Update: Reading, Writing, Futzing Around

Added a couple more blog post drafts on Important Things – you know, Important Things – bringing the draft total to just under 100. Sheesh. Started writing about how behavioral scientists (whatever that’s supposed to mean) don’t care about brain science, as changing people’s behaviors are all they’re interested in, not how the brain actually works. Um, what? Very Bacon-ish (the British scientist, not the gateway meat): we’re in it for the Domination of Nature, not merely to understand anything. Let’s not get all philosophical here, we got behaviors to change! And how YA fiction provides something to kids sadly missing from their real lives: responsibility for meaningful stuff, especially stuff they *don’t* get to choose. Kids want to grow up, and the dirty little secret is that we choose here and there, but happiness and meaning are mostly found in living out duties we didn’t really choose: to family, friends, country. Kids need that, and YA fiction often provides at least stories of it.

And so on. Got partial drafts on bad philosophy and stupid theories, an attempt to explain supply and demand avoiding the baleful conventions of economics (not as easy as one would hope) and airfleet finance basics that I promised somebody months ago. And about 90 more! Things I thought important at the time!

Anyway, here’s two turntables and a microphone:

A. Reading, among other things, the first issue of Astounding Frontiers, a new publication from some of the people involved in Sci Phi Journal and Superversive stuff in general. About 80% through, need another hour or two. A full review will follow in a few days.

Short & sweet: great stuff, all kinds of fun. The format, at least for the first volume, is a set of short stories followed by the first installments of a set of serials. All the stories are at least good; the first serial is of Nowhither, the next volume following the Dragon-award-winning Somewither from the Tales of the Unwithering Realm books by John C. Wright. As good as you’d hope. You’d better love cliffhangers, though. Old-school serials are the model, after all.

Writing: So, I started to do what I said I’d do – pick a market and submit the recently-finished short story. Aaaand, that proved harder than I thought – while I’m pretty familiar with the old dead-tree markets – Analog, Asimov’s, SF&F – I’m not really up on all the new markets. So I asked myself: does this slight little story work in those old-school markets? Aaaand – IMHO, not really. It’s a gee-whiz story, where a guy faces death and second thoughts. Probably overthinking it (you’re shocked, right?). Other stuff I’m working on might fit better, maybe.

Anyway, I decided to keep looking for a better match. I began at the top of a list I’d gotten off the web somewhere, sorted by how much they pay, and started down, trying to imagine how what I wrote could fit within their guidelines.

Some not-fits were obvious, either from tone or just not fitting the guidelines. I soon became obvious I needed some quick filters to eliminate the obviously not gonna happens: In addition to wild mismatches on the guidelines, ended up crossing off ones who lead with SJW stuff, as it’s hard to imagine them wanting my stuff.

This still left a whole bunch of interesting possibilities. But I’d never heard of these publications, many of which seem to have mushroomed on the web in the last few years. So I find myself reading the sample stories, to get a feel.

By now, I’ve spent several hours reading stories online from the various publications. Unfortunately, while I did get a few decent stories read, I didn’t end up with much additional clarity. A couple of the stories I liked were so utterly different from what I’ve written that my brain sorta locked up.

And then life got busy. It may calm down for a few weeks, maybe not. Thinking I’ll just look among the PulpRev and Superversive markets for this particular story; others might go elsewhere, need to get my brain around what’s what.

B. Meanwhile, working on some other half (or more) finished stories. With the long daylight hours, I’m tending to work out in the yard until dark or dinner, meaning it’s after 9:00 before I’m in for the night – and, if I’ve been doing physical work, I’m probably tired. Yes, I’m a disorganized sissy with too much going on. Anyway, still need a bit of time to finish the 3-4 in the pipeline. The good news is that I should have a better idea what markets to pursue for them after getting myself caught up on what’s out there.

General experience: when I take a second look at something I’ve set aside for a long while, I tend to like it much better than when I set it down. Obviously need to get over these amateur emotional reactions that keep me from just getting it done. Story of my life, I suppose.

C. Speaking of late daylight hours, been working on the brick oven. When we last checked in, I’d decided to add a little shelf or lip on the oven’s front, changing my mind from when I’d poured the oven slab last summer, and left off the lip in the front.

IMG_4050
While beautiful after a fashion, this whole thing here is frankly insane. Spent hours trying to get it level enough so that the planned wooden butcher block would be level-ish and sturdy enough – and I just couldn’t see it working. Don’t know if any of you have this experience, but at least on projects like this, I’ll get a nagging feeling that it won’t work that eventually stops me cold. Got there on this.  Had to change course. Not getting any dubious vibes on plan D? E? where are we? Yet, anyway. 

Well, after way, way over-engineering it and spending hours (and way too much money!) building this metal angle-iron and threaded rod support system, changed my mind again and decided to pour a little more concrete. Had no confidence in the metal supports – too many things could go wrong, and even if I got it all installed successfully, if somebody decided to sit on it, it might even crack the bricks. So, reengineered. Again.

It should have only taken a few hours total to do this, but it’s been over 100F each of the last two weekends, and even I, home improvement project berzerker, can’t do a lot of manual labor when it’s that warm. So now I’m going to finish it after work, with any luck, before the summer ends. On the positive side: once I’ve gotten the lip finished, the actual oven build should go pretty quickly. Yea, famous last words.

Post Apocalyptic Prelude

Been watching a lot of short sci-fi videos (Dust is good, especially this one as posted before) because, I dunno, some of them are pretty good and you can skip ahead when it gets dull.

donut thing
Our machine overlords always seem to have the best tech. Which figures, I guess.

One feature of many such films is the Post Apocalyptic Prelude, the little placards at the beginning that give you text with enough back story so that the action can be fit into a 10 – 15 minute film. The better the film, the less likely a Post Apocalyptic Prelude will be needed, or at least it will be shorter. But that’s not the real issue I have: every one of these assumes the same brand of DOOM. The apocalypse is always brought about by this week’s looming evil – global warming, right wing or religious totalitarians, tech run amok, aerosol spray propellant, whatever, you get the drift. The post apocalyptic world is likewise dominated by similar evils, or, for those with slightly better imaginations, mere chaos.

Prelude
A typical sample. That I can’t even remember what the little film was about is kind of the point here.  A person with more imagination might wonder why and how religious fanatics came to rule.  What superior survival characteristics did they possess?  What was lacking in their opponents? And, contrary to all human history so far, those who eschew technology dominate those who do not?

I will never make a film like these, which show as often as not some seriously cool film making chops. But I am sure I could come up with a better, or at least less boring and more thought-provoking Post Apocalyptic Prelude. For example:

The world’s major cities lie in ruins, their infrastructure destroyed in the Cleansing. Sociology professors, convinced any sufficiently woke person could run society’s complex machinery, seized power and brought about destruction. 

Flyover, a mysterious land of near-legendary wealth and evil, stretches from the People’s Republic of Canada to the Rio Grande Marches, and from Stockton, California, to the Appalachian Mountains. Gripped with fear yet desperate to escape the chaos and hunger, a band of  city dwellers use the last remaining charge in their Tesla to cross the Altamont Pass….  

Ya know? What you  got?

Books, Question, Dumb Stuff, Writing

Books: On John C. Wright’s general recommendation, got Writing the Breakout Novel, which I’m now reading. It is being helpful so far.

Also got Mike Flynn’s Captive Dreams. Been meaning to for a while. Now to find time to read it.

Also also, got Recovering a Catholic Philosophy of Elementary Education for when I get back on the education reading wagon.

Question: I use the Google news feed as “the news”, meaning if it appears there I consider it to have made the news, and if not, I don’t see it. Well? Does this seem fair? Prudent? I’m working under the assumption that Google is no more or less biased on the whole than any other means I could come up with to determine what is “in the news” at any given time.

Dumb Stuff: Speaking of which, a couple weeks back, I noticed in the news – the Google news feed, that is – that the markets, after pretty much uninterrupted gains since Trump’s election, had a few down days. Did the headlines say, as the often do, “Markets Pull Back as Investors Take Profits” or something like that? Is the Pope unambiguous? Headlines read, instead, that the honeymoon was over! Investor confidence in Trump had petered out. Sigh. Markets go up and down. If you knew why (beyond it being merely the mechanical result of people buying and selling stock), then you’d be rich – and not writing headlines. Ya know?

So now, the markets have resumed their irrational exuberance or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days. Do the headline writers give Trump credit? Like saying -“Oops! We Were Wrong About the Honeymoon Being Over” or in any way acknowledge that what they’d said a mere week or two ago was patent nonsense? Trump still appalls me, but not nearly as much as the out of control frothing attacks on him. Here’s a pro tip: Wait a bit, and Trump will do something objectively bad that you can clobber him for – every other president has. (He probably already has, but how is one to spot it among all the ravings and spittle?) Then you (the headline writers) won’t look so stupid to anyone with eyes to see.

Dumber still, I read and was writing an analysis of an essay by some Chicago reporter that was an attack on those with the temerity to point out that, wow, despite (?) a solid century or more of Progressive leadership, including lots of gun control, people in Chicago sure do seem to murder each other at a much higher rate than in other cities. We are assured the reasons for the 59% year over year increase in murder rate are complicated, and in any event invisible unless you happen to have lived you whole life in Chicago – I’m boiling it down a bit, but that’s what the residue lining the pot looks like when the boiling is done. And if you insist on pushing the question, you are by that fact alone acting with bad intent.

It was getting out of hand – there was so much misdirection (1) that I was getting pages into my analysis and was still digging yet more craziness up. So I stopped. Unless we can deal first with the facts instead of immediately playing the ‘it’s complicated, you can’t understand’ card, there is no discussion.

It seems, then, there is no discussion.

jan-austen
You get the idea. 

Writing: Finally, as mentioned above, I’m reading that Writing the Breakout Novel book, which is eating into my writing time, but I figure it will help in the long run. The first takeaway is not made explicitly, but reminds me of my callow youth, when I used to compose music. I discovered that – you’ll be shocked – coming up with nice tunes and pretty snippets of music was easy. Keeping fixed in mind where the whole composition was going proved much more difficult. Unless you want to write very short pieces, you have to know, on some level, where you are going before you start.(3)

Same with writing novels. I had all these cool tech and plot ideas. But where is the story going? How does it move from A to B to C? This may seem crazy, but I grabbed Jane Austen’s Emma to read, since I hear it has exactly what I’m most missing: complicated characters acting out of a variety of interest and talents toward different and conflicting goals. And it is otherwise completely different from what I’m working on.

Bottom line: I am not (yet) frustrated with the slow writing. I want to wrap up these explorations of technique ASAP, then just refuse to do any more until the book is done.

Hey, it’s a plan.

  1. e.g., in one linked article, the claim was made that more deadly weapons were now being used – I suppose they mean higher caliber? In one year? A commentator noted that Al Capone and his fellow solid Chicago citizens preferred .45 calibre Thompson sub machineguns that, at the time, were available for purchase at hardware stores. Yet, even counting the people Capone offed, there were still only 50 murders per year in Chicago, so blaming the increased deadliness on more powerful weapons seems a reach. For making this point, the commentator was called all sorts of names. Go figure.
  2. e.g., that, while Chicago’s murder rate keeps going up, cities like Houston have a flat murder count (despite a growing population) even though they have about the same racial & ethnic mix as Chicago and are about the same size.
  3. I love improve – probably what I’m best at – but those off the cuff compositions tend to meander, stick to very simple forms, or both. Or end up formless goo.

 

Updates, News, Sheepishness

As mentioned earlier, in a fit of not exactly sure what, I volunteered to lead a discussion group at our parish, and the pastor and parish administrator surprised me and said yes. First meeting was this past Thursday, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. About 28 people showed up, 20 of whom signed in. It went well, for the first meeting of a new program I’m making up as we go along. I’m putting together a blog/website: Feasts & Faith. All the materials, plus links to sources, will be posted there.

I mention this to explain why I’m not posting here more. Other reasons: the shingles hurt, and won’t go away. Sure, I’m only 2.5 weeks into a 2-4 week disease, so it’s not unusual for it to hang out for maybe another 10 days. Vicodin is good, but I don’t want to pop ’em like candy – just use them at night so I can sleep.

But really, I’ve got like another 7 or 8 drafts of posts pending, that just need a little something to meet my (really pretty low) standards of blogability. And I have read a bunch of books, to add to the pile of ‘books I’ve read and would like to review’: Thomas More’s Utopia, John C. Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son, most of Gulliver’s Travels, Forming Intentional Disciples, Chesterton’s Tremendous Trifles, and I think I’m forgetting a couple. Working on Brian Niemeier’s Dragon Award winning novel Souldancer now, will probably take me a while. And all kinds of Wright, Flynn and Wolfe beckon from The Pile…

I’ve also got not one but two epic home improvement projects going on at the same time, both outdoors just as the post-work daylight is starting to get scarce. To make it even crazier, I’m once again haunted by thoughts of the stories *I* want to write. So far, it’s like Mark Twain said about exercise – I should probably just lie down till it goes away. So far, that’s worked depressingly well…

I have one draft post in particular, that’s sat there for a month now, on an article in fivethirtyeight that is a particularly egregious example of apologetics for the pseudosciences of sociology and psychology caught, once again, with their pants down. I got to the point where some actual research wants to be done, like visit a physical library/college bookstore type stuff. The soothing noises emitted by all the Usual Sources whenever events make it unavoidable to honestly conclude that the Soft Sciences (sic) can make no legitimate claims on our loyalty are as predictable as the sunrise: Science is hard! Look! Self-correcting! Can’t stop now! Because people just barely might notice that these same frauds are responsible for all the ‘discoveries’ that have made sexual perversions the new normal.

Barely possible. Our well-schooled population, which tries to please teacher by proper regurgitation of the expected answers, is about as likely to notice as Pavlov’s dog is to suffer dry mouth. How much nonsense can our training accommodate? Don’t answer that! I don’t think I want to know. The experiment is still running. For now.

 

Writing Update

Got on a bit of a roll, stayed up till after 1:00 a.m., and am now the proud owner of over 6,000 perfectly good English and a few nigh-unpronounceable Welsh(1)  words arranged into something like a story, minus 1.5 scenes and a bit of connecting tissue. A good number of those words will no doubt need to be trimmed, and a few more conscripted in their places. It’s tough being a word.

One little bit I’m doubtful of: I have the British characters use the proper Welsh names for mythological things  the first time they come up, but then have the Americans use the more common parallels thereafter – for example, there’s a Welsh version of the Grim Reaper called the cyhyraeth. He appears in a list of what our heroes are up against, the American then refers to him as the local version of the Grim Reaper – and that’s it. Is it off-putting as a reader to come across unknown, hard to pronounce words once or twice and then have them never used again? It seems cool to me, gives it a little flavor…

I’m liking so far how the story reflects the good cheer that’s almost always evident in Arthurian stuff – the Round Table is, after all, a sort of moveable feast, with knights clinking and drinking and feasting their ways around Arthur’s kindoms. Hoping it ends up with the right dash of  plain goofiness, another near-ubiquitous feature of the tales.

The hard part, for me at least, has been to make the ultimate battle emotionally convincing, with the right amount of action. We’ll see, I suppose – that’s the major tidying-up that needs doing.

Don’t know how it works for more experienced writers of fiction, but at least in this case, I didn’t really know what I was writing until about halfway through. I had an inkling to retell the story of Lynette and Lyoness, but knew I couldn’t do that straight up, as it’s too long, too mature (after a fashion) and has way too much gratuitous violence (that’s another characteristic of Arthurian tales: knights errant tend to kill a lot of dudes in the course of their errant-ing.)  It became an exercise in imagining what might happen 1500 years after the Red Knight is defeated and sent by Gareth to Arthur’s court. I liked the idea of a heroine whose love for her sister compels her to seek aid from the Round Table, and how she doesn’t get what she wants, but ultimately something better.

It’s a mini-hero’s tale, two parallel mini-hero’s tales, really.

Another issue with the legends: they do not have emotionally tidy resolutions, especially the Welsh versions. Some characters just disappear – Lynette is more plot device than damsel in distress, as it’s Lyoness who gets rescued and gets her knight in shining armor (after several cruel or pointless plot complications, at least in the eyes of a modern reader).  So the most work, so far, has been putting some emotional content into the bare bones, and then ending it so that everybody is not left hanging – on the level of a juvenile.

One more evening of writing, then I’ll get my victims betas (having 4 smart kids who have read a lot is a boon, let me tell you!) to give me feedback, revise, and done.

I hope. This fiction-under-a-deadline is a new thing for me.

  1. One of my friends grew up in Wales. He possesses the awesome superpower of being able to pronounce things like Llamhigyn Y Dwr and Cŵn Annwn  right the first time. I think. He could be pulling my leg, how would I know?

A Short Story for Today

Sometimes, what one is thinking and feeling is best put in a story. Here, we are checking if this is one of those times:

____________

The cows moved into the living room once my gunny neighbor ran off the Idiots and Fools. Oh, well – I hated that carpet anyway. A few months later, we tore down the sheetrock between the living room and bedroom. The smell wasn’t too pleasant, but since the water heater had died, we weren’t really in much a position to complain. The cows were unlikely to listen anyway.

I finally came to appreciate the golf course this corporate McMansion backed up to. First off – grass; second, a well system that drew water from some aquifer for all those sprinklers; third – and this is just crazy – a backup generator to run the pumps, with enough fuel to keep it running for years if what you’re looking for in a lawn is more ‘not completely dead’ as opposed to ‘Augusta National’.  I suppose the backup generators were cheap insurance, given what a round will run you on a PGA-level course.

I named the cows after Enlightenment philosophers – seemed only fair. I whiled away quite a few days sitting on the back porch, watching my small herd of cows graze on the back nine, rifle across my lap. I pondered how the Idiots’ and Fools’ stupidity, cowardice and bucket-of-crawdads tendency to eat each other has resulting in us mostly being left alone. Continue reading “A Short Story for Today”