Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving, Globally Speaking

Here in the United States, we have a holiday called Thanksgiving, a day on which we pause to reflect with gratitude on all of the blessings that we have received over the past year. Also, we generally have a big meal with family and/or friends, during which we stuff ourselves with roast turkey*, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry relish, yams, and other good things from the kitchen. Then we roll away from the table, and the football fans watch football (no, not soccer—football, the game where oversized lunks knock each other down to get control of an oval inflated ball), and everyone else waits until they're hungry enough to go for leftovers.

(*Vegetarians sometimes try eating a product called "Tofurkey," which is an attempt to make tofu taste like turkey. We tried it one year, because we all like tofu. I have never tasted anything so vile in my life. Unless—no wait, there was something worse—it was "Tofuti," a substitute for ice cream. Oh God, the memory. I do not recommend it.)

All of this is a long introduction to my saying Happy Thanksgiving! to everyone, whether or not you happen to celebrate it as a holiday in your country. We all have things to be grateful for, and one of the things I'm grateful for is that I've had visitors to this blog (and to my writing web sites) from so many places around the world. A while ago, I ran a list of countries I'd noted from a casual scan of the web logs. Here it is again:

Canada, England, Singapore, Iran, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Slovenia, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, England, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, Poland, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Lithuania, and Mauritius.

Since then, I've had visitors from:

Costa Rica
Republic of Korea
Russian Federation
South Africa
Sri Lanka

There may be others I've missed, since my log-checking is anything but rigorous.

To all of you, best wishes and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ultra-Condensed SF/F

I'm just going to quote my friend Rich today, who sent me this link:

This is a helpful site for those of us who no longer have time to read science fiction:

I particularly liked the condensed Robert Jordan. I feel as if I've
been saved a lot of work.

It's a very funny site. I'm probably grateful that they didn't condense any of my books, though!

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

The writing retreat was fabulous. I got more writing done per day there than I had been getting done in a long time at home, and that's on top of spending time out hiking and enjoying sand, wind, and sea of Cape Cod. I'm back home now, and the trick is going to be finding a way to keep it up.

The carrot on a stick is in front of me, though. (Or maybe it's a whip at my back.) My editor has put Sunborn in the schedule for fall of 2007, which means he needs it turned in by fall of 2006. Which sounds like a long way off, but trust me, for a long book with serious issues, it's not. So I am hard at work. And must leave off the blog for now.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Writing Retreat

Wow. There's nothing like getting away from the daily grind and sitting in a beautiful location. Near the ocean. Fire in a fireplace. Peace and solitude. (The jacuzzi turned out to be at another place, where I am not; but that's okay, I don't even mind.) I'm already making better progress on the book. Plus, I spent a couple of hours walking along the salt marsh and the beach, watching crows, playing chicken with the waves (and losing). This is great. I should do it more often.

Something about a fire in a fireplace and writing: they go together like, I don't know, wine and cheese. (Hey, there's an idea...)

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Monday, November 14, 2005

This & That

I've been intending to post on several topics over the last week, but just haven't had a chance. So let me now say "Bravo!" to the members of Congress—especially those Republicans who had the courage to buck their own party—who put a stop (at least for now) to the ill-conceived attempt to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil companies. And similarly to the members of Congress who put a stop (at least for now) to the Bush administration's efforts to slash social programs to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief, while giving a further tax cut to the wealthy.

And let me give a loud raspberry to Sony, for their dangerous and idiotic mission to install spyware and out-of-control copy-protection on computers playing their music CDs. I'm glad they backed down in the face of pressure, but they didn't admit to doing anything wrong, and they didn't promise not to try again. Now, I own a fair number of pieces of Sony electronics, including a Net MD Walkman, a mini-CD-playing equivalent to an MP3 player. I love the Walkman (though, now that my daughter has an iPod, my Walkman seems old fashioned), but the biggest drawback to it is that it doesn't play MP3 files directly, but converts them first to a proprietary Sony format. All part of Sony's obsession with anti-piracy protection, I guess. I sympathize with the desire to protect their copyright, but I think the best way to do that is to keep doing what they're already doing—sell music for download at a reasonable price.

Good news at our house when a Panasonic device we call "Grabber" came back from a factory warranty repair. It's a DVD recorder combined with a Tivo-like digital video recorder—and I just love it. It leaves the VCR back in the 20th Century, from whence it came. Besides automatically recording current shows I want to see, straight from the cable box, it'll enable me to gradually burn to DVD all those tapes full of movies and Star Treks and West Wings and Actors Studios that threaten to overwhelm our house.

The best news is that I'm heading off tomorrow for a three and a half day writing retreat, at a bed and breakfast at an undisclosed location. In sybaritic solitude, I hope to recover some peace of mind and mental clarity, and basically press Reset on my brain. No schedule to keep, no dogs to walk, no hundred chores to keep track of. Just me, my laptop, my Walkman, and nature. Oh—and the fireplace and jacuzzi. It was my wife's idea, and she set it all up, and I love her, and may she live forever.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Fuel Efficient Cars

Apropos of the discussion of oil and drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, today's email brought a message from the Union of Concerned Scientists,* concerning a public comment period on proposed new government regulations on fuel standards for vehicles. There's an interactive animation called "Extreme Auto Makeover," which is mildly amusing, and which takes you to an email comment page. But more to the point, in terms of information, is the page you can reach by clicking the button for Extreme Data.

The short version—there's a lot the auto industry can do to improve fuel economy and safety, using existing technology and without serious impact on either the cost or the luxurious driving experience that we all enjoy (me, too). All that's required is the will to do it. But they're not going to do it without strong persuasion.

For the record—I've been a Ford shareholder for several decades (since I bought five shares of stock upon graduating from high school; it's up to about fifty shares now). I would be more than willing to see my dividends trimmed a little, if that were required to implement these changes. I don't think it is necessary, though.

*President of UCS: Kevin Knobloch. Also known as "Coach," to my daughters' soccer team a few years ago. A good guy. Very sharp, tuned in, and civic minded.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

In case you haven't heard, this is National Novel Writing Month. A group called exists to spur people on to write their long-delayed novels in just one month—this month—during National Novel Writing Month (which is really an international month, but never mind the nitpicks). The idea is to encourage people to run amok with their imaginations and write write write—full speed ahead, and damn the quality. I think it's a great idea. If you're a frustrated writer, check out their site.

Oh—today is NaBaUpYoNoDa—National Back Up Your Novel Day. "Know that your computer has been waiting a long time to get revenge for that half can of Diet Coke you dumped all over it last year."

The Bad

The U.S. Senate has voted to allow drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, despite widespread public opposition. What's this mean? It means that if the energy package isn't stopped or changed in the House, the Congress will have voted to permit the despoiling of a great untouched wilderness area, with attendant harm to wildlife, all for the sake of a minor addition to our oil supply. It's a fraud, though. The oil will be only a drop in the bucket compared to what we use, and despite the crowing in some parts about it being a movement toward energy independence, it's nothing of the kind. It's a Halloween handout to the oil companies. If we really want to move toward energy independence, we'll start emphasizing conservation and efficiency, which will save us far more oil than this plan will give us.

Unfortunately, the current administration doesn't give a damn about conservation, and doesn't seem to give a damn about anything except making the wealthy oil companies even wealthier. If you agree with me, now's the time to contact your U.S. Representative and urge him/her to stop the drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

See the National Resources Defense Council web site for more information. Or the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Ugly

Okay, I don't have an ugly. But I do have a weird, an unexpected, a pleasant shock. Last night I did a routine check of the web counter on my SF course, I've come to expect a daily increase of one or two hundred on the welcome page, less on the following pages. Well, last night I found the count up by over 5000 hits. Why? Well, I submitted a note about it to a site called, and they ran a short item about it. Just a quick mention, in a long list of notes. I guess a lot of people read, because when I checked the logs, I found that was exactly where a huge percentage of the hits had come from. Whoa. Today, it was down to a mere 2000 or so. I presume it will taper off back toward normality in a little while.

Freaky, though. I hope some of those visitors find it useful.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Great Book on Writing

I've just finished reading a wonderful book on writing. It's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. It's not a new book; it was published in 1994, but I had never seen it. The reason I started reading it is that my younger daughter, Julia, was assigned it for a fiction-writing workshop. I browsed through the book like a good dad and was immediately hooked. It's not so much about the mechanics of writing or getting published—though it offers plenty of good advice—as it is about the experience and the mindset of writing, and of living. It's hilarious, it's heartfelt, it touches on every insecure nerve a writer has ever felt, and it's encouraging. (I, feeling blocked, picked up an Amazon-reader-recommended book on writer's block at the same time, and found that I kept picking up Bird by Bird instead.) Some excerpts:

Getting Started:

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little.

Short Assignments:

E.L. Doctorow once said that "writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.


Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can't—and, in fact, you're not supposed to—know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing. First you just point at what has your attention and take the picture... The film emerges from the camera with a grayish green murkiness that gradually becomes clearer and clearer, and finally you see the husband and wife holding their baby with two children standing beside them. And at first it all seems very sweet, but then the shadows begin to appear, and then you start to see the animal tragedy, the baboons bearing their teeth. And then you see a flash of bright red flowers...that you didn't even know were in the picture when you took it, and these flowers evoke a time or a memory that moves you mysteriously. And finally, as the portrait come into focus, you begin to notice all the props surrounding these people, and you begin to understand how props define us and comfort us, and show us what we value and what we need, and who we think we are.


Of all the voices you'll hear on KFKD [the voices in your head], the most difficult to subdue may be that of jealousy. Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you've been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.

If you have any interest in writing, whether you're a beginner or a pro, I highly recommend it.