Saturday, December 29, 2007
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
This Year's Best Christmas Story
To advance this tale it must be understood by all that I have
been, off and on and for much of my life, a bookseller. And I am as prone as most others of that breed to fanciful notions and antique behavior.
So you will appreciate that when I dressed up that Christmas Eve, it was not at all unusual and it was in fact my habit and practice to do so for the weeks preceding each Christmas day. Clad in tailcoat, weskit and tophat,
with ascot and stickpin, every bit the Victorian gentleman, I would greet
customers into the store. I was always happy to bring a smile to holiday-stressed faces, and over the years the customers came to expect and appreciate my costuming. For those who inquired as to why I was garbed so I would reply: "Why, to reflect the spirit of the season, of course!" And to those who inquired as to my identity, I would say that I was representing the spirit of Charles Dickens.
So it was that when Patricia and I were headed home on that Christmas Eve, after playing elf and delivering presents, I was still garbed as
Dickens.There is a wonderful tradition in parts of New Mexico: on some important holidays, especially Halloween (Day of the Dead) and Christmas Eve, people decorate the graves of their loved ones. The graves are tidied and fresh flowers are set out, as are offerings of food and drink. On Christmas Eve small gifts, cards, and trees are left as well. And luminaria are set out around the graves, candle glow lending soft light to the cemetery. (On one night, the thought of which still brings tears to my eyes, we saw a mass of luminaria on a distant grave; on closer approach, we found that they spelled out "Love You".)
It is our custom to visit the cemetery late on Christmas Eve, to walk among the graves and witness the care given in honor of departed loved ones. On this particular Christmas Eve, we drove slowly through the parking lot
of the cemetery to get an overall view, then headed up a short service road
(amusingly and appropriately signed as a "Dead End") that heads up a slight rise beside the cemetery, to get another view.
To our surprise, there was a medium-sized Christmas tree lying in the middle of the dirt road. While we have often seen Christmas trees dumped along roads, it is usually after the event! It seemed a shame that this perfectly presentable tree should miss Christmas, so I got out and put it atop the car. Then we drove back down and parked in front of the cemetery gate.
In the Bernalillo cemetery, the area to the south is more recent and better-kept. Thus, on Christmas Eve it is the best lit, as it has the most luminaria about. By contrast, the older area to the northeast is dark and relatively gloomy, and a bit sad since the lack of light means that it has not had visitors.
While Patricia moved slowly through the southern part of the cemetery, reading the cards and messages and paying her respects, I took the
tree down from atop the car and headed for the darker area of the cemetery, intent on finding the grave most in need of a Christmas tree. I wandered about until I found just the one: deep in the unlit portion of the cemetery, not forlorn (someone had mounded the earth on the grave sometime in the last few years) but unmarked and obviously not recently visited.
So I set about giving the unknown resident of the grave a tree. I had nothing with which to dig a hole for the tree to stand in, but close
at hand there was a 2-foot wooden cross, the bottom of which had broken off at an angle -- just the thing for scraping a hole into the mounded earth of the grave. Holding the tree upright with my left hand, I crouched down and started making a hole with the cross.
Just then a minivan pulled in through the gate of the cemetery and began driving along the loop road that runs through the middle of it, very
likely a family coming to see the luminaria. As they reached the end of the road and were about to make the turn to loop back out, their headlight beams were about to fall across me.
Just before the light reached me, I stood up straight and still.
The minivan stopped. I can only imagine what they thought when
they saw me: a very tall bearded man, alone at midnight in the dark
section of the cemetery, clad in Victorian attire and tophat, eyeglasses reflecting blankly in the light from their headlights, a Christmas tree in one hand -- and a broken cross in the other. For a long timeless moment the van sat there; I stood perfectly still. Then the minivan left. Quickly.
So, my friends, if you are ever regaled with the tale of The Tree Specter of Christmas Eve (for, as we all know, tales grow in the telling),
you will now know its source.
Good Holidays to all, and a Marvelous New Year coming!
Monday, December 24, 2007
Happy Sir Isaac Newton's Birthday!
I'm not doing any of that this year, I must admit, but I expect I'll be having a good time anyway.
Whatever your traditions may be, Kathy and I wish you a joyous holiday season.
" Who, by vigor of mind almost divine, the motions and
figures of the planets, the paths of comets, and the tides of the seas first
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Three Little Words
Right up till this week, actually, when I encountered the part of the book described in my outline with three words. The words being: Their relationship deepens.
Three words that imply a great deal, but that--- like the rhetoric of our political candidates--- don't actually say much when you look at them closely.
Oh dear. I've hit the Relationship part of the book.
Some types of writing are easy for me. Action scenes are easier than anything. I once startled the members of a panel at an SF con by extemporizing out loud something like three long, detailed paragraphs of pulp-action fiction. (Biplanes vs. zeppelins, I believe.)
If all else fails, I could survive as a Grade B action writer. Grade B, I think, because my heart really wouldn't be in it. In order to be a Grade A action writer, you really have to care how the Elizabethans fletched their arrows, or whatever, and I just don't.
To be a super action writer, you have to really get off on how the Heckler & Koch MP5A5, with the collapsing stock, is different from the MP5K-PDW with the folding stock, and there's always a moment in the story when this stuff matters. And of course the readers love this kind of thing.
And if you're doing this within the realm of SF, you've got the Colt Blazer Laser Rifle Ch54z, which has the supreme edge over the enemy's Tau Ceti Industries Personal Maser 85-11 (dropship capable with folding stock). Which is to say, this magic tech (which I made up) is superior to this other magic tech (which I made up). I can't get excited by this, generally speaking.
Plus, I grew up playing wargames from Avalon Hill and SPI and many other publishers, many of them forgotten now. And I was darned good at most of them. It's no problem translating that skill into fiction, where there are no inconvenient die rolls to vex your hero--- unless, of course, you want him vexed, in which case you can roll A ELIM all you want.
So while there are quite a few action scenes in my books, they aren't there for their own sake. I use action scenes to illuminate character, and generally I find an action scene in which the character doesn't change to be unnecessary and in some way dull. At the very least they should have a revelation that doesn't have to do with tactics, but with their own nature, or someone else's.
I enjoy writing sex scenes. As I mentioned a few posts back, mine tend not to be very explicit, they tend to be about emotional states, which reflect on character, which is what I'm really interested in.
I'm also good at writing dialogues. Cuz--- guess what?--- dialogues illuminate character. And character is what my fiction is all about.
Which brings us back to Relationship scenes, which I find very challenging. You have to spend your hours sweating over nuance and emotional states and not just how the characters communicate all this to each other--- or don't--- but how to communicate it all to the reader, which real people in relationships don't worry about much.
Their relationship deepens.
Well, what sort of relationship is it? I might have had an idea, months ago when I wrote the outline, but I don't remember now--- and even if I did, I've been living with these characters for months, and they've changed, and any idea I had back then might well be obsolete.
Do they go to bed together? I don't know. I know they need to get close enough to sort of start reading one another's minds. Maybe sex would help, but maybe it would just add another element that isn't actually required by the plot. Sex scenes not required by the plot are gratuitous--- not that a little gratuitous fun isn't enjoyable in its own way--- but. But.
Their relationship deepens.
Now I'm beginning to wonder if the relation actually needs to deepen. I mean, we've got to have something in here between Point A and Point C, because time needs to pass in some meaningful way so that the next Plot Bomb can explode where it needs to. Can't I just throw in a swordfight?
Well no, this isn't the sort of book that has swordfights. It has Relationships. And there's nothing that can happen in this part of the book except a Relationship.
Maybe I'll just have them talk to each other a lot. Because, you know, I do dialogue really well.
Or maybe I'll just start with the talking and see where it goes. Because, hey, that's what happens in real relationship, right?
Their relationship deepens.
I mean, what the hell. What is this "deepening?" Why does deepening need to happen here?
Surely there must be a workaround.
Maybe I'll just have them talk. Yeah, that's it. Start with something simple, like, "You seeing anybody?"
Their relationship deepens.
What do they notice about each other? I mean, that's important. If she starts paying attention to his hands and fingers and the shape of his ears, that means a lot.
Maybe I'll get them drunk. That way they can blurt out character-revealing information they might not otherwise want to talk about.
Their relationship deepens.
Crap. Whose idea was this stupid book, anyway?
Their relationship deepens.
I think I'll watch TV.
From Storm to Storm
I seem to have a new, albeit temporary, writing job. A very intense one. One that I still can't actually talk about.
This is in addition to writing the new novel, which will continue at what I trust will be its former pace. The other job will be using a completely different set of writing muscles, so I'm hoping they won't interfere with one another.
This means, alas, that I won't be chatting here quite so much. This may be the Winter of Silence.
We shall see.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
So--- Who Are You Guys?
I doubt I'll be able to spend much time amusing myself (or you) online while I'm gone, so why don't you all pull up a chair and introduce yourselves?
I know some of you personally, and some I know only through this forum. Tell us a bit about yourself. If you wish to remain anonymous then do so by all means; but staying within the limits of your own comfort zone, tell us all about you.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Air Force Cyberspace Command--- ooh-rah!
In 2008, the US military will start to fund a new Air Force "Cyberspace" Command (which will essentially attempt to create an ability for the US to wage warfare within civilian information infrastructures). As is typical with most post-conventional military efforts, the new command will sport:
A huge budget (in tens of billions of dollars) and a massive uniformed/private bureaucracy (tens of thousands of "cyberwarriors"). Standard DoD scaling rules apply -- as in a gaggle of personnel drawn from multiple organizations and companies with a patina of training in "cyberwarfare."
The Air Force (apparently strangers to the term "blowback") is spending tens of billions of dollars to turn U.S. servicemen into international cybercriminals!
This new Command's ability to wage cyberwarfare will be judged based on its success in three areas:
Real-world experience and rapid (open source) innovation. Most, if not all, of this experience and innovation in cyberwarfare is gained through criminal activity. Innovation is a product of rapid cycles of competition with software vendors and computer security companies.
Massive self-replication. Think in term of small teams (the smarter, the better) designing software that seizes control of tens of millions of computer systems through various forms of infection.
Deniability. Nearly all of the successful operations conducted in offensive cyberwarfare will require deniability. Post-attack forensics must not point back to a government since these wars/battles will be fought in peacetime . . .
Given these requirements, this new Command will likely fail (and badly). To provide contrast, the Russian Business Network (the RBN is a computer criminal syndicate responsible for an estimated 60% of online criminal activity), gets top marks in all of these areas.
I mean, like, wow.
D'you think this stands a snowball's chance in hell?
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Taos Toolbox 2008
Here are some photos of last year's workshop to provide inspiration.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Rainy Days and Mondays
Okay, so Monday sucked. It rained all day, which is good for our environment and for the ski lodges, but meant I lived all day in the gloom.
Then I got bad news--- not about me, but about a friend. Which put a huge damper on the day.
And then I fired up the computer and started work and discovered that everything I'd written on Sunday--- yeah, we writers work weekends--- it all had just vanished. And because I was pressed for time I hadn't backed it up! I wasted an hour trying to find a .temp file somewhere that might contain some of the writing, but failed. Ran System Mechanic, and discovered that the Windows Directory had 43 errors.
I'd like to believe that Windows is at fault rather than me. I'm having a hard time believing that I wrote for a couple hours without once backing up the file, and then when I closed out for the day, clicked the "do not save changes" button. I'm more professional than that, I'd like to think. (Though some days I'm not.)
It could have been worse. Once I lost a whole novel to a computer glitch, both the original and the two backups. But that was in the days of DOS 1.1.
Catapultam Habeo . . .
Sunday, December 09, 2007
O Lucky Man
Really, really, really good news.
Except I can't tell you all what the news is, because things aren't precisely nailed down yet.
But it's good news.
Reely reely good goody good reely good goody reely good news.
If I had time, I'd open a bottle of champagne, but I don't.
You put the boys in tight pants, and the girls in form-fitting spaghetti-strap tops. Then you back them up with a trap set, bass, and guitar, and send them out to do an eclectic, family-friendly, essentially soul-free act complete with choreography. You put them on the road 250 days per year, and when they burn out or go back to school or get a career playing Paganini, you just replace them with some other conservatory students who needs jobs. And you watch the money roll in.
This is Barrage, who we saw the other night in Socorro, the Athens of the Southwest. At first I thought the entertainment a little too Walt Disney World for my tastes, but I have to admit that in the end the kids won me over. Firstly, they really are superb musicians. It was great fun watching them trade licks and leads. The arrangements are imaginative. ("We Three Kings" rescored to 5/4 time and played as a jazz piece counts as imaginative, at least as popular entertainment goes.) The musicians were genuinely enthusiastic, and enthusiasm is catching.
And I wasn't precisely truthful when I described the music as soul-free. In part that's a function of the fact they play really, really fast. Soul can only enter on the slower numbers, and there were precious few of those.
Plus Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing" is pretty amazing rescored for violins. And they showed good taste by including a violinized version of the Jess Stacy piano solo recorded at Carnegie Hall by the Goodman band. And we got to hear "Bolero," with the lead by the sultry Naseem Khozein. As it's That Time of the Year, we heard a lot of Christmas music, but the scores were imaginatively different, so even I, whose Christmas hero is the Grinch, enjoyed them.
As manufactured bands go, Barrage is top of the class.
But I wish they were my idea, because then, y'know, I could cash all those checks.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Throw Away the Tinfoil!
So watch out for those aliens! Especially if you're from Virginia.
Imaginary Dialogues (1)
In addition to the physical aspects of kenpo, our students are required to acquaint themselves with martial arts classics such as Sun Tzu's Art of War and Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi.
Thinking about which generated the following imaginary dialogue.
SUN TZU: What you fail to understand is that it isn't all about the killing.
MUSASHI: It damn well is about the killing!