Monday, August 30, 2010

Dog Tag Machine Photos

During our travels, we chanced upon the Coast Guard Barracks Museum. In their front office was an old US Military dog tag maker.

They said that the machine had been found in a warehouse and they plugged it in. The keyboard mechanism reminded me of old typewriters my Mother's Mother had, and the keyboard typeface reminded me of my Dad's old typewriter.

The machine was turned off and sat quietly behind the front desk. For a small fee, the docents would create dog tags for you right then and there.

The staff were very nice about me sticking my camera practically into the guts of the machine.

I was fascinated, and I almost had dog tags made just so I could watch the machine work. I imagine electromagnets deep in the machine would throb the keyboard and perfume the room with ozone and machine oil. I imagine the ratcheting sound and the dull thuds of typeface slamming into aluminum blanks.

But Mark assured me that he didn't want dog tags, and I figured they'd only wind up lost somewhere, so with a slight pang of regret, we left the museum without any.

08-30-2010 Early Morning Dream

Drempt I was Cleopatria (I was in Liz Taylor's body). The Romans were invading Egypt, and Egypt was repelling them using a device from a story I've yet to sell. The dream started before actual fighting. For some reason, the Romans were building a dike out of very large rectangular stone slabs - the dream wasn't very clear on where, so I'm not sure if it was in the Nile or in the bay of Alexandria. They gave a flimsy excuse about building the dike, but everyone knew it would be a staging area for their navy.

So Egypt built one, too, only more with more decorative stone slabs. As the construction of the dikes continued, neither side believed that they weren't going to be used for a big battle.

There was a scene change, and I switched to omniscient viewer. I'm not entirely sure who they were at first, but they turned into Cleopatria and Antony (although I have a vague notion the man was based on Rex Harrison). The woman runs into a twenty foot by twenty foot library / conservatory. One of the stone walls has a window in it leading to a kind of niche or interior room with tomes on the shelves (I am having problems describing the wall's window because of dream-logic architecture). The woman giggles and hides beneath the window (she must have crawled through it).

The man enters the room. He's pretty sure she's in the room as there's no other door. He traces the perimeter of the room, one eye on the door, one eye looking at the shelves and the art on the walls. As he passes the window (which looks like a kind of painting), cartoonish, stylized wiggles appear in the air (it's as if the dream wanted to turn into a cartoon, and the wiggles show the viewer there's a smell coming from the window). He keeps sliding along the wall, but now the scent of her perfume diminishes, and he slides back to the window, certain he can sniff her out.

Of course he finds her and a (ahem) romantic scene follows.

Insert naval battle here.

Hanging over all of the dream was the knowledge that asps in a tomb were the final outcome.

Then I started some other dream with a science fiction space opera theme.

Let's see...
  • imperious, omnipotent, the-penalty-is-a-horrifically-painful-death, disembodied-booming-voice alien bent on carving up the Earth. Check. (In waking life, think The Borg meets Ming the Merciless.)
  • Final band of multi-cultural human freedom fighters holed up in a kind of Mayan Temple (with a stone arch the underside of which is painted as a rainbow). Check.
  • Last chance, super-techy, super fast, super small, spaceship in the shape of a silver sphere. Check.
  • Crazy, suicidal plan to delay omnipotent aliens with a, "you can't find us and our secret on the Moon" red herring (complete with high-power energy beams and plumes of lava from the moon raining down onto the Pacific). Check.

The battle scenes did have an annoying feature in that the two spaceships involved repeated targets and intentions to themselves (almost like part of me was narrating the story and another part was rendering the story in images, but needed to be reminded).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cape Blanco 1905 Wedding Dress

Across the bay from Cape Blanco Lighthouse is the Coast Guard Barracks Museum. It's kind of small, with a curious collection of items ranging from 1900 to the 1960's.

When I first saw the dress on display I was reminded of my Mother's Mother. She grew up in Astoria, where the Columbia River spills into the Pacific, and she was born in 1909.

Apparently, the person for whom this dress was made had an 18 inch waist. I'm going to guess that the person who made the accompanying placard does not.

I'm not entirely sure why this wedding gown is in the collection, and can only conclude that this is what a Coast Guard wife would have been married in in 1905. What prompted me to photograph it were the rows and rows of buttons, the embroidery/tatting and the simplicity of the cut of the jacket and dress.

The lighting conditions were not optimal for photography and I ended up with a reflection of myself in the photo.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Downside of Electronic Submissions

I was speaking with some writer friends the other day about various professional markets which accept electronic submissions.

"Oh, it's wonderful," I said, "I love being able to send electronic manuscripts."

"Yeah," said somebody, "but the flip side is that I've heard people say, 'I was pretty sure that my story was bad, but I sent it anyway.' I mean, that's taking Don't Edit for the Editor a little too far." There followed tales of obvious first-draft stories submitted simply because submission was the click of a few buttons instead of a $5.27 visit to the post office. Then the conversation concluded with conjectures on which editor would be the last one to adopt on-line submissions.

At first I was going to comment here that sending sub-par manuscripts is simply disrespectful, not only to a magazine's editorial staff, but to yourself and your corpus of work.

Then I was going to say it seems like a good way to get slush readers to groan when they see your name at the top of a manuscript.

But the end result of writers too lazy to do another pass on manuscripts before hitting the Send Button-- the one that affects me and every other serious writer -- is that now when I get a rejection, I'm much more likely to get a form rejection.

Gee, thanks. Not that I expect editorial staff to critique, but it will make those very rare instances when they do take a moment to add additional comments all that more meaningful.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Meditations on Little Girl Protagonists

Blame it on Lucy Pevensie, Jill Pole, Polly Plummer, Sarah Williams and Lyra Belacqua, but once again I find myself resisting the urge to write an urban fantasy with Yet Another Girl-Child Heroine.

"Jill" is one of my default Jane Doe characters. When I'm jotting down a quick story idea, the first female name that pops into my head is usually Jill. Men are usually twenty-somethings named Fred.

[Oh Hell! I just realized I'm perilously close to re-writing Labyrinth (makes note to self on where not to take the story). And over the course of writing this entry, fifty year old infrastructure for downtown Eugene has caused an explosion and electrical fire in an underground vault in downtown Eugene. It's looking more and more likely that a large explosion is in my story's future.]

Back to child protagonists: A long time ago, a friend of a friend's child was the proto-typical bad little girl. We used to joke that she was a 35-year old divorce trapped in an 8 year old's body. Her mother would dress her up as an angel for Halloween, and as soon as you could say Trick-or-Treat she'd ditched the halo and dressed up as a hooker. The next Halloween, she appeared as (I am not making this up) a vampire sex-goddess. Ironically, her mother was the head of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood.

The best thing about the proto-bad-girl was imagining what she would do as an adult: it involved seducing her good-girl friend to go riding off in a black halter-top on the back of a motorcycle with a leather vested, ponytailed, motorcycled dude named Snake for the benefit of giving the good girl's father an apoplexy.

And that underlies the dangers of girl-child protagonists.
  • They lend themselves to symbolism, and so we have the pure, faith-driven cypher, Lucy Pevensie, who triumphs over adversity solely by pluck.
  • They become meditations on innocence, adulthood, and the loss of innocence, and so we have characters like Sarah Williams and Lyra Belacqua.
  • Or, in my case, they become asexual, very clever adults trapped in a ten-year-old body. . . which, as I think about it, means I'm trying to re-write Anne Rice's vampire-child, Claudia.
But the main reason that I shy away from child protagonists is because children in our society have little to no power, which makes it hard for them to be protagonists in a short story. Especially an urban fantasy short story.

World's Largest Bromley Dance

Oh man!

Someone just sent me this link to the California Revels Bromliad :

And now I wish I could and be one of the hundreds of people all dancing the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance All At The Same Time. Alas, previous engagements and responsibilities will keep me here. Not to mention little inconveniences like figuring out (and paying for) transport and lodgings.

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is one of the few English folk customs to survive both the Reformation and Cromwell. It's a folk processional performed on Wakes Monday and it involves six dancers clacking reindeer horns together. To a kind of spooky tune.

Oh well. I guess I'll have to be content dancing it in a few weeks at the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mary Robinette Kowal's Visit to Eugene

At the risk of gushing like a simpering fan-boy, I must set down my impressions of when Mary Robinette Kowal was in Eugene, this Tuesday last, as part of her signing tour for her novel, Shades of Milk and Honey. Mary Robinette is a professional puppeteer, author, and voice actress. She is also the current vice-president of SFWA.

I arrived at her signing at a quarter past five o'clock. She stood on a raised stage with a hand fan, the epitome of a Grecian frieze in her blue Regency dress. (The fanboy author pauses to remark that he wishes he had pearly shoes like ones she wore.)

She spoke on a variety of subjects: women's clothing, male instructors of the womanly arts, the language of fans, dance etiquette, and the research efficacy of the only guide on Jane Austen and Charles Dickens I currently own. She entertained the audience by reading two passages from her novel, managing to speak convincingly as five or six distinct characters. (Here is an excerpt from the Shades of Milk and Honey audio book, read by Mary Robinette.)

She performed a brief Regency era shadow puppet show, after which she explained the history and workings of the set and props. I was particularly struck with how she held one puppet's controls -- possibly bamboo skewers -- and manipulated them like chop-sticks to make the puppet raise and lower his pickax while he stood and crouched (and I cursed my European stubbornness surrounding learning the art of eating with them).

Best of all, she revealed a love of a certain building material which I have utilized myself many times: cereal boxes from a particular local grocer.

After the book signing, she gave a talk to the assembled Wordos, which addressed the parallels between puppetry and writing. I was in awe as she illustrated her points by using the shoe (a sensible, modern one this time) off of her left foot as a puppet and effectively conveyed its emotions through focus, breath and motion. Of the many useful and practical comments she made, the one that stuck with me the most was this: The first-person narrative (while currently not fashionable in speculative fiction) works well when the narrator changes as a result of telling the story.

Her other useful comment concerned blogs, titles, and links: don't make them too cute (yours truly stirs uneasily, as being too cute is one of his character flaws); if you make them descriptive, they will make search engines work for you.

And then the delightful evening drew to a close. Thankfully, I have my signed copy of Shades of Milk and Honey, and if I exercise my memory, I can make the characters' voices approximate Mary Robinette's as I read.

Cape Blanco Photos

The other week we went to Cape Blanco. The Cape Blanco lighthouse is one of the highest lighthouses on the west coast.

In this photo, the sky is clear, but the previous afternoon, the heat in-land, 95F, drew the moist sea air inland and created a bank of fog so think the lighthouse was not visible from the visitors' parking lot.

The steps were very steep.

And modular.

We were asked not to touch the bricks as we climbed.

I kept waiting for the cast of Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to pop out somewhere, pose dramatically, and start singing.

I took many pictures of the lens and light assembly. I like this one because it reminds me of an old drawing of the solar system or an atomic structure. Or magnetic field lines.

The original light would have been a flame fueled by (if I remember correctly) clarified lard. Turning the light off involved letting everything cool down slowly to prevent breaks. If the air temperature got too cold, the fuel would begin to solidify (I think it became jelly-like).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Little Boxes

Today I'm fatigued.

Which is crazy, because I could have sworn I got enough sleep last night. Maybe today's fatigue is a reaction to air-borne dust, hay, nasty bathroom cleaners, and too much Pepsi.

This Saturday's big adventure was detoxing various parts of the house. Sunday's big adventure was... cleaning the garage. Sort of. I suppose "beginning to make a dent in the stuff" would be the most accurate description. Even after about six hours.

When we moved four years ago, especially at the end, I went a little crazy putting things into boxes and then the boxes ended up in our attic. Some of the boxes had really cool things in them, which turned cleaning out the garage into a kind of treasure hunt (I found more little tins, masks, and ocarinas than one would expect). But some of the boxes are -- to my chagrin -- crammed full of the sorts of records and letters that my Uber-Organized Mother puts into folders by month, and then transfers into new folders by year. So, I have a lot of (bluntly) trash with a few important documents mixed in to keep things exciting. Which I need to sort.

It's so bad that Mark has suggested burning things; this is the same person who is usually insisting that I be twenty-five feet away from the house with anything that even mildly approaches a spark or flame (let alone anything that makes an artsy flame, like, say, isopropyl alcohol).

Needless to say, I'm going to have my hands busy for the next few weeks.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Images Come to America...

The last week or two, I've been seeing this image with a quote (mis-) attributed to Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

My initial reaction was, "Yikes! This is scarily accurate."

And then... I thought the photo was a little too good to be true, did some research, and came to the conclusion that A) while the woman in this photo looks like the former governor of Alaska, it's probably not her, B) a lot of things come to America wrapped in the flag and waving a cross, and C) the Sinclair Lewis quote is misattributed. (Here's someone else's research )

I told some friends, and for the most part the reaction was, "Aw shucks." But then someone wrote words to the effect (the original discussion has been zapped into the virtual ether) that even if it wasn't a real photograph, it still spoke a truth and that "even if Sinclair Lewis didn't say it, he should have." (The quoted part is what I remember; I'm tempted to imply a tone, but tone is so difficult with electronic, text-only media.) Possibly they meant, "Even if he didn't say it, I wish he had." But then there were a couple of follow-ups along the lines of, "Yeah; it should be true."

Whoa. He should have said it? That's like saying, "Well, even if it isn't true, it should be." (Insert image of John trying to figure out which logical fallacy the previous argument is at .)

The whole exchange bothered me, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it (and I was having difficulty turning away from Was this someone's idea of Truth equals Beauty, Beauty equals Truth? Or was this line of reasoning some sort of sympathetic magic: it's true because I say it is?

And then I started thinking about this old New Yorker cover.

I mean, there are some folks on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me who might argue that this image from a cover of The New Yorker speaks a truth, and they would like it to be true because... well... it should be.


Are we talking historical truth , or mythic truth ? Because, you know, I've been here before when it comes to people insisting to me that a image is a record of a historical truth (and that I shouldn't doubt it), when all it really is an image that speaks with the power of myth to their needs, either for personal validation or to fulfill a political agenda.

Here it is:
Yep. "The Sorceror." Ooops, I mean, "The Lord of the Animals (humanity's first depicted deity)." Ooops, I mean "The Shaman." Ooops, no, that's definitely Cernunnos, -- wait a minute! This drawing isn't the same as what's on the cave of the at Trois-Frères! But, hey, even if it isn't true, that mean ol' Christian Church probably would have repressed it if it was!

Yes, I just made that last sentence up; nobody has actually said that to me. And even if they haven't, they probably should.

My point is -- yes, images speak to us and can resonate with us; but so do optical illusions. And satire is fun (I love satire); but it is only a first step toward truth.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Writing Progress

I've had the luxury this week of focusing on my writing. It's been refreshing and I'm a little out of writing shape. Luckily, the form of 45 minutes on, 15 off (thank you Eric Witchey) helped a great deal.

The latest story, which I managed to flesh out (but not finish) has been entertaining to write. Yesterday shortly after noon the characters hijacked the plot -- I'm not sure if this is a sign of having a good feel for my characters or having poor control over my story. I managed to get them where I wanted them.

Because my dreaming self is sometimes much smarter than my normal (?) writing self, I've been visualizing the story scene I'm at now and trying to work ahead in my sleep.

Uh. So far it hasn't worked. Or, at least not for this particular story. I ended up hovering in a hypnogogic state, gently nudging dream imagery toward the last scene I was working on, then I'd sort of fall asleep (during which my id crept in and sexed things up) and then I'd wake up to try to remember what had happened, re-imagine the scene where it had been on the page this afternoon, and the whole cycle would start again.

When I realized that I would most likely spend the entire night waking up every ten minutes, I gave up and let myself really fall asleep.

So, in honor of not being properly awake this morning, today is Marketing Day, at least until I wake up a little more to actually write. (Note to self: remember what happened last time you weren't properly awake on Marketing Day and be extra careful with the submission guidelines.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lucid Dream

While I was camping, I had a dream.

I'm going to assume that somehow I got a little tangled up in my sleeping bag, because, in the dream, I had fallen down a very deep hole. I was telling someone the story about how I had fallen down the hole and at the same time physically falling down through the hole. The hole got narrower and narrower, until I was wedged between the moist, earthy, vertical sides. (It's possible that I've been reading too much A. A. Milne -- In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place.) At least I was head up, and not head down; but I was very far down, it was dark, my hands were digging into the earth in an attempt to arrest my descent, the hole warm-bordering-on-smothering, and I could feel claustrophobia clutching at my throat.

I said to myself. "I'm not going to take the story there [where I'm trapped in a crack under the earth]. And so I call upon the Sun and the Moon, and Mercury, Venus, Mars, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and Saturn and Jupiter, too!" At which point I flew out into the heavens and the dream turned into a magical flying dream with stars and glowing waves of cosmic purple light.

I guess there's something to be said for coastal forest air; I haven't had a lucid dream like that in decades.

(And yes, in the dream I was aware that I had initially left out some of the planets, but I think it's pretty cool that I could remember all nine of their names in a dream).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Galadriel for President

Scene: The car on Oregon Highway 101. We are driving home from the coast. Somehow the discussion has turned to what a John Burridge Presidency would look like.

Mark: "...and John would be the kind of president who would Push The Button..."

John: (somewhat indignant) "I would never Push The Button."

Mark: "...because he gets passionate. Oh I don't know what, but something would fill him with Righteous Anger."

John: (nodding his head in agreement) "Okay; there is that Righteous Anger thing (thinks about several incidents). But I'm sure that it would be something absolutely horrible provoking me..." (wonders if maybe...)

Mark: "Sure; you'd rationalize it. And I can hear you saying, 'Don't we have just a small one?'" (Holds hand up with thumb and index finger really close together.)

John: (snorting because he was, in fact, just thinking, maybe a really small one...) "I always said I'd be a horrible president."

Mark: "Yeah; you and Galadriel."

John: (quoting) "All shall love me, and despair." (Secretly pleased that Mark has drawn an ironic parallel between himself and Galadriel, and briefly wonders how he could get a cool magic fountain with a silver basin in the back yard... Spends the next few minutes imagining himself singing the Queen of the Night's Revenge Aria, finger poised over an opera set Button, and tries to rework the "Sarastro has betrayed me!" part as a political diatribe )

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Writer's Perils

I'm not sure if it's a result of watching too much 1970's Dr. Who, or of being a writer, or what -- but Sunday afternoon, as I was deflating the wonderfully tall, queen-sized air mattress, I had what I call a "Tim Powers Moment."

Tim Powers once told a bunch of us, you can tell the writer in a crowd during some kind of mechanical failure (like an airplane crash) because they're the ones who stop, stare, and say, "Oh! So that's what would happen."

So, as I lay on the mattress as the air hissed out, and I sank lower and lower toward the tree root that would have kept me up all night had not the mattress been there between me and it, and the mattress began to envelop me, I thought, "Oh! So this is what being eaten by some kind of giant amoeba or space plant would feel like." (Pause to imagine the enveloping mattress has a sticky membrane making my hair, arms and legs adhere to it as I sink lower and lower into its deadly embrace.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

RV's and Scavengers

Last weekend we went on a camping trip to Cape Blanco State Park. We'd managed to leave Eugene pretty early, so we managed to snag a fairly nice camp site. Cape Blanco is a nice park, with hot water showers and a clean restroom, which explains why so many RV's were there. I have to admit, though, that I don't understand why people hop into RV's so they can go camping and bring their Dish TV satellite dishes with them; for one thing, the dishes have a very high pitched tone used to audibly tune their receivers. Think the backing-up truck sound meets a metal detector, only this one goes to eleven. Now imagine one of your VCR-impared relatives using it. In the forest.

RV's aside, we had a nice time. It was interesting to watch all the scavengers come out whenever they thought the coast was clear. I've never seen a chipmunk hop onto a fire ring that still held a smouldering fire before, and I'm not sure who was the more aggressive: the stellar jays or the wrens.

Since it was 90+ F in Eugene, the coast was about 70F. Interestingly, when the inland is that warm, it draws all the moist sea air inland; so Cape Blanco was swathed in fog when we got there Friday afternoon. When we went to visit the lighthouse, the fog was so thick, we couldn't see it from the visitors' parking lot.

What sticks in my mind the most about the beach on the north side of the lighthouse were how many bones we found. I've found dead sea birds before, and the occasional dead sea lion, but this was the first time I've found rib, leg, and back bones washing up in the surf. Something that looked mamalian was wedged in the sand below the tideline on the sea-side of some rocks. I would have tried to dig it out, but various sea critters had made their home in it, so I left it alone.

After two and a half days camping at the coast, we came back to a still-hot-but-not-as-bad-as-the-forecase-led-us-to-believe Eugene. My hair (and clothes) smelled like a campfire and Monday morning the car smelled like a salmon smokehouse.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Early Morning Rehearsals

Yesterday morning, I woke up mentally rehearsing the words and music for "Fine Knacks for Ladies."

This morning I woke up rehearsing answers to job interview questions like, "What was your least favorite aspect about working at Carleton College?"

These are helpful things to rehearse, except what I'd asked my sleeping self to work on was an ending to a story.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Shades of What?

I figured, why should Mary Robinette Kowal have all the fun, and so I built a little shadow box out of my favorite art supply (an empty cereal box) and some white paper. I managed to snap a couple of shots before the batteries in my camera ran out (so much for advance technology). The shadow box is still operational and promises hours of family entertainment. (Okay, it's true; I already want a larger shadow box so we can fit more dinosaurs into various tableaux.)

So... Um... Imagine a story Jane Austen might write -- where Unicorns wield the fate of the Cretaceous !

Now all I have to do is make some Regency outfits for the unicorn and the theropod. Heh.

(...and experiment with a magnifying lens and the Lava Lamp.... and I want to see if I can put a horizontal mirror behind the screen, cover the mirror with paper which has star shaped holes punched in it, and get another lamp so I can project stars off of the mirror onto the screen....)