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Alphabetic bias?

Saturday July 26, 2008 @ 06:17 PM (UTC)

I was just reorganizing my writing folder (on Puck, my laptop) to reflect the theory that I’m now an Author, not a writing student (a thin proposition, I know). Putting my stories together regardless of whether I wrote them to show to an advisor or not, et cetera. I thought as long as they were all together, I might as well color-code the folders to reflect the submissions-status of each story, using the color codes I do in my submissions spreadsheet.

Yes, this is really Felicity. I do in fact have an organized bone in my body. Possibly three, to make up an entire finger. Anyway, I color-coded away and discovered that of the 15 stories in the folder, the three that are out in editors’ mail bins right now (blue) are in letters A through F, whereas the eight that are ready to go out but are NOT out (green) are clustered at the end of the alphabet, mostly around ‘S’. Does my subconscious mind discriminate by letter?

Maybe it’s wise to do so, because the only published story I have starts with ‘B’….

Update, August 7, 2008: My other accepted story starts with ‘A’. Hmm.

The Dark Knight reviewed

Friday July 25, 2008 @ 08:03 AM (UTC)

I love Batman. And so, evidently, does Christopher Nolan. We even seem to love the same Batman – dark, driven, not played for laughs. The kind of Batman that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, with awe if not with fear. That’s what I meant a few years ago when I said “They made a Batman movie with Batman in it.” THE Batman. The real one.

Well, they did it again. Dark Knight was complex, well-written, and well-acted. As Ryan pointed out to me, it also had blessedly little CGI. Since we recently offended our eyes and brains by inflicting Spider-Man 3 on them, this is particularly pleasant to note. It also lacked the one horrible jarring note that made rewatching Batman Begins an alloyed joy: no Katie Holmes.

I was somewhat concerned that the Joker in the previews would not seem like the ‘real’ Joker. My fears were unfounded. Pared down, certainly, but the real, menacing core was there, vivid and compelling. The Joker is quicksilver, self-defining and self-redefining, striving for a moral victory as terrifying and shifting as himself.

There were some pleasant surprises in plot and characterization, which I won’t get into as I enjoyed the way even the broad strokes of the subplots were left intact by the trailers I saw before going. Suffice it to say they involved some of my favorite things and people in Gotham (but not Harley Quinn, heart-stopping rumors notwithstanding.) There were some honest frights and some moments of sheer, awed joy. The quick-cut action scenes did not interfere with my enjoyment overmuch. The music was, well, exactly the same as last time and exactly the same throughout. More of a missed opportunity than a regret.

This movie maintained and deepened the moral tone of the first. It was important not only that Batman save X, Y or the city of G, but that he make the right choices, understand the complex choices before him. That richness goes far towards explaining why I say that these movies feature the real Batman. My favorite major superhero, in the best superhero movies ever. Sometimes they get it right.


Thursday July 24, 2008 @ 11:38 AM (UTC)

Yesterday, as I returned home from seeing The Dark Knight (huzzah!) I heard part of a rebroadcast of KQED’s omnipresent call-in show, Forum. It was about non-profits helping Iraqis who are in danger because of the translation work they’ve done for the US forces to cut through the red tape and immigrate to the US. They had the translator who was the original inspiration for the program, one spouse of a two-spouse team that started the specific non-profit, and a rep from a Catholic charity that helps refugees of all sorts.

So they went to calls, and I thought, “Who the hell is going to call in and say this is bad? I mean, if you’re lefty it’s saving refugees, if you’re rightward it’s supporting people who help our troops.” Umm, I was wrong. Apparently well-educated Iraqis should stay in Iraq to rebuild, never mind the pesky death threats. Apparently people who are thoroughly vetted by the military before they work as translators and by the State dept. before they immigrate are a big ol’ security threat (this caller worked in a nice reference to Britain’s “problems” “after their Empire” that made it pretty obvious he thinks if you don’t let Muslim people into your country, no terrorism will ever coughMcVeighcough occur.) Anyway, even as I’m shaking off the horror of those calls, an even less believable one was broadcast.

Those of you who are Americans may have had the same US History textbook I did, or at least another that reprinted a political cartoon from the early 20th century. In it, three or four well-to-do Americans cough up anti-immigrant rhetoric while their shadows show the silhouettes of their ancestors arriving with packs and bags. It’s a classic.

But this goes one further; the caller, while copiously ‘God bless’ing the translator and his family, told the detailed tale of how her husband fled Cuba as a child and was helped by the Catholic charities to settle in the US. “And I’m so glad they did, or I wouldn’t be married to one of the sweetest men on this Earth! But it’s a different world now…” Yes. She argued that the U.S. should not accept refugees because we have a bad job market. Yes, the wife of a previous generation’s “homeless, tempest-tossed” said that refugees from persecution will take American jobs. I was so speechless I couldn’t splutter.

I’ve often thought of making a list of guidelines for “how not to come off as a total idiot on call-in shows” (thanks to the same omnipresent Forum) and perhaps rule #1 should be: before dialing, say your comment out loud. Twice. And listen.

New word: the partial disclosure!

Tuesday July 22, 2008 @ 01:33 PM (UTC)

This one comes courtesy of my graduate program. I scrawled it in a flyleaf during a lecture, and I’ve been trying to figure out whose lecture – hence the month’s delay in posting. Here is the word, robed in its glory and naked of context:

adumbration: partial revelation or hinting; or, contrariwise, obscurement.

These sneaky long Latinate words with their multiple, often contradictory meanings. No wonder writing teachers are always suggesting students use Anglo-Saxon words. They’re just trying to make it easy on themselves.


Friday July 18, 2008 @ 11:15 AM (UTC)

Yesterday I undertook to count cars that turned without using their turn signals. I thought I’d count until I saw just one that DID use the signal. I was extremely – one might even say over- – scrupulous, for I ignored the six or seven cars who appeared not to use their signals but could conceivably have blinked once or twice at the beginning or end of their turn without my seeing. Only turning, not merging, was considered. I also gave a pass to cars turning into parking spaces, just to be expansively generous.

So, having let so many fish escape my net, how many cars did I see IN A ROW turn without using their signals? NINE.

NINE. No wonder I write sarcastic rants about the signal use in the Valley. And let’s not get into how many people actually look both ways before turning onto a busy street.

Paid by the word

Thursday July 17, 2008 @ 05:31 PM (UTC)

I’m beginning to get a little testy about this old saw that Dickens is overwordy “because he was paid by the word.” It was amusing when my dad teased me with it in high school; no more. Boz’s novels were being serialized; magazine fiction is still, overwhelmingly, paid by the word. If the system is so flawed, then by rights these kvetchers must also hate all magazine story-writers from Asimov to Zelazny. I shudder to think what they must think of Dumas, who Umberto Eco informs me was paid by the line.

In short, Dickens is Dickens. Florid, earnest, wordy, absurd, circumlocutory Boz, essentially and eternally himself. If you don’t like him, don’t seek beyond the truth: you don’t like Dickens. Why don’t you read some Hemingway instead?

Wordwatching II

Tuesday July 15, 2008 @ 05:44 PM (UTC)

Here’s another fine word just lying on a page waiting to be picked up: cuneal.

Found this one in a long sentence by my professor Claire Davis:
Clouds rankled in the east, a high wide billowing like the thunderheads of summer, but overhead was blue sky, and Ike flipped his sunglasses on, the snow and the world turning deeper, more vibrant, the light polarized and somehow more true so that the distant cuneal hills were compressed, and the plains became dimples and swales, gullies and hollows, brushed blue and bluer, cobalt and indigo.

This one evolved from Latin cuneis, which is unilluminating until we remember cuneiform. ‘Cuneal’ means wedge-shaped.

That leaves me with just one question — are long sentences the natural habitats of cool words?

Now, being of sound mind, I like a good Dalgliesh novel. P.D. James writes lucid prose, human characters and an intriguing mystery to boot; that’s not getting into her skills with suspense. However, in listening to my current audiobook, Original Sin, I have realized something chilling.

Everyone drinks coffee. Every suspect or interviewee who offers anything offers coffee; the sister of the victim feels the need for coffee. Even in the murder-plagued publishing company’s ‘tea room’ presided over by the tea lady we find coffee, coffee grounds, people kicking in weekly for coffee. This can’t be simple find-replace regionalization (my mother owns the British versions of the Harry Potter books, so I do realize it happens), because the French suspect and his Anglicized daughter, independently, bring coffee to the police in cafetières. Somehow I doubt P.D. originally wrote théière and expected us to understand!

Casting my mind back, I remember some cups of coffee being plot points in earlier P.D. James novels. But try as I might, I cannot recall seeing a single character drink a cup of tea in one of her books. Does P.D. James hate tea?

As Xander once said on this very subject, “You’re destroying a perfectly good cultural stereotype.”

Update, July 19, 2008: She’s messing with me. Now I’m listening to A Certain Justice and tea has been made, been made fresh, and offered to the bereaved in its capacity as the British panacea. She saw me post this and went back in time to 1997 and changed all the coffees to teas in this novel. Really.

Where I write just now

Friday July 11, 2008 @ 03:24 PM (UTC)

My friend Alissa Nielsen was inspired by these photos of writers’ rooms in the Guardian to post her own. She asks her friends to respond in kind.

My offering is somewhat embarrassing; I don’t write in a proper writing room at present, or at a desk, or with books within reach. My original scheme was to have a computer desk and a writing desk, partition the two activities; but my writing desk is a family heirloom of sorts (modeled by Qubit below) and I elected to leave it with my parents rather than risk it on the move to California.

Qubit poses on my writing desk
Thus, I am without a writing desk. Now, my computer desk has a writing surface, but since my keyboard drawer was damaged by the movers, the writing surface is for keyboards. All this did not stop me completely from writing there, but the weather has; it’s the hottest little oven room in the house. So this is my writing space at present:

Nomadic writing camp
I’ve gone nomadic. I purchased the truly awesome lapdesk when I sold my story, and it’s serving me well. You also see extra fountain pen cartridges (in the red lipstick case), a manuscript to revise, my Powerbook if I need to look something up, and in the offing, Qubit, who minced into the first photo and set up shop.

Is this ideal? Maybe not. But it’s airy, comfortable, and gets the job done. Maybe someday I will feel secure enough somewhere to set up a really good writing space. But with renting and moving…this works for me. Many of my stories have been worked on with less; on a knee while I wait for a ride or sit on the MAX. Maybe when, someday, I have a room in an upper story with boughs bending in the wind outside, my heirloom writing desk glowing with polish, bottles of ink sloshing in the drawers and a shelf of books at my left hand, I will fold my papers into my journal and tuck my glasses into a jacket pocket, and walk out the front door, roving for a place to write.

The potential mystery of confederate gray

Wednesday July 09, 2008 @ 02:12 PM (UTC)

In yesterday’s post on the spelling of ‘grey’ (even I can’t believe the things I talk about sometimes) I was going to mention how I finally cemented that ‘gray’ was the US spelling only by calling to mind the wrapper on my Crayola confederate gray crayon.

I searched for a picture of this crayon, thinking that, such is the capacity of the internet for nostalgia and even indignation over necessary change that there was a chance someone would have snapped a picture of a surviving crayon. Behold, I could find no picture, and almost no mention of the thing (and the comments at the free republic aren’t the most reliable source.) Finally I looked at the Crayola history of crayon colors and discovered it was not listed. Other changes, like the change of Indian red (after a colorful soil in India) to chestnut? Yes. “Flesh” to “peach”? Certainly. But the axing of confederate gray? Nowhere to be found. Wikipedia, where lost information goes to find itself, does not mention it either.

Now, I suppose one could impugn the honesty of the Crayola company, but I find it hard to imagine that they would be more ashamed of having ‘confederate’ on a pretty genuinely confederate-uniform-colored crayon than of thinking all skin was peach-colored. Was there ever a “confederate gray” crayon? I had hazy memories of it being canceled amid a contest to name new colors. I’m sure the contest happened, but is this just the mutability of memory? Is “confederate gray” an urban myth that attached itself to my strangely capacious Crayola memory space?

Does anyone else remember this crayon?

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