Friday, November 30, 2012

Why Writing Is Like Jackstraws

        The idea for this post came from a piece  by Vanessa Chapman on the excellent Limebirds website, where she suggests overcoming writers' block by throwing in something off the top of your head, like having a spaceship land on the door step or making the building across the street explode, or even  killing off your protagonist; and then see if that will spark your creative process and get you going again.
       Sigh.  That's improvisation -- a dirty word in my writing vocabulary.  It simply doesn't work for me.  Once I had landed that spaceship or exploded that building, it would accrete itself into the plot, never to be gotten rid of.  The story would turn into science fiction about alien abductions or into a story about terrorism, and my protagonist could never, ever be resurrected -- because now THIS IS THE WAY THINGS HAPPENED!   
       That's why I say, writing is like jackstraws.  Do children ever play that game these days?  I used to love it when I was six years old.  You throw down the straws and then you try to pick out individual straws without making any other straws move.  It's almost impossible at times.
       It's the same with writing.  If you improvise something and drop it into the mix of straws, it affects the whole structure.  Suddenly you have to add something early on to prepare the way for this addition, and later in the text there will undoubtedly be references to what you added.  Then, if you try to get rid of the addition (or in fact if you decide to change anything in the plot, whether added or original), everything will shift position, like the heap of jackstraws.  Plucking out or changing one thing means changing a dozen other things, which makes it necessary to re-read the whole mess of words you've written, or to find some way to search the text for keywords (and then you're never sure you've found everything.  Some allusion is always rearing its ugly head, perhaps inconveniently in the final edit before you publish).  And when you rewrite those passages, the re-writes always feel awkward and stilted and never feel as if they belong organically to the story.
       Some of you may have noticed I've been posting the opening chapters of my unfinished "opus" (anything that ponderous deserves that appellation!) entitled The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars (this link will show you all the chapters so far, in reverse order).  The jackstraw conundrum is a part of why I doubt it will ever be finished.  Let me describe the story.  It's laid in the 28th century -- a fictionalized biography of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin, the man who commanded the first interstellar mission (which went to Epsilon Eridani).  The ship crash-lands on a moon of one of Epsilon Eri's planets and the crew was about to succumb when another ship appeared.  It's an exploratory ship from the planet Krisí’i’aid, which is inhabited by three intelligent species, all avians.  They rescue our Captain and his crew and help them get back to Earth, where the appearance of these Big Birds obviously creates a sensation and a crisis.  That's the central kernel of the plot.
       However, since the story is a biography of Robbie Nikalishin, it has to encompass his whole life and a whole lot of stuff happens during a person's life.  It's a big mistake to write that sort of all inclusive story, especially if you're as long-winded as I am.  The story ballooned all out of proportion and became a series.  It took -- well, I'm chagrined to admit it, but I will make my "mia gulpas" as Prf. A'a'ma once said, and confess: the first document alone, which I call v.1 & 2 and which takes the Captain only from birth to his 38th year, when he's about to launch on the Big Mission -- that document consists of 780,000 words.  And we haven't even reached that central kernel of the story -- the meeting with the Krisí’i’aidá.
       I actually think those first two volumes are pretty good and could stand alone, but they can't be published unless they can be pruned.  And I haven't even tried yet.  I thought I would see how people react to the opening chapters first.
       But that's not the worst of it.  I wrote a section to bridge the gap between the end of v.2 and the launching of the Big Mission.  And I didn't have a clue what needed to happen in that time, so I (shudder!) improvised.  (I wrote 580,000 words of pure transition -- how disgusting is that?)  Several subplots developed.  I had to add new characters because the Captain was interviewing and selecting his crew, who would all play a large part in the core of the story.  These characters then assumed a life of their own, with backgrounds, conflicts, etc. 
       In the midst of all this, I decided I wanted to account for what had become of Judaism in my future history, so I introduced a Jewish character, who would become the ship's communications officer.  Actually, I introduced him in the opening volumes, but he wasn't developed there.  I decided that he needed to get married so I could show what a Jewish wedding has become at that time.  That meant I needed to work up a female character for him to marry, who also blossomed into something greater.  And then I had to learn about Jewish weddings. 
       And that precipitated me into a three or four month study of Judaism, including studying some basics of the Hebrew language.  Double-sigh!  I became totally immersed in the subject and fell in love with the Jewish religion (don't worry, I'm not converting, although I can definitely see many strong points in the Jewish faith and culture).  So I ended up writing a whole section where the Captain and his crew go to the Istrian Judish Enclave (in the future there can be small territories set aside where religions can be practiced openly), attend Avi's wedding, meet a couple of wonderfully complex characters who are Rabbis, and learn the tragic story of one of them.
       What does all that have to do with interstellar travel and making first contact with the alien Birds?  Nothing!  But if I were to throw out that entire transitional third part, a lot of the events that happen during the voyage and a lot of the ship's crew won't have a backstory and the pile of jackstraws will be fatally disarranged!
       When I finally got around to writing about the voyage, it went pretty well, but I made one fatal mistake.  Again, I wanted to show as I did in The Termite Queen what making a first contact would actually be like.  I wanted to show in detail how one side would have to learn the other side's language.  This time it would be a vocal language, but one that the human throat can't enunciate, so it's the Birds who have to be taught an alien language, in this case, English.  It was defintely an experimental undertaking and it was a disastrous failure.  I happen to love grammar and so watching crewmembers teach avian extraterrestrials about English word order and verb tenses and pronoun cases and articles was fascinating to me.  However,  it would without a doubt be terminally boring to almost everybody else in the universe.  And I also had no real plot for what happens after the Birds reach Earth, so the improvisation began again.  I had to introduce some new characters and again they threatened to take over the story.
       And I still had the rest of the Captain's life to delineate.  It had certain high points that I knew I wanted to hit but there was no connective tissue.  I also know exactly how he's going to die -- I've written that scene in my head a million times and made notes.  But a vast desert stretches out over the last 30 or so years of his life.
       About the point where the Birds were settling in on Earth, I threw in the towel. I was  spending all my time playing computer solitaire instead of writing because I was so sick of the whole blob, even as I fumed about how I wasn't getting any younger.  So one day I quit.  I went back to The Termite Queen, revised it one more time, and started trying to get it published.
       But I still haven't completely given up on my Captain.  I do think I may be able to work v.1 and v.2 into something publishable.  I have hopes of condensing them considerably.  And I'm thinking of turning the Jewish section into a novella.  It's a wonderful chunk of text and I hate to lose the characters of those two Rabbis and I hate to lose the philosophical discussions that take place in that part.  So we'll see.  Will the whole edifice of the story collapse when I start pulling straws out? Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Ch.3

       Here is another installment of my unfinished novel, "The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars," a fictionalized biography of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin, the starship Captain who made the first contact with extraterrestrials in the 28th century (some 2.5 centuries before the time of "The Termite Queen"). I already posted the Prologue to that book, as well as Chapter 1, and Chapter 2.  In keeping with my method of alternate flash-backs and flash-forwards, Chapter 3 begins right after Chapter 1.  We see the disgraced 35-year-old Captain confronting his Assignment Officer, who has a surprise in store.


Chapter 3: The Captain Receives an Unexpected Assignment
(21 July 2766, Old Heathero Flight Port)
 Capt. Nikalishin sat cooling his heels in the office of Maj. Nat Hew Nwinn.  He was always made to cool his heels when he paid a visit to his Assignment Officer.  If the appointment was for 1100h, it would be 1200h before the Major would admit him.  For the first half dozen times this had happened, Robbie had submitted meekly.  Then finally his old rebellious streak had gasped back to life and he had dared to show up an hour late, explaining how that later time seemed to fit the Major’s schedule better than the one appointed.  Of course, this did not sit well with Nwinn and Robbie had been forced to endure a tedious cautionary lecture, causing the session drag on longer than ever.  So he had capitulated and resigned himself to using the extra hour to catch up on some reading.
       It hadn’t taken Robbie long to realize that being assigned to Maj. Nwinn was an element of the unorthodox punishment the Board of Command had devised for him.  The man had a natural aptitude for being simultaneously intimidating and obnoxious, a bit like the Commodore whose nose Robbie had broken, only with a little more substance.  That could not have been a coincidence – it was more likely meant to be a test, which Robbie was determined to pass.  After all, the alternative to his present situation would have been a dishonorable discharge and a years-long prison term, and undoubtedly much more.  As it was, the Board had neither grounded him nor taken away the rank that was so precious to him (even though for the moment he was a Captain in name only) and his sentence would end in another nine months.
       Of course, not all of the Board members were friends of Robbin Nikalishin.  Some thought his moral fiber was too threadbare for him to be worth bothering with and others had genuine reservations about trusting a formerly drunken Captain with serious responsibilities – and he was pretty sure one woman held a grudge against him because he had never given her the time of day back in his callow youth.  And then of course there was the Base Commander, with whom he had a long and uncomfortable history …
       But there were others who had continued to believe in him even when he gave them no reason to do so – who had contrived to get him assigned to the hostel where his old friend Wilda Murchy managed the dining room – who would continue to support him even if he did seem doomed to commit little acts of defiance like that one about coming an hour late for his appointment with Maj. Nwinn.  Robbie had never been capable of tolerating the pretentiousness of rank, and he was discovering no amount of good intentions could root that attitude out of his soul.
       On that long-past day when he had received the Presidential Service Award, he had stood at attention as Pres. Wallery had hooked the medal to his tunic and then, instead of shaking her hand as protocol dictated, he had grasped her shoulders, remarked, “I voted for you, darlin’!” and given her a kiss.  The spectators had loved it, and the President had laughed and blushed like an adolescent instead of reacting like the distinguished septuagenarian that she was.  She hadn’t taken the least offense at his familiarity, but the memory of the scandalized expressions on the faces of those pompous asses eyeing them from the podium could still make Robbie chuckle ...
       Robbie realized that he was sitting there fingering his medals with a fatuous half-smile on his face.  He had decided to wear his medals whenever he reported for orders because he felt he had earned them (except the Crimson Ivy, Earth’s highest citation, which he believed he had done nothing to deserve).  He saw that the young Petty Officer behind the desk (the Major’s Adjunct, a euphemism for Com Clerk) was regarding him surreptitiously.
       The Captain’s grin broadened.  “Major’s busy today, what?”
       “Yes, sir.  Always, sir.”
       Robbie allowed himself to croak skeptically.  The Adjunct looked uncomfortable.  Obviously, the young man knew the Major wasn’t busy at all and didn’t really like having to play this game.  He didn’t seem a bad sort of fellow – just stuck in an undesirable posting.
       Then the intercom squealed and Nwinn’s voice said, “I’ll see the Captain now."
       Relieved, the Adjunct gestured Robbie through the door.
Inside the office, Nikalishin snapped a smart salute.  In Flight Command only a Commodore or an Admiral outranked a Captain, but here in the wallow of Ground Command many ranks took precedence over Captain.  Unfortunately Major was one of them.
       Nwinn sat behind his desk, staring fixedly at a jumbled reader sheaf as if he were terribly preoccupied.  His face wore its normal expression of annoyed petulance; his brows grew downward between the epicanthic folds of his beady eyes and his mouth seemed to be perpetually sucking on a lemon.
       “At ease, Capt. Nikalishkin … ”
       Now, this happened every time Robbie reported for orders.  The first time he had stood in that office, the Major had scrutinized the bio sheet as if he had no idea who this man was who had been thrust upon him, and he had said, “That’s a peculiar name you bear.  Some kind of eastern Uropian origin, I suppose.”  Disdain saturated his voice.
       “It’s Rus, sir,” responded Robbie, thinking that this South Asien bantam rooster had very little right to find fault with other peoples’ strange names and origins.      
       “Huh.  You talk like a proper Brit.  Born in Russa, were you?”
       “No, sir, I was born in Arentina Section.”
       This apparent non sequitur really threw the Major, and he hastily dropped the topic.  “Well, whatever.  I think you know why you’re here, Nikalishkin … ”
       "Nikalishin, sir.  It’s Nikalishin.”
       “That’s what I said.  So, now, Nikalishkin … ”
       And thus it went every time Robbie reported to his Assignment Officer, and so it went in the noon heat of 21 July 2766.  The Major said, “At ease, Capt. Nikalishkin … ”
       … and Robbie said, “Nikalishin, sir.  It’s Nikalishin.”
       … but this time Nwinn didn’t say, “Well, whatever.”  Instead, he said, “Have a seat, Captain.”
       Now, this was a surprise.  Never once had Robbie been asked to sit in the Major’s presence; Nwinn would simply spit out the orders, hand over an info key, perhaps give the Captain a punctilious discourse on the proper way to salute or the correct length for an officer’s trousers, and dismiss him without further ado.
       “Sit down!  I said, sit down!  Have you finally drunk yourself deaf, Nikalishkin?”
       “Oh, I don’t think so.”  Deliberately omitting the “sir,” Robbie sat down.
       “We’ve got some problems in the Mars Fleet … mmm – let’s see here … ”      
       Robbie’s mental mouth fell open.  Mars Fleet?  Why would the man be mentioning the Mars Fleet?  Robbie was no longer a part of that command – he was currently assigned to the Lunar Wing.
       “Capt. Zimmli is in hospital recovering from a hysterectomy … Capt. Kastens has post-concussion syndrome – hit his head playing darts … ”
       Nwinn ignored Robbie’s skeptical interruption and droned on, “A couple of other officers are on leave, since we’re way out of the Cluster and there aren’t many flights on the rotation.  All told, four Union-Class Captains are incapacitated or otherwise off the duty roster and we’re one short in stand-by.  The upshot is, I’ve been ordered to ask if you think you could handle a transshipment run to Mars.”
       Robbie was stunned.  “Me?  A Mars run?  But … ”
       “There will be passengers in addition to cargo.  They’re putting them all together now with these bigger ST-90’s.  They’re a bit slower, though, I’ve heard.”
“Uh-h-h … an … ST-90?”
       “Can you handle it or not?” snapped Maj. Nwinn.  “I haven’t got all day.”
        “God almighty …  Are you sure there’s not some mistake?”
       “I don’t make mistakes, Mister.”
       “Oh, of course you don’t – sorry, sir.  And … yes – yes, I think I – I know I can handle it.  What’s the … how soon is the TOD?"
       “Day after tomorrow.  The ship is the Red Planet – its cargo is being loaded up on Luna even as we speak.  Report to Shuttle Pad 8 at 0600h.  Here’s the info key with everything you need to know.”
       Robbie reached to take it, flabbergasted.  They had said that, if everything went well, he might be able to “undertake something more significant” at some point late in his punishment, but he had never expected anything so soon, or so major.  “Sir, may I ask if your recommendation had anything to do with this unexpected opportunity?”
       “Hell, no.  I just pass the orders along.  To speak bluntly, I would never recommend an officer who drinks during his watch for so much as walking the Base Commander’s dog.  But the people upstairs are comfortable with the record you’ve accrued since you began serving your sentence, and we’re short on Command Officers, as I told you, if you were listening.  Now, that’ll be all, Nikalishkin.  Dismissed.”
       Sufficiently knocked down a notch, Robbie stood up, saluted, and departed without another word.
*          *          *
Late that afternoon Wilda had finished her shift and was making a final check of the dining room when she saw Robbin Nikalishin eating alone at a small side table.
       “Well, this is an odd time for you to be here!  Nothing much worth anything left on the counter, I’m afraid.”
       “Yeah, the cabbage is a bit gray, but Amelia made me a tomato-cheese melt to go with it and I snagged the last banana out of the bin.  I missed lunch completely, so I thought I’d better catch a bite before …  Wilda, I’m having a hard time believing it, but they’ve cut me some significant orders.”
       “They have!”  She plunked down in the chair opposite him.  “What is it?”
       “A Mars transshipment.  Darlin’, they’re actually going to allow me to take the Bridge of a Mars vessel.”
       ”Gaw, Robbie, is that right?  How did that happen?”
       “I have no idea.  Wilda, I never expected anything besides Lunar shuttles until at least eight or nine months into this sentence, and then I never expected it would be a Mars mission.”
       “Well, I think it’s a wonderful sign, Robbie!”
       “It will be a long voyage, because it’s off-Cluster – it’ll use up a hundred days of my penalty time.  What can the Board be up to?”
       “Well, maybe nothing!  After all, you’ve been good as gold, Captain.”
       “Well, maybe not that good … ”  Robbie chuckled nervously.  “Anyway, I’m not about to argue with ’em.  Minie’s been wanting to visit her sister, so I’m going to ring her up at work and tell her today would be a good time for her to go.  I suppose she’ll be insulted that I don’t want to spend my last two nights with her, but this is important and I need to try to get some decent sleep.  I spent the afternoon studying schematics and specs and I’ll be up late with the manifests.  Then tomorrow I’ll be running simulations all day.”
       “Why do you have to do all that?  You can’t have forgotten that much in three months.”
       “Well, it’s been closer to eight, unless you count the three days I was in space before I punched out Wellspoon.  They may have amended the flight protocols; besides, it doesn’t take long to get rusty.  And the Red Planet is an ST-90 – I’ve never flown that class of ship.  I wonder … ”  Robbie sat frowning, pushing the limp banana peel into a little curl on his plate.  “Surely they aren’t hoping I’ll mess up again.  What if the climate on the Board of Command has gone sour and they’re deliberately trying to put me in a situation I can’t handle?”
       “And put people’s lives in danger?  Do you think Adm. Soemady would allow that?  Or Adm. Lekoa?  She would have to sign off on this, wouldn’t she?”
       “Yeah, you’re right.  But some people over there hate me, you know that.”
       “Nobody could hate you that much, Robbie!  Personally speaking, I don’t see how anybody could hate you at all.”
       Robbie chuckled again, reaching to squeeze her arm.  “I wish you could take the place of one of those bitchy old women on the Board, Wilda.”
       “I wish I could, too!  Wouldn’t that be a hoot? – if they appointed a civilian Food Service Manager to the Board of Command!”
       “Anyway, this is undoubtedly a test – I can’t see it in any other light.  But if they’re expecting me to fail, I’m afraid they’re going to be disappointed.”
       “That’s the spirit, love!  Show those beefeaters over there in HQ what my Capt. Robbie is really made of!”
Coming next:
Chapter 4: Schooldays at Epping Academy

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday Nostalgia: A Recipe for Bishop's Cake

       A recipe is the last thing you'd expect to find on one of my blogs, but something got me to thinking about eatables I used to make (I never cook or bake these days), and I remembered Bishop's Cake, and I thought, gee, if I'm never going to make it again, I ought to share this on my blog so other people could enjoy it this holiday season and in the future.
       It isn't a recipe that comes from my grandmother or  farther back in family history.  In fact, I got it from somebody I worked with in the 1960's.  But then that's ancient history for a lot of the people reading this!  It's a fruit cake, but don't let that name put you off!  It's not the type of fruitcake that you would ever take to the Manitou Springs Fruitcake Toss after Christmas and chuck down the field with a catapult!  It's scrumptious!  It has none of the coarse, sour, bitter stuff like candied citrus peel or citron or even candied pineapple.  And I don't know why it's called Bishop's Cake -- that's just the name my friend gave it.  It's definitely fit for a bishop, or a king!
Bishop's Cake
Mix together:
3 eggs, well beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup candied cherries (as I recall, I left them whole.  You could use red and green mixed for extra  color)
1 cup chopped dates (add gradually for even mixing.  I used the pre-chopped, sugared date bits because I'm lazy.  They are a little drier than the whole dates.)
Combine and sift over this mixture:
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix well.  Add a small amount of water if the batter is too dry to hold togther.
Line a loaf pan (I forget the dimensions -- 4x8? 5x9? -- just the regular size) with wax paper and spoon the batter into it.  I always decorated it with a row of walnut halves down the middle and rows of cherry halves on each side.)
Bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.  Cool in pan, then lift out with the waxed paper and peel it off the bottom.  The cake is compact, so you don't have to worry about having it fall apart.
Ooh, it's delicious -- my mouth is watering!  I mean, what could go wrong with the combination of chocolate chips, cherries, nuts, and dates?
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!  And happy holiday eating!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Wonderful Team Member Readership Award!

       Not long ago, my blog received its third award -- the Wonderful Team Member Readership Award -- from Tara Adams at Faith in Ambiguity.  She called her post "The Ironic Nomination" because, she wrote, "A wonderful team member is perhaps not the best descriptor for me that anyone has ever chosen."  I agree with that where I'm concerned as well!  I've always been more of a loner or a one-on-one person than a team player!  But I certainly appreciate the nomination, so here goes the response!

Rules and questions (all of which are made to be broken as you like):
1. The Nominee of the Wonderful Team Member Readership Award will display the logo on his/her post/page and/or sidebar.  Here it is!
2. Over a period of 7 days (1 week), the Nominee shall nominate a number of readers that he or she appreciates – this can be done at any rate during the week. It can be all on one day or a few on one day and a few on another day, as most convenient to the Nominee.

3. The Nominee shall name his or her Wonderful Team Member Readership Award nominees on a post or on posts during the 7 day (1 week) period.

 I'm only going to nominate one blogger right now.  I've followed several new ones but haven't gotten familiar enough with them overall to be ready to recommend them.  My nominee is
Jenn Pearson at Wine-n-Chat
Now here is that set of pesky questions you're always required to answer:

1) Why do you blog?
       This one is easy.  I blog for the purpose of promoting my self-published books and also my ideas.  But in doing so, I've become acquainted with a lot of fascinating people, some of whom have turned into good cyberfriends, and I'm sure I have many more friends to make out there.  Now, if only more of them would buy my books and review them!  :-))
2) If you were trapped on a desert island, what book, DVD, food, cartoon character, and childhood game would you bring?
       Well, the books might be Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion Tetralogy, but I would also want a set of my own writings, egotistical as that sounds, because I love reading my own books. Isn't that silly? (An old-fashioned set of printed encyclopedias and an unabridged dictionary wouldn't hurt, either, since I'm assuming there is no electricity on the island and hence ... no internet!  Horrors!)
       As for the DVD, the same quibble applies.  No electricity, no DVD player, no TV.  Same for the cartoon character (unless you had a printed version, in which case I would say Pogo, Peanuts, or Cul-de-Sac [alas, no longer with us]).  As for childhood games, I suppose I liked Monopoly, but it takes more than one person to play that.  I'd have to revert to making up stories and telling them to myself.
       And food?  On a desert island, the best thing you could have would be lots of canned goods and a can opener -- tuna, salmon, canned ham, beans, canned macaroni concoctions, veggies, etc. -- and probably lots of crackers if you could keep the bugs out of them.  Fruit you could probably find on the island, so you maybe you can avoid scurvy.  Oh, yes, a few cases of MREs probably wouldn't hurt, and bottled water and some soda.
       Now, I realize that these answers don't address the real purpose of the question, which would be to find out my favorite things.  So I've proved the question should be reworded!
3) Share a funny joke or one-liner.
       Oh, good, I just read one on another blog (in fact, I put it on my Facebook timeline):  I just got a new dog.  I got him from a blacksmith and as soon as I got him home, he made a bolt for the door.  Thanks to Vanessa Chapman!

4) What is your favorite thing about yourself?
       Gee, that's a tough one.  I might say -- I was resourceful enough to provide for a sufficient retirement income. 

5) What one word best describes you?
       My mother always called me "intense."  I would say at the moment, "driven," because even if I live as long as my mother did, I would have only another 15 years, and I have an awful lot of books in my head still to be written.      

6) If you could have a lifetime supply of any candy/candy bar, what would it be?
       Cadbury Easter eggs.  Delicious globes with thick, rich milk chocolate shells.  You bite into them and make a hole and suck out that wonderful, luscious, creamy filling, always seeking the golden splash that represents the yolk.  And then at last you're treated to the smooth feel of the chocolate as you bite down on it and it dissolves unctuously on your tongue!  Heavenly! 
       But on a less ethereal note, Snickers aren't too shabby!

7) What fictional character do you relate to most?
       Again, my own Kaitrin Oliva.  She isn't me, but she's what I would have liked to be -- an strong-willed, adventurous scholar who doesn't mind taking risks or getting out in the field and getting dirty.  I always wished I could have been an archaeologist, but I'm just too addicted to indoor plumbing, I hated field trips, and I am anything but a risk-taker.

8) If you were to write the story of your life, what would you call it?
       How about "There's Never Enough Time"?

Again, thanks to Tara, and I hope you found this post amusing!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ye Olde Grammarian (No. 2)

I'm honored to have been asked to do a guest post today on Felicia Wetzig's blog The Peasants Revolt.  I mounted a slightly lengthened version of my post on the elements of the epic form from my other blog The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head.  Go check it out!
       When I wrote my first Olde Grammarian post in August, I intended  to make it a series, so here comes the second installment -- better late than never!  And it's nice to write something neutral after all those intense Mythmaker posts (although I'm not finished with that subject either).
       Today I'm going to talk about a set of extremely common errors that really bugged my grammar-loving mother.  Because I learned my grammar from her, they bug me, too!  These are errors that you hear constantly in conversations, on TV, etc., and also read in print.  If you're sensitive to them, they drive you crazy!
       The topic is the proper use of pronoun cases.  I honestly think English must be changing, because these days nobody seems able to distinguish the difference between nominative and objective cases of pronouns.  I wonder if they even touch on this subject in school anymore.
       The nominative cases of pronouns are (singular):  I, you, he, she, it; (plural): we, you, they.  The objective cases are (singular): me, you, him, her, it; (and plural): us, you, them.
      Obviously, the problem lies with first and third person (2nd person "you" is the same everywhere -- isn't that convenient?  "It" also doesn't change.)  "Nominative" means that the word is used as the subject of a verb.  "Objective" means that the word is used as the object of something -- a verb or a preposition or as an indirect object.
       So you say, "I gave him the books."  Nobody ever makes a mistake with this and says, "Me gave he the books."  Also, you would say, "He gave the books to them."  Nobody would ever say, "Him gave the books to they."  So far so good.
       Where the problem mysteriously arises is in the use of compound subjects and objects.  Tell me which is right:  "I gave the books to her and him."  "I gave the books to she and he." "I gave the books to she and him." [Answer: the first one is correct.]
       Another example -- which is right?  "She and I went to the dance with he and she."  "Me and she went to the dance with she and him."  "She and I went to the dance with him and her."  "She and I went to the dance with he and her." [Answer: the third one is correct.]
      How do you like "Them and us went to the dance together"?  Or "Me and him went to the dance together"? 
       Nobody would ever say, "He gave the books to I" or "Him went to the dance."  Native English speakers just wouldn't do that.  It wouldn't sound right.  So why does a compound make a speaker think the opposite case should be used?  Why does it sound better to say "He gave the books to her and I"?  It's a big mystery!
       (Parenthetically, my mother's theory was that people who have only a vague idea of the rules are trying to sound more learned than they are, and somehow "I" and"he" strike them as more elegant than"me" and "him.")
       My mother used to have a fit every time she would hear on TV something like "Me and the coach really get along."  It should be "The coach and I really get along." (That's another problem -- technically, the pronoun "I" should be placed last in a compound, but that's more a matter of courtesy than of grammatical rule.)  And who would say: "Me really get along with the coach."  Nobody is that illiterate!  So why turn it into objective case when a compound is involved?
       As I said, this usage is becoming so ubiquitous that I suspect English may be losing the distinction between objective and nominative.  English has lost most of its case structure over the centuries, so why not this?  English remains an inflexional language, i.e. it uses particles -- prefixes and suffixes -- that are attached to basic words to express differences in meanings, and it also varies the roots of words for the same purpose.  But English has been tending toward heavier use of word order to express types of meaning.  Thus, in all of the sentences above, the meaning is perfectly clear no matter how you mangle the case use, because the word order -- the placement of words in relation to one another -- is what determines the meaning.  For example, pronouns that follow a preposition are automatically perceived as being the object of that preposition.
       However, the rules of case have not been abandoned yet and if you want to be seen as an educated speaker and writer of English, you'll be careful to use these pronouns according to those established rules.  In speaking, discipline yourself to be aware of what you're saying.  In writing, stop and think: Are the pronouns  in this compound phrase being used as subject or as object?  Taking a little care and thought makes all the difference!
       My mother would have thanked you and her and him and me for it!   She would not have thanked you and she and he and I! 

Friday, November 9, 2012

An Anniversary Special & Giveaway! "Monster" Is One Year Old!

My novella "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" was published on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11 -- easy to remember!)  So Sunday is its first anniversary and in celebration I'm mounting a special on Kindle and on Smashwords.  Starting Friday (November 9) and running through next Friday (November 16), the price will be reduced to 99 cents!  I'd love to give you a lower price on the paperback with its pretty new cover, but that can't be done.  However, for people who still prefer print (and I know there are many of you), the price is only $5.49.  

If you would like to have a free Smashwords copy
of "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder,"
send me a Twitter Direct Message at any time
 on Sunday (the anniversary) or Monday
(since Sunday is Veterans' Day)
Tell me "Yes, I'd like a free copy of Monster"!
If you're one of the first ten messages I receive,
I'll send you a return message with a coupon for a
I tweet @TermiteWriter

Here is a description of the book:
In this dark and edgy first-contact story, a team of anthropologists discovers a species of truly bizarre intelligent lifeforms called the Kal. The team consists of the leader, an experienced, highly respected female Professor of Xenoanthropology and Linguistics; a young female biomedical specialist; and a still younger male, an expert in alien artifacts. Each team member reacts in a different way to the Kal, building toward a disturbing climax and a conclusion with an unsettling twist of perspective.

Friday, November 2, 2012

I've Been Nominated for The Next Best Thing Award!

Felicia Wetzig, Queen of the Paranormal, nominated me for The Next Best Thing Award.  Thanks, Fel!  The rules say I must nominate five other websites and answer the questions below.  This award has no badge that I know of.

Here are the nominees.  The last one isn't the usual type of nominee, because it's a group blog for fantasy writers and so the questions can't be answered. However, I think it's a good resource and is well worth being followed.  I just found it myself when it (they?) chose to follow me on Twitter.

Misha Gericke
Lisa Kramer
Helene Bludman
Lisa D. B. Taylor,

And now to answer the questions:

What is the title of your Work in Progress?
I'm torn -- shall I use my real WIP ("The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars") which may never be flogged into any publishable shape, or shall I use the second volume of the "Labors of  Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" series, which is all written except for some last minute revisions as I format it for print publication?   I think I'll use the "Labors" volume, since it'srelated to my already-published works.  Its title is "The Storm-Wing."

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I've written at length about that in the post Characters and Elements Found in Myth and Folklore on my other blog.  It talks about how myth can be retold within another context.  This "Storm-Wing" volume bases the title character on the Stymphalian birds combined with the concept of the Furies. The plots come from a couple of the Labors of the "real" Hercules, as well as two medieval epics, which shall be nameless here.

What genre does your book fall under?
It's a hybrid of science fiction and fantasy.  Epic fantasy, extraterrestrial adventure, aliens, whatever. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Well, unless we actually travel to 2 Giotta 17A and meet the Shshi people, it would have to be done with animation of some sort!  I can't think of anybody except James Cameron whom I would trust to do it right!  As for voices, termites don't have vocal mechanisms, but it could be done with voice-overs and I don't have a clue as to what actors would serve. 

What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?
Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head and its Companions continue their journey and encounter several monsters, which our Champion must fight and defeat even while beset by some troubling psychological conflict.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published, unless a miracle occurs.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I wrote all this stuff a number of years ago and I would guess two or three months from start to finish.  All the Ki'shto'ba books wrote themselves very rapidly.  Of course, I've revised them since then.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
I can't think of anything like it right off the bat!  Of course, it compares to the myths of Hercules.  It does have a psychological aspect -- all my books have that.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
That's the same question as "Where did the idea come from?"  No person inspired me.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Terrestrial termites have such an interesting social structure, which is so readily transformed into the culture of an intelligent lifeform!  In my opinion, nothing could be more intriguing than all these wonderful Earth myths and medieval legends retold in terms of an alien civilization -- and one where the ILFs are giant termites!