Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Waldo Canyon Fire

       When I last tweeted yesterday, our big fire here in the urban/wildland interface of Colorado Springs seemed to be getting under control. I always sit down about 5:00, have an early supper, and watch the news on TV (I have never become addicted to the internet as a news source).  When I did that, I was astounded to learn that during a news briefing at 4:00 (which I forgot to watch), a spokesman had interrupted the exchange to say that the Mountain Shadows/Peregrine neighborhoods were under a mandatory evacuation order!  Apparently about 1:00 they had issued a pre-evacuation order, which means, get your stuff together and be ready to go.  Then suddenly the wind shifted ...
       Here's what happened according to our local KRDO Channel 13 weatherman (who is one of the best meteorologists I've ever seen anywhere -- his name is Matt Meister).  There was a small thunderstorm northwest of Colorado Springs and it caused an outflow boundary -- rain-cooled air that moves outward from a thunderstorm and can attain high wind speeds.  This outflow reached speeds of 65 mph.  The fire had already gotten into Queen's Canyon.  The home of Colorado Springs' founder, now used as a conference center, is in the lower reaches of that canyon, so the firefighters were working hard to keep the fire from moving down that way.  This new wind pushed the fire up the east slope of the canyon (I've learned that fires tend to move faster uphill and slower downhill) and when it reached the top of the ridge, it burst right over it and moved as a firestorm downhill on the other side -- right into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.
       The fascinating thing was, Channel 13 had sent a reporter and a photojournalist into that area to observe and help out in evacuation, so they were there filming the approach of the fire from close proximity.  It was very dramatic!  The anchors kept saying, "Get out whenever you feel threatened -- we wouldn't have sent you up there if we had known how fast this thing was going to balloon."  Finally, with ash falling all around them, the team left, only to get stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic of evacuees.  The sky at that point was glowing hellish red -- red smoke hiding everything -- mountains totally invisible.  Here's a small clip (it doesn't show the most dramatic parts where you could just see the fires boiling down the slopes):
       In that clip you can see a stable across the road.  There were two horses there, and somebody let them out of the stalls.  Then two men came running in to the house and a sheriff's car stopped nearby, but if anybody knows whether the horses were saved, I haven't heard yet.
       Here are a couple of other YouTube clips made by the public that show the apocalyptic vision of this fire. (this one has some sappy background music but it's still a pretty effective view) (taken from the Air Force Academy; you can see how strong the wind is)    
       It's now about 8:30 AM amd I just heard the morning briefing. The fire has ballooned overnight from 6200 acres to over 15,000 acres! 32,000 people total have been evacuated -- 26,000 just yesterday afternoon and evening.  Up to yesterday, no structures had burned; now scores have burned (they don't know how many yet), but fortunately nobody, not even firefighters, have been injured or killed.   Today a weak cold front is supposed to go through (reducing the temperature from yesterday's all-time record of 101 degrees down to 96!  Some cold front!)  It may also produce more thunderstorms.  Stay tuned as to what that might cause in the way of wind shifts.
       The crux of this fire is that over the years Colorado Springs has expanded heavily into that wildland interface.  These subdivisions are right against the flanks of the Rampart Range, which runs north-south from Colorado Springs up toward Denver.  Everybody wants to live in forested, rugged land, with the wildlife around -- peaceful and beautiful -- and they build expensive houses and gated communities.  Personally, I wouldn't live in that kind of environment!  Give me a nice, civilized, established city neighborhood with streets laid out in the classic grid pattern so you aren't limited to two or three arterial access roads as is the case with these areas that are burning.  I live in the central city, east but not way east.  I think I'm safe.  The fires would have to move south, jump the interstate and Monument Creek, and just roar on through.  Nevertheless, I'm a little nervous.  I haven't really gotten any possessions together, but I'm sure going to keep my flash drive back-up updated.  The contents of my computer is the only thing I would really mind losing!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I'm Having a Birthday Today

I hadn't planned this post, but today's piece on Limebirds (Say What?), on favorite quotes by writers on writing made me think of this poem by Robert Graves.  It has nothing directly to do with writing, but it has a good deal to say about birthdays, especially if you're getting older. I used to have it printed up in large type and hung above my computer, until I ran out of space on my bulletin board.  (Source: Collected Poems, 1975. New York,Oxford University Press, 1988 [c1975] p. 196)

          The Twin of Sleep

Death is the twin of Sleep, they say:
For I shall rise renewed,
Free from the cramps of yesterday,
Clear-eyed and supple-thewed.

But though this bland analogy
Helps other folk to face
Decrepitude, senility,
Madness, disease, disgrace,

I do not like Death’s greedy looks:
Give me his twin instead –
Sleep never auctions off my books,
My boots, my shirts, my bed.


Monday, June 18, 2012

"Game of Thrones"; Some Remarks

       I don't get HBO, so awhile back I bought the first season of "Game of Thrones" on DVD.  Yesterday evening I watched the final episode.  I haven't read the books, but I'm sure they would be the sort of thing I like -- certainly, the TV series was.   It could be called high fantasy or heroic fantasy, but with a particular slant -- set in an imaginary world that is treated realistically.  I consider that LotR, with all its magic, fits in that category.  "Game of Thrones" tends more toward the realistic side -- there is some magic or paranormal elements -- walking dead (zombies, in effect), dragons (terrific!), the use of black spells (with disastrous consequences), the worship of those wonderful ancient trees with the weeping eyes -- but the impact is definitely one of realism and consistency.
       What makes this series so effective is the quality of the acting and the writing.  It's superbly cast.  Of course, my favorite characters are, first, Eddard Stark.  Sean Bean plays him with such restraint -- a single look conveys the most complex emotions. Second, there is Tyrion Lannister.  Who can not be fascinated with Tyrion?  I wrote a post not long ago about the character types found in epic and heroic literature, and one of those is the trickster.  Tyrion is the trickster in "Game of Thrones" -- another example to add to my list!  He's the physically powerless but cannily intelligent character who survives and prevails by his wits, and he's played terrifically by Peter Dinklage.  My third favorite character is Daenerys, the person who has to grow the most.  Finally, there's Arya -- who could not love the plucky daughter of  Ned Stark who is a bit of a trickster character herself?
       The impact of the final two episodes is what made me decide to write about my impressions.  I'm not going to play the spoiler in case there is anybody out there who hasn't seen the first season, but I was  totally shocked by what happened at the end of Episode 9.  I've followed a lot of TV SF/F series and I'm accustomed to the convention that you can't kill off a major character unless you want the series to go down the tubes.  Of course, here they're not presenting a typical series but adapting a group of novels with a plot structure of their own.  And then the conclusion of Episode 10 is absolutely remarkable!  Daenerys rises like Aphrodite rising from the sea in Botticelli's painting, only with a fantasy twist that can't help but make you be in a hurry to get the second season.  And the thing she rises from is not the sea.
       Many of these DVD episodes are accompanied by commentary from actors, producers, or writers.  Some of these are not very  effective.  When you get several people doing a voice-over with the orginal sound track playing in the background, it all becomes a muddle, especially when the commenters talk fast in high-pitched voices and giggle a lot.  On one of these commentaries, I couldn't understand a word that was being said, so I gave up about a quarter of the way through.  The best one is the episode entitled "The Pointy End."  The script was written by George R.R. Martin himself, the author of the books, and he did the commentary.  You could understand every word he said -- no problem with losing the thread there!
       I was warned when I bought these DVDs that the nudity and violence were ubiquitous, and that's true.  I certainly wouldn't recommend "Game of Thrones" for children.  Some of the nudity is justified, I think -- for example, the view of Daenerys descending into the scalding hot bath near the beginning, and also her final appearance.  But I found some other nude scenes and explicit sex to have no purpose -- they could have been easily omitted or shortened.  As for the violence, I'm a fan of NCIS and I've kind of gotten inured to a lot of gory stuff.  However, there was one scene in "Game of Thrones" that really got to me and it wasn't gory.  Again, I won't play spoiler -- I'll just say that it involved molten gold.
       I can't end this without saying a word about David Peterson's Dothraki language, since I'm a member of the Language Creation Society, of which he is president.  It adds hugely to the realism of the series.  It really makes you feel that the Dothraki are a race apart from the peoples of the land of Westeros. (And a final word on Khal Drogo -- it took me a little while to realize that the character was being played by Jason Momoa, whom I remember well from "Stargate: Atlantis."  I was happy to encounter him again.)
       So there's my take on "Game of Thrones."  I won't speak for other old ladies, but this one can't wait for the DVD of Season 2!  She really wants to see Joffrey Baratheon get his comeuppance!

Friday, June 15, 2012

What Genre Do I Write, and Whom Do I Write For?

       A couple of things lately have set me thinking about these questions.  First, I joined WANAtribe (a new social network for writers, artists, and other creative people).  Naturally, I signed up for the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Steampunk tribe, and also for Science Fiction Romance and for Women's Fiction (since I've been trying to nudge female readers into trying my ""Termite Queen").  One of the discussion groups in the SF/F group was "What genre do you write?"  And I found my material doesn't fit cleanly anywhere.
       Here's what I wrote:  "I write a mixed genre, but some have called what I write literary science fiction, because that's my style. It's future history, laid in the 30th century following a melt-down and resurgence of civilization. My novel "The Termite Queen" has a significant love story, so I've joined the SFR tribe. And it has a first contact with an extraterrestrial intelligent lifeform evolved from termites. It's an off-world adventure and a psychological investigation. And it makes use of conlangs -- constructed languages. So how would you define what I write? And oh, yes, I'm getting ready to publish a retelling of Greek myth as it would take place among my termite people!"
       Now that may be confusing, but that's OK, because each writer needs to find her or his own voice.  "Termite Queen" has to be called science fiction because it has all the trappings of the genre -- laid in a futuristic setting, with interstellar travel, established relationships with intelligent extraterrestrial species, first contacts, off-world adventure -- the works.  But all that merely provides a milieu for a story with a universal impact, with psychological development and literary and mythic elements.  The love story that provides the framework for the plot could have taken place in any time and among any intelligent species that shares human characteristics.  The closest of any of my books to traditional SF is the novella "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," and even that is more a psychological adventure than an action tale. ("Monster" is a good place to begin if you want to try my books, by the way.)   And then of course there is "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head," which shares an off-world setting with parts of TQ but can't be classified as anything but fantasy, since the action takes place entirely in an imaginary world and the cast of characters consists amost entirely of members of an alien intelligent species.
       So that brings up a question put to me by a friend the other day:  For whom do I write?  Who are my readers?  Who do I expect will be attracted to my books?
       I told this friend that fundamentally I wrote "Termite Queen" for myself.  I personally love the book, although I have no trouble acknowledging that it's too long.  So I guess I wrote it for other people who think like I do, who like the same kinds of things that I like, and whose educational background induced a love of poetry, symbolism, mythic implications, and psychological conflicts.  I'm convinced I'm not the only person out there who likes that sort of thing.  I may never acquire a huge following for TQ because it doesn't target a popular fanbase; I will never write about zombies, vampires, or werewolves -- that's just not my thing -- and I will never write steampunk.   I'm not denigrating those genres; I don't think any book should be belittled for being part of a particular genre.  It's the quality of the plot concept, the characters, and the writing that makes a book appealing and successful, not the framework in which it is couched.
       And I should perhaps add -- "The Termite Queen" is not a retelling of any myth or any other work of literature.   The series "Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" is just that -- it retells some wonderful ancient Earth Tales in the setting of the termite culture.  But all that is still to come ...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Curmudgeonly Addendum to Previous Post

       I wrote a note to Smashwords speaking of my problem and here's what I got back:
"Thanks for your email. I see that your titles were recently reviewed. The reviewer has provided a message as to what modification is needed.  Please visit your Dashboard and click on the details link under the Premium status column."  And then they suggested I look at the Style Guide, the FAQ's, etc.
       All that does is send me back to where I was in the beginning.  I know all those things -- what I want to know is why the reviewer made the decisions he or she did.  But there is no answer, so I give up.  I'm defeated.  Volume Two of "Termite Queen" will appear on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc., but not Volume One. 
       I'm seriously considering not bothering to pub "Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" on Smashwords.  I like to have it available for those other e-readers, but formatting it takes a long time and these books will present a whole new set of problems.  I think worrying around with Kindle will be quite enough.


Uh, oh -- it's a few minutes later and I just looked at the Smashwords Dashboard and now both volumes say, needs modification.  What I said above still applies.  I'd rather that neither volume appears in the other online stores rather than have only v.2.  So that's the way it will stay.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ah, Sweet Mysteries of Smashwords!

       Smashwords continues to baffle me!  I had to try three times to please them in my attempts to publish v.1 of "Termite Queen" and I was sure I had it completely figured out!  You have to simplify things to an absolutely childish degree.  And I did that, and I did it on v.2, and the Meatgrinder took everything without a hiccup.  The books were published and I settled down to await their review for inclusion in the Premium Catalog. 
       So imagine my annoyance when a week or so ago, I get the message for v.1 as follows: "Needs modification.  Problems were found in review."  And what do they say is wrong now?  "Only two chapters in the second part appear in the NCX; please refer to Step 20 of the Style Guide to resolve this issue."
       "NCX" stands for "Navigation Control File for XML."   Apparently some of the EPUB readers like Kobo and Apple require a linked Table of Contents that appears in the left margin of the reader.  The Smashwords Style Guide, Step 20, tells you about this,  but it doesn't really explain how to achieve the result, in spite of what Smashwords says.  Here's what it says: "If you name your chapters starting with the word “Chapter,” Meatgrinder will automatically detect the word and build NCX navigation links into your EPUB file."  Fine!  My chapter titles consist of nothing but the word "Chapter" plus a number.  However, I do have sections that are named. 

       The Style Guide goes on to say: "Your second option is to create a linked Table of Contents (Step 20b below). This is actually my favorite option, because it gives you greater control over the NCX entries. If you create a linked Table of Contents, then Meatgrinder will use the linked ToC to automatically guide its generation of your NCX."  It adds a little farther along: "If you build your own linked ToC in your book, Meatgrinder will detect it and use it instead of its autogenerated ToC. This provides you increased control over the contents of the NCX and the internal ToC."
       It then gives you detailed instructions (which are very useful in more than this context) for building an internal, linked ToC.  So I did that, even though I don't have chapter titles.  I decided that, since my books are so long and e-readers are so difficult to navigate in, a linked ToC would be useful for the reader.
       So I figured that meant I had the NCX problem licked.  That's why I was so annoyed.  I see absolutely no way to fix the problem, so I just threw in the towel.  If people want to buy my books on Smashwords, they can just go to the Smashwords site.  And the NCX is non-essential for the reader, since they have a linked ToC in the text.
       Now, I knew that the same problem existed with v.2 -- in that case, none of the chapters of Part 4 printed in the NCX.  It skipped directly from the section title, "Part Four: Earth: Absolution," to "Epilogue."
       So imagine my bewilderment when a couple of days ago, Smashwords approved v.2 for the Premium Catalog!  It has exactly the same problem as v.1!  I am completely flummoxed!  It's stupid to have v.2 available in the exterior catalogs when v.1 isn't!  I should write to Smashwords, but it's so complicated!  I think maybe I'll write to them and tell them to read this post!  It explains the problem a lot better than I could explain it in an email!


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Should Women Be Attracted to "Termite Queen"?

       I was asked if I had a post detailing why I think my science fiction novel "The Termite Queen" should appeal particularly to women, so I thought maybe I should address that.  I have a close friend who has been the first to read all my writing, and after reading "Termite Queen," she remarked, "This is women's fiction."  I could see her point.  It's a story with a strong female protagonist who falls in love with a man with a dark psychological secret.  It's a compelling and poignant love story that could easily have been told in an entirely different context.  Set it at the beginning of the 21st century, cut out the off-world adventure and the strange alien characters, fabricate a different catalyst to initiate the plot and take it to its denouement, and you would have the same story.  It then might easily fit into the category of literary fiction for women.
       But it does have those other things and that makes it special.  It has giant intelligent termites, and that's why I spend a lot of time stressing the appeal to women.  I don't want females to be put off by the idea of yucky, giant bugs.  These are not your cliched monsters who ate Minneapolis.  They are not there to provide an agent for the Apocalype.  These are real "people" with real people's subtleties and problems. 
      And I should also make the point that I can understand that some males might be attracted by the space travel, the off-world adventure, the concept of giant aliens, etc., only to be disappointed when they find out that so much of the book is given over to the love story and to the psychological subtleties of the characters.  In particular, I think my book is not suited to the young, macho male crowd (age 15-30) who seek out  stories with furious space chases, car crashes, superheroes, and hot chicks.  I couldn't object if such guys bought my book, but I doubt very much they would like it.
       However, I have had certain men buy the book who became totally fascinated with it.  They were older men, well educated, with literary or scientific inclinations.   I think that's the key.  I've been told the book is literary science fiction, and I like that designation.  The chapter epigraphs, mostly poetry, set the tone.  This book is for educated readers, no matter what sex or age.
      I even know of a smart thirteen-year-old girl who gobbled up Volume One over a period of 24 hours!  So my advice would be -- buy the book, no matter what your demographic, and give it a try!