March 30th, 2011

#2634: Just a couple things before bed.

I bet some of these have been on Star Trek. TNG, anyway.

When I went to the Philippines I saw some strange-looking plants at a botanical garden; and that was just one little corner of the Pacific. There's all kinds of ways to accomplish the basic feat of getting animals to spread your seeds around by encasing them in tasty packages.

I've tried durian candy; it had the flavor without the stink. I didn't really like it all that much, though.

The others look interesting. I've seen the "horned melon" for sale at the local Jewel, and always wanted to try it, but never felt up to spending $4 for one.

* * *

Never respond to reviews, because your emotions will get the better of you.

I rest my case.

It's really sad. The reviewer said she's spun an excellent story and only gave her two stars because it foundered on grammar and punctuation--if she'd had someone edit the thing for her and fix those errors, I bet he'd have given her a better rating.

If you're a writer, you should eagerly seek out and happily listen to real criticism of your work. You can't get better without it.

Me, the first time someone actually told me that my story had this and that problem, I was thrilled: no one had ever said that about my writing before. (Real, honest, constructive criticism, not effluent from the creator of Darkmaster, I mean.)

It really helped that he was right. The helpful critic, I mean, not Darkmaster's creator.

It's not because I'm a masochist that I want to hear people's negative impressions of my work; it's because I can't fix what I don't know is wrong and being the guy who wrote it only makes the problems harder for me to see. I know what I meant to do when I wrote the thing, but stuff doesn't always work right--and I might not be able to see that the way a fresh perspective could.

All too often, though, creative people who get good at their thing hear too much praise and not enough critique. It gives them a big head and leads them to think their shit doesn't stink; so if you say one negative word about their stuff, they get angry and offended and upset.

I remember asking a professional manga/anime artist for his impression of something I'd done (Magical Angel Selene) and I still remember his critique. He immediately identified several things I was doing wrong, things which--when he pointed them out--I wanted to slap myself and say, "Of course!" I couldn't tell what was wrong; I only knew that something wasn't right...and with a couple of words, a few pointers, he showed me what I was doing wrong and told me how to correct it.

You can only go so far as an artist by following your instincts. Sooner or later, you need other people to look at your work and tell you what you're doing wrong, because eventually you get past the point where your internal critic can do you any good.

When I was just starting to write, I knew I had a serious problem with dialogue. I went through stories and wrote comments in the margins about how lousy the dialogue was. It was wooden, stilted--just plain awful--and it didn't flow like conversation does. I practiced it like a mofo to get better at it; and my further efforts were illuminated with notes in the margin like "this sounds natural" and "this is no good" and "I like this!" and so on--all notes from myself, to myself--and it got me to the point now that I can write dialogue that sounds natural and reads well.

Any other problems with it, I can't see.

I've benefitted, I think, from three important things.

1) A good role model. Heinlein's stories were almost universally written in proper English, and you could tell when he was deviating from it. I think it's Heinlein's work that made me realize I should try writing, myself, to see how I liked it; certainly by 1979 I had finally twigged to the fact that I liked it when we got an assignment to write a fictional story for school.

2) A huge vocabulary. I remember words very well. I was in a spelling bee in elementary school. I never studied for the thing; I had entered it on a lark and only lost because I got rattled and added an "N" to "antenna" ("anntenna", I think). I suddenly realized that it was down to me and one other kid, and I got all flustered. *sigh*

I learned to read before the "whole word" bullshit got started, so I have no trouble sounding out words I don't know, and as I've begun to assimilate latin and greek roots my "language toolkit" has become more robust.

3) A highly self-critical view of my work. I'm a really good writer, and I know it; but I don't think I walk on water. I make some stupid mistakes and I follow blind alleys and I waste effort on stories that can't possibly work. I also know that even the really good stuff is not on par with the work of the great writers. I don't mind that; I'd be happy with being published in hard copy and selling enough to pay back my advance. "Best seller" is almost certainly beyond my reach, but that doesn't bother me. It'd just be nice to have people pay money to read my book and say, "Hey, I enjoyed this; thanks for writing it."

#3 also kind of stands in my way, though. I've passed one novel around and everyone has asked, "Why aren't you trying to get this published?"

I say, "It's a rough draft! There's a whole bunch of stuff missing!"

"It doesn't need it!"


So I'm better at listening to negative critiques than positive ones. Oh well.

#2635: The problem with being a storyteller

When you have nightmares? Holy shit.

I'm obviously anxious about something, because my Xanax use is up--for a few weeks I hadn't needed any--and my sleep schedule is therefore all jumbled up. I was able to fall asleep without taking any last night; I like it that way and refuse to get into the habit of taking some every night.

The dream I had was an amalgam of a bunch of things, and it's really only the last part that was the nightmare. Everything else was pretty much typical dream stuff.

In the last part, I was fighting some orcs. There were too many of them, and one got behind me and unscrewed the cap on the horn that contained my magic, so I found myself unable to cast any more spells. I grabbed the horn and beat them to death with it, breaking the horn; realizing that I was now defenseless, I turned back to see if I could find another horn. (Said horn being about the size of a car, but WTF--it was a dream.)

It was dark by the time I got there (wherever "there" was) and only two places had light. One was blocked by a cave-in and the other was just a room; there was nothing here and I wouldn't be able to stay here for long, and I really needed a new horn if I was going to be able to live, so I ventured into one of the dark areas.

There was some beautiful singing, a choir of soprano voices, that I followed. I could only see my hands, and I was feeling something that felt like chain link or barbed wire, and there was an entry into it. The singing was coming from inside, and I groped my way around a meander and into the place...and after a few moments I realized that This is probably not a good idea and turned around to leave. Then I started running.

It is escaping! A sibilant voice hissed. It wasn't really a sound.

One of the voices sang, "Net it!" A net fell on me and I was trapped, being dragged back, my entire body tingling like when your foot's asleep or something, realizing that I was probably in for a very unpleasant while. The tingling was, in fact, the beginning of whatever horrible things the unseen sirens were going to do to me.

That's when I woke up.

I lay there for a few moments, trying to figure out WTF that was all about; then I got up and went to the kitchen and stared at the sink for a few minutes.

Generally speaking, when I have a nightmare, it's just unpleasant. It normally engenders a sensation of unease and discomfort rather than actual fear. For example, one time I dreamed that it was about 3 AM and I'd spent the last 15 hours removing the top of my car, and that I now had three hours before school. I didn't have time to reinstall the top; by the time I got to a good stopping point, I'd barely have time for a shower before I had to be at school. The coming day, I realized, was going to suck. That's what my nightmares are normally like, and I don't have them very often, either.

On the plus side, now I know how a siren's song works, so I guess it's not entirely a bad thing.

* * *

So after that, I fed the cats and stuff, and sat down to eat a sandwich and blog the story; and today's XKCD made me laugh out loud, a lot:

It takes some real talent to get an expressionless stick man to radiate dismay the way he does in that last panel.

* * *

HOW DARE THAT MAN BE A MALE NEAR A LITTLE GIRL? THAT PERVERT!!! What? She's his daughter? They're taking a hike in the park and doing some geocaching? Who cares? He's a man! He's obviously molesting her! Call the police!

* * *

Like gangs, cops fight over turf.

* * *

Dinner last night was another medium $10 Pizza Hut "super supreme". I ate half of it at one sitting; I was too hungry and it tasted too good.

* * *

So as Illinois contemplates becoming a shall-issue CCW state, of course the Chicago Sun-Times ran an editorial against the prospect. After all, it notes, nationwide, concealed carry licencees have shot 300 people since May of 2007, including some police officers.

The statistic is presented about like that. No mention is given of how many concealed carry permits have been issued, nationwide, because if they cited that it would undermine their entire argument.

Said argument being the usual "If we let people carry guns, there will be violence! The streets will run red with blood!" The same argument that's been proven wrong time and again in states like Florida and Texas and a host of others. Particularly since the opposite has been also proven true time and again: cities like Chicago and New York which ban gun ownership have incredibly high rates of gun crime.

Did you know that there are some states where you don't need a permit to carry a gun? Oddly enough, these states don't have the crime rates of, say, California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Their crime rates are much lower.

It's more of the usual liberal bullshit.

As for me, I really hope we get "shall issue" here. The instant that law goes into effect, I'm going to the local Sheriff's office to apply, because it sure would be nice to be able to take my Ruger to the range without having to make sure it's unloaded and all.

* * *

Actually, I have trouble imagining a world in which I can legally stick the Astra--fully loaded--into a pocket and go out and do errands and stuff. That would be an amazing feeling, to have the gun tucked in a waistband holster on my person as I shop and get fast food and take a walk in the woods.

It would make me kind of nervous, though, because carrying a loaded weapon around with you is an enormous responsibility.

Then again, freedom is.