Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Again with the Klingons . . .

One of the more entertaining aspects of reading the free ebooks that come my way way thanks to my wife’s regular perusal of Pixels of Ink is that I get to read published authors whose writing, in many ways, is worse than my own.

Take, for example, the story of The Childe, by mother-son writing team C.A. Kunz. They try really hard in this book to play into the supernatural market as geared towards the younger set. Maybe they succeed, if their 5-star Amazon ratings are to be believed. But there is much in the world of young adult literature out there that is much better crafted than what they’re churning out.

No Klingons in this book, set in Astoria, Oregon, where in my mind the Goonies are the only kids good enough to have a book (or movie) about them. But there are apparently vampires. And werewolves. And witches. And one highly-strung high schooler who has to visit the potty on a put-near constant basis. She’s a minor character, friend of Cat Colvin, the book’s central cardboard cutout, but even Cat with the typical red hair and the typical color-mismatched eyes and penchant for finding every male who isn’t in the book as comic relief, as her father, as the foil, or as the boring, menacing school teacher is dreamy, a god, a massive hunk o’ hotness and whatever other adjectives or adverbs the authors can use gets upstaged by her friend’s overactive bladder. I almost expected a potty-related heroic end to this tale, but alas, in that realm as well the authors C.A. Kunz disappoint.

I have to agree with Nathan Bransford when he says ideas aren’t sacred. “Absolutely try to be yourself and put your own unique spin on whatever ide you have,” he says, “but don’t go for broke trying to think of something completely different than anything that has been done before. What’s most important is the reality of your execution.”

So the idea of vampires battling werewolves or witches or whatever (the authors are a bit hazy with the detail, hoping you’ll continue reading in the series of books they’ve written; I won’t be) is hackneyed, but, according to Bransford, a former literary agent and current author, the idea is to focus on the reality of your execution.

There’s no execution in The Childe. It’s all a derivative mish-mash of things I’ve read (like the Harry Potter series) and things I have not (the ever-present Twilight). When Cat’s at school, visiting the mysterious village of witches with favorite teacher Amaya or battling with the ugg-iest teacher Mr. Crawley, she’s at Hogwarts. A really boring Hogwarts where characters that all sound alike are either menacing or friendly or – if they were like me in high school – completely invisible. Cat’s a champ on the swim team, fights with the popular kids, gets involved in boring high-school hijinx and is otherwise one of the background Harry Potter characters because you don’t really care what happens to her, rather you sit waiting for another bladder attack. And when Cat is longing for Dr. Bane or Ryan Beckford, her dreamy tutor in Algebra who also happens to be buddies with the enemy, she’s all Twilighty as Cat ponders and ponders their dreaminess until they – ooh kiss – leaving the average reader actually hoping for the next bladder emergency.

So, the goal here is not to trash C.A. Kunz, but to look at my own writing and make sure fewer people – I won’t say no one, because, hey, that won’t happen – trash it for the same reasons. With NaNoWriMo 2012 starting tomorrow, this is going to be in the forefront of my mind as I babble.

Who's More Foolish?

This is a foolhardy thing to do, given that I’m the sole writer at work now, that the overtime at work is putting me a bit behind in my grading at BYU-Idaho, but it’s going to happen no matter what: I’m doing National Novel Writing Month again this year.

On par with my commitment with Yershi the Mild, NaNoWriMo implies that I will write a 50,000-word novel (a fairly short one) in 30 days. For those of you interested in critiquing the work, you can join me at the Targhee Writers Blog, where I will share snippets and such. I may occasionally post a bit here – if I can actually write something decent – but most of it will be under Internet lock and key so I don’t surrender my first publishing rights to the world at large.

Starting out by cheating a little, stacking the deck in my favor, by working on The Hermit of Iapetus. I don’t feel bad starting out with some words in place, as at this point it’s more of a collection of thoughts and ideas than even a rough draft of a novel, so there’ll be some refining and stitching along the way that will make the guilt go away pretty fast.

This novel makes me a bit nervous, however. Even though I just went where the story took me with Yershi the Mild, it’s different with the Hermit – because he’s not really going anywhere. He’s schizophrenic, or at least he thinks he is, and lives alone on a remote moon of Saturn, or at least he thinks he does. He might or might not have a son who joins him, or he just might have Richard Nixon as a companion. Honestly, this could go anywhere, and that wide-openness is a bit unnerving. Too much wandering by the author and the readers will wander off as well. If they haven’t already. You have to ask yourself: Who is more foolish? The novel character or the author who follows him?

I do have a cover, though. It went together fairly easily. As is probably evident:

What I need to do is look at the freewheeling possibilities here and have fun with them. Here’s a chance to write a novel that’s not formulaic (like the one I’m reading now; more on that later this week if I can actually finish the awful thing).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Local Frankenstorm

While the media (and Ollie of Blaccu-Weather forecasting fame) is all abuzz about Hurricane Sandy, I’ve survived a Frankenstorm of a more local variety today.

(The original, always better:)

(Confession: This is about the only thing I like from Family Guy.)

The local Frankenstorm involved getting two rather large batches of documents prepped and released for work today. It’s a quarter to five now, and we’re still waiting on two documents, and I’m heartily sick of updating my spreadsheet to know which ones are done and which aren’t. Good news is that with only one tech editor here at RWMC (me) the problems were minimal.

I’m worn out, though. Hopefully, the rest of the week passes more quietly. I hope to spend a good portion of tomorrow regrouping, cleaning my cubicle, and taking stock of the other documents that have had to sit on the wayside while these higher-priority things were worked on. And I’m sure there’ll be a few stragglers come in as well.

And that’s only the calm between the storms. Operations is now playing wholeheartedly with the documents, meaning there are likely to be changes coming along sooner rather than later. Then the contractor readiness assessment comes up next week, meaning additional changes. It’s not going to be pleasant, but since I’m the fool who decided he wanted the job and got picked to remain while Ed left, I guess I have to stick it out.

Good thing is the only whining I’m hearing thus far is from me, and from our production coordinator, who has to have all of these documents printed out for tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Color Was it? Yellow?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project – aided by reporters at National Public Radio – seem pretty chipper that the “Facebook Generation” is “reading strong,” in NPR’s words.

How strong?

Well, 83 percent of them read one book last year.

That’s right. One book.

Come on, Facebook Generation – those between the ages of 16 and 29. You can do better.

Of course, we can all do better. The same study shows that the older one gets, the fewer number of his or her peers fall into that “I read a book this year” category.


That makes me sad.

I’ve got four books I’m reading right now. Two for pleasure, one to research an area of interest, in keeping with Pew’s categories, with the final being read for the perverse pleasure of finding a writer weaker than I am who got published, thus giving me an inkling of false hope that I, too, may be published someday. Maybe I can file that under the research category.

My favorite quote about books comes from Sir Terry Pratchett, who said “If you have enough room for your books, I probably won’t like you as a person.” I don’t have enough room for my books. I use books as bookmarks, per another Pratchett bookish guideline. And the thought of reading just one book a year makes me cringe. There’s simply too much out there I don’t know, and books are the best way to get it all squeezed into my brain.

I’m sure the fault lies more with Pew’s questions than with the public in general, though. At least I hope it does. But I have to wonder, why set the bar so low at one book a year? And why not ask about multiple books, though you’re probably going to get a mix of braggers and Forgetful Joneses who inflate the number of books they’ve read or just plain out don’t know. They’re not all anal types like me, who track to the page number how much I’ve read in a given year. (As of this posting, 44 titles totaling 11,244 pages; I have a goal of reading at least 12,000 pages a year.) I hope I’m not an outlier. And yes, there are many books on the list that are there for pleasure, but there are also a few that challenged my attention span and ability to retain information. They’ll end up in the “read again” pile.

Here’s more for Pew: I don’t go to libraries any more. I go to thrift stores and buy books I want to add to my own library at home. I do read e-books, a growing number of them, but they’re still in the minority. As a consequence of my reading habits, I don’t read a lot of current fiction, with only the lightest smattering of current non-fiction, but I do read some to keep me abreast in the fields of technical writing and social internet theory, but just enough so I don’t fall asleep in my soup when I’m reading it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

'The Internet Puked on my Shoes'

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame continues to amaze.

As do his readers, or so he says. And the “low information” voters he’s got pouring over to his site from The Huffington Post, the Daily Kos (his words) and other left-leaning sites since he endorsed Mitt Romney for president last week – not because he agrees with him, but because he believes President Obama committed a “firing offense” for going after state-legalized marijuana dispensaries in California, something Adams says Obama did for political reasons only.

Adams’ Oct. 21 post bristles with his trademark snarkiness, as he addresses the Obama fans who “puked on his shoes,” so to speak, as they misinterpreted what he said, among other such general nonsense.

The best moment? Right here (emphasis Adams’):
You're crazy when you say a good reason to believe Romney won't be a disaster as president is that he's lying about what he would do in office.

I'm betting that a chameleon will stay a chameleon. That's his history. He adapts to whatever situation he's in. The alternative is to believe a candidate for President will do all the things he promises during the campaign. How has that worked out for you?
For once today, I was glad I was alone in my pitiful little trailer out here in the Arco desert, because I laughed out loud. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for Mitt Romney, of course, but it is probably one of the most honest and objective endorsements I’ve read in a long time.

Read Adams’ screed in full (warning, one F-bomb). It’s worth your time.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

To Be That Dog

Betimes I hear the waves.

At Carcassonne Terra, the ocean.

The dust and rocks are caressed by light, washed by water under the stars grown pale as Saturn rises, suddenly, like the tropical moon. The water is ink capped with white foam, for there is no blue in the sky to reflect off the water to give it its customary, illusory hue.

I blink and the waves and surf is gone, leaving the dust and rocks drier than bone, approaching dampness from the other side. There are ices; exotic caves filled with frozen pools, stalactites caught mid-drip. But though they know the light of the distant sun, there is nothing here that will melt them, not even the touch of a human hand, because this ice cannot be touched bare.

A man.

Sometimes he is there with a cocker spaniel, who leaps into the surf and emerges, grinning, dripping, to shake the water and sand from its fur.

Sometimes he is there alone, walking the beach at the surf line.

I blink and he is gone.

I blink and he is there again.

He waves to me.

Incongruity: He is there in a suit. Dark blue to match the hue of the seas of Earth, dark blue to blend with the black seas of Iapetus.

He is there to be at ease, to enjoy the sun, to feel the wind’s caress, to walk on sandy soil that crushes and slides underfoot – which are in black wing-tips.

He waves to me.

His is a friendly face.

I have seen others on the beach, clad in trunks, or bikinis, sometimes nothing at all. But they do not notice me. They never notice me, nor wave, nor smile, nor glance at the funny man standing far up the shoreline, far from the water, far from the line where sand meets water. That man, that incongruity, they must think, does not exist. He cannot exist for he is not one with the environment he imagines.

But this man.

He waves to me.

Betimes, I hear him, in a croaky voice, declare “Hello, young man. Fine day to be out in the sun! Walk a bit in the surf. It will do you a great deal of good. Fellows like you and I need a bit of relaxation.”

So I walk with him. I walk with him and the spaniel dog. I walk with him, him in his blue suit and tie and white shirt and combed hair; I in my worn space suit, stained with the dust borne in the blinks when the smiling, jocular, quiet man isn’t there with his dog nor the surf nor the breeze nor the feel of the hot sun on the skin that I remember. I remember that feel. It is the universe entering your body. It is the universe saying hello, from millions of miles away.

“How long have you lived here?”

So many questions.

But he is in earnest, not caring that the water sloshes over the tops of his wing tips, wetting his black socks. His interest reminds me of the feel of sun on my skin. Quickly, I leave behind the grunts, the monosyllabic responses, and we converse.

His father owned a lemon ranch, he said. “Poorest lemon ranch in the state of California, I assure you,” he said. “He sold it before they found oil on it.”

I told him of my father’s dreams, his voyages across the globe, looking for his dreams to come true.
“I had to leave Earth to find my dreams,” I said.

He smiled. “Have you found them? Your dreams?”

“No,” I said.

He nodded. “Dreams are elusive things. I went from a small town in California to New York, then to Washington to find my dreams,” he said, his face darkening. “I saw many things on the way. Many places. Met many wonderful people."

"And some rotten bastards, too,” he added.

“When it gets too much, I come to walk on the beach,” he said.

Leadership must have hung heavily on his shoulders, I said.

“Oh,” he said with a sigh. “Sometimes it did. But do you know what hurt worse? Chasing those dreams. Always chasing them, rarely catching up. Because you catch one dream, you find it has spawned another, more quick, more alert, more active and elusive. And you want it. You want it so bad you forget you’ve just caught a dream and go after it. You leave that other dream on the side of the trail, its blood not yet run cold, and you go after the other. You run. You leap. You whoop and holler when you careen down the mountainside, slipping on rocks, tripping over stones, getting hit in the face with branches. But you still run. You still run after that dream. And when you catch it, there’s the tail of another, bigger dream just disappearing over the next ride. You run after that one, leaving the second dream cooling on the trail.”

“I’m a rotten bastard, to be a slave to my dreams,” he said. “Always running towards the sunset but never stopping to watch the sun rise. Thinking dreams are more important than, than those marigolds. Or spending time walking on the beach with my dog.”

“And you get tired after a while, chasing dreams,” he said.

“That’s why I like the beach,” he added, after a long silence.

“On the beach, there are no dreams. There is only now. There is only the water coming in, the water going out. And if you’ve brought your dog to chase, rather than your dreams, oh, it’s fine. It’s fine to run after that dog, because the dog looks back at you as you’re running, and it’s got that tomfool grin on its face, and if you get tired, that dog comes running back to you, noses your hand, keeps nosing it and nosing it and nosing it until you give it a pat, and that grin comes again. And as soon as you’ve caught your breath, it’s off and running again, jumping over waves as they crash, sniffing at the seaweed, and oh,” he said, his voice choking. “Oh, to be free like that dog, worried only about what’s happening now. Never worried about the future. Never feeling guilty over the past.”

He stood on the beach a long while after that speech, watching the dog run, not caring as he surf washed over his soaked feet.

“Oh,” he said. Clenching and unclenching his fists. The fists were not bellicose. It was if he was pumping his blood with his hands and the squeezing kept him upright, standing there in the surf, watching the dog run.

“Oh,” he said. “To be that dog.”