So this is what they mean by "starving artists"?

(This early version of The Grateful Dead dates from 1893.  From the National Archives of the UK, via The Commons on Flickr.)

And I found out today that the residual problems with my shoulder and arm now means trying to carve the annual pumpkin for Halloween here... hurts.  (It turns out pumpkin-carving uses a lot of upper-arm and shoulder movements, a lot of which fall outside the arm's comfort zone now.  Yes, this kinda sucks.) I usually try to do something fairly fancy and complicated with a pumpkin, but today I had to settle for a fairly simple and traditional eyes-nose-mouth design.  Even then, after cutting out the lid and scopping the insides, I ended up asking one of our housemates to do the facial cutouts.  Bummer.


Slow Words: A Manifesto for the Unprofessional Writer

Since edging back into fiction writing after breaking my arm last December, I've been reading a lot of on-line commentary about being a successful writer, both in regard to self-publishing and to the more traditional pathways to success.

I find myself a little uncomfortable with the most common interpretations of "successful".  These seem to involve (but not necessarily limited to):  Writing every day.  Writing a minimum number of words every day.  Writing a million words before your first sale.  Writing a novel.  Writing a series of novels.  Being paid for your writing.  Building a fan base with social media. Getting an agent. Reviews.  Having lots of readers. Qualifying for SFWA membership.  Making a living with your writing.  Award nominations. Awards.  Guest of Honor invitations.  The envy of others.

I think a lot of this loses sight of the primary goal of writing.  And that goal, that success, doesn't necessary involve any of the above.  You don't have to write every day, you don't have to make money with your writing, you don't even have to market it or publish it at all.  A lot of this confuses "successful" with "professional".

If you want to write every day, if you want to write ____ words per day, if you want to write novels or series or ten-volume trilogies*, if you want to have lots of readers for your work, if you want to earn an actual living from your writing, fine.  Great.   You want to be a professional writer.  Go for it.

But that's not why everyone who writes, writes.  Right? 

To be a successful writer, you only have to do one thing:

Write a good story.

That's it.  That's all you have to do.

If you're writing, the only audience you have to satisfy is yourself.

If you only ever write one good story, you're a successful writer.  Even if that story's manuscript goes into a drawer and is never read by anyone else.

Everything else is optional.  Publication, payment, readers, reviews, etcetera, are great; they can be considered "more successful", if you want.  But it's that initial act of creation, that bringing forth of something you consider worthwhile, that's the basis, the foundation, the rock on which everything else is built.

Write a good story.  That's all you have to do.

I don't write every day.  I don't write quickly.  I don't write novels.  When I've tried doing the "professional" thing, the results turn stiff.  Clunky.  The words become something I don't want to read.  The writing becomes anhedonic, something I can take no joy in.  The "professional" thing doesn't seem to work for me.

When I write something, I don't want it to be a  job.

That may make me an amateur, a hobbyist, a dilettante, an unprofessional.  But you know what?  That's just fine.  Because the stories I do write are usually good stories, and sometimes even damned good stories.  That not only makes me a writer, it makes me a successful writer.

A manifesto needs a list, and I've been making a few notes towards a set of guidelines and inspirations for those unprofessional** writers like me who don't write every day, don't always finish what we start, and don't overly fret or worry about marketing, publicity or other after-story concerns. 

So, the Slow Words Manifesto, Version 1.0:
  1. Write a good story.
  2. Write what you can, when you can, the best you can.
  3. Most story revision should take place before the first word is put to paper. 
  4. Story progress trumps word-count.
  5. Some stories aren't ready to be born.  Let them wait.
  6. Procrustes is not a role model.  Let a story find its own length.
  7. Don't "dare to write badly" if you can't recognize bad writing.
  8. There will always be other writers better than you.  So what?
  9. Read.  Read a lot.  Read widely.  Read with a critical eye.  Try to figure out why what you enjoy reading works, and what you don't doesn't.
  10. Write a good story.  (You can't say that too many times.)
I may expand on some of these pithyisms in future posts.

*These were five-volume trilogies twenty or thirty years ago, but, y'know, inflation.

**(My God, Bruce, how can you apply a nasty label like "unprofessional" to yourself?)   Because I'm not a professional in much of any standard way other than sometimes people will pay money to publish what I've written. Because "unprofessional" is a word that can be applied to part-timers, amateurs, and hobbyists. Because I resent that it's used as a term of disregard in so many instances. So I'm putting in a claim on "unprofessional", because "professional" has nothing to do with writing a good story.)

(photo from Smithsonian Institution, via The Commons on Flickr)


Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Burn

I'm just a little pissed at the current status of hostage negotiations in Washington, DC.  No, "pissed" doesn't cover it.  I'm enraged.

Are we really -- REALLY? -- going to let a batch of crazed extremists set off a fiscal bomb that may cripple, not just the American economy, but the world economy?   Because they think poor people don't deserve medical care?

This isn't just lunacy.  It's criminal lunacy.

Words like "extortion" and "sedition" have been used to describe the Tea Party congressmen behind this situation.  I think those words have meaning.  I think those words are accurate in this situation.

Those words are also the names of actual crimes.  I believe the Tea Party faction of Congress are criminals, with criminal intent, and actually in the process of committing criminal acts.

Which means it's not John Boehner who can put an end to this.  It's not President Obama.  It's this guy:


That is Kim Dine, Chief of the US Capitol Police.  It's his job to uphold the law, keep the peace, and protect the public on the grounds of the US Capitol.

There are crimes being committed in your jurisdiction, Chief Dine.  It's in progress at this very moment.   It's on your watch.  It falls under your authority.

You have a duty to uphold the law.  You have an obligation to protect the country.  You have an oath to honor.

Arrest these criminals, Chief Dine.  You have the authority, you have the duty, you have the moral and legal obligation.  Do your  job.  Save this country.  Save the world.

- - - - -

"Wait, what?  You can't arrest Congressmen!"

Really?  Because here's a photo of Congressman Raul Grivalda being arrested on October 8th:

Grivalda was arrested for taking part in an immigration protest and blocking traffic.   But there are dozens of Tea Party Republicans blocking the entire governmental process, and nothing is happening to them

That is unconscionable.  I want to see these criminal bastards in handcuffs, in custody, and in prison.

- - - - -

Well, I said I was enraged, didn't I?

For a unicorn chaser from a calmer voice, An American Editor has a very interesting post about "The Illogical Republican".  AAE usually posts about the business of being a professional editor, but in this particular post he uses that professional perpective to speculate that Tea Party extremists may lack a capacity for effective "self-editing" of their thoughts and beliefs.  Essentially, Tea Partiers have brains filled with bad writing.


The Government Shutdown Hits Home

We've been pretty lucky in that the government shutdown hasn't hit us directly up to now.  There are government resources we've used in the past that aren't available at the moment, but we're also not in dire need of them right now.

Our son Chris moved back from Nevada and in with us a few months ago.  He's been working as a security guard for years, but took Pharmaceutical Technician courses last year and did well in them.  He's been applying to pharmacy positions since he moved back in here, but hasn't had any luck so far.  So he decided to go back to security work again to have some income.

He applied to the same contract-security firm that several of our housemates work for, and was accepted.  But he had to renew his Arizona security guard license first.  He sent in his renewal application and fee just before the federal shutdown began.

The license renewal required a background check.  Whoops!  It turns out the federal database the background check goes through isn't unavailable while the shutdown lasts, but apparently the support system (actual humans) around that database has been reduced to essential personnel, causing a significant slowdown.  No wonder the new license (application processing usually takes about a week) hasn't shown up in the mail yet.  No estimate available on when it might

Besides affecting Chris, I presume this applies to anyone newly applying for security work with a firm that contracts out its services.  So unless you already have an up-to-date license, you can't get hired for most security positions without a long wait.

(This doesn't apply to me in my own security job, because my workplace hires most of its security personnel directly, rather than contracting with other companies.  No license required in that case.)



Over at Mess Nessy Chic, there's a cool photo gallery of old bookmobiles.

This one looks a lot like the inside of the bookmobile that came around the neighborhood each summer when I was growing up in the late 1950's and early 60's..

My primary source for books back then was my grade school library.  But the school library was closed during summer, and the city library was too far away to ride there on my bike.  So the bookmobiles that were sent around to outlying parts of the city each summer were lifesavers.

Since then, Phoenix and its outlying communities have established a number of smaller library branches around the metro area, so the bookmobiles aren't around any more.  (There are programs for shut-ins who can't get even to the branch libraries, allowing them to request books and have them delivered by mail.)

In their time, though, the bookmobiles were sort of the equivalent of the Internet.  If you couldn't get to a library or a bookstore, the books would come to your neighborhood.

Googling a bit, I find there now exists the Overdrive Digital Bookmobile, a travelling exhibit in a large tractor-trailer that travels from city to city, showing library patrons how to use the Overdrive program to download e-books and audiobooks from their local library system.  I use Overdrive frequently for the books I read on my smartphone.

(I also found out last week that an update to Overdrive now allows me to directly download audiobooks to the smartphone, which hadn't been possible before.   Whoo-hoo!  Used it last weekend to listen to Iain Bank's Player of Games while making my rounds at work.)

early bookmobile, Cincinnati, 1927

(link to Mess Nessy Chic via Regan Wolfrom's Speculative Fiction Writing Wroundup)


"Lucky 7" Cancelled, Because The Stupid

From EW comes news of the first cancellation of the latest TV season's new shows, "Lucky 7", about a group of co-workers who win a $45-million dollar lottery.  It was cancelled after only two episodes airing.

Predicting the cancellation was a pretty easy call.  I didn't watch either of the episodes, but from the promo ads I saw, the show made a fatal error in concept: It showed a bunch of ordinary schmoes having a truckload of money dropped in their laps, and their lives didn't get any better.  And got worse and more complicated, even.  (It looked from one promo that one of the characters was in trouble with a bunch of gang members even before the winning draw.)

The great appeal of Powerball, Mega Millions, and the other lottery games out there is this: We all believe, or at very least want to believe, that if we get a truckload of money dropped in our lap, our lives will get better.  The basic premise of "Lucky 7" (and of a very similar show, "Windfall", some years back, also cancelled quickly), that winning a lottery will make our lives complicated, painful and dangerous, is... I think this is an appropriate word... blasphemous.

The middle-class, the disadvantaged, the working poor, the people who actually buy the vast majority of real-life lottery tickets, don't want to see that story.  They don't want to see people like themselves screwing it up when good fortune strikes.  That's a lousy story from the git-go.  It's a horrible story to tell anyone.

(What we seem to like a lot better are stories of the rich and powerful and privileged whose lives are complicated, painful, and dangerous.  This is particularly evident in reality television, prime example probably being the "Real Housewives of..." shows.)

If I was going to try and do a show about a lottery winner, I'd make it about someone whose own life not only gets better, but who uses their winnings to try and make other people's lives better.  (Something like the 1950's TV series The Millionaire, although the benefactor in that series was an eccentric millionaire rather than a lottery winner.)  Because that's one of the other fantasies real lottery players have, that we'll not only be a lucky winner, we'll be a good winner.

(Disclosure: I buy occasional lottery tickets, though I usually wait until the jackpots are in the 9-figure range.)


Last Days of the Old Dog

Madame Mim, 1999-2013
I had our dog, a Welsh Cardigan Corgi named Madame Mim, put to sleep today.

She was fourteen years old.  She was already five years old when we adopted her in 2004.  She'd been raised by a show breeder, and won several ribbons at dog shows during her early years.  She was bred several times after retiring from the show circuit, the last time with complications that left her unable to be bred again and relegating her to "pet" status.  At which point we ended up adopting her.

She'd begun having health problems the past several years, including Valley Fever and a continuing/frustrating problem with incontinence.  She'd also been losing her eyesight and hearing, and was almost completely blind and deaf by the present day.  Hilde and I had been discussing the idea of euthanasia off and on for about the last year.

The last several months, she'd begun having what I called "fugues", where she'd seem to blank out and not respond for several moments.  Senility, perhaps, or some kind of neurological problem?  I don't know. 

But it was those fugues that finally made me decide it was time she needed to go.  So I took her in to our vet's, and held her while the injection was made.  She went quietly and quickly.

It was still a hard decision.  Should I have taken her in sooner?  Should I have waited longer?  I don't know.

It's unlikely we'll ever get another dog.  Both of us tend much more to be cat-people.   And, especially the last few years, I didn't feel like I was able to give Mim as much attention as she wanted or deserved.  Plus, now that Hilde and I are both in our 60's, we can't really take in new animals without some thought about what might happen to them if we pre-decease our pets.