Thanks! Give In? No thanks.

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It’s the month when we celebrate Christmas!

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Oh, sorry!  No, that’s what stores have wanted us to believe since the week before Halloween.

This is the month when traditionally we reflect on the blessings and good things that have come our way.  Who am I to buck tradition?  Besides, countless studies — along with just plain sage wisdom and basic common sense — tells us that if you concentrate on the good, you’ll tend to be happier and just a more pleasant person all around.
I certainly have observed the opposite, which only proves the point. Haven’t you ever noticed that you tend to gravitate away from people who constantly bitch?  I know I sure do!  Those people who revel in righteous indignation about every social ill in the world, from their neighbor’s dog to the latest political boondoggle (that the other party is obviously responsible for), are simply the type of person that I prefer to keep at 10-foot-pole (or greater) length.

As for me, a few of the things I’m thankful for:cancer_free_ninjaI’m cancer-free:
While going through that gauntlet was no picnic, I am now what society calls a ‘survivor.’  Though it is essentially correct, I still don’t feel quite comfortable with that epithet.  However, I think the whole year-long ordeal has instilled in me a perspective that tends to focus me on the good in what time left I have in this mortal coil.

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My long history of working in fields that I love:
Bell Labs was a hoot!  Drop me into an environment where daily tasks exercise my physics, math, computer and engineering muscles?  Like a pig in swill!
Now that I’m pursuing a vocation in writing, despite the fact I am not successful by society’s measure?  Just as happy!  Don’t get me wrong — there is drudgery in both fields.  But when you love what you do, it just doesn’t matter. And the high points are incredible.  I cannot be thankful enough for that.

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Family & Friends:
I have seen some dysfunctional families that would put soap operas to shame.  I am ever so thankful that my family has none of those less-than-endearing scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs qualities.  And as for friends, I have a circle of friends that I have kept close for almost four decades.  And these are the friends that I can depend upon in life-or-death situations — because we’ve already gone through it.
In my salad days, I was enamored of the saying attributed to Tom Waits:
 Champagne for my real friends,
 Real pain for my sham friends.
But I think I prefer this one over it now:
 Friends help you.
 Good friends help you move.
 True friends help you move bodies.

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My furry companions:
Those of you who know me, are familiar with NixNutz*, a dog I had adopted from a local shelter. Cute as a button, he only had three legs, due to a nasty run-in with a pack of street dogs when he was abandoned in Bethlehem. Though we know it is simply the nature of animals not to complain, since they have no conception of self-pity, NixNutz’s example of “deal with it and get on with life” was nevertheless a daily inspiration for me. He left us last July, and I still miss him terribly. Not to worry — a new rescue is in the works!

Believe me, I could go on and on about my faith and the miracles — daily ones, simple ones, and even a few grandiose ones — that I’ve experienced. But I have to get back to the work that I love!

* NixNutz – a Pennsylvania Dutch term, literally translated as ‘of no use’, it is a term of endearment used by parents when their children misbehave.  A word my Dad often used for me!

Those Expletive Exclamation Points!

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Modern critique-circle editors constantly hammer me on using “too many exclamation points!” while struggling to say such advice in their calmest non-exclamatory voice.  I surmise this to be a modern preference.  But is it good writing?

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I am currently reading Joyce Carol Oates’ collection of “American Gothic Tales,” most recently re-acquainting myself with Poe’s “The Black Cat.”  What did I find?
Fifteen exclamation points in all!  Three in one paragraph!
“Heaven Forbid!” I can almost hear my reviewers shudder.
I wonder if these modern editors would dare take Poe and editor Oates to task over the perceived glut of exclamations?

How would these modern editors handle a heated argument?  A knock-down drag-out name-calling fest?  The presidential election debates?
I just find it quite silly to insist on a writing style that propounds:
“Help. He’s cutting my arm off.  Aiiieeee.  It hurts,” he screamed.
As for myself, I think I can live with the maxim of one exclamation point per scene.
But one per story (which is a common demand)?  I am not convinced.

I will continue to keep an eye out for this as I read more, especially as I compare older versus newer horror/suspense/mystery classics.  Afterwards, I’ll append my findings to this entry, or revisit later in a new post.

Let’s Give the Man a Hand!

I tore my bicep tendon 2 weeks ago. Here’s a few things I’ve learned during my ongoing enforced stay-cation in a sling:

Things difficult to do 1-handed
Type
Turn pages in a paper book
Blow your nose

Things very difficult to do without your dominant hand
Anything involving any activity normally performed in the bathroom
Eat (I’ve lost 8 lbs. so far!)
Type more than 10 minutes

Things nearly impossible to do 1-handed
Slice vegetables
Floss

Things I won’t even attempt without my dominant hand
Shave
Write Checks
Drive

Back again soon!

New Toys!

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I feel like a kid on Christmas! I hooked up my brand spankin’ new HP laptop, Blue Yeti pro mike and Sennheiser SD202 headphones, loaded Audacity onto the PC and took it for a spin.  One of the easiest things to put together, I am happy and relieved to report.  Whaddya know, for the first time in my decades-long experience with computers, plug-and-play actually worked out of the box!

new_toysA portable recording studio as easy as you please.  And with Sony SoundForge on my workhorse desktop, I can finally get to work on my audiobook(s), and contract out work for others.

 

The Multi-Task Master?

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“Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo!
So little time. So much to know!”
Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D, the Nowhere Man, “Yellow Submarine”

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I’m in a phase of my work, where I’ve got the following irons in the fire:

  • Pitching and sending query letters to agents for my mirthful macabre short story anthology, “No Children Aloud”
  • Preparing the 2nd edition of “Pindlebryth of Lenland – The Five Artifacts”
  • Ramping up a new computer and recording equipment for voice-over work
  • Trying to keep up my social media presence
  • Participating in three writers groups’ critique circles
  • OTAKON 2015 in less than 1 month!
  • Coordinator, GLVWG 2016 Anthology
  • Outlining Pindlebryth II
  • Converting my CGI animation portfolio to HDTV format
  • Somehow crowbar in time for a social life

Several of my fellow authors, not the least of whom is Kristen Lamb, have given me copious amounts of useful advice on how to multi-task all the activities that are required of the modern author. I see it can be done, as there are so many success stories to draw from. But there are still days where I feel like the guy in the Progressive commercial, who walks up to a chain saw juggler and says, “OK, I got this!”

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About a decade ago in a previous business life, my department head observed the whirlwind of activity at my desk and computer.  Shaking his head in disbelief and admiration, he complimented me with “How do you work on of all these projects at once?”
Though I still plow merrily along, I am forced to confess these days it is not as easy as it used to be!

Games People (and I) Play

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I just finished drafting and editing my latest weird tale, slated for ‘No Children Aloud’, so I can finally take some time to blog.

With the unofficial start of summer, and the party season that accompanies it, I spend some time gaming. OK, I admit it – I’m a game geek. I had played Dungeons & Dragons long before it became popular, and Magic until it too was gobbled up by a soulless corporation. My days of playing video games have also come and gone. These days, I find there are just too many things to learn and do, to waste the precious endless hours these time-suckers will eat up. I still occasionally feed my gaming monkey, but only when I am socializing with like-minded souls. I am indeed fortunate that I have a large circle of friends that are consistantly introducing me to new games.

These games are not the traditional pablum (e.g., Monopoly, Risk, et al.) usually foisted upon the American public. Rather, I would be so bold to guess-timate that 99% of people have never even heard of any of these games.

Here’s a list of games I’ve played over the past few years, with my recommendations. Take a gander at them at your favorite shopping website. It’s a good bet that I already have the ones I rate highly.

As always, as with any opinion, your mileage may vary.

Board Games
Name Enjoyment
Complexity
Repeat_Play
Overall
7 Wonders 4 / 4 / 4 Yes
Deadwood Studios 3 / 3 / 2 Uninspiring
Forbidden Island 3 / 4 / 1 Gave me a headache
Kill Dr. Lucky 5 / 3 / 1 Good for 2 plays, tops
King of Tokyo 3 / 3 / 2
5 / 3/ 4
Great, but only with the expansion pack.
Settlers of Catan 4 / 3 / 5 Yes
Stone Age 4 / 4 / 4 Yes
Ticket to Ride 5 / 3 / 5 Absolutely!
Takenoko 5 / 3 / 5 Absolutely!
Tokaido 4 / 4 / 3 Good, but too Zen
Card Games
Name Enjoyment
Complexity
Repeat_Play
Overall
Apples vs. Apples 5 / 1 / 4 Hilarious!
Balderdash 5 / 2 / 5 Love it!
Cards Against Humanity 5 / 1 / 2 Hilarious!
Guillotine 4 / 3 / 4 Yes
Munchkin 5 / 3 / 5 Absolutely!
Race for the Galaxy 1 / 5 / 1 Avoid like plague

Uncommon Knowledge – I

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If you google the following quote, you will find thousands of opinions about whether or not it is correctly attributed:

“The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome.” -Albert Einstein

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I’m sure many of you have heard this before, in one of its many forms. It has been used by politicians, pundits and other talking heads, mental health professionals and self-help groups aplenty. I’ve even heard it used by regular people!

I won’t belabor the arguments pro and con concerning its validity or attribution, other than putting forward my vote.  I believe it is correctly attributed to Einstein, mainly because of when and where I learned of it. I was introduced to this aphorism approximately one decade before ARPANET became the internet, and two decades before the internet became the mis-information highway.

Here’s the history that I was taught:
Einstein, as we all (hopefully) know, was the person who famously first discovered the relationship E=mc^2, developed theories of specific and general relativity, and dozens of other nifty axioms, lemmas, and theories all springing from that body of work.  (I hate to break it to you, but Grumpy Cat did not discover Relativity!)
Einstein went to his grave trying to complete his work on what he called the “Unified Field Theory”. This theory postulated that all the primary forces of the universe — electricity, magnetism, weak nuclear, strong nuclear, and gravity — were all related by a single beautiful equation.

At the time he solved relativity and began developing his UFT, another branch of physics — Quantum Mechanics — had sprung up and was gaining popularity among the physics nerds of that day. Today, we know quantum machanics works. It explains much of the world about us that classical physics could not. Simply put, we would not know how to make transistors, LEDs, or computers if quantum mechanics had no validity. But there was a time when QM was on unsure footing.

First, let’s take a look at the most basic ‘thought experiment’ used to demonstrate the difference between classical physics and quantum mechanics — an electron passing though a strong electric field that would repel it. A close analogy would be throwing a baseball through a brick wall. What are the chances of the baseball going through the brick wall, without destroying either the baseball or the brick wall? Classical physics says ‘zero’. Quantum mechanics says ‘almost zero’. According to QM, if you throw millions of baseballs at the wall at high-enough velocities, there is a small probability that one baseball will eventually make it through.

But in Einstein’s time, or at least when he spoke the above quote, the validity of quantum mechanics was debatable. Moreover – and here’s the important part – it was absolutely antithetical to Einstein’s precious concept of the UFT. They simply could not co-exist. Einstein thought that Schrodinger got it wrong, and that every physicist in the QM camp was nuts.

It’s curious that this aphorism is nowadays used as a cute helpful ditty regarding human behavior, when in fact its original intent was a polite insult.

Anyway, that’s my bit of Uncommon Knowledge for the day.

It’s Two! Two! Two vocations in one!

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I am wrapping up work on my latest book, an anthology of “disturbed and disturbing” short stories I pitched to several agents at the 2015 ‘Write Stuff’ conference. In addition to the re-writes and edits from critique groups and beta-reader feedback I am cycling through, I am also working on the illustrations that will grace the end of every story.

One of my hobbies that I turned into a vocation was computer animation. I use LightWave3D to create and render the scene, then run it through any number of publicly available converters to realize it in the form of a pencil/ink/charcoal drawing. I am quite excited about the results, and have gotten a skid-load of positive feedback on them. My favorite comment:  “Gosh, Chris.  What kind of nightmares do you have?”

Here for example, is one of the pending illustrations:

lits_testThanks to DT Krippene for suggesting that I blog this.

The Walking Dictionary

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At a recent writer’s critique circle, I contributed several minor corrections during what was a moderately attended but quite active and rewarding session.  Most of the improvements yours truly suggested to other writers were targeted towards their choices of words.
For example:

  • ‘Clambered’ is an action, not a sound;
  • People don’t ‘skitter’ accidentally on pools of blood — skittering is an intentional act and is usually done by small furry creatures;
  • Use ‘rabble’, not ‘rubble’ — Rubble are rocks, rabble are people.

dict_memeI made a few additional vocabulary corrections throughout the evening, but I’m sure you get the gist.  After one of my comments, a writer a few seats away asked, “Did you swallow a dictionary?”

In a way, I guess I did!  Me Mum made me consume a handful of tomes designed to build one’s vocabulary while I was in grade school and junior high. She was adamant about the worth of an education, and was a great help when I dealt with my budding dyslexia and stuttering. There was one phrase she used only occasionally, but has stuck with me since, and I firmly believe to this day:

“The more four-letter words you use, the more people will think you have
an IQ of four.”

So yes, I considered the writer’s question a compliment! (Not a complement!)

My Sci-Fi story is teasing my Fantasy story again!

I wonder if (or more probably, how many) other writers have this problem? —

I love to read sci-fi.
I have read many of the greats from Jules Verne to Robert Heinlein, from Michael Crichton to Frank Herbert, from Isaac Asimov to Douglas Adams. (Just because the latter’s books are hilarious, doesn’t disqualify him — Douglas was a writer and script editor for Doctor Who for many years, and who also had good understanding of science.)  Last but not least, I have voraciously consumed almost everything Arthur C. Clarke has written.

But I digress. My first efforts at writing sci-fi approximately (cough,hack) years ago stunk. No modifiers, no superlatives – I just stunk. I had good ideas, at least in my own opinion, but I found I went nowhere with them. They came out dull, derivative, or uninspiring. The last time I tried writing the Great American Sci-Fi Novel, I quit in the middle of chapter two.

Maybe it’s because I know too much about the inner workings of science?  It makes it that much tougher to fool myself when I write hard sci-fi, because I can freely peek behind the curtain of ‘suspension of disbelief’.  As a result, I instantly see the scientific holes, the gaps, the places where the underlying supports in my attempts at hard sci-fi world-building fall apart.  I wonder how Clarke, a scientist in his own right, did it?

That brings me to a very stange flip side of my sci-fi coin. If someone else’s book is good enough, or especially if a movie is good enough, my willing suspension of disbelief easily overrides my scientific half. I simply can’t seem to afford myself the same leeway. Take for example, the concepts of time travel or wormhole travel. While in our world, such things might exist in the spaces between quantum aberrations, it cannot be seriously considered to exist at the macroscopic level where a person can survive it.  Yet, while I consider most time travel stories to be laughable crapfests that I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for, there are a few stellar exceptions to that rule where the author or filmmaker has successfully broken through my disbelief.  H.G.Wells’ “The Time Machine” is one of those few exceptions. The long and short of all that is, if it doesn’t compute on a basic scientific level, it just doesn’t float my boat.

So now I find myself writing and published in fantasy and horror. Go figure.

The really funny thing is, I loathed fantasy when I was in school.  It was too frilly, didn’t make sense, and most of all, was not sci-fi. I particularly despised with an enmity that would out-glow a supernova those fantasy stories that saved the hero’s bacon with Deus Ex Machina. “…when suddenly the purple Pegasu-Centi-corns flew over the horizon, with the fabled but seldom mentioned Staves of Unbelievable Luck!” No, no, NO!

So at least that distaste has instilled in me the drive to build holistic worlds that abide by their own laws – laws that might not apply in our world, but at least never contradict themselves, or allow for purple Pegasu-Centi-corns Ex Machina.