Monday, January 30, 2006

Digger Goes Electronic

So I decided to make a new character in City of Heroes, and I thought, "Why not see if I can make Digger?" As it turns out, not so much.

The look, I think I got pretty close on. I don't have a scan of one of my later Digger drawings, after the character had evolved a bit, but here's an early one that has most of the major elements: two-tone blue shirt, tan pants, boots (with wacky fringe that I later decided to replace with Captain America-style buccaneer flaps), blasters on the arms. Ignore the other characters in the drawing. They're character concepts for a super-group I was trying to put together, but they were generally silly and went nowhere (except for that yellow-and-red arm on the left - keep an eye out for him, because you may run into him sometime later if Hero Go Home ever gets published).

And now, the City of Heroes version (pardon the dark colors):

As you can see, I kept the two-tone shirt, although I reversed the colors (not sure which way I like best). They didn't have the straight break across the torso that I liked so much (another design element lifted from Captain America - Kirby was a genius), so I made do. For the blasters, I used the same gloves I used with my first 'toon, Metatronic, with more metallic colors. The boots look pretty good, although I'm not thrilled with the color - something about their browns doesn't translate well to the character.

Of course, I couldn't even come close on the powerset. Two of Digger's most basic powers - digging tunnels and clinging to walls - do not exist in the City of Heroes repertoire. And the powers don't mix-and-match, so you've got to select groups of powers that come close to what you want. I built him once as a Scrapper, with super-fast reflexes. But the closest I could come to a main attack power was claws, which just... no. So now I've rebuilt him as a Tanker, nearly invulnerable, with energy punches, which fit the Driller Beam Generator concept more closely, although he doesn't get any knockback :( Oh well...

As far as the real Digger's adventures, I finally wrote a scene that I'd been afraid to write since late November, so I'm that will get the book back on track. I want to finish the first draft by the end of February; that's my goal.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

"I'm the bad guy?"

Mom-in-Law rented Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron last night for The Girl, who luuuvs cartoons as much as her old man. I had seen the trailers in the theater, but had never been especially tempted to see the movie. It looked like a typical Hollywood multi-culti/environmentalist preachflick, ala Pocahontas or Brother Bear or Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. Nature good, people bad; white people really bad, Native Americans not so much. But it's what was on last night, so I watched it.

Made it through about twenty minutes. The animals didn't talk, but the horses would whinny while making faces that looked as if they were talking. It was weird. And then, of course, it got into the main story.

Spirit meets people. People are bad. They enslave horses. The cowboys try to catch Spirit, but he leads them on a merry chase, and just when he thinks he's beaten them, they rope him and drag him away. Then they take him to the most evil place on Earth: an American cavalry fort. The soldiers try to break him, but they can't. Nor can they break the spirit of the good-hearted Lakota they've captured. The Lakota saves Spirit from being shot by the American commander, and together the two make a daring escape.

So to recap: Horses good. People bad. White people worse. White American military people worst of all. Nogoodniks, the lot of 'em.

Yeah, okay. Got better things to do with my time. Thanks for playing.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I Need a New Plan

I just found out that I have an extra five days' worth of vacation this year. Apparently, you get a third week in your fifth year. Odd to think that I'm approaching my mid-forties and this is the first company I've worked five consecutive years for (other than the Army, which doesn't really count).

Onthe one hand, this is cool news, but on the other hand, I wasn't able to spend ten days last year. What makes me think I'll be able to spend fifteen this year?

My first thought was that I might try to hit more conventions this year. It sounds like a good way to spend a few long weekends, schmoozing with other writers and editors. But conventions can be expensive, especially if I'm not an invited guest, so I don't know how much of that I can afford to do.

Then again, I could just take the entire thing in one big lump during the summer, but then I'd just end up going to movies or shopping and spending tons of money, and things would just fall apart at work while I was gone.

I could take a summer's worth of three day weekends. It would be like having a holiday every week. But the problem with that plan is that The Wife would find ways to fill my free time until it didn't really feel like a vacation at all. And how awful would it be when the vacation time ran out and I had to work full weeks again?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Strange Dream

I had a dream last night that I was so eager for the next month's OSFW meeting that I showed up at the locale for the next meeting on the next night (in other words, I pulled up to the house and realized I was 30 days early - the previous meeting had been the night before, not the month before). I sat there in the driveway, thinking how stupid I was, then I backed out, forgetting that this person's house (which was not any of the actual houses I've been to) sat on a tall hill with a steep drop-off on the other side of a narrow lane.

Next thing I knew, my car was rolling backwards out of control down a steep slope that was almost a cliff, until it finally smashed onto the street. I think I woke up about the moment that I actually hit, or maybe just before.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Modern World, Shifting Memory

I had a strange experience today. I was thinking about somebody I met at a convention years ago, with whom I briefly stayed in touch. I'm talking late 80's here, back when I still lived in OKC and wrote for the Daily Oklahoman. And as I thought about her, I had this memory of her e-mailing me. Now keep in mind, this was years before I knew what e-mail even was. I got my start on-line in the early 90's, and even then, there was no e-mail, only BBS's. I used to hang out on a FIDONET BBS in Tulsa called Shadowland, I think, as well as a couple of others. But I was in touch with this person at least three years before that. I don't remember if we snail-mailed or talked on the phone, but I know for a fact that there was no e-mail, even though I vaguely remember it. Funny how memory works.

Glad I'm not being asked to testify before a committee about this, because they'd definitely charge me with something.

Cool Conestoga News and Guilt

I found out last night that Conestoga here in Tulsa is going to be an official Baen's Universe event. I had hoped, considering David Drake is the GOH, but now Baen's has confirmed it, which is cool. It will be fun to meet some of the people I only know through the Baen's Bar Webboard and e-mail.

I'm feeling a bit guilty about my flip comment concerning M.T. Reiten's stack of rejections. Fact is, he's doing what I wish I were brave and disciplined enough to do: write a lot and submit continuously. I write sporadically, and only recently have begun to submit with any regularity, and even then, I went several months last year without any stories in circulation at all (except for some contest entries trapped in limbo). It's all too easy for me to start a project, hit a snag and let it wither on the vine (see Flip), or to give up on a story after a few, or even a single, rejection. I think I'm getting better, but the only reason I don't have as big a stack of rejections as Matt is that I haven't had the drive to write, the discipline to research markets, or the bravery to submit, that he has. So there.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Quick Turnaround

"Shell" got a super-quick rejection from F&SF. 11 days round-trip by snail mail. It was a John Joseph Adams and not a Gordon Van Gelder (a grading scale introduced to me by M.T. Reiten, who has collected quite a few of his own rejections from them), which means it didn't make the cut to get passed up to the big guy. However, the wording is slightly more encouraging than the first rejection I got from them, so I'm slowly making progress. Maybe in another couple of stories, I can, like Matt, start getting GVG rejections rather than JJA's (which is a small, sad ambition, I know, and yet I've learned to grasp any tiny indication of progress and cherish it as I try to work my way into this business).

In other news, I heard a story on the news the other night about a local highway crash that sounded pretty Darwin-worthy, except that nobody had actually died yet. A woman was in critical condition after being ejected from a vehicle that overturned. The vehicle in question was being driven by the woman's boyfriend and overturned after it tried to pass the vehicle in front of it... on the shoulder... in a CONSTRUCTION ZONE. I've been trying to find a link to the story to see if in fact the overturned vehicle was a pick-up truck, but so far, I have not succeeded.

Of Course

So I mentioned a while back in this post that I expected I might never sell "Frame by Frame," because I just couldn't find a suitable market. I got to thinking, what I really needed was a horror/suspense anthology with a movie theme. Lo and behold. So I've now got a submission in to them. What delicious irony if I were to sell it now, just after whining that I might never be able to. Wouldn't that just put me in my place?

C'mon fate, put me in my place, already.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Is My Face Red

Well, not super red. Turns out the Product Key for the media center PC was on a sticker on the case all the time. But in my defense, it was toward the back of the case, hidden in the recesses of the entertainment center, and the 25-digit code was in like 5 point type, incredibly tiny. And then, once I finished entering the 25 characters, I had to call a toll-free number and read like 45 numbers into an automated system, and then enter another 45-ish numbers back into the computer. Oof. But it finally works again, so I can watch digital cable. Still can't record, but that's coming.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

What Did I Expect?

Got a rejection from The Town Drunk today for "In Deep." The editor said they found it "well-written and entertaining," but in the end it was just an extended fart joke, which, okay, guilty. She also included a long paragraph of technical nit-picking about the chemical make-up of farts. Here's the thing: I actually did research on the chemical make-up of farts when I wrote the story, so I could, if so inclined, write a defense of my story on the technical merits. However, I think it's remarkable enough that I actually got an editor to write a treatise on farts that I'll let it pass.

Do you think when she decided to become an editor that ever in her wildest dreams she thought she would write a paragraph like the one she wrote to me? My work here is done.

In other news, I actually started writing again, another useless bit of short story filler called . Let other people write serious, self-important, meaningful stories. I'll write about farts and . and die with a smile on my face (but I'd be smiling even bigger if they'd bought it).

Saturday, January 14, 2006

My Latest Tale of Woe

And no, it's not the fact that I got elected VP of Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers last night (although it was about the last refuge I had where I didn't have to be in charge of anything - oh well).

Two weeks ago, I wrote this post about how I planned to install a media center PC. Some background: my boss handed me this out of the blue last month. He said that our department head was giving them to people as learning tools or something. Cool, thought I, a free computer. I had actually been wanting a Tivo or some other type of PVR, so this was like a wish come true. However, it did mean that I needed to go out and buy a wireless router so both computers could share the same high-speed connection.

So I get the router. It's seventy bucks, but I'll get 30 back in rebates, so I figure it's still a super bargain for what this baby will do once it's up and running. I set aside the entire weekend to fight with the thing, because I know my past patterns. Saturday comes, and I begin installation. Router installs fairly painlessly. Then I start pulling redundant components out of my home theater setup. Bye-bye VCR. Bye-bye, DVD player. Bye-bye, CD player. Bye-bye, dual cassette dubbing deck that I never use.

I hook up the computer, a Q-Media Entertainment PC running Windows XP Media Center. The box had apparently been opened and the computer tested by someone, because there was a sticky note on the box that said, "Works." I turn it on, and lo and behold, the note is right, That crazy gizmo really works! I watch some TV for a while, rewind it during commercials to watch my favorite scenes again, then jump forward after the break is done. I need to track down a missing cable before I can try recording shows, but so far, it seems really cool. I shut down for the night. It says it's going to install a few updates first.

Later that evening, I can't sleep, so I decide to watch a bit more telelvision. I turn on the TV and the computer, and get this message. "Welcome, User: Clear Channel. Password:"

What the hell? It never asked me for a password before, and I sure as hell didn't set one. So I try just hitting Enter, but that doesn't work. I try a bunch of obvious passwords, but none of them work. I try restoring, but it just puts me right back to the same password screen.

So I wait until Monday and ask my boss. He doesn't know, but he suggests one of the techs in the department. I ask the tech, who refers me to another tech, who also doesn't know. Finally, I decide to use the DVD backup I burned, back when the thing still worked the way it was supposed to.

I do a disk format and restore from DVD. Does it prompt me for a password? No. Success! No, wait. Instead, it's now asking me for a 25-character Product Key on my Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity. Doh! The computer didn't come with a Certificate of Authenticity! It didn't come with any Microsoft documentation at all, just a booklet that basically says I never have to mess with Windows at all, just the Media Center interface which runs almost completely form the remote control. edit: I'm looking back through the booklet and it says there should be a software disk included which wasn't in the computer by the time I received it; that may have been the Windows disk.

So I email the manufacturer to ask if they have the Product Key so I can restore my computer. That was a week ago, and they have not yet answered. If they end up not being able to help me, I have several choices, none of them good. Get a product key from someone else and run the risk of Microsoft coming after me for using pirated software; spend another $150 to get a new authorized copy of XP Media Center (awfully expensive for a "free" gift); switch to Linux (I've actually tried this one already, only to find out that I can't install because it doesn't register input from my wireless keyboard; I asked for help with this issue on their forums and got a snooty answer from some dude who said it was a well-known problem, and if I'd just done a moment's research before I bought the computer I wanted to use the software with, I could have avoided the drama. Ass); give the damn thing back and go back to the set-up I had before.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The New Year: Hope and Disappointment

Got up this morning and everything was blanketed with snow. I drove to work with big flakes swirling around my car. Come noon when I went back outside, not only had the snow stopped, but it had almost all melted away. Now I look out the window, and everything's sunny and dry, the sky blue with only a few hints of cloud. It's hard to believe I drove to work in the snow this morning.

The last thing I remembered dreaming before I woke was driving past a gas station and noting with a start that gas had gone up to $7.01 per gallon. Funny how your nightmares change as you get older.

I've had a printed story sitting on my desk for about a month, waiting to be sent out. It got stuck here waiting out the holiday madness, and was recently joined by a friend. Today, I finally got both sent out. I'm starting to emerge from the end of year doldrums to get stuff done. I haven't really started writing yet, but I've I've started thinking about writing, at least. I've got four stories out right now, and I'm looking for places to submit more.

The one big disappointment? "Frame by Frame." I wrote this story a couple of years ago, using the background I'd developed for a novel that never came together. When I read it to my local writers group, I was horribly nervous, and grew more so as I read, because everyone seemed bored out of their skulls. However, when I finished, almost everyone said they loved it, and they still comment on it today; someone asked me at the Christmas party just last month if I'd managed to sell it yet.

The answer was "no," and I suspect it will be "no" for the rest of my life, unless I manage to achieve some kind of Stephen King-like success where someone will publish just about any piece of crap I ever scribbled down, just because it has my name on it. The problem is that it's not really a story, per se. It's a mood piece, an 8,500 word mood piece, and who really wants to read that? I sometimes think the reason it went over so well was not so much the story as the performance; I was scared when I read it, scared they wouldn't like it, scared they'd tell me the emperor had no clothes even though I thought I could see some. I think that fear translated well to the narrative, which is a sort of horror story.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just coming up with excuses. Maybe I could edit it down to a more salable length and try again. But as it stands right now, I don't know of anyplace else to submit it, and it depresses me, because in some ways, it's one of the best things I've ever written, even though it breaks about a thousand rules in the process. I just don't know what to do with it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Bob Denver, Finally

To start, I digress into politics (which I usually try to avoid here) a little bit. I've kind of fallen off reading Lileks lately, but this from yesterday caught my attention. And when I read the linked piece, it was like someone taking things I had thought and felt and tried to express a couple of times in the last few years, and actually made them make sense. Especially this part, which is a much clearer version of what I tried to express to a friend over lunch two years ago when he asked me if I didn't think bad things were happening all over and Islam was just being made into a convenient scapegoat by the current Administration.

"We know it's not really a "war on terror." Nor is it, at heart, a war against Islam, or even "radical Islam." The Muslim faith, whatever its merits for the believers, is a problematic business for the rest of us. There are many trouble spots around the world, but as a general rule, it's easy to make an educated guess at one of the participants: Muslims vs. Jews in "Palestine," Muslims vs. Hindus in Kashmir, Muslims vs. Christians in Africa, Muslims vs. Buddhists in Thailand, Muslims vs. Russians in the Caucasus, Muslims vs. backpacking tourists in Bali. Like the environmentalists, these guys think globally but act locally."

I've also had the same thoughts as the ones Steyn expresses about population trends, although I've never troubled myself to look up the actual stats. Much better just to have a vague fear that I then feel slightly guilty about, because it has such a racist overtone (Those brown people are having more kids than we are! Pretty soon we're going to be knee-deep in them!), but at the same time, this bit from his piece strikes me as exactly on target:

"The refined antennae of Western liberals mean that whenever one raises the question of whether there will be any Italians living in the geographical zone marked as Italy a generation or three hence, they cry, "Racism!" To fret about what proportion of the population is "white" is grotesque and inappropriate. But it's not about race, it's about culture. If 100% of your population believes in liberal pluralist democracy, it doesn't matter whether 70% of them are "white" or only 5% are. But if one part of your population believes in liberal pluralist democracy and the other doesn't, then it becomes a matter of great importance whether the part that does is 90% of the population or only 60%, 50%, 45%."

Which is why I had always told The Wife I wanted to raise two kids. Let's at least replace ourselves for the sake of the planet. But she seems content to stick with the one. Oh well.

So anyway, Bob Denver: Entertainment Weekly had an end-of-year review issue a couple of weeks ago, and one of the featured pieces was remembrances of the celebrities that had died during the year. Tina Louise wrote one about Bob Denver, and for some reason, it got me thinking about typecasting.

If you look at Bob Denver's career, he didn't start out as Gilligan. In fact, his first real notoriety was as second fiddle Maynard G. Krebs on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis." His starring role as Gilligan was a direct result of his popularity on the former show. The point is, Gilligan as a character was not a direct retread of Maynard G. Krebs.

However, if you lok at Denver's career post-Gilligan, you'll see that about half of his roles (and almost all of the starring roles) have been Gilligan warmed over, either directly or indirectly. There are the three Gilligan TV movies and the two Gilligan animated series, and then there are the two shameless rip-offs.

The later one was "Far Out Space Nuts," about a pair of space janitors who accidentally launch themselves into the unknown and spend every episode trying to find their way back to Earth. Since this was a super-low-budget Krofft kids' show, they jettisoned the supporting cast (except for a wacky alien creature sidekick) and just kept the central Gilligan conceit (which was at heart just a recasting of Laurel and Hardy): a good-natured dim-bulb set adrift with his partner, a physically imposing man who excelled at doing the slow burn. On "Gilligan's Island," that role was filled by Alan Hale, Jr.* On "Space Nuts,"it was Chuck McCann. Like Hale, McCann took his cues from Oliver Hardy in crafting his role (in fact, McCann channelled Hardy's mannerisms so completely, he later ended up impersonating Oliver Hardy in several television commercials).

But before "Far Out Space Nuts," there was "Dusty's Trail," which I might not even remember if I hadn't named my dog after the show. About the time this was on the air, I got a tan-and-white beagle (not a speck of black on her) whom I considered naming Sandy, until the morning after we brought her home. We put her in a box in the living room for the night. The next morning, I woke to find her beside the bed, with piles of puppy poop drawing a line from her box to my bedside. She was promply christened Dusty, and the line of poop piles was, of course, Dusty's Trail (an apt metaphor for hte show, now that I think of it).

"Dusty's Trail" was Gilligan in the old West, starring Denver as a member of a wagon train wandering hopelessly through the Great American Desert like the Israelites trying to find Canaan (and wouldn't that have been a neat idea for a Denver series - "Zach's Oasis," about a lost group of Israelites trying to find their way back to Moses's band, having wacky encounters with Egyptian soldiers and runaway harem girls and traveling camel salesmen played by Phil Silvers or somebody? But I digress).

"Dusty's Trail" was almost completely the same show (from the same executive producer), but it disappeared without a trace, while Gilligan became a television icon. Why? Several reasons, I think. Forrest Tucker (edited after mtreiten caught an oversight on my part)was a talented guy, but his gruff style didn't mesh as well with Denver as Hale's did. And the supporting cast didn't have any of the charisma or chemistry of the "Gilligan" cast. And, I think, there was the question of the characters' ultimate fate. You always knew that, the nature of series television being what it was at the time, you would never see the conclusion of the characters' story. But at least with "Gilligan's Island," you could imagine that at some point, they would be rescued and return to civilization. With "Dusty's Trail," hapless as these guys were, you could just as easily imagine them ending up like the Donner party. Not a pleasant thought.

Not sure where I was going with this. I guess it's easy to get lost when you're discussing this subject, huh?

*Quick Alan Hale story: A high school friend of mine was eating at a restaurant in L.A. called the Lobster Barrel with some friends, and as can happen when four college guys are out together, they passed some of the time quizzing each other on useless trivia. My friend says, "I've got one. What was the Skipper's real name on 'Gilligan's Island?'" And before any of them could even hazard a guess, a familiar voice from behind him says, "Jonas Grumby." My friend turns around, and there's Alan Hale, Jr, the Skipper himself in the flesh. Turns out the restaurant was actually Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel, and the best way to get on the big man's good side was to bring up his best known role, so my friend and co. got to hang with him for a while. Somehow, I don't think the same thing would have happened if you'd mentioned Opie at Ron Howard's Lobster Barrel. And if you'd mentioned Meathead at Rob Reiner's Lobster Barrel, you might well have ended up being shot.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Okay, Fine, Year in Review

I managed to not post Christmas stuff, cause I prefer to just get X-mas over and out of the way quietly. I also managed not to print any New Year's Resolutions, casue let's face it, I don't think I've ever managed to keep one. In 2005, I wrote down a list of goals for myself; I won't reproduce it here, because I failed to accomplish even one of them.

That being said, 2005 was not a total loss. Really, some great things happened over the course of the year. They just weren't the ones I told myself were going to happen. But my family stayed healthy, I got a promotion at work (mixed blessing: a little more money, a lot more stress), I sold two stories (one to a small market, one to a major), and I wrote some of the best work of my life.

Life in general=pretty good. Prospects for 2006=quite nice, actually, thank you for asking.