Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Back in my young and crazy days, gone more than forty-five years now, I had a best-buddy I ran with. Brothers-from-a-different-mother kind of thing, I really admired the guy, would have gone to help him bury a body.

Make a long story short: He wasn't what I thought, and we went our separate ways. I'd say no hard feelings, but that wasn't so; I despised the man for a long time. Eventually, that passed, but much later.

For a while, I thought he was outright sociopathic; later, I came to believe he was probably just completely undeveloped emotionally. He was kind of like a brilliant two-year-old. It was always all about him, and he wanted everything he wanted right now, and fuck the consequences. 

And, really, don't we all know people like that … ?

So he went off and hooked up with a young woman in a band, and hung out with them on the road for a time. That didn't last long, and later, he bedded her sister. 

Of course, that didn't last, either. Dude ran through women faster than snowballs melt in Hell, and it wasn't until he was much older that he mellowed enough for one to stay with him for any significant period.

Turns out that the second woman in the band he hooked up with has written an autobiography, those early-seventies figure in her story, and my old buddy is featured.

When he hit the road, he was on the run from the law and using an alias. Bad boys always seem to find women who think they can save 'em. For her, for a while, he seemed quite the magic man.  

It was more than a little interesting reading about my old pal from the viewpoint of a young woman taken with his mystique. Some of the stories she told sounded awfully familiar, and some of them had me shaking my head. Yeah, that was him, all right. Guy lied reflexively. Every story he told was spun like an atomic-powered gyroscope ...

Karma took its time, but eventually it came round, and my old friend died young from his excesses. By then, we had reached a kind of deténte. Not friends, but not taking potshots at each other.

Reminds me that one man's floor can be another woman's ceiling. Plus if you are adept at fooling folks, you can do it for a while, but eventually, some of them catch on. And, of course, last one standing gets the last word, too ...

And so, as Vonnegut was wont to say, it goes ...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Musical Set Back

Notice that I am typing a little slower and more gingerly than usual? That's because I bought my wife a new knife for Christmas. She bakes us bread fairly often, and the old knife wasn't giving us clean slices on warm bread, even after it had rested properly, no matter how much I sharpened it. So, I got a Kai Wasabi 9" serrated. 

Not the top-of-the-line, but I have a couple other knives by Kai and they are well-made and useful.

The new one? It's really sharp. 

Anybody not-know where this is going? 

Yep. Play with knives, you get, well, you know. 

Yesterday, as I sliced a nice olive roll open, I decided it need a bit of seasoning, so I also sliced off the tip of my left middle finger.

It really is a sharp knife.

Fortunately, the amputation was only the very tip, angled slightly, didn't get into the nail bed. A nice little oval, a millimeter or two thick, mostly skin, but enough meat so it bled like a fountain.

 I put pressure on it, bandaged it up good, and that's pretty much all there is to be done. Not something that can be stitched together, and the medical term for the healing process in this case is "secondary intention." You keep it bandaged, wait for it to scab over and new tissue to grow from the edges. As long as there is no infection, this usually gives good results.

This takes a while, typically six weeks or so, and it will be tender for a time after that.

Playing the ook or guitar with a big bandage on the tip of a fretting finger is problematic. 

There are ways around this. Barre chords up the neck that need only the ring or pinkie, or open tunings (where you tune the strings to a chord and then just use barres for major chords.)

And probably once the finger scabs over, I can go to a smaller band-aid and alter the finger position a bit

I can type, albeit not as cleanly as normal. It does make me realize that somebody like a surgeon or violinist or watchmaker really needs to watch it when they chop vegetables or slice open their bagels …


Three days along:

Not so bad ...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Alien Creatures ...

Got a note from a fan, regarding the alien (Predator) language my daughter and I created for the AvP novelization we did a few years back. There was a Yautja word he wanted to know about, connected to a character in a video PS2 game, had we come up with a particular term … ?

No, I said, we didn't do a realized language, no dictionary, only a few terms to make the story flow, and I don't remember creating that word, sorry. Maybe somebody after us addressed it in a book or game, but we didn't.

Yes, yes, he understood that, but, well, um, maybe I could, you know, check out the book and see if it was in there, because he didn't have a copy of the book? Or if it wasn't, I could maybe make a word up for him?

No, I said, Fox is particular about such things and while they probably wouldn't give me any grief over one word, there were contracts and rights and like that, and I'd rather not go there.

He understood, he understood, but was there any way I could help him?

Not really, no. I answered your question, it just wasn't the answer you wanted.

Got a resend on the email today. Could I help him?

Actually, come to think of it, yes, yes, I can. Here, some advice: 

Look, I'm sorry, kid, but do your own research. Get the book, read it, see if it is there. I'm pretty sure it isn't, and told you that. Goest thou and find it thine ownself. 

I want to be polite to fans, but this is not in my job description ...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hurray for Hollywood!

Disney Studios has done a movie, Saving Mr. Banks, which is supposedly the story of how the screen version of  Mary Poppins came to fruition. 

It should come as no surprise that the studio who gave us Snow White has, according to folks who know, turned this story into a complete fantasy that Harlan Ellison refers to in his video review as "total bullshit!"

Pamela Travers, the creator of the character Mary Poppins in the late 1930's came to loathe the movie, and in the Disney-fied version of the story, they blow right past that.

I don't disagree with anything Harlan has to say about the subject, and I haven't seen the movie. However, I did, for the sake of balance, post a note about it on his site.

Hereunder, what I said:

Speaking for the Devil …

I suspect Pamela Travers was less upset about how Walt sugared up Mary Poppins than the brothers Grimm would have been, had they been alive to see what Uncle Walt did to their hard-edged material. Travers would have seen what Disney did to the pigs and princesses and wolves, et al, and thinking that she wouldn't be subject to that treatment was maybe something of a naive attitude. Give her that, but even so, she was loath to do it. Maybe she should have stuck to her guns.

Or not.

From all accounts, Travers was seldom a boring, mean-spirited woman, though that whole adoption business does gum up the works some, and she apparently made most of her major life decisions based on advice from astrologers …

As a scribbler of little note, I absolutely understand how the desire to protect one's work feels. I won't be going to see the Disney-fied version of how Mary Poppins came to the silver screen, and in no small part due to what I have heard here. A vote with one's wallet matters, if only a little bit.

But: (and you knew this was coming, right?) There are a couple of things I think maybe ought to be laid out, simply for balance.

As I understand it, Travers was not rich, but not missing any meals. Her books sold, the stage adaptions did business, and she was probably in as good a shape as most mid-listers. That she resisted Roy and Walt's drooling for two decades indicates she wasn't starving. But, in the end, she sold the rights. Got 60,000 pounds up front, and this was nothing to sneeze at in the late 1950's, but it was her five percent of the action that made her rich. And we are talking gross points, not net.

So you get the money. If, however, you sell somebody your cherry 1955 Chevy convertible and they drive to the end of the block and plow into an armored car? Sucks, but it isn't yours any more.

You can point out that Disney pushed and wheedled, but, in the end, she didn't have to sell him the rights.

As I understand it, Travers supposedly had script approval, and was an adviser on the project, right there, hands-on, came down from the suite and to the studio, inspected storyboards, listened to the music, and offered her input. That she despised the final project isn't a surprise, and that Walt probably smiled and told his editor to take out that and leave in this without her knowing would not shock me. But Travers certainly wasn't completely blindsided if she was there and part of it.

The Siren lure of Hollywood is great. Money, fame, a wider audience. If, however, you make a deal with the devil, you ought to know there's a reason he's called The Father of Lies.

Apparently the stars and planets weren't too reliable when it came to dealing with The Mouse.

From folks I know who have had movies or TV series made based on their books, there are two things that result. The perk is, your books suddenly come back into print and sell like ice water in Hell. Witness George R.R. Martin. The Game of Thrones did pretty well as a novel, but when the HBO series came out? Everything George writes in that series from now on hits the bestseller list and stays there. It doesn't even have to be a good movie or series. When True Blood cranked up on HBO, Charlaine Harris's original paperback books, all eight of them, arose from the out-of-print boneyard and shambled onto the bestseller lists, all at the same time.

Yeah, you get a nice fee from the production company for the media rights, but you are apt to make more from your novels afterward, unless, as Travers did, you have a piece of the gross. She made millions, and while she might have come to regret the sale, it was her choice.

It's sometimes attributed to Raymond Chandler, but should be credited to James M. Cain: When asked about what Hollywood had done to his book, Cain said that they hadn't done anything to his book, it was right there on the shelf. Mary Poppins the book is still what it is, and Disney's movie, and rewriting of the history about how it came to be, are what they are. That these latter are as much fantasy as Snow White? Shouldn't surprise anybody who has ever ridden the Pirates of the Caribbean boat.

The drawback is, of course, from then on, anybody who reads the books and sees the series will likely visualize the characters as the actors cast in the roles. I couldn't read Pat Conroy's Santini Dies without seeing and hearing Robert Duvall. I usually like my mental casting better, though you can never go wrong with Duvall. That was the joy of radio. (Who was the best character in A Christmas Story? Jean Shepherd, as the V.O. for Ralphie, hands-down. Can't imagine that movie without his unique voice.)

Some years ago, my collaborator and I pitched a novel to a publisher. The money they offered was much less than we felt we deserved. My co-writer ran into Harlan at a gathering in L.A. and whined about it. Harlan's advice was, Hey, take the money. If you are broke, there's no shame in honest work to get by.

Travers took the money, and I don't blame her for it, but when you sell it, they own it. I know a few folks who have sold stuff to the movies, had script approval, and likewise hated the results.

When you deal with the devil, you really need to read the fine print, and even then, you need to know that pitchfork is there somewhere ...


P.S. This is not a blanket condemnation of the Biz, merely a recognition that as often as not Shit Happens, and if you are unprepared to deal with it, you might have problems.

And, of course, there is an addendum that speaks to another factor that might or might not be relevant:

When Travers took the upfront advance for Mary Poppins, that £60,000 Sterling, (about $180,000, USD) circa 1960, the average income in the states was about $5000. 

To put that into perspective, today, that would be twixt a million and two million pounds, depending upon which of the various inflation indexes you use. The pound isn't worth what it used to be, so only a million-and-half to three million bucks. 

But, wait, that's only the anteroom of Uncle Scrooge's bin ...

The 5% she got of the *gross* profits in the mid-sixties would have been worth at least 4.5 million pounds, using the gross revenue figures, and, again, in U.S. dollars, the ratio then was about 1:3, bucks-to-quid, which would be $13.5 million, which inflation would pencil out today to, like ... $64,000,000, give or take a million. 

I'm pretty sure nobody held a gun to her head and forced her to sign. Let's be real: Her unhappiness about how awful the Mouse behaved is going to be viewed a tad askance by a guy who has to count his pocket change twice if he wants to get fries with his burger at Mickey D's.

Oh, poor, woman! Cry me a fucking river!

You sold your book for a fortune and you are pissed off because they make a bad movie from it? Crank up the violins doing "Hearts and Flowers," You made your choice, and you can buy a lot of hankies with that kind of jack. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Long John Baldry

Don't Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock 'n' Roll …

Lot of Americans might not know who Baldry was, but if you know who Clapton, The Rolling Stones,  and Rod Stewart are, you may have heard of him. One of the original white British bluesman, Baldry was the hot ticket in the early sixties, before the Beatles blew everybody else out of the water.

He knew everybody, everybody knew him, and if you ask Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart or Paul McCartney or Eric Clapton about the guy, they will all say he influenced them. At one point or another, most of them opened for, or actually worked in a band with, him.

Called Long John because he was 6' 7" tall, he was a seminal influence in the British blues/rock scene of the sixties. A lot of those he mentored moved past him, but he was considered to be among the best by his peers.

He was also a voice actor, and most notable among his creations is probably Dr. Robotnik, from Sonic the Hedgehog; he did dozens of TV animated shows, including one of the Conan incarnations.

Baldry eventually moved to Canada, and spent his last few years doing gigs there, and in the Pacific Northwest. He died from complications of a lung infection in 2005.


Back when we were studying meditation (the Ananda Marga Hindu-system, wherein one sits and silently intones a mantra for no-mind) I learned about an exercise that one does in a graveyard. 

The theory is, spirits are real–in fact, spirit is the only thing that is real, all else is Maya, the Grand Illusion–and some of them are good, others evil. A cemetery of any size will contain the good, the bad, and the ugly, and that to test one's ability to tune out distractions and maintain the no-mind focus during the meditation, one is sent to a boneyard to spend the night in quiet contemplation. 

The spirits, the evil ones, will attempt to invade your soul and do you psychic harm, but even the good ones will offer distractions, and like writers and book reviews, one is supposed to ignore them all …

If, the theory goes, one can hold the course through the night without giving up or being overrun and turned into a gibbering idiot, one has passed a major test and can move forward on The Path.

I've tried this, at least for a half-hour, and survived.  

I have what I think is a better version of it: 

Going to the mall just before Christmas. 

If you can hold to your equanimity during the annual madness, then surely you can also move forward on The Path …

I've done this a few times, and it is possible. That lemming-like frantic energy is all around and impossible to miss, have you any sensitivity to such things:


The monomania is unleashed, the dogs of commerce foam and rage, the thunder of panicked hooves echoes past the phone kiosks.

Ho, ho, ho!

I have managed to do this exercise and prevail, but I can't say it's something I willingly subject myself to every Christmas season. To manage it, you need the proper mindset before you go, and it takes a bit of work. Even my recent visit to Costco, I wasn't ready, as you can tell from the posting about it. Had I been pure of heart and calm of mind, the lunacy of shopping cart pushers and taste-samplers would have passed right through me without stirring any negative energies. Peace on, Sister.

Perhaps I am not yet ready to leave the temple; just call me Grasshopper ...

Truth is, given the choice between battling the evil spirits in the cemetery and the mad consumers at the mall? I'd pick the spirits every time; much easier ...

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Okay, so I put the outside lights up yesterday, and we got the tree today; we went for the spare look, a Noble Fir.

I guess it's time to post the link to the best Christmas (or in this case, Xmas) song extant:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Upcoming Story

Over the years, I've sold a few short stories to Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, mostly for Pulphouse, a couple to Kris when she edited F&S, and here recently, to an original anthology series they are doing, epub and trade paper print, Fiction River. 

This latter is a series of anthologies, all original material, each with its own theme. 

Good books, good stories, funded by a most successful KickStarter campaign a year and some ago. I heard they were doing these, I sat down and in a couple days, cranked out a couple pieces. They liked one, and they are kinda-sorta thinking about the other, which is much longer, and in the military SF vein.

The latest sale, which will be in the April '14 collection, is another wild hair story that will fit into the fractured fairy tales that comprise this particular collection. I just got the galleys and the cover, haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I am reading the current issue, Hex in the City, and it is boffo. There's a Jay Lake story in it that will knock you down, especially if you know Jay.

Um. Anyway, I read this piece, called "Generations" at the most recent Orycon, to a small, but appreciative audience, and outside of a short I did for Trent Zelazny and Warren LaPine for a theme anthology featuring the late Roger Zelazny's creations, it's the only short likely to see the light of day for a while. (There's one I did about a rat in a soufflé a while back, "A Few Minutes in the Kitchen and Dining Room of Hamelin's Restaurant," though I dunno what happened to that one; plus that AvP thing for the game rule book. Not much of a short fiction guy.) 

Fiction River is here, as well as in the link section of my blog. You might want to check 'em out, they have some passing good tales there. 

Civilization ...

… and Its Discontents …

My wife usually makes the Costco run, but she is under the weather, nasty cold, so I went to the Big Box after a visit with the youngest grandson. I am not by nature a shopper, nor do I like going to Costco twixt Thanksgiving and New Year's, since the place is almost always a cattle stampede during those times …

But I had a list, and I girded my loins and headed for the store. Got a dusting of snow as I arrived at the parking lot, so I wanted to hurry along.

And once inside, the recurring question arose: How smart do you have to be to push a shopping cart down a triple-wide aisle in Costco?

Answer: Not very ...

I mean, here is an aisle that you can literally fit three carts across side-by-side, albeit a bit snugly. And there, just ahead, a woman coming from the other direction who stops and with only one cart and herself, manages to block the passage entire. And stands there oblivious, deep in her examination of a display of granulated sugar, apparently completely unaware that there are folks queuing on both sides of her waiting to get past.

C'mon, lady, it's sugar, for God's sake, how hard can it be to, you know, pick up the bag and plunk it into your cart and allow the flow of traffic around your absorbed self?

Unaware. Or doesn't give a damn, either way of which makes me want to back off a couple steps and get a good run as I bang my cart into the front of hers and blow past …

But, no. Instead I stand there, smiling thinly, until she decides she really doesn't want any of that Organic White Death, turns her cart back up the aisle, and cruises on, never noticing those of us Who Wait.

Merry Christmas.

This same woman–and her numerous, yea, unto the multitudes, kin–will also stop cold in front of you, the figurative middle of nowhere, and stand there, blinking like an owl and looking around as if unable to remember who she is and why she came here.

Give a fucking signal!

Don't even get me started on the crowds that throw up roadblocks at the free sausage display to dine on microwaved tidbits, said display being right in front of the freezer with the shrimp I need to complete my list …

Excuse me, may I get in here for a second? When what I really want to say is, Move it or lose it, asshole!

Um. Yeah, yeah, a First World problem, but still. Some of these people drove to the store and will be out on the snow-dusted streets as I head home, and that idea is scary.

Reminds me of the old story: Ralph is driving, Bill is shotgun. They come to a traffic signal, the light is red. Ralph blows through the intersection, never slowing.

"Geezus, Ralph! What the hell are you doing?"

"Hey, my brother does that all the time."

Come to a second intersection, the light red, same-same.

Bill is coming unglued. "You are going to get us killed!"

"My brother does it."

Come to a third intersection, this one, the light is green. Ralph slams on the brakes.

Bill bounces off the dashboard. "What the hell did you do that for!"

And Ralph said, "My brother might be coming …"

Saturday, December 07, 2013

C-C-Cold ...

Yeah, yeah, we're pansies here in the Willamette Valley, but that Arctic cold front that blew through and iced down the country is squatting on us, too. You folks in North Dakota or Minnesota can laugh and talk about it being T-shirt weather here, but it's 15º F. at Steve's house, and that means I have to break out the heavy coat and big gloves to walk the dogs.

Which is a pain, because knotting the poop bag shut with the ski gloves isn't going to happen. Works fine with the thin gloves I usually sport, but they aren't up to the cold.

They were talking record lows,  we've already had a couple-three of those this week, but I don't think we got there last night. Coldest I can recall was in February of … '89, I think. Got into single-digits, I remember walking Roxanne the Chow-Chow at a balmy 8ºF. one ice-crusted morning …

Coldest I've ever experienced was in Chicago twixt Christmas and New Year's, back when I was a PI and had to go there. Right at 0º F. Got there just after the snow stopped, and saw snow sticking to the face of a stop sign, a thing I'd never seen. The wind coming off the Lake  would shove you backward on the frozen sidewalks. I had no idea and wasn't dressed for  it. Brrr ... 

Have to put the Thunder Shirt on the old Cocker Spaniel, I think. The Corgis are double-coated, they don't mind the cold, but the Spaniel hasn't completely grown out the puppy-cut she had when we got her. Got home yesterday after the walk and she was shivering. 

Weather channel says it's 22º F. in Beaverton, but my thermometer isn't agreeing, and while there are lots of things thing that might make it err upward, not too many give a false lower reading. 

Had to pull the hummingbird feeder in and thaw it, it was a block of ice. Soon as I refilled it and stuck it out, there was a female Ana's flitting around my hand to drink. (Ana's don't migrate, but stick around through the winter, and pickings are somewhat lean in December.)

Friday, December 06, 2013

Vastalimi Cover

Got the mock-up cover for Vastalimi, the spoken-word version. They have Kay wearing a hood, don't where that came from, but I like it. Very dramatic.

8 CDs, eleven hours, thirty bucks. Perfect for those long drives in traffic ...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Cold and Dusty

Been chilly at Steve's house the last couple days, down to 18ºF. this morning when I got up, going down a couple-three degrees more tomorrow. Dry, which is good, but you have to layer up to walk the dogs. 

We are pleased to have replaced our furnace last season for a high-efficiency one with a neato-keen thermostat that is smarter than I am. 

I mentioned here recently that I had contacted the city regarding my personal flood plain, due to the depressed section of concrete at the curb by my driveway. Lo and behold! the city actually sent a couple guys out to take a gander. Can I get a hallelujah?

No, come to think of it, probably that wouldn't be appropriate. Read on:

Looking at the standing water the city guys nodded and said, "Yep. that's a problem, all right."

And you want to guess whose responsibility it is to repair it? You there, waving your hand and grinning?


City will fix the section just east of it, because there's a utility box and that is their bailiwick  but it's my trees what have raised the concrete, and our neighborhood is responsible for the sidewalks and the curbing twixt the macadam and our houses. Part of the deal, apparently, when the original contractor built these houses.

So, I got online, found a local guy who does grinding, and even as we speak, clouds of silica dust blow past the window as the diamond-disk chews up concrete and rocks …

The good things are, this is what the contractor does mostly and he says it's not a problem. And business is a little slow in December, so he gave me a deal on the bid. Bad thing is I have to pay for it. But if it keeps our yard from turning into Lake Perry come the big rain, it's worth it. 

And so it goes …

Oh, yeah, now it's done. If you are local and need concrete grinding? The company is Centerstone, the contractor's name is David Eubanks. Thumb-up on his work. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


So, on the musical front, I find myself trying to learn a whole bunch of stuff at once. No rhyme or reason to it, just how, as these things sometimes do, it happens. I'm noodling along, something strikes me, I hear a song, then I need to figure out how to play it.

For instance, I've been playing "Hotel California" for a while. Got the chords down on the guitar, and then transferred them to the uke. Never worked out the intro, Don Felder's little riffs on the classical guitar, but because there is so much material on YouTube and in various forums, was able to find that, so I need to add it.

Hereunder, the current works-in-progress in the world of Steve's ukery:

Wagon Wheel (Darius Rucker's cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show tune)
Cakewalk into Town
A Summer Song
Hotel California
Political Science
Let it Be
Hey, Jude
Woke Up Dead Blues
St. James Infirmary
House of the Risin' Sun


Quigley Down Under
Something in the Way She Moves
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Ashokan Farewell
Theme From Titanic
Theme from The Game of Thrones

Currently, I can play about half of these without looking at the lyrics or tabs, and can get through them all with the cheat sheet. "Wagon Wheel," isn't hard to play, but I don't know all the words yet; "Dixie" and "Theme From The Game of Thrones" are the latest instrumentals, and farthest from being memorized.

Got an album's worth, easy.

Back to the woodshed ...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Editing Pearls II - The Reversal

So when I did the novelization for Men in Black, I went looking for a bit of amusing doggerel to use for a lead-in, and found a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh. I stuck that up front, and shortly thereafter, I got a note back from the "book editor" at the movie house. 

This is opposed to the not-quote-unquote book editor at the book house. All editors are not created equal.

Apparently the movie folks like to pretend that some of them know enough about books to edit them, and while this might sometimes be the case, I have yet to experience this as being true.

Um. Anyway, the ms came back with the poem circled and a note: Do we need to get clearance (to use this)?

I fell out of my chair laughing.


Now the laity might be forgiven for not knowing that ole Walt Raleigh, long dead, has pushed up four hundred generations of daisies, and that anything he wrote, which was quite a bit, has long since been in the public domain, thus no clearance needed to use it, but one assumes a professional book editor would know this! What a maroon!

Here The Reverse. (A technical term for a sudden change of direction in a story, used most often in scriptwriting.)

While I was rolling around on the floor laughing at How Stupid Those Movie People Were, it turned out ole Walt didn't write that funny rhyme. A younger Sir Walter Raleigh did. Seems there is another English fellow, a professor, Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh, who penned that particular verse, and now who is the dickhead, hey?

Yours Truly. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

However, my error does not give the "book editor" a pass, because Walter Raleigh the Alexander has himself been pushing up the daisies for almost a hundred years, and the poem, written in 1914, long in the public domain. A real editor would have caught this.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Editing Pearls

Writers need editors. No question about it. Once, there was a NY Times Bestselling Author who decided he didn't want anybody messing with his manuscript at all, so he had it written into his next contract that nobody could touch it, save him.

Bad mistake. Not only were there typos and awkward phrases, there was one section that somehow got duplicated in the book …

Me, I'm happy for editorial assistance, copy-editors, too, though we sometimes disagree on what is appropriate secondary to my style. Once had a Texas Ranger character use the term "bidness," in dialog. To show the patois being used. CE changed it to "business," which was technically correct, but wrong for the idiomatic dialog. I changed it back.

My philosophy regarding the editing for content is that if the change makes it better, I'm all for it. If it changes something just for the sake of changing it but doesn't make it better, nor worse, I usually let those pass. If an editorial change makes something worse? I fight tooth and nail against it. Good editors can be convinced most of the time.

In the middle category, I once had an editor on my Conan novels who did some little touch up hither and yon that I thought were mostly unnecessary. I let them slide, until I came to one in particular that told me she was changing stuff just because she wanted to lay hands on the ms and do it.

Here's the set-up. I had my mighty-thewed barbarian enter into a ramshackle inn and order some food. What was a bloody slab of half-raw beast on a wooden platter was delivered unto Conan, along with some ale to wash it down.

The editor, bless her poor, departed soul, changed the line to read (italics mine) so that it was a bloody slab of half-raw beast on a piece of bread on a wooden platter …

I had to laugh. Are you kidding me? What, you think Conan isn't getting enough carbohydrate in his diet? And why didn't you give him, you know, a salad, some bean sprouts or kale or maybe Swiss Chard, hey … ?

Not to even mention that a bloody slab of half-raw beast is going to turn a piece of bread into a gooey mush no right-minded barbarian would eat unless he was starving …

Stay tuned, I will offer more of these as I recall them ...

Monday, November 25, 2013

This 'n' That

The things you learn by accident …

Came across a review in the paper, writer coming to town to do a reading. Guy (Chas Smith) writes for surf magazines, and has done a book 

Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell: A True Story of Violence, Corruption, and the Soul of Surfing

which is mostly about the North Shore of Oahu where surfing is a Big Deal. Fascinating stuff almost none of which I knew. The dark underbelly, which is not something you think of when you listen to Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys singing about waxing down their boards and all …

Lot of good material, albeit the presentation is, um … somewhat obnoxious at times. Smith apparently fancies himself a writer in the Tom Wolfe/Hunter S. Thompson mold, i.e., the "new" journalists. For those you who don't know, this kind of writing revolves around the teller as much as the tale, with the narrator front and center. How it all affects him is more important than what is going on. I generally prefer more transparency in a story, but if it is done well, it's okay.

Smith, a clothes-horse, spends way too much time talking about his neato keen shirts and cool shoes, and how he looks is so important to him that writing about how crappy surfers dress is a major part of this, and apparently every other story, he offers. It detracts from the material, but on balance, I'd recommend the book.

Speaking of clothes …

When I learned to play guitar, I did it in the classic position, that is, the waist of  the instrument resting on my propped-up left leg. Balanced thusly, the back of the guitar didn't usually touch my waist so I never had a problem in what guitar players call "belt-buckle rash."

The uke, on the other hand, sits closer and on my lap, so I have gotten a couple of fine scratches on the back, which is no good. So I have been playing with my shirt-tail out.

Then I discovered something called a "musician's belt," aka "mechanic's belt." This is a design wherein the buckle is underneath a leather overlay. Keeps the metal from scratching your musical instrument, or if you are a car mechanic, from scratching a customer's paint job. A clever device, this.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

New T-Shirt

At least some regular readers of my blog will be up to here with information concerning my efforts to learn how to play the ukulele. In this, I have joined several websites that are focused on the jumping flea, one of which is called Ukulele Hunt.

Likely you know that "ukulele" is often abbreviated as "uke."

Thus the T-shirt.

What? What's that you say? Tsk. What a dirty mind you have ...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Case in Point

Most people who are required to travel via aeroplanes with their musical instruments have heard horror stories of what can happen to a a guitar or mandolin or fiddle that has to be checked. Mostly, these instruments will go into the overhead, if there is room, especially the smaller ones. You can get a violin under the seat in front of you, maybe a mandolin, but not a full-size acoustic guitar. On a crowded flight, sometimes your axe will get gate-checked, and if the instrument is worth anything, that flight is apt to be worrisome.

You sit in your seat, less afraid of crashing than of what is smacking into your unique instrument down there in the dark hold ...

A gate-check is just that. You get a tag, and they take your axe away and send it to luggage hell.

There are baggage handlers who apparently think rolling a fork lift over your prized guitar is no big deal, and you never, ever want to check a guitar in a gig bag.

For those of you who know not, a gig bag is a soft-side sack, nylon or leather, and offers minimal protection for the instrument it encases. In the overhead, if you are careful, sure. 

In the belly of the big metal bird? Bad. Bad. 

I've been lucky. The few times I've traveled with a guitar, I got to take it into the cabin with me, but there's no guarantee that will happen; the airlines are capricious about such things. Some will smile and wave you on, some will demand you check the critter.

A new law starting next year is supposed to mandate that you can take your instrument onboard, if there is room, and the Captain has the final say, so if you can convince him your baby should be onboard, you want to hope he's a musician in his spare time …

Um. Point of this is that if you travel a lot and have to stow your musical instrument, you want to get a sturdy case. One that will protect your axe, even at the expense of its own life.

There are some pretty good ones around, and they aren't cheap, but if you are one of those guys with a Lloyd Loar mandolin or a prime Martin from the 1940's that is worth more than your house, you would probably be served ponying up for a case that is as close to bulletproof as you can find. 

I dunno if this one is bulletproof, but I cringed and had to look away at some of what they did to it in this video, and when it was done, I was convinced. The thing got beat all to hell and gone, but it kept the guitar safe.

This is one tough case Mr. Hoffee makes, right here in America ...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Uke Repertoire

So, noodling along with the jumping flea, taking a blues ukulele class and all, but realizing that for me, one of the best ways to learn new material is to 1) pick songs I like and 2) pretend that I am working on a set list for a gig.

There are a lot of people who play from books. The jam group to which I belong does this, and nearly all of the songs we have been doing regularly for a couple of years with only three chords? Most of the players can't do without the piece in front of them. 

It's a great safety mechanism. If you are playing and you have the chords and words right there in front of you, it's harder to go blank on the material.

Not impossible to get lost, but it's a pretty good touchstone to have the material right there in front of you. Cheap insurance. I saw a broadcast of Springsteen losing the lyrics on a song. He just stopped, grinned, and said, "You know, I knew the lyrics to this song when I started."  

I have heard enough professional singers flub lines in a song they wrote who just shook their heads, so I don't feel so bad if I sometimes skip a verse.

I love watching TV shows or movies wherein a songwriter scribbles down the last line of a lyric, then looks up at a watcher and says, "Hey, listen to this." then proceeds to bang out a perfect rendition of the song from memory, never missing a note or a word. Not in my world. It takes me as long to learn one I wrote as one somebody else wrote ...

But, for me, memorizing the piece is better. You can get into the music, you can make eye contact with anybody who might be listening, and even if you aren't relaxed, you tend to look as if you are.

You know the old Hollywood line, When you can fake sincerity, then you got something ...

Of course, the major orchestras around the world do just fine with music in front of them, and they use sheets even if they know it by heart.

Um. Anyway, this brings us to the current work-in-progress. Most of these, I still can't play comfortably from memory on the uke, but I'm getting there. They are simple blues or rock chord progressions, and songs I mostly know, which makes it easier.

So …

Those with vocals I'll sing

1.  A Summer Song, Chad & Jeremy
2.  Cakewalk into Town, Taj Majal
3.  Dorothy, McKinley
4.  Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen
5.  Hey, Jude, Paul McCartney
6.  Hotel California, Eagles (Henley, Fry & Felder)
7.   Let It Be, McCartney
8.   Political Science, Randy Newman
9.   Woke Up Dead Blues, Yours Truly
10. Yesterday, McCartney.
11.  Blackbird, McCartney 

Yes, four of them are Beatles songs, and there you go. 

And the instrumentals:

1.  Something in the Way She Moves, George Harrison
2.  While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Harrison
3.  Quigley Down Under, Basil Poledouris
4.  Ashokan Farewell, Jay Ungar
5.   Theme from Titanic (My Heart Will Go On), James Horner, Will Jennings.

Most of the instrumentals are arrangements I got from YouTube. Ashokan Farewell is El McMeen's version, from his dropped-D book, and restricted to four strings; Quigley is my own arrangement, very simple, but I couldn't find it anywhere else and had to do it.

Once I get these down, I'll start doing vids or MP3s of them and see if any sound good enough to make public.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Powell's Signing

I was part of a group signing at Powell's on Sunday last, I think there were thirty or so of us, several who came by because they were in town for Orycon. Here's the Star Wars picture, shot by Brian Thomas Schmidt, who was also autographing.

All the folks in the pix are either cosplayers or writers. See if you can guess which are which …

(I'm in the back row in front of the end-cap bookcase, next to Andy, in the red shirt; behind Kris Rusch. Whose hair, I pointed out, matches the wrapping on the Tusken Raider next to Obi Wan.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Orycon 34


Local SF convention is this weekend, I spent most of yesterday there, panels, reading, autographing, like that. Met a woman writer in the Green Room who had just taken up playing the baritone ukulele, and we had ourselves a fine conversation which left the other writer at the table wondering what the hell we were prattling on about …

A fan shot this picture and stuck it up on FB, and apparently has one of those magic cameras that subtracts ten pounds instead of adding it. I'm not quite that much of a scarecrow …

I'm guessing that particular model will sell like gangbusters, once the word gets out. Hey, take my picture with your magic camera … !

Friday, November 08, 2013

AvP Board Game - Kickstarter

I mentioned the story I wrote a short while back for a lead-in to a new mini-figurine board game in the AvP universe. They have a Kickstarter set up, so here it is ...

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Public Works - Lake Perry

The gutter in front of my house has somehow risen over the years so that it creates a problem when it rains other than lightly. With big rain, the gutter can't handle the flow, so all the water rushing down my street takes a right turn into my yard and suddenly we have Lake Perry, and trying to get out the front gate means wading through standing water at least ankle deep.

This is not helped by the fact that it is Thursday, i.e., trash day, and my next door neighbor upstream has garbage bins that block the gutter, which results in a faster diversion of the run-off.

I got up during a downpour this a.m., moved the neighbor's bins from out the gutter, and tried to block the stream, but with only partial success.


So, I have reported this to the city public works department, for whatever good that might do. Probably get a note back saying they'll get right on that, and by the summer of 2015, will put it on their schedule …

Meanwhile, I will probably get some sandbags, given that it is Oregon and certainly will rain again a time or two the next few months. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Horror!

Computer crashed yesterday. I was trying to record something, and the new mic wasn't picking up any input. So I disconnected it and restarted the system ...

For those you without Macs, the restart is a known fix for many problems, only this time, instead of the little apple, I got the little circle with the line through it, which is bad. 

Got a prompt to run First Aid, which I did. Everything is fine, First Aid said, we're all fine here, how are you? 


Computer is only eight months old, so I had Apple Care™, but but I still had internet connectivity, so I managed to download and re-install the OS, which in my case is one back, Mountain Lion. (I am waiting until the first round of fixes are done for the next OS, i.e., Mavericks. There are bugs, and installing anything that is version xx.0 is always iffy. Having read the comments about problems, I can wait, it's not going to give me stuff worth the risks.)

So after 2-1/2 hours, the download and restart happened, and everything is working now.

How did I trash my OS-X? God only knows, but after updating it, it seems to be okay, so … there you go. Another pothole in the information highway ...

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Jack, 2013. Got family visiting, kids, dogs running around, so my attention wandered at bit, but it's the usual process: Cut and scrape and dig away everything that doesn't belong.

Apologies to Edvard Munch ...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Um ... Okay, I Was Mistaken ...

Adirondack Spruce/Tulip Magnolia

Okay, so I said I was done with UAS (ukulele acquisition syndrome), since I have two tenors that embody the opposite ends of the warm/bright spectrum.

I thought this was true. I mean, really, I did.

Here, the obligatory aside: One uke is rigged so I can plug it into an amp, and I have a mike I can use for the other, if need be. My electrification rig consists of a Roland Street Cube, a Shure SM 57 vocal/instrument mike, K&K pre-amp, and a couple of passive pick-ups; one in the uke, another is a transducer by Dean Markley I can stick to a guitar or uke with earthquake putty, and assorted cables twixt and tween.

I am endeavoring to lobby the jam group to add some electricity to its tool chest, too. I listened to the recordings of the last gig, and got some feedback from my spouse, and while the harmonies are nice and the instrument playing not too awful, the volume/mix is not so good. Could hardly hear some of the vocalists, and couldn't hear the harmonica at all. If everybody had a mike and even a micro-amp, that would be much better.

Back to the ukes: I thought I was done, truly I did. But, uh, well ... um ...

I came across a luthier named Michael Zuch, and lo! guess who is getting a third instrument in the jumping flea category?

This will be the last one. Really, it will.

For sure.


Maybe ...

It's a story, but suffice it to say, Mr. Zuch is building this critter for me. It'll be a while before I lay hands on it, but it has begun, and for those who follow such things in my posts, a few items of note:

It's another tenor, sound board will be made from Adirondack spruce, back and sides from tulipwood, with slot head tuners and a slightly wider-than-usual fretboard. 'Twill sport a sound port on the side of the upper bout, which is a second hole that allows the player to hear it better.

Zuch has built some fine instruments, but he's never done one with this wood combination, and I think that is maybe a little bit of the draw for him. He's a part-timer builder, and does it for love and not money. He mostly builds them for good players who need but can't afford handmade instruments, and while I'm not in either category, I was pleased no end that he agreed to do one for me.

The initial pictures are above, and as he progresses, if I get more images, I'll add them to the blog.

The current book-in-progress, my urban fantasy, Stemwinder, which features an itinerant blues guitarist who travels back and forth between Earth and Faerie, will have him dabbling with uke-ery in his gigs, by the by. This is also a labor of love on my part, will have a lot of musical stuff in it; plus some spying and murders and slavery and all.

Stay tuned …