Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Went to Kansas City on a Fridee

By Saturday I larned a thing or two.

Actually, I'd larned both things by the end of Friday, namely that the distance hadn't magically shortened since the last time we drove from Denver to KC, and Kansas hasn't become any more interesting. It's about 625 miles one way, and it's odd to think about the settlers toiling across that distance from the Missouri River to, as they thought, the waiting goldfields in Denver, whereas we drive it in airconditioned comfort, stopping along the way for gas, leg stretching, and caffeine, and grumbling about it taking us so long.

Three of Leonore's sisters live in KC, so we make that trip fairly often. This time, the son and daughter of another sister, who lives in France, happened to be there, so we were able to see them as well. We had a nice time, and I'm glad we went. But, jeez, Kansas is wide! And boring this side of Topeka, which is to say most of the state.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

So, watcha doin for the DNC?

Oh, nothing much. How about you?

The Democratic National Convention is being held in Denver, starting in a few days. I was glad when Denver won the bid, in a vague, civic-pride sort of way and also because I bought the claims of the benefits to the city. But the fact that it's being held here doesn't make it any more accessible to me and other Denverites than it would be if it were being held a thousand miles away.

A small group of locals will get tickets to see Obama's acceptance speech in the (absurdly overpriced) football stadium (that the taxpayers let themselves be bullied into paying for, grr). The rest of us who want to watch the speech will watch it on TV. And get a better view of the speaker. We won't be able to tell our grandchildren that we were there -- although we could lie about that.

Streets will be closed. Buses will be rerouted. For all I know, uniformed gunmen with itchy trigger fingers will be stationed on rooftops, on the watch for non-uniformed gunmen with itchy trigger fingers. At least, that's the way it would work if this were a TV show. From that perspective, it's a bit of a bother.

But I'm still glad the DNC is being held here. I'm just not doing anything special for it, and I don't know anyone who is. I'll do something special in November: exercise my right to vote for Obama and against the creepy, wrinkly white dude. (I'm allowed to say that because I'm a white dude with wrinkles.) (But not creepy, I hope.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Low high!

After a period of hot, dry weather, including a record run of days over 90 degrees and record low precipitation, we've had a few days of steady rain and low temperatures. Yesterday, the official high was 58, which was a record for the date - a record low for a high.

I haven't yet heard anyone say that this proves that global warning is a hoax, but I probably haven't been listening hard enough.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Are your characters fat?

Thin? Medium? Tall, short, dark, light? Bald? Ponytailed? Flexible? Stiff? Do they wear glasses or contacts or neither? Are their voices high, low, weak, strong?

Except in cases where it's germane to the story, or it's a major character, do you specify such physical characteristics? Do you think about them?

I tend not to, and I often think I should. A weakness in my writing is lack of physical description of people and places, with some rare exceptions. This may partly be inherent in writing plot-driven fiction. James Gunn, I think it was, said that science-fiction writers should avoid emphasis on characterization because of the nature of sf. (Or perhaps I'm - ho, ho - mischaracterizing what he said.) Certainly, characterization can be distracting when the plot should be moving along rapidly, with satisfying complications and resolutions. But at the same time, you want your characters to be real and the setting to seem real. It's a balancing act, and I often fear that I come down on the wrong side.

In movies and on TV, no one needs glasses, unless it's to show that the character is a nerdy scientist (knows everything about every field of science but nothing about the opposite sex, of course). No one has a hearing problem, unless it's a plot element. Nowadays, all the beautiful people, and many of ugly ones, come equipped with fearsome martial arts skills. Those are all conventions, but I find them distracting. Real and believable differences would help, even in action movies, and somehow one has to find the right balance so as to have such differences in prose fiction, as well.

Ee tee see

When I was a kid, I learned a lot of words and abbreviations entirely from reading, not from hearing the adults around me use them. (Or maybe they did, and I was just ignoring them.) So I understood what etc. meant from context, but I always pronounced it ee tee see. I didn't know about the phrase for which it's an abbreviation. Later, I studied Latin in school and felt rather silly about ee tee see. (But by that time I was around 12 or 13, so I could look back indulgently at my naive younger self.)

Two more were Yosemite and Thames. As a kid in South Africa, I was of course hooked on comics, but that meant English and American ones, so they were filled with place names I knew nothing about, so I pronounced them phonetically. I once referred to the river as the Thayms and was quickly and scornfully corrected by someone. I didn't have any occasion to mention the character Yosemite Sam, whose name I pronounced Yo-zmyte Sam. (I loved that character and still think he's kinda cool.) Some time after we moved to the U.S., someone mentioned Yosemite Park in my hearing, and a bright light dawned. "It's Yo-semmity Sam!" I said to myself. "That sounds so much niftier!" Or whatever word I used at that time.

There must be a lot of other examples that I've forgotten, and I bet such errors are common with children who learn a lot of their vocabulary from reading and not from hearing the words spoken by the adults around them. I wonder how often such mispronunciations persist into adulthood.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some sobering statistics

Here's something I came across in the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America (subscription info here):

In 2004, Bookscan tracked 1.2 million book titles. Of these, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies. 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. The average book tracked sold fewer than 5,000 copies.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Indefatigable horse

This evening, I watched the last part of a Hong Kong action-adventure movie, The Touch. I was hoping it would be dumb fun, but it was mostly just dumb. But that's beside the point. It had, in an important supporting role, an indefatigable horse.

I thought those were limited to American Westerns, but apparently not. The hero and heroine rode this horse across a desert at a gallop, with both of them sitting on him. When they reached their destination, they did all sorts of action-adventurey things while the horse was tethered to a tree (this was on the other side of the desert, I guess; it seemed to be a convenient desert that came and went as necessary) and grazed leisurely. Confrontation with bad guys. Fight scene. Explosion. Bad guys escape. Hero digs heroine out from under pile of dirt (she's still breathing!). They jump on the horse and gallop back across the desert! Or possibly a different desert. Full-out gallop.

That's some horse! He doesn't need water, he doesn't need rest, he doesn't need shade. He can also catch up to the villains' SUVs despite their loooong head start.

On the bright side, the heroine was played by Michelle Yeoh. A.k.a., Michelle Yowza.

Norilana Books announcement

This is showing up in various places online, including Publishers Marketplace. It should be in Locus Magazine, as well.

Vera Nazarian, publisher of Norilana Books, obviously works really hard to get the word out.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ten years later

Leonore remembered that today marks the tenth anniversary of her mastectomy. What's odd is that we had both forgotten. Especially during the first few years, we were very conscious of the anniversary and that each year meant the odds favoring her increased.

Ten years -- knowing that, I'm breathing a bit more easily today.

So we didn't even have some kind of celebration set aside. Maybe we'll do something special next weekend.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I.e., the World Science Fiction Convention, which held in Denver over this past weekend under the name Denvention.

I went, I drifted along, I moped around, I ran into some people, Leonore and I ate dinner with Daniel, Becca, and John Stith on Friday evening, I was on a panel on Friday and attended a couple of panels on Saturday, I came home. It was an odd experience. I think it's better to go to a convention of this level (i.e., World SF Con, World Horror Con, World Fantasy Con) when it's in another city. That's much more expensive, obviously, but you're in the convention hotel and you spend much more time at the actual con. As it was, I had my usual weekend chores -- mainly, all the grocery shopping -- and I squeezed the con in as best I could. When I had my doubts about going downtown to the con, as I did this morning, it was easiest simply not to go.

Denver won the bid to host the 2008 Worldcon two years ago. When I heard that, I was excited, convinced that I would be much further along professionally than I turned out to be. Clearly, I'm not there. For a while, I wasn't sure I'd attend the con at all, but then I decided that that would be silly, given that it's here in town.

On the bright side, I saw various people I normally only see at cons, and some people I didn't expect to see at all, such as a former coworker from back when I was a software developer (happy days!). On the negative side, I missed a lot of people I had hoped to see, and I heard grim news about some local people, leaving me depressed and guilty because my complaint is that I'm not rich and famous, whereas their situations are much more serious. On the third, and grayish, side, I was able to give useful advice to another local acquaintance about reentering tech writing and even about the writing biz. ("Shoot yourself now.") (Kidding.) (Mostly.)

I could ramble on, but I don't want to get portentous, and I'm afraid that would be the next phase of this.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Costco creates bad drivers

Or so I have to assume.

I just got back from a shopping trip to Costco. The store was packed, probably with people shopping early to avoid the heat (predicted high of 100 degrees or more today), and as usual, I was astonished at how many people do things with their shopping carts that they wouldn't do in their cars. Driving on the wrong side of the aisle. Leaving their carts across the middle of the traffic flow while they wander off to find something on the shelves. Stopping to chat or eat free samples, with their carts sticking out into the flow.

To be fair, it's not just Costco. I see the same thing in the regular supermarket, where I'll be going in a couple of hours. Interestingly, it's almost always women who do these things. Male shoppers seem to drive their carts much more rationally. I expect some disagreement with that statement.

Maybe it's not the carts that do that to people. You do see the equivalent strange behavior when people are driving cars, so maybe the dangerous cart drivers I'm complaining about are actually the same people I have to watch out for while driving my car in Denver.