Friday, December 31, 2010

Life in Idaho

Frankly, I just don't get the appeal of the little stick figures/Jesus-fish/whatever on the back of car windows showing your family make-up. But when I walked past this Pathfinder the other day, I had to snap this picture. What epitomizes Idaho life more than this? Guns and family.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I Know You're Dead and All, But . . .

Dear Stieg Larsson,

Until you become a much, much better writer than you are, you really need to get to the hook earlier than page 245 of 640. Dude, that's 40% of your book.

Just sayin',


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

I don't think I've the original context of the remark, but I've seen it often enough that I don't doubt the veracity. But at some point Dennis Lehane characterized his Kenzie/Gennaro series as the kind of books that a guy in his twenties would write, as an explanation for why he'd moved on. Now, first of all, I don't blame a guy for not wanting to get stuck in a rut, to only write one thing his entire life (no matter how good he is at it). But that always struck me as an uncharacteristically dumb thing to say. What's that say about 1. the authors outside of their 20s who are writing the same kind of thing and 2. those of us out of our 20s who like to read that kind of thing.

Frankly, I thought that Shutter Island was more like something a guy in his 20s would write (particularly the ending) than anything else he wrote.

But hey, it's his opinion, and he's entitled to it -- as long as he writes things more interesting than The Given Day (which, to be fair, I haven't been able to get too far into, it's fully possible that if I'd read another two pages, I'd have loved it).

Still, imagine my surprise when I learned that a new Kenzie/Gennaro book was coming out.

It's a lighter read than the previous five books in the series, but it still carries that trademark Lehane punch. This book sure seems like a self-conscious attempt to stress the fact that our heroes, like the author, aren't in their twenties. They've aged, matured, get tired more easily want nothing to do with the violence that so marked their younger years. They're not the only ones who aged, Amanda McCready, the kidnapped girl from Gone, Baby, Gone is missing again, and again, he aunt calls upon Kenzie to find her.

By the end, Lehane takes his characters to an interesting (and predictable place) that probably closes the door to future installments -- not unlike what Riordan did to Tres Nevarre and what Koryta may have done to his PIs. I hope it's not the last I see of these two, but can understand why it would be.

In the end, a satisfying read. Better than many PI novels that came out this year, but not as good as it could've been.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Not at all what I had in mind

So yesterday when I said, "there'll be something different [than incessant NaNoWriMo bleating] tomorrow" I was thinking something different. I was just about done with an amusing little post when the whole day went sideways.

Well, technically, it was my van, not the day.
And, technically, it went across the road and did a 180 into a ditch and a fence, not sideways. But why get pedantic?

So you can get a glimpse of most of the damage there. Nothing major. It still drives (I think, need to get that confirmed), but it ain't pretty -- who cares? Makes it more like its primary driver.

The Princess, Arnold and Wonder Mutt were with me, and we're all fine. It took an hour and a half to get us out of there. The kids did well -- Arnold was pretty shaken up, but getting to sit in the tow truck seemed to help.

But that was it for me for the day . . . I couldn't focus, couldn't relax, couldn't work. I was just shot.

oh yeah, and I accidentally increased the font size on my cell phone's text messages and can't figure out how to fix it. Talk about annoying.

What's worse, is that I reacted this way to what's in all likelihood a minor inconvenience. It's just not that big of deal, ultimately.

Speaking of things that aren't big, friend/coworker (well, until he got laid off last month) of mine is going through a tumor scare, he's going in for an operation in a couple weeks. Got an email from him this evening after a consult with the surgeon. Apparently the tumor is of a borderline size. If it's size A, it's a pretty quick, simple, but painful surgery. If it's size B, it's invasive, will require some reworking of an internal system, probably some radiation or chemo, and well, something tells me the pain is in a different Area Code than the other option. What's size B? 2 mm or more.

One more time, that's two millimeters. For you philistines that don't grasp the beauty of the metric system, that's 0.0787401575 inches.

Roughly the size of the head of a pin.

So yeah, I get that little things can mess up your day, and I accept that. It's just that some little things are bigger than others.

like the song says...

Let the headlines wait,
Armies hesitate.
I can deal with fate
But not the little things.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NaNo Post Mortem

All righty, I'm now 3 for 4 on NaNoWriMo (not even sure you can count 2007's pathetic showing as a try). As much as I loved the 2008 story, I think this year's is better. Now, how I got from a Science Fiction comedy in the vein of Hitchhiker's or Red Dwarf that I couldn't see past chapter 3 of to a mystery that I couldn't see past Chapter 1 of to a Hornby/Tropper-esque coming of age tale to an Urban Fantasy that morphed mere hours before I started into a straight-up Fantasy, I have no clue. But I really, really like what resulted.

The way the plot developed sorta surprised me, I'd envisioned three parts. Part I took place in 1985, would go on for maybe three or four chapters. Then Part 2 would be a chapter -- a little longer, maybe. And then Part 3 would make up the majority of the novel. Yeah, well, best laid plans and all that, right? I never got to part 2 (I wrote a bit of it tonight at work, after the month was over), part 1 just was too interesting. I'm still trying to decide if I make Part 2 an epilogue, and then pick up part 3 next November, or if I keep plowing away. You can see a short bit about it here.

So anyway, what about Frodo? Well, he didn't win this year, he had a hard time shuffling priorities around and it bit him (tho' he did put up a valiant effort the last night in two hours, writing about twice what he spent all day Saturday composing). So he's 2 for 3. BUT, I will say this about what he wrote, it's a whole different kind of writing than he's done before. His first two NaNo's were pretty cartoonish, with flat characters, and rather slapdash and out of control--the second was a great improvement over the first. But it wasn't until I read this year's work, that I realized how far he hadn't come then. His protagonist this year -- and a couple of the secondary characters -- were people, who acted like people. They thought, they spoke like someone you'd actually meet. Not a family of 4 who'd eat 500 pizzas a day for dinner or something. Does he have a long way to go? Yes. Is he a better writer than his old man was at that age? Probably. Anyway, not technically a win as far as the rules go, so chalk this one up as a moral victory.

I got a good deal of help along the way--back in August I threw up a post that got some interesting suggestions here and in other places. My old high school pal, Brent, saw something I said on Facebook and hooked me up with a great book about writing about fighting (I'll talk more about that some other time). A friend from college, Erika, who also also does this 30 day mad-dash, was a great source of encouragement -- not only in what she said, but also by leading me in the word count for most of the month, giving me something to shoot for. My kids were always supportive, even when (especially when?) they were distracting me from the work. And, of course, TLoML who listened to me moan about how impossible it was this year, pretended to give a crap when I babbled in the vaguest manner possible about minor victories I'd made, and generally indulged me in this for the month. Thank you all of you.

Enough about this for now...on to other things, there'll be something different tomorrow, like something about Neti Pots or...I dunno. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 30

What better way to end this little series than with something from my old writing professor...I'd have typed this one out, but why bother, when there's this handy-dandy video already made?

From Lance Olsen's novel Burnt:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Need More Words

my favorite NaNo-based NaNo-distractions have come from NaNoWriMo Toronto this year -- last year I disocvered the great NaNoToons via the work of Debbie Ohi (who's a heckuva encouragement for aspiring/wannabe writers) and then this year I discovered Errol Elumir's songs. A lot of fun -- pretty good music and video work, too. Here's his latest, a song I can truly, truly identify with.

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 29

In writing, don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is 'terrible,' describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don't say it was 'delightful'; make us say 'delightful' when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, 'Please, will you do my job for me?'
C. S. Lewis

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 28

It is damned hard to write things that make blank sheets better.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 27

Stuff like this [articles on fiction writing] can be really, really useful. But here's what drives me totally nuts about it. It drives me nuts when writers insist on framing 'what works for me' as 'here is the only correct way to do this'.

Because that's rubbish.

The way I write isn't the way other people I know write. And yet somehow we all manage to turn out books that work for us and our readers. There are many, many ways a writer can get from idea to published novel. There are many many styles and techniques and voices and tools that can be used in the successful telling of a story. The trick with articles like this is to cherry pick them. Suss out the techniques that mesh with your style and borrow them ... and ignore the rest.
Karen Miller
(who also writes as K E Mills)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 26

Writing just takes practice and a clear idea of what tone you want your books to take. I happen to like people who are smart mouthed, tough, and upbeat. I learned a long time ago that you can't write and be critical at the same time -- uses a different part of your brain. So when you write, turn off the critic. Wait a few days and then read what you've written with a more critical eye. If you can't change it to read the way you'd like it to -- find one of your favorite authors and figure out how they handle what you're trying to do. Pay attention to viewpoint, logic, and voice (is this something my character would say?). If it still doesn't work, set it aside for some other day and try writing a different story. That's what I do (grin).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 25

my rules for good writing...:

1. Don't be afraid to suck. It's easier to fix something that's broken than it is to create something from nothing.
2. Write your first draft "with the door closed."
3. Don't try to make everyone happy. If you try to make everyone happy, you end up with According To Jim. Write what you're passionate about, and write to entertain, amuse, and satisfy yourself. To borrow a phrase from Joel Hodgeson, the creator of MST3K: don't ask yourself, "Will anyone get this?" Instead, tell yourself, "The right people will get this."
4. If you're going to write, you have to read. If you're going to write screenplays, you have to read, and you have to watch lots and lots of movies, both for entertainment and for education..

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 24

I learned then and have relearned many times since, that the best part of a writer's life is actually doing it, making up characters, filling the blank page, creating scenes that readers in distant places might connect to. The thrill lies in the rush of sentences, the gradual arrivals of characters who at once seem to have their own life.
Larry McMurtry

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 23

Since the day my first novel was published in 1992, I have told people that writing was like surfing. The hardest part was paddling out there, the longest part was waiting for the right set and the best part was getting up on the wave. You live for the wave, and you wish you could ride it forever. That was writing.

The only problem with that was I had never ridden a real wave. I was simply riding a metaphor: When the writing is good the story surrounds you like a swirling barrel of water. It's all you can think about. Your desire to stay in it wipes out all the rest of the world. I figured that's got to be what surfing is like, so that's what I told people writing was like.

That explanation worked all right for me until I turned 50 a couple of summers ago and decided to see if I'd had it right. I went to Maui with my family to learn how to surf. I can't say I ever saw the inside of a tube, but I rode enough soft waves on a soft top longboard to know that all along I had been on to something with that metaphor.
Michael Connelly

Monday, November 22, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 22

Read, read, read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window.
William Faulkner

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 21

Twain's Rules of Writing
(from Mark Twain's scathing essay on the Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)

1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.

8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

An author should

12. _Say_ what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.
Mark Twain

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 20

A manuscript, like a foetus, is never improved by showing it to somebody before it is completed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

So Have You Seen this Fan-Made Hunger Games Clip?

I don't know if you've seen this yet, but if you've read The Hunger Games you really, really should--it almost perfectly captures one of the best scenes in the book. If you haven't read it, and are considering it (and you really should), stay away from the clip 'cuz it'll ruin one of the best scenes in the book.

Other than the fact they got Rue's ethnicity wrong...can't think of a problem with this. I'd gladly fork over $10 to buy a ticket to this group's version of the whole book.

Watching this made me realize one major problem with making a movie of book: How does Hollywood expect to do this flick and get a PG-13?

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 19

First of all, realise that it's very hard, and that writing is a grueling and lonely business and, unless you are extremely lucky, badly paid as well. You had better really, really, really want to do it. Next, you have to write something.
Douglas Adams

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 18

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.
C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Having "The Talk" with your Kids (not *that* one)

I admit it, and it brings me great shame to do so...I messed up with my older two (despite my good intentions), and am trying to do better with my younger two, but it's so hard when their older brothers have it so messed up...

Parents, don't make the same mistakes I did... talk to them about Star Wars from an early age.

somehow this post feels like it should end with this:

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 17

There is no such thing as a perfect book or a perfect story.
Every book in every library on this planet has something wrong with it. It could be something tiny. Maybe a minor character isn't well drawn. Maybe a description goes on too long. May the dialogue is stiff in one spot. There's something wrong with every single one.
No matter how hard we writers try, we will never achieve perfection.
Perfection doesn't matter. No two readers would agree on whether our book was perfect anyway. Besides, readers care less about perfection and more about connection, getting caught up in a story, caring about the characters.
When you're just starting to write, you may be miles away from perfection, and you may be well aware of it. It's maddening. It's disappointing.
Writing is deceptive. You know how to read. You know what you like in a book and in a story. You know how to write, how to make sentences and paragraphs. So why can't you tell your story in the beautiful way it t appears in your mind?
Well, you wouldn't expect yourself to play the trumpet perfectly the first time you picked it up. You wouldn't expect to join the Olympic team the day after you learned to swim.
Writing is a skill, and the more we do it, the better we get at it. I expect to be learning to write till I die. There's always more to learn, and that may be the best thing about being a writer.
Gail Carson Levine

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 16

You're in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more---and that even when they do you're preoccupied and no fun. You don't know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you're pretty sure that even if you finish it it won't have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began---a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read---it falls so painfully short that you're pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That's how novels get written.

You write. That's the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Neil Gaiman

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 15

When you think of the great writers, penning a novel seems terribly romantic. You think of F. Scott Fitzgereald, a Riviera breeze billowing his curtains and the sounds of the Cap d'Antibes street cut by the tapping of his typewriter, as he lacerates the rich and dreams of the past. Or Hemingway, in a hotel in Pamplona in the heat of the afternoon, as bullfighters take their siesta and drops of water bead on a bottle of kirsch. Or Joyce, squinting his Irish bead-eyes as he blends his classical training and his Gaelic imagination to summon up allusive rhythms and language dense and enfolding.

Even lesser novelists seem glamorous. Some scribbler burning twigs in a boardinghouse in the second arrondissement as he dips his quill pen into the ink. Or a slim and shoeless thirty-something, taking a year off from his job as an alternative-marketing consultant to sit in a park in Vancouver or Park Slope and type into his PowerBook a wry yet soulful take on the paradoxes of hypermodernity.

That is all delusion. Writing a novel is pathetic and boring. Anyone sensible hates it. It's all you can do not to play Snood all afternoon.
Steve Hely
How I Became a Famous Novelist

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 14

Every novel should have a beginning, a muddle, and an end.
Peter De Vries

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 13

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself...Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
Mark Twain

Friday, November 12, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 12

Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better day by day, something is bound to happen.

Characters should not, conversely, serve as pawns for some plot you've dreamed up. Any plot you impose on your characters will be onomatopoetic: PLOT. I say don't worry about plot. Worry about the characters. Let what they say or do reveal who they are, and be involved in their lives, and keep asking yourself, Now what happens? The development of relationship creates plot. Flannery O'Connor, in Mystery and Manners, tells how she gave bunch of her early stories to the old lady who lived down the street, and the woman returned them saying, "Them stories just gone and shown you how some folks would do."

That's what plot is: what people will up and do in spite of everything that tells them they shouldn't, everything that tells them they shouldn't, everything that tells them that they should sit quietly on the couch and practice their Lamaze, or call their therapist, or eat until the urge to do that thing passes.

So focus on character.
Anne Lamott

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 11

here are a few rules ... for writing:
  1. The best way to write better is to write more.
  2. The best way to write better is to write more.
  3. The best way to write better is to write more.
  4. The best way to write more is to write whenever you have five minutes and wherever you find a chair and a pen and paper or your computer.
  5. Read! Most likely you don't need this rule. If you enjoy writing, you probably enjoy reading. The payoff for this pleasure is that reading books shows you how to write them.
  6. Reread! There's nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become part of you, n a way that words in a book you've read only once can't.
  7. Save everything you write, even if you don't like it, even if you hate it. Save it for a minimum of fifteen years. I'm serious. At that time, if you want to, you can throw it out, but even then don't discard your writing lightly.

Gail Carson Levine

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 10

Rules such as "Write what you know," and "Show, don't tell," while doubtlessly grounded in good sense, can be ignored with impunity by any novelist nimble enough to get away with it. There is, in fact, only one rule in writing fiction: Whatever works, works.

Ah, but how can you know if it's working? The truth is, you can't always know (I nearly burned my first novel a dozen times, and it's still in print after 35 years), you just have to sense it, feel it, trust it. It's intuitive, and that peculiar brand of intuition is a gift from the gods. Obviously, most people have received a different package altogether, but until you undo the ribbons you can never be sure.
Tom Robbins

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 9

It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes. When I brood over these marvelous pleasures I have enjoyed, I would be tempted to offer God a prayer of thanks if I knew he could hear me. Praised may he be for not creating me a cotton merchant, a vaudevillian, or a wit.
Gustave Flaubert


As you've no doubt noticed, I'm doing National Novel Writing Month yet again. I just threw up the code for our stats/word counts over there to your right. Not the most impressive of numbers, but give us time.

I'm more than a little surprised at the direction my novel's going. FOr most of the year, I'd been playing around with a Comedic Science Fiction idea, and despite some great help from readers a few months ago, I decided I just couldn't pull it off. Then I veered into a Nick Hornby/Jonathan Tropper direction, but that one again, fell apart in the planning. Somehow, I started something that touched on urban fantasy, and then became just good ol' fantasy. Surprised the heck out of me. I'm really not sure where I'm going with it, honestly, but I'm having a blast finding out.

I wrote a fight scene tonight--first one since college. This one was far superior to those, but, ugh. I've got a long ways to go there. It was pretty fun tho. I kept fighting the temptation to mime out certain moves to make sure I could describe them correctly, but was pretty sure my co-worker would've labeled me insane (or more insane), so I kept it to the brain. Also tonight, two characters I've been working on for a week were finally introduced, which was a relief. Sadly, when I got to their grand entrance, I'd forgotten their names. So that derailed me for 5-10 minutes. Their new names are pretty cool, and at least one of them is easier to pronounce, but man, I'm gonna be trying to remember their old ones for quite some time. Note to self/other writers: jot stuff like that down. Duhhhhhh.

Frodo's the only one of The Offspring that's taking the plunge this year. The others are plenty busy, and probably a bit demoralized by not being able to finish in year's past. I think next year, I'll give the Princess a nudge again, I think with a little effort on her part, she'll be able to produce something, she just needs more practice. Samwise is clearly not a writer--at least not in his mind, and that's fine, his creative interests are directed elsewhere, and it won't be too long before he'll be writing little ditties (and maybe some long ones, too) instead of stories. Frodo, meanwhile, is writing something very new for him--the last couple of years he's written two adventure/superhero stories in a series, and this year he's going for more of a semi-autobiographical, slice of life kind of thing. The change is doing him good, it's a lot of fun to see his skills develop. Sure his word count is low, but in a week or so I expect them to skyrocket.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 8

Why Authors write I do not know. As well ask why a hen lays an egg or a cow stands patiently while a farmer burglarizes her.
H. L. Mencken

Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.
Thomas Beger

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 7

Writing, in its most essential sense, is an artificial means for getting thoughts and images which reside in YOUR brain over to the guy holding your book in the most effective and accurate fashion possible, so that the reader will successfully translate your thoughts into HIS brain. The written word uses symbols to describe sights, sounds, and situations, in order to let the reader create the story inside his own imagination as he reads.

Writing is the original virtual reality.

If all goes well, the imaginary world you help the reader create in his head becomes as believable, exciting, and interesting as the real world.

But that means you need to make everything go well.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 6

Nothing corrupts a man so deeply as writing a book; the myriad temptations are overwhelming.
Nero Wolfe

Friday, November 05, 2010

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

sorry for the rushed nature of this one, but I wanted to get something up today and didn't have time to polish it right.

You just have to love this concept. An illiterate cowboy in 1890's Montana hears about Sherlock Holmes due to the republication of some of Watson's accounts in American periodicals. He's drawn by what Holmes does and sets about getting his hands on all of Watson's reports he can. And then he makes his brother read them to him over and over and over so he can learn how to do what Holmes does. At some point he thinks he's learned enough to start, and puts himself in a situation to put his skills to the test. And presto, you've got yourself a novel.

So much for the concept--how was the execution? Ehhh, not as good. It was dull, downright slow, filled with a bunch of cliched Western types. It was interesting enough to keep me reading, but man, did it get sloggy in parts. I'm glad I persevered, because the conclusion was satisfying (even if it's pace was 200% of what preceded it) and the central characters were amusing.

These brothers offer a great take on Holmes/Watson, and I'm sure I'll get to the sequels pretty soon. Hoping that now that the series has been set up, the next ones will pick up a little faster.

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 5

When asked, "How do you write?" I invariably answer, "One word at a time," and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That’s all. One stone at a time. But I’ve read you can see that [expletive deleted] from space without a telescope.
Stephen King

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 4

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, "It's not like you don't have a choice, because you do--you can either type or kill yourself." We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not coming pouring out like ticker tape most of the time. Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning--sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really sh*tty first drafts.

The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, "Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?," you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you you might go--but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.
Anne Lamott

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 3

I certainly don't sit down and plan a book out before I write it. There's a phrase I use called "The Valley Full of Clouds." Writing a novel is as if you are going off on a journey across a valley. The valley is full of mist, but you can see the top of a tree here and the top of another tree over there. And with any luck you can see the other side of the valley. But you cannot see down into the mist. Nevertheless, you head for the first tree. At this stage in the book, I know a little about how I want to start. I know some of the things that I want to do on the way. I think I know how I want it to end. This is enough. The thing now is to get as much down as possible. If necessary, I will write the ending fairly early on in the process. Now that ending may not turn out to be the real ending by the time that I have finished. But I will write down now what I think the conclusion of the book is going to be. It's all a technique, not to get over writer's block, but to get 15,000 or 20,000 words of text under my belt. When you've got that text down, then you can work on it. Then you start giving yourself ideas.
Terry Pratchett

Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

I'm not big on the short story form. Outside the Nero Wolfe short story collections, I could count on one hand the number of short stories I've read in the past 5-10 years. Lately, there's been a decent number of my favorite Urban Fantasy writers contributing to short story collections--usually on a theme, and usually using characters I really want to read about. But being short fiction, and being surrounded by stories about characters I don't care about/don't know/don't have time to get to know even if I wanted to, I don't get around to getting my hands on them.

From what I can tell, that's resulted in me missing some interesting stuff--even the start of a series I'm invested in (maybe more than one, come to think of it, but I'm not going to double check now).

Which is a whole lotta rambling set up to saying why I was very happy to hear that Jim Butcher was going to release a collection of previously published and new Harry Dresden stories. And even happier to get my hands on it last week.

Being short works of fiction, basically every story was this--some sort of problem, Harry investigating rather quickly and then moving right on to the fireworks, usually dazzlingly so. Wham, blam-o, thank you, sir. Each of them also tended to focus on at least one member of the supporting cast in a way we don't get enough of in the novels. I really appreciated getting to spend a little time with each of these people in this setting.

It was, admittedly, a mixed-bag. The first story, "Restoration of Faith," was the first Dresden story, and it's clearly that. There's a lot to our favorite wizard PI that is recognizable here, and a lot that get's tossed before Storm Front. A fun read, but I'm glad Butcher tweaked things the way he did.

The rest were better executed--mostly because Butcher's grown a lot as a writer since then, all were good reads, some better than others.

A couple of other stand-outs for me were the lighter, "Day Off" about Harry's fruitless quest for a quiet, relaxing day; "The Warrior" in which we get to see post-Small Favor Michael in action--even if it was a tad preachy, Butcher pulled it off, and I was so, so glad to see Michael like this; and "Love Hurts," which is the kind of story we've seen/read countless times about what happens when two will-they/won't-they friends fall under a spell/temporary delusion/whatever and fall madly, temporarily in love--it's been done a lot, frequently poorly, but not here.

"Love Hurts" was also a perfect set-up to the novelette Aftermath, which starts up hours after the jaw-dropping/rage-inducing last page of Changes and was, for me, worth the purchase price. If I'd remembered that this was going to be at the end of this collection, I'd have finished the thing in one setting, rather than over a period of days. Great, great story, both for the plot/characters itself, and for what Butcher shows us about how these characters will act without the man in the duster around. Loved it.

Now, this hasn't convinced me to get these other collections I mentioned earlier--but I just now have hope that some of my other favorite authors will get in gear and publish collections like this one.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A New Favorite Election Day Quotation

haven't read this one since high school (will be starting it Monday again), so it's not a big surprise that I didn't have this one queued up for today/other Election Days.

The most interesting incident Tuesday morning was my walking to a building on Thirty-fourth Street to enter a booth and push levers on a voting machine. I have never understood why anybody passes up that bargain. It doesn't cost a cent, and for that couple of minutes, you're the star of the show, with top billing. It's the only way that really counts for you to say I'm it, I'm the one that decides what's going to happen and who's going to make it happen. It's the only time I really feel important and know I have a right to. Wonderful. Sometimes the feeling lasts all the way home if somebody doesn't bump me.
- Archie Goodwin

Let the Complaining Begin!

As soon as the polls opened today, I went and did my civic duty along with a handful of others (that's not a comment on turnout, btw), many of whom would not qualify for a Senior Citizen discount on anything, so I took heart in that.

One of the nice things about living in the State of Idaho is that I can freely vote my conscience (i.e., not a Republicrat) and be fully certain that the candidate who appears to be the lesser of two evils will make it to office. I'd vote my conscience anyway, but still...

Anyway, according to several T-Shirts and Bumper Stickers that I've seen (if these aren't the true arbiters of what passes for thought in America today, I don't know what is...twitter, I guess), as a voter, I'm now fully qualified to complain. So let me get started:

  1. Kids these Days, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that ol' Socrates/Plato/Cicero/someone forever old said,
    "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers."
    which just goes to show ya that everyone's complained about Kids these Days.

    Whatever. It's still true, kids today are manner-less, contemptuous and disrespectful, you know it, I know it and they know it.

  2. Two Party System...when are we, the electorate, going to wake up to the fact that this supposed two-party system is just one party masquerading as two, different names for the same stuff? When will we demand actual choices in the forms of multiple parties?
  3. Bite-Sized Candy ShrinkageNow this one, I'm really riled up about. Go check out the contents of your kids' plunder from this weekend, or a bag on the shelf of the grocery store if you're not into that--those things are noticeably and significantly smaller than they were even 1 year ago. Now, I'm not one to call for more government interference in our lives/the market, but c'mon, you're telling me the FDA doesn't have an enforceable standard mass for "bite sized" candy bar?

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 2

Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.
Douglas Adams

(one of my all-time favorite lines)

Monday, November 01, 2010

Yup, It's November Again, You Know What that Means...

will try not to bore you too much with it...

Writing Quote of the Day - Nov 1

Writing a novel--actually picking the words and filling in paragraphs--is a tremendous pain in the ass. Now that TV's so good and the Internet is an endless forest of distraction, it's damn near impossible. That should be taken into account when ranking the all-time greats. Somebody like Charles Dickens, for example, who had nothing better to do except eat mutton and attend public hangings, should get very little credit.
Steve Hely
How I Became a Famous Novelist

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I have truly never felt like voting more than after watching this

...granted, not voting the way and The Worst Thing to Happen to House clearly want me to, but hey, I'll definitely be at the polls

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

For no particular reason...

A few days ago, TLomL went through the hand-me-downs in waiting to get some reinforcements for Arnold's wardrobe. One shirt found it's way to The Princess' collection instead. Now normally, I prefer (and I think she does, too) her in the girlier things, and am not that crazy about the tomboy look for her. But I can't help but think this really works for her.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I honestly don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading this little international phenomenon, it wasn't because I didn't have access, my sister loaned it to me months ago. Something just kept me from it, maybe it was fear of the bandwagon, who knows. It certainly has a strong following, almost Tha Da Vinci Code-like, more than one person saw me carrying it and had to talk about it, which never happens to me.

The one thing that we all agreed on was that it started slowly. Like cold molasses slow. It was either brave or foolhardy of Larsson to start off his book with a detailed and plodding description of a financial crime. Hardly the kind of thing that sucks you in. Not only that, that type of crime doesn't seem to match up with the cited statistics about assaults on females in Sweden that are so prominent. When, after more than 200 pages into the novel, when we finally do get our first assault on a female, it comes across as perfunctory.

The book follows the path of 2 protagonists--Mikael Blomkvist, a financial reporter with a superiority complex, and Lisbeth Salander, a young investigator for a security company whose talents far exceed her appearance and age. Blomkvist is in the middle of some legal trouble, which has forced him out of the news biz for awhile, so he takes a job researching a decades-old missing-persons case for an aged, reclusive industrialist. Salander's dealing with her own legal and personal issues, and apparently the near universal belief that horribly thin girls with tattoos and piercings are stupid and unreliable.

The book plods along, almost but not quite capturing my interest until soon after obligatory (yet unnecessary for either plot or character development) assault that the two finally meet, and then--finally the plot begins to pick up. The two join forces and quickly uncover clues that lay hidden in plain sight since the fateful day when the industrialist's niece disappeared. These lead them to the trail of a serial killer.

Larsson gets both the investigator and the reporter to discover the killer's identity at about the same time, when, naturally they are miles away from each other. This leads to both being in some kind of jeopardy. But honestly, I didn't once feel any tension, it was clear that the jeopardy would be thwarted without permanent damage of any kind being inflicted.

Things were tied up in a tidy, and somewhat satisfactory bow, and the further along in the novel, the better things moved. But there's really little to recommend the book on. Blomkvist reads a lot of detective fiction, usually dropping the name of the author and title along the way. There are at least two mentions of a Val McDermid novel. And as many problems as I have with her stuff, it's a darn shame that Larsson didn't pay more attention to her, he could've learned how to make even an obvious conclusion not seem entirely forgone, and with enough tension and suspense to spare. The "Thriller" label that's applied to this book is very misplaced.

Why bother to finish it? Curious to see what all the fuss was about, really. Also, the Salandar character was intriguing enough. Which is why, incidentally, I started the sequel.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Archie

On Oct 23 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Archie Goodwin entered this world--no doubt with a smile for the pretty nurses--and American detective literature was never the same.

I'm toasting him in one of the ways I think he'd appreciate most--by raising a glass of milk in his honor.

Who was Archie? Archie summed up his life thusly:

Born in Ohio. Public high school, pretty good at geometry and football, graduated with honor but no honors. Went to college two weeks, decided it was childish, came to New York and got a job guarding a pier, shot and killed two men and was fired, was recommended to Nero Wolfe for a chore he wanted done, did it, was offered a full-time job by Mr. Wolfe, took it, still have it." (Fourth of July Picnic)

Long may he keep it. Just what was he employed by Wolfe to do? In The Black Mountain he answers the statement, "I thought you was a private eye" with:

I don't like the way you say it, but I am. Also I am an accountant, an amanuensis, and a cocklebur. Eight to five you never heard the word amanuensis and you never saw a cocklebur.

In The Red Box, he says

I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe's chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I'm chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.

In Black Orchids, he reacts to an insult:
...her cheap crack about me being a ten-cent Clark Gable, which was ridiculous. He simpers, to begin with, and to end with no once can say I resemble a movie actor, and if they did it would be more apt to be Gary Cooper than Clark Gable.

In case you're wondering if this post was simply an excuse to go through some collections of Archie Goodwin quotations, you wouldn't be totally wrong...he's one of the fictional characters I like spending time with most in this world--he's the literary equivalent of comfort food. So just a couple more great lines I've quoted here before:
I would appreciate it if they would call a halt on all their devoted efforts to find a way to abolish war or eliminate disease or run trains with atoms or extend the span of human life to a couple of centuries, and everybody concentrate for a while on how to wake me up in the morning without my resenting it. It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick, but I'd have to try it.

I looked at the wall clock. It said two minutes to four. I looked at my wrist watch. It said one minute to four. In spite of the discrepancy it seemed safe to conclude that it would soon be four o'clock.

"Indeed," I said. That was Nero Wolfe's word, and I never used it except in moments of stress, and it severely annoyed me when I caught myself using it, because when I look in a mirror I prefer to see me as is, with no skin grafted from anybody else's hide, even Nero Wolfe's.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Yessir, That's My Baby

Am not going to bother with a why-I'm-not-blogging post, tired of those, and frankly, I don't know. I sit and sit in front of blank screens and nothing worth posting gets generated (and it doesn't take reading much of what's posted here to see that I have very low standards in that regard).

Today, I do have something worth talking about. After years of work, and a pretty major project that saved our state a whole lotta cash (for which no "Thank You" card will be forthcoming), The Love of My Life today completed her course of study to become a Certified Public Manager.

Wanted to take a moment to extend my congratulations publicly, and to say how proud I am of all she's accomplished. Way to go, Love.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Better Luck Next Year

In honor of our 14th anniversary I was going to try to compile some advice, some pearls of wisdom to share for the younger men in my audience.

Alas, it all came out like Sawyer's English lesson for Jin.

I'll try to start earlier on it next year, maybe I'll come up with something worth passing along

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lifting a Pint for Sam

Patriot Samuel Adams was born this day in 1722. Adams was one of the men behind the Boston Tea Party, was a delegate to the Continental Congress 1774-1781, signed the Declaration of Independence, and served as Governor of Massachusetts (1794-1797). When he wasn't showing more political courage, backbone and conviction than every elected person currently in Washington, D. C., he brewed beer. From what I understand, he was a far better politician than a brewer. It's in this connection that most people know about him today (I don't even want to think about how many college freshman know what the Boston Tea Party is...), his name is now attached to a very fine beer (not a great one, mind you), but one worthy of the name.

Thomas Jefferson called him the "Patriarch of Liberty," his cousin John (you may have heard of him) said:

Without the character of Samuel Adams, the true history of the American Revolution can never be written. For fifty years his pen, his tongue, his activity, were constantly exerted for his country without fee or reward.

Here's a few gems of wisdom from his pen:
If Virtue & Knowledge are diffus'd among the People, they will never be enslav'd. This will be their great Security.

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsel or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands of those who feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you. May posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.

The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.

Were the talents and virtues which heaven has bestowed on men given merely to make them more obedient drudges, to be sacrificed to the follies and ambition of a few? Or, were not the noble gifts so equally dispensed with a divine purpose and law, that they should as nearly as possible be equally exerted, and the blessings of Providence be equally enjoyed by all?

A general dissolution of the principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy.... While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.... If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security.

How strangely will the Tools of a Tyrant pervert the plain Meaning of Words!

Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.

If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of Almighty God, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.

It is a very great mistake to imagine that the object of loyalty is the authority and interest of one individual man, however dignified by the applause or enriched by the success of popular actions.

All might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they should.

He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of this country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.

If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.

Driven from every other corner of the earth, freedom of thought and the right of private judgment in matters of conscience, direct their course to this happy country as their last asylum.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Progress or Something

Children are learning to use profanity — swearing — at an earlier age, according to research presented at the Sociolinguistics Symposium this month. And the researchers found children are also swearing more often than children did just a few decades ago.
First of all, say "Sociolinguistics Symposium" five times fast. Doing it faster and doing more of it, it's the American way.

Just how early?
"By the time kids go to school now, they're saying all the words that we try to protect them from on television," says Jay [who presented the data]. "We find their swearing really takes off between (ages) three and four."
3 and 4. That's Sesame Street ages, right? Maybe Katy Perry wasn't that out of line... But note that he named the favorite bogey man of whatever's wrong with our kids, television. That's gotta be it, right? More and more of it on TV, so more and more of it in kids' mouths. Bzzzt.
Kids aren't learning swearing at an earlier age from the television they watch. The rise in cursing mirrors the rise in cursing among adults in the past thirty years that Jay has been studying the psychology of swearing.
Ooops. In fact, it's monkey-hear, monkey-do:
"As soon as kids can speak, they're using swear words," says Jay. "That doesn't mean they know what adults know, but they do repeat the words they hear."

Eh, what's it matter? Bunch of silly Victorian sensibilities becoming more obsolete is all.
Swearing is not a trivial matter about an occasional profanity slipping past a child's lips. Previous research into swearing has shown it has a significant impact with problems at home, in school, and at the workplace.
...not to mention it's lazy and largely uncreative.

The bit of silver lining on this effen gray cloud? Edited a skosh to keep this sfw.
Children do not appear to be yet using worse swear words than in the past — just common swear words more often, according to the new research. Although there are over 70 different common taboo swear words in the English language (some of which also vary from English-speaking country to country), 10 frequently used words account for over 80 percent of common swearing — fbleepk, sbleept, hbleepl, dbleepn, gbleepn, Jbleeps Cbleept, ableeps, oh my gbleepd, bbleeph and sbleeps.
What, really, that last one counts? Gulp.

The original article is here, and then Jay's very interesting website is here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Moving Oratory

Samwise stood for election today as his 6th grade class president, along with three other candidates. We don't yet know the results, which is driving him crazy--and depending on how distracted he gets over the weekend, could end up driving us all crazy. Being new to the school, he is at a disadvantage compared to the competition (tho' it could pay off, I guess), but he had fun.

To keep the playing field level, there was no campaigning allowed (that's my assumption about the rationale at least), just name recognition and a single speech today. Here's the text:

My Campaign Speech

First of all, I'd like to thank you all for your time. I'd also like to say thanks to Mrs. ----- for putting this together.

7 score and 7 years ago, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech. A lot of other people have given speeches at many other dates and times. I will be like them today, speechwise.

Now, there have been some problems in class.
  1. Talking.
  2. Disruption of the class.
And I have solutions to those problems. For talking, I have 2.
  1. You would get additional punishments, along with the Tigger Bucks fine. So, like, if someone was talking they'd put $20 on their desk AND lose a recess or something .
  2. The people who aren't talking get rewarded.
Now, for disruption. I'd STRONGLY suggest a refocus form or something.

So, um, yeah, um,.............I'm going blank here...............OH! That's right! Adios, mis amigos!

Or “That's all folks!” or something. I don't know. Well, ok, I'm done.
He had no help composing that speech, and even did the math to figure out how many score (he even knew the date off the top of his head). Honestly, I know when I was in 6th grade, I probably couldn't have written that second paragraph, and would've killed (well, poked savagely at any rate) to be able to. Consider me proud.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Am sure this is of little concern to you all, but it's big enough to me that I have to mention it (besides, this has been one of those über draining days that render thought almost impossible, so be happy I came up with anything). A few months back, I said that I'd lost 20 pounds so far this year. I've kept at it, and am pleased to announce that I've lost a little bit more:

And it's a good thing I hit that yesterday. Have had one of those weeks where I was on the verge of throwing in the towel and piling it on--you know, having a large Chicago Fire Pizza every day for lunch, and getting caught up on my lounging around. I'm tired of all the work, fed up with feeling hungry all the time...yada yada yada. But when the scale flashed that magic number at me, that was all the reinforcement I needed. Back to the trench warfare that this weight-loss project has become...15 lbs to go!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Contemporary Epidemic: the Halfalogue

From Kung Fu Monkey: Here's a handy-dandy scientific explanation for why Cell Phone/Bluetooth Guy is so much more grating than Obnoxiously Loud Couple.

What a way to make a living, examining the whys and wherefores of pet peeves. You know, you just know, that the grant approval process has to be easier for this team.

"All right, we have just one more grant to award today, and let's see here...the applicants include: (sound of papers being shuffled) a new Rational Emotive Behavior treatment for bulimia...a more exact test for determining placement on the Autism Spectrum...relationship between watching semi-celebrities on Reality TV shows and Acts of Violence, that one has promise...and, what's this? 'Why People on Cell Phones are so Annoying'? I think it's clear we don't even have to vote on this one, right?" (sound of gavel banging, grant checks being written)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This Must Be that New Math I've Been Hearing About...

Frodo's Pre-Algebra teacher showed this to his class today.

Technology in the classroom, ladies and gentleman.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Good in Bed byJennifer Weiner

What's this? Chick Lit here?

Sure, why not?

I've actually read a piece or two lately about how useless the term is, and where people like Franzen or Tropper or Hornby can write about the same themes that appear in the better Chick Lit works and not be dismissed with a label quite as easily. Maybe that's true, probably is. At the same time, it's a label that works pretty well most of the time--and like all genres, the better works don't get the recognition they deserve, but those who are up on things will get rewarded.

Anyway, I do read Chick Lit--at least a couple of titles a year. I'd read more, but I try to be picky. So this weekend, I finally got around to taking my wife's advice and tried Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed (probably helped by seeing it set forth as an example of the better Chick Lit being ignored in the articles I mentioned). I'm glad I did, and will likely read more of her. Not anytime soon, nothing against her, it'd just take time away from the mysteries I'm binging on lately.

Wow, I'm rambling today, eh?

So on with the book...our protagonist is Candace (but call her Cannie), an entertainment reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper. She's funny, smart, has good taste, a neat dog and is...well, fat. On the whole, she's okay with that--she's healthy and active, and though she's tried a few diets/diet programs, none of them has stuck. Still, overall, she has a nice life. Until her ex gets a new column in a Cosmo-like mag and starts off with an article called "Loving a Larger Woman" (or something like that). It's actually a pretty decent piece, fairly considerate--and everyone who isn't Cannie or her best friend really likes it.

This launches Cannie on a quest for self-improvement--emotionally, professionally, and physically. And honestly, I'm not sure how to go on from here without a lot of spoilers.

There's a big fairy tale ending here, but it's quickly derailed into something still unrealistic, but far more satisfying. Funny, insightful, touching (without being obviously sentimental), and charming. It's a satisfying read (and would probably hold up to a repeated read or two), no matter what label gets attached to it.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Why the Son of God Loved Me and Gave Himself for Me

I'm just having another one of those days where I'm not sure I have anything to say. But when I read this quotation over at Patrick’s Pensees, I was glad I didn't have something planned so I could steal it outright.

Moreover, I really needed this. Thanks, Patrick.

If you ask, Why he made so much ado about a worthless creature, raised out of the dust of the ground at first, and had now disordered himself, and could be of no use to him? We have an answer at hand, Because he loved us. If you continue to ask, But why did he love us? We have no other answer but because he loved us; for beyond the first rise of things we cannot go.
Thomas Manton

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Hello Kitty Must Die

I've often felt conflicted about my appreciation for protagonists/leading characters who are murderers--professional hitmen (Peter Brown, Jimmy the Tulip, Martin Blank, Hawk, Jules Winnfield) or serial killers (Dexter Morgan, early Hannibal Lecter), but I can usually get over it because of what their creators do with them. But Angela S. Choi's Fiona Fi Yu, from Hello Kitty Must Die, doesn't get to join their ranks in my book. There's little to commend her, or the book, if you ask me (which is sort of implied if you've read this far).

Fi is a successful, thirtysomething Chinese-American lawyer, living with her parents, who stumbles into serial killing (I'll leave the details to those who read it). An unpleasant childhood, filled with overbearing parents, a strict Catholic school, and one sociopathic friend primes this perpetually single (and proud!) woman for an adulthood that's even more unpleasant. Until the aforementioned stumbling, anyway. She's a whiny, selfish, me-first person all the way, with a personality only a parakeet could love. Essentially, she's a very unpleasant person--beyond the murdering. Sure, she can mix pop culture references into her narrative like Dennis Miller in his prime, but in a post-Tarantino/Whedon/Apatow/Abed Nadir age, is that really so noteworthy? Besides, if Humbert Humbert taught us nothing at all, he taught us that "You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style."

What about the story itself? It starts off semi-promising, and then goes straight downhill from there. Well, let me amend that. It starts off offensively, but it's a staged, calculated offensiveness. Choi trades in an actual narrative hook for a hook constructed of shock value. But a few pages later, it gets semi-promising. There's no redemption of the character--not even growth. Nothing commendable about the events, characters, or cultural commentary.

On the other hand, it was a quick read.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Grampa went to a Wildfire and All I Got was this Lousy Tshirt?

Since before he retired, my dad's been cooking up ways to make some money in retirement (my thought...why retire?). One of the ways has been as a driver for those fighting wildfires that crop up in Idaho every summer--from various sites to other sites from the fire to the airport (and vice versa), etc. He's been called to duty twice in the last couple of years--he's had at least one down year in between those, which put us in the odd position of hoping the fires don't get too bad, but sorta hoping they do.

What I find interesting enough to focus on today is, like just about every aspect of our culture, fire fighting has been commercialized. There is apparently a decent amount of swag to be picked up at the fires. A couple years ago, my dad brought back tshirts and caps for the grandkids (and himself) with the logos of the companies (is that what you call groups of firefighters?) he was near/driving, or of a waterbomber group, etc. But this year, he brought back tshirts for that very fire. In this case, the Hurd wildfire. Yeah, it had it's own logo (as you can see on Arnold's front and the Princess' back below). My mind boggles that while people are being evacuated, people are being brought in from all corners, federal funds are being allocated (granted, that can take milliseconds), and this thing is being contained; someone has the time to design and print these suckers. The stuff he brought back a couple years ago could be generated in the off season (and, I should note, was of higher quality). But in the midst of all this to create these just strikes me as odd. Not nefarious, don't get me wrong, just odd.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Point of Personal Privilege, and a Word of Thanks

...come to think of it, isn't pretty much everything here Personal Privilege? hmmm...

Happy Blogg-iversary to Me
Happy Blogg-iversary to Me
Happy Blogg-iversary dear Pax, Amor, et Lepos in Iocando (né White Noise)
Happy Blogg-iversary to Me

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments (not enough), visits, or has done so over the last 8 years. Wouldn't be the same without ya.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Derek and the Falling Dominoes

As someone who bleeds blue pinstripes, what happens to Derek Jeter at the end of this season has been lurking at the back of my mind, threatening to hurl my soul into an abyss of despair (that may be laying it on a little bit thick, but sports does that to a guy). But beyond The Captain's contact expiring, there's the fact the he's aging. The man's 36, playing shortstop. He's not having a great season, but we can ignore that for now. But on the whole, I (like a lot of fans) have pushed the whole thing to the back of my mind, because we really don't want to deal with it--mentally living in a van down by a river in Egypt with Chris Farley. Joe Posnanski wrote a great column today, about a conversation he had with a Red Sox fan talking about the diminishing future of Jeter. Clearly, this member of Red Sox Nation has thought about it more than most of the Yankee Universe has--and who can blame him?

If you're of a mind, give it a read--this is what baseball writing should be about--historical context and precedent, good use of stats to describe past/present/future, and rational thinking about what lies ahead--sprinkled with a little humor and respect.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

First Day of School 2010-11 (part deux)

So, my first day as a "Learning Coach" for the younger Offspring at a virtual academy has come and gone. And I'm on the verge of starting the countdown to my last one. Seriously, seriously had a lousy time. I'm pretty sure tomorrow--and several more tomorrows to come--will be better (and not just because they really couldn't get worse), which helps some.

No matter how much I prepped, the day was still full of--

"I'm supposed to have you do what now?"
"I'm supposed to print X? Where is X?"
"Why did I print 2 copies of that?" (fairly certain the parent company is owned by an ink cartridge manufacturer)
"Seriously...I spent 15 minutes preparing all these things to get you going on an activity that...teaches you to do something you've been doing for 4 years???"
...and so on

Now I've gone through a lot of that when I homeschooled in the past, but then it was my fault for not preparing correctly, reading the instructions, etc. and I could either shrug it off or laugh at myself. But I'm not the responsible party, it's all their fault and if those dunderheads would just get things straight, everything would be fine and dandy.

Yes, A. I realize the double standard at work here and B. Shut up.

And don't get me started on the mandatory orientation session that interrupted my day, threatened to derail everything, and went on for 2.5 hours covering things that anyone who was conscious and semi-aware during registration/recruitment would know (which didn't stop several Learning Coaches from asking and reasking questions about them, and being so, so, so grateful for the answers). If you get my Facebook feed, you heard me whine about it already. And if you don't get that feed--well, now's a time to be thankful you didn't have to put up with that.

Still, the Princess and Arnold were über-excited about starting, and most of their enthusiasm didn't diminish throughout the day. Actually, they were very positive about the whole thing and are rarin' to go tomorrow. As long as that holds up, I can fake it on my end. Probably.

Naturally, the only time Arnold wasn't smiling/happy/excited today was when I broke out the camera (odd, as he's usually the world's biggest piece of cured meat cut from the thigh of a hog). Still, holding to tradition: here's the first day of school pic:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


So my friends, I could use some help.

I'm starting to work on a new writing project. This one's sort of an interplanetary trek type thingamajig (watch me throw around the technical terms). In doing the prep work, I'm trying to design a few aliens/alien races for my progaonists to bump into.

And that's where I'm running into trouble. I've got one design down (one of my protagonists) and the rest from the Cantina scene, or I've apparently lifted them from Space Trawler (a great read, btw).

So, I turn to you, hat in hand and ask for some help. Got any ideas? They don't need to be fully formed, just the bare essential, a trait, a strange appearance, anything...I'd greatly appreciate it, and I assure you that you'll share in the profits.* .

There's part of me that thinks this hitch might show I should move on to another idea, but I'm not going to. I've got a real good feeling about this one--not that it's the one that's gonna go anywhere, it's the one I might let someone read :)

So, any thoughts?

* Not that there will ever be any.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Odds 'n Ends Reviews

Here's a handful of things I've been meaning to blog about, but the posts would be very small, or I can't just find the time. So, in no particular order:


  • Rubicon. This show is like the anti-Damages, yet it's so similar. Like Damages, you have no idea what's really going on most of the time (and you're okay with that), you're pretty sure you're not really going to know if it's worth it until the last episode (but it probably is), it's absolutely riveting, and it'll make you paranoid, seeing conspiracies everywhere. On the other hand, it's not like Damages--it's told sequentially (not that it's any help figuring out what's happening), it's slow. Glacially slow. People stare out the window and think. People stare at paper and think. People do crosswords. And you can't take your eyes off it. Seriously good stuff. I hear AMC is running all the episodes this weekend for those who've missed out on the first half of the season. It's worth the try.
  • Mad Men, I didn't get the appeal of Season 1. I still didn't get it for most of Season 2 (but kept on just to see what the fuss was about, and 'sides, I needed something to watch at work). But then something--don't ask me what--clicked with me, and I can't get enough of this world. Well, most of it. If Betty Draper vanished into thin air, I'd be absolutely okay. Great, great show.
  • Monk it feels weird not spending time with Natalie, Leland, Randy and Monk any more during the summer.
  • Sons of Anarchy comes roaring back next week and I cannot wait!!!

  • Scott Pilgrim 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour. Not the way I'd have ended the epic, but I can't complain. This series was a real treat to read. If you've watched the movie, or have seen the commercials and thought you might want to watch the movie, you need to check out the source.
  • Richard Yancey -- I've spent a lot of time with Mr. Yancey over the last month or so. Frodo and I have worked through his YA series about the last descendant of Lancelot, the unlikeliest of heroes--Alfred Kropp, and I've read the first three installments in his Highly Effective Detective series. Both feature "heroes" that don't fit the mold for their genres (similarly at times), who nevertheless get the job done. Both are fun, both are well-told/plotted/paced, and both are far more satisfying than you'd think from reading the cover blurbs. Can't wait for the more from this guy.

  • Greenberg/The Runaways. I just don't get it. Some of the acting in these is great. I'm glad to see Ben Stiller can act as well as he did in Greenberg, and it's always great to see Merritt Weaver. Kristin Stewart rocked (sorry, couldn't resist) in The Runaways, and it hardly needs to be said that Dakota Fanning was great. And most everyone else in both films was just about as good. But--UGH. Both were such monumental wastes of time. Is there a word for the opposite of Gestalt? If so, it's what describes these. If not, there should be.
  • Cop Out--not Kevin Smith's greatest movie, but so funny once Tracey Morgan was reigned in. Bruce Willis should do more comedy.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World because of time/money, I've been to the theater 5 times this year--2.5 times mostly as a chaperone/chauffeur. I'd be 100% willing to go another 5 times just to watch this movie. Sure, it's not absolutely faithful to the source material--but it captures the essence and got the story to fit in a decent runtime, so I can't complain. So much fun. So much heart. Why isn't this a hit?

  • The Reason Why by Little Big Town. I've only had this album for three days, and have listened to it maybe 4 times, but it already feels like an old favorite I can turn to and relax/think with. These guys are too good to be so small.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Zorro by Isabel Allende

It takes a certain kind of skill to write a boring book about a character like Zorro, and apparently, Isabel Allende possesses such. It also takes a certain brashness to pronounce your protagonist as "fun" in the first paragraph--and several times following that--and then fail to produce any real evidence of it.

I was excited about the prospect of this book--a great pulp hero like Zorro in the hands of someone with Allende's lit cred? It'd have to be great, right?

It took maybe 20-30 pages to disabuse me of that idea. Allende's narrator sets out to tell the origins of Zorro--starting with events years before his parents met, and then proceeds at the pace (and in a style) fit for a medium-sized biography. We're less than 60 pages from the end before a 20-something Don Diego de la Vega returns from Spain to California and begins his career as America's first superhero in earnest. This would be something like making the audience sit through 90 minutes of Aaron Smolinski and Jeff East working on the farm with Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter before Christopher Reeve catches Margot Kidder and the helicopter (and then foils Lex Luthor's big nuclear missile into the San Andreas fault/real estate scam in 15 minutes).

Again, it read like a biography, and an unimaginatively written one at that. He did this and then he did that. He was this adjective, and was that often. Over and over and over--no showing, plenty of telling. For a couple of paragraphs on either side of a section of his life/escapades, the narrator would break in with a little commentary and bordered on developing an engaging voice, but that would disappear within a page. It had to be the slowest 390 page book I've read in years--I kept at it, waiting for her to pull it around once the setup was finished. What a mistake. Save yourself from following in my footsteps.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Frivolity - Smells Like Rockin Robin

H/T to Weird Al's twitter feed:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Real Health Care Reform

The Idaho Press-Tribune today talks about a new local company doing something to offer real, needed change to the Health Care Industry (and no, I'm not being sarcastic/ironic/snarky/whatever).

An RN and an anesthesiologist* have developed this little thing they call "Privacy Preferred Hospital Gown" and it offers just that--a hospital gown with privacy, which most people (other than sitcom writers looking for an easy joke) prefer. Y'see, it parts on the side and ties in the front, yet provides all the easy kinds of access people with IVs, needles, stethoscopes, etc need to have.

Simple, straightforward, an idea that who's time has come (decades ago, really). May their tribe increase.

* yes, I had to copy and paste that word to make sure it was spelled correctly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Just the Thing for Miniature French Gourmands

Zoologists with Conservation International in Borneo have discovered a new species of frog--the world's tiniest (so far). Just how tiny is tiny? 10-12 mm long--but loud enough to hear, apparently, because that's how the zoologists found them.

io9 has a fuller story and some more cute pictures.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not to Get All Pedantic or Anything...

These radio advertisements for The Western Idaho Fair (maybe TV, too, I haven't seen any) are really getting on my nerves. Is it really so difficult/time consuming to say something like "at The Western Idaho Fair" rather than "at Western Idaho Fair"??

A couple of years ago, as I recall, the logo and advertising campaign for The Western Idaho Fair referred to it as simply "The Fair." Are we to expect it to just be "Fair" now?

I get it that language changes and evolves, but have we really reached the point where the definite article has become vestigial and obsolete?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci

Victoria Jurgen is an honor student, a budding photographer with a heck of an eye, a social misfit, a movie geek (there's a correlation of the two), who's nicknamed herself after a SciFi movie character. All this makes her (a goal for her, a criticism for her mother) "boy proof."

She has no real friends at school--only rivals, acquaintances, and those that she ignores. Until a transfer student rattles her cage, awakening ideas, feelings, and goals she's not ready for.

Victoria is what Bella Swan could've become if she were a bit geekier, and didn't fall in with the supernatural set. Speaking of ol' Bella, early on in Boy Proof, there's a scene involving a transfer student, the only empty seat in class, and the newcomer's odor that is very reminiscent of a scene from Twilight. IMNSHO, Castellucci pulls if off better than Meyer did.

There's nothing ground-breaking here plot-wise, but Victoria's character and voice are so strong, you don't care. This book is about watching her change and grow. Could the book have been more than that? Sure. Did it need to be? Nope. I wish I could remember what blogpost/tweet/whatever it was that tipped me off to this book, but whatever it was, I'm glad I read it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What is Truth? - Quote of the Day

"...Like the whole concept of truth, Mr. Hinton. You know what the most haunting question in the Bible is? When Pilate says to Jesus, 'What is the truth?' You know, is it empirical and objective, or it is all relative and subjective? Is my truth your truth? Or is truth something outside both of us, immutable as the atomic weight of lithium? When you think about it, all science, religion, philosophy, morals, everything, turns on Pilate's question. What is the truth?"

Now, standing on the corner of Church and Henley, waiting for the light to change, Hinton said, slightly out of breath, "All right, then. I'll bite. What is the truth, Mr. Ruzak?"

"Boy," I said. "You got me."

- Richard Yancey
The Highly Effective Detective Plays the Fool

Thursday, August 19, 2010

First Day of School 2010-11 (part 1)

So less than a week before classes started, I got a call from the same Charter that Frodo'd enrolled in saying that there was an opening for Samwise--thankfully, I didn't make a fool of myself and actually got him into the school.

Today was the first day there for both of them. And no, they don't have to wear that fast food worker looking outfit every day, they just happened to both pick the same thing. (and unlike me and my sister at that age, didn't feel immediately compelled to change into something else once they saw the other). So far, we've been very impressed with the teachers and staff; and while the school's educational philosophy might not align with ours perfectly, but it's good enough for government work (and thousands a year cheaper than the only school nearby that comes closer).

Anyway, the boys had a good first day, and ran into a good number of fellow "refugees" from their old school (their word, not mine) and are looking forward to what's coming up.

Of course, not everyone was hard at work this morning:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Boise Beer Fest 2010

Like last year, it's taken me a lot longer than planned/expected to get around to writing up anything on Boise Beer Fest 2010.

While I enjoyed 2009's festival, I thought there was room for improvement. As did many others--including the people who put on the fest :) They got a bigger space, spread out the lines more, and got in more food vendors, and a few other improvements that were all smaller than their effect. It was as close to perfect as you can ask for (the weather helped, too). While I wouldn't call the atmosphere last year as anything approaching businesslike, it seemed a lot more laid back this year (probably because we weren't herded together into such a tight group).

and finally, some thoughts on the brews I sampled:

  • Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (Stone Brewing) - Basically, it's Arrogant Bastard with a little extra zing. Pretty good way to start the day.
  • Devastator (Wasatch Brewery) - Nice, still had the aftertaste of Self-Righteous going on, so I'm not sure how to describe it, but I liked it and fully intend to buy some as soon as I can.
  • Summer Ale (Crescent Brewery) - from Nampa, ID's very own new brewery, so new they don't have a website. This was fruity, sweet and totally not for me. But it was well made, could tell it was good.
  • Georgetown Porter (Georgetown Brewery) - had this last year under its old name, 9lb Porter. Still nice, a very pleasant reunion.
  • Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale - very flavorful, I really like this. Will be back for more.
  • Great Divide Yeti - I've had a few bottles of this from Brewforia, and I'll have a few more. Tastes slightly better on tap (not news, there, I know)
  • 90 Shilling Ale (Odell Brewing) - TLomL and I both couldn't think of a better way to describe the taste than "simple." But that's not bad, it's a simple, straightforward ale. Very tasty, probably worth more than 90 shillings.
  • Crescent Brewery ESB - another entry from the local boys...very alcoholy taste, but it pulls it off. Yummy.
  • Black Cat Porter (Mac & Jack's Brewery) - a sweet porter (what?), tasty, tasty...a very non-porter-ish porter.
  • Oatis Oatmeal Stout (Ninkasi Brewing) - Nothing all that distinctive, but very nice, will keep my eye open for this one. The guy working the tap gave me a hard time for taking notes, but how was I supposed to remember how to spell Ninkasi when I made it back to my seat? Phonics would be no help here.
  • Dragonstooth Stout (Elysian Brewing) - can't describe it (my palate needs more training and/or a better vocabulary), nice stout that doesn't taste like most stouts (I realize I've described the last two similarly, but best I can do)
  • Turbodog (Abita Beer) - this is a brown? Really? Brown Ales are typically my favorite, but this one seems very atypical (whoops, there it is again). Very nice, very flavorful.

Bring on Beer Fest 2011!