Monday, 26 November 2012

Google Brian Quigley


Google Brian Quigley.

   I went into a jewelry store on Black Friday. That whole sentence is ludicrous.

  I rarely shop after Thanksgiving (or before it), NEVER brave the elements the day following it, and have no holes in my body screaming for a new diamond. With a medical alert bracelet on one wrist and a cheap watch on the other, I don’t participate in robbery from either side of the counter in jewelry stores. The most expensive piece of decoration I’ve ever worn doesn’t get to five figures, even with the decimal point.

  This year, I broke all of the rules and followed the love of my life into one of them. A half an hour later I walked out without having spent a dime, despite the efforts of the soft sell ex-used car salesmen. My distrust of anyone who wears a suit or really nice dress anywhere except at weddings and funerals continues unabated.

  I did, however, have my first ‘I’m thankful for …’ item for next year’s holiday table. Off to the side, clearly away from the jewels protected by glass, was the most valuable treasure in the store. He was dressed in clothing that might be passed over on a Black Friday in a Goodwill store. Those and the apron he wore over them were ready for the wash. So were his hands. All were tinted with the gray of a jewelry maker.

 I imagine most large jewelry stores have one of these people. Many are probably better hidden than this one was. They are probably seldom noticed and even more rarely approached. He attracted me like a lug nut to magnet. Then again, I gather round kitchen knife and bird whistle salesmen. The experience always proves more valuable than the merchandise.

 The things he made were nothing I’d wear, even in drag. Nor would my lady. They were good enough to place highly in competitions though. Brian Quigley showed me the award that had just arrived by mail that day. He said there were over 3,000 competitors, thirty of whom were invited to the award ceremony where twelve winners received their hardware. He got a second in silver jewelry design. He’s won other awards as well.

 All started in response to my usual ‘where the hell did that come from?’ type of question. This time I wanted to know if there was a lapidary supply shop in town. The suits and dresses knew that their store sent their stones out to be cut somewhere but had no useful info other than a suggestion that I check the internet. I never thought of that.

 Brian knew there wasn’t one and also didn’t mind if I watched him work for a few minutes. I’ve never been silent that long. One thing led to another, and another, and another. I know a lot more about a guy who struggled through high school but has a son who splits atoms. I was reminded about how things of quality are made too.

  Showing me the necklace that won his latest award, he explained how the heavy piece of steampunk jewelry (Google that … no .. really .. Google it) started with the pieces on the ends that connect at the back of the neck. He showed me how each link, about an inch long, followed the contours of the human body in a matter that prevented the centerpiece from ‘popping a wheelie’ on the wearer’s chest. The explanation wasn’t long but it reminded me just how much attention to detail went into making something that worked right.

 Given the right weather, I’ll take the same care in making a bottle of maple syrup for him next year when the sap flows. Given the reminder, I’ll apply it to my books as I write. If those do as well as his jewelry I’ll buy a piece of his work, even though I may never wear it. Right now, to get the rest of the picture, I’m going to Google ‘Brian Quigley’.

 

Monday, 5 November 2012

I'm Goin' Abroad

I'm Goin’ abroad …


For those who may have read some of my earlier blogs, this is not about womens. The squeamish may continue reading. And, to really come clean from the start, I admit to a lie almost as big as the one I’m dealing with here. I ain’t goin’ abroad.


I ran into a discussion that began with the question of whether ‘you’, which I took to mean me, agreed with a Harvard study which concluded that people who travel abroad are more creative, better managers, have better luck starting businesses etc. Not wishing to travel even as far as Boston, I didn’t chase after the study and read it. I’d much rather shoot from the hip at a blurry target with a large load, hoping I might graze part of it and chase it away.


In the interest of saving time for those who are only hanging in here long enough to find out what my answers is before they do something constructive; NO, I don’t agree. There. The rest of you might consider getting a real life. Until you do that, you might want to examine the quality of my load.


My first inclination, and all of those I’ve had since, is to presume this is a poorly constructed study of an atypical population. I rawthah (Harvard thing, you know) presume this is a study designed to make the children think there was a reason to go abroad other than to chase (or be chased by) feriners and probably drink un-American beer. Most of the young have not learned to appreciate the finer rotguts yet, nor has the novelty of unshaven legs and armpits, on womens, worn off.


Having seen through the base purpose of this thing, it’s my pleasure to desiccate the finding, whether real or made up. If I’m wrong, a remote possibility, then the project is worthwhile, we should use government money to send everybody abroad, and we wind up with the greatest country in the world. It might work out even better if properly selected individuals were sent abroad with one-way tickets.


As to the creative thing, of course people who travel the world are more creative. Dummies wouldn’t think of going abroad, or even to St Louis. Those who are smart enough not to need to be creative are staying home too. They’ve pretty much got everything they want right here. The most creative ones of all are the parents who have figured out how to get the kids out of town so they can finally have a peaceful summer.


I’ve traveled abroad quite a bit and there are few who describe me as more creative (of anything good) than before I went, or maybe any kind of creative at all. Yeah, that’s the smart ones again. Point proven without grant money.


As for being better at starting a successful business, let’s face it; it’s not about foreign travel. Those who can afford plane tickets to someplace there is really no good reason to go, also have a little bit more startup money. The pauper ain’t getting on that plane and he ain’t developing the credit line to go spurs a flying into anything much bigger and a lemonade stand or a franchise for Lucy’s 5 cent advice.


I’ll grant that the rare observant traveler might realize that, when he goes home, he can pack slugs in snail shells and sell them to France. Or it might be obvious that he can pack anything, even ball bearings and hamsters, in beer and sell them to Germany. On the other hand it would be clear that anything tasteful, or flavourful, isn’t going to go over real big in England, unless you boil it, including ball bearings and hamsters, for several days.


The last conclusion that I bother to remember is that the time spent in Paris or Bolivia isn't going to create a better manager. Unless were talking soccer coach here, or maybe in the latter case, bribery, this is mainly wishful thinking or bait from a travel agency. Since this is a proper discussion about something from an Ivy League institution, I’ll relent and call it sushi from a travel agency.


Those of us who have any concept of the annual review system know better. That is where a group of peers or bosses get together and decide who the best managers are. You will rarely see a token representative of the managed asked for input. Jealousy and politics play a much bigger role than performance. Because those who have money will more often have the college degree which definitively predicts how successful a manager is, they are most like to rise, like cream, to the top. Those are the same fools who went to Europe or Bangladesh. By the way, when selecting that school, it’s best to remember that Harvard trumps a satellite campus of Southern Appalachia State Community College around the old review session.


Most of what you have just worked your way through is most of what showed up, wanted or unwanted, in my response in the discussion. I’m not sure how it went over since I was either the first or the only participant. Either that or nobody had anything better to add. I may get drunk enough someday to go back and check.

Monday, 11 June 2012

   Two boys, who had just read some of my writing for the first time, were impressed enough to want to ask me questions about it. That’s a pretty good indication of how young they were.

   One of them remarked on my use of metaphors. His eager face did not match his friend’s which had the same confused look as mine did. I was already starting to like the second kid more than the first. He added to the favor by saving me embarrassment by asking “what’s a metaphor?”

   Even though I had no idea what he was talking about I lied like a Mafia lawyer. I re-engineered the conversation by explaining that metaphors were like skunks. They are pretty, but to make anything useful from them is not worth the effort.

  Unimpressed, the first kid charged on asking “Didn’t your English teacher ever tell you about them?”

  Rescuing my new friend, to whom I hoped the question was directed, I allowed as maybe mine probably could have and might have even tried to when I wasn’t paying close enough attention to block the attempt. Anyhow, it didn’t matter. My know-it all English teacher had never written a book. I had a couple under my belt and will likely have a couple more as soon as I can sneak them past the attendants.

   Boy #1 shook his head in disgust, probably at the newly appreciated fact that English class wasn’t all it was pumped up to be. I hated to see him so disappointed so I told him the only thing a writer really had to know was how to tell a good story and what a decent sentence sounded like.

   Boy #2 was smiling again. He figured he had ignored enough English teachers to be well on his way to a good career in writing. I fueled his hope when I told him that things like metaphors and adjectives were just there because they fit. It would be up to the legions of unpublished English teachers in the future to explain anything more detailed than that.

   That’s the way it is with books and teachers, and even some writers. Unable to produce anything original they make careers out of dreaming up stuff the author never even thought about.  They make authors seem smarter and deeper than God made them by being dumber than God hoped teachers were. We, of course, know better, in both cases.

    There are more books about how and why Shakespeare wrote his plays than the old Bard ever wrote in producing his collection of works. Mainly he just stole a lot of common old stories and changed them just enough to fit the times and get a few laughs or tears. Don’t tell that to the experts who have explained all of the inner meanings of them.

   I can comfortably continue pecking away knowing that, maybe someday, my books will be accredited to a brilliant wordsmith who could say ‘this’ by saying ‘that’. The less effort and thought I put in the better I’ll do. Can you imagine how many theories I can kill if I write “The toast was burnt until it was completely black.” Instead of “the hunk of charcoal on my plate was inedible.”? I’m going with the charcoal, and will continue with every vague or broad sentence I can conjure.

   Like it or not, considerably better than ninety percent of what is written, anywhere by anybody, is going to be totally forgotten in a couple hundred years. There just aren’t that many Bibles or “Iliad’s” being written any more. How long do you suppose people will continue to struggle through ‘War and Peace’ or anything Dickens ever wrote?

   The best I can hope for is to, for a short time, catch the interest of some teacher who has run out of real homework and decides to burden her students with the task of explain what Porter Starr Byrd was really saying when he wrote his greatest book. I’ll be interested in finding out myself.

   Boy #2 won’t care and, by not, will be a couple hundred years ahead of his time. Boy #1, with his attitude, won’t matter.
  

Thursday, 31 May 2012

ATACK !!!

  The world has become too complacent for its own good. Surprise. There may be more than one area where this is true, but I can only point at the falling sky in one place at a time. Right now it is your lawn and garden. You are in grave danger from a sneak attack.

   In the past I may have outraged some of the ancestors of the new enemy. Once I even fantasized about a revenge attack from them but I thought it was all impossible until a few days ago. They have come to deliver a nightmare. Probably in violation of the Geneva Convention or some other set of regulations the foe has attacked someone very close to me. I could have tolerated a similar onslaught against me but it is clearly against the rules of feuding to take it outside of the families involved.

   All I can do, aside from intensifying my efforts, is to warn you. Perhaps in doing so I can enlist your aid in trying to wipe out the whole slimy lot of the bad guys, along with fire ants, cockroaches and mice. This is our target.




    If I polled any group of people as to whether these things bite, my result would lean heavily toward laughter at even the thought of the possibility. Guess who is having the last laugh. In fact, they can kill a dog with one bite. They can make humans quite uncomfortable. Given a few hours, they can sneak up on you and wreak havoc.

   These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now … no, wait .. that one was used up back in 1776, but you get the idea. We must join together and face down evil




   Before you enter the fray you must, like me, fortify your home and property against the certain counter-attack. I’m building a six inch high copper wall around the whole place. Inside that will be a six inch deep beer moat. The latter may require my hiring a security guard to control other types of pests but it will be worth it to know my family is safe.

   I warned you about your pets. To be a little more specific, some slugs carry lungworms which may enter your dog’s body though the wound and make him stop wagging his tail … forever. They too must be protected. I wash mine down in salt water every day now. While salt does not necessarily kill slugs they do avoid it. The dog is not much fonder of the new procedure, but he hasn’t bitten anyone I like yet and I’d rather face him down than a slug.  One of those has bitten someone I like. Here is pictorial proof.
 
  
                                  
   How far this war may escalate, I’m not sure. The slug, along with its cousin the snail (which also bites) is a gastropod mollusk. That puts them in cahoots with clams, oysters, mussels and such. Proactively I am going to increase the frequency of appearance of those guys on my dinner table, and not as guests. Escargot is another story. I’ll leave that to the French and the idiots, which may or may not be distinctive groups.

   Aside from moving to the Sahara or Arizona you are going to have a hard time ignoring this one. There are places that do not have slugs and those that do not have snails. Those that have neither have cactus, poisonous snakes or, worse yet, camels. They will soon be full of refugees from this conflagration too.

   For the rest of the story, you’ll have to wait for the end of this conflict. History will be interpreted, as always, by the victors. Whether this one will be written in ink or slime remains to be determined.


Monday, 21 May 2012

Building a Better Mouse Trap


 
    If you have never heard some version of “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” You are … well … young, and aren’t reading this blog either. When is the world going to stop escalating the war against small rodents?

   There are other good questions too. “How do you unload the damned thing?”, “How much of your personal economy are you going to involve in wiping out a source of amusement?” and “What if I fail?” are three that come to mind. I’m not prepared to offer answers to your own problems but I do have a few thoughts or I wouldn’t be sitting here using up my valuable time. I’d be out on another mouse hunt.

   If I put up a likely collection of effective tools on the table, like maybe these:





You would probably just end up breaking furniture and making repairmen wealthy. Of course there is a chance that a mouse or two might laugh himself to death.

    What we need is some thinking outside the box, and I don’t mean one of these:


   It’s time for the good old American ingenuity, the kind of thing that has gotten us through world wars and filled our houses with things we don’t really need. I’ve brought along a good sized bag of that. It was on sale and I had a couple of extra dollars that day.  
First of all, we must understand the enemy


and consider some of the things that have failed to bring him to his knees in the past. Here are some of the collections of weak attempts that haven’t wiped out the rodent population yet.




     

  In my house the average mouse is about four inches long, not counting the tail. I know because I have seen plenty of them. Oddly a lot of them were floating in a bucket of water I left outside the back door, preventing me from trapping them. They don’t all play fair.

   They run, but not very fast. They zig and zag just enough to cause me to have flat feet after years of trying to stomp them out of existence. They don’t really bite or scratch aggressively, unless you pick one up, (still working on better lines in hopes of doing that) and they lack the talents of a skunk or an armadillo in the unusual defense department. The only thing they really have going for them is multiplication. It seems to work.

    Of note, things other than traps have been tried but they have not solved MY mouse problem. I refuse to spend money on an electronic gadget that says right up front that it doesn’t do anything detectable by humans. I suspect they are merely collection of obsolete computer parts that have been soldered together in an impressive manner that don’t really do anything, detectable or not.

    Mom won’t let me play with poisons or explosives. I think they might work, or at least be a lot of fun. I’ll never know. I’m still searching for that guy with the magic flute but secretly believe that, if I find him, his music will sound like acid rock or heavy metal. I’m not looking very hard. Most recently the experts have discovered that mice don’t like mint. I suppose all I have to do is entirely enclose my house in a giant mint flavored garbage bag but I’ll have to work out the entrance and egress problem that might be as difficult as inventing the perfect trap. I suspect within a generation or two they will acquire a taste for mint anyway. 

   Once I do discover the perfect trap, I’m going to sit on it until I need a couple of million bucks, kind of like the automobile companies are sitting on the perfect engine that goes a thousand miles on a drop of water.

   We also know what they subsist on. They will chew up and make a nest out of anything valuable and not stored in a lead box surrounded by a very short electrified barbed wire fence. As for food, the preference is anything that is convertible into tiny black turds.

   Common sense says we should be able to use what we know about them against them. Unfortunately, mice don’t have much common sense and don’t want any. They avoid such traps. Just south of 5000 patents to get the job done are on record.  

Of course there is one open source thing we KNOW works

which is pretty much the benchmark for building a better mouse trap. If you get one though, you will have merely exchanged one small furry pest for a larger one.

In the end, I suspect the only reason we really need a better mouse trap is an ego thing. We are not quite ready to admit that we will probably go extinct before they do



Friday, 11 May 2012

Mothers and Bricks

   There is one of those motivational or inspirational things, maybe both, running around the internet right now. It tells a touching story and is worth forwarding elsewhere but it makes one slight mistake. It asks me to send it on to seven friends, making the assumption that I have seven of those. As happy as I almost was, now I am crushed by the reminder.

    The story is of a man who is driving his expensive car through a neighborhood, carefully but a bit fast.  Suddenly a brick comes flying out of nowhere, putting a decent sized dent in his precious car door. After stopping and getting out he is able to catch the boy who did it (mainly because he is not running).

    Crying, the boy apologizes and tells him that it was the only way he could think of to make someone stop and help with him with his brother who has fallen out of his wheelchair and is too heavy for him to help back into it.

   The story goes on to remind us that God has given us special things and loves us all of the time. It comes back to the start of the parable, reminding us not to go through life so fast that He has to throw a brick at us to get our attention.

    It’s a good story and is worth passing on. Kind of makes me wish I had seven friends. Instead I am reminded that, on at least one day of the year, I do need that slowing down thing. That day is Mother’s day, this coming Sunday as I post this.
   
    The brick only leaves a mark when Mom isn’t there anymore to say “Happy Mother’s Day” to. Of course she’s always there, but she won’t always be there in a way that allows you to hug or kiss her, according to what your family custom is. Sometimes it is just a quiet little thank-you.
   
      Before you get hit in the side of the heart with that brick, make sure you slow down and take a little time to appreciate the gift you have been given. Make it a special day for her. Everybody has his or her own definition of that. Make sure yours includes both a verbal thank-you and some demonstration of one. It’s rare that a few words and some flowers and maybe even a breakfast are going to be enough for you in hindsight. Don’t let yourself regret that ‘last year’ you could have done a bit more and ‘this year’ she is not here. Pay attention to that little parable I led off with.

    The thing about moms is that they are not going to remind you that you could have done better. You’ll do it for them. Any little thing you do on that day is enough. They know that you care. The person that is going to stone you is yourself. A careful but quick trip through the neighborhood is not enough.

    If I sat you down with a sheet of paper and asked you to write a list of the ten best things Mom ever did for you, you would, or should, have a hard time narrowing it down. Now, write a list of the ten best things you have done for her on Mother’s day. List is a little harder to complete for most of you, isn’t it. Work on improving it starting this Sunday.

   If like mine, yours has already passed away, take the same time and effort to do something nice for someone in her memory. Make it worthy of being on that second list. She’s watching. I know she is. I mean I really know she is. She’ll appreciate it as much as anything she ever got from you along with a kiss or the flowers or the breakfast. There will come the day when she tells you that.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Importance of Having Periods


   I could have titled this “The Importance of the Comma”, or “The
Importance of the Apostrophe”, or perhaps even the ‘The
Importance of the Colon”. Usually ‘”The Importance of the Colon” attracts only small audiences and questionable celebration parties. The period gets right to the point and is so … so … so final. Yes, it is once again National Punctuation Month.

  To demonstrate the need for good punctuation, I’ll continue the rest of this blog without using any. I’ll pile up the unused hardware below and you can slip them back into place where they belong if it’ll make it any easier to read. Hell, I’ll even throw in a few extra commas in case you like to over-punctuate.

…………………………,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,’   ' ' “”””()

   When I was younger periods were much more important than anything else Each one put an end to a thought Over the years they became less and less of a concern almost always showing up when they were supposed to sort of ascthetically Im sixty-four years old now and rarely think about them anymore
    I noticed that there were a lot of times when a period wasnt there and a question mark took its place Those would usually cause me to think Since that was not always a situation I wanted to be in I avoided them whenever possible but inevitably they were around
       Commas can really help when used properly For instance The cowboy enjoyed the tryst with his boots on the floor and The cowboy enjoyed the tryst with his boots on the floor can convey very different thoughts Inserted properly the comma can prevent some embarrassment later
       Colons and Semi-colons are a good alternative to commas but require a little wider understanding For that reason many people dont use them very often If you are interested in the colon I am sure there are entire books out there that go much deeper into them than I am going to
    As you progress you may want exclamation points to emphasize feeling or thought While there are some places where they are inappropriate for me it was always rewarding to find the right places to for them
    Slash and back slash not nearly as popular before computers always reminded me of a trek through the jungle Together they are one method for separating the bush and making a clear path for the prize the trophy
    The dollar sign indicates an amount of money to pay for something There are often better alternatives like barter and begging that can eliminate the need for purchasing what you want For instance a good bottle of liquor sometimes even a cheap one or box of chocolates can be traded for something you want The dollar is a last resort
     Asterisks are used when you are not really sure what you want or how to clearly state it up front In my opinion they are a poor substitute and I seldom use oneThere is nothing really wrong with their doing so however and many people enjoy using them
   Though Ive never been to one a punctuation party might be just the thing for group exploration I’m not sure it would become a fad since many people would rather not display their shortcomings in group settings but I think it would be worth a try to host one You might even try a little game of punctuation swapping and see the differences that makes
   Good punctuation is clearly something that most people appreciate and this is the month to do it Really every month is good for that but it is nice to have one set aside like this where it is encouraged Practice practice practice and you will soon find better and better ways to do it Your efforts will make your work much more enjoyable for others

Monday, 30 April 2012

Interview with the New Girl

    I have finally figured out how to write longer blogs; pick a few questions and ask them to a woman. While not just any woman, this New York City raven haired lawyer/author/predator  (actually I am no more sure of the color of her hair than I am of any other waman’s hair) came through as a great interview besides just using lots of words in interesting ways. Cassandra is a fairly new frequent poster on the http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums author site which is a very friendly (when she is not on it) and helpful place to learn about writing, and see how your effort is working out, and maybe even getting published.

The New Girl,  as she prefers to be called, can be studied in further detail there if she is as interesting to you as I think she is going to be.

 Writing seems to be something that tickles your pink and you wound up on the Absolute Write authors forum. Why in the world did you do that?
I keep torturing myself with that same damn question.

Initially, I came to AW because I had an issue or two with the query and opening chapter for my novel manuscript. I thought they were in decent shape overall and so did my betas. But a contentious point or two had them all bickering, and I figured the squirrels in Share Your Work might help. Ha! They all disagreed, too. So I took what I could from the experience, and now I spend all my time in the Comedy Cabaret trying to kill people. It’s very satisfying
.
New York City seems to have drawn you into that cesspool. What was your first day there like?
My first day in New York City as a resident, or ever? I’m going to answer the “ever” question.

My parents took the family on vacation to Massachusettettettetts when I was ten years old, and on the way back, we swung through Manhattan for a couple of days to check out the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and some other tall crap.

It was just tremendous. I can still see Dad’s hands clutching the steering wheel as my brother and I pointed excitedly out the car window: “Look Dad! This bum wants to wash our windshield! Cool – did you see how far that lady flew when the taxi hit her? Hey, what do these guys with the chains and knives want?

What can I say? I fell in love.


Who has been the most interesting person you have met there, outside of in your laundry room?
Some of the most interesting people I’ve met, I didn’t meet in NYC. For example, in law school I met Hillary and Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Sonia Sotomayor, among others. And while traveling in Germany, I met Roger Moore and chatted with him in a tiny restaurant for ten minutes without having any idea I was talking to James Bond. I just thought he looked kind of familiar, maybe from a work event or something. That was pretty funny. I’d just consumed a flight of seven wines, so I was more shaken than stirred by the incident. He seemed amused, too.

Anyway, though -- you asked about New York. Alas, I’m one of those people who’s always bumping into famous people without recognizing them (or having heard of them). But I did recognize one celebrity on sight in NYC. You know the character actor Wallace Shawn? The guy in The Princess Bride who keeps saying “inconceivable?” I think he’s wonderful. Anyway, my friend and I were coming out of a tiny restaurant as he was going in, and we found ourselves nose to nose with him in the doorway. My friend (a guy) blurted out “I love you!” Wallace blushed, smiled, and said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” We shook hands with him and went on our way. And then I teased the crap out of my friend.
You spend a great deal of time on those forums, evidently thinking it is a version of e-harmony. You could not possibly do that and have either a life or job. If you could have one or the other, which would it be and what would you do with it?
Would anyone take a job over a life? I’ll take the life. A long, healthy one, in which I’d travel to every corner of the globe without ever dealing with the TSA, and spend the rest of my time writing.

Of all you have written, what has satisfied you the most and in what way?

Book Worms, again. Even if no publisher takes it on, I know my kid betas loved it, and that makes me happy. A couple of them keep nagging me for the sequel. And two of my kid readers wrote book reports on it for school. I’ve pasted them on the wall above my desk. On bad days, they really lift my spirits.

What piece of advice would you give a new writer?

What is your favorite toy now that you are an adult?


The question I always ask: If you had a time machine that allowed you to bring anyone from any time to the table for lunch with you, who would you fill the other three chairs with and why?
The answer to that question would be different on any given day because there are so many dead people I’d love to meet. (That came out wrong, but never mind.) So I’ll just reach into my head and pull out the three on top today.

Queen Elizabeth I. What an amazing woman. Ladies weren’t supposed to be queens in their own right back then. They were supposed to marry, defer meekly to their husbands, and pop out an urchin every year -- especially royal ladies! And yet she managed to keep the throne for herself, never marry, and she became one of England’s best monarchs. She’d be amazing even if she weren’t a woman. But doing what she did as a woman of her time -- wow.

Copernicus. The whole world insisted the earth was the center of the universe. And he figured out it wasn’t. That took some serious brains and some serious balls.

I feel like I need a writer in here, and I don’t want to pick something freaking obvious like Shakespeare. So I’m going to go with my buddy Rex Stout. He seems like he would’ve been a fun guy. He had several careers before becoming a writer – he didn’t write the first Nero Wolfe mystery until he was in his late 40s! Before that, he was in the Navy, was a sightseeing guide, and devised some kind of banking system that was installed in hundreds of cities around the country. He waged public campaigns against Nazism, McCarthyism, and the use of nuclear bombs. Oh, and apparently he was a great cook, too, so I’d ask him to make our lunch.
Architecture, believe it or not. It has many amazing buildings by fancy-pancy guys like Frank Lloyd Wright. Back in the day, Buffalo was the Queen City, and some of that is still left. It’s got a great art museum too – the Albright Knox. Well worth your time. And a fine old park designed by Frederick Olmstead, who designed Central Park in NYC.

Buffalo’s actually a great place to go out, too. I kid you not. It’s cheap and friendly. People chat with you and buy you rounds. Heck, I know that’s partly because I’m a chick and don’t have a mustache. But even so. I’ve been to many places, and Buffalo is one of the best in that regard. And Buffalo has some great snack food other than chicken wings. Beef on weck sandwiches, for example. Those haven’t swept the nation the way wings have, but they deserve more attention.

Pick one worldwide problem and solve it.
Install long barbed spikes on every side of every car so people who drive and park too close to other cars would regret it.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind a sweater designed on the same principle. It would come in handy for certain social circumstances – bad dates, close talkers, people with halitosis, etc.

Which author has most influenced you or entertained you and how?

Those are two different questions, and I could give you a hundred answers for either of them. Many authors have influenced me, and even more have entertained me. The answer I’d come up with at any given time would depend on what I’m reading that week. I have my Emily Bront—Ď days. I have my J.K. Rowling days. And all kinds of other days, too.

This last couple of months, I’ve been working my way through Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. I didn’t discover them until recently, and now I only have one or two of them left to read. I’m going to be sad when I get to the end of them. So lately, Rex has given me the most entertainment. But try me again in a month or two and you’ll likely get a different answer.
As a fledgling middle-grade writer, I can’t answer that question the way you probably hoped. My Nook Tablet. I got it for Christmas, and I’m surprised how much I love it. I have at least a thousand physical books in my apartment, and I love them, too. But it’s fabulous to be able to order up books instantly online. I used to carry a dozen books with me when I went away for a week. Now I just have to tuck this one thing in my bag. And I can check my email and the AW forum on it, not to mention play all kinds of mindless games. I could even edit my WIP on it, if I were so inclined. Of course, I don’t have much time left for that, what with all those other things.Buffalo, New York, where you are from, is mostly famous for first rate chicken wings and second rate sports teams. What is the world missing that they should be aware of about Buffalo that does not include a great deal of water?
Just one piece of advice? I guess it would be “write every day even if your output sucks azz because that’s how you get better.”
What was your favorite toy as a child?
I had a stuffed purple hippopotamus my mother made for me when I was tiny. I loved the damn thing. Slept with it every night until I was nine or ten. After that it was Lego blocks. I still like playing with those.
My current middle-grade manuscript, Book Worms. It’s the first long work I’ve finished that sings to me. (I wrote a pretentious literary fiction novel, too, but that will stay under my bed until I get a chance to burn it.) I truly enjoyed writing Book Worms (though editing it has been less fun). Have you written anything anyone else would feel that way about?

Thank you for your time, Cassandra. I’m sure only a few of the readers feel like they have lost a few minutes of their lives that they will never get back and the rest have learned just a little bit about the author whose books their middle grade children may be reading soon. Home schooling may have just gotten a boost at the same time.


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Grits


    January 7, 1974 is burned into my memory forever. It was the day I was introduced to grits. While in Daytona Beach attending professional umpire school I made the mistake of ordering breakfast without looking at the menu. “Bacon and two eggs, over easy, a glass of milk and a small orange juice” seemed like an innocent request.

   When my plate arrived, in the place where there should have been some hash browns or fried potatoes, there was a pile of white stuff. Letting my curiosity get to me and asked what it was. I learned two things.

    The waitress looked at me like I had asked what city I was in. With a tone that indicated she knew she was dealing with an imbecile she informed me “Them’s grits.”
I then knew that they were grits, which didn’t tell me near as much as I needed to know. I also realized that ‘Those are grits.’ was grammatically incorrect. My lesson was not over. I tasted them. Then I tasted them again with no better result. A third taste would have been a sign of insanity.

    Several of my friends, almost all in a drawl, have since told me something like “Grits are delicious smothered in butter”. That tells me they like butter. ( and probably buttered wallpaper paste) Others have said similar things about piling other agents on them that are also worthy of eating without being tainted by grits. I’ve never heard of anyone smothering grits on anything to make IT taste better.

   If you’d like a rough idea of what grits are without having to later sterilize your kitchen, fill a cup with rice and then pour that onto a cutting board. After attacking the rice with an axe for about a half hour scrape the result into a pan of water. Boil it for two and a half days, periodically draining it and adding new water. Avoid letting it go dry and salt. Remove it from the pan and add a quarter cup of kindergarten paste and mix well. It is then ready to eat. I’m sure the flavor is similar as well as the appearance.

   Before “them” gets to this point,
 
“them” starts out as field corn.

There are generally two types of corn grown in the US; field corn and sweet corn. The later is produced for human consumption. The former ends up in places like mangers and grits factories.

   Once they are dry enough in the field to harvest they are shipped to the mill where they are stirred around enough to loosen all of the hulls (bran). They are next dropped past a series of fans. These are powerful enough to blow away all of the dirt, weeds, and bran; those things that might contaminate the end product with flavor. The small amount of bran that escapes is later skimmed off during processing.

   The grain that is left is then milled and sifted through a series of screens with the lowest result being grits. Workers, probably dressed in protective clothing, collect the grits and package them to be sold to the unsuspecting and the southern gourmets.

    Special honors, surprisingly from southern states where they should know better, have been given this breakfast abomination. Georgia named grits as its “state prepared food”. I guess hogs feet aren’t considered ‘prepared’. In a proposition by South Carolina comes this excerpt captured from Wikipedia:
Whereas, throughout its history, the South has relished its grits, making them a symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality, and whereas, every community in the State of South Carolina used to be the site of a grits mill and every local economy in the State used to be dependent on its product; and whereas, grits has been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income; and whereas, grits could very well play a vital role in the future of not only this State, but also the world, if as Charleston's The Post and Courier proclaimed in 1952, "An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace."
   If you really want to try them, they are often available in stores in the north as well as in the south. In the south the space where you should be able to find them is usually empty, waiting for a back-order to arrive. In the north they are easily recognizable as the boxes with the thick layer of dust on them. I prefer to shop for them in the south, a place I have not visited for several years. I forgot to pick any up then.
  Should your analyst allow you to try them get another analyst. If you choose to ignore that step, there are directions on the box as to how to prepare them. In good taste, I won’t include instructions here. Be sure before making them to have the number for Poison Control handy or memorize the antidote, chocolate.
   With a little luck, grits will never get to this point in your kitchen or dining room.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Evolulution of Literature


   During the first couple of years or so that man walked the earth there were not very many books. The vocabulary available to the cave man and the size of the reading audience were limiting factors. So was the scarcity of agents and publishers.

   As things improved, a few daring wannabe authors chipped away on stone tablets and produced things that are still readable for the few that can figure out what the hell they say. The result was also not a highly portable library. If you moved you were going to have to pay a heavy fare to get those things loaded into the van.

   The invention of papyrus, which was a lot like paper, made things easier, except for the translation thing again. Squiggles, backward writing, pictographs, not to mention things written in French, are not good literature. It took a long time for writers to smarten up and learn English.

   Early attempts to improve the product included unbound volumes which were apt to change the way the story read every time there was a stiff wind. Some wrote on scrolls but, in a day when the scribe took a long time to produce a simple short story, much of the work was lost after being taken into the bathroom for reading. Sears ran into the same problem during the era of the outhouse.

   Actual bound books made their appearance, still short of volume production, and ran into one of two problems. Either they were protected in private collections, usually churches, where they began to gather dust, or they were ‘circulated’ and gradually destroyed by use. The printing press, which is supposed to have been a great leap forward, merely compounded the problem. It is obvious that paper is not the best media for recording written ideas. Was it better for a book to last several hundred years and never be read or read by thousands and suffer the damage?

   That problem was often solved simply by the quality of the book. Books that were not worth reading seemed to last forever while the good ones were consumed and gone. It was probably not a great solution. A recent modern attempt may have solved the problem.

    A fetid flood of self published e-books has hit the market, very lightly.
Generally an e-book, particularly those priced from free to .99, can be defined as a book not worthy of being published on paper by an impatient author of questionable skill. Having taken several out for test rides, I have found that most are missing at least a couple of edits and a long search for a publisher.

   They are, however, the answer to wasted paper and Publish America. Better yet they won’t be in the way for extended periods of time. Available on line or downloadable, they are on media that will be obsolete and unreadable in less than a decade.

They will litter desk tops and drawers but they will not fill the shelves of a library where they will gather dust while waiting for the rare curious reader. In an age where the contents of the Library of Congress will fit easily in the palm of your hand today’s e-books won’t even amount to significant landfill. The only danger I see is the escape of coherent strings of electrons into the universe where they will be discovered in some far corner of space. They will waste the time of intergalactic archeologists who make the effort to learn how to read them. They will also defame the cultural achievement of Earthlings.

    Unfortunately books worth reading are likely to follow the same path. An easily portable library will be available on Kindle and similar tools.  Hardware will replace hard copies of good literature. The latter will be harder and harder to find as old fogies like me, who want to feel that book in hand, die off. It becomes easier to picture a world with no libraries except those full of books that will never be read.

    Will scholars opt to search the mildew saturated books on traditional shelves in libraries rather than to sit down with a beer and a bowl of chips in front of some electronic work station which also offers porn laden study break options? I think not.

   Someday we may again reach the level of the cave man`s literature.