Monday, August 1, 2016

And it's Break Time

As the title says.

Lately, I've been arriving to blog work late and unprepared--more unprepared than usual, that is. When I'm on a roll, I've at least thought about my posts ahead of time. When I'm really on a roll, I've put some ideas down on virtual paper. When I start writing about visits from Mauritius, and then turn up a week later having done no thinking whatsoever about the blog (except for the idea of taking a break), it's time to take a break.

This summer has been a bit crazier than summers past, I think. We are a one-car family with four people, so juggling cars and coordinating departure times, and drop-off times, and pick-up times and who needs to be where when has been a pain. I'm in the midst of a WiP (~26,000 words so far, which is good, but it's still not entirely sure what it wants to be), I'm on submission, and I've been trying to handle two sets of responsibilities at one job since May.

Yeah, it seems like a good time for a break.

I'll still be around, checking out other blogs, and I suppose if I find something that I just can't resist writing about, I will (almost guaranteed, right?), but I expect to be taking pretty much all of August off. By the time September rolls around, the Catbird will be back in college, I'll have a new boss who should be pretty well settled in, I should be past the dread middle stage of my WiP, and who knows what else. Until then, see you around, and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Musing: Mauritius!

First things first: Agent Carrie is running her monthly Query Critique today--with bonus 1st page--so if you want to see what an agent thinks of a submitted query and first page, and if you want to help a fellow author potentially win a critique of her first hundred pages, hie on over to Carrie's blog and leave a comment. Some day, maybe it will be you on the receiving end!

Some time last week I logged on to Blogger as I regularly do and noticed one of those funny spikes on the heartbeat monitor stat line snippet that shows up on the main page. Curious, I clicked the stat bar and was shocked to see that I was in the midst of one of those days: the day of the unexpected explosion of blog visitors:
Yes, that was 180 page views, apparently instantaneously. Now even more curious, I clicked on the "Audience" bar--where were all these people coming from?

Okay, then. To blatantly rip off borrow from John Oliver: "Mauritius. A country you think about so little, you didn't even realize it's not on Blogger's map."

Mauritius is an island nation of 1.2 million people located some seven hundred miles from Madagascar.It's arguably most famous for being home to the dodo, a bird which was driven to extinction within a century of the island's settlement.

I honestly don't know what to say. No, really. In the past, I found handy phrases for welcoming a rush of visitors from Romania ("Bună zuia!") and Latvia ("Laipni ludzam!"). But Mauritian? According to that great source of information for the modern age (i.e., Wikipedia), there is no official language. The Official Site for Mauritius states that French and Creole are the most frequently spoken languages, but just about everyone also speaks English. So, "Bonjour," I guess. Welcome to my little blog!

On a slightly more alarming note, the ridiculous number of hits and page views continued through the week. Rather than a continued onslaught of Mauritians, I was overwhelmed by Russians. As of now? 695 page views originating in Russia. This week. "Dobro požalovat'! Welcome! (Psst: I think you're looking for the DNC--that's over here)"

That's it for me. Hope you all had a nice weekend and are having a good start to your week!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things My Characters Can't Do

Good morning, all.

A day late this week. I woke yesterday and started writing the post that was rattling around in my head all weekend, but I ran out of time. Figured I'd take care of it when I came home from work, as I have done on other occasions. That didn't work, either.

I've gotten in one of those funny ruts over the weekend,  the kind where sleep doesn't come easy. Or, rather, sleep comes easily enough, but staying asleep is the problem. I've taken once again to waking up somewhere around 1:30, then again around 4, so when I do finally wake up at the appointed time--nhyeah, I'm not feeling like doing much of anything. When I got home from work yesterday, about all I wanted to do was collapse into bed and call it a day.

This sort of thing happens once in a while, and I usually get out of it after a few days, but man it's really throwing me right now.

The post I'm going to write--but not today--is about the things I can't seem to get my characters to do. In the various stories I've written--novels and shorts--I've had point-of-view characters who are very different from me. There have been killers and con men, hot-headed women and artsy teenagers, and a megalomaniac. These characters haven't always been easy to write--the megalomaniac, in particular, left me feeling like I needed a shower after I wrote some of his point-of-view chapters--but they have been fun, in their way, and, for the most part, I've never had all that much trouble slipping in and out of their skins to write them.

Where I have trouble? Mundane things. Stupid, every day things that are rapidly taking over our lives, but that I'm strangely resistant to: Uber. Airbnb. Crowdsourcing/funding. Ashley Madison. Taking pictures of food and posting it to Facebook, Twitter or some other flavor-of-the-month social media platform. My characters still tend to use landlines, though they are starting to use cells, smartphones and texts a little more.

I think, for me, the motivations for the killers, con men, hot-headed women, artsy teenagers and megalomaniacs are understandable. These things are rooted in the characters' backgrounds and emotional landscapes. And even if I've never killed someone myself, for example (I haven't), I can empathize with the character, and understand the journey that takes him to the point where he swings a baseball bat at someone's head. It ain't pretty, but I can get it.

On the other hand, I don't really understand the language of Uber, for example. Need a ride? Call a taxi. Crowdsourcing? It's electronic panhandling. And I can't figure out why you're calling it a hashtag when it's really a pound sign, let alone how you use it in a 140-character "conversation." The devil is in the details, and I don't have the details of these things, so it's usually easier to just skip them all together.

So, go figure, here I've gone and written my post after all. I'm not sure if it's coherent or not--I've finished my second cup of coffee and I'm still feeling a little groggy. So, let me put the question out to you: are there things you can't seem to get your characters to do? Thanks!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday Musing: Clunky Computer Edition

This is one of those mornings where my computer is wheezy and sluggish and unresponsive. It gets like this once in a while, where it takes forever to switch between tabs, and heaven forbid if I try to close a tab or a window or anything like that. It's times like these when I make sure any of my work is saved, saved, SAVED. What does it need? Maybe a restart, or a run-through with Spy-Bot. Maybe I should pour some of my coffee into it, because that's about how I feel right now, myself! So, where to start?

Ah! The chestnut! On the left is the "tree" as of May 23. On the right is the tree as of this morning:

It's put on an inch, maybe two. I'm wondering if I should ditch the corrugated plastic tube in favor of a cage. I have little doubt that rabbits (which are not nearly as numerous as they were a couple of years back), woodchucks (which are far more numerous) and deer (which are ubiquitous) would snap that tender mini-tree down in an instant if I left the tube off. I'm not sure how much more growth it's got in it for the rest of the summer, but we'll be checking in again with it.

The Magpie will kill me for this, but what the heck. She and a friend of hers from school have started doing a...podcast? At any rate, once a week they review a cartoon or anime series or movie, updating every Friday. This week's "review" of Captain Planet made me smile. Check out their Youtube page here!

And speaking of: it's always interesting to discover the ways your children are like you. And the ways in which they are not. The Magpie has eagerly sought our input (mine, the wife's, and the Catbird's, that is) and wants us to watch her videos. When I threaten to post the link on Facebook, she gets a little nervous. "Don't do that!" She would prefer family to watch, not people she doesn't know (though they do want more people to watch). As for me? When I do any sort of public program or public speaking (and I used to do it pretty much for a living), I hate presenting to an audience of people I know. The worst for me was when I would go into my kids' school--I loved the kids, don't get me wrong, but I would always be much more nervous than walking into a room with a hundred strangers. This carries over into my writing life, too: it's why it's much easier to share what I've written with relative strangers like my beta readers, my writers' circle, and my agent than with my wife.

Speaking of writing, I am in another project now, hooray! I have a feeling, however, that this one may be even tougher to write than the last one, which gave me fits throughout. I'm in that stage where I'm in the beginning, and I have a path to the middle of the story, but the ending is not quite clear yet. Of interest: author Brandon Sanderson teaches a writing course at Brigham Young University. His lectures are being made available on Youtube, posted once a week. I've been watching and finding it interesting. Will it change how I write? Maybe not, but maybe I'll try something new.

I think that's about it for me. The computer seems to have woken up without me having to pour coffee into it. I, on the other hand, could use some more, and so I say, "How are you?"


Monday, July 4, 2016

The Reading List (Part Deux)

I've been on a bit of a downer lately, what with posts on...well, never mind, no need to bring it all back up. If you've been reading along, you know what I mean, and if not, you can easily go back and look over the last couple of weeks of posts and see for yourself.

It's been three months, another quarter of a year, hard to believe, so that means it's time for The Reading List (part deux). For a recap, here is where you'll find The Reading List (Part I).

So--what's been in my reading list these last three months? In order of finish (i.e., April through June):

Finders Keepers, Stephen King (2015). The second book in the "Mr. Mercedes trilogy." I enjoyed this quite a bit. While it's definitely King's voice, I find his crime novels have a very different vibe. I also like the concept of this trilogy, as each book (so far; I haven't yet read End of Watch) begins at the same place, then follows different victims of Mr. Mercedes years later.

The Big Rewind, Libby Cudmore (2016). Local author Cudmore invents a new genre, the "hipster cozy." She starts with a great concept but I found the story wandered a bit and lost some steam as the book progressed.

NOS4A2, Joe Hill (2013). It's like reading young Stephen King!

My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout (2016). Quietly compelling.

The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi (2015). I'm hoping this is not our future, 'cause it ain't a happy one. Very good book, though.

The Shining, Stephen King (1977). Reread. Watched Kubrick's film, decided to read this one again. It's still good. And Kubrick made a fantastic-looking film, but he really missed the point of the story.

Light On Snow, Anita Shreve (1992). Did I say last time I love adult books with child protagonists? Yes. Yes, I did.

Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out, Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield (1992). Graham died before he could complete his autobiography, so Greenfield structured it in an unusual way to great effect. Arguably the most famous rock and roll promoter in history tells his story, supplemented with interviews with family, friends, colleagues, rivals and the rock stars he worked with over 25 years in the music business.

All The King's Men, Robert Penn Warren (1946). Reread. Gets better every time I read it. This is a Desert Island Book.

Welcome To Night Vale, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (2015). A book based on a quirky podcast introduced to me by The Magpie, who loves it. I started this in the first quarter, put it down, then picked it up again. The uneven story eventually smoothed out and the book got better as it went along, but surrealism is not my thing.

Skeleton Crew, Stephen King, (1985). Reread (though I last read it so long ago it's kind of like picking it up for the first time). Grabbed this when I was out of books to read. Some very good stories, some not so good, some feel really dated. Which is natural, I guess.

The Guest Room, Chris Bohjalion (2016). Bachelor party gone awry (that's an understatement) threatens to tear apart well-to-do suburban family. The book also deals with the horrors of human trafficking.

The Bone People, Keri Hulme (1983). Got through 200 pages or so back in January, then put it down. Suddenly found myself speeding through the middle third. A difficult book to read due to its structure, frequent use of Maori phrases (and stupid me didn't discover the little glossary in the back until I was in the last hundred pages), and subject matter. I still can't say for sure if I liked it as a whole or not.

So, 13 books for the quarter (21 for the year so far), not bad. Back in April I declared that I wanted to read "newer"--six of the 13 were published in 2015 or '16, so mission accomplished there, and if inter-library loan comes through any time soon I'll have four or five more books in that category by the end of the next quarter (my librarian here tells me, however, that librarians play fast and loose with the rules governing the movement of books, so I may be reading them in October). One thing I do notice here is that I have a high proportion of (presumably white) dudes on this list; I'd like to diversify my reading a bit. And maybe cut back on the King.

What have you been reading lately?

Photo credit: My Books, by Jenn Calder

Monday, June 27, 2016

Thoughts on the Brexit

The Brexit frightens me.

(In the unlikely event you have no idea what "Brexit" is, it's the decision made by the United Kingdom last week to leave the European Union.)

What frightens me about the Brexit is not what it does to the stock market, or global trade, the value of the dollar compared to the pound, or the world economy in general. I admit to having little understanding of how all of that works, or how that impacts me on a daily basis. The Brexit may well be good for the UK in the long run, though I suspect it will not. But I'm no economist.

What frightens me is that it was a victory for racism and xenophobia. Much of the arguing over Brexit centered on the question of immigration. The UK has been hit over the last few years with a lot of immigrants from Poland and eastern Europe. And now, of course, there are all those Muslim trying to get in and turn the UK into the northwest corner of the caliphate. Pro-Brexiters like Nigel Farage skillfully played on the fears of UK citizens, with pro-"Leave" ads that bear a striking resemblance to Nazi propaganda (the black and white images are actual images from a Nazi film):

My apologies for displaying this vile stuff.
Much of the rhetoric from Farage's UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) was about preserving jobs for real Brits, about protecting borders, about "taking back control of the country."

Sounds a lot like what I'm hearing from a certain fur-bearing mammal on this side of the pond.

I'm not naive. Racism has always been a thing. It will always be a thing. We humans have a need to create divisions where they don't exist, and to carve  them deeper where they do exist. I've come to believe (and maybe it's because of my privileged position as a white, sort of middle class man) that it's gotten better over the years, and maybe it has. But lately? It's getting worse.

Some of it's because of the economy. Bad times lead to finger pointing, and fingers are much easier to point at people who look and act different, who speak in funny languages, who come from other places. And some of it's because of the times, which are troubled. But demonizing those people with the funny customs and clothes and accents is not the way to go. Pointing the anger and fear at one or two groups and releasing that pent up anger is a dangerous game to play, and it can all too easily end in some very bad places.

I'm hoping this is a blip, a hiccup, a momentary lapse of reason. And I hope we defeat it here.

Second image from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Poland

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solstice (and not much else)

Happy Solstice! At least in my particular corner of the world, the sun reaches its zenith, i.e., its greatest distance from the equator, today at 6:34 p.m. In terms of daylight, we'll have 15 hours, 19 minutes, 33 seconds of it today. Woohoo!

I am once again back on submission. My manuscript is in Carrie's hands, we've crafted a pitch letter (or whatever it is that agent's call it; it's an awful lot like a query letter to me), and Carrie's got her list of publishers together. I can now fantasize about contracts, advances, cover reveals, launch parties and all that.




Wow, that was fun. Now, it's time to really settle in on The Next One.

That's all for me for today; how's things with you all?