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Monthly Archives: April 2012

My Grandmother’s Stories

My mother, with no small amount of foresight, asked her mother to write down stories she remembered from her life. Stories that the rest of us might enjoy having around. Well, my grandmother died in March. It was hard to talk to my mom and my brothers about it because I wasn’t just sad that my grandma (the apple-pie grandma) had passed, but also because the loss of your last living grandparent reflects somewhat on your own mortality.

Imagine my surprise when this image showed up in an email from my mother. It turns out that my grandma had filled out a great many journals with little tidbits that she remembered. Since she was not functioning at 100% for a while before she passed, both physically and mentally, these treasures mean that much more. When I last saw my grandma, she had a tendency to repeat herself, check the mail several times after she’d already gotten it, and drop off in the middle of sentences. Reading this reminds me of the joyous, witty woman that my grandmother had been.

And no, even though my mother has been sending me typed translations to accompany the difficult to read handwriting, I’m not going to do that for you. I haven’t looked at the Courier New versions and I don’t think you should either. Betty is far more present in her sometimes illegible script than she is in a serif font.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Grandma's Stories

 

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Steampunk and Steampunk Accessories

Because I am no different than anyone else, I thought it important to include goggles in my Steampunk manuscript. I wouldn’t leave a dragon out of a story about St. George and I wouldn’t leave sex from a vampire novel, so here you have it, Electro-sensitive Nightlight Goggles:

“I figure that we’re going to places they might not have light and my pocket watch isn’t going to do if we get separated,” he said. Oscar’s stomach sunk a bit at the suggestion that he might end up separated from the others, lost in the winding dark of the Coalslides. Even so, the nightlight goggles Billy had brought back were just intriguing enough to put him off his worries. They were typical of an airship pilot’s goggles in that they were held together on a thick band of treated leather. The eyepieces were pink-tinted glass set in metal casings and included a spare set of lenses in light blue hinged to the sides.

Oscar fastened the goggles to his head and felt around the edges of the eyepieces. Without much trouble, he located the on switch and gave it a push. Light blossomed from the outermost edges of the lenses, lighting the area before him without hampering his sight. They were in a well-lit corridor now, but it seemed likely that these were quality nightlights and would serve them well enough in the dark. Experimentally, he pushed on the extra lenses, sliding the pale blue lenses over the pink ones.

With the inclusion of the new lens, faint blueish lines appeared all over, running alongside the corridor, the length of the ceiling, and even the floor. He peered closely and saw that the lines were, in fact, several of the wires and thicker rubber tubes that ran endlessly throughout the Coalslides. He noted that the bare electric light bulbs clinging to the ceiling had taken on a similar blue glow.

Oscar pushed the goggles up onto his forehead and blinked. The bulbs and wires ceased glowing. He slid the goggles down again and the faint blue lines reappeared. Pushing the goggles back up on his forehead again, he looked to see his friends doing exactly the same thing.

“What is it?” Constance asked in awe. They both looked to Billy. He was grinning from ear to ear and staring up at a swinging light bulb directly above their heads.

“Electro-sensitive lenses,” he said in a low voice full of wonder. “He said they let you see electricity.” Billy jerked a thumb in the direction of the peddler he’d purchased the goggles from. The soot-stained man waved at them, grinning in appreciation of their astonishment.

“See electricity?” Constance repeated. “That’s marvelous.” Oscar could only nod in agreement. If such a thing existed aboveground, he’d never heard of it. “These must have cost you a fortune.”

“Nah, not at all. It did cost my Pa a few bright pennies though.” Billy grinned and they grinned back. It was no secret that the Lemp family had as much money as anyone could imagine. They even had great steel vaults inside their opulent mansion to keep it in. If Billy spread the wealth around a bit, he was never proud or arrogant about it and he always made it very clear that he had no particular attachment to it anyway.

 

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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An Excusable Absence

So I started off pretty strong with some reasonably regular postings here and then I got a bit sporadic the last couple of weeks. While I’ve been trying to keep this blog focused on writing and editing, I’m going to explain this one because it means something to me.

I’ve been working with a ballot initiative that aims to put two important issues to vote in my state: raising minimum wage and capping payday loan interest rates.

Minimum wage, I know, can be a touchy subject for a lot of people. Small businesses have a hard enough time making it month by month, never mind paying everyone a living wage. Economists offer plenty of evidence that minimum wage is the singularly most obvious reason we lose jobs overseas. It can be difficult to justify increasing the wages of an already surly fry machine operator at an impossibly unclean fast food place. I get it. I get all of that. But I’ve

also spent my fair share of time as a minimum wage earner. Before I managed to sneak my way on to a college campus, I was a bartender, a janitor, a telemarketer, and all of the other things that most people are forced to be in order to keep food on the table. And you know what? It doesn’t pay the bills.

I worked at a large ‘department store’ for a time and my schedule was unerringly set to 20 hours one week and 50 the next. Something about labor law here allows that overtime is accumulated per pay period and not per week. It also allows that full time is achieved in the same way. If that wasn’t enough, I was paid minimum wage. So once every other week, I was working longer hours than any one manager and I received no benefits and an hourly wage that was largely spent by time the bills were due. So yeah, maybe self-interested businesses with no investment in their employees or host nation will continue to ship their jobs overseas where children can di it for 40 cents a day. And maybe small businesses will have to reconsider growing their company until they can make each pay period. And, hell, maybe we’ll all just have to stop eating where the surly fry guy works because regardless of his wage, that kind of food will kill you anyway.

The payday loan interest cap is a different altogether. The most common arguments against it boil down to two things: government moderation of business is bad and people can choose not to patronize these vultures. The amount of government regulation in business is a discussion for you to have with your local poultry processing plant. Visit. You’ll get a first rate tour of how well the economy self-regulates when left unchecked.

And no, some people cannot choose to patronize the payday loan places that ask a pound of flesh for a $36 loan. Banks refuse to build in low income areas. Even check-cashing grocers will limit amounts and require identification above and beyond what many low income wage-earners have available. I live in an area with a lot of undocumented workers who can only use payday loan facilities because they don’t have a social security card or driver’s license to open an account at a reputable bank. And these places would make you long for a local loan shark. The fees for payday loans are extremely high: up to $17.50 for every $100 borrowed, up to a maximum of $300. The interest rates for such transactions are staggering: 911% for a one-week loan; 456% for a two-week loan, 212% for a one-month loan. And the government knows this. A Federal law and a Department of Defense rule caps payday loans for military members at 36%. All that this initiative is asking is that the same courtesy be extended to the rest of us.

Anyway, I don’t expect to spend much time on a soap box, but there you have it. With the close of the ballot drive looming, I will hopefully be back onto my editing process and whatever discoveries I make during that time.

Good writing to everyone!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Birds and the Dead Bees

When I read YA books, and I do this pretty frequently, I very rarely find the violence or deaths to be over the top for children. Instead, I keep wondering how all of these stories about kids anywhere from 13 to 18 never seem to involve anything more than the occasional cheek peck.

I was raised on Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera, so I’m pretty certain that any excessive exposure to imaginary violence would have already reared its ugly head and forced me into a life of cannibalism and human trafficking if it was going to happen. Moreover, the books I read as a child were almost exclusively within the fantasy genre, so I read about gruesome deaths inflicted on all forms of both the living and undead without growing up to be a skin-wearing serial killer.

 

And yet, not surprisingly, very rarely did I happen upon books that dealt with the very real likelihood of sexual attraction among the characters. Don’t get me wrong, I was gifted Then Again Maybe I Won’t and it did wonders at answering some few questions I didn’t have the guts to ask. Even so, books specifically aimed at young adults very rarely broached the subject of sexuality by any real measure. Having grown up a young boy, I cannot begin to illustrate how woefully uninformed I was and how the occasional pilfered porno mag or overheard locker room braggart did little to provide real information. Even worse, my attempts at furthering my book-based knowledge with other Judy Blume titles did less to help. I never got my period, so I must have skimmed over something vital.

Harry Potter got a kiss, Whatshername and the sparkling vampire waited until they were married and anyone not terminally romantic had stopped reading before anything progressed beyond the weird watching-her-sleep thing. Despite the excessive use of ‘puss’ as ‘face’ in the Xanth books, nobody ever actually saw one. Maybe if just one character that I grew up with had dared to have a thought about sex, I wouldn’t have considered myself unreasonably preoccupied with it. I’m not suggesting that Wind in the Willows should have culminated in an explicit contrivance between species, but Ron and Hermione could have gotten as far as a little under the shirt, over the bra without turning everyone into perverts.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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In for a Penny, in for…wait, what?

NPR had a segment the other day that brought back up the movement toward getting rid of the penny. It’s hardly the first time that discussions have centered around how useful the penny is or isn’t. In fact, in 2002, Rep. Jim Kolbe introduced the Legal Tender Modernization Act and in 2006 he introduced the Currency Overhaul for an Industrious Nation (COIN) Act, both failed attempts at doing away with the penny once and for all.

To be completely honest, I’ve never given much thought to it and this isn’t much about the actual use or need or relevance attached to the penny as a monetary unit. No, something else struck me as potentially consequential during the drive time discussion. What happens to the sayings attached to the penny when the penny doesn’t mean anything to a new generation? In for a penny, in for a pound. A penny saved is a penny earned. Penny for your thoughts. What impact does it have on writers when language loses value as currency does?

I’m no Luddite clinging desperately to the meaningful things of my past to make sense of the world. I don’t fear change. Thankfully, since things have been upgrading and updating every other minute since I was born, I’ve learned to adapt and embrace the new without mourning for the old. And yet I can’t help but wonder what happens to our language when we’ve phase out things peculiar to it.

In for a nickel, in for a pound loses the alliteration that makes it catchy. Dime for your thoughts seems almost nonsensical even if paying a penny for a thought never made any more sense. And while anything saved is something technically earned, that’s actually a quote attributed to Ben Franklin and shouldn’t be adjusted without reanimating the old fellow and asking for his own newer and more relevant version. Perhaps I’m being ridiculously sentimental, but it occurs to me that we risk losing touch with the language our ancestors grew up with. Does it make me a prosophobe if I don’t want to swap penny wise, pound foolish for off the chain or in the hizzy?

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Boggling over Backstory

So, how important is it to include all of the tiny and potentially inconsequential details that you’ve labored over in creating your own world or your own version of our world?

This is a problem that I faced first and foremost in writing my fantasy manuscripts. Since I was creating an entirely new world, I wanted to hammer out details of the economy, the judicial system, class and caste, the ecology and environment, and of course, the history. To me, it was important to have all of this decided in case it was relevant to the story. And, admittedly, it was the more satisfying part of developing a fantasy world. This is the instance in which a writer becomes a god, capable of creating and destroying and turning the tides of evolution and development to suit his or her needs.

The problem, then, became how much of this information to include in the actual manuscript. For instance:

“Their rootstocks cultivated to limit expansion and their limbs pruned to prevent uncontrolled growth, the black-barked trees looked like nothing less than a phalanx of fastidious soldiers…”

This passage from Blood of a Godkiller shows up in the first chapter. The protagonist is, as is usual, a simple youth tossed into the larger world. He comes from a sharecropping town that handles the bulk of the apple supply for this small realm. Now, I know that the extent of climates inclusive to this realm is such that this particular area is best suited for apples. I also know that the powers that be have a habit of encouraging singular production to maintain control over the economy. As such, any attempt by the community or its landed lord to challenge the existing power structure would be met with an attack on their one and only sustainable crop. A history of ore production from nearby mountains had once provided this territory with considerable wealth, but meddling administrators worked to diffuse the monopoly by encouraging mining in another territory with similar access to ore veins.

My first inclination was to provide all of this information at the introduction to the settlement because I had assumed the reader would want to know everything they could about Wylard’s Ferry before moving on to the next new concept. After creating a relentlessly informative first chapter with absolutely no action, no plot formation, and no character development, I realized that I was writing an encyclopedia entry rather than a story. Well, no, that isn’t exactly accurate. It wasn’t until beta reader after beta reader told me the first chapter was a plodding mess of unwieldy facts that I realized my mistake. Even then, it wasn’t until much later that I was able to find it within myself to hack and slash my way through the morass to rewrite the entire chapter.

So, I went back through the original manuscript and peppered some of the information throughout. I wanted to incorporate some of the same ideas, but I needed truncated versions that could be incorporated without turning into lectures. So, in chapter five, I added to a conversation:

“We’ve kept the people poor for fear that inheritance rights among these xenophobic farmers and stonewrights might create an amassed wealth too far from Canon to be controlled,”

There I tackle the importance of why this particular territory is so poor in comparison to some of its neighbors. It actually leads into a specific instance in the sort of tactics used, including the introduction of a disease that causes women to become infertile, but that’s neither here nor there. The important this was that I was able to sneak in a bit more of what I thought to be a very important component of the backstory without resorting to endless historical accounts.

I put off the history of the territory’s once-wealthy past because it wasn’t entirely relevant to character or story development. I kept the information, however, and did include it in the next manuscript because it made much more sense there. And, as an avid reader, I don’t find it too offensive to continue learning about the world from book to book. I also waited to deal with the specifics of the ecology as it applies to the apple-farming community because the breadth of travels is larger. Where the first manuscript primarily takes place in a relatively small area, the second sends the protagonist across the realm. It just made more sense to delve into the broader ecology when it was actually relevant.

So, really, more than anything my thought is this: Developing a world from scratch is the most exciting, agonizing part of writing off- and other-world fiction. I’m still tackling with how I present the science-magic of the realm without explaining it. I’m still fretting over characteristics of places and people that I want to include, but cannot find a really good reason to do it. Ultimately, having a beta reader with superior grammatical and spelling skills (thanks, Mom!), the bulk of my edits are focused on turning historical discourse into descriptive prose.

Never mind the entirely different set of problems I discovered in maintaining some level of accuracy peppered with alternative history in writing the Steampunk manuscript…

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Busy Busy Busy

I’m actually on a very nice roll with the editing today, so rather than spend time deciding on a topic, I’m going to give you another excerpt from my still untitled YA steampunk manuscript:

“That hatch up top inside her gullet there is the coalslide, namesake of the whole of the undercity. Folk aboveground dump the coal and we open the slides up to let it in as we need it.” The Furnacemaster paused with a twinkle in his eye. “But there’s a better reason everything got named after them chutes, of course. And I suppose the fastest way to get you where you need to be will help explain that.”

Furnacemaster Joseph Locklear led Oscar and his friends to the room across the hall. If he closed his eyes and gave it a second, Oscar could imagine that this room was identical to the last minus the actual machinery. A black scorch outlined the spot where a furnace used to sit and several open holes in the wall and one in the ceiling marked where the missing furnace had connected to the rest of the system. The most obvious difference other than the missing equipment was a metal track running at an angle from the coalslide to the ash chute cut in the floor. A line of what looked to be upright leather mattresses sat against one wall, looking very out of place.

“First time tends to give folks the shakes, but seeing as how you rode an air duct down here, I think you might enjoy this.” The towering Lamplighter strode to the line of leather mattresses and grabbed one. Walking back to the center of the room, he stopped and yanked on a beaded chain hanging alongside the iron track. A red light flickered on inside the coalslide and was reflected by a second inside the ash chute. Joseph Locklear set the mattress against the tracks. Oscar saw then that the bottom side was fixed with a line of adjustable clamps and small, inset wheels. Moving his large hands with surprising dexterity, the man snapped the clamps loosely over the tracks and gave the whole of it an experimental jostle. It moved smoothly up and down the tracks.

“Now, who’s first?”

Completely clueless as to what exactly he’d be volunteering for, Oscar stepped back slightly, putting himself behind both Billy and Constance. Constance merely shook her head and set her face back to the unreadable mask she’d worn since they met the man. Billy, naturally, stepped forward excitedly. If there were times that Oscar envied him his courage, and there were, this was certainly not one of them.

“Aright then, listen close. Once I’ve got you strapped in, you’ll be moving fast. Keep your arms in if’n you want to keep them and try not to get sick all over the place. The rest of us have to slide through anything you leave behind.” Joseph Locklear gave Billy an earnest look and then a lopsided grin when he realized that Billy was fidgeting in excitement. “In you go then, feet on the brakes and hands on the lights.”

While he spoke, he pointed out the particular pieces of the slide. At the bottom, jutting out from the base of the leather sled-bed, was a pair of peddles intended to slow or stop momentum. He assured them they’d have no need for those as they were going to the last stop where springs and lock-stop gears would slow and halt them. Even so, he pointed out, if someone was hopping in below them, they’d want to slow themselves rather than let the safety stops engage. Just as he’d done when he lit the red lights here, anyone hopping in below would light red lights which would set a stop at the slide above them. If they didn’t brake to slow, the stop would be abrupt. When he said abrupt, he said it with the sort of gravity that strongly encouraged using the brakes.

The lights were a pair of pressure activated electric torches set in either side of the sled, very much like handles. When Billy stepped up on the base and grabbed at the smooth copper grips, twin beams lit at their bases, shining downward toward his feet. It was that moment that it dawned on Oscar exactly what Billy had so readily volunteered for. Constance seemed to arrive at the same conclusion in the same moment. The grimy Lamplighter had just finished strapping broad leather belts across Billy’s chest, waist, and thighs as both Oscar and Constance opened their mouths to protest. A moment too late, their tongues caught as he stepped on a release set in the floor alongside the ash chute.

Both Billy and slide disappeared into the hole with a creak and a hum. As the wheels on the slide carried him along the tracks, further away and deeper into the Coalslides, the low hum slowly faded into nothing. Oscar felt his stomach sink into his knees.

“You’re not getting me on that thing,” Constance said matter-of-factly, verbalizing Oscar’s particular feelings exactly. “There’s no way that is even remotely safe.” At that she set her fists into her hips and furrowed her brow. She looked immovable.

“Ah, well, there’s always the corridors.” Joseph Locklear grinned at the two of them. “If you aim yourselves down and start walking, you’ll find your friend at the bottom come morning. It really is a long walk, though I’m happy to let you make it.” He planted his own considerably larger hands on his hips, mimicking Constance’s own stalwart pose. For a moment, Oscar wasn’t sure who he was more frustrated with, but that settled itself soon enough. It wasn’t the Lamplighter’s fault that Billy had a tendency to leap into dark holes without thinking it through. Even so, he wasn’t excited about what he was preparing to do. Swallowing hard, he stepped to the line of leather-wrapped slides and selected one that looked as sturdy and safe as he could hope for.

“Alright, I’ll take this one,” he jerked a thumb at it and walked back to the tracks. He gave Constance a wry smile that felt like a grimace. “Look, he’s right. We can’t let Billy go in alone. There are displaced folk down there with belowground dispositions.” He emphasized the words the Lamplighter had used to describe some of the Peddlers, hoping that Constance would understand. Not that she wouldn’t understand his meaning, of course. No, he hoped that she would understand why he wasn’t taking her side in this. He was, ultimately, forcing her to take the slide as well.

Constance surprised him with a brilliant smile that lit her eyes.

“Right on, then. I’ll take that slim one at the end; it should get a bit more speed than that old dump Oscar’s picked.” Her wild grin dropped his stomach past his knees and into his ankles. Constance had never had misgivings about the coalslides at all. She’d merely put on an act to give him the opportunity to take the cowardly way out. And he’d fallen for it so completely that he was almost surprised to see himself already strapped against the slide with his hands clenching the grips and his feet already poised to push on the brakes.

“You’re a rat, Constance Scott,” Oscar started when the bottom fell out from under him and his slide rushed into the ash chute at an impossible speed.

If the slide down the airduct had been fun, the coalslide was awful and wonderful and impossible all at once. The moment Joseph Locklear hit the release, Oscar dropped straight into the darkness with gut-wrenching speed. He reflexively grabbed at the handgrips, summoning up the forward lights to illuminate the narrow chute. What he saw in those twin beams was breathtaking.

The rails ran down the center of the chute, twisting and angling their way at a fast clip downward. At irregular intervals, a burst of green light would flash past his head, presumably bulbs meant to mark the route as clear. When he came to the first turn, his heart nearly stopped in his chest. Below him he could see the sharp turn of the track and the flat surface of metal that marked where he would collide if the sled failed to make the curve. He instinctually smashed his foot down on the brake to slow into the turn and the sled slackened its pace to slide around the bend.

Impressed by the clever mechanisms that gave him control over the sled, Oscar grinned and whooped wildly, letting loose the brake. Whatever misgivings he’d harbored before were lost in the pure joy of the reckless ride.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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