An Extended Response to a Recent Comment

There are stories everywhere.

“Why did this happen?”

“How did it go down?”

Answer the reporters’ traditional questions–who, what, when, where, why, and how–and you’re telling a story.

Interesting point, though: you don’t need to answer all of the questions to make it a story. Sometimes each answer is its own story. And each story leads to more questions and more stories.

As a writer, it’s my job to tell stories. And because I write fiction, I’m supposed to make up those stories.

Every story has a starting point. Even the fictional stories. Maybe it was the who: many writers start with the characters and watch them interact. Sometimes it’s the what or the how: where would a locked room mystery be without the what and the how?

Just to be totally clear, darn near everything I write here on the blog is a story. And, guess what? Most of them are at least somewhat fictional. If I start with a news story, and I don’t know the answer to one of those questions, most likely I’m going to make something up. Because you (usually) don’t tell a story by not answering questions.

Put it another way: “How can you tell when a writer is making something up?” “He’s writing*.”

* A more accurate answer would be “He’s alive” but that doesn’t call back to the old joke about lawyers as well.

Because I’m the only person telling stories on this site–ignoring the ones that you all tell when you comment (remember what I said about stories leading to more stories?)–they have a number of common elements; if you read for a while, you’ll see similar word choices, subjects, and tonalities cropping up again and again.

My tastes run toward snark and satire, so when I have to make something up for a story, chances are I’m going to come up with something intended to trigger a smirk or a snicker.

What constitutes humor, snark, satire, and parody is heavily influenced by culture. It’s easy to miss those elements if you’re coming from a different cultural matrix.

One important point: making up answers for “why” can be risky. Oddly enough, some people take offense when certain motives are attributed to them. That being the case, I try not to fictionalize human motivations when writing about stories I’ve picked up from the news.

The key word in the previous sentence is, of course “human”. Cats, by and large, are unwilling to go to the hassle of filing lawsuits and–Grumpy Cat notwithstanding–don’t have money to pay lawyers.

Another One

Can you stand another music post? If not, feel free to skip today’s post. I promise I won’t be offended.

It struck me the other day that there’s a medical crisis on our hands. It’s not as flashy as the current pandemic, but it’s been slowly building for the past eighty years or more.

Tony Bennett, of course, left his heart in San Francisco.

Sammy Kaye, Charlie Spivak, Jo Stafford, and the gods only know how many others left their tickers at the Stage Door Canteen.

And that only begins to cover the extent of the problem.

Pepe Llorens’ heart is in Barcelona. Nadia’s is in somewhere California–or perhaps scattered in pieces around the state. Want to check Herb Jeffries’ cardiac health? Better head for Mississippi.

It gets worse.

Edmund Hockridge deposited his heart in an English garden, Linda Scott abandoned hers in the balcony of her local theater–last row, third seat; if she ever wants it back, at least she knows where to look for it. And poor Ernie Tubb left half of his in Texas and the other half in Tennessee.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

Eighty years of research and yet medical science has yet to find a way to keep singer’s hearts in their chests where they belong.

It’s a crying shame.

Changing tracks (sorry).

Anyone else remember the Andrews Sisters “Three Little Sisters“?

The punch line of the song is the one about “tell it to the marine“. But in which sense?

The original meaning, dating back to at least the early 1800s, implies “because nobody else is dumb enough to believe it”. But the more recent American implication–circa 1900–is “because they’re the only ones who can do something about it.”

So which is it: are the girls going out on the town, or entertaining the troops at home?

Either way, it’s not a flattering portrait of those teenagers.

Of course it’s possible the song doesn’t know the whole story. Maybe whatever it is the young woman are doing is fully consensual, and the magazine bit is just a cover story for the girls’ parents, the armed forces censors, and anyone else who might get their hands on their letters.

Remember, no email or social media in 1942.

Now that I think about it, the song does say they’ll be “true until the boys came back”. Not a word about their plans for thereafter.

Let us not forget that Kerista was founded in the mid-Fifties. The philosophical underpinnings didn’t come out of nowhere.

I’m sure it purely coincidental that the founder, John Presmont, was–if contemporary accounts can be believed–an Air Force officer during World War 2. Still…one can only wonder how the Summer of Love might have evolved had there been four little sisters.

How to Tell

We all do it. No, not poops. I mean, yes, we do, but that’s not what I was going to talk about.

I mean, we all narrate our existence to ourselves.

It might be retrospective, speculative or projective, emotional or reactive, or simply an assertion that we’re present (the most basic form of “I think, therefore I am”).

“I should have gotten the chicken instead of the fish.”

“Should I do the laundry before or after I order the pizza? Is the delivery guy going to care if I have to answer the door in my PJs?”

“Ugh, it’s too early to be awake. Could I get back to sleep if I called in sick to work, or would it just be easier to go in?”

“I’m bored.”

Something else we all do: we edit our narration.

“Okay, once I finish the dishes, I can kick back and watch TV. No, I’d better check my email and pay the credit card bill first. So that’s dishes, bill, email, and then TV.”

But there’s something we don’t all do.

I was musing about internal narrations yesterday (see “I’m bored” above) and I realized that I was copyediting my narration.

That’s right: I was changing punctuation and digressing to decide whether certain words should be capitalized.

Worse yet, at the same time I was also doing a style edit.

“Is it funnier if I send out for pizza or Chinese food?”

“Is chicken versus fish too cliched, or should I go with it because it’s a clich√©?”

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe everyone style edits their thoughts.

But I suspect that it’s a limited few of us.

Mind you, I’m not talking about editing an imaginary conversation– “Just wait until I see that louse! I’m going to give him a few choice words!” (because of course you want to have the perfect zinger ready when the louse in question walks in)–but all those other bits of narrative running through your head.

I submit that if you spend five minutes arguing with yourself over whether the internal rhyme in “It’s too far to go by car” is distracting and you should just think “It’s too far to drive” while you’re planning your vacation, you’re either already a writer or you should be.

Onward

(aka Short Attention Span Theater 18)

True story.

I was coming home from work the other day–along Richmond Parkway, as it happens–when I witnessed what was, if not the stupidest driving maneuver ever, certainly one of the top ten.

Picture this: I was waiting at a red light, fourth car in line in the right lane. Two cars in the left lane. Nobody in the left turn lane. There’s a small bunch of trees on the corner to the right, which means you can’t see into the cross street until you’re actually in the intersection.

And coming up from behind me is a Mini of some sort*, zipping along at the speed limit, which happens to be 50 along there.

* I think it was a Countryman, but I’m often clueless when it comes to vehicular makes and models.

The driver wasn’t showing any sign of slowing down, and I was starting to get nervous. One doesn’t think of a Mini as “looming”, but this one was unquestionably looming in my rear-view mirror.

And then it veered to the left.

Without slowing down, it slewed across the width of the street into the left turn lane and stormed straight through the intersection, back across the full width of the street to the right lane.

About fifteen seconds later, the light changed to green–which means it had to still be green for the cross street when the idiot went through the red–but nobody moved for a good ten seconds, too stunned by the sight we’d just seen.

My immediate reaction was that the driver must be the same kind of idiot who gets his first vaccination and immediately stops wearing a mask.

On reflection, I think that’s too gentle an assessment. More likely, he hasn’t gotten vaccinated, won’t get vaccinated, and threatens to sue businesses that require customers to be masked because he thinks makes spread disease.

Moving on.

In the interest of keeping you informed of the doings of Xathanael Todd*, I bring you this excerpt from a letter I received from his father on Monday.

* Previous mentions are here and here.

“April 23rd, 24th, and 25th will be Xathanael’s final theatrical performances before graduating High School.

On The Fringe Children’s Theater in Vallejo is presenting an online production of Elephant and Piggy: We Are In A Play. Xathanael has been working there as Assistant Choreographer and Music Director. He is also starring as Gerald.”

Unlike the earlier performance noted above, this production will, in the spirit of the times, be streamed online. Tickets–a mere $5 each, though you can pay more if you wish–are available through Showtix4U, so even those of you who don’t habitually frequent Fairfield, California can attend.

I’m trying to figure out whether I can get some time off one of those days. Working evenings does have a down side.

As you may have gathered, yes, I’m back.

Late March or early April is generally when I post my “State of the Fourth Estate” summary. Last year, I was hoping to send out Demirep to my beta readers in June. I actually beat that estimate. The draft went out in mid-May.

Since then, I’ve written a grand total of zero words of fiction.

What I’ve found is that I need a certain minimum amount of structure in my life in order to write. And even after I returned to work after the lockdown, I had no routine. Schedules changed frequently, responsibilities shifted on a weekly–sometimes daily–basis. And then there were all of those one-off disasters falling into life, both political and personal.

Finally, however, life and work are settling down. I’ve made plans to carve out regular writing times. First for the blog, then for the novels. It’s going to happen. I’m going to make it happen.

Moving on again: see you Friday.

How’d I Miss That?

I freely admit to being a bit slow. Somewhat oblivious, even.

But even so, I can’t believe it took me almost forty-five years to spot this.

Still, as far as I can tell–a quick web search, a perusal of the relevant Wikipedia article, and a consultation with a couple of people with a grounding in the music of the mid-seventies–nobody else has noticed it either.

Which really surprises me. Forty-five years and nobody has noticed that “Take the Money and Run” can be read–heard?–as a lesbian story?

Stop laughing. I’m serious.

Check out the lyrics.

Every person mentioned in the song is mentioned with a pronoun. Except for one.

“…shot a man while robbing his castle”

“Bobbie Sue…she slipped away”

“Billy Mack…he knows just exactly what the facts is”

But Billy Joe is always referenced by name. The song wouldn’t change an iota if their name was spelled “Billie Jo”.

Still think I’m crazy?

Okay, maybe I am. Granted, certainly, Steve Miller isn’t noted for being the most socially activist musician out there. Not now, not back in the mid-seventies.

But, still, I can’t help picturing some record company executive taking a look at a proof of the lyric sheet for the Fly Like an Eagle album and choking. “Stevie-baby. Love the album, but this one song? Just can’t do it. Two chicks in love? Totally kill sales in the Midwest. Look, just make one of them a guy. Whatdya say?”

Perhaps that’s overblown. Heck, maybe Mr. Miller himself didn’t realize the implications of his lyrics–there’s a well-known story that when author Isaac Asimov confronted a critic over his interpretation of one of Asimov’s stories, the critic replied, “What do you know? You’re only the author.”

Still, as a writer, I’d like to think Steve Miller’s been slipping this bit of (none-too-effective) subversion past listeners for more than four decades. Fiction is far more fun than boring Reality.

SAST 16

Apparently someone at MLB.TV is reading this blog. Less than a week after I noted that nobody’s been talking about MLB.TV subscriptions, they decided to prove me wrong.

I said that I doubted we’d get a prorated refund. Surprise!

According to the email I received, we do get prorated refunds. We can have them credited to back to the cards we used to pay, or we can credit them against next year’s subscription.

That’s a no-brainer. I see no reason to give MLB half a year of interest on my money. More to the point, though, after the example of this year’s negotiations between the owners and players, I’m not the only person wondering if there will be a season next year.

Refunds will be issued around the end of July. I presume this is so they won’t have to go through the refund process twice if the 60 game season gets scrapped entirely–something that seems increasingly likely in the light of the ongoing problems with testing.

On a semi-related note, team schedules are now available online. You can subscribe to them with your Google, Apple, or Windows calendar.

If, that is, you’re willing to give an unidentified third party access to all of your calendars. At least, that’s the case in Google-land.

Maybe it’s different for those of you using Outlook or iCal; I suggest you check the permissions that come along with any calendar requests very carefully.

Moving on.

Douglas Adams was wrong. It’s not time that’s the illusion. Dates are illusions.

These days, I’m far from the only person who can’t tell whether it’s a Wednesday in July or a Tuesday in November without looking at a phone (or calendar for those of us who still use paper). I think we all know it’s still 2020, but I’m certain enough to bet money on it.

It’s not just the lack of stimulation, with our limited ability to spend time with friends, or the sameness of our personal schedules–especially for those working at home. It’s the sense of futility that comes from not having an endgame in sight. Nobody knows when life will return to normal–whatever that is or will be–and, worse yet, nobody knows when we’ll know when.

We’re just marking time. Seconds, minutes, hours. But not days. They’re just too big to grasp.

Moving on–in a limited way.

Along with the retreat from “reopening,” we’re getting a return of one of the most noxious notions from the days of “Shelter in Place.” You know the one I mean: “Look at all the free time you have. You can finally do those things you’ve been putting off!”

Poisonous.

Maybe it works for you. I’ll admit it worked for me early on. I wrapped up the third draft of Demirep and put it in the hands of my beta readers (and thanks to all of you!). But after that?

My usual practice is to start the next novel while the beta readers are reading. This time, nope. It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I do. But actually doing anything with them? Not happening.

And the last thing I need is somebody guilting me about it.

Same goes for you. If you’re not capable of working on one of your projects–whether it’s something artistic or practical–you’ve got my permission to not do it and to not feel guilty or defeated. We’re all different, and we all react to events differently.

If someone tells you that you have to work on something, feel free to politely tell them to get stuffed. And if they gloat about how much they’ve accomplished under lock-down, feel free to deliver them to your local taxidermist for stuffing.

On a related note, I will assault the next person I hear saying “Man, being a professional athlete is the worst job these days.” (Yes, people really are saying that. If you haven’t heard it–presumably because you’re being a responsible adult and socially isolating and being a smart adult and staying off social media–I envy you.)

You know what really sucks? Working in a field where you don’t have a choice about going to work every day, where your employer doesn’t pay for tests and won’t pay you if you get sick. Or not working because your former employer is out of business.

We’re all having to learn new ways to do our jobs–it’s not just ballplayers who have to figure out how to get the work done safely. And very few of us have the same safety nets they do. Well-funded unions that actually look out for their members, affordable health insurance, and well-off senior members of our professions who look out for their juniors* are increasingly scarce.

* Major kudos for the various MLB stars who’ve been chipping in money to help out the minor league players who aren’t getting paid at all now that the MiLB seasons have been cancelled.

Moving on.

Well, maybe. One of these days.Sometime.

Some Things Never Change

Isn’t it nice to know there are some constants in life? Things you can rely on?

I’ve largely avoided Kickstarter for several years. It’s not well designed for browsing, it’s not like I really need someplace else to spend money*, and, to be brutally honest, the parade of people who seem to think “I want it” is sufficient reason to say “Give me money” can be depressing.

* And the “pay now, get your product when its ready” paradigm doesn’t work well for those of us who want instant gratification.

But I’ve been inside almost 24/7 for more than three weeks, and one can only watch so much TV and read so many books*. So why not take a look and see if Kickstarter is still a home to useless products, clueless creators, and shameless scamsters?

* Heresy, I know. But even with my e-ink reader, after six or seven hours, my eyes do start to itch.

As you might have guessed from the title of the post, the answer is yes.

I’m not sure which category “Petstagram” falls into, and apparently neither was anyone else.

The creators were asking for $9,100 to launch “social media for your pets”. Because, of course, one can’t post photos of one’s pets on any of the existing social media networks.

This project is clear proof that “Some people will buy anything”. As of Tuesday afternoon, their pledge total stood at one dollar. Did they overestimate demand or just do a really piss-poor job of promoting the product? We may never know.

Which is probably just as well, because it appears they believe that building front end apps for Android and iOS comes before creating backend infrastructure. That’s not just putting the cart before the horse, that’s crossbreeding zebras and giraffes and planning to buy the cart once your genetics project creates a horse.

Then there’s SocialShredder. I’m fairly sure this one falls into the scam category.

The goal of the project is software to allow people to remove their potentially embarrassing or unwanted social media posts. This can be done, the project creator assures us, for a mere $100,000.

To my surprise, as I write this, he’s only managed to attract two backers, who are putting up a grand total of $6. He’s got time, though: the kickstarter will run through the end of May.

The project page is remarkably silent on just how this project will work. Does he have agreements with Facebook to allow more thorough deletions than can be done on the site itself? What about Twitter, which doesn’t offer any way to track and delete retweets? Then there are all of those annoying independent bloggers, who have a nasty habit of taking screenshots and posting them; has he found a way to hunt them down and force them to delete anything someone doesn’t like?

I’m especially amused–and depressed–by the “Risks and challenges” section of the page, which essentially says “Hey, we’re going to be everywhere, forever.” Uh…is that a risk or a challenge?

Finally (for today, anyway), The Harmony Bible folks believe they’ve figured out why so few people have read “the most significant book ever published.” The answer: it’s not arranged in chronological order.

They have, they say, rearranged the entire bible chronologically so it “reads just like a book, from beginning to end”.

Have they ever read a book? I’m assuming they’re talking about novels, because most non-fiction is arranged by subject just like the bible. Or maybe not, because I’ve read a heck of a lot of novels that start with something exciting, and then go back to show the origins of that thrilling bit.

The other problem with the regular bible is, of course, that it’s full of redundancies, with the same story being told several times by different people. Nobody wants to read the same story over and over again, right? So the Harmony Bible eliminates all those redundant retellings; somewhere Akira Kurosawa is crying.

It’s not even clear from the kickstarter what the money being raised will go to. The Harmony Bible is already available in two different ebook versions (only $9.99 each). Is this to produce a print version? If so, that $87,700 goal seems awfully high: there are any number of reputable Print On Demand publishers who would do it for substantially less. Even flat-out vanity presses don’t generally charge that much.

Still, this attempt to get funding is doing better the first try, earlier this year. That brought in $180 in pledges before the kickstarter was canceled; this time it’s up to $1,000 with more than a month to go.

And remember: your pledge of two dollars or more will get you the chance “the read the bible like a book very easy to read, understand and gain know, full copy of what you want 1 Pdf file Sent to you”.

Hopefully the actual Harmony Bible is a little easier to read than the kickstarter.

State of the Fourth Estate 08

Some traditions are easy to keep up. And this year has made one particular tradition easier than ever.

This is my eighth “State of the Fourth Estate” report*, and it is, per tradition, late. Only two weeks, which isn’t all that bad: in 2017, it was almost a month. That delay took real effort; this one was simple because there are so very few date references these days. Remembering whether it’s Monday or Thursday takes a conscious effort, and as for keeping track of the weeks and months, well, why bother? It’ll only depress you.

* The eighth report, but only my seventh year of writing. The first SotFE post came at the six-month mark.

That said, sheltering in place has been a great boon to my writing. I’ve made more progress on Draft Three of Demirep in the last three weeks than in the previous three months of squeezing it in around work. Prior to the lockdown, I was hoping to finish the draft and find beta readers around the end of the year. Now, assuming I can keep up my current pace for the rest of the Shelter in Place period, I could be starting the beta before baseball returns.

Which reminds me: it’s time for me to start thinking about the next project, since I’ll be working on that while the beta readers are doing their thing.

Anyway, I’m hoping that, once I go back to work, I’ll be able to keep some of the momentum on both projects. I’d love to have TBD go faster than Demirep has.

Meanwhile, Like Herding Cats continues to make the rounds of agents. Waiting for responses has always been one of the most frustrating parts of the writing business. It’s even worse now. “Agent X normally responds to all queries within six weeks. We’re at the two month mark. Is she running slow? Not reading queries because she, like so many others in every field, can’t concentrate? Maybe she did read it and I never got the response because her work-from-home setup has issues.”

Not surprisingly, writers are very good at creating speculative scenarios to account for normal variations in response times. These days, we could fill whole volumes with our panicked musings. Not that anyone would want to read them.

I wonder if I could get more–and more favorable–responses if I offered to send partial and full manuscripts printed on toilet paper. We’ve got a spare roll or two, and I could probably find a continuous feed printer fairly cheaply. Hmm. Probably not, considering current feelings about things people have touched.

As always, thanks for hanging around and reading what I write.

Onward into Year Eight!

Meaningless?

Here we are a week into the preseason and I have yet to watch a complete game. Not by choice, I might add. It’s been a combination of my work schedule, broadcasts having technical difficulties, and poor timing.

I also have yet to watch any Mariners baseball. The blame there is solely on Mother Nature: the only televised game so far was rained out.

“So?” I hear someone saying. “They’re only meaningless games.”

Ah, but they’re not. It’s time we got rid of that phrase, because there isn’t any such critter as a meaningless game.

Even leaving aside their meaning to those of us who have been bereft since November, preseason games have plenty of purpose and masses of meaning.

(And that’s true of any sport, not just baseball.)

Sure, preseason games don’t count in the standings. They have no impact on the playoffs and championships. Except…

Except that those games are where we–fans, managers, and players–begin to see how our team is shaping up. Who’s the early surprise, good or bad? Who needs more seasoning in the minors (or in certain other sports, who never should have left college early?) Who’s going to make the team, who’s starting the season in Triple A (or in those other sports, who’s getting cut and starting the season in their backup profession?)

Then there are those other “meaningless games”. You know: the ones late in the season between two teams who were eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago.

Still some meaning there. The teams’ records may be dismal, but individual players have personal records to pursue. A late season surge might mean a starting job next season–or a trade to a team that has a chance to contend. A poor showing in those “meaningless” games could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary arbitration. And that’s not even considering the teams’ draft positions.

Plenty of meaning, wouldn’t you say?

What else? I’m not going to argue with the people who thinks all sportsball games are meaningless. That opinion can’t be altered through logic. Leave them in their atheistic hell.

And besides, nobody holding to that position is doing commentary for games or reporting on them in the media. Those are the folks we need to convince. Next time your local newscaster talks about a meaningless game or your broadcaster mumbles something about “playing out the string”, shoot ’em a note of protest.

There are no meaningless games. Just meaningless phrases.