Monday, December 28, 2015

Post-Christmas Post

Christmas falling on a Friday may be the best thing, ever.

My organization gets both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as holidays, leading to an automatic four-day weekend (although, as my boss insists on pointing out every time a holiday comes up, we don't actually have to take the holidays on the day they occur if we don't want to). I like my job, I like the people I work with and the work I do, but I also really like to spend  time away from the office. That's just the way I am.

For me, I added in a full day off on Wednesday last week, which I had requested a couple of weeks ago. After being out sick on Monday, I considered going in at least half a day on Wednesday to make up for things not done, and then considered maybe taking half a day. Instead, I ended up taking the whole day, and it was a good thing I did, too. The Catbird and I had shopping to do, and what I thought could take just half a day ended up being an all-day affair. It all got done, and except for an emergency run to the grocery store early on Christmas Eve for That Thing That Somehow Kept Getting Missed on all the other trips (in this case, a can of pumpkin puree), there was nothing left to do on Christmas Eve except for some pre-holiday cooking, some present wrapping, and enjoying the day.

It's been a loafy weekend for us, spent watching far too much TV (in this case, the Magpie had us watch Psycho-Pass, an anime which reminded me more than a little bit of Blade Runner at times, and Jessica Jones. This is my second run-through of Jessica Jones, and I'm finding it to be just as good the second time around. Yes, folks, there is such a thing as good TV out there!

I am quite happy to say, meanwhile, that I managed to get some writing in here and there. Mostly I worked in dribs and drabs, and found myself going over the same thing several times (though it was kind of new ground, as I worked on a chapter that hadn't been in my original draft). Sunday morning was particularly good; I put down nearly 4,000 words to electronic paper, some of which were all new, some of which were rewrites. Is it any good? Hard to say. I'm into the last quarter of the book and I'm having a hard time seeing the forest. There's yet another "let it sit for a bit then read it all" in the not-too-distant future, but there's a light glimmering in the distance. Best not to look; best to keep my head down and stay focused on the chapters in front of me.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, enjoy the week, and have a safe and fun New Year's Eve/Day!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tuesday Take Two: The Mind of a Writer

Because I'm feeling better (though I'm still not sure I could say that I'm feeling well), and because I actually somewhat slept last night, and because I feel kind of bad about yet another post with a title like yesterday's, I figured I'd try this again.

A week ago, I had one of those great "Writer Moments." For those of you readers who are writers, you'll know exactly what I mean; for those of you who aren't, this is a little insight into how our brains (or at least my brain) work, and how ideas start.

The starting point was a story on the website "I Fucking Love Science" which recounted how a town in North Carolina rejected rezoning a parcel of land that would allow a solar installation, then later approved a moratorium on all solar projects. During the public comment portion of the town council, at least one resident expressed fears that the panels would "suck up all the energy from the sun." I kid you not.

My first reaction?

Entirely appropriate, if you ask me. Though we call solar energy a renewable resource, it really isn't that, because renewable would imply that there's a sort of draw down and recharge cycle involved, like a rechargeable battery. As far as anyone can tell, solar is really an unlimited resource--until the sun goes supernova or whatever it will do in five billion years. I suppose, however, it's wrong to assume everyone knows this (it's also wrong to assume the person who made this claim was entirely serious, and not just spouting off. To be fair to the people of that North Carolina town, most of the concerns were centered on economic impacts to the town, and the fear that this type of installation would stifle business and drive down property values. Wonder if they'd make those claims if it were an oil or gas industry looking to tap petroleum reserves under the town). Still, I can't help but wonder about the state of our country when people believe solar panels will deplete the sun. Which brings me to my second reaction, the Writer Reaction. As I pulled the trigger on posting Stevie to Facebook, I thought:

But what if it did?

 What if solar panels really did deplete the sun? What if all of our Go Solar initiatives, all the rooftop panels and solar fields, what if they somehow did hasten the processes in the sun, dramatically shortening its life? It's got the makings of a good story, doesn't it? (Though it could be short: "Oh, my God!" Hero Scientist shot up from his chair, where he'd been poring over the results of the latest computer simulation. "Solar panels really do deplete the sun! I've got to warn everyone before it's too l--" THE END)

I love moments like that, even when I know they won't come to anything. I'm not a science fiction writer, after all, so I don't really see myself running with this. On the other hand, some of you might be, so consider this my Christmas gift to you. Feel free to take this idea and let 'er rip (and Agent Carrie may be tearing her hair out right now if she's reading this. "You can do this! You can do this!" But if I did this, it would probably take me four years to get it to her, by which time editors will be saying, "Well, it was entertaining, but I think the 'Solar panels deplete the sun' market is dead, so, what else ya got?"). Just do me one favor: If you get it published, toss me a mention in the acknowledgments, would you? Merry Christmas!

Other business

Speaking of Agent Carrie, it's time for another of her Query Critiques. Help a fellow writer out! I may actually have enough brain power to get over there now and offer up my own scintillating comments.

According to, the Winter Solstice occurred (in my area) at 11:49 p.m.--yesterday. We will have nine hours, two minutes and sixteen seconds of daylight, almost exactly the same as yesterday. Tomorrow? Tomorrow will be about four seconds longer. Interestingly enough, the sun will continue to rise a little later each day until next week, when it will hold at 7:30 until the second week in January, but sunset will occur later each day. It is interesting that the worst weather we get occurs even as the length of day is increasing. Forecasters are all calling for a warmer, drier winter here in the northeast due to El NiƱo; we'll see if that holds up.

Being sick and fitful sleeping gave me some bizarre dreams this week. One of the strangest occurred this morning. In short (and it was a short dream), I was out in my front yard and I noticed two or three unfamiliar, white-trash muscle cars in my driveway. I walked over. In the back of one sat a sullen young lady. I said, "Can I help you?" She said, "Stop calling my fucking phone." I asked what her phone number was and she told me, and then they left, and all I could think was, "I've never called that number." How bizarre.

That's it, Merry Christmas, thanks for reading!

Monday, December 21, 2015


It's 4:30 as I write this. I've been up since four, awake since three, dealing with a cold that should have been kicked from my system by now, a cold I've been dealing with for a week and a day. This is shaping up to be a day where Things Don't Get Done. Including a blog post with any redeeming qualities at all. Instead I'll just wish you a merry Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Information Age?

I thought this was supposed to be the Information Age.

Last week, I was given what should have been a relatively simple task: find the names of the managers of about forty stores in the county so that we could send a letter about changes in the great state of New York's recycling laws. A volunteer committee had compiled the list of stores, complete with addresses and phone numbers, but had not progressed beyond that.

Being a part-time resident of the modern age, I thought, "Okay, I'll google it." After all, everyone's got a website, after all, and surely the name of the store manager is something you'd want to be available, right? I figured it would be a bit of a pain in the ass, but that it would not take a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of things.

I was wrong.

I was wrong about "everyone's got a website" and I was wrong about having the names of store managers on those websites. My web search turned up five names: three managed separate stores from a single supermarket chain (which also lists the manager's name on store receipts). One national home improvement store listed their manager by first name and last initial, only, which means I would have to address his letter as "Dear Mr. M." One other store listed their manager, but that store is actually part of a franchise owned by someone who is actually local. It took me a while to find this out, and then I spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone, calling every store on my list. I got manager names for about half the stores, grudgingly given out by employees who often sounded too busy to bother talking on the phone.

Information Age, schminformation schmage.

Whether this obfuscation of managers is done as a deliberate corporate privacy policy or is because they figure managers aren't likely to stay in those positions that long, and it's such a hardship to change a name on a website, I don't know. I do know it was an incredibly frustrating way to spend an afternoon. And more frustrating was when I would tell the employee who answered the phone what I was after and why, and they would insist on putting the manager on. Just give me the name! The managers typically sounded about as pressed for time as anyone else. They really didn't want to talk about plastic recycling.

I understand why, for example, radio personalities have moved toward giving out their first names only (our local radio personalities include Gomez and Lisa, Big Chuck, and Leslie Ann; I have been on the radio with Big Chuck and Leslie Ann several times (it's a small pond), have met them face-to-face, and still have no idea who they are). As personalities who reach thousands each day, they stand a better than average chance of attracting unwanted attention than the manager of the local Dollar General. Is it possible that someone's going to navigate through a web page just to do this?

Maybe. But it seems to me most issues are going to come after someone meets or sees the manager in the store, where their name is likely to be up on the wall, or emblazoned on their chest in hard plastic.

There's an irony here in a guy who uses his first name only complaining about not being able to find out information about store employees off the web. I get that, I really do, but there's a difference, I think, between what I do here and those other people. I'm not asking for anything other than a name, and while names have power (as just about every mystical fantasy type of book tells us), I'm not looking for home addresses, personal e-mail, or how many kids they have. Just give me a name.


On an unrelated note, last week I noticed something rather stunning:

This weekend, we took a drive to do some shopping, and what amazed me was how green the lawns are getting again, and the fact that, here it is, mid-December, and I was able to go out with a light jacket on. I might actually have to get the lawn tractor out before Christmas!

Have a nice week, all.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Big Fear (About Writing, that is)

On the first Wednesday of each month, many writer-bloggers participate in the "Insecure Writer's Support Group," an opportunity to share insecurities and fears with sympathetic souls and offer encouragement to others. I learned about this great idea early in my blogging life, but declined to participate. Not because I don't have insecurities, but because I have a hard enough time sticking to a schedule. And, what if, on the appointed day of the month, I wasn't feeling especially insecure? Or what if I was feeling especially insecure on the second Tuesday instead? So I sit it out, except as a reader and commenter.

Which is not to say I don't feel insecure about writing. Of course I do. I worry that no one will like it. I worry that people will read it and think, "What's wrong with that guy?" I worry that I'll never get published, or that if I do, no one will notice. But what worries me more than anything? That I'll run out of ideas.

To me, running out of ideas while still having the desire to write would be as horrible as watching a favorite athlete take the field when it's clear that his body is no longer up to what his heart and mind wants. It's one thing to wake up one day and say, "Meh, I don't feel like doing this anymore"--if that happens, it won't matter because I won't care, right? But without ideas?

And here's the thing for me: I'm not a big idea guy. I see people all over the internet talking about how ideas are "a dime a dozen." Even today, over at PubCrawl, Jodi Meadows states "You're a writer. You have lots of ideas." Guess what? I don't. While I do have a document on my computer called "Ideas" (very original, eh?), it's not an especially long document. And I don't know that I've ever actually gone back to it and pulled something from it and started working on it. I'm also not the sort of writer who generally has so many ideas in his head that he's not sure which to work on at any given time, or who works on all six (or ten, or twenty-five) all at the same time. As I've said before, ideas for me are things that develop slowly, over time, with multiple inputs that coalesce at just the right time. In the past, these ideas have hit just when I've needed them, just at the point where I've either finished or been close to finishing one project. Maybe my subconscious deliberately keeps things trapped in the back room until it determines there's going to be enough front room space to deal with it. The fear is that I'll get done with a project and then...nothing.

I am glad to say that the back room hasn't stopped working just yet. Though I'm still wrestling my current bear (and actually getting closer to jamming it into its cage), and have a year-old idea I'd like to work on at some point, a new idea came stumbling out of the back room last week. As is typically the case for me, it started with a question, and my question now is, "Could this be The Next One?" We'll see. I still have that other fat fish to fry first (cheers for alliteration!), but at least the ideas are still coming. Have a great week, everyone.

How about you--do you have a lot of ideas kicking around at a time?

NOTE: It's not posted yet, but since Carrie put out the call last week for submissions to her Query Critique, she might be posting the query today. Keep an eye on her blog and help a fellow writer out!