Next Week

This time next week, I’ll be on my way to Sedalia for the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

Yes, there’s an actual, in-person festival happening this year.

Is this a good idea? Well… On one forepaw, it is Missouri–which the Mayo Clinic says has the 40th lowest percentage of the population fully vaccinated. And we won’t even talk about masking.

On the other forepaw, the performers and audience are coming from all over the world. I suspect as a group they’re going to be more highly vaccinated than the people who live there. And there’s nothing stopping me, or anyone else in attendance, from wearing a mask.

In truth, the exposure risk seems on a par with what I experience dealing with the public every day at work.

So there’s that.

To be honest, I’m no more immune to the lure of “Get out of the house and do something normal” than anyone else. But this isn’t solely an exercise in COVID denial.

The cancelation of the 2020 festival was a big disappointment, even more so than the reasons why canceling everything else that spring and summer disappointed everyone. That was, if you recall, the Year of the Woman, marking the hundredth anniversary of women getting the vote in the US. And the Sedalia festival was going all-in on the theme, emphasizing female performers and composers.

And on a more personal level, 2020 was going to be the year the SJRF’s Ragtime Kid program–funded by donations to the Foundation in Dad’s memory–would debut. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

We used the time to refine our concepts, figuring to go live with the 2021 festival. Which also didn’t happen.

So now we’ve got 2021 and 2022 Ragtime Kids to introduce. Somebody’s got to be there to represent, right?

As if three-plus days of good music and catching up with friends we haven’t seen in three years isn’t enough incentive to attend*.

* And, of course, Sedalia is just about halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. That’s prime BBQ country; hard to resist for a family that travels on its stomach as much as mine.

All of which is a long-winded lead-up to letting y’all know that there won’t be a Wednesday post next week. I’ll do my best to cue up a Friday post so nobody feels fuzzy-deprived, and I expect everything to be back to normal on June 8.

And, of course, this is also a commercial message, reminding you that the Foundation will still cheerfully accept donations in Dad’s memory and use them to support the Ragtime Kid program. Contact information is here.

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.

Chillin’

My apologies for the late and short post. Blame the virus for detaching us all from the concept of linear time. (Translation: I forgot what day it was and by the time I remembered, it was too late to put something together.)

I’ll shoot to have something more substantial next Friday, but for now, enjoy this infrared shot of Lefty and MM hanging out last night.

07-1

MM is definitely more nocturnal than the rest of the crew, including Lefty. She’ll come out of the cage and explore the room at night, but once the sun comes up, she returns to the comfort of her caves–the condo and the milk crate–to sleep until dinnertime.

It will be interesting to see if her schedule changes once we start allowing her to roam the rest of the house.

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!