It’s Thanksgiving, Again.

At least, in the USA.  (Canada has been thankful already.)

And speaking as a writer, here are a few things I’m specifically thankful for:

  • The personal computer revolution, which came along just in time to enable an epically bad typist like me to produce submittable manuscripts that didn’t shed white-out like dandruff and didn’t take roughly thirty minutes per page of final copy to produce.

    (Does anyone even use correction fluid any more? Or does it hang out with carbon paper in the Land of Obsolete Office Supplies?)

  • The internet, starting with bulletin boards and on-line services like AOL and CompuServe and GEnie, and moving on through mailing lists and blogs and the wonders of the world-wide web. No longer does an aspiring writer have to move to New York or Boston or Philadelphia in order to have a finger on the pulse of the literary world; anywhere with internet connectivity is only a click away.

    Research, also, has been made oh-so-much easier. Once upon a time, if I needed to consult an obscure text — a monograph about daily life in Minnesota’s Stillwater Prison in the late eighteen-hundreds, to pick a not-coincidental example — I would have had to drive at least two hours to the nearest major university library and consult their card catalogue to determine if they had a copy (which they very probably wouldn’t.) Then I would need to either try for interlibrary loan through my local library, which could take a month or more, or try to wangle university library privileges (good luck with that), or hope I could get everything I needed before the library doors closed for the day. Now, that book and hundreds like it are gloriously digitized and available on-line.

  • And this year, the World Fantasy Award people decided that henceforward they wouldn’t be using the bust of Lovecraft as the design for the award.

    This is a good thing, because now award winners who would prefer not to have a portrait of a howling xenophobic racist* on their mantelpiece won’t have to; also, the H. P. Lovecraft Memorial Bludgeon was possibly the ugliest major award in this or any other biz. (Back where I come from, the phrase “homely as a mud fence plastered with tadpoles” would just about cover it.) Gahan Wilson, who designed it, is an excellent cartoonist, but his gift does not, in my opinion, translate well into three dimensions.

    Not all blessings are unalloyed, since the change means we’re in for several rounds of acrimonious debate about what sort of design should replace the current one. (“A dragon!” “God, no. No dragons, no wizards, none of that extruded fantasy product stuff!” “Mary Shelley!” “Are you smoking something? Mary Shelley wrote science fiction!”) at the end of which the World Fantasy Committee will come up with something either boring or ugly or controversial or all three.

    Because such is the way of our tribe.

*Really.  Even by the standards of his day — which by the standards of our day are pretty appalling all on their own — he was extreme.

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The Slugabed Conundrum

In the summertime, for those of us whose work doesn’t tie us to an alarm clock, getting out from under the covers at a timely hour is easy. The sky is already bright outside, most days, the room is warm, and the transition from sleepwear to regular clothing doesn’t involve any intermediate bare-skinned shivering.

Once the weather turns cold, though, things are different. You wake up, and the clock tells you that it’s a good and virtuous hour to get out of bed. But your ears and nose and any other exposed bits tell you that the room is distinctly chilly, and meanwhile the rest of you is snug under the flannel sheet and the down comforter in a nest which has by now reached the optimum level of retained body heat to keep you happy and warm for hours yet. Getting out of bed will involve, however briefly, an unpleasant bare-skinned interval between sleepwear-under-covers and daywear-in-the-bedroom.

So you look again at the clock, and decide that you can lie there for a few minutes longer. An hour later, you wake up, and look at the clock . . . .

And so it goes. In the deepest of midwinter, when the night-time temperatures drop to -20°F or even lower, I sometimes resort to putting at least the first layer or so of the next day’s clothing under the comforter at the foot of the bed, so that I can retrieve it in the morning and dress myself under the covers. But such measures are for January and February, not for November when it is merely, as they would say up here, a bit nippy in the mornings.

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For Your Amusement and Edification

A handful of links – some older, some brand-new – from around the web:

Slate has put up an interactive, annotated on-line version of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”, for those of you who might want to read it.  (My own attitude toward “Bartleby” is colored by the fact that I once had to teach it in a freshman English lit class, and the typical response to that story from the inevitable classroom wit is exactly what you think it would be.)

A cabinetmaker and scholar of historical furniture reports on a letter to the future found sealed away inside an 18th-century inlaid cabinet by the journeyman cabinetmaker who built the piece.

While I was trawling for other reasons through the  archives of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I found this post wherein all the Nebula-winning novels from 1965 through 2004 are summarized in haiku.

And, finally, there’s Jim Macdonald having fun again over at his blog.



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Peeve of the Day

Because it’s the grey tag-end of October, moving into the dreariest part of the year up here in the north country, when the fall colors are all gone but the winter snow-that-sticks hasn’t yet fallen, and this time of year always makes me feel peevish:

Listen to me, O People. Do not use “decimated” to mean “destroyed.” This is not what it means.

“Decimate” in its most literal sense means “to reduce by one-tenth.” It refers to the punishment used in the Roman legions when an entire unit had committed an egregious offense, such as mutiny or desertion. Rather than executing all of them, the offenders would be condemned to draw lots to choose one man out of every ten.  Those so chosen would then be clubbed and/or stoned to death by their unchosen comrades. Modern usage often implies a much higher proportion of casualties than one-tenth, possibly because of the frightfulness of the practice (even the ancient Romans, who were no wusses when it came to cruel and unusual punishment, didn’t employ it very often.)

Nevertheless, it still doesn’t mean complete destruction.  Nor does it refer to the destruction of a physical object; you don’t say, for example, The Possum  Beach town hall was decimated by Hurricane Humperdinck. Usually, “decimated” refers to a loss of population, or at least, by extension, a loss of countable things:  The massive live oaks that lined the streets of Possum Beach were decimated by Hurricane Humperdinck.   Whether the latter sentence means that literally one oak tree in every ten got blown down, or just that a whole lot of them were, depends upon how punctilious (or nitpicking, take your choice) the writer is about such things.

If what you’re trying to say is that beautiful and historic Possum Beach got blown all to pieces and is going to have a hard time picking itself back up, what you say is, Possum Beach was devastated – which is to say, laid waste – by Hurricane Humperdinck.

Got it?  Good.

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I Think I’ve Finally Figured it Out

I’ve always been a sucker for a well-done redemption arc in my fictions of choice, in both written and visual media. And I’ve always been puzzled by the vocal commentary that always arises on such occasions, to the effect that so-and-so doesn’t deserve redemption. Because – in my cultural tradition, at least – the whole point of redemption is that it isn’t something you get because you deserve it, it’s something you get because you’ve done something bad enough that you need it.

But if the naysayers are operating out of a definition of “redemption” that has no theological or philosophical dimension to it, but is instead merely a shorter way of saying “rehabilitation in the court of public opinion” . . . well, I may still think that a lot of them are full of it, but at least I can understand how they got there.

(Also – if you’re going to write a redemption arc, don’t cheat by making your character-to-be-redeemed guilty of something that they/their culture think is a Big Wrong Thing but that we, enlightened souls that we are, consider to be Not Really That Big a Deal.  They need to be really and truthfully guilty of something really and truthfully bad, or there’s no point to the exercise.)


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Bookstore Mapping, Continued

Jim Macdonald writes some more about his Independent Bookstores of New England GPS Points of Interest project, over here.

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Independent Bookstores of New England

…considered as a set of Points of Interest for the TomTom GPS Navigator.  It’s a project that my co-author (and, not so coincidentally as all that, husband) Jim Macdonald is working on in his spare time, and blogging about here.

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