Monday, September 29, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Three -- "What's My Type?" (an IWM post)

"I know there's all this talk about my charisma deficit and I have to admit that I'm not a wild, in-your-face actor. It's not my nature to be flashy or extroverted, and that's why I see it a great challenge to me as an actor to be able to play against type and shake up people's perceptions of me." -- Tobey Maguire

One of the most common ways that writers move the plot forward in their books is to have a character do something that would generally be considered "out of character" for that character. What this usually means is they have an otherwise "smart" character do something stupid. The understood reasoning is that, hey, everyone does something stupid now and then, right? Those things never ring true to me. Do you know why? They're not.

Stupidity is not the same as personality. That is to say, even a stupid action has to fit within the character's personality. That's not always an easy thing to do, especially when we need a character to act in a way that the audience won't expect.

This is where the Enneagram can be very useful as a typing system for your characters.

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And this is where you need to click the link to Indie Writers Monthly. Go find out about personalities, maybe even your own. Do you know what number you are?

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Flock of Ill Omens (a book review post)

"A Flock of Ill Omens" is the first part of the 10-part serial release of A Shot in the Light. If you decide you want to try it, you should pick up the compilation of the first four parts of the series because it's the same price as part one all by itself.

Having done a serially released book myself, I have a soft spot for the idea of serials. I think they have a lot of potential. As a first part of a serial, I think this does its job adequately. In that, I mean it draws in the reader and makes him want to know what's going on. As in me.

However, with me, that's not all a positive. There are some things I just have questions about. Technical questions. As in, "Is this part of the story or did the author fail to do adequate research?" So, basically, I'm holding my breath and waiting to find out. It would be normal for things to not make sense at this stage in the book, so I'm reserving judgement on the things that have caused questions for me.

Oh, except for one thing, because I'm pretty sure it was a one-off. At one point, one of the characters wants to decontaminate a house. He's afraid of a bio-hazard (which could just be a flu virus), and he's trying to eliminate it. He opts to buy a bug bomb, the kind you can buy at the grocery store, under the assumption that it will kill all living things in the house, including viruses. Um... That's not how bug bombs work, and the character should have known that, considering his profession. I get that the bug bomb made for a convenient way to "zap" the house, but unless they've started making some that actually irradiate their immediate environment, a bug bomb's not going to do more than get rid of some roaches and fleas. Maybe a mouse or two. Maybe.

The writing is pretty fast paced, possibly a little faster paced than I'm actually comfortable with. Things frequently felt rushed to me while at the same time having no actual results. I think that's probably in line with current conventions, though, so most people will probably feel very comfortable with the pacing. What I'm saying is that the writing style is probably a plus in a general sense. It wasn't a negative for me, but it also didn't do anything for me.

And, because it's me, the editing:
The editing was pretty good. Mostly, there aren't any issues. Except for the one that is my current pet peeve: the misuse of dashes. I've talked about dashes before, so I'm not going to go into a whole rant about them other than to say that I wish people would actually learn what dashes are for rather than using them by feel. But, then, when you have someone like L'Engle using them to start paragraphs, I suppose it's understandable that there would be confusion about the purpose of dashes as punctuation. [Just to point it out, starting a paragraph with an m-dash is like throwing your commas at the beginning of your sentences. It's just wrong.] Anyway, other than the dash-abuse, and that wasn't rampant like I've seen in some books, the editing is pretty tight. Definitely well above average for a self-published book.

I already have part two set up on my Kindle, so, see, I'm still reading. However, considering that I'm also still reading L'Engle's time books, I don't know if that actually says anything significant. But these are way better than those. I mean, I'm willingly going to read part two, not out of some weird obligation to finish like I have with the Time Quintet. For the moment, though, I'm giving this a C rather like I did with The Skin Map, because I need to see where it's going and what's going on before I can make a better judgement than that. If it hadn't been for the bug bomb thing, though, I might have gone with a B.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Two -- "What's My Motivation?" (an IWM post)

Without a doubt, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most well know personality typing system in existence. And why not? It's been around a long time. The first of its kind. It's been used by the government (heck, it may still be being used by the government), especially the military, and corporations of all sizes. It's a good indicator of patterns of behavior.

As such, it can be a useful tool for writers when trying to develop Personalities for their books. And, yes, let's call them Personalities, because not all characters have personalities. Don't get me wrong, that's not always a bad thing; two-dimensional (even one-dimensional!) characters have their place, but they are hardly Personalities.

But there's a problem... Okay, actually, there are a lot of problems...
And I'm not going to tell you what they are unless you hop over to Indie Writers Monthly. You'll also find some solutions, or at least a solution. I suppose it depends upon how many problems you bring with you. At any rate, you should go check it out. You might learn something about yourself. Or learn something about learning something about yourself in the future. Definitely one of those.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Truth About Kids and Dogs

Okay, I don't really have a truth... unless it's that kids and dogs are a lot of work. Sometimes more so than others. This is one of those times where they're being a lot of work.
And don't get me started on the cat. The cat that has decided that I'm not allowed to be in my bed past 4:00am. I can be asleep; I just can't be doing it in my bed. Yeah, I'm not going to explain that, right now.

So everything has changed this year.

My oldest, who is 18, graduated last spring and is taking classes at the local junior college. We're trying to allow him to be as adult as he can be... Um, no, wait. We're trying to teach him to fly, not that we're not letting him stay in the nest, but grown up birds fly. Which means he gets to make his own decisions, something he really doesn't like to do in a general sense. So far, the one he's mastered is "the decision to stay out late." And he wakes me every time he comes in. And over and over again for the half hour to hour after he comes in as he goes in and out of the bathroom and takes a shower and whatever else it is that's he's doing at 2:00am. Probably eating.

Yeah, between him and the cat, sleep is beginning to wonder why I don't hang out with it anymore.

The middle kid, my younger boy, has started high school. This is a big change for him, of course, which is compounded by the fact that he's only 13. He has to get up earlier than he ever has before which, I think, has turned out to be more difficult than he thought it would be. For me, too, because I'm not used to having to get him up. He's always been really good about that, but having to get up before 6:00am is proving to be impossible without my help. And that's okay. His brother was a junior before I stopped having to get him up.

Are you getting the time frame, here? For me, that is.
In bed and asleep some time around 11:00pm.
Awoken at 2:00am and repeatedly for the next 30 minutes to an hour.
Awoken again at 4:00am and repeatedly until I move to the couch where I sleep for about 30 minutes until I have to get up at 5:15am.
That's on a good night.

But, anyway...

My younger son is also taking the city bus to school, this year. This is also a big change for him, his first really big foray out into the world on his own, but his brother took the bus for four years, so it's his turn, now. At any rate, his mother and I were very trepidatious about him taking the bus in ways that we never were when his brother was a freshman. If you knew him, you'd understand. But he has done a great job with the bus; he hasn't missed it; and he hasn't done what his older brother did a few weeks into his freshman year and forgotten to get off at the right stop and ended up in a place that might as well have been the moon for all he knew. Except for the lack of cheese.

My daughter's now in middle school. The big thing for her is that she's biking to school this year. Alone. Because biking to school is not new to her (or any of my kids), but she's never biked alone. Probably, we would not have made that choice except that she was desperate to exercise some independence and go it alone. She hounded (mostly) my wife about it all summer and whittled pieces and chunks off of her until she broke and said yes. Yes, that's how my daughter does it. She has inexhaustible persistence.

She's also discovering homework. heh

All of this has changed our morning routine. My oldest used to get up first (well, before everyone other than me) and be out the door before anyone other than me was awake; now, he's the last out. Usually, he's not even up before everyone else (but me, and sometimes me) is gone. The younger boy and the girl used to go at the same time (with me), but, now, the younger boy is the first out, sometimes before anyone other than me is up, and the girl is last.

And this is where the dog comes in.

It used to be the younger boy's job to take the dog out in the morning before we left for school, but he doesn't have time for that anymore, especially with having difficulty at getting up before 6:00am. The oldest can't be roused due to his late nights. Actually, we're not sure he actually lives here anymore; we're more like a... flop house. Or something. So that just leaves my daughter.

Actually, my first idea was that I would do it; the only problem with that is that I can't do it until after everyone is gone (except for eldest son who isn't conscious) and, two mornings a week, I actually have to go into school to read, so I'm not home and able to take her out until 9:00am. She's been up for three hours by that point and, I don't know about you, but going to the bathroom is the first thing I do when I got up every morning. The dog has been handling it okay for the most part.

Until a few days ago.

I was busy trying to get everyone's stuff together. Okay, mostly, once my son is gone, that's my wife's stuff I'm getting together. At any rate, I was working on getting stuff together and pushing people out the door and all of that and the dog came up and poked me with her nose. That's dog for, "Hey, I need to go out." A moment later, she did it again. Since I was not at a point where I could take her out, including not being completely dresses. I hollered at the girl, who was completely ready to go except for her cereal (which takes her about two minutes to eat) and still had more than 20 minutes till she needed to leave, "Hey, come take the dog out to go pee."

Now, my daughter loves the dog. Probably not as much as son-the-younger, but she does love her and, actually, plays with her more than anyone else (plays with her more, not spends more time with her; that would be son-the-younger). However, when I asked her to take the dog out, the response I got was, "That's not my job!"

We are currently ignoring the fact that my daughter is currently the only one of the children who consistently asks for "help" with her chores. By "help," I mean she asks someone else to do it for her, basically, because she doesn't want to (and there's a whole other story involved in that that I'll consider for another time). So we argued about it, her contention being that I could just take the dog out after everyone was gone. So the dog peed.

When you have to go, you have to go, even if you're a dog.

And I got to clean it up, because, by that time, my daughter had to leave for school.

On the other hand, she didn't argue with me when I officially made it her job to take the dog out to pee before she leaves for school every morning.

But what I really want to know is, "Can I go back to sleep, now?"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Many Waters (a book review post)

Here we are at book four in the continuing downward spiral that is Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. You can see the reviews for the previous books at the following links:
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Those of you who have been following along for a while will know that I kind of use Snow Crash as my barometer for what is a bad book. For as celebrated as it is, Snow Crash turned out to be incredibly ludicrous. I mean, to the point of "how could anyone over the age of 14 think this book is more than stupid?" But, still, I was glad to have read just to see how bad it is and to enjoy writing the scathing review that I did. Well... Many Waters plumbs depths of stupidity far greater than Snow Crash could ever aspire to and I'm not glad to have read it on any level other than that I plan to finish this series.

Yes, there will be spoilers, but, seriously, it doesn't matter, because you don't want to read this book.

All right. So this book deals with Sandy and Dennys, who have been little better than side characters in the other books. They are Meg and Charles Wallace's "normal" brothers. Twins. It also takes place prior to A Swiftly Tilting Planet, while the twins are sports stars in high school. The impression I got is that they are probably juniors and about 17 years old. Basically, the boys walk into their mother's lab and, when they walk out of it, rather than going back into the kitchen of the house, they end up in the days of Noah. Yes, that Noah. The one that built the big boat. Hence the title of the book.

There's never any firm conclusion as to how they got transported back in time. It may or may not have had to do with an experiment that was going on in the lab, though the type of experiment is never explained, or it may have had to do with them messing with their dad's weird computer, or, maybe, it was just God.

They end up in the desert. Of course, they're wearing winter clothing, which they soon discard... all the way down to their skin. Because that's always a smart thing to do in the desert. Get nearly naked, that is. The end result of that is that about 1/3 of the book deals with them being nursed back to health by Noah's family, who mistake the twins for giants, because no one in Noah's day was even near to being 5' tall. A lot of this section of the book also has the repeated conversation with, well, every freaking character they meet, "We're not giants." And it's not that I don't think they wouldn't have had to have had that conversation, but does L'Engle really need to repeat it 10 or so times.

This book also follows the pattern of all of the books in the series: The characters really don't ever do anything. Sandy and Dennys talk a lot about how they will get home... um, no, wait... They ask that question a lot. Every few pages it seems. "How will we get home?" "I don't know." "What should we do?" "Let's go garden." Seriously, that's their solution every time the question comes up, to work in Noah's father's garden. Basically, they end up being observers to the action going on around them and that's pretty much it. And what that comes down to is that the rising action in this book is about like a road in West Texas with a speed bump on it when Sandy gets kidnapped.

Aside from the lack of any real story or character development, the book is full of all kind of ridiculousness:

1. There are mammoths. Yes, in the desert. But these are not the mammoths you're thinking of. You know, the big, hairy elephants. No, these are tiny mammoths. Terrier-sized mammoths. In fact, they pretty much are small dogs that look like mammoths. The mammoths can scent things and follow trails like a bloodhound, but they are also used as dowsing rods to find water. Which explains why the desert people keep them as pets, I suppose, but how did they get tiny? Well, evidently, they... evolved to be that way? The explanation is something along the lines of them having grown smaller and smaller over a great time.

2. However, the Earth in this book is a brand new Earth. A very young planet still going through its growing pains, so the whole thing with the mammoths doesn't really make any sense. L'Engle seems to want to have the Earth both be billions of years old and only 5000 (or so) years old as in the strict Creationist viewpoint.

3. There are manticores and griffons. Or a manticore and a griffon. It's never clear on whether there are more than one of each. The manticore is "bad" and just shows up rather like a cartoon character to shout "hungry" and try to eat the little doggy-mammoths and have to be shooed away. The griffon shows up to chase "bad" girls away from Sandy and Dennys.

4. L'Engle seems to have a thing with unicorns, because there are more unicorns in this book. Virtual unicorns, as the twins call them. They don't always exist, only when you decide you believe in them and, of course, they can only be approached by virgins. The annoying thing with the unicorns is that even after the boys have experiences with the unicorns, they go on and on about how they can't believe in them because they don't exist, so they can only believe in the unicorns when the unicorns are actually standing right in front of them. I have to suppose that they ceased to believe in their family, too, when their family quit being right in front of them.

-- The issue with all of this is that L'Engle, from what I can tell, wants us to accept this book as being set in reality, our reality, and, yet, she undermines reality by introducing all of this mythological stuff into what we're supposed to believe is the actual pre-flood setting. It's more suspension of disbelief than I could handle, and I haven't even gotten to the Angels.

5. Oh, yes, the Angels. The pseudo conflict in the book is between the seraphim (the good Angels) and the nephilim (the bad Angels). In fact the whole "conflict" revolves around a girl, Yalith, who everyone is in love with, so it becomes a matter of whom she will choose: one of the twins (or both) or Eblis, the nephilim. It's an empty conflict through which L'Engle seems to deliver her message of "bad things don't happen to good people" (a message which makes me wonder what reality L'Engle lived in, because it's the same kind of message all of her books have: Love will always win and, ultimately, nothing bad happens to people who believe in love).

Speaking of Yalith and male/female relationships in general in this book: This may have been the most difficult part of the book for me to deal with. Yalith is the youngest child of Noah; she's nearly 100 years old (because people in Noah's time lived much longer (Noah is 700ish)), but she's basically a teenager. Because, you know, living longer means slower growth? Which makes me wonder how long would remain a baby in this time. 20 years? Because, man, if I was a mom, I'd be pissed. Having to care for an infant for 20 years... I can't even imagine it, especially since pregnancy still only last nine months (because there was a birth during the book). You could end up with, well, a lot of babies. Actually, what I think she wants us to believe is that everyone ages normally until they hit puberty when they, for whatever reason, quit developing. Still, that means around 90 years as a teenager! That would be the worst!

Oh, back to the twins and male/female relationships:
So Sandy meets Yalith; Yalith is basically naked, because the people in Noah's time only wear loincloths. In the desert. Because we have examples of people today who live in the desert but only wear loincloths? At any rate, Yalith is all but naked, and Sandy is a teenage boy confronted with a naked girl and his response is to get a "funny feeling." Um, what? A funny feeling? What does that even mean? And that's how all of the interactions between the twins and girls go: They get funny feelings. I'm sorry; these boys are supposed to be 16 or 17 years old, and L'Engle is treating them as if they're, at best, 10. It's ridiculous.

The twins do end up back at home after spending at least a year in the desert with Noah. One of the Angels removes the boys' tans and, I suppose, the year or more they had aged, although that's not actually mentioned. So they end up back at home right at the point they'd left and nothing has changed. There was no character growth for the twins and nothing of consequence affected in the past. The flood still happens and all of that. It's a book where the goal is to return to the status quo but without even the benefit of the characters learning anything from the journey. In fact, the boys pick up talking about getting their driver's licenses as if nothing had even happened.


Yes, I am still planning to read the final, such as it is, book in the series. [It's not really the final book, because there are at least three more related books, but there are only five books considered to be part of the Time series, and I'm sticking to that.] I've already tortured myself through four books, so I may as well, right? Yeah, okay, I could just stop, but I won't.

Seriously, though, there's not a single thing in this book that I can think of to make it worth reading. Even with Snow Crash, I can understand some of the appeal. After all, it did have some new (at the time) concepts, so I can see why people could have been wowed by it. But not Many Waters. Not unless you just want to read about two teenage boys weeding a garden in the desert and waiting around for something to take them home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part One -- "Who Am I?" (an IWM post)

"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."
Oscar Wilde

The search for self is central to the human condition. Selfhood is our first great struggle in life. Differentiation. "Who am I?" "Why am I?" I am not just an extension of my mother and/or my father. Okay, well, after potty training, the struggle to establish an independent identity, to become "me," is our first great obstacle in life. Some people, perhaps most people, as Oscar Wilde says, never become "I;" they remain, in some form or another, "we" and "us."

Actually, that's a true thing that most people never really become themselves, but we'll get to that and the research around it later in this series. However, it is that thing, that thing where people are mostly other people that has always struck me about the Bible's use of the term "sheep" in its description of humanity. But I digress...

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To find out what I digress from, you'll have to follow the herd right over to Indie Writers Monthly. You know you don't want to be left out, so head on over.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How My First Novel Ended Up In The Trash

Considering that I have at least one post each week tied over to Indie Writers Monthly, I'm sure most of you realize that I write for that blog, too. There's a team of us over there and several posts a week, which may lead to the question: "Why is it called Indie Writers Monthly if there are weekly posts?" And that's, in that context, a very good question. One I'm not sure I've ever actually addressed here. I think Briane did over there, but I'm not sure how many of you follow along over there. Not many, based on the comments.

So why is it called Indie Writers Monthly?

Well, along with the blog, there is a monthly magazine. The magazine deals with various writing topics and, I think, is probably a pretty good resource for indie authors. Or, maybe, any authors. I mean, heck, I contribute to it, and I always have worthwhile stuff to say. Right? Right?
Hey! I don't hear you. I said, right?
Okay, that's better.
The September issue is out and is all about how to deal with negative reviews. In this issue I talk about my first ever novel and how a negative review prompted me to throw it in the trash (the novel, not the review), something I think all authors should avoid. I tell my creative writing students to never throw any of their writing away. Or delete it. There's always the potential for something to be useful later even if it's not working in the moment.

The issues are only $0.99, so you can get nearly all of them for less than a cuppa at Starbucks. I'd say that's a pretty good deal. Plus! The current issue also contains issue #1 as a FREE! extra, which is especially good, considering that the first issue is no longer available on its own.

To assist in your perusal, here are the links to each issue:
Issue 2 (April)
Issue 3 (May)
Issue 4 (June)
Issue 5 (July)
Issue 6 (August)
Issue 7 (September)
The Annual -- Contains 15 short stories about time travel. You should definitely give it a look.

The June issue not only contains an interview with me but my short story "The Day the Junebugs Came." Personally, I'd love for you to pick that one up and take a read through the story and, then, let me know what you think BY LEAVING A REVIEW.
And, hey, with this month's issue being about handling negative reviews, I'll know how to respond no matter what you think of the story, right? As I said, it's less than a buck, and you can probably read the issue on your lunch break.

Aside from all of that, we're also accepting submissions. If you have some bit of writing advice you think authors would benefit from, send it in. But it doesn't have to be writing advice; it could also be a short story. Or poetry. Or whatever. We're not too picky about what we'll look at. Which is not to say that we'll just print anything, because we won't, but we're (mostly) willing to look. Or Briane is. Someone is.

There you go, a whole, semi-new writing resource I bet you really didn't even know about. Pick up a copy today!

Friday, September 12, 2014

"If it's not on the shelf..."

One of the summer jobs I had while I was in college was working at Toys R Us. I've mentioned that I worked there before, but I don't think I mentioned that I worked there on two separate occasions, the first being while I was in college. It... didn't go well.

See, there was a problem: I was too helpful. No, seriously. At the time, TRU had a policy about helping customers: We were allowed to take the customer to the place in the store where any given item ought to be but, if it wasn't there, we were to say, "If it's not on the shelf, we don't have it." Even if there was a box of the item on the overstock shelf (on the aisle just above the items), we were to tell the customers that line. I couldn't bring myself to do it; it was virtually always a lie.

I got more commendations from customers than any other... oh, wait, I was the only employee that summer to have customers comment that I had done a good job to management. Enough so that it was brought up in a store meeting. And, yet, I was reprimanded for helping customers during my first performance review. During my second, I was told I "wasn't working out" and let go. Oh, yeah, also because I was "anti-social" and did things like read during my breaks rather than go outside and smoke with everyone else. [Yes, I was told that part of why I was being let go was non-work-related behavior. (And the not smoking was specifically mentioned.)]

Jump forward several years. I had moved to CA a few months before, and I needed a job. I needed a job like "right now." TRU was running an ad that they were hiring, so I went in. Yes, even having worked there before, I was willing to go. I needed the job. And I wasn't in LA anymore, so I was hoping things would be different.

And they were different. One of the things that had changed during my absence was a shift in corporate thought from "the customers get in the way of the job" to "the customer is the job." When I was hired in CA, I was told "the customer always comes first." It was a huge difference. So huge in fact that not only was I not "let go" after my "trial period" (or whatever it's called), I was promoted faster than anyone else working in that location. Basically, as soon as they were able to promote me (because TRU has policies about minimum times before someone can be promoted), they did. And again. And again. Until I quit (which is a long story and not applicable to this).

Which brings me to my point: I didn't change. I had the same attitude and behaviors working at TRU the second time as I did the first time. It was Toys R Us that changed. They changed what they were looking for in an employee, so I went from being someone who "wasn't working out" to someone who was very valuable (they tried to talk me into staying more than once when I quit). Oh, and I was still reading during my lunches and breaks, too.

If I had try to change who I was, the way I was, when I went and tried to get the job after I moved, I wouldn't have been right for it, and I would have been "let go" again because "it wasn't working out." Writing books works that way, too. If you spend your time trying to adapt to the market, trying to fit in with the current trend, you'll always be a step or two behind. You can't help but be, because you're too busy reacting to an organism that changes faster than anyone can keep up with. When you just do your thing, eventually, it will come into alignment with you.

At least for a while.

I'm sure that at some point (if it hasn't happened already), TRU will go back to their attitude that the customers are an evil which have to be endured, just as readers will one day go back to the attitude that vampires are an evil which have to be endured. [As my son would say, "See what I did there?"] Basically, trends change. Find your thing and stick with it.

And, if anyone ever tells you, "If it's not on the shelf, we don't have it," don't believe them. Right now, that's Target's line, but I make them go look.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When the Tracks Don't Meet (or Travelling At the Speed of Plot) (an IWM post)

Have you seen that cartoon of the train tracks being laid? They're coming from two different directions, but there's a problem: The tracks don't meet up in the middle the way they are supposed to. I think there are a bunch of guys standing there scratching their heads. Or something.
Yeah, I would have liked to have posted the image here, but I couldn't find it. You'll just have to pretend.

Usually, where books are concerned, those kinds of things are called "plot holes," but, really, they're not the kinds of things I would call "holes." They're just pieces of... let's call them "discontinuity." I hate them more than the plot holes, I think. Oh, you need me to differentiate?

Okay, let's say your protagonist loses the keys to his car in chapter two but, in chapter five when he's running from the bad guys, he fumbles them out of his pocket: That's a plot hole. And that's not what I'm talking about in this post.

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If you want to find out what I am talking about, you'll have to hop over to Indie Writers Monthly. Oh, you want a hint? Fine, I'll give you a hint. It looks something like this:
Did that get your attention? Good. Now, go read the rest.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Marvelous Land of Oz (a book review post)

As I mentioned in my review of The Wizard of Oz, I didn't know the Oz books existed when I was  a kid, so I completely missed out on these until I was too old to be interested. Well, as a high-schooler, I wasn't interested. After finishing the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, I'm really starting to be disappointed that I missed these books when I was a kid. So far, they are pretty marvelous.

As a writer, one of the things I find most interesting about the series is that there was never supposed to be more than just the one book, the one everyone knows because of the movie. But there was a musical, stage version of Wizard done -- co-produced by Baum -- and the actors portraying the Tin Man and the Scarecrow were so good that people (kids, mostly) began requesting more stories about those two characters. Not about Dorothy, just about the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. The resulting book doesn't even mention the Cowardly Lion.

We also get a book that is much more blatantly about the politics of the day, specifically, the suffrage movement. Virtually every character other than the Tin Man and Scarecrow, which includes all of the "human" characters, are female. Which may be a statement to cause some confusion, considering the main character is a boy named Tip, but you'd have to read the book to understand.

I think I like this one more than Wizard. Well, actually, I do. The one big flaw of Wizard -- that Dorothy wanted to go home, a place she didn't like -- is hard for me to get over. This one has no flaw like that and is even more whimsical. Not to mention that the characters are much more real in this one.

In Wizard, the characters are all "happy happy joy joy" all the time, but that's not the case in Marvelous Land. They bicker. They bicker a lot. Some of them even seem not to like each other much, and the Saw Horse doesn't get along with anyone. Tip constantly threatens the Woggle Bug because of his punning, and Jack Pumpkinhead is... well, I like Jack, but he's a whiner. Most interesting, though, is the Tin Man. He's developed a serious case of vanity and has had himself nickel plated. He's still a nice guy, but he spends more time worrying about his shine than he spends worrying about his friends. Also, I like the contrast between the Woggle Bug, who has lots of knowledge, and the Scarecrow, who has Brains but not lots of facts. It's a bit of intelligence versus wisdom and, mostly, it shows us that we need both.

At the moment, two books in, I'm really enjoying the Oz books and will definitely continue to read them. If you know your history at all -- well, early 20th century history -- there is the added enjoyment of all the social commentary that's been thrown in. Hmm... That sounds haphazard. Weaved in is more like it. In all of the best ways, these books are like the classic Looney Tunes cartoons: Kids find them hilarious, but you can't really appreciate them until you're an adult.

Friday, September 5, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part Six: The Draw (an IWM post)

I suppose the real question is, "Why does all of this matter?" Of course, that's the real question for so many things, but let's just look at it in relation to fantasy for the moment. Why does it matter? Why should we care about fantasy or where it comes from?

And that could go in all kinds of directions and get all kinds of philosophical, but I want to look at it in relation to the fantasy model itself. You can find the list here.

So... Let's start with kids.

* * *

But let's start with kids over on Indie Writers Monthly. Yeah, I know you know the drill.
I'll see you there. I better see you there.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Time Enough? (an IWSG post)

"People assume that time is a straight progression of cause to effect but, actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff."

Of course, what I want to do is get all philosophical about time, about how time is finite, about what it would be like to be able to step outside of time... Except I can't really imagine that. My view of time is kind of like a painting. Or, maybe, a movie. Time only exists within the movie and, if you could only step out of it, you could see the whole thing at once, be in any part of it. That kind of thing. Except, conceptually, as soon as I remove myself from the movie, I put myself in another one, because I still imagine a sequence of events and, without time, there can't be a sequence, so it's not something I can properly imagine.

None of that is what I really want to talk about anyway...

Sometimes, there are events that remind us of the finite-ness of time, that there will be an ending. At least, for us. Well, for all of time, but I expect TIME to go on much for much longer than I will. At any rate, the sudden departure of Tina Downey of Life Is Good from TIME has served as a reminder. Time is, after all, finite. There's a deadline on the things I want to accomplish in life.

I suppose most people have all sorts of things they want to accomplish and that they all feel like they have plenty of time in which to do it. There's always tomorrow, right? But there's not always tomorrow, and, sometimes, tomorrows quit coming sooner than we think they will.

I know that Tina was writing a book. Mostly, though, I think she was working on the writing skills she would need to really write the book. What it means, though, is that I'll never get to read the book. Neither will you. And, you know, maybe it wouldn't have been any good and, in the scheme of things, it doesn't matter, but, maybe, it would have been life-changing. For me. Or for you. Or for someone. That book that really inspired a life and changed its course.

We'll never know.

I have a lot of books like that. Unfinished ones, I mean; I'm not claiming that I'm writing great, life-changing, works of literature. I have PROJECTS! The idea that I could leave TIME with them unfinished... well, it kind of panics me. I don't want to leave things unfinished. Well, I don't want to leave these things unfinished. I'm sure I will always feel that way about whatever projects I have in the works, but other projects are in the future, and I have nothing invested in that stuff yet. These things, these things I have going on now, I know I don't want to leave still in progress. Especially the stuff that relates to The House on the Corner. Too many people ask me when the next when will be finished for me to be okay with just not doing it.

None of this is meant to change the focus from Tina's passing out of TIME, but it was one of the first things I thought of, "I'll never get to read her book." Which, then, has applications for all of us. Not just writers, all people who are doing things. Who have projects of whatever sort. Some of which sit around and sit around and are left abandoned for months or, even, years on end with the thought, "I'll get to it. Sometime." But "sometime" doesn't always come.

So... I am reminded to look at the things I want to do and evaluate them on the basis of what it's okay with me to leave unfinished. Like, I would like to spend time painting, but it won't really bother me if I leave TIME and there are big stack of unpainted miniatures in my garage. It's not like I'm the only one that could paint them. But no one can write the stories that are in my head. Even with notes about them, no one can write them the way I will, so that's the thing I need to get busy with, working on the things that only I can do so that they're not left unfinished should I have to leave.

And that's what I'm going to go do...

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Invasion of the Accordions (a local color post)

It's that accordion time of year again, the time of the Cotati Accordion Festival, the 24th one. That's The Great Morgani in the picture above. This year, I managed to get pictures of 3 out of 4 of his costumes. More of those in a moment.

For those of you not in the know (and for those who have just forgotten), my daughter plays the accordion, for a number of years, now, so we've been going to this event for a while. In fact, you can see my previous posts about it, and the associated pictures, at the listed dates:
They're worth checking out just for the pictures of Morgani (except the 2011 post; I didn't have my camera with me, I guess).

As one might guess, the accordion festival is largely populated by, shall we say, an older crowd. I get that. It's not like I grew up with any ideas about the accordion being in any way cool. But it is cool. My daughter has taught me that. It's a wonderful and complex instrument, and I love to listen to her play it. But I digress... What I was going to say is that this year there was a much larger younger crowd. I don't know if it's because the accordion festival is becoming "something to do" or if, maybe, hipsters have decided accordions are cool. Or something. It was nice to not be among the youngest people there, though.

Here are some more pictures of Morgani:
The most impressive part (to me, anyway) is that the accordions are also "in costume" but he is able to play them anyway. After my daughter played this year, he came and told her what a good job she'd done and that she'd be taking over for him any year now.

My favorite performer this year, other than my daughter, was Vincenzo Abbracciante.
He was pretty incredible.
My wife liked Alicia Baker.
At just 22, she sang amazing opera while she played.

You can't have an accordion festival without accordions!
And things playing accordions!

Also, I just have to add, you have to appreciate a festival which keeps naked ladies on its stages! You can see them on the stage with Alicia Baker, above, and here are more.