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This is Stupid!

A Rant (with no research behind it)

Wow, the things I hear about at work that get me riled up!

For the second time in a week, one of my colleagues was delayed in traffic on I-90 due to a crash in a construction zone. Apparently someone crashed into and bounced off of a median cement barricade several times. The ambulance came and took the driver away, so hopefully the person will survive. I pray to God this is so.

It is terrible how many vehicular collisions or near-misses occur on our roads and highways. It is ridiculous how much traffic there is, and how often traffic slows down due to congestion on our roads. And don’t get me started on construction season  – which is generally used as a synonym for summer here in Wisconsin.

I realize that we as Americans – particularly suburbanites – count on being able to hop in a car and drive ourselves pretty much anywhere at pretty much anytime. The idea of being constrained by the public transit schedule and actually PLANNING out our daily errands in advance in order to travel someplace – like to work or a grocery store – does not generally appeal to most people. We find it inconvenient to be at the mercy of a public transportation schedule. This is why we have cars, right? So we don’t have to rely on a bus or a train to get us where we need to go by a certain time. We can just GO.

Given the increasing rate of urban sprawl this is not a sustainable mind-set.

When I focus on the devil I know – the greater metropolitan area of Madison, WI – I see there are two major problems:

  1. There is no public transit system in place servicing suburban areas (both intercity and intracity). We are forced to drive ourselves everywhere. You might have a relatively short commute – say, 8-10 miles – but if everyone is on the road trying to get to work or home at the same time this leads to traffic congestion, impatience and ultimately traffic collisions.
  2. I might be going out on a limb here, but I believe there is a negative view of public transit systems already in place. Perhaps, for example, a social stigma associated with riding the bus. Can’t you afford a car? You must be on welfare, or something. 

“Why’re you taking the bus, dude? That’s unAmerican. This is the US of A – where we drive ourselves everywhere one person per SUV and burn gasoline indiscriminately. Manifest destiny represent!” *fist-bump*

Well, most other places in the world (even larger cities here in the US of A such as New York) have this thing called public transportation, or mass transit systems. There are public busing systems, taxi cabs, or subway trains, etc. But for some reason people tend to look down on public transportation and those who use it. As I’ve already mentioned, public transportation has this “stigma” and the idea of it creates a foul stench in our nostrils. We might *gasp shudder* have to sit by someone we DON’T KNOW and make small talk. Possibly even someone who mutters to themselves and/or smells like they haven’t showered in a month.

On the plus side: if you are riding the train or bus to work, then you can surf the ‘net and text on your cellphone to your heart’s content.

Unfortunately, we’d rather risk getting seriously mangled or killed in a car crash on the Interstate that be forced to ride a bus across town. Because driving is faster, more convenient, and you don’t have to sit next to strangers.

Personally, I’d rather ditch the car and ride a train in to work and home again every day. Because driving stresses me out in oh so many ways.

But that’s just me.

And that was my rant.

 

 

I agree with Voltaire

Perfectionism = Procrastination.

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” —Voltaire

Recently, one of my friends handed me a printout of an article by Tim Herrera of the New York Times: “It’s Never Going to Be Perfect, So Just Get It Done.” It’s a good read, and I really identified with what he wrote.

You know…I could be wrong, but I think that she was trying to tell me something.

So here I am feeling kinda bad about how little I have accomplished on my novel thus far. I have been reworking the first installment of the Wyldling Series for the past several months, which translates into me rewriting everything to fit into the new paradigm. Every time I feel that I’ve made some progress, suddenly my brain vomits forth some new, cool idea about something I really should’ve included in a previous chapter. This is how the original version of my novel became so cumbersome and part of the reason why it is taking me so long to finish (that, and over-editing.)

I’ve found a way to discipline myself on this front – just a little bit.

In order to keep myself from sliding off the Cliffs of Insanity and into shrieking eel-infested waters, I simply make a note of every new idea in the book outline and then move on reworking each chapter, one at a time. I don’t lose those ideas and actual progress is made. And if it turns out that an outside editor thinks the current idea as written sucks, I can pull a second or third stringer off the bench to try out.

It’s slow going, but all is working out according to the plan.

I ask myself: So, you have an actual plan? That’s great! What is it?

Myself responds: Um…to finish writing my book and then try to get it published?

I: Yeah, but have you set some achievable goals?

Myself: Huh? Goals? What are those?

I: *sighs in exasperation* Then, how about at east setting a deadline for yourself?

Myself: Well, you know what they say about deadlines…

I: Now you’re just making excuses!

Myself: Yes. Yes, I am.

Me: Hey, guys! Feeling a mite peckish, here. Let’s get some Doritos!

Beware folks, for Perfectionism = Procrastination.

See, if I want to finish the book, there comes a point when I will have to say “good enough” and find an editor to help me get the manuscript ready to publish. It all comes down to fear, really. If I never finish it, then I don’t have to go through the agony of having my book rejected a gazillion times by literary agents and publishers. Yes, I am going to try traditional publishing first, even though I realize it will probably be a no-go all around. I’ve told myself that I want to start a huge collection of rejection letters. Keep a portfolio or a scrapbook of’em and everything.

But first, I have to stop procrastinating, tell the Internal Editor to SHUT UP and finish the *bleeping* book!

On that note, I’m off to take Tim Herrera’s advice.

 

Inaccurate statistics make for great writing prompts

“Last year in the US alone more than nine hundred thousand people were reported missing and not found…out of about three hundred million, total population. That breaks down to about one person in three hundred and twenty-five vanishing. Every year…Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s almost the same loss ratio experienced by herd animals on the African savannah to large predators.”

— Harry Dresden in Dead Beat by Jim Butcher, published in 2005.

“Actually, no, Harry,” I retort, rather disdainfully. “That loss ratio on the African savannah number is probably at least an order of magnitude higher than 0.3%. Maybe even more.* However,” I add in a softer tone, “I completely understand what you’re getting at.”

— Me…had I actually been there. ***sighs wistfully***

*No sources cited, don’t have to, na na na boo boo. I have a Masters of Science in Applied Ecology, so there!

It turns out that there are a number of other folks on the interwebs world who have already commented on this highly provocative quote and thought it “sounded correct.” One or two people actually did a little research on the statistic and did not agree.

***Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that Dead Beat is a novel, i.e. a work of fiction. Facts can appear to be grossly distorted because this story takes place in a different, albeit very similar, universe to our own. The big hint is that magic exists and there is any number of supernatural entities gadding about causing trouble for our wizardly hero, Harry Dresden, and generally raising Cain. Suspension of disbelief is essential, people!***

Obviously, Dresden’s example is a bit melodramatic – not to mention grossly inaccurate – but Harry is trying to clue in Waldo Butters to the dangers of the supernatural world. He uses the disturbing statistic trope to explain to Butters why the majority of people who have a close call might choose to rationalize events, deny whatever happened, and simply pretend the supernatural world doesn’t exist instead of going public about it. This conversation takes place shortly after the zombie attack in the morgue. Zombies, ick. What a horrible introduction to the things that go bump in the night. Personally, I think I’d rather deal with werewolves than zombie-wielding necromancers. Werewolves are way cooler, for one thing. At least, the Alphas version of the werewolf in the Dresden Files Universe is pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t want to be able to autonomously turn into a wolf while retaining human-level reasoning ability? Heck, yeah! Count me in.

Anyway, out of curiosity I just went online and did a search for the number of people reported missing annually in the USA. First, I found a transcript for a 2013 NPR broadcast entitled “The Majority of Missing Person Cases are Resolved,” in which they interviewed the director of communications for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. He claims that in 2012, there were 661,000 cases reported for missing people, but the vast majority of these were quickly canceled, leaving them with 2,079 unresolved missing person cases (3.145%).

And then I did a little more digging. The actual number of missing person cases filed in the US was 830,325 in 2004 according to the NCIC. I don’t know if this statistic represents missing person reports that are new starting in that year or is a cumulative total of open cases at the time. Probably the latter, but the website doesn’t specify unless you pay for the privilege of knowing. Therefore, Harry was definitely exaggerating the number by incorrectly rounding up but don’t be too hard on him. Most people who aren’t mathematically challenged would have done the same to make their point. As you know, 85% of statistics are made up on the spot.

In any event, if the proportion of reported cases to actual unresolved cases remains more or less constant year to year, that means that there were about 28,800 unresolved missing persons cases “last year” in the Dresden Files Universe. Yikes. Of course, this number is not taking into account the resolved cases where missing people are actually found dead. These folks MIGHT have been killed by supernatural predators.

Hmm…what if supernatural predators really DO exist?

Double yikes.

Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

Spot on, Billy Bard. Spot on.

All ghostly gibbering aside, how can anyone NOT love Shakespeare?

 

There ain’t nothing wrong with the Radio

Another influence on my writing that cannot be ignored is music. Before I can go into detail about that I should lay out the groundwork and give you a little historical background – just as I did with my reading preferences.

Much like my reading preferences, my listening preferences have also evolved. My music collection can best be described as “eclectic.” If I commanded a spaceship it would be named MusicStar Eclectica.

As a youngster, I listened primarily to whatever was on the radio. My parents’ tastes pretty much dictated what was available to me, but I discovered fairly early on that I did not care for country music, which was what my dad listened to, pretty much exclusively – except for when he decided to really annoy us all by listening to the polka station. Now, I don’t have anything against polka music. I think it’s great to dance to; whenever I hear polka my feet start itching to hop around. However, listening to polka for hours on end strikes me as a form of audible torture. The same goes for country music. There are some songs that I like – primarily by the late great Johnny Cash, now that I think about it – for various reasons, but much of it does not appeal to me.

My tastes in music as a child tended to align more with my mother’s. I liked the music that she enjoyed listening to in high school. And I still do. I’m talking about Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, the Who, Styx, Steppenwolf, and The Grass Roots, to name a few. I have fond memories of listening to her vinyl records by these artists when I was in middle school. But my love of music goes back even further than that. In fact, one of my very first memories is of listening to a Styx 8-track on the stereo while watching our dog trotting over to the front door from the kitchen.

My mom and I both liked rock and roll from the 1980s, too, but that was the stuff that I grew up listening to, so it was more my bag than hers. I still liked the older stuff, but I added artists such as The Cars, Madonna, Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper, Toto, Billy Joel and the Police to my favorites playlist. As a caveat, when I was pre-school age, “Burning down the House” by the Talking Heads was the song that I was most obsessed with, probably because I was going through a pyrophobia phase at the time. My mom tells me that when we went to see Bambi in the theater, she had to drag me outside during the forest fire scene because I started screaming in terror. I remember having awful nightmares about fires a little later on after my brother was born…but now I’m going off on a tangent. Maybe I’ll examine my childhood fire fixation in conjunction with sibling anxiety in the future, just not right now.

Here’s an interesting fact: I never got into Bruce Springsteen, even though my mom loved him and had a sizeable vinyl record collection of his work. I can’t explain it. My apologies to any Springsteen fans out there. I’m sure he’s a perfectly decent guy, but something about him creeped me out back then.

In any event, by the time I was in fifth grade, I had already discovered the joys of audio cassette tapes (remember those???) and recording my favorite songs on the radio. I believe it was around this time that I also learned about the Beatles, thanks to a documentary video (also, remember VHS tapes???) that one of my uncles gave me for Christmas. Like many an impressionable young girl before me, I fell in love with the Fab Four. I found out that certain radio stations still played songs by the Beatles, and by the time I was in middle school I was spending a lot of time listening to “oldies.” At that time, oldies music was anything from before the 1970s, and “classic” was ‘70s and early ’80s music. (I realize that the current definition of oldies now also encompasses the music that I grew up listening to. Cripes, do I feel old!)

I spent a lot of time during my “tween” years listening to popular music on the radio and recording my most favorite songs on cassette tapes. I was given cassette tapes of my favorite artist as gifts and spent my hard-earned allowance on them. Still ’70s and ‘80s music, but since time marches ever onward my musical taste eventually expanded to include the music of the 1990s as well – but not as much as you might expect. In fact, my pattern of musical attraction seems to follow a retrograde path. For the longest time, I was obsessed with a certain cassette tape of Queen’s greatest hits, and another cassette live album of INXS. I tended to prefer the older stuff. I usually lagged a little behind my cohort in embracing popular trends, if I did so at all. I suppose I was always an “old soul.” Or maybe just an “odd soul.”

I was well into high school before I got into grunge bands like Nirvana. Somehow, despite my sheltered and innocent life, I learned about Rammstein. I owned a grand total of one album by them: Sehnsucht. On CD, of course (it took me a little while, but I did finally convert to purchasing CDs after cassettes become rare and more difficult to find). I even remember buying that Rammstein CD from a store in the local mall. One of my older male friends had driven me there so that I could obtain it (currently, I own most of Rammstein’s albums in the mp3 format).

By the time I graduated from college, I owned quite a few CDs and more than 30 cassette tapes that I stubbornly clung to. It was only after I married my husband that I came into contact with those enlightened folk who “downloaded” music from the internet and/or ripped music from CDs to store on their computers. I never got into the whole Napster movement; I felt it was unethical even before it became illegal. However, my eyes were opened to the possibility that technology had to offer for expanding my music collection without having to buy more and ever larger containers in which to store CDs.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they were a-changin’.

At present, I have close to 1000 songs that I ripped from my CDs and my husband’s on to my laptop –  plus we have over 800 songs in our Amazon cloud. Thanks to one of my husband’s friends who had a song by Apoptygma Berzerk on his hard-drive I really got into electronic music about ten years ago. And thanks to Pandora I found tons of other electronic acts that I enjoy. Now, keep in mind that I still like all the stuff that I grew up listening to on the radio and don’t necessarily “have” in my collection. This means that I probably love over 1500 songs, spanning multiple genres of music. I don’t know if that’s a big number or not.

I could go on and on, but this entry is growing too long to be interesting anymore and I haven’t even said anything about how my musical tastes have affected my writing. I suppose – in summary – just like my reading preferences my taste in music went through phases.

As did my writing.

To make a long story short, I guess I’m just one of those people who really gets into music and isn’t too particular about “type,” just what tickles my fancy or resonates with me. And as much as I love utilizing apps like Pandora and Spotify to discover new favorite songs, I still enjoy listening to whatever is playing on the radio (my favorite local station is Life 102.5.)

Are you one of those people, too? Which artists or genres are your favorites?

Gollum asks me an important question

“What has she gots on her bookshelveses?”

Why, thank you, Gollum, for showing an interest. Rather than simply listing off the books I currently possess, permit me a measure of self-indulgence in first explaining how my reading habits evolved and how it influenced my writing.

I have always been a voracious reader so it should come as no surprise that many authors have influenced my writing over the years. There is no way I can remember everything I’ve ever read, so I’ll just cover the highlights. From what I recall, during my earliest years I stuck primarily to nonfiction – particularly informational books about the systems of the human body and health, natural history books about animals but mainly books about dinosaurs, with which I was obsessed all through elementary school. The first “novel” that I ever wrote – and finished – was about a sibling trio of young orphaned dinosaurs trying to survive on their own in a dangerous world ruled by a “tyrannical” Tyrannosaurus Rex. Heh heh. That was in fifth or sixth grade and I think it was for a special school project. This book was most likely strongly influenced by A Land Before Time, since the movie came out in 1988 and I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater. Too bad I can’t find that book anywhere now; I think I gave the only copy to the school librarian.

Foolish child that I was.

By the time I left elementary school, I had read every book in the school library by Dr. Suess, Bill Peet, Jean Craighead George, Jim Kjielgaard and any number of fiction books that were from an animal’s point of view, as well as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Pippi Longstocking series. Those were my favorites, but I also read the Sleepover Friends series and the Trixie Belden series, from which I moved on to the mystery/thriller genre in middle school. I also read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz because my mom owns practically every book by them. My favorite Koontz novel is a tie between The Watchers and Lightning. I love The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King (of course, what else?) above and beyond anything else that he’s written, and I think most of his work is excellent.

Middle school was also the time period in which I finally read The Hobbit in its entirety and understood it. My life was never the same again. From then on, I was hooked on Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is not to say that I never read other genres, only that I had found my favorite genre. I adore various classic literature (especially Jane Austen) and I’ve plowed through all the gothic romances by Victoria Holt and many by Joan Aiken. I also enjoy reading Daniel Silva novels every now and then, primarily those featuring Gabriel Allon. I tend to pull in elements from these other genres when I write, however fantasy is the framework on which I have chosen I hang my stories.

From The Hobbit I naturally moved on to the Lord of the Rings and everything else by J.R.R. Tolkien, William Sleator, Madeleine L’Engle, David Eddings, Piers Anthony, C.S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, as well as many novels set in the Star Wars universe by various authors (we have several bookcase shelves full of these in paperback). & etc. & etc.

A sampling of the books in our household.

I could probably argue that I am fairly wide read in the Fantasy genre. I tend to pick an author and – if I enjoy their style and the sort of tale they weave – read everything by them that I can find in the public library. And if I really like them, I actually purchase the books. For example, we have an entire bookshelf dedicated to Jim Butcher (just about everything he has published so far), and another for the complete Wheel of Time series in hardcover. All seven Harry Potter books (also in hardcover) share a shelf with my growing collection of Usagi Yojimbo graphic novels. Sara Douglass, Michael Moorcock, Terry Goodkind, Simon R. Green, Kate Elliott, Elizabeth Hadyn and Jane Lindskold are also pretty well represented as well.

For awhile space was a real concern. Our house is rather small and there are only so many walls that we can line with bookshelves. However – now that such things as Kindle exist – I don’t have to worry so much about buying more bookshelves. Of course, all else being equal I still prefer to read a paper copy of a novel. Who doesn’t?

You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t mention the Bible in the litany above. This is not because I don’t consider the Bible an influence over my writing – it very much is a strong influence! – but because I thought it should go without saying that I incorporate God’s Word in my Teharan Cycle novels.

More on that later.

Now that I’ve shared my reading preferences with you, what sort of authors and titles tend to dominate your bookshelves? What do you read for fun?

The Assassin’s Tale, Part 1

A little nightmare nugget from my college daze – I mean, days – when I had an overweening sense of my own talent. Okay, and I was obsessed with assassins. Go ahead and laugh at the geeky gothness of it all.

Clean Sweep

I’m going insane.

 The assassin gritted his teeth and kneaded his forehead, inwardly snarling at the headache forming behind his left eye.  He counseled himself to patience. He must wait here in the darkness beneath the oak tree, and not think about the splash of arterial blood on the sidewalk, the hot, metallic spray against his face as Kyle jerked like a rag doll when the bullets hit him—three in the chest and one nicking the carotid artery—the rising shrieks of the children in the playground…

    “Enough,” he whispered, raking his fingers through the unruly mop of  dark auburn hair. He had not bothered to dye it black this time, because this was supposed to be a clean sweep, a strike out of the darkness and retreat sort of operation.  No flourishes. Just a kill like so many before. the assassin took pride in his efficiency; Kyle had been the artist in NEMESIS.

Kyle had also been careless.

The target is on the move. 

The cold little voice he always listened to drove away thoughts of his late partner and encroaching madness, and the wiry young man stirred, uncoiling from his hiding place like a panther in one fluid motion.  He wrapped his black duster tighter around him, embracing the darkness of the early autumn night. He could hear the susurration of a light breeze in the foliage, and the faint ree—ree of persistent crickets.  Cautiously, he crept around the bole of the tree; luckily, the leaves had not yet fallen from the trees, so he wasn’t worried about making too much noise.  Neither was he afraid that he’d be seen—on this far side of the residence hall, the gloom was deepest. There was a hedgerow lining a small path leading up to a dimly lit doorway—it was from there his target would exit the building.

    The assassin cast a quick look behind him, then scanned the surrounding area.  Good, still quiet as a tomb, he thought, sinking slowly into a crouch.  He had grown familiar with the college campus, after all the time he spent here, watching her—seeing that bastard with her an arm slung around her like she’s his property she giggles nervously cringing away the diamond glinting on her finger—

Licking his lips, he thrust a gloved hand into a pocket in the lining of his coat and reverently withdrew his knife like a priest handling rosary beads.  His eyes shone as if reflecting the starlight—in her deep blue eyes so far away I want to get closer—high above, and the blade glinted in sympathy.  This was his special knife, a dagger forged by a blacksmith with revenge in mind.  It was made for delivering swift justice, and if nothing else governed the assassin’s hardened heart, there would always be Justice

—and through the bedroom window the girl smiling smiling up at Neal always a ray of something pure like love splashed crimson blood on stained concrete the children screaming her eyes are the deep blue heavens— 

 The door swung open, creaking on old hinges, and the young man’s nostrils flared as he caught the odor of cigar smoke, sweet and musky.  Peering through boughs of tight-cropped cedar, he saw the target step out on to the path, all alone this time. Last night and the night before the target had had at least one giggling girl draped over an arm, and never the same girl twice.  The assassin’s hackles prickled with loathing; he knew what this target liked doing with—her no I won’t let him do that to her—young women friends.    

 It was one of the reasons he had looked forward to this assignment.

The target—bastard—strolled a few feet along the wall, kicked a stray stone, then leaned casually against the wall, puffing his fancy Cuban cigar with a smug look on his face.  The target was a twenty-year-old man of average build, taller than the assassin by an inch or two, with dark hair and eyes, a tanned complexion, and moderately predictable habits.  The assassin had catalogued this information religiously, as he always did, not allowing his emotions to drive away rationality. In his mind, he calculated the force he was going to need for the knife-thrust to penetrate the target’s skin. 

Be cold…death has silent wings and arctic breath…Now was the time.  the assassin scanned his surroundings once more, his ears opened for any stray sound of approach.  There was nothing, only the heavy silence and the smell of his target’s cigar.

This is for her

He parted sculpted cedar branches and flowed through the hedgerow, catlike in stealth and grace.  His right hand gripped the knife–familiar in texture and weight as he closed in on his target—a blur of black motion against a starry sky and black bushes.  The target’s mouth went slack with surprise, the cigar dangling, then falling, from limp fingers when he saw the assassin coming for him. Then the knife, a silver slash slitting the muscular neck from ear to ear—a bloody grin—and the assassin’s arctic blue eyes blank and glowing in the dim light as the head fell back and the body slumped to the ground.

 A contemptuous snarl twisted the assassin’s thin lips as he glared down at his quarry, reduced to useless meat all too easily.  Anger seized him then, and he slashed the target’s face, putting out his sightless, glazing eyes for good measure. “You can’t look at her with lust now,” he growled, wiping off his knife on the target’s sleeve.  Replacing the dagger within his hidden pocket, the assassin melted back into the night, berating himself for succumbing to his rage.  To emotion.

Once again, the thought crossed his mind: I’m going insane.

This begs the question: what professional hitman in his right mind creeps around at night wearing a great big bulky coat like a duster on a college campus? So yes, he’s clearly nuts!
Also, there will be no Part 2. If you though that this was bad, the rest of “The Assassin’s Tale” is even more maudlin garbage.

The Zoo is for the Birds!

I meant that in the kindest possible way, of course!

I took these photographs at the Milwaukee County Zoo yesterday. Out of all the bird exhibits, I enjoy watching the flamingos the most. I like the way they perch on one stilt-like leg with their heads tucked under a wing. Their necks remind me of hoses! Did you know that the pink coloration of their feathers is dependent upon their diet – particularly a type of shrimp that they eat?

Obligatory peacock picture. These guys think they own the thoroughfare.
This is a peahen. She is much less ostentatious than her mate. Collectively, peacocks and peahens are known as “peafowl.”
Crested Screamer. They’re from South America and their call sounds like a scream. Hence the name.
Ostrich. The original Big Bird.
Rhinoceros hornbills. They are known to feed one another fruit during courtship!
Inca tern. Females and males look alike…no sexual dimorphism here!
And last but not least…the laughing kookaburra, native to New Guinea, Ara Islands, Philippines to Sulawesi. It most certainly did not laugh at me, nor did it eat any gumdrops.