Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Noneday

Today finds me struggling to wake up for work after a grueling weekend (my organization put on an Earth Day event on Saturday that takes up a LOT of energy). Next weekend, my organization is running a garage sale on Saturday and Sunday, which requires a lot of heavy lifting and hauling and moving of things around. The older I get, the more I find it's not so much the day after events like this that get me, but the day AFTER the day after.

WHICH is a long way of saying don't expect much from me here next week, either!

I don't have much else left in the tank this morning, so I'll leave you with this nifty, slinky little bit referred to, for reasons unknown, as "Orange Tango Jam." Usually, pieces like this are best listened to in full context, but that would take about a half an hour. See you on your blogs, and maybe here next week!



Monday, April 17, 2017

Story Cubes

Back at Christmas, I found a package under the tree for me from the Catbird that was the approximate size and shape of a deck of cards. When I picked it up, however, it was clear that it wasn't a deck of cards. This felt a little heavier. Denser. And when I picked it up, things moved inside. Shifted. When shaken, the box sounded a little like a box of Good & Plenty or Tic Tacs.

It wasn't candy, though. It was Story Cubes. Have you heard of them? I'm sure that, somewhere out there in this writing world I've immersed myself in, someone must have been talking about them on a blog, or Absolute Write, or somewhere, yet I can't quite remember hearing about them before. Even though I couldn't remember having heard about them before, I knew exactly what Story Cubes were, and how they worked, without really having to open the package (and I love the package, by the way; it's a clever little box that looks to be quite sturdy).

The idea behind Story Cubes is pretty simple. The box contains nine six-sided dice in the box, but instead of little pips for numbers, there are symbols, pictures. Throw the dice, look at the symbols that come up, and use those words in a story. That's pretty much it right there. The Catbird suggested that I could use the cubes when and if I got stuck.

Now, anyone who's been reading this space for a while may know that I'm not really big on the concept of writer's block. My approach has been, when stuck, to keep banging my head against the wall. This is the best approach, most of the time (for me--your mileage may vary), though I do know there are also times when it's best to get up and redirect the brain by taking a walk or a shower, doing the dishes, or vegging out in front of the television.

I confess, the Story Cubes sat unused for a long time. It's not something I would use in the course of a normal writing session, where I already have a starting point from the last writing session, and my desk is too messy to use them, anyway. I'd either lose them in the mess or have them fall off all over the floor. Recently, however, I took them to my writing group. Normally, we start our writing group off with someone reading a short prompt, followed by free writing that's supposed to be inspired by the prompt. I thought maybe we could use the Story Cubes as the prompt. Sounds like a perfect job for it, right?

The first time I brought them, no one else showed up. I knew this was a possibility and wasn't overly upset--I had to go to town for some shopping anyway. This just meant I got done that much earlier and we had dinner at a normal time. When it was clear no one else was going to show, I gave the cubes a shake up, tossed them on the table. Here are the symbols that came up: question mark, flowers, airplane, beetle, eye, fire, cane, house, bridge. Five minutes later, I had this 'story' (cube words underlined; note, this is completely unedited, and, as I look at it now, really kind of silly):

"I questioned the pilot's ability to fly this airplane. He lingered up the aisle, supported by a white cane, a heavyset, beetle-browed man with a lazy eye and a flower-child's hair. But he said in a voice full of fire, 'This is my house and I'll brook no disagreement; follow my every order and this flight will be no more trouble than walking across a bridge.' And he was right."

Does it make much sense? No, not at all. Is it a story? Not exactly, but it could be the beginning of something. And at this point, I need to say something about Story Cubes: the makers offer no explanation for the symbols, for what they mean, and that's a good thing. I used the question mark not as an object or a word, but as a concept (the narrator questions the pilot's ability). Meanwhile, the six-legged creature on one of the cubes was anatomically accurate enough for my naturalist's brain to call it a beetle; others might see it as 'insect,' 'bug,' 'cootie' or something more conceptual.

I did take the cubes back with me last week, and we used them again. I had a lot more trouble this time, scratching out another three paragraphs over forty minutes or so, nothing I'd care to share here (though I did manage a nice turn of phrase that maybe I'll use for something else). The others enjoyed it and had better writing success than I.

All in all, the cubes are a lot of fun. I may not use them as a regular part of my writing routine, but I'll keep them handy all the same, and I'll keep bringing them to my writers' group. Hey, you never know when they'll help unlock something big.

Have you ever used Story Cubes or something like it? What did you think?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday Musing: Delayed Reaction Edition

Hidey-ho, folks, hope you're all well. After enduring a week of cold, rain, and snow, the sun came out on Saturday afternoon, and it was positively balmy yesterday, mid-sixties and sunny. Daffodils are sprouting (though not quite flowering--yet), spring peepers are getting louder in the wetlands, swallows and kestrels are turning up on the telephone wires--it is spring at last! It's interesting that, though we've been living in upstate New York for fourteen years now, in some ways I'm still calibrated toLong Island time. Spring arrives down there much closer to the actual vernal equinox. The weather delay seems to have been compounded the last few years as well, with more snow falling after March 1 than it did when we first moved up here. Weather blip, or climate change? Who can say for sure?

Speaking of delayed reactions, two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Vestal Review. I've been receiving a lot of notifications from publications about contests and deadlines and such lately, and I figured it was just that, but then I noticed the subject line was "Sunday Drive," the title of a short story I had sent around, so I opened it:

Though your manuscript does not suit our current needs, we wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. Sorry for holding it so long.

His desk is neater than mine
I wasn't even really disappointed, to be honest. In fact, I think as I read the e-mail, I had my head cocked like a dog trying to figure out if what you're saying is really interesting or can be ignored: I couldn't even remember submitting "Sunday Drive" to Vestal Review. After miraculously remembering my Submittable password, I found it had been two years, ten months since I submitted "Sunday Drive" to Vestal Review.

Two years, ten months.

As writers, we're told to be patient. We know, if we've done any bit of research at all when getting into this game, that things move slowly. Yes, we all want to get in The Atlantic or Glimmer Train or Ploughshares on that first submission; we want to land the agent and the publishing deal with that first manuscript; we want National Geographic to hire us to do that rain forest story that's been in the back of our heads forever. We also know--or should know--that it's not going to happen. I've resigned myself to this fact, and when I send a completed project to Agent Carrie, or when Agent Carrie starts prospecting my manuscript to editors, I try to immerse myself in something else and forget about it. Sometimes, I'm pleasantly surprised by the speed of a reaction, but mostly, it's just like it used to be when ordering things before the age of the internet: "Please allow four to six weeks for delivery."

Still: Two years. Ten months.

I get that magazines and literary journals are shoestring operations run by dedicated individuals who are understaffed, underfunded, and overworked, but this is a bit much. I'm sure some of you who submit short stories on a more regular basis than I do have horror stories and longer waits. Feel free to share them below. I can't help but feel there has to be some better way.

EDIT (4/11/17): I should point out this is not meant to slag on Vestal Review in particular, or to say they are worse than other publications, or deliberately evil, etc., etc. I suspect the editors have to wade through a great deal of flotsam that comes in over the transom. Maybe, as Nick suggests below, it made a short list (though the form response may or may not negate that), maybe it just caught them at a bad time.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Reading List, 2017 (Part I)

Hey, ho, it's the first post of April, and that means it's time for the Quarterly Reading Report!

I feel like I had a really slow reading period this year so far. That can be attributed to watching too much hockey, playing too much Grand Theft Auto, and actually doing some writing. The Bruins' season may or may not be coming to an end soon (an unlikely, white-knuckle victory over Chicago has put them in pretty good shape to make the post season; a victory over Tampa Bay tomorrow night will almost seal the deal, though they could also drop all three of their last regular season games and miss the playoffs again--isn't this fun stuff what sport is all about?), and I actually haven't played GTA in about a week, so maybe this reading thing will take off again. Anyway, here's the list:

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016), Matthew Desmond. Anyone who rolls their eyes at so-called "Welfare Queens" should give this book a read.

Redemption Road (2016), John Hart. Honestly? I don't even remember this book anymore.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (2010), Karl Marlantes. Critics really liked it, I was not so enthused, feeling it tried to do too much. And the POV felt much more "head hoppy" than omni.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016), J.D. Vance. Speaking of people who should read Evicted. Good book, but shows surprisingly little sympathy for others living in the same kind of situation Vance grew up in.

Men's Lives (1986), Peter Mathiessen. A chronicle of the men who (barely) made their living fishing the waters of eastern Long Island.

Cold Blooded (2015), Lisa Regan. I beta read this for Lisa a couple years back, and really enjoyed it. Finally got to see it all grown up. Great job, Lisa!

The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III (1991), Stephen King. After being reminded that there's a movie version of some kind of this series coming out, I wanted to do some re-reading. Books I and II are missing from my collection, so I grabbed this one. Always good to slip into Mid-World and travel the path of the Beam with the gunslinger and friends.

That's it. Only seven books since the beginning of the year, and the last one was technically finished after the quarter ended, but I'll count it anyway. Interestingly, three works of non-fiction, which is a lot in one quarter for me; I usually spread them out much more.

So, what's been on your reading list?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Chuck Palahniuk and Emma Watson's Breasts

Hoo boy, that got your attention, didn't it?

While Googling for images that would go with my spring break post from a couple of weeks back, I kept running across a recurring image: tucked in amongst the images of bodies packed on the beach, sea to shore, and bodies packed in bars, wall to wall, and overflowing garbage cans and puking, passed out individuals, was a meme, a wall of words that, until I read it, seemed out of place in a Google search for "spring break fort lauderdale" (or whatever it was; I can't seem to duplicate it now):

The quote in question comes from Palahniuk's 2008 novel, Snuff. It struck me immediately in relation to the then ongoing brouhaha over Emma Watson's breasts, which appeared (part of them, anyway) in a photograph that accompanied her interview in Vanity Fair a few weeks earlier (for Watson's interview and to see the photo in question, go here).

The appearance of Miss Watson's in the photographs caused a bit of a ruckus. Watson, of course, has become a leading voice in the current feminist movement. In 2014, she gave a wonderful address at the United Nations on gender equality, became the celebrity spokesperson for HeForShe, and is also the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She has been quite outspoken--intelligently outspoken--on equality issues for some time. No one could doubt her credentials as a feminist. That is, until that one photograph appeared.

One of the more widely-quoted digs came from Julia Hartley-Brewer, a British radio personality. "Emma Watson: feminism, feminism...gender wage gap...why oh why am I not taken seriously...feminism...oh, and here are my tits!"

Watson was a bit perplexed at the backlash, and handled it beautifully. (I am amazed, by the way, that Watson has not only been able to transcend her career-launching role as Hermione Granger; in many ways, she's become Hermione Granger). Said Watson: "Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It's about freedom, it's about liberation, it's about equality. I really don't know what my tits have to do with it." Well said.

And yet, Miss Watson should not have been so surprised at the reaction. Some of it undoubtedly comes from those who just don't like her--haters gonna hate, and all that. But a lot of it is no doubt from those who fear feminism and the prospects of true equality for women. Those folks are lying in the weeds, no doubt waiting for any excuse to start bashing (and, I wonder if those are also the folks who are behind some of the celebrity phone hacking, hoping to get compromising pictures). They are happiest when women are kept down and just smile pretty for the camera.

Watson would no doubt say that her decision to do that particular photograph was just that: a decision. A choice. That it's her body and she can display it--or not--however she wants. That her decision, her choice, makes this perfectly in keeping with feminism. I get that, and I agree. And yet, I can't help wonder whether this helps or hurts women who are not in Watson's position. Emma Watson, because of her role as Hermione Granger, and because she has turned out to be a pretty good actress, and because she is an extremely intelligent woman, has power, and has choice. I suspect, after her recent haul for Beauty and the Beast (reported at only $2 million up front, with a potential huge back end deal), Watson could probably decide to walk away from Hollywood forever. With her brains, she could almost certainly be successful in whatever she sets her mind to. With her bankroll, she could take the time to let whatever she chooses to do develop into success. That's a lot of power. It gives her the opportunity to make choices, to be outspoken, and to not have to really worry about whether it pisses people off or not.


And that's where things get sticky for me. Watson has the ability to choose. Is this a representation of power, as she might suggest, or is she just another damsel who doesn't know she's in distress, as Palahniuk suggests? And what of the women who don't have that power? What of the women who are struggling to make it as actresses and models, who are told to take their clothes off for the camera--or, if they're keeping some of them on, to pose like they want to fuck the camera? Are these women empowered, or are they exploited? And does Watson's photo shoot help or hurt?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Three Feet

That's what fell on our house last week. Three feet. It was kind of a lot. This is the Catbird on Wednesday afternoon, when the snow had (mostly) stopped. Granted, she's short (5' 3", I think). The car she is standing next to is a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It's just about six feet tall--when it isn't covered with three feet of snow. Needless to say, it was an exhausting couple of days--by the time we were done shovelling the driveway, the piles alongside it were about head high.


Three feet wasn't the winning entry in the snow sweepstakes, however. One of the towns in county picked up four feet. I'm glad it wasn't us!

The good news is the snow is already disappearing, though I soaked myself pretty well this afternoon wading through knee-deep snow in pursuit of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect pest that is threatening eastern hemlock trees here on the east coast. I didn't find it, which is good news for the trees.

I think that's about it for me. Were you in the path of the big storm? How did you make out?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Spring Break

When I wasin college, spring break was Fort Lauderdale, maybe Daytona. That was where everyone wanted to go, to get away from the grind of campus and the pressure of mid-terms, papers and projects. All anyone wanted was a few days to relax in the sun, kick back for a few days, enjoy the ocean and the beach.....



These guys look like they just realized they spent a week drunk in a hotel room and missed out on all the babes!

...or not.

My spring breaks were always spent on Long Island, U.S.A. I never really had the money to go down to Florida for the week-long debauch, but I had friends who did, friends who had a great time down there--what they could remember of it, anyway. Was I deprived? Maybe. Maybe, like New Year's Eve in Times Square (something else I haven't done, though I did spend on memorable one in the Quincy Marketplace in Boston, so that's kind of the same, right?), perhaps Spring Break is something everyone should do once--although I do wonder how many young lives are ruined by their experience, and I'm secretly (now, not so secretly, I guess) glad that neither of my girls has jetted off to Florida or Cancun or wherever Spring Break occurs these days.

This and That

WE picked up the Catbird from school on Friday and had a marathon day of driving there and back again. Though we keep vowing that she should take the bus, we never actually make her do it (maybe this weekend....). It's nice to have her home again, even for just a week.

OVER the weekend, I managed to add about 5600 words to the WiP--I'm not quite sure how I managed that, but I did. No progress on the RiP, though. Maybe I should change it to the RiS, as in "Revision in Stasis"....

THE continued actions of the Trump Administration and the GOP majority in Congress should make it clear to all by now that their motto is "Business uber alles." Anything that filters on down here to the rest of us is just a bonus.

SEND HELP!



The winter storm watch is now a winter storm warning. Twelve to eighteen inches possible. Good thing the Catbird is home to help shovel!

That's it for me; how are you?

 




Monday, March 6, 2017

Weekend Update: Themeless Edition

Greetings! Hoping this Monday morning (or whatever time it is wherever you are) finds you well. I find myself this fine Monday with no cohesive post, and no 'seemingly random thoughts that are actually part of a theme' kind of thing happening today, so here are some truly random thoughts.

-The RiP and the WiP are not making a whole lot of progress. Actually, yesterday afternoon, I had a good run of thought about a near-end-of-the-story event for the WiP that turned into about 1,600 words or so, so that was good, but overall, these projects continue to millimeter along. Time to get serious.

-The Weather does what the weather does at this time of year. On February 23, we did a program for kids in a state park, and it was near 70 degrees out. This past weekend, we did what was supposed to be a snowshoe hike in the same state park. There was no snow (at least, not enough to warrant the snowshoes), but it was cold. Five-ish miles on the trail with high temperatures in the teens and wind chills below zero. After three hours of hiking, this was me (hang on to your breakfasts, folks):

That's all water, folks.

Yes, it really is water. Warm, exhaled air gets caught on the mustache, condenses, and freezes. I knew there was some ice there; I had no idea how much ice there was. After a very cold weekend, we're due to pop back up into the forties the next couple of days, so this scene will hopefully not be repeated--until next winter, if we're lucky.

-The Bruins made one minor deal at the NHL's trade deadline last week, adding depth forward Drew Stafford to the team for the cost of a mid-round draft pick. Sometimes, the benefit of adding a player is less what that guy brings to the team and more that he's able to push a guy further down--or out--of the lineup. In Stafford's first game, he got more shots on goal and created far more scoring chances for his line than the guy who had been there before. Will the Bruins swoon as they have in March for the last two seasons, or will they solidify and hold onto the playoff spot they currently occupy? Time will tell, but as of today, the playoff spot is theirs to lose.

-Some music! Why do songs get stuck in my head? I don't know! This one has been rattling around all week, an oldie, but goodie. Joe Walsh, Life's Been Good. How's life been for you?




Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Musing: Is it on, or off?

I have strange thoughts that come to me seemingly at random. In this way, I suspect I'm not all that unusual; most people, I suspect, have oddball, random thoughts about the world around them. Hell, some people make themselves a nice living off of these things:


Once in a while, I wake up with these things. Last week, for example, I woke up with the odd realization that, in the Grand Theft Auto universe, there are neither children nor pets. No dogs or cats running around, and definitely no kids. It's odd that I had never noticed it before, and it's odd that I woke up with that in my brain, as I wasn't even thinking about Grand Theft Auto (though, perhaps, it's an indicator of the addictive level of game play) at the time--at least, not in my front brain. Something must have been happening in my back brain, though. I suppose having players be able to mow down, shoot, blow up, and beat to death innocent children and pets is a line the folks at Rockstar Games just did not want to cross. (SIDE NOTE: Just a few days after waking up with this thought, an in-game version of comedian, Katt Williams made the same observation. Said Virtual Williams: "I ain't seen a dog, or a cat yet. Hmm, just thought about it didn't you? Go ahead, think back. No, that wasn't a dog. That were probably a short person like myself, bending over to pick up something." I found it rather amusing, given how close on the heels of my own revelation it came)

Later the same week, during dinner, I said something about a timer going off, and that just made me stop right in my conversational tracks. Why do we say things like, "The timer went off" or "The buzzer went off" or "The smoke alarm went off" when what really happened is those things actually went on?  Think about it for a second: you're cooking your dinner, you leave the pork chops in a little too long, and there it is, a house full of smoke, and then the awful sound of a smoke detector shrilling in your ear--but it's really not the sound of it going off, is it? It's the sound of it going on. The sound of the smoke detector going off is actually silence--blessed, wonderful silence.

Thinking about it logically right now, since I'm making this post up as I go and have no end in sight, I wonder if the phrase comes from the days of wind-up timers. When the timer stops running--when it goes off--you get the single stroke of a bell: Ding! That's a timer going off. Clock radios, electronic timers, those just keep running until you stop them; it's just a different phase of the operation.

I'm hoping I haven't inadvertently plagiarized someone's comedy routine here. It seems like the sort of thing that must have been covered, but I don't remember hearing it. Anyway, that's all I've got for today. What about you? Do you ever have these oddball moments of observation about our world? Please share!
 


Monday, February 20, 2017

Reviewing the List

File this under "cleaning up things from last year." It's not necessarily the last in this category (still have to do that one about resolution that was kicking in my brain from last December or so, but that one's going to have to wait a bit), but it's the one I feel capable of tackling. Unfortunately, while I'm sure I actually started writing this in September or so, I can't find the document. I suspect it's an orphan, one of the things left behind on the hard drive of my old computer that didn't get transferred. Perhaps I'll be able to rescue it someday.

This particular post was inspired initially back in August, when Jo Eberhardt penned this post at Writer Unboxed. The gist of it is that female protagonists are underrepresented in fiction, but because of perception, we (and by we, I apparently mean men and boys) think they are overrepresented, or at least equally represented. At the time (early August), I went through my running list of books I had read for 2016 and started counting--male protagonist, female protagonist, hard-to-tell-who-was-the-protagonist. As I started, I was cringing: at the end of 2015, one of the things I vowed to do was to read more widely, more diversely. Looking at the titles and authors, I was sure I had failed miserably.

When I counted, I was pleasantly surprised, because the "who's the protagonist" question turned out to be much more even than I expected. Not quite even, but close. I was going to write about it then, but either got lazy or decided to see how the list finished out. So, here's how this worked out (note that one book was an anthology, so no main protagonist at all):

TOTAL NUMBER OF BOOKS READ:  42
FICTION: 37
MALE PROTAGONISTS: 19
FEMALE PROTAGONISTS: 16
TRANSGENDER: 1
Forgive the "hard on the eyes" all caps for the table, and the fact that it's not a table. The number here surprised me, as I said, because when I first started looking at the titles and authors, as I said, I was sure that women protagonists were vastly underrepresented. Part of that was seeing Joe Hill's name on the list twice at the time, and forgetting that both of Hill's books that I read this year (NOS4A2 and The Fireman) had female protagonists. I'll also add there were two books on my list (The Water Knife and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things) that I counted as male. Though page time and point of view were shared fairly equally between male and female characters, I felt that the male character was the primary focus of the story, and one (All the Light We Cannot See) that I counted as female.

Now, I suppose I should look at authors. And for this, I'll expand the list to include the non-fiction. Note that there are more authors than books, because of co-authorships.

TOTAL BOOKS: 42
MALE AUTHORS: 31
FEMALE AUTHORS: 15

Ouch. Only about a third of the books I read were written by women. Yikes. Something else I need to fix? Minorities and other cultures. Only four of the books I read last year were not written by white Americans, as far as I can tell. Clearly, I still need to do some work on the "reading diversely" thing. How about you? Have you taken a good look at your reading list lately? What did you find? 

That's about it for me for now. I'm going to hopefully spend this Presidents' Day productively writing. Thanks for stopping by, and share your thoughts in the comments section.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Musing: Blizzard Edition

Well, technically it's not a blizzard, but the storm that began yesterday has dumped close to a foot of snow on us (I measured 13", but there was already a some on the ground; I'm not sure what the "official" totals are). I got out in the middle of the afternoon yesterday and shoveled about five inches or so out of my driveway, and pulled down a lot with my roof rake from a part of the house, then called it a day--moving snow is tiring, and now I've got more to do!

Officially, I'm "working from home" for the first couple of hours this morning. Unfortunately, I didn't bring anything home with me on Friday! At the very least, I can sort through the fifty or sixty e-mails that have no doubt piled up since last week. It's amazing how much junk e-mail there is in the world. What else is happening/has happened?

-Last Thursday, the wife, the Magpie and I went to a meeting of concerned citizens who are hoping to keep the momentum generated by our local women's march going. I counted over 30 people crowded into a little upstairs room at a local restaurant--not bad for a night that also had pretty snowy conditions. It's heartening to see so many people who will remain vigilant and active, and to know that there are at least two other similar groups in our rural county doing the same.

-On February 3, Representative Gaetz of Florida introduced HR 861--To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency. This has been referred to committee(s). My understanding, since the text of the bill has not been released, is that it would turn over environmental responsibilities to the state. Sorry, folks, this is a bad idea on many levels. Climate, Flint, and Hoosick Falls notwithstanding, our land, air and waters are probably in the best shape they've been in in my lifetime, and a lot of that has to do with the EPA (and the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act). Check the committees, folks, and see if your representative is on one or more of them, and urge them to oppose this misguided act. I made this special for the occasion, feel free to use it:



For the record, that's the Cuyahoga River, which caught fire on several occasions in the last century. I should note that, while President Trump almost certainly will support this effort (he did say he wanted to get rid of "the Deparment of Environmental"), this comes right out of the GOP platform (see p. 21). Are we mired in regulation and bureaucracy? Maybe. Is this the best way to fix it? Not in my view.

-On a non-political note, the Boston Bruins finally dropped the axe on coach (er, former coach) Claude Julien's neck last week, timing the announcement so that it would be lost in the hubub over the Patriots' Super Bowl parade. I liked Claude quite a bit and didn't think he should get tossed for the crime of keeping a poorly-constructed team barely in contention for a playoff spot. I doubt he will be unemployed long. To my surprise, the Bruins just ran off three straight wins under new coach Bruce "Butch" Cassidy. I'll hope they can keep it up.

-The Bruins played (and beat) Montreal last night. The last time they played, Boston defenseman, Torey Krug hit Montreal's Andrew Shaw with a borderline hit that left Shaw with a concussion that caused Shaw to miss 14 games (Krug caught Shaw's chin with his shoulder on the hit, which can be seen here. I don't believe it was an intentional hit to the head, but I am a Bruins fan!). Naturally, what happens in their first meeting? They fight. Most concussions in hockey don't happen in fights, of course, they happen on hits like the one Krug laid on Shaw back in December, but they do happen, and guys who have already had one seem more likely to get another. The culture of hockey being what it is, however, Shaw pretty much had to challenge Krug, and Krug pretty much had to accept the challenge (never mind that he already did that back in the same game he knocked Shaw out of in December when he fought Brendan Gallagher). The older I get, the less convinced I am that fighting has a place in hockey.

That's it for me, time to shovel. How are you all doing?





Monday, February 6, 2017

Recommitting

Not long ago, I was cruising. I had submitted a new round of revisions to Agent Carrie on the RiP; not only was I making substantial headway on the WiP, I was actually liking it, too; and I was reading what felt like a ton of books. And then...

Another round of suggestions has come back on the RiP, and while I've read them, I've done nothing more than think about them a bit. And the WiP has grown by maybe three paragraphs in the last three weeks for sure, with maybe another page of noodlings in a separate document. As for reading? I've got two books finished, and one of them was started in 2016. It's safe to say my productivity has fallen off a cliff.

I can point to a couple of things: one, the Boston Bruins have played more games than any team in the National Hockey League thus far (actually, some teams caught up to them last night), and I've watched far too many of them. Second, my wife got me Grand Theft Auto IV for Christmas--a guilty pleasure if there ever was one--and I have been allowing myself to slip away into the violent world of Liberty City way too often. It's interesting that, despite watching a fair amount of TV during the fall and early part of the winter--catching up on shows like The Walking Dead, The OA (I heartily recommend that one, by the way), and Shameless, I was still more productive than I am right now. TV is a great time sink, no doubt, but episodes have a definite end point. Hockey games do, too, but it's two, two-and-a-half hours. And video games? The problem with open worlds like the GTA series is that you can explore endlessly--plus there are all the annoying side characters who want you to go bowling or boating or playing darts with them. The game designers have done a good job at making sure you stay at your computer.

These are excuses, though. Back when I was on Absolute Write all the time, it was not unusual to see (mostly new) writers start threads with titles like "How do you stay motivated?" The answer I always gave there--and have probably written on this blog, and maybe as comments on some of YOUR blogs--was pretty much always the same: "I want my work to be published. And for that to happen, I have to finish what I start." Looks a little smug, doesn't it? I hope no one took it that way, because I certainly didn't mean it that way. Anyway, it was true then, and it's true now. The only way we will ever get anything published is to finish it. And that means curtailing the distractions and getting back on task. For me, that means cutting back the hockey games (easy enough this week: the Bruins have five days off as part of a new league directive. When all the teams have caught up to them in terms of games played, I suspect the Bs will be out of a playoff spot and will not be able to get back in); it means cutting back on GTA IV; it means re-reading the RiP and putting my brain back to it, and re-dedicating myself to my work, and maybe taking advantage of that time to get a little distance from the WiP.

There's one other distraction looming here, however: the current state of America. As I mentioned, I was able to balance hockey and TV and other things with my writing back last fall, probably all the way up through Christmas and shortly thereafter. There's no doubt in my mind, however, that my productivity went off the cliff about three, four weeks ago, in the final run-up to Donald Trump taking the oath of office. Hockey, TV, video games have become a necessary distraction, an escape from the nightmare reality TV show we find ourselves in right now. I'm not hiding from reality, but I am taking much-needed refuge from it. This week, one of the women in my writing group mentioned that she found writing really helped her deal with everything that's happening. What I need to do now is to start making writing an escape, an outlet, while making sure I'm not hiding and disappearing completely. Easier said than done.

How about you? Does writing help you escape from reality a little bit?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Yeah, about that...

Hey, remember this? J.K. Rowling wrote it in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:



Well, I think those times are here.

Throughout the primary and campaign season, our President bashed America up and down, calling it a Third World country because the airports are crap, and you can't walk through a city without getting shot, and on and on and on. Well, as I look around the news today, I see a President signing Executive Orders that might actually be illegal; staff at some federal agencies "going rogue" on social media in an effort to keep actual facts and information flowing; other federal agencies ignoring rulings from the courts. The President is churning out Executive Orders that do not appear to have been given any thought at all, acting less like any President we've had and more like a Middle Ages monarch. In other words, we're starting to resemble the Third World Countries he was likening us to on the campaign trail.

But hey! The market is up!





Oh, damn.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Befuddled

"I'm not laughing, I'm just befuddled."--Chuck Todd, Meet the Press, January 22, 2017

This is the game, folks.

In case you missed it, the day after his inauguration, President Donald Trump's Press Secretary, Sean Spicer had has first press conference--and he spent a good portion of the time lying about the size of the crowd at the inauguration and telling the press what they should report and how (essentially, "anything that makes us look good, and as favorably as possible"). On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway, whose job title I don't know, went on Meet the Press and basically controlled the interview and pretty much owned Chuck Todd, drawing the above quote from Todd.

This is the game of the administration, folks. This is what we have to look forward to. The point of attacking the press is to change the narrative. While Spicer is berating reporters at a press conference, while Conway is running rings around Todd, while Trump is snarking at the huge turnouts at women's marches across the country and around the globe, no one is asking the big question, the most important question: "What are we not talking about while we're arguing over inauguration attendance?"

A skilled magician works by misdirection. Even when we know to watch for the ball disappearing into or being pulled from a pocket, it's amazingly hard to see. And it's fun to watch. But not when it's the office of the President of the United States. Keep watching, and don't take the bait.


 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Musical Monday: The Clash

Annnnd here we are again. I have the day off, I've spent the last two plus hours working on this damn resolution post, and I've decided it's time to pull the plug on it yet again, because I have other things I want to work on today--like the WiP. I suspect part of my problem is that some of the post will look a bit like trashing another writer, which I am loathe to do, because a) who am I? and b) I just don't like to trash anything. Instead, we get another fluff post about the weekend and a little bit of music.

Writing: The WiP is progressing. Currently around 130 pages and 35K words, I like where it's going. I did slow down a bit at the end of last week, as I was not feeling well, but did have a good day yesterday.

Weekend: Took the long drive to bring The Catbird back to college on Saturday, she starts classes today (no MLK day for her!). We enjoyed having her home, and the house is very quiet, despite the fact she's a quiet kid. Spring break is only eight weeks away!

Parental boasting time: The Catbird nailed her second straight semester of straight A's. I think first semester freshman year she got one B+ or A-, so she's rocking a pretty damn good GPA. The Magpie finished her own four years with something like a 3.98 GPA. Smart kids!

Weather: We're riding a roller coaster for January. First week was kind of warm; then it got kind of cold; now it's kind of warm again. We had really heavy rain and 50 degrees last Thursday, so pretty much all the snow is gone.

Music: I'm gonna go all hipster here and say I liked The Clash before it was cool (i.e., before "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go" were big hits). This song, from their excellent London Calling album, actually helped me answer a Trivial Pursuit question many years ago!


That's it for me for now. What's going on with all of you?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Whiff

Well, after extensively drafting my post on Resolution, then running out of time this morning, and spending the last hour post-dinner on it, I've decide to...



via GIPHY

Whoops.

Yeah, it's just one of those days. Maybe next week.

For those of you looking for an agent, Agent Carrie posted a little quiz on her blog this morning, a sort of "compatibility quiz." Pop on over there and see if she might be for you! For the record, I scored a 76. Yeah, definitely one of those days! And, if you're interested in the fine art of the query, check Carrie's blog tomorrow, I think she may be doing a query critique!

Until next time!

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Reading List (The Last)

Good morning, and Happy New Year to all of you! I hope you had a good--and safe--celebration, and I wish you the very best for 2017.

I have a thematically-appropriate post on Resolution drafted, but it's not ready enough this morning and I'm not prepared to craft it into perfection this morning; instead, I give you my final reading list for 2016.

FOURTH QUARTER READING LIST (In the order read, with or without commentary):

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett (2011). My wife's book club book for October. I read it, she didn't. I enjoyed it!

The Death and Life of Dith Pran, Sydney Schanberg (1985). The tale of Dith's survival and eventual escape from Cambodia makes for some harrowing reading.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (2014). I wish I'd written that! Seriously, this was a book I could not put down. My wife's book club ended up reading this for December, and I belive they were unanimous in their enjoyment of it.

The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson (2012). Hmm, I seem to be developing a trend in my reading here, between this and the Schanberg book. This one was related somewhat to my current project, which in turn has been influenced (I'm not sure inspired is quite the right word) by developments in American politics (and, I should add, in much of the rest of the world, too). I did learn something from this book, though I found it a little difficult to get through.

The Girls, Emma Cline (2016). One of the most-hyped books of 2016, it was good, but I felt a little let down by it. I'm not sure I ever really loved the main character enough, though, which may explain some of my disappointment.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood (2016). And we have a winner for "Most Uncomfortable Subject Matter, 2016!" Greenwood dares to go there as she traces the growing love between a man and a very much younger girl, set against a life lived with drug dealers and users. In this case, "there" is them having their first sexual encounter when the girl is thirteen. Despite the high squick factor--or maybe because of it--I enjoyed the book, and applaud Greenwood (and her publisher) for taking chances.

At the Water's Edge, Sara Gruen (2015). Finished on Christmas Eve. This book will factor into that post on resolution I mentioned at the top. This also raises a question that can be explored some other time (or, I guess, you can answer below): Is it better to have a smash hit right out of the gate that all of your future work will be compared to, or to have modest success that builds over time? This book has a lot of flaws, but even when I read positive reviews (after the fact; I almost never read reviews before I've read the book), most people insisted on comparing this one to Water for Elephants.

Extinction, Mark Alpert (2013). Techno-thrillers are not my thing, and though I know some of the technology Alpert employs here (retinal implants, prosthetic devices powered by thought) are real, I found some of it to be a little too much. Not a bad read.

So, that's the list for the fourth quarter: Eight books read, six fiction, two non-fiction. My reading fell off a bit; this was the lowest number of books read, and the second time this year I read less than ten books, the other being the first quarter of the month. Schanberg's book also was extremely short, maybe 85 pages.

The total for the year: 42 books read. 37 fiction (including one play), five non-fiction. In a couple of weeks I think I'll talk a little more about the reading list and some things that interest me from my selections.

Oh, one last thing: I'm not usually good at playing favorites, but people usually want to know, so...Hmmm. If I had to pick the top three books I read this year (not counting re-reads), I would go with...The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi, NOS4A2, by Joe Hill, and All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

That's it for now, what about you? What books did you enjoy this last year? See you next time!