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Henry the V
Al, The New Guy
Michael Maier
Flicka Spumoni
Passin Through
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Frau im Mond
Ian McLeod
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Friday, September 26, 2008

The Friday Challenge - 9/26/08

Even I have to take a sick day once in a while. So right now I'm taking one of those, and some more ibuprofen, and then I'm going back to bed.

I'll try to write something later today, if my brain resumes working at anything more than minimal wattage, but at the moment a new post tomorrow seems more likely.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Friday Challenge - 9/19/08

We pre-empt the planned Friday Challenge for today in order to introduce a different topic: cars. I was driving in to the office this morning, found myself on a one-lane merging ramp behind a biddy in an Oldsmobile, and as I was looking to my left to find a hole in the somewhat moderately thickish traffic, she got to the bottom of the ramp and slammed on the brakes.

Now, I suppose I could have slammed on mine, too, and hoped the lady behind me was alert enough to slam on hers, and the car behind her, and so on, and so on, on up the line, but I've been submarined in the middle of an accordion crash before and have no great desire to experience that again. So I also suppose I could have gone right, into the drainage ditch, which is lined with chunks of jagged limestone the size of bowling balls, and at the very least kissed my brake and fuel lines goodbye. But since I'd already spotted a suitably large hole in traffic to my left, I floored it, swerved left, and did the heart-stopping flying three-lane crossover to safety.

Wow. I had no idea it was possible to peg the speedometer on a 14-year-old Ford Tempo. Guess it's a good thing I passed-up all those four-bangers I was looking at and picked one with the 3.0-liter V-6 instead.

But the image of the big-ass back-end of that Oldsmobile reared up in the air with the brake lights all lit up remains impressed on my mind, and very nearly on my forehead, and so we come to today's topic: cars. If ever there was a car that was aptly named, it was the Old-mobile, because I've never seen one that wasn't being driven by some little old blue-haired biddy who had to peer out through the spokes of the steering wheel or some timid geezer with no hair, liver spots like a map of the Peloponnesians, and lenses like the bottoms of Coke bottles. (The Pontiac Grand Ma is a close second, as every one of those seems to be driven by a member of the Future Myopic Grandmothers of America, but chronologically, many Grand Ma owners seem to be quite young.)

I don't mind mini-vans or most SUVs. They're like cows; big and clumsy, but you can see them a mile away and take evasive action easily. I have a particular distaste for Cadillac Escalades, as they all seem to be driven by oblivious idiots who think they're in the only vehicle on the road — assuming, of course, they realize they're on the road, as most Escalade drivers seem to be more involved in their phone conversations than their driving.

But if ever there was a brand that was aptly named — a brand I was happy to see die and disappear from the market — a brand that strikes terror into my heart every time I find myself near one that's still on the highway — it was the Oldsmobile.

How about you? That's this week's Friday Challenge: if you were granted the power, what is the one car brand you would most like to see disappear from the face of the Earth, based on either your personal experience as an owner of that car or your impressions of others who own and drive them? Alternatively, what is the one car brand that has already vanished, whose demise most pleased you?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Whither Rampant Loon Press?

For those who keep asking, "What's the deal with Rampant Loon? Why does the site look so moribund?" No, the venture isn't DOA. We're simply experiencing a few technical difficulties that are continuing to delay the launch.

This past year — and it's been more than a year now since we first conceived this and started laying the groundwork — has been very educational. We now know far more about corporate and contract law than we ever thought we'd have to, or want to. We know about ISBNs. We know about distribution channels. We know about business insurance. You'd have to be daft to try starting a business like this without it, because the world litigation ecology has grown so large and intertwined and there are so many aggrieved people out there just waiting for a chance to sue someone. International court-shopping is big business these days, especially in the EU. Do you want to get sued in England because a Kerplopistani illegal immigrant living in Germany was offended by something he read in a book you published that he shoplifted while staying with his sister for a week in Italy? Neither do we.

We've also learned a tremendous amount about the mechanics of turning a book into a tangible object. Much of it I knew already, but the whole business of binding is a lot more complicated than expected. We've actually managed to find some vendors who can deliver the kind of old-school, stitched, cloth-covered bindings we want at price points we can live with, but the whole question of what gets inside those bindings remains a battle, as it's become apparent that most people in the printing end of the business don't actually read books. Paper salesmen, in particular, are a pain, and always trying to up-sell you. "Yes, I know, that 100-pound coated bright-white glossy takes ink well, looks good, and binds beautifully, but we're not printing frickin' yearbooks. Have you ever tried to read more than a paragraph or two printed on that stuff under normal light?" No, apparently not.

That, and we keep running afoul of The Curse of Desktop Publishing. It seems everyone and his brother has a cute little 22-year-old sister in the back office who took a course at a community college and "knows all about" design and layout. When you find yourself having to explain screens, drop shadows, registration marks, and CMYK color separations to their desktop publishing "expert," be afraid; be very afraid.

However, the single biggest problem to date is not the binding, or the paper, or the interior design, or the cover art — and that's a whole 'nother topic — or getting the book into the distribution channel. It's the words that go on the pages. I guess I was myopic before, being a writer. Looking at it as an editor and publisher —

Man, writers are a pain in the neck. Very inventive; very creative. They always have the best excuses for why the frickin' book isn't finished yet. I already have one deal that I've had to cancel, because the author is seemingly incapable of finishing the book. It was for a non-fiction book that would have been great a year ago, and probably still viable six months ago, but has missed its launch window now. Some day I expect that writer will actually finish his book, and he'll go to his grave complaining that The Man and The System conspired to keep the world from appreciating his brilliance.

So what's your excuse?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Flushing the Buffer

Whither the Ranting Room?

Okay, I think we can consider this experiment to have failed conclusively. It seems that, as with any other form of writing, if I don't blog daily, I don't blog, period. Instead, I develop a terrible case of Writer's Constipation and keeping putting off posting until I have something Important & Meaningful to say — with the result being that I never post anything at all.

Ergo, as of Monday, I'll be back to posting something new daily, even if it's only idle chatter and nonsense. After all, isn't that what the blogosphere is all about?

Whither the "No Politics" Rule?

Speaking of Terribly Important & Meaningful scribblings, I did spend several days last week trying to write a suitably august conclusion to my big piece on the "No Politics" rule. The trouble was, the whole thing turned into a very weird load of self-negating pretentiousness, and it just kept on a' gettin' bigger an' bigger, with no end in sight.

When a plan fails, it's sometimes worthwhile to return to the beginning. (Other times, it's more worthwhile to walk away from it quickly, but not so quickly as to draw attention to yourself, and later deny that it was ever your plan in the first place.) In the case of this post, my original plan was to make four points:

1. The core political polarity, whatever you think it is, has remained insoluble since the origin of our species. Therefore it's highly unlikely that a bunch of bloggers are going to sort it out anytime soon. Chosen Ones who bring Balance to the Force exist only in infantile fantasy fiction.

2. When you succumb to the urge to write about contemporary politics, you can get a lot of attention, but it does not help your fiction-writing career. Witness the cases of Dafydd ab Hugh and Bill Quick, both of whom were once promising young SF novelists, and both of whose fiction careers have since been completely devoured by their unpaid political blogging. John Scalzi, sadly, seems determined to follow them.

3. Being at heart a frustrated history teacher, among many other things, I sometimes greatly enjoy writing about contemporary politics, when I think there are lessons that could be learned. Other times, I would rather be sitting on my butt in some cold, damp, and bug-infested swamp, trying to get the perfect photo of a snowy egret or a great blue heron, than even thinking about the hot political topic d'jour. The closer we get to elections, the more strongly I feel I would rather be out somewhere very far afield, and this year is no exception.

4. In general, online political discussions have very poor signal-to-noise ratios; or to use a different metaphor, they generate far more heat than light. I try not to start them here because they are not what I, as a writer, am primarily about. If you want to start or participate in such things, there are plenty of other sites where you may do so, and I invite you to explore them. Start with Free Republic and The Daily Kos. (Which, to my puzzlement, is pronounced like the headphone maker, "Koss," and not, as seems obvious to me, "K-OS.") I'll still be here when you return, running and screaming, from those sites.

Whither Were-Creatures Anonymous?

When I launched Were-Creatures Anonymous and the Curse of the Were-Weasel website, it was as an experiment in collaborative, online, interactive fiction. The idea was to pull together a group of talented people, give them posting rights and a rough structure in which to work, and then turn them loose and see what happens. I was hoping that some sort of non-linear shared-world narrative would develop spontaneously, as I gave people license to develop avatars and alternate identities and express thoughts they wouldn't normally express in public. (After all, isn't that what we all do on the Internet all the time anyway? Well, all except Bane, of course.)

To some extent that has happened, from time to time, although it has not happened as much or as often as I would have liked.

Therefore, at this point I must apologize to Henry, Vidad, Rachel, and Sean. While they've upheld their end of the bargain, I've failed to uphold mine. The big lesson I've learned here is that a Creation such as this requires far more attention from it's Creator than I've been giving it. I never finished developing the Curse of the Were-Weasel website, and while I wrote a nicely pseudo-scientific backgrounder on ALPS ("Acquired Lycanthropic Polymorphism Syndrome") and a 12-Step creed for the WCA, I never pushed either past the rough draft stage or published them. I have been remiss, and again, to Henry, Vidad, Rachel, and Sean, I apologize, and promise to be more involved in the future. (And I also promise to post a new Question of the Month real soon now!)

The shtick, for those of you who haven't been following the site, is that were-creaturism is no longer a curse, it's now known to be a rare viral disease transmitted in bodily fluids. (Typically, but not always, in blood and saliva.) Therefore, as with any other loathsome disease in the 21st century, persons with it are no longer hunted and feared monsters, but rather victims, protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, and along with this change in legal status has come the nationwide support group, Were-Creatures Anonymous, a 12-step program dedicated to helping ALPS victims cope with that pesky, annoying, but ever-present urge to rip some stupid jerk's throat out and feast on his still-beating heart.

There's more to say about the idea, and I should have said it all in print some months ago, but for now, I want to close with my formerly traditional Sunday morning announcement:
"The weekly meeting of Were-Creatures Anonymous begins at 7pm Central time today in the Community Room on the 13th floor of the Rampant Loon Media Empire building. All Friends of Lon are invited to share fellowship, stories, and non-sanguinary beverages. Tonight's featured speaker is Henry, who will share with us some fascinating insights on —"
Well, you'll just have to show up for the meeting to find out, won't you?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Whither the "No Politics" Rule?

The sun rose at 6:45 this morning. One of my neighbors chose to greet the dawn with a bagpipe serenade. Sadly, by the time I'd found and loaded my bagpiper gun, he'd ceased his annoying braying and gone back into hiding.

There is a profound political metaphor hidden within this amusing anecdote.

I've been writing and foundering on this topic since last week Friday, when Joe Doakes commented:
BRB - please, reinstate the no politics rule, quickly.

I realize now that we come here for a level of creativity and intelligent discussion not available elsewhere on the web; this is turning into the same drivel I get from the Huffpo, Daily Kos or Free Republic.

Okay, you were right - point made. Turn it off, please.
Your wish is heard and granted, Joe. The No Politics Rule is now back in force.

Understand, I do this with some reluctance and misgivings. It's clear that writing about politics, especially in an election year, is a great way to attract lots of attention. Then again, so is playing the bagpipes at dawn.

Expressing highly inflammatory political opinions would also seem to be an effective strategy for stalking the elusive book deal. Americans apparently have a nearly insatiable appetite for profound, mature, and thoughtful political analysis, as a quick glance at the front window of your local bookstore or any online listing of best-selling books confirms. Printing presses run night and day to bring the reading public such meaningful insights as:
Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat, Idiot
Maureen Dowd is a Nasty, Bitter, Dessicated Hag
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
Republicans Are Stupid, Mean, Poo-Poo Heads
Am Not
Are Too
Oh, Give Me A Break.

Wait, that last one is the title of John Stossel's book about... John Stossel.

Part of the problem that prevented my finishing this essay last Friday is that it kept growing and spreading, like some nasty mold in the back of an off-campus refrigerator. Initially I set out to write, not about politics, but about the hazards of writing about politics, and it proved difficult to keep the discussion apolitical. When you lay your personal credo out there for all to see, just as when you puff up the bag, get the drones going, and put your fingers on the chanter, you more than anything else make yourself a highly conspicuous target. Most people, it seems, are incapable of separating the political from the personal, and what might start out as a trenchant discussion of one issue or another quickly decays into a critique of the way the author cuts his hair and his possible sexual identity issues.

As cases in point, on Friday, I started out writing about two books: A Republic, Not an Empire, by Patrick Buchanan, and Treason, by Ann Coulter. Both books are well-researched and well-written works of significant scholarship, Buchanan's about the broad sweep of American history in general and Coulter's about the 1950s McCarthy Era in particular. Both books are highly recommended reading.

Both books are completely obscured by the squalls of personal adoration and hatred that swirl around the authors.

This is acceptable, I suppose. If your objective as a writer is merely the masturbatory pleasure of stroking your own ego, then you can score becoming "controversial" and being "talked about" as a win. If, on the other hand, your objective is to get readers to think about ideas...

Anyway, as I said, on Friday, I started out writing about Patrick Buchanan and Ann Coulter — and George McGovern and Jim Hightower as well, but we needn't pursue that now. By Saturday morning I'd worked through the McCarthy Era, the New Deal, and made it to the Progressive movement and Herbert David Croly, and by Saturday afternoon I was onto Paula Mitchell Marks, And Die in the West, and the War of American Unification. By Saturday evening I'd bulldozed through the Enlightenment, made it back to Hobbes and Rousseau, and was in the midst of doing a chainsaw clear-cutting job on the "noble savage." Sunday morning, I started in on Leviticus.

Somewhere in there, sometime Sunday afternoon, it finally occurred to me that a.) this whole thing had gotten completely out of hand, and b.) the labels I was using had become meaningless. Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, reactionary, progressive, capitalist, socialist, roundhead, royalist, libertarian, authoritarian — all these labels are transient, not trenchant, and the Ur-polarity turns out to be the dichotomy between those who want the absolute freedom of chaos, and those who seek the ultimate consistency of order.

From this realization, in my mind's eye, I began to envision the world's first political meeting:
THARG:        (whispering, to son) Now listen closely, Son-of-Tharg.

CHIEF OG: In this tribe, we have rules. Not know how many because
we not have numbers yet. Most important rule is, no go
poo-poo in cave where rest of tribe all sleep.

THARG: (to son) Got that? No go poo-poo in cave.

CHIEF OG: Other rule is, no go pee-pee in water hole where rest
of tribe all drink.

THARG: (to son) Got that? No go pee-pee in water --


CHIEF OG: Tharg? Explain again to Son-of-Tharg, okay?

THARG: (hefts stone ax) Okay.


THARG: Hold still. This hurt me more than it hurt you. (looks
at ax again) Or maybe not.


THARG: Aw, sweet-sticky-stuff-that-bees-leave-in-trees --


THARG: But --


THARG: But --


THARG: (grumbles, drops ax) Yes, animal-with-antlers-that-runs-

OG'S DAUGHTER:(sidles up to Son-of-Tharg, whispering) That was so cool,
the way you stood up to those old fossils.

SON-OF-THARG: Huh? Yeah, I guess I *am* pretty cool.

CHIEF OG: (looks at his daughter with Son-of-Tharg, shakes his head in
disgust) This not good. Whole species go downhill from here,
I think.

And sadly, Chief Og was right. be continued...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

You can't judge a book by its cover

Or can you? This one came into the bookstore over the weekend, buried in a book collection we got from a priest, no less. Six crates of very serious books about theology and such. One crate of...

cover art w/ extra cheese

I did a double-take. Then a triple-take. I must have looked at this one about six times before I realized there was only one "p" in the first word of the title.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Re-entering the real world, slowly

It's evening. I could tolerate about five minutes of the 10 o'clock news, and then I had to go hide in my office again. The anarchists are loose in downtown St. Paul tonight. The police broke out the tear gas when the mob tried to storm Mickey's Diner.

Mickey's Frickin' Diner! What the Hell does that have to do with making a political statement?

A young friend tried to engage me on the topic this morning. "The police used tear gas yesterday! Can you believe that? They used tear gas on peaceful protesters!"

Eh. I was a teenager in the late 1960s. I marched against the Vietnam War. I was very young, then, and naive, and poorly educated by people who found it in their interest to keep useful idiots like me poorly educated. 1968 still lives on in my memory, as does Kent State, as does Sterling Hall and Robert Fassnacht. So the St. Paul cops used tear gas yesterday, and are using it again tonight. BFD. Wake me when they switch to nightsticks, water cannons, and rubber bullets.

"But don't you care?!" my young friend cries in anguish. "Can't you see how George W. Bush has turned this country into a police state?"

Since you ask: no, I can't. What I see are a lot of brats who obviously never read Hemingway. Had they done so, they would understand that if you do not wish to risk being trampled and gored, you do not run with the bulls in the streets of Pamplona.

Likewise, if you do not wish to risk being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed, you do not run with a crowd that flings bottles and human feces at police officers in St. Paul.

It's only been 24 hours since I returned to The Real World, and already I'm missing the backwoods. It was so nice there, being disconnected from the never-sleeping eye of the electronic news cycle. I completely missed the announcement of McCain's choice of running mate. Instead, I read two books I'd been meaning to read for a while; one fiction and one non-fiction. I caught a couple of fish. I canoed for miles. I read the first half of a very promising manuscript. If the author can finish it in like form, Rampant Loon will publish it next year. Mostly I thought a lot: about who I am, and what I want to do, and especially about the inescapable truth that there is never time enough to do everything you want to do.

So what do I want to do with the time I have left?

I never have grand epiphanies, only low-budget ones about trivial issues. I should like to have a grand epiphany, just once, but the shock of it would probably paralyze or kill me. One tiny epiphany that came to me in the last few days is that The Ranting Room must change.

This realization grew from two questions. One being, What is a novelist? Why, obviously, a person who writes novels. And just exactly how many novels have you written lately? Well, uh, now that you mention it...

The Friday Challenge is a good thing that apparently performs a useful service, and so it will continue, although I've fallen behind on it lately and need to catch up. But what gives this blog whatever semblance of significance it has is that it is the work of a living fiction writer — so it would certainly help things if I was in fact writing and publishing new fiction, n'est ce pas?

But... but it's a blog! It is part and parcel of the never-sleeping information world, and if anything needs more content than I have time to write! So if I have to cut back what I write here in order to have more time to write there (time being terribly inelastic), then what that means is —

Well? What does it mean? Do I look for another site with which to merge? Do I take on help here and open this site to other contributors? Or do I just cut back to the Friday Challenge and one column a week, and hope to hang onto my readership?

Your thoughts, if you please?

Monday, September 01, 2008


...and we're back. I didn't actually intend to spend five days in a total electronic media blackout, but the pleasant little Internet cafe in the nearest town is no more and we only managed to find one other wi-fi hotspot the entire time. However, we did have the incredibly good fortune to find the Home of Snowshoe Baseball —

Lake Tomahawk

As well as this amazing adventure in fine roadside dining —

Hoggie Doggies

I'm also pleased to report that Spaceball One got much better mileage than expected, provided I remembered to stick to the speed limit and use the cruise control whenever possible. I must confess to being surprised at discovering it has a 42 gallon fuel tank, though. In the time I've owned it, I guess I've never actually completely filled 'er up before.

All in all, though, we had five days of badly needed detachment and fun, and I've returned with loads of interesting new thoughts about writing which I look forward to sharing —

Tomorrow. After I've had a long, long, long shower that uses up all the hot water. And some serious sleep in a real bed.

One question before I go, though. I also came back with loads of photos, some of which seem worth sharing. For example:

Up, up, and Away!

Does anyone here use a photo sharing site regularly, or have any experience that leads them to believe one is any better than another?

Thanks and g'night,