Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Writers mine their own lives for material -- they have to -- in a world with only three plots, what makes my story different than yours is that I am telling it. My spin is what makes it unique. (And not "more unique" or "less unique." The word brooks no qualifier. It's like the term "complete stop." Silly -- either you stop or you don't; a thing is unique or it isn't.)

Mm. Anyway, finding old recollections among the ruins of my dwindling mind and putting them down here is one of the ways to save them against the day when I'll be competely overdrawn at the memory bank.

If I can recall where I put the files ...

Great thing about getting older is that you can finally sing all the bass parts of the old rock songs. Bad thing is, you can't remember the words to the songs ...

An aid to this self-exploration is the great, free program, Google Earth. You download this, install it, and then you have access to real-view maps of the world, and can zoom in from thousands of miles up to, in some cases, close enough to see what kind of car is parked in somebody's driveway. Big Brother is watching us all. There are spysats that are a lot sharper -- they can tell which newspaper you are reading out back in the lawn chair, see the glow of a cigarette tip when you sneak out for a smoke late at night.

Want to see what the house you grew up in looks like today? Plug in the address and go see.

One rainy afternoon when I should have been working on a book, I went instead into map-land and found all the places I have lived, from the time I was born until now. Some of them are long gone -- torn down for freeway overpasses or department stores, or in some cases, just burned, leveled, the ashes scattered and the earth salted.

It is pretty amazing to be able to fly across a virtual county and get an overhead view of the house my grandma owned on River Road in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1957, where my little brother and I took our BB guns to the bayou (the Vermilion River) and shot snakes and caught catfish and gar, as fresh-faced lads. We slept in a room with French doors, through which you could see the moonlight glint off the oily, muddy-brown water, Daisy air rifles next to us in case the Creature from the Black Lagoon decided to drop round. I used to believe that a well-placed BB from ole Betsy would actually stop the thing.

In fact, that house is the setting for a short story I once wrote about exactly that, a late night visit by the creature to a pair of young brothers: "A Few Minutes in Granddaddy's Old House on Black Bottom Bayou ..."

My tribute to Goldman's Princess Bride.

Hmm. I think I have softcopy of that somewhere. Maybe I'll put it up on the blog. It was kinda funny.


eponymous said...

Steve, thanks for the point about "unique". That and "almost exactly" make me nuts. ;)

Dan Moran said...

Bill Clinton once gave a speech where he said that the United States was a "very, very, very great country."

How this distinguishes from merely great has always been unclear to me ...

There's a bunch of rules like that; I may do a post about it. "Were *ing" can almost always be simplified: "they were standing" becomes "they stood." "He was lying," "he lied." And so on ...

several = many
attempted = tried
currently = now
was aware of = knows or knew
paused a moment = paused
just an instant = an instant

"In fact" and "of course" are usually unecessary. "With the passage of time" = "with time." "Each and every one" = "each" ...

I'm prone to superlatives. A room that's "utterly dark" is no darker than a room that's "dark" ... and it subtly sabotages your authority. "He stood perfectly still" means the same thing as "He stood still."

... and so on. Once you become aware of how much noise there is in your text, it kills you to leave it there.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, my own signal-to-noise ratio is higher than it ought to be. Some of it I know about and use anyhow because of the cadence; some of it grates so much I can't force myself to go there.

Eye-metaphors are particularly galling: His eyes slid down the front of her dress.

His eyes fell into the coffee cup ...

Redundant body-part function is another one that amuses me: He kicked with his foot. He shrugged his shoulders. He gazed at her with his eyes. He sniffed with his nose ...

Most writers eschew the last couple, but a lot of writers still have folks shrugging their shoulders. As if there was some other body part they could shrug. Maybe I'll create an alien somebody who can shrug an elbow or somesuch ...

And, of course, I plan to devote a whole section of the upcoming seminar on the use of words other than "said " in dialog ...

Gotta love Harlan's example: "'Good morning,' he pole-vaulted ..."

Michael Reaves said...

My personal favorite: "He thought to himself." Unless it's a story about telepathy, he ain't gonna be thinking to someone else ...

Steve Perry said...

Well, I once had a character hiss the world "Damn!"

Try that one, sometimes. Nary a sibilant in sight.

Worse, it got into print and will probably be around in an attic somewhere until the end of time.

Ignorance is an excuse; however, once you know, you can't go back.

Although these are kinda fun when you do them on purpose. In Thong the Barbarian Meets the Cycle Sluts of Saturn, we had this, when Our Hero Thong is beset by tavern slackwits:

"Methinks it is no more than the remnants of your most recent meal on your own upper lips that you smell," Thong said menacingly. There, that ought to do it.

"'He insults us!' One-eyed Dick ejaculated as he reached for his sword.

"'He does?' Bwuce asked questioningly.
Despite his puzzlement, however, he too pulled his blade free.

"'You will die, bawbawian!' said Gap-tooth tertiarily.

"Now Thong did sigh.

"By the time Sandol returned from his visit to the nightchamber, Thong was wiping the last of the blood from Asschopper upon Gap-tooth's cloak ..."