Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Unexpected Review

Here’s me being reviewed in the second issue of The CommonOddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow (click the ‘Download pdf’ tab).

Having more experience with smoke being blown up certain places than with having my work independently reviewed, I tell myself honesty is best.  And I mean it, in a puckered and clenched sort of manner.  Any publicity is good publicity?  Do we really want people to be honest?  Big question that.  It’s a backhanded compliment to be told, “Well, at least he’s honest.”
I also have wide-ranging experiences of people saying they’re going to do something and then they don’t.  Students, contractors, HR interviewers at fortune 500 firms, and the guy in the mirror are all guilty of this.
This time I was pleasantly surprised on both aforementioned cynical-me topoi (used in a more general / material sense for you Aristotle nerds out there).

About a month ago I received an email from Jill Domschot informing me she would be reviewing Under a Cloven Moon:  The Santanta Run.  Having visited and commented a time or two on her blog, this offered an unexpected addition to my day.  The content of her blog always strikes me as honest, sharp, and erudite – setting certain expectations about just how honest and sharp of a review did I want.  And, one of the little voices in my head kept telling me to believe it when I could see it.
So, voila, about a month later, here’s the review.  Jill, if you’re out there, thank you so much.  Luck indeed.  And no, I didn’t send her a basket of cookies to do this (not that I’m above doing that).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Holy Frenchisms!

I can finally relate with a certain cliché about the French (not the cheese-eating surrender monkey cliché).  Rather, consider how the French are supposed to be rude towards Americans because the two cultures just don't 'get' one another.  Like at the Tower of Babel, when the speech was confused, it wasn't just the speech.  It was the way of thinking and maybe the French have a reason or two to be rude.

With the extra poundage, the funny looking money, and a complete rejection of the notion that they should learn a few native words before visiting, Americans just don’t fit in downtown Paris.  Le Big Mac?  EuroDisney?  No wonder the French are protective of their language.  Some things just don’t translate.  Without pondering the depths of cultural imperialism, I can relate to French concerns in these matters.

For example, a few years ago one of the networks had a movie about “The Flood”.  I guess it was based on the Biblical account.  About the same time I remember there was another show about Cleopatra.  Guess what movie was more historically accurate?  Here's a clue:  in TV-land, Sodom doesn’t have Sodomites and Noah wasn’t the only one with an ark.

One would think the producers could have hired some native speakers to guide them through their producing.  But like the rude visitors they were, they didn’t bother.  They had the money, the script, the ugly shorts, the obtrusive camera, and didn't know enough of the native tongue to truly communicate.  My sense was they didn’t understand half of what they were trying to say.  And now Noah -- the movie!  Bum-bum-bum!  The trailer alone looks like Bible fan-fiction.  The original doesn't include red-hot swords on anvils and what looks like a Viking attack on the ark.  I wonder what they'll do with Genesis 6:5?

All kinds of politicians, entertainers, and newsmen say all kinds of things that native speakers can tell came straight from the “Conversational Christianity in 20 Easy Lessons” traveler’s handbook.  And that’s ok, I guess.  I suppose it’s nice to have visitors and people interested, so long as they don’t kid themselves about where they're from.  But many of them represent the worst kind of tourists - those with something to sell.  They don't want to stay to really learn what it's like to live here.

They say things that just don’t make sense to the native speakers.  And not only do they say it with a straight face, but they smile and expect their audience to agree.  Mr. McConaughey apparently not realizing God watches the movies as well as the Oscars, Revelations the mini-series, “regional” correspondents from the New York Times, and high-profile soon to be presidential candidates are all wide-eyed and in our faces, nodding and speaking far too loudly to be taken seriously.  I’m not convinced they’re here with anyone's best interests in mind, other than their own.

Through the prism of metrics, they've spotted a new land; a new marketing segment they want to visit.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Editing is important, last...

My brain works faster than my fingers.  Sometimes this is goodness.

It’s been forever since I’ve written something longer than a few lines by hand.  Despite four years of penmanship in Catholic grade school, my handwriting is generously described as abstract.  Someday I may scan each letter and make a font; give the NSA a run for its (our?) money.  Learning to type in high school and later gaining speed as a typesetter for the hometown newspaper has been a boon in a number of ways; gains in productivity and the readability of my work are but two of these blessings.  Even so, my brain still works faster than my fingers.
Who hasn’t been typing along with a full sail of beautiful brain-prose when they noticed the auto-correct green line of stupidity streaming behind them like the goo from a drunken snail’s meanderings?  Or better yet, consider the red line under a word misspelled so grossly that even the computer couldn’t fix it.  For many years I felt compelled to stop, drop, and edit.  This takes time, depending on the error.  And then… what happens then?

Remember, my brain-finger combo is the proverbial tortoise and the hare when it comes to writing.
After the grammar or spelling or punctuation madness has been improved to the computer’s satisfaction, and upon returning to the end of prosaic line, oft times the ideas are no longer there.  The blossoming flower has wilted under the ungenerous dry heat of ever-demanding syntax.  The brilliant phrase to come has vanished, as though it were nothing more than a mirage in the first place.  And, by golly, right now would be a great time for some YouTube or email checking.  And the next thing I know is that it’s time to let the dogs out and start thinking about supper; i.e. writing done for the day.

This type of self-inflicted paralysis is symptomatic of a flaw in the writer’s process.  Remember the writing process?  Think about macaroni and cheese.  Placing the cheese in the boiling water ruins the recipe.  First things need to be first.  Recipes are processes and processes help produce consistent results.  I’m a big fan of the writing process.  I have one and so should you.
Part of the writing process is to consider creation, revision, and editing as three separate entities.  Write, rest, revise (loop rest-revision ad infinitum if you wish), and then and only then go back for the edits.  The ugly parts will remain.  It’s not like they’re going to fix themselves.  Let the red and green lines of the word processing program adorn your prose, for a while.  The world needs more color.  In the meantime, the ideas need to blossom.

What I tell my students when it comes to the concentration-breaking issue of stopping mid-sentence to go back and fix that comma splice is that English Teacher Stuff (spelling, subject-verb agreement, punctuation, so on and gag me with a wood spoon) is important.  But it’s important last.
Remember, before editing can occur, there has to be something to edit.
Keep typing.  Type until the white edges of your distal phalanxes scratch the letters from the keyboard and the spaces between are gummy with red finger juice.  Finish that paragraph or that page or that chapter or, heck, even the entire first draft of that thousand-page novel.  Typos endure.  There will be time to go back and pick them off at your leisure.  Stalk them at the end of the writing process like the highly qualified word-sniper you are.