Thursday, November 28, 2013

Too Abrupt?

NOTE: So, I'm concerned this ending chapter is a bit too abrupt. Thoughts? (I know it's a challenge, reading this without the rest of the novel in context. Anyway . . .

Chapter Seventy-Four: The Waters Rise 

Starlings chased rabbits and moles into their holes. They grabbed at mice and shrews and voles, carrying some up into the sky to toss back and forth as they squealed. 

Where the Lady slithered, tendrils shot into the ground, seeking those that burrowed. Where the Lady slithered, tendrils shot into the air, seeking those that flew. Her color darkened as the fear and panic spread. 

And deeper she probed. 

She felt the strength lying there, somewhere underground. 

The tendrils probed and searched. 

She would find it. 

This and That cowered in the truck. As it was a human machine, the Lady and the starlings ignored it. Even when its engine turned over and the truck began to back out of the clearing. 

“That’s a close thing,” That said, jerking at the rods that turned the steering wheel. 

“Where are we going?” This asked from the floor. 

“Away, away for now. Perhaps back to the shepherd’s shack. That would be best, until the Lady is gone.” 

“Is she going?” This asked. “For a long time, the box canyon has been hers. Now she is here.” 

“Doomed, doomed,” That whistled to himself. 

Father Marmot did not see the truck leave. He was the first the tendrils took. As he wandered the wood, he nurtured his hatred. Hatred of Jarrod and Aloysius who had brought the beavers down from the canyon. So industrious, they were. Already felling trees and packing mud, he saw. Treacherous creatures. And dangerous, he knew. He remembered from the last time. 

Tendrils stopped up his ears, closed his eyes. Time, he felt, like molasses on his skin. He imagined the sun rose and set, rose and set, rose and set. He felt the tendrils caress him, feed his hatred, bring him stores of rumors and talk and imagined actions to feed the bubbling mudpot of anger inside his soul. 

The Lady gorged on his hatred, and grew. She snared other marmots, who went into holes to brood and drown as water from the creek poured into their tunnels. She found others, and others. And grew and grew.

She sensed Jarrod and Aloysius. Not far. Not far. First the appetizers, she thought. Then the feast.

Her starlings fled. 

Her starlings fled.

And the sky grew dark with sparrows. 

On the edge of the clearing, the magpie and the badger. 

The magpie rode the badger, perched on its low back, claws digging in as the badger ran. She turned to meet them and slithered through mud where once there had been dry ground. 

The magpie had in its claw, braced on the badger’s back, a bit of rock. 

The badger climbed a tree, the magpie hopping from branch to branch. They fled the water that carried the flotsam of the forest floor in eddies and whirlpools inching up the tree trunks, up the sides of the hills. 

She splashed through the water and coiled ‘round the tree the two had climbed. 

“Oh, I taste the both of you, both of you through this tree,” she hissed. The tree shed its leaves. Its branches grew brittle. Aloysius grabbed a branch and it snapped off in his hand, where moments ago the branch had been green. “Let me come, and we will sup together.” 

From Jarrod: silence. 

From Aloysius: the same. 

Her tendrils reached them, but hesitated. Where they had always found channels, or cracks, or breaks or tears or leaks, there was nothing but feathers. Nothing but fur. 

And the sky was full of sparrows. 

A hammer blow, they fell. And they too, were silent save the ruffling of their wings. 

The Lady screamed as they pierced her skin with their tiny claws, jabbed at her with tens of thousands of beaks. 

And the waters rose.

This and That abandoned the truck, its engine flooded with water. They swam through the flood, found a tree, and climbed. 

The Lady squeezed the tree, which creaked under the strain. Then she fell. She fell with  a great splash in the water and lay still. The sparrows swarmed around her, diving in and out of the water in their speed, wrapping her in a coil of bone and feather. 

Silence from Jarrod and Aloysius. 

Silence from the sparrows. 

A great gust of wind scattered the swirling birds which fled to the four corners. 

Bits of wood and pumice and plant and stuff bobbed in the water. 

Sparrows and the Lady gone. 

Aloysius collapsed in tree fork, muttered. He gave Jarrod a nod. The bird hopped over, landed on the badger’s back, folded its wings and tucked its head down. 

Both creatures slept.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dragon Tryptich

I have a dragon-loving daughter I was trying to amuse at church a few weeks ago. She wasn't terribly amused, but I had fun. I'm particularly proud of the first one.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gorilla Detecting

NOTE: A little something I wrote for my BYU-Idaho writing students. I think it's a fair, concise shake at showing what you ought to do in a research proposal. And that it features the Muppets, so much the better. Alan Murray would be so proud.

Gorilla detecting. It's gonna be big. 

And how does detecting gorillas apply to writing your research proposal (due this week)? 

Have you presented us with a problem that needs to be solved? Dr. Bunsen Honeydew has: How many times have you awakened at night in the dark and said to yourself: Is there a gorilla in here? 

So be sure to state the problem you're addressing. And if the problem you're addressing isn't quite, word-for-word, what you signed up for, that's fine. Just make sure you're clear in presenting your problem. 

Next, set the stage. Tell us why this your problem is worthy of solving. Dr. Honeydew does: How many family vacations have been ruined by undetected gorillas. Who wants a vacation ruined by gorillas, undetected or not? Clearly, you're at the beach -- I'm thinking Cannon Beach in Oregon -- and you don't want your playing in the surf or gazing at Haystack Rock to be marred by a gorilla attack. So you've got my attention. What's your solution? 

Yes, present your solution to that problem. Dr. Honeydew does: The solid-state gorilla detector. 

Now, you're not done. Someone may object to your solution. It may have its flaws -- the gorilla detector certainly didn't work as advertised. So explain why your solution is a good'un, if not the best. Present clear evidence, by once again turning to setting the stage: Tell and show us why your solution is the best. Do better than Dr. Honeydew, please . .  . 

SCHEDULE for the week: Try to have your rough draft in your writing groups by WEDNESDAY, rather than MONDAY. I don't think it's fair to dump that on you first thing Monday morning. Please finish your commenting by midnight FRIDAY, then turn in your proposals by midnight SATURDAY.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Doleful Creatures: 45,000 Words In

Chapter Sixty-One: Upstream Side 

Jarrod flew, clinging to the bit of rock in his claws. The rock was lighter than he dared hope, filled as it was with bubbles of air left over from when the basaltic rock cooled long ago. 

“Fly far from the creek, kind Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, speaking from the bit in Jarrod’s feet. “The creek I will see afore long; I desire to go further afield.” 

“Pardon my indulgence,” Jarrod said. “Trust me a bit further as we follow the creek. I have things on its shoreline to show you. We at least travel upstream, where you are not likely to follow.” 

They flew northeast, where the canyon opened up a bit after the narrows at man in the rock. Here the creek split in two, one branch continuing northeast and the beaver lodges, the other to the northwest and the lake where Nimble and her kind found home. Here and there, rapids and waterfalls, as the creek descended out of the box canyon. 

Below, the creek wound through a narrow valley, a tumble of rock really from the mouth of the canyon. Soon the canyon widened and its bottom flattened into a gentle U-shape. Tiny ponds and lakes appeared, linked by the creek as if on a grey-blue rope. Jarrod descended and flew low over the creek, whistling and grunting in a mix of magpie and beaver tongues.

A young beaver mending a portion of a dam heard Jarrod’s calls and slapped the water with his tail. From holes and bushes and out of the nearby wood, beaver faces emerged, peering first at the water, then at the sky. 

Jarrod started a gentle glide down to the pond shore, then the starlings were upon him. Several flew at his face while others came from behind, raking his eyes and wings with their bony feet. Jarrod folded his wings and dropped, avoiding a third barrage, opening his wings just in time to stop himself from falling into the water. 

“Kill!” the starlings screamed. “Kill!” 

Jarrod surged back into the sky. 

Below, the surface of the pond roiled. Beavers leaped from the water and their dam, fleeing with their youngsters into the wood as the water surged and boiled. A whirlpool formed near its center, occasionally gouting spouts of foam and water and mud. A terrible head on a long neck, dripping mud and scum from the bottom of the pond, shot out of the whirlpool and bolted into the sky. 

The starlings screamed with joy. “The Lady! The Lady emerges to fight with us!” 

In a whirl, clouds of starlings shot from the sky and from the strees and seemingly from holes in the ground to fly in a twisting knot around the Lady’s leering, toothed head. 

“Jarrod!” the Lady screamed. Spittle dropped from her mouth and caused the surface of the pond to smoke. “Jarrod! Once you were mine, and you will be mine again. And to the beavers” – she lowered her head to shout into the wood – “if you desire to help this one, so be it. But remember the massacre. For if you help him today, you will wish for the blessings of that day, when so many died!” She roared and the trees in the full gust of her breath withered, their leaves turning to dust before they hit the ground. 

“Oh,” the man in the rock said. “This I have seen. This I have seen before.” 

“Fight!” the Lady bellowed. 

In a single cloud, the starlings barreled through the air to Jarrod, alone in the sky. 

“Fly higher, fly higher,” Jarrod said to himself, pumping his torn wings. He flew away from the pond, seeking a rising thermal as Nimble the hawk had shown him. This early in the day, one might be hard to find, but he had to look . . . there! He felt the wind bearing him up. The starlings, too, would find the rising air and follow, he knew, but perhaps they were not used to flying so high. He shifted his grasp on the bit of rock in his claws. 

“Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, “you must descend. Fly over the water. Fly back to her.” 

Jarrod flew higher, his heart thumping. 

“Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, “how long have we known each other?” 

“A long time.” 

“And do we call each other friend?” 

“Yes . . . friend,” Jarrod said, slowing his flight. Below, the starlings’ screams approached. 

“Descend. Fly over the water. And when I tell you, drop me.” 

“But what –“ 

“I have seen it before,” the man in the rock said. “I know what is to be done. But be cautious. This will be only a temporary stop to her. She will find you again, and soon. In the meantime, fly to your friends.” 

“The crows,” Jarrod said. The starlings screamed. The starlings screamed. 

“No, to the hawks,” the man in the rock said. “The crows are noble birds, but the hawks; but Nimble. She will know what to do. In a way, she has already told you.” 

Jarrod swallowed, then folded his wings. 

He dropped like a stone, still carrying the rock in his feet.

He fell through the cloud of starlings, knocking several from their flight. His fall was too fast for them to do anything but dodge. Below them, he spread his wings again, righted himself, then folded his wings again, aiming for the roiling pond and the leering head staring up at him, mouth agape, withering breath bellowing a putrid heat into the clouding sky. 

Over the whistle of the wind, he heard the Lady’s familiar voice. 

“Ah, you are coming after all, once again into my embrace,” she said, licking her lips with a slimy tongue. “Sweet Jarrod, so full of fear and guilt. You have grown more bitter these past few weeks, but we will make you sweet once again.” Tentacles shot out of the pond and beat upon the water, sending waves over the muddy shores and into the wood where the beavers had fled. Other tentacles smashed the lodges, uprooted trees and flattened the dam, sending brown water boiling downstream. 

But as Jarrod dropped, the smile faded on the Lady’s lips, the shine in her eyes dimmed a little. There was something. Something. Something she could not follow. Something wrong. Something wrong. 

“Now, Jarrod,” the man in the rock said. “Drop me. Drop me before the water is gone.” 

Jarrod released the stone. 

It fell and landed in the water with a plop so tiny among the waves and flailing tentacles that it could not be heard. 

The water was black and full of clinging ichors, but to an eye that could see through rock, such obstructions were of little consequence. The man in the rock tumbled through the water, falling closer and closer to the sucking hole through which the Lady was forcing her body. He fell between her and the rock the flailing and churning had exposed, and during an undulation, slipped into the darkness below. 

The Lady paid no mind. She continued to stare into the sky, wide-eyed, as Jarrod flew away, higher and further, and as her starlings quivered at her wails of despair.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


This, my friends (if it worked correctly, it does require Java after all) is a Wordle of "Doleful Creatures" in its current state. It'll be interesting to see if things change over the next 10,000 words. But I doubt it.

Lots of character names here. And some words that surprise me. Know? Really? One I understand -- many of my minor characters are nameless. And the Lady is mentioned far less than I expected, as are the sparrows. And maybe that's fine. Marmot (or a derivative) three times. That I understand, one of my marmots is named Father Marmot, so that's going to show up a lot.

Doleful Creatures: Coming Together At Last

Earlier this week, this happened:

It is, in fact, a very rough outline of the rest of "Doleful Creatures," which I'm hoping should consume another 8,000 words or so, but we'll see. There are other bits of the novel that need re-working, or re-re-working and that may take more words (or fewer) but progress is being made. And it's s far sight better than the novel it was this time six months ago, when I'd pretty much given up one it.

And today, this happened:

I like to do a map, mostly because I like to do maps, but also because it works like a kind of visual outline and reminder of things that happened, and things that still need to happen.

So I'm excited about this one. Again. The plot-within-a-plot is working well, and I hope to have things tied up soon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gratitude, Part III

20. . . .to the producers of “JFK – 3 Shots that Changed America,” for producing such a fine, factual documentary on the assassination, by sharing a link to it here.

And then freaking out when Mr. Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” offers a Kennedy tribute at about 1.13:00 into the film.
Don’t forget Part 2.
19. . . .to Jim Bishop, who wrote “The Day Kennedy Was Shot,” a fine piece of historical journalism, by plugging his book here to anyone interested in this bit of history.
18. . . .to Art Flores, who took a chance on a washed-up journalist and hired him as a technical writer at the Idaho national Laboratory, by manning the RWMC as the sole tech writer now, where there were five before.
17. . . .to Jilene Burger, who ran for some kind of elected office in Idaho Falls and who has left some of her campaign signs up, by imitating Homer Simpson saying “Mmm . . . burger,” every time I see one of her signs.
16. . . .to Pat Perry, ops manager at RWMC, who trusts me on procedure writing methods enough to ask for help, by being honest in defending the other writers when they’re right, and questioning when I think they might be wrong.
15. . . .to Dan “Gunga Dan” Rather, the last entertaining evening newscaster this nation ever had, by calling him “Gunga Dan.”
14. . . .to Danny Raschke, my writing supervisor, who trusts me enough to do my work to leave me alone at RWMC, by doing my work as it should be done.
13. . . .to Walter Wangerin Jr., whose book “The Book of the Dun Cow” affected me greatly, by writing a book that’s even a shadow as good as his.
12. . . . to Tony Lanzio whose gonzo approach to speaking combined his native Italian with English, French, and German, by learning French as a missionary so in part it was easier to understand him (he was one of my Dad’s friends).
11. . . . to Tony Lanzio, for letting us know that CAL Ranch has nice shiny buckets, by promising to buy one of them, someday.
10. . . . to Mr. Beddingfield, who taught us pinochle in junior high school, by continually looking for people who’ll play it with me. Anyone? Really?
9. . . . To Jeff Bezos, who is giving Apple a run in the tablet market, by owning two Kindle Fires to balance out the iPad and the iPad Mini my wife has.
8. . . . to Steve Martin, for being a ramblin’ man, by sharing this:

7. . . .to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, for their rendition of “Give Said the Little Stream” and how it makes me bawl like Flick every time I see it, for sharing this, while I cry some more:

6. . . . to Charles Schulz, for insisting that this scene be included in his first Peanuts TV special:

5. . . . to Richard Thompson, for bringing us characters like Ernesto Lacuna and Petey Otterloop Jr. (and Sr.), and for his current battle against Parkinson’s Disease, by encouraging everyone to read his comic strip.

4. . . .to Scott Adams, for making me want to emulate Wally far more than is healthy for a good employer-employee relationship, by secretly idolizing Wally while trying to achieve competence at work.
3. . . .to Groundskeeper Willie, for reminding us that there’s nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman, by shouting “Make way for Willie” whenever I do something I thought was physically beyond my ken.
2. . . .the prophet Enos, who taught us that even if you’re a smelly hunter, you can still be in touch with God, by being a smelly writer who tries to be in touch with God as much as I can.
1. . . .to Nephi, who reminds us of this: Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy. By being joyful.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gratitude, Part II

49. . . .to my younger brother who showed me the way to put a sprinkler system in by not only finishing (well, almost) what he started at my house but also by maintaining what he's done at Mom's.

48. . . .to my mother who, well, put up with everything I did, ever, with a smile, by putting up with what silly little things she does now, such as telling her doctor that she's OK with going without oxygen when we visit because we have boring conversations and she can sleep through them.

47. . . .to my mother again who doesn't mind if we bring our dogs over to visit, by visiting often.

46. . . .to CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, Richard Adams, Sinclair Lewis and so many other authors for writing such excellent books, by re-reading them again and again.

45. . . .to my long-suffering wife who plays Santa Claus so well for our children (rivaling the real guy) by playing Santa Claus to her with more than what she buys for herself and gives to me while saying "Here, surprise me for Christmas."

44. . . .to the folks at Read Write Web, who write so many goofy articles, by making fun of their articles every chance I get.

43. . . .to the City of Ammon Utility Department, which does such a fine job of collecting our trash every week, by not putting anything in the can that's not authorized.

42. . . .to grammar slobs all over the Internet, by giving up my Grammar Nazi bent for Lent.

41. . . .to our dogs Dottie and Daisy, who make life that much more exciting having two furry children in the house, by racing around the staircase in the basement, alternately chasing them or being chased by them.

40. . . .to Monkey, mom's cat, who hides when we come to visit, by bringing our dogs, who flush her out and give her some exercise.

39. . . .to my cat-loving sisters, who take care of the orphans and strays, by showing them Crazy Cat Lady videos from the Simpsons whenever I can. And by letting them call me the Crazy Weenie Dog Man.

38. . . .to whoever it was who Photoshopped my brother Al to look like the happiest Grim Reaper ever, by sharing this photo.

37. . . .to Ebeneezer Beesley, who wrote so many wonderful bits of music to accompany Mormon hymns, by singing "High on the mountain top, a badger chased a squirrel . . ."

36. . . .to the ladybugs who winter in my woodpile, by shooing them out of the wood before I throw it into the firebowl.

35. . . .to my quick-witted brother Al (same guy in the photo above) who, when he hit me in the side of the head with the stub from the carrot he was eating, was smart enough to reply that I was among the "wortle-y wounded," by sharing this joke. And having to explain that "wortle" is Dutch for carrot. We're half-Dutch, see.

34. . .to my Dutch ancestry which makes me more quietly stubborn than others, by being quietly stubborn.

33. . . .to those Dutch ancestors who got kicked out of their synagogue because they wouldn't relinquish the front  pew that the rich guy paid to sit in, by not really caring where I sit in the chapel as long as I can doze there.

32. . . .to those Dutch relatives who hid Jews on their farms during World War II, by honoring the memory of those who were not able to remain hidden.

31. . . .to Dad who took us out of school for a few weeks to visit The Netherlands so we'd connect better with our heritage, by remembering there's a whole nation of people across the sea who might appreciate some of the Dutch jokes Dad told us.

30. . . .to my Aunt Sharon, one of only two people I'll allow to kiss me on the lips, by letting her kiss me on the lips.

29. . . .to my Aunt Sharon again, who made me those wonderful plaid "Aunt Sharon pants" when I was a kid (Sorry, it was the '70s), by letting my kids occasionally wear something I find blindingly objectionable.

28. . . .to Mike Henneke, who put up with my joke about Forks, Washington, by vowing not to repeat it. At least today.

27. . . .to whomever it is who currently owns my 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais, by remembering what a wonderful car it was, despite its cosmetic warts.

26. . . .to Steve Martin, who wrote such wonderful modern screenplays to the likes of Silas Marner and Cyrano de Bergerac, by repeating often, with my wife, the line "Boys, the ladder is up. Boys, the ladder is up. BOYS! The LADDER! IS UP!"

25. . . .to the crooners and balladeers of the 1950s and 1960s, for recording so much wonderful Christmas music, by playing it year-round, no matter who thinks I'm insane.

24. . . .to my children, who steal my pens and then act shocked when they discover three or five of them in their bedrooms, by not getting mad when I take them. And when they steal them again.

23. . . .to Brigham Young, who said "This is the place" and then had the gumption to stick it out when things got bad and people got complainey, by not wondering why Dad decided Idaho would be a good place to settle as an immigrant in the 1950s.

22. . . .to the manufacturer of this computer desk who chose such a fine imitation wood grain laminate for the surface, by covering as much of the surface as I can with books and paperwork.

21. . . .to the guys who installed our gas furnace in 2012, by staying warm in our house and taking the heat for granted, until I remember how inexpensive gas is compared to electric heat.

OK. Top 20 tomorrow. Or at least an additional 20. I've been doing them in no particular order.


100. . . .to one of my scouts who got up early on a windy, snowy morning and started a fire by blowing on the coals from last night's fire, for a half hour, by praising him in front of the troop and then buying him a doughnut.

99. . . .to my assistant scoutmaster who took time out of his weekend to camp with the scouts by letting him work with a struggling scout to complete the bookwork for his Physical Fitness merit badge.

98. . . .to another scout for teaching a new scout the oath, law, motto, and slogan using the EDGE method by praising him in front of the group and then telling him he'd passed off a Life rank requirement doing so.

97.  . . .to the professional scouter taking notes on the Targhee District pow-wow by sending the clear message that the pow-wow was a welcome event, that the $10 per scout charge was reasonable and that we'd help out next year teaching courses to help ease the instructor shortage.

96. . . .to my wife for letting us go camping while she stayed at home with two demanding children and two demanding dogs by cooking Sunday dinner.

95. . . .to my daughter for writing me a guilty note chastising me for not reading to her at night by starting "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."

94. . . .to my youngest son for being "man of the house" while we were camping with the scouts by bringing him a pow-wow patch for his collection.

93. . . .to my wife for doing all of our laundry by putting my clean clothes away.

92. . . .to a scout mom when she came to collect her son's gear by saying he's a fun kid to be around, and thoughtful too for bringing cookies to the campout to help celebrate another scout's birthday.

91. . . .to the father of a new scout by letting him know in a letter what progress his son has made on his Tenderfoot rank, and getting him involved by showing what he and his son can do together to finish things up.

90. . . .to the Idaho Transportation Department for clearing Highway 20 of its first snow in a manner that made it safe for me to drive scouts home by obeying the speed limit and not causing mayhem on the roads.

89. . . .to one of my Brigham Young University-Idaho students who wrote a funny essay profiling a friend by showing us what he admired about his work ethic through the eyes of the Subway sandwich shop security camera by giving him an A+, and then telling him he made me feel like the teacher from "A Christmas Story" when I got to give him that grade.

88. . . .to my mentors at BYU-Idaho who work hard with instructors who are not professionally trained as teachers by posting my self-evaluation on schedule and with answers that were thought out and, above all, honest.

87. . . .to my son who worked hard this weekend in cleaning his room by reminding him that we put that extra shelf up in his closet so he'd have a place to stow his LEGOs.

86.  . . .to my father- and mother-in-law for raising such a wonderful daughter by telling them in word and action that I do still love her very much after 16 years of marriage.

85.  . . .to my neighbor who got a little worried last year that I let the weeds by the "junky" side of the house grow too tall by keeping them cleaned up all summer long.

84. . . .to the city council candidate who came by our house shortly before the election to see what was on my mind, by having a sincere, neighborhood-wide concern to share with him, rather than just saying, "Oh, everything's fine." (He won, by the way. Hopefully we'll see that storm drain cleaned out so the flooding stops on Tiebreaker Drive.)

83.  . . .to my Father in Heaven for a blessed life in which I have seen many examples of how he knows what is troubling me by working on a novel that shares that message.

82. . . .to my employers who put up with my occasional crankiness and sometimes gonzo approach to work by putting in a full day's work for a full day's pay.

81. . . .to the bishopric member who called me to scouting by completing the first tour and trip plan he's seen in the last few years.

80. . . .to the former scoutmaster, whose shoes are enormous to fill, by ensuring that the four scouts he's got close to earning their Life rank will earn that rank, three of them in December.

79. . . .to the ward member who several years ago got us a deal on a new Springbar tent for the scouts by hanging it in my garage all weekend so it can dry out and not go moldy.

78. . . .to the parents of at least half of the scouts in my troop (and the other half will come soon) by meeting with them and their scouts to find out what they want out of scouting and out of their scoutmaster.

77. . . .to my brother who is in jail for mistakes he knows he made and wants to fix by writing letters of encouragement to him as often as I can.

76. . . .to my employer who wants to make sure I'm adequately trained for the job I'm doing by taking the training in an expeditious manner so they don't have to nag me to get it done.

75.  . . .to our financial adviser who is helping us plan for retirement by listening to what he says and taking it seriously, and then joking that we'd like him to find us a Ponzi scheme in which we can get into early.

74. . . .my wife who wants to be able to spend retirement with me by following up when she asked if I was putting the maximum contribution into my 401k. I was not. But I am now.

73. . . .to Cecelia Fife, who enjoyed what I wrote in a high school creative writing class, by still working on creative writing endeavors.

72. . . .to the instructors I had at Utah State University in the technical writing program by remembering what they taught me as I perform my duties at work and by striving to maintain a habit of lifelong learning.

71.  . . .to my brothers and sisters who love me by loving them back, even if that loving sometimes takes the form of goofy Facebook posts.

70. . . .to Robert Schultz who wrote a terrific book by being sincere in my comments as I beta read so this terrific book he's written is even better.

69. . . .to my BYU-Idaho students who turn their papers in on time by grading them on time.

68. . . .to my father (may he rest in peace) who collected bucketsful of nails, screws, and other whatnots against a time of need by doing the same thing, and actually using what I collect.

67. . . .to my father who taught me how to work by teaching my children how to work.

66. . . .to Kevin Korth, by Wood Badge troop guide, who worked us hard to write our goals, by actually working on those goals.

65. . . .to Andy Hurd, who gave us a puppy, by loving that little ball of fur (the puppy).

64. . . .to my mother who taught us by example to love animals even if you don't want to (my favorite quote: "No, I don't want to hold it [a kitten]! I don't want to hold it! I don't want . . . oh, it's purring.") by loving the animals we have.

63. . . .to my Father in Heaven who gave us "dominion" over the earth by remembering that dominion is not a synonym for "do whatever the heck I want with it."

62. . . .to Bob Clark, director of "A Christmas Story," who helped bring to the screen one of my favorite films, by watching it every Christmas.

61. . . .to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, by lighting a candle every 8 June 1955.

60. . . .to Carl Sagan, whose show Cosmos inspired me into a life-long love of the universe, by buying a telescope for my oldest son and going stargazing with him.

59. . . .to my oldest son who loves to learn, by learning right alongside him.

58. . . .to Jesus Christ, who paid for my sins, by trying as hard as I know how to be good. And more than in just a Santa Claus way.

57. . . .to the inventors of Diet Coke, by drinking their wonderful elixir. But not to excess.

56. . . .to Dieter F. Uchtdorf, apostle of God, who shares stories of growing up impoverished yet ambitious in East Germany, by saying "Danke Deiter" every time he speaks at General Conference.

55. . . .to Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, who listened to God as a small boy, by singing "Joseph Smith's First Prayer" with gusto.

54. . . .to my wife, who is turning into a lifelong Scouter, by trying to latch on to her coattails as I enter Scouting myself.

53. . . .to my father who showed me how to plaster a wall with a trowel and mortar, so when it came time to plaster my own walls with actual plaster, I knew what I was doing.

52. . . .to my father, who took good care of his tools, by using the tools I inherited from him when I work around the house. including that plaster trowel. I think of him every time I use it.

51. . . .to my mother, who loves me unconditionally, by bawling like Flick whenever I watch the "Baby Mine" sequence from Dumbo.

50. . . .to Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, funnymen from the 50s who taught me how to address the ball, by saying "Hello, ball," every time I see a ball. And then chuckling for hours afterwards.

I'm halfway there. I have to move on to other things. But there will be more to come.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Oh, the Guilt . . .

Wen you get a note like this slipped under your bedroom door, you'd damn well better respond by reading to your kid at night. I did talk her into "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," though. Been trying to get her to read those books for years.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Probably NOT A Good Sign. Or IS It?

So, what does it mean when you’re re-writing a novel and you’re adding more about a secondary character than you are adding about your protagonist?

It could mean, of course, that the original version focused on the wrong protagonist.
Then again, it could mean you’re developing a more multi-faceted story. Albeit one where one protagonist is a magpie and the other a badger.
So what to do, what to do?
I see it coming: Finish re-writing it a second time, and then start all over again for a third time. And three could be that magic number.

The story’s getting better. More characters are coming into the fore – I do, in fact, have three characters who are developing nicely, though one is lagging a bit behind the others. That character (actually a pair of crows acting in concert) may be the additional focus in the third round of rewrite.
I hope what this means is that I’m developing more rounded characters to accompany my more rounded dipthongs.
I’ve added about 5,000 words to the novel, cut about that many more, and checked the other words to make sure they work. They’re working better.

Game of Pawns

Earlier this week, the film below was required viewing where I work:

The reason we were required to view it is clear: I work at a government installation and could, potentially, in a realm of infinite chances, be recruited by someone from a foreign government to become a mole.
Is it likely where I work? I hardly think so. But watching things like this does put you on the defensive.
More interesting to my mind is the preface to this film, which you don’t see, in which we’re presented the examples of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, who, as I recall, where whistle-blowers, not recruits/moles at the pay of a foreign government. Maybe I’m wrong in that. But it seems disingenuous to tie Snowden and Manning into the world of spies for hire by foreign governments.
I certainly want to keep my job, so I’m not dismissing the importance of the film’s message to those in work like mine. We need to be aware of clandestine recruitment efforts, even in quiet little backwaters like where I work. Just wondering about the Snowden/Manning tie-in. Note quite apples and oranges, but not quite Galas and Fujis, if you catch my drift.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chapter Thingie: Voyage of the Badger

NOTE: Re-writing a novel I started a while back. Adding in things like this. Still need to augment. But it's getting better. I'm much more proud of it now.

Understand, this is not the life I would have chosen. 

Who chooses loneliness? 

She said it was my destiny. “Badgers do what nature tells them,” she said. Badgers dig and root and tunnel and fight and kill. Sometimes they die. You may find little pleasures: Food, when you can find it. A mate, when you can find one. But you will be alone. By your nature. Gruff. Standoffish. Territorial. Defensive of what is yours and covetous of what could be yours by fang or claw.” 

She told me this. 

She told me this as my father listened, nodding silently, glaring at me with his one good eye, that broken yellow fang hanging out of his scarred lip. 

That scar. It fascinated me so as a pup. From lip to ear, crossing the now blind right eye. “Got it in a scrap,” he always said “Fighting two foxes who tried to steal a dead rabbit from me. I would have kept it, too, ‘cept that vixen took my eye. Yes, they were hungry. So what of it? So was I. Weren’t enough of a coney to share, let alone with two scavengers such as them.”

He puffed as he waddles up towards the canyon, dodging from brush to shadow to lee of the rock, sometimes wading in the stream to avoid being seen. His father taught him thus. “We have aught to fear, but it’s best to go unseen. That is our nature, after all.” 

More from her. 

He spat into the creek water. 

It wasn’t long before he found old familiar paths. 

A modest scuttle past a stand of wild strawberry. “Ah,” he said to himself. “Sweet. So sweet. And plenty for everyone to share. We ate them. The beavers ate them. And the shrews, the voles, the crows and larks and jays. The bears ate them. The deer. Sometimes, all of us there in the morning, looking for fruit, the moose walking warily so she didn’t step on any of us.” 

A dark hole disappearing into a thick stand of paper brush, thorns thick as his claws. “Never a prickle. We knew every branch. We knew when to duck, when to dodge, when to pause when a beaver shot ahead and tried to snap us in the snout with a branch. Oh, we laughed. All of us together.” 

A U-shape, dirt-bottomed, roofed by tall grass and sunshine, weaving over gentle hillocks. “There I found her, her with the lower-case h. A gorgeos she-badger, that one. The brightest eyes in the darkest face.” 

She stood before him. 

“Memories, Aloysius?” she said, feet hovering inches over the ground; where her toes touched as she walked, marigolds grew. 

“We’ve spoken of memories, Aloysius. Memories are not for you. Not for your kith. Instinct, that is all you need.” 

Aloysius found his eyes full of tears. 

“You have robbed us,” he said, sniveling. “You have robbed us all. All sunshine and no kindness, you are. I will not listen. I will not listen. Any more.” 

She laughed. 

“Memories and tears? Memories and tears? Too like the humans. Too like the doleful creatures they are, full of regret,” she said. 

He paused in his walking, forcing her to stop short. 

“Regret?” he said. “Yes, there is regret. Regret that I have ears that ever listened over a heart that knew there were better things to be had.”

“You sound like that magpie,” she said lightly, through tight lips.

Aloysius thought a moment. 

“Yes, I do,” he said. “I regret I haven’t sounded like him all along.” He ambled on, faint smile underneath his whiskers. 

Wind blew the grasses flat and clouds obscured the sun. The green-tinted air took on the scent of tin. 

Aloysius looked up. 

Aloysius looked up into her eyes. 

Green. Hollow tubes of light that shed no shadows, that offered no warmth. And at the far-distant end of the tunnel of her pupil, a badger. A badger writhing in pain. 

And he laughed. 

Aloysius laughed, and the green hollow eyes quavered. 

At the end of that tunnel, the badger listened. And laughed in unison. 

She let out a howl that startled a sleepy owl from its perch and froze sparrows to their branches. The wind whirled around her, whipping her gauzy dress, shredding it, tuning it from gauze to fur. Fangs shot from her mouth as claws shot from her fingers, now paws. 

And Aloyisius laughed. 

“Yes!” he shouted. “That is the face we see. That is the face we fear, deep inside. That is the face reflected from the moon, the face in the ponds and rivers. That is the face the food sees, the face the weak see, the face that haunts those stumbling off to die in the dark lest their festerintg corpses invite that face to dwell in the burrows, in the nests and branches.” 

“Yes!” she shrieked. “This is the face you see before you die.”
And Aloysius laughed.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Longest Day

NOTE: Wrote this Thursday at work, when the internet and phone service was out all day long. Emailed it to myself. It finally arrived this afternoon.

Arrived at work this morning to see our computer network is down. No email. No internet. No phones, even. This has long day written all over it.

No matter. Usually the outages are handled quickly. So I clean up some papers. Print a few more – print server is working, that’s a good sign. I post some documents released the day before, and come back with a pile of records to deliver to Wanda in the cubicle next door.
Still no network.
So we wait.
And wait.
And wait.
Two hours now. I’ve written or edited 3,322 pages of a novel – I want to remain busy, even if I can’t do my work. Potty breaks. A little reading. More tidying. Checking my consumable forms, making up a list of forms to order from the print shop, once the network is back online. Other folks in the building have found things to do, after the normal “the network is down” chatter died, after about an hour. I have no proof they’re actually working or if they’ve wandered off to find more entertaining spots in which to slack off. Wish my job were less computer- and network-dependent.
At 9:02, decide to keep a log of what’s going on, I’m that bored. We’ll see how long it lasts.
0906: Gal in training wanders by, “Let’s go home. The computers are down.” Response from RadCon manager: “I’m kind of enjoying this, unplugging for a while.”
0910: Cleaned out email I have on my computer so I stop getting the “your box is full” nastygram. Not that I’m going to get one today . . .
0914: Found myself on the North Wind Inc. org chart, released yesterday. That’s all I can tell you; it’s not for external distribution. Because other companies could use it to take over American TV, I suppose. Glad to see I’m not represented on the chart by a stain on the carpet. Also relieved to see my reporting line doesn’t brush against Asok’s box. It’s clear everything I know about org charts I learned from Dilbert.
0917: Just dawned on me that if the network is out all day long, I have no way of getting this log home. Oh, the problems of modern society.
0923: I’m too dumb to play mah-jong today.
0934: That’s the best my paper clips and binder clips have ever looked. Completely organized for my next spontaneity session.
0935: Wanda next door has the vacuum out. I’m not the only one searching for productive things to do.
0936: Found MORE paper clips and binder clips to sort. Sorted the hell out of them. I’m starting to feel like Frank Burns, sorting out all the condiments on the mess hall tables according to height and popularity. It won’t be long until I’m knee-deep in gherkin pickles.
0945: Lots of sighing coming from the project manager’s cubicle. In the meantime, inspired by Wanda’s cleanliness, I got down on my hands and knees and picked up the many paper clips on the floor beneath my desk. Sorted them right into the trash. Because they’re the ones I’ve used to clean my ears. Hyacinth would be appalled.
1019: Found some stuff to do. First of all, went out to the far distant shift desk and posted some documents. Nearly got squashed in the doors of the bus doing so. Driver felt bad, but hey, gave me a story for the day. Came back, had to shuffle through cell phones of others to verify the versions of two documents needed for a systems operability test today. INTEC’s network is working just fine, we’re the red-headed stepchild today. A good testament, though, to why we keep paper copies of the procedures at the shift desks, and why it’s important to keep them updated.
1020: On the bus, the radio was playing that ‘70s tune “Illegal Woman.” Or “Legal Woman.” Or “Evil Woman.” I’ve never understood the words.
1022: Pondering it might possibly be time to get a new cell phone. Ours is ancient technology that has buttons on the front of it and you use it to make calls. One of the phones I borrowed, a Blackberry, is far too intelligent for me to use. I didn’t even know how to hang the damn thing up, and the guy I borrowed it from had to dial for me. Without a dial. How does that work? Hope I don’t have to make any more calls that way today. I did borrow Wanda’s phone, which is like ours with the numbered buttons. Will have to do that again.
1025: So this is what it’s like to use a computer in North Korea.
1037: Cafeteria crew is here and bustling. Good to know they’re not inhibited in their jobs by network breakdowns.
1039: Print server is now down. CRISIS! How will I EVER get this magnificent log to blog?
1040: RadCon manager just walked by saying that ARP 8 has gone hot – meaning it’s contaminated now, so no random lookie-loos. That must mean Ken got the documents he needed, because he was checking on docs for that building. “Did you hear the news? I’m like a town crier!”
1042: Good news: Turnstyles work, so when the time comes, we can get out to the buses. Maybe I should just go through the turnstyles now and sit in the lobby until it’s time to go home. They have couches.
1047: Yup. Seriously too dumb for mah jong today.
1050: Seriously feel like Louis Tully at his party. “Anybody wanna play Parchesi?” I do have a pack of Saddam Hussein playing cards, left over from the first Gulf War, in my file cabinet. Not sure I’m that bored yet.
1055: I really should have replaced the movies on my Kindle. I’m sick of the ones on there now. And I’m not yet desperate enough to watch one of them again. Maybe I could swap devices with someone else for a while. Who in the office might be a Johnny Quest or Star Trek TOS freak?
1108: I have cleaned out and repaired a few file folders. Someone just walked by muttering about the outage and how we might have to start writing procedures by hand. That set me to thinking: Well, we could do it. We have current copies of the procedures. We have paper and pens. It could be done.
1110: One of my scouts will celebrate his 13th birthday on our campout next weekend. What kind of little scouty trinket could I get for him? Flashlight? Little packet of cherry bombs?
1111: Hear the unmistakable sound of a carpet sweeper. Cleanup for those who don’t want to noisiness of the vacuum.
1112: Don’t put binder clips on your ears. It hurts.
1129: Don’t put them on your nose, either.
1135: Down down down dooby doo-wah, woe woe woe woe. Down down down dooby doo-wah, Only the Lonely . . .
1140: Revelation. I can put things in an email and send them, and then when the network is back up, the messages will get sent. In theory. That might be worth a try.
1159: Seriously falling asleep in my chair right now.
1200: Day is half done. How long will the next five hours last? Well, five hours, natch.
1215: I want to make a digeridoo. Taking inspiration from the noise I’m making with a plastic spiral from an old manual I’m throwing away.
121: I may indeed look upon sorting paper clips and binder clips as the highlight of the day. Though almost getting squashed by the bus doors was exciting too.
1218: It’s amusing when short people walk by my cubicle. I can only hear them. They scare me.
1229: Cowshee. See kaus. Kaus. A moderate to gale-force southeasterly wind in the Persian Gulf, accompanied by gloomy weather, rain, and squalls; it is most frequent between December and April. Also known as cowshee. Interesting the things you learn, reading the Mc Graw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms. Fifth Edition. One of the gems left in this cubicle when I took it over. No one will find much of value in my old cubicle, as I have gone back through and pillaged that entire trailer. And somatic copulation. With a drawing. This is getting exciting.
1238: Going to try mah jong again.
1311: I have seriously improved my mah jong skills from earlier this morning. People are now talking about either taking the rest of the day off or heading into turnaround offices in town. I’m not sure either would buy me anything.
1324: Read another chapter in the book I’m beta reading. One with multiple storylines. I like one storyline better than the other. I’m reading the undesirable storyline now. Sleepy.
1325: Feeling really ADD today.
1330: Yeah, people are starting to leave. Like rats off a sinking ship. Or at least a ship without internet access.
1334: The aforementioned McGraw-Hill dictionary does not define “interociter.” Seriously deficient, this dictionary is.
1336: The first few pages of this dictionary are sealed shut with clear tape. Why?
1337: Huh. Nothing there but a flyleaf and the title page. Sometimes it’s not worth fathoming why people do things. Like keep logs of the longest day.
1343: Just came back with a pile of empty binders, booty from my latest pillaging of my former work location. It’s even junkier than I remember.
1344: I wonder what the reaction would be if I went over to Mahogany Row, stood there and muttered “When the Internet is down, anarchy is just around the corner”?
1345: I may never know. Mahogany Row is looking pretty dark. The only guy there is the guy I borrowed the complicated cell phone from this morning. He already thinks I’m odd, so water under the bridge there.
1405: Before East and West Germany were unified, the area around Dresden in East Germany was known as “The Valley of the Ignorant,” because it was a low-lying area where transmissions of West German television couldn’t be intercepted. I think I know what they felt like.
1416: Verified the turnstyles still work. If they break down, I’m going over the fence.
1418: [Annoyed grunt]
1420: Watching “The Devil’s Tower” episode of Johnny Quest. Just can’t stand it any more.
1421: Stupid Bandit.
1422: I seem to remember something about cavemen in this episode.
1423: Yeah, cavemen. Ugly ones, too.
1424: A biplane, Race? How quaint. WATCH OUT BANDIT! It’s a FILTHY monkey!
1425: They’ve got that biplane at 8,000 feet, and climbing. Are they even capable of flying that high? And if it is they’re in open cockpits. Freezing to death while they die of oxygen starvation. Genius, Dr. Quest. If I had INTERNET access, I could look it up.
1427: Blechh. I just can’t do Johnny Quest at the moment. ADD still kicking in.
1439: I’m tired of killing zombies.
1445: Those couches out in the lobby are really calling my name. If I put a note on me saying “Wake before the buses leave,” that might work . . .
1504: Just got back from replacing a worn-out binder with a slightly less worn-out binder. MY ONE WORK-RELATED TASK IN THE PM! Yes, verified, the only work-related thing I’ve done this afternoon.
1508: Back to Johnny Quest. UGLY CAVEMEN. And Bandit is BARKING at them. And Johnny just took out one of them with a body slam.
1510: Oh goody. A German leftover from World War II. Who trained the cavemen as henchmen. What an untermenschen.
1512: He’s been on the escarpment for 18 years. Hells bells, this is an old show.
1514: Ah, the old “escaped Nazi War Criminal” gag. Yippee.
1515: Dr. Quest has chicken legs.
1518: You know, Mr. Mad Nazi War Criminal, you might want to tie that sack of diamonds SHUT before you get into the plane and take off and do fancy maneuvers.
1521: I could really see Nic Cage playing Race Bannon in a live action version of this show. Who could do Dr. Quest? And the problem is with a live-action movie today, they’d turn Johnny and Hadji into teenagers, rather than pre-teens. Stinkerino.
1548: Back to mah jong. And I’m getting cranky.
1550: Put my elbow to sleep. I WANNA GO HOME. I could go catch the 1500 bus, but what’s the point? Most productive part of my day might be when I get home and visit with two of my scouts and their mothers. Good news is, only three more scouts after that (including my own son) and that’s ONE of my Wood Badge goals done. Well, technically TWO done. I’m counting the one meeting and many encounters I’ve had since with current scout leaders towards that second goal. The one goal I haven’t really started yet is the one I thought I’d have done first, which is pretty amazing, considering.
1552: Someone’s very musical cell phone ring tone is, uh, ringing.
1553: Pee break.
1601: One. Hour. Left. It’s frowned upon for us to go through the turnstyles before 1715 each day. I usually slip through about seven or eight minutes earlier than that. It may be even earlier today. 1700 hits and I’m out of here. And some poor soul just came by looking for an Ipad charger.
1604: I guess I could read the org chart again.
1605: Emptied my computer’s recycling bin. I feel so tidy.
1608: WGS folks are in a nearby cubicle, asking their acting boss if he has any coloring books in his office.
1610: Now the acting boss is also in the nearby cubicle. They’re not talking about coloring books.
1613: Watching another Johnny Quest. This one featuring DR. ZIN! The sinister Dr. Zin. Nice finger steepling, dude. And Dr. Zin mentioned Phase II, which obviously includes a trick cigarette lighter with a poison needle in it. Should have seen that coming.
1615: Aw, this sucks.
1617: Zanium. ZANIUM! Well, okay, Dr. Quest.
1624: Bandit, you just got xrayed, dude. Cancer for you.
1625: Oh, he’s being smuggled in the camera bag. Oldest trick in the book.
1627: Dr. Zin is fingered already.
1628: Interesting that Race was giving the boys a geography lesson while on the plane, but in India, they’re traversing a gigantic mountain range with a view of Everest to get to the country’s interior. Oopsie.
1629: I remember this episode. Bandit in one end of the delicately-balanced train car, everyone else in the other. The movement of a ten-pound dog saves the entire crew. I didn’t buy it even then.
1630: I hope that parrot eats Bandit.
1632: Whoa. One of the Indian bad guys in this is basically Dr. Quest with brown skin.
At this point, about 45 minutes out from getting on the bus to go home, I suppose I lost interest. Or went insane. There are no other entries. I hope this never happens again.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Madmartigan Way

Here’s my advice (and it should be obvious) for any budding writer out there: If you have a chance to beta read for another budding writer, jump at it. In fact, you should be beta reading as much if not more as you are writing, until you know what the hell you’re doing.

I’m still in the “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing” stage here, folks. But I’m beta reading another author’s book right now, and I am learning a lot.
Such as?
Getting on with it. Newbie writers (myself included) like to have their characters pause to ponder stuff. You know what? Bad, bad idea – unless it’s something the reader wants them to ponder, and even then, if the pondering is getting in the way of the action, best to have them ponder it at another time.
This reminds me of something Dave Barry said about writing the perfect summer novel: If the main character has to ponder anything, it should not be a moral dilemma, but rather having sex with his/her counterpart, the shark, or the villain. Not that we need more sex in books, but the message is clear here: Don’t let your character’s navel-gazing get in the way of the action. I have this problem in spades. So reading it in someone else’s novel should help me recognize it and kill it in my own.
Carboard Characters, Whether Alone or in Legion. In the book I’m beta reading, one of the characters just died a horrible death, falling off a cliff while being attacked by beings that are crosses of wolverines and vampire bats. I. Do. Not. Care. I can’t even remember why this character is in the book, other than for this Star Trek redshirt moment. When Boromir died, we at least knew quite a bit about his history, his motivations, and his character struggling with the power of the One Ring. When this character died, I had to backtrack even in the death scene to figure out who, exactly, it was who bit the dust. Not a good sign.
I’m sure I do this in my own books. I’m re-writing one now, in which I’ve introduced a number of characters – but one intro is missing because the character developed more as the book went on. And others have faded. Time to weed.
Relationships. So you have two characters who are in a budding romantic relationship. Yippee-skippy. Let them embrace or contemplate the budding in a sentence or two, not entire paragraphs. Or chapters. I’m recommending excising one entire chapter in the book I’m reading for that very reason.
If your characters have to fall in love, do it the Madmartigan way:

Let it happen, but keep the action flowing. Else your readers are going to wander off.
Description. This is my bugaboo. Describing things. Ask yourself, as you describe something: Is it important to the story? Will this help your readers understand what’s about to happen? And be honest. This is for posterity after all.

Note how Count Rugen’s description of the machine and his work on it helps build the tension. And demonstrates how callous he is about Westley’s suffering. If, instead, he’d described the hidden laboratory instead of the machine, it wouldn’t have made sense. Weed this kind of description out of your own writing. I know I’m working on that.
Consistency is Key. Do you have a character mourning the death of a friend on one page, followed by a description of him being silly all that morning on the next page? You do. Uh-oh. Either explain the silliness as part of the mourning process or erase the silliness pronto. Don’t have inconsistent characters or an inconsistent story.
Get into the culture. But not too far. So you’re writing a book that takes place in a culture other than on Earth. Get into it. Use a little vocabulary. Do something to make your characters sound different. But don’t go overboard. Don’t make them sound British to make them sound different. And certainly, don’t make them use Earth slang the whole time. It’s annoying and blurs the characters together (bad news it they’re already muddled).
Find Good. Don’t go into beta reading with a red pen and vengeance on your mind. You’re going to find stuff that’s really good. Compliment the author. Stroke that ego. After all, you’ve got some good stuff in what you’ve written. So read and learn. The author I’m reading handles action, for the most part, better than I do. And he’s got some scenes with great details that demonstrate he is getting into the culture (see above). I’m taking notes.
Being Realistic. Here’s the thing: I love the book I’m reading. It reminds me of the great pulp science fiction/fantasy novels of the 1930s and 40s. But that’s only my perspective. I don’t know from which direction the author got his inspiration. And that’s fine. What inspires someone to write is unique, and sometimes it takes a unique approach. He can take or leave my advice, and I won’t feel slighted or that my effort in reading his book was for naught. Maybe he’ll learn something, or find something valuable in what I have to say. The takeaway here is that I know I’m learning something, and am finding extreme value in the experience.