Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bad Joke Friday

I went to a zoo the other day.

They only had one animal: A single dog.

What a Shih Tzu!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Something for Thursday

Good lord, what a work week this is shaping up to be. I had every intention of getting some blogging done, and it's all I've been able to manage to keep the momentum going on Princess In Space Book III: Fast and Furious (not the actual title).

The weather is also doing its part to keep my gloom groove going. Spring, I've maintained for years, is not only Buffalo's worst season, but its two months of gray and occasionally snowy dampness is the real reason why so many Western New Yorkers claim to hate winter: because after months of late fall plus winter proper (which are really quite bearable), along comes spring with its emotional promises of better times, which don't come until mid-May.

But even gloomy weather can be cheerful, right? We must not forget the lesson so ably taught by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the movie Top Hat (which is an insane eighty years old this year). Here's "Isn't This a Lovely Day".

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Name a food you've tried in the last year for the first time, and your reaction.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A vignette from the airport

I had to pick my mother up from the airport yesterday. Generally I find that in terms of people-watching, I prefer bus terminals to airports, because at bus terminals you get the crazies. Airports seem to bring out the inner asshole in people, such as the lady who crosses the very wide drop-off lane outside the airport, by herself, and only when she's on the opposite side does she turn to yell at her five-year-old kid, who has remained on the terminal side of the lane. Yeah. Make sure she's with you when you cross a street, why don't you.

And then there's the small waiting area for arrivals. There used to be more of this seating and it used to be nicely spread out, but in our post-9/11 desire for massive amounts of security, the passenger screening area has taken up pretty much that entire part of the place, with only a pretty small room set aside for people to wait for their arriving loved ones. There were three people in there yesterday, so I took a seat in the back row, away from everyone else. Behind the waiting room is a little cafeteria-restaurant thing, with a seating bar between that and the waiting area. In walks a cluster of three people who decide that they're going to stand at the seating bar and have their loud and boring conversation, and they're going to do it right behind me. They could have stood anyplace else and not bothered anyone else, but that wasn't an option.

So yeah, if you like annoying people, the airport's the place for you.

But then, there was the Young Woman In Blue Jeans.

She was the only Young Woman there, but she also had on blue jeans. And a nice winter jacket, leather torso with cloth arms and faux-fur on the cuffs and collar. Her long, brown hair fell about her shoulders, and most of all...she looked nervous. No, not nervous. Anxious.

The Young Woman In Blue Jeans could not stand still. She'd check her phone for the time. Then she'd check her phone for the flight status, ignoring what the teevees on the wall had to say about flight status. She'd look around, for no apparent reason because she was clearly there waiting for someone, and she'd rock back and forth from one foot to the other. Then she started this entire cycle again, and finally, she disappeared for a few minutes.

When she reappeared, she set up camp in the exact same spot, waiting for whomever was to come through the exit corridor, and did the same things again: she checked her phone, she rocked back and forth, she spontaneously looked around. Maybe she riffed her fingers through her hair. She tried calmly leaning against the wall, only to give that up seconds later for more foot-rocking.

And when she returned from her brief disappearance, she had a piece of paper in her hand. A full-size sheet, 8 by 11. She'd written something on it, in Sharpie. One of those signs you hold up at the airport to identify yourself to someone. But it didn't have a name on it; she'd written a lot of words there, and I found myself curious as to what they said. She finally angled toward me just enough that I was able to read her impromptu sign:

who lives in NEW ORLEANS, LA

A lover, I suppose. New lover? Old lover? Lovers meeting for the first time after getting to know each other online?

I never found out. Mom came out of the gate first.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Burst

Strange things are afoot, Watson!

:: Dude is getting married, and creates e-mail list to keep his buddies apprised of wedding plans. A typo results in a complete stranger being on the list. The stranger comes clean. The stranger ends up getting invited anyway.

:: I may have linked this before and forgotten to delete the link from my bookmarks, but it's still an interesting article: you know that pint glass that is the dominant piece of glassware for beer drinking these days? Apparently it's awful. Or so I'm told. I still like them, but other glasses are cool, too.

:: I haven't dug too deep to see if Stardancer turns up on Kindle Cover Disasters. Lord, I hope not...I'd hate to be in the same company as this:


(Note to self: Remove all references in current manuscript to the spaceship Intrepid Monkey.)

(Note to self: Buy the book about the adventures of the Intrepid Monkey.)

More next week!

Weird Stuff My Camera App Does

So I've been using a camera app called Camera MX for quite a while, on my phone and tablets. I like its functionality the best of all the camera apps I've tried, but there's a button on the screen marked "FX". I never touched that one, until out of curiosity, I did. Turns out that the app does all kinds of crazy things: various filters, mirrored images, and even kaleidoscope settings.

Here's a normal-looking selfie that I took for reference, and then a bunch of photos from the same perspective, taken using the odd filters and stuff. The one with my head thirteen times strikes me as...well, it's kinda creepy. Like a horror comic book with a Jack Kirby cover.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Something for Thursday

For a while, this song had an odd way of playing each and every time The Wife and I went someplace. It was guaranteed. That's mostly because it featured strongly in the playlist of the Satellite Radio thingie she has in her car for a while, but even then we'd hear it in stores and restaurants and all over. We don't hear it much anymore, but still when it pops up, we have a laugh because we dubbed it "our song" even though it's an incredibly weird song for a couple to designate as such, no?

Here's Imagine Dragons with "Radioactive".

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What fruit or vegetable makes you Oh so HAPPY! when you go to the store and see that it's in season?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hank Speaks: How I Edit

A fellow writer asked, via Instagram, how I go about editing as a writer who generally doesn’t outline at all. Generally speaking, my Inner Editor acts in different ways at different points in the process. Because I don’t feel like writing the phrase “Inner Editor” a whole lot of times, so he has a new name: Hank. Yeah, my Inner Editor sounds like a Hank. He’s an annoying and insistent fellow who is nevertheless always, always right. Seriously, Hank is always right. And even when I think I have him dead to rights, and I've caught him in a blatant error...he's still right.

During the actual writing of the first draft, Hank is required to sit down and shut up, except for instances of the story going in the wrong direction. One of those happened just this morning! I was starting a scene, and for some reason I was badly stalling on it. Sometimes when this happens it’s just my mood, but other times it’s an indicator of something worse going on, and that was the case this time. I put Hank in the corner with a six-pack of beer and some DVDs of 1970s sitcoms, and he was happy for a while, only occasionally looking up to see what I was doing. But as I sat and sat, staring at the screen and then writing a few sentences and then staring some more and scrawling a few more sentences and just a-struggling along, Hank finally let out a giant belch, which is his usual signal that I need to listen to him.

“They’re in the wrong place,” he said.

“Who?” I asked.

“Your characters. They’re in the wrong place. They can’t be there.”

“Why not?”

At this he rolled his eyes, because they answer should have been as clear as day...and it was. There’s a very prime reason why my characters could not be in that location at that time, without something else very inconvenient happening by virtue of one of them being there. The characters in question are looking for a third character who may or may not be a villain and who has certainly gone to ground. So they’re looking for this guy. Problem is, there is a very noticeable physical characteristic about one of these characters that can’t be disguised away, so it follows that they cannot be in this location.

“Thanks, Hank!”


That kind of thing is all that Hank is allowed to talk about when I’m writing a first draft. He’s allowed to notice when I’ve taken wrong turns, and he nags louder and louder and louder until I listen. One time, when writing Stardancer, it took me three chapters before I realized that he was right and that I was ignoring him at my book’s peril. Hank’s sense, in moments like these, is for the storytelling. Hank is not allowed, at this point, to bring up anything about grammar or word choice or characterization or scenes that should not be.

When I’m done drafting, into the desk goes the draft (or onto a bunch of electronic storage media), for several months. Then, and only then, do I let Hank have a look.

That’s when he gets out his tools: scissors, hacksaws, chainsaws, butcher knives, meat cleavers, and a fifty-five gallon drum of White-Out.

Yup, Hank’s second trip through the manuscript is a brutal one. That’s when he gets to complain about anything and everything. That paragraph is too long. That paragraph is too short. Using an awful lot of words to say something simple here; but here, what’s the big damn rush? You can get poetic there. Is there a need for that adjective? How the hell did that disgusting adverb get in there? Does this conversation really need to go on this long? You do realize that this character is acting like an idiot here, don’t you?

Those are all very essential things for Hank to spot, but what I like even more are the bits where he says things like: “Hey, this scene here? You don’t set this up very well.” Also, I dig things like when he points out things I hadn’t properly considered, such as random plot elements that don’t end up going anywhere. I tend to have a lot of these as a pantser, as a lot of times I’m writing along and I think, “Maybe this character ends up being important somehow, so lets draw him forth a bit,” and then he disappears completely; then, months later, Hank reads that passage and says, “Yeah, cut this fellow. You don’t do anything with him.” A good example of this is in the early going of Princesses In SPACE!!! Book II: Even Princessier (not the actual title), when I have a character show up who basically does nothing but glower at Princess Tariana. She wonders what his deal is, but he glowers at her a few more times, exits stage left, and...that’s it. Never went anywhere, so out he went when Hank got there.

Hank is also ruthless when he sniffs out passages that were obviously written when I wasn’t quite sure what was supposed to happen next, and thus was basically riffing to fill the day’s word quota. Hank ends up getting quite the workout on that second trip through the book...and then he gets another workout at proofreading time, when he’s even more ruthlessly seeking out typos and errors of that sort. Even then, he can’t stop entirely, and he ends up cutting even more useless, needless words along the way. Hank is very good at this, and he’s saved me a lot of grief. Sometimes, once in a great while, Hank will deign to drop me a compliment here or there. Hank is a pretty crusty guy, after all.

Hank is most ruthless, however, during dialogue passages. Boy Howdy, is he ever. He'll gleefully cut a ten page conversation down to three pages, if he can -- and sometimes indeed he can, because I've seen him do it. He'll delete many words from characters' mouths; he'll strike down entire speeches. Long talking scenes frustrate Hank, which is probably good because I actually enjoy writing them -- maybe a little too much, so it's useful for Hank to come along and say, "Talk talk talk, that's all your characters do." Hank likes action.

Hank also likes clarity. He hates it when I'm vague and when he can't picture something in his head as I'm describing it. He'll drill the hell out of me if he's having a hard time figuring out what I'm describing.

Yeah, I’d be lost without Hank.

What ultimately makes Hank – and therefore my own editing – successful, in my view, is how ruthless I can be when reading my own writing. I’m not sure where this “gift” comes from, but I’ve long had an ability to be very hard on myself, and I think this is essential in appraising one’s own writing. True story: a number of times in my professional career I’ve had a boss come to me, at Performance Review time, and give me a blank form with the instructions that I was to appraise my own performance and then we’d compare notes. Every single time I’ve done this, I’ve painted a much bleaker picture of my own performance than my bosses. Maybe that’s a self-esteem thing, or maybe it’s a perverse sense that if I can be harder on myself than they are, the actual discussion will go better. (Which is, I must admit, what generally happens.)

I don’t approach my manuscripts with the sense that I’m actually not good and that the books are terrible, because I simply don’t think that’s the case. I’ll likely carry to my grave my conviction that with Stardancer I wrote a good book. But I’ll never believe that it can’t be better, and to this day, whenever I peruse that book to look things up, I’ll hear a voice in the background, saying, “Dammit! I shoulda caught that.” It’s Hank, of course. He’s ever trying to improve, which he’ll need to do, assuming that I keep getting better at this for a while.

Whether that’s a good assumption or not, of course, is a matter for time to tell.