Friday, June 29, 2012

today's reasons to wear a motorcycle helmet

My brother and sister-in-law hit a deer on the highway. Both of them have broken ribs and spent several days in the hospital—Cindy broke seven ribs if I remember correctly. The only reason they're still alive is they were wearing their helmets.

Emma noted the best reason to always wear a helmet: If you carry a motorcycle helmet into a bar or coffeeshop, everyone will know you're cool.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

point of view fixes everything #1

The Fourth Street Fantasy Convention had a good panel called "point of view fixes everything," but the panelists forgot to mention the most basic reason why thinking about POV is useful for a writer:

Point of view tells you where to start and stop a scene or a story. The essential questions:
  • Where do the important events start and stop for the POV character?
  • Which character has the most interesting perspective on that part of the story?
Consider a murder mystery. You have three obvious POV choices at the beginning: the victim, the murderer, and the detective. Those aren't your only choices—you might start with the person who finds the body, or the coroner who discovers an interesting fact about the body, or anyone whose first experience with the case is interesting—but those are the obvious ones.

If you're starting with the victim, the story starts when the victim becomes aware that something unusual is happening. If you're starting with the murderer, the story starts with the decision to commit the murder or  with the murder itself. If you're starting with the detective, the story starts with the detective learning about the case.

The character with the most interesting POV and the most important character in the story are not necessarily the same: Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist, but Watson is the better POV character because Watson's a more complex character than Holmes, who is brilliant, but broken and monomaniacal in a way that's more interesting when seen from the POV of Watson, who loves and admires him.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why I didn't like "The Catcher In the Rye" when I read it at fourteen

I just skimmed How to Choose Summer Reading for Students, an appropriate-for-the-Times call for more elitism in kids' reading. It mentions The Catcher in the Rye, which reminded me that I hated it when I was fourteen. I couldn't relate to Holden Caulfield. He was a rich kid at a boarding school, and I didn't have a clue then that I would be living something like his life within a year. I remember his annoyance with his roomie's clipped nails, and I couldn't relate to his fastidiousness: Dad clipped his nails when they bothered him, and therefore, so did I, and why should I care about some prissy kid? I didn't realize this was a prissy kid with psychological problems; all I knew then was that it was a prissy rich kid who was way too full of himself. I got the book at the wrong age. So, self-proclaimed reading guides of the world, shut up and let kids figure out for themselves what they love to read.

PS. Ms. Hollander, The Hunger Games has allegorical strengths that have eluded you, but not its fans—many of whom will go on to read and love The Catcher in the Rye.

Friday, June 22, 2012

never trust the narrator: notes for an essay

This is a bit from Elsewhere that some readers misunderstand:
"There's a bookstore? In Bordertown?"
She nodded. "Several. There's everything you want in Bordertown. There just isn't everything you need." She grinned. "I'm Mickey. The store's Elsewhere. Hours are as erratic as you can imagine, but word gets out when we're open. A few blocks south of Ho on Mock Avenue."
"I'm Ron. Ron Starbuck."
She lifted an eyebrow. "One kid showed up in Soho, said her name was Jinian L'Étoile. Everyone called her Jiggle Le Toilet. She cut out for the World after a week. I'm amazed she lasted that long."
"Check," I said. "Just Ron."
"Good to meet you, Just Ron."
If you check my reviews, you'll notice that some refer to that character as Ron Starbuck, because they trust the narrator. He goes by several names in the book. His real last name isn't mentioned until the sequel: It's Vasquez.

I didn't expect anyone to believe Starbuck was his last name. I chose it because it sounded like the kind of name a kid would make up for himself, and I thought readers would figure out from "said her name was" rather than "whose name was" that it was common to create new identities in Bordertown.

But I forgot that readers tend to trust narrators. Often, they're right to, but I find completely trustworthy narrators both boring and implausible: none of us are fully self-aware. Some narrators lie to hide something when they tell a story. Others think they know the truth and are wrong.

I've never done much with unreliable narrators, but when I read, I try to remember that anything a narrator says should be weighed against what we learn later.

Hmm. I'm being unreliable here, I just realized. The narrator of Dogland is unreliable, and readers who miss that miss the presence of magic in the book.

kickass spacewoman of the day: Space Stories, December 1952

via Golden Age Comic Book Stories

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

and now, Underwear Detective!

Actually, this is a Sally the Sleuth story from Spicy Mystery Stories. I find the art charming in a way that's hard to explain—I especially like the last three panels.

via Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine: Number 1178: A roscoe sneezed

Monday, June 18, 2012

on Class by Paul Fussell

"The word 'class' is fraught with unpleasing associations, so that to linger upon it is apt to be interpreted as the symptom of a perverted mind and a jaundiced spirit." —R. H. Tawney

"You reveal a great deal about your social class by the amount of annoyance or fury you feel when the subject is brought up. A tendency to get very anxious suggests that you are middle-class and nervous about slipping down a rung or two. On the other hand, upper-class people love the topic to come up: the more attention paid to the matter the better off they sem to be. Proletarians generally don't mind discussions of the subject because they know they can do little to alter their class identity. Thus the whole class matter is likely to seem like a joke to them—the upper classes fatuous in their empty aristocratic pretentiousness, the middles loathsome in their anxious gentility. It is the middle class that is highly class-sensitive, and sometimes class-scared to death." —Paul Fussell

I loved the opening pages of Class, but I soon got bored. Fussell isn't interested in the underlying workings of class. He's concerned with the markers, the manifestations of class. Since the book is old, the markers are dated. But the book is a grand snapshot of its time, and I'd recommend it to anyone writing about the '70s and early '80s.

Note: I read the 1983 edition. Apparently, the book was updated, so it might also be a useful snapshot of later class markers too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

our radon abatement system

So, we did a second radon test, which came back with a lower level than the first test but still above what's recommended, so we asked a friend for a recommendation, then contacted Radon Removal, who provided us with this:

My lovely assistant is gesturing toward the fan, which runs constantly and is very quiet. With some houses, they're able to run the chimney inside the house and put the fan in an attic or a closet, but our house is very small and there simply wasn't an inconspicuous place inside.

Here you can see the pipe in the basement, next to our furnace.

And here's where it goes into the floor. They drill through the floor, suck out some dirt and sand, then seal in the pipe, which draws radon from beneath the house.

The cost was $1375, and the installers were fast and friendly, so we're pleased. I've mailed off the follow-up test to see just how much of a difference this'll make. I'll post that when it arrives.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

how to play Monopoly, American-style

This description assumes five players, but it can be tweaked for more or fewer. (See below.)

The Banker puts $7500 ($1500 per player) into a pot. The players roll dice to decide the order of play.

The high roller takes $6,375 (85% of the pot) and goes first.

The next-highest takes $750 (10% of the pot) and goes second.

The third takes $353 (4.7% of the pot, rounded up) and goes third.

The fourth takes $15 (.2% of the pot) and goes fourth.

The fifth takes the last $7 (.1% of the pot, rounded down) and goes last.

Whenever players pass Go, the high roller always gets $200 from the Banker, the next-highest gets $88, the third gets $55, the fourth gets $35, and the fifth gets $20.

When players run out of money, they accumulate debt. Whenever debtors pass Go, they divide their income among their creditors.

Every seventh time debtors pass Go, they declare bankruptcy. Their debts are forgiven and they get half as much as they did when they first rolled: #1 gets $3188, #2 gets $375, #3 gets $176, #4 gets $8, and #5 gets $3.

The game never ends. If you want to quit, put the cannon in your mouth and say "Boom!"


Note: The percentages are based on the current wealth and income quintiles of the USA. If you have more or fewer players, adjust the percentages accordingly. But don't even think about giving everyone the same amount when they start or when they pass Go—this game isn't called Pinko.

ETA: Passing "Go" in Monopoly is like Guaranteed Basic Income

I hadn't realized that Monopoly includes a form of Basic Income until I read this, in The Pictorial Arts: The Color of Money:
My favorite part of the game was passing GO, just to always receive that stipend of $200. We should have that in real life. Everytime we pass GO, um, let's say every January 1, every man woman and child should receive a stipend, and with cost of living increases, that should be oh I dunno, $7500? Wouldn't that be a lovely way to begin each year? Or to spread it out, it could be on each of our birthdays. Wouldn't that make older people appreciate their birthdays more?
ETA: At G+, Dan Harper left this comment: "According to the online Inflation Calculator (reference: ), $200 in 1934, when the game was created, would be worth $3221.87 in 2010 dollars."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

two headstones for Mom, or the curious business of death

Half a century ago, my mother's parents bought a piece of a cemetery in their home town in northern Minnesota. I'm not sure how many grave sites they bought—my guess is eight or twelve. I think they imagined their descendants returning in death to gather for eternity.

That ain't gonna happen.

My brother and his family have lived in New Mexico for decades. They're part of a church there. They have no reason to transport their bodies or ashes thousands of miles to be buried in a place they never loved.

Emma and I are back in Minneapolis, and my instructions for my body are simple: whatever Emma wants to do. I've always admired the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence and American Indian burial platforms. I'd kind of like to be stuffed and placed by the door where I could hold coats and umbrellas at parties, but the cost wouldn't be worth the joke. Burn me, bury me, scatter me, stuff me, or leave me to rot where I won't inconvenience anyone—it's all good. If my spirit will linger anywhere, it'll be somewhere more interesting than the last bits of my body.

These are my grandparents' graves in Minnesota:

Mom used to talk about donating her body to science, but she mentioned that less often in later years. When my sister died suddenly, they buried her ashes in a small country graveyard near her farm in Manitoba. Mom decided to be buried next to Liz, and Dad, who, I suspect, wanted to die at sea in a storm and never found a storm strong enough to kill him,  has agreed to be buried with them. Currently, half of Mom's ashes are buried by this marker:

Mom mentioned to my niece once that she would like half of her ashes to be buried with her parents, so I accepted the job of making that happen.

Which may've been a bad idea, because at a basic level, I just don't understand graveyards. If you want to spend money on someone, spend it on them while they're alive.

I understand memorial services. They're not for the dead. They're for the grieving.

But I don't understand spending money to mount a piece of rock in a field that could be a park or farmland or a nature preserve. If you need more than your memories to remember someone, keep a photo or something that person had. In my living room, I have a small metal pitcher that was in Mom's bedroom when she died. It's more than enough for me to remember Mom.

I wanted to plant something over her ashes in Minnesota, then decide whether there should be a formal marker also, but my brother and my niece want a headstone, and I love them, so there'll be a marker in Minnesota as well as Manitoba. Something that should look nice near Mom's parents' graves will cost about $700, which is either too much or too little to spend on remembering someone you love, but that's the business of death for you.

Marrowbones: a charming, spooky comicbook for all ages

Eric Orchard: Marrowbones 2 Oliver's Tomb Now For Sale!

#1 is here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Henry Miller's commandments for writing

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."
  3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can't create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. ConcentrateNarrow downExclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

on "Before Watchmen" and DC making the forgotten Green Lantern gay

I don't know whether the Before Watchmen books will be worth reading, but I know they won't be worth publishing for at least four reasons:

1. Before Watchmen already exists. It's every superhero comic ever published before Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created Watchmen. The point of Watchmen is it's the culmination of the superhero comics everyone knew.

2. Before Watchmen is a prequel. People don't want to see a backstory fleshed out that only elaborates on what they know. I haven't read Before Watchmen and don't plan to, but I suspect DC has created their Phantom Menace.

3. DC's reason for doing Before Watchmen isn't artistic. It's pure Capitalism 101: when you have something that's profitable, milk it and shear it until it's time to send it to the knacker.

4. Before Watchmen is designed to be compared to something that's greatly admired. Working on Before Watchmen would be like working on Before Casablanca: Do you really want to be despised?

As for DC's decision to make Alan Scott—the Green Lantern they don't promote much, the Green Lantern on the "alternate" Earth that's not the one that counts in the DC universe—their gay superhero, yawn. They're right that at least one of the original 1940s superheros should come out of the closet, but if they want to make a meaningful change in the DCU, they also need to out a hero who was relevant in the '60s, a hero from Earth One, the world that matters to casual readers. I suggest Elongated Man or the Martian Manhunter, even though both of their names inspire obvious jokes. Or better yet, Hawkman—a gay Hawkman and a straight Hawkwoman could make an entertaining duo.