Saturday, December 31, 2005

Good News, Bad News (But Not Totally Bad)

I was thinking of writing about Bob Denver today, but I think I'll put it off for later.

Eric Flint sent me a contract and said the check was being mailed out yesterday, so I will have official writing income next year. Good news, and a big burden of suspense lifted off my shoulders. I will probably turn around and immediately use a portion of the money to subscribe to Baen's Universe, just to show my support for the venue (and also, frankly, because I think I'll like the magazine - the stories I've seen them buying so far match my tastes pretty well).

In less good news, I just received notification that my entry in Writers of the Future made it as far as the quarter-finals, but did not advance higher. Positive: I made it a step further up the ladder than last time I tried. Negative: I didn't Win, Place or Show, and let's face it, unlike last time, I didn't enter this time just to be in the contest. I really thought I had something (although admittedly, something small - might it have placed higher if I'd developed the idea further, or if I'd written it in third person?). However, now that I know, I can turn around and shop that story out. It's still a good story, and it's a very saleable length.

Here's the tricky bit. Writers of the Future is the plum market - great money, great exposure, and a wonderful workshop. If I sell three short stories to major markets (and "Astromonkeys" counts as one), then I'm ineligible for the contest. But at the same time, should I be trying not to sell to major markets in order to maintain my eligibility for a contest I may never win. I think not. I've got another story in slush at Baen's, and I've got three more stories set to submit after New Year's Day. If two out of those four sell, I'm out of the running. I've lost some great opportunities, but I've got cash in hand.

Of course, another possibility is that none of them will sell, and I'll be eligible for the damn contest the rest of my life. *sigh*

Holidays always depress me.

Friday, December 30, 2005

This Weekend

This weekend, I'm going to be installing a media center PC with a wireless router to allow both computers to share the broadband connection. So I expect earplugs to be required wear around the house for a couple of days, because I can never get these things to work right on the first try. It always seems to require at least two days of sweating and swearing. Cosmic law or something.

I started to work on my old NaNoWriMo project again, which I hadn't touched in over a month. I decided to reread it, because I was having trouble remembering whether I had already written a certain scene (my plan to mark which scenes I had written on the big board never got properly followed - jeez, some people...). My opening chapter, which I feared was too static and talking headsy, now doesn't seem too bad. I don't know if I'll actually read the whole thing through before I try to write any more - seems like a waste of time and movitvation - but I'll probably skim to make sure what scenes have been written and what scenes I still need to write.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fascinating Even If Untrue

Saw this link over at RealityCarnival.

What an amazing idea. I haven't read enough of it to judge whether it's at all possible, let alone plausible, but I just love the concept from a story standpoint. I read this and immediately think, "There's a story here. Those years really happened, but all the records have been falsified to cover up the true story." I see this idea as perhaps the germ of a fascinating anthology, either alternate explanations of what could have happened, or else a shared-world idea, where we all agree on the cause, and simply tell stories within that framework. I wish I were bold enough to step out and start something like this, but I'm still waiting on my first paycheck, and not confident enough to try to wrangle people together for a joint effort. How did Cat Sparks do it?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Do Bad Sequels Diminish Good Originals?

I know that in one sense this is a silly question, but I seriously wonder. The original Godzilla was a sober, scary film, but by the mid-70's, the series had become so campy that Godzilla was considered strictly kiddie fodder. The first Smokey and the Bandit was a fun ride, but the sequels were so awful that I was seriously embarrassed to admit I'd ever liked the first one. I know that nobody seems to think that the original King Kong's reputation was damaged by Son of Kong, but the recent Star Wars prequels do seem to have pointed up and magnified the storytelling flaws in the original trilogy.

So I'm seriously asking. Do bad sequels diminish good originals? If Michael Bay or Joel Schumacher released a crappy sequel to Citizen Kane next year, could that affect people's opinions of the original?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Time Traveler

I worked late several nights last week. One night, I stopped for supper on the way home at Waffle House, one of the few places open that time of night.

Eating at Waffle House always makes me feel as if I've traveled back in time. That tiny, open grill diner atmosphere just feels like something out of the 30's or 40's to me. I feel like I ought to be wearing brown leather shoes, smoking Luckies and drinking black coffee while I call everybody "Mac" or "doll."

Is there any other place that can make you feel quite so temporally disoriented?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Very Special Holiday Treat: The Lost Fragment

A few days ago, I posted a bit about Christmas with OSFW. And two days ago, I posted the fragment I wrote for this year's contest. But there's more to this story that I didn't tell you.

You see, immediately after last year's contest, I was so inspired by hearing all the fragments that I wrote another one right away, just to have one in reserve for this year's contest. However, once the "Bad Science/Disaster" theme was announced, my fragment no longer fit the theme, so I decided to bag it.

Now I could hold onto it for next year's party, but what fun would that be? Do I seriously not think I'll be able to write another decently bad two-three pages in the next year? I can write badly in my sleep.

So as an extra-special treat from all of me here at Frazier's Brain, the home of great value at greater prices, I present the "Lost Fragment." You are the very first person to read it (other than the writer, of course) since it was written almost a year ago and then promptly hidden in the bowels of my old computer. Now unearthed for your reading pleasure, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you...


THE LONELY HEART


Arthur Jackson sighed as the whistle sounded the end of his shift at the factory. He shut down his board, picked up his briefcase, and headed for his car. Another grueling day done, he thought. Four hours of backbreaking work, monitoring the blinking lights on his console to make sure his section of the line was running smoothly.

All he wanted to do, he thought as he stepped out onto the parking platform, was go home, sit in his den with his feet up, and drink a beer while he read his paper. He shivered in a sudden cool breeze and reached down to flick the switch on the personal heater attached to his belt. Big-shot scientists thought they knew everything, but they still couldn’t control the weather well enough to keep it warm in January.

He sighed again as he got into his car. He should be happy, he thought. He had what every man dreamed of: a steady job, a nice house with a two-car garage, a beautiful wife, 2.4 kids and a dog. Except that his wife, Astra, hardly ever talked to him, except to complain that he didn’t help enough around the house or that no, they couldn’t afford to upgrade that .4 into a third child just yet. Perhaps he should have them run a switch into his den for the trash conveyors; it wouldn’t hurt to take out the trash every now and then, would it?

He shook his head and fired up the jets. The right rear sputtered a few times before it caught. It was almost time to trade the old girl in, Arthur figured; he’d had her for over a year, after all. He lifted off and started to turn toward home, but a red glow to the east caught his attention, as it did more and more every day. He’d never gone that way before, but today, he gave in.
He circled the district a couple of times before finally settling on an isolated bar called “The Lonely Heart.” He couldn’t imagine who would name their business that; how could they attract customers? Then again, he was going in, so maybe it worked.

He settled to a landing on the platform, got out, and walked toward the front door. A space dachshund was sniffing hopefully at a couple of trash cubes off to the side of the building. It growled half-heartedly at him as he approached, then turned and spun up its tail, lifting off to look for better pickings on the next platform over.

Arthur went in, walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. He really should have a food pill first; he didn’t want to get too drunk to drive home. But no, he decided, live dangerously, seize the day. He sipped at his beer and made a face. There was probably a flavor molecule in there somewhere, but he hadn’t found it.

A telescreen behind the bar was showing a game of Astro-Ball, but Arthur couldn’t pay attention to it. His attention was distracted by the sound of crying off to his left.

A pretty young blonde was sobbing over her drink, a colorful concoction in bands of blue, purple and glowing green.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I just… Yes, I’m fine,” she said, gamely attempting a smile through her tears.

“Would you like to talk about it?” Arthur asked.

“Actually, I’d like to talk about anything but,” she said. “So what would you like to talk about, Mister…?”

“Arthur. Just Arthur,” he answered.

“I’m Vanessa,” she said, and this time, her smile was more genuine.

Arthur gazed into her impossibly blue eyes as he sipped at his beer. It didn’t taste so bad this time; in fact, it tasted wonderful, the best he'd ever had.

That’s when he knew he was in trouble.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

King Freaking Kong

I finally got to see King Kong a couple of nights ago (I say "finally" both because it took me almost a week to get to the theater to see it, and also because I've been waiting for this movie to come out ever since they announced immediately after Return of the King a couple of years ago). My feelings were mixed, to say the least.

marccarlson, a member of my writing group said this about the movie: "I may actually like this one better. Yeah, there are some trivial little bits that I might have chosen to do some other way given my druthers, but there were some of those in the original movie too." I see what he's saying there, because I thought some of the choices weren't what I would have done. But the main source of my discomfort is not with any one particular change from the original. It's in the pattern common to all the changes.

It's hard to remake a classic. On the one hand, if you change too much, you run the risk of alienating your built-in fanbase (see the 1976 Kong). On the other hand, if you make essentially no changes at all, audiences will rightly ask, "Why was this movie made at all?" (see the remakes of Psycho or My Man Godfrey). There is a sweet spot, where you make a film that remains true to the spirit of the original while bringing just enough of a fresh approach to allow the film to stand on its own.

The '76 remake tried to do this by camping the entire thing up and playing Kong largely for laughs, not surprising when the screenwriter was Lorenzo Semple, Jr., creator of the Adam West Batman TV series and screenwriter of other campfests like the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Jackson and Co. take a more sober route. The original film is an excellent example of spare plotting - Denham and co. take a ship to a mysterious lost island. One of the passengers is Ann Darrow, a beautiful woman whom Denham has fast-talked into coming along to star in his film. When they arrive at the island, they meet natives who worship a mysterious monster known as Kong. The natives kidnap Ann to sacrifice to Kong. Kong turns out to be a giant gorilla, who carries Ann off, with Denham and his men in pursuit. They discover that the island is populated with creatures lost to the rest of the world, dinosaurs and giant insects. Denham and his men are pursued by a brontosaurus, then shaken off a log spanning a chasm by Kong himself. Most of Denham's men are killed, but Jack Driscoll survives to pursue Kong still. Meanwhile, Kong battles a tyrannosaur, a sea serpent and a pterodactyl in order to protect Ann. Driscoll rescues Ann, and Kong pursues the lovers back to the native village, where he is captured by Denham. Denham takes Kong to New York to exhibit on Broadway, but Kong escapes, kidnaps Ann, and carries her to the top of the Empire State Building, where he is shot by airplanes.

The Jackson film hits basically every note of this plot, but expands the film mainly by inflating the numbers. The ship's crew is expanded. The brontosaur becomes a herd. Kong battles multiple T-Rex's and a flock of huge bats. Kong's battles in New York are expanded as well; he even battles more airplanes than the first Kong did. Some of the changes work well, really raising the stakes of the story. Others just feel sort of overstuffed and desperate, like all the rigamarole with the ship battling waves and fog to make it to the island or the truly over-the-top bug scene in the chasm.

Having said all that, however, the central element of the film - Kong himself - is so well done that Jackson's other sins are forgiven. The original Kong was a fascinating creature, clearly artificial, yet so full of power and personality that you willingly gave yourself over to the fantasy. However, as good as the effects were for their time, they are clearly showing their age. What Jackson has done is to make Kong more animalistic, more like a real gorilla, but still maintaining a regal presence and intelligence that just commands your attention when he's on screen. The performance by Andy Serkis, augmented by the work of a ton of animators, brought me close to tears a few times, especially in the scenes in which Ann and Kong watch the sun set, and later rise. Jackson's Kong is majestic, yet with a playful sense of humor that's truly endearing.

I don't know that I'm dying for an Expanded Edition like I bought for the Lord of the Rings trilogy; the movie already feels too long, especially in the tragic moments which seem overmilked. But I will definitely buy it and study it when it comes out. I may even buy the '76 version, just to have a complete set.

I draw the line at King Kong Lives, however. Not buying it. No way, no how. I'd sooner buy King Kong Escapes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My Christmas Fragment: A Bad-Science Disaster Story

TIMESTORM


Frank Dyson had long dreamed of commanding the first mission to fly faster than light, but he had never dreamed that it would start out like this: running for the launch pad with his crew of three - Abel, Dave, and Kentaro - pursued by armed NASA guards. And then there was the fact that he was being led by his own duplicate self.

"Don't worry," the other Frank said, shouting to be heard over the alarm klaxons as he ran alongside a duplicate Dave. They both wore stolen NASA Security uniforms. "Abel and Kentaro have secured the doors.You'll be on your way in no time."

Frank and his crew had been in final preparations for the launch of Starstrider, the first ship to be built with the new XCD Drive, which was theoretically capable of exceeding the speed of light. However, with less than a week to go till launch, another Starstrider had appeared in orbit and requested permission to land. It turned out that the time dilation effect had a limit equal to the speed of light. Once you exceeded that speed, time reversed itself, like turning a shirt inside out. The duplicate Starstrider had landed, bearing a duplicate crew and a wealth of data on the voyage. Scientists had been swarming over the ship and combing through the data for days.

Then only a couple of hours ago, word had come that Frank's launch had been scrubbed. NASA administrators cited dangerously high winds as the nominal cause. The launch was too risky, especially since they already had the data they needed. Frank and his crew had been locked down, as well as the duplicate Frank and crew. But with just a few minutes before launch time, the duplicate Frank and Dave had appeared and freed Frank and his men. Now they were racing against time to complete the launch.

They rounded a corner to see the duplicate Abel and Kentaro struggling to hold the door against several guards. Frank Two pulled his stunner and zapped a couple of the guards. The others were easily overcome with the arrival of the reinforcements.

"You guys got here just in time," Abel Two said.

"Right," Frank Two said. "Now we just have to get these guys to their ship."

"Wait a second," Frank said. "I thought you were being held under armed guard, just like us. How did you get away?"

"We didn't," Kentaro Two said.

"What?"

Frank Two smiled and put a hand on Frank's shoulder. "Let me explain. We didn't really arrive four days ago. We actually arrived more like a month ago. And since we knew this was going to happen, we knew we needed back-up. So we decided to go out and come back a few more times. On our last trip, we'll come in and contact NASA. Those guys being held under armed guard are our future selves."

"Yeah, okay," Frank said. "But do you really think we can make it all the way to the ship without being stopped? It's a long way, and the entire base has been alerted."

"Don't worry," Frank Two said. "Our existence is proof that we'll make it. Besides, I told you, we have back-up."

He opened the door, and both crews stepped out into total pandemonium. Frank had to squint in the strong wind that ripped tears from his eyes, but everywhere he looked, he saw duplicate Franks and Abels and Daves and Kentaros battling with guards. Pockets of the battle spread across the entire mile of tarmac between the headquarters building and the ship.

"Oh my God," Frank said. "Just how many of us are there?"

"One thousand twenty-four of each...ish," Frank Two said. "Turns out, there was a doubling effect every time we came back. But four of us are still being held prisoner, and I seem to remember missing the bus one time. Let's go."

The eight of them began to run across the tarmac, weaving between struggling groups of men, dodging stunner blasts. Suddenly, Frank heard a shout from behind him.

"Dyson!"

The eight men turned to see Abramov, the NASA chief, accompanied by a large contingent of elite NASA guards. Abramov held a pistol, a real pistol, in his hand. "Stop right there, Dyson," Abramov said, blinking as his combover was whipped into his eyes by the howling wind. "You're not going anywhere."

"But Abramov, don't you see?" Frank Two said. "This is what must be. This is fate."

"There is no such thing as fate!" Abramov shouted. "And I'll prove it!"

He shot Kentaro straight through the heart. Kentaro gasped and slumped to the tarmac. All fighting stopped at the sound of the shot.

"Oh my God, Ken!" Frank shouted, kneeling beside his fallen crewmate.

Kentaro smiled up at his commander. "Sorry, Frank-san," he said. "Doesn't look like I'll be making the trip with you after all." He closed his eyes and died.

At that instant, the one thousand twenty-four-ish Kentaros simultaneously disappeared, leaving man-sized holes of vacuum in the air, air which immediately rushed in to fill the one thousand twenty-four-ish voids, making the already frantic winds blow even faster and more chaotically.

And that was how the hurricane started.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

City of Heroes Pics

As promised (or threatened), here are some pics that will ilustrate some of what I spoke of in my comments about City of Heroes. I hope this turns out looking ok. It looks good on my computer, but I don't know how it will look on others.

First, here's a view of one of the beginning zones, the visually breathtaking Atlas Park.











Here's a view of the cool architecture and another giant statue, this one in Steel Canyon. I love flying, although I wish I could fly just a bit faster.





In my previous post, I mentioned visiting a very special place. Here's a keepsake photo.












And finally, some shots of my character, Metatronic, both in his beginning costume above...


And in his more advanced armor with cape. I generally go with the Kid Meta costume when he's flying around outside, and go with the armor when he's on missions. It doesn't make any difference to the game, but it's fun. For his next costume, I think I'll go with a powered-up Super Saiyan look, and then for his last costume slot at lvl 40, I'm thinking of dressing him in secret identity civvies.

So I'm still having fun playing, but on the other hand, the mssions are increasingly becoming too much to handle solo, and I'm not a huge fan of team play, so I don't know if I'll make it to lvl 40 or not.

Writer's Group Christmas

Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers had their annual Christmas do last night, and as usual, it was a lot of fun. Besides the usual mingling and joking and grazing-around-the-snack-table you find at any party, ours features two organized components: the gift exchange and the reading of story fragments.

I scored The Superhero Handbook in the gift exchange, which is a less cutthroat version of the Dirty Santa everyone seems to be playing nowadays. We put a limit on how many times a particular gift can be stolen, both to avoid hard feelings and (with over twenty people playing) to keep it down to a reasonable length of time. Funny thing: I've done this three times, and the same person has ended up taking my gift twice. I also love this person's writing, so apparently we have very similar tastes.

Of course, given that it's ostensibly a group of writers, the highlight of the evening is the reading of story fragments. The contest as described to me the first time was "the first three pages of a longer work." The idea was that they would read the fragment without a name, and people would try to guess who wrote it.

I was new to the group my first time through. I didn't really have much written that I wanted anyone to hear that first year, so I printed off the first three pages of a screenplay that I'd written years before and submitted that. The fragments ranged from good to dreadful, but nobody else was dumb enough to submit a screenplay fragment, so almost everybody identified me as the author. One thing I learned was that, while some people grabbed the beginnings of old stories out of their inventory, many people just wrote the fragments from scratch specifically for the contest. For some people, it's the only writing they present at meetings all year.

Last year, I thought I might pull a fragment from some dreadful short stories I wrote in college (one common element of many of the fragments was that they were intentionally bad), but they were just too painful to look at. So I wrote sword and sorcery action sequence, but with an Asian martial arts flair (I've since tried to expand it into a full-length story, but my intended ending sucks, so I found myself slowing down and never quite reaching the end).

Something very strange happened that year, though. Several of the entries were spookily similar in theme. Turns out that a bunch of people had decided behind the scenes to write on the same subject in order to needle one of the other members. It was funny, but as usual, I was out of the loop on that joke. The other really notable part of the fragment contest that year was that there were a ton of fragments submitted; IIRC, there were eighteen, which took a long time to read aloud at three pages apiece. So there were noises made about restricting the length the following year.

This year, the president of the group tried to have lightning strike twice by announcing a theme for the fragments. However, apparently some people felt too restricted by having the theme chosen for them, or maybe people were just busier this year (I know I was), so this year, instead of eighteen fragments, we only had six. And instead of trying to guess who wrote what, we just voted on which one we liked best. Mine didn't win, but it did get a few votes, so I felt pretty good about that.

I will say, though, that the theme as I originally heard it stated was disaster movies like "The Core," based on bad science. Mine was the only fragment that specifically referred to a large-scale disaster, so in my heart, I think I won. I may put it up here in a day or two, just because. And I may also have a special surprise a day or two after that.

Other than the few votes I got last night, I've been feeling pretty unloved as a writer. I supposedly sold "AstroMonkeys" to Baen's Universe, but have received neither contract nor check yet. I keep worrying that they're going to change their minds and reject the story. Maybe it's irrational, but I think I'll feel that way until I have the check in hand. Meanwhile, I still haven't heard anything from Writers of the Future. They were supposed to inform people 8-10 weeks after the close of the quarter, and it's now been eleven weeks. I was talking to one of the members, who said the longer you don't hear anything, the better, as it means that you've made it through to the later stages of judging.

Then Matt, who was a winner last year, jumped in to say, "No, they've changed that. Now they inform the finalists first, then everybody else." So now I'm back to "Oh crap, I have no idea." I just wish they would tell me something. I keep checking the mailboxes (e- and paper) and not finding anything. It's so pitiful.

Monday, December 12, 2005

City of Heroes

Had our company Christmas party last week, and I won a camera, so I may have to start posting pics here like a normal person. Funny thing: I've always thought I had a pretty good visual sense, a composer's eye. and yet I rarely take pictures. The Wife has always thought it curious that I wanted to be a filmmaker and yet I never wanted to run the video camera during holidays or family events.

When I was talking to mtreiten last weekend, the subject of City of Heroes came up, and he asked how I liked the game. I attempted to take a shot at the answer, but I'm not sure I made much sense, so I'll try again here. Please note that I've never played a multiplayer game online before, so some of what I'm saying may be freaking obvious to people experienced in the genre.

My reaction is mixed, but mostly positive. They handle hero creation really well. I was an avid Champions player years ago (Champions is a pen-and-paper RPG about superheroes). Champions enabled you to create exactly the hero you wanted by giving you a wide variety of powers and allowing you to combine them any way you pleased. However, they also identified several iconic types of heroes (the Brick, the Energy Projector, the Mentalist, the Martial Artist) and gave you helpful tips on constructing the type you wanted to play. The problem with Champions was that it was very time-consuming to construct a character out of raw materials like that, and in a group, you would invariably have one or two people who were much better at finding loopholes that allowed them to create much more powerful characters than the others.

City of Heroes balances things by using an Archetype system that limits your power flexibility, but makes it easier to construct a character and keep it in balance. You choose an Archetype (Blaster, Tank, Scrapper, Controller, Defender), and within that Archetype, you choose power subtypes (Blasters can use Energy, Fire, Ice, or others, for example). Once you've chosen your powers, you create a costume, and that's one of the best features of the game. The costume creation system is very flexible and allows you to get a wide variety of looks.

Once your character is created, you can play that character in two ways. You can be sent on missions by contacts you meet within the game, or you can simply patrol the streets. There is always criminal activity on the streets, but just patrolling randomly gets boring pretty quickly. The missions are more fun and more versatile. You can play solo (as I usually do) or in teams, but there are some missions that you can only take on as part of a team. Some missions link together to form a story arc; once youve completed the story arc, you receive rewards in the form of a power enhancement and a souvenir. Other accomplishments in the game yield badges, which you can use to give yourself a title. If you want to ignore Edna Mole's advice and wear a cape, you can do so, but only as a reward after attaining level 20. Gameplay is almost exclusively combat or traveling between combats.

The world you travel through is gorgeous. This is another thing the game's makers got just right. Paragon City is full of towering skyscrapers and looming statues and monuments, and it's especially fun to fly around in. One of my more juvenile pleasures in the game during a badge-hunting run was to fly up to the top of a particularly large statue honoring some female hero and literally stand on the shelf of her breasts. It was childish, but cool.

So what don't I like about the game? For one thing, although the heroes have a very comic-bookish feel, the enemies don't. I understand why you're not fighting individual super-villains for most of the game, but it gets pretty boring sometimes flying around and fighting the same generic street gangs all the time. Some of the villain groups are colorful and interesting (like the Tsoo or the Freakshow or the Sky Raiders), but most are bland and dull (the Outcasts, the Warriors, the Trolls). My least favorite group is the Family, a generic Mafia clone. I burned out on the whole Mafia thing years ago (odd since I wrote a sort of Mafia story a few months back), so the charm of thugs in suits with names like "Johnny One-Eye" is lost on me. The heroes feel like comic book heroes and the world looks like a comic book world, but the villains you fight just don't feel like comic book villains.

Still, I enjoy playing. I like completing story arcs. I like collecting badges and souvenirs. I like gaining ever more spectacular powers. I love just flying free and exploring the city. I'll be doing this for a while longer, at least. I may post some screenshots soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Pick-ups and Pyramids

Back in the 70's, a decade of so many odd fads that went nowhere fast, Pyramid Power was briefly in vogue. Someone had noted that grain stored in ancient Egyptian tombs for thousands of years was still able to germinate in the modern day, while grain stored in modern silos went bad after a few years. Therefore, the reasoning went that there was something special about the pyramidal shape, some unique quality to its dimensions and angles, that made it able to focus cosmic energies in a beneficial way.

People were told that animals were happier and healthier under pyramids. Food tasted better and kept fresh longer when stored under pyramids. Razor blades stayed sharper. Even people would have better health, sharper minds, and greater overall prosperity and happiness if they would only take advantage of the positive energies focused by the pyramid. Somebody even marketed a pyramid hat, designed to focus beneficial pyramid energy directly into your brain.

I don't believe in pyramid power, but if something like that does exist, then it must have an opposite. There must be a shape which focuses negative energies in the same way that the pyramid focuses positive ones, a shape under the influence of which people become less healthy, less happy, less prosperous. A shape which causes venality and bitterness and just plain stupidity to thrive. A shape which is a blight on mankind and all his works.

I believe I know this shape.

It is the shape of the pick-up truck and its softer curved cousin, the baseball cap.

Beware this shape in all its forms. Don't drive pick-ups if you can possibly help it. Give them a wide berth on the streets. If you see a pick-up driven by someone wearing a ball cap, you are in mortal danger. This is a person whose mind is receiving a doubly concentrated dose of stupidity rays, and there's no telling what he may do. If you see someone wearing a ball cap indoors, beware. This is a person addicted to the stupidity rays, who can't bear even a moment out of their influence; he is doomed, like Gollum, to waste away into a mere idiot shell of a man. I am not name-calling, merely stating (pseudo-)scientific fact. We must fight this blight with all our strength until the pick-up as passenger vehicle is no more. Stand with me, brothers. Now is the time.

FULL DISCLOSURE: When my car breaks down, I usually drive the Mom-In-Law's pick-up as a temporary vehicle. I am not myself during these times. Run. Shun. Do not approach.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Roller Ball Murder"

So I worked an early shift a couple of Tuesdays ago, and I was struck by how heavy traffic seemed to be compared to the Wednesday through Sunday shifts I used to work at the same time of day. Not only was traffic heavy, but there seemed to be an inordinate amount of lousy drivers piloting pick-up trucks, an even higher percentage than normal in Oklahoma. Today (Tuesday again) I once again worked an early shift, and once again, the 5:30 a.m. roads were just crammed with rude, crappy drivers in pick-up trucks (about which I may rant at length tomorrow). What is it with Tuesdays?

Where was I? Oh, yes, "Roller Ball Murder." As I said yesterday, I picked up a book with the short story in it at Gardener's Used Books on Saturday.

I'm amazed at how close to the original story the movie was, although perhaps I shouldn't be, considering the screenplay is credited to William Harrison, the same man who wrote the story. The story is very short, but almost all the elements of the film are there: the aging hero who thinks there should be more to life, the corporations ruling the world, the shifting rules to create more carnage, even very specific scenes in the movie -- one in which Jonathan E gives a training demonstration to some rookies, and the very memorable scene in which Jonathan's best friend Moonpie is killed.

Of course, Harrison had to flesh it out, which means there's lots of material in the movie which is not in the story. Not only did the movie require a linear plot (which the story really doesn't have) but it also had to add numerous details and bits of business (my favorite being the way Caan pounds his fist against his thigh while they play the corporate anthem before a game). In the story, Jonathan E is targeted by other teams as a dangerous opponent, but is never singled out by the corporations as a man who poses a danger to the social order, nor does he triumph at the end. The story ends with him about to enter the climactic match and feeling sure that he won't survive. The movie, on the other hand, presents Jonathan not as a tired old campaigner about to meet his final fate, but as a hero who rises above his circumstances by inspiring the masses.

The last time I saw it, the movie hadn't aged well. The low budget shows more and more with the passage of time, and the "futuristic" look of the film is horribly dated. But it still has enough good moments to make it worth watching, especially compared with what little I've seen of the almost universally despised remake (which I've only seen bits of).

NaNoWriMoPoMo

So, the post-mortem:

Maybe a thousand words progress between my last post and the end of the month. Final score: 28,850-ish. So on the one hand, I'm disappointed. On the other, as I think I mentioned before, this is a story I've been wanting to write, unsuccessfully, for years, so the fact that I wrote more than a page is in itself a victory.

That said, my problem now is that it's far too short. I'm right on the cusp of the big climax of Act II at 30,000 words. That big action scene won't be more than 3,000 or 4,000 words, I figure, and then it's all barrelling down toward the end. To have any chance of selling, I need it to be at least twice as long. I've got some ideas for scenes I intended to write and cut out because I thought I needed the momentum, but they won't fill out the book. I'm thinking of expanding the role of one of the characters and making him a POV character earlier in the book, make it almost as much his book as Digger's, I don't know if it'll work, because he really doesn't have anything to do until Act II, but I've got to do something.

Went to a signing by M.T. Reiten, naamah_darling, and her husband Sargon the Terrible. All three have been winners in the Writers/Illustrators of the Future competitions (naamah won as an illustrator, but continues to enter as a writer also). It was at a used bookstore that was literally giving the signed copies of the anthologies away. I scored a couple of free anthologies and also picked a textbook about science fiction which included the short story "Roller Ball Murder" by William Harrison. I've seen "Rollerball" (the original with James Caan) about, I don't know, five or ten times, and was curious to see what the original was like. More about that tomorrow.

And because somebody just won't let it go, I must comment on the Geico caveman commercial. It's been around forever, so I'm sure you've seen it. Spokesguy sez something about switching your insurance to Geico, and ends with, "It's so easy a caveman could do it." Cut to spokesguy in a restaurant saying, "Honestly, we didn't mean to be offensive. We didn't know you guys were still around."

Reverse angle to show him speaking to two cavemen, dressed in yuppie outfits. A waiter asks if they're ready to order. The one with his sunglasses perched on top of his head orders roast duck with mango salsa; the other one says he has no appetite, then fixes spokesguy with a stare that manages to be both piercing and withering.

It's one of the best spots Geico has done recently, because it works on a lot of levels. There's the cheap joke aspect of the modern caveman, with the added fun of seeing cavemen depicted as yuppie metrosexuals (or perhaps they're supposed to be a Gay Cohabitating Caveman Couple; there's certainly an odd undercurrent in the way they play off each other). But the strangest thing of all is that last shot of the caveman. Something in his eyes, the tilt of his head, the set of his mouth reminded me instantly of Val Kilmer. And with the white shirt, it very specifically reminds me of Kilmer's role as a hotshot Navy pilot in "Top Gun."

And what was Kilmer's call-sign in that film?

That's right. Iceman.

Is this a subliminal message? Could it really be Kilmer underneath that makeup? Does he need the money that badly?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Crash and Burn

The first week, I finished slightly ahead. The second week, I finished slightly behind, like a thousand words or so. The third week...

Well, City of Heroes is a fun game.

But beyond that, I'm stuck in the Great Swampy Middle. I know I said I had a solid structure, and I still think I do, but what I found out was, I didn't have quite enough stuff in the middle to fill 50,000 words. I'm writing little filler scenes here and there to stretch the middle before the big Act II climax, and it's really slow going. I'm something like 10,000 words behind now.

Meanwhile, I changed my work schedule yesterday to reflect my post-promotion status (I have been working early mornings Wed-Sun, and now I'm working the normal 8-5 hours). I had almost literally nothing to do for six out of the eight hours I was at work yesterday. I keep fearing they'll decide they made a mistake and take back the promotion. Man, it's been a long time since I've done this.

On the plus side, I get Thursday off this week. I haven't had a Thanksgiving off in four years or so. So there is that.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Act I Done

I've finished the first act of my NaNoWriMo project. I'm slightly ahead on word count, but I expect to fall behind again tomorrow because of a work emergency that might take up a lot of my time and energy. Still, I'm plunging ahead, and although I've missed some rather major elements on the way, it's nice getting the rough shape hammered out quickly.

On the other hand, I updated a couple of drivers and finally got City of Heroes working. I have to admit, it's a hell of a fun game, once it finally works. I've been running around town blasting thugs left and right and getting my levels up. In another couple of days, I'm going to be pretty tough. I wonder if it will affect my writing on the book?

Monday, November 07, 2005

The First Week Almost Done

I thought I would get worked way ahead over the weekend, but instead I actually dropped behind on saturday and had to scramble to catch up yesterday. I'm past the 10,000 word mark and still more or less exactly on pace to make 50,000 by month's end, if I keep going for 23 more days. It's tough.

Even tougher because I did some shopping with birthday money at Best Buy the other day and picked up a free demo of City of Heroes. I've wanted to play a good superhero game for a long time, so I thought I'd give the demo a try.

What a pain in the ass. I installed the game disks, then tried to use the automatic log-in to register an account (CoH is an online game). The URL that the disk tried to access was no longer valid. So I hunted online and found the new official site, created an account, and then launched the game.

It downloaded updates for almost TWO FREAKING HOURS before it would let me create a character. Once my character was created, I attempted to enter the tutorial and actually see my character in action.

The game locked up as I was trying to load the tutorial level. I had to reboot my computer get out of it. Tried again. Same thing.

AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!! as Charlie Brown would say. What a pain.

Friday, November 04, 2005

3 Days Down

This is a trifle worrying. I'm between 5,000 and 6,000 words in, basically right on schedule, and it's mostly talking heads. I just threw in a random piece of action so I could have something happen other than folks sitting around talking, but it's mainly just a slow build to the first act climax (which is a really big action set-piece). After that, everything drops again as we introduce the main villains (who are set in motion by the Act I climax - this may be a major structural flaw), but there are a few small action bits leading to the Act II climax, which is another biggie. Act III is going to be frantic (as I envision it now - we'll see if I pull it off - it's so big that I fear I'll just shut down rather than write it badly).

I'm a little worried just because I was hoping to be working ahead much further than I have, and already, the words are starting to come in fits and starts rather than sustained scenes. My Inner Editor, who thought the structure was so complete and perfect two-three weeks ago, now shudders with every new scene ("No more talking! Oh hell no!").

At the same time, I'm starting to get the third-person flow, and the characters are taking some interesting turns already. So if nothing else, maybe I'll end up with something that can be rewritten into a decent book.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

NaNoWriMo Day 1

So here it is, the commencement of this thing I've spent three weeks fantasizing about. I went to a book signing last night by some friends of mine, M.T. Reiten and Amanda Gannon. Then MTR and I went out for a beer to discuss writing stuff. Then I went to my office to await midnight. I created the new file, set out my notes, pinned my index cards to my corkboard, put on some music, and just waited for the magic moment to hit (midnight, which signalled the arrival not only of NaNoWriMo, but also my birthday). At 12:00, I started typing.

It was not magical. For one thing, the Digger stories I've written before have all been first person, and there's just something about writing in that fun, flippant voice that really keeps me going. I decided that with the larger cast and simultaneous action that I'd need to make it third person, and it seems just lifeless and dull (plus my opening scene is terribly static, just a bunch of people sitting around a bar talking).

But I wrote over 1300 words before coming home last night, plus another 500 at the office this morning before picking up my daughter from school, plus another hundred or two this afternoon, so I've got a decent beginning, a little ahead of schedule. It should get easier as I get used to the voice and the action starts, at least I hope.

This Friday, several local NaNoWriMo participants are going to meet up at Border's. I may go. I like meeting local writers. Joining my local group certainly gave me lots of inspiration to sit down and do the work, as well as giving me the courage to submit my work to publishers. So on the one hand, I look forward to networking with even more folks.

On the other hand, it looks like most of the people showing up have screen names like "Witchy Robyn" and "Green Goddess" and "Ravyne Hawke," so I'm not sure I'll really fit in. Still, I'd like to give it a try, at least once.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Raining, Pouring

It's amazing how much things can change in two weeks. A couple of weeks ago, I was as low as I could get.

Then I started working on my NaNoWriMo project, and my mood improved.

Then I got the good news on Monday morning (which I didn't share then because they asked me to hold off, but it looks like its everywhere on the web now, so I'll spill) that my story, "Out of His League," which was due to appear in the DaiKaiju 2 e-anthology, will now be part of the DaiKaiju 2 print anthology, due out sometime next year, and it'll be available in the U.S. Cool.

Then later that night, I received word that my story "Astromonkeys!" had been accepted for publication in Baen's Astounding Stories, due in June of next year.

Today, I got a promotion with a nice salary bump. This has been a great week.

Makes me worry about how things could come crashing down when the hot streak ends, though.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Morning After

The weirdest thing about the whole Astounding deal is that I was online, with comments from the board being sent to my email. So I received and read the comments over the course of an hour, in real time, my excitement mounting all the way. When I got the "yes," I decided not to send the MS right away, but wait until this morning.

An hour later, I crumbled and sent it. I'm so weak.

They're not sure when they'll pay, or when they'll publish the story, since they're still setting things up over there, but the acceptance before my birthday is enough to make me very happy. I'm not going to get rich writing short stories, but considering how down I was less than two weeks ago, this couldn't have come at a better time. Especially given the (potentially good ) news regarding my other Digger story, and the fact that I am about to commence writing a Digger novel in one week. Digger's my good luck charm. My golden ticket.

DIGGER WILL BE BIGGER THAN HARRY POTTER!!!

Whew. Got that out of my system.

Now back to reality...

I'm almost tempted to cheat and start my novel early, before the official commencement of NaNoWriMo. But I won't. No. That would be wrong.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Holy Freaking Crap!

Okay, I got up this morning and got the previous post's potential good news, and then I heard about a new magazine from Baen, called Astounding Stories. It turns out that one of the features in the magazine is a featured story from a new author, so I decided to submit a story. And since I've got Digger on the brain from outlining the novel, I decided to enter one of the Digger tales, called "Astromonkeys!" I submitted the story at about 4:30 this afternoon. By 9:45, I had gotten a comment from Eric Flint's assistant editor saying she thought it was "a hoot." By 10:30, Jim Baen had jumped on board saying he agreed, adding, "Should we... buy it?" By 10:45, Eric Flint, the editor, had come back saying yes, they would buy it.

Less than seven hours from submissions to acceptance. I am officially freaking out!

Good News, Maybe

Just got a piece of potentially good news. I can't share it yet, but I really hope it comes to pass. I've slowed down on development for my NaNoWriMo project. In one sense, I'm excited about it; in another, I'm worried that I might have peaked too soon, and I'm a little bummed that I won't be able to use the beginning that I once developed for an earlier iteration of the book, because it was pretty good. I still don't have an idea for the beginning of this book. I know what I want one of the first scenes to be, but I feel as if I need something splashier for an opening. It's an action book, so I want an action hook. Still debating...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Still Digging In

I've been debating a couple of approaches for turning my excitement over NaNoWriMo into productive work without actually beginning to write my project. I thought I might read a couple of third-person viewpoint books, but I don't want to get trapped into trying to emulate them (I suppose I could read something like one of the later Wheel of Time books - the viewpoint writing is strong, but the story late in the series is shitty enough that I won't be tempted to emulate it). I thought I might get into doing really deep background on the characters, but I don't like creating elaborate backstories that I might never use. I thought I might try to wrap up Flip before Nov. 1 (a truly crazy thing to attempt, since I have no idea how much longer it will go). Yesterday I came up with the idea of writing another Digger short story to satisfy my Digger jones without working on the book, but I don't want to get myself distracted too much from the task (soon to be) at hand.

In the meantime, I'm still developing story elements, and really surprising myself at the ideas I've come up with. I'm not rocketing along like I was when I came up with an almost full plot outline in one afternoon, but I'm still filling in motivations for particular scenes, backstories, names for characters. And what really gives me hope here is that I'm not coming up with, say, backstory for the sake of backstory, but everything I'm coming up with is being done to fill holes in the existing framework, so that it's actually useful.

I'm also trying to avoid one of the problems I had on Blue Falcon, which was that I wrote down lots of ideas, but then misplaced the notes, because I had so many pieces of things scattered among different notebooks and pieces of scratch paper. I still occasionally find Blue Falcon turning up and read them and say, "That's a pretty good idea. I'm sorry I forgot about that one." This time, almost everything except a few character bios and the index card plot outline is in one notebook. I'll go through right before I start writing and either transcribe the notes onto the existing cards for the scenes they describe, or perhaps into a spreadsheet that serves the same purpose. Then the cards go up onto the bulletin board in my office, and as I complete each scene, BAM! a big X goes across the card. I'm hoping it will be a motivator to see proof of the progress I'm making in such a dramatic visual way.

Maybe I'll use red X's.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The World Moves Faster Nowadays

Used to be, I'd get two or three months into a project before flagging and doubting it. Now it's just been a couple of days since I did my plot outline for NaNoWriMo, and already I'm feeling less enthusiastic about it. One of the biggest problems is (once again) the reverse of my usual experience.

Usually, I come up with a strong opening scene and a basic plotline for the first 100 pages or so, Once I reach the end of that I start to have problems. This time, I've got the entire story outlined in my head, but I'm not sure how to start.

Even worse, I'm having a real problem figuring out what I want the viewpoint to be. The story would seem to demand third-person, past tense. The problem is, all of the stories I've written in the series so far have been first-person, present tense, and part of the reason I think they worked so well was the narrator's voice. If I lose that, will the storyline be interesting enough to make up for it?

Obviously, between now and then, I need to do some reading that features good viewpoint narration in third-person, to get it strong in my head again. I did it with Blue Falcon, oh so long ago. I just have to get my chops back.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tuesday Is Backwards Day

So I've tried to write novels before. And I mean, like at least eight or nine times before. I've only ever finished one of those attempts (I did finish a crappy first draft on one of the others, but only because I got lost midway through and decided to tack on an abrupt ending just so I could say I finished it - the story ends, but I don't think you could say it was really done). One reason is that I get so excited by the concept that I start writing way too early in the process, excited to get started, and eventually I hit a wall. I have a vague idea of where I want to go and how to get there, but I can't seem to justify it given the characters and world as they have developed. I've followed the road, but the bridge is out. I've tried outlining, diagrams, character biographies, index cards, but they never feel right.

So now comes NaNoWriMo, which encourages writing without preparation, seat-of-the-pants wordflow. This is ideally suited to my approach, no?

So what do I do? Since I'm excited about writing the book, but not allowed to start writing pages yet, I've been putting together the most complete outline I've ever written. Character notes. Snippets of dialogue. Good Lord, gasp, even index cards, choke. And it looks like it's going to be a great yarn. Over-the-top apocalyptic action with lots of juicy character conflict (and, I'm hoping, loads of humor). I'm really getting pumped up here, which is exactly what Chris Baty warns against in his guide to NaNoWriMo, No Plot? No Problem!

As he puts it, "Past a certain point, novel planning just becomes another excuse to put off novel writing. You will never feel sufficiently ready to jump into your novel, and the more time you spend planning and researching, the more likely you'll feel pressure to pull off a masterwork that justifies all your prewriting work."

So a part of me is worried that I'll do exactly what he warns against, freeze up because I've built up such pressure from all the prep work I've been doing. But another part of me isn't worried, because this is a character I've already written several stories about. I know him and his world, and it's always a joy to go back there. I can't wait to start blowing stuff up.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Well, I Did It

I went and registered for NaNoWriMo. I've had an idea for a story nagging at me for something like 15 years now. I'd originally thought to write it as a screenplay, but I couldn't find the right hook to turn a bare concept into a fully fledged story. I've made several false starts at it over the years, but never really got a grip on it. When I decided to do it as my NaNoWriMo project, I finally found the hook I needed. I've got what I think is a really solid structure (of course, I've thought that before), and I'm itching to start writing.

NaNoWriMo starts on Nov. 1. Happy Birthday to me.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Frustration Gives Way to Depression

Well, the contest results are in, and not only did I not win, I did not place among the top thirteen (out of 92). This with a story that people in my writing group still talk about two years after I read it to them. I am about as fucking low right now as I can get. I need a serious injection of motivation soon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Frustration Continues

Okay, so the results were pushed back to Oct. 5, except it's now Oct. 11 and still no results. This is maddening.

In other news, I may be getting a promotion soon. This may sound too much like counting chickens before they hatch and all that, but I figure there are two shortlisted candidates, and the other one (so far, at least) doesn't really want the job. so...

We'll see. But it would be sweet if it happened. Normal hours and a higher salary - I could live with that.

And just to show that I'm completely insane, I've been toying with writing a novel for NaNoWriMo. I haven't registered yet, but I'm playing with ideas. We'll see if I've got the guts.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Aaaaargh!!!

I entered "Frame by Frame" in this contest in July. At that time, the contest had been open for a couple of months and they only had 15 entries. The deadline was in less than a month (August 15th). So August 15th came and went, and a new notice appeared that the deadline was being extended to September 8th with winners to be announced on September 25th. Frustrating, but I could deal. So I've been itching and twitching for a week, anxiously awaiting the results, and finally, yesterday, the 25th arrives. I go to the site and find out...

that due to the number of high-quality submissions, the results will be delayed until October 5th.

I say again: aaaaaaaarrrghhh!!!

In other news, I sat down to work on my new novel for a couple of hours yesterday, which turned into spending an hour on the new novel and spending an hour or so reading bits of my old one, Blue Falcon. It has some good stuff in it, but I seriously, seriously flubbed the geography in one of the major set-pieces in the book. I have a sniper shooting some folks, then calling in artillery from 200 meters away, but I also mention him being on an adjacent hill, which would be more on the order of 2 kilometers away, I think. And it sucks because otherwise the scene is pretty well-done. But now I'll never be able to read the scene again without focusing on the mistake.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I Predicted This

After Gillette came out with the Mach 3 (three-bladed razor) and Schick responded with the Quattro (four-bladed razor), I predicted that it was just a matter of time until Gillette would fire back with a five-bladed razor. Guess what?

This makes me happy, not so much because I want a five-bladed razor, but because I want to see Schick come out with a six-blader. I have the perfect name for it: the Schick Sechs. What purer form of marketing could there be than naming your product "sex"?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Prison Break and Lost DVD's

I've been watching Fox's new show Prison Break for three weeks now, and I'm ambivalent. For those of you who don't know what it is, Prison Break is a new TV series about a man who gets himself thrown into a prison he helped design in order to break out of it. His brother is on Death Row, you see, for a crime he didn't commit, and he's due to be executed in a month. So while our hero works to break his brother out of prison, the brother's former girlfriend (a lawyer) is working on the outside to prove his innocence.

I thought the opener was exactly what it should be, stylish and intriguing, setting up lots of threads for future development. I thought the following week's episode (technically episode 3, although it was broadcast in week 2 - episodes 1 and 2 were shown together as a 2-hour premiere "event") developed the threads nicely and added some neat complications. And then episode 4 comes along.

I'm not a Republican, but my views are fairly conservative. So when the show suddenly brings in a crusading anti-death penalty lawyer and adds the concept that the victim of the murder Hero's Brother was framed for was killed by someone in the government becasue the victim was an environmental crusader, I start to worry. I don't need to get preached to by a TV show, especially one produced by Brett Ratner. As long as it's a story of one smart man carrying out a complicated plan to help his brother, I'm on board. It's only when the view widens out into tree-hugger La-la Land, where the heroes are crusading defense lawyers and convicts, and the villains are the government, the cops and Big Oil. Swear to God, if next week they introduce a gay vegan sidekick for the hero and show one of the bad guys wearing fur, I'm quitting the show, no matter how charismatic the star is.

In other news, I got the Lost Season One DVD's so I could get the entire season refreshed in my head before season two starts next week. Although I enjoyed watching the shows all together, I'm a little ambivalent about having bought the DVD's. After all, how many times am I going to watch the whole thing again?

Probably once a season, now that I think of it...

Monday, September 05, 2005

Playing God

I've been playing with Google Earth for a couple of days now, and I think it's totally revolutionary. Basically, it allows you to explore a globe covered with satellite-photography images. You can zoom in from outer space, all the way down to where you can see individual houses, and in some cases, individual cars and even people. You can tilt, pan, and rotate to your heart's content, and you can set it to display 3-D images of terrain features and even buildings, if they have the data set for that city.

The building features could use some improvement; it apparently only uses the dimensions of the base and the elevation to generate buildings, so odd-shaped structures like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the Luxor pyramid in Las Vegas display as big rectangular blocks.

The photographs used are not always new. Both the Tulsa images and the Oklahoma City images are at least a year old, I'm guessing, juding from structures that hadn't been built yet when the pics were taken. And the quality is variable, so that you can see individual people in the shots of the Forbidden City in Beijing, but can barely make out the white blob that is my mother-in-law's truck in our driveway. And in some places, you can't even distinguish individual buildings.

But still, overall, it's an amazing experience to just revolve the entire planet with a small movement of your mouse, zoom out to see the entire country, then zoom in to look at individual buildings in moments. We've looked at our house, my mother's house, our old home in Clarksville, TN, my old house and high school in Oklahoma City, my old apartment building in Los Angeles, as well as the USC campus. Someday, I'm going to a fly-by of South Korea, maybe the Himalayas. This is one of those things that everyone I've showed it to has not just liked, but enthused about. In a year, it may be passe', or it may be just replace Mapquest as the tool of choice for finding a destination. Whatever it will be, it's a hell of a lot of fun right now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Test-Tube Meat

This is so cool, I think. Because I just love meat, and yet I recognize the ecological cost of cultivating animals for slaughter in a world of 6 billion-ish.

And by the way, even though I know it's a small start, I still find this pretty thrilling.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Contract

Got the contract for DaiKaiju! and sent it back, so now things are more or less official. Now I just have to wait for that humongo check to arrive.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hikaru No Go

I've been reading Shonen Jump magazine since it began publishing in the U.S. and I enjoy every strip in there, which surprises me, because there's one strip in particular that I was sure I wouldn't like when I heard of it.

It's called Hikaru No Go (Hikaru's Go), and(here's a big surprise) it's about a boy named Hikaru who plays Go. That's right, the (originally Chinese, I think) game with the white and black stones. This in the same magazine that publishes Dragonball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh. Try to imagine this in America: you buy the latest issue of Superman, and the back-up is about a kid who plays chess. Gag me, right?

Well, as it turns out, you don't have to play Go in order to enjoy the story. In fact, there's a certain Zen pleasure in not understanding the McGuffin. It's like a textbook example of how to create the perfect Japanese boy's adventure, regardless of subject. Take a happy-go-lucky main character, who discovers he has a destiny and has to develop the serious intent to pursue it. Give him a secret talent that sets him head-and-shoulders above anyone else, if he could only develop the skill to go along with it. Add a scowling rival, who has been pursuing the same goal as our hero for a long time and has the skills, but not the secret talent. (at some point, this rival will become our hero's best friend/ally).

The thing I really like about Hikaru No Go is seeing the challenges that surround every game he plays. The drama doesn't come from hte stones on the board, but from the people facing each other. Hikaru and his opponents come to the board with very different goals and outlooks, and every game represents a bigger issue in Hikaru's life. It's masterfully done, and the artwork is gorgeous and full of appeal. Try it.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Half-Blood Prince

Okay, I'm way behind the curve on this, but I might as well throw in my two cents. I liked Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Unlike Robert Jordan's current books, or the Clancy novel I read, J.K. Rowling continues to build on her strengths without letting her weaknesses take over.

Oh yeah, the weaknesses are still there. I'm still not thrilled with the way magic seems to follow no real rules (the school curriculum notwithstanding). Take charms, for instance (ok, I've never really discussed this before, so it may seem like a big rant out of the blue, but I'll try to keep it short). I don't like the way charms are written. With the Patronus charm, you have to maintain a certain mental state to make it work. With other charms, you have to flick your wand a certain way. And we're constantly reading descriptions of classes in which the students repeat the incantations and flick their wands for hours, with no results. But in Half-Blood Prince, Harry decides to cast a certain charm from simply reading a name out of a book, and gets it perfect on the first try. Just by saying the name once after reading it. How does one invent a spell if all it takes is a random name, perhaps combined with a wand flick or mental image? The whole Wizarding World concept is just as half-baked.

And in one sense, I'll be really glad to see the series end so that I won't have to take another year of Complicated Plots That Start At The Beginning of School And Miraculously Wrap Up At The End Of The Term, Just In Time For Summer Break And Another Dursley Visit (who, by the way, I'm also getting tired of).

So why keep reading? I love her characterizations. I really pull for Harry and his friends. I like the way she's built a huge extended cast to make the school and its environs seem like a real place. I like the way she has continued to give the villains depth and character, so that even as we wish for them to be defeated, we can understand why they do what they do, and even empathize to an extent.

And I like the rhythms of her books, and the way she makes each year pass: some find her detailed descriptions of classes and the fixed rituals of each term repetitive (which they are, to an extent - I think even she's getting tired of the Sorting Hat). But at the same time, it's like life, the way each year is different, yet certain touchstones remain the same. I think she's got a nice touch with it.

Can't wait for the next one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Contests

Entered "Frame by Frame" in the SpecFic Contest, and I just printed off a new story to enter in Wrtiers of the Future. This is not a goof like "In Deep Shit," but an honest-to-goodness serious science-fiction story. I was just about at the point when I thought I'd burned all the seriousness out of myself; everything I wrote seemed to come out funny, and I was living for those moments when I'd get a big laugh at a punchline at my writer's group meetings. Then this story came reeling out one night. I cried when I wrote it, and The Wife cried when she read it, so I guess you could say it's not so much a comedy.

Starting back to work on Flip is not easy. I wrote a couple of scenes pretty easily, but they were basically transitional scenes. I'm coming up on a real meat-and-potatoes action sequence, a "production number" as my old screenplay teacher used to call it, and I'm seriously frightened of starting. The book already has about a million logical holes in it, and I'm terrified that I'll never solve them and the whole book will just be crap. But I'm afraid to try to go back and solve some of those problems until I've finished the first draft. It's one of those Ourobouros dilemmas, a snake feeding on its own tail, and it's the kind of thing that caused my previous paralysis on the book. I thought I'd solved it, but now it looks like I just pushed it back a few pages. Now it's back.

I've got to break through this thing and get moving. Maybe I should ask for help.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Conestoga

Spent the weekend at Conestoga, our local sci-fi con (yes, I said 'sci-fi' - wanna' make something of it?). Made some good connections, I think, and got to meet some personal heroes like Howard Waldrop and George R. R. Martin and Warren Spector. Now I've got to turn this enthusiasm into productive work on Flip.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Getting Back to Work

Well, it's not as if I haven't been working lately. I wrote a short story just a couple of weeks ago as a matter of fact. But I had a novel that I'd been deeply into, when I realized I'd taken a horrible wrong turn in the plotline. So I decided to back up about fifty pages and have another run at it.

Total blockage. Someone in my writer's group suggested putting it in a drawer for six months. I thought, "I'll try one month. I really need to get this finished." One months later, I wrote about a page and put it down again. Two months later, nothing. Now it's going on nine or ten months; every time I would think about going back to it, I would get another short story idea. "I'll just do this one more story, and then back to the novel, promise." That was five or six short stories ago.

And then last week, I saw one of the members of my writing group looking over notes for a book project she was working on. They were very extensive, pages and pages devoted to this or that character, and I began to feel guilty. And I thought, "I should try that again. Do some more structural work, some character exercises, get back into the rhythm." (The novel I was working was one I'd planned to plot out carefuly, but I got excited and jumped the gun, writing an opening that just forced me to keep pushing deeper into the story, until suddenly I was too far in without a map. I wandered around a while yelling, "Help, I'm lost," but that didn't work.

So I searched around and tried a couple of structural things and found one that seems to be yielding some initial results. We'll see how far I get this time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Getting Used to It

Okay, I'm feeling a little better about the new computer now that I've had a chance to work with it a little bit more. I'm getting the settings tweaked to fit my preferences and exploring some of the new software. One thing I'm doing that I should have done a long time ago is putting together a spreadsheet to track my story submissions. I've read other writers mention this on their blogs, and I thought, "Why am I not doing this?" But I put it off because I don't really like Microsoft Works and I wasn't ready to buy a better spreadsheet program.

However, the new computer comes with Quattro Pro, so I've taken the plunge. Only problem now is, I don't have Quattro Pro on the office computer, so it doesn't look as if I'll be able to work with the spreadsheet there without laying out money for another copy.

Saw "Batman Begins" over the weekend. Aside from Christian Bale's odd-shaped head, this is the best version of Batman on-screen ever, bar none. But yeah, there's something seriously wrong with his head.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Got One

Okay, the new computer is now mine, and it's underwhelming so far, to say the least. I had actually gotten Windows 98 tweaked out to where I really liked how it ran, and now I'm having to learn Win XP. Despite the fact that my processor is over 6 times faster, and my RAM over three times bigger, everything seems to run much more slowly on the new machine. I'm sure as I delete the bloatware and trial programs that the machine is clogged with, I'll become more satisfied with the new computer's performance, but so far, it's a pain. Plus I'm having to transfer so many files from the old machine to the new, so it'll be a while before I'm fully up to speed. On the other hand, it's a welcome opportunity to ditch some old files that I didn't want to part with, but that I wasn't really using. And I'm sure I'll be enhancing the look of the system for a while. Get back with me in a week and maybe I'll be less frustrated.

In other news, I didn't win the Pitch Black books Storn Cook fiction contest, and "Frame by Frame" was rejected by another magazine (Aeon Speculative Fiction). But the editors at DaiKaiju want my story "Out of His League" to run in an e-anthology, so there you go. My first official fiction sale. It'll only pay about $7.50, but hey, it's a start.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Denied!

I finally succumbed to the new computer fever. I have not been able to make the shell thing work; in fact, it's only made the fever worse, since most of the shells and other skinnable programs work either exclusively or best with Win XP. Add to that the fact that I'm driving a rent-a-car with more cargo space while the Batmobile is being repaired, and the fact that the computer I almost bought last time is on sale again, and well... it's hard to resist. It's only been The Wife's disapproval which has held me off this long.

So I went in yesterday to look at it again, and while I was there, I decided to apply for the credit to buy it. If I couldn't get the credit, I wasn't meant to have it.

I got the credit.

Still, I couldn't quite commit. So I left and mentioned I might come back. I finally broke down and went after work today. "I think I'm going to get it," I said to the same salesman I spoke to yesterday.

They were sold out.

But they have more due in tomorrow, so The Wife can't completely exhale in relief yet.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Working the Bag

So for much of the 90 days I was doing P90X, I was looking forward to going back to heavy lifting: bench presses and squats. But I find that since I've put up the punching bag, I really like that most of all. I looked up a few articles on-line that basically all said the same thing: hit the bag for three-minute rounds, just like a boxing match. So that's what I've been doing: three three-minute rounds, with one-minute of rest between.

The first round is just getting into the rhythm. I mainly do straight jabs and crosses, nothing fancy. I'm working up a good sweat by the time that's done. The minute of rest feels like a long time, but I make myself wait it out. The second round, I mainly do hooks and uppercuts. Because I'm still not a skilled puncher, and because the bag's light, hooks set the bag spinning like crazy, so I have to switch hands to counter-spin it. I've got a couple of sandbag-type wrist weights in the bottom of the bag, so uppercuts are met with really stiff resistance. By the the end of the second round, sweat is flying and I'm panting so hard that I can smell the drool spewing out with every breath. The second rest period is the same length as the first, but it feels much shorter.

The third round I go mainly for long combinations, four, five, six punches. As I concentrate on stringing together quick combinations, I find myself barely slapping the bag. I have to remind myself to hit hard, and a few seconds later, I have to remind myself again. My shoulders and arms are running out of gas, and my lungs aren't keeping up with the pace. The last thirty seconds, I try to keep up a sustained flurry of punches, but I haven't got the stamina to go full-tilt. I can either hit fast or hard, not both, and I have to pause for a second here and there to get my breath back.

It may sound like torture written out like this, but it's fast and intense and it's over quickly. In eleven minutes, I'm done and ready for something more relaxing. I've also used the bag for some other training moves. I rucked up with it the other day and ran/walked ten or eleven laps around my cul-de-sac with all 40-50 lbs. on my back. It's hard to sprint with that much weight on your back, but it was an interesting change from the normal slow-to-moderate running I normally do. I've also done torso twists while swinging the bag to work on my upper back and obliques. I'm trying to incorporate Art DeVany's ideas about short, intense workouts and play. One problem I've had in maintaining a fitness regimen is that I get bored after about three months or so of doing the same thing all the time. Incorporating the bag work with my weights has been an excellent addition so far, at least in terms of motivation; we'll see if I get any results from it (which to be honest, I probably won't if I only do it once a week as I have been, but it's summer and I'm busy).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Behind the Curve

So I've had Winamp forever, just because I thought it was cool to have a program I could pick the skin for, but I've never really gotten into the whole "music-ripping" thing, until just recently. The last couple of weeks, I've been ripping MP3's like crazy. I've got almost 100 songs now, totaling almost 6 hours of music, and I've only nibbled around the most esoteric edges of our CD collection, usually ripping fewer than 5 songs per CD. For instance, I haven't even touched the Oingo Boingo stuff yet, and I've got almost all of their albums. Just the Oingo Boingo sutff will probably total well over an hour, and that's just ripping the songs I really like. I've got the Dickies, but not the Ramones. I've got the Wonders ("That Thing You Do" soundtrack), but not the Beatles. There's been no rhyme or reason to what I've done so far, but I must admit, it's addictive.

It was Lileks who got me thinking about doing this lately. As an avowed Apple addict, he bought an iPod Shuffle when they came out, and likes to mention the odd musical juxtapositions this produces. What I'm finding, now that I've got enough songs to decently shuffle, is a sense of ongoing delight at not knowing what's coming next, but knowing it will be something I like. The one thing that's missing between this and listening to the radio is the sense of true surprise when you hear a song you've never heard before that just blows your socks off, but I don't mind trading that for no commercials, no asshole deejays, and no clunkers in the mix.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Tweaking Pt 2

Wow, what a pain. I have no idea how people get this stuff to work. First, bbLean killed my system. There's a plugin called bbSysMon that lets me look at what my system is doing - how much RAM is being used and how much the CPU is being tasked. I could sit and do nothing and watch the RAM fill up, and once it got full, that was all she wrote for my system. Trav at work calls this "memory leak." I figured out, though, that the memory leak was mainly caused by the plug-in. When I run bbLean without the system monitor, I can get a good twenty-thirty minutes out of it instead of 5. Eh.

So I decided to go ahead and try LiteStep, since it's the most established. I downloaded it and installed it; it worked like a dream compared to bbLean. Then I signed off my computer and came back to sign on again later in the day. Windows wouldn't start. I had to boot up in Safe mode and switch my shell back to Explorer. When I got back up and running, I tried to run LiteStep again to see if I could fix it. It was gone. The entire folder had been deleted from my hard drive. So I reinstalled it and tried downloading a couple of themes, but I couldn't find any that I liked that also worked with Windows 98. This time when I shut down, I made sure to switch my shell back to Explorer first. However, when my wife tried to get on later in the day, once again, she had to boot up in safe mode, and the LiteStep folder is gone once again, as well as another random folder on the hard drive. So no more LiteStep for me.

I've never been much impressed with Windows. Windows always seemed to be trying to do what other operating systems (like Amiga and Mac) seemed to do so easily with far less bloat. But I have new respect for Windows now. I still think it could improve a lot, but after trying a couple of alternatives, I get the idea that this stuff is really hard to do right. I still wish I could have a lean operating system without so many elements I'm never going to use filling up my hard drive, but overall, I guess I'm going to stick with Windows 98 for now. My new computer fever isn't over, but I'm going to have to find some other way to fight it, I guess.

Maybe I'll try just one more shell...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Tweaking

Writers meeting last night. It was a lot of fun, although I drank a bit too much port.

In an attempt to cure or at least vitiate my new computer fever, I've been looking into tweaking my current system with some addo-ons. I started out to investigate new shells. I had initially been interested in something called Litestep, but I read several articles on-line that mentioned that it was difficult to configure. So instead I downloaded something called bbLean. It looks really cool, but I had serious performance problems with it (probably something I was doing wrong, but it served to make me leery of it). So I may try some other shells before giving up on the idea. My ultimate goal is to put together a complete computer experience: from log-on to log-off, I want the entire experience to be entirely seamless, stable and fast. This means customizing the look and feel of the OS, as well as the log-on screens for Windows (and eventually the manufacturer's logo coming off the BIOS as well). Pretty ambitious for a non-tech savvy guy, and I'm not sure how successful I'll be, considering the machine I'm wanting to customize is a PII I'm using for writing in my office. But I hope it will be fun and that I'll come out the other side both more knowledgeable and having more fun with writing.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Cheap Shoes

I have this thing I do with the big toe on my right foot. I apparently lift it when I'm walking so that it presses against the top of the shoe; I know this because I sometimes develop a hole in the top of my right shoe right over the toe. I've got a pair of sneakers that I bought cheap at Wal-Mart a few months ago, and already they're developing the same hole. Right now, it's more like a cut; invisible until I lift my right foot and then the white of my sock flashes briefly through the hole in the black shoe. When I curl my toe down, the slit closes and the white disappears.

So now I'm very self-conscious when I walk, trying to consciously turn my toes down. It's a pain in the ass.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Vegetarians and odd sales pitches

Okay, first off, this is pretty awesome.

Now that that's out of the way, I was skiimming my friend Matt's blog yesterday and started following links here and there, and ended up on the blog of another writer (I'm not linking or naming names because I'm not going to be too complimentary here). I'm reading her blog, and she's describing the panoply of health-problems she's having and the array of medications she takes and the delicate balancing act that requires and the fact that she goes to have blood work done so often that the folks at the lab know her on sight now, and I'm thinking "wow, sucks to be her."

So the blog links to her website and I jump over there and end up on a page where she describes the reasons she has adopted a vegetarian lifestyle. What's reason number two? You guessed it: because it's so healthy.

Not to be unsympathetic or anything, but if you're going to proselityze for the vegetarian lifestyle based on the supposed health benefits, you might want to spend a little less time complaining about the wreck you've made of your "meat suit" and the medley of medicines you have to take to get through every day. Because that'll send me running for a bacon cheeseburger every time.

I know, I'm going to hell. But you know what? I'll bet you can eat veal there, and nobody will try to make you feel guilty for it. So save me a seat.

UPDATE: did a little more skimming and found out she has lupus. Doesn't change my point, but yeah, my face got a little red for a moment.

BTW, my daughter got an electronic toy for her birthday that we finally opened the other day. I had to go scrounging all through the house for three AA batteries to run the thing; eventually scavenged them out of a talking Tigger doll. Also included in the box was an electronic sound unit that would give a sales pitch about the educational benefits of the toy in question. Printed on the side, it says, "Please discard this sound unit when disposing of package. It is not part of the toy." I got curious about whether I could use the guts for anything else, so I took it apart before throwing it away. Guess what was inside? That's right.

Three AA batteries.

Short Short

My writers group is having a cookout Saturday. Instead of the normal readings, we're going to have a contest: the challenge is to write a ghost/monster story, the kind of thing that could be told around a campfire, in 1,000 words or less. I sat own and did mine yesterday. Less than 450 words. Is it good? Eh. I think it will get a laugh, which is about all I'm hoping for. Considering I still have over 500 words to play with, I suppose I could try to expand and deepen it, but really, what's the point? It works as a little vignette, a scrap, a slice, and adding depth to it will just muddle the impact of the twist ending. It's like yanking off a Band-Aid. Get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.

I was in a car accident yesterday. I was pulling into the Taco Mayo parking lot, where a pickup was in the process of pulling out. I stopped to let the truck out, because I really hate it when I'm halfway out of a parking spot and some impatient asshole decides to zoom on past. Next thing I know, my rear view mirror turns gray, because there's a Chevy Tahoe looming up behind me, and CRUNCH! It didn't feel like much, but my tail light lens is broken out, and it looks like a couple of body pieces have been shoved in. I need to get an estimate quickly, because I want my tail light fixed.

And this the day after a body shop guy told me my front end problems were not frame damage-related. I was all happy, thinking my car could be fixed more easily and cheaply than I had thought, and then, BAM! Now I'm back a square.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Changes

Well, after 4 1/2 years, I went out and got my hair cut. Since it was kind of an event, I decided to splurge a little. I went to this place called Troy Mitchell's, where they gave me a complimentary beer and cut my hair in this padded easy chair that made the stylist lean way over to cut my bangs. I look a lot younger (and a lot grayer, sadly). I didn't realize until it was gone just how much I had come to dread brushing my hair after a shower; my hair is very fine and tangles easily. Now it's just swipe, swipe and I'm done. Now I can start riding with the top down on the Batmobile.

Speaking of, The Girl was riding with me the other day and started talking about the ledge behind the seats being the car's throat, which would make the red leather interior a big red mouth. Like I really needed that image.

So lots of stuff is happening at work that I don't want to talk about because people get fired over that sort of thing. But we have this show called Starting Over that, God help me, I'm actually getting into. I hate to admit it, because it's one of those chick shows, and it features Iyanla Vanzant, whose awful talk show used to air on our station (the promos used to feature her laughing, and I swear, if you weren't looking at the screen, you'd think the promo had switched to one for The Simpsons featuring Krusty the Clown). But Starting Over is fascinating, because it is about women trying to change their lives, and there's this amazing tension between the women being asked to do all this bullshit navel-gazing and female empowerment stuff, and then being called on their BS when they fall into the same defensive patterns over and over again. It's also interesting to see how they react when they are pushed to step outside their comfort zones.

Evolutionary Fitness

There are two blogs I read every day. One is Lileks, which I've mentioned before. The other is Arthur De Vany's. I discovered him several years ago (I want to say 1999), when I was starting to explore the low-carb/paleo diet philosophy (one which I endorse intellectually more than by actual example). De Vany's website included pictures of an incredibly fit man in his late 50's/early 60's, along with a fascinating description of the diet and fitness lifestyle he follows, which he claims is derived from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle our ancestors were evolved to follow. There was no plan to adopt, per se; part of De Vany's philosophy is play, which means free-form activities that don't lend themselves to rigid plans. Similarly, his diet advice was less than complete, but basically "meat plus vegetables - play with the colors."

Of course, the reason why the information on his site was limited was because he was in the process of writing a book, or the process of planning to write a book. Now it's 2005, and according to his new blog, he's fixing to get around to writing that book any second now. In the meantime, the blog itself is fascinating stuff: thoughts on health and fitness and diet and disease and economics. He may never get around to writing the book, but then again, I might not be able to follow the "Evo-Fitness" lifestyle even if he did. For now, I'm just enjoying the daily thoughts.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Fighting the Urge

I'm deep in the throes of new computer fever right now. I think I've managed to fight it off for now; I have too many other things to spend my money on, and if I got the computer I want, I would have no wiggle room for future emergencies. But oh, i's on sale and so sweet. Trying to talk myself into just getting a new game (actually, an old game, since my present machine can't play new games, but new to me - Half-Life or Heroes of Might and Magic 4) instead, but it's funny. I'd rather pay $1200 for a new computer on credit than reach in my pocket and pull out $20 cash to buy a game. How odd is that?

A couple of friends have new books out. Richard Cox's The God Particle went on sale in stores yesterday. I read the MS, and it's a good techno-thriller, with all you'd want to know about particle physics and the rigors of being a TV news reporter. And my friend John Wooley has two new books coming out: Voices from the Hill, a history of Oklahoma Military Academy (coming soon), and The Big Book of Biker Flicks, co-written with Michael Price. I wasn't too excited about this one, until I saw him talking about it on OETA the other night, and his enthusiasm got me excited. So I may have to pick it up.