Writing Update

In one of those odd coincidences, discovered that I had Heinlein’s graduation address to the Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, from which he graduated, on my phone. Don’t know how it got there. In among a manly-yet-ultimately-unintelligible defense of (some small fraction of) traditional morality from a sociobiological(1) perspective, he mentions his 5 rules for writers:

Heinlein Rules for Writers

Well. Got #1 nailed – I spend at least an hour writing *something* just about every day, often a lot more, when I’m not out manning it up in the wilderness. So, yea, I write.

Problems start with #2. So, inspired, I lined up 4 nearly-finished stories that are between a week and several years old, and said: let’s do this thing! Spent a couple hours, got closer. If the things that have come up, as mentioned in the last post, permit – and they should – I should in fact finish a couple at least in the next week.

#3 is a BIG part of #2. That’s where I must remember that I’m a rookie, I’m not Walter Miller, my first output is not going to be a timeless classic – but it could be pretty fun IF I can finish it and let it go.

#4 Wow, the resources on the Web for writers to find markets are impressive. Concurrent with finishing up these stories, I shall pick who it is who will have first crack at rejecting them. I read through the submission guidelines to somebody’s helpful list of SFF markets (sorted by how much they pay!) and discovered that there are markets for what I would have thought of as super-short stories – under 2,000 words.  Good thing I checked, because a couple in the pile could actually benefit from being that short, whereas I would before have thought it a good thing to make them 5-6,000 words long. So, I’m making a list and checking it twice.

#5 is where Heinlein says it gets real tough. I don’t think so, for me, anyway – if I can get past #4, getting emotionally beat up AGAIN seems small potatoes. Let’s get those callouses developed.

I think the kids all getting grown is making this writing stuff more real. Younger daughter is home for the summer after a semester in Rome, but middle son and elder daughter will remain living where there lives really are these days, and come home only briefly. So, it’ll be mom, dad, 13 year old, and 19 year old for about 3 months, then back to just the three of us – for a couple of years, then the two of us from then on out. I don’t expect the college kids – they will both be juniors next year – to ever come home for the summer again. Each has plans for the next steps in their lives, and the summer is where you get work on those.

I will have many hours of being alone to fill. I’ve always wanted to write, and do in fact write a lot – this becomes now the next logical step.

Wish me luck!

  1. What are the cool kids calling sociobiology these days? Over my lifetime, the idea that human behaviors can be fully explained via Natural Selection seems to have changed its popular name about every few decades, as the previous term has acquired a patina of dishonor. Here, let’s Google:  other terms include Darwinian anthropology, human behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology. But, judging from Wikipedia, Sociobiology has been hanging in there as the preferred term since like the 1980s, even though behavioral ecologists call themselves behavioral ecologists even when the ecology under consideration is human society. Somebody needs to start referring to The Bell Curve as a sociobiological study (it not, really, as far as I can tell – but the truth is irrelevant) and we can get people to make up something new. How about anthro-sociology? bio-behaviorism?

Interlude of Updateitude

A. Man, Lafferty’s Fall of Rome is just so awesome and fun.  A few pages left, just – wow. Will review in a day or two. When I get back to writing The Novel That Shall Not Be Named (let’s go TNTSNBN, shall we?), I am so going to throw this book up on blocks and strip it down to the frame for parts – everything from names, relationships, character motivation are just so dramatic and involved, and the stakes are so high – Stilicho & Co are trying to Save the World!

So far, I’d modeled the relationships and motivations in TNTSNBN on the Medici, the Fords,  and other historical families, because just as all politics is local, all history is family.  But man, Stilicho is now just about my favorite historical character of all time. In an Empire of 75,000,000 people, Lafferty compellingly contends that the decisions of a handful of men and women determined the course of history, pushing the virile, civilized world of Rome over the edge when it could have been otherwise. You are left to speculate on what kind of a world – a better world, Lafferty leaves little doubt – would have ensued had only Rome persisted for another couple of centuries and further civilized and assimilated the peoples on the borders.

I’ve long suspected that, had Islam arisen and pursued its campaign of conquest against an even semi-coherent Rome instead of riding out of the desert to loot the wreckage of an empire, history would have been very different. Stilicho, one imagines, would have put a stop to that nonsense in short order. But we’ll never know.

Image result for orkney islandsB. Younger daughter just spent a week in on a farm in Orkney, on her way home from her semester in Rome. She’s caught Lourdes, Paris, Ireland (Limerick, I think) on her way to Orkney, and is now in London for a couple weeks with her aunt, uncle and a half-dozen cousins. From there, she and some friends are planning day trips to Oxford and goodness knows what else. I’d tell her my preferences – York, Salisbury, a day or two walking London – but I think she’s got plenty of people to advise her.

Image result for harrison clocks
Harrison 1. C’mon, it doesn’t get any cooler than this!

Wait – Uncle Paul’s house is within walking distance of the Prime Meridian, the Royal Observatory, and the Harrison clocks! Text message going out.

Then, from London back to New Hampshire to attend graduation at her college (she has friends among the seniors) and then, finally, home.

When I was 19, my entire experience with planes was taking a roughly 2 hour flight from Albuquerque to LA once, coming home from school. At the same age, my daughter has got to be pushing 100,000 miles of air travel, between cross country back and forth to school flights, a couple trips to Europe, and a few up and down the coast visits to family and friends.

She lives in a different world than me.

C. 93 drafts for this blog. It’s not getting better. 2 short stories *this* close to being done. One NTSNBN on temporary hold. One book on education history I’m going to feel guilty about neglecting for the last couple years any day now.

Maybe I have some issues with, I don’t know, letting go? Discipline? Success?

On the plus side, got a million words easy on this blog, and, after years of not even starting stories, I’ve got some that I really, truly could finish in a few hours if I can a) find the hours; and b) make myself do it. This week – 2 stories wrapped up. You heard it here.

D. Home Improvement Project proceed at their own very slow pace. After middle son tore out the concrete path to the front door, I’ve been sloooowly cleaning up and prepping for a small concrete pour to create the stable slab onto which I’ll set bricks to make a fancy-dan brick walk with a gentle slope up to the porch to make it easier on old people.

Got the frame and rebar in. Had to drill some holes and epoxy in some bars to make sure the porch slab, existing slab under already laid bricks and the new soon to be poured slab act as one as much as possible, and don’t settle unevenly, which would be a disaster. We’ll see.

Did you know that running a hammer drill at awkward angles to put in some rebar connectors is really tiring and hard on your arms? Who’da thunk it?

E. I’m just not a very good consumer of pop culture. I watch a piece of gorgeously pure pop nonsense, and am I taken out of the mood by preposterous fantasy fights and explosions? By tech that hardly even rises to handwavium status? By people routinely surviving falls, punches and explosions that are fatal times 10? Nope, that’s what you sign up for, as long as it’s cool. But Guardians of the Galaxy II, (review here) hardly alone in this, assumes people’s psyches are a hundred times more resilient as their bodies, so that no amount of abuse delivered over any amount of time does any really serious damage – well, you lost me.

It’s like arguing that things would have been all right if only someone had given Pol Pot a hug; that Che was just misunderstood; that Mao had a few issues a little family therapy could have solved.

The backstories of Nebula and Gamora are that, as little girls, they watched their parents murdered by Thanos, who then modified and trained them to be killing machines and set them to fighting each other every day. So they don’t get along. Now, after spending years as killing machines – after having killed many people, one presumes – Gamora just wakes up one day and turns on her fake father Thanos and becomes almost normal, while Nebula still has a few anger issues. But, when the time comes, these two hug each other and make up, and it’s all good.

See? Parenting, a stable home, consistent love – none of these are needed to be a good person! You just are! And no amount of neglect, abuse bordering on torture, or use as a tool by those who should love you can change that! Or, in the case of Thanos and the hundreds of Ravagers Yondu killed during his escape, you’re not a good person, and are therefore acceptable cannon fodder one needn’t trouble one’s conscience over murdering. No reason, just the way it is.

I’d love to believe that the writers were trying to emphasize the sacred primacy of human free will and just kind of over did it. But I can’t – in this world, today, the wreckage of families, the human debris of unrepentant and frankly unconscious egomania  has created hordes of Gamoras and Nebulas – and Peter Quills, Yondus, Rockets, and Mantises – who dream of saving the galaxy of their own families, or harden themselves to believe that they don’t need them.

It’s also telling that Drax the Destroyer is the one character who, in his digressions, mentions a father and a mother fondly, a wife and daughter with affection – and he’s the comic relief, and a bloodthirsty madman.

In general, however, GG II is scary. Psychologically, its target audience are people who, in their suffering, would really like to blow things up and kill people. I say this not from some lofty perch – I, too, sometimes think of things in my life that make me want to just beat the hell out of people, and I take vicarious thrill in watching comic book characters act that fantasy out. But at least I know that’s wrong.

Books: Today’s Haul & Writing Update

(Working on that How Airlines Finance Their Planes essay, but, in the meantime…)

Yes, I know I’ve got piles of books still to read cluttering up my desk, my Kindle and the floor near my bed. Yes, I have even more books that I’d really like to reread.  But how could one pass these beauties up?

Books

From right to left: The Forest of Time had been in my Amazon cart for a while, couldn’t put it off any longer; speaking of Mike Flynn, he quoted from and recommended R. A. Lafferty’s Fall of Rome here, and it sounded so good I had to; and finally, I don’t remember who recommended the Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, but most likely it was that Flynn guy again. It, too, had been sitting in the cart for ages. Once you order one book, the next ones get much easier…

Meanwhile, I am so close to finishing this short story I started about a month ago! For the last week or so, I’ve tried the whenever-you-get-bogged-skip-ahead-and-keep-writing approach, and it has proved very helpful. Last night, couldn’t sleep, so sat up until I’d written the ending. Massive relief – I now know where everything is heading, and so, filling in the spots I’ve skipped and doing one and only one quick revision is proving much easier so far (woke up early and put another hour into it).

I’m going to put it aside for a few days once finished, give it another once over, then inflict it on my poor family. Hey, anybody want to read a story and give me feedback? It’s only maybe 6,000 words, not too big a deal…

Also, found the latest partial draft of a story I started a couple decades ago, which I liked enough to write it twice so far, each time deciding I didn’t like the draft, start a third time, and – it’s been there for a couple years now. Sheesh. But I really like the story, so, as soon as this one is done, I’m going to finish that other one. The good news is that I know exactly where it goes, lack of which knowledge has been the source of my petrification on many, many occasions.

THEN it’s back to the Novel That Shall Not Be Named, which – you’ll be shocked to hear – I don’t know exactly where it’s going, and so have become frozen in place. AND I’ve got to get back to Hegel and all that education reading I started.

Sure hope I live, and keep my eyesight and mind (such as it is), to at least 80 – because I’m booked (ha!) through then at least.

Friday Sci Fi Questions:

Asking for a friend. Not at all tipping my hand about things that may or may not be in The Novel That Shall Not Be Named, for which I’m doing detailing/clean up on the science aspects of the major plot points. (I suppose if I were better read in Sci Fi, I’d know the answer to these.  But I’m not.)

Image result for ion cannon
Yes, deploying a Star Wars ion cannon picture in a blog post asking science questions. It’s like, ironic or something. But – well? Does that blast keep going forever if it misses the Star Destroyer? Until it hits something else? 
  1. Ion trails: (this one really is just idle curiosity) Would not using an ion drive of any sort leave a trail through space that is sorta like long-lived invisible razor wire? A strong ion beam could saw somebody in half – could it saw somebody in half a light year away? So: is there some natural process – other than running into something – that mitigates this? I start to wonder if multiple ships headed for the same destination using some sort of ion drive would not eventually create a hazard. Sure, space is, as the Hitchhiker’s Guide tells us, very, very big – but if ships are leaving from the same place and going to the same destination, would not this be an issue, eventually, even allowing for proper motion?
  2. One thing that’s always bothered me about nanobots and even larger self-directed, self-replicating bots: how are they not susceptible or less susceptible to exactly the sort of damage/decay as living cells? Why would they not be subject to ‘nanocancers’ just as much as living cells are subject to regular cancers? I’d expect the problem to be even worse: the mechanisms that govern living things have gone through trillions of trials over billions of year, which has strongly tended to weed out stuff that doesn’t work, for most values of work. Yet cancers and other malfunctions seem to be ubiquitous among living things. This seems to be a classic unkowns we don’t know situation: if we knew how it worked, we’d have cured cancer by now. So, we think our bots will be any better? That data won’t get miscopied or damaged by radiation? Sure, there are a few animals with very low cancer rates – but we as of yet don’t really understand how that works.
  3. I often wondered about the whole ‘spinning hollow asteroid’ trick – wouldn’t that sucker have to be very carefully balanced? Get a little mass off-center, create a wobble – and? Does it correct itself once the mass imbalance is removed? Doesn’t this preclude moving around inside it much? Maybe a single person isn’t much, but how about a crowd? A piece of machinery?  I’m imagining a computer-controlled system of counterbalances might be required, which detects and corrects any wobbles before they get bad.

Like I said, asking for a friend.

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.

 

Writing, Updates, Quips

Once you lose ‘useful’, all that’s left is ‘idiot’.

The correct heads keep exploding. I could get used to this level of political amusement.

Wish it weren’t so, but I keep running into the means versus ends problem: a large, often sincere, group of people who seem to be experiencing real pain over this, can’t grasp the possibility that one might not be a racist or hate poor people or otherwise wish any harm on anyone and still see enough problems with, say, the ACA and the EPA to want them at the very least serious revised. Instead, mind-reading is performed with an assumed degree of infallibility that would make a Pope blush, and it conclusively presumed to be KNOWN that all opposition to anything proposed by the government that has a name that could be construed to favor a particular end is because EVIL.

This brings to mind a related problem, perhaps a sort of magical reverse  Nominalism is at work here? Rather than thinking that abstract concepts don’t exist, many of the enlightened and their victims seem to think that simply naming something magically brings the concept in the name into being. Sort of like thinking calling a cat a dog makes it a dog.

Thus, if a bill is proposed which simply confiscates and redirects money and resources but is nonetheless named The Fair and Equitable Justice for Poor People Act, one must support it, even or particularly if the actual provisions of the bill lack any logical connection with providing justice to poor people. What? You oppose justice for poor people on the transparently dishonest grounds that the bill doesn’t, in fact. provide justice for poor people? You hater, you!

In the minds of many, the Affordable Care Act IS affordable care. It is not just a law, slapped together by political operatives, named by committee, and rammed through Congress with panicky alacrity,(1)  which can be analyzed and rejected *on the merits of what is actually being enacted* – nope, it IS what its name claims it will achieve. Like the People’s Republic of North Korea is a republic for the people.

Similarly, just because the Environmental Protection Agency’s name suggests that it protects the environment doesn’t mean that’s what it really does any more than the Committee for Public Safety actually promoted the safety of French people. Rather than look to its name, might reasonable people look to it actually does in practice?

Right after the ACA passed, our company had its annual meeting with the benefits company we work with. The woman who did the presentation on health care was still trying to figure out how the law was going to work, but did let slip that while many new benefits had been proposed, so far no mechanism to control underlying costs had come to light. In the years after, she just never mentioned that again and instead stuck to promoting the best options available to a small company like ours – probably, I would suppose, pointing out the truth, a truth painfully obvious now as premiums keep going up, did not get a sympathetic or even rational reception from the enlightened souls here in the Bay Area. She might have scars from daring to mention it.

Patent medicines all had charming names that made it sound like they were good for you! Even the ones that killed people.

Writing: have been attending meeting where, for long stretches, my participation and even attention are not required. Have taken to jotting down characters and relationships and incidents for The Novel That Shall Not Be Named. Things have picked up.

Been trying to make sure I get in at least an hour of writing on TNTSNBN a day. So far in 2017, I probably averaging that, but it’s been far more lumpy. How does one learn self discipline in one’s 6th decade of life? Any tips?

Upshot: while the 1st draft word count has only risen to 3600, the outline of plot points and family tress and notes on space travel science and such have grown a lot. I can see the shape of the whole now. Most important, I have come more to grips with reality: it’s just a story, make it as engaging as possible, follow the template, and get it done. I am sure I’m not alone among amateurs in occasionally getting paralyzed by the idea that I’m writing something GREAT and therefore it must be GREAT at every moment. I think this stems partly from the fear that I’ll never write anything else so I must pour my whole heart into this one thing. Instead, if I think of it as any one of the dozens of home improvement project I’ve done, where you do the best you can with what’s at hand but get it done – well, then I can get it done.

Anyway, the writing is fun at the moment. Don’t know when I’ll next have something to throw up on this blog, and really don’t know when I’ll start recruiting 1st readers and then (gulp!) an editor. But let’s shoot for draft 1 complete this year!

  1. That the movie Lincoln came out shortly after the bill was passed  I would normally dismiss as a mere coincidence, but given the insane relationship between Hollywood and DC, it at least bears contemplation how timely that movie was. Lincoln shows a political icon and martyr stooping to the most egregious manipulation and intimidating to get his law passed, all the while maintaining plausible deniability, and using mealy-mouthed, emotionally charged stories to defend his actions. This is the way its done, so we should applaud how the ACA was passed, not look too closely at the details, nor judge those involved in getting it passed.

 

Weekend Update

1. Still waiting for the Most Epic Rain Since, like, way back in 2005 to hit. All the radar images and projections sure look impressive, but, so far, have yielded less than a third of an inch of rain locally over the last 20 hours. They claim it is raining elsewhere, but why would anyone trust them?  If we don’t get at least 3 inches by Monday, I may have to write a rather sternly-worded letter to, ah, well, someone who can Do Something about this!

Something like this:

“Advan-ced” kills me every time.  (Also, this tune always brings to mind Chesterton’s quip: ‘Ten thousand women marched through the streets shouting, ‘We will not be dictated to,’ and went off and became stenographers.’)

Related image
A Norman doing it all wrong. 

2. Saw a tweet hoping to muster support for efforts to ban fracking in Sherwood Forest. Eyebrows shot upwards with bracing alacrity. Don’t we know the Forest is for the enjoyment of right-thinking Normans, who will punish with death any impoverished Saxons who dare try to use it for their ends?  Some things never change.

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Normans doing it right.

 

 

 

 

3. Christmas: the 12 days during which we are sore tempted to become yet more incarnate, in the sense of adding more carne, as it were.  A hazard I bravely endure is sharing a house with a gaggle of good to great cooks. We were having, for example, scones and fresh lemon curd, or waffles, maple syrup and whipped cream for breakfast, and  fresh baked pitas, fresh hummus & falafals and all the fixings, and fresh made pasta in a onion garlic cream sauce with fresh-baked bread for dinner. And that’s when we were eating at home – it was worse at family events, where we (by which I mean my wife and daughters) provide the desserts.

I’m sure many of you would bravely step in to relieve me of my fate, but my doom is my own. Sorry about that.

Then there’s fruitcake. I should mention that I do not share the general disdain for fruitcake, because I think of the fruitcake my mom used to make which, like everything she made, was outstanding. What passes for fruitcake in these degenerate times is a mockery!

Well, my beloved wife, bless her, has her own recipe for what is called a Christmas pudding, but one would be hard pressed to tell it from a fruitcake of the species my mom used to make. See below:

img_3588

Unfortunately, I messed up my attempts at pictures of the flaming part – yes, one warms up a little brandy, pours it over the top and sets it aflame – it burns a lovely blue. The smell of brandy is appropriate, as that topping you see is brandy butter whipped smooth.

The Calorific Vision.

Monday, I tell you, back on the wagon! Assuming I don’t explode first.

4. Kids heading back to school/work. Elder Daughter left last Sunday, packed off Middle Son today – put him on the train rather than make the 11 hour round trip on Interstate 5 because its supposed to be raining in an epic manner. Younger Daughter will be heading off to Rome (she chose Thomas More College largely to do the semester in Rome, it would seem) weekend after next. It’s sad to have all the kids home and them have them leave again, but it is sure good to see them.

After that, back to what passes for normal around here.

5. Still working on the Novel That Shall Not, For The Time Being, Be Named. Mostly background stuff and high-level descriptions. But still keeping it up. As Bullwinkle often said: This time, for sure!