Taking a Knee — What the Hell?

This nonsense about sports figures refusing to pay the correct  respect to the national anthem seems to be swelling out of any reasonable proportion. But that’s true for jusrt about any slightest violation of acceptable and accepted patriotic protocols. What bothers me about the whole thing, as someone who stopped rising for the morning salute to the flag way back in high school, is that the whole “taking the knee” as a sign of resistance is purely laughable, and a pretty good illustration of typically American well-meant ignorance.

What does it mean to take the knee? It’s a sign of respect, even of submission. Let’s call it what it is — kneeling. And far from being an indication of resistance to anything, kneeling to anyone illustrates their superiority over you, and their right to demand loyalty or some kind of service from you. Of course, a song isn’t a person, but the demand for loyalty is implicit and well-understood, whether it’s the flag being raised or a terrible song that strains the abilities of most singers, so kneeling to either one is so far from being an act of resistance that its acceptance as such should be a subject for parody and satire rather than outraged political sensibilities. If you really want to protest, just sit down and keep your mouth shut. Kneeling is American ignorance on display, and I would really love to see some European commentary on the whole affair.

September 10 – Weekend Notes and Rants

I drop by Medium every now and then, hoping to find something interesting to read, something that isn’t just a personal whine, or even worse, a personal how-I-do-it-and-you-can-too. So this morning, what to my still sleep-sandy eyes should appear, but yet another of those essays on how the author writes 10,000 words a day, every day.

I don’t doubt it’s possible. I don’t doubt that he does it. But all his good advice about how you can do it too leaves out one crucial fact (they all do): you have to be physically capable of typing fast enough to accomplish that goal. If, for any number of legitimate reasons, your hands don’t work that fast, 10,000 words a day is not a goal, it’s  a red rag waved in the face of your self-esteem. Unless you just don’t give a damn. And that’s the only sensible response.

~ ~ ~

Why I read mostly indie books. I finally took a look at the description for Red Rising, an SF novel that seems to be on the top of everyone’s list. I tend to skip over series, even when they look interesting, knowing that I’m not likely to pay and pay and pay for a series that could probably just as well be confined to two, or three volumes. I rarely even bother with series that do manage to say everything that needs to be said in more than one or two volumes.

$5.99 for the first volume of Red Rising seemed reasonable, but it was when I scanned over the listing for the rest of the series that I realized that the publisher is milking readers for everything they can get. Volume 2 costs $9.99, Volume 3 is $11.99, and the forthcoming Volume 4 will be $14.99. No thank you! Will that even be the end? I have no idea, but I definitely won’t be buying Volume 1.

~ ~ ~

Since Florida is big in the news today, it’s only appropriate that I discover an article that somewhat dampens the Chamber of Commerce view of the state as a tropical paradise. It’s a fascinating read:  A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise that Should Never Have Been.

My family moved from New York to South Florida just in time for us to experience a whole season of hurricanes. It’s an experience you can never forget. I moved away as an adult and then moved back years later. By that season of my life, any charm Florida had for me as a child had worn off, and I saw it more as a hell hole than a paradise.

The hordes of visitors who spend their time on the beaches and in their air-conditioned hotels are unaware that Florida has three kinds of poisonous snakes, dozens of varieties of poisonous insects, including the swarms of mosquitoes that are just a normal part of life there, and the nonpoisonous but scarily awesome kinds like the giant flying cockroaches (palmetto bugs). Add in intense heat and humidity that are productive of unstoppable mold and mildew, and you have a nightmare behind the scenes of paradise.

Ordinary sea rise will eventually return Florida to what it was before the swamps were drained, but hurricanes like Irma will give that process a big push. Florida will once again be “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.”

Prompt Me No Prompts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t understand how or why people who can’t come up with ideas for stories want to be writers. Do they really want to write but have little or no imagination? Do they think that all that’s necessary to be a writer is to come up with an idea? Do they have any idea at all how many millions of books are written that are either never read or fall into obscurity almost immediately? It would be a fascinating study to explore the many reasons why people without a single idea in their heads want to be writers. But in the end, who cares?

Scanning my usual news sites this morning, I came across an article that triggered an idea for a nonfiction book. The article itself isn’t particularly significant. I could have read another and had the same idea pop up. I think it was just a matter of timing. The subject has been stewing for a long time. I say stewing rather than something like rolling around, because it’s a rather emotional topic. It was bound to come out sooner or later, and the article was just the trigger in the right place and at the right time.

The point of this rambling rant is that this is the way my mind works. It overflows with ideas, most of which I’ll never have a chance to develop, given the state of my health and my age. But it also means that my mind is alive, that it constantly engages, even if only from a distance, with the world at large. And I suspect, now that I think about it, that this might be the reason so many would-be writers have to ask for ideas: they engage with a very narrow world that involves primarily the people they know personally, and the limited extended world that the mainstream media allows them to see.

 

A Well-Educated Boy — Random Thoughts

9/5/12 — That’s when I created the Scrivener project for A Well-Educated Boy. Five years ago. It probably started as little more than a bare bones idea, and it isn’t atypical for how long I can work on a project. In August of last year, I was apparently considering devoting November to actually writing it, during NaNoWriMo . It didn’t happen, and even now, though I have tons of notes and a very good idea of how it will turn out, I’ve written only a few thousand words of possible text.

As is usual with me, now that I’m stepping into the deep waters, I’m already thinking ahead to promotion. Several years ago, I posted segments of a novel on Wattpad for a while, but found that the effort of attracting attention was just too time-consuming. Quite a few people say that there is good writing on Wattpad, but finding it is a frustrating exercise in skimming hundreds of pathetic attempts at creativity. So, making yourself known by commenting and rating can be an exercise in futility.

And yet — I still, now and then, give some thought to trying it again. The young adult audience is built in, and a recent commenter on a writer forum said that there is a significant audience on Wattpad for dystopian/post-apocalypse fiction. Boy isn’t post-apocalypse, and its dystopian elements aren’t as exciting as stories like The Hunger Games or Divergence. It isn’t an action novel, and unlike Hunger Games and Divergence, it isn’t more fantasy than science fiction. So is there an audience for a young adult/dystopian novel that is more thoughtful than action-oriented? I have plenty of time to think about it, so I’m not inclined to say yay or nay right now.

August 5 – Weekend Notes

I must be a very cruel person. I enjoy reading Amazon book reviews at least partly for the ignorance and illiteracy they often reveal about their writers. Do these people even realize that they are exposing themselves and usually coming off much worse than the author they’re trying to badmouth? Or do they care?

I also enjoy dipping into a variety of subjects in WordPress’s Reader, and noting the variety of skills, or lack of them. This morning, I’ve seen loose used in place of lose, an all too common error. It’s being used as a possessive, almost as common as dirt. But here’s one that really caught my eye: “I am very excited to announce the publication of my short story A Day at the Beach on Amazon.” Two commas would have been a nice touch, and eliminated the mental image of spending a day on the beach while on Amazon.

I take it for granted that the freedom to expose yourself on the internet applies to writers and would-be writers as well as the rest of the world. I would like to believe that everyone who aspires to be a writer is open to criticism, but we all know that’s unlikely in the real world.

On a different note, work on A Perfect Slave is coming along — much slower than I foolishly hoped — but I’m almost halfway through. It seems, regardless of my logical approach to prioritization, that the next project will be A Well-Educated Boy, in spite of being not much more than notes. If I could ever figure out why WIPs seem to set their own agendas, my life would be much less frustrating. So Gift of the Ancien gets pushed to the back of the line once again.

I’ve been exploring Bullet Journaling, which is supposed to be a supremely practical approach to the scattered sticky notes and bits of paper that are the bane of the hopelessly disorganized. Of course, that research involved hours of ignoring all the non-computer work waiting for me, but convinced me that it’s worth trying. Using the computer to keep myself organized has just not worked, no matter how many and how many types of organizers I’ve tried. Pen and paper really does work better for me because it’s immediate. Where it doesn’t work is how to keep track of all the bits of scribbles. Bullet Journaling seems to combine the best features of working on the computer with the ability to just pick up the darn notebook any old time rather than interrupt whatever I’m doing to pull the computer out of sleep mode and open a program. I have a graphing notebook on order from Amazon, which does rather piss me off because graphing notebooks are nothing special except that they’re now a big item for Bullet Journaling enthusiasts. The one at the drugstore was cheap, but only available in one size — way too big for convenience — so I’m letting myself get ripped off for a smaller one. Will eventually report on how it goes.

 

Ignoring the Rules, and Other Stuff

Every mistake in the rule book, or how to ignore them all and write a bestseller.

The first time I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, many years ago, I hated it. Who’s speaking? Doesn’t the guy know how to use apostrophes? It wasn’t so much that my inner grammar nazi was offended, it was just a very hard book to read. Unrelievedly dark. Depressing. And then to have to struggle through figuring out who was talking because the characters didn’t have names.

I don’t know what kind of mood I was in when I read it, but I obviously wasn’t ready for a book that required patience and thoughtfulness from me. So this week’s reread was very different. I let the book speak to me, and what it said was that the rule-breaking was deliberate and had a point. If I didn’t get the point, that was my problem. I’m not interested in critics’ interpretations of the book because I know what it said to me. The world is dying due to some unspecified disaster. Everything is gone. The characters have no future, and are just struggling to survive from day to day.

Life has been pared down to the basics, which includes language. What is there to say, between two people in such circumstances, that needs elaboration? McCarthy’s language plods on, just as the characters do, with rare escapes into dreamlike segments that might be memories, might be a mind rising, for a short time, out of hopelessness, or might be hallucinations.

A master of story telling can break all the rules and make them serve him.

The face on the cover: is it becoming a woman’s world?

I can’t help but notice, as I browse through several categories of Amazon’s best seller lists, that females have taken over the covers. Since my first impression of a book and whether I want to read the blurb is the cover, I’m finding fewer and fewer that make me willing to take the next step. As far as I can see, on the basis of dipping in here and there out of curiosity, most of those books are about either kick-ass female heroes, or romances snuck into categories in which you wouldn’t normally find them, purely in order to gain more sales.

I read a fair amount of science fiction, so my eyes skim over most of the covers these days. I’m a long-time SF fan, but of serious, even literary SF. Judging by Amazon’s best seller lists, there’s very little of that being written. The dominant themes are women acting like the most stereotypical men, or acting like the most stereotypical women in new settings which most of the authors are unfamiliar with and write in the least convincing ways.

Trends come and go, styles change, society changes, but not all change is for the best.

 

How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

How long does it take me to write a novel, from start to finish? As long as it takes, which might be, and usually is, several years. How many drafts go into a novel? Another unanswerable question because I pick up and drop WIPs, and pick them up again, for all sorts of reasons, or no apparent reason at all. My writing life is in a perpetual state of disorganization, flux, chaos, whatever you want to call it, and it works for me.

Ideas are always running through my head, against a background of unanswered questions about this WIP or that, even the ones that I’m not currently working on. Out of this mess comes the answers — usually. All this came to the foreground this morning as the solution to an ongoing problem with Bentham’s Dream came to me with no warning.

The question: Why would the warden of a secretive prison sit down with the first inspector to invade the premises in the 40 years of the prison’s existence, and reveal all (or nearly all) to him? I fooled around with motives like trust: for some reason, he knew that this inspector would keep everything to himself. The long-pent up doubts about his position and the whole concept of total solitary confinement, and no longer concerned about the possible consequences of his revelations. Well, there were others, also, but none of them satisfactory. This morning’s solution is truly the solution I’ve been looking for. It unites two ideas that my mind had kept totally separate, for some reason.

It’s a mystery why I couldn’t have seen the obvious need to combine them much sooner, but mystery is a good part of creative writing. Maybe I’m just trying to justify my lack of discipline, but it seems to me that you longer allow a piece of fiction to simmer and develop, the more chance there is of finding the best solutions. Not the solutions that let you zip through several thousand words a day or produce several novels a year, but the ones that bring characters to life, that result in a plot that seems inevitable rather than manufactured.

In today’s dominant emphasis on building a career, on treating writing as a business, taking the long path to a finished novel can look suicidal. It can certainly dump you in the waste bin called hobby writer, ignoring that, by those standards, many of the past’s great writers were mere hobbyists.

 

Re-finding Me

I’m in a strange place, mentally, and have been pretty much for the last three months, ever since a stay in the hospital and a diagnosis of heart failure. Well, at 80, what can you expect? But the place I’m in, and it’s a damned boring and uncomfortable place, isn’t part of being 80. It’s being, for the rest of my life, a heart patient, after avoiding doctors altogether for many past decades. That inevitably involves medications. Which means putting up with, working around, or refusing to accept the many side effects. It also involves meeting, on a daily basis, one’s own mortality, without the luxury of thinking about death as something that will certainly happen some day, but far enough in the future that it’s more or less an abstraction at the moment.

Believe it or not, that isn’t the real problem for me. The real problem is that I haven’t been able to write. The drugs that are helping me avoid a heart attack or stroke are sucking out the essence of what it means to be me at my best. And empowering my worst qualities. Which, if you think about it, isn’t too different from the drugs that help people with severe mental illness. It isn’t that unusual for people who are bipolar to go off their meds because the drugs kill their creativity. I won’t try to compare the fear of sinking into a cycle of depression/mania with the fear of your heart giving out on you. When you are attacked and diminished at your core, the pain and fear are the same for everyone.

What I’m working through is more complex than how do I recover my creativity and get back to writing. My concept of who I am as a writer and why I even want to write is changing. As I wrote to a friend earlier today, “I’ve given up on the idea of “making a difference,” so if I continue to write, it’s for myself and for the few who stumble on it by accident. I don’t have the talent to “write for the ages” so I have no illusions or guilt about not making more of an effort.” But the itch to write is there, unrelenting, so I have to figure out how I’m going to move on from this state of paralysis. I have to re-find myself, but accept that the self I settle into isn’t going to be exactly the old one.

Maybe that means I can be more relaxed about my writing. Maybe I can let myself choose what to write based purely on how much I’m intrigued by the story rather than how “important” it will be or whether it makes a difference — says something profound enough to change someone’s life, change the world in some small way. Yes, I’d like to “write for the ages,” but since I don’t have that kind of talent I need to leave my self-judgmental attitude behind. I don’t have enough time or energy left to waste on impossible standards. There’s no sin in writing books that don’t have a message. I just have to keep telling myself that.

March 5 Weekend Odds

Just a reminder (I did mention it before, didn’t I?) that the version of Privileged Lives I’m posting isn’t quite the final one. Very close, but not finished. And an invitation, in case I didn’t mention that, comments, questions, and criticisms are welcome.

I meant to post another section yesterday, but forgot about until late in the evening. Does anyone see a pattern here? Maybe I’ll put up two today. After all, there’s nothing like swamping readers.

Anyway… the final  revision is going well and I’m over halfway through. It’s going to be a much more solid novel than the first published version.

I’m currently engrossed in reading The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo. It’s a long book and is turning out to be possibly critical to another book that I might possibly write some day. As a confirmation of my belief that humans are a basically flawed species that is failing Mother Nature’s grand experiment it’s extremely depressing. I’m about halfway through and looking forward to the hopeful conclusions he says are coming at the end of the book. Frankly though, I believe whatever hope he has is as delusional as the many delusions about ourselves that his Stanford Prison Study reveals.

Between The Lucifer Effect, research into criminal justice, and keeping tabs on the political and other craziness that fills the news every day, a coherent overall view of humanity is trying to assemble itself in my overloaded brain. Thank goodness, I will probably never find the time to write it, because it would undoubtedly look just like the rantings of all the poor souls who’ve tried to give us a true big-picture view and are remembered, if they’re remembered at all, as kooks and cranks.

Editing, Kitty Adoption, News

The revision of Privileged Lives is going well, although stuff got in the way yesterday and I only did about two chapters. Still… Cutting the fat, expanding scenes, combining chapters, all on the way to a final rewrite. It’s down to 29 chapters, from 38, and I’ll probably combine several more before I’m through. It’s kind of amazing how much I’ve learned since writing it back in the Spring of 2011. And it’s hard to believe it’s been hanging around that long. This is one of those cases where you have to decide whether a book that’s never sold more than a few copies is worth overhauling. It might still languish unread, but it’s worth it to me.

The “stuff” that got in the way of book work yesterday, was one of the massive shopping trips I go on almost every week with my son. Usually, it’s two grocery stores and one or two thrift stores. Yesterday’s started with the local Humane Society. I decided a month or two ago that I missed having a fur ball, so I kept checking out the photos on the HS site. The cat I’m adopting is a ten-year-old orange female who might not have found another owner at that age. She wasn’t exactly abused by her previous owners, but they put her in their basement because of their little kids (no details on that except her inability to cope), and lived down there for a year. She’s still skittish, but didn’t have any trouble with my petting her, leaned right in, in fact, so I think she’ll be fine once she settles down. We’ll probably go in tomorrow to sign the adoption papers and take Stella home.

As part of getting my life somewhat normalized, which used to mean being owned by a cat, I’m cutting way back on the news. I’ve accepted that things are mostly going to get worse as the new “president” lays about him with an axe handle. There’s nothing I can do about it except put my little bit of money where I hope it will do some good. I made a second donation to the Standing Rock Sioux this morning, even though I know that particular battle will probably be lost.

RESIST!

Orwell Would Be Proud

Or maybe jealous. It’s all over the internet today, the “President’s” puppet’s new take on truth: alternative facts. I hope someone’s collecting the 21st century additions to Orwell’s Newspeak. We’re probably going to be seeing a lot of that kind of thing.

Did anyone seriously think that the man would suddenly turn presidential? That his people would gently coach and guide him in his role? Did anyone expect that the very first press conference of the new administration would be a series of blatant lies? If you were surprised by any of this, you haven’t been paying attention.

 

Coming up — Four Years of Inspiration for SF Writers

It’s hard to believe that this country’s most significant and dangerous step into the future is only a day and a half away. The writer in me rejoices, not that I’ve been lacking for ideas. But the humanist in me shakes with dread. Will it be a never-ending nightmare in which the future is the blackest of black comedies, or a black comedy that makes every day a nightmare?

Humans, as a species, aren’t good at facing reality, and the next four years may be the ultimate proof of this failing. Global climate is, in a way, the metaphor that illustrates what such blindness will cost. It is proof that when faced with an unacceptable reality, humans are perfectly capable of rejecting what they see with their own eyes and experience with their own bodies, and retreating into a fantasy world in which bad things simply don’t happen. There is factual, real-life evidence, from every part of the world, that processes we can’t stop are already underway, and that they are proceeding at a much faster rate than scientists were willing to admit until very recently.

There is no shortage of rose-colored visions of a future that won’t be as bad as the worriers and Cassandras predict. Wishful optimism fits both climate change and the upcoming administration. The belief that raising buildings a few feet will defeat the incoming waters, or that the man moving into the White House will, sooner or later, start acting more “presidential,” are dangerous delusions. What will happen, sooner or later, is that the wearers of rose-colored glasses will be the first to scream, “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” And they will be looking for someone to blame.