Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mini-Post: 3bdr, 2ba, No Pool

It's official.  Yesterday it was two weeks since I've been in a pool full of chlorinated water, swimming back and forth and doing my thing.  I've been on dry land so long my gills are starting to recede, and if this continues I'm pretty sure the webbed skin between my toes is just going to dry up and fall the heck off.  If I don't smell like chlorine, am I still me?  Actually at the moment, I and everything I've been in contact with for the last 24 hours smell like Sweet Pumpkin Spice body spray.  Which spilled in my work bag.  Does anyone know how to get the overpowering reek of body spray out of a work bag? Or should I just throw it out and get a new work bag?  I've washed it in the washing machine twice now. The work bag, I mean.

Anyway, I've been really sick.  It started off as an ear infection.  I get those once in a while (see above re: swimming).  Then instead of getting better, I got worse and what had been an ear infection took over my whole head, and my chest.  I'm on my second set of antibiotics and I don't think they're doing a lot of good.  I mean, I am getting incrementally better, but I think I'm fighting a war of attrition, not one of nuclear weapons.  Usually two or three days on antibiotics and I'm fine, or at least a lot better.  It's now Day 16 and I'm still wheezing and coughing.  It's hard to swim when you can't breathe in the first place.

Not-swimming is probably one of the worst things that can possibly happen to me.  Not just because of the not-swimming part, which sucks plenty, but because it throws the rest of my routine all to hell.  If I'm not swimming, then I'm not getting up at the right time of the morning.  If I'm not getting up at the right time of the morning, I'm sleepy on and off all day.  If I'm sleepy, I'm not getting what I need to do done in the evening; I'm just going straight to bed.  So the house is a mess and I'm kind of a mess and I'm not getting any writing done and did I mention everything I touch smells like Sweet Pumpkin Spice body spray?

Oh, and a guy in Suriname tweeted his undying love to me earlier this morning.  Not quite a Twitter marriage proposal, but close.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Haven't You Heard From Me?

Lily: I'm in trouble with this damn play, and you don't care.
Dash: Lily, it's your first play.  It's not like anybody's gonna miss ya.


If you've been hanging around here long enough, you've probably wondered why I haven't written a book, or a play, or Something Of Substance.  If you've really been hanging around here long enough, you know that I've actually written three of them, thankewverymuch, and that's not counting one I self-published that sold about twenty copies and another one that I wrote, uh, basically for my mother.  (Everybody writes stuff for their mother.  Just ask Elvis.  Oh, wait, you can't, Never mind.)  Three of them even ganged up on each other and formed a trilogy.  (Ah, trilogies.  The word sounds like a lost Asian nation, doesn't it?  "Hey stlanger, wercome to Trilogy!  You be here long time, yes?"  Oh God, somebody smack me for being a racist.)

Anyway, they're called Mindbender, Spellbinder and Soulmender, and they're still hanging around my house like lazy post-adolescent children, too fond of the free food and the clean laundry to move out and get their own place.  Which is to say, they're not published yet.  I had a literary agent once, but he quit the business to run for Congress and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.  (He didn't win, either.  Actually he didn't have a chance, and the only one who didn't seem to know that was him, but never mind.)  So I've been kind of orphaned ever since.  I'm looking for a new agent, which means I've been writing lots of goddamned earnest letters to total strangers asking them to take me on as a client for their eighty-hour-a-week mostly unpaid job convincing some publishing house that I'll sell like Suzanne Collins when in fact I might sell more like David Moody.  And if you haven't heard of David Moody, well, that kind of makes my point, doesn't it?  (To be honest, I'd love to sell like David Moody.  Hi, David!  How's it going?)

So anyway, I've written all these letters, and I haven't really gotten anywhere, although I have had some responses, so it's apparently not hopeless.  I just need to keep on writing these darn letters until I get a yes.  Considering that I have anxiety the size of a large nervous T-rex when I'm writing one of these things, that is no small feat. (For more information on all the fun I've had writing query letters, click on the label "angsty query letter crap", below.  Yeah, and meet Scaley and Fang, my dinosaurs of anxiety and sudden panic.)

A reasonable person might very well ask why bother, anyway.  Literary agents take on something like .001% of the people who write to them as clients.  By the time I'm in the right place at the right time with the right letter on the right day, I could be a hundred years old (or maybe even dead; by the time I die I'm sure that will  be able to send query letters for you in perpetuity, pursuing the dream of publication beyond the physical realm.) Well, it's like this (and here comes the Buddhism again): Being published, or not being published, isn't anywhere near as important as writing.  Writing is everything.  Publishing is business.  It's a good business if you can get it, but it's still only business.  Sooner or later you have to leave business and go home and eat some fresh butter-flavored tortillas from the Kroger Bakery.  And then you can write something.

Another way of putting this is an old OA saying:  "I'm chairman of the planning committee, not the results committee." I do the right things.  I write a lot. I rewrite a lot.  I read a lot.  I hang around with other writers a lot.  I go to seminars, I show up at open mic events (though I've never actually said much more than "Good evening, and this is so and so."), I've even been to the occasional conference.  In short, I live like a writer's supposed to live, minus the alcohol binges and the frequent trips to rehab (that's the Buddhism again).  The fact that nobody's paying me for it doesn't make it any less important.  The fact that I have a "day job" doesn't make it any less important.  The fact that I"m not where I wanted to be by now doesn't make it any less important.  The only person hovering over me with a stopwatch is, uh, me.

That is to say, I had constructed this whole theoretical timeline, based on nothing more than conjecture, of What I'd Be Doing By The Time I'm Forty-Five.  I got plenty annoyed with myself when I failed to meet just about every conjectural deadline.  Which was ridiculous.  Plenty of people don't produce stunning masterpieces that change the face of fiction for all time by the time they're forty-five, and no harm comes to them.  (And plenty of people who do come to bad ends.  Look what happened to Truman Capote.  And he wasn't even writing fiction.)  The point is, I'm responsible for the process, not the outcome.  I'm not responsible for how long the process takes.  I'm also not responsible for getting paid.  Some of those things we just need to leave up to God.

Yes, I know I don't believe in God.  But I do believe in something.  So sue me.  And if you know a literary agent, send him or her my way, willya?  Thank you.  And have a nice day.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jen's List of Ten Influential Books

There's a thing on Facebook right now where you're supposed to list the ten most influential books you have ever read.  I'm not sure why this is a thing, but I'm sure glad they're books instead of, say, movies or video games.  So I guess I could have just put this on Facebook, but I figured, why waste a perfectly good blog post on Facebook when you could stick it on your blog and beat your Thursday deadline by almost a full forty-eight hours?  (And boy, are they ever strict about those deadlines around here.  Last time I missed one they threatened to cut my salary in half.  Eep.)  Anyway, here they are, in no particular order except for the last one. 

Very Far Away From Anywhere Else by Ursula Le Guin.  Really, if you haven't read it there's no way I can explain.  Pick it up and give it a read; it's only about 70 pages long, and if you don't cry at the end, there's something wrong with you.  

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Hannah Green.  Read it at least 40+ times and I get something different out of it every single time.  (Like the John Calvin vs. Thomas Hobbes for custody of the child in the middle third--didn't know that was even in there, did ya?)  And yes, it's dated, and some of its theories have since been proven wrong, but it was the Sixties, and things were different then. Go back in time and experience them. 

God's War by Kameron Hurley, and its two sequels to a lesser extent.  Best Muslim space western sci-fi shoot-em-up ever.  And possibly only.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - not because it's a great story, although it is, or because the author is so good at building characters, though she is, but because it exploded the boundaries of YA fiction in a way that had never been done before and made the series that came came after (Divergent, Wasteland, the Matched trilogy) not only possible but plausible.  

Columbine by Dave Cullen.  Yes, it's about the high school shooting, and no, it's not pleasant reading, but guess what? Almost everything you know about Columbine is wrong.  A series of popular myths has grown out of Columbine and other school shootings, and those myths need to be addressed with the actual cold hard facts.  This book goes a long way toward doing that--if we're willing to listen and put some of our Robin Hood fantasies down.  

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey.  Hey, they said most influential, not Most Scholarly and Serious.  This was my introduction to Anne McCaffrey, and it blew me away (though unfortunately, a lot of the later ones in this series didn't).  But here we have a rather simple tale about a girl nobody understands, who turns out to be one of the most important people in the world because of something she--sings.  How can you not like a story like that?  And the old "be yourself, and do what you have to do no matter where it takes you" message isn't that hard on the old subconscious either.  

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens takes Douglas Adams' general wackiness and runs with it at a speed I would not have thought possible.  You cannot get through a page without laughing out loud, and it confirmed some of the things I always suspected but didn't know for sure (like, for example, the truth that any cassette tape, left long enough in a car, will somehow morph into Queen's Greatest Hits no matter what it started out as).  Especially in light of Sir Pratchett's failing health, I'm glad we have this gem among gems (his Discworld series is pretty awesome, too).

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  Lots of authors write lots of books about lots of things that really happened, but not very many of them invent a whole new subgenre while they're at it.  To Mr. Capote, inventor of what's now called "narrative nonfiction," I give a bow.  And to In Cold Blood, which is a dark and brooding tale that well deserves every single award it ever won, a salute.

Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God by John Donne.  Okay, it's a sonnet and not a book, but it so perfectly captures my problem with religion that I just couldn't help but include it here.  Look, if you want me to believe in your God, your God is gonna have to steamroller me to get my attention. That's exactly what John Donne said--only much better, and much more wistfully.  In about 1618.  So Google it, it's long since out of copyright.

And finally:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  

This is my favorite book of all time.

Of. All. Time.  

If you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?  Yeah, you know how it ends, but still, give it a try. Again, it's about 70 pages long. You can read it in an hour, even with all that highfalutin' 19th-century prose.  The way that Stevenson sets up his final shocker is masterful; we start with Mr. Utterson, the lawyer, follow him around for a while, then he exits stage left right around the time another character enters from stage right, and then we get to follow him for a while.  Dr. Jeckyll, himself, doesn't show up as a character until almost 2/3 of the way through the book, and by then you're not sure you can trust anything he says even though you desperately want to know what the hell is going on.

I could go on for decades (I'd make this book my master's thesis, if I were going to grad school, which I am not) but I'll just stop with this:  This is not only the scariest book I ever read, it's one of the most important--heck, maybe even the most important.  And if the idea of your subconscious leaving your body and walking around on its own, developing a personality, meeting your friends, taking your stuff and just maybe going on a murder spree, doesn't scare you, my friend, I suspect not very much will.  For other versions of this story I'll give honorable mention to the movie Mary Reilly, which documents some of the same events and is one of Ms. Julia Roberts' best performances ever, and the BBC series Jeckyll, starring James Nesbitt (who was robbed of a Golden Globe for his performance here).  

So that's it. My list of ten influential books.  Hm, nothing by Hemingway or Big Steve.  That's interesting.  Maybe I'll do this again in a year without looking back and see if anything changed.  In the meantime, happy reading, kids.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hangin' In Austin With The Smart People

I've been known to sneak out of town from time to time.  Not out of the state very often, because Texas is a big state and it's pretty expensive to go anywhere (thank  you, American Airlines), but there are some places in Texas that are pretty  darn nifty  and  not very expensive.  One of those places is Austin. Seat of  government. Source of the political oil that runs the good ol' boy network. And named after six million dollar man Steve Austin (okay, not really).  Seriously, Austin is out favorite Texas city. If we could find jobs there we'd move here in a heartbeat.

Last weekend, another bunch of smart people gathered for an event called the LoneStaRG. (RG means Regional Gathering, in case you did not know that.)  So for three days we ran around around to presentations on astrophysics and genetic testing and logarithmic equations.    Okay, I'm kidding. The last presentation I  went to was about an interactive haunted house right outside of Georgetown that raises money for charity.  And which also sounds totally cool and I'm trying to figure out how to get back there in late October to check it out (though I've been turned off by haunted houses the last few years.  I was going through one, and something particularly bloody and disgusting came along, and I suddenly asked myself, "Why am I doing this, anyway?" which is often a kind of fatal question for whatever it is you're doing.  But I'll make an exception here.  It's for charity.) We also dove into a movie trivia game, and first prize was a giant thingy of Jelly Bellys. Actually, the Jelly Bellys were somehow involved in the movie trivia. Did I win? No.  but who cares.  Anyway, movies and jelly beans. What could be better? Maybe a bottomless reserve of M and Ms. Oh hey, they had those too. Awesome.

One of the big draws for me at these events is always the game room.  I love puzzles and games.  This particular gathering had an evil puzzle.  Truly, this thing had a demon or something.  It was a thousand-piece puzzle of an oil painting of Canadian geese, and all the pieces looked like they were roughly the same muddy brown.  Of course there were different shades of ruddy brown, but try sorting shades of muddy brown into groups sometime and you'll see how tricky this is.  About ten of us worked on this puzzle on and off most of the weekend and only finished it late Sunday evening.  Somebody suggested that for our next trick we should set it on fire.  But no, that'd only make the demon mad.

You guys who love games, check this one out:  The Duke, by Catalyst Games.  If you like chess you will love The Duke.  Imagine chess where you're playing along and suddenly instead of moving only up, down or sideways, a rook can go spinning across the board diagonally.  Or a knight, instead of jumping up two squares and over one, can take out another piece from two squares away without moving at all.  And the Duke, himself, instead of being restricted to a single square like the king in chess games, is one of the most powerful pieces on the board.  Don't worry, all the pieces are preprinted with their permissible moves, so you don't have to memorize them.  But it helps.  And if the standard rules aren't complex enough, there are additional optional rules and expansion packs.  I mean, two people could play this game a million times and never have it come out the same way twice.  At our last gathering this game won the Mensa Select sticker.  It's also a Kickstarter success story.

So that's the sort of thing I get up to when I sneak out of town.  Games, puzzles and M and Ms.  You can tell what an exciting life I lead.  But hey, it's clean living and I don't have any wrinkles yet.  Cheers, all!