A Wedding Cake As Writing. Writing As A Wedding Cake

From My Madeleine, Molly Birnbaum's excellent food-and-writing blog:
I thought about this a lot last weekend. Because as I baked my first wedding cake, I was in the middle of writing my book. I was buried in outlines and research; I had no idea where it would go. Back then, it was all about the creativity. It was all about forging new paths ahead. I was living in a miniscule studio in Brooklyn, had a boyfriend fighting a war in Afghanistan, and was using 14 pounds of almond paste to create a wedding cake in my mother’s kitchen with nothing but a couple recipes and a half-baked plan. If I could make and transport that cake, then of course I could finish my book. It was all about magical thinking. What surprised me is that it worked.
(I'm still having trouble getting links in Blogger to work right now. URL for the full piece: http://mollysmadeleine.blogspot.com/2011/08/wedding-cake-ii.html )

If I Ever Ride In A Hot Air Balloon...

...I want it to be this one.

(from a September 2010 balloon festival in Boise, Idaho.  Found via one of those Drunkard's-Walk searches on Flickr and Google Images at http://www.boisedailyphoto.com/2010/09/fly-me-to-moon.html , which won't link for some reason.  Photo by Debbie Courson Smith. )


Hellbox: Towards An Alternate Definition

The word "hellbox" popped into my mind a few nights ago.  At the office/shopping development where I work security, a large company is setting up their new HQ on most of two floors on one building's office levels.  Part of my rounds has been to check the floors, so I've watched the development of the space from bare open concrete to where it's only a few weeks from having employees report to their new workplace.  Most recently has been the delivery and set-up of several hundred cubicles and workstations.

The sight of all those identical cubicles raises my hackles and crottles my greeps.  It's cookie-cutter, assembly-line workspaces, interchangeable, and my impression is that it's all meant for cookie-cutter employees, also interchangeable.  That, to me, is Hell.  And so a work cubicle is a "hellbox".

It turns out, though, that "hellbox" already exists as a word.  It's from the printing profession, back when set type was taken out of the printing forms and tossed into a box, which some junior apprentice was damned to sort back into each letter's individual slot in the typecases.  It's also used in a more general sense, of a container filled with a miscellany of small items difficult to sort apart.

But I like my own use of the word, to mean an office work cubicle, particularly when it's one of a large number of identical cubicles.  So I'm tossing it out there into the wilds of the Internet, where one hopes kind-hearted strangers will pick it up and give it a good home.

(How large is "a large number"?  The hellishness of cubicles seems to increase, at least in my mind, the larger the number of cubicles grouped together.  Some of the smaller companies, in the other office buildings, have smaller groups of cubicles, and those don't particularly bother me.  Four cubicles together, no problem.  Eight, well, okay.  Twelve, that's starting to push my buttons.  But forty or fifty or sixty in a group, like in that new HQ?  Ewwwww......)

The Mercury Men on SyFy

Say what you will about SyFy Channel's crappy "reality" shows like GHOST HUNTERS, their Turkey-of-the-Week original movies ("TURKEYSAURUS!" That's not a real title, but please don't anyone suggest it to SyFy executives!), or, God help us all, wrestling, they have occasional shows (EUREKA and WAREHOUSE 13) that are amusing and entertaining, if rather on the dumb side. ALPHAS, a little more adult in tone, got off to a slow start, but it's been growing on me.

But the best show on SyFy isn't on TV. It's a web series called THE MERCURY MEN, 10 short episodes that evoke not only the feel of old movie cliffhangers, but show a strong influence by the original black-&amwhite episodes of THE OUTER LIMITS from the 1960's. Not just in the cinematography and special effects, but in the feeling of paranoia and entrapment that was so common in those old TOL episodes.

Official website, with links to episodes, here.


Cold Comix Turkey

I bought and read a number of comic books while growing up.  (And had to sneak them into the house past my Mom, who thought they were the next-worst thing to porn.)  Quit when I started college, and didn't start again until 1985, when the bookstore Hilde and I frequented added a comics section and several titles caught my eye.  (WATCHMEN and the Ted Kord version of BLUE BEETLE, in particular.)  I've continued since then, usually buying 3-4 titles per week.  That bookstore went under, eventually, but I continued buying comics, now at comics specialty shops, and have been shopping at the same vendor for over fifteen years.

DC Comics announced a few months ago that they would be relaunching their comics line, with new #1 issues of 52 different titles.  The stated purpose of this was to give a new generation of readers a jumping on point to start reading comics.

But this also meant that a bunch of the old titles were suddenly cancelled in mid-storylines.  That hasn't made the old generation of readers happy.  The last conversation I had with David, the owner of the comics shop I shopped at, I said, "This could just as easily be a jumping off point for the current readers."   He told me that a number of his customers had already cancelled their standing orders for DC titles.

Another reason for DC's relaunch was to start promoting increased digital sales of comics, rather than the old-fashioned paper-and-ink versions.  Not good news for comics shops owners.

David's shop had already been hanging on by its fingertips, with a lot of customers cutting back or stopping completely in the wake of the general economy's weakening in the last several years.  When you cut back on non-essential spending, things like books or movies or comics are among the first to be cut.  He'd come close to losing the shop about a year before, only staying open when he'd been able to renegotiate the shop's lease at the last minute.

So I wasn't too surprised when I went back a few weeks later to find the store's lights out, the doors locked, and a notice from the landlord taped to the door.  (Man, that's gotta hurt for David.  He's started working for the store's original owners as a teenager, then bought the store from them about ten years ago.  Hopefully nearly twenty years of retail experience will let him find another source of income soon.)

So there I was, suddenly cut off from my usual source of comics.  (There are other comics shops, but all considerably farther away and in the wrong direction from my usual travel patterns; David's shop was less than a mile away.) What to do?

What I've done is... nothing.

I have to admit that I've thought for a long time that the cost-to-benefit ratio of buying comics is a negative one.  I can buy a comic that costs $3 or (usually) more, and get ten or fifteen minutes reading pleasure from it.  Or I can buy a paperback novel for about $8 and get hours of reading from it.  (When I bought my very first comics, as a kid, they were still twelve cents apiece; they've increased in cost 25-fold.  My first paperbacks, a couple of years later, averaged sixty cents; they've only risen 12 to 13-fold since then.)(Yes, I'm old.)  I've kept up the habit of buying occasional comics mostly from... habit.

So I've gone cold turkey on comics.  So far I haven't missed many of the titles I was following all that much.  And I'm saving about $40 to $50 a month in expenses.

(The one title I've missed the most has been T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS, one of the titles cancelled by DC in their relaunch.  It's been an interesting update to the original series from the 1960's, with some unexpected twists.  Googling for this post, however, it seems enough people objected to losing that particular title and story arc that DC may put it back into production in a few months.  I'll have to think about that one....)

(I also wanted to note that the relaunch of Superman reportedly involves some changes to his costume; it's now going to be a type of "Kryptonian battle armor".  Say what?  I say, "Bullshit!" to that.  Everyone knows -- KNOWS -- that Supe's costume was made by Ma Kent unravelling the blankets that swaddled Kal-El inside that rocket and weaving the uniform from those threads.  These are immutable truths about Superman:  He can fly.  He has super-strength.  He's invulnerable.  And his mother dresses him funny.)


Fuzzy Thinking

The first panel Hilde and I did at CopperCon was on H. Beam Piper.  The programmer for CopperCon wanted to have some panels on good writers of previous generations, and we suggested Piper because John Scalzi's recent "revamp", FUZZY NATION, of Piper's first book in the Fuzzy series, LITTLE FUZZY, had brought some attention back to Piper's work.  Small audience, about half a dozen, but it seemed to go well and stayed on track.

My take on FUZZY NATION:  This is the novelization of the screenplay for the Hollywood adaptation of LITTLE FUZZY.

Keeping in mind that Scalzi is a long-time film buff & critic, the changes he's wrought from the original novel seem very much to be changes that would be made for a film adaptation of Piper's novel:  The protagonist is younger, with a romantic sub-plot.  His version of Jack Holloway is also a bit of a scoundrel, whose motivations aren't always noble.  Scalzi's narrative flow is faster, with leaner dialogue.

(Skimming back thru the original LITTLE FUZZY, I noticed that there's a lot of talking in Piper's book, a lot of discussion of what sapience is and how it might be detected.)

Significant parts of both books take place in courtrooms.  I think Piper's original wins out here; his presentation of courtroom wrangling is larger and messier than Scalzi's; it's more complicated, with more factors and players involved.  In short, more realistic.

One of the elements in LITLE FUZZY was the veradicator, a lie-detector with 100% accuracy, used in courtroom testimony.   Much as I love the idea of a veradicator (I want one, dammit!), Piper's machine only give a postiive or negative response; there's no gray areas of half-truths or delusional thinking allowed to it.  That was never realistic (dammit!  I still want one), and Scalzi leaves the veradicator out of his version.  A good change, I'm inclined to think, on Scalzi's part.

[spoilers below the break...]


Hilton Garden Inn gets it right

The Hilton Garden Inn in Avondale, Arizona, where we're staying for CopperCon, has one of the best wheelchair-accessible rooms we've ever stayed in. Some hotels think putting a grab-bar on the wall above a tub equals "accessible". No, it doesn't.

Wide traffic paths and doors, and things like a roll-in shower stall, that's accessible. Thanks, Hilton!

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