Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Who Wants To Be An Armadillionaire?

This is late, and that's largely because I got back home to an apartment with no A/C.  Did I mention it's 108 degrees all this week?

But that is not the point.  The point is: PEOPLE ARE AMAZING.  I will fast-forward through my hollering and squealing about how fantastic ArmadilloCon was in order to reiterate that.  The guy I choffed cheese-balls with in the con suite?  Yeah, he's an insanely good comic book artist.  The lady who chatted with me about community college courses?  Is the same supreme maven of horse how-tos who brought her stallion to DFWcon for a hands-on class experience.  I met black-belt seamstresses, master marksmen, confectioners, con-founders, costumers, historians, and musicians who play instruments I've never HEARD of.  And these were the ordinary con-going plebes!

What I mean to say is, it's easy to be cynical about People These Days - to watch Sex and the Sixth-Grade Reading Level fly off the shelves, to see the ratings for America's Shortest Attention Span, and to think "my God, we're doomed."  But it was nothing less than Neosporin for the soul to put myself in the company of so many people who take a profound delight in learning everything there is to know about something, no matter how strange or obscure or ridiculous it might seem to the muggles, and who know the real secret of superheroes everywhere: if you aren't born with amazing mutant powers, you'd goddamn well better grow some.

Anyway, so here in celebration of the joyful and learnedly strange are a select few of the self-made heroes in my life, who have graciously agreed to put a piece of themselves on public display:

  • Cynthia McGean, with the one great truth for writers everywhere: You Can't Win if You Don't Play
  • Tanya G (T!), with a top-notch photo essay on Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller's Frankenstein  (Two screenings, in which the gents switch roles between Victor and the Creature, with phenomenally different results.  Take heed, fellow scribblers: your plot is a given; it's your characters that sell it!)
  • The lovely Lunaryss keeps her blogging cards close to her chest, but we will here mark February 29th, 2012 as the day she KO'd cancer.  FLAWLESS VICTORY.
  • And Frank, the light of my dark, the Phoenix Wright to my Miles Edgeworth, who is much too modest to point to a blog entry, left me a comment which I would here immortalize as golden advice to middle-beginning creative types everywhere: Put Down the Doritos and Love Your Larval Stage.

And as soon as I kidnap somebody with blast-chilling superpowers, I will be off to do exactly that!

This story is about the Baudelaires. And they are the sort of people who know that there's always something. Something to invent, something to read, something to bite, and something to do, to make a sanctuary, no matter how small.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dry Heaves of Destiny

Well, folks, I went and did it.  Did one more cut n' polish (down from 124,682 to 119,516, HA!), formatted, saved, attached, and sent to the Agent of My Dreams.

After thirteen years, I am no longer Writing a Book.  I have Written a Book.  I am Shopping a Manuscript.  I am Actively Seeking Publication.

I have pupated.

And I wouldn't have gotten this far without truly phenomenal people in my life.

So I was hoping y'all could help me celebrate.  If you're game, reply here with a link to a favorite post on your blog.  It can be anything - just anything you're especially proud of - and on Monday I'll post them up here so that we can see, notice, and applaud your most potent stroke of genius.  (With a tip of the hat to Jon Gibbs, Mr. Fur-Face himself, from whom I have received this sacred ritual.)

In the meantime, I'm off to have a quick barf, and then it's forward and onward to ArmadilloCon.  Gimme some good stuff, guys - as of now, I am fresh out!

Sorry, Venkman.  I'm terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Acne of American Independence

So as you know, we of the American persuasion celebrated our Independence Day this month.  Or as Chris Rock tweeted:
"Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren't free but I'm sure they enjoyed fireworks."

He took some heat for that, but it's worth a mention. American liberty started with white men, and over the last 230-odd years, we've expanded the boundaries of legally-codified freedom to include former slaves, women, children, people of different colors and nationalities and abilities and beliefs.  Inch by bloody legislative inch, we are adding to the non-discrimination clause on the McDonald's job application.  And we're not hardly finished yet.

We tend to be proud of how far we've come - we in Texas celebrate Juneteenth, for example, to remember the day on which slaves finally achieved their freedom - but when you think about it, many of our most momentous social-progress moments were less a pioneering world achievement and more the end of a prolonged temper-tantrum.  We fought a massive, bloody war over slavery (seriously, what other country had to kill almost a million of its own citizens to get person-owning off the books?), spent the next hundred years perfecting the feng-shui of separate drinking fountains, and when the Supreme Court finally said "no, but seriously" in 1954, the result was Massive Resistance.  Nowadays, discrimination needs a softer touch - for example, just-so-happening to give hiring preference to "Laura" over "Lakisha", even when they have the same resumé - but it's still a fine American art.

To be clear: we are not a nation of assholes.  I firmly believe that.  Our national trophy cabinet is full of fantastic achievements - in the arts, in science, in government and industry and discovery and technological innovation - that fully merit the "we're #1" foam finger. 

But socially, in the way we treat our citizens, we've lagged behind.  We were, what, the 25th country to end slavery, the 30th to grant women the right to vote, the 98th to pass something resembling a universal health care system (behind freaking Tajikistan!)  If we abolished the death penalty tomorrow, we'd be the 99th country to do so. 

Which is why I don't think we've reached true independence yet.  In this one aspect, we are still a pupating adolescent - you know the ones.  They define their cliques by who's in and who's out.  They're obsessed with siblings and peers who might be getting unfair advantages or special treatment.  And when Mom even opens her mouth to say "Honey, could you please take out the - ", she triggers a boiling geyser of indignation.  "I KNOW ALREADY - get off my back, Ma!"

Yes, the trash will be taken out.

Yes, segregation and discrimination will be ended.

But by God, we are going to do it sullenly, shoddily, and at the last possible minute.

Because that's how someone behaves when they feel insecure - when they're still trying to stake out their independence and worrying about every little infringement upon it.  Think about how different life is as an adult.  Mom's on the phone, carping at you about grandbabies and how you're not getting any younger and and what about that nice Jamie Wilkerson from last summer's Bible retreat?  "Sure, Ma," you say, hoisting your black-leather knee-highs into the stirrups on the body swing.  "Hey, I gotta let you go - I've got a few friends over."

To me, THAT is what real independence looks like.  It doesn't mean you stop caring about other people.  It doesn't mean you don't take an active interest in things that affect your life.  But you no longer have to lie awake at night, staring at the ceiling and tasting bile at the thought of someone, somewhere, telling you what to do or getting something they don't deserve.  You are secure, because you have enough.

So!  Here's to American independence, y'all: it's going to be glorious, even if it doesn't come with a bow-topped red ferrari in the driveway.

Oh, and here's to my fellow AbsoluteWrite bloggers!  Check out these truly superior links on this month's blogging chain:

orion_mk3 - http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (link to this month's post)
knotanes - http://knotane.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
meowzbark - http://erlessard.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
Ralph Pines - http://ralfast.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
randi.lee - http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
writingismypassion - http://charityfaye.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
pyrosama - http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
bmadsen - http://hospitaloflife.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
Poppy - http://poet-slash-writer.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)
areteus - http://lurkingmusings.wordpress.com/ (link to this month's post)
Sweetwheat - http://gomezkarla.blogspot.com/ (link to this month's post)

and stay tuned for:

ThorHuman - http://knikriverstatic.com/
MelodySRV - http://createamelody.com/
Tomspy77 - http://thomaswillamspychalski.wordpress.com/
dclary - http://davidwclary.com

--Beavis and Butt-head, on behalf of your fellow Americans, I extend my deepest thanks. You exemplify a fine new crop of young Americans who will grow into the leaders of this great country.
--Huh huh huh huh. He said "extend."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There is a Navajo Word for "MySpace"

Okay, I have a thesis, which is this: if you want to know what an author is really interested in, look at a terrible book of theirs*, and see what it's filled with.  (It will have been there in good books too, but it's easiest to see in later ones, when the author's built up a track record and some editorial clout and is free to let their fetishes overgrow plot and character.)


Jean Auel, author of the Earth's Children series.  The lady is over-the-moon about cave paintings.  Her first book in the series is the mega-famous Clan of the Cave Bear.  The last book?  The Land of Painted Caves.  Two stars on Amazon, and guess what folks are mad about.

Terry Goodkind, author of The Sword of Truth series.  Objectivism.  And possibly rape.  But definitely objectivism.  Let's call it John Galt non-con and leave it at that.

Stephenie Meyer, author of... like you don't know.  Look, it's a romance targeted at teen girls, it's not going to NOT feature lavish descriptions of Hunky McHotpants and Smoldering Native of the Beefcake People.  But her white-hot frantic macroing of phrases like "his dazzling pale perfect God-like marble Aryan perfection" gives you a pretty clear picture of what tops her own personal Lickability Index.

*note: this isn't a universal method.  There are plenty of other ways to screw up a book, most of them absolutely well-intentioned, and many authors go their whole careers without taking more than modest sips from the well of self-gratification.

Anyway, so I've decided: twenty years from now, when I'm bloated with egotistical methane and out of ideas, I'd like to go off the rails by indulging in a 500-page linguistic wank-a-thon.  Look, TELL me this isn't cool:
Five Terms From Countryboy79's Archive of Navajo Slang

Girlfriend/Boyfriend - Bich'áayaa íí'áhí  - "the one that sticks up from under his armpit."

Microwave - Bee na'niildóhó - "you warm things up with it."

Days Inn in St. Michael's, AZ - Ba' Dziztiní - "lying down waiting for someone."

Snow Flurry - Ayéhé néiidiníyódí - "the weather that drives the in-laws in."

Movie Theater - Da'níl'íidi - "where they are shown." 
Azee' handéhé - "falling medicine"
There are dozens more on the page (which you will have to visit if you want to know how to say "Burger King"!)  But even from this small sampling, you can see a pattern: notice how all five are nouns, things, but the literal translations are all actions, talking about what the thing does or how it behaves or what it's used for.  You could, if you looked up the language on Wikipedia, find out that it's a remarkably verb-heavy language, with relatively few nouns to speak of - but you don't need a massive encyclopedia article to tell you that, if you've seen even a few examples like these.

So I guess what I'm saying is, what gets me absolutely, gobsmackingly besmitten about languages is that, like an author, they tell you what's important to them - all you have to do is listen long enough.

In every word there sleeps an image.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I don't know if I've said it lately, but I get SO STOKED when I play with words.  I just... I want to dress them up and put them in the Malibu Barbie playset and make them have hot plastic tongue-sex until they pop out a whole passel of cute cuddly slang-babies.

Anyway, here for the fun of it are ten of my favorite Latin words. Let's bring these back, you guys, seriously.

crapularius - for getting rid of a hangover

demurmuro - to grumble through (e.g., a performance)

edento - to knock the teeth out of

effutuere - to wear out through excessive sex

frustulentus - full of crumbs

intervomere - to throw up amongst

pergraecor - to go completely Greek, to have a ball

rasito - to shave regularly

subinvito - to invite unenthusiastically

vapularis - in for a flogging

Substantive post later this week.  It's the last sprint to the manuscript-submitting finish line, and I am tearing up track.

lucubro (v tr) - to compose at night; (v intr) to burn the midnight oil.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Authors on Twitter, or, The Problem With Selling Jesus

Let's be honest: evangelism is a rough gig.

And as trying as it must be to brave the tide of rude indifference as you hand out New Testaments outside the ShopKo, or to tell yourself that leaving Chick tracts in bathrooms is a legitimate and fruitful use of your time, the worst has to be the door-to-door business.

You show up, pressed and professional and with a holy gleam in your eye that would put a Fuller Brush salesman to shame.  You knock, and steel your smile as you venture the first words that will - God willing! - snatch this lost lamb in the Winnie-the-Pooh nightgown from Satan's slavering jaws... and she slams the door in your face.  Repeat dozens of times a day, every day, and it's a wonder you don't throw your bike in front of an oncoming bus and run off to join the Pepsi Generation.

Let's meditate for a minute on the real problem here.

When you knock at my door, you're making two sizable assumptions: first, that I have not already found Jesus, and second, that I am receptive to receiving Him.  (There's a third issue with the door-to-door model, namely that your ringing of the bell compelled me to stop fornicating or beating my children long enough to answer the door, which puts me in a coarse mood before the Word even enters into it.  But we'll leave that one aside.)

Is this you?  It probably shouldn't be.

If I've already got the Holy Spirit within me, then you've wasted your time.

If I'm a hellbound heathen and happy with it, then you've likewise wasted your time.

In fact, your approach works reliably only if I have A) not heard of or never seriously considered your faith, B) found myself unhappily lacking in the spiritual department, and C) cultivated a lifestyle and identity not radically incompatible with your beliefs.  That's a pretty hard trifecta to hit.

So what I am saying, aspiring authors of the Twitterverse, is that if you follow me, and I click and find that most of your tweets are hawking your book, there's really no incentive for me to follow you back.

First of all, if I don't read your genre, I'm not going to read your book no matter how good it is.  And secondly, let's say I DO buy your book, and read it, and give it eleventeen stars on Amazon and Goodreads and tell all my friends and blog about how Three Hundred and Eighty-Five Shades of Beige opened my eyes to the tyranny of accent walls.  What do I get for all that?  If the answer is "pretty much just more tweets about your book," then there's no reason for me to keep following you.  I have used you up.  You have nothing to offer but more annoying ads for Cheetos, when my fingers are already orange with the chem-o-cheez proof of my fealty.

So whether you're selling the Great Armenian Novel or a ticket out of perdition - please, y'all, think about your business model.  Leave my doorbell for the cops, and focus on selling yourself.  Make me think "man, s/he's so cool and rad and deep and interesting - this kind stranger surely possesses some unearthly wisdom.  It must be mine!"  That right there is the difference between "eh, nothing for me here" and "okay, Aunt Matilda, you know that grammarian Regency romance isn't my thing, but this author I know has a book out - it's called Pride and Parentheses, and you simply MUST read it."

By the way, I'm absolutely not an expert on how to do Twitter the "right" way.  That would be Kate Cornell, the blackest belt in social media that *I* know, and Ben M. Wallace - and if you're feeling adrift, I highly recommend his Giving the Bird: The Indie Author's Guide To Twitter.  (I know it says indie, but he'll let you read it even if you're not self-publishing.  He's cool like that.) 

And then we got the people who knock on your door at 6:30 in the morning on Sunday going, "Have you found Jesus?"  You just wanna come to the door nude and go, "No, help me look for him!  Come on!"

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Pixar Princess

Right, first of all: can I put my hand up and ask that we get MORE movies where the trailer doesn't cover 3/4 of the plot?  It was so refreshing to go see Brave this weekend and enjoy some honest-to-god surprises for a change.

Still, it was hard to watch without thinking about the conversation that must have been its genesis.  I picture it something like this:

Bob Iger and John Lasseter get together to play Barbies and talk girl power.

Disney Exec:  "Right, so John, buddy... we love your movies, but you know what they're saying - the Pixar canon's getting to be sort of a boys' club, and it's about time you kicked in for the princess collection, so..."

John Lasseter: "Seriously?  Can't I just do another movie about cars?  What if it starred a girl car, could we - "

Disney: "Er, no.  No more cars, John, really.  No, what we're going to need for this one is a princess, and I mean an honest-to-god human being, not a robot or a fish or what-have-you.  She'll need to be headstrong and want to follow her dreams - are you getting this? - and see if you can do something ethnic; that's big with the kids these days."

Lasseter: *doodling Mater with an afro in notepad margins* "Ethnic, right..."

Disney: "Make sure you have a talking animal - and no goddamn magic dog-collars, John, just play it straight.  And songs, of course - do you need Phil Collins' number?"

Lasseter: "Er - no, thanks, I've got it.  Speaking of Phil, do you think we could do something like Tarzan, where she doesn't actually have to - "

Disney: "John..."

Lasseter: "No, really - look, I tell you what: get me off the hook with the singing, and we'll do THREE funny animals - three CUTE funny animals.  Think of the merchandise!"

Disney: "Well... all right, but don't get screwy.  Standard operating procedure on the rest: soaring vistas, inspiring message, a handsome prince..."

Lasseter: "At least one handsome prince, got it."

Disney: "What?"

Lasseter: "Nothing, nevermind - say, have you read about The Hunger Games?  Let me run something by you..."

18 months later: Disney execs drop by to see the first ten minutes of test animation.  There's a heartwarming childhood scene, Merida chafing against the demands of princess-dom, soaring vistas and rousing music.  Disney execs leave, pleased.

John Lasseter shuts the door after them, turns around, and claps his hands briskly.  "RIGHT," he says to his creative team.  "Here's what we're going to do..."

I don't want to get married - I want to stay single and let my hair flow in the wind as I ride through the glen, firing arrows into the sunset!