Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Oh, my achin' back ...  *Grin*

I do enjoy Christmas decorations, and the holiday was REALLY lovely - nice time in my own home this year, just me mom and her husband - but me oh my, how I do love how big and clean and bright the house seems for New Year's when I take it all down again.  It wasn't up long this year, scarcely over two weeks.  But today I finally got a huge new piece of furniture brought into the house.  Today all the dismantled tree bits, and boxes of ornaments, and standalone knickknacks are all stowed.

Today the house is very much lighter and more open.  Larger and spacious - even with a huge new piece in the dining room.  Today the stress of moving that, and all the picking up is done.

Tomorrow, I return the furniture dollies.  Tomorrow, I go to the grocery for a few very special ingredients.  Tomorrow, I will observe my New Year's rite - and worship - and dust and scrub the small stuff.

Tomorrow, the decks will be clear, the work of 2011 done - and I will be loaded and ready to fire away for 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Good to See

Cornwell hits another good list this year.  And my work is supposed to be outta style ...  Keep showin' 'em, Bernard.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lost and Not Lost

The internet is an amazing tool for obliterating the barrier between ourselves and the past.  It's rather a terrifying one for obliterating barriers between people (there are friends and others from my youth it took me many years to manage to lose touch with, and it is a little daunting to realize just how easy it is for that effort to go for naught, these days), for creating personal and financial vulnerability, for learning things it once might have been impossible to ever find.  For reunion with memories long past.

I did something this past week which represents both something I find kind of mystifyingly wonderful, and which also in a way goes against (some of) my beliefs.


I saw a photo of a weir the other day, and was brought to mind of the source from which I learned the word.  It was a book about a British boy, coming of age, and growing in friendship and attachment to an elusive girl he saw when exploring a weir out in the country.  The book was called The Otherwise Girl - something I'm pretty sure I bought at a library booksale when I was twelve or so - and one of those books I read at an age, and IN an age, when reading could still be so intimate and so singular an experience that it felt nobody else in the world could have ever known the story.

Reading was not, in the 1970s, especially for kids, really a blockbuster experience.  YA lit was backwater stuff, not the driving force in the publishing market it is today.  Until I discovered "Are You There, God, It's Me, Margaret" and S. E. Hinton, I was unaware of anything I had ever read (other than the Bible) which had ever been read by anyone else.  And so books, for me, were an extraordinarily personal adventure.  Every story I had ever read was, for me, precisely and wholly my own object and memory.  I still write as if, all marketing notwithstanding, my work is unheard and unseen, existing only for one reader - for myself - or for some imagined fourteen-year-old-boy staying for a summer at his great aunt's, who discovers this dusty old thing on a bookshelf and reads it, and somehow loves it.

What I mean to say with all this is that  The Otherwise Girl  represents something of a personal genre, a story only I have ever known, and which, because I lost it decades since, was one of the beautiful ephemera of the universe.  In some way, that enhances its strength and its appeals, its soft lines and gentle lessons, its eerie loveliness.  Its absence, like that of my youth itself, is a part of what underscores its place in my heart ...

The Otherwise Girl is, of course, not the only story of its kind for me.  The Underside of the Leaf is another.  A seamier tale.  A memory of reading something, still back in grade school - I must have been about eleven - which seemed shocking and almost forbidden.  These coming of age stories came when I was very young - before the modernity of Judy Blume, or the edgy sixties-hip of Hinton's Outsiders.  They came before I even aspired to literary sophistication, when I was very much a little kid.  They came to me utterly innocent, and told me tales both of sweetness and of tasted sorrow.  I recall, from Leaf, the intensity of feeling I had about a girl liking a boy who somewhat frightened her.  I recall a description of his sweater.

It's never occurred to me to attempt to recapture these fragments, the flotsam of a childhood I bless but am content to know has been decades-since left behind.


***


And yet.

This past week, I ordered copies of both these books.  The picture of the weir did it - and got me looking, too, at Madeleine L'Engle too (great books, and fantastic, gripping titles).  I went to Amazon to buy the Book of Common Prayer I've had on my list for a bit now - and ended up coming away with these two, too.

Otherwise has arrived already.  It is the same edition I had then; a blue upon blue turquoise cover.  A girl in shorts.  A ghostly reverse image.


I wonder whether generations since my own will ever even have the opportunity for loss like this, the kind of progress through life that shapes my own entire existence, the kind of irretrievability which overrides free will and exerts itself merely by dint of time.  Life isn't the quiet backwater it once was, and I wonder what the experience will mean for my nieces - for the marvelousness that is nostalgia, the beauty of sentiment, with its ghost of melancholy making it such a beautiful feeling.

I try not to feel generationally superior - that These Kids Today have lost the very experience of loss.

But I do wonder.  Ephemerality is at the core of life's urgency and emotionality.  Being able to order up one's own preadolescence for home delivery is both wonderful ... and itself almost wistful.  I won't recapture the girl I was thirty and more years back.

And yet.

I never lost her, either.  She's still such a part of the woman I am day to day.  And if I didn't bless the fact I could give her a little nibble - could find these memories at all - I would not have placed that order.

I believe in the impenetrability of lost youth.  But I also believe in the joyousness of memory.  And reading.

Thank You, Dr. Georges

This week brought perhaps the most interesting Christmas card I have ever received.  Given that my ex husband sends one every year, and I get all manner of cards, from the phamily-foto-newsletter annual to the gigglingly profane to the extremely religious, this is actually something of a feat.

It came in a large white envelope, and felt several pages thick.  I didn't know it was a card - but, from the return address (Dr. Corwin Georges, in the Theatre and Dance department - my major - at my alma mater), I half thought to myself, what is this, are they returning that wretched play I wrote in 1990 or something?  He was chairman of the department, though not my advisor, and I was surprised to hear from them.  My association with the University pretty much ended at graduation, because life has held my attention by force, starting with the recession I graduated into.

So when I opened the envelope, and in fact there was an exam I had taken in 1990 - purple ditto paper, my barely post-adolescent scrawl and all, I was actually kind of blown away.

The card commemorates more than the holiday - it is Dr. Georges' 40th year at the school.  He writes about never thinking this year might come - and about how he has always saved papers, and thought one day he would do exactly this, and reach out to students (I hope he kept it to departmental majors; in such a span, surely there are an abundance of US!), and share some piece of our mutual past.

My own story since then, of course, is that majoring in theater is why I became a writer.  I snarkily say how preferable it is to work alone than with Actors (guys, I actually love ya) - but the fact is, I was as close to a Technical Theater major as the size of the program provided for such specialization.  I worked in the shop the whole time I was there.  I never got cast.  I thought I was a good actor, but the fact is I was simply not.  Though I once performed a scene from The Runner Stumbles, and no less a figure than Milan Stitt told me I should apply at the Yale School of Drama, my failure to figure onstage in any of the productions we mounted during my four and a third years there (we were on terms; not semesters, so - yes - 1/3, not 1/2) was no accident.  I still can't behave naturally in front of people who are there to watch me pretend to do so.

So I tell people I was a technical theater major, though there really was no such thing in my day - I happily recall my memories of casien paint, trying to impress the guy who ran the scene shop, and getting to use the band saw - and I largely push memories of my college years into shadow.  I had a townie for a boyfriend, and I married him.  College, particularly after I met Beloved Ex at age nineteen, was almost as deniable an experience for me as my far-too-preppy high school had been.


***


And yet.

Dr. Georges' rather wonderful idea filled me with exactly the warmth he had intended.  It reminded me of how kind his colleague, my advisor, was when I was a freshman.  It reminded me of my bosom friend, who shared the program with me during that first year.  It reminded me of the way our ballet instuctor admired the arch of the top of my foot, saying even she didn't have a curve that good, and how dancers want to have that curve.

Certainly, it reminded me of the shop.  That smell of sour milk, the casien paint.  Fresnel lenses, and Lekos.  The dance concerts I ran lights for, and helped to design too.  The old proscenium designed in his earliest years by Kennedy.  The black box theater we used the most; and how hard it was to light, because its ceilings were fairly low.  The drawings I still have, of costume designs for a sort of fantasia faerie for a ballet, and of Banquo's ghost.  Of set designs, or flats, never to be realized (and, as much as my performance, really not that good).  Of my friends.  Yes, I had them.

It reminded me of that last project - a perfectly execrable one-act I wrote, which I pray is LOST to history regardless of that 40 years of saved student work - and how disappointed my advisor and Dr. Georges both were in me.

It reminded me of how much that theater degree serves me in my work every day, and how it informs and shapes my writing.

It reminded me of those chants we used to do - because theater kids need chants and in-things, verbalisms special to ourselves.  Good blood, bad blood, red leather yellow leather.  Or, what a to do to die today at a minute or two to two, a thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do, for there'll be a tattoo at quarter to two, a rat-a-ta-tat-a-ta-tat-a-ta-too, and the dragon will come when he hears the drum at a minute or two to to (repeat - louder, and faster, every time) ...

It reminded me how fortunate I am, to have the education I did, and where I got it, and when.

It even reminded me of the day we found out I was not getting even the smallest amount of tuition exchange - a benefit of teaching my father had always counted on - a mere six weeks before I matriculated; and how terrifying, and financially hideous, that was for my family.  Twenty-five years later, that is no less fearful than it was then.

I'm nostalgic.  But not altogether forgiving, or forgetful, it's true.

But.  That was not a decision of this man's making.


I am a professor's kid.  So this card means more to me even than my own little memories.  It reminds me of the briefcase, just eighteen or so feet away from me right now, where resides a collection of dad's pay notifications dating back to the early-mid sixties, when he started with his own University.  It reminds me of the professorial side of the equation - of students remembered, and remarked upon, and so proudly admired. I look at my giant portrait of Einstein, painted by a Physics major, and know its secret; that the Class Notes on the artist are tucked behind the canvas, within the frame.

The return of my ancient test paper (I did score an 89; it was good of the Doctor to think to choose a decent grade) is a unique and winning idea.  I can imagine the effect it would have had on my dad's graduates.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I went to the dentist - a man who had taken a class with dad - and he told me once again the story I know, but never tire of hearing:  how brilliant my father was, and how wise as well.  How good a teacher.

Above all, he would have valued the final compliment.  As his daughter, of course, I am most fascinated by the first.  Reportage of my dad always includes commentary on how remarkable his intelligence really was.  It was part of my life from the first, and so its extremity - and impressiveness - was lost on me, growing up.  We knew him as interested and interesting, a mechanic and carpenter and instructor, a loving parent, a warm and funny man, someone with a streak of mischief ...

Also someone capable of discoursing and maybe even running off on the occasional tangent.  Gee, wonder whether he gave that talent to any of his kids ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

(G-d Rot the/Thank G-d for) BBC/America

They have wiped countless hours of classic British television - including this - but BBC America was good enough to provide this little piece of daily delight:





David Bowie was the second "real" live concert I ever saw.  It was ... overwhemingly good.  Too good for snot-nosed kid I was.  Good enough, though, that the memory retroactively retrofits me to have deserved to see it, now that I can genuinely appreciate it (and it was, after all, only the Serious Moonlight tour - heh).  Bits of it maybe even THIS good.

I caught his towel.

I still have it.

*Squeeeeeeeeeeee*

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wishing Life Away

With X as far away as he is ... even having a beautiful home, the best dog in the history of ever, some family - and a job I love ... it is hard, sometimes, not to wish this part would give way to the part where he and I are not so vastly separated.  I realize, he's hardly the first example of this.  All my life, I have spent waiting for the "next part".

An interesting aspect of this is the way it reflects the incredible sense of entitlement and expectation of my culture.  I grew up in a United States in which, by virtue of my birth and education, I presumed it was my right to reach a certain level of socio-economic success.  Heck, it wasn't even so clear a thing as a "right" - it was just this manifest destined given; the spoken *and* implicit evolutionary presumption of American development:  and of my middle class echelon.

The eighties didn't help - nor did the dents in the economy we took with trickle-down and in the 90s.  I simply assumed - for YEARS - I was "paying my dues" and the day was coming I would be more than comfortable.

As it turns out:  I am.  But not because I deserve it "more" - and certainly not because I worked hard for it, for a long time.  I learned how, yes.  I've become a highly accomplished and responsible grownup (even if I refuse to "mature").  But it took *many* years, and is even still a developing tendency.  In my nature, I am an underachiever.

But my refusal to depend on someone else (on a man - or, as much as possible, on my parent(s)) made it an inevitability; I had to sink or swim.  There were no other options; and I found that sinking caused dependencies I turned out to be unfit to tolerate.  So I had to swim.  And I was probably past thirty before I really learned much about how to do this very well.

So, a late bloomer.  The desserts of the kind of entitlement I grew up permeated with.

As proud as I am of the life I've been put in stewardship to live:  I still don't feel I deserve my comfort and success.  Even knowing how many people would pooh-pooh just how "successful" I call myself (she doesn't even have a smart phone - or cable - or a DVR - or a Mac, nor any iDevice of any kind! she drives a car she's paid off, and wears "pre owned" clothing from eBay and thrift stores!), my sense of how abundantly blessed I am is almost embarrassing when I allow myself any perspective at all.  I pay my bills.  I am down to almost no remaining credit debt, and hope to be able to pay it off 100% within two months from now.  I am more than adequately entertained, and materially - even with a couple leaky faucets and floors I dream of having beautifully refinished - is as comfortable as I could dare to ask for.  And, apart from my privilege and education - nobody gave this to me but my blessed ancestry and myself.  The autonomy both resulting in *and* resulting *from* what has been given me is never, ever lost on me.  I am grateful for this perhaps above all other blessings not tied up in the people I love.  And the people I love are deeply entwined with these gifts.

This is the privilege I come from:  that life is so sure to be rich in material and personal blessings, I can wish away the now until my mid-forties, pining away for the "next part" - that part which will be so comfortable, so good, so full of wealth "I can't wait" to get to it ...

This is both the rapture - and the trap - of being a white, middle-class American (of a certain age ... of a certain privilege).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hah

Okay FAIR WARNING to the tender-eared:  this is Mariah Carey singing.  However, the vid has zero to do with her nor her pneumatic enhancements.  It's kind of fun.

Dadgum Plot Bunnies

... and their cousins, the evil burrowing plot groundhog, who gets you thinking about the THIRD work in line after revisions and the WIP.  I did a little reading and got ideas for the wrong book.  Typical ...

Heh.

Stolen From Leila

But ganked with love, my friend.  Because NONE of us is a pretty, pretty unicorn, and this is entertainingly put.

I probably got more #14s than anything else when I was more actively working the grind.


#14.  "It's Just Not For Me"
You can read that kind of rejection one of two ways: one, your story was good, but just not for that market/editor/moon phase; two, the editor is uncomfortable with truth or doesn’t want to offend anybody and so is gently limping away from saying anything even remotely offensive or controversial.

It was Dream Agent's #11 that brought me back to the drawing board.  The initial "send me your full" came on the strength of QUERY LETTER ALONE - no sample, no bio, no *nothing* but the letter.  I soared.  I've gotten some really nice elevens from agents I met in person etc., but this one was a bare whisper - which yielded me a response of INCREDIBLE depth, consideration, interest, and *conversationality*.  From an agent I have researched and would easily strip my head clean of teeth to work with.

Well, maybe just the fake ones.  But that's the whole frontage of my toothscape, y'all.

So the #11 from Dreamy just about killed me - until I clarified - "I can re-query this with you, yes?" and Dreams said YES.  Oh my achin' head.  Over the moon.  And not "over it" in the bad sense, either.

The detailed-without-being-long-winded critique was spot on, of course, and has been the focus of my revisions (duh).

And just reading the 25 points at the link is firing me up all over again.  I've got GOLD in my wallet.  Gotta bank it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

C'town

Carytown at Christmas:  perfection.  This is the place you go with friends, and one of them buys you a present behind your back.  This is the place you go with your niece, and laugh at the dachshund sculptures in the window and relax over a sandwich on a golden Friday before she moves far, far away.  This is the place X and I dream of wandering together.  This is the place where you go to the used bookstore and come away with four or five gifts and still feel like you could buy fifty more wonderful things (not all of them for others ...).

This is The Place.  One of the best around.


At Christmas - and year round - it smells beautiful.  It feels so good.  The creaking of old floorboards underfoot.  The fascination of craftsmanship.  The loveliness and liberation of:  *local* commerce.  The joy of food, entertainment - fried pickles - expensive boutiques and (far better still) the Goodwill.  Carytown at Christmas.  Excellent way to spend an afternoon.

And plus - my shopping is finished ...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tidy

I've just written my last checks for 2011, and filled in a couple blanks in my wardrobe, and have a very clear list of things to do tomorrow.  Church first, then the grocery.  Then home, good shoes and jeans, and off to Carytown.  I need to see some men about some horses.  Then wrapping will be the major hurdle remaining.

No housecleaning today, but the place is tidy.  I ought to change the sheets, but laundry probably won't make it to my list.  There isn't much in need of washing right now, and there are enough clean it's not worth doing a whole load for the sheets.

A fresh deadline question about work cropped up in my sore head this morning, but if I've missed it, worry won't help.  With or without that, this week should be quieter than last, and that one ended, at least, if painfully then on a good note.

Tonight, a trim of the bangs and a wardrobe-pull for church, and I will be done.  In the meantime, Clovis has given me a little to do, and no trouble about it.  The dog is wondermous.  Life is quiet.

Wintry Saturday

It's not an exceptionally cold day outside, but the grey sky is nicely evocative of the season, and the light inside now is thin and cool.  No lights on but the tree and the wreath (with a DVD tossing out a little bit of flickering, of course), it is filmic-ly oblique, and parts of the room lie in shadows while here and there a touch of chill sun seems to overexpose and shimmer, unfocused.

The headache is six days old today, but only for two now has it been attacking in earnest.  Right now, not quite drug free but resigned to the uselessness of analgesics, I sit quietly and contemplate the day.  Much movement sets off the throbbing, so I'm unsure how well any attempted housecleaning might go.  It seems a good day for editing and revision.

I'm at a loss right now as to what to attack.  Going front-to-back through the whole manuscript has been a bit of a dangerous method - lending too easily to getting distracted on minutiae - and Leila's big cut is long since taken care of.  I don't seem to know how I want to manage the one messy subplot I know should go - nor where to start with it.  And so my bubbling brain threatens to boil over, and - though I seem to be able to concentrate well enough - I don't know what to concentrate *on*.  Something about that particular mess makes me want to find some other minor note that can be cut, or worked - so I can work on something else, feel success, and be in an accomplished place before getting to the trickier job.

Naturally, the one thing that comes to mind is something I still feel needs *developing* - Clovis' relationships with and the characters of his sons.  Not the right direction, not at this point.  Cutting is the thing to do, not refinement and rebuilding.

So the writer sits.  And blogs.  And pets the best dog in all the world.  And neither writes - nor dismantles previous writing ...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Home, Is My Home ...

X calls it "cheering".

This home is so warm.  It's a shame it doesn't get more visitors.

Upstairs ... Up ... Lit ...

12/14 is the anniversary both of the night my family used to always put up (*and decorate ...) the tree, and the first date Mr. X and I ever had.  Last night would have commemorated 48 Christmases between my parents, and was nine for their daughter.

Last night, I got as far as bringing the tree up, putting it together, and shaping the branches a bit.  This evening, I've gotten it lit.  Something like eight strings of LED lights still doesn't illuminate like the old fashioned big bulbs - but it is a pretty, bright sight.  I've brought dad's ashes in to sit with me.

And now, it's time ... to pull out some of the ornaments we used to have as a family ... to hang the ones given me by friends, neighbors, coworkers, employers ... to choose where the bell will go so it can chime when Siddy brushes by - and hang the glittery Santa ball near a light so it will glimmer.  To breathe.  To change this house.  To think of Christmas.

To be alone.  And think of nights that would have been ... unimaginable.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oddment

I spent about a dozen years in the mainstream financial services sector, working both with people who were out to make the most out of every account they could manage, and in the end (toward the 2008 crisis), for those who were saying, "Hey, maybe offering credit to everybody all the time isn't the best idea."

In all those years - not ONE person I ever worked with reached out to me to make a client of me.  Not one of the financial planners I supported ever even *considered* me as a potential client.

Embiggening.

I either escaped unscathed - or should feel sorry for those idiots, who didn't understand the service they themselves rendered.  Idnit going to stink for them when the book sells and I retire without any of their help.  Heh.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bats (Literally) Rock

Bats always make me happy.  THIS makes me all goopy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Garbage Out, Garbage Out

In response to a post over here ...



I am sitting here a tiny bit chagrined:  mom and I just recycled your beer bottles - what, two months ago? - when we cleaned the basement.

Yes.  Including those rad ones with the ceramic seals ...


This said, I produce a pretty low pure-garbage output myself (speaking materially, of course - not philosophically), taking out the gi-normous rollaway only once every two months, if even that.  And it is rarely anything like full.  Recycling goes every two weeks, and that is a pretty small container but I don't tend to overflow it nor end up in adjunct piles very often.

Most of my personal trash and recycling output is the mail coming into the house.  Coupons upon coupons for high-packaging-content things I do not buy, services I do not patronize ... advertisements ... offers for credit cards ... loads of mail from a cable company I broke up with something like 14 years and three addresses ago, which just keeps saying "Baby forgive me, please, I'll be so good to you."  If the incoming snail mail is reduced by the upcoming cuts in budget for the USPS, I'd be surprised if my total recycling weren't cut by a third ...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tech II

I can't post anything profound nor considered about what happened today in Blacksburg.  This is what I said at Historical Fiction Online (where someone thought the big deal had something to do with "being in a certain radius of DC).





I heard about it within half an hour of the second murder, and damn near didn't make it through the rest of the day. There is *nobody* around here who doesn't have blood tied to Tech. My parents' first home was on campus; my brother born while they lived there. My dad's orange and maroon graduation stole is upstairs right now; I've had it since his death, and any of this would break his heart.

The massacre was unspeakable. I still remember the Queen of England meeting the families, here in Richmond. It is manifest here EVERY day - ribbon magnets on cars. People have hardly forgotten.

When my coworker told me, I almost broke down in tears. When my boss (not local, but he was in town today) mentioned it casually, I had a hard time responding to him without my voice cracking. I have prayed ... all afternoon.

This is worse than simply appalling. It goes below an emotional, social waterline and cracks something fundamental.


***


Blacksburg is really nowhere near DC. Today's crimes began with a murder in the parking lot at the University Colosseum, and escalated when, during a routine traffic stop just afterward, the murderer then shot the campus police officer who pulled him over.

Thirty two people died less than five years ago. Too many of those people were *kids*. None of those people, nor their families, could ever have imagined this tragedy.

This happened on campus, involving a campus police officer - in all probability, a man who himself would have been mobilized to the massacre of April 16. That's all it has to have to do with this. It is devastating.


I don't mean to sound pedantic nor nasty. But this has nothing to do with Washington, DC.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yay.

Good news can still be depressing stuff.

Do It. I Dare Ya.

Try typing rickperry.com into your browser.  See where it takes you.  (SFW and safe for nieces to ... well, insofar as the GOP goes ...)

Holy frijoles.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Referential Tethers

Historical fiction and sci-fi have huge amounts in common, not least of which is world-building.  The basic point of putting a reader into an alien setting is to take them OUT of the world they're sitting in while reading, watching, listening.  So I am always confounded when an author insists upon pointing out the present day.

I've been sitting here watching "Children of Men" - and this film involves some of the most intense staging I've seen in a long time.  This setting is so finely conceived, calibrated, and realized it is almost a luxury to give over to the film.  Even as harrowing as it is as a place, as a plot - it is so complete you find yourself immersed.  So it is disappointing (for *me*) to find the voyage anchored; to be jerked back to the couch, when the work successfully has me somewhere new, teaching me a place I din't previously know.

The point of sci-fi in particular tends to be to reflect upon our existence - to posit hope, or fear, or question, or maybe even answer.  I know that the point of what I feel is a tether is intended to be a mirror.  It's not that I fail to understand.  But so often, it ends up feeling like name-dropping - or, simply, like something which ideally shouldn't have to be explicit.  I'm distracted when a plot shouts its own point in constant, or heavy-handed symbolism (CoM is doing this a bit), but I can put up with it.  But the present-tether goes even a step beyond this.

To anchor a story in themes of oppression is one thing; to write about the specific oppression - detention of particular people in a particular place and time - quantifies it.  It becomes reportage, and can serve extremely lofty purposes.  "The Crucible" is perhaps the most famous example of this - Salem Witch Trials as McCarthy Hearings.  But "The Crucible" NEVER speaks of the era in which it was written.  And "The Crucible", half a century later, hasn't dated itself.

Children of Men makes a point of mentioning "2003 - that magic time when we didn't know the future was about to happen" or some highly similar statement I'm not going to bother scene-searching to replay to quote accurately.  So watching this flick in 2011, it has already committed to dating itself.

I don't mind this as such, but (a) it does have the effect of destroying my WSD, and of course (b) it makes the DVD market pretty finite for such a film.  Why do studios insist on such self-referentiality, when it actually forces a film into obsolescence?

And why do authors want to date a story a screenplay, a novel?  Or shout at a reader, "YOU ARE **NOT** HERE"?


I know.  I know why.

I just personally don't like it.  So expect from me:  untethered stories.  No anchors for me.  Nor for you.

The tether obligates a story.  Dropping an anchor doesn't just stop me from experiencing a story and its world:  It pins the point very finely.

Ways to Get Things Done

Do not log on to Twitter.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Adverbial Adversarial

A terrifyingly large segment of the publishing industry is flatly, inflexibly *against* the use of (existence of?) adverbs.  It's one of those things I've never understood.  Sure, "I am angry," he said angrily is a poor piece of writing.  But adverbs came into existence in our language for a reason.  They do a job which sometimes can't be done another way as neatly.  Ahem.  "It isn't necessarily so" does not mean the same thing as "It isn't so" - sometimes, adverbs provide important content.

I was really happy to see this, is my point.  It's funny I happened to find this in my Twitter stream just this morning, because I'd been thinking of a post just like the one I'm writing last night before I went to bed - so it's nice to see that no less an entity than Harper Collins chose to Tweet it.

Kevyn Aucoin (RIP) said one that there are NO absolute rules for a makeup artist.  Not one.  Many artists and experts have acknowledged that exceptions make most rules.  I tend to be of this opinion about writing - there is no subject which MUST never be touched - no rule which must never be broken - no way of doing things we must not, cannot try.

In high school, one of my best teachers said we were never to use the words "things" or "stuff."  I refer you to the final sentence in my paragraph above, regarding my adherence to this rule.  Mrs. V. was wonderful and amazing - and the purpose of rules is to teach us something.  But if we never move beyond what we learn in class, our writing will never gain depth beyond what is taught us.  Sometimes, learning must be done by other means than instruction-by-pedagogue.  Several of us chose to respond to Mrs. V. by trying to find ways to use the phrase "stuff of life."  It was the only defense against totalitarianism by someone we loved, and who let us rebel against her in this way because she was no moron.  Her rule did something important for the kids who needed it.  For those of us who pushed at her with a smile ... we learned another way.  And, in my case, I like to think I moved well beyond the need for limiting my concern to the use of elementary terminology.

Adverbs don't just make a sentence memorable, they change its meaning. Sure, there are many times when a more precise verb can narrow the gap in understanding—but some verbs can't be fine-tuned any further. A sigh is just a sigh, but anyone who has ever been in love knows how important it is to distinguish between when she sighs happily and when she sighs otherwise.

This is the role and value of adverbs.  We have adjectives for a reason - modification is *necessary* to our tongue.  True every bit as much of verbs as it is of nouns.  Nouns are not the only parts of speech which can own character so particular it needs to be explicated.  Verbs are not by nature so much more descriptive of themselves than nouns--so it is unfair to deny them the companionship, or support, of adverbial modification.

Less, yes, is always more.  But our language - maybe all language - comes with descriptors for a reason.  Cooking without basil might well ruin dinner tonight.  Likewise, paring creative writing down by removing an entire class of descriptiveness - of *creativity* - lessens what can be done with words.

Why any writer, editor, or agent really wants to see that - I've never properly understood.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Knights Didn't Have It Easy

Turns out, they got hit a lot, and hammered at with swords.  Who knew?

The fascinating thing about an archaeological story like this is the physical extrusion, into our time, of a place so many of us romanticize in one way or another.  This is a man who lived in the world with John of Gaunt, with the storied Katherine Swynford - and the the story-making Chaucer.  This was the time of the Plantagenets, of a boy king, of rebellion and a world changed by plague - the world in which the Church still stood supreme, but was hardly unquestioned.  A Distant Mirror.  An age of chivalry.

Nasty, brutish, and short.

After all, Robert Morley (our skeleton, in the first link) was 5'7".

56 Similes

I've only read seven of these, and am already laughing out loud.  Enjoy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Would the President's Jobs Bill Affect Your Life?

It's not MY life that concerns me; it is the wellbeing of all those lives in my country, which appear to mean nothing to those in power except insofar as they can be duped into voting once again for those who will betray, belittle, and debase them.

Go.  Do.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gimme Gimme

Year before last, my step father bought me the Asus on which I am working right now.  Last year, mom (hilariously for so many reasons) got me an HP printer.

What is it I want for Christmas?  A kitchen timer.  A copy of "Up".  Maybe a baby gate or even two.  Maybe.  Earrings.  I want to see Siddy enjoy something as much as she loves her doggie blanket, the gift of the YEAR that mom got her last year.  I die of the blanketed, cuddly, cozy cuteness constantly, thanks to that like $8 gift.  Everything my nieces have ever made me is awesome in its own right, PLUS because it was made for me.  One of those giant peppermint sticks like I used to buy for my daddy, and which he dutifully consumed every dadgum year.  Something X drew.  Something his kids drew, with the art supplies I gave them some years back.  Scented candles.  Books for my research, from the Amazon Wish List.  Books NOT for my research - same list.

Extravagant gifts are amazing.  This laptop has changed my life, literally.  It was the tool I used to get my job.  It's where I finished the novel.  It keeps me in touch with those I love.

But extravagance is unfamiliar to me.  Two years running, I have been humbled by it.  This year - I don't think anything like that is in the offing.  And that makes me so happy.

The kitchen timer, though.  I seriously want that.  (Bro, don't forget to remind mom ...)

Ahh - The Article Referring to Those Photos

And an excellent comment from the readership:


LindsayDianne November 30, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Somewhere in between the obesity epidemic and photoshopping, lies the truth.

The Magic of Touch-Ups

And the cruelty of expectations.  Bro, please look at these with the girls.  X, you guys too.

Speaking as someone who LOVES the artificiality of makeup, and who recognizes just how CGI'd most images have become - perhaps even more in photography we don't even think about being altered than in special effects we acknowledge every day - the pervasiveness and effects of this imagery are saddening, sickening, deeply disturbing.  Many of the pics used are obviously exemplars - just ways to demonstrate the power of image manipulation.

But too many of them are the faces of those put before us every day as expectations - as ideals - to aspire to.

And the one of the child is just too much to even manage, emotionally.  A *child* isn't deemed beautiful enough to print.  *Sigh*

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

MissUs

He is so far away saying "I miss him" isn't even the shadow on the floor.  The thing between me and the light is impossible to catch with words.

How can he be so close when he is thousands of miles out of my reach?  Never mind:  I know.  I am a writer.

It's beyond me to focus - but impossible to forget - I'd rather be without him, than be with anyone else.  ...  Apparently.

Good night.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy 1500th Anniversary of your Death, My King!

This article marks the first time I have seen the theory that the Franks' name is in any way etymologically to be linked to the term ferocious - my immediate gut-think is that it would be the other way around.  The commonest etymology I ran across in my reasearch years (there were three and some change) is that the name derives from the francisca, the distinctive ax they carried.  The second-commonest theory was that both the ax's name and the people's rooted in a word meaning freedom, liberty.

For the overall nutshell picture, though, it's a pretty good article.


***


I always feel like I'm reading children's books when I go in for nutshells on Clovis.  Nothing against children's books at all, of course.  But I did get a bit beyond 'em some time back - as with research on the Man Himself.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Truly Good Gifts

A friend of mine, two years ago, gave me one of those ceramic Christmas tree decorations with the little plastic "lights" under which you put a chandelier bulb to illuminate it.  She painted it herself.

Both my grandmothers had trees like this, and this little gift makes me *so* happy, every year.  It's a pretty decoration, but it reaches back to memories of Christmases with family, and does a little something more than simply sitting and shining.  Plus, a truly beloved friend made this just for me; it is the sort of gift that rather literally keeps on giving.

I just put this tree out (the "real" tree waits for the anniversary of my parents' wedding, which is also the anniversary of my first ever date with X - and was always the evening, growing up, my family decorated for Christmas), and am just sitting and looking at its bright little plastic points, and grinning and enjoying the first small surge of that silly thing we call "holiday spirit".

I hadn't planned on bringing any decorations out, but have sort of made a few bits and bobs part of the house cleaning today.  Very pleasant.

X looks at pictures of this place, a place he thinks of at "home" in a way unlike his hated domicile, the city of his residence, and both warmly and wistfully describes it as "cheering".  I've never especially thought of myself as a person of "cheer" as such - and yet, when he says that, I see it as he does.  This home is cozy, and comfortable, and warm in more than one way.  I hope it is welcoming.

This tree is cheering.  It is the talisman of a friendship I like very much, and symbol of a holiday which, spiritually, means more to me every year.

What a great gift.  I will thank her - again - soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some Things, Even Guilt Can't Overcome

Not long ago, my boss and I had a call in which he started off by telling me, "So you might not know this about me, but I grew up in Catholic schools ..."

It may be said with a grin, this is hardly surprising news - but his raconteourish point was that he is a guy who knows from guilt.  And a day he was planning to try to work remote, he had decided he must count as a day off, because he was going to spend a couple hours of it on personal/family business.  It might sound pretty funny for someone to feel enough Catholic Guilt to turn a day on which he would be taking at least four calls, and (I know him) staying online and responsive into personal time off - but I actually know that sense of duty, that self-expectation EXTREMELY well.

However.  We all do have our limits.  Right?

I flat out left work early today, and though ordinarily this would be a cause, for me, of seriously well-crafted invisible maternal guilt trippery (my mom constructed my appreciation for Consequences with unparalleled excellence, it must be said) ... not so this time.

There were more people in the office today even than yesterday or Monday, so the discomfort I have been having - most acutely, yesterday - dissipated enough for me to be distracted from it most of the day.

Ahh, but people do have a way of leaving earlier than I do.  My hours schedule me on Thursdays to 5:30 p.m.  And I am conscientious - I stay until 5:35, unless I stay longer.  There's usually little advantage in leaving early (unless you leave *significantly* ahead, it's simply not worth it traffic-wise), so I really just don't.

But today, I found I was alone with him.  Beyond my visceral loathing for this guy - I do feel justified in managing my outrageous discomfort with any situation in which I am alone in a silent and empty building with him (it was in such circumstances he misbehaved last year).

So my butt left EARLY today.  I was gone by 4:30, not a "happy Thanksgiving" so much as mumbled over the cube wall.


I wonder whether his contract will *ever* end.

At least I know our whole project someday will.


I left work early today, and not a *scintilla* of guilt about that.  It was more important to do the right thing as a woman, today, than to observe the nicety of sitting at a desk, for an hour, when nobody else (but him) was at theirs.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanks, Given

Dad did the pecan pies.  He did mincemeat.  He made the hard sauce - his big, softly fuzzy, strong hand could whip like nobody else I've ever seen, actually.  He could whip stiff cookie dough; I never have been able (or willing) to do that.  He liked his desserts, and he LOVED the way everyone else loved them.  It won't be long before I'm thinking of dad's fudge, dad's bourbon balls.  The year he and I made mint sticks like his mother used to make, and came up with a substitute that was great, for her icing, the recipe for which we didn't find that year.  That time he and I walked up to grandma's apartment in the snow - mom and Bro being away somehow, for some reason.  Walking in the snow with dad, to grandma's little place over the hill and (I kid you not) at least BY some woods.  Where she had sweet rolls baking.  How can life ever be better - than hot sweet rolls in the snow, stolen with your dad?

At the holidays, he did dessert.  Mom always took birthday cakes (and I never even understood the idea of choosing my OWN cake - it was white cake dyed pink, iced with pink seven-minute frosting, and topped with little heart red-hots spelling out my name, or my age, or a heart) baked in heart shaped PANS I now have in my own kitchen - or no cake at all for me, young lady.  Fortunately for me:  cake was cake.  That I missed out on choosing my own mattered little, when mom made it all so "me" with the Valentine-y theme.  (No, my birthday is not on Valentine's day.  No, it will not be disclosed; for the reason that my father died on it, it's a sacred and highly secured date for me; un-share-able.)

I can HEAR dad's spoon in one of those teacups now also in my own kitchen.  Bingbingbingbingbingbingbing.  Hard sauce.  The idea was insane to me as a kid - liquor and sugar, maybe a tiny bit of butter - all creamed up and poured on mincemeat pie.  I didn't even like pecan, then.  Gimme the pumpkin, and only the pumpkin.  (Mom usually made the pumpkin.  And we never can have a slice without "that time Aunt V. made it without the sugar.")

I can hear his voice, too.  A voice Mr. X never did hear.  And it breaks my heart - still - that there are those in this world who never met my dad.  Never, ever will.

Making bourbon balls with him at *my* house.  Having Thanksgiving with him and mom, the year before that, at my bright, high, wide, beautiful de-lux apartment in the sky.

Being up with him on Christmas morning, wondering where the heck the grandchild was.  We had to WAKE her.  Weird little kid; what kid isn't up at the crack of oh-dark-thirty on Christmas morning?  The joy of all of us, sitting on the floor - the camera my brother and siser-in-law gave me (I'm still cowed) - the toys for wee-un - the BOOKS for dad.  Noise, and biscuits, and fudge, and OJ and sparkling cider and US.  All of us.  Stollen in the kitchen, Christmas music on the radio when mom started cooking in real earnest.  The sound of his snoring, maybe.  But never for very long.  My sister-in-law exclaiming something funny, from the kitchen.  My niece, walking on my back.  Her leash, everpresent.  She was a dog that year.  Drove dad a little bonkers.  Oh, but holding her on his lap.  I never saw anything warmer.  Even the fire; we always had a fire.

To the day he died, my dad still clasped my own fist inside his palm like it was a tiny little thing.  I'm no elf, but dad's warmth was the biggest thing in the world.  Beautiful.

Pecan pie.  It was  SO sweet.  A sliver of that, a sliver of mincemeat.  But give me as much pumpkin as I can get away with.  And seconds on that, too.

The big bag with wrappings, off to one side.  S-i-l separated the ribbons.  Recycle the rest, or burn it.  I can't remember Siddy being there.  Must have left her at home, out of the chaos.  Or maybe - just dad, my niece, my family were so much more important.

Thanksgiving the year after dad died - it was just me, mom, and X.  I have a photograph - or did have, once - of each of them napping on a couch in the family room.  An afghan apiece.  It was such a quiet year.  Mom decorated for Christmas with so much blue.  She'd never used blue - but needed a change.  Those ornaments - that year - still carry more in their color than their color.  They're talismanic.  Blue.

Christmas after mom remarried.  Still joyous.  Never the same.  But Sid does come.  Last year she fell in love with the concept of, and the object of, her new, soft doggy blanket.  LOVES being under a blanket.  I should get two more of them; keep them in rotation, like the rest of her bedding.  Old monkey.  Dad loved her.  She was and is such a good sitting-at-your feet dog.  She was perfect for him; he could read, and she was there.

She half killed him, of course; fur and dander.  Lung disease.  But he liked her anyway.  He made me promise never to let her get all fat.

Nine years later, she's still as beautiful, and blessedly healthy.  Good old girl.


***


It was in November we ensconced his ashes.  Back then - November was cold.  Mom and my brother and me.  Again.  Alone there.


***


I still really don't go for the pecan pie.  Nor the mincemeat.  And nobody makes hard sauce anymore.  No bingbingbingbing.  There is no dad.  Hard sauce was a Dad thing.  I don't think anyone even whips the cream at home anymore.  But it's okay.  It's always family.

I miss him rotten.  He was much to be grateful for, and he was MY daddy.  Great Christ, how blessed, to be his child.  I hope I recognize even half how fortunate I have been.  And am grateful even half enough for that.

Monday, November 21, 2011

More from Charles Major

I've been immensely enjoying "When Knighthood Was in Flower", having gotten into it now.  Here are some reasons (all are quotations from the novel, please consider this my citation) ...


***



He had no vanity—which is but an inordinate desire for those qualities that bring self-respect, and often the result of conscious demerit—but he knew himself, and knew that he was entitled to his own good opinion.

(T)he surest way to any woman's heart is to convince her that you make her better, and arouse in her breast purer impulses and higher aspirations.

(M)an's caution avails but little when set against woman's daring.

(H)e had learned to swear in Flanders.

I like a woman who can be as savage as the very devil when it pleases her; she usually has in store an assortment of possibilities for the other extreme.

I was a jealous little devil.

Jane sat there looking so demure you would have thought mischief could not live within a league of her, but those very demure girls are nearly always dangerous.



>> Probably MY personal favorite quote!
Prudery is no more a sign of virtue than a wig is of hair.



>>This reminds me of the way I use words and humor ... 
(S)he answered with glances, smiles, nods and monosyllables—a very good vocabulary in its way, and a very good way, too, for that matter.

>>Hah!
I would rather fight a pack of howling, starving wolves than the Scotch; they fight like very devils, which, of course, is well; but you have nothing after you have beaten them, not even a good whole wolf skin.

(S)he looked for a laugh, but found a sigh.

>>Regarding a new dance at court: 
The king [Henry VIII]asked Brandon to teach him the steps, which he soon learned to perform with a grace perhaps equaled by no living creature other than a fat brown bear.

(A)s bright and beautiful a June day as ever gladdened the heart of a rose

It is wonderful what a fund of useless information some persons accumulate and cling to with a persistent determination worthy of a better cause.


***


Charles Major is not, to my knowledge, any relation.  But, reading his work, I would hardly blush to be told we were family of some kind.

MIND the Bollocks

Because it's important.

more historically significant than the discovery of early Beatles recordings.


...

Um.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Heh

Remember six weeks ago when we thought there'd been umpteen Republican primary debates ... ?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Was It Again - Mithrae Invictus?

I'm too lazy to look up the correct phrase, so please don't make fun of me.  The point is this in any case.

Proportionate Pages

Yesterday, I ploughed through 25 pages of the MSS in my revisions.  It sounds all very well - but this isn't *writing*, it's editing.  So perhaps I could be moving faster.  It's not that there's any sort of RDA minimum on revision.  At the rate of 25 pages in a day, if I actually put that much energy in every day (which - with ten hour days and an actual life to be maintained - unfortunately isn't going to happen) I'd have the whole manuscript edited inside of a month.  No, the fear I have is that I am going deeper than revision and more into rewrite.

Which, given the work I need to do - maybe not a bad thing.  I don't know.

Being Miss Pragmatism 2011, though, I want to approach this work carefully, and somehow that seems to indicate not getting too deep in it all over again.  This instinct may be dead wrong.  I may also be full of horsefeathers, on the point of my self-vaunted objectivity.  Getting my hands a little dirty, getting into the guts, may be what the doctor ordered.  (I do, after all, keep calling this work "surgery" ...)

We shall see.

Whatever the case, the work itself overall feels *good*.

And so I shall shut up here, and get back to it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pyx Ampoule

There is a legend sometimes attached to Clovis, always attached to Remigius of Rheims, that at his baptism, the miraculous oil was brought from the heavens by a sacred dove.  The Sainte Ampoule was one of those tales I saw no way to incorporate in the novel, and felt no urge to, and so did not - yet it is a fun legend, and I was strongly reminded of it again here.

New to Episcopalianism, I didn't grow up with burses and pyxes, nor even consecrated Hosts, so (what is to me) High Church accoutrements are still novel to my eyes.  I didn't know the pyx ever came in the shape of a dove



but it *is* a fascinating point - even if the migration of the form seems to have been inherited from the East - that this was an early Church style used in France.

Peace be with you, from St. Remigius and me.

Quote of a Non-cester?

The author Charles Major (no relation I am aware of) puts together a perfectly delicious Victorian romance.  This also happens to observe a habit of poor writing (and, meta-2000s style - doesn't suffer poor writing in itself!) ... watch out for too MUCH investment of yourself in your work, kids!

I have started out to tell you the history of two other persons—if I can ever come to it—but find a continual tendency on the part of my own story to intrude, for every man is a very important personage to himself. 

Page Pattern




The human eye tends to hit a new page of text and move in a curve similar to these (perhaps a little less tight on that initial curlicue) - hitting somewhat left of the middle, sliding down and then up and around, really to the point where, in our particular culture, pages "begin".  I don't know, come to think of it, whether this insta-scan pattern holds in cultures for which pagination is reversed from the standard I am talking about, or for peoples who read text vertically rather than horizontally - but I *think* that this is brain-science, so would imagine it holds true.  I am fairly certain it is true for "pages" both hard copy and electronic.

Periodicals and print material of all kinds have taught layout based on this somewhat reverse-G eye-wander for a long time indeed; I must have learned it in about eighth grade or so, working on newspaper or some other such lost miscellanea of my life.

I still lay out newsletters, and, though this particular tidbit of the flotsam of my mind isn't necessarily a leading gambit in construction, it is 'there' enough in my intelligence that it certainly informs me on some level.


The way our eyes work is a kind of momentum, and the way my mind works in writing follows a curve too.  I slip on a banana peel and - WHOOP - am off.  Perhaps in a direction I intended (usually so), but often to effect I don't necessarily know is available until it's typed out.  I find the lilt and rhythm seem to follow patterns, like the inertia of an eye's passage across a page, and get me to the right point, as the curve gets you to the beginning of the page, once your eye has scanned its shape even before properly focusing.  Once I've had my creative loop-de-loop, I can look at the way things fell out of my brain, and even with things which will need editing (they all do), at least follow an internal momentum - even those things I will need to kill at some point.

Recently, I had a different kind of loop-de-loop.

Six years ago, "The Ax and the Vase" began, for me, with a single sentence - and I was doomed.  It was a sentence in first-person.

My "choice" of POV (ugh) is another post altogether, but it's been an almost obscenely intimate part of the book since the beginning.  It's seemed all wrong - not from the point of view of the mechanics of my creativity, but from the simple standpoint of a person like me so *personally* taking on a character like Clovis.  I suspect there'll be men (and women too; there's always a guitarist at the back of the bar, doesn't matter their chromosomes) who read the work looking for me to feminize it or make mistakes ("a man would NEVER think that!") - but, more to the point, I suspect myself at that.  I didn't want to write first-person.  I have problems with certain types of historical fiction written in this POV - epistolary can work, but often times the journal concept ends up seeming *entirely* too modern, and tends to annoy me.

"Ax"'s early formation, in first-person, annoyed me.  It didn't seem to fall prey to confessional preciousness really, but I resisted.  For as long as I could - maybe as long as the first *year* of the writing and research - I held out the caveat, for the work, that it could still change its clothes.

Clovis, to be sure, did NOT behave with me as some characters to, to writers, importuning a form upon me, existing in some insistently first-person way.  We were never so intimate, he and I (and, in fact, the immediacy of intimacy with the character's experience is one of those things I am working on now) - and, frankly (har - see what i did there ... ?) I would never presume upon the King.  I'm not that interpersonal with my characters anyway - they are characters, not relationships I conduct in life itself - and have a healthy respect for them as existing outside me-me-me-me-me.  They have to be more than I.  To be sure, an ancient King of the Franks must be significantly more.

Anyway, so the first person thing - born of this accidental sentence which happened to be first-person, and which was edited out literally YEARS ago - was something I tried to give enough leeway to, for some time, to allow the novel to escape such close clutches.  By the time I got beyond the thick of research and more into the thick of real writing, the commitment felt right, and I came to love it.  (Another post:  the dynamic and freedom of close third-person POV, and how that feels good too.)

So it's a funny thing that, thanks to Leila, and thanks to the changed position of my opening and intro ...

That old sentence might actually return.

I've given it the chance to sit at the top of the novel again, see how it fits, see how it likes it there - see if it *works* there.

I'm back up to the top of that page, the scan and the curve of this momentum being so very long now.  I've just turned over the leaf.  Some invisible, infinitesimal scan has echoed the one going on for years now, and my eye has come to rest at the top.  And here is that sentence again.

"I became King of Toxandria in my sixteenth year, after the death of my father, Childeric the foederatus."

Silly Strings

Okay, this was just about the funniest combo of search strings for my blog I have ever seen.  Not showing, though I can see from the URLs it was in there too?  "What do Klingons dream about?", for which  query I have become a major (hah) hitter.  But here's the rest:



Y'all thought I was kidding when I said I contain multitudes ...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nine Years - What a Surprise

Open Letter to Mr. X ...



You remember that night?

Tonight, down here, it was not cold - and drenchingly wet.  THAT night, it was arid-dry, but it was so cold.

Nine years.  You must really be something!

Giving New Meaning to "Migration Period"

With thanks to my brother, here's a good one - it actually gibes with a lot of fiction I have read about these very generals, too, and it touches, too, on some of the later republican generals' innovative approaches to fielding (and - later - rewarding) massive forces.

Dad! Was That You?

I mean Clovis' dad, of course.  Childeric was rather a randy one.  Can't picture him as slim or young as this guy, but that's my own mindpic to manage or ignore.

If you stay tuned, a few mini-documentaries about Merovech (a generation back) and Clovis (you-know-who) follow, in a fairly strained non-order.  The overall quality isn't overwhelming, but if you ever need a teeny tiny bite of popularly accepted history these'll fill up the pause while America's Next Top Model is taking an ad break.

It's Like Laundry

Year end preparation is one of those jobs like carrying a particularly large load of dirty laundry to the basement.  Even if you use a big sheet and gather it all up inside, socks and underwear fall out the side, and you end up running back up the stairs to retrieve this lost item or that - and even still, at the end of the whites, you're guaranteed to find one bit left somewhere.  It will come clean in the jeans load, or the towel load, but you get a bit disgusted if something strays so far you don't find it till it's time to wash the towels you use on the dog's bed, or the throw rugs from the bathroom and hallway.  Real clothes just don't go in that cycle.  And you don't want to leave anyone's socks behind.

Over the years, I've learned that what works for me is to do a job at the macro level and then return to go over details, go over details, go over details and finally, only then, hit "go" on whatever it is.  What this does for me is to turn me into an expert.  Enough repetition over a structure, and I come to know it really well.  This is similar to the way I wrote the novel - with the exception that, really, by the time I had completed the manuscript, I still could never hope to know it so fully.

Timekeeping is an easy job.  Umpteen people and my share of stray socks - but it is so concrete it's not hard to familiarize myself with its mechanism.  I have it down to a science by the time I am done, the best method for me is running smoothly; even better, I can find detail and answer questions anyone might have pretty efficiently.

Writing a novel, though ... as much as I love it in the moment of creativity, the substance is so completely different.  In its way, a novel ISN'T substance, at all.  Sure, timekeeping is just bytes behind the scenes and pixels on my monitor - but chapters, scenes, individual phrases are even more slippery stuff.  They come, someday, to occupy fonts and pixels of their own; they may even (even in the judgment of an *author* - though this may be rare!) be "finished", that rarest of states, perhaps not even the goal of anyone pouring them out.

I can remember writing scenes - and yet, reading them is a revelation to me.  I do not recognize the words, their shape and rhythm and beauties - even when I know my greatest need in putting them down is to heed their rhythms, to form their shapes.  To hope for beauty, yes.  The reason I am so able to love my own work is that it is that, in a lot of ways - I don't know it.  It is fresh for me, and not strictly because I am just THAT energized by it and in love with the story I want to tell.  It's because, for me, even as intimate as I am with the point of creation, I am somehow remote as well.  This remoteness allows me to move into the POV of a character with whom I have nothing in common, on whom I could never legitimately lay claim to real familiarity.  It allows me to kill the darlings without horror nor anguish.  I love editing, I like the reduction and brush-clearing of revision.  Last night, late as I started and little as I did, I know that what I did do was minutely, fundamentally important.  I clipped the research without regret, because as much as I like the story it had to tell:  it was not a part of the story at HAND.  I found passivity and turned it active; I noticed a couple sentences that could be made more immediate.  It's small stuff - and it's mostly cutting - but it serves something I agreed to stewardship of a long time ago.

Apparently, I really meant it.  I know how to commit.


I'm actually no less committed to the laundry - or to my job, even admitting that sometimes I too am capable of leaving a loose end.  My days are spent making sure OTHER people's days can be spent on other things.  I take great pride in how good I have become at this, and frankly enjoy the hell out of my work.  It doesn't bore me.  It's not beneath me.  I'm wildly necessary, and fully appreciated.  Who could ask for more?


***


It occurs to me regularly that the work of an author - querying, editing, maintaining some kind of visibility online, networking, even the shilling, to a degree - is remarkably well suited to the skills I've honed in my job.  I wonder sometimes what the proportion of working novelists is who have worked administratively at some point - heh.  For me, the marriage is almost inconceivably blissful.  And yet - who thinks of fancy novelists and boring old admins in the same breath ... ?

Ah but that is me.  I love my contradictions.  I contain MULTITUDES.  Right down to the hideous platitudes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wayward Brainmeats

Sometimes even *I* am annoyed by the obstinately whimsical way my brain works.  Because it got to the bit about Ross Perot and just stayed there and got all gobbed and smacked - and this story is *far* more interesting than the lost mean uncle of the Purdue chicken family.

Pros

Twitter does allow you to indulge in a bit of controlled market support (Chanello's, Roma Ristorante) with the luxury of MINIMALISM in messaging.  I do *not* intend to focus on shilling, but this actually isn't a bad little way to keep up with local businesses I like to see thriving.  (Hey, Mediterranean Bakery and Arianna's - your turn!)

Also I've found several wonderful old friends I do not get to see, and can reach out to them without all the security risks of FaceBook.  So that's good.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Testy and Testing

Kicking and Screaming

I come to the twentieth century with peaceful intent, but not "in peace" - per my luddite and contrarian ways, I am dragging myself to all this stuff.  Twitter is done, and I do think the Google alerts in my name and the novel's title are good ideas with little security risk for me.  The video, apparently, will have to wait (YouTube has so far taken something like 45 minutes to download about two thirds of a clip I think is less than one minute long; ridiculous, and not my network's problem - everything else is working dandy, and without this kind of slowness).  But at least the attempts are made.

So here I sit, spending the last of my weekend?  Working.  And tomorrow - work that gets paid.  Rock on.

Almost Depressingly Easy

I can remember the days when starting anything new on Teh Intarwebs took some time (and commitment) - starting a blog, even FaceBook take a few minutes.  Twitter takes scarcely any effort at all.  So here we go.  Let's see how this turns out ...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Isn't It Ironic - Don'tcha Think?

Okay, so I will NOT link the song referenced in this post's title, out of sensitivity both for my readers - and, yeah, the English language.  Heh.

Still, it did leap nimbly to mind just now, when - as part of my attempt to be open minded, and a good steward of my work, I finally got around to deciding to research Twitter a little bit.

...we came across the word 'twitter', and it was just perfect. The definition was 'a short burst of inconsequential information,' and 'chirps from birds'. And that's exactly what the product was.
– Jack Dorsey

First sentence I see on Wikipedia.  I am not making this up.

I will keep trying to understand the point of the ultimate in content-less content, and just how many risks are attached to this form of social networking (I still FLATLY refuse to whore out my personal life, no matter their flimsy "assurances" - and unending *apologies* for errors - regarding security, to FaceBook).  But, I am sorry - this just made me laugh.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Anybody Who Can Make Me Laugh Today Wins the Prize

I can see my idea to become addicted is going to turn out well.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Love Never Dies

I stole my headline (minus the "true" - I'm making an Apoptygma Berzerk reference) from HFO, where I found this link, but honestly, this seems less romantic to me than just sort of fascinating.  I am intrigued by the story, and the unknowable - but not actually goopy about how nifty it is to die with a lover.  I just want to be holding hands when I'm an old lady.  My corpse I'll probably have 'em burn or something.  (As mom says, after all - I'm single and childless, and there's nobody who'll ever want to come to see me after I'm dead.  Thanks again, mom.  Heh.)

I Make'd It Myself


Bumkissery

Fast becoming one of my favorite blogs, Jeff's got some quite wonderful pics and observations here.  (Big Bro?  I am looking at you - go to the link!)  Plus - humor, sci-fi, and medievalism.  How's it going to get better than that?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pattern Patination



One of the things I enjoyed in researching was learning about those things I will never - can never even hope to - have.  Among these things is the beauty and fascinating craftsmanship of swords.  I can't really qualify as a full on medieval geek with Ren Faire cred, but I'm enough of a history nerd, and enough of an admirer of genuine technical mastery of the making of ... almost anything ... that pattern welding stays with me as a standard of beauty.  And, yeah, I remember that line in "Highlander" where Brenda goes breathless about "the steel in the blade folded two hundred times!"  Heh.

X had to endure my gushing about a PBS special about two years ago, exhorting him to watch the show about pattern welded steel in Japanese katanas.  The katana is of course a modern treasure, almost mystical in its appeal to Japanophiles, but it is also a living example of an art which has lost none of its power in a millennium and a half.

Even ancient and physically degraded pattern welding asserts both its artistry and the sweat and pride of its makers in a way few artifacts can demonstrate.  It is astoundingly beautiful:



Moreover, it is one of those pieces of human handiwork in which the work is minutely, manifestly visible.



The passion it takes to bend steel to your vision is nothing trivial in 2011 - but thinking back a thousand years, fifteen hundred - the mastery asserts itself almost as much *because* of any erosion caused by time as because of the will and the skill which wrought this blade ...

And, oddly enough, a part of the joy of this magnificence is its absolute unattainability.  Yes, steel is still manipulated in this manner.  But the magic of Clovis' blade, the glow of the material, the weeks, the months, the years that go into something this beautiful are something I can never possess, and I find that wondrous.  I can't hold time in my hands any more than I can really say I captured a king in my words, but the joy is in admiring the work almost because it is impossible for me to grasp.  I can't grasp the work itself, I have earned to right to grasp a hilt.  But I adore the artifacts.





***

Pattern welding steel is a process beginning in the depths of the Earth itself, where those who understand it best know how to find the purest metals for their work.  It takes a long time to purify and prepare the steel, and before a blade can even be begun, the work has been going on for ages.

The fold is made ... the steel is tempered - with sensitivity to cooling differentials, with an intense eye to where the work will end, what the watery waves, the undulating sinuous lines of solidity will become.  Evoking both the hardest, keenest weapon -and yet looking like fluid, smoke, rippling oil, a pattern welded sword is a thing of ultimate human accomplishment.  I will never in my life produce anything so marvelous.  Lord, I love admiring the work of those who can ... DO.  Something so profound.  Concrete - yet never so simple as "basic".  Elemental, but inspired.

The finished thing is an emblem of beauty, even power - but the power lies in those who can make something like this.

Hands which bring food out of the ground.

Hands which can carve the image of life out of wood.

Hands which paint pictures or bring from imagination unimagined visions of beauty or truth.

I am endlessly intrigued, and awed, by genuine creation like this.  I can write, and am proud of that - there are those, I know, who find wonder in literature.  But nothing I can ever do is so amazing as actually making something.  Choosing a font, turning a phrase - inconsequential next to the Lathe of Heaven.  Heh.  Or the lathe of human hand-making.


I studied everything from ancient breeds of horses, to brick making, to textiles and all manner of design, to rebuild the world of Clovis.  Goldsmithing, pottery, decoration - stone, wood, personal adornment, spiritual artifacts.  Childeric's bees ...

Still, pattern welded steel glows, in my mind, as something almost inconceivably special.  So find "the" special if you can.  Immerse yourself in something unattainable.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cutter

Word count reduction in the space of a single cut (thank you, Leila!):  from 168.9K to 155.5K.

Now to get her down another forty or so thousand words or so.

Learning New Things Every Day ...

For all the research I did for Ax, I am embarrassed to note I don't think I ever realized St. Clotilde is the patron saint of adopted children.  A *number* of people I love very dearly indeed are adopted, so this is particularly interesting to me.  Huh.

Video Game Aesthetics

Some who know me well are aware that one of the people I am closest to in the world happens to be a big old video game nerd, with a regular legit gig reviewing 'em, and a major interest in playing them.  He can discuss merits far more sophisticated than 'thangs git blowed up rill good' - and knows enough about the history of technology, art, music, and video gaming equipment and platforms not only to build his own custom, but to speak intelligently about the phenomenon.

Me, I never so much as played an actual arcade version of PacMan.  I think we borrowed a neighbor's Atari briefly in about 1979, so I probably have half an hour's worth of Pong under my belt.  But I am in no way a reasonable critic.

I am, however, a competent writer, and a smart enough consumer of entertainment to feel my opinions have at least some weight. And so I will venture to make this post.


With all my recent observations of histfic in theaters, what I haven't explicated is what these films are all starting to look like.  Which is:  video games.

I may not play them, but it would be the rare bird indeed, in our cultural environment, who couldn't identify some of the signifiers of the current aesthetic of games, and recognize that the division between filmic design and game design has been merging for a fairly long time now.  It's hardly new, and I'm not pretending to post news here, but the extent to which games have come to influence the look of films - and the content - has become almost startling.

It's not a loss, as such.  MGM's old historical epics are hardly the stuff of art, as much as I do love them.






But I did grow up on a certain sort of sepia-toned expectation, a mindset I don't feel much need to change, wherein historical fiction = tea-washed images of a certain brand of ponderousness we read as either romance  or majesty, depending on the plotline.  Even CGI didn't take that away ... for a while.



Historical Drama, we have been taught, looks like this ...




Lush.

Historical fiction - one of the reasons I have always loved it - has a seductive promise about it.  Even a story centered on evil looks inviting.  This comely, stylized persuasion away from my every day is, for me, the very archetype of storytelling.  "Once upon a time."

In the context of female leads in particular, though, historical fiction is looking more and more every month like video game box covers.


This isn't a bad thing per se.  But CGI is making things look so much busier - nothing seems left, in these worlds, not production designed ... nor computer designed ... to within an inch of WSD.  The color saturation of the 50s pictures has given way to an anime look right down to the way everything appears limned with cartoon black lines, to the way everything in a frame, in every image, seems to exist emphatically on its own, making the picture seem too full.  CG's capacity for detail can lead to a visual clutter, and you get in cinematography the same thing fashion has come to in the past 15 years or so.  It's all too much.  "Too many notes, Herr Mozart."





The trend isn't one I can fairly lay value judgments on, but the trends in storytelling, going along with these aesthetics, seem to me discouraging.  The arc for female leads, particularly, has gone off the rails - nothing may be realistic; not a figure, not a piece of wardrobe, and least of all a character's basis in reality.  Women have, in film as in gaming and in fanfic, become automatons.

There will be legions who would shout me down (if only I had the readership) but Ass Kicking Female Leads do not strike me as an excellent development.  It's still required that these images onscreen must be pneumatic or unrealistically willowy - the bodies of perfect movie star(let)s, not the flesh of actual womanhood.  Cup sizes may somewhat have diminished, since this brand of AKFL emerged from the venues attended by fanboys alone, and fantasy literature has allowed female authors success, but their entry into the realm of other genres and other media has made even the painful Mary-Sue-dom of proto-feminist characters cast in historical settings (and, all too often, extremely attractively corseted) seem dead-on in terms of verisimilitude.

The new breed of histfic in theaters has the appearance of focusing on sound and fury, and signifying nothing.  Now, I have not seen certain of these productions, to be honest.



But part of the reason for this is that the ideas seem so stripped down.  The urge to make histfic sellable redefines "EXCITING", unfortunately, as "loud, busy sensory overload" ... and story seems to be a thing to be avoided.

This is why I never got into video games.

I know story has become much more important over the years.  But, at the end of the day, when even a gamer wants to be told a story, a BOOK (or a movie) comes closer to the idea of the concept; a game - even with great actors voicing it, great art directors making it look "painterly", and people who do not, I believe, find as wide a literary readership for their scripts as do, still, actual novelists - isn't the object we turn to for story, for plot, for literature.  Art - yes.  But this particular type of it - is not the first point of contact for storytelling.  There can't be time to absorb a story - a well-drawn *character* - when it is necessary to fight, to kill, to MOVE your own way from screen to screen.

And movies are starting to move like that.  To feel the same way.

The *reason* I haven't seen Downey's Holmes, nor will see the new Musketeers, nor Anonymous (yes, apart from the heresy it entails - heh) is that they look to me like video games.  And I don't play video games.  I find it impossible to be drawn into video games, because what they expect of me is alien to my mind's understanding of the concept of entertainment.  I want to see characters and motivations, and the action films in particular taking their cue from VG aesthetics appear to reduce the the latter to "GIT 'em all" and the former to cardboard cutouts of the most depressing non-charisma.  I say "appear" because, obviously, I know I am not without bias.  But the marketing of these films is designed to demonstrate their content - and nothing I have seen in the marketing as yet has indicated any premium placed on writing at all; on character, development, or motivation.  These are movies which don't want me as a viewer - so I feel little guilt not signing on to be one, nor even in judging them based on what I have had put before me to judge.

It's hard for me to say I am deeply dismayed by the development.  I know that movies now are not less realistic than they were in the Brynner days above.  I know they're not even less *artistic*, as such.  It's just that the art, now, is not of a type I find appealing.


***


DISCLAIMERATION
Like any other would be debut author, I have indulged in casturbation.  Of course I have.  I don't *believe* in Hollywood coming a-calling.  But I believe in my work - and I know it is entertaining.  I do find it possible to imagine its being optioned for another medium.  It may almost be necessary for an aspirant to have dreams like this - their being realistic being beside the point in a way.  Yeah, it gets in the way for some (see also:  that link), but we all have to have some goals and hopes, and for me this one doesn't distort the work at hand nor what I hope/expect to get out of it.  So what I have to say above carries the imaginary and extraneous fear of "what if this could ever be my work?" ... certainly something centering on battles, power, featuring a strong female lead, and featuring all the lovely lovely action of a barbarian monarch's forging of a(n) (in)famous dynasty could lend itself to a whole buncha medieval-geek gaming style cinematic excess.  Even I don't claim my work is burdened with artistic depth.  It's good story telling.

But that is the point.

It is a story.  It's a ripping yarn.  But without its characters ... it would be *less*, to me.