Monthly Archives: August 2013

That -punk is Not Punk; Or, How You Can Have Something Called Mannerpunk


fantastic-city-and-windsock 01 office02 03

Some people tried to lay down some bogus law to my buddy, Sarah Z., that dieselpunk had to be about machines, therefore her dieselpunk fantasy wasn’t dieselpunk. Uh, no. Not anywhere else I’ve seen it defined. (So I’m going to be quoting like crazy to establish that this isn’t my unique viewpoint.)

Terms like dieselpunk aren’t about how narrow a field they can be cut to, or what one small coterie wants to use as limits on their dieselpunk parties. Like steampunk, cyberpunk, stonepunk, and mannerpunk, dieselpunk is a sales guideline for writers selling to publishers or studios, or anyone selling to readers/players/viewers. It’s a way of signaling that over here you might find something you’d enjoy reading or viewing or playing, because it’s like other things you enjoyed with that label.

So squeaky-tight limits are not what it’s about. Rather, it’s a sales tool that must encompass everything that publishers, writers, artists, and consumers are calling “dieselpunk” without getting so vaguely connected that most of the audience would think the inclusion is nuts. It’s like “Science fiction is [or means] what we point to when we say it.” (paraphrase of Damon Knight, 1952) Or Norman Spinrad, 1974, “Science fiction is anything published as science fiction.”

So like all such sales tools, dieselpunk as a tag is subjective and historical, descriptive until it reaches so many inclusions that it can become prescriptive.
Read the rest of this entry

On Ripping Vinyl, Pt. 2: Disc to Cloud



When you make up the mp3 files, you will have to Export them in the new format. You will need to have certain information ready at the end, and you need to collect it before you start. You will get to type this in, over and over, because, at least in my copy of Audacity, it won’t let you paste anything in. This is possibly the most onerous part of the whole ripping business, and it’s just repetitious.

What you will need are: Read the rest of this entry

Revision 01: High-Level Revision and Spectrums of Writers


ImageAny good book on grammar and punctuation can teach you much of what a low-level revision requires. The low-level revision is also known as the line-edit. It’s the last thing a writer needs to do. Literally. You don’t have to worry about that until the last draft before it goes to an editor to read, but it’s good for the beginner to run one earlier to start seeing what the mistakes are. You can start training yourself to just not do them, or do them less often.

For fiction, you may also need to know conventions of representing speech and thought (very different than MLA Handbook quote conventions), and looking for infodumps, telegrams, reaction before stimulus, and other fiction snags. An eye for spotting these is probably best developed in online workshops, where writers critique each other’s work. I suggest online because in-person critique workshops can be emotionally rough and, since they are based on only the few people in your immediate geographic vicinity, not common interests, sometimes they aren’t a lot of use. Different genres have different templates and the experience of many of us is that someone who never reads romances cannot decently crit a romance novel; someone who never reads specfi has no idea of its conventions of how to read a story, which is very different than the rest of fiction (as James Gunn explicitly pointed out in his courses).

What has been missing is a guide on how to do high-level revision, which is about plot structure, world-presentation, characterization, and templates, not commas and Tells. It requires looking at the very basics of your story. Rather than looking at the beast and deciding it needs dark hair rather than light, you are looking at whether it should have fur or feathers or scales, or maybe be a plant. Because the high-level revision addresses the underpinning of the story, it’s not easy to set down as simple rules the way low-level revision can be. Also, what is good or bad depends on your genre as well as many other things going on in the manuscript. These blogs can guide you, but you must apply it with your own wit and judgement.

As writers have met each other online, in groups of hundreds and thousands, not just the six or ten in our local area, we have found that there are different wirings involved here. No one method of writing suits everyone. Some people have their writing ruined by trying to force themselves into unsuitable patterns.

There are three spectrums onto which we fit, three axes of a 3D graph of where we lie among writers. Of course, few people fall onto the far ends and most of us mix traits in the middle. Read the rest of this entry

Revision 02: When to Revise



It’s traditional to say you must finish one draft before you can revise. You’ll find that traditions often are more prescriptive than descriptive, telling you what someone thinks ought to work rather than what necessarily does work for any one individual.

Revising Before You Finish a Draft

The plotter needs to address some high-level revision as soon as finishing the outline, before any manuscript even gets written. Don’t go to the trouble of writing all the scenes for a flawed plot, then have to throw out thirty thousand words, when you can catch those problems in the outline. That’s the plotter’s built-in advantage, to have the plot strongly built before writing, ready to support all those wonderful characters and fascinating narrative.

If pantsers or railroaders find themselves stalled halfway through a draft, they may need to stop and check their plot. The problem may be a big plot snag. It may be a character that isn’t working out. It may be part of the world or society or how reality works that needs to change. It may be an information hole you need to fill. High-level revision tools can help you figure this out and how to fix it.

Revise Later — Much Later
Read the rest of this entry

On Ripping Vinyl, Pt. 1: From Licorice Pizza to Hard Drive



Cleavers are better than knives.

Actually, I’m using Audacity with an Ion turntable. Your mileage may vary, as will your controls, depending on what you use.

The number of whosit bands whose LPs have made it to CD or, even more likely, MP3, is amazing. Julian’s Treatment, for heaven’s sake! The H. P. Lovecraft!

Great jazz artists of the 1950s are making it over, so if I had just waited two years I needn’t have gotten the vinyl for the Peter Gunn (TV show) soundtrack by Henry Mancini.

What I am not seeing are lesser movie soundtracks, especially those of the 1970s and early 1980s. When they came out on vinyl, and when the switchover to CDs occured, they were too new to be collectible, so that they’ve fallen between media chairs.

So here I am converting the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, often called the Bakshi LotR or the 1978 LotR, with the soundtrack by Leonard Rosenman. It’s not as distinctively epic fantasy as the Howard Shore OST, and that’s what I like about it. It sounds like a good action/adventure soundtrack written anywhere from the 1930s to its own era. That means it makes good writing music.

I’m waiting on Miklos Rosza’s 10″ Quo Vadis, with nostalgia. My BFF from high school had a copy of this, and anything newer doesn’t include the song of the Vestal Virgins in the processional. Also in the mail, a movie I never saw, the 1978 Yanks whose soundtrack for a WW2 setting might suit some of my projects. (Then again, it may all be too mushy, but that works for other things, right? Characters can’t always be jumping through windows.)

Now, if you have considered doing this sort of thing but been thinking it’ll all be too technical and fussy — fear not. You, too, can convert your grandparent’s LPs or your great-grandparent’s 78s.

#1 step for quality is to get a crackle-free disc. They happen! The copy of the Krull OST I got is beautifully clear. (Early James Horner.) Many discs are worn, but cleaning them can make a huge difference. Before you ever put a platter on the turntable, inspect it. Look for gunk, dulling, dust, scratches. You can clean it, in a circular motion, with special cleaning agents, or go the extra (expensive) mile to get a disc-washer, like libraries used with loaner LPs. This gently deep-scrubs the grooves while keeping the label dry. A brush or velvet pad held to the surface on the turntable will get off superficial lint, but it’s not going to deep clean. You need

Read the rest of this entry

Get the Rust Off Your Writing


Here’s a handy little checklist of simplistic, over-used, blathering, and dull phrases to replace in your writing. Bulking it out with examples was easy. I have to revise my own rough drafts. A blitz draft isn’t expected to be great, just be, with the major interactions covered. Part of low-level revision, the line-edit, is to find this sort of flaccid, wordy writing and sharpen it up.

Rule One, and I’m not going to argue this, because it’s an industry standard, is that passive writing (not “passive voice” or “passive tense”) is dull and unwanted. What they don’t point out is that the verb “to be” is not just overused, but abused by sloppy writers. Especially in the 21st century the habit developed of conversational phrases all being build on “to be”: “I’m not being happy with this” instead of “I’m not happy with this.” Conversational language is based on slowing idea flow to match audio understanding by filling in with a lot of worthless spacers. It’s boring as writing.

“To be” is so necessary in many places that you can’t afford to waste it where something else will do.

The “there/it was/were … that/who” structure is completely passive and 100% padding. It never adds anything but noise. It does not even slant emphasis, only weakens what you say. It is a verbal spacing habit of particular ineffectuality in writing.

There was a boy who stood on the docks. = A boy stood on the docks.
It was rain that settled their travel plans. = Rain settled their travel plans.
It was never good news that came in the middle of the night. = Good news never came in the middle of the night. OR Never did good news come in the middle of the night (if you must emphasize “never” through the roof).
There were bandits who raided every spring. = Bandits raided every spring.

Double “hads” should be avoided. There are almost always other ways to say it.

Had had to do = had done of necessity, had needed to do
Had had to go = had gone, had needed to leave, had been forced to flee
Had had it = had possessed it, had owned it, had endured it, had enjoyed it, had loved it, was fed up with it, etc. Notice how foggy this phrase is.

Other flaws along this line vary from using Read the rest of this entry

Interrogating a Stubborn Scene


You don’t even need a rubber hose.

When absolutely nothing will emerge from your mind, open this secret tap. Don’t try to write the scene. Write about it. Q&A yourself, right there in the middle of the manuscript. (Neatness does not count in zero drafts, and if neatness makes you freeze, you lose points for neatness. Be messy.)

Start a new line and just brain dump, with a bit of control. Putting it in a different font or color is good. Like–

What do I want to have happen here? Eddy should find the body, and then something needs to chase him away and after he’s not sure he really saw it. What would chase him away? A big dog but there aren’t any dogs or it woulda eat the body someone coming in, a flash flood, fire, storm, earthquake an angel a ghost…

Don’t edit your blurting one bit. Let it go over the top. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are optional. Notice how the generic question gives an answer from which you pull a story-specific question to keep it rolling.

Your solution may be in the crazier stuff. Maybe flood is your answer: a plumbing pipe breaks and water crawls out from under the wall and starts to wash the blood toward Eddy’s shoes and this freaks him out so he runs. Maybe it is a ghost: at least, Eddy though he saw a pale shape over the body and screamed and ran.

Is dialogue your jam? Try it something like this…

What do they have to say here? What do they have to pass on? What do they hide or leave out? What is the mood or effect at the end?
Read the rest of this entry

What Happened to Children’s Games?



It was the 1970s the last time I heard children playing a real children’s game. Red Rover, as it happened. I last heard children skipping rope to rhymes in the 1980s.

Is this just something in Honolulu, or has the children’s game vanished? I hate to think of a world where all entertainment has to come from adults, in organized sports, computer games, things on a screen, even board games. About the closest thing left is riding skateboards. I don’t even see hopscotch diagrams at the elementary school.

No one buys them jump ropes. I haven’t heard a ball being bounced in decades, that didn’t involve dribbling and shooting a basketball. Yoyos, paddleball, jacks — all gone, it seems.

Of course, in today’s cities a game of Hide and Seek seems very unsafe. Too many children go missing as it is. Too many have been raised lacking what we used to call common sense and would go hide someplace they would get stuck or injured. That’s a game for a large landscape.

Children’s games didn’t involve adults, simply. Young children learned them from slightly older ones, watching or being taught. Some, like London Bridge or Ring Around the Rosey, were early and quickly outgrown. Others, like Simon Says or Mother, May I?, could be played by a fairly wide age range. The equipment was simple or non-existent. Parents knew them, but they didn’t participate.

Was this too much independence for the last generation or so of controlling “helicopter” parents? You don’t schedule a game like this, and you pick one or adapt one for the number of kids loose on the block. They were simple-minded, often silly, and just great for a young mind. There was no way to become a champion at most of them, and that wasn’t the point. Fun and a kind of co-operation were the goals. They learned to form their own groups, set their own parameters, and enforce them, all without adult interference. They socialized us in ways that are kind of obviously missing from many young adults I meet.

Please tell me this is a local problem, and these survive mainland.

August, Fly She Must



Hurricane preparedness. Anything preparedness, all year long, from brush fires to tsunami, depending on where you live. Here, hurricanes, dock strikes, and tsunami, as well as the periodic black-outs from HECO ineptitude or sabotage (Army runs tall equipment into wires; someone in Waipahu throws a chain across the lines).

•    Emergency light sources in every room, because there’s nothing like being stuck on the toilet in your pajamas when the neighborhood goes dark. Mini LED flashlights are good, tucked in drawers or hung on little plastic hooks. After that you break out the wind-up-to-charge lantern, the candles, the oil lamps, whatever else you plan ahead on. Learn how to make “water candles,” jars of water with cooking oil floated on top and a wick. These are one of the safest forms of flame lighting because if they spill the water usually douses the flame. The others require people be careful around them.
•    Food that will store without refrigeration. MREs only keep about a year, so plan on restocking when you can use the old ones, either when camping, or hiking, or you don’t want to heat up the kitchen with cooking. They’re a different form of brown-bagging. Freeze-dried foods can be great (I’ll eat some brands as treats), but pricey. Canned and bottled foods are the default. Because its shelf life is limited, usually 12-16 months, get things you will use up in ordinary cooking, or give the old stock to the local food drive (they won’t have it but a couple of weeks, and the recipient needs it right then). This includes pet food. Make sure a decent proportion are things you can eat without heating them. The local canned survival kit is vegetables, Spam, corned beef, sardines, pork and beans, chili (w/wo meat).
•    A manual rotary can opener to open canned food. It’s terrifying/hilarious how many people forget this, and only have an electric can opener when there’s no power. You may be the hero of the neighborhood if they can bring their cans to you. Let no one borrow it. It’s too likely you won’t see it again.
•    Metal pans, dishes, and utensils. Ceramics break. Plastics can’t take heat. Eating equipment may have to double as cooking equipment if you have to evacuate. Buy some 4/$1 stainless steel flatware to keep with the other emergency gear rather than taking and losing the good stuff.

Read the rest of this entry