Black Friday

I don’t get Black Friday. I make it a rule not to tell other people how to run their lives, so it doesn’t matter all that much. But I confess I don’t understand rushing through Thanksgiving so you get get out and fight the crowds to buy shit.

According to Wikipedia, the term Black Friday originated in Philadelphia and referred to the bad traffic on the day after Thanksgiving. Now it has pretty much come to mean the day when retailers go from operating “in the red” to turning a profit for the year.

It was crazy enough when stores began to open at 6am on Friday morning, and people would stand in line all night.  Then 5am, and then 4am, and pretty soon it was midnight. Now in 2013, opening on Thursday afternoon is common. In 5 years, it will be 6am on Thanksgiving day.

In the slower pace of the 20thcentury (I can’t believe I wrote those words), most people still preferred eating turkey with their families to shopping. But will that hold up in the future? Given the choice of finding bargains on Thanksgiving day or going through all that hassle to cook a turkey, wash the dishes, and put up with Aunt Ethyl, it’s going to be less straight forward. Particularly if the stores start handing out coupons for a free turkey sandwich with every $100 spent.

And let’s face it: if the pilgrims had a decent mall, the whole Thanksgiving feast thing would never have gotten off the ground.

Just imagine. Elementary schools can put on plays about the joys of finding the perfect electronic toy for little Jacob and Isabella.

The day after Thanksgiving has always been a funny sort of day.  Not a weekend, really. No built-in entertainment like the day after Christmas and all those still-unbroken new toys. Can’t just stuff yourself for two days in a row.  What to do, what to do?

But hasn’t “Black XXX” always been associated with something bad? Before the current spate of craziness, we have 11 incidents that Wikipedia refers to as Black Friday, including Eyemouth disaster in which 189 fishermen died (1881), a massacre of protesters in Iran (1978) and a series of bomb explosions in Mumbai, India (1993). Most involving loss of life; none of them pleasant.

But wait! I have an idea!

What a great day to spend with a book! If you’re reading this blog, you have a bookshelf jammed with books you’re dying to read. And if you just feel the urge to buy another one, why, you don’t even have to leave the house anymore. Break out your Kindle-type device, order up that latest book on the Soul Mate Publishing best seller list, and get after it.

And if you should lose track of time and discover it’s noon, why, you can make your own turkey sandwich.

Happy Black Friday.

reading-by-the-fire

Stroll Down Memory Lane

My last post was a popular one. People wanted to weigh in on their own particular writing habits and requirements. Or maybe they just wanted to post comments in the nude. Not sure.

But underneath all that, there was an undercurrent of fascination with old memories like manual typewriters and IBM Selectrics.

So today, I’m going to indulge in continuing that stroll down Memory Lane. This post has nothing to do with writing.  And although it does have a lot to do with who I am, why I write, and what I write, I’m not going to discuss any of that. Just share some memories of what life was like.

I was born in 1952, so I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My parents used to talk about how different things were when they were little kids, but I believe life has changed more rapidly during my lifetime than during theirs.

transistor radioI was 12 when the first Beatles hit was released.   I listened to all of the exciting new rock and roll songs on an AM Transistor Radio.  Hey, that was a breakthrough invention!  Not too long before that, radios all had tubes and weren’t portable, like the one the-beatles-she-loves-you-capitolwe had at home.  If you really liked a song, you could buy it on a 45rpm record.  Not only were there no MP3 players yet, there weren’t even CD’s yet.  Cassette players became popular just before I went to college, and I bought a nice one so I’d have music at college.

Computers?  Nobody knew about computers yet.  There were some very primitive ones in basements of government buildings, but that’s about all.  By the time I went to college in 1969, thing had really progressed in the computer department, however.  My school had a computer—yes, we had PunchedCardone computer—that took up the basement of a building.  My sophomore year I took a course in computer programming.  We wrote programs in Fortran and submitted them using decks of punch cards, 1 lines of code per card.  The entire computer had about as much power as your typical wrist watch does now.  After you submitted a job, you waited around for it to run if you had time, or just came back later to get your results on a printout.

Even more remarkable, we didn’t have calculators yet.  The first hand-held calculator came out in 1971 and cost $700.  Minimum wage was $1.25; if you had a job that paid $1000 a month you were really well off, so that was totally out of reach for a poor college kid (when I went to college, that was my goal: to end up in a job that paid $12,000 a year).  So we did all our slide rulecalculations on a slide rule.  Some of you youngsters may never have even seen a slide rule.  It’s a device for doing basically anything you can do on a calculator (if you were good), although only to 3 digits of accuracy.  I used one all through college.

When I was growing up in the south, everything was segregated.  Not only were there were separate schools for white kids and “colored” kids, there water fountainwere separate restrooms and water fountains.  It seems unbelievable to even talk about it now, but since we’d never lived any other way, we didn’t know how wrong it was.  When the civil rights movement started up, I was totally shocked.  With my upbringing, it took quite a while to even get used to the idea.

No computers also meant no play stations, Nintendos, or any electronic game of any sort.  If you wanted to play a game it was usually cards or a board game.  Mostly we played outside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was still in elementary school, we had a party telephone line.  There were 3 families on the same line.  Each of us had a different ring.  Ours was one long.  So if the phone rang two short rings, it was for somebody else and you didn’t pick it up.  If we went to make a call and somebody was talking on the line, you were polite and hung up rather than snooping.  The other thing telephones had in those days were operators.  To call anybody in town, you just had to dial 4 digits.  But if you wanted to make a long telephone operatorsdistance call—they were pretty expensive, so you didn’t do it very often—you dialed 0 and an operator answered the phone.  Then you’d tell them the number of who you wanted to call and the city they lived in, and the operator would connect you.

We got a television when I was 10.  It was black and white, and we only had a choice of 2 channels.  And here’s the craziest part: if you wanted to watch the other channel, you got up, walked over to the television, and turned a knob.  We always tried to watch the rocket launches for the space missions—it was still brand new and totally amazing.  I remember sitting around the television watching when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.  You could see the lunar landing module just sitting there for what seemed like forever, waiting for the hatch to open.

I can clearly remember the first time I flew in a commercial airplane.  It had propellers.  Jets weren’t common yet, except for trips between a few big cities.

coke machineWe lived about 2 miles outside of town, a town so small—population 463 inside the town limits—it was hardly worthy of the name.  We would walk along the roads from the school to the middle of town and pick up empty soda bottles.  Bottles could be redeemed for 2¢ each.  A Popsicle cost 5¢ (I thought it was a crime when they increased the price to 6¢!).  So if you found 3 soda bottles, you could have a Popsicle.  Then the big decision was whether to have grape or cherry, my 2 favorite flavors.  That is, until I fell in love with Fudgesicles.  Then that’s what I always got.

There was only one type of Lifesavers, the 5-fruit kind.  I remember how excited we were when they first started making them in other flavors.

Cars were big.  Which was OK, because gasoline was cheap.  I 1960_Chevy_Kingswoodremember buying gas for as little as 19.9¢/gallon.  Not only that, somebody else pumped it for you, washed your windshield, and checked your oil.  Self-service stations were far in the future—in fact, it wasn’t even legal to pump your own gasoline in most places.  And in order to get you to buy their brand of gas, service stations offered a free glass with every fill-up.

TexacoStationOutsideHmm.  I guess I could ramble on forever about this, so I guess I’d better sign off.

Strange Writing Habits

I’ve never needed a lot to write. Or at least it doesn’t seem like a lot to me.  I need:

  1. My own space.  A familiar, comfortable place where I can go every day.  I don’t write well on vacation or at somebody else’s desk, although I valiantly try (my production is generally slightly less than half what it is at home).  Although I can adapt to a new space relatively quickly, it can’t be a new one every day.
  2. My own computer. With a regular mouse, not a roller ball or a laptop ball.
  3. A chair that’s reasonably comfortable to sit in with my wrists higher than the keyboard.
  4. My thesaurus and dictionary within reach.
  5. Relative quiet.  Music is OK; somebody talking softly is OK.

I think that just about sums it up.

I used to poo-poo people who needed a particular place to write.  A knew somebody who went to St. Thomas for a week and wrote 200 pages and then they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) write another word unless they were overlooking the beach.  Now I’m more forgiving.  Whatever works for you, go for it.  The creative process is unique and fleeting, so if you have a solution, good for you.That’s not to say that I don’t secretly think you’re a prima donna for needing a beach house to write in.  On the other hand, you may think I’m a prima donna because I don’t write well in somebody else’s space.

Some people can only write first thing in the morning; by 10am, they might as well quit since they’re not doing any good anyway.  Others are night owls, and the juices don’t flow until it’s approaching the bewitching hour.

Some people can only write with a pencil on a legal-sized yellow pad.

What, are you crazy?  You’re going to HAND WRITE an entire novel, and then what?  Have somebody else type it so you can edit it?  Do it yourself?

yellow padOK, I don’t understand those people.  But that’s the way all novels used to be written.  War and Peace, for example.  And not even with a ball point pen.  And not only that, but Tolstoy was working under the additional handicap of writing in Russian.  Man, I’d never get anything done if I had to write with a fountain pen in Russian.

But I sort of understand.  The mechanics of getting words out of your head and onto the paper mustn’t interfere with the process of the words forming in your head in the first place.  If writing on a PC does that, well it sucks to be you.  Grab that pen and paper and get busy.

I did all of my early writing before the days of the personal computer.  I learned to type in 7th grade–we actually took a class called “typing,” and we had to type 35 words a minute on an old manual Royal typewriter to pass.  That’s one of those machines only found in museums today where a bell rang when you got near the end of the line and you had to reach up and hit the return bar to slide the carriage back to the left margin.  We used to correct errors with a typewriter eraser, since neither correction tape nor White-out had been invented yet.

royal typewriterShortly after, my family upgraded to an IBM Selectric.  Weighed about 40 pounds, but a spectacular device as long as you didn’t have to haul it around.  I used that machine for years and loved it, particularly once they got around to inventing correction tape.In those days, we actually wrote “drafts.”  Typed out a version, went over it to improve the wording, typed out another draft, went over that to correct mistakes, typed out a final copy.  Took a lot of time, but a lot of things got written than way.  Beat the heck out of writing with a pencil.

Some people have to listen to music to write.  Sometimes only Bach will do, or Pink Floyd.  Others have a particular pair of slippers that must be worn.

I say, if it works, go for it (except maybe the pencil and yellow pad).

balcony beach view

Just the Right Word II

But suppose you can’t find the perfect word?  What then?  Well, if you’re as bold and creative as Lewis Carroll, you make one up.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

.

OK, I’ll admit it: I’m not that creative. Still, I confess to having made up a word or two myself.  The last one was a month or so ago, in Chapter 16 of The Adventures of Sir Kay:

“She was as lithe as a cat, although her movements had a certain deliberate languidity.”

Languidity is a portmanteau of liquidity and languid.  Definitely not as “outgrabe” as Carroll.  But unique nonetheless.

SusanH threw down the gauntlet in her comment to my Friday post.  “I’m thinking of inventing “virgin words” (per Jana) for laugh, smile, chuckle, snort. I need at least five more!”  The thousands of you not in my writers’ group, unless you were psychic, had no idea what she was talking about.  So I’ll share.

“Jana” is Jana Moore, a powerful–“brillig,” some might say–young poet in our writers’ group.  Last session she shared with us this poem, from which the reference “virgin words” comes:

the hum

I want to taste a virgin word
while I still have a human tongue
I wonder if such a sound would come
conspicuously
or whether I’d be
the chosen one to recognize
its patterned syllable
how many combinations
can the lips and tongue and teeth produce
with finite vowels and consonants
and the pitch of my woman’s throat
I’d like to know
if it’s possible
to learn a yet unspoken sound
to utter the hum of unused space
and summon the language holy-ground

.

In addition to sharing Jana with you, I’m also passing along SusanH’s challenge.  How about offering her a virgin word for laugh, smile, chuckle, or snort?  Or if you’re not into verbs today, how about grumpy, happy, sleepy, or sneezy?  I offered lippleup for smile, but I don’t think that’s going to “win.”

All entries will be feted; the best will be praised unduly.  Get your entries in today!

JanaMoore crop1Jana Moore

ps:  in case you missed it, SusanH commented, “Laughing–or lipplingup–at that.”  But of course, the correct usage would be, “I’m lippleupping at that.”

Just the Right Word

My “stated” writing methodology is not to edit on the first draft.  But that’s nowhere near what I actually do.  I don’t extensively polish–there’s too much chance that the words that I fuss over are going to change on the first editing pass.  But it is important that the writing from the beginning has the right flavor.  A richness of words.  A precision of expression.  To me that’s important, because that’s part of what makes my writing interesting.  At least to my niche audience–everybody else just yawns.  Oh, well.  If the story itself has to carry the novel, well, I might as well stop now.

But . . . one of the key of getting words on the page is not to dither.

Research is one place where dithering can get out of hand.  There’s a million things I don’t know about the period I’m writing about, and every time I dip into research I end up spending way more time than I should.  I’m OK with that, though.  Nothing screws up a novel for me than a writer who has no idea what he’s talking about.

Word choice is another.

I would like to say that I don’t spend a lot of time in the Thesaurus on the first draft, but again, that’s not really true.  What I INTEND to do is to use the Word Shift>F7 Thesaurus, take the best fit, mark it as a word that could be improved if not totally satisfied, and move on.  But sometimes, that simply won’t do.

I got caught up in exactly that time sink on Wednesday.

The sentence was: “OK, young squire.  Here is a mission worthy of your skills as a ___________.  My mental image was someone who skulks effectively, can slip into a shadowy alcove and hide effortlessly, move noiselessly.

My Dungeons and Dragons background speaks up. That’s a thief.  That’s what the class does.  Except ‘thief’ doesn’t mean that to the reading population at large.  Oswald’s not specifically going to steal anything, and he’s not really that sort of person.

“One who lurks.”  Except ‘lurker’ isn’t listed in the thesaurus.  Looking under ‘lurk’ yields nothing useful.  Lots of rich verbs, but nothing that can be converted into a noun.

“Prowler.”  That gets me into Section 483, Thief.  Well, OK; I hadn’t looked at that before.  But again, back to the problem that thief carries too many undesired connotations.  Again, lots of rich words: cutpurse, cat burglar, filcher, and grafter to name a few.  But nothing useful.

Finally, fully 10 minutes later, my common sense alarm went off.  I settled for ‘prowler’ and got on with my work.  At 10 minutes a word, writing 4 hours a day, it would take 11.4 years to finish a 100,000 word novel.  Isn’t it apocryphal that Flaubert took that long to polish Madame Bovary?  And yes, I’m being a little silly.  10 minutes for ONE word is not the same as 10 minutes for EVERY word.

But still.

thesaurus

A Case of Two Villains

I have been working toward writing better villains.  In my last novel, Avalon, S.C., we have JD who is an OK but not a great villain.  Since he’s not really “the antagonist” of the novel, it’s hard for him to be a great villain.  But he’s in there swinging.  To be truthful, he tried out for the part of the antagonist but blew the audition.

So, determined to do better in The Adventures of Sir Kay (NOT! the real title), I created an antagonist.  Count Maleagans.  He has awful taste–his colors are babyshit brown, and his great hall features the amateurish tapestries of his ex-wife–but his real fault is that he’s stuck in the “past.”  He believes that Uther was a great king; Arthur not so much because of that whole “might doesn’t make right” thing.  A noble should be able to do anything he wants.  So far he’s foiled Kay’s quest for true love just by being ornery.

OK, admittedly: Maleagans is not the sheriff of Nottingham.  But I’m at least claiming small progress.

By the way, Morgan le Fay is around again.  SusanH considers her the villain after she committed the unpardonable sin of sleeping with her sister’s beau.  but I’m still sympathetic toward her.  I guess we’ll have to see how things turns out.

So then this other villain shows up: Father Ignatius.  He started off as a very minor character–a caricature of the overzealous priest/missionary, forerunner of the priests of the Inquisition, etc.–but somewhere along the way decided to pull off a masterful scam.  He elevated the Grail story from just a rumor to a full-fledged legend.  Preached repeatedly his visions of seeing the Grail, which he described in detail.  Got the Knights of the Round Table off looking (again! they’d done this once unsuccessfully before).  Planted a goblet that he’d brought from Rome, then told Galahad where he dreamed it was.

Oh, the fiend!  Messing with true love is one thing, but messing with one of our greatest legends?  Why, that’s just going too far!

Fortunately, with Sir Kay on the job, such a scam has no chance of success.  But what self-respecting villain is dispatched 60% through the novel?  I guess Maleagans better step up his game.

On a curious side-note:  JD was given to Nimue, where he was “sentenced” to a year of pampering with his every desire catered to before being sacrificed for the good of the land.  I’m considering giving Father Ignatius to Morgan.  Maybe that’s my problem with villains: they always end up getting better than they deserve.

chicago_exhibitA “false Grail,” alongside a more realistic depiction of what the Grail might look like

 

NaNoWriMo

It’s November.  That means:

1)  We survived Beltane.

2)  Temperatures here in southeast Texas are more likely to be pleasant than disgustingly hot and muggy.  Even rains occasionally.

3)  287,709 people have registered on the NaNoWriMo website to “compete” in the write-a-novel contest.

So how does it work?  To “win,” you have to complete a 50,000 word 1st draft of a novel, or write 50,000 words of a longer novel, during the month of November.  If you write every day, that’s 1,700 words a day (I average that, but I don’t write every day).

And what do you get if you win?  Why, you have the first draft of a novel!  If you register on their site and then confirm that you completed your work, you can also get a certificate.  But writing your own novel is the real prize.

The reasoning behind NaNoWriMo is that a lot of people never write the novel that they’ve always wanted to because their own internal editor tells them that what they’re writing isn’t any good.  My own internal editor is a lot like that: when I’m writing material that isn’t good, it tells me, “Rusty, this is crap.”  Those of you who know me know that the one thing I don’t have is a self-esteem problem.  But for a lot of people, their internal editor keeps them from ever writing that book that they’ve always dreamed of.

At least two regular readers of this blog are participating in NaNoWriMo.  Heather reported hitting 10,000 words on Tuesday, Nov 5–she’s on schedule!  Bruce intended to write, although I haven’t heard from him–how’s it going, Bruce?  Stella, are you indulging?  Others?

It sort of boggles the mind, in a way.  More than a quarter of a million people and busily working away without an internal editor.  In 2010, that equated to more than 2.8 billion words.  At the low cost of self-publishing, that could turn out to be a quarter million new books for $0.99, each written while expressly not paying attention to whether what you’re writing is good.

I’m just handing out a little shit in good fun.  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (which I haven’t read but has been highly recommended to me) and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which spent time on the New York Times Best Seller list and is an absolutely brilliant novel, were both written during NaNoWriMo.  That’s recommendation enough for me.

Happy writing!

nanowrimo-published

Success!

Way back in September of last year, I was pissing and moaning about how, now that I’m retired, I don’t take long drives for work anymore and so I was having a hard time getting my mind to wander enough for my subconscious to work plot lines.  Many of you suggested “Mulling While Walking.”  I even wrote a blog on the difficulties of doing that for me.

The Walking Mull

At least part of the problem (which I didn’t even talk about) is that I can’t go outside on a consistent basis during the summer.  Even early in the morning, it’s miserable.

But . . . November is here, and the weather actually cools off.  It’s my very favorite month, although late October is pretty nice too.

That, plus the swap from daylight savings time, opens this neat little window around 7am.  I’m not really doing anything else productive–my creative side hasn’t fully woken up yet–and I’ve finished reading my mail and Facebook and whatever blogs I read daily.

So I decided to start taking Destiny out that time every day.  Why not?

And guess what?  I had a successful walking mull!!!

As a hard-core “pantser”–I don’t outline a lot, don’t even really plan where my novel is going next–I need a lot of ideas.  Like the novel I’m working on now: The Adventures of Sir Kay (working title; this will NOT be the real thing).  It’s pretty easy to write him into a lot of complex situations, but not so easy to get him out of them.  I’m a steadfast believer that “something will come up.”  And it did.

Yesterday I wrote 2,500 words.  That’s a LOT for me.  I typically average around 7,500 a week.  Not nearly enough to succeed at NaNoWriMo.  But I’m really excited where this is going.

Can’t wait to show you.  Won’t be too long from now before this novel is ready to start posting (particularly if I keep this pace up).

HPIM1054Destiny in her favorite chair, recovering after a long walk

What a Difference a Year Makes

Last year this time–Thursday, November 1st, 2012–you were waking up a little queasy from a night of excess.  Halloween always involves some excess.  Taking the kids Trickertreating, sampling their candy, maybe just another little taste.  Handing more out every time the doorbell rings, a little extra when the 5-year-old neighbor girl shows up as the most adorable zombie princess ever, and oh why not, I read somewhere that Halloween candy straight out of the bowl has fewer calories.  Somebody threw a party–did you know that we spend more on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas?–and although it was the middle of the freaking week, you had an idea for this really cute costume and so you went and there was fuming punch that had quite a kick.

You stumbled into the kitchen a year ago this morning for a cup of strong coffee, along with a little hair of the dog (2 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

How much difference a year can make.

Today is still the day after Halloween, but that’s not nearly as important as it being the day after Samhain.  Last night, somewhere off the coast of South Carolina between Beaufort and Charleston, there was an misty island with a fire burning that shouldn’t have been there.

If you’d been in a boat nearby, you could have seen the fire because, on Samhain (not to mention Beltane), the boundaries between our world and the Otherworld are weak.  On Samhain, druids used to summon spirits and other creatures from the Otherworld into ours to do their bidding.  One thing for certain: you didn’t wander around with a carved gourd or a turnip.

turnip lanternAre you tempted to go looking for it?  I certainly am.  Although I think I’ll schedule my trip for Beltane.

bonfire2