A Bit of Amusement

(God knows, we need it.)

If you were raised in (or have ever lived for an extended time in) the South, this is hilarious:

“Tennessee Williams with Air Conditioning”

(I read an article somewhere once† that attributed the rise of the modern South to the invention of air conditioning, which made it possible for people in that region to actually work from 9 to 5 in the summertime without turning into puddles of economically unproductive sweat. The writer of the article, as I recall, seemed to vaguely resent this.)


generic all purpose citation, bookworms, for the use of

Vermont RenFaire

Reblogged from Jim Macdonald’s blog.

Madhouse Manor

So … I spent the weekend doing magic at the Vermont RenFaire in Stowe.

I had a good time, despite rain, sun, wind, and … rain.  I met some wonderful people, some great performers, and had some good munchies.

I’m definitely planning to find out if the Vermont Steampunk Expo needs a magician.

For me, the absolute high point was meeting a young man named Ben who had recently (recently, as of June 2nd of this year) created a tea company.  Not just any tea, pHtea, iced tea in a variety of flavors that is pH balanced between 7.35 and 7.45 to match the pH of a human body so it doesn’t knock your acid/base balance out of whack.  It’s sweetened with Vermont honey (rather than refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup), and is totally great.  Ben was pouring samples for everyone who walked by, and everyone was…

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Peeve of a Summer’s Day

The air is thick with humidity and allergens, and I am peevish.

Listen to me, O People, when I say unto you, the phrase is not “mother load”, it is “mother lode.”

The term comes from mining, specifically gold and silver mining, where it refers to a principle vein or group of veins of ore.  The Mother Lode, in the United States, is an area of hard-rock gold deposits in California’s Sierra Nevada, running through a zone 120 miles long and in some places almost 4 miles wide.  (It was, unsurprisingly, discovered during the California Gold Rush.)

A mother lode of something, then, is an abundant source or principle supply of that thing.  The “mother” part comes from the use of “mother” to refer to a source or origin:  “Mother of pearl” refers to the substance known as nacre, with which a mollusk encases the bit of irritant which forms the center of a pearl; “mother of vinegar” is the naturally-occurring bacterial culture which, when added to wine or other substances, causes them to ferment into vinegar; and “mother” or “mother dough” is a term sometimes used in baking to refer to a naturally-cultivated yeast starter.

And the “lode” part?  That’s from the Old English lād, meaning “a way” or “a course” – usually a watercourse of some sort.  So a lode is a way or course that ore runs through, like water runs in a stream.

The Play’s the Thing…

…wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

Shakespeare in the Park is doing Julius Caesar this summer, not Hamlet, but the reference is an apt one nonetheless.

Somebody’s conscience (or self-love, or something) has definitely been caught by this year’s modern-dress, Trump-inflected production of Julius Caesar, and they’ve unleashed the flying monkeys roused far-right protesters to disrupt the performance.

Shakespeare himself would have no doubt at all about what’s going on here.  The twin questions of what makes a good ruler, and what can or should be done when the realm is suffering under a bad or unjust ruler, run like a streak of red through all his plays, from early ones like Richard III to later ones like Hamlet and The Tempest.  He never comes up with any definitive answers – he was a playwright, not a political philosopher – but he certainly gives the matter a thorough inspection from all sides.

Make no mistake, what he was doing was Serious Business.  The Elizabethan censors didn’t worry about bawdry†; they worried about sedition.  Fretting too obviously about, for example, whether or not it could ever be a good and necessary thing to overthrow a reigning monarch could definitely be regarded as seditious if there wasn’t a convincing enough veil of “this all happened a long time ago, or in foreign parts, or both” thrown over things.

Art mattered.  Shakespeare knew it.  The lords and the groundlings at the Globe Theatre knew it.  The Elizabethan censors knew it.

Furthermore, art still matters.  The people who put on Shakespeare in the Park know it.  The audience knows it.  And the alt-right protesters and those who egg them on sure as hell know it, or this production wouldn’t worry them so.


The general rule for reading Shakespeare, as articulated by Elizabeth Bear: “If it looks like a dick joke, it’s a dick joke. If it doesn’t look like a dick joke – it’s probably a dick joke.”

It’s Dr. Doyle’s Question and Answer Time!

Q. Are you really a Doctor?

A. Yes.

I got my Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, back in the Dark Ages 1981. My primary field was Old English, and my cognate field was Old Icelandic, which makes me the sort of person who once stayed up until 2 in the morning reading a book on historical linguistics for fun. Old Icelandic is a great language – we get “to egg (somebody) on” from there, as well as “ransack”, plus a wonderful verb that we don’t have in English but sometimes I wish we did, ydda (“to show the point [of something] on the other side [of something]”; as, for instance, a sword and someone else’s back.)†

Q. What on earth are you doing here, then?  Shouldn’t you be off in an ivory tower someplace, instead of writing fiction and editing other people’s novels for pay?

A. Hah.  Don’t I wish.

I finished my degree at about the same time as Academia started devouring its own young.  The need to hire lots of new-minted scholars every year to teach the glut of baby-boomers and draft-avoiders was coming to its end, and colleges were starting to use spreadsheets and do the math and figure out that they could hire adjunct faculty (aka “temps with doctorates”) and avoid the extra cost of insurance and other perks, and tenure-track positions got scarcer and scarcer.  (Also, colleges realized that you could dangle the prospect of tenure in front of a new hire, and they’d run after it like a greyhound after a mechanical rabbit for five or six years of high toil and low pay, and then you could turn them down for tenure and start the whole process up again with the next victim.)

So I became one of the science fiction and fantasy field’s renegade medievalists, instead.

Q.  Well, that explains the writing, I guess.  What about the editing?

Money, at least in part.  Writing can pay well, but it always pays irregularly, and almost all the writers I know do a lot of other different things to fill in the gaps.

As for why this, in particular:  Teaching (and marking up essays) was something I learned how to do as a grad student and teaching fellow at Penn, and while at the time I thought I didn’t like doing it very much, I eventually figured out that what I actually didn’t like was working on stuff written by people who didn’t want to be writing it.  (I’ve graded freshman essays, and I’ve read slush – unsolicited manuscripts, for those not conversant with the lingo of the trade – and I’m here to tell you that as bad as slush can get, at least it’s all written by people who are willingly putting words onto paper or pixels onto screen.)

Working with people who are actually interested in improving what they’re doing is, on the other hand, fun.

Q. Do you only work with established writers and self-publishers?

A.  Heavens, no.  I’m just as happy to work with writers who are at an earlier stage of their development.  As I say on my “about” page, I can’t promise that their  work will publishable when we’re finished, but I can promise that it will be better than when we started.

Back when I was laboring the the fields of freshman composition, under whatever name it was being called at the time – Introduction to Rhetoric, Expository Writing, or plain old English 101 – I often found that while working with the one or two natural A-level students in the class was easy and refreshing, at the end of the semester I got more satisfaction from having helped a high-B+ student move on up into the A range, or from helping someone who started out as a C- lift themselves up to a good solid B.


†I’ll freely admit that I picked Old Icelandic for my cognate field because I liked all the bloodshed and violence in the great sagas. But my geekhood is safe – my other big interest was subordinate clauses in Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Summertime, and the Living Is Sneezy….

We’re now well into the time of hot, oppressive days and high pollen counts.  The cats, instead of sitting like little furry meatloafs with tails and paws neatly tucked in, are stretched out into longcats, and can be reliably used to find the spots with the best cooling cross-drafts.

Which are no good to the rest of us, because the cats own them.

Summer is not the most enjoyable time for doing work, but work nevertheless must be done (this is where I point, in a discreet parenthesis, to the “Editorial and Critique Services” link up at the top of the page), so I’ll leave you with a handful of links to amuse or interest you during the days when you’re not on vacation at the beach, or in a mountaintop cabin, or in a hermetically sealed and thoroughly air-conditioned hotel room, if such is your pleasure:

First, a clip of Jim Macdonald, my co-author, in his other role as a magician (complete with top hat!)

Next, a good (and funny) explanation of the context rules for the use of bad language, and a report on the discovery of the earliest known use of the f-word in written English.

And finally, a video demonstrating how to put on a set of late 14th-century armor.

Stay cool, and enjoy.

Magic Contest

Madhouse Manor

Magic Contest

Granite State Magicians is hosting a New England Magic Contest!

Nefarious deeds at a magic show The Conjuror by Bosch.

The date/time/place: Sunday the 16th of July from 1:00-4:00 pm at Diamond’s Magic, 515 Lowell St, Peabody, MA 01960.

Categories of magic are: Parlor/Platform, Close-up, and Mentalism & Mystery Performing.

Prizes:

  • 1st prize; $200 gift certificate to Diamond’s Magic.
  • 2nd prize; $100 gift certificate to Diamond’s Magic.
  • 3rd prize; $50 gift certificate to Diamond’s Magic.

Contest is limited to ten magicians. Contestants must live in, go to school in, or be a member of a magic group located in, one of the six New England states. Acts are limited to ten minutes.

Contest entry fee is $10. To enter, or for more information, write to: Kathy Caulfield <kecaulfield@innovairre.com>, Treasurer, Granite State Magicians, 126 Perham Corner Road, Lyndeborough, NH 03082.

The judges:

Sandy Rhoades has been doing magic since he was 13 and he’s…

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More Sound Advice From a Bygone Day

Way back in 1890, the Scottish poet, novelist, and literary critic Andrew Lang (best known in later years for his fairy-tale collections) gave a lecture at the South Kensington Museum, in aid of the College for Working Men and Women.  The title of the lecture was “How to Fail in Literature”, and it purported to be advice for those members of the audience who desired to fail at becoming successful writers.

It was, in fact, an extended list of things not to do for any audience members who desired to succeed at the same endeavor, and its advice and observations still hold true today.

For example:

Advice on how to secure the reverse of success should not be given to young authors alone.  Their kinsfolk and friends, also, can do much for their aid.  A lady who feels a taste for writing is very seldom allowed to have a quiet room, a quiet study.  If she retreats to her chill and fireless bed chamber, even there she may be chevied by her brothers, sisters, and mother.  It is noticed that cousins, and aunts, especially aunts, are of high service in this regard.  They never give an intelligent woman an hour to herself.

“Is Miss Mary in?”

“Yes, ma’am, but she is very busy.”

“Oh, she won’t mind me, I don’t mean to stay long.”

Then in rushes the aunt.

“Over your books again: my dear!  You really should not overwork yourself.  Writing something”; here the aunt clutches the manuscript, and looks at it vaguely.

“Well, I dare say it’s very clever, but I don’t care for this kind of thing myself.  Where’s your mother?  Is Jane better?  Now, do tell me, do you get much for writing all that?  Do you send it to the printers, or where?  How interesting, and that reminds me, you that are a novelist, have you heard how shamefully Miss Baxter was treated by Captain Smith?  No, well you might make something out of it.”

Here follows the anecdote, at prodigious length, and perfectly incoherent.

“Now, write that, and I shall always say I was partly the author.  You really should give me a commission, you know.  Well, good bye, tell your mother I called.  Why, there she is, I declare.  Oh, Susan, just come and hear the delightful plot for a novel that I have been giving Mary.”

And then there is this advice, on publishers’ contracts:

 

Here is “another way,” as the cookery books have it.  In your gratitude to your first publisher, covenant with him to let him have all the cheap editions of all your novels for the next five years, at his own terms.  If, in spite of the advice I have given you, you somehow manage to succeed, to become wildly popular, you will still have reserved to yourself, by this ingenious clause, a chance of ineffable pecuniary failure.  A plan generally approved of is to sell your entire copyright in your book for a very small sum.  You want the ready money, and perhaps you are not very hopeful.  But, when your book is in all men’s hands, when you are daily reviled by the small fry of paragraphers, when the publisher is clearing a thousand a year by it, while you only got a hundred down, then you will thank me, and will acknowledge that, in spite of apparent success, you are a failure after all.

Ouch.  I tell you, and I tell you true, that bit of advice remains as sound and necessary today as it was in 1890.  (Just about every writer has at least one bad contract in their publishing history, and the reason is usually, as Lang said, “You want the ready money.”)

There’s a lot more where that came from, and it’s available for free on Project Gutenberg.  (Amazon will also sell you a copy, if you prefer – but Andrew Lang has been dead for over a century, so it’s not like he needs the royalties.)