The Classics: Apples and Oranges

Yesterday, Mur Lafferty wrote an article entitled My Problem With the Classics In a nutsehell, she said she had a hard time reading the classics in the Sci-Fi genre because of the poor writing, cardboard characters, and its patriarchal nature.  She has since closed comments because they have strayed from her original question:  “How can I appreciate the classics when I run into such painful roadblocks like this? It’s hard to read things I’m not enjoying, even for academic purposes.”

My comment and several others address that question, but very quickly a number of the commenters started comparing her plight about classic books to the watching of classic films, and this is what I want to comment on.

Comparing the reading of classic Sci-Fi genre fiction to classic films is really comparing apples and oranges.  I understand the actual time in history coincide well enough, they were both seeking, finding, and breaking boundaries as a matter of course.  So as intellectual artistic endeavors there are parallels, and I am sure this is what the commenters were attempting to draw from.  The principle distinction lies in the consumption of these classic media.

Watching a classic film, with its own set of foibles, takes between two and three hours.  Even the most craven among us can push ourselves through an evening of classic film watching.  What’s the cost?  One dull evening a week, a month, or whatever you’re looking to invest in your classic film education.

Forcing oneself to read classic literature on the other hand takes a full order of magnitude longer.  How long does it take to read a book?  Naturally it varies on the length of the book and the speed of the reader, but it’s safe to say it probably takes anywhere from 10-30 hours.  Invest 2-3 hours a night and you’re looking at nearly a full week, or two, or three to consume this work.

In this day and age who has that kind of time?  That is, unless you want to sit around and discuss such works academically.  For a modern writer, it is more important to keep up with the current writing trends and boundaries.  A writer has to eat after all.

Of course, I’m not advocating a person skip the classics entirely.  I am not big on the classics myself, but I try to slog through one or two a year.  I recently read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which is supposed to be a Sci-Fi classic.  In my opinion it is more literary than Sci-Fi, but either way, it was repetitive and made me feel like I was being beat over the head with one theme for the entire 200+ pages.  It was not a dynamic or even interesting read at all.  Nevertheless, I dragged myself kicking and screaming to the finish line.

My point is that it is unfair to suggest a modern writer go back and read hundreds of the classics, especially when compared to watching classic films, because they have more important things to read in order to stay relevant.  Quite simply, reading a book takes an investment of time that watching films does not.

Anyone have any thoughts?

I Know What I Write!

I have been having trouble this past month figuring out how I would be marketing my soon to be released novel Dim Speak.  It may sound strange, but it finally hit me last night.  After taking 2.5 years to write it, you would think I would have had that all figured out at least a year ago.

I’ve blogged before about a lot of stories crossing genre and sub-genre boundaries making them hard to classify, especially when making them for sale.  The problem was my book is straight fantasy, or high fantasy if you need to sub-categorize, but it didn’t quite fit that either.

When I started writing, I simply used the sage advice, “Write something you would enjoy reading.”  So I did.  I never consciously thought about how I planned to nichify the darned thing, but I’ve been hemming and hawing all month about the matter.  Mostly, because I don’t want to market the book to a bunch of people not interested in such a story and then get a bunch of bad reviews in return.

Last night I was thinking about an interview where the difference between parody and satire had come up.  As I went through the definitions in my head I suddenly realized what I was doing was parody.  A non-derivative parody, both in the literal and non-literal sense.  By that, I mean the work is not a parody of another work and thus is not a derivative of another work.

In the non-literal sense, I mean the novel is non-derivative in that it doesn’t take itself non-seriously.  One of things I hate about a lot of parody is all the effort that goes into beating the reader over the head to let him or her know that what they’re reading is a parody.  A lot of the time I find parodies are just an exercise in silliness, which gets old pretty quick.

Dim Speak has its own story with an emphasis on the odd friendship between the two main characters.  Throughout the book I take pot shots at the fantasy genre, but the story itself is serious.

Now that I have this in my mind and I know where I’m going to go with it, I better get formatting for the Kindle and Smashwords.

Sleepful Musings

I have been letting myself sleep a little extra this week.  Indeed, my 60 hour “weekend” break that I got on Monday and Tuesday, I slept for 28 hours.  Almost half my free time spent sleeping.  And yet, I’ve needed it.  This week I quit caffeine,… again.  I do this from time to time to reassure myself I’m not hopelessly addicted.  Though one of the side effects is a need to catch up on some sleep until I even out.

It could be circumstantial.  After all, with the passing of fantasy author Anne McCaffrey could be reminding me of my own mortality which is always a little depressing.  She was not a personal favorite, but I’ve always avoided reading mainstream epic fantasy and Sci-Fi authors.  I was more affected by the passing of Robert Asprin back in 2008.  He was still a NY Times best seller, though his style of fantasy is what I like to think I model my writing after.  His writing was more light in tone and often focused on personal relationships.

It’s strange watching childhood heroes like Madeleine L’Engle and other famous authors like Robert Jordan pass away these past few years.  I don’t know what to think of it, other than it is a sad natural order to things.

It also makes me feel like I’m wasting time.  I know I have to sleep every now and again, even daily, perhaps.  I know I even have to sleep in every now and again.  It’s one of those little comforts that can make life worth living.  Still, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to waste it on sleeping and yet we must.

Nice is Nice, Stick With It

Nice is nice, but sometimes I have to question the point.  In a world where, if we’re out in public, we expect a fair number of doors to literally open themselves for us, I have to ask, “Is this nice?”

I remember when doors were doors, it was nice to have some one open them for you.  It was nice to open a door for someone else.  When did opening a door become an inconvenience only to be turned into an extravagance?  I don’t deny a self opening door can be handy.  Especially when one’s hands are full, but that’s what makes it so nice when someone else opens it for you.  Sometimes I miss that nice.

Of course, other cases of nice live on.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone over to a friend’s house only to hear them utter the words, “Oh, don’t mind the mess.”  Of course, their house usually looks just fine.  No cleaner nor dirtier than mine, and most people claim I’m pretty clean for a single guy. Sometimes, there’s an actual mess at my friend’s house, but who doesn’t have a messy house from time to time?  Besides, I can’t remember the last time I went over to friend’s house thinking, “Woo Boy!  I sure hope I can eat of them thar floors!”

Somehow, it’s nice to tell someone to not mind your mess.  And why is that?  I don’t want to waste my time cleaning my house 24/7, I’m certainly not going to judge you for it.  When people are apologizing by rote, how is that nice?  Quite frankly, this is a nice I could do without.  I’d rather my friends just tell me the truth, “Hey, my toilet’s not clean enough for public use, but by all means partake of my hospitality.”

See how nice that is?  Bare naked honesty, how does one not find that nice?

Another nice I miss.  Those three little words compressed into two:  You’re Welcome.

These days it’s, “No problem”, “You bet”, “Don’t worry about it”, “Don’t mention it”.

Well, why would I mention it?  Why would it have been a problem?  If it was a problem, would you have said so?  Now you got me wondering.

When someone responds, “You are welcome,” barring a sardonic tone, I believe them.  It’s nice to be welcomed.  Years ago, when I went to Italy, when someone did something for me, I did my duty and said, “Grazie”.  And wouldn’t you know it, each time the person would respond with, “Prego”.

I’d smile at them.  They’d smile at me.  It was nice.

At first I thought it was my civic duty to go to Italy and represent the United States and be polite, but very quickly my Grazie’s became genuine, knowing that I’d get a genuine Prego in return.  Even in small town USA, many a day goes by when I long for a genuine You’re welcome.  People seem to be too busy for that simple nicety.

Now that I’ve rambled on for a stretch, I’m sure you’re asking what point is this guy trying to make?

I guess if I could state it simply and in a few words, I guess I’m saying don’t lose that genuine nice.  Don’t let it become a revolving door or a meaningless platitude.  Life’s too short to let nice pass you by.

Giving Up

Sorry, not giving up on life, or anything that dramatic.  I love life too much to just quit it.  Even when I’ve been at my lowest, that is, bankrupt and approaching homelessness, I never thought about giving up on everything.  I consider such personal posts like this one “blog blather”, so feel free to skip my own personal whining.

So I think I’m just giving up on November.  I had a small handful of goals I wanted to accomplish this month and I think the only goal I’ll actually make is the one where I cut my job from 5-6 days a week to two.  That deadline was originally November 24th, but has been moved to November 29th.  The owner’s are going out of town and asked nicely if I could stick around full time for one more week.  That’s no big deal.  I kind of expected that to happen and agreed to do so.

I have been having some trouble with my elbow the past month and it has been getting worse.  Call it tennis elbow or a repetitive stress injury or whatever.  My elbow is killing me.  Not with a constant dull pain, but a degenerative annoyance where I no longer am able to keep power in the arm when lifting at certain angles.  Naturally, the most useful angles are the ones affected.  It’s like having a meter on the elbow that starts out at full and when I go to lift something, the meter immediately starts dipping toward empty and when it gets there I have to drop what ever I’m doing, literally.

Basically, I need to see a doctor about this.  I’m sure the visit will go something along these lines:

Me:  Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this.

Doctor:  Well, don’t do that.  Oh, and this is the 21st century, take these anti-inflammatories twice or thrice a day.

Me:  If this is the 21st century, why are you using the word “thrice”?

Doctor:  I don’t know.  You’re writing this dialog, not me.

Me:  Fair enough.  Am I going to be able to go on disability or something?

Doctor:  No.  Disability only covers fake back injuries.

Me:  Dammit!

Anyway, as for the rest of my goals for November, and I know I’m just whining, but hey, you were warned in the beginning, I just don’t feel like working on them.  My physical wear and tear seems to really have affected my mental state.  And mentally, I feel warn down to the nub.

Mentally, I feel at such a low, I really want to just give up on the rest of the year.  As long as I’ll only be working 8-10 days in December and going to visit family and friends for a week for the holidays.  It seems like an equitable time to sit back and quit, gather my bearings, and fill 2012 with all kinds of hope and stuff.

Then again, some of the things on my to do list aren’t that hard, so I think I’ll start with pushing most of my November’s goals to December.  That sounds better than giving up completely.

Advice to the Reader: Call an Astronomer

I was recently directed to the following video:

The video is actually an audio file of an emergency services call in England.  It was released as an example of non-emergencies that people call in about all the time, especially around Halloween.  In the video, some guy calls about a strange light hovering in the sky and he doesn’t know what it is.  He gives his information and then hangs up.  Two minutes later he calls back apologizing.  Sorry, it was the moon.

How exactly one mistakes the moon for a strange light in the sky is beyond me, but when I see a strange light in the sky, my first instinct isn’t usually, “Oh my!  A UFO!”.

You want to know why?  Because I realize that just because I don’t know what something is right away, that doesn’t mean that every single one of the other seven billion people on the planet must not know either.  It’s strange how easy it is to become so mentally insular that that simple fact can escape us.

Oddly enough, Venus is the most common UFO culprit, though Mars is another common target.  I admit, I’m not much for astronomy.  I think the vastness of the cosmos is amazing, but personally, staring up at billions of point lights doesn’t terribly interest me.  Besides 99.99% of the complexities of the universe lies in the fact that it somehow revolves around each of us.

It seems once or twice a year I read or hear about some UFO story like the above.  I can honestly say that if people did the smart thing when they see a strange light in the sky, I’d probably never read about UFO sightings.  So what’s the smart thing?  Well, if you want to know what a light is doing in the sky, call an expert, call an astronomer.  Dr. Phil Plait is probably the most famous one I know, but you may want to try someone local first.

The Gimmick

I find the whole Blogging thing fascinating.  I understand why I’ll never have a highly successful blog.  It comes down to one thing:  The Gimmick.

I’m not into gimmicks.  For a blog to be successful, it has to have a gimmick.  It has to focus on one topic or niche.  It has to have a little something that no other blog has and certainly my blog doesn’t have that.  Heck, after five months, my blog is still named “Untitled”.  I should probably do something about that.

Once a week or so, I do make an “Advice to the Reader” post, but these posts are all over the map.  I personally have a wide variety of interests so I make posts based on what I find interesting at the time.  I suspect my most useful and poignant post was the No Placebo Effect For Cancer post.  But even though I probably pay more attention to science based medicine than the average person, I am a doctor of mathematics and not a doctor of medicine.  I have no business writing on such topics several times a week.

I suppose I could start a math blog, but frankly, who reads them?  I don’t even read them and I enjoy the subject a fair amount.  Besides, most of the mathy things that intrigue people online are just gimmicks.

Truth is, I’d get bored writing about the same subjects over and over.  This blog is supposed to be my “launching platform” for my writing, but I don’t even want to sit around and discuss writing every day.  Talking about things you enjoy too much is akin to masturbation.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but then, it doesn’t accomplish much either.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying a niche blog is bad.  I think they’re great.  In fact, I admire people who can focus so much on one topic and write about it regularly.  My RSS feed is loaded with all kinds of blogs:  Science, Technology, Writing.  They’re the big three, and notice, no general blogs.  I don’t even subscribe to this kind of blog which tells me very few will subscribe.  (Kudos to the four or five that do subscribe through one means or another, and of course, thanks for reading.  It’s nice to know that not everything I write goes out into the black hole of the internet without a few sets of eyeballs perusing it first.)

So what am I saying in this post?  I guess I’m saying that my blog will probably flounder around forever.  I’m not sure I’ll ever find that one gimmick that’ll separate it from random editorials.  It’s not for the lack of ideas.  I’ve had a number of gimmick ideas, I’m just not sure I’m in love with them enough to focus on just the one thing.  I guess I’m dooming myself to wallow in obscurity.  But then again, don’t we all?

Advice to the Reader: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

I have to say spam is an amazing thing.  Not the meat product.  Sorry, that stuff’s not quite so amazing.  Naturally, I’m referring to the messages I get in the comment section.  Most of them don’t show up on the site.  The algorithms used in spam detection have gotten very good.  The detection software used by WordPress.com has not had a false positive or false negative yet.  That is, they’ve let all the legit comments post properly whilst stopping all the spam posts.

I made a post last month, I Have Arrived, that commented that I had finally gotten my 100th spam message and therefore I was now someone.  Truth be told the more active a blog is, the more spam it gets.  Especially when you use active search terms like I’ve been using in my posts, viz, The Link Economy, Multi-Level Marketing, NaNoWriMo, and even the term Spam.  All such labeled posts seem to attract more than their fair share of spam comments.

So many comments in fact, that in the last three days the spam detector has rejected over 50 comments.  I’m on pace now to get well over 250 by the end of the month.  As of yesterday, this blog has had more spam comments rejected than actual page views.  I’m not sure how such a thing is possible, but clearly when a bot or spam program makes a comment it must not actually load the page, which makes the comments even more amusing.

Take this one:  “Wow, your post makes mine look febele. More power to you!”

This one being rejected from the post: Someone Should Make This Go Viral. A post where there was no real message other than a link to a music video featuring a song that has been described as Science meets School House Rocks.  I thought it was cool.  Upon further reflection, it turned out I was right.  Again.

This one’s good:  “I have exactly what info I want. Check, please. Wait, it’s free? Aweosme!”

A comment rejected from my Advice to the Reader: NaNoWriMo post.  A whiny post that didn’t so much suggest to the reader they should try NaNoWriMo, which would have been actual useful advice, but a post where I whine about not being able to do NaNoWriMo for the third year running.

I could go on, but the ridiculousness doesn’t stop.  I have to ask, what’s the point of these comments?

There can be only one explanation.  These people are actually making money doing this.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be doing it.  This then begs the next question:  Who’s buying?

The answer is:  YOU.  Maybe not you in particular, but the royal YOU.  The YOU out there that’s foolish enough to click through on random links and buy stuff on the other side.  the YOU out there who click on random links and java script pop ups that infect your computer with malware that then trick YOU into paying $50 to get your computer clean because YOU let it take your device over in the first place.

And for the YOU out there who own a Mac, YOU’re part of the problem.  YOU think because you own a Mac YOU’re somehow impervious to malware and viruses.  I hate to break the news to you, but because PCs have gotten so good at protecting themselves against this crap, and the users have gotten slightly more savvy, Macs have become tasty morsels for the spammers because they’ve found out how naive Mac users are.  Even though Macs make up less than 15% of the market share, their users will accidentally click into malware problems at a far higher rate than PC users because they think they’re safe.  You’re not anymore.  So Mac users need to get more savvy in a hurry.

Of course, there are still plenty of YOU coming from PC land so don’t act all superior.  YOU’re still part of the problem.

So my advice to the reader:  Please be a little more careful on what you click on.  If something’s too good to be true, it is.  If a pop-up tells you you have a virus, you do.  The program that’s making the pop-up is the virus.  You can usually get these things eradicated for free with a Google search rather than pay the hostage fee.  If we could all not fall into these pathetic traps, the spammers would not make money, and they’d go on to other things.  Thus making the internet a more enjoyable place for us all.

November’s Goals

Sadly, I think I’ll have to make my goals for November fairly modest.  I’m working the last 2-3 weeks of my job, at least at a full time 45-50 hours per week.  I’ll have to train my replacement and once done, I’ll be able to go down to two days a weeks.  I am in a rare position to be able to live on such pay.  I won’t be saving any money, but I shouldn’t be losing too much either.  While in such a positive economic situation, I feel I should take advantage so that I can focus on my writing for the next year or so.  After that time, I feel I can re-evaluate where I want to go with myself.  I can’t stagnate here forever, but not everyone gets a chance to set aside a year for themselves and their writing, so I figure I should go for it, for that reason alone.

Let’s see, for this month I want to get Dim Speak into the Amazon store and at Smashwords.  Last month I sat down and taught myself the formatting procedures, which aren’t too hard, but annoying enough I can see why other people pay to have it done.

I don’t plan on doing much marketing for the book, so it will pretty much tank at the box office, so to speak.  Since it is a duology, not all of the major questions are answered at the end of this book.  The ending is not a cliffhanger.  I hate those at the end of books.  I find them unfair to the reader, but as I said, not all the major questions are answered.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t want much of a marketing campaign to go into a story without the full story being available.  So I want to focus on finishing the sequel and this story arc before pushing for sales.  With any luck, I can have the sequel done by next summer, and then I can start marketing things.

Speaking of the sequel, another goal for November is do get more work done on the outline for that.  I wrote a page of notes while away at the wedding this weekend.  Mostly, some goals I want accomplished and so forth, but no specific scene constructions as yet.  I want a solid outline of the first part by the end of the month.  By that, I mean the first third of the novel.  Dim Speak is broken into three parts and I want to do the same with the sequel.

I also wrote a page of notes on a new novella that I’ve been kicking around in my mind.  I have most of the world building done.  Now it is a matter of what characters I want in the setting.  This is yet another story that doesn’t classify well.  Though I think this will be easier to classify than the novel.  This novella will likely fall into the slipstream or new weird classifications.  I don’t really like such monikers.  I prefer to just say “fantasy” and let that term broadly cover everything, but people love their labels, so there you go.

As for this project, I have the general outline of the story.  I want to finish the character sheets, so that when I start writing I’ll be able to dive right in.  I could easily see this novella turning into a part one of a novel, but first things first.

You’ll note I don’t have any actual writing goals set in the above.  I have given up on the rest of this year for the most part.  As I said, I’m focusing on getting myself out of my full time position and I figure half of next month will be a wash with the holidays.  Nevertheless, a writer should set writing goals, so for November and until the end of the year, I have a cyberprep (another label, yawn) short story I started a couple of weeks ago that I’d like to finish.

And finally, I’d like to post to the blog at least ten times for November and eight for December, giving myself, and probably everyone else a little break for the holidays.

Some Bustling Business

Alas, one of the minor reasons I’m not participating in NaNo this year is that I am leaving today to go to an out of state wedding.  My second one in three weeks.  I haven’t given enough thought to my goals that I’d like to accomplish in November, so I guess I’ll start with the easiest and most pressing:

Live through this weekend. Since I don’t have a car, I have to rent one. I have to get someone take me to the nearest (big) airport to pick it up. (It’s two hours away.) Then make arrangements for someone to pick me up on Sunday. Sleep a little in the evening on Sunday then work all Sunday night. At which point I’m sure I’ll feel like a drooling idiot come Monday morning.

Hopefully, I’ll rest up Monday and I’ll get back to the November “goals thing” Monday evening. By then, I’ll have had plenty of time to think about them.