Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bright Copper Kettles

I'm not sure it counts as a Christmas song, or rather, why it counts as a Christmas song, but nonetheless it seems I hear "My Favorite Things" every Yuletide season. Generally I find the song overtly sentimental and sappy, especially when sung from the seminal musical it derives from (it's not one of those songs that was redeemed in later versions, like "Over the Rainbow" which takes on new poignancy when sung by... by... by that guy who sings it whose name I wrote down and now can't find). However, while I was waiting for the water to boil for some tea the other day it occurred to me I do have a mild attachment to a bright copper kettle.

I'm presuming they meant tea kettle, though of course you can buy copper cooking implements of all kind. I have heard that while they look nice, they are not ideal for serious cooking, so I don't own any. I think simply to boil water in, however, they would do just fine. Plus, they're decorative, so it's a bonus. I don't have one, though I do have a tea kettle, and perhaps it's because mine seems to be falling apart and I am in need of a new one that my thoughts turned to the shiny versions.

I own a microwave, so I am aware I could boil water in about a minute, maybe two. (It's an old microwave and the display is long since burned out.) Yet, in defiance of the rest of the patterns in my life in which I almost always embrace the more modern option, when I need water for tea I still prefer to boil it. Or if I need water for a single cup of coffee. I can't say for certain that it really tastes better – or even different – if I boil it the old fashioned way, just that I think it does. I also think the water out of the bathroom tap tastes different than the water from the kitchen. Yes, I am aware of my issues.

It certainly takes longer to boil water using the kettle, and when I didn't have a stove (back in college) I used the microwave. So it's not as if I have a complete aversion to it. As long as I have the option, though, I prefer the non-tech version. I think it adds something to the kitchen as well, and a kitchen without a tea kettle seems somehow incomplete to me. If I visit someone else's home I confess I am always a little skeptical if they don't have one. If you can't take the time involved to prepare a decent cup of tea, what else have you skimped on, culinary-wise?

I could draw a few cultural and historical allusions to the Japanese Tea Ceremony... but that would be stretching things far out of proportion. I don't have any ritual to the process, just boil, pour, and steep. I even use tea bags. (Because they're cheap, mostly.)

So while I could - and have - gone without a microwave, I think I'd be much more out of sorts without a tea kettle. Even if mine is stainless steel with a black plastic handle.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Twelve Lords Milking?

As the holidays are upon us, it is time once again to dwell upon the mysteries and conundrums of the holiday. Such as whether some new musical atrocity shall replace "Grandma vs the Reindeer" on the "most hated" list. Or where all those camels come from for the live Nativity scenes. Or what we're going to do with the bad fruitcake we'll inevitably get. (Doorstop? Anchor for the boat? Keystone for that new building?)

And, of course, what the heck is the order for the Twelve Days of Christmas?

I figure most people out there can make it up through five with out any problems. Singing it properly, without belting out "Five G-O-L-D rings!" at the top of your lungs and in tune is another matter entirely, but we do all seem to know the carol from the partridge and the pear tree through those rings. (Speaking of which, who needs five gold rings? Given what a gold ring symbolizes these days, one is left to wonder if the male caroler is perhaps spreading a little too much Christmas cheer under the mistletoe.) It's what comes after the rings where the trouble lies.

Which is a little odd, given that every year some of us will be bothered to look it up. There's that joke about the restraining order that makes the rounds, and it's played on innumerable carol programs and sung in countless schools. There are even many picture books devoted to illustrating the carol in fashions both wacky and sincere, and if you have a little child that you read to you've got that reinforcement. All of which should firmly ensconce in our heads what order everything comes in.

And absolutely none of which seems to make any difference, because year after year, Yuletide after Yuletide, we get it wrong. Then proceed to argue about it, debate it, insist that we're one hundred percent sure there are only ten pipers – or is it twelve? – and inevitably be called upon to sing it when we really have no idea what comes after the five gold rings. (I myself only ever manage to retain the song through the coterie of birds. Beyond that I'm lost.)

Which is why we belt it out at the top of our lungs, in the sincere hope that no one will notice we're just mumbling our way through the next seven days.

To that end, as a public service announcement, I present to you, courtesy of the Muppets, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." In proper order.

So that next year, you can look it up here, again, and stop mumbling.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

All I Want for Christmas

I could turn this into a shopping list but, let's face it, most of you don't know me well enough to buy me anything in the first place. Besides, it's been a while since I actually sat down and thought about what I wanted, as opposed to how I was going to get what my little one wanted, that I'm not sure I could come up with a whole lot that wouldn't be filled by family. (You know, like warm socks.) There's probably a few literary gifts out there I wouldn't mind, and a few I'd even like, but the majority of my wants this year are practical and dependent on my getting paid.

Other than a few intangible things that aren't really sold and therefore can't be bought.

None of which detracts from the season. As a public service warning, this is the one time of year I cast off my usual bitter, cynical, and pessimistic self. So if you're expecting some snarky treatment of the holiday, look elsewhere. This is going to be steeped in things like Holly and Misteltoe. (Come to think of it, both of those are poisonous and therefore probably not the kind of thing you should steep something in.)

Christmas is my favorite holiday. Something which is undampened even by the most lack-luster tv holiday special. "Olive the Other Reindeer" is a new favorite book... the hour-long cartoon was a terrible disappointment, not least because they felt the need to embellish the book. Whereas no matter how often I see it, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" gets to me each and every single time.

I listen to "A Christmas Carol" sometime during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Have every year now for the past decade or so, and it's just become a tradition. I have Christmas carols of every sort, and they will play on my speakers pretty much non-stop between now and the day itself.

I like wrapping gifts. I'm even pretty good at it, and it doesn't phase me knowing that big box that took me ten minutes to get just right will be reduced to shreds in the time it takes me to blink. It's part of the fun, and being around kids on the day itself is something I wouldn't want to part with.

I buy egg nog. I even like a decent fruit cake. Last year I even got to try some mead courtesy of my local liquor shop. I'm hoping they have it again this year. And in this final week I will very likely go shopping for everything and anything while wearing my Santa hat. It's not terribly cool, but I don't care.

And not least of all is the general sentiment that pervades the season. Yeah, it would be nice to have the feeling of goodwill towards are fellow human beings all year round, but I would contend most of us who are inclined to give and volunteer do so regardless of the season. Yet there is something a little extra in the air this time of year, and people who might not otherwise do so are willing to part with their time or that little bit of extra change. And do so gladly, and with nary a complaint. Many will do so solely for the chance to spread a little holiday joy where there might not otherwise be so much. Or any at all.

So that's my take on the holiday. If you want to shoot holes in my Yuletide traditions and spirits, you're welcome to try. I'm hanging lights and stockings and setting out that plate of Christmas cookies anyway. Maybe even some carrots for the reindeer.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Personification of the Muse

Amongst the writers and other artists I talk to, there is frequent discussion of the muse. And while I learned the other day that there is in fact no muse for art (though ones for history and astronomy, which made the oversight seem even more strange) there are of course muses for literature and poetry and other such endeavors. I doubt any of us actually envision our muse as the classical version in the toga and sandals, but I have noticed that many do tend to envision their muse in a particular personification.

This may be a practice which is more prevalent among the poets I know. They seem more inclined to attribute their muse a specific appearance. Sometimes I think there's a blurry line between muse and inspiration, because there's been plenty of poetry out there inspired by specific people. Just look at Shakespeare's sonnets. I think the muse can inspire you with regards to having a certain person in mind, which also means at times, if you view your muse as an individual entity, it's probably going to take on the attributes of that inspiration on occasion.

I generally don't see my muse as a person, least not a specific person, but I find it interesting that the past few times I've actually been moved to write poetry, the muse has taken a definite form and personality. I'm not sure why, though I could speculate. And the poems aren't the only thing I have written where I've had a person in my head for inspiration - indeed, the same person who seems to be serving as my poetry muse has inspired some non-poetry pieces. Yet in those instances, this person doesn't seem to be acting specifically as muse, just merely as one of those sources I draw on in my head for my prose.

Maybe some of this has to do with the difference between poetry and prose, at least for me. Poetry has always felt more personal, more emotionally invested. As to why no one else has ever served as a muse before I can't answer. This isn't a scientific endeavor by any means, and as with any art form certain flights of fancy just are, in defiance of a concrete explanation. I could say something was different about this person - but each person we meet tends to be different, even if we form similar relationships with them.

So no, I don't know why, but I do know that now when people talk of their muse as being someone tangible to them, I can nod my head in agreement.

(Would just be nice if the muse would inspire better poetry from me, since that's the form the impulse seems to be taking in this muse's presence. As it is... well, there are reasons I don't write much poetry in the first place.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Exercise of Writing

I've managed to stay on a regular exercise regimen for the past few months, more or less. (You try exercising with a head cold. Not fun.) Part of my reason for doing so is that, well, it's necessary. I had my doctor actually mention the word "cholesterol" during my last physical, and frankly I thought it was far too early to that. I also have a little one who is steadily getting heavier and doesn't understand why this should affect Daddy's ability to carry her up the stairs.

So I've been trying to do better. Lately that has me down in the living room in the evening watching "Good Eats" from the Food Network as I do my thing. Yes, I am aware of the irony of working out while watching a food show. But it's fun, it's educational... and perhaps in it's own way even motivational. Besides, it's 30 minutes and I don't have a clock in the room I exercise in.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask? Two things.

First of all, it gives me head space. (Even if I'm sort of watching tv. That's what commercials are for.) One of the things I like about the particular modes of exercise I do is that they can be done alone. Mind you it might be more fun to have some company - yoga comes to mind as better with a friend - but by doing so alone it gives me time during the day when I can just be by myself and largely let my mind do whatever it wants. Exercising is all muscle memory, and as the nature of what I do tends to be repetitive, there isn't much else to think about.

I don't always use it to work out writing-related issues in my head, but there have been more than a few plot points solved in that half an hour. Swimming was by far the best for this, but as I don't have a pool either in my house or conveniently close by, that's out for now.

The second aspect of what this has to do with writing is that I have found if I can establish and maintain a routine in one area of my life, it becomes much easier to do so in others. It doesn't directly translate, as it has not imposed a housework schedule on me. That hasn't happened since I moved out of mom's house, though it does get done. But by being able to create a schedule that I stick to, even on the days when I think I really don't want to, it encourages me to know that I can do this.

Writing is somewhat like exercise, only without the need for a shower afterwards. (Usually.) It's something that if you're going to do it, and have any illusions at all about being any good at it, you have to do it as regularly as possible. Someone whose opinion I respect reminded me of this recently, and I mulled it over as I was working out later on that day. This person was right, of course, because writing is a discipline that must be engaged in every day. Otherwise it's too easy to let those writing muscles sag and you add on those extra pounds of procrastination and ... and I think that's as far as I can comfortably stretch that metaphor. Possibly farther.

In my case, it's also done alone, as that's when I work best. Not that I don't have interruptions, but it works best when I can be in my own space.

Though having the tv on when writing does not help at all.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stage Fright

I have performance anxiety. No, not that kind. (In case you were wondering.) The kind that comes from having to get up in front of a large group of people. Doesn't much matter what venue it is, either. I haven't been on an actual stage in decades, not since whatever grade it is they stop doing school plays in. I think my last "star" role came back in the 4th grade. It was a musical, as much as that pains me to admit it.

Other than that, there was a brief span of years as a musician. Clarinet, not the guitar or something cool. In a school band, not rock and roll. Which meant I wasn't up in front of people performing solo or anything. Frankly, being part of a large ensemble was much easier, because then you're just another face in the crowd. Your parents and friends can pick you out, and your name will be in the program, but most of the time you're looking at the music in front of you and not out at the audience. Which is much easier, believe me.

Stage fright sticks with me even so. As much experience as I have in a classroom, in all the different venues that I've taught in there's still a bit of nervousness involved on that first time out in front of a new class. I know it will all go well, and that my having done the same thing - more or less - hundreds of times before makes things go that much more smoothly. There still remains something slightly unnerving about walking into a room full of strangers knowing they're all going to be focused on you.

I think some of this has translated to my writing. Specifically the part where it needs to go out into the world and be shown to people. You would think, based on the largely positive comments I've received and a certain awareness of my own abilities that this would not happen to me. It's not like I'm unpublished. Granted, my fiction publications are more limited than I would like, but my name is out there. Heck, I'm a contributor to a book that's actually on Amazon. (Don't buy it, though, they still owe me money.)

And yet... just like walking into that classroom, there's a certain amount of paralyzing fear that grips me before I can muster up the courage to hit the "send" button on a submission. It's different than a classroom or somewhere else where I have no choice and must go on. It's voluntary, and if I don't then no one else will be left wondering where I am and why I haven't shown up. Still and all, there is a price to be paid if I don't overcome that paralysis.

I'm getting better at doing so. Not great, but better, and expect that even if I succeed beyond my wildest expectations, there will always be a trace of that apprehension. Even if I'm sending off the next sure-fire bestseller where my name will be bigger than the title to an agent who's been with me for decades... I'm still going to have that little bit of stage fright.

The show must go on though, right?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ups and Downs of Being Free

Most of the time I like the freelance work I do. It's interesting, I get to learn about all sorts of topics I otherwise wouldn't - such as the Orient Express and Great Lakes lighthouses - and it's something I can of course do from home. A part of me misses having to go to the library to conduct research, though I suppose if I wanted to I could still go and do that. I just don't see the point of being on my computer in the library when I could just stay at home. Unless it's for the ambiance.

Mind you, if something required a lot of research I'd probably still head to the library, but so far I've not had an assignment large enough to require it. Some of that is that I mostly do small articles, and the other part of it is that the last few major assignments I had were for textbook publishers and came with their own books to use. Which was made much easier via the internet, otherwise I'd have several volumes of books I'd never ever use again and a postal carrier who would hate me.

I can't claim to make a living at it just yet, as mostly my freelance work has been supplemental to other jobs. Even that in this current economy - despite the news insisting we're out of the recession - has been rather slim pickings. However, there are times when having that extra paycheck is not only nice but somewhat required. The holidays are, for obvious reasons, a time when extra cash on hand is a good thing.

This is one of the perils of freelancing: getting paid. I've been burned once before by non-paying clients. I made the mistake early on of working without a contract, and needless to say have not been paid. I did get a published credit out of it, and have made attempts to get the money I am owed, but it's become one of those things where it would cost me more to pursue my legal options than it would net me if I was finally paid. I do take satisfaction in ignoring requests from the client to help her publicize the book. (I'm a writer, I think being petty comes with the territory. To some extent.)

That one has continued to vex me for a couple of years, but it was for a small non-profit group essentially run by one person, so I tend to write it off as a failing on the part of that person. At the moment, however, I'm dealing with another client who seems to have difficulty paying me. This one is a university, and despite having billed them back in September I am still waiting. It's been an endless stream of red tape and bureaucratic hoops, all of which I've patiently endured.

Only to be told earlier this week that, in fact, they can't pay me without my fulfilling some sort of banking Catch-22.

I was not amused.

I'm exploring options on this one still, starting with contacting the department I worked for instead of the department that is handling the payment. (I mentioned the bureaucratic nonsense, right?) I know that eventually I should get paid, if only because in this case they are a university and I can't see them flat-out not paying me, no matter what the paper-pusher I've been dealing with is now saying. Also, I think the person I worked for on the project is not the kind of person to let something like that happen, which is why I've turned the matter back over to them.

Still, it's frustrating, and there isn't a whole lot I can do about it other than patiently try and solve it. (And make several phone calls to my bank and send emails to various people.) And I know, having grown up in a self-employed household, that these kind of things happen anytime you work for yourself. I presume it happens even to big corporations, but they at least have lawyers that can be sicced on the offending parties.

It does, however, make me further appreciate the consistency that comes from having a steady paycheck, and not having to file invoices that are, at best, only the first step in the process of getting paid.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guest Stars Who Ruin the Plot

Maybe it's the recession, but I'm noticing more and more recognizable stars in bit parts on television lately. These aren't huge stars by any means, and for the most part they are people who've mostly made their career in television to one extent or another. They are, however, a step above the usual nameless extra that might have filled the role in days gone by. There are two cause and effect type things related to this phenomena, at least in my household.

The first is the "where do I know this person from" question. My computer is not in the same room as my television, so while I can and do eventually go look up the answer to this question, while I'm watching I am left to scratch my head. This can be quite frustrating, especially when I can almost see a person in the last - or most famous - role I've seen them in. More often than not, the answer kicks in before the show is over, but not always.

The second is more detrimental to my viewing pleasure. It happens when not only do I recognize the person, but realize that the brief two lines they just spoke to the detective (or whomever) was surely not enough to justify the paycheck they picked up for the episode. Which means they're going to figure much more prominently into the plot at some point. They aren't always guaranteed to be the killer - unless it's Law and Order - but watching the show you just know you haven't seen the last of them.

Which kind of takes some of the suspense and intrigue out of things. Granted, you could argue that instead of the "is this person the one" it becomes "ok, how will they fit into this" but I much prefer the first question over the second one. I have yet to see any show take this and exploit it by making the actor in question a red herring, where as the viewer I sit there and think "they're going to be important" and then they aren't. I suspect that's more a question of "we paid for so-and-so which means we need to get our money's worth" than it is a failing on the part of the scriptwriters.

In fact, given that the script is written long before the actors are chosen, that's pretty much a given. So perhaps the fault lies with the individual directors for the various episodes. Or as I said in the beginning, with the recession that leads these people with more famous faces to find work where they can.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

People I Thought Were Already Dead

As we're coming down to the end of the year, it's time once again to remember all those who died during the past 11 months. There will be heartfelt tributes, moving montages, and plenty of weepy moments.

Just not in this blog.

Nope, this is about those people who, when reading through such lists, I discover had only just died, instead of having been long dead and gone as I presumed them to be. Like Andrew Wyeth. Don't ask me why I thought he was dead, because the best I can say is that he's an artist, his pictures hang in museums, ergo he was probably dead. Plus I had this impression that he'd been painting around the turn of the 20th Century, which made it even more likely that he was long since dead. Shows what little I know about modern American art. Or just modern art in general.

Ditto with John Updike. Though in his case it was primarily because as a child I remember seeing the Rabbit books on my dad's shelves - and they already looked pretty dusty and old. If I'd thought about it, I would have remembered that Updike had just published something not too long ago, but again, this was a case of seeing his obituary and thinking, "He was still alive?"

In both cases, it's an instance of having formed certain impressions early on, which were for one reason or another never dispelled. I took an Art History class, I know Wyeth was in there, and I'm pretty sure - though I didn't look it up to be sure - that they didn't list him as dead. Yet, just about everyone else in that book was dead, so at the time it seemed a logical enough assumption.

You have to have just a certain level of celebrity to get away with this. Clearly it was not going to happen with Michael Jackson, even if he'd lived to be a hundred and two. His death would always have been big news (unless in the next fifty years we revamp the way we look at what is and what is not newsworthy... but that seems unlikely). So you can't be so famous that your passing is automatic headlines. It also helps not to go before your time, assuming that's a valid concept to start with. I've always found it to be a bit of an oxymoron, though I get the sentiment behind it.

No, you have to have just the right amount where your passing gets noted, but not with a lot of hoopla, so that someone like me can be forgiven for just assuming they missed the news. You also can't have done anything to attract a great deal of attention, at least not recently. As mentioned, Updike had recently published, but I don't think that was this year. Or even last year. And his biggest claim to fame, the Rabbit novels, were with one late exception mostly penned long before I was old enough to read them. (It would also have helped if I'd ever read them at all. I knew when Tony Hillerman died, after all.)

So it helps to have faded some from the immediate public awareness. Which, although I've never achieved it myself, would I think be a worthy goal for most who do achieve celebrity. You shouldn't have to spend your last years being hounded by the press, and aside from Paris Hilton I don't know of anyone on the celebrity A list who wouldn't enjoy having their private life back.

I suppose there's a certain ignominy in being presumed dead when you are not. Being dead, though, I also suppose they're probably beyond such concerns anymore. It might also help with that late in life anonymity as well. I have to wonder what Mark Twain thought about the rumors of his demise, given the famous quote on the subject. You could probably either be bitter about it, or wryly amused, and which way you went would say a lot about you as person.

I'm sure this coming year will bring a few more people whom I thought were dead into the realm of the actually dead. And I will, as before, scratch my head - metaphorically - and reflect on why it is I thought they were dead when in fact they weren't. Yet.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Watered Down and Twice as Marketable

When did Tinkerbell stop being a bitch? I remember watching Peter Pan, the Disney version of course, and noting even as a kid that Tink was a nasty piece of work. As an adult watching the movie again, I could take it further and realize she was a vain, self-centered, conniving, and mean-spirited fairy. This was not the happy go-lucky make a wish kind of fairy. This was the bite you on the finger kind from Labyrinth.

However, in this day and age of the Disney Princess Marketing Machine, that personality type probably doesn't sell so well. So instead, Tink's been repackaged and redesigned into some plucky little heroine. There are still aspects of the old Tink, and as a writer I'm curious to know how this new Tinkerbell becomes the version we see with Peter Pan... but I have my doubts that Disney will ever tell that story.

Not when they have the Disney Fairy Marketing Machine to consider.

This isn't the first time a character's been rehabilitated to make a buck or appeal to a wider audience. Vampires have been getting this treatment for years, long before they started to sparkle. The George Clooney Batman movie was made primarily to sell toys. Or at least it looked that way, so I hope that was the intent. And there are any number of other examples I could probably think of if I was inclined to do so at the moment.

Which I'm not.

Now I can't really fault the House of Mouse, because they've been doing this for years. They built an empire on it, and really, if you watch Steamboat Willie the Mickey Mouse you see there is a far different character from the Mouse my little one watches on Playhouse Disney. Same for Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes. I could probably blame the societal impulse to make everything "wholesome" but the cynic in me says it's probably more just marketing than anything else.

I don't think you could turn the original Tinkerbell into a very marketable franchise. She doesn't exactly espouse the values we want our little girls to emulate, after all. While this requires me to admit I've seen the first Tinkerbell movie - her origin story, naturally - the bad fairy in the film reminded me far more of the original Tink from Peter Pan than the titular character did. In other words, she was vain, self-centered, and self-serving. Naturally she got her comeuppance, because we can't have the villain get away with it in a kid's movie.

In a way I'm disappointed. While the new Tink has been repackaged to teach a couple of different important "moral" points, I think they could have used the old Tink to teach how not to behave. They would have stayed true to the original character - at least in her original Disney manifestation - and I wouldn't have been scratching my head wondering what happened to her.

Plus they could have done tie-ins with that old Elton John song. ... Though on second thought, that probably wouldn't go over very well with the parents.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like....

The holiday season has officially arrived in my house. Not only are the lights and the tree up, but I've had my first candy cane. The candy cane is one of those things were somehow the season just feels incomplete without it. It's like winter without a snowman, summer without a trip to the beach, Easter without the Cadbury Bunny. Egg nog is necessary too, though I am content to purchase that rather than make it.

It's those little details that sell the season for me. Granted, the commercials can run it into the ground, but I don't watch a whole lot of television anymore, so I miss most of that. Add to that I gained an appreciation for the Holiday Spirit after living abroad in a place where they didn't really celebrate it, and it's safe to say the Ghosts of Christmas don't need to be visiting me.

All of which reminded me of how adding the little details into your writing can really help sell a scene. Someone once commented that Stephen King does this really well, mostly with the sort of grounding details that make his stories more real, more relevant, like a TV guide on the nightstand of a character - usually right before said character gets carted off by the monsters. Getting those details right can be the difference between achieving verisimilitude and leaving your reader going "wait, that's not right."

I wrote before about movies getting things wrong, from the howl of a wolf in the Carolinas to the car that explodes every single time it drives off the cliff. But mostly we accept those. Even though we know they're wrong. It's like sounds in space: yeah, it should be completely quiet... but how boring would that be? (For the most part. Sometimes that quiet in space works really, really well.) Yet even when we accept them, for a brief moment they can take us out of the reality of the narrative.

Good details help keep you deep in that narrative, so that for all intents and purposes it's as real as it can get. (It shouldn't feel completely real to you, because then you've lost touch with reality. And while some people I know would make that argument about me, that's an entirely different topic.) This is where research helps, as well as that time-worn/honored piece of advice to "write what you know."

So for me, if the story takes place during the holidays, there ought to be a candy cane in sight somewhere.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The L-Factor

I don't play video games. In part this is just because I tend not to do very well at them. I've enjoyed the occasional first person shooter, and was suitably wowed by Halo (which I played in tandem with someone else who was very good at video games, on his system) ... but aside from a foray into the realms of Final Fantasy, and a couple of sports and racing simulations, that's been about it. As I said, mainly it's a lack of skill, as I was never able to master all the various combinations and things you were supposed to use, and then also in part it's just lack of interest.

I also have a very, very limited musical ability.

So it should come as no real surprise that I don't own a console of any variety, and have also not had a desire to play Rock Band or Guitar Hero. I have entertained the notion that it would be fun to learn to play the guitar, and yes I've fantasized about being an actual rock star - but without the screaming fans I think it would lose some of the appealing ambiance. Performing for a virtual audience does not hold the same interest for me.

... and yet...

There is a caveat. Yesterday I saw a commercial that may have me rethinking my lack of a modern gaming console, and the desire to invest in a mock guitar. What was this road to Damascus for me, you ask?

Freddie Mercury as a Lego person, singing "We Will Rock You."

Yes, I love Legos. Grew up on them. Was seriously disappointed that I did not get to Legoland when I lived in Europe. (I've been to Disneyworld. It was fun, I enjoyed it... but Legoland is my personal Mecca.) For the chance to rock out as a little yellow Lego person I could be seriously, seriously tempted to revise my Christmas list.

It's always been this way with Legos and video games. I owned a couple of racing games when I had a Playstation. The one that got played most often was Lego Racers. I was abysmal at Tomb Raider the few times I attempted to play it. But Lego Indiana Jones just calls to me. (Also helps that I am a huge fan of Dr Jones.) And Lego Star Wars?

My geek cup runneth over for that one.

I haven't gone so far as to actually purchase any of those, and it's unlikely I will. I have neither the funds nor the time to invest in video games these days. However, the prospect of little Lego Freddie Mercury is enough to keep me quite amused - and hunting around Youtube for clips. That's likely to be as far as it ever goes.

.... and yet ....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Santa Dilemma

As it's nearly Thanksgiving, I thought I'd take a moment and do what the entire retail industry does and skip ahead to the next holiday. This is actually something I wrote a few years back, not that any of my few readers here would know this had I not just mentioned it. The spirit of full candor has, for some odd reason, fully gripped me so I will also admit, from the start, that I did eventually cave in and go along with the mass deception.

The holiday season has arrived, and now that I have a very-inquisitive pre-three year old on my hand, I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. You see, my little one knows what Christmas is, or at least the basics of it. She's certainly aware that there is something in it for her. She'd have to be blind, deaf, and considerably less bright than she is not to have noticed the holiday push. (Which started back in October. I think Santa handing out Halloween candy is stretching it a bit.) And while we haven't been to church often enough for her to even begin to grasp the religious implications, the fat guy in the red suit is a different manner.

I'm not trying to be a Grinch (trademark, copyrights, etc., please don't sue me Seussians) about this, but I'm not sure perpetuating the myth of SC is something I want to do. At least not as the jolly old elf who actually comes down the chimney. I do believe in Santa (insert Peter Pan allusion here), as the representation of the spirit of Christmas. I think the fat guy serves a noble purpose in that, and I'm not about to argue otherwise.

But lying to my daughter about where the gifts under the tree comes from? I know, I know, every parent does this. And we don't view it as lying. Except it is. Sure, we say it's all in fun. We get to smile, laugh covertly into our egg nog, while they rejoice... up until that moment when they learn Santa's one big con job, and realize that Mom and Dad have been perpetuating a delusion for the past several years.

My daughter's going to realize Dad has no idea what he's talking about soon enough, triggered no doubt by the onset of her teenage years. I don't need to add fuel to that fire. Sure, no child I know of has ever turned to their parents in the midst of an argument and shouted, "You lied about Santa Claus," but I think there's that voice, perhaps subconsciously, somewhere in the back of every teenage head that says: "You can't trust them. Remember Santa? Or the Easter Bunny? A rabbit that lays eggs? No wonder we're failing biology!"

[The Cadbury Bunny, on the other hand, is quite real. No arguing.]

On the other hand, while I don't want to lie, I don't want to face the wrath of other parents down the road when my kid exposes the cover-up to her pre-school classmates. I don't need that, being labeled as the anti-Christmas backstabber, revealing the secrets of the inner parental cabal. Nor do I need my daughter being ostracized as some conspiracy nut when the other parents convince their children that she's just a little weird.

"Which," they'll say soothingly to little Jimmy or Jenny, "is not unexpected. Look at her father."

So I'm stuck. I think I have one more year of wiggle room on this, before I have to start tackling the hard issues like this head-on. This year she can just enjoy the holiday without worrying about metaphysical things, like, what happens when the Reindeer have to go? And why does Santa eat the cookies but leave the carrot sticks for the Reindeer? Is he starving his animals? And was Tim Allen more than just a little creepy in the fat suit and beard?

In the meantime, does anyone know a good recipe for egg nog?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why I Will Survive the Apocalypse

I am apparently well equipped to survive the Apocalypse. I say this not because I have a storm cellar stocked with dry goods and water (though I do know a guy who has such supplies) nor because I possess some unique skills such as the ability to grow crops, hunt game, fashion my own clothes or fly a rocket ship. No, apparently, I possess these skills because I am a writer. Or at least, so Hollywood tells me.

Mind you, I've not seen this latest parable, but according to the plot summaries I've read, in 2012 John Cusack's leading character is a writer. This follows a long line of rather ludicrous and unlikely heroes in Hollywood. I remember one reviewer commenting on Will Smith's lawyer in Enemy of the State. But that was Will Smith, so a certain leeway applies. As much as I like John Cusack, however, I have trouble believing any of the writers I know are equipped to survive the end of the world.

(With the possible exception of Stephanie Meyer who has clearly made some sort of deal with demonic powers. There's no other explanation for it. Then again, maybe that just guarantees she'll be among the first collected.)

This is not to say I haven't learned things that might not be useful in my writing career in the event of the impending end of the world. But there's a wide gap between researching something to write about it, and actually doing it. I wrote a couple of short articles on edible plants, but without the guides I used as a reference in my backpack, I'm as lost as the next guy. Maybe a little less lost, having been a Boy Scout, but even then there's a limit to my abilities.

The bulk of the things I have written on I just can't see being any help should an asteroid strike, or a supervolcano explode, or nuclear war break out, or any other number of doomsday scenarios occur. Though I might possibly survive the invasion by a large lizard type critter that breathes radioactive fire, based solely on Orson Wells surviving Godzilla. But as I don't live in Tokyo - or for that matter within five hundred miles of the nearest oceanic coast - somehow I foresee my having plenty of time to get out of the way should something come ashore. (Nothing ever comes ashore in the Great Lakes, not even in Hollywood. ... Okay, there was one exception, but I challenge anyone to name it.)

None of which matters to Hollywood. I'm not sure there's a reason why the main character in the latest disaster flick is a writer. Part of me suspects there's a jar someplace where Hollywood writers reach in and draw out a random career for the hero. How else do you explain Arnold as a kindergarten teacher?

Or maybe it's just wishful thinking on the part of the screenwriters, attempting to get themselves on that doomsday list in the event of the end of the world.

Either way, should we reach that point in my lifetime, I will cling to the hope there's a reason for it, and that whatever reason it is will be made manifest when the time comes. Which beats cowering under my desk, which is most likely where I'd really be.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not so Classic Classics

Once upon a time, which is the way all good stories should start, I thought that the best use of my summer vacation would be spent in reading through the classics. Mind you, this was back when I still had a summer vacation and figured there was no point in letting my brain sit idle. It wasn't just the classics, either, but any number of philosophical or spiritual or historical texts, some of which still sit on my shelves. Some of which still sit, unread, on my shelves.

This, however, is about the literary classics. The Dickens. The Twains. The Faulkners. The [insert famous author here]s. Some of which I really like. I have yet to read a Robert Louis Stevenson story I don't like. Same thing with Twain. Faulkner's a little harder, but like Hemingway I think he grows on you. Whether he grows on you like a fungus I can't answer, but I have come to appreciate both of them. That may also be tied simply into growing older. "The Old Man and the Sea" was enjoyable back in high school, but it took me a decade thereafter to enjoy "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

Some of the classics failed to meet expectations, but were nonetheless enjoyable. James Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans" was weighed down by the style of the time and the fact that I saw the movie first. And expected the book to have similar pacing. Which it did not. In the least. And my subsequent attempts to read the rest of the Leatherstocking series did not go terribly well, but I suspect that I may have picked the wrong book to read next. Which says more about my need to do things in order than it does about Cooper's literary skills.

Other classics just... well... they were bad. Really bad. Defied all expectations bad. Even though they should have had a great story. I've ranted some about Dickens in this blog before, and he is my favorite whipping boy in this regard. I think "A Tale of Two Cities" took what should have been one of the best set-ups in the history of books and just muddied it and batted it around aimlessly until it lost all appeal. I suspect my 1oth grade English teacher realized this when he let us watch the PBS movie version before we took the test. Which is good, because I failed to finish the book.

The one that really stands out for me, that tops them all in the "worst of the worst" was "Robison Crusoe." I borrowed the book from an English major friend of mine between my junior and senior summers. He gave me an odd look when I requested it, asked me why, and it was only after my own attempts to read it that I understood the look. Having only been familiar with the movie/television versions and spin-offs, I had expectations of some grand, jungle island adventure. The basic plotline buoyed up those hopes.

The actual book dashed them. Now, I can't say for certain that the book didn't get better - although my English major friend averred it did not when I gave the book back to him in the Fall - but it lose me in the first hundred pages. That was it. That was as far as I got before the book bored me to tears. Instead of the adventure I got piousness and prayer. I'm sure there was a treehouse in there somewhere, and encounters with hostile natives or pirates or something but it was all... buried. In what amounted to a really long, really boring sermon.

Not sure what all that proves, mind you, and it may say more about me than the book, but in my opinion, sometimes the best way to appreciate a good book is to see the movie.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Twenty Minutes Into the Future - in 10 Seconds

The tri-corder has arrived. For those who have no idea what I just said, the tri-corder was this little hand-held doohickey (yes, that's a technical term) the doctors in Star Trek could use to scan someone, anytime, anywhere, to figure out what was wrong with them. Think of it like a portable x-ray/MRI/"other medical things I can't even begin to identify" device. Pure science fiction.

Back in the 1960's, that is. Turns out, modern technology has caught up with Star Trek, more or less, and it's no longer a fantasy. The portable medical scanner is, in fact, a reality. It may not be the complete diagnostic tool the tri-corder was supposed to be, but it's darn close.

Then, too, consider the modern cell phone. Which does just about a million and one things besides make calls. It is, for all intents and purposes, a portable computer. I remember back when the best thing to do with a computer was to turn the cursor colors and make pretty patterns on the screen. (I was in grade school, and it was one of those Tandy machines.) Now, if I could afford one, I could have something in my pocket that does most of what I rely on my laptop for. Not perfectly, and frankly, I prefer my laptop, but it's the possibility that blows my mind.

It's the unexpected pace at which the "future" arrives that provides something of a perilous pitfall for those of us in the science fiction genre. You've got a limited number of options when it comes to "when" in the setting - either it's the near future, or it's the far off future. There's kind of a middle ground, something like Star Trek, for example, which is only a few hundred years away, but that kind of falls into the latter category with the space ships and the aliens.

I say "future" as a stand-in for futuristic. After all, my favorite bit of science fantasy takes place a long time ago. And my second favorite turned out to... well, let me stop there before I give away any spoilers. (Hint for those who want to know: Toasters)

Near future stuff is most often the domain of cyberpunk and a few other things like it. "Max Headroom," which gave the particular sub-genre the setting device I appropriated for this entry's title, was something which was clearly in the future without being all that far away. Like most such near future efforts, in some ways it came up a little short. In others... well, sometimes as a writer you get lucky.

Some things kind of fall in between. 2001 looks, on the surface, like a far off future. with spaceships and AI and the like. And considering it was some 40 years away, that seemed like a bit of distance. Now, of course, we've been and gone. Bladerunner is set in a scant 9 years from now, and while I want my flying car I seriously hope the rest of it doesn't come true. And it looks unlikely to.

As a writer who dabbles in science fiction, I tend to set things rather nebulously in the future when I do. I am well aware that whatever I write, even without narrowing down a date for it, will very likely either seem silly or hopelessly outdated just within my lifetime. For example, I wrote an internet-based bit of fiction - as in the internet figured into the central plot - back in the early 1990's. When I blew the dust off it here a year ago, I had to laugh at most of what I'd written then. The reality of the internet had turned out to be far different than the predictions and what all the sci-fi of the time was envisioning. I reworked it, and made it more in keeping with what we know now... and also toned it down a bit so I don't laugh at it in another ten years.

I think if you're serious about it - like William Gibson or Philip K Dick - that near future can actually be a bit more challenging, because you can't make those great leaps that writers like Heinlein and Herbert did. I'm not serious about it, at least not at their level, so I freely admit my own stuff is either a blatant pastiche or a carefully crafted homage, depending on how generous my reader is inclined to be. And you have to write it with the knowledge that no matter what you might predict, the future could catch up with you a lot sooner than you think.

All that said, now that the tri-corder is here, where's my phaser?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Very Superstitious

I'm not, mind you, but the Stevie Wonder song popped into my head as I was thinking about the date today. Hopefully, it's as stuck in your head now as it is in mine. If it's not, you can click here and give it a listen, as well as watch a clip that further illustrates what I was saying about Sesame Street. I like to spread the misery around. Not that it isn't a good tune. Quite the contrary. But after two hours of hearing it round and round in my head... well, any tune gets old fast that way.

I can't really afford to be superstitious anyway, as I am the provider of food, snuggles, and a clean litter box for the resident black cat here. She crosses my path frequently on any given day, more so if her water dish is empty. (I have tried to explain to her that if she trips me and I hit my head, her water dish will not get filled, but she's a cat. Reason is lost on her.) Also, if I had the amount of luck that was supposed to go with finding a penny... well, then I ought to be winning the lottery. Or at least have the Prize Patrol on my doorstep.

Neither has happened. Of course, I don't play the lottery, either, and only ever once bought something from Publisher's Clearing House, so that might have something to do with it as well.

Still, I'm not completely dismissive of superstitions. In part this is because I attend church, and while we refer to it as "religion" I am well aware that in large part that's a "po-tay-to, po-tah-to" kind of distinction. Also, because I happen to be a word geek, I love finding out the origins of various words and phrases, and know that some superstitions were rooted in good measures.

Not that any spring to mind, at the moment. But I know some were.

Friday the 13th has historic origins, and if you've read Dan Brown or watched the movie, you'll know what those are. (Yes, he got that right. Blind pigs and acorns and all that. Actually, that's a little unfair. I'm sure he does some research, and the book was entertaining.) Though I have to wonder how that became spread across any Friday the 13th, and not more like the Ides of March wherein it's a particular day associated with a particular event. Maybe because Shakespeare didn't encapsulate that one into snazzy rhyme and meter? Hmm, possible.

Aside from that event though, and a series of ultimately silly movies and one, slightly less silly and slightly more entertaining short-lived television series, I think the day is in large part like any other. I am even inclined to agree with Garfield the cat in that Monday the 13th seems far more ominous to me, having been once in a Monday-Friday kind of job. Mondays were definitely scarier. Especially because of the weekly meetings. *shudders*

Anyway, I don't have a rabbit's foot, or other charms - heck, I haven't even had a bowl of Lucky Charms since college and expect by now I'd find them too sweet. So if this day does hold inauspicious things for me, I guess I'll just have to weather them as best I can. Somehow, though, I don't think it does.

Knock on wood.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lonely Place of Dying

There was a disturbing item in my local news a while ago. A local senior citizen had passed away, in her home, alone. Now that particular scenario plays out far more often than it should anyway, but what made it more tragic was that her body went undiscovered for about a year and a half.

Think about that. The woman was dead, for over a year, and no one noticed. No one missed her. No one thought to wonder where she was, or if they did, not enough to check on her. Her utilities were, one by one, simply turned off for non-payment. Whatever mail she received disappeared into a mail slot and piled up, flier by flier, junk mail by junk mail, until at last the Post Office cut her off, too.

I say this as someone engaged in a largely solitary profession. Unless you work in-house for someone, as a writer chances are you're alone at your desk most of the time. At the moment I can't claim much of a social life, either, without admitting that most of what I do have exists on-line. (I haven't had cause to get out much lately, okay?) Even so, I don't think I could be dead for more than a few hours before someone would notice.

Other than the cat. Which is small comfort, really.

To some extent, this is because I have a family. Even in the days when I didn't, while I could extend that time frame to a few days - possibly - eventually someone would notice. Again, it probably would have been family, just more extended than the members I live with now.

But what if I didn't have any family, at all? As of right now, my only work occurs here, at my desk. I have no boss to report to. If the ladybugs finally overwhelmed me (dealing with a minor infestation at the moment), presuming they didn't devour me in some horror movie-esque special effect, at most it would be about two months before I was found. Only because I rent, and my landlord would show up to evict me.

(Wonder if I could finally get him to fix that leaky shower that way...)

And if I didn't rent, if I owned my home? Then, like the woman left alone, it would depend largely upon the weather, I think, and the season in which I died. In the end, that wasn't even how the local woman was found. She was discovered because looters thought her home was abandoned. Not that the looters reported her, but a neighbor noticed them.

My point is, I think it's all too easy for us to isolate ourselves. I'm not going to turn this into a rant against cell phones and tweeting and whatever else people like to point to as a scapegoat. The truth is, we make our own connections. Even if it's just the local person behind the counter when we pick up our Sunday paper. Which is more difficult to do at Walmart, but, again, not getting off into a rant on that, either. If we have no one in our life who would notice our passing, I think we ought to make an effort to do something about that.

It's not even always on us to make those connections, either. As with so many other relationships in life, for good or ill, it takes two. The woman in the article had family. Distant, extended, but family nonetheless. One of them, I think, should have noticed. Should have tried to pick up the phone over the holidays, or something. She had neighbors, too. I don't know if the blame lies with anyone source, and I suspect there's more than enough to go around.

So as we approach the holidays - and I know we do because the commercials have started - I think it's a good time to look around and take stock of our connections, and those of others. And perhaps ask if, in the coming season, the best gift we can give might not just be that of our company.

[If you're inclined to read it, the original article is at: - just click the link for the full url.]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Can You Tell Me How to Get

Going to do something slightly different with this post. Before you read, click *here* and that should provide the proper musical background for this post. I could have gone with a number of clips, but this one happened to highlight one of my two favorite cast members - Oscar, not the dog - so it seemed more appropriate.

Sesame Street is 40. Like most urban neighborhoods, particularly those in New York City, it's undergone a few changes and more than a little gentrification. I don't clearly remember it from the days when I watched it, but even from my little sister's days it had changed some when I tuned in so my own little one could watch it. Evolution is a big part of why the show is still going, and still relevant, even amidst the competition. Kids like me and my sister could count to ten in Spanish long before Dora came along.

I learned a lot from Sesame Street, beyond the fact that having no impulse control could be amusing. (Which is why Cookie Monster remains my favorite. If you've never seen it, look up his NPR interview. Yes, Cookie Monster was interviewed by NPR.) I can't begin to quantify the more prosaic academic stuff, as I don't think Sesame Street's designed to actively teach that sort of thing. Reinforce the alphabet and numbers and other learning bits, yes, but not as a substitute for the primary role of parents and educators.

Sesame Street is not a babysitter, but it will help you with the sing-a-longs.

No, I rather think the bigger impact Sesame Street had on me was simply introducing me to the wide expanse of culture at large. Their roster of guest appearances reads as a sometimes quirky melange of the performing arts, and any child watching can guarantee an exposure to things like country music and classical performances (the orange singing opera has stuck with me all these years). That harmonica during the end credits is an example of the more subtle ways they broadened my horizons, taking a simple tune and interpreting it in a myriad of different ways. My favorite remains the slightly bluesy harmonica, but in any version the tune - and the themes behind it -are recognizable. If you've not heard the current incarnation of the theme song you'd likely be in for a bit of a shock - it, like the rest of the Street, has adapted with the times.

It wasn't just the music, either. Big Bird went to China long before I did, and brought a foreign culture home to me in ways other shows didn't. And I would argue still don't - Dora rarely strays that far from her roots, and even when she - or Diego - does, it's usually to visit places and people that are merely slightly transported versions of themselves. The Street is, and has always been, multi-culturalism at it's best. The inhabitants of the Street are just different, and everyone accepts it and for the most part doesn't feel the need to comment on it or analyze it.

Beyond skin tones (or furry hues) there was just a sense that it's okay to be different. There is plain old silliness that is never mocked, always accepted. Sesame Street taught me it was okay to retain that sense of childlike wonder, and that people are people, even when they're green and fuzzy and grouchy. It also reminds me, as an adult, that children are people, too, and it's okay to let them hold onto their ideals and expectations. They'll have to grow out of it soon enough, so while they can they should be encouraged to embrace the idea that their neighborhood includes a guy in a trash can.

As a reminder of that, the man inside Big Bird was once approached by a photographer. Carol Spinney was half in the costume, and he asked the photographer to wait, and let him get in full costume first. He didn't want to undermine the illusion for the kids, didn't want to muck up the idea of who Big Bird is by introducing the man inside the costume. It is that respect for children and their perspective that I think is the lasting impact of Sesame Street.

I hope they have a cake big enough to celebrate all of that.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Real Life... Only Better

The movies never get it right. History, that is. Now, as a historian (technically, anyway) I could turn this into a rant about that, and I have a book on my shelf that is, essentially, just that: a collection of articles that examine what movies get wrong when they turn to history. As interesting as the book is, though, I think it misses the point. The movies aren't about teaching, they're about storytelling. And while a good history film - or book - has a strong narrative, there's a difference between those and what a movie - or a novel - is trying to do.

In fact, one of the best historical novels I ever read was "The Killer Angels" which was pretty accurate, and made into a pretty accurate movie. But I wouldn't recommend using either to study for a test on the Battle of Gettysburg. By the same token, I love the movie "Glory," which the book on my shelf ripped to shreds. Admittedly, it is inaccurate. Highly so. (Watermelons, in Massachusetts? At that time of year?)

On the other hand, citing it's inaccuracies misses the point. It's not like Hollywood was going to green light multiple movies about African-American Civil War regiments. So while, yes, it's true the 54th was educated Blacks and not slaves, by making the movie 54th a more diverse mix I think it conveyed a broader message. And anyone who missed the symbolism of the watermelons wasn't paying attention.

Hollywood gets a lot of things wrong. Ask any cop, forensic scientist, or plain old physicist. There comes a certain point where certain sacrifices get made for the purpose of a good narrative. There's a line there, mind you, as do too much and you venture over into the realm of the truly silly. Also, sometimes, as a historian I do think that Hollywood could have and should have gone with the truth, and it would have made for just as good cinema. (It's Stirling Bridge, Mr Gibson, Stirling Bridge. Which brings me to...)

With a few examples, Hollywood gets most of it wrong. Braveheart is a great film. One of my favorites and I've watched it many times. As history... it's hysterical.

Apparently though, Hollywood isn't the only one that does this. Shakespeare, it turns out, may have over-stated the odds in Henry V. To that end, some NY Times op-ed person thought to rewrite the famous speech. You know, the "hold their manhoods cheap" speech. Which, in turn, is the real reason for this post. I'm reasonably certain Shakespeare new his facts. I'm also reasonably certain he knew a better story when he thought of one. As fiction, mind you. I don't think Shakespeare ever made any claims to be a faithful chronicler of history, which I kind of thought the NY Times piece overlooked in it's mock-up of the speech.

If you're going to write history, actual factual history, then yes, you need to be accurate as much as possible. But if you're sticking that "Based On" label, or better yet the "Inspired By" in front of your work, I think you ought to be granted some leeway with the actual events.

So long as you're telling a good story.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Death of a Character: Resurrection

The dead don't always stay dead. This is a lesson I learned early on in fiction. I read Sherlock Holmes, who may not have been the first hero to die only to be resurrected, but was surely one of the most famous and probably one of the first instances of the "fans" keeping something alive. (There are a few other parallels with Star Trek I could mention, but those will keep for another time.)

For those who don't know, Arthur Conan Doyle got tired of his consulting detective after the initial run of short stories. Feeling the character was at an end, he crafted a suitable ending for Holmes, letting the detective meet his end locked in mortal combat with his nemesis, Moriarty, at Reichenbach Falls. Having penned and published the story, Conan Doyle moved on to other projects. The fans would have none of it, and eventually Conan Doyle caved in, resurrected his hero - who it turned out had only faked his death - and went on to write more stories. Holmes wasn't done yet, and did eventually earn his retirement as a beekeeper in Suffolk (or was it Suffix?), England.

Sometimes, characters just won't stay dead. Comics are notorious for this, Spider-man's parent company Marvel in particular. No one stays dead in the Marvel universe, not for very long anyway. Which, in my opinion, has lead to some rather silly things and has robbed death of much of its impact. Yeah, they killed Captain America. Whatever. You knew they were going to bring him back eventually. Heck, they brought Bucky back. (And if that makes no sense to you, consult the Wiki gods.) So if you do this in your story-telling, you run a very real risk of boring your readers. They know their beloved character isn't really dead, after all, so it's all kind of ho hum.

You can't even keep the shock value of a good death going if everyone knows it's not going to stick. (Even if it should, Marvel comics being an example yet again of having brought back a few people I thought should have stayed gone.)

I think there are times when death and resurrection serve as appropriate motifs. Sometimes a role just isn't the same when another person takes up the mantel, say in the case of the new Batman. (Though I am reserving judgement.) You run a storyline with someone filling in, but eventually that runs it course and the main act needs to return. Achieving that return is tricky, and can be as alienating as the original death if either of them is handled badly.

All that said there are moments when the sacrifice of a character serves a need of the plot, as well as their return. I think in those moments it's important to have the character come back slightly different. You don't get to die and come back unchanged. Gandalf's demise in the first part of the triology still has tremendous impact on me, even though I know every time I read/see it that he's going to return. In part it's because Gandalf the White isn't quite the same as Gandalf the Grey, and so something was lost in that death.

Of course, if you right in the right genres, death never needs to be permanent. There are always clones or zombies.

Though I don't know that anyone has ever done zombie clones, or cloned zombies. Might be something to consider.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Getting Outside Your Range

Placido Domingo is singing as a baritone. Mind you, I only know he's a tenor, normally, because of that thing he did with the other two guys - only one of whom I can name off the top of my head. Not that I don't listen to opera, as I do, but I don't listen to it frequently enough to really know much about any of the stars or recognize them by voice. In part because my local radio doesn't carry that "Sunday at the Met" program, assuming it's still airing at all. Also in part because I just don't listen to that much opera.

None of which really relates to my point today. It turns out that Placido started as a baritone, and then early in his career moved up to a tenor. Where he proceeded to make his career. Now, in part because his voice is aging, and in part just because he wants to, he's come back down (musically speaking) to a baritone. By the sounds of it, he's just as comfortable as a baritone as he was as a tenor, but I am reasonably sure it took a bit of an adjustment. I'm also sure, because the guy on NPR said so, that having sung as a tenor Placido now brings a little extra something to being a baritone.

That's the part that got me thinking about how at least once in your life you ought to try something outside your normal range. Speaking as a writer, you could probably substitute "genre" for that last word without too much trouble, as that's really what I'm talking about here. However, it also applies to dabbling in poetry if you normally writer novels, or short stories if you write poetry, or something that requires you to follow a different set of guidelines than you normally do.

It does violate the old trope of "write what you know" but let's face it, in this day and age research is at the tip of your fingers anyway. There are limits on the usefulness of any rule like "write what you know" anyway, at least if you're going to be too much of a stickler about it.

This has a couple of advantages, not least of which is exercising some of your creative muscles that you might not normally use. If you spend most of your time thinking about spaceships, writing about a modern-day setting, or even getting historical, presents brand new challenges for you. Good writing is, of course, good writing, regardless of genre. And you don't necessarily need to come all the way out of your normal comfort zone to make it work. Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series contains elements of the Western and high fantasy that don't show up much at all in his other works, for example, and it remains I think some of his best writing. (Hated the ending, no matter how much it fit, but that's another entry altogether.) Robert Parker has also written some fine westerns that are far removed from the streets of Spencer's Boston.

The results aren't always good, of course, and sometimes writing exercises are just that and no more. But another advantage to when they do work is a fresh perspective. When you normally write in a particular genre, you can get too accustomed to the trappings of that genre. Switching can help shake you out of those trappings, and not just by getting you to work within a new set of guidelines. A different mode of writing can liven up some of the tropes - which every genre has - not only in the genre with which you are experimenting, but then when you return to your comfort zone. It's like taking a vacation, appreciating the change of scenery, and then coming home and appreciating what you have anew.

Then again, some people go on vacation and decided to stay.

Monday, November 2, 2009

In Your Dreams

I was reminded last night as to why I don't normally look to my dreams for inspiration - they don't make any sense. Which is not to say that my dreams come free of narrative, because they do not. I'm not sure if it's a by-product of my being a writer or what, but for the most part, those dreams I have which I am aware of come with a certain narrative flow. Not necessarily a plot, mind you, because I think if you say plot it implies certain things about structure which are most definitely not the case. Rather, it's more of a free form prose device, where one thing flows into the next without any real regard for the larger story.

Most of the time.

On occasion, I will have a dream that could be translated into a complete story, or that at the very least provides some sort of kernel that could be nurtured into something more. They've even been written down. The ideas, mind you, not the full-fledged stories. So far I'm not sure I've put any of them into so many words as to count for a full story. It may well be that they aren't meant to be, either. I tend not to have whole stories pop into my head anyway, as things almost always occur to me in just lines or even more nebulous ideas.

I'm generally not one to interpret my dreams, either. Sometimes I have a dream (or more recently a nightmare) that even a Psych 101 student could decipher, but those are in the minority. Moreover, I am inclined to think that Freud rather over-stated the whole dream imagery aspect of our heads, though whether he was inclined to think that way or not I don't know. I suspect if he'd lived to see the cottage industry built around the idea that all our dreams have meaning... well, there were those cigars.

Most of the time I think our dreams are mostly a clearing house for all the various thoughts and tangents and other mental detritus we accumulate. Our brain sorts through it, making sure there isn't something useful, before simply dumping it. It might also all just be a bi-chemical byproduct of the brain's releasing various things to help us recharge and relax. My cat dreams, after all, but I don't think she's too concerned over what they mean.

On the other hand, maybe sometimes for her, a mouse isn't just a mouse.

Friday, October 30, 2009


The only role-playing game I ever seriously thought about playing has turned 20. I never did actually play the game, but if there was something that was going to get me to buy multi-sided dice and huddle around somebody's card table in their basement or rec room, Shadowrun would have been it. I actually owned the guidebook up until my last move, and it provided a fair amount of inspiration for me. (I've never thought of it before now, but it occurs to me the blend of the supernatural/paranormal and sci-fi that is the hallmark of the game may well have been in part the inspiration for my main body of work.)

For those not familiar with this particular RPG - back in the days when that meant dice and well-worn books and card tables and not fancy CGI effects - the premise was a simple one: in a "Twenty Minutes Into The Future" type device, sometime in the near future magic returns to the world in all its forms. Dragons, wizards, orcs, trolls, etc... in short, take your standard Dungeons and Dragons motifs, all the sci-fi trappings of a cyberpunk convention, mix them all together with a mercenary-based system of gaming, and you have the basic gist. The actual setting of the game as played was a bit farther into the future, I think, about mid-point or so in the 20th Century, but the turning event in their particular history had already occurred some time back, so trolls carrying lasers was commonplace for the inhabitants.

Of course, some of the technology that was supposed to be in the future now looks kind of... quaint. Which is also an issue if you're trying to do near-future sci-fi. (The topic of a forth-coming post.) Very few people foresaw the revolution in cell phones and those little hand-held computers so many of us carry now. (Better known as iPhones, Blackberries, and the like.) On the other hand, I don't think anyone who played the game ever expected the future to be like that anyway.

At least I hope not, as it was all rather dystopian. In that regard somewhat unoriginally so, as it was all big corporations ruling the future, but I'm guilty of that particular trope myself. I say trope rather than cliche in a hopeful tone, there, but certain aspects of it carried a somewhat dismal tone. Which makes sense in an RPG, because after all if it's all sunshine and rainbows, what is there for characters to do?

I also have to wonder how many of the guys writing urban fantasy - and possibly some of the women - were in some part influenced by the game. It occurs to me that the whole "magic and tech don't mix" motif was one of the rules of the game: magic users in the game didn't get any of the nifty cybernetic enhancements the non-magic characters could get. Of course it was all set in a more futuristic time than the majority of urban fantasy, but there's some of it out there. I think. .... If not there will be when I publish. So there.

Anyway, as I said at the outset it provided some inspiration for me, and used to sit on my bookshelf. I think I may have to go out and purchase the anniversary guidebook, just to put it back on my shelf again so that, when the mood strikes, I can mine it for ideas.

.... Still not buying the dice, though.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This is Supposed to Scare the @#$% Out of You, Right?

During a recent trip to the library, my little one decided to rent Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." I presume this decision was based on the picture of Esmerelda on the cover, and my daughter's fondness for Disney Princess movies. Now, I should have known better, because I am familiar with the story, but in my defense it is a Disney film and it did carry a G rating. Pixar's "The Incredibles" has a PG rating, and my daughter has seen and enjoyed that film. (So have I, for that matter, but that's another story entirely.)

All I have to say is, the MPAA dropped the ball on Hunchback. Or else Disney bribed them. Something. Because about half an hour into the film, around about the time of the carnival when things go from good to bad, I turned it off. With my daughter's approval. She's only 5 1/2, and the film was scaring her. Badly. And this is a girl who doesn't flinch at the dragon in "Sleeping Beauty" which let me tell you made an indeliable impression on my young self. (I saw that one again recently, and am pretty sure I've already commented here on some of the hidden meanings I saw in it.)

It was dark, it was scary, and we hadn't even gotten to the bit where the Judge lusts after Esmerelda yet. (Though Tony Jay is an excellent villain, had they stuck to the story and kept the archdeacon the villain, I think listening to David Ogden Stiers would have been far creepier.) This was not a film meant as a horror outing, unless the executives at Disney wanted to see how far they could push the envelope with the ratings board. And it masquerades as a typical Disney flick, right down to the talking gargoyles. Yet, as dark as it was, I know adults who would have a hard time with it.

Which got me to thinking that it's often these kind of horror outings that are most effective, even when they aren't intended as such. I freely confess that the majority of the slasher films out there bore me to tears. Or worse, amuse the heck out of me. Saw was so preposterous, so ridiculous, that I fast-forwarded through the better part of it just out of morbid curiosity to see how they were going to end the train wreck. Give me a subtle, creeping horror any day over some whack-job with a sharp blade and too much free time on their hands.

Some stories just seem to have an inherent creepiness, again even if they weren't originally designed to scare. Sometimes it's not even the story itself, but one of the characters in it that sends chills down your spine. The kind of character that you just wouldn't want to meet in a lit hallway, never mind a dark alley. Aside from the Judge in Hunchback, I can't think of any off the top of my head - but I know they're out there. I've seen them. And they can turn anything they're in into a "don't watch this in the dark" experience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Definitely not the Dream Castle

Barbie's gone homeless.

All right, it's not really Barbie, but rather one of those American Girl dolls that come equipped with a history lesson, a morality lesson, various trimmings and trappings, and a price tag that makes Barbie look like Raggedy Anne. And it's not even one of the main dolls, but a side character from one of the stories that comes with the main doll. But, from what I understand, you can purchase her (and thereby give her a home - though that's a cynical approach and might even be a bit of marketing irony lost on the company, as they don't seem noted for subtlety), and this has apparently caused a bit of an uproar.

Now, before I get to what I really want to discuss, I'm going to say that the uproar over this particular doll strikes me as somewhat silly and misguided. I'm the parent of a little girl, and frankly given all the hundreds if not thousands of images about femininity she is bombarded with on a weekly basis, there seem to me to be lots of other things to get upset about. Body image and unreasonable life expectations are only the start of it. (A Prince? Really? Marrying someone you've only just met is really going to fix your life? Sure, thanks for that lesson Disney.) But no one seems to get much up in arms over those topics.

Let one little doll be homeless, however, and suddenly it's some sort of moral crisis or something, as if we're now exposing our daughters to something we ought to have shielded them from.

Which, again speaking as a parent, is crap. If you ask me, the American public as a whole is far too shielded from the reality of life on the streets, let alone our children. Because as much as it may be a shock to some people, there are plenty of our children who are living on the streets. They, and there parents, have no where else to go. Yet we don't think about them when we think about the homeless.

Take a moment, just a moment, and do a mental exercise with me. If I say "homeless," what do you picture? If it's some bushy-bearded guy in rags - pushing a cart is extra - who mumbles to himself and/or smells of alcohol, chances are you're in good company. It's what a lot of people think. And to be fair, many of our homeless do suffer from mental and addiction issues. But it's not all of them, not by a long shot, and the difference between some of "them" and most of "us" isn't as far off as we might like to think.

In this one regard I will defend Dickens, whom, as I may have mentioned before, I generally loathe. But my lack of esteem for his word-craft aside, the man raised public awareness about the plight of children living on the streets and working in factories and being raised in dismal orphanages in ways very few others managed to do. (And it wasn't just Oliver Twist, either. Read enough Dickens and you will notice the recurring theme. Even in "A Christmas Carol." Pay attention to the little caroler who comes calling on Scrooge early in the opening act.)

We could use another Dickens in this day and age. That Will Smith movie wasn't a bad attempt, but I don't think it went far enough, and it wasn't the point of the story anyway. The sad reality is, especially in these economic times, homelessness is something that entire families have to deal with. Some, probably most, manage to ward it off through various means. I know that if it came down to it, I have family I can turn to. Even friends. But not everyone does. And anything that raises awareness of the issue, even if it wasn't the direct intent, is something that I think is worth talking about.

Not ranting about, mind you, in some misguided argument over the "appropriateness" of a doll, but actually discuss. In ways that might someday bring about a change in attitudes, or preferably still, a change in reality.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reality, Not TV

I confess I don't watch much reality television. I watched one season of American Idol, and that was mainly because I was overseas at the time and my options for English language programming were slim. My main impression was that it reminded me far too much of the popularity contests I remembered from high school (also known as choosing the Homecoming Queen or King or whatever). It also seemed, like most reality television, to be an exercise in personal vanity more so then anything else. When "Survivor" goes "Lord of the Flies" - or at least Bart Simpson at Kamp Krusty - that will be the season I watch. Otherwise I tune out.

The exception to this is the home makeover show. You know the one, it's on ABC, SEARS gets major publicity out of it, and all the guy designers seem ... well, like the stereotypical designers except they can also wield a hammer. I make no claims to regularly watch it by any means, but on those times when I have watched it, aside from giving me ideas what I would and would not do with my own home were money not an obstacle, it never fails to strike a chord.

Mostly this is not because of the donations of the corporate sponsors. I have no doubt SEARS is motivated by more cynical, market-driven concerns than any real desire for charity. (I may be wrong about that, but like I said, it's cynical.) Granted, they are donating, which they don't have to do, but it's the real volunteers, the ones making the biggest donations, that move me. These are the ordinary local people who show up to help, including the local building contractors.

(My cynicism about them is tempered by the knowledge that, being local, simply being on television isn't going to make a big difference in their bottom line. It may be free advertising, but let's face it, local homebuilders don't do a lot of advertising for the general public. Think about it. When was the last time you saw such an advertisement? I used to, but I grew up in that industry.)

The sheer outpouring of volunteers from the local community when these things happen is always staggering. Putting up a house in a week is no small feat anyway, but that they can do it - and do it with the numbers they do, is nothing short of remarkable. And it proves to me at least that no matter how jaded, how cynical, how simply misanthropic I am inclined to be about my fellow human beings on average, we are capable of extraordinary acts.

It doesn't have to be on television, either. Habitat for Humanity builds homes all over for people who couldn't otherwise afford them, all with volunteer labor. People volunteer their time in soup kitchens and shelters, and various other enterprises that, as winter sets in, become even more important to those in need. These volunteers remind that no matter how out of touch the average American might be with the reality of life on the streets (which is an issue for another blog), there are still many people in each and every community willing to give of their time and energy to help.

That's something to be cheerful about, even if there isn't much cause for cheer elsewhere at the moment. It's also something that everyone could be a part of. So I'm going to do something I don't normally do here and urge those few readers I have to consider finding a way to make a difference this holiday season. It doesn't take much, not really, and no matter what your circumstances I think we can all make time to help out somewhere, even if it's just through donations to the Salvation Army, the Food Pantry, or other organizations. I think that, if you do, you'll find you have something in common with all those people on television, week after week, community after community.

And it's not something you can get from just watching television.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Steampunk Music

A quick definition, for those not in the know, borrowed from the Wiki gods:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that [...] denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used [...] but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy [...]. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate-history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers [...] with a presumption of functionality. (original article here)

This is one of the concepts that may be best understood with a visual, so take a moment to look here and then again here, and you'll get the idea.

Now, the concept appeals to me for a number of reasons, not least because the first bit of adult fiction I ever really got into was Sherlock Holmes. (Tolkien and Herbert were in there, too, but their worlds had more limited entries.) Steampunk seems perpetually stuck in a semi-Victorian era level of society. A bit more advanced, as I think dirigibles came slightly later, but with about the same feel. So it appeals to me for that reason alone, as there is just something about that era that I find fascinating.

Also, I find dirigibles incredibly cool, and think that even though it would be slower, modern air travel would be so much more enjoyable if we'd stuck with blimps. Which, yes, is wholly impractical given the number of travelers and the speeds with which they must travel, but really, can anyone argue that a slower pace would really be a bad thing in today's world? And besides... blimps! Blimps!!

Ok, that bit of personal geeky self-indulgence aside, one of the other reasons the genre appeals to me is it has such a visual element to it. Which was pretty much where I thought it began and ended - as a visual medium.

I was wrong. (Probably not for the last time, certainly not for the first.)

There is musical steampunk.

I'm not sure if it expands beyond the band that was introduced on the radio the other day, via one of the NPR programs, but it does exist. The group, whose name eludes me - and we all know how I feel about research on this blog - is primarily a jazz-oriented outfit. Now for whatever reason, they decided to attempt to do modern era music on more traditional instruments. In other words, rock and roll without the standard rock and roll set of instruments. Big band meets Led Zeppelin. Sort of. (Yes, blimps again.)

It was not muzak by any means, which might be the first comparison that springs to mind. They managed to retain the edginess that defines steampunk, and convey that on a musical level. I won't claim it was music I'd run out and buy, but it was decidedly different, and I thought it added another dimension to this particular genre. It reminded me that if you're going to get into world-building, which is sometimes an integral part of both fantasy, sci-fi, and spec-fic (with all the over-lapping those genres do lately), there are always multiple layers of elements to consider.

Which, if it didn't look so cool might be enough to get me to eschew the unfamiliar future for the known element of the present.

Only... there are those blimps to consider.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Smells of the Season

The turn of the seasons here is accompanied by a variety of visual clues. Changing leaves, darker clouds (usually rain but every now and again snow instead), and of course shortening days and warmer clothes. Each season also comes with it's own set of smells, and these for me help me to get more into the season than almost anything else.

Spring and Summer, for example, are accompanied by the smell of mown grass. The other day it was warm enough for someone to be getting in one last mow. (Not me, though my lawn could probably use it, but I have decided now that we've had a frost not to worry about it.) Even though it was October, it brought Spring to the forefront of my mind. Cookouts are one of those Summer smells, as in the unique smell of the beach - which around here is normally a pleasant thing.

Winter's smells, by contrast, are almost all indoor smells. Snow, for example, doesn't have much of a smell. Unless you have dogs, and in that case you shouldn't be out and about in that snow anyway. White snow only. Pine might be an outdoor smell, but of course in Winter you usually get that indoors around the Christmas tree. Being out in an actual pine forest has the same smell, but being evergreens it doesn't matter much the season. Other smells include those of holiday foods, such as pumpkin spices.

For Fall, that smell is a combination of things, but none are more prominent, more welcome to my nose than that of wood smoke. Something about catching that first whiff on the breeze lets me know that fall has truly arrived. Couple that with the smell of apples, particularly apple cider, and even if I couldn't see the leaves change I'd know what season it is. Now, I realize this may be a regional thing, and that if you live in Southern California the smell of wood smoke might mean something far less pleasant, but up here (relatively speaking) that smell means the temperature is dropping and people are turning to their wood piles once again.

That, for me, is one of the biggest appeals of a fireplace, too. Yes, they're pretty and provide warmth, but it's that lingering smell, especially if you're burning more fragrant woods, that really sells the experience for me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Omega Reader

I seem to be the last one to read just about everything. This is, of course, a slight over-simplification, as people will come after me who have not read the same things I myself am behind the curve on, but it feels that way sometimes. I remember buying "The Firm" many years ago, after the movie had come out, and the person next to me remarking she was glad to know she wasn't the last person who hadn't read it. So I suppose it would be more accurate to say I am behind the popular curve, that I tend to pick up books long after they have become "hot" and while their authors may or may not be on the cultural edge.

On the one hand, there are a few advantages to this. Well, actually, there probably aren't any, really, other than I get to feel like I'm not following the herd. Though you could argue that I am, in fact, following the herd - I'm just really, really far behind. In the case of where Hollywood has made a movie out of the book in question, I've usually seen the movie before reading the book, so I also don't have to deal with being disappointed by casting choices.

Case in point, I am reading "The Da Vinci Code" finally. While not great literature, I confess it is a fun book, and admit that it also contains one of the most blatant attempts by an author to influence casting for the potential movie. Possibly ever. But that's another entry entirely. My point is, I saw the movie first, so despite the book's description - it's Tom Hanks in my head. Though I have given him better hair in my imagination.)

You might think that having seen the movie would spoil the book for me, knowing how it all comes out. Especially a book with puzzles or a mystery. And somewhat, of course, it does. But books often diverge from movies, or vice versa. There are those where I actually prefer the movie, with "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" making the top of the list. I like Dick's books, but they are often convoluted, and I'm not entirely sure "DADES" was his best outing. "Bladerunner," however, with the exception of that pointless unicorn dream that makes no sense at all, is one of my most favorite movies of all time.

And besides, I tend to look at the back of a book before I actually get there, anyway, so there's little to spoil. (Hey, I could get hit by a car, and then I'd never know how it ends. It would bug me. I presume there will be books or something in Heaven, at least in my version, but that's not the point.)

Another advantage to being behind the times is that I can usually avoid all the hype around a book and go in only with the usual expectations. Now, there remains some buzz, but no more so than around any other best-selling book or author that all the reading public gets excited about. Sometimes even that level of expectation turns into a bust, as "Meg" was sadly a bitter disappointment for me despite the anticipation of a "Jurassic Shark," but other times I start to see why everyone was so excited.

And then there are books that just fall in the middle, and are good reads, but aren't going to turn me into a stark-raving fan.

Not sure where I'm going to end up yet with Dan Brown, but I'll let you know.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grammar Text Rantings

I hate Strunk and White's "Elements of Style."

There, I've said it.

I know I'm not alone, and I suppose to be completely honest I don't hate the book, per se. What inspires the loathing (I decided "hate" wasn't strong enough) is that the book is treated in literary circles much like the Bible at a fundamentalist's convention. It is regarded as sacrosanct, unassailable, and unimpeachable in its authority. People who quote Strunk and White at you often do so with that self-superior air that says, not only were you wrong, but they're going to beat you with the good book just to make sure you grasp just how wrong you were.

Now, I will admit that some of the times they are correct. Often, however, it's a lot more subjective than any of the "Elementals" will ever admit to. If that was not the case, why would there be more than one manual of style in official use? (I'm more of a "Chicago" person than an MFA myself.) Yet, even when these die-hard Stunk & White cult members have other manuals on their desk, it's the little slim volume they choose to beat you with.

(Which is actually fortunate. The Chicago Manual of Style is a big, heavy book. It would hurt. A lot.)

It's that unwillingness to adjust to the changing and adaptive nature of the English language that most often irks me when I get into discussions with Elementals. English, like most modern languages, is constantly evolving, and subject to certain vagaries of style. Mike Royko once put the Gettysburg Address through a grammar checker for one of his columns, with predictable results. Strunk first penned the initial version of "TEOS" in the early 20th Century. Things have changed.

This is not to argue that there shouldn't be guidelines. There should be. And it's a good idea to know the rules before you attempt to bend them (or altogether ignore them) in you're own writing. As an editor, I relied heavily on having a set style to adhere the authors to. Without it, an editor's job would be twice as hard as it is.

The problem is that unlike the Chicago manual and others like it, which get updated periodically, Strunk & White has been left alone, intact, since its initial publication. No one has bothered to revise or update it, in part I think because unlike those other manuals it has the name of two authors attached - one of whom was fairly prominent. If the book had been generically published by a college or some other entity, I think by now it would be it it's fourth of fifth version, at least.

The progression of time will only serve to heighten these shortcomings in the book. As a historical look into the nuances of early Twentieth Century English, I think it has its place. It's not even a bad place for the fledgling writer to start if they are unsure of the rules. But at a certain point, it needs to be shelved in favor of books that are more flexible.

And if I should disappear after this post, I urge the authorities to look into the nearest holder of a copy of Strunk & White. It'll be dog-eared, well used, and the owner will lecture you on the proper use of commas and semicolons