Monthly Archives: February 2013

Collecting Books in a Small Way

I read a lot. I’m going to be writing a review of things I’ve read soon. But, there’s one thing I generally don’t do. I don’t collect books. The artifact is just an artifact. It is not the story, merely a vessel that carries it.

Except, I do collect books.

It says a lot about me, I think, that I quietly desire and seek out first-edition hardbacks of Maureen McHugh works. I don’t need them signed. I don’t care about that. I just think that Maureen McHugh’s work is amazing on every level, and I quietly seek it out. I’ve only met the woman in passing, and I doubt we’d have much to talk about in life. But, I do think her novels are breathtaking. And, as I am able, I seek out the first editions in hardback.

I have a few precious artifacts. A Samizdat edition of “Finch”, some worn-in artifacts from used book stores that are as fascinating to me because of the marginalia as for the books themselves, and a German copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with amazing art that my sister bought me, once.

Being a collector of things is not my way. I do not look at anything owned as anything but a passing fancy. But, sometimes the passing fancy is a small part I play to carry things forward in time, that the artifact retains itself against history.

As much as collecting is not a calling for me, I still feel called to do a little, and to be balanced about things. I try to keep my scope narrow.

Do you collect? Shouldn’t you? A whole career from a great living artist could fit on a single shelf. Pick one. Pick two. We are all a little responsible for what people say about books in the future. Keeping a few good, quality artifacts around in good condition, even if only to be donated someday or sold in an estate sale after our time has passed, well – it helps. It’s such a small thing to do, as long as you don’t go overboard about collecting.

Also, collect slowly. I have yet to complete my little collection, and I’ll get back to it as funds come around. Newlyweds need to save money. We are planning things together. So, no first editions, for now.

There’s plenty of time when the scope of the collection is so small.

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Anybody in San Antonio on March 7th?

San Antonio Writer’s Guild is hosting me for a talk about something familiar to these parts. I’ll be giving a brief presentation and Q&A about a “Mosaic Text” and a simple tool and/or way of thinking for writer’s interested in moving into intermediate and experimental narrative forms. It will hardly be exhaustive or complete or the secret to experimental fiction, which is by its very nature difficult to precisely define, but it will be one useful way of thinking about the structure of unconventional, un-beginner narrative forms.

See you there?

San Antonio Writer’s Guild
March 7, 2013 at 7pm
Bethany Congressional Church
500 Pilgrim DrSan Antonio, TX 78213

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10 Reasons Why Gardening is Better Than Minecraft

1) The Sun.

“My Eyes, They BURNS!” Admit that you spend too much time staring at computer screens and not enough in actual sunlight.

2) Minecraft is NOT REAL. Building things in Minecraft DOESN’T MATTER.

“Look honey, I made this amazing skeleton skull island fortress on the computer, and lava pours from its eyes.” That would be more awesome, if it was real. Your Minecraft creations are not real. When you build something in real life, it’s real. When you show it to people, they won’t ask you why you think that’s a good use of your time.

3) Creepers Suck

The Minecraft World is overgrown with these things that will explode and blow up your house and constructions. Garden pests generally don’t blow s*** the f*** up while you cower in fear behind a wall. I mean, bears in some parts of the world, sure, but they’re not common around civilized areas. Also, bears don’t explode. Generally, they don’t.

4) Exercise

Admit that you spend too much time sitting at your computer and admit that you could use more exercise in sunlight, digging and weeding and making a complex series of movements that require range of motion.

5) Embracing futility in the garden is rewarded with less futility, not more.

In Minecraft, you do many tedious things that generally only lead to more tedious things. (e.g. I have constructed an awesome palace to insulate me from the outside world. That means I have more time for my underwater sanctuary construction to observe 8-bit squid in their natural habitat!) In the garden, when you weed, you are rewarded with less weeding next time as weeds don’t have a chance to reseed. When you harvest, you are done and you eat the harvest. It is delicious. Then you take a shower and read a book.

6) Rewards in the garden are far greater.

If you think finally finding a Diamond is rewarding, try harvesting rare and delicious varieties of fruits and vegetables after months of careful effort. In the garden, the first tomato of the season is something precious and beautiful and wonderful. Imagine pulling that first Cherokee Purple down, rinsing it off and biting. Vine-ripened tomatoes are just better, and I’m not talking about the sad rubber balls strung together like fish at the grocery store. If you’ve never had a purple tomato fresh from the vine, you are failing at life, for there is only one life to live and you are missing out on one of the best things that is there for us in life.

7) Thwart Actual Enemies That Are Real, 24/7, 365!

Nightfall in Minecraft means hiding from monsters, or fighting them. Daylight and you walk around and swipe at pigs and sheep and punch trees to pass the time. In the garden, you are always at war with the creatures that infest the ground, looking for any opportunity to steal what is rightfully yours. Nightfall in the garden means insects and squirrels, or even an occasional deer. Arm thyself, and do battle against foes that are actually real! Match wits with nature! Your foes will try to vanquish you and claim your horde, and you must act to preserve your garden goodness!

8) Gardening does not generally hamper productivity more than about two to four hours at a time.

Minecraft can easily swallow hours of your day once you mistakenly start. Because gardening has a physical element, it generally doesn’t swallow 12 hours of your day like dreaming because that would be way too much actual, physical work in the garden. the physical aspect of gardening means you will get tired and you will stop and get on with your day.

9) Science is awesome. SCIENCE!

Gardening requires practical applications of biology, geology, climatology, ecology, chemistry, and engineering. Minecraft requires an internet connection and a weblink to a recipe book. That’s not science. Testing soil, researching and constructing good environments for desired plants, researching and solving problems and watching the weather to figure out microclimate solutions and constructing tools and equipment from recycled materials because SCIENCE! Gardening is better than minecraft because SCIENCE!

10)  Surviving the Apocalypse

Minecraft is sort of a garden of eden, post-apocalyptic, pixelated dreamworld. But, there is coming to us soon a real post-apocalyptic world that is not in 8-bit. Constructing your Minecraft fortress against the skeletons and zombies coming up from underground in Minecraft does not prepare you for the actual zombie and skeleton invasion, wherein gardening is a set of skills that can save your life as the zombies are coming. Because they are coming for you and your brains and your families’ brains. Get ready.

Garden. It’s better than Minecraft.

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Indentured servitude or feudalism or whatever hyperbolic buzzword we’re using today…

I think I’ve paid off student loans, almost. I was very, very close to clearing it all out and a gracious family member put me over the top, and I thank them privately, not here.

Alas, I made the annoying mistake of paying the loan off the day interest would tick up for the month. Between the time I paid the loan and the time it got paid, the interest turned over and there’s $0.88 left to pay off. Web bill paying only allows you to pay a dollar or more, so I can’t pay that last little bit. It also won’t let me just give them a dollar, because I can only pay exactly what is due.

So, do I really have to mail a check into the student loan people for $0.88? Is that really what I have to do now?

My thoughts on student loan debt are pretty obvious and common, if you read around the blog-o-sphere and consider the liberal/libertarian ideals I hold in most, but not all, cases. It is a feudalistic system of indentured servitude, or something else hyperbolic and buzzword-y. Feudalism is a term I hear bandied about a lot, recently, to describe the way American employment works – how employers demand more than what they are contractually agreeing to, how employers hold your health and safety in their hands with insurance, how they expect you to fawn on them for their power, or something. I don’t know, I was hanging out with some writer-types, and these terms get talked about and people complain about their jobs in very high language. Complain all you like, but complain quietly, because we still have to live and work and complaining won’t help anyone find the right way to handle the situations we’re in.

Recently, and I can’t remember precisely who it was for certain, I heard a writer complain about how companies don’t like you to be writers on the side, because you’re committed to something that’s not the company. A factual story was told about an accountant who lost her job only because her fantasy novels were too successful and considered inappropriate at her place of business. Everyone in the room nodded because we’ve had it happen to us, or to someone we know. The buzzword words came again – and if it is who I think it was that said it, though it’s fuzzy because I was very tired, doesn’t have to work a day job – and the storyteller said it was just feudalistic mindsets that are awful and people should complain, or rise up, or something. I don’t remember exactly the words, but no solution was offered in the explanation, just that we shouldn’t put up with it.

But, most folks don’t get that luxury.

Complain all you like, but there is still this way of thinking in the world that having book deals means you aren’t really employable in an office setting, sometimes. There’s plenty of stories out there of writers who lost their job or got hit during the layoffs hard, presumably because everyone assumed they were writing so they’d be rich and fine, or they were writing so they weren’t really all-in to the company if they had anything left to write in the wee hours of the days and weekends.

Call it feudalism and decry the injustice. Bills that come in due must still needs be paid. The demagoguery of declaring the injustice and telling people not to put up with it, does not help anyone deal with the reality that we must navigate. Not everyone has the support system they need to be a rebel without great physical and emotional pain.

Student loans look like the worst kinds of feudalism, where there’s huge commitment to the top, but nothing but derision going down, nasty phone calls and letters, plus the public shaming of credit ratings following people who are guilty of nothing criminal but still must pay the price as if they were. The little injustices of the system that pile on to make a difficult, necessary situation a thing to endure for modern employment for most people. Complaining about the injustice doesn’t solve what exists. Most jobs these days make as a prerequisite a college degree. We can bemoan the injustice until the blog-o-sphere burns, but I still have to figure out how to pay that $0.88 before it adds up to more interest, or dings a late payment. I still had to get the college papers in hand, and join the work force, and work, and work hard for people that expected me to go home exhausted with nothing left to give.

It is easy to be wise about a system of power when dinner is on the table every night, no matter what you say or feel or think. In the mean time, stay quiet, and keep your head down. Don’t make waves until you can afford to ride them out to sea. Keep your real self hidden from the people around you, so no one will even know what it is you do.

I’m going to call the student loan people today, and see if I can’t figure this one out before any more spare change piles on to my $0.88 remaining in student loan debt.

Somewhere a banker is laughing at me.

Oddly enough, and an important note to those considering college: I use my creative writing degree professionally every day. I often overhear and witness people warning others about “useless degrees” and taking on debt, and I think that most people don’t realize how very useless any degree can be, when the person holding it is someone who approaches their education as a quest to make the most money as quickly as possible. In fact, the most successful people I know approached their college education with genuine curiosity first, and a career second. So, take that advice you hear everywhere with a grain of salt.

What is still useful advice in this vein, however, is check your expected average earnings with your degree, divide that number in half, assume it is the most you will ever make per year for the rest of your life and make sure you can cover the loan payments with room to live on with that amount. Checking the numbers first is an important step. Curiosity first, yes, but still be realistic about your professional expectations.

The positions I’ve held in offices were acquired, in no small part, because of my background and experience with the degrees I have. Some of those positions were fairly high paying ones, if a bit more unstable than I’d ever like to do again. I expected less than that when I went to college, and made decisions accordingly, and I was fortunate to have help at the time, and to work my way through most of my MFA.

I was careful to keep the costs down. I went to public schools for my Bachelor’s and my Masters, and only took on debts to cover parts of the degrees. I actually left one graduate school, ten years ago, in no small part because I did not see how I was going to pay off the loans required with the job market I was seeing.

Also, if you’re going to be indenturing your future for your education, do make sure it’s a good one. My first graduate school was not a good one, and why indenture myself for an education that wasn’t worth it?

I use my degree at work every day, and I have since I entered the job market. It still took ten years and some gracious amount of generosity to get it down to just $0.88. And, I’m lucky to have done it that soon!

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Dogsland is coming soon…

I turned in the manuscript to the last Dogsland novel to Ross Lockheart. I also just got back from ConDFW and I don’t think it is wise to go to conventions the weekend before a manuscript is due. I went home early every night and slept ten hours to catch up a little, which was good. Being too tired to give of myself to the Con is bad. My takeaway was that hybrid careers are working for all the authors that are doing them, and working with publishers at every distribution level seems to be working for everyone who is doing it. Also, attendance looked way down. Every convention I’ve been to but DragonCon, attendance looks down. What is going on out there? It looks like the old ways are changing and we are transitioning into new things.  Am I wrong? Is this not a true observation? Is attendance up at your conventions but I don’t see the numbers right? I admit it is an observation based on counting heads in the rooms on a Saturday, but I could be seeing what others are seeing, right?

I am going to clean a filthy house that happens after deadlines. I am going to curl up with a book for a night. Tomorrow the engines of creation rev up to life again.

I will be reading CHICK BASSIST from Lazy Fascist Press and I have high hopes.

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temples always get burned

In the hotel lobby, exaggerating sports announcers describe the basketball stadium as a temple. I’ve heard this description before. I’ve heard it used to describe apple stores, and bookstores, and record stores, and movie theaters. I’ve heard people describe their yoga studio as their temple, where they go to find holiness and zen peace. There is an adulation that comes in temples, and a passion and emotion that often has no relationship to the scale of human energy engaged in such things.

But the same emotions that bend to worship also rise as torch-bearers elsewhere. Temples always burn. Sometimes they are rebuilt, but first they must be burned. And to rebuild them is to burn them again.
Have no temples. Be your own, wherever you are, and give no idea or place outside of your self the weight of a temple building stone upon your back.

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Everyone is selling you the system they use

I appreciate the openness that is occurring on-line, where authors post their numbers, and talk about the way the sausage gets made, so to speak. But, I also see a similarity between the discussion of the way sausage is made as it relates to the selling of sausage. One way to advertise sausage is, naturally, to talk about the process of making it and how great that process is and how positive the world is because of the sausage. Discussion of the business of writing falls seamlessly into the selling of the business model.

eBooks are a classic gold rush, in a bad way. The successful titles sell the idea of their alternative business-model, some even being successful titles about how to be a producer of successful titles. The people who sell the tools are always the ones who profit in a gold rush, not the miners. But, everyone is selling you their success stories.

Selling you the idea of traditional publishing as a thing and a force and an important thing is a natural impulse because traditional publishing is a thing and a force and an important thing. And, selling you the idea of indie or self-publishing as a thing and a force and an important thing is also a natural impulse because it is a thing and a force and an important thing.

Ultimately, I suspect there are too many emotions wrapped up in the different systems to speak about the process effectively for any of us. It’s hard to watch things we love fall apart and things we don’t trust rise up.

In the final image from Gore Vidal’s Creation, all matter is a swirling vortex pushing together and pulling apart all at once, and all in a swirl. Everyone is pushing and pulling. Everything is a force that is moving and in motion and moved.

I expect to be done writing in sixty years, at the ripened age of 93. I expect by then that I won’t be writing much. I try to imagine what I think the future of publishing will look like by then, and I tell you what I don’t see: bookstores or e-bookstores. By then, I have this vision of a kind of democratized spotify/pandora content delivery entity that pays very little per download, generates revenue through advertising, and leaves the audience much happier than the artists who scrape by inside the recommendation engines.

I’m glad that there are still publishers paying advances and eBook stores that manufacture a content paywall. I try to use both these forces for good. I just try to be good, make good art, and meet my audience where they are.

Be a good force for change. Be good. Don’t get too caught up in the goldrush, or the defense of things that takes you away from your work. There will always be another goldrush, and another system worthy of defense.

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Resignation Rex

As a Roman Catholic, I am actually heartened, a little,  by the resignation of our Pontiff, but I am holding my breath to see who gets elected next. I mean, these folks aren’t known for their progressive leanings…

For the most part, a conservative, hardline church isn’t that bad of a thing. Keeping things close to tradition and established doctrine in manners of practice are good trends to keep the church connected to the traditions of history, and to prevent the following of ridiculous (in retrospect) trends.

But, there are issues that are very important issues where the hardline establishment is absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

Women should be granted full membership in the priesthood. I recall, when I worked at Starbucks, a Methodist Minister who came in regularly with her husband and often met with her parishioners there. Meeting her and seeing her in action, I was definitely impressed by her Christ-like nature, intelligence, and leadership ability to shepherd her flock. If I had any doubts, which I don’t recall ever having on this issue, witnessing firsthand a female minister in action sealed the deal.

The ownership of a particular set of genitalia has absolutely no relationship to the closeness of a soul to God, or to their magical ability to conduct medieval rituals that equate, in many a fashion, to magical spells. Another important issue where the pontiff is absolutely, indefensibly wrong is the issue of gay and lesbian and transgender rights. God don’t make no mistakes, as they say. Truly, a close Biblical reading indicates that unnatural acts are immoral, in the letters of Paul. What is natural to others might not be natural to the grand, old historical traditional marriage edifice. I say gay marriage for everyone. The same rules that make straight marriage a blessing and a sacrament in a church that favors and values celibacy is that when two people are in love, truly, celibacy is an impossible sacrifice and it is better that we commit to each other than face the fiery furnace. I don’t think I need to explain why this also applies to gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, etc. (I can respect the position on human life at conception, even if I do not think it is a wholesome or utilitarian thing to have in place, and leads to far worse outcomes, in my opinion, than the alternative. Honestly, much of the concern the “right-to-life” people have mysteriously dries up once the child is born, and I’d respect them a lot more if they were building orphanages than picketing doctor’s offices…)

I also think the vow of celibacy is long past time to fold up and put away. I suspect it continues because, deep down, much of the priesthood is irked that if they didn’t get to marry, no one should. (It’s not like there haven’t been copious affairs, mind…) Monks and nuns, ought to remain cloistered, celibate, and meditative, as that is their role with god. Priests should walk with the world, and lead it in all things, and that means dating if they want to, and marrying if they want to.

This was how things were, once, in the Catholic faith, and it has come ’round again and it isn’t breaking other faiths all around us this time, now that property law and church law are two separate and distinct entities, and sons aren’t expected to step into their father’s shoes.

My opinion as a theologian is not valued much by the real theologians of the world. But, I suspect sometimes it’s a good thing to cut through theology with a knife and try something that feels true and works well. I guess that’s a fictionist feeling in me, not a memoirist.

Anyway, I am glad to see the old guard fading away with this resignation. I hope he has a restful and fulfilling retirement. The next Pontiff will probably be another hard-liner, like Ratzinger. But, the old grey guard is changing and fading and watching the world turn away. Pretty soon, if we’re really lucky, one of those long-haired hippy priests will stumble into power, and write a Papal Bull that rocks the foundation of the old-timey faith.

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Going to Dallas later this week…

I will be out at ConDFW in Dallas this coming weekend. Back in 2008, I was a panelist at this very convention, launching my first novel. I sat on a panel with Peter S. Beagle during my first panel. This was an awesome experience. My return trips continued the tradition of awesome. I’m really looking forward to going up, though, alas, my wife won’t be able to come with me. Oh, well.

In other news, I’m a bread machine FANATIC and I love my Cuisinart bread machine SO MUCH. But, recently, I’d been having problems of the bucket inside the machine popping loose during the kneading phase. It was awful. Bread waste massacre. I’d have to babysit the machine and keep pausing it and popping the bucket back down. Nobody has time for that. I gave up on the machine for a while in favor of the bread blade on the food processor. That worked for a while until the bread blade snapped. Plastic does that when you use it a lot.

So, I’ve been trying to fix the bread machine. I pulled out the clasps that hold down the bucket a little, because I read on-line that helps. It does. It doesn’t help much. I’ve found another trick that seems to work better. First, it only works with lighter breads so no heavy whole wheat flours or teff or chia or anything. Stick to plain, white bread. Second, it only works when you absolutely and completely follow the instructions on how to load the bread machine correctly, with proper measurements. Third, it only works on medium-size dough and smaller.

More importantly: It works.

So, when you load the machine with ingredients properly, you put the liquids and oils on the bottom. Then the flour goes on top of that. The yeast and salt goes on the very top. Never make a dough with more than 3 cups of flour.

When you place the cuisinart bucket down into the cavity, you have this arm that goes up or down for you to grab and pull the bucket out. Leave it at 90 degrees, straight upright. Place the lid of the bread machine down on top of that arm to provide a downward pressure onto the bucket. Always set your crust setting one higher than you want, because you’re going to lose a lot of heat there, at the end. But, you will get quality bread. The machine will work, again.

So, hooray!

I don’t like to throw away things casually, particularly when they’re hard to replace. I’m very glad I was able to figure that out!

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What I’m Working On

In my copious free time (Ha!) I’m working on a little thing to help in the fight against global warming. So, what I’ve learned is pretty interesting, and useful for the average homeowner or landowner. You see, the average carbon data of people and plants is all over the map. In some places, the average home generates 2.6 tons of carbon per year. In others, the average person produces 12 tons of carbon per year. In some places, trees pull down 46 pounds of carbon into the soil per year, and in others between half a ton and a tan of carbon each, per year.

The numbers here, are all over the darn place, I tell you what. No wonder people are all confused and don’t know what to do.

What the global warming struggle really needs is a simplified action plan, where everyone can put a lifestyle choice together based on data that is digestible to the average layperson. I’m no scientist, nor am I particularly inclined to be one, but digging through science stuff has definitely left the impression on me that it’s no wonder people make poor lifestyle carbon decisions. Nobody knows what those decisions are doing, or even has good guesstimates!

Anyway, let’s say the worst I’ve seen is accurate, and my home is generating 12 tons of carbon a year right into the atmosphere. I have trees all over the lot, sure. Most of them aren’t too big. So, let’s say I’ve got about half a dozen small to medium-sized trees, with quite a few other hedges and ornamentals and whatnot. What does that mean to my carbon footprint? Figuring the smallest numbers, and dividing that by the size of the plant, does that mean my average-sized plants are pulling down – what – 21.5 pounds of carbon a year, each thereabouts? That’s guesstimating 193.5 pounds of carbon which is a cough in the wind, and doesn’t seem like a right figure, when so many estimates are all over the map.

Even then, let’s say the 12 tons of carbon is about right. Let’s say you can mitigate that with large, hardwood trees up to about a ton each. Plant two on your land, one in front and one in back, and you’ve only just begun planting. there’s a lot of empty space under the canopy of a oak tree. There’s a lot of room at the edges of the yards and growzones. There’s weird corners that function like no-man’s-land in the yard, where people just don’t go. There’s room for more.

I’m looking for better numbers on a couple different things. I’m going to do something with those numbers. Anybody looking to give me a hand getting good numbers, let me know.

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