Magic Shop Needs Help

Over at his blog, Jim Macdonald re-posts an appeal to stage magicians and illusionists on behalf of a Baltimore magic shop:

Madhouse Manor

To all my terrific customers!

Just got this note from our pal David Oliver. I am asking every one of you as a favor to one who has always been a friend and mentor to all magicians, Denny Haney, to please do  what you can to help one of the few truly great magic stores in this country.

THANK YOU!

From David Oliver:

I have known Denny Haney, of Denny & Lee’s Magic Studio in Baltimore for over  twenty-five years. Denny is one of the most knowledgable magicians I have ever known, as well as being one of the most giving. He always helps young magicians starting out, and older magicians looking for information or tips. His background in magic is astounding, and he is one of the few who is universally respected in the industry. He’s just a GREAT guy. He’s run into a bit of financial trouble, and…

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Peeve(s) of the Day

Because this is a season for feeling peevish about so very many things.

Peeve #1:  The phrase is not “been through the ringer” – it’s “been (or put) through the wringer”, with a wWringer comes from the Old English wringan, meaning “to press, strain, wring, or twist”, and it refers to a now pretty much obsolete laundry appliance used to extract the water from clothes that have been washed.   (But if you really want one, Amazon will sell it to you.)

So looking like you’ve been “put through the wringer” means that you look like you’ve been pressed flat between the appliance’s upper and nether rollers and squeezed dry.

Which is how a lot of us feel these days – I can’t imagine why.

Peeve #2:  “Diffused” and “defused.”  Something is diffused when it is dispersed or spread out over a large area or in a large volume of something:

The smoke from the burning incense was diffused throughout the room.

Something is defused when it has had its fuse removed, often in order to prevent it from doing something undesirable, such as exploding.

The bomb tech defused the explosive device.

  Metaphorically speaking, something is defused when somebody does or says something to reduce the tension or head off unpleasantness:

The dinner-table conversation on Christmas Day was on the verge of turning into an argument, but Jane defused the situation by bringing out the plum pudding and setting it on fire.

Because there’s nothing like a little creative arson at the dinner table to redirect people’s attention.

I Like Reality…

Jim Macdonald waxes political again, over in his blog.

Madhouse Manor

…I live there.  It’s where I keep my stuff.

 

Now comes the news that Trump pressured Park Service to find proof for his claims about inauguration crowd

On the morning after Donald Trump’s inauguration, acting National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds received an extraordinary summons: The new president wanted to talk to him.

In a Saturday phone call, Trump personally ordered Reynolds to produce additional photographs of the previous day’s crowds on the Mall, according to three individuals who have knowledge of the conversation. The president believed that the photos might prove that the media had lied in reporting that attendance had been no better than average.

“No better than average” is being kind: by all available metrics the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was smaller than that for not only Obama (only about a third of the size) but for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

As I…

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Things Seen and Unseen

Let’s talk for a minute about point of view. In fact, we could talk about point of view for considerably more than a minute, because it’s a complex and many-layered thing – not to mention being, for some writers, the key to making everything else click into place. (For other writers, the key might be something else. Nothing about this job is universal, except maybe that if you don’t write you won’t ever have written.)

I’m assuming right now that if you’re reading this you’ve already absorbed Point of View 101: Third Person, First Person, and the Weird Stuff. (I’ve blogged about those already, here and here, if you want a quick refresher.)

What I’m thinking about now is a bit more subtle – it’s one of the failure modes of point of view.  Point of view is implicit in a narrative, even if it isn’t directly specified, and sometimes the narrative “sees” things which nobody is observing.  This results in clumsy writing, or in writing which, while not precisely clumsy, nevertheless has an off-center sort of wrongness to it that can have a cumulative effect on the reader’s sense of immersion in the story.

An example:

As Joe looked at the kitchen door, it was angrily thrown open.

There are a couple of things wrong with that sentence, starting with having the active observer relegated to a subordinate clause, and the important action – the throwing-open of the door – occurring as an agentless passive verb. (Who is throwing open the door? The narrative doesn’t let us see them.) Those wrong things, though, are made worse by the point-of-view failure we get in that adverb “angrily.”

Anger is an emotion, a state of mind; somebody is experiencing it as he/she/they throw open the door.  But we don’t see the door-opener, so we’re not in a position to draw inferences about their state of mind.

Fixing that sentence requires either showing us who is on the other side of that door – As Joe looked at the kitchen door, Jane angrily threw it open – or replacing “angrily” with a verb, or verb+adverb, that doesn’t have an implied state-of-mind attached – As Joe looked at the kitchen door, it was abruptly thrown open/jerked open.  (In this case, I’d probably go with the latter fix; that is, if I didn’t decide to rewrite the whole sentence from scratch, and possibly the paragraph it was part of as well.)

In a similar vein – don’t refer to a character as holding onto something with a white-knuckled grip if that character is wearing gloves.  Nobody, including the character, can see the knuckles in question.

As a general rule, when you’re writing description, it’s always good to pause every so often and query yourself:  Where is the (named or just implied) viewer standing?  Is everything you’ve just mentioned visible from that point?  If you’re doing the verbal equivalent of a tracking or panning shot, is your observation moving smoothly from point to point, or is it jumping around at random?*

Point of view may not, as I said at the beginning, be the key to everything.  Nevertheless, if you’ve got a good handle on point of view, you’ve probably got most of your other ducks lined up and quacking in formation as well.

*Yes, there may be occasions when you want a sense of jumpy and random observation.  But there, too, point of view rules:  your reader is going to draw inferences from that jumpiness about your observer’s probably-confused state of mind.

Fifty Shades of Grape

Over at Jim Macdonald’s blog, he takes on a forthcoming movie and a popular, not to say notorious, book:

Madhouse Manor

I see from the posters outside my local cinema (local = forty-five minute drive in good weather, assuming no logging trucks) that the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey is about to hit the screen.

As it happens, a while back I watched the first Fifty Shades movie on DVD, because, among other things, the book had sold a million-bajillion copies and I too want to sell a million-bajillion copies of my books.  I’m told that the movie was a reasonably-faithful line-by-line/scene-by-scene transfer of the book to screen.

The movie contained a number of protracted and deadly-dull sex scenes, which were scored with insipid and deadly-dull background music.  I discovered a way to improve them.  First, turn off the sound on the video.  Substitute either “The Song of the Volga Boatmen” or “The Song of the Horse-Drawn Machine Gun Cart.”  (This also helps with the movie’s various protracted…

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Why the Girl Scouts Remain Awesome

Here’s a post on the official GSUSA blog explaining why Girl Scouts from one council will be marching in the Inaugural parade on Friday (short version:  it’s the DC area council, and they’ve been doing it for the past 100 years), and why other Girl Scouts will be marching in the Women’s March on Saturday, and in other marches across the country (short version: GSUSA is about teaching girls to make their own decisions, not about top-down control.)

Also – it’s Girl Scout Cookie time, and the classic shortbread trefoils are an awesome cookie.  Buy some if you have the chance – here’s a link to the official GSUSA page with info on finding cookie sales near you.

It’s January, Which Means Arisia Is on the Horizon

Doyle’s Arisia Sked

What Lies Beneath: Adding Subtext to Your Story Alcott Fri 8:30 PM

    In real life and in storytelling, what -isn’t- being said is often more gripping than the actual dialogue between your characters. How can you use subtext to develop your characters and boost suspense? What dialogue tricks, body language, and setting communicate there’s a story which isn’t being told? Our panelists will teach you how to make your characters lie, dodge, and evade the thing they don’t want to face, all while foreshadowing the existence of inner demons.

Reading: Doyle, Ronald, Macdonald Hale Sat 10:00 AM

Expecto Patronum: Animal Symbolism in SFF Marina 1 Sat 5:30 PM

Symbolic and magical connections to animals are a standard trope in fantasy. But they are also prevalent in science fiction. From Black Panther to the Mockingjay, characters’ connections to particular animals can say a lot about them, especially in the context of the culture that produced them. What do animals mean in SFF, and how have they changed as we learn more about biodiversity and the changing natural world?

The 100 Year Old Barbed Wire: The Great War & SF Marina 2 Sun 1:00 PM

We are in the midst of the centenary of World War I. The US was not hit badly by it compared to Europe, and in 2017 the centenary of US involvement (6 April 1917) is coming up. How did the war and its aftermath change society and our idea of the future. Could “Brave New World” or “Things to Come” or other early classics of speculative fiction been written without the war’s impact? Why do so many alternate histories use earlier or later events as a changing point rather than this one?

Macdonald’s Arisia Sked:

Reading: Doyle, Ronald, Macdonald     Hale     Writing     Sat 10:00 AM   

Just the Facts: Vaccines     Alcott         Sat 8:30 PM

Why do we need a flu shot every year? Why do more people have to get vaccinated when the vaccine is less effective? What kind of harm _can_ they cause? And why is the U.S. having measles outbreaks again when Pakistan and India are eliminating polio? Come hear the science, the anti-science, and the ongoing discussions of immunology and epidemiology.
       
Pew-Pew-Pew! How to Write a Sci-Fantasy Gunfight     Hale         Sun 1:00 PM

Whether you write steampunk, gritty urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction or futuristic sci-fi, chances are you’ll need to write a gunfight. What kind of firearm (gun, pulse cannon or ray-gun) should your characters use? How should they secure and store their weapon? What are their weapon’s limitations? What materials will provide cover when the enemy fires at them? Don’t let your gunfights be like the Stormtroopers who always miss!!!

Going Viral: How Pathogens Spread     Faneuil     Sun 8:30 PM

Zombies don’t really work, but viruses do. This is a look at fast versus slow pathogens and how they can spread. Maybe it’s time to buy that house in Madagascar?