Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Can Fly

One of my flash fiction stories is appearing in the July 2008 issue of The Written Word. Check out I Can Fly.

This story was prompted by a photograph of a little girl sitting on a bicycle on top of a roller coaster. It was a bizarre photograph that prompted a sad story.

Funny thing about this one is that I didn't even know it was out until the last day of July.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A variety of stuff

The "new" dsl connection with the desktop computer still rolls on. I left the computer on overnight, something that would have spelled death for the ethernet connection. The wireless connection worked like a charm. It even downloaded the update for my virus software.

I have no idea why the ethernet connection to the modem doesn't work, but dial-up and wireless both work fine. However, at least something works.

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I stumbled across this video of "Bob Dylan Blues" by the late great Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett. It was apparently written when Barret was a teenager.




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Sigh. The moisture from Hurricane Dolly missed the valley. It's getting hot again, aiming for 111 degrees saturday. Next chance for rain is monday. I hope it actually happens. We've had 2 inches of rain this year, which is considerably more than last summer. It's hot now, but October will be here soon. That's when I overseed for winter grass.

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Our dog, Mitsy, has separation anxiety and becomes extremely destructive. She once broke one of her canine teeth chewing on something, probably the pool fence. We put her on medication last year that worked for about 3 weeks. We changed medication in December or January, and about 6 weeks ago, it finally kicked in. It's so wonderful having a dog that acts like a dog again. She actually lays in the grass and hangs out with the other dog most of the time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One of Those Days

I'm feeling just a bit frustrated today, and it has nothing to do with my writing. It's just that the every day stress of working under Yertle the Turtle inside the cardboard empire is getting to me.

segueless transition

I have been struggling with this DSL connection since I got it last year. I'm not sure what the problem is when I connect this desktop computer to the DSL modem directly with an ethernet cable. It behaves as if the cable gets clogged and the bandwidth pinches off until no data can get through. I also can't connect to random web sites, including my own ISP, even after a fresh boot.

Today, I had an idea. We have a wireless dongle that was intended to be for the kids' computer. It doesn't work there, probably due to an insensitive receiver. Well, I attached it to the desktop after unplugging the ethernet cable and voila, suddenly everything works just fine. I only need the cable if I want to talk directly to the modem, which doesn't happen all that often. So, little victories.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Interview with Ray Bradbury

Take a look at this interesting interview with Ray Bradbury.

Buried in the films are a few golden nuggets for writers from the lips of a master.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Question of Style

One of the aspects of writing that most new writers have trouble grasping is that of style. What is style, and what's mine? Is my style a good one? Should I change it?

As it turns out, style is something inherent to your work, and it can't really be changed without giving it an artificial feel. A writer's style is a part of the writer. It has to do with how the writer's mind works, and how they put thoughts into words.

A few years ago, in describing my writing voice to David Gerrold, I said that I don't try to imitate anyone. His answer? You can't. No matter what you write, it will come out sounding like you.

Having been around the block a couple times, I can start to understand my style. And notice that an author is generally quite blind to his or her own voice, style, and even the quality of their own work. That said, you can pick up on what other people tell you, generally through the critique process.

I'm not a literary writer. My intention is to make the writing disappear into the background. I want the readers to forget they are reading and get drawn into the story. I don't have beautiful prose. I can pull off beautiful prose for brief passages, but it just isn't my voice and it's not something I can sustain for very long.

Just this evening, I was speaking to my friend Jack Mangan. We were discussing a blurb he is preparing for my forthcoming stand-alone volume, "Winter." He commented that he was having trouble finding just the write words, but the substance of the blurb will be something to the effect of Rick Novy writes with the spirit of the masters of the 1950s, yet keeps it fresh for the 2050s.

If you think about it, that's a pretty cool compliment. Saying that I tip my hat to the masters but take it in new directions is about all I could ask for. My material is not a rehash of anything popular right this minute. Sometimes it's an advantage to not have time to keep up with reading. It's hard to rehash what you haven't read.

He also said that I do a good job portraying aliens and alien cultures. That's always a challenge, because an alien culture deserves to be as rich and colorful as any human culture, yet you have to make it all up. Not being thorough by understanding your aliens before you write leads you down the path of all societies being human

That's a large part of the problem of why Rigel Kentaurus is taking so very long to finish. I was ready to start work on the novel in October 2007, but I couldn't. I didn't know the major alien race until I read some real history. I'm still learning about them, but now that I've spent the better part of 20,000 words with several, I'm starting to understand their culture.

But in the end, it's up to me to make them convincing. If I make them interesting, and give them a rich enough culture, then you'll suspend your disbelief and come along for the ride. I can't pull you along with artistic language, it isn't my style. I have to do it with substance, and that means transparent writing where the story is king.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Very Brief Vacation

Since we aren't going anywhere this summer, I promised to take the kids to Golfland Sunsplash. While we don't really have any amusement parks in Arizona, we do have some good water parks.

We started the day going down the water slides. You can see some of them in the bottom third of this page.

Later, we visited the Thunder Bay Wave Pool. 450,000 gallons. The kids got to use one of the inner-tube rafts.




Here's what it looks like in motion.

video

It's an excellent place for people-watching. Plenty of prime specimens, as well as the usual matabang mataba.

After a while, we got some ice cream.



All in all, we had plenty of fun, a little sunburn, and some new memories.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Church of the Crab Nebula

Let's look at something a little different. What role does religion play in speculative fiction? It's an interesting question that depends on the scope of the definition of religion.

One of my recent reads was Robert J. Sawyer's Calculating God. In this novel, we learn that there are two alien races in Earth's neighborhood and roughly the same technological level of Earth. The two alien races have compelling evidence that the universe was designed by God. They think Earth's religions are silly.

Going back a few years (and taxing my memory), look at Philip Jose Farmer's Father to the Stars. This is the story of a clergyman on an interstellar voyage.

Religion is an integral part of human society, and it will likely be in the future, too. Some writers recognize this, others seem to ignore it. Granted, some stories don't need religion. My own first novel contains few if any references. It's a near future story that relies largely on the readers' experience of the world. On the other hand, in my "Stars" universe religion plays a major role in the lives of one alien race.

When you are creating a new world, using religion can help develop a rich and colorful world.

Look at Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg. We follow the development of the cheela, a race that lives on the surface of a neutron star. (Cool concept, but off topic.) We get to watch a religion form, evolve, and die. It adds considerable flavor to the story, and makes the cheela more real to us.

This is a totally different use of religion from the Christian Fiction genre, where religion is the point of the story. In SF and fantasy, it's best used as one dimension of a multi-dimensional story. At its best, this dimension can give the reader food for thought, but the writer needs to respect the reader, too. Nothing will turn off a spec fic reader faster that preaching.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Juice Your Portfolio

According to a study, traders with higher levels of testosterone perform better.



Hmmm. I'd better start working out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Patience of Waiting

One of the most painful lessons a new writer learns is that you have no control over what happens to your material after you submit. How many writers are discouraged when that first rejection letter arrives in the mailbox? Most likely, it was an impersonal form rejection with a copy of the market's writers guidelines attached.

I got spoiled. I sold my first two projects. They were both non-ficiton. The first fiction sale took four more years and at least a hundred rejections. They are painful at first. Sometimes you stop writing. Sometimes you keep writing but stop submitting. Sometimes you think the world is against you. Sometimes you think they don't recognize your brilliance. Sometimes you know you suck.

That's where most potential writers give up. If you take the craft seriously, and you read and write, eventually you learn. You learn how to write. You learn you aren't the only one out there struggling. You trade manuscripts and discover that you aren't the worst writer in the world. Somebody else makes your words look brilliant against their crud. You trade manuscripts and discover you aren't the best writer in the world, either. That's important to remember. No matter how good you are, there's always somebody better, at least at some aspect of the craft.

Later, you finally get that first sale. Hurrah! Then it takes forever to make the second one. You get frustrated, thinking you are a one-hit-wonder and the momentum starts to die.

It boils down to one thing. Persistence. If you continue to learn and work hard, you will make it. There are always plateaus. Sales come in waves. So do rejections.

The best way to deal with the rejections is to have a lot of material in the market. It gets you used to the rejections and most likely, you'll get a few sales in there, too. I have 40 unpublished short stories, most of them in the market right now. At times you can even get annoyed with a market for holding a manuscript forever. "Just reject the darn thing so I can send it to the next market."

It's just a game. Interesting thing is, I went through a period where all the writers I knew were being published in a certain publication, and I kept getting rejected from that market. In retrospect, the reason is obvious. I don't write what they publish. My stuff fits better into different markets. Once I figured that out, I started submitting to more appropriate markets and making sales.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Top Ten Lists

I found a number of top ten science fiction novel lists. I have to confess that I haven't read very many of them, but I have the best hit ratio on Rob Grant's list. Michael Moorcock's list has a lot of material I own but is still in the in-box.

Check out the top ten list as compiled by:

Gwyneth Jones

Rob Grant

Dick Jude

Michael Moorcock

How many have you read?

I tried to compile my own top ten list, but I have a problem where several books from the same author all seem like they belong. My top ten list ended up being about thirty books long. That, and I haven't read all the so-called "must-read" books. The world will just have to go on without my list.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pong Ping - Crotchety Old Fan

For the past few days, I have been trading blog posts with Steve Davidson, a.k.a. the Crotchety Old Fan. His most recent post is an essay that uses my previous post as a launch pad. It's good stuff, so take a look. In fact, you might consider adding him to your blog roll.

Davidson also browsed my "books read" list then commented that despite having read the entire "Mission Earth" series, I can still write a cogent blog. Heh, I'll leave that one alone until I'm no longer eligible to win the Writer of the Future contest.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Another Look at the Direction of SF

The Crotchety Old Fan has posted a response to my blog entry from a few days ago regarding the future of SF. (That is a great blog name, by the way.) He has some good discussion, including an on-topic excerpt from the introduction of an anthology edited by Lester del Rey.

When I first read his post, I got the impression that he thought I hold the opinion that SF is dead. I read it again and now I'm not sure. I think he's just making comments on my comments.

For the record, I think that SF is very much alive. I had some of this discussion with Michael L. Wentz way back in December of 2006. The question that continues to surface is two-fold. Where do we go from here, and how does SF attract new readers to itself?

The first question is something, I think, that nobody can answer. I doubt William Gibson intended to start a new sub-genre when he started working on Neuromancer. No doubt his thoughts were roughly like mine were when I started Neanderthal Swan Song. "This is a cool concept and it will make a terrific story."

Right now, there seems to be a steampunk movement that is getting far more attention than the artificial mundane movement. There hasn't been a major new subgenre since Cyberpunk, but I don't think that's a big deal. There is still plenty of room to play.

Think of it like this stock market analogy. We get long periods of prosperity called a secular bull market, followed by long periods of stagnation called a secular bear market. For the past century, the start of a secular bull market coincides with the introduction of a major technology. Even those in the business of selling the new technology don't always realize what they have.

There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.
- Ken Olson, President, Chairman and Founder of Digital Equipment Co. 1977

Literary tastes go through cycles where one genre becomes enormously popular and others limp along in near obscurity. The westerns are currently in near obscurity. The Westerns section at the last book store I visited consisted of two shelves of a four shelf book rack. Almost everything on the shelf was written by Louis L'amour. Thankfully, SF isn't nearly that bad off.

To introduce a non-sequitur with no segue, something else comes to mind that I think truly is the future of SF. In some ways, it is a Dangerous Vision in its own right. In the past decade or so, we have seen a lot of movement away from the straight white male protagonist.

Tobias Buckell writes with a Carribean flavor that enriches his novels with that something different. He is also quite outspoken about inclusion, perhaps because his appearance keeps his heritage hidden. It's not my place to go into a detailed discussion of Buckell's personal history, but he has and does post openly about it. You can get details here.

This leads neatly into the second question I posed, that is, how to attract new readers to SF. Buckell and other like-minded writers see inclusion as a way of attracting an audience who historically never reads SF or fantasy. The thought being "Nobody like me is represented in this story, so why should I read it?"

In my own work, I tend to mix the characters up a bit, too. My most successful story to date, The Adjoa Gambit, has almost no male characters at all. Adjoa is a little black girl from Togo. More recently, the POV character in Thrice Around the Earth and then Home, James, is female and Asian. Of course, the POV character in Neanderthal Swan Song isn't even human , but Greenlandic and Japanese characters also play major roles in the story along-side the white Americans.

This, I think, is the beginning of a major phase in the evolution of both the SF and fantasy genres. It may not be as loud and brash as the new wave (where SF gained literary respect), nor as fundamental as John W. Campbell insisting upon scientific rigidity for hard SF, but inclusion is really a more important step. It invites readers from a new demographic to join the fun, and that makes for a healthy market for my product.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fantasy - Magic is for Free, Right?

In yesterday's post, we got into some discussion on the differences between science fiction and fantasy. Fantasy is "easier to write" because you don't have to worry about the laws of physics, right?

Wrong.

First of all, fiction is fiction, and it's never easy. It takes a lot of work. You have to concern yourself with character, plot, setting, events, milieu, and ideas, just for starters. Weaving all that together in whatever ratio works best for your story takes some skill.

Aside form that, the last sentence in the first paragraph is just plain wrong. The way magic works in the fantasy universe takes the place of our physics, chemistry, and even perhaps biology. Unlimited magic powers with no cost doesn't hold the reader's attention. Okay, it works in Spongebob, but that's slapstick, not fantasy.

In the benchmark work, Lord of the Rings, the magic wielding characters had limitations. The abilities seemed enormous compared to, say, the Hobbits, but they were limited nevertheless. Gandalf the Gray was unable to best Sauramon theWhite until he, too, became a white wizard.

Even that most evil of characters, Sauron, had limitations. He used much of his power in casting the rings of power, the One Ring holding the vast majority of it. Sauron left himself without even enough to take physical form.

The use of the One Ring itself came at a cost. On the surface, it turns the wearer invisible. Dig deeper and we learn it extends the wearer's life, yet takes that wearer on a path to becoming an agent of evil, wasting away for all eternity. It cannot be destroyed except in the fires of the volcano Mount Doom, where it was forged.

We never learn what Sauron could do with the ring. It must have held tremendous power that Sauron could summon, but we never find out what. All we know is that everyone wants it and it must be kept from Sauron at all costs.

Limitations on what a magic using character can do is not a restriction for the author, it is an opportunity. Readers love to see the underdog come out on top despite all the handicaps. Or, the magic user must pay some kind of price for the use of magic. Orson Scott Card covers this in great detail on his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.

There is another camp in Fantasy. I've discussed this in the past in this post from May 1, 2008.
I call it pseudo fantasy. One up-and-coming fantasy writer who based a series of novels on pseudo fantasy is James Maxey. In pseudo fantasy, the "magic" is really technology, generally lost technology rediscovered by a small group of self-interested people (or dragons in Maxey's case). It looks like magic, it smells like magic, and it automatically comes with the same restrictions and costs as our own sufficiently advanced technology.

Friday, July 18, 2008

More About the Future of SF

Yesterday, we talked about where SF is going. I'd like to continue that discussion today. But first, I want to show you a picture.



This is a very long exposure photo of the moon taken with my digital camera. The exposure is on the order of two to three seconds. I love how it lights up the clouds, but I don't like the small reflection from the inner surfaces of the lens.

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Now, onward to the Future of SF.

In yesterday's comments, I posed a question to ^jr^ . Why is fantasy sell better than science fiction?

Let's consider some points.

1) Fantasy's popularity largely stems from The Lord of the Rings.
2) J.K. Rowling, regardless of what you may think of her work, is responsible for bringing a lot of new readers to the genre.
3) Fantasy has evolved and matured more recently than SF, stretching its own boundaries into cross-genre diversions.
4) SF has dominated the silver screen since 1977. (What happened in 1977?)
5) Fantasy gained popularity in written fiction about the same time SF gained popularity in the movies.
6) Despite the success of the Lord of the Rings movies, SF still dominates the movies.
7) Fantasy is creeping into television (Heroes, for example).
8) Harry Potter kids will grow up. Where will their reading tastes take them? I read every Hardy Boys book as a child, but I don't read mysteries as an adult. Still, I read whenever I can.

With that, I open the comments area to opinions of why fantasy outsells science fiction in print.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Where is SF Going?

A couple of blog posts ago, I wrote about Harlan Ellison's challenge to the SF community at the 2006 Nebula Award Banquet. I countered by pointing out that what was dangerous in 1968 is commonplace in 2008. That said, where do I think the genre is going?

The New Wave movement in Ellison's heyday was a transition stage where writers were challenging the boundaries of the genre. Today, with the boundaries over the horizon in all directions, where do we focus our energy?

One small but vocal group clambers for what is known as "mundane" SF. This is an artificial subgenre, defined by restricting the speculative element to what is possible today. But mundane SF is nothing new, only the name is new. This is not our future.

As I mentioned the other day, pretty much all the boundaries have been pushed out so far there isn't much chance of pushing them anymore. I don't think so, but horizon-pushing is going to become more and more rare. If not mundane or dangerous, what then?

Newer writers are migrating to the past, but taking the lessons of the new wave along with them. The focus has returned to good story. Writers like Tobias Buckell and John Scalzi are returning to the spirit of Robert Heinlein, writing good stories with sympathetic characters.

That's what it's all about--writing to entertain. There's still room for dangerous visions when we can find them., as long as we keep the reader satisfied.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Freshman vs Sophomore

When I work on long fiction, I use a spreadsheet I got from David Gerrold to track my progress. last year I fixed a few problems with a couple of the algorithms, then David modified it some more. It works great now.

Because I track my progress, I can compare the rewrite of my first novel with my terrible progress on my second.

This first graph shows my activity on Neanderthal Swan Song. The blue line shows my daily word count. You can see the gap at the end of January when my wife's mother broke her hip. You can see a couple of extremely productive days. The yellow line is the % completed. This is 115,000 words in about 5 months.

Now, let's look at Rigel Kentaurus. You can see monday nights, my most productive night of the week. I sit at my daughters' piano lessons for two hours and write. The big gap between January and March was when I was working a lot of hours and under a great deal of stress. There is a surge in March, but it petered out. Hopefully, the most recent peak will continue to expand. So far, this is just under 17,000 words in 7 months. I did add about 250 words this evening.




Karoshi

There was an article in this morning's paper that dealt with karoshi, a Japanese term that essentially means "worked to death." This isn't limited to Japanese companies by any means. I've experienced high blood pressure, anxiety, and lost sleep due to long hours and work-related stress. I put in 60 hours last week and there are others who put in considerably more.

Our customer, who is a vendor to a Japanese company, yesterday said that their customer expects work 24/7 to correct a problem. Of course, if a Japanese company is willing to sacrifice their own employees, they are willing to sacrifice somebody else's, too. Launch dates and profits trump all.

It makes one think. Which is better? Living today with the specter of karoshi hanging over your head, or 1500 years ago with conscription and death by the sword in one of the weekly wars against the Romans?

Dead is dead, and no corporation is worth it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dangerous Visions

One thing I remember from attending the 2006 Nebula Award banquet was a comment from Harlan Ellison, who was the Grand Master for that year. The comment was in the form of a challenge to writers not to play it safe.

For those not in the know, Harlan Ellison edited the two "Dangerous Visions" anthologies. These stories were on the leading edge of the new wave. To read them today, though, is largely to say "so what?" This isn't a knock against Ellison or the dozens of writers with stories in the two anthologies. Instead, it's something of a statement on society.

Things that were dangerous during the new wave, the avant garde, the things people thought but didn't say--well, they're commonplace today.

What is dangerous today?

Openly gay characters? It's been done.
Drug-addicted protagonists? It's been done.
Alcoholic protagonists? It's been done.
Political dystopia after the (liberals/conservatives) rule the world? It's been done.
Pregnant man? It's been done.

What's left? There aren't any taboos left, at least not in American society. I suppose the frontier is the deep dark depths of the writer's mind. That, and unabashed comment on the situation of the day.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Best of Issue

"Thrice Around the Earth and then Home, James" has been named best story of issue for the April 2008 issue of The Martian Wave by reader vote. See a list of my fellow winners here.

Back to the Slog

That's right, back to the slog. It's monday again, and work felt like a monday. On the brighter side, I managed to pump over 1000 words into my novel-in-progress, Rigel Kentaurus. It still feels like a slog (both the job and the novel but I'm referring to the novel here). I have what I think is an interesting situation, but the energy just isn't really there.

I suppose when I go back and read it, it might not be as bad as I fear. Unfortunately, my spreadsheet forcasts I'll finish in 2010 at my current pace.

I did come up with a very cool idea for a future novel, an idea that I don't think has been done as fiction yet. Needless to say, I'm not going to dangle the idea here for the taking.

I'm starting to get the itch to work on another novel in the idea pile, also. That said, I really want to finish Rigel Kentaurus first. So many stories, so little time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rains

We had a nice soaking this afternoon, dumping a good inch of rain on our yard. This followed after another downpour thursday evening.

As it turns out, I was grilling, trying to finish the hamburgers before the wind picked up. I didn't make it. Even before I flipped the first set of burgers, it started blowing., so I wheeled the grill and my chair under the balcony. I flipped the burgers and sat down to read my book (Harlan Ellison's The Glass Teat). Not ten minutes later, fat raindrops started falling. Soon, the serious rain began.

I usually consider a rain to be a good rain, meaning worthwhile, enough to help my lawn, if water starts to collect in certain low spots in the yard. Before the last burgers went on, we had a small lake. The largest collection of water happens to be underneath the spot the recently yanked
desert spoon (see photo in a previous post) is waiting for disassemby.
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Today was a good example of how a writers group can help a story. I went in this evening with what I thought was a solid story. They found a lot of problems that need to be fixed. I'm not talking about major structural changes here, just the details where the devil lives. The suggestions were all good and will make this a much better story after I make my changes. Note I said my changes. Where there are problems pointed out, I am the one responsible for making any changes. I also get to decide when to just stet (leave alone).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Time for Writing

I spent the better part of the day today on conference calls for work with our customer in Detroit. This after working a 60 hour week. I got out of the calls already exhausted for the day. Later, I was looking at Eric James Stone's blog. On the blog, he has a video of an interview he gave for iSCIFI TV. While in and of itself an interesting discussion with Eric, (who I know from Codex and met at the 2006 Nebula awards), an off the cuff comment from the interviewer caught my attention.

The interviewer commented that writing takes a lot of time. That got me thinking. When I'm rolling, I can pump out 1000 words an hour or better. David Gerrold told me that he occasionally hits that pace and called it exhausting. For me, I have to be totally focused on the story and be distraction-free. But that's digressing. The topic here was on writing time.

Now, those of you who know me also know that between work, the kids, and my wife's mother, I have a hectic life. Some of my fellow writers are amazed that I can write at all. Truth is, sometimes I can't. When I'm working long hours, it's very difficult for me to get started. Once I get started I can get into it, but often I just start getting heavy eyelids. I pretty much always write with a tired mind and a tired body. I'm surprised I've managed to achieve any kind of success at all with the baggage I have to carry. I makes me wonder what I could produce if I could regularly write while fresh and rested, with significant time to read for pleasure and research.

Of course, excuses don't matter. The readers don't care, nor do editors. I'm still in competition with every other writer submitting to the same markets. The work has to stand on its own, and that's why I'm surprised I've sold as many stories as I have. They are written under less than ideal conditions.

But then, everyone has the proverbial cross to bear. I don't know how my situation compares with other writers. Surely there must be others writing in sub-prime conditions. Speaking of, I should get to that novel in progress.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Game

Had an interesting commute this morning. I pulled into the left lane well in front of this black BMW. I didn't cut him off. He didn't even have to slow down. but apparently this action emasculated the guy. That's fine. Some people have to compensate.

I expected this guy to zip ahead and disappear into the distance. I didn't think anything of it, but I watched with humor as the guy revealed himself to be particularly dumb. He pulled into the middle lane and did zip ahead, but in his place, I wouldn't have done it. He had nowhere to go, so this guy ended up boxing himself in. In no time, I was well ahead of him again.

This went on for maybe ten miles. He kept boxing himself in and fell way behind. he showed up again later, still behind and now totally frustrated that he couldn't get ahead of me. Now, it became a game. He moved over and I eeked out an extra 2 MPH to fill the gap. He fell behind me again.

Now, there is a lot of construction on loop 101, and when the construction ends, an extra lane opens up on the left. I fully expected this guy to dart left and finally pull ahead, but again, he showed his lack of skill. Instead, he got impatient and moved all the way to the right lane.

I thought he was exiting, so I moved left and pulled ahead. He ended up directly behind me again. When I get to the next highway interchange, I always move to the right to get into position to exit two miles farther south. He had his chance, and finally got ahead.

But, it turns out that he wanted to get off the freeway at the same exit I did. I was already on the right and actually got into the exit lane as early as I could. This black BMW waited until he got to the gore point, then cut across two lanes of traffic and through the gore point to get ahead of me.

Congratulations, you win. Then he proceeded to turn right on red at the corner, in blatant violation of the "No Right on Red" sign.

In a drag race, that black BMW blows my pickup away. In traffic, perhaps the driver makes a little difference? I didn't really even try to stay in front of this guy. He beat himself. Usually just staying in the left lane is fastest. I don't move right to pass unless I can see that I can get back to the left after I pass the moving roadblock. It's faster, and safer too.

But, the black BMW got to the exit first. I guess he showed me, huh? Well, I don't need to compensate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rigid Attitudes (Don't be a Lemming)

A fellow writer who I shall not name is in danger of excommunication from a certain institution of faith. This isn't really about this writer so much as the concept of living your ideals without forcing them down other people's throats. I don't have to point to the many examples from history.

The sad thing is that even today in the late 2000s, there are pockets of society where nothing has changed. You don't have to look to Colorado City, Arizona to find it, either. Partisan politics is full of it. The stratification in high school is full of it. Even organized religion participates.

What I'm talking about here is policing thought. The news media is biased to the left if you ask a conservative. It's biased to the right if you ask a liberal. While over the past ten years I've discovered myself to be more of a libertarian than anything else. (An interesting aside--a lot of SF writers consider themselves to be libertarian.) From a perspective outside the two mainstreams, you can watch the hypocrisy from both sides. Why don't truly good people run for high public offices? Why would anybody but a power-mad egotist want to expose themselves to the abuse? Jesse Ventura, no matter what you think of his positions, was a good example of an honest person who tried politics. He finally quit because he didn't like being in the mud.

If you are older than 15, you've been in high school. Say no more.

Organized religion is the kicker. Here, we are supposed to be tolerant and accepting, yet we have power zealots like Warren Jeffs. (And I'll let you imagine other names from other faiths.)
When I decided to marry a Catholic, I was nervous because I expected that I would be forced into conversion. Yet, that didn't happen. I have attended Catholic mass as an outsider for the better part of fifteen years, and I have yet to see any overt intolerance. Yet, we all know what a minority of priests did and what the Catholic Church did about it.

In one homily, a priest talked about it. He said he woke up every morning wondering if he would find his face in the paper. At the time, I thought it was the honest fears of a priest terrified of a witch hunt. A few weeks later, his face was in the newspaper. Turns out, this creep had a reason to wake up wondering if his face would be in the paper. He was one of the rapists.

The hypocrisy extends into the corporate world, where after a one-time colleague passed away, the boss issued a statement claiming the guy had good work-life balance. Yet I know the guy worked very long hours, and saying "good live-work balance" is a hell of a lot better than saying "we worked him to death." I'm convinced the stress killed him.

If you don't pay attention to what's going on around you, you are just a member of the herd, no better than cattle. Now, I'm not claiming that being a member of a congregation or being a high school student, or even a card-carrying party member makes you part of the herd. That only happens when you follow blindly. Remember what happened in Guyana.

What we're talking about here is tiny empires. Big fish in a tiny goldfish bowl. Sort of like the foreign movie stars who come to Hollywood with attitude. They find out that in Hollywood, nobody knows who they are and nobody really cares that they starred in Maalalaa Mo Kaya. They go back home where they are big fish in their little fishbowl.

The danger is in saying "well, my church / school / employer isn't like that. That may very well be true. I've been in all those institutions and they all look good at face value. But then, so did Father Molester, absolver of sins, blesser of the poor and wretches, flondler of little boys.

Sometimes, standing up for yourself and what you believe is more important than whether it's accepted by the masses, by the little empire, or even by your family. Go ahead, follow the path to Christ or Allah or Buddha, or the woodland druids. Just do it of your own free will, not because of pressure from outside, trying to scare you by stories of eternal damnation in the deepest, darkest corner of hell because you wrote fiction that included something unholy and God hates fiction about anything other than what is published in Guideposts.

How many loyal Catholics blindly followed Father Molester only to learn the man ascended into The Church as a way for easy access to children to support his despicable behavior. Nineteeth Century thinking let this wretched excuse for a man continue preaching for decades. It's the same kind of unenlightened tunnel-vision that my fellow writer now faces. A Christian church actually trying to drive a husband and wife apart. Think about that.

Oh Brother

No, I haven't forgotten the blog. I've been working some long hours and haven't had the energy to post for a couple of days. I'll try to do better.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Comments on my Recent Story

Gray Rinehart, who is a TOC*-mate with me in the current issue of Tales of the Talisman, has some interesting comments on my story, The Great Basilisk Race, posted on his blog.

* TOC = Table of Contents

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sun Dog

I came home late from work again today, pulling into our street around 7:00pm. I looked up and there was a bright sun dog. It faded quite a bit by the time I got into the house and grabbed the camera. Here's the best I could do. You'll see a faint circle where the sun dog was located on the 22-degree halo.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Unscheduled Yard Work

Yesterday, a couple of guys rang the bell looking to do yard work. Well, I do my own yard work, so I tried to shoo them away. My wife, however, decided she wanted to eliminate the two big desert spoons in the front yard. I don't blame her. She injured herself working on one, an injury that ultimately led to elbow surgery.

Through broken English, they offered to yank them out for $140. I pretty much scoffed at that price and started walking back into the house. They chased me, "how much you offer, how much you offer?" We finally offered them $50 and they got to work.

Now, if you've ever dealt with desert spoons, you know that removing two big ones with temperatures around 100-degrees two hours before noon, you know that $50 is a bargain. Look at the little barbs on the edges of the leaves. They don't mix well with human flesh.



These guys used their pickup to yank the first one out, then I dragged it onto the back yard. That was the small one.

In this photo, you can see the small desert spoon as the light green spiky plant in the lower right. You can also see how crowded the small patch of landscaping has become.



The second desert spoon is the biggest one I've ever seen. In that respect, it was a shame to pull it out. On the other hand, trimming the thing was a nightmare. They broke two ropes trying to pull it out--one theirs, the other mine. They finally removed it with a combination of rope, pickup truck, and pickax.

The big one, I only managed to get as far as the back gate, then I left it. It's somewhat hidden from view by one of my sages.

Here's the little one laying on its side in the back yard.


I had to cut the big one up, at least a little, to allow people to walk past it. This thing is a monster. The glove is there to give you some idea of the size of the thing. This is after I spent a good hour cutting leaves away.


Even when I get the leaves cut away, I have no idea how I'm going to get rid of the things. The guys that pulled them out did not have a trailer. I hope to get them cut down to size by bulk collection week. This one is very heavy and not exactly equipped with convenient handles for carrying. Here is the root end of the plant, with my foot for size reference.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

5th of July

In order to spend some time with my kids, I took them to a local indoor mini-golf course. (I know, I know, only in Phoenix...)

Here they are standing in front of the big giraffe.



This picture gives you an idea of where Reanna had to hit the ball. Though the giraffe wickets.



Here, Reanna and Audrey decided to use up the three empty holes between us and the group behind us by wasting 50c on a boat ride.



Russell rode on this purple hippo, but he didn't feed it.


I was there, too. Here, I retrieve my ball from the hand-eating hole. I have not yet taught my kids how to properly compose a photograph, thus the tops of Russell and I are sliced off.


After that, they decided to throw some more quarters at the mechanical carnival booths. Ring the bell and win a prize. In fact, Reanna won this particular game and the game kept the prize. she was uspet that she didn't get her tiny plastic giraffe.


All in all, we had fun. That's the important part.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Monsoon

Here's the view to the northeast from my driveway this afternoon.



This is typical of what you'll see during our monsoon season. The real question is whether the clouds will fall down the hill into the valley to bless us with rain, or if they will just hang there all evening.

Here's a zoomed photo of the same cloud formation.


Sometimes, we'll have these same clouds, but the monsoon storms will come in from the south. It's really not something you can predict. We've all heard the joke about the weather. If you don't like it, wait ten minutes. That's not far from the truth during the afternoons in monsoon season. From that storm last night, we got about 1/16" of rain. Not much, but it came down in a fairly short time.

We have a chance of rain again tonight. I took the above photos a good 30 minutes ago. I can see clouds out the back door now, so I think the chances are pretty good for rain.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Order is In

The monsoon I ordered two days ago arrived this evening. A nice storm is rolling through right now, complete with the kind of lightning we get out here. It's not like the thunderstorms in the midwest, where you get a clap of thunder every 30 seconds or so. These are desert storms. We get a clap of thunder every five to ten seconds. The lightning is lower in the sky and not as powerful as the midwestern bolts. The frequency more than makes up for it.

The thunder is rattling the windows and lightning flashes outside. The rain was coming down pretty good for a while. Often, these monsoon storms come in from the southeast. This one is coming from the northeast and is moving very quickly through the valley.

And just as quickly, it's over. In the morning, we'll see any damage. Downed tree branches. Leaves in the pool. Lawn chairs scattered. But we need the rain and we'll take it. It also cools the air significantly, which is a pleasant bonus.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

111

That was our high temperature today. Not that I would know staying indoors all day unsuccessfully trying to dodge all the crap that's raining at work. When it rains, it pours. Anyway, the high tomorrow is expected to be 114 (channel 10).

I don't know what we were thinking when we moved here. Except, every winter we deal with the mild temperatures while everybody else is shoveling snow. So, eh. Not so bad in the bigger picture.

No big news on the writing front, though I did get a good quote from Michelle M. Welch for my novelette "Winter." That's the major story in the volume that should come out next February.

Rick Novy gives us a compelling, disturbing vision of a ravaged Earth as seen through an alien's eyes. _Winter_ is a story of suspense and a story of hope, the inevitability of change and the drive to survive.

Now, doesn't that make you just want to run out and get the book? Alas, you must wait, just as I must.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Monsoon Cometh (Soon, I hope)

Come July in the valley of the sun, we eventually get our monsoon. Now, people unfamiliar with the southwest don't realize that in the summer, we get the same kind of storms you get in the south pacific, only with a bit of desert twist.

The moisture is imported from Mexico by a change in the winds. Dictionary.com defines monsoon as "any wind that changes directions with the seasons." That's a far cry from what most people think of--typhoons.

The intense heat during the day interacts with the moisture and causes a microburst.




The wind blows straight down and forms a haboob, commonly known as a dust storm.



The dust blows across the valley as a wall thousands of feet high. The below picture is from the Arizona Department of Transportation. Imagine being in rush hour traffic when one of these blows through. Haboob is an Arabic word (and guess where a lot of haboobs form).



The rains generally follow the dust and wind. That monsoon rain is often fast and furious, but short-lived. It's also very spotty. We can be bone dry at the house, but ten miles away there will be flooding.

Phoenix gets a large percentage of our annual 8" of rain from these monsoons. Lightning can put on an incredible show.



During the 2006 Nebula Awards, we were treated to a pretty good lightning show.

The best part about the monsoon season is the temperature drops to around 105. It makes a difference, even though the humidity goes up. I'll take that over 115. With a storm coming through, the temperature can drop considerably more.

Unfortunately we're still looking at 113 degrees tomorrow. The monsoon season has officially been underway since June 15th under the new rules. The old rules were better. We had to post 3 consecutive days of due point at 55 degrees or higher. June 15 is bloody arid and hot. You'll be lucky to see a cloud, and the only moisture falling from the sky comes from birds.