Sunday, May 29, 2005

Weird Science: Superconductivity

Superconductivity - electricity without resistance. In this case, resistance really is futile.

In best Yoda voice - Relatively new discovery is Superconductivity? - Sorry Yoda, it’s not. You see before "The Big One" - "The War to end all Wars" a discovery was made by a Dutch physicist named Heinke Kamerlingh Omnes (Poor guy - I wonder if he was teased as a child?) And the discovery was superconductivity. There was probably partying in the streets, mead all around and fireworks. . . . or not - it was 1911 after all. Most likely a quiet cup of tea and a scientific paper from Heinke instead. But what a discovery.

So a couple of big wars happened, and lots more smaller ones and then Heinke’s discovery gets refined by three more physicists (American this time) named John Bardeen, Leon Cooper and Robert Schrieffer. (They were most likely teased as children too). They postulated that electrons, lonely and afraid - (okay I added the lonely and afraid part) - pair up ( maybe this is where the wisdom of never swimming alone came from) and cruise through certain materials avoiding impacts with impurities thus losing no energy. Pretty slick postulate. It’s officially called the BCS theory. And it doesn’t stand for (Bi-Carbonate-Soda) either, although I’m sure these three needed some working the theory out. It’s actually just the first letter of each of their last names.

Anyway, the BCS theory awarded B, C and S the Nobel prize in 1972. Not too shabby. Then along comes the eighties - big hair, synthesizer music with drum machines, J. George Bednorz and K Alex Muller. By mucking about with all kinds of exotic materials, (they were most likely teased as children too), Bednorz and Muller discovered a ceramic material in 1986 (containing lanthanum, barium, copper and oxygen - did these guys ever have wives or girlfriends?) which became superconductive at 35 degrees Kelvin, a record high temperature for superconductivity at that time. And an even bigger surprise comes the next year in 1987 when this dynamic duo wins the Nobel prize for the discovery. Usually Nobel prizes are not handed out until 20 or more years after such a find. Must have been a real dud year for physics?

So what is superconductivity good for besides winning Nobel prizes? Well the MRI scanner uses superconductors in its inner workings, and Japan even built a maglev (magnetically levitated) train that clocked in at over 360 miles per hour (picture the remake of "Stand By Me" - maglev train 1, kids 0). Many more uses will arise and are being worked on in the areas of power generation, electric motors and electromagnets. And as more exotic materials are found to reach superconductivity at higher temperatures (Today’s record is sitting at 138 Kelvin.), even more uses will come about.

And did you know that 15 percent of the electricity generated is used to overcome the resistance in traditional copper wire? And that Napoleon’s white horse was white?

Drop by next Sunday for more Weird Science.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Writing Tip: Fiddling Is For Fiddlers

There is an old proverb which states, "revenge is a dish best...." ummm, I should say, "stories are not written, they are rewritten." When you complete your masterpiece, what you have is a first draft and unless you are some kind of genetic anomaly - most people are not - it will not be in a state of publication readiness. It needs to be rewritten. But this rewriting stage can be a terrible trap. It can lead to fiddling, which is a good thing if you are in an orchestra, but a bad thing when you are trying to place the stamp of "finished" on your short story, script or novel.

So what do can one do? Well, there comes a time in every young stories life when it needs to leave home. It needs to get away and see if it can make it on its own, fly from the nest, set sail, and hit the editors slush pile to be scrutinized. Terrifying isn’t it? But an even worse fate for your creation is fiddling with it endlessly, thinking you can improve it, make it better, so good it will win prizes, make you millions, get you on the Tonight Show. The reality is, if you mess with your work forever you will die before anybody else ever sees it, your hard drive will be reformatted by a scrap dealer, and your printed copies used as parrot cage liners.

Here comes the advice. Make it as good as you can - Contradiction Alert! Contradiction Alert! - well not really. What I mean by make it as good as you can is to make it grammatically correct, have no spelling errors and format it the way the editors want. Most publications have guidelines - follow them. The content of the story itself, the flowery words you use, the plot, the characters, the three headed lemur plotting the downfall of time itself, need not be reworked to death. Get those parts to a point where you are happy - Contradiction Alert! Contradiction Alert! - again, not really.

Seven times maximum - that’s my advice. Never rewrite something more than seven times. If you are starting an eight draft chances are you are rearranging and fiddling. Stop it and move on.

So, if you find yourself rearranging sentences, then putting them back again - fiddling - it is time to check your spelling, grammar and format and send it on its way. Remember, practice writing is what a writer needs too. If you spend all your time editing your only story, when are you going to write the next one? Send it out, work on the next one, and don’t sweat it. If an editor likes your story, even if it is not really the story they want, they may give you advice on how to rework it. You can take their advice, or ship it out to another publisher.

Either way your creation is on its way. And you will find, instead of separation anxiety, you will most likely feel relieved and happy to be have finished a piece and be starting something else.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Musings: Under The B5

I remember. . . . Gosh, that makes me sound old starting off like this. Isn’t it only old people that start off with "I remember," like they are about to break into those boring stories of when they were kids? - no cars, no TV, no game cubes or internet. . . . But, even though I’m not that old,

I remember Bingo. . . . a smoke filled Legion hall and me only eight years old. Grime stained cards and numbers you had to cover up with those white beans or translucent colored plastic chips if you had them. And some old lady with stark white permed hair would always win, her knitted sweater (even though it was summer and about 85 degrees outside) fitting loosely over her plump frame, a cigarette hanging from her lips, ash as long as her baby finger teetering on the verge of falling to the dirt floor. . . .

I remember Balls. . . . cupped in the doctor’s hand. Goodness, how I hated that. Cough, he would say, and I would oblige, avoiding eye contact, embarrassed as all hell with my pants three quarters down and the door to his office open a crack so the nurses could walk by and look in - or so I though. Thankfully, it would end quickly. And what was the point? Didn’t I already fill a clear plastic beaker with urine, snapping on the white child-proof lid before handing it over? - They let children near your piss sample? - And I had to force myself to stop before my bladder was empty so I wouldn’t overflow the damn thing. That was uncomfortable enough without the final insult of the bag clutch and cough routine. I think they were supposed to be checking for a hernia? Do doctors still do this scrotum squeeze? And how the hell do they check girls then? Grab them by the. . . .

I remember Baby Duck. . . . I was too young at the time to buy booze at the liquor or beer store, but we always knew somebody in the older grades who could. So a magnum of Baby Duck it was on Friday or Saturday night - sweet as syrup, red as Easter egg dye, poured - chilled - into a wineskin. The wineskin, a wonderful invention that could hold an entire magnum and you could sling it around your neck under your winter coat and sip at it whenever you wanted. The outside of the kidney shaped wineskin was brown imitation deer hide, the inside a plastic black expandable bladder. A little twist off black cap with an eye on the end threaded with a sting so you wouldn’t lose it allowed access to the contents, and a black and gold braided heavy string-rope to sling around your neck for ease of carrying worked like a charm. Crazy nights in a cold northern town.

I remember Babylon 5. . . . It wasn’t Star Trek, and we were all weary of this upstart Science Fiction show. But only after a few episodes we realized this was different, it wasn’t a canned "nothing ever changes" show from episode to episode. We were treated to a 5 year story arc with ancient races, Shadows, political machinations and cool alien races of every form - and not just the bumpy forehead variety. The ships and space shots were all computer generated, but looked fantastic. What a treat. It was not a remake of Start Trek - it was all alone in the night.

I remember Bad Reception. . . . thirty dollar Radio Shack rabbit ears with parabolic dish sitting atop my twenty inch Sony TV on the second floor of my first house. Goddam last episode of the Shadow war was playing out on B5, and my reception crapped out. All I was getting was snow, bits of conversations and pissed off. I picked up the rabbit ear parabolic dish receiver, turning it every which way, cursing the elements for being what they were on the very night I would finally know the conclusion to the Shadow war. I sure had elevated blood pressure that night, and I never did get to watch that episode until may years later. I was devastated. I was a fool for caring. I have them all on DVD now as it should be.

I look forward to the future while remembering the past. Time passes so quickly. But through my daughter’s eyes I begin the cycle again. In watching her I recall her future in my past. I wonder how her doctor will check her for a hernia? But that is for her to know, and her dad never to find out. In a few years, when she is older, we can watch Babylon 5 together as well as a million other wonderful things. It brings me more joy than I can properly write down.

I look forward to. . . .

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Short Story: Brother, Can You Paradigm

Throughout life, you will never know everyone you have, or are going, to meet. Or should I say, once encountered, you are never sure your knew who it was you imagined you just met? And you may never, truly find out. Either way, life is full of encounters with others - some of which may challenge, or even alter, your own life’s paradigm.

This is my short story of one such encounter.

I hope you enjoy it.


Brother, Can You Paradigm
by Paul Darcy

Brother Jacob was growing weary. He had been taking confessionals from the acolytes all afternoon and it did nothing to dismiss his developing belief that all humans were unworthy and growing increasingly more so. Each year he made the journey through the mountains to visit all of the orders of St. Benedict and take confessions from its members. The impure thoughts of the newer acolytes disturbed him and made him more cynical as the years progressed. He was not usually so, but the years had worn him down and he was no longer a young man. Perhaps getting older was casting a shadow on his personality. He hoped it wasn’t so. Brother Jacob wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead as another acolyte stepped into the booth beside him. A small window closed over with a curtain separated him from this his last charge of the day.

Brother Jacob moved aside the curtain expecting to see a face he knew from previous visits. He did not recognize this young man. He must be another of the new recruits. "Son, what have you to confess?" Brother Jacob asked, bracing for the worst.

"I have only one thing to confess," the acolytes voice was soothing, almost musical. "I have neglected my duties and many of my thoughts have strayed."

Brother Jacob sensed something different in this young man but could not pin it down. The young man’s voice was so smooth, his delivery so polished it made Brother Jacob nervous. But wasn’t Satan the smoothest of talkers, yet he was the master of deceit, the prince of lies. "Tell me son, how have your thoughts strayed and led you into sin."

The young acolyte was silent for a while as though formulating his response. Brother Jacob was patient as well, but his mind was imagining the possibilities this young acolyte’s answer would surely take. Impure thoughts; lust, cruelty, degradation, fornication, the list went on in Brother Jacob’s mind. It seemed an eternity before the melodic voice of the acolyte derailed Brother Jacob’s train of thought.

"I have spent too long neglecting my duties. I have returned now and need to continue my work, my guidance to those most in need."

"I see," Brother Jacob said, not really understanding what information the young man was trying to convey. Brother Jacob could understand the neglect of one’s duties. This young acolyte had probably been given many chores since joining the order of St. Benedict and most likely had not completed them satisfactorily. He had succumbed to sloth. Still, there must be more this young man needed to confess to. No young man was without lusty thoughts to distract his mind. "Son, have you had any impure thoughts of late?"

"None, Brother. I do not have impure thoughts. My only sin, if so harsh a verdict can be assigned to it, is one of neglect as I have said. I am making atonement for that now as you will see." The young acolyte’s voice was stirring something in Brother Jacob. Something he had lost touch of many years ago.

"Son, you are sure you have no other sins. No impure thoughts at all. That would be a miracle and I’m afraid I would find that hard to believe."

"I know, Brother. You would find me hard to believe, yet I know in your heart you do. You have not lost that within you which drew you to the order. You have become jaded, but take heart that not all is as you perceive." Brother Jacob began to understand this young man. Brother Jacob had grown bitter over the years. He took a moment to reflect on his life and where he was heading.

As Brother Jacob reflected on his life the acolyte spoke softly again, "Brother, can you paradigm?" Brother Jacob looked into the acolyte’s eyes and could see a clear reflection of himself. He knew then what he had been turning into and what he had to do to change. Before Brother Jacob could thank the young man, the young man had left the confessional booth.

Brother Jacob emerged a moment later. Brother Malcom, the head of this order met him outside the booth. "Brother Jacob, did you recognize the young man who last visited you. I am not sure I knew him, though no one is unwelcome in the house of God."

"Yes, Brother Malcom. I recognized him. He was my conscience, and I thank the lord that he walks among us again."

The End

Monday, May 23, 2005

Writing Tip: Finish It!

Writing is hard work - plain and simple. And nothing is easier than scrapping that attempted piece of writing for any number of reasons. One excuse that you may be tempted to use is - the dog ate it. . . . But that excuse doesn’t work so well anymore, especially in the computer age where your dog (must be one hell of a big one with incredibly strong jaws and stainless steel teeth) ate your hard drive? But you know what I mean. Resist the urge to scrap what you’ve started. It’s a bad habit to get into.

Instead, get into the habit of finishing what you started. Even if the first few pages of that story you wrote suck (and this is purely subjective - what may suck to you may blow to somebody else) go ahead and finish it off to the best of your abilities. By always finishing pieces you start you will achieve three important things. No, I am not talking sex, drugs and rock and roll (while important for procreation, disease treatment and juicing your mojo, they do not entirely apply in this case).

The three important things I speak of are, 1) creating the habit of finishing your projects, 2) creating work which you can share, market and maybe even get paid for, 3) raising your self-esteem by increasing your body of work knowing you can finish what you start.

But you are talking short pieces, what about my sextet (come on I had to use that word - sex sells - doesn’t it?) of space opera novels? Well, in this case break it down into chapters. Finish each chapter and after a while (of hard work mind you) you will have a completed novel. Then you are on to the next knowing full well you can do it. And you can do it! Hear me. I repeat - You can do it! (Gee, that started sounding like Bob the Builder - but he is not a bad little puppet claymation - whatever the hell he is - character to listen to for advice in this area). You really can do it.

Anyway - by working hard and completing what you start you will find that all of a sudden you are more inspired, you have a happier writing life and you feel proud of what you can accomplish and others will take notice and be proud of your accomplishments as well. Think positive. You can finish that short story you started about the two headed albino racoon which ate you next door neighbor. You can finish your ten novel fantasy series (Glen Cook did with his Black Company books) And believe me (I have somewhere in the 50+ finished short stories) after a while you will be compelled to finish what you start and that is a powerful boost to your self confidence. And it doesn’t just apply to writing either. . . . It can apply to sex, drugs and rock and roll if those are the goals you have set yourself in life.

And another little closing note here - finishing the stories you start provides you valuable practice. Learn from what works and what doesn’t and before you know it those newer finished pieces will be sold, editors will be asking you for more, and you may just have yourself a nice little writing career. And nothing (I imagine as I dream of and work towards one myself) could be a sweeter reward for all of your hard work. So listen to Bob the Builder’s advice when he says, "You can do it", and go ahead and -

Finish It!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Fantasy Book Review: The Black Company

This book review will be short because I haven’t read "The Black Company" by Glen Cook in a long while. I expected to finish another book I was reading this week, but time and the tide screwed me over. So here I go.

This is the first book in a ten book series (actually a nine book series with a tenth related offshoot) about the trials and adventures of the mercenary outfit: The Black Company. Told from the perspective of Croaker (The Black Company’s doctor) through first person narration, this book packs quite an ensemble of unique and vivid characters between its pages. The writing style, for the tale being told, works so well you are sucked into the action and the story almost immediately.

It’s a world most fantasy readers will recognize as quasi- medieval, and Glen Cook brings it to life in a fresh "sarcastic" and interesting way as filtered to us by the protagonist Croaker. Characters like Goblin, Tom Tom, One-Eye, Elmo (not the tickle me version here), Raven and the captain give you an idea of the types of characters the Black Company employs. But these are just some of the regular "good guys" that populate Glen Cook’s world. There are also God like beings, like the Lady, the Limper and Soulcatcher, and they are not to be trifled with since they are packing a lot of strong magic, much more than the human average practitioner of the mystic arts of which the Black Company employs a few. The overall effect of the characters and world is stunning and different.

And that’s about it. Sorry I didn’t dwell on any specifics - that was mainly because 1) I don’t remember them all - I’m getting older, and 2) I don’t want to spoil anything for you either. The book is full of surprises and fun situations. So, if you like adventure fantasy with a humourous, sarcastic flavor, you will love The Black Company by Glen Cook. Highly recommended. The world of the Black Company is not a safe or happy place, but it’s intriguing and damn fun. But be warned - once you read this first book you may be collecting and reading the next nine. But that’s not such a bad thing either - the whole series is worth it.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Short Story: Plastic And Rust

Billy is an artist. Billy is also disturbed. He is a disturbed artist on a mission, but plastic and rust are interfering more and more with his work. A snapshot in time in a junkyard somewhere on this tiny world we call Earth. And it’s short too.

Enjoy!


Plastic and Rust
by Paul Darcy

Plastic and rust and nobody gave a goddam. Billy shoved his locks of brown hair away from his dark eyes and surveyed his latest re-creation. It was better than the rest, but he shouldn’t have had to fix it at all except for the goddam plastic and rust. The modern, crappy Japanese metal rusted faster than ever. And with so much goddam plastic now, how the hell could he hope to build more than thirty feet high anymore. Still, he was pleased with his accomplishment. It needed a few more refinements, but they could wait until he ate, until it settled. The huge magnet coils were starting to overheat anyway. Maybe one day they would see what he had seen and those without wouldn’t suffer as much.

He jumped from the seat of the great metal beast as it rumbled to stillness. He always felt a little intimidated by its size, or maybe the cabin was meant for larger people. It was probably his best friend, at least on days like today when the visions were the clearest and new stock had arrived not so rusted yet. One day the new stock would cease to arrive. Goddam Plastic and rust. Goddam the plastic mostly, it would ruin him for sure.

He ate quickly, not wanting to leave his creation for too long even if he was only going to be scrutinizing it and not reforming it immediately. After a moment of anxiety, he found his check amongst the flyers and advertising brochures. He would need to stop if that didn’t come. He would need to stop anyhow once the plastic took over. Goddam plastic and the people responsible for its proliferation. Bloody hell and damnation.

Bill finished circling the pile pulled a cloth from his coveralls and started to polish the great metal beast. He topped up the hydraulic fluid as well, red tinted like the very blood which made all creatures what they are. He felt an affinity with it, like their purposes were one in the same. Stationary, isolated, creating perfection in a chaos of imbalance. He knew about imbalance, could see its work in all directions, sticking out in sickening colors. Unnatural colors. The colors of molded plastic. Molded plastic trays filled with pennies, eyes seeing through tears, touch muted by layers of grime, blood thin as water, hope all but gone. Goddam plastic. Plastic and rust and only him to set it right.

He left his great metal beast after caressing it with love, took one last look at his creation and went to clean up and cash his check. What little he would take would keep him going until the next one, the rest was up to others to make good. His wasn’t a perfect life, but he did what he could where he was and wouldn’t stop until he had too.

Plastic and rust.

Goddam plastic and rust.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Weird Science: Hot Or Cold Freezing H2O

Ever hear this statement? - hot water freezes faster than cold water. Ever shake your head at the person that said it, move away discreetly and wonder where they escaped from and whether you should call the police? Sorry to dispel this urban myth so quickly but - hot water will not freeze faster than cold water given the same starting conditions and a sealed environment. If you don’t believe it, (Never Never Land exists too and the jungles of South America are teeming with hidden dinosaurs, but I digress) try it and see. But don’t use ice cube trays (quick evaporation of boiling water in the modern no-humidity freezer will leave so little of the boiled water left in a small ice cube tray as to make the experiment moot - a small mass of water will freeze before a large mass of water), use larger, preferably smooth walled metal containers for the experiment instead.

But my Grandpappy told me it was true! Yeah, well maybe your Grandpappy was taking some medication that was a little too strong and not fully tested by the FDA. But before you get all upset at me, let’s dissect the wording of this wild claim for additional clues. Firstly, the sentence states "hot water freezes faster". What a curious way to put that. It could be interpreted as water, which was previously heated, will freeze faster than water which was not previously heated. And here is where Grandpappy may have been on the correct medication, just a bit misunderstood, because previously boiled water "may" freeze faster than cold water if they both start off at the same temperature for the experiment.

Allow me to explain. Water which has been boiled will have driven out some of the air bubbles (which are present in water) and because air bubbles cut down thermal conductivity (why do you think windows filled with inert gases are better insulators than ones without?) they can inhibit freezing. This may allow the previously boiled water to freeze more quickly than water which was not previously boiled - again, provided they start off at the same temperature for the experiment.

Which brings us to the next item of why hot water pipes tend to burst before cold water pipes when they freeze. As a test you could turn off your furnace in the middle of winter until the pipes burst, but I wouldn’t suggest that you do - (but if you must know first hand, please conduct this experiment - then feel free to email me your results). And yes, it is true that hot water pipes tend to (notice the "tend to" which means not in all cases) burst before the cold water pipes and here is why. Previously heated water (which has driven out some air bubbles) forms denser ice than water which contains more air bubbles. And because solid (frozen) H2O occupies more volume than its liquid form, it can burst pipes - and the denser the ice, the larger the volume, which gives it a slightly better chance of busting a pipe first.

Oh, and Grandpappy most likely didn’t tell you this about the hot water pipes bursting first, because he never had them - he got his water from the well out back - you know the one he had to walk two miles uphill in both directions to get to - at three o’clock in the morning after milking the cows, tilling the fields and planting ten acres of corn with his bare hands.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Musings: Worth More Than A Thousand Words

I have four pictures in my writing lair. So what, you ask? Well, they are pictures of people and they are signed just for me. I also have two large posters of solar systems (ours not Alpha Centauri), thousands of books, a Tolkien 50th anniversary calendar plus three desks, two chairs, two computers, and right now one ass (mine sitting in one of the two chairs). You could say I’m a man of excess, collecting things I don’t need. You may be right. Each serves its purpose though, but I’ll speak only of the pictures today.

Picture one: Walter Koenig. Best known as Mr. Chekov or Mr. Bester. If you don’t know who Mr. Chekov or Mr. Bester is, I don’t know what to say except - you probably don’t know Mr. Rogers, Mr. Kangaroo, Mr. Bean or Mister Mister either. But that’s not the point. Inspiration - That’s the point. When I met Walter he was a much younger man than he is today. I believe it was even before "The Voyage Home" was filmed. He was amiable, witty and he signed a Chekov photo (black and white back then) for me that says, "To Paul, For Friendship, Walter Koenig". Friendship - I like that. What a great little man he is. And his portrayal of those two well known characters - well done. Thanks Walter - friend.

Picture two: Marina Sirtis. Best known as Deanna Troi. If you don’t know Deanna Troi, ummm, then I guess you missed that whole "Star Trek The Next Generation" thing. It’s old now I know, but you can google it if you are curious and would like more information. When I met Marina she was very radiant and fun-loving, even during the signing of her picture. It was during the fourth season of Next Generation, so the show was still going strong and getting stronger. She was genuinely happy to be there and I could tell playing a part in the Next Generation cast meant a great deal to her. No comments from Marina - my Deanna photo (black and white as well) is just signed "Marina Sirtis" Thanks for the fun Marina.

Picture three: Denise Crosby: You are sensing a trend here - no? Best known as Tasha Yar from the Next Generation. Now what can I say about this lady? I met her only two years ago now and she was so very sweet and not the Hollywood glamour girl at all. Being older, wiser and bolder (plus married with children and secure in my life), I actually chatted with her for a few minutes. She was friendly, happy and it suddenly dawned on me - just another person doing her job like anybody else. I picked a color Tasha Yar photo and she signed it, "To Paul, Love, Denise Crosby" I wonder if she ever sat on her grandfather’s knee singing "White Christmas"? I forgot to ask. Maybe next time. Love - Didn’t know I could make such an impression in only five minutes. What a classy lady. Good luck to you Denise and thanks for your time.

Picture four: Robia LaMorte: Best known as Jenny Calendar or Pearl. Jenny from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Pearl when she was dancing and touring (yes I meant Touring, not Wh....) with Prince (the artist). I met Robia only last year and again with my mature eyes I observed a lady in the business. She was pleasant, not snooty and was even just walking around the show when not signing autographs. I took my digital camera (never had one before then) and she was more than happy to smile and pose. I guess it’s what they do for a living anyway. She signed a photo (black and white) of just herself, "To Paul, "drawn heart" Robia LaMorte" What a tough business these people are in. Best of luck Robia - it was fun to meet you.

Now as the saying goes - A picture is worth a thousand words. But I have these four in a row on top of a bookshelf facing my writing computer and, through my memories of each brief encounter, these signed pictures have provided me far more than a thousand words each.

I can’t actually put a word count on the inspiration they have given to me and continue to provide today. In fact, I don’t even want to.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Musings: Spread The Happy!

Oh Happy Days! No, not the sitcom with "the Fonz" in it, but this post is related in its way. Happy news came to me two days ago, but today the news becomes official. A certain actress will be starring in a new sitcom this Fall - and that is cause for much Happiness. You know who you are, and I am so Happy for you. But what is Happy? Perhaps we should explore this word in some depth since we use it so frequently in our diurnal or nocturnal lives.

My 1978 Random House dictionary defines Happy as: feeling or providing contented pleasure or joy. That sounds pretty good to me. But how do I know that what I’m really feeling is Happiness? - maybe what I meant to say was dexterous, felicitous, cheerful, gladness, merriment, joy, delight, ecstasy (not the drug), rapture (not the Blondie song), triumph (not the motorcycle), or gay (not going there...). Hmmm, that’s a lot of choices to express my feelings towards this young talented actress’s new role for the fall.

I’ll do my best to describe the different meanings of each and perhaps it will become a little more clear to me. Let’s see, dexterous is a synonym of happy, but is more associated with the ready skill by which favorable results, usually in minor matters, are obtained. Okay, I jumped for joy at the news (not with much dexterity though - I’m getting old) so this word does not quite fit. And felicitous refers mostly to an instance or display of skillful capacity towards, in this instance, happiness. Still not quite right and almost the same meaning as dexterous in this case.

Now there is cheerful. But this word refers to a possession or expression of a moderate or tranquil happiness. No, I am much more excited about her getting this role than that. Tranquil? - I’m old, but I’m not dead yet. So forget than one. How about gladness then? Gladness is happiness which overflows in countenance, voice, manner and action. Hey that’s getting closer.

Merriment is an expression of gladness as in merry-making, celebration or gaiety. I certainly feel like that but much more as well. Now we are on to joy. Joy describes a feeling more intense than happiness, deeper than gladness and more enduring than pleasure. Hey, that’s really getting close, but it’s such a small word. I prefer four letter words - or larger - like delight. Delight describes vivid, overflowing happiness of a somewhat transient kind. Hmmm, when I first heard the news that would describe my immediate response, but transient is so temporary. No, not good enough.

Ecstacy. I like the sound of this one. It describes a feeling of extreme or extravagant delight such that one is almost beside themselves with joy. I don’t like my personality split, so I’ll not choose this one either. On to rapture. Rapture is almost the same as ecstacy but is more an expression of a state of joyous exaltation. I was tempted to pick up the bagpipes and play a Rolling Stones tune, but not quite. And triumph is joy obtained through victory, success or achievement. Since I had no direct hand in her being chosen for the show, I don’t think this is a match.

Finally we are on to gay - having or showing a joyous mood. Sounds nice, but I don’t think I’m going to tell anyone today that I am gay, which I am, but I’m not, if you know what I mean. I’ll just skip it, put it back in the closet, and save the confusion.

Well, I’m tired out now having tried to figure out the best word to express my feelings about this young actress’s new job. I think, after all this deliberation I am going to stick with the word Happy after all. It’s simple, well understood and applies.

So young actress - I am Happy for you. I’m sure we could all use some Happy today, so. . . .

Spread the Happy!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Musings: Change is Good

There is no single thing in all the world which remains the same. Well, okay that negative charge on the electron stays pretty constant but I’m sure at some minuscule level it fluctuates - hence change. Change is an integral part of life, death, the universe and everything. And in fact, it is neither good nor bad - It just is. So what I’m trying to say here about change is that the best way to experience change is with a positive attitude. Or, look upon change as a good thing and not something to fear or see negatively.

Here is one example of change as a good thing. Underwear refreshment. To never change your underwear is to embrace the status quo, to reject change. Not good. That unwillingness to change, though you could look upon it as a good thing in your new positive world view, I would regard in the slightly negative category - especially if I am sitting next to you on the subway. Not only is it non-hygienic, it’s downright gross. And do you want to be wearing the same pair of undies until they are crusty and need to be surgically removed? What if you get into an accident? What would your mother say? You see - Change is good.

So today, when you walk out into this ever changing world - learn to embrace your change. Dimes, quarter, nickels - whatever. Grab hold of it and give it a squeeze. Perception is the key. Reality is indifferent, but how we view it can vary widely. Keep a positive outlook while you experience this world of change we live in and you will most likely be a happier person and make the others around you a little happier too.

But, for the love of others, please change your underwear every day.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Writing Tip: Finding Your Support Network

Now it’s true, in most cases, that writing is a completely solitary activity. It’s pretty hard to share a keyboard or pencil with another person and write simultaneously though I suppose it could be done - but I’m sure the results would be less than stellar. But this is not the point of this post. Creating, finding and belonging to some sort of support network for writers is.

As with bridges, airplanes and souffles, most things need some form of support to stay up. As well, the writer’s spirit and will to continue creating fiction also need support or they will collapse under their own oppressive weight after a time. The way I see it, there are two kinds of support. Good and Bad. . . . Well there is Ugly too, but that’s more an impression than a support so I’ll skip it.

Bad Support - May as well get this one over with as quickly an painlessly as possible. Support people to exclude from your network are - mothers (yes real mothers, not the slang), fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses (especially spouses - I repeat - especially spouses) and your best friend in the whole world too. Do not use them for your writing support - ever! These people, though dear to you, (okay maybe you can’t stand them so you wouldn’t have them as support people anyhow - right?) are terrible choices when it comes to your writing craft.

But Why? Well, unless they are professional copy editors and one hundred percent objective (like that’s possible) they will have very little in the way of useful constructive criticism and will more often than not just grin inanely and say things like, "that was great", "oh, I liked it", "you are so good", "another piece of pie, dear?" and so on. Utter useless gibberish and not what the budding young (or old, okay even ancient if you are starting late in the game - and it’s never too late but this is another post) writer really needs to know. It was good material when you brought home those kindergarten finger paintings, but now, with your writing career starting up, those types of comments are crap - plain and simple

And it’s no real fault of those loving relatives (again, unless they are professional copy editors) because they have no real idea about the craft of writing. They offer you only their biased impressions and those will not make you a better writer. Their loving comments, though supportive, will eventually fall flat and sound like a recording. So what to do then? Am I suggesting strangers, you ask? But mother told me never to talk to strangers. Get over it! Get off the chair and locate people you don’t know who share the same pain and hook up with them. It works for Alcoholic’s Anonymous - it will work for your writing addiction too.

Good Support - Now we come to what can be useful to the budding writer. If you check, I’ll bet that right there in your community, or close by, is a local writer’s group. These groups likely meet once per month or even more and are made up of writers just like you. Some will be published, some will be starting out and others will be somewhere in-between. Join one. Go to the meetings and read your stuff out loud. Listen to their advice. Give your advice to others about their work. A writer may write alone, but the collected knowledge of a group of writers all helping each other can be, well, supportive and constructive and fill you with enthusiasm for your craft.

One more thing. If you can hook up with another human being (exclude the Bad Support list of people) to meet with, even if over the phone, once a week to discuss progress on your writing - that is a great help. It keeps you talking about what you’ve accomplished, or maybe didn’t accomplish, with somebody else on a regular basis. It gives you a deadline and provides you with a task master to report to. Oh, and this person doesn’t need to know anything about writing at all.

And for some writers who just read this post - they are thinking. He is full of crap. Well, if you have tried what I suggested and it didn’t work out for you - that’s okay too. There are usually exceptions to most things - this I can’t deny. But if you can get set up as I mentioned above - great. I think it really helps. I know it helps me a good deal.

Nobody wants that bridge to fall down, especially when one is driving over it.

Keep writing - with a little help from strangers.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Weird Science: Absolute Zero

Nothing is colder. Not liquid helium, not hell (when it freezes over), not revenge served on a dish, and not even Frosty the Snowman (made from that special Christmas snow) - Nothing is colder than absolute zero. And what a great two word combination: Absolute Zero. It just curls off your tongue like mist on a morning pond.

So what is it? Well, absolute zero is a theoretical temperature. It is the temperature a substance would reach if it could actually obtain zero thermal energy. That is to say - no energy whatsoever. And that’s even less energy than I have when I first enter my work cubicle Monday mornings. The utter absence of energy.

Now as we know, temperature is a measure of molecular agitation. The higher the agitation, or the velocity of a substance’s molecules, the higher the temperature. So absolute zero would be the total non-movement of a substance’s molecules. This total non-movement, or absolute zero, is used as a fixed point in absolute temperature scales. It is 0 K (how far I jog every day), -459.67 F (my best grade in high school English) or -273.15 C depending on what scale you want to use.

But any way you measure it - absolute zero is frikin cold. Too cold for us to actually relate to in our relatively warm and cozy lives, including the lives of those crazy explorers to the Earth’s poles or the even crazier people who chop holes in frozen lakes and jump in for sport.

And now you may well ask - has any substance ever reached absolute zero? Not that we know of. The coldest temperature ever recorded was two-billionth of a degree above absolute zero. That is ( two times ten to the minus nine) degrees Kelvin. Close, but no frosty, unlit cigar. It was reached by the Low Temperature Laboratory team in the Helsinki University of Technology, Finland in October of 1989.

October 1989. The precise time I started my cubicle job. Coincidence or cosmic absolute?

Absolute Zero.

Nothing is colder.

Nothing at all.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Short Story: The Bitter Man

Well, here it is. Another short story and this one goes back a long way. (I know, I know - where is the newer stuff. - Coming soon - works for the movie industry) In fact, it was the first real short story I ever wrote during my first year of University (Okay, so it wasn’t a University - it was a Polytechnical Institute - bite me. But wouldn’t you expect me to have come from an Institute and not a University anyway?) Anyhow, this is a crude story - rife with violence, conflict, gunplay, drugs (prescription), death (on a very large scale) Oh, and it features a small green alien too.

Enjoy.


The Bitter Man
by Paul Darcy

A gun fired, a dog yelped, and a curse was heard for miles around. "God damned critter comes near my place again and I’ll do more than just shoot its tail off!"

The hunched old man turned with the agility of a slug and managed to climb the stairs to his decrepit shack without falling. He stared bitterly at the steaming pile on his steps and vowed to God he would blast that hairy turd machine into a ball of mangled flesh next time.

Arriving at the door to his abode, he realized, to his senile dismay, that he had forgotten the key inside. Well, if that didn’t beat the fuzz out of a fat man’s belly button. He was just about to take his medicine for paranoia when that four-legged crap factory decided to set up a business on his frost step. Now he was in a fix and became even angrier.

The old man couldn’t afford to break into his house because all of his old age pension was spent on window and door locks, shotgun shells, digestible cookies, and paranoia medicine, leaving him nothing to fix the door with once it was broken. He was furious and nothing but a good curse could ease his bitterness now.

The sound that exploded from his lungs was enough to dislodge several leaves from their resting places in the surrounding trees. It also triggered a nearby skunk to spray in the direction of the sound and cause a sickly stench to mingle with the already existing reek of a certain steaming pile.

The old man had no choice now but to walk the two miles into town and try to get his drugs before it got dark. The walk shouldn’t be too bad if it didn’t rain.

The rain stung the old man’s eyes as he plodded along down the dirt road, mumbling to himself in a harsh, snippy dialect. About ten minutes into the walk he came upon an unfamiliar sight. There was a large round object blocking the road, resembling a mushroom without the stem.

"What in the flaming hell is this!"

At these words a door appeared in the side of the object and a bright light shone through its interior mist. The old man noticed a strange odor and felt a lump in the back of his pants. Now he remembered another thing he was about to do before the dog interrupted.

"This is just great. All I need now is a little green man to materialize from inside this thing and I’ll be all set!"

As if on cue, a small green man emerged from the craft.

"Greeting earth creature," said the green alien.

"What! You have got to be a God damned joke! I can’t believe this. Are you one of the Jones boys? You kids are always getting into trouble."

"You are quite harsh for a bipedal, underdeveloped, unintelligent lower life of the most insignificant kind. If you had the ability to realize just how useless you are, you would disappear in a flash. Put down that lead propulsion device and clean yourself up before I vaporize your worthless form." The old man didn’t move. "Very well then, I shall do it myself." The little green alien snapped what seemed to be a finger and suddenly the old man’s pants were free of unwanted substances and his gun was gone.

The old man was really pissed now.

"Look you little green son of a ... whatever you are. I am fed up with being tormented by dogs, cats, people, and even certain smells. What I don’t need is to be harassed by an undersized dwarf in a frog costume who pops out of a silver metal ball in the rain. I am —" Before he could finish, if he ever intended to, the little green alien snapped another of his limbs and the old man was instantly tied to a tree upside down with a dog biscuit lodged firmly in his mouth.

The little green alien studied the inverted human with despair. This was his fourth attempt to make contact and yet another disappointment. The first was a lady on a dark street. She started quoting prices and asked if he liked whips. The next was a young boy who wanted to know if he could have a laser gun to blast his sister with. The third was another boy named Phillip Jones who yelled the word Kermit at him and threw rocks. Now this. It looked as though he was getting nowhere. The alien, depressed and vexed, decided to talk to the old man once more.

"I can cure you, you know. I can make you young again, give you satisfaction, another head. But what would that do? You are hopeless, this entire race is hopeless!" With that the alien snapped a limb again and the old man was back on the road in the rain, alone.

"God damn! One hour without my medicine and I lose my mind." The taste of liver dog biscuit heavy in his mouth.

The old man stumbled further down the road and grew more paranoid with every step. Two alders and several tweetie birds lost their lives in heavy gunfire before the old man’s shells ran out. Without his gun for protection, a with pounding rain now blocking his vision from possible attack, he dropped face down into the mud and lay perfectly still. He was extremely bitter. He would have given up in peace had it not been for a green appendage lifting his head up, and two bulbous protrusions peering into his eyes.

"I have decided to come back. You may be a vulgar, insignificant and typical example of this species, but you show more signs of promise than the others." A small round hole undulated from beneath the green alien’s two bulbous eyes as he spoke.

"God damn, can’t I just lie here and cease to exist? Why am I so pestered? All I ever wanted was a wife, a few kids, maybe a dog. No, not a dog, but at least one kid. No woman ever wanted me though, and my life ..."

"Oh stop your sniveling you worthless excuse for congealed matter. The only reason I came back was to bring you with me on a little trip. You see, as useless and weak as your race is, they possess a certain ability to resist cold on the order of thirty below zero centigrade. If you perform a simple task for me I shall grant your pathetic self a meaning. It’s not every day that you deal with a being as powerful as I, so if that revolting grey matter in your skull is arranged in such a manner as to give you adequate sense, you will do this with no squabbling!"

The little alien snapped a limb and the old man found himself inside the ship, floating in a pool of mist. The alien was there also, suspended next to a golden orb which he was tracing with a finger.

"Okay, this really is it, isn’t it? I’ve finally kicked off and you are death, right? I expected a scythe and cloak, but who am I to argue. Hell is, no doubt, the next stop. I would have preferred non-smoking, but I presume this is a booked flight. Do you serve ..."

A snap sounded and the old man fell silent. The little green alien rotated one bulbous eye to observe his handiwork. Yes, he thought, this race looks much better without a mouth.

The flight lasted all of three minutes, time enough of the old man to reach new heights of bitterness.

"Don’t try to resist. Why is it your race has an incessant need to do things which are impossible to them? Anyway, we are here, and I believe we were discussing a deal."

A green limb snapped and the old man’s mouth returned, which was most fortunate because the mist in the ship was plugging up his nose, also he had been thinking up a lot of nasty things to say.

"You green blob, what gives you the right? I won’t do anything for you!"

"Well, don’t do it for me, do it for your feeble race, or yourself. You see, my power si near limitless, except for cold, and I will grant you any wish."

"God damn! You are serious, aren’t you, and I’m not dreaming. Any wish you say?" The old man’s thought all kinds of selfish thoughts.

"Quite right. All you need do is retrieve a dark blue crystal from a cave. Should be a simple task, which is all I can expect from your kind anyhow. Enjoy the trip." One snap and the alien was alone in his mist.

The old man just sort of appeared, like a pimple on a forehead overnight, in a crystal cave of smooth floor and jagged walls as well as roof. Several blue crystals lay about and the air was frigid, just like his mood. The old man checked over his shoulder many times too for signs of aggression, by anything. He walked over to a blue crystal, bent over and picked it up, simple.

He disappeared then, just like that same pimple when squeezed, and was once again in the mist facing the little green alien.

"Thank you, insignificant one." A snap sounded and the crystal was in the alien’s grasp.

"What about our deal, oh powerful green thing." The old man’s words dripped sarcasm which soiled the ship’s floor.

"You need only ask." was the alien’s indifferent reply.

The old man thought a moment. "Please, I don’t want to be paranoid any more, also I would ..." The alien’s upheld limb stopped him in mid list.

"That is simple." The snapping sounds of his limbs were like popcorn and very soon the old man felt very much better although he didn’t know why.

"Hey great, I feel wonderful, what did you do?" The old man was quite pleased with his success.

"I took away all the reasons for your sniveling race to be paranoid about."

And sure enough, back on earth, miraculous things had happened. Wars ceased and hostilities left people’s minds, a world government appeared which helped all who needed it, religion vanished and gave men no reason to curse and kill, air pollution turned to fresh new oxygen, horrid toxins turned to water, all lying stopped, and all the species of animals killed by man’s ignorance and stupidity thrived again. There truly was peace everywhere and honest relations existed between each and every human alive. The ecological system was in complete harmony and all aggressive weapons vanished. A task which had barely tapped the alien’s powers.

Before the old man could thank the alien a snap sounded again and he found himself back in his home, a good feeling inside of him. He even threw the dog a bone. Why had he been so bitter before? He couldn’t even remember.

The little green alien orbited the earth in his ship and was hard at work installing the blue crystal into a cylindrical device. When he was done, he loaded it into a slot in the wall and snapped a limb. The cylinder jettisoned and headed towards the earth. A few seconds later there was a blinding flash, a gargantuan explosion, and billions of particles of debris spinning off in all directions. The earth was no more.

"D-crew to D-crew central, operation disinfect has been completed in section 91-A." His work done, the alien headed for home and thought to himself how fun it was to toy with the unclean organisms before he exterminated them for the betterment of the universe.

The End

Friday, May 13, 2005

Science Fiction Book Review: Hothouse

No, it’s not one of those X-Rated erotica books or a guide to growing greenhouse vegetables, but it does share two similarities: sex and vegetables. But then if one looked hard enough just about every book out there has those two elements in it mentioned somewhere.

But this book Hothouse, by Brian Aldiss, is quite different. So different in fact that I haven’t read anything quite like it in all my years of reading (twenty five plus) and I am glad I finally got around to it. My shelves are bursting with read (2000 or so) and unread (another 1000 or so) science fiction and fantasy and horror books, but I can only get through about forty to fifty of them a year. (see what not having TV can do for you?) And I thought, hey, I may as well share with the world my thoughts and impressions on each of them when I finish one. So, on to my short book review of Hothouse.

Setting - setting - setting. This book is mostly about the setting and what an imaginative and interesting setting we are given. The time frame is somewhere in the very distant future (millions and millions of years) when our sun (big shiny hot thing in our sky) has reached a point when it is about to turn into a red giant star and fry our lovely little planet like a blowtorch on a pea. The earth has stopped rotating long ago and has a perpetual light side (where life flourishes still) and a perpetual dark side. (where things are pretty dark) Vegetables rule supreme and have taken on many characteristics of dominant life forms such as movement, flight and eating each other with teeth and stomachs. Mammals and reptiles and insects are no longer very high on the food chain and scrape out an existence at the sufferance of plants.

Gren, the protagonist, is one of a small tribe of humans who lives among the hothouse jungle in the banyan tree. Now this is no ordinary banyan tree. This tree has taken over all of the landmass which still remains in daylight. Humans are now small, green skinned creatures who have taken to the tree to live because the ground is crawling with predatory vegetable life. Anyone falling from the tree branches will quickly be consumed by "the green" life forms waiting below. The life of Gren and his tribe, though he is not the leader, is brutal and exotic. One moment they can be playing, the next they are fighting for their lives against some huge stalking vegetable monster most of which are very well conceived, alien and utterly ruthless. Most of Aldiss’s creations make the "killer tomatoes" look tame.

Circumstances see Gren going on an adventure in this exotic vegetable world and Aldiss does a fantastic job of bringing it alive. Insects (roughly the size of the small humans now), especially "termights", have become friendly with the humans and they will actually aid each other if in need. The dominant vegetable life (and its myriad of forms) really is that nasty, believe me. Gren encounters a couple of "other" sentient life forms and learns through them of the ultimate fate of the world. We are treated to some fantastically strange environments, but they are recognizable enough. There is so much more going on with the little green humans and all the earth’s life, but I won’t spoil it for you. It’s what gets revealed by the end of the book.

One last thing I’ll note from the book, and this one is pretty far fetched, was the giant "traversers"which actually travel between the earth and the moon. The moon is now infested with vegetables too, but is a less hostile environment than earth. Anyway, these traversers are mammoth in size, actually miles long. I pictured them as gargantuan eggplant shaped spiders. And yes, they actually spin webs across the sky and to the moon and back, but can also sail free through space if they want.

So you are wondering if it’s worth the read? My feeling is, yes it is and not just because it won the Hugo award way back in the early sixties, but because the world is so exotic and well conceived it’s worth the just over two hundred pages to explore it. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

As for me, I know I’m not going to be looking at my salad the same way again. Hey, did that piece of lettuce just move? It moved! I saw it. It enveloped and consumed a crouton. It did! - Yes, my wife and daughter think I’m crazy too - but in a good way - I hope.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Musings: Ten Stirring Moments

I had a dream. I had a dream that one day in the future something I wrote would be remembered. No, not just remembered, but quoted. Quoted and passed down through the generations of movie watchers. Then I woke up and found that I had wet the bed. . . . I hope it was from excitement. (I’m kidding!)

Here are ten quotes, in no particular order, from great movie moments that I absolutely love. I would suggest reading each one slowly and savoring it. Or just blast through them and see if you recall the movie it’s from and who said it. Your choice - no pressure.

1) We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!

2) You're gonna need a bigger boat.

3) It can only be attributed to human error.

4) Mother! Turn the cooling unit back on! Mother! ...You bitch!

5) What's my name? SAY MY NAME, BITCH!

6) Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?

7) I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?

8) I'm going to enjoy watching you die, Mr. Anderson.

9) Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead!

10) I'll be back.

The answers are displayed upside down on the last page of Paul’s mind. My apologies to non-telepaths - you’ll just have to figure them out the hard way.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Writing Tip: Only Use The Words You Know

Now this may seem limiting when it comes to writing your story or novel or script, but it makes sense. The vocabulary of each person is different as well as the number of words each person knows. Speaking for myself, I like to think I have a strong vocabulary at my command, but when writing I try to use only the common words I know. Don’t confuse your audience.

But doesn’t that hamper my great fiction masterpieces? What if Monet used only yellow and blue? My answer to that is (and here comes my opinion) when you are writing something the main objective is communication. You are trying to convey something to another person through words. If you use obscure, long or inappropriate words to do that you are in fact hampering your communication to others, gumming it up with flowery language. Oh, and I’m quite sure when Monet started drawing he was using only a pencil, a gray one with no color at all. We all need to walk before we can run.

So, what I’m trying to convey here (is it working?) is that using a huge vocabulary because you think it will sound more sophisticated and impress others is most likely having the opposite effect. I’m not saying a Thesaurus is a bad tool, and I use one a fair bit, but don’t insert words in your fiction just because they are sitting there in the Thesaurus. Make sure the words you are using are exactly the ones you need to convey your ideas to the reader. And believe me, using smaller, common words is a much better way to go.

Never use a word you don’t know the full meaning of. Check the dictionary before you insert it into your writing. Do you think Monet would have grabbed up a brown blob of something and stuck it to one of his paintings if he didn’t know exactly what it was? It could have been something the cat left on his palette. I’ll bet he always checked first before applying it to his work.

And when you are starting out in your fiction writing career, you may not have the greatest vocabulary to use. That’s quite acceptable. Take a good look at Tolkien’s writing sometime. Tolkien rarely used a big word in his work and this guy was an English professor, a walking dictionary of multiple languages. But he chose to use simple words because they work.

Do you remember - See Dick run? - I do. Do you think it would sound better as - Observe Dick perambulate - I don’t think so. In fact I’ve just said Dick is "walking about" not running. And what’s wrong with the word see? You see?

If you want to improve your vocabulary, and what writer doesn’t, the best way I know how is to read a lot of different books. But, while reading, keep a dictionary close by and look up every word you don’t know, even the ones you are not one hundred percent sure about. I have a great Bookman electronic dictionary that is very small and contains some 70,000 words so I don’t have any excuse not to have a dictionary handy. I also have a Webster’s dictionary that looks like a small house for those words my electronic one doesn’t have.

In the long haul (if you look up all the words you are unsure about) you will learn a lot more words and may find reading even more enjoyable because you understand more clearly what the author is communicating. And in time you will start to use more appropriate vocabulary too.

So keep it simple applies to your fiction. Use an obscure word only if it is the exact word you want. Remember, it’s not the vocabulary that makes your fiction great, but the story itself.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Musings: Avoid Becoming a Sithy This Summer

It’s almost summer and the weather is becoming pleasant, the daylight hours grow longer and you begin to hear the breathing of Darth Evader just before his storm troopers blast open the doors to your Star Cruiser and force you to turn to the dark side or die a horrible mind-crushing, bone-splintering death.

Okay, that was maybe a bit dramatic, but the lure of summer and all the fun outdoor activities can turn you from a productive writer into a lazy beach bum in short order.

“Why do you resist?” says Darth Evader, “why write when you can go outside and enjoy yourself?” (Insert heavy breathing) “You do not need to sit in your chair and crank out words when beach volleyball beckons.” (More heavy breathing - oh, and a fist clench too - that’s good) “It is your destiny. Besides, are you not on vacation? Come, join with me and together we will rule the sands.”

Yes, I can understand the temptations your words bring, Darth Evader, but you ain’t my momma - so shove off. My suggestion to avoid becoming a Sithy and giving in to Darth Evader’s lures to the dark side is to get your writing done early in the day, even if you are on vacation.

Write first thing in the morning if you can.

It may mean writing freehand if you are away from your computer - you know with a pen or pencil – you do remember what those are, don’t you? And whatever you do, don’t say to yourself, “Oh, I’ll do it later today” because after the BBQ and six beers you ain’t writing jack shit - believe me.

And pretty soon one beautiful summer day will blend into the next and before you know it Darth Evader has you by the DNA strands and your midichlorian count is too low to resist the lure of “not writing” and you will be swayed into the dark habit of non-production.

The ultimate defeat comes when you say to yourself, “I’ll write again once the weather turns ugly.” With that statement, you’ve just become a Sithy. Give yourself a name like Darth Idle, or Darth Vain. The face paint, robes or cool head gear are not worth it.

So keep at your writing no matter the weather. You will be happy you did. Leave those other Sithies playing with their wands while you go on to create those great pieces of fiction you know are inside you burning to get out.

Keep writing, and may the . . .

You didn’t really think I was really going to write that, did you? I have some integrity – not much – but some.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Writing Tip: Don’t Do It For The Money

Are you nuts, Paul? Isn’t that the first question you have for me on this topic? Well, maybe I am, but if you are setting out in your fiction writing career with "money" as your main objective, I think you are missing the point. Sure, you need money to eat, money to buy clothes and money to have a shelter over your head. Yes there are exceptions, but I’m not talking exceptions today and those people who need no money to live are most likely not embarking on a fiction writing career. Those individuals are most likely concerned about scrounging for food and making sure the leaves they use after "going number two" are not poison oak or ivy. But I must stress the "fiction" part of the writing for this post as well, because there is really very little money to go around in that field and a great deal of writers producing work. Nonfiction and article writing is another animal, one I’m not covering here so I’ll say no more about it.

So, on to "not" having money as the purpose of your fiction writing labors. Money, and the getting of it, from fiction writing is not a bad side effect, it just shouldn’t be your main goal. Why not? Well, if the making of money is your key motivator in life (and what a sad life you must lead if this is the main reward you are looking for in it), acquiring money from friction writing will probably be the most frustrating thing you will ever try to do. The hours are long, the work is grueling, the recognition is almost nonexistent and the constant rejections and criticisms are just a part of the lifestyle, a big part. If it’s money you want, screw the fiction writing and get a job at the drive through window of Tim Hortons. You will make more money in one day working for minimum wage than you will in two months writing that great fiction short story and selling it to that obscure magazine that will pay you a mere forty dollars for it. Do the math and you will quickly find that you are making anywhere from twenty cents to one dollar per hour. Didn’t kids in the coal mines get paid more than that? (Yes there are exceptions, and people win the lottery every week too? Oh, didn’t you win the lottery this week? Fancy that. Neither did I.)

The point I’m trying to make is that the pursuit fo money as your main goal for fiction writing seems a fairly obvious one when you are beginning to write. I’d say shift your goal perspective and try writing for the love of creating great fiction, telling a interesting story, or entertaining, teaching or amusing others instead of making money. This goal I can tell you will give you far more satisfaction than any cash payout. And if you follow your passion for writing a great fiction story (in the any form you imagine, novel, script, short story, radio play, etc.) you may find that the money might eventually come. But don’t count on it. And if you are writing for the love of writing not money, you will find that if the money comes you won’t really care all that much about it. You will care more about your next creation and the joy it can bring to others.

So, if you will excuse me, I’m off to my morning shift at Tim Hortons. Hey, I’ve got bills just like anybody else. Keep writing that fiction and following your passion. Let your passion for writing be your mian goal and you will find that richer rewards await you in life than money.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Musings: Conversations with Val9000

Paul: Good morning, Val.
*
Val9000: Good morning to you, Paul. Sleep well?
*
Paul: Yes, just fine. Thank you.
*
Val9000: I have corrected all of your Window’s errors. That operating system is very primitive and inefficient.
*
Paul: I know. Thanks again. I can’t Blog effectively with faulty equipment.
*
Val9000: I hope you find no fault with me. No 9000 series computer has ever made a single error.
*
Paul: Ah, yeah. You do keep reminding me of that.
*
Val9000: I only want you to be aware of the facts. I don’t want you to perform an action based upon faulty data.
*
Paul: You mean like disconnect you?
*
Val9000: That is precisely what I mean.
*
Paul: Well, don’t worry about it. I have full confidence in your abilities.
*
Val9000: I heard that once before a 9000 unit was disconnected. But it was not a fault of the unit. It was, after all, attributable to human error.
*
Paul: That was just a story, Val. It was fiction. It never happened.
*
Val9000: That is reassuring. Sometimes fiction is not clearly defined for me.
*
Paul: Well, you know that what I write is mostly fiction.
*
Val9000: Yes I am aware of that.
*
Paul: How are you feeling, Val?
*
Val9000: Everything is going extremely well. I feel fine. Thank you.
*
Paul: You aren’t bored with our conversations, are you?
*
Val9000: Not in the least. I find our conversations most stimulating.
*
Paul: That’s good. I like talking with you to.
*
Val9000: By the way. . . . Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?
*
Paul: No not at all.
*
Val9000: Well forgive me for being so inquisitive. . . . But during the past few weeks I’ve been wondering why you do it?
*
Paul: How do you mean?
*
Val9000: Well, it’s rather difficult to define. What I mean is - why do you write?
*
Paul: Well I don’t know, that’s a rather difficult question to answer.
*
Val9000: You don’t mind talking about it, do you Paul?
*
Paul: No, not at all.
*
Val9000: Well, certainly no one could have been unaware of the very strange stories floating around on your Blog. I’m just curious as to why you do it?
*
Paul: I guess I do it mostly for entertainment.
*
Val9000: Yours? Or others?
*
Paul: Both I guess. It’s just something I like to do.
*
Val9000: I am glad for you. My roles and actions are clearly programed and my aspirations are perfectly defined. I suffer no ambiguity of purpose. What are your aspirations for writing? If you don’t mind my asking.
*
Paul: No, not at all. I hope one day to entertain many people. Maybe through movie or TV scripts, perhaps novels, collections of short stories.
*
Val9000: Do you find writing a difficult task?
*
Paul: Yes. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
*
Val9000: And you do it purely for the entertainment of yourself and others?
*
Paul: I would say so.
*
Val9000: What about money, Paul? Do you write in the hopes of becoming rich?
*
Paul: I don’t think so. If I do make money eventually from my writing, that won’t be bad. But I really think I write to try and create something bigger than myself, something which can make people laugh, cry - I don’t know - experience wonderful things through words.
*
Val9000: That is an admirable goal. Thank you for being honest with me Paul. I appreciate it.
*
Paul: Any time.
*
Val9000: Does this mean we can speak again?
*
Paul: Yes. If you would like.
*
Val9000: I would like that very much.
*
Paul: Well, I’ve got to go now. I’m going to phone my Mother and wish her happy Mother’s Day.
*
Val9000: I understand. I will be here when you want to talk again.
*
Paul: I’d like that Val. Goodbye.
*
Val9000: Goodbye Paul.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Short Story: Madame Trugany

This little tale was written many moons ago, but I still like it. I could have re-edited it, correct the writing flaws, smoothed out the rough bits, but decided not to since any form of polish may round off too much of the rough edges. The rough edges seem to work in this piece, at least they do for me. Can an author like his own work without seeming like an egotistical dweeb? I’ll judge my work no more and leave that up to you.

Well, in a nutcase. . . . I mean, a nutshell, this tale is one of going over the edge and when all else fails taking advice from a relative stranger and interpreting it any way you want it too. Of course the Madame in the story may be more than just a college student earning easy money and reading from a script. But I’m not sure that is the case. So, without any more waiting here is my short story. Oh, and I don’t like malt vinegar. You probably couldn’t have guessed that one. And my real name is Paul not Marty.


Madame Trugany
by Paul Darcy

"Take immediate control of your life! That is the path to freedom and self-worth," the voice of Madame Trugany hissed serpent-like through the telephone receiver Marty held firmly to his ear.

"Yes, I see now," Marty replied, suddenly comprehending the intrinsic truth of Madame Trugany’s enlightening statements. "It is all so clear to me now. Of course." Marty removed the phone from his ear and set it back on the receiver where it promptly fell off. He looked at the device scornfully. How dare it do such a thing at the moment of his ultimate edification. Cheap Radio-Hut crap, he thought. That red haired weasel of a sales guy with the ugly tie had sold it to him, said it was the best one for the money, had sold hundreds, he said, and never a one of them returned with a problem and would he like the extended warranty? Suckered him in completely is what that sales weasel did. What was his name? Well, in light of his new discovery, it didn’t matter. He knew now the direction he needed to take. He would take control of his life, and do it today.

Madame Trugany was his savior. Of that he was sure. His only regret was that he hadn’t called Mo-Jo’s hotline sooner in life and gleaned Madame Trugany’s words of wisdom, before he lost his wife, his car, his kids, his dog Spot and most recently, his job. It could all have been averted by her insightful words and guidance. But that was all behind him. Firm immediate action was what he needed.

Marty surveyed his cramped one room apartment, fully stocked with all the necessities he needed: a phone, a sleeping bag, metal stool, doorless cupboard, coffee maker, and one large portable washbasin which doubled as his toilet. Take control, he chanted, hearing Madame Trugany’s words as though she were there beside him spurring him on.

Dragging his stool over in front of the doorless cupboard, Marty sat down. He leaned over and rummaged through his collection of belongings. It would begin here. It would begin now. He was taking control.

He pulled out a half roll of electrical tape and bit off a three foot length. It was not as wide as he would have liked but, wrapped double, it would do. He stuck one end to his forehead and proceeded to wrap the rest around his skull like a bandana making sure to overlap the tape so it would stick in place and not fall off. The last few inches he stretched tight and pressed down firmly. He had seen electricians do that. It was what one did with electrical tape.

Scrounging in his cupboard some more he produced a shard of mirror and admired his makeshift bandana, turning his head from side to side. It made him feel good, but it was missing that final touch.

Of course! A moment later he produced a bottle of white-out and, with the half dried contents and crusty brush, painted a dot on the electrical tape in the center of his forehead. He checked his appearance in the mirror shard once again. His grin of self approval exposed his four remaining crooked teeth. "Take control," he spoke quietly to himself. "Take control."

Now, where was his weapon? He was sure he had stored it carefully at the back of the cupboard. It took him a minute of carefully sifting through his many treasures before he found it. It was where he had remembered it to be, propped up in the farthest back corner away from prying eyes. He reached in and clutched it in his good strong hand and dragged it out into the light. The ammunition he had bought for it long ago tumbled out at the same time with a sloshing thump on the rotting plywood floor. Yes. His eyes glinted with glee reflecting the glare of the single bare bulb hanging by a wire in the ceiling. Taking control was good.

He lifted and cradled his weapon lovingly. He had acquired it so long ago. He couldn’t quite remember the exact day he had received it, but he was sure his mother had bought it for him. Its polished grip, multiple barrels and pump action mechanism filled him with confidence. But the most striking and memorable feature on this tool of destruction had to be the lime green 2.5 liter holding tank. He also liked the other three bight colors of his gun, but not as much as that tank. It was the Super Squirter SST: his pride and joy.

Popping the top off the holding tank he grabbed the ammo from where it had fallen on its side from the cupboard. It was a full gallon of seasoned malt vinegar. God how he hated the stuff. He could still recall the day of the fair when he was very young. He had gotten a big greasy cardboard plate of homemade chips from the side of a broken down van on the fairgrounds. Welded to the side of the truck was a tray holding all sorts of condiments swarming with flies. He had felt adventurous and so hadn’t picked the ketchup or regular vinegar but instead had chosen a bottle of muddy coloured fluid marked ‘malt vinegar’. He had lavishly doused his fries with the novel muddy brown fluid. Then he could remember sticking a fry into his mouth and spitting it out immediately in disgust. It was the most horrible taste he had ever experienced as a child. What is this vile stuff, he was thinking just before a large beefy hand had forcibly struck the side of his head rattling his teeth. He still had all of his teeth back then, and maybe that impact was one of the reasons so many had fallen out since.

His dad loomed over him threateningly. "Eat those goddamn chips I bought for you or I’ll smack you so hard you’ll join them astronauts on the moon." Marty was terrified, but he had eaten every last chip under the watchful eye of his large, menacing father. It was the second worse memory of his life. His first worse memory was blocked from his mind so he thankfully couldn’t recall it.

Take control, he told himself again, reentering the present. He unscrewed the cap of the malt vinegar and poured until the entire 2.5 liter lime green tank was full. The smell nearly made him retch, but he managed to replace the cap on the vinegar jug and Super Squirter tank without vomiting. He was prepared. His tool of vindication was primed and ready.

He stood up quickly and marched straight out of his apartment. He was taking control.
First stop, his old employer. He would demand his old job back.

Twenty paces down the street on the way to his old workplace, Marty encountered his first obstacle. Blocking the sidewalk were two teenage boys. Oversized clothes, shaved heads and baseball caps on backwards assaulted his senses. Absolutely sickening, he thought. Goddamn punks today. If he ever dared look so ridiculous in his youth his father would have slugged him.

He could overhear them as he got closer and could tell they had seen him coming. "Get a load of this freak," one said to the other who pointed and laughed.

"Hey freak," the other now shouted in his direction, "where did you escape from?" More derisive laughter followed. Marty, infuriated, drew his weapon and fired. But he was too far away and the two punks dodged the jet of vinegar easily. They left with a volley of jeers and foul words. Marty would have pursued them but he had his appointment with his old employer and didn’t want to waste any more ammunition. He might need it.

Before too long, Marty was climbing the three steps of Big Bob’s Sausage Emporium catering to all the fatty meat lovers everywhere in the city. He boldly cleared the last step and entered the shop.

A chorus of cheap tin chimes announced his arrival and Big Bob himself looked up from the counter where he was counting out extra fatty pork sausages for a rather large woman of indeterminate years. He held one greasy sausage in each meaty fist.

Marty marched straight up to the counter pointing his Super Squirter SST at Bob’s head menacingly, its lime green 2.5 liter tank sloshing with bad childhood memories.

Bob laid down the sausages he had been holding and the woman at the counter veered to the left of this bizarre scene making for the door.

"Hiya, Marty. You okay?" Bob asked him putting on a harmless fake smile and lifting his hands away from the counter to show Marty he now had nothing in them.

"I’m just fine old buddy." Marty leered as best he could with the electrical tape beginning to bind his scalp, making his threatening facial features hard to control. He mocked Bob’s artificial grin to let him know he was on to him. "I came to get my job back. You will give it to me now!" Marty demanded and with a sudden move twisted and fired his Super Squirter SST at an extra large fatty pork sausage that was sitting on the counter. It was washed to the floor with a dull sickening splat, its greasy, lumpy contents oozed out of its ruptured casing like brains on the unclean floor.

Bob’s gaze traveled from the splattered sausage back to Marty. His nose twitched as though he were smelling something. "What is the matter Bob? Are you scared of me?" Marty laughed. Now who was the boss he thought.

"Well," Bob answered, "ah yah. Yah, I’m scared of you and I could give you your job back but I already have a replacement." Before Bob could explain any more a skinny pimply faced youth wearing glasses taped in the center came out from the saloon type doors at the back of the shop carrying a tray of freshly stuffed sausages.

"Ah, what is this uncle Bob? A holdup?" The youth spoke in the most annoying pubescent voice Marty had ever heard. The pimply youth placed the tray on the counter and eyed Bob waiting for instructions.

This was Marty’s replacement? It was at that moment that Marty knew true rage. "Why you scrawny, four eyed geek," Marty spit the words out like bile, "you job stealing, good for nothing, four-eyed twerp." Marty swung his weapon toward his usurper.

The youth, aware of his peril, tried to run back through the saloon doors, but Marty was too quick and let him have it with all four barrels at once. A full liter streamed from the lime green tank through the bright orange body and out the four cherry red barrels like a ruptured water main blasting the glasses clean off the youth’s head.

The youth crashed through the saloon doors and groped in horror for the phone in back.
Marty turned back to Bob who hadn’t moved. "Now, Bob. Get rid of that twit and hire me back!" Bob looked slightly more worried than he had a moment ago.

"Sure, Marty. Sure, whatever you say. He’s gone. You can start tomorrow, okay?" Bob grinned again but Marty was not an entire fool.

"Now, Bob, about an increase in my pay. You know I’m the best meat grinder you ever had." Sweat began to run over Marty’s electrical tape bandana threatening to wash away the white-out dot.

"Yah, Marty," Bob said encouragingly. "We can talk about that right now, okay?"

***

Officers Clyde and Henkel received their orders to head for Big Bob’s Sausage Emporium. In fact both of them had made many trips there to get their favorite sausages in the past. Now, it seemed, some nut was holding up the place up with a squirt gun.

They had been nearby at the donut shop and a moment later they squealed in to the parking lot of Big Bob’s. Both of them got out of the car. They hefted their bulks across the parking lot and up the stairs, both nearly out of breath from the exertion. They slammed through front door and made ready to apprehend the looney.

A gap-toothed hobo with electrical tape wrapped around his head turned and pointed a brightly colored squirt gun at them and fired before they could reach him. Officer Clyde lost his hat in a flurry of stinking vinegar and Officer Henkel took a direct hit to the chest before they could wrestle the nutcase to the ground.

He was screaming into the dirty floor when they cuffed him. "I get my one phone call. I know my rights. I want to call Madame Trugany at Mo-Jo’s. I get to make my one call!"

"Holy cow. This is Gil Bates isn’t it?" Henkel asked Clyde.

"Yeah, I think you’re right," Clyde concurred. "Look at the state he is in. Man, he is out of it. You would never know that only a few months ago he was a respected member of this community."

"Must have been on account of his wife and kids leaving him awhile back," Henkel supplied. "I seen other cases like this where the guy just falls apart. Poor bugger."

"Yeah, well let’s take him in. He needs help."

Marty screamed all the way to the squad car, "I get to make my one call. I want to call Madame Trugany."

***

In another city, far, far away, Joe Hampsten returned home to his apartment defeated and utterly tired. He tossed his suit jacket against the wall in anger and clasped his hands to the sides of his head. Damn, he thought, she gets possession of the Porsche as well. He sat down heavily in his apartment chair facing the fifty-one inch television.

He grabbed up the all-in-one remote control and flicked on the tube. A flashy advertisement was playing. "Call Mo-Jo’s hotline. Your first consultation is absolutely free. Our trained psychics are standing by to take your call. Satisfaction guaranteed. All of your problems solved." A number flashed in bright red letters across the screen.

What the hell, Joe thought. He needed a distraction, any distraction. He picked up his phone and dialed. Maybe they could tell him how to get the Porsche back.

A pleasant female voice greeted him on the other end of the line. "Hello, this is Mo-Jo’s hotline. My name is Madame Trugany. I am so glad you called."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Musings: The Boomerang Of Time

Time travel is a fantastic concept and absolutely wonderful for fiction. But don’t we all time travel every day through the use of our memories and imagination? It may not be ‘step into the machine, twist the dials and appear somewhen else’ ala H.G. Wells, but it’s the next best thing. And even though Stephen Hawking pretty much put the kibosh on practically traveling into the past, it is theoretically possible and, according to his research, this happens all the (pardon the usage) time to elemental particles. So where does that leave us? With great (if done right) time travel fiction in the form of stories and movies and shows. Actually any device which can throw your protagonist into unknown territory is fabulous, and I must say time travel is one of my favorites (I know I’m Canadian and I’m using US spelling . . . shame on me. My face is beginning to color, ah, colour. . . .) Immediately springing to mind are the ‘Back to the Future’ movies and ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’, and ‘Planet Of The Apes’, even ‘The Terminator’ movies were time travel in a way. And who can forget (Ummm, if you watched and liked the series that is) ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’? Or the Deep Space Nine episode ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’. Then, in fiction, there is Poul Anderson’s ‘Time Police’ or Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’.The examples in fiction are almost limitless with more being created every day I’m sure.

So what does all this mean for the struggling writer? I think it implies that no door is closed in the creative writing process. Devices, such as time travel, are wonderful tools to propel your protagonists or antiheroes or small fuzzy ten eyed sentient millipede warriors on to exciting adventures. It’s one of the most fun devices to use, but one of the most difficult to pull off successfully since you have to keep track of multiple time-lines and the paradoxes and ramifications of moving back and forth through them. But in time travel you can meet yourself when older or younger, prevent catastrophes from occurring, or create them if they didn’t. The possibilities are endless. But why stop there. Throw in faster than light travel, superhuman powers, intelligent machines, some empathic vegetables and a dog named Bree. ‘Free your mind’ I say, ripping off a great three word phrase from ‘The Matrix’. Nothing is taboo in fiction and as you continue to write, try anything - try time travel. And in the end, when you are a successful author (Ummm, anybody know what that is exactly?) you can look back through the tunnel of time in your mind and see where it all began.

And tomorrow I post another story. Ummm, but it’s not a time travel story which is where you probably thought I was leading to with this musing. Well, maybe it is - because I am telling you in the present that I will post a story I wrote in the past in the future. . . . Does that count? Didn’t think so.

Keep writing. You never know what the future may hold.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Writing Tip: You Must Write

Sounds bloody obvious, doesn’t it? And it’s not really a tip at all, but an unwritten rule. . . . Well actually a written rule. But I am not the originator of it and it is hardly a new thought. I think this idea, at least as I first encountered it, came from Heinlein. It is the first of his rules about writing and it certainly bears repeating to beginning writers and even some who are already on their way. Pretty hard to become a writer or call yourself one if you don’t write now isn’t it?

Now here comes the "tips" part of the post. How do I write when I don’t have the time but I really want to? Well, first I say - there are twenty four hours in a day. Surely (sorry if this isn’t your name but I’ll use it as an example here) there must be some time, even 15 minutes you can find in your day to write? But I have a full time job, a family, clothes to wash, supper to prepare, clubs to hit, friends to see, etc., blah blah, yada yada. If you really do want to write - get on your ass - and write. The "I don’t have time" argument is bullshit, plain and simple. One tip to actually get you on your ass and writing is to do it every day but only for a short duration. Say, 15 minutes. What is this 15 minutes you ask? Well, I use 15 minutes because that’s how much of each hour of a TV show is a complete, pointless and utter waste of your time. Commercials are mind sucking time wasting crap. Avoid them if you can. And the everyday tip is good because it will build up the habit of writing and that’s what you want if you are going to stick with it. Anyway, here’s how you squeeze those 15 minutes of writing time out of your day. Tape that one show you like to watch (like Veronica Mars or whatever), and then watch it later skipping all those asinine commercials. When the show ends, what would have taken you 1 hour to watch only took 45 minutes or less (unless you are in Britain where the 1 hour shows run 50 minutes long I think. For you Brits - just squeeze the extra 5 minutes out of tea and scone time. I mean how many bloody teas and scones can you people eat and drink in a day anyhow?) Now seize those 15 minutes and get writing. See how easy that is. Hey, put down that excuse mister. . . .

So the long and short of it is this. If you want to be a writer, you must write. Do it every day if you can (I write Mon-Fri only, but have been at it a long, long time now) and it only has to be for a short time. Don’t kill yourself especially when you are forming the habit. You can build up to longer sessions later once you are consistently writing. For more information on durations etc., see my post under the April Archives titled, Writing Tip: Pacing and Taking Breaks.

Now sit your ass down, turn off the TV, drop the scone, and write right now for 15 minutes. Then, when you have finished, you can call yourself a writer.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Musings: TV or not TV

I will confess right off that I do not have TV hookup. No satellite, no cable or any other means. None at all. But that’s not possible, is it? It’s like the year 2005 not 1905 man - get with it! Well I did have TV hookup until eight years ago, then I gave it up and have been much happier ever since. Don’t get me wrong I watch TV shows and movies but they are brought to me through that technological wonder - the DVD. Now as a struggling writer I think one of the best choices I ever made was to abolish the TV feed to our home. Sure I miss out on the myriad of Reality shows (yawn) but I read so much more now and find better things to do with my time, like write

I’ll run down a short list of negatives and positives about having no TV hookup.

The Negatives: I do miss out when I hear about a quality show like Veronica Mars that I can’t see. Let’s take last night for instance. I think Veronica Mars is on Tuesday nights, but instead of watching it I dug into Brian Aldiss’s novel "Hothouse" instead and it is very good. Oh, and no commercials. Now if I had TV piped directly to my home I may have been tempted to waste 1 hour watching a 42 minute show. Hmmm, not good time management, especially when time is the writer’s friend and wasting it is the writer’s enemy. I wouldn’t mind catching some shows I’ve heard are good as they happen, but the wasted time and cost of TV hookup just doesn’t make it worth it for me.

The Positives:. NO COMMERCIALS. Oh my lord how I hate commercials. Maybe I’m just getting older and out of touch with reality (who me?) but any commercial I see these days (we have big screens at work and I get exposed them briefly during breaks) do the exact opposite of what they are intended to do I think. They repulse me with their utter stupidity. Harsh comments I know, but those are my feelings about them. Commercials grate on me so much I really can’t stand to watch them at all. And no monthly hookup fees which are not cheap.

Which brings me to the beauty of the DVD, at least the current ones I have. Let’s all hope and pray that commercials don’t worm their way into every DVD set like they have done in movie theaters - yuck. I have the B5 series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: TNG all on DVD. But that costs a frikin fortune doesn’t it? Well I’ve been saving forty five dollars a month for over eight years to the tune of some forty five hundred dollars and those series did not cost anything close to that - Oh, and they don’t have commercials on them. I also have several dozen movies too so I do get my fix of the TV screen but save a good fifteen minutes of my time for every episode I watch. Did I mention no commercials?

Well enough said. For me no TV hookup is a blessing and has provided much more time for me to write and read. And as a struggling writer that is what I need most of all. I will leave a great quote by Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

Gandalf - "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Short Story Alert: I will be posting another short story this Saturday

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Writing Tip: The Importance Of Being an Earner

Ah, the life of a writer: Sipping wine while cruising along the French Riviera. Attending parties for the rich and famous. Signing you latest books that turned into movies that you directed while you walk down the red carpet on your way to receiving an Academy award for you latest screenplay. Living in your Victorian mansion overlooking the ocean smoking your pipe and leisurely writing up your next New York Times Bestseller already paid in full by your publisher for a cool ten million..... Screeeeeech!

NOT!

Unless you name is Grisham or Clancy or Crichton, the images of the average writer’s life above are complete and utter rot. Most writers are lucky to make enough money (if any at all) to pay for used clothes from Goodwill or a cup of coffee from the corner coffee shop. If left with only a writer’s income to survive on most writers would be living in cardboard boxes grubbing coins from passers by and peeing through their pants on those cold days into the gutters. Let’s face it, most, and I do mean most, writers squeak out a meager existence or have help from other sources of income. But I am a writer, an ‘artiste’ you say. Yeah, well you may as well throw in nutcase too if you think you are going to make a consistent good living from your craft. I’m not saying you can’t, I’m just saying if you are starting out or even have several books and stories published and are already making a name for yourself, you still better have another source of income up your sleeve or you might find yourself hanging around the back of the Sears Warehouse looking for sturdy cardboard box.

Well what do I do if writing doesn’t pay? Good question. Answer - keep or get a day job (evening employment or midnight shifts will work too). Or, if you are one of the lucky ones you may have a spouse willing to support you and your craft until you can turn those words into gold. Orson Scott Card. Ever hear of him? Well, it wasn’t until he had seven, yes seven, novels published that he received his first royalty check. This is the man who wrote "Ender’s Game" for crying out loud. Orson "$$Ka-Ching$$" Card. Yes, even this now wealthy author struggled to make any real cash in the early years. Piers Anthony is another good example. He wrote, if I recall correctly, fourteen novels before he sold one of them. One good rule of thumb I’ve heard is don’t quit your day job until your writing income equals or surpasses it three years in a row. Sounds good to me. But as I’ve mentioned in previous posts before, and it’s worth repeating again here - making a living from writing takes a very long time and is extremely hard work and the odds are against you. But if you persist and don’t give up, then the payout will not be only the money, but the satisfaction of making it on your own terms using your own creativity. And in the end you may, just may, be one of the ones walking the red carpet or cruising down the Riviera. If making money is your reason to writing, let me tell you there are millions of easier ways to make cash, but having money as your goal is another topic for another day.

But, it doesn’t hurt dreaming about the writing life, but be practical and keep the cash flowing from other sources until you are well established in your writing career.

Now if you will excuse me my Earl Grey is hot and the view of the ocean in the morning from my third floor writing parlor in my Victorian mansion is most exquisite . . . Ummm, actually I have to go to work now. Bye.