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Myselves in the Bottom Drawer

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“Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.” -Julius Charles Hare

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” -Henri Bergson

I would think it a great shame, and a waste of life, to mostly be who I was at, say, twenty. Some of the seeds of who I am were there, largely unknown to anyone but me. Other parts of now-me came out of experience or friends or the changes in the world that I accept or reject.

This, perhaps, is a problem with revising one’s older works. I’m not that person any more, including for the changes in me that writing that novel wrought. It’s almost an advantage, like editing someone else’s work, except all the issues are so personal and all the images were long ago burned into my brain. The story seems old because I’ve known it so long.

So that’s why I keep writing new novels. It’s not to pay the rent. It’s to capture the now-me the way those novels preserved in amber bits of former-me. Some things will remain the same, reappearing book after book. Others come out of so specific a time that after a few rounds of glacial editors, they’re no longer marketable. (There’s a reason I never write contemporaries any more.)

This isn’t the issue I hit before on having “outgrown” a story. That was a matter of your plotting and story-telling skill, maybe your handling of tension and pacing, maybe a learned aversion to cliche. Here, I’m trying to talk about changes in self, not skill. Maybe you’ve become more or less spiritual, and it shows in everything from your plots to the advice given by mentor characters. Maybe you’ve swerved toward Hemingway in style leanness and writing some required scenes for your old heroic fantasy done in the style of Eddison is like trying to write a pastiche.

That’s probably just the way to think of it. Unless you are willing to take it down to bedrock and rewrite it in you new persona — redescribe everything in the herofy and grey out characters, or reboot the characters and maybe themes of the other — your only way to get older books out of the bottom drawer is to pastiche your old self. Depending on what the differences are, it may be a fun little trip down the Memory Lane of yourself. Otherwise, think of it as editing work for the estate of a dear old friend.

The Silly Things They Tell You to Do …

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I have read a *lot* of “how to write” books going back into the mid 1800s. I’ve read a lot of how-to sites, taken a number of classes in creative writing, and the greatest repository of silly rules people try to inflict on writers of fiction can be gleaned out of workshop critiques. That’s because workshoppers have, collectively, picked up from even more sources and will be happy to try to save you from error by parroting “rules” that any few moments of thought should reject. More paving on the road to hell.

For today, I would like to shake a couple of these loose, in case you’ve forgotten to question authority.

Foolishness #1: Show, Don’t Tell, always.

I trust you have already read my post on when to Tell, Don’t Show. But if you think too hard there are many places you absolutely cannot Show and must Tell.

Orson Scott Card (*Ender’s Game*) has pointed out that motivations cannot be Shown but must be Told. The telling can be a character’s speech or thoughts, or a declaration in narrative, but Told it must be.

Other things cannot be told in words. Only fairly simple expressions or gestures can be described. Even if you go on for a hundred words, no writer can Show the one subtle act of an actress in *The 13th Warrior*:

In the midst of the hall, the queen turned to Bulweif so the king could not see, widened her eyes, pursed her mouth, and shoved her head a bit forward.

In visuals, a perfectly plain non-verbal demand. As a Show, worthless verbiage. It sounds like she’s blowing him a kiss (anyone who knows the movie can say this is accurate description). Rather, you have to Tell the reader:

In the midst of the hall, the queen turned to Bulweif so the king could not see, and shot him a look that demanded he do something to discourage the king, that only Bulweif could.

That’s the only practical way to handle this. Human non-verbal communication is too complex and nuanced. We are stuck describing the cumulative effect in a Tell.

Foolishness #2: Never have the character cry. Make the reader weep for them.

This came with a corollary claim that a character must never laugh. Rather, the writer must make the reader laugh for them.

Obviously, this came out of litfi and a teacher who had no comprehension of the vast world outside that little genre. As Holly Lisle pointed out, in “How to Write Suckitudinously,” in successful litfi all main characters are neurologically abnormal and have pretty much no feelings at all. The most worked up they get is to “almost feel something kind of resembling (fill in the feeling, and not too strong a one)”. Naturally, this sort of litfi robot would never feel enough emotion to weep, or even feel enough intellectual dissonance at a situation to laugh. They might manage a half-smile, but only if wry and self-mocking.

In the real world with normal people, whom most of our characters resemble, people laugh from nerves, in derision, at a joke or a cute dog doing tricks. They weep from sorrow, disappointment, frustration, anger, or any combination. To have not only your character but everyone’s characters never laugh or cry should be obviously silly.

It’s Creeping Me Out

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It’s not that Alexa spends all its time listening to your household. If people are willing to bug their own homes for Big Brother to monitor them, that’s their silly choice.

It’s the company’s choice of name.

Why Alexa?

It’s not an unpopular name. It’s like they’re trying to make “her” pretty and fashionable. What do all the women named Alexa do now? They all have to go by nicknames? Why not give the device a currently unpopular name like Gertrude or Agatha?

But I have to ask …

Why did they make it a woman? Why not the name of a butler, like Alfred or Jeeves? They also just wait to serve – no, wait. They have personality and opinions and agency. If you expect something to live to fulfill your commands, and have no life of its own, of course you make it a woman.

But they could have called it Fido. I never met a dog of that name, but everyone knows it’s a dog’s name. They could have called it Servo or some nonsense name.

But they had to give it not just one but two women’s names, Alexa and Echo.

Maybe now I can stop thinking about it.

Without My Innate Optimism …

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“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” -Hugh Downs

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” -Colin Powell

…I can’t imagine where I’d be. We live in a culture of dissatisfaction, designed to make us try to buy happiness, and drama, where we seize unhappiness so we can be “interesting” like the people in movies.

Long ago, I decided you’re happy when you decide to be, and make the most of what you’ve got. It’s worked.

Washed Away by Fluid Pricing

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Amazon.com is getting silly to shop at.

So I tuned in Monday morning with a set budget. My shopping cart told me that a certain doll I like for customizing had been $8.55 but had gone up to $16. Groan of disappointment at missing the super-low price (from a third-party seller). So I go about my shopping, having a temporary fit for getting back to embroidery, then putting that stuff to buy later, getting the X-Acto blades I came for only to find out #16 are no longer made, and so on.

When I’m finalizing the order, I look at some things for later to fill out the total, beads and books and hair extensions, and the doll is $12.55. So I stick him in the basket.

I go to check out, but my total has jumped. The doll is $19.98!

Back to juggling. I take him out. I get a different doll and a pack of doll shoes. Before I buy, I look over my order and see, since he’s right under the total …

He’s down to $11.

Can I mouse fast enough to catch him at the price? I have to remove the other doll and shoes, too. I hit checkout and miraculously the price stays the same through the whole process.

80% jumps every five or ten minutes? What is with this seller? I don’t need the stress and surprises. I just want to buy some things, not do day-trading in the Pink Aisle.

There! E-Books done.

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At least all the non-fiction I can find. Total: a few dozen over 2000. I’m allowing for finding and eliminating a few more duplicates in the database.

That does include a few fiction items, including those that are research. (Some just fell in accidentally, and in SKU you don’t worry about it.) A novel written about a war, while it’s going on, can tell you a good deal about attitudes, if not reality. A novel of a quiet period can give you a hundred details of everyday life, especially when you have several to compare. You need to figure out if someone’s behavior is kind of universally expected, or outré, or simply the author commenting on character. I always hark back to Bulwer-Lytton inadvertently preserving for us the fact that people used to feed their canaries lump sugar as a treat, or Jane Austen the list of Gothic novels not suitable for young ladies.

I am still facing organizing the e-books for Early Dreamers, and that looks like another 300 or so is all. (whimper)

But for now, there’s champagne chilling, corned beef and potatoes in the foodbot, and a Krispy Kreme cake to bake. Celebrate the little victories along the way, or you’ll never keep your hand in at popping corks if you only wait for big ones.

The Revision Project

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Heaven knows it was useful to me to update my page that gathers all the blogs for the Revision Project. Just a few holes here and there! And maybe someday I’ll get that counting thing straight …

For those of you following that, it may help you catch some you missed, and also explained some apparent non sequiturs.

 

Just an Update …

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Fortunately, I wrote the whole DIY series in advance, so we can finish that next weekend.

My new medication has the unfortunate side effect of making me sick as a dog 12 hours after injection, with extended queasiness, weakness, and dizziness. Instant flu, without the fever and nose drool!

Our cat is sick, too, and my monitor burnt out, so my dear husband is stressed out with all three of us — wife, cat, and computer.

But at least the new Sunbeam bread maker is working (touch wood, kine hora, and everything else to ward off misfortune) and the Hodgson Mill bread mixes have turned my DH into the new family bread baker. Give a man a kitchen power tool, or an IT guy something with buttons and a screen, and it’s no longer scary, like hand bread making would be. (Bleached flour is right off my diet now, and mixes are 1/3 the price of supermarket loaves.)

I just worry about what he’s watching after I go to work. He’s heard me talk about kneading for years, but when the machine went beep one time, he exclaimed, “Hey, it’s going into its second beat-down already!”

Have fun, folks. Seventeen days to NaNoWriMo! Got to go do some more revision stuff to see us through November.

How Really to Prep for Doomsday If You Seriously Believe It Is Coming

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Get good with your religion. Face it, the whole thing to doomsday is that most people will die, if not all. You are not the focal character in a book or movie, so you’re as likely to die as anyone, just from bad luck. No matter how good your shelter, if you are at Ground Zero for the bomb or the meteor, it’s all over. Adjust.

Next, try to avoid natural disaster areas. Yes, that’s me laughing like the Wicked Witch of the East. It’s not easy to find areas that are not subject to —

•    tornado,
•    hurricane,
•    tsunami,
•    earthquake (remember the New Madrid quake or the Helena, Montana quake: these are hard to get away from),
•    wildfire,
•    drought,
•    volcanoes,

— let alone supervolcanoes or snap glaciation, and nowhere is safe from comets and asteroids. But really, living in some place that goes to the sandbags every few years is not my idea of a good place anyway.

Mind you, you have to have a job or two in the place. If you just have to live in a disaster-prone area, you can practice prepping for doomsday by prepping for the more likely disaster every few years. Don’t live in Tornado Alley without a reinforced storm cellar. It’s your first level of doomsday shelter, right?

Read the rest of this entry

Preppers without Gardens

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We’re not supposed to call them survivalists. Survivalists are those folks who have gone back to the land out in the boondocks, living as if civilization has already pretty much collapsed, and not enjoying the goodies still available.

Preppers, from what I can see of various shows on TV, are yuppie survivalists. No, they’re just prepared for the violent collapse of civilization or the destructive earth changes due any day now.

In many or most cases, these folks are running on some internal nightmare — too many zombie pictures, maybe — and not applying much logic to what they are doing. Survivalists at least have logic on their side. (Someone ready for the next hurricane is not a “prepper”; that’s just a sensible person with normal foresight, puh-leez.)

It struck me that these unprepared preppers are acting out rituals of safety, making gestures toward doing something that satisfies their sense of danger, but not really working to make themselves safe. They are buying a bottle of Dr. Feelgood, not actually making a workable plan. A very expensive bottle, but it works for them so they can sleep at night. (Those really prepared — obviously, I’m not talking about you in this.)

This was brought home by the story of one single mother who was so proud that her teenish son saved the seeds from store-bought fruits and vegetables they ate: tomatoes, bell peppers, apples, oranges. He dried them and stored them so that when they emerged from their shelter, they could grow their own food.

Just like that.

The gardeners in the audience may now groan and cuss. You know how much work it is to get a food garden going as a beginner.

These people are ignorant of how to survive and will not face the fact. They walk around happily insulated in their dreams of how it ought to work and feel so superior to us foolish folk who won’t survive.

One: If you’re going to have to do it then, you had better learn how to do it now, and practice until Doomsday. The folks with guns and judo have that idea, but I think that’s because shooting guns is fun, learning judo is a fun sport, and it doesn’t require the knowledge and patience of the not-so-fun stuff, like gardening.

We should notice these seed-storers were buying their tomatoes and bell peppers at the store. That means they weren’t learning how to garden by planting a simple veggie garden in the back yard. I set one up most years on the lanai in pots, simply because I’m tired of tasteless vegetable. Living in a house, they don’t have to buy dirt: they have no excuse.

The seeds they are saving are from supermarket hybrid varieties: they may be sterile. If not, our preppers need to know what kind they are and if they’ll grow in their area, and if so at what time of year. They may have been shipped in from a very different clime. And did you know you have to ferment tomato seeds before you dry them? They certainly won’t know about staking without killing the plant (no, not like staking vampires) or how to recognize and what to do about parasites, diseases, or even the signs of over-watering.

Then you want to realize that they will have to nurse apple seeds into seedlings into saplings finally into trees over the years until they can start to bear fruit. Unless they are assuming the earth will be swept clean and no other apple trees left, they would be better off looking for a neglected orchard to take over.

They need to find out what heritage varieties — naturally bred for stability — of vegetables work in their area and get good at growing them now.

Two: Many expensive secret redoubts are a joke. Some are several sick jokes.

Preppers are generally wealthy enough to have both a home and a country retreat, their redoubt. Their doomsday shelter is often a fairly expensive steel tank installed “secretly” in the ground.

That is in quotes because when they bring in the backhoe to dig the hole, the giant truck with the shelter the size of a double-wide mobile home on board, and spend a couple of days setting up the crane to move the shelter. Ah, folks? Everyone in the vicinity knows what it is and where it is. The proprietors of the local diner, gas station, and possibly church will get to that well-stocked shelter before the owners do (see below on travel).

As a matter of game design, I spent a lot of one decade studying nuclear war survival skills and the like. My Dear Husband is a SAC veteran. Generally, these people are doing it all wrong to survive nuclear attack or accident, let alone killer comets. If we ran the local gas station, I’d loot their shelter for supplies, but never move in.

Every single one we saw had only one way in or out. That’s called “a death trap.” Every fortress needs a sally port (oh, yeah, studied fortification, too.) or at least a fire escape.

Most shelters are only buried under maybe three feet of dirt. That’s barely enough to get earth-arching (see Cresson H. Kearny on that). If I’m spending the cost of a new Cadillac on the thing, I want it down twenty full feet. Otherwise, they usually leave a lump, and the entry is just hanging out there. Of course, if it’s set shallow, you can’t plant much more than grass on it. That’s another advantage to deep-set shelters: you don’t plant trees, but you do plant bushes, especially to hide the hatch. You don’t have a big stairway down except for loading it up beforehand. When things look tight, or just when you’re finished, you bury that sucker,  and have one hatch here, one at the end of the escape tunnel. Maybe you just have an uncompleted tunnel with two feet left to dig out so there’s no hatch for an invader to find.

They don’t usually have filtered air supplies to protect them from Martian poison gas and bio weapons. The air source is a pipe sticking up out of the ground. A PVC pipe, at that.

Every time we see these shelters, my DH and I just pretend that we’ve thrown in our lot with the vicious biker barbarians (because we have good skills and a bad attitude). One of our skills is getting people out of their shelters. First, we bash away their unarmored electronic periscope device (we can’t see why the people in that episode bothered). Then we set a fire of greenery at their air intake and smoke them out. If that doesn’t work (someone actually had air filters!), with the ceiling only three feet down, a couple of burly outlaws can uncover a section pretty quickly, and we set a bonfire going there and roast them in their tin can. Just like setting a Viking hall aflame; they can come out or die in there.

Twenty feet down? I don’t thing you can get the average band of reavers to work that hard. That’s like starting on the roof of a house and digging down to the basement. They also shouldn’t make it so easy to find the air intake. That’s why you look for or create a hollow tree or two to disguise it. A cement “dead tree” is a lot less likely to be spotted as an air intake than a white pipe sticking out of the ground.

Three: They aren’t going to get to it, anyway, which may be a mercy.

These ritual preppers usually still live close to their urban job, but plan on driving the 300 miles to their rural redoubt when things turn bad, whether it’s the quake that sank Manhattan or their friendly neighborhood nuclear plant starting to glow. Some even take combat driving courses so they can get through anticipated wreckage and armed road blocks.

“Yeah, the comet’s coming. Let’s take our guns and baseball bats and make sure no one leaves the city.”

Huh? No, really, who is it they think is going to stop them leaving? People will either be flooding out, creating rush-hour traffic jams, or following the preppers, going, “They must know a safe place to go. We’ll go with them.” It will be days or weeks later, after the stores have been looted out, before brigands set up to shake out every car passing.

This is where the preppers who live at their redoubts make sense. Those shown were usually the pros, I notice, who teach shooting, combat driving, and the rest. Some of them have tin cans, but they also garden, can and dry the food, have laid out their main house for long-term defense, and are only two minutes from the shelter.

At 60 mph, that 300-mile trip is going to take 5 hours — yeah, ignore the speed laws when the world is ending. But they obviously anticipate that they aren’t going to just zip out of town on clear roads. Putting in traffic jams until the flood of cars splits up enough, makes this sound more like an 8-10 hours on the road. Hope they have a long-range gas tank, because you know the locals out in the country will have drained the rural gas stations first, while the city folk were still trying to get to the suburbs.

So they must assume that they will get at least half a day’s notice of the end of the world, preferably with everyone else left in ignorance. Less than that, and they’re going to find themselves with nothing but their car roof between them and the meteoric debris. If the nuclear plant goes quickly, they can have fatal doses before they know to leave or they can get far enough on the choked roads to get out of range.

Four: Assuming they get there, and they’ve built it well, or the catastrophe is such that what they’ve built isn’t challenged, they have to live in that puppy.

Your 1950s bomb shelters weren’t generally palatial. In fact, they could just barely hold the bunks for the family of four or six for whom they were built. Frankly, most people thought they wouldn’t be in there but a week, until the rescue trucks came to take them out of a really bad area, or they just walked out of a fringe area. Tempers were going to be thin, we bet.

Preppers are frequently stocking their redoubts for a stay of *two years.*

Think about it. Two years in a studio apartment with the windows and doors boarded up, living off what you have stored in the closet, with your spouse and children. Bored children, scared people, who are used to running all over in cars and on bicycles, now in this small space. The people who get two-tank shelters with a corridor between make perfect sense, because you can get away from others for a while, look at a different set of walls.

Submariners have the best chance of coming through sane.

Figure the water requirements alone: 4 people = 4 gallons minimum of water per day (2(365 days)) = 2,920 gallons. Then you need water for bathing, cleaning the shelter and cooking equipment, and flushing the toilet. A 3,000-gallon tank is a minimum, 5,000 preferable. At plastic-mart.com, you find a 3k-gal water tank is 102″ in diameter and 93″ high, while 5k-gal is 119″ x 112″ high. That’s 8.5 feet across x 7.75 feet high (2.59 x 2.36m) and just about 10′ across by 7.75′ high (2.6 x 2.36m). It is kind of fun to have the physical picture of all this water in one place: it’s a room full of water.

You have to get one, adding one or two thousand dollars to the shelter cost (because the tin cans we saw didn’t have this) and bringing in another notable load. Then you bury it next to the shelter, plumb it in, and fill it from somewhere. Many of these rural redoubts are on unimproved land, with no house or well, so that means bringing in a water truck. Then you hope the water doesn’t go bad in the last six months, and you have no plumbing problems.

Many of these ritual preppers will tell you they’re having no problem with boredom. Their shelters include a giant monitor on the wall (and we will assume a huge library of DVDs), and computers.

Where does the electricity for all this come from? For that matter, how about the electricity for the lights in their shelter?

Generators need gasoline. How many gallons a day will the generator consume? Picture 2 of those 5000-gallon tanks of petrol. Buy them, bury them, hook them up, and have the tanker truck come fill them up. Nah, no one will guess you have a shelter there.

One poor prepper had his generator in a shed on the surface (?!?!) and someone stole it while the land was uninhabited. You can’t put something generating carbon monoxide as well as electricity in your shelter with you. It needs its own remote buried shelter, but with air-tight access from the main one to keep monoxide away, and its own air supply for burning the fuel.

If they plan on generating light (and running air pumps and giant plasma screens and laptops) off people pedalling bicycles, they need a lot more food per person. As radio amateurs who have set up practice emergency stations know, pedalling a bike attached to a generator is no ride in the park, unless your park is on the side of a mountain and all the paths are steep, and you have no low gears. Again, if they are thinking this, they are failing to try it out in advance.

NEXT: My opinions on actually prepping, which I have no intention of doing, beyond normal hurricane preparedness.