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):

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.


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


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?