Friday, February 26, 2016

Books . . . Books . . . and More Books

Look on just about any surface you care to glance at in our house, you’ll see a book.

There’ll be comic books. Books from the school library. Books form the shelves in the kids’ rooms, or the shelves in the basement.

Books get abandoned like dirty socks in our house; sometimes with a bookmark in them, sometimes draped open, more often than not just sitting there, abandoned, waiting to be picked up again.

We have tablets, too. And phones. And computers. All sorts of electronic joy. They get them confiscated once in a while for spending too much time on them.

And once in a while, we gather all the random books left around the house and make them put them back on the shelves where they belong.

They are, for the most part, not the kinds of books DavidDenby thinks teenagers (we have two of them, plus an 11-year-old – should be reading.

Denby writes in The New Yorker that “serious reading” among teens is suffering because they spend too much time with their smart phones, their friends, and with sports and video games.
It’s a bit difficult to latch onto what Denby considers “serious reading” to be, but there are a few snatches:

[F]ew kids are ashamed that they’re not doing it much. The notion that you should always have a book going—that notion, which all real readers share, doesn’t flourish in many kids. Often, they look at you blankly when you ask them what they are reading on their own.

And this:

No more than a minority read, on their own, J. D. Salinger or Joseph Heller or Charlotte Brontë fifty years ago; or Kurt Vonnegut or Ray Bradbury or Allen Ginsberg forty years ago; or science and history.

He also trots out the names Mary Shelley, Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, Stevenson, and Orwell.

I’m not disagreeing that these are fine authors (I question only Salinger and Ginsberg) – but force-feeding of such authors and their novels is part and parcel of why many look at reading like a chore to be done, rather than something to be done for pleasure.

Any time I suggest to my kids that they should read books I’ve enjoyed – say, John Christopher’s Tripod trilogy, the McGurk mysteries of E.W. Hildick, or C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, I get frowned at. Yet they’re reading voraciously, bringing home library books, losing library books and paying library fines. Having Dad recommend a book isn’t an automatic tell that they’re going to read it. More often than not, they run in the opposite direction.

Denby also needs to look further into this Pew study, where it’s revealed Millennials – that first internet-raised generation – is actually reading MORE than those of the older set, are more open to information that’s not from the internet and other such interesting facts that Slate tells you all about.

Should teenagers be challenged to read outside their comfort zone? Yes. That’s why we have the kinds of “serious” books that Denby writes about in the house where the kids can find them. And they do find them. I caught the sixteen-year-old reading “The Count of Monte Cristo,” outside of any school assignment. He also read “To Kill A Mockingbird” as part of a class assignment – and enjoyed it. There’s an art to getting teens – anyone – to read books, as Denby outlines as he talks of teachers challenging them with classics that fit the modern trends for dark and dystopian. But there’s also a craft – a craft of just having a lot of good books just lying around the house for people to read.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Atomic City Hyperbole

I guess I shouldn’t be shocked at the amount of stupid that I stumble into on the Internet – but as this little pile of stupid is so close to home, I feel like I need to say something about it.

Atomic City had a population in the “hundreds”? Really? What census information I can find showed a top population of 141 in 1960. That’s “hundred,” not “hundreds.”

And I have to look at Google maps of the place and wonder if even that 141 population number is accurate. This place doesn’t look like it was ever home to more than a hundred people, unless they were housed in temporary structures that are no longer there (a good possibility, given the amazing mobile home technology popular in the 1960s and before.

But to use this city as a symbol for the decline of the nuclear industry? That hardly works in my book.

If I were a new worker at the Idaho National Laboratory, even in the 1950s or 1960s, and had the choice of living this close to work but not having services such as grocery stores, schools, etc., or living further away – between 20 to 60 miles – and having access to much more in the way of services, schools, libraries, greenery, etc., I’d skip right over Atomic City and settle further afield in Arco, Blackfoot, Idaho Falls, or the like. Calling Atomic City a boomtown is to give far too much credit to the overzealous real estate speculators who figured a town right on the edge of the laboratory perimeter sans anything resembling commercial or civic development would be a magnet to workers.
The story of Atomic City is much more a story of a real estate boondoggle gone bad than anything else, given the prosperity of other towns in the area that play home to workers at the Idaho National Laboratory – myself included. Riding the bus to and from work every day, an hour and a half each way, isn’t all that fun, but it makes more sense than living in Atomic City.

Hundreds. Yup. Right there.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Writing a novel brings lots of firsts.

One of those firsts has to be the first rejection slip -- for which Doleful Creatures received its first this morning via email.

After that initial "I got the loser email" feeling, I felt better. Maybe I'll have it framed, even though I know it's all 100 percent form letter:

Dear Mr. Davidson, 

RE: Doleful Creatures, Brian Davidson, December 19, 2015 

Thank you for sending a copy of your manuscript entitled Doleful Creatures to Shadow Mountain for our review. 

We are always pleased to see new ideas, and we have now completed our review of this material. It is obvious that you have invested a considerable amount of time and energy into this project. Our publishing schedule is quite competitive, however, and as we look carefully at all the issues involved in publication, we are forced to be extremely selective in our publishing decisions. I am sorry to inform you that we are not in a position to pursue this project with you. Unfortunately, the demands of our editorial workload prevent us from sending detailed comments about your work. 

We appreciate your thinking of us and giving us the opportunity to review your work. 

Funny things the brain does. I thought I'd sent it in just prior to Thanksgiving. I was off by one holiday.

And form letter or not, I know I have "invested a considerable amount of time and energy into this project." I don't need anyone to tell me that. And I know there's still time and energy to put into Doleful Creatures -- thanks to beta readers who kept reading and said some nice things about the characters I'd created and the story I wrote.

Onward and upward, as they say. Off to the next Doleful Creatures first.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Watch the Campaigns . . .

Stumbled across this ethical gem this week while reading "Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon," by Theodore White:

In a campaign there is no conflict between ends and means. The end is to win victory, and, as in war, the means do not matter -- deception, lying, intelligence operations are common in all campaigns; a campaign is no place for squeamish men. But what happens, said one of Richard Nixon's advance men of 1960 long afterward in 1974, what happens when the advance men become government? "What happens when they all sit in the same room in Washington and the President trusts them and nobody is squeamish, nobody is there to say, Wait a minute, is it right or wrong?"

Obviously, we know what happens: For Richard Nixon's presidency, this meant immediately falling into the skullduggery of dirty tricks that led to Watergate and, ultimately, his resignation.

So when you look at our current political climate, our current candidates, the current campaigns they're running -- can anyone say they're lily-white? I say we get the government we deserve because we pretend the campaigning before the governing doesn't matter -- when indeed it does matter, as we see what character our candidates have by what company they keep and by what they allow to happen in their campaigns. Some try to insulate themselves from the action of political action committees -- look it's them doing that, not us. But by stopping at hand-wringing, their condemnation of the skullduggery of others comes off as only approval by brushing off the responsibility.

Any candidate who condones ignoring the means for the end, whether the means are brought about by their own campaign or through the actions of others, is guilty of at minimum displaying naivete and poor judgement -- neither of which are ideal qualities I want to see in government -- or brutish dishonesty that I have trouble believing will be eliminated once the end of winning the election is achieved. I won't want governors who are naive, who express poor judgment, or who believe dishonesty is the best policy. I have no interest in voting for such a candidate.

So what's a voter to do? Fiddle while Rome burns? That doesn't work. Read media reports about the candidates? Well, maybe. But our increasingly polarized media doesn't report on everything and on a national level conceals just as much as the candidates do. I see little appeal to researching candidates to discover who is the best to choose.

Do I vote a party line? Not when parties do the same unethical acts as the candidates they loathe or the candidates they espouse -- there is so much of "Do as I say, not as I do" in politicking.

I don't know what to do. Any ideas? Astor Clement probably has a few . . .

Probably the best place to start is to see who is running an honest campaign. But who can be honest about telling me who is honest? Honestly, I don't know.

Always Read Your Writing Aloud

Helpful Writing Tip No. 4,591 to Help You Avoid Looking Like A Moron: Read your work aloud and you might find the glaring mistake others can see but you can’t because, ahem, it’s too simple of a mistake for you to make.

Case in point: I fielded this question out at work this week:

sentence is fragmented, "boxes may stored on"

(Never mind the incompleteness of this comment, for it is immaterial.)

What matters is that when I replied, a little nonplussed, to the commenter via email, I still didn’t see the mistake. He called me and when I heard him read the sentence over the phone I realized I had a verb missing, viz:

“Boxes may be stored on . . . “

I hadn’t read the offending sentence out loud. I’d read it a dozen times and couldn’t see the mistake. But when it was read aloud, boy howdy did I hear it.

Our brains use different parts and sections when we write versus when we speak, and there are times and seasons when one of those parts will gloss over a mistake time and time again. It’ll be obvious we’ve made a mistake, however, when we use other parts of our brain on the same task. So read what you write, and you’ll be the better for it. Otherwise, you’re just trapped in a tiger trap by a tiger. And not even Tom Tuttle of Tacoma can stand that kind of humiliation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Waiting for Vizzini

So, just before Thanksgiving, I sent Doleful Creatures off to a single publisher that doesn’t care for simultaneous submissions. They tell me to wait twelve weeks to hear back from them.

Every time I check the calendar, I have a few weeks left.

I wonder – are they reading it now and getting ready for a quick chuck into the round file? Are they reading it and perhaps putting it in the maybe pile? Or is it so buried in the pile of submissions it’ll be another twelve weeks?

Don’t know.

But I’m not going to pester.

I should, however, start looking for other publishers . . . taking me back to the beginning.

But not really the beginning. Because as I wait, I can revise. One of my beta readers finished reading and says she liked the book -- but that the "poetry" in the latter half needs to find its way to the first half. And I kinda knew that, just because it started out as one kind of book and ended up as another. So back to the drawing board. But with vigor.