Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why I Didn't Write Last Night

I was all set to write for a good two and a half hours last night. Drew was down without a sound. The latest round of bills and house paperwork had been completed the previous evening. A few simple cleaning things had also been completed the previous evening. I was in my comfy clothes and slippers and had a big jug of water ready for sipping. All I needed was to cue up my music, bring up the appropriate file, and I would be good to go. I went to open my laptop--and got nothing but a black screen. After a lot of pressing the power button and removing the battery to try a hard reboot, I realized that this wasn't a quick fix.

I spent a few moments appreciating the irony that I would have backed up my files the previous night had it not been for Drew waking up very pissed and refusing to be consoled and deciding that he wanted to be awake for the next hour and a half. By the time he went to sleep again, I had completely forgotten that I had been about to backup all of my files.

After I had paid sufficient respect to the irony of the moment, I started to catalog all that was lost if I couldn't recover anything. I had backed up my files about three weeks ago, and because of the holiday and the recent switch over from one completed project to another I hadn't worked on in some time, I only had a maximum of 5K words that would vanish into the ether. On the plus side, 2K of those words were new Velorin words, and I couldn't stand them anyway. On the downside, 3K of those words were the completion of Ghost Story, and I was fairly happy with those words. Further on the downside, I hadn't backed up some notes on how to improve said crappy Velorin words (and notes on how to improve the previous two chapters, as well). Actually, the largest chunk of missing files would be any music I had bought and ripped to my digital library since February (when I had last backed those up; they are annoying to backup when you're just using data CDs). The other big loss would be all the pictures on our camera since two weeks before the move, which includes Drew's 1st Birthday celebration and house-in-progress pics. I was most upset about the prospect of losing those pictures than anything else.

Still, I was nowhere close to panicking or even really getting upset because it could have been far, far worse if I hadn't been in the habit of backing up every three to four weeks. And Drew's grandparents had taken some photos of the birthday cake demolition. And I can always re-rip the music I had purchased since February. Not too bad an outcome for potentially losing my writing computer.

But nothing was lost yet. And the Geek Squad seemed fairly confident from my description of the problem that they should be able to transfer my hard drive to a new casing, and I'd be able to access everything that way even if the computer was absolute toast. So I packed up the deadweight and trucked it up to the nearest Best Buy (a distance that feels even further when you have to make the drive at night through some pretty severe desert winds). But it was fun to crank the stereo and have driving time completely to myself for a change.

It took a bit of time during which my computer and my brand-spaking new hard drive casing had disappeared into the Geek Squad's backroom, but when my helpful Geek returned, I had a fully recovered hard drive. That was the good news, and it was very good news. Nothing had been lost. The bad news was that my Geek was almost positive that the power circuitry on my motherboard was fried. To fix it would cost me about as much as a new laptop. But, ever the optimist, I spent $70 for him to do a full diagnostic to determine the problem, just in case it was a quick, cheap fix. Still waiting to hear the verdict there. In the meantime, I've got my hard drive hooked up to the DDJ computer just to reassure myself that everything is there. It is.

Since I was in the area, and there's only a soon-to-be closed Book Warehouse in my town, I decided to jet across the interstate to the Borders and treat myself to something using my Holiday Bonus Cash (or whatever they're calling it). I shied away from the books because my To Be Read pile only needs a couple more added to it before it can become self-aware and start terrorizing the neighborhood with cover blurbs and author quotes. Instead I focused on the CDs and DVDs. I found a Christmas present for Mark fairly quickly. Then I saw Loreena McKennitt's new album and my auto-grab reflex would have caused serious damage had anyone been standing directly in front of me.

Listening to that CD on the way home was exactly what I needed. At times soothing, at times intriguing, at times inspirational (for writing ideas), the music was at all times compelling and completely enthralled me.

I wasn't so enthralled that I didn't notice the strange tow-truck-like flashing yellow lights at about where the exit for the upcoming rest stop is. At first I thought the rest stop was closed for police activity (it's been a major crime scene before, due to clashing illegal immigrant smuggling rings), but as I got closer, I noticed that those flashing lights didn't look normal. For starters, they weren't just where the top of the truck would be but seemed to be outlining something even to the point of being almost on the ground. I saw police cars zooming down the interstate in the opposite direction, lights flashing, and my first conclusion took greater weight. Then I got close enough to see exactly what was going on.

It was a car-be-cue. SUV flambe.

Some poor soul was towing their SUV on a two-wheel dolly behind a Uhaul. Something must have been dragging and sparking until finally a fire started. The entire front half of the SUV was completely engulfed. Made me all warm and toasty as I drove by it. Now, had I been able to figure out that it was a burning car not a unique-lighted tow truck, I probably would've stopped a nice distance from the thing rather than pull into the left lane and drive past it. As it was, I was the last car to be able to pass the scene before the cop I had seen before finished doing his u-turn and stopped traffic. I was five miles down the road when I saw the headlights of cars that had been behind me start moving forward again.

I didn't see a flameball light the night sky behind me, so I'm guessing it didn't get any worse. The Uhaul seemed completely fire-free when I passed it, and I really hope it stayed that way. Having just moved a few weeks ago, I have some sense of what it might be like to watch all of your belongings flirt with disaster like that.

And that's why I didn't write last night. What, you were expecting something more along the lines of "the dog ate my homework?"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Us vs. Them

Or maybe it's just a gussied up version of writing as art or business, but I've already talked about that. So I'll set aside that aspect of Scarlett Thomas's essay about women in publishing. For some thoughtful discussion about the point of this essay, try here or here. I'm not going to discuss the point of this essay because I really couldn't find one. Thomas herself doesn't even seem to know what point she's trying to make. At the end of her essay, which is actually the transcript of a speech she gave at the Exeter University Feminist Research Network, her summation paragraph starts with this gem: "I’m not sure what this tells us about women in publishing."

I think what she's trying to say is that the formulae of commercial fiction is a prison for writers who want to be writing "deeper" stuff because they're not allowed to write anything other than the formula (and that the industry is actively involved in keeping things this way, even so far as to "trick" writers); and, it is much easier for men to escape said prison because they are less pigeon-holed by the formulae. This may or may not be true, and Thomas gives little in the way of supporting evidence for the latter aspect of her point. Also, her supporting evidence for the former is primarily a recounting of her own experience and sharing a few anonymous anecdotes. Therein lies my problem with this essay: her conclusions trend more toward conspiracy thinking when there is a more simple solution based on the information she shared.

Here's what she said about her experience in getting published:
I wrote my first published book during a month-long tantrum, to be honest. I have never admitted this before. In 1997 I had had my first proper novel turned down by a woman I had been sure would become my agent. This novel, Dog & Clowns, was a surreal story about three people who decide never to leave their house again. It had been turned down, and I was cross. ‘I am going to write a women’s crime series,’ I declared, quite randomly, to my partner. I’d seen these sorts of books on my mother’s shelves Marcia Muller, Val McDermid, Sara Paretsky. I have always liked puzzles, and mysteries and Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe. I was, at the time, very into 'playful' texts that messed around with genre or style. I was thinking, I can knock these things out. I can follow rules. I can SUBVERT rules.

She had a book rejected once by an agent. Granted, it was the agent she felt would be her best fit, and it would be wrong to assume that, just because she only mentions this one rejection, this book didn't have other rejections. Still, this sounds like the classic "brand-new" writer problem: it gets rejected once and the author either decides the book is utter garbage and never writes again or the book is perfect and the publishing world will never recognize it. At least Thomas decided to take her rejection and do something as productive as write another book. Unfortunately, she approached that book by looking down her nose at the genre she chose to write. And that's not the only problem she had when she decided to write the book.
In just one month (which involved lots of 18-hour days) I had completed the manuscript for something called And the Circus is Through, a novel introducing an amateur sleuth called Lily Pascale. ... The agent loved it. A week later, I was meeting an editor from Hodder & Stoughton for lunch in London. ... I was wrong about so much, then. I didn’t even know that the woman with whom I was having lunch was responsible for something called a ‘list’, and that on her list she only had female authors, and that these authors all wrote something known in the trade as ‘commercial women’s fiction’, a category governed by rules and conventions as precise as those governing Mills & Boon novels, or pulp westerns. I half-listened to what she said about how I should change the book (she talked about love interests and damsel-in-distress type things) and went home. Then I signed up for a three-book deal with this publisher.

Did you catch that? She didn't know anything about the editor or the publishing line. And given this as well as her insterests as desribed above, I'm thinking she didn't so much as read even one chapter of the novels on her mother's bookshelf. When she met with the editor face-to-face to discuss the book, Thomas admits to only "half-listening" to the editor's thoughts on revisions for making the book ready for the intended marketplace. Yet she still signs that contract. That's like buying the first car that crosses your path without looking at things such as brand, model, gas mileage, what other dealerships might be selling it for, how the brand performs, how its rated for things like safety, etc.

But she's admitted that she was desperate to be published and "wrong about so much then" so maybe we'll get some advice on what she did wrong? Maybe something about the need to research your market? No, these are the words of wisdom she has to share from the experience:
It’s hard for me to relate now to the person I was then. I would have agreed to anything if it would mean I would get published. And this is actually the kind of advice I give people now: don't do things just to get published. Write something you believe in. Of course I know now what I didn't know then, which is that you may as well try to get something you believe in published, as you are going to be asked to write almost the same book again and again and again..."

Well, there's something good in that advice. If you don't believe in your books, and, say, look down your nose at what you're doing, chances are you aren't going to sell very well. Readers are pretty keen at noting when they're reading something that the writer had no passion in writing. But to then take that good advice and warp it into a criticism of the repetitiveness of genre fiction--particularly serial genre fiction--makes me wonder if, in her drive to be published, she ever stopped to consider what such a thing meant.
I spent the next couple of months refining my manuscript. ... After she had read the revised manuscript, the editor sent me a 17-page letter, asking for more precise changes. ... the night before the editor came down to see me I sat at my computer and hammered out what is now the first chapter of the first Lily Pascale novel. I did it when I was angry, and I did it to show this editor that I could write exactly the kind of fiction she had in mind (I just didn’t want to). ‘I love it,’ she declared after she had read it. ‘Now, if you can make the whole book like this...’

I trust you noticed the "I just didn't want to" bit. Hello? If you've figured out what the editor wants, that you can provide it, but you don't want to, what the hell are you doing at that house?

But she eventually did "escape" to a literary house, where she would have known she belonged in the first place had she actually done any research into the business of publishing. From her safety on the other side of the fence, she decides to tell it like it is. That it wasn't her own damn fault for trying to do something she despised just to get published in a field she really didn't want to be published in. No, no, she has no blame in all of this except giving in to the "corporation rules" her previous editor adhered to. The real culprit behind her struggle through the darkness and into the light is the publishing industry's discrimination against women.
While women are stuck writing formulaic genre fiction for publishers that won’t let them do anything else, occasionally hiding their great ideas, observations and writing inside these books, men do the reverse: disguising often mediocre genre fiction as literary fiction. And it works! Look at Jonathan Franzen, selling us a family saga as if it was something new. Of course, feminist critique has moved on from simply pointing a finger at what men are doing and saying, ‘Why aren’t we allowed to do that too?’ and in publishing it isn’t that simple anyway but yet it is true that women are kept out of certain areas of publishing, including one area close to my own heart, the category loosely defined as ‘cult literary fiction’.

And then she combines her two points in a strange way that continues to make me think she doesn't understand the business of publishing at all and never will.
Of course, as long as different sorts of writing are contained in these prison-like ‘categories’, and the ‘market’ determines what gets printed and put on the shelves, it is unlikely that women will break out of restrictive popular formulae, or the female ghettoes within the Science Fiction, fantasy and crime genres.

I'm sorry, what else besides the market will determine what gets put on shelves? The market wants a good story, but even the best story won't sell if it can't find its audience, which is the purpose behind those "prison-like 'categories'" otherwise known as genres. Publishing as a market-based business is not going to change, not if publishers want to make money. Fiction categorization just may change, though, because more and more of the market doesn't adhere to compartmentalization in their reading tastes.

Scarlett Thomas's overall argument can be summarized in this excerpt:
Once you start talking to these authors you realise that most of them don’t want to write formulaic fiction at all, but once they sign their contract, they find that this is what they are required to do. Another editor I interviewed said, ‘Just as there’s a place for five-star restaurants, there’s a place for McDonald’s.’ But do the authors know they’re supposed to be the equivalent of McDonald’s?, I asked. ‘Not always,’ admitted the editor. It would seem that far from being a representation of ‘real’ women’s experience - which is how they defend it, by the way - chick lit is an exercise in suppressing it. And I do wonder if a similar thing is happening in women’s literary fiction; that if you send in a manuscript to a publisher that isn’t a contemporary saga, or a novel about relationships, it goes on the ‘no’ pile. After all, what would they tell the sales department? Originality? No, thanks. ... What if all women writers refused to write according to the formulae made up by people who think the public are stupid and that we should keep giving them the same old crap again and again.

This is not the right argument to be making to change anything about how commercial fiction is sold or how women are perceived/treated in publishing especially because, as Thomas reported in her personal anecdotes and implies with the whole golden arches analogy, the women who get "suckered" into writing formulaic stories don't bother to research their market and the houses to which they are submitting their work. And it's further evidence of that same ignorance of how the business works to suggest that any women's literary fiction novel that isn't a contemporary saga or a novel about relationships is automatically rejected because editors are only looking for projects that adhere to a formula they push on the market because they think the "public are stupid." It's even more ridiculous to make such an assertion given that Thomas herself in the same essay remarks how women are kept in their genre ghettoes because "the 'market' determines what gets printed and put on the shelves."

As I mentioned above, others are talking about the essay as if it really addresses concerns about publishing and women in publishing. And they are discussing it thoughtfully enough that I think Thomas must raise some valid concerns despite logic holes you could drive lorries through. This must mean that there are a good number of "cult" women fiction writers submitting to the right agents and houses, or are being upfront and candid about what they're trying to do with their current agents and houses in their book proposals instead of trying to sneak some literary stuff past their commercial fiction editors and hope they don't get caught and feel unfairly confined and restricted when they do. That leads me to conclude that there really isn't enough good discussion generated about this topic and so otherwise intelligent people are "taking what they can get" and trying to stick to the big issues in a flimsy argument.

How unfortunate. Equality in publishing (in the sense that women and men should both be able to follow their writing desires--much like boys and girls should be able to learn according to their tastes rather than be shunted toward and away from topics deemed appropriate or inappropriate to their perceived societal roles) is a laudable goal. Different ways to publish to a market or even just publish to make a profit that reduces the need for formulaic fiction is a great concept. Neither topic is presented in any coherent fashion in Scarlet Thomas's essay.

Not that it was necessarily meant to. Thomas was speaking to a sympathetic audience in an undisclosed capacity (i.e. maybe she was invited just to share her story and some dirt on the industry). She clearly doesn't like the way the business of publishing runs today. She also clearly doesn't like the way society still has wrinkles in how women are perceived and treated by society. The end result, then, is a speech that is more an extended whine with a few possibilities for coherent discussion rather than a "lecture" designed to inform an audience and generate an atmosphere for change.

While the former can be fun and has its place, I was expecting the latter since the subject matter (equality in publishing, flexibility in publishing) is so weighty.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Venice, 1992

I was a member of a Christian youth choir for a year or two in junior high. For spring break one year, we went to Italy to sing for a couple of American military communities down there. As part of that trip, we spent a day touring Venice. I'm sure we saw other things on that trip, but all I remember is tooling around on a bus through a good deal of Italian countryside and seeing the inner workings of a couple of military bases in northern Italy. (We stayed in the school gymnasiums. Lots of fun running and flopping on the gymanstics mats they had. Not the best way to get good sleep, though.) So this post is going to focus on the day in Venice, since that's all I remember.

My first impression of Venice was the less-than-pleasant smell. I think there's been a big cleanup of the city since I was there and others have told me that the smell is gone. But it was loud and proud in 1992. Either it was at its strongest when I first got off the ferry, or I got used to it, because I don't remember it after that first whiff. (Actually, that was something I noticed about Italy overall: it was very dirty. At least, the roads were. I haven't seen such litter on the equivalent of an interstate highway anywhere else. Again, I was told this was remedied as part of a country-wide clean-up deal.)

My strongest memory of this trip was Pigeon Square, which is actually St Mark's square, on account of it being, you know, right by that big, honkin' cathedral that's pretty darn famous. (In addition to seeing a lot of castles in Europe, I also saw a lot of cathedrals. At this point, I was probably annoyed with gilt and naves and marble and huge overdone organ pipes, although this one was a bit more tasteful than most.) The square was always crowded with tourists and pigeons, the latter receiving food purchased from local vendors by the former. Actually, I'm pretty sure that, as part of all this clean-up I keep talking about, they've done away with the pigeon food vendors in the square and are trying to get rid of the birds. Probably on account of the bird shit. And perhaps those avian flu scares. But it was fun to be in the middle of a huge, flapping flock. And it was always funny when someone else got nailed with the runny, goopy white stuff. I managed to emerge unscathed.

I did a lot of wandering over the bridges and along the canals, just taking in the novelty of a floating city. I also did a lot of window shopping. I think I also ate some very yummy food. One thing I don't think I did, and it's surprising considering I was there with a choir, was visit the opera house. It may have been closed for renovations or somesuch. (Speaking of, I do remember that there was a decent amount of scaffolding up at the basilica. Was everything in Venice in transition that year?)

The other memory I have of that trip was a recounting of something that happened to someone else. One of the groups of older kids had encountered a homeless man by the gandola docks. After some discussion, they decided to buy the man lunch instead of giving him money. Apparently it was a big hit and the man's reaction had a profound impact on the kids who witnessed it. I remember that story every time I see someone panhandling. When I was in Tucson on break during college a few years ago, I was on my way to work at the lab and I saw someone with your standard "No home, no job, anything helps" sign. I gave him my lunch. His reaction was more the standard "Aunt Hilda made these socks for me, so I know I should smile and really pretend to like them, but why couldn't she have just sent me some money for my birthday" than anything transcendantly grateful.

My favorite parts of Venice were the small little side canals with their small bridges. That's where a lot of the fun stores were, too, and it seemed such a neat juxtaposition of the the city's past and present to walk across an old bridge on old cobblestones and wander into a store selling fine watches. So many tourist locations come off as gaudy in their opulence or extreme attempts to sell some piece of junk with their claim to fame stamped on it. The side canals of Venice avoided that, and it was a nice change.

Next Week: Since we're on the topic of Italy, I'll detail my trip to Rome in 1995.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Nekkid Time

Like all toddlers, Drew has discovered the joy of streaking. His budding nudism started when we had to change the Drew Monster on a mat on the floor instead of on the changing table (which is packed away somewhere). He realized it was very easy and a ton of fun to roll away from Momma as she disposed of the soiled diaper. Once he got the roll away down, he was off in a flash.

His favorite time to race away in his birthday suit is just prior to his bath. What makes this even more entertaining for him is that the bathroom is right by the stairs, giving Drew an excellent opportunity to show off his cute little posterior as he slides down the stairs in a backwards crawl. Then he's off into the kitchen for a right good amount of shrieking and squealing and grinning for Grandma. This can repeat several times depending on how slowly Momma's moving at getting the tub going.

Drew also appreciates some partial nekkid time. Any chance he has to dash away in the diaper changing process, he'll take it. Sometimes this means running around with only a shirt on. Sometimes it's only a diaper.

Overall, I don't mind the exhibitionism at the moment. As soon as he tries to bolt before I've had a chance to wipe his poopy butt, though, then we'll start laying down the law.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Scam-like Lingo I Can Appreciate

After my snit on Wednesday, I found this sales pitch oddly refreshing. I don't know enough about Stan Lee or comics in general to sniff out whether or not this is satire or parody or serious. Regardless, I enjoyed it, and I might've even bought the comics just to show my appreication for a clever spin on over-the-top sales pitches.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tryptophan Check-in

Ah, nothing like sleeping in after a late-night turkey snack. No, there is: waking up to a couple of mental exercises in quick succession. I woke up this morning after Mark let me sleep in (we alternate weekend days for this; I'll be letting him sleep in tomorrow) only to find the door to Drew's room open. This was strange because I knew that Drew was napping. So I peeked in to see if the crib looked like it had been tried and abandoned--only to find that the crib was not in the room at all! None of his stuff was there. It was like Drew had never been in my mother's house. Had I woken up to an alternate reality? I wandered up into the loft and found my mother's boyfriend. After some ribbing about where they had stashed my son, he finally told me that they had moved Drew's stuff into another room that actually worked better for everyone. Talk about a strange way to wake up.

But it got stranger still. I had been awake not more than ten minutes when we get a phone call. It's one of my uncles calling to say Happy Turkey Day, and calling because one of my cousins needed some help with an organic synthesis problem for a big, bad orgo assignment. I fumbled around with my long-buried knowledge until I finally remembered that I think I actually had my orgo book handy. Sure enough, it was in the box with all of my currently needed writing notes and such. Then I went on a tear. I think I gave him a nudge in the right direction. It was actually surprising how easy the lingo and concepts clicked right into my noggin. Unfortunately, one of the other things that shook loose was a remembered tendancy to overlook the obvious reagent or mechanism. Still, in principle, the synthesis I suggested should work.

So, just to recap my morning: missing son a la potential alternate reality and scintillating conversation regarding nucleophilic substitution reactions.

The rest of the week wasn't nearly as exciting. More Joy of Tech with the damn DDJ VoIP phone. Got a new phone shipped to me as the other one ended up getting fried a couple of minutes into working. The new phone got stuck at one phase of the connection process. So we fixed that problem (something about which ports we could use on the switch), only to find that the IP address or something that I was given wouldn't work, and neither would any subsequent one provided. Grrr. This has taken up so much of my time.

On the writing front, I managed to get back into the swing of Velorin again. Finished a bit of the backstory (well, enough of it for the moment) and started and finished a chapter. So the word count will continue to increase on the side bar. Yay! I should definitely break 100K by the end of the year. It would be nice to get more words, especially seeing as how I think the first draft is going to clock in at 160K. But progress is progress.

That progress could get derailed come January, though. We swung by our house yesterday, and the construction manager was there. He told us the anticipated finish date for our place was Jan 10. And I'll probably be going back to the DDJ for a few days at the end of Jan. So that's a two to three week window in which we'll be closing, painting the house, laying down the gravel in the backyard (temporary landscaping), and hauling our junk across town in several trips. Not that we have to get everything done in that time frame, but I know it would help my sanity if we did.

And, last but not least, we had a great Turkey Day. We planned the cooking out well so we had nice long breaks while things baked or simmered or roasted or chilled. I was even able to snag an hour for writing. Drew appreciated his first few tastes of turkey, but after a bit he decided he would be kind and give his pieces to the dog. He liked the mashed potatoes, but really nothing could compete with the power of his new sippy cup that has a straw in it.

Another week as come and gone, and now we're officially in the holiday season. It's odd to be here in the desert after so many winters in front of the Rocky Mountains. Even if there wasn't snow on the ground in Denver, even if it was 75 degrees, you could still look to the snow on the Rockies and appreciate all the Christmas carols about the white stuff. Here, it just makes you do a double-take. Like, oh, yeah, it is Christmas.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Bond Reboots

It's been almost a week since I've seen the new Bond movie, Casino Royale, and I still can't figure out what I think about it. Daniel Craig is good, and he certainly has the best Bond body yet, but I do miss Pierce Brosnan's charm. As for the plot and character stuff in the movie, well, a lot of it I just didn't buy--especially once the "twist" was revealed at the end. Considering the movie was over two hours long, it was ridiculous that plot elements weren't always clear (nothing major, but just big enough that, as you walk away from the movie, you start asking all sorts of questions and find yourself more and more confused as to who was doing what and why). There were moments of dark, emotive brilliance for Bond and the Bond girl--and then a sudden confession of emotion that went "clunk" because it was too much too soon given both of their characters as established prior to that scene.

I went into this movie having heard that it was to the Bond franchise what Batman Begins was to the Batman franchise. Perhaps this raised my expectations too high and had me looking for similar elements that I loved in BB. It didn't help that all of the poker sequences felt forced and boring, which is pretty much inexcusable given the current popularity of and access to professional poker on TV. It also didn't help that we were treated to boxy graphics of men fighting and bleeding in the title sequence--by the end of it, even I was longing for the nekkid chicks in silhouette that was standard Bond issue before. And they didn't earn any points with the supreme illogic of the airport scene (given current security, as soon as there was a rogue vehicle running around the tarmac, no chance in hell they would've let a plane land, or allow a big public unveiling to proceed as planned, etc). Well, they earned points at the end of that sequence in showing Bond's reaction to the havoc he wrought.

Still, there were a lot of great moments that showed more of the culture of MI6 and the history of Bond. And the $10 movie ticket is worth it for the fabulous climactic action sequence in Venice, the way in which Bond trashes yet another MI6-issued sweet ride, and the spin on the gadgets in said car (there's really only one, and, gee, it actually makes sense for a spy to have such a toy for no good reason--and they get a whole mess of bonus points for having neat might-even-be-possible-now science presented in a believable way).

Definitely not my favorite Bond film, and I'm eager to get my hands on the DVD so I can try to figure out the plot elements that I missed, but it was good enough that I'm interested to see where they go with Bond from here.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Day Conspiracy in the Making

TURKEY EXPERT: (sing-song) Turkey Hotline. What is the nature of your turkey emergency?

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: (with perfect enunciation) I require clarification. Does one place the bread mixture inside the turkey cavity or bake it outside of the turkey?

TURKEY EXPERT: Bread mixture? Oh, stuffing. (brightly) That depends on your preference, sir. Stuffing cooked inside the turkey is generally more--

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: Preference is not the issue. What is standard for the inhabitants of this planet?


UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: I did not mean to say planet. (forced laughter) Please forgive me, I meant to say region. My place of origin is not this (pauses) country.

TURKEY EXPERT: I understand. What's your location?


TURKEY EXPERT: (typing) According to our most recent survey, four out of five people in that area prefer to cook the stuffing inside of the turkey.

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: (softly, as if talking away from mouthpiece) Marvelous. My larvae will survive.

TURKEY EXPERT: I'm sorry, sir. Could you repeat that?

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: It is of no concern to you. Will you list the standard side dishes for this region, please?

TURKEY EXPERT: It varies even within regions, sir. Maybe if you told me who you're cooking for...? Co-workers? Friends?

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: I am cooking for several members of your government.

TURKEY EXPERT: Democrat or Republican?

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: I am uncertain. They are good friends of your current president.

TURKEY EXPERT: Republican, most likely. You'll want the most traditional dishes, then: Mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and rolls. And make sure you have pumpkin and pecan pie for dessert.

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: That is a perfect menu for incubation. My superiors will be most pleased.

TURKEY EXPERT: Incubation? Do you mean a nap, sir?

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: A temporary deep sleep is required, yes.

TURKEY EXPERT: (uncertainly) Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?

UNKNOWN MALE VOICE: No, thank you. You have been most helpful. I will be sure to inform the invasion force to spare you.

TURKEY EXPERT: (angrily) Is the looney bin not manning the phones? Crank call. (hangs up)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When a Legit Contest Sounds Like a Scam

Writers aren't a very secure lot. In fact, there's a rather lucrative industry that preys on those insecurities: scam agents, most POD/vanity publishers, book doctors, etc. There's usually a particular tone to the websites and emails of those folks. Here's the standard sales pitch: We know how hard it is to get published. Your work is good enough to be published, but The Powers That Be are never going to recognize that. If you pay us $X, we will give you what you want: an "edge" in publishing. We have X number of clients, X of which have [insert vague but sounds great accomplishment (nothing concrete like making the NYT bestseller list)]. Here are what our clients are saying about us: [insert gushing praise from no one you've heard of].

So imagine my surprise when I started to hear elements of this sales pitch from a legitimate writing contest.

The Writers of the Future contest is a well-established venue for unpubbed science fiction and fantasy writers and artists. It must be pretty darn popular because it's free to enter, it accepts submissions at any time (there are quarterly "rounds" of the contest), it's judged by well known and well decorated genre pros, the winners get a free trip to a big writing workshop with--again--big names in the genre, and the winners get pubbed in a yearly anthology that is available at Borders and the like. And the winners seem to have a nice track record for their work after they've won the contest. All signs to the good, and a market I was considering for a couple of my shorter pieces, explaining why I signed up for their newsletter.

Then I get an email shouting from the subject, "Make $5,000 as a brand-new Writer." As I'm sorting through tons of spam, I'm only looking at the subject line, and I'm flagging this as scam or spam or both. But I figure I'll look into it, see how clueless and/or malicious it is. I open the email to find it's from WotF. I'm puzzled. Things don't clear up after the first line: "Dear Writer, Can you afford to waste $5,000? I don't think so."

How enigmatic. Are they telling me that I'm spending $5,000 and wasting it in other writing contests or other purchases? Are they telling me that $5,000 is mine just for submitting to this contest, thus it would be a waste of $5,000 not to take the time and postage to submit? Oh, wait. Maybe the right question is "Can I afford to waste the chance to earn (or maybe a free shot at) $5,000?"

But they continue, so it should be clarified soon, right?

How can you make $5,000 as a brand-new writer who has never been published? The answer is: With the Writers & Illustrators of the Future Contests. These international contests enable brand-new writers and illustrators to win sizeable prizes for their stories and illustrations. Entering is absolutely FREE!

But it gets even better - as a contest winner you will also get invited to a week-long, all-expenses-paid workshop where you learn powerful strategies on how to become successful, from industry greats such as KEVIN J. ANDERSON, ANNE MCCAFFREY, TIM POWERS, BRIAN HERBERT, SEAN WILLIAMS and others. Over the past years winners of the contest have become immensely successful such as:

SEAN WILLIAMS - has become a New York Times Bestselling Author and the #1 science fiction author in Australia since winning the contest.

JO BEVERLY has become a New York Times Bestselling Author since winning the contest.

STEVE SAVILE has published seven novels and one graphic novel since being a winner in 2002.

But the best is yet to come - all the winners of both the Writers and the Illustrators Contests are published every year in the annual L. RON HUBBARD PRESENTS WRITERS OF THE FUTURE ANTHOLOGY!

Seems straightforward enough now. But with the way this is set up and the language I'm used to seeing from scam artists, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This book contains all the award-winning stories and illustrations of the last year and further each volume has essays from well-known authors about the craft of writing and illustrating. It also lists the contest rules in the book. You need to know this information to get an edge on the competition and to get a shot at winning the Grand Prize of $5,000.

Thunk! Doesn't it sound like you have to buy the books to get the rules? (Here are the contest rules, by the way, free and available at the WotF contest website, which is never linked to in the entire email.)

But it gets better.

To make it easy for you, we have put together a special book package of Writers of the Future Volumes, whereby you pay only [sic] 5 books and get 2 additional books for FREE! Additionally you get FREE SHIPPING on this package, so you can't loose.

And there's the real rub. I love how they make it sound like they're doing me a favor by compiling this book package. By the way, they're not touting the actual stories in these anthologies as anything worth reading. They're wanting me to pay $40 for 7 books on the premise that I want the contest rules and writing essays to give me that scam-like "edge"--not because, yaknow, there's anything else worth reading in there.

But there's still more scam artist lingo to be had!

As you are reading this, your competition is submitting their stories and illustrations, winning the prize money that you could be winning! Don't wait and don't waste $5,000! Get your special package and start submitting and you too can be a Winner!

Shell out those bucks NOW before someone else gets that vague "edge" in the contest before you can! This email isn't about advertising the writing contest at all. It's about selling the anthologies from previous years.

A smart marketer who knows the audience and actually cares about their product (the way this email reads, it sounds like they want a glut of submissions from the most immature and gullible of the amateur writing group and not those who are more discerning and actually do their research, which does not bode well for the quality of the future anthologies; shit in equals shit out) can accomplish both a sales pitch and a contest advert. It's quite easy.

The first part of the email should focus on the prestige of the contest (list the accomplishments of the judges, list the accomplishments of the most successful winners and be sure to name their books or projects because some people only remember the titles of notable books and not the authors or maybe even only publishers, give the history of the contest--and I happen to know from the research I've done previously that this thing has been going on for quite some time and always has a passel of very respectable authors associated with it). Emphasize that, while the contest prizes are desirable, winning the contest (and thus getting your story published) is a great query-letter boost to help lift you out of the slushpile because of the prestige of the contest. Give the pertinent contest information (links, quick summary of the rules, deadlines, address, etc).

Then and only then, do you begin the sales pitch. And not in the "unlock the secrets" fashion shown above. Instead, a sales pitch geared toward "brand-new" writers looking to submit to a contest should be focused on giving them the tools to improve their submission. The only reason to read the anthologies (outside of the fact that they should be good collections, right? Why, oh, why did they not mention that these books might actually be enjoyable to read in their own right?) as a contestant is to get a sense of what a winning submission looks like, find the common elements, see what sorts of things the judges are interested in (although this is not as helpful since the judging panel, I believe, changes regularly), and then look at your own submission and see what more could be done to make your story more like the winners (e.g. if you don't see any vampire erotica, chances are they aren't going to like your story "Bloodsucker's Lust," but they may be interested in "Starfield Survivors" that you wrote for fun the other day; if you don't see any antiheroes, if you see a lot of character-driven stories, etc).

All this email has garnered, though, is my anger. It's designed to take advantage of fresh-from-their-first-"The End" writers. It's a deliberate ploy to get their money. It doesn't matter that the duped souls actually get something of worth out of the deal. They're stil being suckered into thinking that buying the "special book package" will increase their chances of winning the $5,000 prize money (which is a bit misleading as that's the grand prize; actually winning 1st prize in the quarterly rounds nets you $1000, then you get judged again for the grand prize selection). It's also a disservice to the prestige and judges and previous winners of the contest, marganilizing everything to a scamtastic sales pitch.

I've sent an email to the contest organizers (at least, I think I have; they only have a generic "contests@" email) outlining my concerns and disappointment. I wonder if anything will come of it. In the meantime, by posting this here I get a better sense of accomplishment by raising awareness about this. If you were as ticked at the language in the email as I was, let me know in the comments and I'll forward the thing to you so you can see it in all its glory and craft your own response if you would like to do so.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Wales, 1992

There was a fairly large group of military families that we knew (ourselves included) that did a lot of ping-ponging around Europe with their assignments rather than doing the same in the US. One such family one-upped the rest and got a rather unique assignment at an RAF base in Wales. We trekked out to visit them for Thanksgiving one year.

We drove our car over to Calais, France to catch the ferry across the Channel. It was a pretty drive, especially as we neared the coast. Lots of sunshine and rolling hills. The Channel ride itself was a strange one for me because I was experiencing my first real bout of motion sickness unless I was up on the top of the ferry, open to the elements. When I wasn't up top, I was trying to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for a test the day after we got back from our trip. So I have this strange mismatch of memories of beautiful stretches of water against a sometimes blue, sometimes gray sky with the wind flapping my jacket all around jutting up against images of Frankenstein's monster trolling Switzerland. Very strange ferry ride. I think I slept most of the drive from Dover to Wales.

The RAF base itself was an entirely different beast from what I was used to on the American military bases and posts. That could be because we didn't see much more than the pretty swank officer's housing area. RAF officers are spoiled. They have these large, sprawling houses complete with maid's quarters. On large lots, too. Well, compared to the sardine-like apartment blocks of the housing we had on Ramstein (even the colonels and generals didn't have standalone homes on the base), I guess anything that didn't involve a shared wall with another family would've impressed me.

Like most of my trips in the first half of my stay in Europe, I only recall snatches, odds and ends of what we actually did. I remember tooling around a Welsh town or two, amusing ourselves by trying to read the long, single vowel or no vowel town names. I think we went to a small art or history or nature museum. I know we went to a rocky Welsh beach at some point and had to drive by a pretty sweet hotel/clubhouse. And, in addition to the big traditional turkey spread on Thanksgiving Day itself, we went to a restaurant featuring authentic Indian cuisine one night. (I can't remember which region of India, unfortunately. The food was a lot spicier and odder than my more recent experiences of Indian food.) At one point, we took a cab from a driver that jokingly drove on the wrong side of the road--"Make you feel right at home"--while we were on some back roads through farming lands.

I wish I could remember more than a vague montage of images. I recall how distinct Wales felt from my other glimpses of England, and now I'd like to study those distinctions. Even as mature and aware as I was for that age, I still managed to miss a few big opportunities to really observe some cultural/societal niftiness. Yes, "niftiness" is a very scientific term.

Next week: Venice, 1993

Monday, November 20, 2006

Feeding the Drew Monster

Drew's taste in food is evolving, as are his abilities and temperament at the dinner table. He's been eating finger foods for a while now, mostly of the Cheerios variety. But it seems he's ready to broaden his palette and feed himself.

I suppose this really started when he learned to beg by watching my mother's dog. That and my mother indulged Drew when he did beg. This is how he learned that he really, really likes frozen fruit pops. And egg salad. We already knew that the little guy enjoyed fries and was fond of a good juice box (if we were holding it; we made the mistake of letting Drew hold the juice box while he drank...he squeezed the box and sent a stream of juice splurting out). Now Mark and I are in the habit of giving him bits and pieces of our own meal that can be mushed up easily with his gums and seven teeth (one of his molars came in). This is how we figured out that he likes fish, much to his father's dismay.

While we are excited to see Drew eager and willing to take on new tastes and textures, we are less than thrilled that our darling son has taken to throwing hissy fits at the table. We have no idea why he gets so worked up every now and then, but if we don't settle him down quick enough (and there's never any rhyme or reason as to what sets him off, so figuring out how to make it all better is not very easy), then he ramps up to full scream mode and we have to call it quits. I think I would feel less frustrated and helpless if he was just a picky eater.

On the liquid diet front, we realized that switching straight to whole milk wasn't going to work, so we've been mixing some milk in with his formula. The little guy's up to a cocktail of half formula, half milk now and should be on to straight milk within a couple of weeks. The next step after that will be to get him to feed himself his milk from a sippy cup in a timely fashion. He's been a wee bit spoiled in that department because Momma and Daddy are still feeding him his bottles, allowing him to drain 8 ounces in less than five minutes. Feeding himself is going to slow him down.

There are times I wish I could wave a wand and he'll be magically able to feed himself anything and eat anything and never fuss. But then he does something cute like picking up a piece of dried apple and feeding it to me (he reaches out and shoves it in my mouth when I get close enough). Or, even better, he'll offer me a piece of his food, I'll move close enough that he can feed it to me--only to have him get this wicked grin on his face as he pulls the food away and puts it in his own mouth. Cruel little trickster. Those fun moments are worth the strange screaming episodes. I think.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Are You Ready for Leftovers?

Oi. Just finished round 2 of 3 of the Turkey Day festivities shopping with my mom. The meal itself is beginning to seem like less of a production than dealing with all of the leftovers. Really bad time to start thinking about losing the weight I wanted to ditch before Drew came along.

Quick observation: We were spoiled in Colorado with our grocer's selections of organic stuff. Spoiled. Mark and I may start making a monthly trek to an organic specialty store in the Phoenix area jut to compensate.

Another quick observation: WalMart has a very crappy food selection, particularly when fresh herbs are needed. We're very happy that a Kroger store is getting built right next to our housing development. We've always preferred them to any of the other stores for price and quality and selection.

And back I go to get all those herbs that couldn't be found at BalkMart.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Joy of Tech Check-in

Two of the three evenings I have to write this week were eaten up by stupid technical issues setting up my VoIP phone for the DDJ. First, the adapter didn't work, and we spent over an hour confirming that. Next, we got everything up and running for a grand total of 2 minutes (though it took 30 minutes to set everything up), and suddenly the phone just dies and sends some sort of feedback through the workgroup switch that screws up the internet connection on my work computer. Another 30 minutes go by getting that fixed. I've already talked about my Joy of Health issue that ate up the third writing night. Sigh.

I did manage to write a bunch last night and finish up Ghost Story, which is clocking in 9,189 words and earns the title of novelette. I may hang onto this for PBW's 2007 e-book challenge. I may make it a freebie sooner than that. I may try to farm it out for the year until the next e-book challenge. Regardless of its final destination, I'm going to let it sit in the dark recesses of my harddrive for a bit before trying to revise it. Sunday night, I'm aiming to finish my Velorin backstory so I can get back into draft creation next week.

I realized two things about my writing this week. The first is that still haven't figured out how to guestimate how long scenes will take to write. I've been "nearly finished" with Ghost Story for a while now because I underestimated the amount of words the final two scenes would take. After reading through my posts on my other projects, it seems this happens a lot. The second think I realized is that, of the many skills I have yet to acquire in short fiction, I have a tendancy to rely on telling not showing backstory. This is not to say that that's the only skill I have yet to learn in writing short stories, or that I have mastered everything in novel-length fiction. It's just the one skill I'm fully aware I need and haven't yet acquired.

On the homefront, we've been inundated with the various and sundry paperwork piles required for buying property. It's pretty daunting and has tempted my long-dormant acid reflux on a couple of occasions. I guess I was caught unaware by how complicated and, well, frickin' serious the whole process is because it's a transaction that everyone does. I guess I assumed that it would be something along the lines of buying a car. Silly me. But, hey, at least when we initially estimated our numbers, we made errors in our favor and have considerably improved our monthly budget.

So it's been another odd week. But I've known for a while now that "normal" won't be a regular part of my vocabulary until a good month after we move in.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Hunt for BSG 2.0

No matter how many times I whine about the science of Battlestar Gallactica or groan about the show's tendency to resort to theme-bludgeoning instead of a more subtle approach, I do like BSG and I do have all of the seasons on DVD. Or, well, I'm trying to get all of them on DVD. Getting 2.0 (and, yes, I'm more than a little annoyed that they don't box all of season 2 together; if we hadn't have gotten a $100 gift card recently, we probably would've waited a while before getting season 2) has been very difficult.

We are quite a distance from the only two Best Buy locations even remotely close to us. Again, time-wise, it's not much different than the two Best Buys nearby our old place. But, man, does it seems different. This does mean, though, that we just aren't able to "swing by" the store too easily.

This wouldn't be a problem, of course, if either store had 2.0 stocked. It's one of those items that just never seems to be there. I've seen every other BSG DVD set there, but never 2.0. And when I ask the employees to check if they have anything in the back, they're always telling me that they're sold out, but they have 30 or so due to arrive that weekend. After three trips, I decided to just do the on-line store thing (which is such an unsatisfying way to shop, especially with a gift card; somehow I'll manage to get my spending jollies that way, I'm sure).

I was surprised that 2.0 would be out when 2.5 wasn't. Although I shouldn't have been surprised that they were almost completely out of all BSG DVDs last week after 6-in-Gaius's-head did her little shimmy-shake. I'll bet the MGM folks have someone watching sales and seeing if they correlate to anything in particular in the show. I can just hear the meetings now: "Sure, shake-up the main plot thread, kill the conflict, and fatten up our primary hot stud. Do whatever you want as long as we get 6 nekkid again. She sells a lot of DVDs."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Famous Last Words

Remember how I mentioned that I had been prevented from writing Tuesday by a health issue that wasn't my own and how shocking was that? Well, guess where I spent last night? The emergency room. Because we're out of our insurance coverage area (and will be until Mark's new insurance kicks in after he's been at the new place for 3 months), the only way I can get health care at the moment is through the emergency room. Which sucks because the only thing I needed last night was a quick urinalysis to make sure I didn't have an infection (I had a couple of suspicious systems, and because of my fun little bout with urosepsis, they get twitchy about anything that could remotely be a UTI).

So I spent four hours in the ER just to pee in a cup.

Well, it was almost more than that. I had some very minor abdominal pain/cramping most likely associated with all the fun contortions I have to go through to make sure I empty my bladder (yeah, I know, TMI). But the doctor got fixated on it and wanted to figure out why I was having that mild, ocassional pain. Fixated to the point where, after my urine came back clean and my pelvic exam revealed nothing but healthy tissue and organs, decided that the pain could be a sign of the early early stages of appendicitis. He thought it was very important for me to have a CT scan complete with the 2 liters of contrast cocktail in the nasty raspberry flavor to show some parts of my GI track and an undisclosed amount of contrast applied more directly for the other parts.

I started to question whether this was necessary as soon as he said "rectally."

And, sure enough, after yet another urinalysis and some bloodwork that revealed I had absolutely no signs of infection, he decided that it wasn't necessary either and sent me home.

Dude, I would give anything to have a normal health year.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Handy Freebies

Due to last-minute family health doings (not mine, for once, what a shock) and SNAFUs with setting up my DDJ phone (it's VoIP, which you think would be the tricky part, but no, we've got a dud AC Adapter and can't even fire the thing up--a fact which we realized mere minutes before the RadioShack across town was closing), I was unable to write my Wales post (or finish Ghost Story, or finalize my short story for F&SF, or finish my Velorin backstory thing). Tonight's the night. Anyway, on with the post.

Want to get a sense of what books have sold to what publishers by what agents in the science fiction and fantasy genre? Look here. Very nice listing, pulled from Locus Magazine reports. Good to find new agents, good to see how your top agents are selling, good to see what editors and houses are buying new authors or a particularly subgenre or whatever.

Also, if you're interested in checking out Subterranean as a potential market, they've got an issue up free. This is also worth looking at for any SF writer as it's the cliche issue--that means good articles on writing cliches and well-written cliches or twists.

Monday, November 13, 2006

This Drew Was Made For Walkin'

It's hard to believe that just over two weeks ago, Drew wasn't doing a whole lot of walking. He could do it, and he would remind us of that every now and then with a few teetering steps before plopping down on his diaper-cushioned posterior and crawling off in to the sunset. Now, though, he's all about walking. And he's gotten pretty darn good at it. There was a slight set back when we actually put shoes on his feet and tried to get him to walk then. That confused him. He tried to pull them off like they were socks. He shuffled along in them, uncertain why they dragged when his feet hadn't. He even thought them strange when he tried to crawl while wearing them.

Now he just tosses them out the pet door with his other toys.

Don't get me wrong, he likes his shoes just fine now and is very adept at walking and even running in them. But that pet door, while he's never tried to wiggle through it himself, is the perfect size for him to play with. And he plays by finding all sorts of things to toss outside.

But back to that walking business. He loves it. When he gets really excited about something and has to get there right away, he'll sometimes still crawl to it. And the more open the space, the happier he is. Everytime we've gone to the new neighborhoood, we've let him run loose in the finished home in our floorplan (the one we originally wanted to buy but realized a November closing date would be nigh impossible to make financially). It's great to see him squeal in delight and just go tearing through the place.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Just When You Think You're Gonna Make It... read something like this and the Wayne's World chorus of "We're not worthy!" starts an endless loop in your head. That's some damn fine writing.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Part-time Check-in

This week was awesome. My first week with my regular part-time schedule. Let me take the time right now to say how much I love working part-time from home. Even when Drew is less than pleased that he is not the center of my world and screams or cries accordingly. It's great to take five minutes and play with him (instead of the five minutes I would take to yak with coworkers, not that they aren't fun and pleasant folk). It's just a really nice set up. One that will be even sweeter when we move into our house.

The writing suffered a bit this week as we still tried to figure out what our night-time pattern was going to be. Drew isn't helping much here with waking up twice or more during the night. But I should still be able to get the submission in the mail on Monday, finish Ghost Story, and resubmerge myself into all things Velorin. And I'm putting the schedule together tomorrow, including a rethink of my word count goals now that I actually have numbers to look at instead of rose-colored memories of previous writing nights.

We're starting to get used to our new town and its quirks. Mark's adjusting to the commute and the insanity that is Phoenix traffic. Drew is having a ball in my mother's backyard, and he loves the stairs even though it means always having Momma or Daddy within grabbing distance. Life is finding its patterns and rythyms for us again.

Friday, November 10, 2006

My Movies To See List

My mom has TV with all the bells and whistles: HD, lots of channels, TiVo, etc. One thing they have directed their TiVo to record come hell or high water is "Nothing but Trailers." The name pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the show. Thus I have been salivating over the new Bond and, God help me, the new Will Farrel. I think I liked maybe one or two of his characters on SNL, and I've had no interest in any of his movies. Except Stranger than Fiction. Mainly because of the concept of a writer actually messing up someone's world with her fiction. It does sometimes feel that real.

I'm also somewhat curious about Breaking and Entering with Jude Law because it seems like there's a lot of meaty tension and conflict in that. I'd be a lot more curious if it was science fiction, though. While SF and fantasy movies (and books) with that sense of wonder, isn't this future fab, look at all the cool tech is great, I enjoy stories where it takes a back seat to characters shoved into something gripping (and, no, I'm not talking about the jaws of robots).

But there's one snag to my upcoming movie viewing desires: there's only a small theater in this town. There will eventually be a standard multiplex sometime next year, but if we want our pick of new releases and stadium seating, we have to drive thirty minutes into the southern-most Phoenix suburbs. Which, I suppose, isn't too different from the thirty-minute trek from our old apartment to the big fancy mall in Colorado, but it feels different. Here, we drive on a 75mph interstate through undeveloped (or very sparsely developed) desert for thirty minutes. There, we drove on standard city streets through a bunch of 'burbs for thirty minutes. It feels different.

Probably Casino Royale is the only one I'm interested in on the big screen. We'll probably try to do dinner and a movie in the south Phoenix suburbs in the near future to catch it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


I have completed the oh-so-entertaining task of going through all 800 posts on this blog and labeling them with the new Blogger Beta tag function. The next item on my Blog Maintenance list is to figure out RSS feeds. I sense a headache looming for that one. But I will figure it out. Maybe even by the end of the year.

And I also updated the side bar with the actual wordcount for SoZ. In the insanity of the move, I completely forgot to log my last week of writing in the count. It wasn't a whole lot more, but it did push me past 80K. Go me! This weekend, if I don't manage to accomplish this tonight, I'm going to finish my entry for PBW's 2007 E-book challenge (see, I'm not late for the 2006 challenge, just way ahead of the game for next year's), do one last read-through of a short story and submit it to Fantasy & Science Fiction (they say they want more humor, hopefully this will fit the bill), and get back to Velorin. I stopped my progress on SoZ so I could do some backstory and alternate POV sketching for a particular plot thread. I hope to finish that this weekend as well so I can be writing new words in SoZ next week.

Still to be considered is the best way to keep working on my short fiction so I can always have something out for consideration in a mag. Maybe the perfect plan will strike this weekend as well, making next week an actual "normal" writing week.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Are We Doing Anyway?

A decent while ago, John Scalzi mentioned a ruckus over someone saying SF should be more like Star Wars. Then he used that to go on a screed about how Star Wars is not entertainment. I found the essay amusing if nothing else and a better use of my time than getting caught up in the debate of what SF should be in the face of its declining readership because it seems to be an age-old debate that gets re-hashed every year--probably as a procrastinating tactic by a SF writer mired in the tricky bits of the next opus. (But here's the inciting article and two good discussions, in case you're interested in what SF authors talk about when they do some genre navel-gazing.)

But when I went exploring a new-to-me blog and found another piece on the debate, I started to wonder what I really thought about the whole mess. First, I had to be honest with myself and 'fess up that I avoided the debate not because it was navel-gazing but because I couldn't follow all of it. I have never studied the history of SF as a genre, and I have not read the hallowed authors who helped shaped that history--nor do I intend to. I keep some Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, etc. handy on my bookshelf for when I think about trying to find "my roots" but usually a few pages of headache-inducing style or disinteresting story cure me of that ill. So when a bunch of folks who know their shit start applying their considerable language and composition skills to the topic of where SF came from and where it's going, I tend to skim read then play elsewhere. Nothing is less enjoyable that a good, meaty debate that you can't follow or analyze because you don't know the merit of the foundation to the argument.

At any rate, what Charlie Stross had to say resonated, particularly this bit:
...we read fiction for pleasure, not to be clubbed over the head with a fistful of insights. If the fistful of insights is coming anyway, it needs to be decently clad in a velvet glove lest the casual reader take fright.

I call this whole debate navel-gazing, he calls it a matter of tribal identity. And, no matter what you call it, it's pointless--even when dressed up in good rhetoric and logic. Your grandfather's SF may have been a clearly defined, clearly deliniated movement, but today it's just a marketing label. If SF has a declining readership, it isn't because the movement or the genre needs reinventing, it's because the readers aren't finding what they want in that label. So you should either change the marketing label (good luck) or figure out what the readers want and deliver it. Which is just basic common sense for getting your books published time and again.

Thus, I don't think it's productive to say we should be writing stuff that's more like Star Wars or to haggle over what it is SF should do or even how it is/should be defined. We have the solution to increase readership: determine what the readers want and deliver it. You don't need a movement or a better definition or even an image makeover for that. The whole thing reminds me of those great commercials from the Vote 2004 era where a whole bunch of people would look at a faucet someone had left on and get embroiled in a big discussion about how wasteful, how could this happen, why does it happen, how can we prevent this from happening again--and then someone comes along and just turns the damn water off.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: The Hague, 1994

At last! I have the time to resume this blog feature!

My sophomore year in high school, I took a class called Model United Nations. Other than learning debate skills and the joys of international beaurocracy, we raised money and did research for a trip to THIMUN (The Hague International Model United Nations; other military-base schools participated, as well as many European ones--there may have been folks from beyond Europe as well). We "represented" Russia, and I actually represented Russia as part of the mock Economic and Social Council. My partner and I put just about all of our time and energy into one particular resolution (can't even remember what is was about--something that was of grave import to 1994 Russia, no doubt), but the allies we had been working with in the ESC completely disintegrated on us and made it impossible for us to move forward. Thus the working part of the trip for me involved praying that time would somehow move faster during the meetings. It's not fun to be mocked, even if it is in a mock forum. But the folks heading up the ESC would often ask why Russia was silent on a particular issue, or question our vote. I felt like I had shown up to test on Ancient Egyptian, but I had studied for a test on German.

Understandably, most of my memories from this trip are centered on what I did when I wasn't at MUN. It may also help to point out that I was on a trip with a couple of my very good friends with little to no supervision. It further illuminates the picture when I mention that The Hague is a very short jaunt away from Amsterdam (not that I went, but it helps for the punchline of a joke later).

By far the most entertaining parts of the trip involved the train rides to and within The Hague (actually, they might have been city-run busses in the city itself; having trouble remembering).

Getting from our military base to The Hague involved a couple of tight train switches. I'm sure it was very interesting watching a passel of high school students run across train stations, dragging their luggage behind them. What we had to do in order to make sure we all got on the train with all of our belongings was have someone run ahead, secure one cabin, and open the window. Then the rest of us tossed our luggage into the window and sorted everything out later. It was insane. The train ride itself was interesting. One of my pals thought it would be fun to tickle my feet in his lap. He thought it was cute that I was extremely ticklish there--until I inadvertantly kicked him in the groin. We even had an interesting moment getting off of the train at our destination. Our teacher had reserved several taxis or something for us to get to the hotel, but they were taken out from under our noses by another teacher from a rival high school. My teacher held up three fingers to the man and said, "Read between the lines!"

Our hotel was right on the coast, which made for a lot of very strong winds. So we would get all dolled up to look like proper Russian diplomats, only to wander outside and have our hair whipped up into tangled turbans and our smartly pressed suits rumpled like crepe paper. But it was like that for everyone, apparently, as the coat check in the THIMUN location became the impromptu windblown hair touch-up spot.

One night when all the pot-smoking, red-light-district-gazing hopefuls tried to hop on a train to Amsterdam, my good friend and I went in search of Pizza Hut pan pizza. Our journey took us quite far on the tram/bus network to a nifty, more historical part of town. We had a fun dinner, then picked up some goodies at a grocery store near our hotel. That was so we could play poker and order room service the next night while watching MTV.

Thus we had to get caught up on the story when the entire group went out for dinner on our last night there. One of our number was being teased left and right and looking decidedly shame-faced. Seems he hadn't been able to make it to Amsterdam (no one did; there might have been some sort of curfew in place), but one of the older and wiser seniors on the trip told him where he could still score some pot. The eager shmuck followed the senior and gratefully accepted the hand-rolled. A few puffs in, he reported a happy pot high to the extreme laughter of the seniors watching the show. Turns out he had smoked some oregano. The poor guy was red-faced all the way back to school.

Because the trip was packed during the day-time with the THIMUN stuff, I really didn't have much of a chance to explore The Hague. But I liked the glimpses I caught, and it strikes me as a town that I'd like to visit again.

Next week: Wales, 1992

Monday, November 06, 2006

Drew's First Down Payment

One thing I forgot to mention in my post about our not-yet-finished house: Drew wanted to help contribute to the down payment.

It was the last item of business after an hour and a half of paperwork in triplicate. Mark got out the checkbook and made the first part of our down payment. Meanwhile, Drew was playing in my purse, taking great delight in dumping everything out and putting things back in bit by bit according to his own sense of structure and organization.

So it happened that a few seconds after Mark placed the check on the saleswoman's desk, Drew reached up and plunked down two bucks right beside it.

It really wouldn't do much to improve our monthly payments, so I took the dollars back. But we appreciated Drew's helpful thought all the same.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

If Dresses Could Talk

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden, here's one dress's story. This one's fun too. But this is my favorite.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Regular Check-in

This was almost the first normal week in our temporary set up. My mother was on fall break, so that's what kept it "special." Still, I got to see what work with the Drew Monster glued to my ankles would be like. I got to start some semblance of a writing schedule. I got to see just how much time in the day I would have when I wasn't working. Overall, it was a pretty good week.

Granted, I think Mark and I are pretty excited to figure out what a normal week in our own house would be like, but it's nice to not be in the insanity of moving or flying back to the DDJ. I don't travel again until the second week in December. Praise all that is good and holy in this world.

The biggest realization of this past week is that it takes a lot more energy and attention to watch Drew in my mom's house. She's got lots of stairs and things he can get into that he shouldn't. We're trying to baby proof as we go, but gates don't work (there's a little ridge of panelling by each doorway that only allows the gate to snugly fit into the bottom of any doorway, not the top; Drew figured out right away how to work his fingers into the gap and pull those suckers down), and he's very good at reaching and grabbing these days.

As for my writing, I've got a short story that's ready to submit, one more that needs a revision and then I'll submit it, another that I'm finishing up, and then there's Carson's Learning. My mother the creative writing teacher is going to help me figure out if I can find a market for it. I'm hoping to focus on the short fiction this week to get it all on its way somewhere, and then go back to Shadow of Zehth. There's still a slight glimmer of hope that I could finish a draft by the end of the year, but I'm going to be surprised if it happens. Regardless, I should have the draft finished and the revisions done to start submitting the novel by the end of the summer. That'll be the primary goal of next year, to get that sucker out.

Oh, and I'm almost done going through all of my posts to label them now that I've upgraded to Blogger Beta. One thing I've noticed: damn, I could be a self-important, annoying, arrogant little twerp in 2003. Hopefully that's changed. I feel like it has, just from the array of things that are important to me now versus what they were then. But I'm sure I'll go back and read my 2006 posts in a few years and do a decent amount of eye-rolling.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Hey! They Cheated!

That's how I feel about the first few episodes of Battlestar Galactica. They set us up at the end of season 2 for some big changes to the show, including one helluva conflict for us to watch the characters sort through. After the bludgeoned-by-theme season opener, things looked to be really entertaining. Lots of good, juicy stuff for the characters we've come to know and love over two seasons to work themselves out of. But, no, we got cheated. The big bad Cylons were swatted aside in half of one episode to let the humans escape to get back on their ships and in search of Earth, which is right where we left off in Season 2.

"But, wait," said the teaser for episode 5, "there's gonna be tension between those who resisted on New Caprica and those who didn't!" OK, so it's a focus shift after a major wuss-out of some tension in actually escaping the planet, but it looks like we're still going to get our characters in hard places and watch them work out of it.

Um, no. By the end of Episode 5, everything is right as rain. The President is Laura Roslyn again, and she waves her magic wand and says, "The past is the past." Apollo's going to lose his weight. Everything's right back to where we were, with the exception of Gaius and Sharon Agathon, which are now the only plot points that hold interest for me.

For a show that's been praised for its boldness and daring, I find myself perplexed as to why the audience was jerked forward in the show's timeline, into a very different dynamic, into something that would be interesting to watch, only to have the writers whimp out and go back to the tried and true of the first two seasons. It's like the only reason for the stint on New Caprica and the few episodes we glimpsed of it was to generate another cache of backstory that we'll spend the next two years learning.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Writing Again

I haven't established a regular schedule yet, but I am writing again. Still not working on SoZ yet, but I'm revising a short for submission and finishing another short. Feels good. I hope to get a better sense of what my "regular" schedule will be until we start moving in to the new house. Then I can put together a good structure and wordcount expectation. Hopefully I'll have that in place by next weekend.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Need Something to Read?

Paperback Writer challenged her readers to write and post a work of fiction to be available to read for free. Quite a few folks answered the call. Check it out. I know I will be as soon as I have time to spare. Ha. I just added to my scream-inducing To Be Read pile on Monday (local Book Warehouse is closing and their already reduced prices were slashed another 40%; I'll be going back when they get to the "everything $1 or $2" portion of their blowout), and now I have more to read.

I had hoped to participate myself, but moving and the DDJ insanity completely derailed my writing. The project I had intended for this challenge is about half-way done, and, due to its seasonal content, will be ready for me to use for Fall 2007. Not quite the timeline I had wanted, but part of my writing goals for this year included writing a good amount of short fiction to have able to send out regularly until it sold while I worked on the slower-to-finish novels. Mission accomplished.