A. Novel #1 – This is the puppy I am targeting to have ‘done’ – ready for beta readers – by June. OK, getting a little fast and loose here – end of June? June-ish? On the one hand, I’m only just shy of 20K useable words; on the other, what I’m trying to do has come into much better focus. At first, 20K words seemed like all there was going to be to this story, but as I keep asking myself: why would this character do or think this or that? I discover that this or that other thing has to happen.
Vague enough? I needed an interaction between the Captain of the Guard and my protagonist so that a later interaction would carry some emotional weight. So I had the Captain discuss some history of his species and their predicament with the protagonist. I then read the resulting couple thousand words aloud to my poor alpha readers – my wife and son – who made the mistake of wandering by at the wrong time. They were good with it. It’s essentially a world building info-dump, but couched (I hope) within some more emotionally interesting activities. For example.
Working this out laid out a road map for everything else I needed to include to give this story the emotional zing I’m looking for, and suggested yet another twist at the end….
So now, even though I burned May prepping for/attending our son’s wedding on the opposite side of the country, and so am WAY behind – all I need are 2-3 thousand words a day, and I’m good. Riiiiight – I feel pretty good about it. Before, I wrote myself into corners, because I didn’t know exactly where I was going. Now, I think I’m good to go.
B. The downside of feeling my way through writing something this long: repetition and continuity errors. Twice now, I’ve jumped into scenes I left dangling when I didn’t know where to take them, got going good, only to figure out afterwards that I already wrote a bunch of the scene. In my enthusiasm, I just kept going past where I needed to stop. Oops. This leaves me with two drafts of the same scene – and, of course, I like stuff from both takes.
So what I’ve done is highlight version A and B in different colors, paste them into another doc, go paragraph by paragraph through them, then sync ’em up and paste the results back into the main draft. In these two cases, I ended up keeping most of both takes, so it worked out OK. But I’d rather not work this inefficiently.
C. Just reminding myself: over the last 5-6 years, I’ve written 25K words of flash fiction on this blog, part of the about 1.5 million words of blog posting here over the last decade. Also written 40K words worth of short stories. Fragments of novels add up to about 38K words, not counting scraps and pieces from the more distant past. And not counting all the materials I’ve assembled for the book(s) on education, and the about 10,000 works on the Understanding Science book.
Typing this out to remind myself that, for me, amateur and mostly very part-time writer, cranking out another 40K words on this novel should not really be an issue – if I just stick to it!
D. The other other plan was to assemble two collections of existing writing from the stories and flash fiction, so I could have something on offer between getting the first novel – I’m thinking Dust Machines for the title – and getting whatever rises to the top of the pile as book #2. Each would be a mix of unpublished short stories and flash fiction from this blog, and would run 40-50K words each. A lot of it is SciFi, which might naturally lend itself to a collection, and a lot isn’t. Or I could mix it up.
So, if things were to work out as planned, I’d get Dust Machines to beta readers around the end of June (ha. How bout end of July?) then maybe to a professional editor a few weeks later, then throw it up on Amazon before the end of the year. Got to get a good cover artist in there someplace. Then, a month later, throw up collection #1, heavy on the SciFi; a month after that, the other collection, and a month or two later, book #2. Now I’d be well into 2022, with 4 books out.
Concurrently, start up a new author’s blog under a pen name, start the marketing push that seems an inescapable part of all this.
That’s the plan.
E. Rumor is that the state has deigned to allow us to not wear masks at mass, starting tomorrow – if we’ve been vaccinated. As my wife reminded me, we’ve both been vaccinated since childhood! Good to go!
Pump the brakes. Let off a little her, a little there, but never let it be thought that anyone but you, the masters of the state, are in charge, or that you can’t can revoke permissions or make up new rules at any time.
A. In a weird place – so pardon me if I have not responded to your comments or emails – I’ll get to them soon, promise.
I have all but lost my ability to laugh off the current insanity. Insanity: My 17 year old son is trying to reach Eagle Scout in the next 10 months. He joined scouts to 1) get out into nature as much as possible. He went on just about every hike and camping trip possible for the first couple years he was a Scout; 2) hang out with the guys, especially guys who were into camping and hiking instead of girls, gossip, and (possibly) drugs.
So, what do the Scouts do? Instantly become the most Karen-ridden organization out there. (Well, probably not – schools are probably worse, but bad enough.) Not only were there no campouts and hikes for most of a year, not only were in-person meetings replaced by ZOOM, not only were the few get togethers masked up and socially distanced – but, now, there’s talk of requiring 12 YEAR OLDS to get vaccinated. Kids who are more likely to get eaten by a bear than to die of COVID. Very science-y, that.
My son is suffering. He is spending too much time online, too little time out doors and with friends. He should be learning the ropes with girls – you know, how to talk with them and hang out with them in a sane way – but, instead, he’s locked out of virtually all normal interactions. We seek out sane people, people not masked up, not worried about the magic powers of 6′ of separation, people who will shake your hand and smile at you. But that’s like a few times a month, instead of every day like it should be.
Insanity: no difference, no pattern at all, is to be seen between areas with the most insane lockup and mask-up rules and those without. As was predicted by me and every scientifically literate person, the economy – and culture-destroying steps simply COULD NOT make much difference. Feeling sick? Stay away from sickly people, and wash your hands. Anything more than that? Irrelevant. Built on wild-ass extrapolations from vague theories interpreted badly. Ex: Masks might – might! – make some difference – in surgery. I’ve only heard of one real world test, where healthy doctors all scrubbed up in properly sterilized environments using nice clean instruments did and did not wear masks – and there was no meaningful difference in outcomes. If the doctor isn’t sick, he can’t, within any meaningful level of measurement, transmit it to you (yes, yes – Typhoid Mary. But that’s vanishingly rare.); If the patient isn’t sick, he can’t give it back to the doctor. Masking up, even for surgeons, is mostly a symbolic gesture based on a hunch, over-caution, and a ‘what can it hurt?’ attitude. AND that’s the best possible case! Pros using strict protocols within a controlled environment. Extrapolating from THAT to: everybody MUST wear masks ALL THE TIME is bat-guano CRAZY. Fumble-fingered civilians pulling a mask out of their pocket, fiddling with it, then shoving it back in their pocket until next time – right, that’s really the way to handle materials supposedly saturated with DEADLY VIRIONS!! Want to wear a mask? Have at it! Want me to wear one? Go perform an anatomically impossible act on yourself.
So, now, I’ve got 3 weeks more to teach history, and – it’s hard. One gratifying thing: few of the families involved take the mandated ‘precautions’ seriously and are willing to let their kids be kids. But some do – and, damn, that’s depressing. Lord help me.
B. So, distracted in a more positive sense: Leaving in two weeks for the wedding of our Middle Son back east. I already love his future bride – she’s a sweetheart, and has a refreshing can-do attitude about getting stuff done. So, huzzah! Two down, two to go, marriage/vocation wise.
Also, I’m a grandfather! Older Daughter, whom we married off last May, will be giving birth around November 1, if all goes well. Huzzah squared!!
These are wonderful things. Praise God in His Mercy!
C. Getting back into writing-writing, as in: putting useable words down, as opposed to research or editing. Got to push through May to get something done by June. Possible. If I got down 1,000 words/day, I’d be done with 1st draft, novel 1, by early June.
It’s the difference between letting the current insanity distract me versus using writing as a distraction from the current insanity. The latter is a better course.
No, really. I have a weird habit, at least for my household – I almost always read all the front matter in whatever books I read. (Sometimes, as in some philosophical works, I might read it after I’ve read the work itself, if I suspect it will bias my reading – but I’ll almost always read it.) My wife, who is as OK-read (well-read is maybe a stretch for me) as I am, pretty much never does this; neither do my kids, as far as I know. You guys? Skip to the good parts, or slog through the front matter first?
For my White Handled Blade series (yea, yea, gotta write Book 1 before you can have a series, I get it) I’m reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a copy of which was in the stacks. Not sure how I had not run across Burton Raffel before – or, if I did, how he failed to make an impression – but this guy, a famous translator, is a character and a half. His Introduction is about as bare-knuckles an assessment of his ‘competitors’ as I’ve ever seen. Reminded me of the old saying in academia: never is the fight more brutal than when the stakes are really low.
To sum up: he’s not real impressed by the work of other translators and commentators of Green Knight. Here are some samples, from his 31 page introduction to a 75 page poem:
It is no defense of Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis, but most literary criticism of medieval poetry suffers from just this kind of “lengthy, mostly irrelevant” insensitivity to the poem as a poem.
Sure. A little further, Raffel goes after scholarly critics as a group, giving examples of scholarly assertions contradicted by text within a few lines of the source of the initial assertions:
But the critics’ attention span is somehow limited by their scholarship, or alternatively by their desire to assert some interpretive claim.
He also makes charming, look how smart I am observations, such as this, after his analysis of how the Poet portrays what is going on in Gawain’s mind and soul during his temptation by the Green Knight’s wife, and how it does not admit of a simply linear understanding as we moderns might be tempted to impress on it:
The Gawain Poet plainly knows this, and just as plainly knows his Hegel-like perception of the antithesis concealed within the synthesis is the only sane way to see things. And he is phenomenally sane. He is, in fact, so powerful a literary mind that what could be a mere matter of philosophy , with a lesser writer, is transformed for him into a vital matter of literary technique.
O, come on, Burtie, old boy, you’re just yanking chains! Don’t make me slap that smirk off your elderly (well, dead, now) face.
The whole Introduction provides the kind of background information that is reason I read introductions, so that’s good, interspersed with patches that read like Raffel getting even with people or calling them idiots. He kindly allows of one scholar’s work that “…it is not all as bad as the passages I have cited.” At another scholar’s assertions, Raffel says: “I can gape: where has the man been?” Or that the “weird” analysis of another is revealed in a passage “which speaks, unfortunately, for itself.” Did somebody steal his lunch money, or something?
The Introduction was certainly entertaining, the poem itself is wonderful, and I appreciate Raffel’s guidance in taking it seriously as a masterpiece – hard to do with the rather less structured? Logical? bits of Arthuriana I’ve read so far. Maybe I’ll review it when I’m done.
…I found a bunch of stories and outlines from decades ago. Most, I remembered instantly once I saw them, a couple evoked a major ‘huh?’ response, as in, I have no memory of them at all. It’s weirdly encouraging: not only have I averaged about 150K words/yr on this blog, I also wrote maybe 200 pages of stories and outline long before this blog. So, I guess I’m a writer by the simple fact that I do, in fact, write. Now, if I can only complete the novels and publish them – that’s the plan! Anyway, for kicks:
A. Untitled Novel Outline, 8/9/90, 15 pages + diagram, handwritten. A chemist working for the National Oceanographic Institute gets involved with some illegal gold mining on the ocean floor. Insane chase scene involving a submersible and two ships. He gets the girl. I remember it being a ton of fun writing the outline. I even have a sort of roller-coaster diagram for the chase scene.
B. Notes from a writing workshop I attended, 7/8/90. No longer applicable, if they ever were.
C. Penultimate chapter to a Sci Fi novel about a run in with some insectoid star-faring race. Undated. Only about 6 pages, the escape scene. Remember having written a lot more on it – maybe it’s in this pile someplace. [update: nope.]
D. Thelma and Me. 8/95. Only 3 pages long, one of my favorite stories. Maybe I should throw it up here, since it’s hardly more than flash fiction? The 1st person protagonist notes that the odometer on his ’57 Chevy BelAir convertible, which he bough new with money from his first job out of high school, is about to hit 500,000 miles. Babying this car has been about the only thing he’s ever done right in his life.
E. The Great Desert Valley, CH 1 of Earth Wars, which is perhaps a misleading title – it was intended as a set of stories about what might be called real ecology. Think I started it in response to all the nonsensical anthropomorphizing of nature, so I started writing more ‘true’ stories. In this story, I try to recount what it would have looked like when one of the periodic refloodings of the dried-out Mediterranean basin took place – from the perspective of the life adapted to living in an extreme desert basin. Whatever destruction we might think we’ve done to the environment, Nature has done and will do much, much worse.
F. The Last Sabre-Toothed Tiger, CH 2 of the above. A story of how exquisite adaptation can spell death when conditions change. A story I don’t see in this pile is my favorite from the set: about a lighthouse cat that completes the extinction of some shorebird, by the simple accident that the lighthouse keeper had a cat, and the rock the lighthouse was on was also the only place where the seabirds bred. All the creatures – man, cat, bird – act innocently according to their natures, yet extinction of one of them results.
G. Sets of song lyrics. Did I mention that I used to be a (frankly, terrible) part of a number of garage bands? Well, I did. And I tried my hand at songwriting, with some minimal success. So in this pile are the lyrics to a bunch of songs, a few of which I recall and even set to music. In my last band, did get one number I wrote into the rotation – people seemed to like it. I am of the ‘melancholy to sad lyrics set to bouncy music’ school of songwriting. These would need some *very* bouncy music to counterbalance the depressing lyrics.
H. Undated, untitled handwritten outline, 4 yellow legal pad pages long, of some wild adventure that kicks off with a priest killing a teenage soldier. Absolutely no idea where this came from. The notes are largely incomprehensible now, e.g., “Grain rotting in the fields, on the shelves, (Bali??)” Must have had something in mind….
I. Whole folder full of Earth Wars stories, dates 12/14/1989! Printed out on a dot matrix printer, on paper with little perforations. Call in the archeologists! The outline/table of contents shows 19 stories. In the actual printout, there’s the lighthouse cat story, and a story about elephants creating grasslands from forests (you knew they did that, right?). There’s one 20-page story called The Last Cave Bear, which has to do with the encroaching ice sheets 125,000 years ago, a sort of border conflict between cave bears, who were going extinct around this time, and people, who were learning to adapt to much harsher conditions during the glaciation. It’s a really sad story. And then, the concluding chapter is Ut Animalia, a wild tale of an elderly Latin American priest serving at the ruins of a church while his mind slips away. Due to the constant revolution, he hardly ever sees anybody – but the animals of the surrounding jungle start to make the church their home.
Maybe half an inch of paper devoted to a 30+ year old project. Huh.
J. The Talley, an 11 page long short story, undated, but printed out on the same dot matric printer, so around 1989. This one is marked up, as a draft awaiting revisions. The 1st person narrator has recently been widowed; he teaches piano. On his walk home from visiting his wife’s grave, a woman whose talentless, uninterested tween son takes lessons from him, corners him. Potentially interesting things ensue.
K. Ut Animalia has it’s own folder! An incomplete draft – don’t think I ever finished it.
L. Prime Directive. Another dot matrix era bit of – ??? In this folder there is a wide piece of perforated lined paper labeled “Character/Plot Development Chart” broken into squares, characters on the left, characteristics across the top, with little tidbits in each box. Wild.
I have no memory of this.
Then, an outline, regarding a sort of graduate-level field trip to Borneo to investigate the natives. I have a character named Higgins (‘just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins!’) and a bunch of grad-school rabble. The title comes from, I suppose, the absurdity of the Star Trek Prime Directive. Then, there’s an opening chapter, where the students reveal themselves to be Trekkers.
What could I possibly have been thinking? The character outlines show a conflict between science, which doesn’t ultimately care if the people being studied live or die, a practical recognition that you might have to choose between saving the culture and saving the people, and a character who cannot see that choice.
And that’s it for that set of files. There are only two projects/stories I remember that aren’t in there – one, called The Pearl, about the gaslighting that goes on inside a truly messed up family, written in 1992, and an untitled parody of sex researchers in the wild. That last one involved an enlightened feminist sex researcher doing field work, in Borneo again, I think (I had recently read the excellent Into the Heart of Borneo, by Redmond O’Hanlon, so had Borneo on the brain), trying to discredit the claims made by her major competitor, who happens to now be the lover of her former boyfriend. So she retraces the steps in her enemy’s landmark and tenure-securing masterpiece, attempting to replicate/discredit, as it were, the ‘;findings.’ Thus, she finds herself trying to get laid in the jungles of Borneo.
All the characters involved are utterly jealous, possessive, and needy, while of course rejecting the very idea that sex might lead such feelings. Hilarity ensued via the write-ups from the field getting published in, I think, the Atlantic? wherein the ‘researcher’ recounts her experiences, basically, trying to get laid by a bunch of tribesmen, who, as shines through her reports despite her lofty language, think she’s a curiously insane white lady best kept at arms’ length. I particularly remember writing her discussion on the desirability of pendulosity in breasts, and how it could not be that the difference between her breasts and the breasts of her competitor had lead to her failure in the field….
I think I stopped when I realized: there is no way to parody this. Anything I think of has probably been done, in all seriousness, by some maniac or other. But it was funny, you’ll have to take my word for it…
Just looking for a catchy title for more exasperation.
As a distraction from the steady rain of naked emperors and their fawning sycophants and courtiers and the sheep they intimidate into line, I’m putting in some serious lawn care time, and writing. Only partially effective. What’s sticking in my brain is the awareness that about 90% of my relatives are firmly on the Corona Train of Doom. These are for the most part well educated and intelligent people, who seem to firmly believe they are ‘following the science’ that they’ve never looked at and wouldn’t understand if they did. They just so *certain* they’ve got a bead on things.
A seriously cultivated lack of self-awareness. I’m thinking masks are the ironic completion of the participation trophy culture. You want to be an outsider? Someone who doesn’t even get a participation trophy, that proves that the authority figures love you as long as you, well, participate?
(Aside: I am in some ways a very competitive person, mostly manifested in sports. What seems missing from the equation: Running the real risk, sometimes even near-certainty, of losing is a huge part of what made it fun and satisfying. If you win, it’s worth winning; if you lose, you went up against good competition and got to prove yourself, even if just to yourself. The worst thing: playing in games you’re supposed to win easily. Winning is thus nothing to be proud of, while losing is embarrassing. Didn’t these people ever see “A Nice Place to Visit”?)
Several times now, I’ve drafted letters to the family explaining why me and mine are not panicking, why we don’t wear masks or social distance unless we will get innocent people in trouble for it (like a church or a store – it’s not their fault, but they will be made to pay). But – I always, so far, stop before sending it. I just don’t know if it will do anything other than increase the already significant distance between me and mine and these particular relatives. Maybe it’s an act of mercy? I just don’t know.
Writing suffered greatly this week, as I was busy and distracted after a very productive weekend. Picked it up again this morning, and added another maybe 2,000 words to It Will Work. Started in on the ending, just barely scratched the surface. At 12K words at the moment. I am paying the price for not having done enough thought-smithing up front – the end, which I thought I had worked out, is a little bit gappy, holey like an old rag. Thus, I’m setting myself up for fairly monumental rewrites just getting it to flow and not leaving massive holes. Oh well – first novel, the important thing is to get stuff down. On, Teb! On!
The Saga of the Back Lawn doesn’t get much ink around here, and not only because I can practically hear your eyes glazing over through the interwebs. It’s neither as much fun nor as picturesque as the Endless Brick Project of Doom. Here goes, if you’re feeling penitential: when we bought this house lo these 25 years ago, it had a pretty decent back lawn, certainly adequate for anything you’d want a back lawn for, such as running and rolling around on it with children.
Then, back in 2005, made the large, perfectly clear with 20/20 hindsight, poor decision to put on an addition. At the time, home prices were ridiculous and rising – no matter how well I did financially, a home better enough than what we had to make it worth moving was just too big a stretch. But those same factors made it easy to borrow a ton and add on, so we did – and got it done just in time for the housing market to collapse. So, our starter home is our home, at least until we move out of state.
So, second major error: hired a long time friend of my sister’s as the general contractor. He’d done a bunch of work for her, she seemed happy with him. He lied about his licensing, was always sharing fantasies about timing, and was just a slapdash horror. Part of his style was to simply use the back lawn as his staging area, and just destroy it. Not talking just about killing the grass – the soil here is quite clay, and, when they were done, it was packed down as hard as rock, and covered with crap. I couldn’t bring myself to pay any more money at that point, and so, for several years, the backyard sat, a useless disaster. Finally, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, I was up to tackling it. It’s only maybe 40′ X 30′, so it’s not like a major project. Cleaned it off, amended the soil some – but didn’t, alas, rototill the living heck out of it.
So, every year since, I try to do something to improve the lawn. As of last spring, it looked pretty good – right up until the end of May, when the warm, dry weather kicks in and the 1/4″ root depth before it hits solid clay means it mostly dies off. By the end of the summer, it’s pretty pathetic. It looks great in April!
This year, after surveying yet another dreary looking lawn, decided what the heck, let’s get serious. It had rained enough that I could dig in the clay, so I picked the ugliest patch, about 6′ X 20′, and just dug it up by hand, turned the soil, added manure and gypsum, let it sit for a few days, then seeded and watered it. Total time invested might be 5? 6? hours. So far.
If this works, I’ll do another similar patch next year, and it 2-3 years, should attain lawn Nirvana. Right?
As I type, I can see a bird on the lawn eating seed. This, I can stand – anything short of a significant flock is unlikely to eat enough to make any difference. BUT: if I had the appropriate verminator, I’d be shooting some squirrels. Damn things have to dig anywhere I’ve loosened the soil – garden, planters, pots, and now, lawn. I hate squirrels. At this rate, my new patch of lawn will be pock-marked with squirrel holes. Furry little bastards.
Next week, I’ll see if I have anything less trivial to write about.
A. Spring is almost here. My seasonal affective disorder – the fancy, victim-centric way of saying sunlight and warmth make me happy – is crashing to a halt. Yay me. California is very beautiful. It’ll be hard to leave.
Doing a little garden prep.
The Insane Endless Brick Project of Doom lurks, but I need to do work on the lawn and paint the house, too….
B. On the writing front, been watching Successful Indie Author Five-Minute Focus by Craig Martelle, the 20 books to 50K guy. He recently did a thing on how many things one should work on at once. Short answer: it depends, but he finds three things the most he can productively work on at once, and must have one as the primary focus with a deadline. This seems about right to me, and pretty much what it has boiled down to.
C. With that in mind, top focus: It Will Work, with a self-imposed deadline of June 30, 2021. Added a couple thousand usable words plus a bunch of outlining and a little research (mostly, looking up names – the names are mostly plays on words from Mauri mythology and Greek. Because they are.) It’s up to 10,000 useable words as of today.
The backup projects are Understanding Science and Black Friday, the first of which is on hold until I get stuck/finished with It Will Work, the second of which I’ve done a little more research on and some additional outlining, but is basically in the bullpen warming up. So, I’m still enthusiastic. My in-bed-as-I-fall-asleep reading is Morte d’Arthur and the Mabinogion, for that Arthurian book, so I’m mentally working on that as well, even if putting nothing in writing yet. And I’m making a habit of thinking through plot points if I wake up at night and can’t get back to sleep. Works both way: by not thinking of the current and accelerating Fall of Western Civilization, I get back to sleep faster, and I have in fact worked through some plot points. Win-win!
Hit my first (since getting on this current writing jag back in January) wall: On It Will Work, got stuck on how to deal with the inescapable infodump I need in the middle chapters. There’s just some critical backstory/worldbuilding that has to take place, no way around it. I’ve tried to be clever about working needed information into the story more or less naturally, but this was not happening here. After sleeping on it, just had one of the minor characters tell the protagonist something about the history of my aliens, then will have some action, and then have some other character tell him the rest. All in all, it’s going to be about 3,000 words of backstory/worldbuilding spread across maybe 10,000 words of story. Just reading it back, it doesn’t seem like too much – but what do I know about writing books? The 1.5 million+ words I’ve written over the last decade are 90% blog posts…
D. Speaking of blog posts, keep adding to the drafts folder. I was, in fact, writing posts over the week I’ve been gone – just not finishing and posting posts. Because I started thinking, and, well, what good ever comes of that?!?
No excuse for boring you, my loyal readers, with this, but here goes:
A. Trying to keep up the momentum, I’m switching back and forth between 3-4 writing projects. When I get stuck on one, just switch. Don’t even think about, just keep writing, with the goal still being 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories ready to go (to an editor, most likely) by end of June. And that science book. Anyway, what’s in the hopper:
Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: Right around 10,000 words, on temporary hold. The comments, especially from Dr. Kurland and some of the commentators here, made me think – always dangerous. The question is not so much what science IS – which can be approached, I think, from several valid angles – but rather, in what sense should a layman care what science is. It will do little good to be technical accurate if my imagined reader doesn’t see any point to it. Ya know? So, I’m letting that one stew for now.
Working title “It Will Work” the first 6,000 or so words of which appeared on this blog as a series of flash fiction posts. (CH 1CH 2CH 3CH 4CH 5CH 6CH 7) I couldn’t seem to stop writing this, right up until I could, and it got the second most positive comments of anything I’ve written here, (1) so it seemed primed to become a short novel. It was one of the three novels-in-development in the Novels folder I set up back in January. At about 8,000 words at the moment.
Always told myself I needed to settle on an ending, so I knew where I was going with this – even though the 7 fragments were each tossed off totally seat-of-the-pants. Well, just today I started outlining what the kids these days might call the Boss Battle, the final test of Our Hero – and, it rocks so hard. Want to talk stupid? I was getting choked up telling my wife about it. I wrote it long before the current insanity, but, given the current insanity, it all makes so much more sense. As far as a “things done got blowed up good” by bombardment from space and aliens in power armor scene set on a distant moon of a far-away planet can be said to relate to current events. (answer: quite a bit, really.) Anyway: got the finale & denouement outlined, and am in the middle of the middle section. My only fear, if you can call it that – if I keep the pacing such as it has been so far, I’ll wrap it up in +/-30K words. Don’t want to stretch it simply for the sake of stretching it, but do want at least 40K words – Pulp Era novel length. Not a real problem until it is….
The White-Handled Blade – the Arthurian YA novel set in modern day Wales, the first 25% of which is the novella several generous readers here beta read for me a couple years ago. Currently sits at about 13K words. This one is exciting, but I want to do more reading in Arthurian legends and outline a longer path, as in, a potential series, before maybe writing myself into a corner. The story as it stands now is little more than a free retelling of the Lynette & Lyonesse story as told by Malory, ending right before Gareth makes his untoward advances toward Lyonesse. So, obviously, I would continue along those line BUT I want to introduce more stuff that will let me go in any number of Arthurian directions. I already have several of the important knight (reimagined as middle-aged academics, because I find that amusing), so, in future works, it will be easy to take some side-trips to Scotland or the Orkneys or Cornwall or France. I want to keep Lynnette as the heroine, because I like her, and she was designed from the ground up as someone the reader could relate to: she’s fiercely devoted to her older sister, loves but has trouble communicating with her dad, gets snubbed and bullied at school, can hold a grudge, but never gives up and is as brave as needed to rise to the occasion. And is otherwise a blank slate, so there’s nothing in the way to seeing yourself in her shoes.
So I’m rereading Malory and reading the Mabinogion for ideas. The farther back in time one goes, the crazier the legends become, such that getting a glimpse into Malory’s world – 15th century retelling of much older stories -is a lot easier than getting into the world of the Mabinogion, which are thought to be older still. Even Malory requires a bit of gymnastics to get into the moral mindset of people who seem to kill each other rather gleefully at the drop of a biggin, but not like the Welsh tales. And then there’s the French version…
Speaking of writing something I didn’t set out to write and would have never imagined writing, it seems YA fiction is mostly characterized as follows:
not too much gore
Which, frankly is a pretty fair description of anything I’m likely to write. On the other hand, Hunger Games is about children killing each other for the amusement of the powerful – I’d take a lot of sex and swearing before I’d consider that entertainment…
Anyway, it seems to be common industry knowledge that YA readership includes large numbers of adults who are just sick and tired of all the gratuitous sex and swearing and violence in mainstream stuff. So, from that point of view, pretty much anything (well, except this) I write would qualify, but I have never consciously tried to write YA. I’m putting in plenty of what I hope to be interesting non-childish philosophical and political and moral stuff. So – huh? Anyway, I’ll have to be careful of how I market this stuff. Studying up on that in parallel. Hope to get back to it soon, but it’s It Will Work is on the front burner at the moment.
Longship, the working title of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (wait! doh!), some sections of which I’ve thrown up here on the blog, is the one that has both been percolating in my mind for a decade or two AND the one I’m having the least success in hammering into a actual novel or 4. On the back burner.
Finally, Black Friday is another bit of flash fiction fluff (well, 1400 words, so not exactly flash fiction…) that seemed ripe to expand, so I’ve been outlining that one, too. Have put in some work on it, but not in the form of adding to the wordcount.
B. This brings me to another consideration: The science and education stuff (remember that education stuff? I seem to have forgotten) I will publish under my own name. However, if I’m hoping to actually make a little money off the SF&F stuff, it would seem prudent to market under a nom de plum. I’m under no illusions that I’m anybody important, but underestimating the pettiness of our self-appoint betters is a fool’s game.
On a related note, I’ve taken a few baby steps towards hardening my superversive presence online, including a Brave/Duckduckgo browsing combo, a protonmail account and staying off Google as much as I can. I want to go :
secure website hosting
Just want off, as much as possible, the Bidenriech’s surveillance network. A know I guy…
C. The 16 year old Caboose just mentioned that his favorite books include a book on spiritual teachings from the perspective of a demon, a book on politics from the perspective of rabbits, and a post apocalyptical novel about a monastery.
Kids these days. I asked him what about that book about the short dude with hairy feet trying to return some stolen jewelry? He laughed.
D. Slept 8+ hours straight last night, the first time that’s happened in months. Felt very good. Been getting 4 -6 hours most nights since the Crazy Years became manifest – wake up, can’t go back to sleep, get us and try to do something. I could get used to that.
E. Got a few hundred more bricks. The neighbors who I, being a solid California suburbanite, hardly know, have twice now over the last few years of the Great Front Yard Brick Insanity and Orchard Hoedown, have, unbidden, offered me bricks, because I’m the guy with the brickwork. So, dude around the corner had this pile of bricks he wanted gone – 6 1/2 wheelbarrows full. Maybe a short block away.
One Load 3, I think it was, I came off the curb a little too hard and bent the metal wheel supports (it’s a cheap and old wheelbarrow) such that the wheel now rubbed against the underbelly of the tub section. I was able to brut-force them straight enough so that I could limp that load home.
So, had to repair the wheelbarrow. Two bolts that hold the handle arms to the tub section, which I had replaced a few years back with a couple far too long bolts I had lying around, had worked themselves very loose then rusted into their new loose positions. This made the load likely to shift from side to side as you rolled – no biggie with a load of dirt, dangerous and tiring with a load of bricks. But the bolts were carriage bolts, so there was no easy way to grip the head from the top. After a applying a bit of WD-40, tried to grip the excess bolt with plyers while using a crescent wrench to tighten them up. The first nut moved a little before the plyers had shredded the threads on the bolt and would no longer prevent it from turning; the second budged not a whit. Jury-rigged the ugliest solution: took some heavy wire, bent it unto a U shape, then crimped it onto the bolts between the nut and the tub – one on the side I’d gotten a little tighter, and two one the side I’d been unable to move.
And – it kinda works. Reality often fails to suitably rebuke me for my stupid ideas, thereby encouraging me to keep coming up with more of them. It’s going to get me killed someday…
Next, for the bent arms: Cut a scrap of walnut into two maybe 8″ pieces, placed them behind the bent arms, clamped them until the arms were more or less straight and in contack with the wood, then drilled some wholes and put in some tiny screws to hold it all together.
And – that worked, too. Now have a much more stiff structure and a couple inches of clearance between the tub and wheel. See what I mean? If these slapdash ideas keep working, I’m going to keep doing them.
Next step: replace the 16+ year old cheap and falling apart wheelbarrow. Once some stupid repair idea fails to work, that is.
F. Got the front yard orchard cleaned up, pruned, fertilized, mulched, copper-sprayed, and watered, not in that order. So, that’s done for now. Next, finish the brickwork, paint the house, get it fumigated for termites, replace the dying major appliances, put in this year’s vegetable garden, marry off a son on the East Coast in May, and goodness knows what else. And teach a couple history classes. Shaping up to be a busy Year 63 for me. And write two novels, put together two books of short stories, and write a book on science – in my spare time.
Yes, I am freaking INSANE.
Most positive comments: One Day. Heck, even Mike Flynn liked it enough to comment – I’m still blushing.
This is the third of three preliminary chapters before we get to the meat of things. I organized this on the fly, so I’m not in love with there being three chapters, in effect, before Chapter 1. This can be cleaned up later.
First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.
This short book addresses an increasingly desperate situation: the near universal state of scientific illiteracy among virtually all Americans. This state of profound ignorance of what science is and how it works is especially prevalent among those think themselves highly educated. Scientific illiteracy is complete among those who say they ‘believe’ or ‘trust’ or, especially, ‘effing love’ science.
To anyone with an even modest grasp of what science IS,such claims are embarrassing. If the truth of the previous sentence isn’t instantly clear, this book is for you.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thoughtwithout accepting it.
The first step is the hardest: to intelligently evaluate a claim made in the name of science, one must exercise the intellectual and emotional discipline needed to suspend all emotions and political feelings. Put another way: we should want to know what a thing is before speculating on why people feel and act the way they do about it.
The typical practice, seen everywhere, is to FIRST consider the politics of the source of the supposed ‘science’: was it stated by a politician or public servant or journalist who shares my political persuasion? Is it the position of the political party I identify with? Then it is trustworthy. If from someone of whose politics I disapprove? It is, by that fact alone, judged untrustworthy. Everyone has seen this; almost everyone has done this.
We humans are also very much prone to fear. We very prudently want to know about any danger we should avoid, and fear is the natural reaction to danger. Unfortunately, we humans are also very bad at assessing risk. Another thing everyone has seen, often in the mirror, is someone who will worry about minor risks while ignoring major ones. We see people – or are people – who won’t taste the cookie dough because it has raw egg in it, but will drive 85 on the freeway or ride our bike without a helmet or carry around way too much weight. We’ve done those last things most of our lives, and no longer even think about it; but we just heard about the (microscopic) danger from raw eggs, so that requires action. Fear will cause us to underestimate familiar risks and overestimate novel risks.
For the past 50 years, if not longer, we have been daily assaulted by claims that the science says we’re all going to die from a variety of ever-changing causes if we don’t promptly act NOW. These claims are framed to make us as frightened as possible. The hedging and restraint that are the hallmark of most good science are omitted when the claim is proclaimed – our doom is certain in a way that nothing else in the future is certain. Don’t fall for it. Do not be afraid; at least, suspend that fear until you’ve got a good grasp on the evidence.
What I’m here calling political beliefs are actually something much more basic, as discussed in the previous chapter: we all want to belong. We all must pay attention to what the other people in our peer group or tribe say, because the risk of being an outcast is felt to be too high. Our need to belong is a fundamental trait of our species, more fundamental than any love of science or, indeed, truth, and so it is only natural that we check with our group’s beliefs before forming our own,
This need to belong, while hardly a bad thing in and of itself, can lead us far astray, if not balanced against a love for truth. We spend 12, 16, or more years in school, where we’re much more likely to get into trouble for failing to conform to the group than we are for failing to learn anything. After years of such training, we tend to see the world as this place where authority figures decide and transmit to us what we ought to believe. All that’s left to us is identifying the correct authority figures – and they are eager to tell us who they are. There is no shortage of people vying for that job.
This habit of picking a team or a tribe and then using that tribe’s beliefs to filter what is allowed to be considered THE science has a name: Lysenkoism. Don’t follow Lysenko, that’s not a happy story.
When you express passionate belief in ‘the science’ which you have not independently worked to understand, it’s not just that you are parroting your chosen authority figures, it’s that all you are capable of is parroting your chosen authority figures.
You can think for yourself. Try it, you may like it. This book is intended to help.
It’s not going to be easy to find the courage to swim past the emotional bait and risk defying your tribe. I can only say, after K in Men in Black: “Oh yeah, it’s worth it… if you’re strong enough!”In order to understand science, or, indeed, in order to understand anything of any complexity, you have to want to understand it. It’s work, but it’s worth it. The alternative is to allow yourself to be blindly lead. History, especially modern history, is largely the tragic stories of people who imagine themselves the best educated, most enlightened, most moral people ever swallowing whole whatever their leaders tells them and whatever their peers profess to believe. We like to imagine it’s only stupid rubes who fell for the obvious (to us) manipulations of the tyrants and ideologues of the last couple centuries, when the sad truth is that it was the cream of society, the professors and professionals, the doctors and lawyers, who were always in the lead in accepting whatever they were told to accept. The more your position in society depends on the good opinions of those around you, the more susceptible you are to the wiles of the snake-oil salesman, who will always strive to hold exactly the position of respect needed for his scam to work. Alas! Historical illiteracy is nearly as complete as scientific illiteracy.
What is needed, and what this book aims to supply, are a few basic principles, a few rules of thumb, as it were, to help us laymen sift through the incessant, shrill claims made in the name of science. Science is not, and never has been, about trusting scientists. Science has always been about evaluating evidence. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.
Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgments can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, and from show.
A. Now am working on the “What Science IS” chapter for the Understanding Science book. The first three preliminary chapters are or soon will be posted here for your review, dear readers. Probably combine them into one chapter, edit them down a little to remove repetition.
The What Science IS chapter is challenging. What I want is to engage my laymen target audience, and give them an understanding of science that will allow them filter out the high-level nonsense. I doubt the utility of going the Popper route of falsifiable propositions for my purposes – you gotta think too hard, and have more philosophy than your average bloke to really get your head around the basic concepts – at least, I think you do. If I start right in laying on the philosophy, years of government training – schooling – will kick in and their minds will perform an auto-shutdown. I think. (Math triggers the same routines in the properly schooled.)
Along a similar vein, I wrote a little ‘three kinds of knowledge’ section, then set it aside – as basic and, indeed, essential as this distinction is, I fear I will loose my imagined target audience one sentence in. Can I frame up a discussion of necessary truth, conditional truth, and art (techne) that doesn’t trigger a flight response? The necessary truth part I’d limit to math and logic – no need to go any deeper for my purposes. The important part is the recognition of CONDITIONS on all scientific knowledge, and, more subtle, how those conditions (mostly) need to be expressed in order for science to have any weight.
Then comes the point that art/techne/technology is really, really good and, for most of us, much more true – more BELIEVABLE – than science claims. Our computers and cell phones WORK – that’s their primary characteristic of interest. That working is far more convincing and interesting, for most of us, than any scientific syllogisms based on conditional observations of more abstract, less immediate phenomena.
I can say that observation of the orbit of Mercury or of starlight bending around the sun during an eclipse proves relativity – OR I can say: without relativistic adjustments, the GPS in your phone wouldn’t be near as accurate. Which is more convincing? I could say: some thermodynamic laws govern how much a given gas will cool down when it expands, and show some math – or I can point out that refrigerators work. Which is more convincing?
I gather from a lifetime of interactions with people that few wondered, as children, how that refrigerator worked, or how those huge generators in dams worked. The fridge was totally baffling to me; I figured dynamos must make sparks or something. That all these man-made things work is probably as much a driver of my curiosity as the wonders of nature. But is that pertinent here?
So, in the current draft, I went with: Science is the study of the metrical properties of physical bodies – a sound, if subtly complex, definition that seemed better to address my goals. What this definition does is put the focus on the observation of physical things, specifically, things that can be measured. Not our opinions or feelings about what we observe, not things such as other people’s feelings, which can be (maybe) observed but not measured.
I planned to use this approach to hammer home the (obvious?) point that science simply cannot dictate policy. There is no “this is what we came up with when we measured some properties of physical objects, therefore you must do X.” There are a whole lot of steps being left out in such an assertion, chief of which is a clear statement of the value judgements and moral assumptions that always underlie claims we must do something. The laws of physics say we must fall if we jump off that cliff, but they don’t and can’t say if we should or should not jump off that cliff. Falling once you jump is science and outside any subsequent act of your will; deciding to jump is not.
The subtilty lies in cases where sciences have developed by studying the metrical properties of physical objects without overtly measuring those properties. Geology is an example suggested by a reader. Early theories were developed without too much explicit measurement. Example: for plate tectonics to be true, the Atlantic Ocean must be expanding. And so it is – at exactly some number of millimeters per year, within some plus or minus. Once that measurement has been obtained, we now can back into how old the Atlantic Ocean is, within limits. Similarly, biology started by simply observing the difference between various plants and animals and describing the different characteristics, but soon moved on to measuring those characteristics, such that we know African and Indian elephants differ in size: height, weight, ears, tusks, etc.
Even the historical sciences are looking at measurable properties, even if they don’t start of measuring them, they eventually do.
The above is the sort of thing I might throw in an appendix or end note.
Anyway, I need a bit of a break from this science stuff, so:
B. Turned to the Novels in Process folder. On each of the three items in the stack, I need more planning done. An honest (as honest as I can be) assessment: one I could conceivably finish in a few months – it just needs some outlining to get it from where it is at to where it needs to go, so I don’t meander too much getting there; the other two are going to need a daunting amount of planning and research. On the one that’s been percolating for a couple decades now, I work as I try to fall asleep at night – I try to wrestle it into a series, chop it into 3-4 pieces, deal with the already large cast of characters, and try to make the ‘science’ less ridiculous. Mostly, it’s a matter of organizing the various climaxes, or inventing some, to get it into manageable stories. I add to my notes when I think of it.
So, I thought: I need another short novel to put into the hopper from the ‘ideas’ pile, one that I can get done in less time with less anxiety. (hahaha.) So – picked a flash fiction (1400 word) story that reads like the first chapter in a “world’s going to hell, unlikely heroes rise to the occasion” adventure. Our Heroes hunker down from an evil government takeover, jury-rig some awesome tech, outwit the government lackies, and overcome impossible odds, culminating in a glorious showdown – that sets up a sequel.
My model, from a structure POV, is just good ol’ Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel, which is a pretty solid Dent style story I’ve always loved and admired: every chapter, Our Heroes are put into deadly danger, each worse than the last, with the stakes getting higher with each turn of the page, until THE ENTIRE PLANET is threatened!
I’ve long wanted to try my had at something like that. Once, many years ago, I wrote a fairly long outline (long hand, in a notebook) for a crazy story along these lines, with bad guys pretending to fund deep-sea research out of the goodness of their hearts, using Our Gullible Hero to find some valuable mineral deposits around some deep sea vents, then abandoning the submersible with him and the girl he’s long had a crush on at the bottom of the ocean, once they got what they wanted. A wacky escape, with proper heroics and comeuppances ensued. Boy gets girl. It was stoopid fun – at least, writing the outline was. Wonder what happened to that? I think we started having kid right around that time, so I set it aside…
Anyway, along those lines. So now I’m reading a Homeland Security document on shopping mall vulnerabilities. Because of course I am. For essential background! I swear!
C. The front yard orchard & garden needs pre-spring prep: cleanup, fertilize, copper spray, lay down some more mulch, repair/improve some raised beds. Get a few more flowering plants for the boarders. Last year, lost all my front yard viny vegetables to an insane aphid/white fly infestation followed by that nasty mold that seems to love squash. So, no front yard squash, cucumbers, etc. this year, as that stuff tends to linger in the soil for years.
Back yard needs work. Lawn needs aerating and reseeding; garden needs weeding/prep; need a few flowers for some planters. The usual.
D. Meanwhile, deferred maintenance keeps piling up: the sun beats on the house’s south-facing walls, which are now peeling and cracking. I got paint, but now I need to clear away obstructions, get some scaffolding (2-story), do a ton of prep, and then get on it while I still can. Sure, you can hire a painter, but I figure this is the follow-up to the Great Brick Insanity: something I can do for a few hours at a time, finish a wall, clear and prep the next, so that, over a summer, with my son’s help, I can get it done. A lot less hands and knees work than bricks. (Still have some brickwork to finish too, but I’m not thinking about that now. I. Am. Not.)
E. I need to write two history test, one each for the 8th and 9th graders, for tomorrow. What I’m I doing writing here? Later!
This is the second of three preliminary chapters before we get to the meat of things. I organized this on the fly, so I’m not in love with there being three chapters, in effect, before Chapter 1. This can be cleaned up later.
Taming the Beast
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
– Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist and legendary Cal Tech teacher
We humans – you, me, everybody – have some limitations and predilections we need to overcome, or they will rule us. In the words of Agent K in Men In Black:
“The person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it!”
If we are to be that smart person, we need to find a way to separate ourselves out from the dumb, panicky, dangerous herd we belong to, at least for as long as it takes to consider an idea or proposal. If we can’t or won’t do this, we are not free. We will be slaves to the opinions and emotions of other people.
Most of us are more or less reasonable and open-minded when talking with people one on one. But no matter how vehemently we deny it, few of us can resist the pressure to conform to our peers. While we – you, me, everybody – may flatter ourselves that we’re oh so open-minded, educated, and fair, the evidence suggests that’s not quite true. After reading this book, I hope you start listening for the dead giveaways that you are being told to conform to your tribe rather than look at evidence and listen to argument. Conforming is easy, and gets you a pat on the back and gold star; thinking things through for yourself is hard, and is unlikely to make you any friends within your tribe.
Since this is a book about science, let’s frame this up in terms of Darwinismi: The environment in which our ancestors evolved was tribal. Not one of our ancestors survived and reproduced without the cooperation of others of our ancestors. Therefore, Natural Selection has hard-wired into our DNA a desperate need for a tribe, simply because those without a tribe had little if any chance of reproducing, and thus, in the cruel world of Darwin, ceased to be ancestors to anybody.
Right after breathing and eating, our next most important drive as humans is to belong, to be in a tribe. That’s where we grew up, where we will find a mate, where we find those who will defend us. It is thus completely natural and to be expected that, when an unfamiliar idea slouches into view, our first instinct is to look to the people on our right and left and see what our tribe thinks, and accept that view. Why risk our standing in the tribe over something as abstract as an idea?
And it is, instinctually, the smart thing to do. We need our tribe – being without it is a terrifying prospect. By comparison, truth is most definitely an acquired taste – but it is essential for our thriving in the real world that we acquire it. Watch a group of dogs sometimes. They regularly perform little rituals to reestablish and confirm their membership and standing in their little pack, everything from tail wagging to butt-sniffing to rolling over to show their throats. Then watch people. You think all our little social rituals aren’t as based in instinct as what you see your dog do around other dogs?
The trouble begins when someone we instinctively identify as a member of our tribe wants us to do something. They could present careful arguments and attempt to persuade us – but that’s both uncertain and time-consuming, and besides the point, from their perspective. They want us to do something, not just to win an argument.
So your first lesson here, the first sign something is up, is when someone first assumes a position of tribal authority, and then tells you that to do, repeat, and believe what they tell you are requirements to remain in the tribe. To do otherwise is to belong to the stupid, evil tribe. That’s what almost all demands that you ‘believe’ or ‘follow’ the science boil down to.
That’s simply not how science works. Every study is call for criticism; every finding is conditional, often highly so. Every strong claim in science got strong by withstanding open, vigorous criticism. I mention this, because, of course, the next step for the snake oil salesman is to tell you you’re a stupid, evil person (in so many words) if you even listen to those who might disagree with him. In practice, it’s remarkable how open real science is to criticism. That willingness to consider critics is the glory of science. On the other hand, it’s common, these days, for people who disagree with some policy claim to be accused of being anti-science and to get shut out of public discussions, even if they are PhDs, Nobel prize winners, and otherwise experts. We live in interesting times.
Keep in mind that scientists are people, too, and can only approximate the required levels of honesty and openness that doing science demands. When science works, it’s often the fear of being exposed by their peers more than anything else that enforces whatever honesty there is in any given field. I’m a big fanboy of a number of scientists – Feynman and Darwin are in my personal Hall of Fame – but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to the problems we fallible humans, most definitely including me, are prone to.
Below, I’ll explain what science is, how it works, and how you and I as laymen are not, usually, at the mercy of experts when it comes to science. If you know how it works, it becomes easy to spot the fraud and bullying. The hard part is going to be standing up to your tribe. But it’s worth it, and essential to the creation and maintenance of a free society.
iAnd, being a Darwinian account, it will be a Just-So story. I love Darwin, I really do, but Darwinism is the one science in which any old likely story is accepted as proven, even if there’s little if any chance it could ever be observed or tested. In this case, I – and the many, many others who have made essentially the same argument – have no way of observing the behavior of our ancestors, nor can we devise an experiment that might confirm this lovely theory. Yet, to quote Plato: it is so beautiful that something like it must be true.