The Winner and Still Champeen!

50K words + has been achieved.

Many, many words still left to go.

It occurred to my yesterday that I've now written 4.5 novels:

Gods of Grey Hill
Alien Blue
The Magic Thread
WFH Novel (which shall not be named)
...And 1/2 of Iron Road.

I'm not counting the one chapter of The Black Notebook. I liked the characters, but the plot went sour.

Now, all I need to do is...keep going.


Iron Road: Rah Rah Rah!

I'm less than 200 words from 50K and about halfway done. This is tempered by the rejection e-mail I got yesterday. Stupid, ill-timed rejection letters.

"All right, folks," Gil said. "Let's start unloading this stuff!"

Cochran went back into the ship. When Nancy came out with an armload of big hinges, she saw him sitting in a folding chair outside the ship. She tossed the hinges on the ground, went back inside, and pulled out a load of blankets and pillows instead.

"Getting laid?" Cochran asked.

"You make it sound like I'm an egg," Nancy said.

"Mmm. Eggs," Cochran said. She didn't know what he was talking about and wasn't going to ask; it was probably some old German sex joke she didn't know about.

She plopped down and waited for Gil to come out. He was carrying a mesh bag full of crap.

"What are the two of you doing?" Gil asked. "This is going to take days."

Nancy lay flat on her back and looked up at him. "You know, I could use a beer," she said.

Cochran pulled a flask from behind the chair, took a swig, pointedly failed to offer her any, and belched.

Barlen came out of the zeppelin door behind Gil, took one look at the two of them, and stopped. Nancy patted the blankets beside her. It was a nice day. Blue. Full of clouds. Probably sliding on towards autumn. She should find out what day it was. What month. What year. Did they even use a calendar?

Barlen put down the heavy frame he was trying to carry and sat next to Nancy, who put her head on his knee and pretended to fall asleep. She'd expected to be completely restless from being cooped up in the zeppelin for days, but now that she had the run of the castle, she was content to doze in the sun and remember her fantasies about Barlen. She picked up one of his hands and studied it. Yes, it was just as strong and stubby as she remembered.

"What, you're all just going to...?" Gil trailed off. "Damn it. I want a beer now, too."


Iron Road: Define Crap

The zeppelin was stuffed with parts.

"What is all this crap?" she asked Gil.

"Parts," he said.

Passing Cochran in the hallway: "What is all this crap?"

"Crap," he said. "F---ing dead weight. I thought you were bad."

"Better watch it," she said. "That was almost nice."

"F--- you," he hissed and disappeared behind the door to the engine room.

She giggled.

Writerly Ponder.

Yes, Virginia. Pound your head on the wall hard enough, for long enough, and you will have character development. But not too much at one time; that's not believable.

Update: Damn it, the terracotta warriors weren't found until 1974, so I can't use them. AAAAUUUUGGGHH! Semi-historical fiction pinches in strange places.

The World's Biggest Market...

...isn't the U.S. anymore.

The U.S. has approximately 302 million people.

The E.U. has 495 million.

The E.U. has stricter policies regarding the environment and various toxins that can be used to make stuff, like toys and computers.

The U.S. gets the stuff the E.U. rejects.

I listened to a Fresh Air interview with Mark Shapiro today on the way home. He theorized that one of the reasons the E.U. is so willing to pass environmental/safety laws vs. the U.S. is that the government pays for health care...and they'd rather regulate now and save later. Says a lot about the U.S. problems with socializing medicine, doesn't it?

(And why the E.U. coming down on Micro$oft was such a big deal, come to think of it.)

Update: Oh, yeah, I forgot. He also mentioned that the cosmetics industry is largely unregulated; they lobbied for an exception to the FDA in the thirties and got it. The E.U. told several companies they had to remove all: 1) cancer causing, 2) causing genetic mutation, and 3) reproductive illness-causing chemicals. Guess where the companies don't have to do this? Supposedly, just as an example, 1/3 of ALL LIPSTICKS SOLD IN THE U.S. contain lead. And they don't have to list it as an ingredient -- basically, they can list whatever ingredients they want here. Because it's not regulated.


Is that a taser in your pocket...

...or are you just happy to see me?

Pink seal mini taser.

(via Retrospectacle.)

Steven Brust is Screwed...

He may have to go into bankruptcy in order to pay the IRS and his medical bills. Here's his donation page, set up under protest it looks like, if you're interested. He says he's doing better now, though.


Iron Road: Depression

I'm at the point where I have to say, "What was I thinking? THIS IS NEVER GOING TO WORK!"

I took most of today off to do Christmas shopping and mess around with plot: one subplot removed, another added, two chapters changed to one, figured out why the main character wasn't ringing true in the current chapter--she didn't just get dumped, she just realized she'd been dumped a long time ago, without her knowing about it, but it's supposed to be okay, because it was for her sake. She isn't the kind of person who could take this well and needs to fall apart, but slowly, because she doesn't want to know these things.
Soon enough, it was dark and cold. She pulled a K-ration off the shelf and went back to her cabin to wrap herself in blankets and sleep, which came like a low, gray cloudbank that smothered the tops of buildings and made it known it planned to hang around for days. She woke up hungry but went back to sleep until it passed.

The House of Teller.

Teller has a house in Vegas, of which he says, "Like much of my life, this house is a reflection of everything I wanted back when I was 12."

Don't miss the pictures.


Gamer Face.

There's a pirate in the book who just showed up. I asked Lee what the pirate's beard should look like.

"A pencil-thin goatee."

I held up a finger vertically on my chin. "Like this?"

"No." He drew the line around his chin.

"Ohh. Like a hexagon. Hey! Our pirate's going to have gamer face!"

One Man's* Castle

*Or woman's

The fifteen top castles built largely by one person. Bishop's Castle is #2. I am totally wanting to check out #14, the Magical Museum of Robert Tatin. But it's in France. The House on the Rock is #15, which makes two on the list I've seen. I could totally think of worse things in life than to mark off all 15.

(via Neatorama.)


Writerly Ramble.

My POV character in the current book, Nancy, is much more observant than I am. I'm having a hard time describing the things she sees: of course she sees things that I wouldn't, but she also sees things in a different order than I would -- she can only see so many things at a time, like, one. But she sees things, consciously, rather than seeing them without noticing and having an intuitive grasp of them all at once.

Example. I was typing the description of a woman Nancy just met. I wanted to say that she was "slender and elegant." Whoooooah, says Nancy. How do I know she's elegant? Is it just that she's well-dressed and has upper-class manners? How do I know she's well-dressed? How do I know what upper-class manners are, especially when I have no idea how the upper class behaves there? There's a whole realm of information hiding behind that "slender and elegant," and I'm not buying that I would make the same assumptions you would.

Stupid writer, she says.

Okay, okay. Something go look for when I go back through. Now shut up before I cut your leg off...

Update: Here's how it worked out: "She was taller than Nancy, slender, and smoothly poised as she kissed Gil on both cheeks." Which later led to the following observation: "The room, as she stepped into it and accepted Marda's kisses just past the surface of her cheeks, smelled like food, but unfamiliarly. Nancy had no intention of kissing her back; the woman's face was covered with powder and smelled like a flower garden before the flowers put out."

She still has problems with poised.


Word of the Day.

pinchbeck (PINCH-bek) noun

An alloy of zinc and copper, used as imitation gold in jewelry.


Counterfeit or spurious.

[After watchmaker Christopher Pinchbeck (1670-1732), who invented it.
It's ironic that today his name is a synonym for something counterfeit
but in his time his fame was worldwide, not only as the inventor of
this curious alloy but also as a maker of musical clocks and orreries*.
The composition of this gold-like alloy was a closely-guarded secret
but it didn't prevent others from passing off articles as if made from
this alloy... faking fake gold!]

*Orrery: http://wordsmith.org/words/orrery.html

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus: http://visualthesaurus.com/?w1=pinchbeck

-Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)


Iron Road: Not human.

"That's right. I never told Frank about the Graemlings. Did you ever hear the stories about gremlins the pilots tell? Little goblins that got onto planes and wrecked them?"


"Well, it turns out the legend had some basis in fact. The Graemlings did exist, but they're gone now. A completely different race. Not human at all. The real native Nieberlanders, in fact. They haven't been seen for about a hundred, a hundred and fifty years. It would have been the year 1800 or so, about the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Which is the time the immigrants to Nieberland from Germany stopped coming in the other way. Incidentally. The legend has hung around for a while, and it went the rounds as a rumor among the pilots, but nobody living has actually seen one."


Ray tied her shoes last night!

She kept saying things like, "It's too hard for my fingers." But she laughed her way through the tricky process--success! I made her untie them and do it again--and she did it again!

She will probably have to learn it again today. Her fingers do not know how to see the shoelaces of themselves, and tying a shoelace isn't logical in a way a brain can directly grasp, much the way the fourth dimension isn't something the brain can directly grasp.

(Go ahead. Next time you tie your shoes, try to grasp the reason a shoelace knot works the same way you can grasp the way a donut works. You can work it out, but you can't directly grab onto the idea and say, "Aha!")

NaNoWriMo: Neil Gaiman Pep Talk

Cooool. The pep talk for NaNo this week is from Neil Gaiman. I was so thinking about doing this last night, but then, I don't have an agent:
The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm---or even arguing with me---she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, "Oh, you're at that part of the book, are you?"

I was shocked. "You mean I've done this before?"

"You don't remember?"

"Not really."

"Oh yes," she said. "You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients."
So I just cussed out my blinkin' laptop, went shopping, came home, taught Ray how to tie her new shoes (!!!), drank a beer, crashed on the couch for an hour, got up, did some yoga...It's amazing how productive not writing can be.
So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.
Okay, this is going to be my measure of success. When I can call up my agent, whine about my book, then go back all day to the coffee shop where I'm writing my novel, I've made it.


Another joke, but not so bad.

A man is dining in a fancy restaurant and there is a gorgeous redhead sitting at the next table. He has been checking her out since he sat down, but lacks the nerve to talk with her.

Suddenly she sneezes, and her glass eye comes flying out of its socket toward the man.

He reflexively reaches out, grabs it out of the air, and hands it back.

"Oh my, I am so sorry," the woman says as she pops her eye back in place.

"I'm sure that must have embarrassed you so let me pay for your dinner to make it up to you," she says.

They enjoy a wonderful dinner together, and afterwards they go to the theatre followed by drinks. They talk, they laugh, she shares her deepest dreams and he listens, he shares his and she listens.

After paying for everything, she asks him if he would like to come to her place for a nightcap and stay for breakfast.

They have a wonderful, wonderful time.

The next morning, she cooks a gourmet breakfast with all the trimmings. The guy is amazed and totally impressed. Everything had been SO incredible!

"You know," he said, "you are the perfect woman. Are you this nice to every guy you meet?"

"No," she replies. . . . . . "You just happened to catch my eye."

Worst Joke in the World

...with two bad jokes preceeding, just to let you down easy.


Iron Road: Her Brother Frank, His Fiancee Ellen

I have now passed the 25K mark, one day early!

"Frank," Nancy joked, "I'm unpredictable. Ellen just does things for reasons you don't understand. I think it's because she likes people and she wants them to be happy. Me? I could care less."

"You?" Frank asked. "I know you too well. You're the predictable one."

"Am I?" Nancy asked. They were almost to the old railroad bed. "What will I do next, Frank?"

Frank stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, leaned over, and kissed her on the head. "Let it be a surprise."

Musical Interlude: Daft Charleston

I had no idea that 1) Daft Punk has been around that long or 2) the tropes in the Charleston were so similar to modern dancing (including breakdancing).


Musical Interlude: Kid Beyond

Back in college, I had some friends that were always joking about making "organic techno," or electronica-sounding music just using their mouths. (They weren't very good. They only had one song, which went on interminably. But it was funny.) This is actually called beatboxing these days. Mix Bobby McFerrin with techno, there you go.

Kid Beyond is an incredible beatboxer.

But he's even better when he starts looping on himself, adding tracks and making songs. (I like "Wandering Star," a Portishead cover.) They're real songs. But you'll find yourself wondering whether he can really make all that noise by himself. I did. But here's a live clip that shows him building the layers. Cooool.

Factoid of the Day: Chateau

What's a chateau?

A château (plural châteaux) is a manor house or residence of the lord of the manor or a country house of nobility or gentry, with or without fortifications, originally - and still most frequently - in French-speaking regions. Where clarification is needed, a fortified château (that is, a castle) is called a château fort , such as Château fort de Roquetaillade. Care should be taken when translating the word château into English: it is not used in the same way as "castle" is in English, and most châteaux are more appropriately described as "palaces" or "country houses" in English than as "castles". For example, the Château de Versailles is so called because it was located in the country when it was built, but it does not bear any resemblance to a castle, so it is usually known in English as the Palace of Versailles."

(via Wikipedia.)



As I sat down to supper, I noticed that Ray had left long, purple marker streaks on the table when she was making elephant pictures last night. This led, naturally enough, to experiments: what takes purple marker off a Southwestern-style table?

Water doesn't.
Murhy's oil soap doesn't.
But magic erasers do.

After seeing exactly what the magic eraser did take off the table top (ewww), it was necessary to wash the whole thing with Murphy's oil soap. The water turned yellow, then orange, then brown, and finally black, after which I tried the magic eraser again...ewww. I eventually had to stop; the eraser was shredded.

I washed off the table with clean water and took some lemon oil to it. It didn't look like I was doing much, but when I stepped back, I could tell where I'd oiled and where I hadn't. I discovered a purple spot that I'd missed, but the magic eraser was too filthy to rinse out anymore. Next time. Lee came in and asked me whether I wanted help: he could work on it this weekend...

I told him no, it was a pretty comforting thing, being able to clean the top of the table. I've liked the smell of Murphy's oil soap ever since we had to use it on the pews and woodwork in the Stephan church, and the lemon oil was much subtler than I thought it would be. Doing something simple, repetetive, with more or less immediate results? I'm selfish that way.

I considered buying a plastic tablecloth, but I don't think I will. What's a table? What's a table for? An investment? An heirloom, to be passed to future generations, without blemish or particular character? When you have a table with wood that beautiful, you're supposed to be able to see it. You can't see if it you only take the cover off when company comes. If then.

I think I'll find a few largish placemats for projects, though. The one we have is being used to put the plants of questionable life span closer to the window, and has a crack down the center that looks like it was cut with an X-acto knife. I'm not sure whose fault that was.


PPW Workshop: Scaring Your Readers, Part IV

Carrie's presentation.

She showed a scene from Medium in which a mother and daughter are waiting in a doctor's office. The daughter is called in and tells her mother she doesn't need to come with her, she'll be fine. Too much time passes, the mother asks what's taking so long, the nurse discovers the door is locked. Upon finding someone with a key, they open the door and discover the room covered with blood. The girl is dead, covered with a sheet. A large dish filled with intestines is sitting where her right leg should be. The doctor is sitting in the far corner of the room, reciting his Hippocratic Oath. The door pulls further into the room, and a man in a dark suit tells the nurses and mother to wait outside, he'll be right with them--in a cockneyish accent. The main character (the medium) wakes up in a start.

We discussed different moments in the scene that increased suspense. Different people first picked up on the tension at different points--"I'll be fine, Mom"--the time was after five o'clock at a doctor's office--when the mother and nurse passed a vase of red orchids--when they discovered the door was locked. I noticed that the scene really wasn't out of the cliche until the moment the man in the dark suit jerked the door open. We talked about the power in reversing/undermining cliches.

CV: Withholding information can sometimes backfire. Also, remember the POV of a victim isn't usually that interesting. A piece of meat. I like to use implication to form a kind of creeping dread. Then there's the Wash Effect (having a beloved character die to show the reader/viewer that anything might happen). I like to introduce a second problem before I resolve the first. Escalate problems.

Something to be wary of is the idiot plot. Like The Blair Witch Project. I was telling a friend of mine about the movie. He said, "They're in the woods?" "Yeah." "There's a stream?" "Yeah." "Why didn't they follow the stream out of the woods?" Punishing your characters for just being stupid is a letdown. Aliens was much scarier. A movie about these marines, they were all ready, at the top of their game, and it still wasn't enough.

Pacing is what you are telling the reader, when you are telling the reader, so they can figure out what's going on.

PPW: How much is too much? (Increasing plot problems.)

CV: The point where you say, "Can they still get out of it" and it's not believable anymore, that's too far. If it's in service of the plot, I say go for it. Like Lois McMaster Bujold. All these terrible things happen to one of her characters...but there's always room to grow at the end of each novel.

PPW Workshop: Scaring Your Readers, Part III

Carrie Vaughn read a suspenseful scene from her third book, Kitty Takes a Holiday. She explains the techniques she used:

CV: I use pacing. I like little cliff-hanger chapter breaks. I like to end with a "gunshot moment," a shocking image or event. Let the reader absorb it. Smell, memory is tied to smell. I try to ask myself "How long can I draw this out?" Very slow. When your worries are actually confirmed, the suspense is over.

Steve Rasnic Tem read from their forthcoming book, The Man on the Ceiling, a metafiction novel about writing. Melanie Tem provided comments regarding the chapter, "Down the Dark Stairs."

MT: Suspense is in the language. The use of time, as non-linear, non-chronological, even just the verb tense can add suspense. It invites the reader to fill in the gaps. A series of images [starting with crashing planes] moves from things that are scary in real life toward fantasy characters with spoolky elements. Juxtapose a beautiful image with "I want him alive." The use of detail--observe something closely, then take it into a fantastic or mystery realm.

Writing exercise: Write down something that doesn't scare you. Find a partner. Now turn that image or situation into something scary.

[I wrote, "Picking out good chocolate at the grocery store." My partner Carol turned it into a mystery starter--chocolate with which to conceal the taste of poison.

Carol wrote "I look in the mirror, examine my aging face, once again, with dismay."

I said, "That's too easy."

She said, "I'm not happy about it, but it doesn't frighten me."

I wrote this:

I look in the mirror, examine my aging face, once again, with dismay.
It doesn't frighten me anymore, knowing that I will die, watching the
changes in my face, and the accompanying changes in the image behind me:
the old cottonwoods I used to play in as a child are gone, replaced with
an apartment building, hundreds of miles from the ocean, decorated with
an anchor, plastic, painted black. The sky has a quality, a
dis-quality, dull brownness, dust. Bright colors--I've grown used to
losing them, replacing htem with a rainbow of browns, tans, beiges.

It's the mirror. It's become hazed. Did I always look this way? Do I
really look this way now?]

One of the writers said that the writer needs to make your characters uncomfortable [beforehand] if something terrible is going to happen.

PPW Workshop: Scaring Your Readers, Part II

A caveat: I tried to catch everything I could, but I missed a lot and paraphrased even more.

PPW: How can scaring your readers be combined with other genres?

CV: Horros can be found in anything; it's a trope rather than a genre. Like suspense. There's scaring someone versus grossing them out. Making readers think something bad is going to happen.

SRT: The word horror suggests an explosive reaction, but it's really part of being a normal human being. That anxiety exists in all fiction, and finding ways to deal with it.

PPW: What do you think about this quote from Tim Powers. [To wit, someone asked him about different themes that might be found in Dracula. He replied that Dracula was about a guy that bit people and lived forever.]

CV: I should tell you I have a Masters in English Literature. With any great literature, you'll find that it's like a mirror.

MT: Readers will find things you didn't know were there.

SRT: It's like "The Old Man and the Sea." People say, "The sea is death." But the objects in the story have lots of different kinds of significance. Objects attract different meanings.

MT: The mysteries of Tony Hillerman. There's the tension of who killed this person and why, but there are different meanings. Partly the mystery, partly cultureal differences.

PPW: What do you think about thematic purpose. It used to be people talked about "Theme First!" but it's not talked about a lot anymore.

MT: It depends on how the story comes to me. If theme comes first, I'm in danger of writing an essay. My story "Revenant" is about getting stuck in grief and not moving on. But you have to figure out how to make it dramatic. But more often my stories come to me as a character.

SRT: Theme is important ot me. But it's kind of a backwards process that comes at the end. I have to start with something more concrete. I discover the theme.

CV: I wish people would talk about theme. I hate it when authors refuse to take a stand. I don't think about it before I start. I revise a lot.

MT: I wrote two short stories and a play script about the reaction of people to a public execution.

PPW Workshop: Scaring Your Readers, Part I

November 3 was the PPW workshop, "Scaring Your Readers." Steve Rasnic Tem, Melanie Tem, and Carrie Vaughn attended; Ed Bryant was ill and missed.

Turns out writers, both amateurs and professional, like to talk about random stuff that just happens to be interesting. I could get used to this...

A caveat: I tried to catch everything I could, but I missed a lot and paraphrased even more.

PPW: What drives you to delve into the darker side of things?

Melanie Tem: These things are of foremost interest to me, in theme and character.

Steve Rasnic Tem: I've always been interested in the dark and strange, things that nobody else wanted to talk about.

Carrie Vaughn: I always get the reaction, 'Oh, but you seem like such a nice person." I like to peel back layers. Stories get darker than you intend. I like to get a reaction out of the reader.

PPW: What were your early influences?

CV: Ray Bradbury is very atmospheric and has lots of twists. Charlotte's Web.

SRT: King Arthur, Robin Hood, Jules Verne, fairy tales. British ghost stories.

MT: My father wanted to be a writer but passed it on to me. My book Yellow Hound will be about that. It's coming out in 2009. My father thought genre fiction was not important literature. But we did read some page turners. Eugene Fields's poem, "Little Boy Blue." The Diary of Anne Frank.

PPW: Who do you read now?

SRT: Cormack McCarthy. Robert Parker.

CV: Moby Dick. Steven Ericson. Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, Ian Banks.

MT: Francine Prose, "A Changed Man." Maria Doria Russell, "The Sparrow." Toni Morrison.

PPW: Where do you see your genres going?

CV: My genre is "urban fantasy." I've also heard, unfortunately, "Bit-Lit" (Chick Lit with vampires), but thankfully the term hasn't caught on yet.

SRT: I don't like genre classifications. Horror, other than vampire fiction, is death in the marketplace. My agent says they [publishers] want "Stealth Horror." It's a good thing creatively. Horror tends to be a very conservative genre.

MT: To me, you write what you ant to write. I know, it's an ivory tower approach, but it's an honest creative approach to write first and then look for a market. If you write for a market first, you can skew your style.

PPW: Are there any taboo subjects?

CV: I'm going to channel Ed here. Different people have different tolerances.

MT: We wrote a book about repressed memories of sexual abuse.

SRT: It depends so much on the editors.

PPW: What do readers take away from a good scare?

CV: Why do people ride roller coasters? They're in danger, but they're perfectly safe. It's a primal hindbrain thing.

SRT: It's a safe release. Readers can try out different lifestyles, situations they don't experience in real life.

MT; My day job is as a social worker. For me, I ten to go for disturbing people. Fearing the demons. There's a Buddhist [technique?] called "calling death out of shadows." You put it on your shoulder, where it will be less scary, more understandable at a primal level.


Untranslatable: Words from other languages.

A list of foreign words (and phrases) for which there is no good English translation, part of a book named Toujours Tingo, by Adam Jacot de Boinod (a forthcoming sequel to The Meaning of Tingo).

"Snyavshi Shtany, PO VOLOSAM NE GLADYAT - Russian: once you've taken off your pants it's too late to look at your hair."

My favorite such phrase is, "l'espirit d'escalier" - French: the moment after a conversation when you think of the perfect comeback. Literally, "the spirit of the stairs" (on the way out).

Iron Road: A Raymond Chandler Moment.

"Mrs. Keunecke," Nancy said. She wasn't shouting. Anybody walking on the sidewalk might have overheard her, but there wasn't anybody on the sidewalk, not in February before school let out. "Surely you've heard about me. I've lived in this town most of my life. People know me. I'm no lady, Mrs. Keunecke. I'm rough and rowdy and I like boys too much. I've busted more windows, on purpose, than you have fingers. I've been sneaking cigarettes since I was thirteen. I broke a boy's arm when I was fifteen. I'm nosy, and I'm stubborn, and I'm mean. I don't care what happens to you, and I will make sure you lose your job if you don't open this door."

"Are you threatening me?"

Some people are just slower than others, Nancy thought. "Yes, m'am."


West Branch Art

Grant Wood, of "American Gothic" fame, painted a picture of the Hoover cottage being shown off by a tour guide: The Brithplace of Herbert Hoover. It wouldn't have been accurate, but I wish he'd painted Isis in the shadow of the trees off to the right.

Rob Wood (no relation?) painted a bird's-eye view of West Branch. The big building toward the top is the library/museum; there's a curving walkway to a smaller white building (I forget what that was). On the curved walkway is a black lump on top of a white lump: that's the statue. Hoover's house is small and white with a reddish roof. It has a white fence and is across the bridge with grass on it from the library. I think the Opera Block (home of the former West Branch Opera House) is in the lower right corner, from the backside. There was a truly excellent steakhouse right around there, but I forget what it was called. The pizza place is still there--Herb 'n' Lou's.

Iron Road: Gypsies

Another Iron Road bit:

Another fantasy. Whatever had taken out the rails had been quick, rough, and almost certainly loud. The railroad ties, which were old but good enough to reuse (there were fewer of them lying around, from what she could tell), had shattered and splintered, in some places even turning to sawdust. The amount of dirt that had been pulled out of the ground and the distance it appeared to have scattered also pointed toward the rails having been jerked out of the ground. It would have taken a tractor or a tank to do the work. Gypsies. Gypsies are well-known for their tanks.


More Iowa History.

After WWI, President Hoover received a bronze statue of the Egyptian Goddess Isis from a group of Belgian schoolchildren, soldiers, and refugees. Whatever possessed them to pick Isis, I'm not sure.

At the time, Isis was considered the Goddess of Life. The inscription at the base of the statue (not at the base of the pedestal), if I remember right, reads: "I am all that has been, that is, that shall be, and none among mortals has yet dared to raise my veil."

It's surrounded by old pine trees and was usually fairly shaded. On one side is the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum and on the other a recreation of Hoover's birthplace (including a blacksmith shop full of inveresting tools and scraps). And then this occult statue (it isn't Egyptian in style at all) jumps out at you and claims to be the source of all mysteries. I would have thought someone would have lodged a protest by now...

The Little Old Lady Rules.

Bunch of e-mails circulating at work about "The Woman's Rules" "The Man's Rules"--even "The Chocolate Rules," so I came up with my own version:

The Little Old Lady Rules

(The logic here is that I have a little box in my brain marked "inappropriate." There's a little old lady in that box. She says things like this...and I think she'll get a little louder, the older I get.)

  1. All the chocolate is mine.
  2. All the good chocolate is really mine. I will share the rest, because I am the soul of magnaniminimininty.
  3. People are dumb, which is good, because otherwise I would run out of things to laugh at.
  4. I am always beautiful, witty, kind, and wonderful. I don't need you to tell me whether the dress looks good, I look fat, etc. I look good inthis dress, and I'm not fat.
  5. Any joke that shocks someone half my age is a good joke.
  6. Some babies are ugly. But you have to love them anyway.
  7. Some kids are brats. Smack 'em when their parents aren't looking.
  8. Never answer the phone. Or the door. If you do, anything you say to a telemarketer, politician, salesbobo, or religious zealot doesn'tcount in the afterlife.*
  9. It's time for your children to grow up.
  10. I don't care what you think. Unless you think you want to give me chocolate.

  11. *Don't mess with the Girl Scouts.


Iowa History.

Lee and I used to live in West Branch, Iowa, birthplace of President Herbert Hoover. The town is also the home of Scattergood Friends School, a college-prep school run by the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative) (that is, by Quakers).

From 1938-1943 it was also run as a hostel for Jewish people and political refugees from Europe:
By July of 1939 Scattergood Hostel seemed settled enough for the first family to arrive. By August the targeted population of 30 "guest" (the term used in preference to the more loaded "refugees") and 10 or so staff was mostly in place. At that point, daily life at Scattergood Hostel began to reflect more closely the AFSC's goal of providing a place where refugees "could go for a few weeks or months to recover from their effects of their recent experiences, regain their confidence , improve their English, learn to drive a car, and, if needed be, start retaining themselves for some new line of work before seeking a permanent place in American society." True to Quaker aversion to organized hierarchies, from the beginning attempts were made to run the project as consensually as possible, with continual input from those being helped.


Writing Exercises

From ***Dave and Kate, a writing exercise.

The weird thing about this one is--I hate it. What [sensory experience/concept] is [typically unrelated item]? Fill in the blanks for a cheap poem...this was the kind of thing they made us do in college instead of teaching us about, um, anything useful, and they bug me now. These things are fun to do, but what do you learn?

What color is fear? White.

What sound does affection make? A pleasant one, although it may annoy with repetition.

What texture does Autumn have? It isn't crisp. It's dessicated.

What shape does a conversation make? Depends on the conversation.

What fabric is a kitten made of? Calico. (Couldn't resist.)

What noise is made by curiosity? None, unless it's more about the "being curious" than the curiosity itself. Curiosity is 1) sneaky 2) self-involved.

What is the smell of knowledge? Depends on the knowledge.

How do you punctuate life? With a knife, etc.

What does death taste like? It doesn't. Your experience of another's death may. Your feelings about your own probably do.

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, what kind of tree is it? Just a tree.


Here are a couple that we did at the seminar this past Saturday ("Scaring Your Reader").

1) Two or more: Write down something you don't fear. Exchange with a partner. Try to find a way to make that thing or situation scary.

2) Solo or group: Write down 8-10 elements of a charcter--name, age, race, gender, three most important relationships, occupation, etc. Use those elements to build a suspenseful situation.

I'll try to put down our examples.


Update: I think I'm PMSing.

But having thought about it for a couple of hours, backbrain processing, I think this kind of thing annoys me because it introduces a concept--how to create a simile--without providing any help whatsoever.

What color is fear? One answer might be, "Fear is blue, because fear makes you sad, and sadness is blue." Given the nature of the exercise, how are you supposed to tell whether you're making an effective simile or not? What's the point of making a simile at all? What should you, in general, avoid in making similes? When people say, "Show, don't tell," does that mean you should or should not use similes? When should you avoid making a simile?

Now, a writing exercise that taught you how to do that would be worth good money.

Kate--Dave--my apologies if I gave any offense.


Iron Road: Winter in Iowa City

I hit my first happy metaphor today. The main character has just come back from the Army Nurse Corp after WWII. She's looking for a job:

The next stop was the University's General Hospital, spreading like a castle or an old English manor house across the frozen landscape. Steam rose from a pair of barely-visible chimneys; a slick of frost covered the trees downwind. The wind was steady, cold, and clean-smelling. A professional type of winter, on assignment to freeze fingers and toes, but going about its business without any rancor.

One that would probably stretch its way into April, for lack of a signature on a spring-release form.


Halloween Costumes of the In-Laws...

Or just one. My sister-in-law, Erica, won a hundred bucks for her last-minute costume.

Oh, God.

It's worse than the guy with red-colored Fruit Loop boxes all over his shirt: the Cereal Killer.


I was bugging people at work asking them, "What does falute mean?" After about, oh, five hours, this was the result:

Pronunciation: hai-fê-lut-ên * Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: (Regional slang) 1. Highly pompous, bombastic (speech). 2. Showing off, ostentatious, pretending to be above one's station in life, putting on airs.

Notes: The amazing thing about high-falutin' is that is not a high-faluting word itself for it is always pronounced with a regional twang-high-falutin'. However, it has survived long enough to be treated as a legitimate word that may be pronounced standardly, high-faluting, if it makes you feel better. It may be used as an adverb with or without any doctoring: "Benny can talk as high-falutin' as any of them.

In Play: This word is not only slang but slang used predominately in the southern US states: "Nan Tucket thinks that using high-falutin' words will convince people that she is a high-class lady." Although most commonly associated with speech, today's Good Word is a home in many other contexts: "Cindy Mae Lovett hasn't talked to any of her old friends since she started waitressing in that high-falutin' restaurant on Nob Hill."

Word History: Today's Good Word is ostensibly made up of the adjective high + the participle of the verb falute. The problem with this explanation is that there is no verb falute "put on airs"! (We see this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle: "Ally Katz falutes like a millionaire philosophy professor when she goes out with men.") It probably started out as a blend of "fly" and "salute" but that is pure speculation at this point. (Now let's thank Kyle McDonald of RPI for suggesting today's low-falutin' Good Word.)

--I don't know where it came from, and I'm not finding it online. Let me know if you know the site.