Monday, March 30, 2015

Weekend Update

It is the penultimate day of March and I woke up to the sound of...the plow. Yes, we had enough snow to get the county crews out to give the road a scrape this morning. I take heart at the fact that it really wasn't much at all, and that it's supposed to be 50 or so by Friday. Various bits and pieces from the weekend:

-The Catbird and I went to an accepted students day at one of the college on Saturday. It was a 3+ hour drive, which wasn't so bad--I still like driving. It was nice, and the faculty in particular was pleasant to deal with, though it seemed to confirm for the Catbird that her top choice (which wasn't this one) IS her top choice. We had a nice time, and it's also interesting to me that so many professors said the same thing in relation to the Catbird's admission that she's undecided about what to study: "That's a good place to be." There's a lot of pressure on kids to declare a major early, so it was kind of nice that these people were saying, "Relax, you've still got some time to figure this out."

-In the middle of last week (yeah, not quite the weekend, I know), I passed my latest manuscript off to my most excellent beta readers. Commence nail biting. I'm not 100% sure it was ready to go (about 3 minutes after I sent it I thought of a couple of threads I'm pretty certain are loose). At the same time, I needed to get this one away from me, which is not quite the same as me getting away from it. Locking it in the figurative drawer for six weeks isn't quite the same thing. I also resisted the urge--which was quite strong, let me tell you--of calling it 'done' and sending it straight off to Carrie. She will no doubt have excellent things to say about it and will help make it that much stronger when it does go on submission, but it's not quite time for that yet. So I now find myself without a current project. There is a partially-written THING kicking around, but I'm never sure at this point how much to throw myself into it. My readers can come back with comments at any time and I'll be likely to tear into it right away.

-One of those readers is my wife and sure enough, I gave it to her maybe a day before leaving on that all-day trip to the college (we left at 5 a.m., got home around 8 p.m.). She did tell me she started reading. I hate being around when she's reading my stuff. Still.

-Late last week, I responded to something a friend posted on Facebook, which in turn drew a comment from one of her friends--about my mustache. I almost responded with this, but decided the conversation was a little too serious. Substitute the word 'mustache' for 'snakeskin jacket':

OK, I'm not as whacko as Sailor Ripley, but I've always loved that line.

-In sports, I was doing pretty well in my office NCAA bracket, though I have almost no knowledge of college basketball. Heading into the weekend, all my Final Four teams were intact, save one: I had Kansas beating Kentucky, but Kansas got bounced early. No matter: I had Arizona coming out and winning it all. I picked 6 of 8 games last week, the only two misses being games where I had no teams due to previous losses. I had a shot. And now I don't. Arizona lost this weekend, and Michigan State beat Louisville, so now the two teams I had playing for the championship are both out. Alas, easy come, easy go.

-Sticking with sports, the Bruins won twice over the weekend and climbed back ahead of Ottawa for the last playoff spot in the east. The Senators lost both of their games, though one was in overtime, so they picked up a point for that. If there's one thing I'd change about the NHL, it would be the ridiculous "Loser Point" for overtime/shootout losses. And the shootout--two things I'd change about the NHL are the Loser Points, shootouts, and the new conference format.
OK, I think I'll stop there, as I'm getting a little out of control. I have yet to decide if I'm taking April off--maybe yes, maybe no. In the meantime, how was your weekend? Did you do an NCAA bracket? Is your team still alive?

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Recency Effect

Deryk Engelland scored for the NHL's Calgary Flames on Wednesday night. Twice.

This is news because they were Engelland's first two goals of the season, his first in more than a year (literally), and because he had only scored 13 times in the previous 310 games of his career. More important, his second goal tied Calgary's game with the Dallas Stars and earned the Flames a point--a point which moved them one ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for the final playoff spot in the NHL's Western Conference. Josh Cooper, a writer for the hockey blog, Puck Daddy, wrote, "If the Kings miss the postseason by one point, they will be cursing Deryk 'freaking' Engelland and his first two goals of the season up and down Southern California."

Yes, it's that kind of season
Over in the Eastern Conference my beloved Boston Bruins--a popular preseason pick to win the conference and tabbed by more than a few to win the Stanley Cup--are also a point out of a playoff spot. And if they fail to qualify, many will point to a game the Bruins lost last week to the Ottawa Senators, the team sitting one point ahead of them in the standings, as the loss that sank their season.

Yes, it's that time of year where fans (and media and, to a lesser extent, players and coaches) point to one game as the reason they missed the playoffs. In the inevitable post-mortems of wasted seasons, they will bemoan that one game that made the difference in the season--and it will be a game that occurred somewhere in the final week or two of the regular season.

Meanwhile, Opening Day (and yes, I believe it is written in caps like that) for Major League Baseball is just over a week away and you can bet that no one will get their jock straps in a twist over a loss in April--who cares about a loss in April? It's just one game out of 162, no big deal, plenty of time to make it up. About the only people who care about a baseball loss in April are managers who are starting on the hot seat, pitchers who get stuck with the 'L', and fantasy baseball players. And when August slips into September and teams are watching their playoff hopes slipping away, no one will say, "If only we'd won on Opening Day!"

Is there an official term for this? I'd call it "The Recency Effect," though apparently that term is already in use for something else--our tendency to remember the last things on a list first. It's kind of the same, don't you think? In the world of sports (particularly fandom), it's our tendency to place greater emphasis on recent events. A loss in a tight playoff race is more important than one that happened in the first week of the season. For the Bruins, everyone will point to that loss against Ottawa at the end of March, but what about the one in January? Or the shootout loss to the Senators in December? How about that mid-October game where they blew a 3-1 lead against Montreal and lost, 6-4? Win any one of those games in regulation and, all other things being equal*), they would still be a point up on Ottawa and that March loss wouldn't look quite so big right now. Every loss is important, even the ones that happened four months ago.

I'm wondering if The Recency Effect (as I've defined it) infects other parts of our lives as well, or if it's something that we reserve especially for sport. What do you think?

* sports fans are big on a particular brand of Magical Thinking that assumes all other things are always equal, and I may actually have another post on that in the near future. Break? Did I say I was taking a break?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Just a Quick Pop-In

First, thanks to all of you for commenting on my existential blogging crisis. I appreciate it, and I will get over it (and myself, hah ha). I can't quite say what gets into my head from time to time. One of these days, I'll stop venting over it when it does happen. Anyway, thanks!

Now, the meat: Agent Carrie is running another query critique over at her blog today. Pop in, leave a comment (something of substance, that is), and the brave volunteer has a shot at a 100 page critique from Carrie herself. And I've said it before and I'll say it again, offering up a critique on the work of other people can provide a valuable window into your own work.

And finally, I'm feeling a little hippy-trippy this evening, so here's something especially hippy-trippy.

Get on over to Carrie's!

Friday, March 20, 2015


I've been chugging along at this blog for a while now, somehow making two posts a week (mostly), sometimes posting something that strikes me as valuable or kind of important, sometimes feeling guilty about getting people to come and actually look at what I've posted. Several times a year it seems I find myself in one of those blogger funks, where the topics don't come easy or, when they do, the words just don't seem to work out right (like today, where I've spent the last hour trying to make sense out of a topic that I had nailed down in my head yesterday). When that happens several weeks in a row, I usually pull the plug for a while.

As a blog reader, I know how upsetting or annoying it can be when someone you almost rely on disappears without a trace, like they've been swallowed up in the Bermuda Triangle or fell into one of those holes in Siberia. Or when someone who posts every Tuesday suddenly posts on Thursday, then Monday and Wednesday, then not at all for a month-and-a-half. I try not to be that person, and I've mostly succeeded.

But I'm back in one of those bloggety blog struggles right now, to the point where I am once again thinking about taking a short break. The problem for me is that every time I announce a short break, the ideas come firing in. They may not be good ones and the execution may be shoddy, but damn if they don't get written, and then I look like a liar. Or a waffler.

This is a long-winded way of saying I don't know what I'm going to do over the next few weeks. I may take the month of April off. I may not. I may change my posting schedule. I may not. I guess we'll see. Have a nice weekend, thanks for coming by, and maybe I'll see you on Monday here, or at your own blogs.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Weekend Upate

Not much to say today, which seems to be par for the course lately.Sleeping half the day on Friday helped a lot with whatever ailed me then, though now it's Monday morning, so it's back.

Good news over the weekend: saw my first turkey vultures of the year! Always a nice sign of spring to me! Given the amount of roadkill being uncovered by the snow melt, I'm guessing they'll have a lot to eat for a while.

The Catbird got word last week that she was accepted into her college of first choice--woohoo! Now we chew our fingernails hoping for a generous financial aid package.

The WiP gets ever closer to 'complete' status. I've been focusing on the timeline of one character in particular right now and I think I've got it pretty well solved. Maybe, just maybe it will be complete this week.

The Magpie continues to thrive in Japan. It's hard to believe she's more than halfway done at this point.

That's about it for me. The weekend went by too fast--how are you all doing?

Image from Wikipedia, used under Creative Commons license

Friday, March 13, 2015

Feeling Flat Friday

Yeah, this is about how I'm feeling today.

We had a board meeting last night. It ran pretty short and was of pretty much no stress. But I woke in the middle of the night feeling sick to my stomach (I wasn't, fortunately, but I'm feeling about like that unfortunate car in the video. I think I'm going back to bed.

Hope you all have a nice weekend.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Musing, Daylight Savings Edition

-It's six a.m. and it's dark again. Sunrise is officially 7:22 a.m. The other day I read an essay somewhere calling on Obama to banish Daylight Savings Time, to send it back to the abyss from whence it came. Aside from the fact it does not work from an energy-savings perspective, the author argued that it's "cruel." At the time I scoffed, but this morning? Yeah, it feels kind of cruel. On the other hand, it's always kind of nice having dinner with full sun pouring into our dining room, and knowing that the Catbird will not be doing "town runs" with the distance runners on her track team in the dark makes me feel a little better (things get kind of dicey late in the cross country season).

-One other thing I always find funny about the beginning of Daylight Savings Time: the day we set the clocks ahead should, in a way, feel like a shorter day than normal. I woke up yesterday around seven, body-time, which was now eight clock time. By one in the afternoon, I felt like I'd been up forever.

-I am now a week behind my self-imposed date to deliver a manuscript to betas. Progress is being made, which is good. I am thankful at the moment that the deadline is my own, and I'm not under an editor's gun.

-We successfully popped above the freezing mark for one day last week. Yesterday I found myself up on a porch roof, shoveling off a surprising amount of snow. We haven't had one big snow event since the last time I did this; instead, everything just sat because nothing's been melting. Temperatures are supposed to pop up and down this week, pushing 40 by day, 20s by night, so we'll start to see some melting. I suspect sump pumps will be getting quite a workout.

-On Friday night I smelled my first skunk of spring while driving to pick up the Catbird from a school function. Saturday afternoon I saw my first dead skunk of the season. Right now I have not seen any of the birds I associate with spring: red-winged blackbirds, grackles and turkey vultures. I don't really consider robins a bird of spring because most years we have a bunch hanging around all winter, but I haven't seen any of them, either. I did hear a cardinal singing about a week ago, which was a nice sound.

And that's all I have today. Last week, Agent Carrie put out a call for her Query Critique. As of now, the critique is not posted, but it might go up later today. Keep an eye out, add your two cents, and you might help someone get a 100-page critique in the deal (and that someone could eventually be YOU). Have a great day!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Better Things

I'm feeling a bit disjointed as far as posting this morning. I really, really want to post about Curt Schilling. I have a 4 page mess of a draft that I was working on yesterday and the day before, but time is short this morning (Fridays are early days for the Catbird) and I don't trust myself to write off the cuff on this one. Short answer: what was said on Twitter about him and his daughter was vile, reprehensible stuff. The fact that at least one of the "men"--and yes, the quotation marks are there for a reason, these are not men--has been suspended by his school is a very good thing indeed, and because the internet is not quite as anonymous as we would like to think, I'm guessing suspensions, or firings, or somethings are coming for the others.

It's the "somethings" that worry me in all this. Remember Stop The Goodreads Bullies? Remember Kathleen Hale? If Schilling were an author going on the offensive after bad reviews, we would be rising up to call him an a-hole. Same thing if Schilling were a Goodreads Reviewer of Some Renown riling up his Internet Army of Followers to go after an author who had the nerve to comment on a review. Right now, the tide of support is overwhelmingly in favor of Schilling, and it's unlikely to change. The optics on this are simple: you're either with Schilling, or you're standing up for rape threats, rape culture or misogyny.

I am not standing up for rape threats, rape culture or misogyny.

Let me be absolutely  clear on this: what was said by those assholes on twitter is horrible. It was beyond low. It was stupid, and unfeeling and crass, hurtful, rude. Word cannot express how awful these things were. I do not support it, I do not condone it. I'm not sure if these "guys" did this because they hate Schilling that much, or they thought Schilling would think it was funny and turn out to be their best buds and buy them beers next time he's in town, or if it's like the internet equivalent of shanking Scott Peterson or Charles Manson. Whatever their rationale, it was stupid. Beyond stupid. And on a certain level, I think, "Yeah, well, they'll get their comeuppance."

What worries me, though, is this: Schilling says, "If I was a deranged, protective dad I could have been face to face with any of these people in less than 4 hours. I know every one of their names, their parents, where they go to school, what they do, what team they are on, their positions, stats, all of it. I had to do nothing to get ANY of that information because it's all public." And at the end of the blog, he posted two screen grabs from twitter, and says this: "These guys went to town. If any of you guys reading this that know how to find people on the 'net want to have at it, please do."

And that's where I get off the bus.

Schilling's a smart guy, and pretty savvy when it comes to social media. What does he think is going to happen here? He's encouraging people to track down these low-lifes and...what? Out them to their schools and coaches? Fine, but where will it end? Will these guys get suspended from their teams? Put on probation? Kicked out of school? What if one or more of them gets jumped coming home from class and ends up in the hospital, or on the coroner's slab?  Is that what he wants? The mentality that makes idiots want to take down Schilling on social media also works the other way--there will be plenty of people who want to feel important to a celebrity like Schilling, and there's no telling what they'll do. And that's pretty damn scary.

I am not standing up for rape threats, rape culture or misogyny. But I'm also not with Schilling on this. Not completely, anyway.

And now, it's Friday. On Wednesday this week we had our first day in quite literally a month where the temperature went above freezing (literal literally, by the way; the last time it happened was February 4). And while it's below zero again this morning, by weekend's end we're supposed to be back up again. So, music! Have a great weekend, everyone.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Monday Musing: Dr. Seuss

If ever I were granted the chance to teach a creative writing course--say, Fiction 101--I think the first text I would choose as a class assignment would be "And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street" by Dr. Seuss.

Yes, this is why it's highly unlikely I'll ever be asked to teach Fiction 101. With all the great literature out there to study, I would start of with a children's book? A 78-year old children's book? Yes. Yes, I would.

"Mulberry Street" was the first published children's book by Dr. Seuss. If you're not familiar with it, you can read the text here (at least for now), minus the illustrations. In it, a young boy with a reputation for stretching the truth is asked each day by his father what he saw coming home from school. On this particular day, all he saw was "a horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street." As he continues on his way, he decides it's too ordinary, and starts adding new things, just to spice it up a little. You can imagine where things go from there.

The reason I like it so much is that it starts with a grain of truth. A horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street becomes a grand parade with elephants, a magician, police escort and more. By the time the boy gets home, the horse and wagon have been totally lost in the tale, buried under imagination. And that, I think, is the big lesson for so many people breaking into fiction. It's fine--maybe even desirable--to start with a grain of truth, but a straight retelling of personal history (with names changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent) isn't fiction; it also might not be as interesting as you think. 

Follow the Doctor's lead, I say.