Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Musing

Thus ends Hell Week, with a three-hour car ride ahead of me to visit folks we haven't seen in some time, which will be nice, except for the expected rain. When I return, the crowds that packed the area for the baseball Hall of Fame's induction weekend should have subsided--it was pretty crazy, let me tell you, I don't think I've seen the area this crowded since Cal Ripken, Jr. went in. Another little bit of revision work is done, which hopefully will get POWERLESS back out on sub very soon. I dipped my toe back in the water of another project before I had to get back on the revision horse and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Last week, when I was looking for something to read, I picked up our old copy of The Grapes of Wrath. I'd forgotten how good this book is, and how good Steinbeck was. Funny, when people ask over on AW about dialect and whether to really pepper their dialogue with it, I usually suggest they do it sparingly, as it often annoys me. The Joad family and all the people they encounter say 'somepin' and 'meetcha' and 'jus', and it didn't bother me a bit. I guess you can forgive almost anything when a story grabs you. It's also interesting to look at this story in light of what's going on in the world today, and the growing gap between rich and poor. At one point, Ma Joad says, "If you're in trouble or hurt or need--go to poor people. They're the only ones that'll help--the only ones." While not strictly true--there are plenty of caring, generous rich people--studies have shown a growing distance between the haves and have nots, not just in wealth, but in social interactions and empathy. Steinbeck captured this very effectively.

I've had a truly bizarre spike in number of visits to the blog this month. Can't explain it. Something similar happened last August as well, which brought with it a rise in spam comments, until I disabled anonymous commenting. Last night, I received 16 spams to the e-mail linked to this blog in a 40 minute period. All the spam is the same (I think; I don't open it), offering me "Safe & Fast M.A.L.E.-E.N.H.A.N.C.E.M.E.N.T." (Euphemism mine). Hey, anyone remember what happened to this guy? Haven't seen him on the TV in quite some time.

That's about all I've got for today. Hope you all had a nice weekend.

Friday, July 25, 2014

This is Plus Size?

This is the end of the second straight WEEK FROM HELL, which is at the tail of the MONTH FROM HELL. It's not that things have been bad, just...busy. Really, really busy. I've got to be out early today and tomorrow, and then things ease off a bit. I came downstairs, made some coffee and thought, 'what am I going to post today?' I've thought about things, but just haven't had time to really organize my thoughts. Then I saw a story scroll across the feed on my Facebook page, about Robyn Lawley, a 'Plus Size' model from Australia who has posted a couple of unretouched photos of herself online and become a sensation.

I looked at the photo (how could I not? It's not only right there on Facebook, it also turned up on my newsfeed on my home page), and all I could think was, "THIS is plus size???" (Yes, this gets three question marks; I almost used the dreaded interrobang)

Maybe she's really, really tall. Like Wilt Chamberlain tall.

We do have a serious issue with body image in this world of ours, don't we?

Have a great weekend, all.

Photo blatantly stolen from KTTV/Los Angeles, who likely stole it from Lawley's instagram.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Musing: It's a Number

People love anniversaries and birthdays and milestones. We also attach special significance to certain numbers: 1--first anniversary, first birthday, one year in business. 10 because, well, 10! For that matter, anything that ends in a zero or a five. And of course, the quarters: 25, 75, and the real biggies: 50. 100. We really get into these numbers, don't we? I don't know why that is, but today we're going to ignore those flashy numbers. Instead, we'll salute a number that is so humble and unassuming no one ever celebrates it: 334.

Yes, this is post number 334 in my blogging life. 333 posts have gone before; I have no idea how many are still to come. It doesn't matter. 334, this is your day, your moment--enjoy it.

334 has decided to celebrate by taking the day off. That's it, then. Have a great day, everyone!

(Why, yes, I'm a little stretched for ideas today, how did you know?)

Friday, July 18, 2014


Last night, following a week that has left me physically drained (and isn't over yet; I've got outdoor, work-related stuff tonight and tomorrow), I collapsed in my chair and popped over to Facebook. Pretty much tops on my list--Facebook apparently having it wasn't yet time to arbitrarily change my news feed from 'most recent' to 'top stories'--was an article linked from a friend of mine:



The teaser below the header said, "The publishing world could be turned onto its head with a recent revelation that Amazon is in talks to purchase big 5 publisher Simon and Schuster."

Double whoa.

I immediately made a comment on the article, along the lines of "I don't think that's a good idea" or something like that. Not that it might not be a good idea for Amazon, or even Simon & Schuster. Something like that could be a boon to both companies (I'm not saying it is; I don't know). The reason such a  thing might be bad is because it would potentially further narrow choices for consumers and for authors, and I believe diversity and competition is better for everyone--including the corporations and companies. Anyway, I made my comment, then I clicked on the link and started reading the article.

Within a few paragraphs, I went back and deleted my original comment, and put on a new one, in which I said I would hold off until I did more research.

And then I reached the end of the article, and I was fairly disgusted.

There were two updates appended to the end of the article (though neither one had a time stamp). The first said 'many sources'--and this was the first mention of any sources at all in the entire article, by the way--were claiming the discussions were about ebook pricing, though the author tried to debunk this. The second update, however, made it clear that the 'negotiations' were about 'a number of issues', mainly aimed at avoiding the sort of mess that Amazon and Hachette are mired in. Hmm. Seems reports of a purchase were way overblown, and were taken from an interview CBS President Les Moonves did with Fortune magazine recently (CBS owns Simon & Schuster). See this article at Publishers Weekly. There's no fire here. There's not even any smoke.

So, rather than yet another massive shakeup in the publishing world, it seems we were victimized by the following:

-an attention-grabbing headline
Should make for some spectacular viewing
-a 'news' story that was more analysis than fact-finding
-a failure to update the headline when the actual facts disputed the headline
-shoddy research

In looking at the original article again, there is no investigation; the writer even says "no one seems to know what the discussions are about". However, someone chose to put an attention-grabbing headline on the top of the 'story' in an effort to drive traffic. This is nothing new; newspapers and magazines have always screamed at us from the newsstands, anything to get you to pick it up and buy it. While this headline didn't quite sink to the level of the Weekly World News, it was provocative, and I bet it got a lot of traffic. The lesson for the day: read all the way to the end, think about what you're reading, and look for other sources. Have a great weekend.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Day After...

...the day after is a total bear. At least it is for me, in this particular instance.

On Saturday we did a work event, an outdoor festival celebrating the importance of our region's water resources (specifically, lakes). Much of last week was spent working out the final logistics of tent placement and such, packing everything up, and fretting that the heavy rains of the previous week were going to turn the venue into Woodstock. Fortunately, the weather dried enough during the second half of the week that most of the standing water was gone, and Saturday itself was about as nice as you could ask for: sunny, clear, warm, and a lot of people in town.

There was a lot of running around to get things set up, a lot of lugging stuff back and forth: tables, chairs, crates of this and that, display boards--if you've ever done one of these things, you know the drill. The day was pretty successful overall, though the weather might have been *too* good--sometimes, people find other things to do when the weather's that good--my perception is that numbers were down from years past. Still, I think those that attended found the event both enjoyable and informative.

So, after all the hustle and bustle, after repacking everything and folding all the tables and chairs and loading all the crates and boxes and displays back in the vehicles, I did pretty much nothing else all weekend. Yesterday, I was tired, but not too bad. And I did make it to my writers' group, and I actually did work a bit on a project last night...but today. The day after the day

How was your weekend?


Friday, July 11, 2014

Tipper Stickers

Some time ago, Alec Baldwin and Kristen Wiig appeared in a Saturday Night Live sketch about two people carpooling for the first time. Their conversation starts out awkward, as can happen when people who don't know each other find themselves in a confined space. It quickly takes a turn for the worse:

Wiig: So, it looked like you were having words with your neighbor there.
Baldwin:  I'm sorry?
Wiig: When I drove up, he was ranting and raving—that must be fun, living next to a crazy old man.
Baldwin:  That's my dad. He actually lives with us.
Wiig: Oh, I'm sorry.
Baldwin: He's not quite right anymore. He had wandered into the neighbor's yard, I was trying to get him back to the house to, uh, put some clothes on him.

Things go hilariously south from that point on, as the characters, desperate to find safe ground, keep inadvertently opening up wounds they couldn't possibly know the other had. "It's all right," Baldwin's character says at one point, "you weren't there."

I think of this sketch (which is not available for viewing on line because NBC is rather fierce in defense of  SNL) because of Bonnee Crawford's post earlier this week. She's worried that the dark places her current manuscript goes might upset people, or impact her ability to get published down the road. Bonnee says, "WALLS is something I'm going to want to stick trigger warnings all over because of how messed up some parts are, even though I'd rather let readers go into the book without knowing what to expect."

The questions Bonnee asked in her post got me thinking about this subject. Here in the US, we have a ratings system for movies, parental guidelines for television shows, and 'Tipper Stickers'* on records (oops, showing my age there—music recordings). But we don't have them for books. Should we?

Would you want one of these on your book?

I can't remember a time when movies weren't rated. I do remember the contentious hearings that took place in 1985 when "Tipper" Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center pushed for a ratings system for music, and the seemingly-unlikely coalition of musicians--Frank Zappa, John Denver and Dee Snider—who testified before before a Senate committee against it. Ultimately the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) adopted a system of labeling music with explicit or profane lyrics. The television industry followed suit in 1997 with the system we currently see today. What surprised me is that all of these ratings are voluntary—there are no laws in the United States mandating ratings on movies, TV or music.

To date, I have never seen a book come with any sort of warning label. However, we live in highly-sensitive times, and the internet has an echo chamber effect. It seems much easier to rile up the masses, or at least make it seem like masses are protesting something. While poking around preparing this post, I came across articles from this springwhere university students—college students, for God's sakes—were pushing their respective universities and colleges to label some books. Could it happen? I expect so.

But should it? As someone who tries to read widely and is somewhat mature, and as someone who is trying to break into the world of the published author, I do object to Tipper Stickers for books, even voluntary ones. This is not just a case of me objecting to something that could affect me, I've always been much more sensitive to censorship and bans when it comes to the written word than other media, I don't know why. Maybe it's because I grew up in a world with R's and X's for movies, and the occasional 'Viewer Discretion Advised' warnings preceding certain TV shows. I do think books promote thinking more so than movies and TV in particular. The pace of reading, the ability to stop immediately, go back and re-read a section, or shut the book and our eyes while we deal with whatever is in the story allows us more time to process the unpleasant things presented within than the often graphic images flashing on a screen.

Do we have responsibility to warn people they might be upset or offending by the contents of our works? There is something in everything that is going to offend someone. Perhaps it's the use of the F-bomb. Maybe a scene brings back unpleasant memories of childhood trauma. We don't know who's reading our books and what they've been through in life. Some readers have serious scabs that might be scratched open by something we write. What do we label? Bad words? Suggestive or overt content? Rape scene? How can we honestly know what's going to set someone off? Back to the skit for a minute:

Wiig: It's okay, I'm, I'm just sensitive about it, y'know, she's always been there for me, y'know—she's, she's my rock.
Baldwin: Your rock?
Wiig: Yeah…what?
Baldwin: It's just that last summer my dentist and I were rock climbing, and he fell into a crevasse where he got his foot stuck. The coyotes were circling, so I did what I had to do and I chewed his foot off with my teeth. So you should be a little more careful with the words you throw around.

Yes, we should be careful with the words we throw around. But should we label them? What say you? Have you ever been so offended by something in a novel that you stopped reading or got really upset? Are you in favor of some kind of Tipper Sticker for books?

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

*Historical note: "Tipper" Gore, wife of then Senator Al Gore, was the public face of the PMRC, hence the stickers are given her name.

Full transcript of 'Morning Drive' sketch here. Trigger warning: rape reference.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Weekend Update

Good Monday morning to you, I hope you're all well.

I did not pre-prepare a post for today--this may be me slipping back into my scrambling habits of "Oh, crud, it's blog day! What do I post?", or it just may be an aberration. Time will tell. I was going to say, not a lot happened over the weekend, but that's not entirely true. The holiday on Friday, combined with the recent breaking of my internal clock (seriously, I've been waking--and getting--up earlier and earlier each day. I haven't started seeing any little bald men with scissors, though) allowed me to get a big final push in so that I could send a new set of revisions on POWERLESS née BARTON'S WOMEN to Carrie on Saturday. Seriously, I think it took me longer to read through it than it did to actually do revisions!

Yesterday was a nice little day of relative rest. We did some shopping, which included a stop at a local bookstore for the Catbird, who has to do some summer reading for her English class next year. The bookstore is the one we did our signing at last month, and it looks like they're sold out of our little anthology--hooray! There's been some talk of a reprint, but I don't know that that's going to happen.

Now it's time to look at other projects and figure out which to really did into. I think that means more reading of my own words, a squirm-inducing prospect for sure, especially as two of these are really raw, pure brain-dumping and meandering things that haven't totally found themselves yet. Kind of like this post.

That's it for me, did you have a good weekend? See you Friday!