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.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Interview with a Chihuahua

Interview is an art, both for the er and the ee. So is writing. If neither has mastered either, strange things can happen. On the strange scale this one is somewhere above ‘see’ level.

For me it is right in the middle of Maple syrup season. With sap so prominent in my mind I had no trouble picking the target for my first blog interview. It seemed like a quick simple way to stay on schedule for pounding these things out and keeping my blog record clean of open spaces. Why do I not feel clean now? Do you think this answer to my simple question should make me do so? (By the way Steve provides a link in his answer that should not be skipped over)

Q: You skinned a cat at some point in your life. How do you really feel about cats: either your neighbors’ or your own?


I wrote about that one time, and since I hate to repeat myself, I'll just link to it here. Plus, the link has cat Haiku. If you don't want to bother clicking, that's your prerogative, but then, of course, you may miss something life changing. Your choice.
See, he successfully sidestepped the question and left all of the work to you.
After a response like that you MUST want to know who is being interviewed. I called him Steve but the truth is that he’s rather be known as Haggis and he wants you to think he is a mangy looking Chihuahua. He has other problems too. I’ll stick with Haggis in interest of protecting him. Why, I can’t answer. Old Haggis, having earned the adjective honestly, is a horror writer who is waiting to become as famous as one of his heroes, Mark Twain. It’s going to be a long wait, I’m afraid. He is, however worth getting to know. For depth I can’t provide in a short blog, I suggest you find him here http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums, particularly the Cabaret in the Humor section.

His problem … to wit ..

Q: Are you right handed or left handed and why?

I write with my right front paw, type with both front paws, and raise either hind leg to pee. I guess that would make the back half of me ambidextrous. Why? Because I'm a terrestrial quadruped, that's why.

Every once in a while he slips up and shows his human side …

Q: We know you can write because I said so.. Can you sing or dance?

My daughter once said I had a good “campfire voice.” What that means, I think, is that if I go camping, far, far away from her, like maybe in a different country, then it's okay for me to start singing. Otherwise, no.

.. and then stays in that role too long with things like these responses..

Q: If you were sitting down for what you knew was your last meal, what you have the warden provided for you and why?

Outside of the normal steamed lobster with drawn butter, roasted free range turkey with sage stuffing and rack of lamb with mint jelly, I'd ask for one of them cakes with a file or hacksaw baked inside.

Q: What was your first car?

A black, 1957 Cadillac Fleetwood. Looked just like a funeral director's car and *cough* had a very comfortable back seat.

Q: What happened to it?

I killed it by bouncing it off too many other cars and buildings and by providing it poor maintenance.

 
Q: Would the first girl you ever dated speak to you now and if she would, what would she say to you?

None of the girls I dated would speak to me now. In fact most of them wouldn't speak to me while we were dating.

Q: Assuming you have some, which of your friends would you like most to outlive, and why?

Oh, I have no friends, but there's a certain First Sergeant I'd like to outlive. He told me once, “Haggis I know you hate standing in line. That's why I never have to worry about you pissing on my grave.” I'd like to prove him wrong.

Q: Since you are a writer, because I said so, what single piece of advice would you give to a new writer?

I'm not qualified to give advice, but Mark Twain is. He said “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English - it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

Q: Who is your favorite writer and why in the world would you have chosen him or her?

Porter, it's impossible to name just one. Besides, I haven't chosen them; they've chosen me by writing stuff I like. I'll toss out some names--Michener, Joe R. Lansdale, Steinbeck, Twain, Poe, Jack Ketchum, Robert McCammon, Edmund Morris, David McCullough, Joseph Heller, Vonnegut, Garrison Keillor and way too many more. I have a new favorite now too. His name is Thomas Lynch. He's a poet and essayist. He's also a funeral director in a town within an hour's drive of where I live. (ED. One wonders if his ’57 Fleetwood was a used car) Pick up a book of his essays and one of his poetry. Knowing you, I guarantee you'll love his work.

Q: You can, by the grace of time travel, invite three people to lunch with you. Who would they be and why?

I love this kind of question because every time I answer it anew, I come up with three different people. Let's see who'll crop up this time.

I'll start with Winston Churchill, who's always been a hero of mine. What a great mind he had. And the way he inspired his nation and ours as well through his oratory makes Reagan and Obama pale in comparison. I think I want Richard Nixon there too. (ED .. no wonder he goes by an alias) Another brilliant mind but clouded by darkness. I have but one question for Nixon: “How could you have been so stupid?” Finally, I want Julia Child at the table. She's always been a delight to listen to. And I'd love to get the real story on what she did for the OSS during WWII. Besides, with Julia there, we're guaranteed a fantastic lunch. Waiting in the wings, in case one of my dead people gets sick is Margaret Meade. Meade was studying things in the 1920s that men were afraid to deal with. Her early works on sexuality among South Pacific Islanders ultimately paved the way for the sexual revolution of the 60s.

Q: Was W. C. Fields right in preferring Philadelphia over death? (explain)

You are referring, of course, to the alleged epitaph of Fields--”All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.” The truth is that that is not Field's epitaph at all. He never would have allowed it, because being from Philadelphia himself, Field's was acutely aware that being dead and being in Philadelphia was essentially the same thing.


Thanks for the talk, Porter. Now where's that two by four you promised me?

A 2x4 is a mixed drink. Two parts maple syrup, four parts Chivas Regal. He pretends to be heavyweight enough to drink a couple of them.

And thank you Steve .. er .. Haggis for your clear thinking.