Monday, December 19, 2005

wha-?*#%&(@*hic!--*sob*

Eggplant publications is closing. I got the word this morning. No info on why. Which means Jintsu is closing. Which means End of the Line will not be coming out in February, if ever.

Somehow, I cannot be all that surprised. I guess I should be glad, from a karma point of view, that at least no one died this time. Or did they? I really cannot be sure.

Excuse me while I go beat my head against a wall.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

never doubt your sifu

Sunday I was the first one to class. Sit was already in there, and the first thing he said to me was, not, "Hello," or "Hi-how-you-doing?" but "How's your car?"

I kind of blinked, because the car was no better or worse than it had been, but I had missed Wednesday class because of the snowstorm and I thought perhaps he assumed I had car trouble. I said, "It's fine. It's just old."

He said, "Maybe time to get a new car."

I chuckled, but it stuck with me. He alarms me sometimes, when he gets all pointed and specific. He can be as vague as Cliff Huxtable about things. Tony said, "He's predicted the future before, you know." I did know. I had been told stories, and I can name a half-dozen times that Sit has read my mind or anticipated questions I had. Admittedly he's been teaching a long time and has seen students go through the same blocks again and again, but I've had my own precognitive moments over the years and I was inclined to take the warning seriously, if for no other reason than because the car is 17 years old.

Monday night I was driving home, trying to get home early because Scott needed to borrow my car, and two miles from work the Check Engine light comes on. Now, the thing had been running rough for a while, Scott insisted it was the fuel line, but I suspected an electrical cause. At any rate, I wasn't taking any chances on the interstate. I turned off Metcalf into the Pontiac dealership. Not wild about those guys, but they once changed a flat for me for free, so I figured the least I could get was a diagnostic.

The service tech called me an hour ago. Spark plug wires are shorting, ignition coils are shorting, idle motor is only working sporadically. Of course, being a dealership garage they want to replace everything with OEM parts and charge me three times cost, so I told them just to clean the motor and I'd do the rest of it myself.

But the moral of this story is, when your Sifu tells you it's going to rain, for Pete's sake pack an umbrella.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Horseflesh...

I read "Horseflesh" for the first time tonight, which is to say I read the hardcopy I took to my writer's group last week, instead of dinking around with the computer version which really accomplishes nothing except moving commas around.

It's not as bad as I thought it was. I disliked it because I was forced to rush through the end, and it shows--the dialogue is a bit rushed, transitions are jagged, but the structure is basically solid. I could, if I wished, play up a certain thread--not really a subplot, just a theme--pertaining to Trace's burgeoning precognative abilities and the Big Bad, but the story functions well enough without it. If I do make the change I'll have to rewrite the climax, as well, which would be prudent because that's the part I was most dissatisfied with. I don't think, however, that any of that will happen before Christmas. Too much to do. Measured the heads of my mother-in-law and sis-in-law today. Also picked up some dandy, very cheap brown hound'stooth check wool, which I need like a hole in the head. Now I am waiting for my hat pattern to arrive, although if it doesn't come soon I'll be forced to wing it.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

procrastinatin'

I wrote three or four pages today, so I haven't been totally worthless, but I'm poised for the climax right now and I really don't want to get into that. Climaxes, oddly enough, are rather boring to write--at least in my opinion. This is probably because a) they are usually action-heavy, which is no challenge to me to write, merely drudgery, and b) because the climax is typically the last thing I write (see "How Do You Plot?") and thus there is nothing new for me to discover, merely a lot of loose ends I have to twist together and hammer into place. It's a lot of work and not much fun, in other words.

Except for Parlor Games. Parlor Games' climax was a lot of fun to write, because it was unexpected and because I was playing fun games with languages and because I kept imagining how my writer's group would lap up all the intriguing revelations about Miss Fairweather.

The climax of Silver and Flint is just going to be depressing, I think. This story seems to have gotten away from me--it took a different tone and direction than I expected, despite my managing to cram in almost everything I had intended in the original concept--and how often does that happen? Gloomy story, really. Like, fifth-season Buffy gloomy.

Anyway, because I am procrastinating, I was reading other people's blogs, and AJ had up his comments on Movies He Doesn't Get, which I can pretty much identify with. I had to nod along with the other guy's original list, too, although I didn't necessarily agree with his high-handed and snarky reasons for tearing those films down. I must also admit that Terminator 2 is probably my favorite movie of all time, despite my reluctance to quantify things and my general distaste for Schwarzenegger. It was a kick-butt heroine movie before kick-butt heroines became a cliche. And plot holes? Show me where they are and I'll show you where you weren't paying attention. That movie is watertight.

But I digress. My contribution here is a list of Movies That Aren't as Bad as Everybody Claims They Are. It's a short list; partly because I don't watch a lot of movies any more, and partly because I don't sit around quantifying things so I don't have a ready list at the forefront of my brain. But anyway, just working off my personal guilty pleasures collection:
  1. Knockaround Guys, with Vin Diesel and Barry Pepper as two grown sons of high-ranking mafia dons. I think the only reason we saw this was because my husband had a crush on Vin Diesel. The guy doesn't affect me one way or the other, but this movie gave me a heightened respect for poor Barry Pepper, who can't catch a break to save his life. Now, the movie isn't great--the two halves are uneven, and the older mafia guys were stock characters--Malkovitch in particular was sleepwalking on the set. Still, the perspective of Pepper's character was rather an interesting one: he'd worked hard to make a life of his own but he couldn't get a legit job in his chosen field--sports agenting--because everybody was afraid of his old man. They could have improved this by focusing on Matty's inner struggle to break away from his father's shadow and done away with the betraying-uncle subplot. I think people hated this because it undercut the mystique of certain overrated but fondly remembered movies i.e. The Godfather.

  2. Waterworld. Actually, I don't own this one. But I enjoyed it, what can I say? It suffered from too many cooks in the writing, but it got the job done. The story, although somewhat holey in places, still got where it needed to go and wrapped up satisfactorily, which is more than I can say for the bulk of what's coming out these days.

  3. The Postman. Since I'm thinking of Kevin Costner and his hero complex, I may as well throw this one in. The first time I saw it I thought it was overly long and draggy through the middle section. The second time I enjoyed it a good bit more, although I still think it could've been cut down by 20 minutes. But this was better material than Waterworld, and delivered its message better. I'm not really sure why this one was so trashed, actually, other than SF fans like to beat up on adaptations of their canon material.

  4. Miss Congeniality. Spotty reviews, light as angel food and nearly as saccharine, but I don't care. I love it. I love Shatner in a comedic role, I love Michael Caine playing a middle-aged gay man, I love Bullock doing her tough-girl trying to be glam routine. I love Candice Bergen using her scary-sharp features to play a psycho aging beauty queen. The FBI plot and procedures are not the point in this, so who cares? If they were more accurate they'd only detract from the point. I confess I probably only like this because it hit pretty close to home, but my husband likes it too, so where does that leave us?

  5. Signs. People who hate this movie fall into two categories. Either they were pissed off because it didn't have the surprise-twist ending they'd come to expect from Shyamalan, or they were pissed off because the point revolved around an expression of faith in a higher power. Get over it, people. It was a deeply moving family story, in my opinion, with some good scares along the way. Stop trying to prove how smart you are by second-guessing the writer. Now we won't talk about The Village.

  6. Armaggeddon. Okay. Granted, it's strident and hyperkinetic and has justifiably become the poster child for every over-produced, over-effected, CGI'd mess that has come since. However: it works. The basic premise and science are no more ludicrous than any other sci-fi flick, and contains a plot and two subplots which all go from A to B to C with complete causality and full resolution. Again: this puts it a cut above much of what came after it.

  7. The Phantom Menace.... Damn. No, I still can't defend it. The only reason I'm even thinking about it is because I just saw Ep 3, Revenge of the Sith, and I realized that Ep 1 may have been the best of the three, but I'm not willing to go back and re-watch it to be sure. Wow. I think I just burst a blood vessel in my brain. But that reminds me of....

  8. The Matrix II, whatever its subtitle was. This one actually made the first movie better. Everybody complained about the talkiness and the pseudo-philosophy and the Christian overtones, but there was some thought in this, as well as a promise that it was going somewhere, that the writers had something in mind. We were wrong, of course, but it was nice while the illusion lasted.

  9. Roadhouse. No, I don't own this one, either, but who needs to, when it's on cable once a week? It's become a sort of Rocky Horror audience-participation venture in our house--we say the lines in unison and mock Patrick Swayze's tai chi. I particularly love the scene where the monster truck trashes the car dealership--in a movie full of unlikely events, that one takes the cake. But still: the plot and subplots are complete and make sense, people do things for preconceived and pre-explained reasons, and violence does solve problems.

Are ya seein a pattern here? I'm pretty tired of movies and stories that don't wrap up or come to some lame non-ending because the producers didn't want to offend somebody. It was a sad day when I was watching Roadhouse and realized it made more sense--and was more entertaining--than much of what I'd seen in the past five years. What makes most of these fall flat is the fact that they were merely competent, and not really memorable. They were attempting to pander and they succeeded. That's why most of us hate them--we don't like being talked down to.

Coming soon: my best and worst holiday movie list.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

begins to add, uh, clarity

As you may know, I work for a trade publisher, and one of our lines is a series of manuals for professional electricians. The guy who writes the text is a professional electrician, but he isn't much of a writer. The classic example of his style, which I have kept all these years, I give you now:
Simply reading these words about an emergency power system that we have not seen or worked with does not sufficiently describe the importance of this type of system; but putting oneself in the position of being in the emergency room of a hospital having a severed artery sewn closed when a tornado destroys the electrical utility overhead pole-type distribution system and the room turns to blackness begins to add clarity.

Indeed it does, friend. Indeed it does.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Following links can be a grand waste of time, particularly if you're randomly jumping from one blog to another. But eavesdropping can learn you all kinds of useful things, like where Victorian Goths shop for perfume. I give you the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Dig the fonts and the illustrations, but the real triumph is the descriptions of the scents, for instance:

GRAND GUIGNOL
In 1897, a new form of entertainment was presented to the people of Montmartre, Paris: the Théâtre du Grand Guignol. During the course of an evening at the theatre, one would watch several small plays, ranging from crime dramas to sexual farces, a violent, throat-ripping, eye-gouging, acid-tossing good time, which always included shock topics such as infanticide, necrophilia, insanity, murder, paranoia, vengeance and death by common household object. Our Grand Guignol perfume is a shot of sweet apricot brandy; just enough to settle your nerves after a ghoulish, gory brush with the macabre.


Now see: that's what I want in a Halloween party.

Among other things, Black Phoenix Alchemy has an entire line called "Mad Tea Party, or, The Dodson Collection"--inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I love it.
Hell, I want one of each.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

speaking of genius

I've been having the itch for some time to do some journaling in Sabine's persona. This is partly because I really adore carrying around small fancy overpriced "writing" books like they sell in Barnes & Noble, and I've been looking for an excuse to buy a fountain pen (not really sure what happened to my old ones). Up to this point, however, I haven't known what to say. There hasn't been anything for her to say, except maybe to rehash how Trace keeps giving her a hard time, and that would be just really boring and pointless.

Today on the drive into work, though, I had an idea. I knew eventually I would have to revisit some of Sabine's past, particularly with regard to the Mereck years (months? weeks?). I wasn't sure how I'd work it in, because I didn't want to shift out of Trace's POV. But today it dawned on me, I could have him find her journals of that time. I could write that part of the story in grand old epistolary form, á là Dracula and Frankenstein. How apropos. How frivolous and therefore satisfying. And I have just the useless little leather-bound book for the job.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

the age of paleontology

I'd always kind of wondered about the study of paleontology and how it came to be. As with so many other of our modern sciences, I had a vague idea of it rising from the muck of the Industrial Revolution, but I didn't really know how or when. I had a sort of collective image of the late-Victorian Egyptologist grave-robbers and the early fossil-hunters being cut from the same cloth. And perhaps they were; before the turn of the century there still wasn't a lot of differentiation between the sciences or the scientists who studied them--an educated man was supposed to know a little about everything.

Today I found a site that overviews the rise of paleontology in America and Europe and now I'm all excited and discombobulated.
Colonial Americans understood neither the concept of geological time nor the actual process by which fossils were created. Their society was one that still looked largely to scripture for explanations of much of the surrounding natural world. For instance, the fossil fish and seashells found at quarries and construction excavations in the 1700s were widely believed to be residue from the great flood survived by Noah.

In 1841, Dr. Richard Owen, a leading British authority on anatomy, published a report concluding that the individual bones [found up until that time] were from animals that had all been members of a group of large reptiles that had completely died out in some past age. Because of their apparent size, as well as their fangs and claws, Owen called them by a combination of the Greek words for "terrible lizards" -- dino saurs.

The very idea -- that previously unknown species of monstrously large reptiles could have existed outside of the events documented in the Bible -- was a highly controversial one. It also exerted a deliciously exotic pull on the imaginations of nineteenth-century scientists and laymen alike.

I should think it would. And every time I read something like this I'm appalled to realize just how narrow and shaky the platform of science and reasoning is. Barely a hundred years ago we were still living in the dark ages. Most of the world still does. Hell, most of humanity still does. What passes for logic these days is not, by and large, a structured method of thought.

Of course now I'm brainstorming ways of letting Sabine work a lecture about dinosaurs into casual conversation and wondering if Trace will run across any dinosaur bones while he's out in the desert and musing over whether dead monsters buried in the earth could serve as a metaphor for anything else--or at least provide a horror sequence. The temptation with a character like Miss Fairweather is to give her a miraculous insight into all kinds of things we understand now--germ theory, for instance, which was in its infancy--antibiotics, anesthetics, stuff like that. But I must restrain myself, or I'll come off sounding like Clan of the Cave Bear chick, with cavegirl Ayla feeding digitalis to the mongoloid kid with the heart murmur.

At the same time, part of my interest in creating Miss Fairweather was to explore the collision of science and faith, which I have not done much of to this point because the science keeps taking a back seat to the occult overtones. Maybe something useful will come out of this new bit of knowledge.

Monday, October 03, 2005

update on EOTL, submissions in general

There've been several little flighty writing-marketing type things going on in the past week, which while fascinating and head-spinning to me, are not worth reporting in minutia here, and in some cases are quasi-confidential between me and my editor.

But to recap in general, Raechel at Jintsu has been in contact with me a few times about End of the Line. It's scheduled to come out in February, I may have said that already. She's preparing to send out Advanced Reader Copies to various review sites, none of which I had ever heard of--so much for being market-savvy--and asked if I had any author-friends who could contribute quotes for marketing purposes. Thank you, Rob and Joy.

Raechel's new marketing assistant wrote a "back-copy" blurb for EOTL; which was a relief to me, because I hate writing synopses, and the marketing chick got to the heart of the matter quite nicely. I was also asked to choose an excerpt, which I did--it's the same bit that made y'all squeal when I put it up here. It was a good excerpt, I knew it as soon as I wrote it.

The thought of having ARC's send to reviewers, though--that terrifies me. I keep remembering that Anne Rice debacle on Amazon--not that she wasn't asking for it. I said then, I'll have to be sure not to read any reviews of my work. Maybe I'll bribe someone to read them for me and forward the good ones. Worse, though, would be if no one bothered to review it. I can handle being hated, but ignored? That's cold.

=====

In other news, I sent off "Gretel" to an upcoming anthology I happened to hear about, a collection of rehashed and reimagined fairie tales. Got back a nice email from the editor. He said their list was full, alas, and it was a pity because my story was at least as good as the one they'd already accepted. He said they may do a Volume Two, in which case I was "wholeheartedly invited" to submit again. So that was nice.

I have this curious feeling, and it may just be my ego talking, that I am standing alongside a carousel, watching it whirl past, moving in time to the rhythm and gearing myself up to jump for it, catch hold of one of those gilded posts and get whisked away. Of course I'll probably throw up once I'm on board, and some punk will try to sit beside me and make conversation, but from the ground it looks so bright and exhilarating. I'm eager for the ride.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

exhibits C, D, E, F and G*

I'm on a continuous scavenger hunt for other examples of western-horror novels. When I find one, which is seldom, I tend to approach it at an angle and with eyes half-shut, like it's going to spray me with acid or bite or something. Truth be told, I haven't found many, outside of the comic book realm. Here's a brief rundown:

Dead Man's Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West, by Nancy A. Collins. Nancy has a bit of a reputation for her Sonja Blue series, which sadly for her takes a back seat to Laurel Hamilton's Anita Blake series. Dead Man's Hand was apparently published by Two Wolf Press originally, but yesterday in Borders I found a trade paperback copy with Tor's imprint on the spine. I flipped through it; don't care for the style myself, and the stories are definitely horror shorts, as opposed to the dark-fantasy epic thing I'm shooting for.

Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin. Martin is probably the best-known of the authors whose works I have found in this genre; however I haven't read anything of his beyond A Game of Thrones, and I suspect few of his fans of that series ever heard of Fevre Dreams, which is a very cool title, by the way. It's the name of a paddleboat, rolling up and down the Mississippi in the 1840's, Huckleberry Finn time. The paddleboat captain unwittingly takes on an aristocratic vampire as a business partner. Lord, I am so sick of aristocratic vampires. My impression is, this is more an Anne Rice-style historical dark fantasy thing than a real western. But that's okay.

One of my writer's group informed me that an alumi of our number, William F. Wu, had written a supernatural western, but in reading the description of Hong on the Range I remain skeptical. It's more a pseudo-futuristic cyberpunk western. The reviewers were not kind, and neither is the $0.72 price tag. Bill is great fun to hang around with, but I personally don't go for broad humor and puns in fiction.

Then there are some contributions from the minor leagues:

Over at Yard Dog Press there are a couple of books by a guy named Ken Rand, whose name is vaguely familiar to me. Look at "The Golems of Laramie County" and "Tales of the Lucky Nickel Saloon."

I'm sure there are others--Joe Lansdale I know has a western-zombie thing out there called Dead in the West-- but I'm tired of looking.

For further reading, and a little listening pleasure, some guy named "Ruthven" over at Amazon compiled a handy list. I can't personally recommend any of it. What I find curious, though, is there's a fairly established subgenre of western horror in gaming--both live and video--and in comics. I wonder why not in fiction? Too hard to market, maybe?

*Exhibits A and B, in case you were wondering, were King's Dark Tower series and the comic series Desperadoes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

insomnia back from abroad

Back in June I sent "Insomnia" (that's the story of Seth Ladron losing his mind in Flenning's lab) off to Writers of the Future. Got it back today. Another quarter finalist also-ran. This time I rated a hand-written note letting me know I was in the top "10-15%" Yawn.

Should be getting a rejection from Asimov's any day, too, on Bridgeport. Guess I'll wrap up Insomnia and send it to Scifiction.com. Been meaning to do that for a year, now.

My writer's meeting is Saturday and they'll get the end of Parlor Games. After that I'm not sure what I'll do with it. I still think it's too long and suffering from continuity syndrome to make a viable stand-alone, but I do like the beginning and ending of it. Perhaps I'll try to carve a shorter short out of it and send it off to F&SF. I don't even necessarily want F&SF to publish it anymore, but they have a quick turnaround time, and I have a perverse desire to torture that assistant editor who said EOTL "didn't capture his interest" by forcing him to read every single story as I finish it. He may hate my guts, but I won't let him forget me.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Parlor Games is done

I'm as amazed as you are. It feels a little like one of those Family Circus maps where Billy wanders all over the neighborhood--I got from start to finish okay, but I'm not sure I hit all the points I needed to cover.

Ah well. Hindsight is clearest, and at least my writer's group will have something to crit next week. Now I get to go play with the werewolves.

Oh... by-the-by, when you leave comments now you'll have to do a "word verification" as an extra step---to keep the spammers out.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

yummy

From The Prairie Traveler, by Randolph B. Marcy (pub. 1859), the chapter "Stores and Provisions":
The pemmican, which constitutes almost the entire diet of the Fur Company's men in the Northwest, is prepared as follows: The buffalo meat is cut into thin flakes, and hung up to dry in the sun or before a slow fire; it is then pounded between two stones and reduced to a powder; this powder is placed in a bag of the animal's hide, with the hair on the outside; melted grease is then poured into it, and the bag sewn up. It can be eaten raw, and many prefer it so. Mixed with a little flour and boiled, it is a very wholesome and exceedingly nutritious food, and will keep fresh for a long time.

I've seen several "receits" for pemmican, and that has got to be the worst. Although I've been known to eat raw cured bacon fat, so maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge.

Also of interest: the word "antiscorbutics," i.e. "something to prevent scurvy."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

omens

I take out my contacts to sleep at night. This morning I got into the shower, blind, groggy, stuck my head under the hot water. Steamed, soaped, breathed, got my eyes open. Glanced down and see a massive black thing moving in the corner of the shower stall, twelve inches from my right foot.

Friends, I am so myopic that I literally cannot read my nightstand clock from two feet away. I knew that anything I could see at that distance without my lenses in had to be on the scale of a 50's-monster-flick beastie.

Did I mention, we have a small problem with spiders in our apartment?

Generally I am pretty brave about wildlife, when I am not naked, defenseless and blind. I backed out of the shower while the black thing scrambled from one corner to the other--very fast. I grabbed an empty shampoo bottle and whacked it. It stopped moving. I whacked it again--crunch. Ick. Threw the bottle down (water still running, streaming off me and my soaking hair and the shower door onto the floor). Put in contact lenses. Grabbed a wad of tissues and swept up a black hairy arachnid with the leg span of a golf ball, and flushed it. Ew. Ew. Ew.

I always feel slightly guilty about killing spiders. They're very cool creatures, and of course they eat other nasty things. But they tend to bite me. Mosquitoes, flies, ticks... these things do not like the way I taste. Spiders do. My husband says they're siphoning venom off me, ha ha. But I feel guilty nevertheless. Especially one that size. I couldn't help but think it was an inauspicious way to start the morning.

I was right.

My car died on the way to work. Fairly sure it's the alternator. Pulled off the highway, sputtering and gasping, into the parking lot of a lovely liquor store with bars on the windows. The kind of place you visualize in movie adaptations of "The Stand" or "I am Legion." Called Scott, who came to retrieve me and take me to work. Spent that C-note I had managed to save this month on the tow truck. Got into work 1 1/2 hours late, when I had purposefully left early, to get here early, to put in some overtime to get this motorcycle manual out in a timely fashion. I have been approved to do overtime on this project; looks like that money will come in handy.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

“Hi servi invivi quos quaeris non sunt.”*

At one point in Parlor Games I needed someone to speak an incantation to get rid of an unwelcome guest, and as everyone knows, the appropriate language for issuing either Priestly or Arcane orders is, appropriately, a Dead Language. Unfortunately, my parents persuaded me to take French instead of Latin in high school (I now think we were both mistaken and I should have studied Spanish, instead). Luckily for me, however, one of the lovely women in my writer's group is apparently quite proficient in Latin. I didn't realize to what degree until I asked her to translate this line for me:
Locate the intruder, follow him to his abode. Let not darkness nor mysteries cloud his flight. Show him to me.

Today I got back the most giggle-inducing post. I can't help it; I love linguistics. If I were incurably rich I'd do nothing but study languages all day. When I wasn't writing or practicing tai chi, of course. Below are the most relevant portions of the text Alysen sent me (the comments in italics are mine):
Ave salveque Holly!

A. Nouns

invasor = invader
speculator = spy, scout
emissarius = emissary, spy

Oddly enough, there’s no single Latin word which means, precisely, intruder. There are a couple of awkward two- and three-word phrases which I dismissed, not wanting to open up the grammatical and metrical cans of worms they entailed.

Is the intruder intruding on his own recognizance? Invasor. Or has he been sent as a minion by a nefarious secret master? Emissarius or speculator.

domicilium = abode, dwelling-place
domus = home, house
latibulum = hiding-place, retreat, subterfuge
latebra = hiding-place, den, lair

Domicilium is colorsell and metrically annoying. Domum, in addition to being the generic term for house, home, household, also refers to a specific type of building, an atrium townhouse, and carries a connotation of middle-class comfort--hardly what you had in mind.

Latibulum is okay, but I hope you like latebra, lair, as much as I do. (oh, yes!)

obscuritas = darkness, meanness, obscurity (by an amazing coincidence)
opacittas = darkness, shadiness, opacity (another amazing coincidence)
arcanum = mystery, secret
occultum = hidden thing, secret (adj. used as substantive)
tenebrae = darkness, obscurity, night, mysteries (I thought of you, Joy!)

Why not let tenebrae suffice alone, since it means both darkness and mysteries?

fuga = flight, fleeing, exile
effugium = flight, way of escape

Either is fine, leaving meter the only criterion.

B. Verbs

invenio, invenire = invent, contrive, find, discover, procure
rescisco, resciscere = ascertain, find out, learn
reperio, reperire = find, meet with, find out, descover, invent

I recommend reperio, reperire; it seems closest to your intended meaning. Oddly, again, there seems to be no single Latin word meaning precisely “locate”, “find the location of”.

It would be a clause like “locum invasoris rescisce”, ascertain the place of.

sequor, sequi = follow, go after, attend, pursue
investigo, investigare = track
venor, venari = hunt

Which of these you choose depends on whether the counterintelligence agent being ordered on this spychase is singular or plural. Solo minion or squad? I’ll get to the reason in a moment.

sino, sinere = allow, permit
patior, pati (?) = bear, undergo, suffer, allow
permitto, permittere = let go through, let fly, give up, entrust, allow, permit (am. coinc.)

This one’s complicated by the fact that the negative imperative (your “Let not”) is conveyed by noli / nolite plus the infinitive, literally meaning “Do not will to [verb].” So there are going to be two infinitives in this sentence, potentially confusing but unavoidable.

nubibus velo, velare = envelop, veil, conceal by/within clouds; becloud
caligine velo, velare = ditto by mist
nebula (long A) velo, velare = ditto by fog

I’d recommend caligus, fog, if you insist on atmospheric phenomena; but velo, velare conveys your meaning without assistance.

retego, retegere = uncover, bare, open, reveal
recludo, recludere = open, disclose, reveal
revelo, revelare = unveil, bare, show, discover
patefacio, patefacere = disclose, expose, bring to light

Here again the choice depends on whether you’re sending a single operator or a team on this mission.

C. Esthetics

Any magical incantation ought to have some poesy about it. Lain poetry doesn’t have to rhyme--although it often does, almost inadvertently, due to the inherent structure of the language--but rhyme and rhythm must inevitably improve the potency of any magic spell! ;-)

Aha, you say. Comes the dawn.

Commanding a Single Minion:

Invasorem reperi.
Eum ad latebram [suam] venare.
Tenebras effugium [suum] velare
caligine noli sinere.
Eum mihi retege.

Literally:
Invader discover.
Him to lair [his] hunt.
Darkness/mysteries flight [his] to veil
by mist do not let.
Him to me reveal.

(The suums/suams are metrically annoying and can be deleted, taken as
understood.)

I am confident that either of the above, chanted sonorously, will suffice to send any spook skeddadlin’ with its ectoplasmic tail between its legs.

Vale!


*(These are not the droids you’re looking for.)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Trace No. 2 1/2

I went to my writer's meeting today. Love those guys. I finally feel as if I've started to bond with them, after--what, five years? It ain't their fault, though. I'm hard to get to know, and they are all twenty years older than I am. Hard to find common ground, outside of the writing, and I'm the only one doing that these days--and y'all know how little of that I've been doing of late.

Although, Rob (Chilson) just sold a story to Analog. It's called "Space Farmers" or something like that. We critted it in-house, and there's some interesting material in there--it's very solid speculation about how to raise produce and grains in zero-gee and zero-atmo. Stan Schmidt told him he liked it and wanted it, but they didn't have any money to pay him right now. That's terrifying, in my opinion. I don't know when it will be coming out, but I'll keep you posted.

I was the only one with any material today. I've been feeding them Trace stories in installments--they see rougher versions than I let leak to you guys. I've been writing frantically for the last few days, trying to get some material on paper so they'd have more to read, so they got to see about two-thirds, or 20 pages, of "Parlor Games." They were very approving, which is a relief because I hadn't had a chance to look back over the text I pretty much just regurgitated onto the page. The dialogue was a little rough, especially the German accent of one character, and there were some anachronisms of vocabulary, but that's what I keep them around for. We had a lovely little discussion about language and character development. They all really seem to get it and be on board with it. Jan is always first to laugh at the funny bits. Lynette said she really enjoyed how I've balanced Trace's dilemma: how he may have learned to cope with his curse but he's never really dealt with it.

Alison is a little disatisfied with Trace's reticence and wimpiness. She wants him to suck it up and tell Fairweather off--or at least ask more questions, take steps to control his own destiny. I just smile and tell her not to rush me.

By the way, can anybody provide me with a few nineteenth-century substitutions for "bitch"? And "kraut'? What was the common derogatory term for a German back then? I've found a nifty dictionary of 19th century slang, but it's a bit limited. And my "Cowboy Lingo" book has been sanitized for someone's protection.

Anyway, I will probably have this done, at least in rough form, in another three or four days.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

book report: Conjure Wife

I finished Lieber's novella last week. In a nutshell? It was good, but not life-changing. I've read a lot of good things about this story, so maybe it was over-hyped in my head before I got to it.

Through most of my reading I was really conscious of its datedness. It was written in the late 1930's, I believe, and you can really see that early-twentieth-century transition in style, from narrative to scenic emphasis. I found parts of it, especially the beginning, overly descriptive and info-dumpy, but considering the length of the work it was probably appropriate. Lieber summarized in a lot of places where I wouldn't have, but then I also read somewhere that the story was originally published in serial form. So that explains both the cliffhanger-endings of chapters and the tendency to step back from the action and rehash the setting at the beginning of each chapter.

Strangely, perhaps, I kept remembering that the story was written and set just prior to World War II--and for some reason hard-wired into me that I don't fully understand, all the machinations of witchcraft on a small college campus seemed unbearably trivial in the wake of what I knew was coming. I could make a case, if I were so inclined, that the whole book is about the triviality of academia--the descriptions of the professors and their social lives makes this point more than once. It also works as a satire of how deadly seriously some women take their petty little machinations. But other people have made those points, at length, so I won't.

A lot of people, when they talk about this story, point out the subtle sexism, if not outright misogyny. It is there, but mostly in the narrator, Norman's, point of view. To my ear, the story offers an ironic explanation for why every good man has a good woman behind him. I could make a case that Norman was actually the old-fashioned one, clinging to old ideas about wives and domestic hierarchy, but that would be a waste of time and is probably just my own baggage, anyway. I found myself thinking, at the end of the book, that Norman was probably in for a hell of shock, to find out he was being topped from below--I had the feeling there would be a seismic shift in the power balance of that relationship.

I enjoyed the story. There were a lot of genuinely creepy moments in there--the old-fashioned atmospheric chills without the Victorian verbosity and inverted sentence structure--thank God. Some of it was even suspenseful. The tone, and the balance of arcane and mundane, are exactly what I've sought to find in the Trace stories, and I remarked to Scott that I wished I'd found that book six months ago.

But at the end, it leaves me rather indifferent. It was clever, but I'm not the type of reader to get off on satire just because it's clever. I think Lieber handled the characters very well, with the right balance of interior and exterior development (a theory which I am developing elsewhere), but I never really bonded with any of them--not even Norman or Tansy. I would have liked the opportunity to bond with them, but the story was so rushed and plot-heavy (and so bent on making its point) that there wasn't time. It was a well-crafted and appropriate story. I will probably read it again, but it will be for study purposes, not enjoyment.

And you know what? I find myself wishing that it had been recommended to me by another reader, rather than an editor who had to make a point about how clever and theme-heavy it was. Theme is great, but it should be something to take away after, not a steamer trunk to bring on board.

Monday, August 01, 2005

meditation and dim sum

I did pretty much nothing all weekend, and it was lovely. Saturday I lay around and read. I baked an apple crisp for breakfast, and while it was in the oven I meditated for about 15 minutes.

I have been taught to do standing meditation, yes, and Tony pointed out, after reading the "WANT CAKE" entry despite instructions to the contrary, that Sit did offer to teach the deeper meditation, so it's not that Sit is a sexist boor or anything, but I was feeling sorry for myself and resentful for reasons that I don't want to go into here, thus it was easier to imply that the obstructions were external, rather than internal.

More to the point, I have always been slightly scornful of meditation. I respected its use as a mind-cleaning tool, and put prayer in the same category, although my mother would be appalled to hear it. I never felt the need for prayer or meditation, because my writing served the same purpose. But I have not been writing lately, and I have become addicted to the Internet. Furthermore, my husband is one of those people who constantly has to have the TV on when at home--sometimes both of them, on different channels, in different rooms. I can't escape. Because of those factors and other things, plus no quality input, I have been severely frazzled lately. So I'm trying the meditation. There are some other reasons for doing it as well, but they have to do with kung fu training and are too complicated to explain here. If you want to know, go buy Yang Yang's book on Taiji.

Sit had to miss class on Sunday because of work--possibly the second time he's done that in my memory of almost four years--so we had a small class on Sunday. Tony led the kung fu exercises, I led the fan form review, then Mary Ann came at eleven and led the tai chi class. Afterward, we all went out for dim sum. This was the second time I've eaten dim sum. It's best to go with someone who speaks Chinese and knows what to order. I ate some strange things yesterday: beef tendon, shark's-fin dumplings, a sweet pastry roll with "barbeque" pork inside. It was all pretty good but you can't think too much about what you're eating. Tony kept taking things off the Lazy Susan in the middle of the table and putting them on my plate. "Here, try this." "I'm full!" "No no, you just gotta try this." Karen said, "Is he trying to fatten you up?" What's really funny is, Mary's younger son Charlie was there with us, home from college for a visit. And Mary kept doing the same thing--taking stuff off the serving dishes and putting it on Charlie's plate until he snarled at her and we all started laughing. "Gee, Mom, let the kid cut his own meat!"

The meal was good but rather starchy for my palate. I have also been instructed to learn how the "Lazy Susan" got its name. Tony tells me this is my function in the group--to define obscure words, just as Matt's speciality is math (we had a terrible time dividing up the lunch ticket without him) and Tony's is carpentry.

I started feeding Scott green tea this weekend. He likes it; says it cuts the phlegm. I have to agree. Actually what he said was, "Now this is going to make me immortal, thin, cancer-free and make my dick three inches longer, right?" And I say hey, if you believe in it enough, it just may.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I have decided to read

I realize the last two posts imply that I'm losing my mind, and given the mood of the past two weeks that would be a logical conclusion to draw. But I simply decided that I was wandering around feeling empty and adrift because I AM empty, and I gathered together my scattered "to read" pile.

My mom picked up a very interesting little reprint called "The Prairie Traveler," written by a U.S. Army Major and originally published in 1859, for those emigrants not lucky enough to have a Boz in their company. It has chapters on what to pack, how to handle emergencies, choosing and care of animals, and the behavior of Indians. Much looking forward to that, but not in the mood at the moment.

I am currently reading George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, loaned to me by Shara almost two years ago with the instruction to let her know how it ended. I can't say I blame her. It's dense, tangled, and indifferently written, in my opinion. The characters are rather cardboard and single-note, especially at the beginning, but I'm about a quarter of the way through and things are picking up. Beginning writers, take note: it's really really hard to get into a book when the first eight chapters each have a different viewpoint character, with no apparent connectivity to what went before, and you're throwing up fifteen years of backstory, place names, family names, royal titles, allegiances, fathers, men-at-arms and offspring, onto the poor reader in a single regurgitation. By the time I got to chapter 12 or so I was starting to see a pattern but I kept having to check back to earlier chapters to make sure they were talking about whom I thought they were talking about. But now I'm intrigued by the plot and some of the characters are starting to distinguish themselves, so I shall soldier on. This book is actually very good for reading during the dog days of summer, with the endless descriptions of snow and ice and people freezing to death.

Tony was nice enough to loan me a stack of classic sci-fi, including several of Asimov's Robot books (le sigh... I suppose they're good for me, like fiber), Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, which I admit to being curious about, and one sweet surprise I am particularly looking forward to: Franz Lieber's The Conjure Wife. Have heard good things about it, periodically consider buying a copy. But this is better, saves me some money and instant gratification.

I also have Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, which I got three chapters into and quit--it may have been groundbreaking in its day, but to my mind it's just obvious and hand-wringing. Then I have a copy of some time-travel thing by Caleb Carr, the arrogant wanker, which I've been meaning to read for years, and of course Idoru, which is still tented open to chapter four on my headboard. At least Gibson's got some style.

It's a good selection and variety of words, at least. I used to read a book a day, for crying out loud, but since I got married it just seemed to be a waste of time. Also I spend so much time sitting down, at work and in the car, that it's really hard for me to land and stay when I'm at home. But I can't seem to write, and reading takes no effort and is a marvellous way to escape reality, which is not too brilliant at the moment, so hey? Why not.

And related to all this reading, go look at the new PDF excerpt on AJ's blog. I saw the earlier version, it wasn't bad, but comparing that to this is the difference Dorothy saw when she stepped out of the silent gray farmhouse into Technicolor Munchkinland.

enlightenment in the Whole Foods produce aisle

Blueberries. Blueberries, blueberries, blueberries. Blueberries.

Strawberries.

Black and rasp(berries).

Kiwi.

Fish! Spices! Sole with Northwoods Seasoning! Salmon with parsley and lemon!

Vindaloo, for naked chicken legs.

Brown rice, to temper the Vindaloo.

Garlic (granulated).

Greek seasoning. Romaine, iceburg, onion, tomato, Kalamatas, cucumber, feta.

BlueBERries. And sometimes cream.

haiku therapy

Sifu says, "Practice tai chi
with less emotion."
I burst into tears.

Five lanes compressed to two,
with a stoplight.
Sixty-five minutes to work.

My mind clamours with voices,
sensations, emotions.
Where are the words?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

how to be beautiful, 1889

I find this to be quite droll, as well as common-sensical. Particularly read the chapter on Corsets, from which comes the following:
This unending war against corsets that has been raging for about two score years and ten is certainly as good an advertisement as the most enterprising manufacturers can wish for. It proves conclusively that the corset wins all of the battles. If, in the fight, it has even wiped off from the face of the earth a few brainless women it is difficult to understand why the corset should be held responsible.

This is the point the femi-nazis are missing. Beauty can be a weapon. You just have to know how to wield it.

I give you expert testimony:
MEN condemn and criticize the very things in their own wives and sisters that they run after and admire in the sisters and wives of other men. One of their great "hobbies" is "common-sense" shoes. They advocate them and insist upon their wives and sisters wearing them, yet were they ever known to say a lady had a pretty foot that was seen in a commonsense shoe? Never! The nearest they get to it is : "What a lovely foot that woman has! if she would only take off that French heel and wear a common-sense shoe! " Poor things, they don't know that only the French shoe can show the outlines of a pretty foot. Men are so peculiar. They talk of their admiration for sensible girls, condemn paint, powder, small waists and French heels, and at the same time their most serious attentions are given to girls de voted to all of the frivolities known to the fair sex. Just as long as men go on--but I digress.

And I rest my case.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

realignment

Had my writer's meeting yesterday. I took them the first nine-ish pages of "Parlor Games," an excerpt which ended with a tantalizing revelation about Miss Fairweather.

Choice comments were as follows:
Where is the rest of it? More! I want MORE! (soon.)

*

Very good--I particularly like the pace & the balance between Trace's viewpoint narration & the dialogue
*

Cool! The plot--or the relationship, rather--thickens apace. I thought you were going to tease us with their relationship as shown in the first two stories for a couple more stories yet. I'm happy to see him establishing some turf to stand up on his hind legs on, at last.

Kung fu? Scheduling conflicts? Divided loyalties? Pshaw.

Friday, July 22, 2005

no technology is ever totally obsolete

Horse-and-Plow Farming Making a Comeback
... a farmer with horses can earn triple or more the earnings per acre than one farmed by agribusiness.

Ron VanGrunsven farms about 50 acres with horses near Council, Idaho, and has used horses for years there and in Oregon's Willamette Valley.

"They're more economical," he said. "They raise their own replacements, you can train them yourself and raise their feed."

I find that cool.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

for love, no money. yet.

I had a premonition this morning, while in the shower. I sensed something had happened with End of the Line. So I dried my hair, put in my contact lenses, and fired up the 'Net. Yes, our internet service has been restored. No one is saying for certain why it was off; Scott insisted it had nothing to do with being behind on the bills and he made the rep tell me so over the phone.

Anyway. I had an email waiting from Raechel Henderson Moon.
Dear Holly Messinger --

Thank you for submitting "End of the Line" to Jintsu. I loved this
story and would like to publish it as a Jintsu e-book.

(deleted second paragraph full of business/contract stuff)

Sincerely,

Raechel Henderson Moon
Publisher

Still no advance, but the royalties are a generous deal. I'm a bit flattered. Mostly I feel very... unsettled. Don't know the publication date as yet.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

still more news

Jeez, busy day. Okay, first I find this Livejournal rant about the declining state of SF magazines. Looks like I'm not the only one who's bored with the post-modernist LeBrea pits.

Secondly, Greg "The Source" Araujo sent me this link. Want one now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

feeding my brain

I bought two books today at lunchtime. There's a Borders three blocks away from my office, which cost me a great deal of paycheck, the first couple years I worked here. It's a great place to pass a lunch hour--especially in the summer, among the cool, quiet stacks that smell of bleached paper and soy-based inks.

I went in there semi-seriously looking for a tome on Catholicism in nineteenth-century America. I know such a work exists: I've seen some on Amazon, but today I just wanted to do some skimming, not buying.

Instead I got sidetracked by the African-American studies. I saw the endcap, with a new compilation of slave narratives, and figured I could pick up some anecdotes. I found a thin bound copy of Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery, for the whopping price of $2. I knew who Booker T. was, but I never had heard of this book. Maybe I read an excerpt and forgot about it. We didn't even cover him in Minority Lit, in college. Still, for $2, every kid in America ought to be made to read this. It's not a man with an ax to grind or a scholar trying to build a reputation. He's just a guy telling it like it was.

The other book I got is way more fun: Lotions, Potions, and Deadly Elixirs: Frontier Medicine in America. It's a hoot. Beautifully bound and printed on glossy paper, with a number of proofreading errors that set my teeth on edge, it's both informative and entertaining. The first half is anecdotal and expository; the back half is an encyclopedia.
Applying vinegar mildly pickled the top layers of the skin. Regardless of the smell, and the desire to bite oneself, vinegar helped relieve sunburn and similar skin irritations. When applied to irritated skin, vinegar makes skin sting before it feels better. That is perhaps why it found little favor in treating minor hemorrhoid flare-ups or burning bottoms caused from improper wipings with pine straw or leaves.

I kid you not. The author also relates how his Grandma doctored everybody with coal tar and veterinary medicines, fried her chicken in lard, ate eggs and bacon for breakfast every day, dipped snuff and still lived to be ninety-four. My kind of woman. I figure with modern advances in medicine--and less chance of contracting parasites--I can make it to a hundred and four.

Monday, June 13, 2005

from a review of Batman Begins

The film works as a commentary on not only Osama Bin Laden's crusade against the West, but also Bush Jr.'s crusade against the Middle East. It's all about fear and loathing, this high profile, big-budget product of a post-millennial United States...

I give up. I absolutely freaking give up.

giving credit where due

Well, Eric Martin at Lone Star Stories rejected EOTL, too (talk about fast turnaround), but he recommended I send it to Jintsu, which publishes novellas as e-books. I dunno, I'm kinda like, if I wanted to go the electronic route, I'd just post it myself. I'm not sure if I'm gaining anything to e-publish something people have to pay for, because I'm of the opinion that they won't. I could be wrong.

Anyhoo, I watched two movies this weekend: Unforgiven, the Eastwood opus of 1992, and White Noise, with Michael Keaton. They were both decent and both flawed in different ways, I think. They did their jobs.

The first half of Unforgiven was... not boring, but rather stiff, in my opinion. I felt the dialogue was awkward and there was inadequate interaction between characters to really get a feel for who they were--especially with regard to Eastwood's retired-gun. Hackman was supposed to be the bad guy, but in my mind he was far more reasonable and sympathetic than anybody else (makes you worry about me, eh?), at least up until he started whupping Morgan Freeman. Freeman was his usual endearing and accessible self, and had some of the best dialogue in the movie. The ending was definitely memorable. Not quite what I had expected. Subtly done. Almost too subtle, really, but very much in keeping with the other "great" westerns I've seen. It occurs to me that the Western gunslinger, with his unexplored past, personal demons, and taciturn attitude, is really the original post-modern hero. Nothing really changed at the end of that story. Couple people died, the hero finished his job and went home a little richer. Our understanding of him was perhaps enhanced, but I'm not sure that was enough to deserve a Best Picture award.

White Noise was more engaging and accessible. The characters were rather shallow but endearing enough to do the job. It was, in my opinion, as sad as it was scary. There were plenty of spooky moments--enough that I kept flashing back to the movie all night--but ultimately the story didn't hold together. I'm a little ambivalent about what could have been changed to make it work--I don't think all the questions should be resolved in a ghost story; that robs it of its power. But several things just seemed inconsistent or random.

While I was searching for markets yesterday I ran across Whispering Spirits Ezine, which might be a good venue for the Trace séance story, if I can keep it under 8000 words. Of general interest, however, was an article in their current issue titled, "Why Ghosts Must Be Scary: A Writer's Lesson." Check it out.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

forget our ADD medication today, hmm?

Dear Ms. Messinger,

Thank you for submitting "End of the Line," but I'm going to pass on it. This tale didn't grab my interest, I'm afraid. Good luck to you with this short, and thanks again for sending it our way.

Sincerely,
Assistant /fill-in-your-own-epithet-here/ Editor,
well-known SF magazine.


Record 10 day turnaround time. Freakin sons of motherless goats. Good thing I'm not a 6'6" man, or I'd have broken a few things in my apartment today.

Anybody know another market that will print stories around 20k words?

UPDATE:
I went ahead and sent EOTL to Lone Star Stories on Sunday when I got home from kung fu. Don't expect them to take it, really; they're of a more literary bent, but I have seen a couple of western-themed spec-fic stories there. Some of them are rather good. Check 'em out.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Klingon chili

(Pork chile stew)
  • about 3 pounds of pork shoulder roast or stew meat, trimmed and cut into small chunks
  • Flour or masa harina or combination
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 sm (6 oz?) cans minced marinated green chilis
  • 3 Tbs chili powder: hot, mild or combo
  • 1 tablespoon each or to taste: cumin, basil, thyme, oregano; and a bay leaf
  • salt and pepper, or seasoned S&P (I like Lowry's)
  • 2- 15 oz cans low sodium chicken broth
  • small jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped small
  • dash of white wine, lemon juice, OJ or vinegar, for acid

Cut up meat small: salt and pepper. Saute in very large skillet in olive oil until seared all over. Dump in pot with chicken broth and acid juice, simmer. Whisk some of the broth into a little corn or wheat flour to make a paste and stir into pot. Add canned peppers.

Put chopped onion and garlic in skillet w/oil, saute til clear and maybe a little burnt. Add to pot and throw in seasonings. Reduce heat and let stew for a couple hours, uncovered. Stir occasionally so it doesn't scorch on the bottom. Taste and correct seasonings after 30-40 minutes. Add more water or masa harina if needed to adjust thickness. It will thicken quite a lot when it's done.

Scott ate it over rice with sharp cheddar cheese. I ate it with cheese and sweetened rice on the side. The meat would also be very good in a soft tortilla, with refried beans, sour cream and salsa. Don't eat the bay leaf.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

don't you hate it when...?

A week later, it happened again.

Trace was literally shaken out of a sound sleep--came to in a spasm of disorientation, in the dark, not knowing which way was up, whether it was an earthquake or the Second Coming. The iron bedstead was shaking, and there was a dead man at the foot of it, gripping the rails.

“Oh, Lord, not again,” Trace groaned, pulling his pillow over his head.

The shaking came again, insistent, the heavy feet of the bed thumping on the floor like thunder. No living man could have rocked the weight of that bed, with its two straw mattresses and Trace’s considerable bulk on top, but spirits were funny that way; they could be powerful strong when they were determined.

In another minute the whole boardinghouse would be woke. Across the room, Boz was already groggy and grousing. “Dammit, Trace—“

“I can’t help it,” Trace snapped, and threw the pillow aside, sitting up only to come face-to-blackened-face with the dead man.

He had been hanged, that was obvious. His face was swollen and dark, the eyes shiny and bulging. The tail end of a rotted noose dangled around his neck, and his tongue protruded, dripping froth and obscuring his words.

“I didna do it,” he was saying, a frantic mixture of indignation and panic. “Ye gotta tell ‘em, I didna touch that gel—“

“All right, all right, I’ll tell ‘em,” Trace muttered, flinging back the covers. He reached for his pants, hung over the bedpost, got into them and his boots, pulled the suspenders over his undershirt.

“Please, you gotta tell em. They’re gonna put me to the gallows for sure—“

“I’ll tell ‘em,” Trace yawned, taking the top blanket from the bed. Boz had pulled his own pillow over his head; he couldn’t hear the spirit’s pleas, but the bed rattling and Trace’s mumbling and bumbling around the room were disturbance enough. Boz had told him he often talked in his sleep, and thrashed around as if he were fighting someone--and that was on nights without his accustomed round of bad dreams.

“No--you gotta listen to me,” the dead man said.

“I’m listenin.” Trace opened the door to the hall, shuffled through and closed it behind him as gently as he could. On nights like this, the only kind thing to do was go sleep in the stables, let Boz get what rest he could.

Listen to me!” the hanged man insisted, and suddenly Trace felt his wind cut off, an invisible noose tightening around his own throat. He was jerked back against the door of their boarding-room, clawing at his neck, scrabbling for purchase with his bootheels on the floor. Then sickeningly, the floor was no longer there, he was dangling above it, heels kicking the door, red flowers blooming in his vision, blotting out the faces of the watching crowd--

The door was yanked open behind him. Trace’s feet struck the floor and the rest of him collapsed to it, wheezing, while Boz knelt over him and all down the hall, disheveled heads stuck out to see what the ruckus was.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

and now we venture into strange new territory

I have an idea for a story in which Trace has to either pose as or debunk a parlor medium/spiritualist. Not sure how or whether it will play out yet, so don't start second-guessing me, hear? But in preparation for said topic, I've been doing a little reading. The Internet, for all its faults, is the ideal place to read up on stuff like this.

Voila: The International Survivalist Society and their impressive collection of archives. The biographies are of particular interest to me.

In the mere half-hour that I've been surfing, I've already seen several implications--if not outright assertions--that the learned men of the nineteen century were more open-minded than we are today: that most scientists were quick to accept the truth of spiritualism, mesmerism, and other para-sciences.

Riiiiiight.

Anyway, this guy particularly interests me, because of the religious angle. I must also do some reading about Catholicism and the general state of faith in the late 1900's, and I must say I'm not looking forward to exploring either of these topics. Religion and psychic phenomenae fall into the category of things that seem to be discussed only by those with an axe to grind.

You know, on a total aside note: I'm the only writer I know who's so chatty about her ideas. Even among my writing colleagues who are actually producing, I never know a thing about what they're working on until there's a copy in my hands. In fact, I've heard writers say that a story will die on them if they talk about it too much beforehand. Am I just weird, or what? Desperate for approval, in love with the sound of my own voice, thinking aloud? Careless or naive about somebody stealing my ideas? Don't know. Don't care.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

silver dinner dress c. 1880

I kept referring to it as the "blue" dress while I was sewing, but as you can see in the pictures, it's really quite silver.

Monday, May 23, 2005

another Star Wars regurgitation

Well, it seems Episode Three is out now. There's just something really degrading about watching Yoda steal a burger and fries from a white guy in a diner.

It's at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes this morning, but I don't believe it for a minute. Even the critics who say it's worth seeing are admitting that the dialogue and characterizations are just as bad as the last two, but dammit, we stuck it out this long and we're going to ENJOY IT. I AM ENJOYING IT. HOW DARE YOU DEGRADE A PIECE OF MY YOUTH!

It's like finally getting to date that person you've admired from afar for years, only to find out they're dull and shallow. You stick in there, because of some remembered affection and a desperate hope that it will get better, but basically you're doomed to disappointment and struggling to be nice to this person who can't really be blamed for not living up to your fantasy.

Personally, I'm not going to see it. Scott has been waffling, but I told him he'd have to go without me. Poor guy, he's been living with me long enough he can't suspend his disbelief that high, either.

Couple weeks ago when I was complaining about AOTC, Scotius admonished me to "just turn off your brain and enjoy it." He probably knows he's cribbing Asimov, who said the same thing about Episode IV, back in 1977, but I doubt he expected me to know that.

I make no judgments on what people like or don't like. I have always been able to differentiate between whether a piece of art is "good" and whether I like it. For instance: the musician Prince is probably a musical genius, and definitely a brilliant guitar player, but I was always lukewarm about his work. On the other hand, lately I've been listening to Top-40 country music, which I find trite, lazily constructed and pandering. But it's also bright and bouncy and fun, and I guess I've been needing that. Everyone's got their guilty pleasures. I have my own collection of embarassing movies and books that I love.

But the "just turn off your brain and enjoy" exhortation is not acceptable here. It was appropriate when Asimov said it, because he was a scientist and he was telling us to ignore the rubber science. At that point, Star Wars still embraced the human condition; we still cared about the people and believed in their struggles. It was a fantasy; nobody pretended otherwise.

These new movies don't even have that to fall back on. When you can't sympathize with the characters, when the world they live in and their actions don't make sense, it's not a matter of turning your brain off. It's a matter of the brain grasping for meaning. In order to enjoy a story one has to forget one is watching a story. In order for the brain's "unawareness" to kick in, events have to proceed in such a way that they more or less meet our expectations and understanding of the way the world works. Or, if the setting is in a world unfamiliar to us, then the rules of that world must be explained in a logical and consistent way. In my own writing, I call it "doing the reader's thinking for him."

When the writer doesn't do it, conflict arises between the brain's expectations and the incoming data--kind of like when Yoda says "Tempted by the dark side, you are," instead of the normal S-V-O order we're used to in English. The brain has to stop and sort it out, try to fit the square pegs into the round holes.

The plots and character motivations in this movie make so little sense that we are forced to fill in the holes--or at least try to--ourselves. It's damned difficult, in such a situation, to "turn your brain off," because George sure as hell ain't doing the thinking for us.

But aside from that, I find the idea of "turning your brain off" offensive. It seems to me, fifteen years ago even the bad movies made better sense and had more "point" than the bulk of what's coming out now. I can still watch Back to the Future or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and while nobody would accuse them of being High Art, they still hold up story-wise, whether you believe in time-travel and Old Testament mythology or not. They hold up because the internal logic of their respective worlds is first explained and then adhered to. The characters' desires are expressed clearly and then acted upon in a consistent and reasonable manner.

We go to the movies because we want to "turn our brains off" and I simply cannot do that if the writer and director haven't put some thought into it. I want my mind and emotions BOTH to be engaged, or at least respected, and I suspect I'm not the only one, given how movie ticket sales have dropped in the last few years. I'm not saying every movie has to be a life-changing experience; that would be exhausting. But if all you're looking for is a little sensory stimulation, you may as well stay home with a mirrorball and some loud music.

The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy is just BAD. Badly written, badly plotted, badly directed and badly acted--although I can't know how much of that is really the actors' faults. It may be visually gorgeous, but if that's the case I'll just look at the movie stills all over the internet. I am not giving that man any more of my money, and if y'all want some better quality in your entertainment, you won't either.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

on the cusp, alarmingly

Last November/December, as I was starting on the first Trace story, Scott and I were telling each other that westerns were about due to come into style again. "Deadwood" had already finished its first season, and we guessed there would be more to follow. How right we were.
In the last three hours I've seen three things that totally freaked me out.

1) I went to the mall today. All the new summer stuff is in the stores. Just a sampling:
  • Linen skirts with cutwork embroidery around the hem.
  • Double-layered, three-tiered gauze "petticoat" skirts.
  • Sheer blouses with embroidery and pintucks, looking for all the world like a Victorian shirtwaist.
  • Belts with conchos and leather strands.
  • Heaps of silver and turqoise.

And a half-dozen other examples of pioneer-flavored looks in women's clothing for the summer. It's less peasant-y than when it came around in 1987, and they're pairing the flowy skirts with stretchy modern tops, or sheery fluttery blouses with slim capris, so the effect is still modern. I like it quite a bit, but I kept looking at all this vintage-inspired stuff and cackling like a nut. For the first time in my life I'm ahead of the curve.

2) TNT is releasing a new 6-part miniseries next month, titled "Into the West." It's the saga of two families, one Native American, one American Pioneer. I already knew this was coming, but not when. Sarah McLachlan covered her song "World on Fire" for it, cleverly changing the lyric, "planes crash" to "blades slash." How very, very, clever. The video is on Netscape Music.

3) On a different, more unsettling note, I keep running into this Cowboy Troy dude. (No, this has nothing to do with the resurgence of westerns, it's just freaky.) He calls his style "hick-hop," and it's exactly what it sounds like--rap set to twangy guitars. Is it different? Yeah, but not in a good way. Frankly, I can't process it. To my ear, he's skillfully amalgamated everything I hate about both types of music. He's apparently been doing it a long time, and won the attention of some heavy-hitters in Nashville, but the sound and the songs themselves strike me as mere gimicry.

I'm not sure why, either. Country music has a tradition of "scatting" and "talking blues," so you'd think there would be some reconciliation between that and what Troy is doing, but I sure can't find it. So what's the difference? The sound, the production, a simple difference in cadence between scat and rap? I don't know. Of course, I'm not a good judge of either style.

A few months ago there was a commercial out for iPod, I believe, that showed several city kids breakdancing in alleys and on streets, accompanied by hoedown music. The result was curiously poetic, and absolutely hilarious. Apparently, however, it wasn't as impossibly juxtaposed as I first thought.

Monday, May 16, 2005

busy weekend

Saturday was my semi-monthly real-life writer's meeting. I took them "End of the Line," and the reviews were rave. "Wonderful" was the word being tossed around. Also "fast," "exciting," "fun, "well-researched," and "stands alone well, but also enriches and builds upon what we already know of the characters."

Got to do a little fact-checking, but I figure I'll send it out by the end of the week. There's a limited market for things of this length, but I know it's good and I'm hoping F&SF will make room for it.

Rob lent me Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman. I'd seen this book before and was curious. It's not really germaine to my genre, because SF/F/H novels are pretty much never blockbusters, except of course for King---well, I can't say that any more, since Laurel K. Hamilton and J.K. Rowling have come on the scene. Never mind, I take it back.

At any rate, I don't expect Trace to be a blockbuster. However, the stories and the novel I have in mind meet most, if not all, the qualifications listed by Zuckerman in Chapter Two: High Stakes (risk losing your own soul, or let lots of innocent people die), Larger than life Characters (he's a six-foot-six cowboy who sees dead people--it doesn't get much bigger than that), Exotic Locations (the Old West), and High Concept (Ex-priest Civil War Vet who now works as a trail guide and who happens to be a spiritual medium--much to his dismay--is hired by a wealthy, mysterious benefactress who sends him on increasingly bizarre and supernatural "jobs" which may put his eternal soul in danger--even if he survives.)

I'm beginning to think my husband is justified in his gung-ho starry-eyed belief that this is going to be "Big!"

Sunday I went to kung fu, after having missed the last three classes. Not cool. My neck is still killing me--not because of the kung fu, that just exacerbated it. I turned the mattress and it seems to have helped, but not enough. I must get back into my qi gong routine.

Sunday afternoon, I sewed. Both the underskirt and the overskirt are done, except for hemming the one and trimming the other, both of which are things to be done in the evenings while watching TV. I had a slightly panicked moment on Sunday when I realized I had less than two weeks before ConQuesT. I should have plenty of time, but that's assuming there are no further interruptions, or I don't get sick.

The navy-blue underskirt looks fab. The overskirt I'm not sold on yet; I haven't decided about the draping, but that can be negotiated. But they both are very slim and drape nicely. I'm kind of eager to get to the bodice, truth be told. That silk handles beautifully.

Finally, and I was waffling about whether to share this news yet:

I have received an offer to publish Escaping Ariston, the first Quinn Taylor book. I'm not gonna say who yet, as no contract has been signed or even seen. It's a small but traditional press, they put out trade paperbacks as well as ebooks, and they want to publish Ariston in both formats. If I accept, and the contract goes through, Ariston should be out in print around Thanksgiving of 2006. So here's to small blessings, eh?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Promontory, 1869

Both ends have been joined; the golden spike is driven home. "End of the Line" is complete, at least in its preliminary form. Nineteen thousand, one hundred sixty-eight bleepin' words.

Sleep now.

Monday, May 09, 2005

attack of duh clones

I wrote a bit this weekend. I wrote the ending of "End of the Line," which is not to say it's finished--I just wrote the last two scenes, skipping past the climax. I do that a lot. Sometimes I have to see where I'm going to know how to get there. I also wrote a bit more toward the climax. There are a lot of things I have to work in at that point, so I did a little outlining, wrote a couple pages, stepped back to see where I could splice-and-dice. I'm afraid it's going to come off looking too compressed, but we'll see. I'm finding that the parts of this story I like best are not the action sequences, which makes sense because the action bits aren't really what the story is about. Of course, in a really well-done action sequence the characters' development is enhanced. It works best if you can do both things--develop the characters, and forward the story--at once.

And that brings me to the presumption part. I bit the bullet and watched Attack of the Clones this weekend. Scott watched about half of it with me, Saturday morning. He said, "This is even worse than I remember," and left for work. I watched the rest of it by myself, while ironing. I put all the pleats into the ruffle at the bottom of my midnight-blue underskirt. It was a pain in the ass, but the results are fab.

But I was talking about Clones. It's embarrassing. Disjointed and shallow and confusing because of it. I was thinking seriously about writing a crit of it and posting it with my other writing essays, but that would take days to do properly and other people, I'm sure, have already covered that ground, so I'll just post a brief outline:


  1. It's too choppy. There are too many cuts back and forth between Anakin/Padme and Obi-Wan. This is both an editing and a writing fault. The scenes should have been longer and they should have been more efficient, conveying character while they were forwarding the plot.
  2. The romance subplot is too disconnected from the politics. There was no real reason to sweep Padme out of town, except George apparently thought that people cannot fall in love in the course of their everyday lives. This was a grave error. Danger and intrigue create tension, tension hightens emotion, emotions make people do things they wouldn't normally do with people they shouldn't do them with. Besides, what better way than to develop Padme's character than to show us how competent and clever she could be at her job? And what better way to make Anakin fall for her? As it is, there's nothing to make us believe these two people would be attracted to each other, other than their both being pretty.
  3. Shallow world development. I'd have to watch it again and keep a list to track all the seeming contradictions and misassumptions in this universe and its politics, but the most glaring, to me, was the Jedis' total apparent lack of intelligence in the military sense--they had no spies, in other words. I don't care how noble and honorable they're supposed to be, if you've been a peacekeeping quasi-legislative body to the galaxy for umpteen thousand years, you've got to have a street-level network. There was no excuse for the Jedi being so clueless about what was going on. None. They could have had conflicting information, they could have had inaccurate information. But they should have had something.
  4. Basic confusion/unanswered questions/insider information. Who was the Jedi who ordered the clones? Was he dead or in hiding? Has he changed his name? Is this some fanboy in-reference I can't understand unless I read issue #78 of some out-of-print sci-fi journal? Sorry, George, but that doesn't cut it. A movie has to be a self-contained unit, even if it is part of a continuum. You can leave cookies for your die-hard fans, but any facts which affect the basic story logic must be included.
  5. That awful, awful American Graffiti salute in the diner, when Obi-Wan goes to visit his "contact." (Again, Obi-Wan has a contact but Yoda doesn't? Must be because Obi-Wan is young and reckless.) Don't even get me started.
Anyway. It was bad. It was amateurish, and I think poor George knows it. When The Phantom Menace came out, everyone said George had gotten too insulated, that no one would say no to him. Frankly, I think it's the other way round. George knows he can't write. That's why he got other people to write and direct Empire and ROTJ for him. That's why he bought up all the copies of the original A New Hope novelization. But I think when it came time to write the prequel trilogy, every writer and director in Hollywood dived into a hole in the ground, because no one wanted to make a movie that could only fall short of expectations. But of course they show must go on, George wrote the script and showed it to everybody, and of course they all knew it was bad but not how to fix it.
Attack of the Clones shows signs of too many cooks, in my opinion. It has bandages slapped on the rough parts, when the bones should have been broken and reset. Things that don't make sense are explained in ways that seem to make sense--if you're willing to believe the Earth is flat because we don't fall off. And I've seen that over-edited choppy quality in far too many Critters rewrites not to recognize it here--it wasn't that George was ignoring everyone's advice: he was taking it indiscriminately, trying to please everybody.
What's really sad is, the overall story structure could have worked. The second half of the movie is smoother, more sure than the first half, and I could see glimpses of personality in Anakin, his idealism and frustration. It wasn't the idea that was flawed, it was the execution.
Interestingly, the resulting mess ties in with what I was saying about iconic characters into which people build their own rationalizations. Not saying George did that on purpose, but that, I fear, has been the result. You don't believe me? Read Harry Knowles review of Revenge of the Sith, if you don't mind the spoilers. Yeah, maybe it's presumptuous of me to crit a movie I haven't seen, but I stand by my assessment. If I'm wrong, I'll be admitting it some time this fall. Don't hold your breath.

ADDENDUM: David Brin, author of The Postman and other stuff, has a crit of Eps. 1 and 2 on his site. He attacks it from a political/idological angle, rather than a strictly storytelling angle, but he, interestingly, makes the same point my husband did: Obi-Wan should've been the hero of this first trilogy. I don't necessarily embrace Brin's Obi-Wan/Anakin conspiracy solution to the whole thing, but at least it would hold together better than what we've got now.

Honestly, I am never going to let my kids watch these movies. They rot your brain.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

shinola! at ten thou and counting

So much for making this one a marketable length.

=============

They found the fireman not ten yards from the train, trying to crawl back through the shale and juniper brush. He was sobbing in that broken, wheezy way Trace remembered from Antietam; his shirt was wet and sticky when Trace touched his shoulder.

“Easy, feller, we got you,” Trace said, turning the man onto his back in Boz’s arms. He began to scream immediately, and bat at them with his shredded hands. His face was dark and shiny in the moonlight, black with blood that seemed to be coming from his scalp. The rest of him was shaking and cold, the breath rattling in his throat. “Conductor! We got your man down here!”

There was a skidding and scuffling as the conductor and Willie scrambled down the grade; Willie’s lantern threw shards of light over the ground and the chewed-up fellow between them.

“Tommy!” the conductor said, dropping to one knee. “Tommy, what happened? Where’s Earl?”

The fireman gurgled gibberish, pawing at the conductor’s coat. His sleeves had been torn off, and there was a big chunk of meat missing out of his forearm. With the lamp brought closer, Trace could see a flap of torn scalp dangling over his forehead, and one eye was gone. It looked like a wolf or bear had bitten into his head.

Trace looked into Boz’s eyes, read the question there, and stood up, looking back toward the train.

“What was it, Tommy?” the conductor asked. “Wolves? Did they get Earl?”

Trace squinted. The windows of the passenger cars glowed dimly from the lamps; he could just make out heads and bodies moving inside. He could see two men standing on the colored car, pacing back and forth, keeping watch. One of them had a spark of fire in his hand, which he raised to his lips.

Something dark was slinking up the gravel grade to the tracks. Something blacker than the sky, darker than the shadows. It moved low to the ground, crawling like a frog but much faster, the size of a man. Another one, behind it. Two more--two cars down. Converging on the train.

Monday, April 18, 2005

story as Rorschach

I had an enlightening and disturbing thought the other day. I've known for some time that everybody brings their own baggage to a story or a crit. I've commented before on the strange and--to me--insignificant details which critters will pull out of a story and rant about.

But yesterday I connected that fact or trend or whatever it is with the disparity of perception of what constitutes "good" character development. Character development, like beauty, is in the eye and ear of the reader. My grandfather just insisted that Farscape was one of the best character-driven shows on television. I happen to fall in the Whedon camp, but I know people who think Dark Angel was a far better show because, and I quote, "you can tell what the characters are thinking." Well, yes, dear, because they're force-feeding it to you.

There are two general ways to develop characters. One is to give the character a genuine personality: how she acts, thinks, talks, and how others react to her. For the writer, this is a form of method-acting on paper, and it may be hard for a reader to later describe the character, because you didn't tell them. The danger, in this technique, is that you run a very real chance of readers just plain disliking your heroine, because they just plain don't like the kind of person you made her (and by extension, the parts of yourself you build into her).

The other way to develop character is, in my mind, superficially. This often involves more telling than showing. The writer may describe what the character looks like, her job, her apartment, her whole life story, with emphasis on the messy bits and how she was psychologically affected by them. This is, to make a gross generalization, the method most often employed in hard sci-fi, westerns, and action thrillers. I don't care for the technique myself, but it's useful in plot-driven fiction, where you only need the character to be a type and not an individual. Where you don't need the reader to care about the hero a whole lot, in other words.

There seems to be a disproportionate number of sci-fi readers who prefer the latter type of characterization. And once I stopped to think about it, this made sense, because sci-fi geeks are not known for their ability to read people or interact with the world. So it stands to reason that they "get" characters with trait-markers attached: leather chaps, big gun, nun's habit, big blue eyes and heart-shaped face, whatever.

It's not that they want shallow characters, or think of the fiction they like as superficial; far less do they see themselves as poor judges of character. I'm not suggesting that, either.

What I'm suggesting is that they project their own desires onto the characters. We all do it to an extent, but if your most meaningful relationships are with fictitious people, aren't you going to make them as ameniable to your fantasies as possible? The definitive example is, of course, fanfiction.

Fanfic is almost invariably character-oriented. It's all about emotion and relationships; I don't think I've ever read a fanfic story that had a plot per se; it's just one character ruminating on his/her relationship with another character. Furthermore, fanfic is notorious for taking the characters in directions that the creators never intended, often inserting traits and behavior that the character would never exhibit on the show (and I'm not just talking about slash).

Few months ago I read an article by some respected science fiction guy (I cannot recall whom at the moment) who was talking about entertainment becoming more interactive, so you just buy the world and the characters and make up the story yourself, or insert yourself into the story or whatever.

And I was thinking about how mass-market sci-fi and fantasy shows and movies get less and less inventive, and the video-game industry outgrossed the movie industry for the first time last year, and movies are getting more like video games and vice versa, and I'm wondering if Hollywood has gotten either so cynical or so savvy that they're deliberately not bothering with the character development. Why should they? There's so little genre entertainment to choose from these days, the die-hard fans have to take what they can get, and their expectations are low: all you need is a spaceship, a couple aliens and some nifty weapons. The characters are placeholders; they just need interesting and distinctive "looks," maybe a catch phrase or quirk apiece, and the audience will fill in the rest. They see what they want to see, anyway.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

and a lovely time was had by all

The tea party went off without a hitch. The weather was lovely, the food was good and plentiful (they ate all the cucumber sandwiches, which surprised the hell out of me), and everybody came dressed up and looking sharp. Heather and Amber brought me a lovely hostess basket filled with tea and ginger biscuits. Crystal brought me a new Connie Dover CD, The Wishing Well which I had owned years ago but lost custody to my mom when I moved out.

The sponge-cake hearts were FABULOUS. Apparently it did them good to sit in the freezer for two days. I topped them with a little almond whipped-cream and some raspberries and ate about six of them. They're light, like a twinkie but without the sick chemical aftertaste. The cupcakes were good, too, with cream cheese frosting flavored various ways. The Waldorf celery boats were a very nice surprise; I'd highly recommend them--even two days old they're still crisp and tasty. The bacon-wrapped asparagus came out a little limp but tasted good. The stuffed mushrooms were rich and yummy, too. I added a little Bouquet Garni seasoning to the goat cheese, which was a nice touch. Amber snapped up the last two and took them home with her.

I drank way too much tea and got a little buzzed, and I simply spent too much time standing during the day so my knee started to hurt toward evening. But everybody talked and laughed and made noises about how we should do this sort of thing more often.

Scott says he's going to have a "little kegger" next month.

Friday, April 15, 2005

man, sugar is evil

I baked sponge cake and cupcakes last night, in preparation for the party. I had never made a sponge cake before, and it wasn't precisely what I expected, although I should have. It had six eggs in it, little flour, and no shortening or leavening. All the poof comes from the whipped egg whites.

"Sponge" is an apt name for it. If you can imagine the theoretical offspring of a kitchen sponge mated to cotton candy, you'd have this cake: sticky, overly-sweet, and rubbery. I cut it into three-inch hearts with the cookie cutters, put the hearts in a box lined with wax paper, and froze them. Tomorrow I shall top them with raspberries and whipped cream, which should help cut the sweet.

The cupcakes were made from a basic yellow cake recipe (yes, from scratch). The batter was fabulous, but I ate too much of it, on top of the noodly stroganoff I had for dinner, and this morning I feel bloated and slightly ill. Tea--where's my tea? Give me something astringent, for pity's sake.

Gonna whip up more sugar tonight. Not set on what to do with the cupcakes. I've got thirty-six of the little devils. Some of them are going to be tiramisu-flavored, just as soon as I figure out how to manage that. I want to cover some with white frosting and coconut. And of course it would be a shame to waste that box of bittersweet chocolate I bought. I can do three different flavors, a dozen each.

Then of course I must also peel and fill two dozen devilled eggs, make ham salad, wrap asparagus in bacon, and mix up a Waldorf salad. No biggie.

Nothing is ever simple in my world.

Monday, April 11, 2005

train wreck pictures

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but you can do almost just the same exact stupid things with a train that you can with an automobile.

Check it out.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

yea verily, I am evil

Just got back from writer's meeting. It's a good day when they threaten to vivisection me if I don't write more, and quickly.

Of course, it is rather cruel to to stop a story halfway through with the last line being:
Trace grabbed the conductor and flung him into the lower berth alongside Brother Clark, just as there was an awful, screaming, squalling roar that started at the front of the train and progressed backward, shuddering through the car as if the tracks themselves were shaking off their burden.


Jan wrote underneath, For something like this, a person's eternal soul could be in danger!

Heh heh.

Friday, April 08, 2005

speaking of the 1870's

I get PBS updates in my email. Sometimes this leads to useful stuff. This one isn't about trains, but there's always room in my head for more useless knowledge.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

all aboard

Well, we have signs of forward movement. My boys are on the train, I covered the salient points of ghosts/religion/and Miss Fairweather's a bitch, and I stumbled through the flashback of events that got Trace from looking for work to meeting with Miss F. Next up is their actual dialogue. Thank you, AJ for the leaping bats.

I have a feeling this story is going to be shorter than the last, which is no heartache for me; if I can keep it under 8 or 9 thousand I may actually be able to sell it. Not going to make that a priority, though.

There is also emerging an interesting commentary on subservience, and subordination being a state of mind. I love it when things like that happen; makes me think I must be living right.

Got about five pages done. Stylistically it sucks, of course, but the basic structure is sound. Hope to double the page count today. Wednesday and Thursday evenings will be filled up with birthday/family stuff, which is going to curtail my production. Why does everything have to happen at once?

Monday, March 28, 2005

don't worry, your children won't even remember it

Here's a fascinating angle for a science fiction writer to ponder: how technology affects our lives in ways we don't even realize--and in tandem, how industry influences government, which changes our lives, etc. etc.

Do you know why, she asked, we have four time zones in America? I confess I never thought much about it. If pressed, I might have said it was because of television broadcasts. But no: it's because of the railroads.

Traditionally people figured noon based on the sun, which it was direct overhead. In large towns, timekeepers would drop a "time-ball" at the top of a high tower. Everyone could see it and sychronize accordingly.

But the railroads crossed a sizeable arc of the Earth's crust, and from New York to San Fransisco there were as many as 100 different official time zones. Pretty scary when you remember there was no means of communication between trains or even between the train and the depot, except for brief whistle-codes. The only way to avoid collisions was to keep to a strict time-table during runs. An engineer running a train full of stock and immigrants had to know when to pull off to a side track, so as not to get mowed down by an express of sight-seeing first-class passengers out for a jaunt.

The railroads adopted our current four-time-zone standard in 1883. Congress made it law in 1918. People hollered and fussed and predicted doom, but these days we don't even think about it. Nobody from my generation even knows this--I asked several of my trivia-hound friends, and not one knew the answer.

Good thing Microsoft got nipped in the bud, eh?