dining table. She made the best biscuits and gravy in this spiral arm. And the best squirrel dumplings. Granted, I've never even heard of anyone else making squirrel dumplings, but I'm sure hers would be the best even if that was a thing.

She was old, and she wasn't in the greatest of health. Basically, she moved from her bed to her chair and back again. She had a walker, but it barely fit through the old farm house they lived in, and she'd mostly quit using it anyway. She couldn't get in and out of bed without help, and the chair she sat in to watch TV was right next to her bed, so, really, she'd lived in that one little spot for at least a year before my uncle decided he couldn't take care of her by himself anymore. She told him (and everyone) that if he put her in a nursing home she would die. She was born in the house she lived in, and she wanted to die in it, too. He put her in  the nursing home. Two weeks later, she was dead.

I was sad when she died, but I wasn't devastated. She had faded from being important in my life as I got older and she got more enfeebled. She was old (really old), and everyone was expecting her to die (although no one really expected her to just die right away after going to the nursing home). I figured that I was just prepared for her death and that's why it didn't hurt so much. However, my grandfather was devastated over the death of his mother-in-law. I remember him crying (I'd never seen him cry before) and bending over and kissing her forehead in the casket. That made me more sad than my own sadness.

But here's a more tangible demonstration of how death can affect us:

During the 1st semester of my sophomore year at college, my paternal grandfather died. I don't remember it being anything anyone expected. In fact, my maternal grandfather was struggling with cancer at the time, and most of our attention was on him. The truth is, we weren't at all close to my father's side of the family. Not even my father was close to my father's side of the family, so, when his father died, it was an obligation to be fulfilled and nothing more. But I had a friend, one of my best friends, at school that wanted to be supportive, and he came to the funeral. He's actually the person to pay attention to in this story. See, from his perspective, we didn't react any differently to this death than he did. And it was true; we didn't.

I moved back home with my parents during the middle of my sophomore year, which is another story entirely, but we can simplify it by saying it was just a lot cheaper than living on campus. It all had to do with the school cafeteria and how bad the food was, and it lead to my friend, the one that had gone to the funeral, rooming at my parents house for a semester. That, also, is another story entirely. The significance of it is that he was living with us when my maternal grandfather died in the spring.

As I said, my maternal grandfather had had cancer, a particularly aggressive type of back cancer, but the doctor had said that they'd found it early enough that everything should be fine. He said this to use all the time. I should also say that my maternal grandfather was, in many ways, the most important figure in my life. He was the one that read to me when I was little. The same few books over and over again. I'd sit in his lap smelling his unique mechanic odor. It probably wasn't unique, but I didn't know anyone else that smelled that way, and I've never known anyone else that smelled that way, even other mechanics. My mom didn't get married until I was four; we lived in my grandparents' house prior to that; my grandfather was the "father" I knew. I didn't know until later (after he died) that I had been his favorite.

It was a Monday night, and my family had been to see my grandfather in the hospital. He was barely the man I had known, and he was in a lot of pain. It was pretty horrible to see him that way, but the doctor was saying, even that night he said it, he was going to recover. Still, as we were getting in the car to leave, I said to my mother that it would be better for my grandfather to leave than to be in so much pain, and my grandfather had been saying that he was ready to go; it's just that no one else was ready for him to go. He was, for lack of a better way of putting it (and no one knew this at the time), the glue that held the whole family together.

Wednesday morning I was taking a bath (no showers in our house) and getting ready for the commute to school when the phone rang. I knew what that call was as soon as it started to ring, and I'd already broken down in the tub before my mom was off the phone with the news that my grandfather was dead. I was broken. It was like something snapped inside of me, and I didn't know what to do. My whole family was similarly devastated.

And there was my friend stuck in this house that had become some weird alien landscape to him. He'd been with us when my paternal grandfather died, and he expected the same sort of reaction from this death. He wasn't prepared for what happened and couldn't really deal with it. That morning as we were driving to school (one state over and nearly an hour away), I wasn't really in the car with him. I was just a leaking shell.

I didn't cry at all when my paternal grandfather died. I don't even think my dad cried when his dad died, but my family didn't stop crying when my maternal grandfather died. For my friend, it was like someone had thrown him out into a lake of tears, and he didn't know how to swim in it. He didn't know how to reach out to any of us, and, really, we didn't want him to. I just wanted to be left alone. Having to go to school at all was painful enough, but it was college, and college doesn't care about anything as trivial as death. College just wants to get all deep and talk about it a lot.

I can't describe in this space how deeply into me that death went. It really did break something in me. Maybe it was just my heart, but I don't think so. It was one of those instances, though, where you can see it coming, but you just can't prepare for it. My mother had been telling me that I should be prepared, but I kept clinging to the words of the doctor. I couldn't accept that my papa would die, so I just chose on some level to dismiss that as a possibility. That Monday night was the first time I'd even come close to acknowledging that he could die, and, when he died on Wednesday, I blamed myself. My words. So did my mother. Not that she said it that way, but she kept reminding me of what I had said.

Eventually, life continues. Well, it keeps on continuing no matter what, but, eventually, you creep back into it. What choice do you have? Later, after I'd recovered some semblance of humanity, my friend told me how freaked out he'd been by the whole situation. I'm gonna compare it to when you're walking up stairs in the dark and you think there's one more step but there's not. That feeling you have right then when you expect your foot to touch the next step but there's nothing there... that's how he felt, except it just kept going, that feeling.  Like he'd stepped into some kind of void and kept falling and couldn't get his footing back until we did. His only way of dealing with it was to kind of avoid me at school, because he couldn't cope with my grief.

And I get it. When my mother-in-law died a couple of years ago, I had to go through that with my wife. There had been a long fight with pancreatic cancer, and, even though we knew that my mother-in-law had very slim chances of making it past  six months, when she did make it past six months and then a year and, then, 18 months, it became harder and harder to accept that she would succumb. So, even though we knew it would come, we didn't believe in it. And the only reason I was able to cope with my wife's grief over the death of her mother was that I'd been through it before. I understood. My friend had never been through anything like that, so he didn't understand. He had no idea of the depth of the wound.

I think death is not just a thing that happens to people when they die; it's also an emotion. Like... like the opposite of love. There's really no other way to look at it, because only those two things affect us so deeply. Strike us to our cores and shatter us on the inside. Even though people can see what's going on, there's no way they can reach in and help put us right. The best they can do is be there. Be available. Of course, it helps to have been through it to be able to understand that. Because, really, the trite words don't help. The "he's in a better place" or the "he's at peace" or "he'll always be with you" are empty sounds that only help the person saying them.

Grief, real grief, is a tough thing. It stabs into you, becomes a part of you, rolls around in your insides. You can't just take it out or turn it off. Those of you out there that have gone through this kind of thing will know what I'm talking about; you others... well, you think you do; you think you know, but, the truth it, you don't. You can't. And no one can tell you what it's like. It would be like me trying to explain what peanut butter peppermint bars taste like, but, really, the only way to know is to taste it for yourself.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Christmas Tree Saga (of Doom!)

This post is part of
The Merry Christmas To All
(e)Book A Day
(of Doom!)
being hosted by Briane Pagel. Click the link for all the details.

Christmas was a big deal at my house when I was a kid. Well, it was after we moved into my grandparents' house, at any rate. My grandparents decided to retire out to their farm in east Texas, and we "bought" their house from them. We did actually buy it, and I don't know the details of that deal, but it was a good deal for us. It was like moving into that house with its 10' ceilings was a challenge to my mom. A decorating challenge that had to be met each year, and it had to be met in a way that surpassed the previous year. Every year, Christmas grew.

But every year, it started with the tree. The tree was the center of everything, and it had to fill the room. Well, not really, because it was a big room, but it had to go all the way to the ceiling, and it had to do it in a way so that it didn't look like a pole. Let's just say that my mom was not easy to satisfy when it came to picking out the tree each year. We didn't do Black Friday sales; I don't even know if there were Black Friday sales in the 80's, but, if there were, we didn't do them. The weekend after Thanksgiving was the weekend of the hunt for the perfect tree.

That went pretty well most years. It took some doing and the visiting of multiple tree lots, but we'd find something tall and full, and my mom would be happy. I wasn't always all that happy, because I was the one that had to put the lights on the tree under the dictatorial command of my mother, and I was the one that had to drag the boxes and boxes (and boxes and boxes) of ornaments down from the attic every year. And, mostly, I was the one that decorated the tree, because that could be left to me (and sometimes my brother, but he was 10ish and could only reach half way up) whereas the rest of the house could not.

Most years, that went pretty well. Most.

But there was this one year... This one year, I was probably around 16, we went out and got this great tree. And it was a great tree. My mom said it was the best tree ever. 10' tall and 5' wide. Completely full. No bare spots at all. Beautiful. We took it home; my dad cut about an inch off the bottom of the trunk, and they set it up to soak over night, which is something they always did. The next day, we got it into the house and all set up. I put the lights on it. We started decorating but left most of it for the next day.

The next day... That next morning, there was a pile of needles from the tree in a circle around the Christmas tree stand, like the tree had spent the evening trying to build a wall of needles around it. Like it had decided it was too warm in  the house and needed to make itself more comfortable... by shedding its extra needles all over the floor. But the tree must have been a nudist, because "extra" meant virtually all. Seriously, the only thing the tree had left was a big fig leaf covering its privates. That and the lights I'd put on it the night before.

My mother was beside herself, which was really weird for everyone involved except her, because she was so mad she didn't notice. My mom just kind of takes things. She's not one to get upset and take a stand about anything, but she did with this. Before I knew what I was doing, I was back up on the stool taking the lights back off of the tree. We loaded it back into the truck, and we... we took it back.

Yes, we returned the Christmas tree. I can only imagine that the looks on the guys' faces at the tree lot was what my face looked like. I mean, who takes back a Christmas tree? After a few minutes, I felt kind of bad for the guys, because they didn't know what was going on. Who takes back a Christmas tree? They didn't know what to do. The didn't have any procedure. Nothing. Why? Because who takes back a Christmas tree?

My mother, that's who.

I think they let us pick out another tree for no other reason than that they didn't know what else to do. So we picked out another tree. Almost as good as the first, but, you know, with all of its needles intact. My parents shook the tree and bounced it around and everything to make sure it wasn't a trick, but they stayed on, and we took the tree home.

And the first thing my dad did was cut an inch off of the bottom of the tree so that it could soak overnight. Except... except that there was this one branch right at the base of the trunk that had to come off. The tree wouldn't go in the stand with that branch on it, but it needed the fresh cut, too, so that it could drink water and stuff, so, well, my dad cut that branch off... and the bottom third of the tree came off with it.

Let me try and explain this. This wasn't some huge branch or anything, it was just a normal branch at the base of the trunk. At least, that's how it looked. In reality, it was some kind of mutant branch that had taken over all of the other branches at the base of the tree. Just absorbed them or something, because that branch was one whole side of the tree, and, when my dad cut it off, that side of the tree went with  it.

My mother was beside herself again. It was a really weird feeling seeing my mom like that twice in one day, but, again, she didn't notice. She was too busy waving that branch around in the air while the rest of us ran for cover. We loaded the tree back into the truck.


If you thought those guys at the lot had stunned faces the first time, you should have seen them when we came back in the second time. They didn't know what to do. I mean, they'd only just taken their first tree return ever, and they, I'm sure, figured it was some sort of freak occurrence not worthy of a second thought. They hadn't put any procedures into place. Still. And here was my mom bringing back another tree and waving that branch around in the air. I think they were scared she was going to beat them with it.

What else could they do? They let us pick out another tree. My parents shook the tree and bounced it around. It kept its needles. They inspected the all the branches at the base of the trunk. They all looked like they'd stay attached. Finally, we had a tree. They even let my mom keep the branch from the bottom of the other tree.

I don't, now, remember what that tree looked like. I'm sure it was a fine tree. My mom never quit believing that that first tree we'd brought home was the most perfect tree ever. Well, before it lost all its needles at any rate. You know, to this day, I've never heard of anyone else ever returning a "defective" Christmas tree. I wonder if those guys ever did develop a procedure for it.

True story.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Shadow of the Tree


It's not something I've ever really participated in as a buyer. Okay, it's something I've never participated in as a buyer; however, I did spend a couple of Black Fridays working at Toys 'R' US, and, let me just say, that's not an experience I'd ever wish on anyone. I'm not going out for Black Friday this year, either, but I do want to participate...

By letting all of you have FREE! stuff!

Yep, FREE! stuff!

So I'm putting the whole Shadow Spinner run up for FREE! today! That's right: FREE!

"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree" is brand new and will be FREE! on Friday and Saturday.

All other eight parts plus "The Evil That Men Do" will be FREE! on Friday! That's all 10 parts for FREE! Don't let this great Black Friday deal pass you by. And make sure to spread the word. And click the "like" buttons!

The links are on the sidebar over there or by clicking the Shadow Spinner link at the top of the page.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lincoln (and an anti-bonus and a bunch of news!)

The days when biographical movies tried to give us the whole picture of what someone was like seem to be behind us, and I can't say that's a bad thing. The only thing that movies like that have ever done is give just information to not matter. You just can't get all of history, not even the significant history, of a person into two hours.

Spielberg's new movie, Lincoln, focuses just on the event of passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, but, within that event, he manages to capture the essence of who Lincoln was so that we feel we are getting so much more of him. If it doesn't sweep the Oscars this year, it certainly deserves to. The screen writer certainly deserves the credit, as the script, the dialogue, was magnificent (and Tommy Lee Jones in particular took full advantage of his lines, stealing nearly every one of his scenes).

Daniel Day-Lewis also deserves an Oscar, for there was none of him in this movie. The man is amazing and frightening in his ability to assume a character. He completely disappears; only the character remains. This ability is such that he actually had to take a break from acting after his role in The Boxer, because he couldn't find himself again afterward. He spent a year in preparation for his role as Lincoln, and the result of that was that he became Lincoln. He's remarkable.

All of the acting was excellent. I already mentioned Tommy Lee Jones and how he had some of the best lines in the movie, but, really, everyone performed admirably. The performances given are a testament to the quality of director Spielberg is. I have to also specifically mention David Strathairn. He outdid himself as Secretary of State Seward. I like Strathairn, but I've never thought he was particularly great or anything, but he was great in Lincoln. As was James Spader. But I could just keep going on about the spectacular performances, so I'm going to stop. You'll have to trust me. Or go see the movie, which you should do anyway.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the movie, though, has to be one that was unplanned, because I don't see how you could plan for something like this unless you can see the future. The focus of the movie is the political landscape of the time, and, if you think things are bad now, and I'm not saying they're not, you should do some research about how things used to be. If you think our politicians take part in name calling, you haven't seen anything. Heck, they used to beat each other up or even have duels over their political positions. Anyway, the interesting bit is how the parties have changed. Abraham Lincoln made the Republican party into a viable entity, which they had not been before his election, and they were at the forefront of social justice. The Democrats were pro-slavery, anti-equality, everything the Republicans have come to be. It was interesting to see how the roles of those two parties have changed over time with, now, the Democrats at the forefront of social justice. However, it is still mostly the south that is anti-social justice. Yes, I can say that, because I came from there. I know how it is and what it's like. At any rate, it's interesting that we just had so many of the themes from the movie played out on the political stage during this past election, and it shows just how much more work we have to do as a civilization before we actually achieve social equality for all members of society.

This is a must see movie if there ever was one. It highlights just exactly why we consider Lincoln to have been our greatest president and the tragedy of his death. Go see it.

As an added bonus, I'm gonna toss in a second review, but this one is more of a warning.

I finally watched Prometheus (as a result of not having a computer), and, boy, am I glad I did not pay money to go see that in the theater. It might actually qualify as one of the 10 worst movies I've ever seen. What an incredibly lousy piece of film making, and I feel bad for some of the actors... okay, I feel bad for Fassbender and Theron for being in it. Fassbender had the only role, as David, that was worth anything, and he did a good job in the role; it's just too bad the movie was a total waste. And Theron was just there for her name in a completely worthless part.

The movie starts with a series of disjointed scenes that, in the end, have nothing to do with the movie. They're supposed to supply background, but each of them is completely useless. 15-20 minutes of movie that could have been replaced with something that actually made sense. Then, once the movie really starts, we're subjected to just about every sci-fi cliche in the book. Too many characters that have no purpose other than to be there to get killed. The scared crew members that get lost on the alien ship. The guy who is just plain stupid and tries to touch the cute little alien. The sudden storm that causes a disruption to what's going on. The dropped object while running from the storm that causes someone to almost lose her life. It was predictable and stupid. Every single bit of it.

In fact, it was so predictable and stupid that it made me not be able to stop watching it, because I kept thinking "surely, there must be something more to this." I mean, this was a big movie. It's Ridley Scott. There must be something more, right? No, there's not. The characters do things for absolutely no discernible reason and things happen because they are the things that happen in these kinds of movies. What a waste of two hours of my life.

And now for the news:

Item #1: Part 9 of Shadow Spinner will be available for FREE! on Friday, November 23.
Because it's Black Friday, I've decided to make the entire series so far also available for FREE! This is a great opportunity for you if you don't have it or if you are missing pieces (like that pesky jigsaw puzzle with the three pieces missing right from the middle) or if you have a friend that doesn't have it. That's all nine parts of Shadow Spinner available on one day for FREE! And, as an added bonus, "The Evil That Men Do" will also be available for FREE! Don't miss out, and don't let any of your friends miss out either! Deals like this don't just come along everyday! No sir! In fact, I can say that they only happen once or twice every 90 days, because that's how often Amazon let's me do it. Merry Christmas! Or, um, Happy Thanksgiving! Trust me, you'll be thankful to have gotten all 10 FREE! parts!

Item #2: Happy Thanksgiving! Save me a piece of pie!

Item #3: The Merry Christmas To All (e)Book A Day
Traveling Blogathon
(of Doom!)

Did I get all the words in there? I think I did... Yeah, okay, they're all there. Mr. Briane Pagel is hosting a blogathon where he convinces us all to give away books. "But," I said, "I'm already giving away a bunch of FREE! stuff on Black Friday; isn't that good enough?"
"No!" he said, "You must give away more! Where's your Christmas Spirit?"
So I looked for my Christmas Spirit, and I couldn't find it. It's always crawling off and hiding, so I sent the cat off to look for it, because the cat likes to get into strange places. Like this:
It wasn't in there, but there is a story behind that that will come later. Eventually, after much looking, we found my Christmas Spirit hiding under my bed. Well, maybe it wasn't hiding. I think there was something going on with the dust bunnies, but we didn't look too closely.

At any rate, Briane is hosting this blogathon thing that is all about Christmas and giving stuff away, so you should all follow this link and go read about it and, maybe, get signed up. I think it's probably even okay if you don't have a book of your own to give away, because you could always give away someone else's book, and what a great Christmas type thing that would be, because you's be supporting one writer by giving his/her book to one reader. That's like Double Christmas!

I'll be hosting on November 26, December 10, and December 17, so make sure you drop by on those days, but, also, go check out the complete list of participants at that link and make notes to stop by. I already have Monday's post ready to go, and I think it's something you won't want to miss.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Transition

As I've been mentioning recently, my computer died. It was an old computer, and, by all rights, past its time. I knew it was going, and, especially, I knew the video card was going. I kind of hate video cards. I had a huge drama with Dell many years ago over a video card and my first laptop. The only laptop I've ever owned because of the drama over the first one and the fact that it spent most of its life as an over-sized paperweight. That's exactly what I need, right? I a $1500 paperweight that was too big to be anywhere useful while it held that designation.

The problem I have with getting a new computer is that they have always changed so much since the last  time I got a computer. What I want is not a new computer but my old computer back again but faster and more intense (any Star Wars person out there worth his salt should get that). I sort of have the same attitude about shoes. I hate new shoes. I hate looking for shoes. I hate trying shoes on. New shoes never feel right on your foot. Old shoes feel right other than the fact that they are falling apart and causing you to trip as the sole flaps around at ground level like a dog snuffling for food. And, you know, tape just doesn't work to hold the shoe together because it wears out too quickly as you walk around on  it. It doesn't matter, though. What you want is a pair of shoes that feels like that part but without the floppy bits.

Or maybe that's just me.

So I really didn't want a new computer; I really just wanted my old computer back the way it was when I first got it but still able to do all the new things that it wasn't really capable of doing. That's why I put off for so long doing anything about the fact that I new I needed to do something about the video card. Well, that and the fact that I really didn't want to spend the money on
1. a new video card in an old machine that wouldn't be able to keep up with the new card.
2. a new computer.
Money is always tight, and new computers aren't in our budget. But, as I said recently, I have to have the computer, so, when the old finally went off to wherever old computers go when they die (which, right now, is actually behind my chair but which will soon be the garage), I went and got a new one. Actually, the reason for the new one is that it was going to cost as much to get the old one going again as it is to buy a new computer.
[That's actually something I hate, the disposableness of technology due to repair costs making it more cost efficient to buy new stuff. It wasteful, and our society needs to do something about this issue, not that I know what  that should be, but we need new attitudes around this stuff.]

Another note: I've always owned Dell computers. This is not so much because I love Dell or anything, but it's always just sort of worked out that way. In fact, there have been distinct periods of my history when I have absolutely abhorred Dell (see the incident with the laptop (okay, so I haven't actually told that story, but I'm not sure you really want to hear it, because it involves something like 80 hours on the phone with Dell (and that's not hyperbole -- I actually spent 80-100 hours on the phone with Dell over issues with the laptop))), but we always ended up with Dell anyway.

I needed a new computer. I needed to not spend too terribly much money on it. I needed it now.

Of course, the first thing I did was look at Dells, and I liked the prices, but I needed more information (because looking at the specs is like trying to read a foreign language, and I'd actually do better with some of those). One thing that's different with Dell since the last time I got a new computer is that you can actually go to a physical store and buy one (and, if you don't remember/know of a time when you couldn't go to a store and buy one, that should tell you how long it's been since I had a new computer), so I started calling around trying to figure out what I should I get, and, then, going in to places to look at stuff (and get all of my documents pulled off of my old computer (which is anxiety inducing)).

In the end, I didn't get a Dell (but I did get my documents). What I got from pretty much everyone I talked to is that Dell has crappy video cards. In other respects, they make the better machines, but you better just plan to get a new video card right off the bat. And that was the decision maker, really, because, at the price point I was looking at, I was told by a Dell fan that I should go with the HP (which was also on sale) because, if I bought the Dell, I'd need to get a new video card for it, which was going to up the price $120, which put it out of the price I wanted to spend (which was actually $0, but, you know, those don't exist).

I own an HP, now, and I don't know how I feel about that. But it's less of an issue that I now also have Windows 8, and I do know how I feel about that.
I hate it.

Oh my gosh! What were they thinking?

I get that we're heading into a tablet world and that's why, in effect, I could even replace my desktop, right now, because tablets are driving down the prices on desktops and laptops, and that's cool, but I did not want Windows 8! I don't own a tablet or anything like it. I haven't even used the Kindle I gave my wife for her birthday, which is the first and only mobile tech we have, so this whole touchy/feely thing we have going with our new technology is bothersome to me. I don't like it, and I don't want to have it.

The forced leap from Windows XP to Windows 8 is not a fun one is what I'm saying here. I don't like the interface. I don't really like anything about it. Sure, I know I'll get used to it, just like breaking in that new pair of shoes, but, right now, I don't like it. And I certainly don't like having to adapt to a whole new system when I'm feeling stressed about losing a week of work and two deadlines. All of this while knowing, in my head, that one day Windows 8 will be the old pair of floppy sneakers that I don't want to get rid of.

Still, for the moment, can't I just have my old shoes back?

And this, women, is why guys never throw out their old shoes.
Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why Skynet Isn't Necessary

Okay, so that may not be exactly what I mean.
What I mean is if Skynet became real and took over everything, it wouldn't need to bother with terminators. There would be no point.

At least not for the "civilized" world.

Seriously, we're all already slaves to the non-existent Skynet. Slaves, I tell you, so why would it want to kill us all?

As far as it goes, I'm non-dependent on technology. I don't have a cell phone. I don't have a tablet. I don't have an i-anything. I'm not really all that "plugged in." I don't want to be. We don't even have TV. No cable, no satellite anything, no DVR. We have a TV set and a Blu-ray player (which we only have because someone gave it to us). We barely have a console gaming system for the kids. We even live as independently from our cars as much as practically possible.

I mean, when I go somewhere, I want to be there, at that place, doing whatever it is I'm doing, even if it's standing around reading a book while I'm waiting for my kids to get out of school. I don't want technology bothering me.

And, although I love video games, I love actual board and tabletop games more. Video games have always been a substitute for when I can't get the actual personal interaction of people for the games I really love. Granted, I haven't really had that since I left my gaming group behind in Shreveport something more than 15 years ago.

All of that said, when my computer died a week ago, I was reminded of just how dependent upon technology I still am even with the lengths I go to to avoid that dependence. I mean, I couldn't work. I couldn't work! I actually do quite a bit of writing on paper, but it just so happened that I had all of my recent stuff already transferred into the computer the week before and had carried forth from there on  the computer, so all of my most recent stuff was IN THE COMPUTER! And it was dead. I mean, sure, I could have sat down and written something else, but I had stuff I needed to be working on, and I couldn't get to it.

I felt like the cat when he wants to go out and there's no one there to open the door for him. It was horrible.

Not to mention the fact that I had to go buy a new computer, but we'll get to that later.

Anyway, the point is that even I am dependent on Skynet. My technology. I don't know what to do with myself without it other than go to bed early, which I actually did a couple of nights, because I had NOTHING that I could work on! Did I mention how horrible that was?

So, yeah, Skynet will have no need to send terminators after us. Skynet will have us all working for it in exchange for technology. In fact, once we have real virtual reality, it might actually be more like The Matrix, except we'll be going in willingly, like I talked about in this post.

I do actually find it distressing that so many people are losing the ability to disentangle themselves from technology. People my age that didn't grow up tied to it even, and it's so much worse for the kids of today that have never been without it. Except for my kids, of course, because they, also, don't have any of this stuff (well, except my oldest, because his grandfather gave him a cell phone a few years ago (which I hate and which causes me to call my son Texty-Boy or Texty-Lad, which he hates, but that's what he gets when he's busy texting his girlfriend during family time or dinner, which is family time)), much to my daughter's chagrin, because at least half of her friends have their own cell phones, and she wants to know why she can't have one, and none of these girls are even 10, and, for the life of me, I can not figure out why anyone would give a $400 device that's smaller than a book to a child. I have no sympathy for any of them (the parents) when they are complaining that their kid lost and/or broke their phone.

This post, today, was originally meant to be the next post in my death series, but this is all kind of a different kind of death, because the loss of a piece of technology can have that same kind of effect upon people. I watched women at my kids' school cry over a lost or broken piece of tech as if their mother just died, which is also why I have no sympathy for them when they give that tech to their kids even just to use for a few minutes and that whatever-it-is get dashed across the playground by a different kid running past and, then, some other kid steps on or kicks it. So it's all just another kind of loss. Hopefully, one we recover from more easily than the death of a loved one, although I'm not sure with some people. There is this one mom that's been going on for weeks now about her broken cell phone. Or, maybe, it's lost. I can't remember, because, honestly, I just turn off my brain when she starts in about it.

It's just a thing!

And that is why I don't want to be so attached to technology. I don't want to feel like I've suffered a death because something breaks.

But, you know, I still need Skynet.

Today was supposed to be the release of Part 9 of Shadow Spinner, but, because of the computer problems, it didn't get finished. Well, let me re-phrase that, it's written, but I wasn't able to get it all set up with Amazon and all of that jazz, so it's suffering a slight delay. Maybe Friday. Yeah, I'm hoping to have it for Black Friday, because that seems kind of appropriate for Tib. Black Friday, that it, taken as just a name.
However, to go along with what was supposed to be the release, J. R. Pearse Nelson interviewed me about serials and Tib and Shadow Spinner, and I told her to go ahead and run it today, anyway, even without Part 9. You should all hop over there and check it out!]

Friday, November 16, 2012

I Miss You!: The Blogfest

All of this started (I think) because I was pruning my blog list. Do you ever do that? Scroll down the list of blogs that you follow and notice how few of them are still active? "Let's see, it's been a year since the last time this person posted, this one can go." But, then, there are those I see and I think, "Man, whatever happened to blogxyz? I really liked that blog. I hope it was just normal attrition and not because something bad happened. Maybe I should email the blogger just to check in?" But I never follow through with urge to email, because, invariably, I'll think "later," but, when later comes, I've forgotten all about it.

But all of  this cutting off of old blogs or, actually, keeping some "just in case that person comes back" made me think that it would be awfully nice to be able to let people know that they are missed, so I contacted the Inestimable Alex to talk to him about it, and he dragged in the Inexhaustible Matt and, pretty soon, we had a blogfest.

Just so you know: I may not follow all of the rules exactly as we decided on them, so I'm not gonna re-post them. I'm just gonna name off some of the blogs I really miss having around. How do ya like them apples? (No, I don't really know what that means, but I had a friend when I was a kid that said that all the time, and it just popped into my head. Yeah, that's the way my brain works.)

1. Serendipity's Library: This is the blog that started all of this. Jennifer hadn't been around for a while when I was doing my pruning, and I started wondering what may be going on to stop her from blogging, because she had been very steady for a long time and the cessation was relatively sudden. I like her blog. It's full of all kinds of quirk and unique perspective. She's been around a little more since we came up with the idea of this thing, but not so much that I took her off the "I Miss You" list. She did post a new Charlotte the Creepy Doll story recently, so that was good, but, still, I miss when she was posting a few times a week, and I figured she should know that.

2. The Blutonian Death Egg: Even though I'm in (semi)regular communication with Rusty, because, well, he is my artist after all, and, yes, I do mean he's my artist; I don't care what anyone else says or even Rusty's own opinion on the subject. I found him; he belongs to me. Unless you're going to pay him wads of cash, you need to talk to me before using my cover artist. Oh, wait, where was I? Oh! So, yeah, it's not like I don't talk to Rusty, but I do miss his blog now that he's not keeping up with it so much. I especially miss when he used to talk about things he found interesting. Like, there was just this article about the Ronin planet that NASA or someone found, and, I bet, if Rusty posted about that, it would be a really cool post, and I miss those old posts by him. Even if he doesn't have time or inclination to be doing that stuff right now, I figured he oughtta know that his blog as I found back when I found is still one of my favorites.

3. It's the world, dear: I love Bess' blog. She has this great way of talking about New York and hipsters and, well, everything. And coffee. Coffee comes up a lot. She's taking a break from the blog world at the moment for an unspecified time, and I will miss reading her posts until she comes back. She was also posting some great clips from the world of her novel for a while, so I'm really looking forward to reading that. If she'll ever let me.

4. Alyssia Kirkhart: Alyssia had a baby and, well, a bunch of other things, so she hasn't been around much, but I do miss her blog. Not that she doesn't pop in every so often, but it's more like once a month instead of a couple of times a week. She always had an interesting way of saying whatever it was she was saying. I've always felt she deserved more traffic than she had, but I also remember what it's like to have a baby around, so... If I ever get even half way caught up on my reading, I need to read her book(s).

5. the museum of joy: Jericha has this great blog about this museum she one day wants to build, and she talks about all kinds of fabulous things at great length. Hers is a blog you can't skip idly through. You have to invest in reading her posts or just not bother. But her posts are worth the effort, and I miss when she was doing them more regularly. But she got this job at this awesome museum, which she talks about sometimes, but she doesn't post so often anymore. It's certainly worth stopping by when she does, though.

6. Concrete Pieces of Soul: This is a blog I really enjoyed while it was around. J, the author of the blog, had a great voice, and I always enjoyed reading her posts. She got married and life got in the way of blogging. I get that, but I do miss her posts.

All right, so those are the blogs I currently miss. The ones that I worry about missing are a little more difficult to nail down, because I listed them, mostly, already. But there are some, so let's take a look at those, too.

1. Briane Pagel: Okay, Briane Pagel is not a blog, but he does have more than a few, more than I can keep track of, actually, so I've picked two of his that I follow: The Best of Everything and Thinking The Lions. On a regular basis, Briane posts more than should be humanly possible. He has twin 6-year-olds and is a lawyer yet can post more in a day than I can in a week. His posts are long, often rambling, and always full of interesting thoughts told in an interesting way. Really, I love his blog, and, of all blogs I follow, I would hate to lose Briane the most. He's also incredibly supportive of independent writers, and you just can't buy the kind of support he gives away for free. Seriously, he is completely under appreciated. I get that he writes long posts, but more people should be willing to make the time investment in them. I hope Briane never goes away.

2. A Beer for the Shower: I love ABftS. Bryan and Brandon have the funniest blog I know of and are great writers to boot. They now have a goat as president of their blog, so I'm hoping that doesn't have any huge impact on their schedule. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should be reading their blog.

3. The Warrior Muse: Shannon has a great blog that covers a lot of ground. She writes great, in depth, pieces about historical people and places that are always interesting. She posts great photos of Colorado. She offers great links and support to other writers. I would be sad if she ever quit blogging, so I'm glad that she's still around.

Well, that about covers all of that. Go by and show these blogger some love. For the ones that are MIA, if you are a follower of them, go by and let them know that you miss them, too. Or drop by and say that Andrew said you had a great blog and you should come back and show us. Let them know that they are appreciated. Well, quit standing around here and get to it!

In other news, my computer died. I'm pretty sure it's completely dead. Well, okay, that's not quite true. It could be revived, but it looks as if the cost of trying to get my seven-year-old computer running again will rival the cost of an even better, brand new computer. I suppose I should be thankful for the rise of tablets for that reason, because I can, actually, get a brand new desk top for cheaper than the new i-pad mini.

You be wondering how this affects you... well, for those of you that are following Shadow Spinner, part 9 was due out on Monday. At this point, that is next to impossible as the document is still locked in the dead computer. I'm hoping, maybe, for a Black Friday release, but I don't know yet. This may also set back the release of my super duper, top secret project that I was hoping to release the Monday after Thanksgiving in conjunction with Briane Pagel's Christmas blogathon thing: The Merry Christmas To All (e)Book A Day Traveling Blogathon (of Doom!). I should still be posting on my scheduled days, but I may not be releasing anything new. We'll see how it goes.
More on technology next week.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Cat Came Back (part 3): The Cat Reader (and the Dog Writer)

I wish I had a picture of the cat with a book for this post, but the cat has proven to be very troublesome

when it comes to pictures. Anytime he hears the camera turn on, he immediately stops what he's doing. Just before the above picture, he was "hugging" the arm of the couch, but, as soon as the camera made a noise, he sat up like, "What? I wasn't doing anything."

Which brings me to my point. Readers are like cats.

Seriously, ask someone what they're reading, which is likely to be something "trashy," and they'll start making excuses as to why they're reading it. "It's for my reading group." "Someone gave it to me." "My best friend said I had to read it." "I don't really like this, but it's so popular I had to read it." Whatever. It's like people have to make excuses because they're not reading something "better." Sort of like the cat when I try to take a picture of it doing something insane. "What? No. That wasn't me. You have the wrong cat. That cat just ran out of the room."

But it's more than that. As I said in my last cat post, science believes that cats adopt their owners, not the other way around. That is certainly true of readers. As a reader, I've done this myself. When I was in middle school, I adopted Piers Anthony as "my writer" and kept him around for six or seven years at least. Right now, I have two that I've adopted: Neil Gaiman and Mary Doria Russel.Gaiman is good in a way that Anthony never was in that he doesn't always write the same old stuff over and over again. Russel is good in another way in that her writing is just so magnificent. And deeply human. As a writer, the best thing we can hope for is get adopted by a reader and, hopefully, a lot of readers.

But the thing is, cats are finicky. It might be a cliche, but it's a cliche because it's true. You can feed a cat something one day, something the cat barely stops to breathe for while choking it down, but give that same thing to the cat the next day, and it's "blech! Why are giving me that crap? I hate that!" Actually, that sounds kind of like my daughter, too. At any rate, it's hard to know what a reader will want at any given time. Yesterday, it was vampires, today it might be zombies, and who knows what it might be tomorrow: anthropomorphic frogs, maybe.

To make it worse, they're demanding. "We don't know what we want, but we want it right now!" Okay, sometimes readers do know what they want, but it often goes like this:
The cat demands food. The cat demands food again. The cat demands food very loudly. The cat demands food loudly and constantly. You finally get up and give the cat some food, which may or may not be what you gave the cat the day before. The cat looks at the food, takes a bite, and turns his tail on it while giving you that look. If you've never been given that look by a cat, you won't know what I'm talking about, but it loosely translates into "You suck. I hope you choke on a hairball. How could you give me this crap?"

I haven't read The Casual Vacancy yet, but I kind of think Rowling is going through this right now from what I've read of reader reaction to the book. Finicky.

On the other hand, I think young readers tend to be more like dogs; they'll eat anything you throw at them.

Cats also want to get all up in your personal space, but not in a friendly way like a dog does. I mean, a dog just wants to cuddle and be with you, but a cat... well, the cat wants the space. You are no longer you, you are just a pillow. They pop out those claws and start kneading you and molding you and trying to get you to move around into a shape they want. Who cares about whether that's comfortable for you or not, right? And, even when a reader likes what you've written, many of them will tell you how you could have changed it to make it better for them. With those little claws, working you over. Of course, the reader next to that one has completely different suggestions, and that one is working you over with his claws, too.

But writers are much more like dogs. Have you ever been to the animal shelter and seen the little doggies just waiting for someone to love them? Really, they'll take anyone. They're back there like Donkey (from Shrek), jumping up and down and yelling, "Me! Me! Pick me! Pick me!" And, even though readers are cats, writers are still back there saying, "Read me! Read me! Like me! Like me!" There may be less jumping up and down, but, then again, there may not be. And, really, writers will just take anyone. The only thought in a writer's head at that moment is, "Someone to love me!"

Of course, then, you don't want to make writers mad or mistreat them on an ongoing basis, because, then, they become that grumpy, old dog down the street that doesn't like anyone and just growls at anyone that gets near, "I don't care if you like my stuff! Get away from me before I bite your hand off!" I'm not sure if that's any less literal with a writer than with that dog.

But, mostly, dogs are just lovable and want to be loved. They want someone to play catch with and to scratch them behind the ears. They want someone to tell them "good dog." Yeah, that's writer equivalent of buying your book and leaving a positive review.

And, honestly, dogs are so much easier to feed than cats. They'll eat almost anything.
Except my dog, of course; she's picky. Unless the cat is around, then she'll eat anything.

And don't forget: Go sign up for the Oh, How I Miss You blogfest! It's this Friday; that's just two days away. Go now! Don't miss out!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Relationship with Death (part 1)

Children have such a loose concept of death. They know that it's a thing and learn that it's a thing that means the person in question will not be there anymore, but they don't know what it means. It's sort of the equivalent of a broken toy in many respects leaving the child waiting for a replacement. But there is no replacement from death.

I remember  my first funeral. I think I was three. Maybe two. I remember all the people at my grandparents' house, like snapshots of strangers in the sun on the porch stairs, but, mostly, I remember the body of my great-grandfather, who was hardly a person to me, but whom my mother loved, and how he looked waxy laying in the casket. Like a wax figure. 40 years later, that is still the image in my mind. A wax man in a coffin. Like it wasn't real, because, at three, it's just not.

Childhood is a progression of meaningless deaths, in fact; distant relations that have no meaning to us. We can't feel the death, because, frankly, that person means much less to us than a favorite toy or even the goldfish that sits in our room and that we're responsible for feeding (I never owned a goldfish). Sure, there are exceptions for some people, but, see, they're exceptions. Most of us go through childhood and funerals watching other people cry and wondering why. We just don't get it.

And that continues... until it doesn't.

Because, even after we've figured out what death is, for most of us, it's still meaningless. We don't mean it to be; after all, we get that someone has died, but it just doesn't touch us. It's someone else's tears, someone else's pain, and we might cry, but it's for that other person's pain, not our own.

Until it isn't.

This is why, though, teenagers get so wrapped up in death. Those that do. It's never been close enough to understand, not really, so the idea of suicide doesn't really seem real. Because death has never really seemed real. It's easy, then, to play the suicide card, because other kids get it enough to say "no, don't do that," but not enough to really take action. Because, really, who would do that, right?

It was a suicide that brought my first real discomfort with death. I think I was 17 and I didn't know the girl. But, see, she knew me. She knew me well enough to talk about me and the fact that she had a crush on me. I was nice to her, you see, but I didn't know her. She used to visit my youth group, and I made a big impression on her, because, the first time she ever came, the time she came when she didn't know anyone except the one person she came with, I went up to her and introduced myself and welcomed her into the group and brought her over to everyone else and made her feel like she belonged. But I didn't know her. That's just how I was. She made friends, and people knew her, but I never really did.

So when someone asked me why I hadn't gone to her funeral, I didn't know what she was talking about. First, the name of the girl didn't mean anything to me. I had no idea whom she was talking about as the girl hadn't been to youth group in months. Worse, though, I couldn't bring any picture of the dead girl to mind, and no one's attempts to remind me of whom she was did any good. I hadn't been to the funeral simply because I hadn't known she'd died. Because I didn't know who she was.

Of course, then everyone felt obligated to let me know what I'd meant to her. That she'd had a crush on me since I first introduced myself to her. That, really, she'd come to our youth group (because she actually went to a different church) as often as she did because of me. That she spoke of me as "the nicest person ever." That she talked about me. A lot. Asking how I was and all of that.

And I didn't even know her name or her face, and the guilt just poured on, because, maybe, if I'd paid better attention, I could have done something. Of course, in my head, I know it wasn't my fault and that I had nothing to do with it. In fact, one of the things I later learned is that she had been talking about suicide since well before she met me and that meeting me actually delayed it. But that doesn't change how it feels. The feel of it is "how could I have been so important to her life and not know who she was." I wonder if celebrities ever have those thoughts.

That was when I first really became aware of death in a real sense. In a meaningful sense. In the sense that death was a thing that could affect me in a meaningful way. And that moment, that confrontation of this girl's death, the girl I didn't know, has stayed with me for 25 years. It still makes me uncomfortable, because I still wonder how I could not have known any of this beforehand. Not that I had a reason to. No one told me. I suppose they all just thought I must already know.

Not long after, one of my closest friends would lose her father and another friend (in the sense that I had classes with him and had known him for years) would go off the road from driving while intoxicated and kill two children. Showing great mercy and forgiveness, the parents of the children did not press charges, but I can only imagine what it must have been like for him. In all honesty, he became a much more likable person afterwards.

Mostly, though, Death was just a distant thing all through high school. I had brushes with it, but I didn't come face to face with it. Not yet...

On a morbidly related note, there's a blogfest on Friday:
Pop in over here, read all about it, and get signed up! Seriously, go do it. Now.

Skyfall -- Just a Name

On the surface, Skyfall is a really excellent movie.That's because it's a really excellent movie. If you take it as an individual movie and forget that James Bond already exists. That includes forgetting the previous two Daniel Craig Bond films. As an individual movie, it really only has one flaw: its title. The title is a lie and has nothing to do with the movie at all.

Yeah, yeah, I hear those of you out there that have already seen it saying, "But..." (and I'm not finishing that sentence, because I'm avoiding the spoiler). It seems pretty obvious to me that the title was arrived at completely separately from the movie. Something like:
"Wouldn't Skyfall be a cool title?"
"Sure, but it has nothing to do with the movie."
"Well, can't we work it in somehow?"
So, yeah, the "word" was just thrown into the movie so that it could be used as a title and has absolutely no meaning whatsoever. I felt a little bit cheated by that. But not really enough for it to take away from the movie experience overall. It's sort of like the pricker you get in your finger while picking blackberries; it's annoying, but it's not gonna keep you from enjoying the cobbler.

So for the movie itself:
The action was great. There was only one bit that I thought really strained plausibility (it had to do with a subway train), so that was pretty good. But, then, these new Bond films have been better at "keeping it real" than some of the older ones.

The acting was great. Daniel Craig is a great Bond, and, of course, Judi Dench is just great. Ralph Fiennes is also in this one, and he was surprisingly good. I say "surprisingly" because, while he can be great, he is not always great, and this seemed like the kind of role where he was more expected to look good rather than be good, but he was quite good, and I'm glad that his character is one that will (should) be returning.

The tech... well... there's a lot of computer stuff in this, hacking and all sorts of things like that, and, mostly, that was okay, but...
Well, I went to see this with my friend that works for... um, Lucasfilm? Well, right now, he works for Lucasfilm; I suppose they will keep that name even once Disney takes over in January, because that's how they do it, so, yeah, I went to the Lucasfilm premiere of the movie with my buddy that works there. Well, two buddies, now, because one of our mutual friends now works there with him. I think he's trying to recruit everyone he knows into working there, and I want to know when it gets to be my turn, but I suppose they don't really need any writers. That's not his department anyway.
But I digress...
So I was there with my friend, and there's this scene where Q is explaining some computer something-or-other with a lot of technobabble, and my friend just starts laughing. Not LOLing or anything, just a sustained chuckle. So I know whatever he was going on about was gibberish, because my friend does the whole computer thing. I'm fairly technologically challenged (just ask my wife (also notice that I still have that same, stupid generic blogger wallpaper for my blog)), so I probably wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been laughing; I mean, I don't know what they're going on about either way. Well, except for the part where I just sort of assume that it's all meaningless technobabble anyway.

However, as much as I enjoyed it as an individual movie, I was more than a little let down with the movie in terms of its relationship to the other Bond films. There are two main reasons for this:

1. With Casino Royale and the re-boot of the Bond franchise, they created an ongoing story line. Quantum of Solace, while not the greatest Bond film as an individual movie, was an excellent continuation of that story. It felt like they were putting things in place for something really cool, and I was intrigued by where they were going. With Skyfall, though, they just drop that whole story line and, at the moment, have no plans to go back to it. This is incredibly disappointing, and, for that reason, despite how good Skyfall is on its own, it is, itself, also disappointing.

2. Skyfall feels like even more of a re-boot than Casino. There is a grasp in this one to make this Bond the definitive Bond. The Bond. An attempt to sweep away all earlier versions, while still giving a nod to them, and actually make this 007 James Bond. I can't be more explicit than that without giving spoilers, but I just want to say that I wasn't entirely happy with this aspect of the movie in relation to the other Bond movies. Casino did a fine job of updating the franchise and setting up a new sequence of movies. There was no need to go even further back and attempt to shove all the other movies aside.

But, still, all by itself, Skyfall is well worth seeing.
Just ignore that the time frame of the opening events doesn't quite match up, and all should be well. Maybe, I shouldn't have pointed that out, though.

Remember that Friday, this Friday, Nov. 16, is the Oh, How I Miss You blogfest hosted by myself, Alex Cavanaugh, and Matthew McNish. If you haven't already signed up, follow one of the links and get over there and do it! Let's let some people  know that we've noticed their absence. It's always good to know you're missed!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Plot! (a NaNo update from my wife)

[After one week of NaNo, my wife wrote up an update about how she's doing. She's doing fine in all actuality, although she doesn't always feel that way. She says things, now, as she's sitting and staring at her monitor, that make me really laugh. Things I think but never say because there was no reason to ever say them before. Of course, many of those things have to do with how much of a distraction the kids are, but, sometimes, it's because I've asked a simple question like, "Would you like anything while I'm in the kitchen?" Fire bursts forth from her eyes and smoke billows from her ears and she says something like, "Can't you see I'm trying to write?" I'm considering installing lightning rods before she starts calling down lightning strikes when people speak. So, yeah, for me, it's been interesting to see her actively displaying these things that I generally keep clamped inside. But, really, she's doing fine.]

Wow, I’m so frustrated with my plot. Right now, I don’t have a clue where my story is going, and I'm not sure whether my plot is completely bad or only mostly bad. Well, that’s not entirely true; I sort of know where it should end, and I sort of know where it starts, and I know some action needs to happen in the middle. I’ve also written a couple of pretty kickass scenes. I’m in love with some of my characters (OK, most of them). People have died (I haven’t technically written that part yet but it’s in the plot plan). Hey, it’s a space opera, someone’s got to die.

The thing that is frustrating me is that while I know how I want the characters to develop, and I know what the bad guys are up to, I don’t know how to get all the characters in place and involved in the plot. This explanation of the problem doesn’t even make any sense; how is my plot going to make sense?!

Something that I think I’m good at is the idea of character development. That is not to say that I’m good at writing characters who develop, just that I can describe a dramatic arc in which a character develops, e.g., “Hamlet starts out not a bad fellow, drives himself and everyone else crazy, then dies and takes everyone with him. The End.” (Synopsis not recommended for deployment in a for-credit English class. I haven’t actually read Hamlet in like 25 or more years. Use at your own risk. Warning: Hot coffee may be hot.)

Andrew has been really helpful and accommodating. He reads my stuff when I ask him to, and, otherwise, he doesn’t bug me. He points out that my use of commas is bad (thanks, babe!). Since he’s not wrong, that’s fine. He appreciates the funny bits (what few bits there are in, you know, space opera where people die and stuff), and points out to me where there are potential plot discrepancies or problems. That last part is a very good thing, but usually I have already thought about them and have explanations that I’m working in. In our normal life together we actually tend to talk a lot about plot problems in the media we watch/read together, so I think I’m pretty practiced in this area.

For all the problems I’m having, my word count is pretty decent. I should be hitting 15k today and by the time you read this I may be over 16k, so I'm keeping up on what I need to do. I was able to do more than 8k over last weekend, but writing on work days is really problematic. I blame the kids. They are old enough to not to need to bother us all the time, but they seem to really think they need to. Argh. It’s like they don’t want me to write the definitive space opera of our century, or something!

Right now, I’m working on a plot outline to try to get things straightened out a little so that I can move forward again. It’s hard trying to write when I don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to be writing, know what I mean? I do hope I can keep some of the stuff I’ve already written, for example the scene where the badass soldier heroine kills a bunch of monsters and has a couple of really sweet lines. If I can’t keep that scene, I will probably cry. Currently, the plot outline looks like it could be an episode of Glee, only with less fabulous fashion and no singing or dancing at all. So basically take out everything that makes Glee fun and only keep the depressing high school drama parts. That’s my plot. Clearly it does not have enough space explosions or assassination subplots.

I’m also not great at dialogue. In person I’m a good conversationalist and pretty much always have a snappy rejoinder or snarky aside ready, but that sort of thing depends on having a conversational partner. My dialogue efforts haven’t quite yet descended to the level of:

“I’m bored. What do you want to do?” she asked.

“I dunno. What do you want to do?” he asked.

“I asked you first,” she said.

“So what, I asked you second,” he said.

“Shut up. I’m bored. What do you want to do?” she asked.

But I make no promises.

It does seem easier to write out dialogue without putting in speech tags and setting stuff at first. It comes out faster and more like an actual conversation that way. So that’s a thing I’ve found helpful.

All problems aside, I’m going to keep going at it. That’s how you do this, right? You just write. According to Chris Baty in No Plot? No Problem, the 2nd week of NaNo is the worst for feeling like a failure, and if you keep at it then you are sure to find a way to work through your problems and make the word count. If all else fails, I can bring in a computer to explain the plot for the reader. That reminds me, my plot needs some ninja pizza delivery guys on motorcycles.

[All of which reminds me, a couple of nights ago, she was sitting there at her computer and suddenly declared, "This is hard!" I might have chuckled, but all I could really say is, "I know."]
[Oh, if you don't understand that last bit about the computer and the ninja pizza man, see this post.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Cat Came Back (part 2)

This whole thing with the cat took place over months worth of time starting last spring some time. It caused my daughter no small amount of anxiety when we took our trips during the summer, and we still didn't know if "Sam" had an owner. Who would take care of the cat? Not that we were taking care of the cat, not exactly, but we were keeping an eye on it and slipping it some food every so often. As it turned out, many people were slipping that cat some food every so often.

In fact, a woman a couple of doors down would feed the cat every few days as a distraction to keep it out of her garage after the cat got closed up in there one day. That might have been okay except that she has a couple of dogs (that don't like cats), and she discovered the cat when it dodged into her house as she was going into the garage through the door in her house. After that, she would give it food in her driveway so that she could close her garage door without the cat slipping inside.

And that cat does like garages. He got shut up in ours one morning as I was getting the bikes out before school. I did actually check for him before I locked the garage back up because he'd been hanging around outside, and, when I went to lock up, he wasn't outside anymore, but I didn't see him in the garage anywhere, so he got locked in. I found him waiting to come into the house from the inside of the garage a few hours later by the surprisingly loud sound of his meows. Talk about animals being shot from cannons... that's how quickly he sprang into the house.

When we did finally find out who his owner is, the man said jokingly to my daughter, "Well, don't feed him, or you'll never get rid of him." I didn't tell the man we had already been feeding him. Not that I didn't already know that piece of wisdom, but we (my wife and I) had already had the discussion about the ramifications of feeding the cat before we started doing that. Besides, the cat was being fed by many other people, many of  them feeding the cat that-was-now-Jack on a much more regular basis than we were. But we hadn't known if Jack had an owner and it was often apparent that he was hungry.

Then, Jack started wanting to come into the house. For a long time, we wouldn't let him. At least, that was the idea. But he's a cat, and the kids don't always know what to do about such things as the cat sliding under the open door, so he started coming in on his own, much to my daughter's delight. At first, we'd just snatch him up and deposit him back outside, but he really wanted to be in our house, so, eventually, we just kind of let him. He is, after all, a nice cat.

We started talking about what we might need to know about cats if he was going to hang around all the time until my wife finally said, "It's time to look up cat behavior." What we found out is what I already knew: cats are weird. But we also found out some very interesting things about them, not the least of which is that "they" (they being the people that know and study cats) believe that cats adopt people rather than the other way around. Rather like wands choose the wizard in Harry Potter. This is something I also sort of knew but not to the extent that it was presented. I mean, cats actually adopt their owners.

It's not like with dogs. You go and get a dog, and the dog is like, "Yea! A human that wants me!" It jumps up and down and licks your face and forms a bond with you rather like when you spend time with a kid or another person. Dogs socialize. They respond to affection with affection. The dog becomes your friend.

This is not how a cat works. I mean, we joke about it all the time, but it's really not how a cat works. You go get a cat, and, yes, it will let you feed it and take care of it, but it is not "yours." Not to the cat. The cat is just using you. Unless, of course, it decides that it wants to "own" you. Adopt you. It may well never decide that, though, and you would never know. Not until someone else comes along that the cat does actually want, at which point the cat may just take off. It no longer needs you.

All of this stuff about cats made me think of readers, but I'll get to that next time.

For now, it seems we have been adopted by this cat. It was kind of sealed when we kicked the cat out one night, because, you know, he's not ours, but he was waiting at our front door the next morning at 5:30 to come back in. It was clear that he hadn't had anywhere to be all night, and it had been cold, and I felt really bad. The next night, we didn't kick him out, just waited to see if he would want to stay or ask to leave or what, and he went and snuggled into bed with my daughter.

He doesn't always stay, and, if he asks to leave, we let him out. We also let him in, now, if he wants to come in. We've let him adopt us while being fully aware that he doesn't "belong" to us. It's clear, though, that we belong to him. At least from his perspective. It's kind of surreal, and the dog doesn't know what to think of it. But, for now, it is what it is.

It is highly amusing, though, to watch the two animals trying to figure out how to play with each other. They clearly have two different styles of play and can't figure out how to get them to work together, even though they want to.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Tick (or How I Wish I Could Write) (an IWSG post)

There are always two forces at play: the way things are and the way we want things to be. Both things pull at us: acceptance and desire. It's a rough road, but it's one we all have to make our way down. Well, that's not actually true. Giving into acceptance is always an option. Allowing things to just be the way they are even when we want things to change.

However, there are areas where acceptance can be a good thing. To a certain extent.

A while back, I had the opportunity to hear Jeff Kinney speak. He's the guy that writes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Now, I've never read any of them, but my kids have really enjoyed them, so I wanted to hear what he had to say, so my younger son and I went to a Q&A and book signing he had at the Shulz museum. The thing I found most interesting is that he never wanted to be a writer; he wanted to be a cartoonist (see the link to the Shulz museum?). However, the more he tried to get into being a cartoonist, the more he found he didn't quite fit. It came down to the fact that he couldn't draw a circle.

I'm almost completely serious about that. What he actually said is that it was because he couldn't draw the same character over and over and have that character look the same each time he drew it. He also said he can't draw circles and implied that those two things are related, which I can see. If, as an artist, you can't freehand a circle, it makes it difficult to draw heads.

After many years of trying to be a cartoonist and just not being able to get anyone to pick him up and having  the reason repeatedly be that it was because his characters never looked the same, he realized he was going to have to do something else. But what? This is that point where the struggle between the way things are and the way you want things to be can be really debilitating. He could have just given up. Thrown in the towel. Gone off to flip burgers.

He could have surrendered and just accepted that he couldn't be a cartoonist and gone off to do something else entirely. Like flip burgers.

Instead, he wrote The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, because, in that format, it didn't matter that he couldn't draw a circle. It was okay for his characters to never match. Sure, it's still not in his ideal world how he would have it be, but he's doing something close to what he wanted to do, and he's been very successful at it.

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with The Tick.

The Tick, of course, is a comic book, but it's not one I ever read. The character was invented by Ben Edlund, and the comic series started up at a time when I just wasn't interested in spoofs and the like. Actually, it was my low time for comics in general, the end of high school and beginning of college. I'd pretty much dropped down to just Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman at that point. Once I got back into comics for real, I didn't pick it up because it was farther into the series than I wanted to try to go back and get, and I hated picking up series, especially new series, somewhere in the middle.

However, when The Tick came out as a live action TV series in 2001 with Patrick Warburton as The Tick, I was all over that. Mostly because of Warburton who has the greatest voice/chin combo in the world, but, after I started watching it, it became because of the writing. Which is Wow. I mean, there were such great lines in this show:

  • And, so, may Evil beware and may Good dress warmly and eat plenty of fresh vegetables.
  • And isn't sanity just a one-trick pony anyway? I mean, all you get is one trick, rational thinking, but, when you're good and crazy, oooh, oooh, oooh, the sky is the limit.
  • Destiny's powerful hand has made the bed of my future, and it's up to me to lie in it. I am destined to be a superhero. To right wrongs, and to pound two-fisted justice into the hearts of evildoers everywhere. And you don't fight destiny. No, sir. And you don't eat crackers in the bed of your future, or you get all... scratchy.
  • Eating kittens is just plain... plain wrong! And no one should do it! Ever!
  • Everybody was a baby once, Arthur. Oh, sure, maybe not today or even yesterday, but once. Babies, Chum: tiny, dimpled, fleshy mirrors of us-ness that we parents hurl into the future like leathery footballs of hope. And you've got to get a good spiral on that baby or evil will make an interception.
  • I'm taking off the kid gloves and putting on the very mad gloves.
  • Well, once again, my friend, we find that science is a two-headed beast. One head is nice; it gives us aspirin and other modern conveniences. But the other head of science is bad. Oh, beware the other head of science, Arthur; it bites.
  • You know why super villains are so unhappy, Arthur? They don't treasure little things.
  • When you get in bed with evil incarnate, it always steals the covers.
That last one is my favorite.

The point, though, is this:
I wish I could write like that. I really do. Ben Edlund is credited with writing the TV show, but I'm not sure if he was the only writer or not. I do know that Douglas Adams was the only writer of his books, and I wish I could write like that, too. Do you see a connection here?

But, see, I just don't think that way. At all. I read (or watch, because Monty Python falls into this same category) this stuff, and all I can think is "where in the world did that come from?" My mind just really isn't wired that way. So this stuff that I love, this bizarre stuff that I wish I could do, I will never be able to do. It's just not my thing.

So I could decide that since I can't write in this "Monty Python" way that I just won't write at all. I could decide that.
But I don't.
I don't decide that, because I'm a good writer. I'm a good story teller. I'm just not good at those kinds of stories with bizarre leaps of logic.

And you know what? That's okay, because I'm embracing the kind of writing that I am good at, because I like that stuff, too. Like Jeff Kinney. He never became a comic strip artist and had his own syndicated strip the way he wanted, but he is doing cartoons, and he likes what he's doing even if it's not the thing he most wanted to do. It's that conflict between what is and what is wished for.

All of that to say this:
Just because you may not be able to do something (like bizarre humor or epic fantasy or hard sci-fi) that you really want to do doesn't mean that you can't do something like it. Try things out and figure out which thing you are good at and grow that thing. Grow into that thing. Maybe it's not what you always dreamed about, but it might be close. Or it might be something you end up liking even more. The point is that you shouldn't give up the struggle just because that one thing, that one thing you always thought was the only thing, is out of reach. Keep struggling and striving and working and being but don't ever just accept defeat. Accept the thing you can't do and subvert the things you can do to get as close to that thing as you can.