Feb 28, 2014

My God, It's Full of Diamonds

Fanny Sorrel waved goodbye to Mr. Hippo, her back to the policeman in the lime-green jacket, who leaned forward and panted, hands on his knees.
“Ma’am,” said the policeman between breaths, “you helped a convicted criminal escape New Amsterdam. You’re in serious trouble.”
“But now he’ll live,” said Fanny.

Illustration by Ricardo Solis

Writer and fellow blogger Daniel Swensen, who interviewed me here, has a book out today. 


Feb 22, 2014

Oh No, my Wizard Tower Is Upside Down

Nimbledog was writing poetry. Always a bad sign.
“Now, old man,” said Ladybird, his personal pentadimensional hex debugger, “have you conjured up another muse?”
“Oh,” Nimbledog whimpered, “she ran off with a semi-autonomous checksum calculator.”
“You give them too much agency,” said Ladybird.

Au Contraire
by Giulio Rossi

Technomancy: a fictional superpower where magic abilities involve the control and meta-normal use of machines.

I suppose technology-related magical powers could stray into the realm of coding. So, Nimbledog is someone who hacks the noosphere around him trying to make his personal Galatea manifest, but the ladies he compiles keep falling in love with unintended targets.

Space Vandal
by Budi Satria Kwan

You may have noticed I didn't blog yesterday. Well, I have to be honest: I don't always have posts lined up, nor does inspiration favor me with 100% consistency. As a fellow human, I know you understand. Have a wonderful Saturday.

Feb 19, 2014

His Eyes Are Made of Thunder and Honey

The Velvet Vultures were in town for their farewell tour, and Oriole was grounded for stealing dad’s whiskey, but punishment (read: cruel and unusual punishment) wouldn't keep her confined.

Nobody knew whether the lead singer on VV was male or female, and Oriole had to find out.

Deerhunter provided visual inspiration for the "Velvet Vultures."

So did Ukrainian singer Boris Aprel.

And Andy, the vocalist on Black Veil Brides.

Where you choose to take this prompt is up to you. The VV singer could be an alien from outer or inner-space; a hermaphrodite; a quadphrodite (something I made up just now where someone has four different genders); psychologically and physiologically asexual; a biomechanical robot; a hologram projected by an AI; an angel of some kind. Or a *gasp* demon. 

As a side note, I find the concept of "demon" rather hackneyed. Same with vampire, werewolf, elf, dwarf... 

Sexually ambiguous beings are the hot new thing, if you ask me. Why don't more writers tackle that? I mean, put on your futuroscope and get ahead of the curve already.

Citing NBC News, Ross Pomeroy writes that 1 out of 4000 babies are born intersex
How many intersex characters are there in fiction? Does the 1/4000 rate compare? I don't know. I'm not saying we ought to have quotas -- that would infringe on your right to tell the stories you want, the way you want to tell them -- but diversity, including diverse sexuality, makes a story more compelling. it creates more dramatic and storytelling possibilities. 

By the way, my Chrome spellchecker didn't even recognize the word "intersex." I had to fix that.

Photo by Wanda Martin

Feb 17, 2014

Why We Have to Fight a War of Attrition Against Adverbs Until Absolutely None Are Left

A professional, self-respecting author should never use any kind of adverb, because adverbs are like putting a blond wig on your ice cream. You get a mouthful of hair and never taste the pistachio flavor.

Let’s work from an axiom here: I submit to you that adverbs are foul, unclean, pus-laden furuncles of language that have been working steadily and insidiously, ever since time began, to contaminate and eat away at the written word from within.

Do you, fellow writer, know this cunning enemy?

Consider the adverbs of time! Take “then,” for instance. It’s atrocious. Imagine you’re telling your child a story and you’re making it up on the spot. When the child asks, And then what happened? make sure you give him or her a proper scolding. Learn your young ’uns the habits of growed-up folk already!

Ah, but scolding doesn’t work, you say? Well, get a broken trumpet and blow into it as hard as you can every time the child uses “then.” If that doesn't do it, donate your child to Goodwill or something. She’ll never be a writer.

Adverbs of manner make me bellow like a rutting caribou. I see no use for gently or slowly; likewise, hard and fast strike me as plebeian, almost the very stuff of solecism. For me, only the elevated diction of… of… Marcus Aurelius! Or the Lorem Ipsum Generator. That’s good too.

And adverbs of place? Pshaw. Don’t even get me started. Do you really have to use purulent words like sideways or downhill? Must you punish the reader with such lowly fare as off or across?

Aye, adverbs come in all shapes and sizes, the better to deceive you, to trick you into using them. A million voices cry out for justice and simplicity of style! Who wouldn’t want to go to college and take quantum physics and mechanical engineering for five to fifteen years so they could build a time machine, go back in time and steal all of Shakespeare’s paper and quills and club him on the noggin before he got a chance to jot down that most abhorrent of archaic adverbs, the putrid, festering “anon” in Romeo and Juliet?

Not satisfied with the prodigious evil of their perilous proliferation, adverbs even have allies. ALLIES. Oh, yes, yes, I refer to the sinister, the soul-poisoning aberration of adverbial clauses and adverbial phrases. Gasp! Entire clauses that function as adverbs. Will you point me to the nearest fallout shelter? How can we defend ourselves – should a writer attack you with I like to fly kites for fun, why, only the strength of your conviction stands between you and the sharp knives of fate. Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Adverbial clauses crossing the road.

What can we do, oh, whatever can we do?

“The truth,” writes Geoffrey Pullum, “is that nothing as mechanical as abandoning adverbs (or certain subclasses of adverbs) is going to uniformly improve your prose. (…) Do as the advice-giver does, not as he says. When he needs an adverb, he uses one. You should too. Decisively, proudly, and fearlessly.”

You know what else is terrible? Color adjectives. We should expurgate those from the English language. From all languages, in fact. Who needs to know the Woman in Red wore a red dress? Does it even matter? That movie is like six billion years old now. And why bother to write down that the sky is blue when everybody knows that, even blind people? Just like everyone knows the sky is black at night because you close your eyes and go to sleep because you can’t see a damn thing because it’s dark, especially out in the country without city lights and you can’t see shit without daylight or even the moon, just like chickens which, by the way, have no night vision.

Usually, people quote a certain writer – I’ll call that writer SK – to justify their partisanship against adverbs. I suppose that they suppose this makes them look cool and knowledgeable. Well, for someone who so cogently advocated ‘simplicity’ in writing style, our friend SK is adept at mangling English syntax and turning straightforward ideas into kudzu vines. He doesn’t follow his own prescriptions with any degree of religiosity.
If you want to sound well read, try quoting Ferdinand de Saussure, Maimonides or Joris-Karl Huysmans.

Why not let Glove and Boots help you with your grammar?

an extra dose of visual inspiration after the jump

Feb 14, 2014

The Leopard's Final Razor, or, The Kill is Suspensing Me

On the train between Zurich and Bonn a bearded man walked past me and went into the bathroom, remained inside for two minutes and emerged without a beard. Two minutes later a beardless man entered the same bathroom and came out wearing the first man’s beard. I feared for mine.

Beard and Crayons
by Will it Beard

Beard trivia for Valentine's Day:

Scientists find beards interesting. Quite a few have investigated how and why they grow.

Alexander the Great ordered his troops to go clean-shaven, as their beards might provide convenient handles for enemies to grab, hold the soldier in place and kill him much more easily.

After Alexander, philosophers retained their beards to signal their philosophical-ness. But, as the saying goes, barba non facit philosophum, so if one Friday night you see an attractive bearded guy at the bar and you strike up a conversation, do not begin by discussing Zeno's paradox. It may not go well.

In the UK, the Beard Liberation Front awards a Beard of the Year trophy to, well, impressive beards.

The fear of beards has a name: Pogonophobia.

The Cock Tavern on Mare Street, Hackney (UK) is now considered the UK's most beard-friendly (beard-friendliest?) pub in all of Albion.

Beard Vader
by Beardy Graphics

Video: Let a bearded gentleman explain to you how people can still disappear in this day and age.

Feb 12, 2014

When First You Preached to the Swans

The priestess stared at the walls of Kilemanx for a long time, hoping to make them crumble with the power of her gaze.

Her companions stood on wet grass and dark granite and waited. Fog beclouded the walls.

There came a moment of doubt.

Photo by Alison Scarpulla

From Enheduanna to Hildegard von Bingen, History is rife with compelling, spiritual females who became thought leaders in their day.

Historians regard the Sumerian Enheduanna as the first literary author. She was priestess of the god An at the city-state of Ur, located in modern Tell el-Muqqayar, Iraq. You can read Enheduanna's Temple Hymns online. Two of my favorite passages:

O E-melem-huc (House of terrifying radiance) exuding great awesomeness, Ec-mah (Magnificent shrine), to which princely divine powers were sent from heaven, storehouse of Enlil founded for the primeval divine powers, worthy of nobility, lifting your head in princeship, counsellor of E-kur, pillar of the surroundings, your house ...... the platform with heaven. The decisions at its place of reaching the great judgment -- the river of the ordeal -- let the just live and consign to darkness the hearts that are evil.

O E-ninnu (House of 50), right hand of Lagac, foremost in Sumer, the Anzud bird which gazes upon the mountain, the car-ur weapon of ...... Ninjirsu, ...... in all lands, the strength of battle, a terrifying storm which envelops men, giving the strength of battle to the Anuna, the great gods, brick building on whose holy mound destiny is determined, beautiful as the hills, your canal ......, your ...... blowing in opposition (?) at your gate facing towards Iri-kug, wine is poured into holy An's beautiful bowls set out in the open air.

But there were so many others. 
Bel-Shalti-Nanna, the Babylonian princess who, along with her father, created the first known museum.
Veleda, a Germanic seer who arbitrated conflicts but also instigated armed conflict against Roman invaders of her homeland; and always knew which way the wind blows.
Shikishi of Japan, a saiin priestess whose religious career began at the age of six, became an accomplished poet. On the theme of summer, she wrote:

So rich in my hand 
was the scent of the water,
that I searched upstream —
and found it flowing there
beneath a wild orange tree. 

See you next Friday.

Feb 10, 2014

How to Accept Yourself as Writer, Artist and Human Being

The Lizard Passes Judgment
by John Magnet Bell

Do you ever compare your life and achievements to somebody else’s, only to feel that you come up short on the Scale of Cosmic Perfection?

Do you find yourself, despite all your rationality, vulnerable to a twinge of status anxiety every now and then?

Do you feel unlucky at times?

I have a method to deal with those feelings. And it begins with the Litany Against Fear in Frank Herbert’s Dune:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

In short: embrace negative thoughts. Let them run their course. Observe them. Practice critical distance. You may need some help in achieving that, as introspection is an art. You will need help and advice from friends, family and professionals. You’ll have to educate yourself using a variety of sources.

Remember, though, that not all sources are created equal. You wouldn’t take driving lessons from someone who’d never driven a car, or enroll in a Tai Chi class taught by a Dalek. Right?

Accept that “Normal” Does Not Exist

Do not ever, EVER beat yourself up for feeling bad. We live in a culture of positivity, where people misunderstand deep psychological discomfort until they have experienced it themselves.

Beware of absolutes. A Barcelonian girl I once knew told me that “Nobody feels right” and that’s just not true. You can feel right. You can feel at peace. You can improve the way you feel right now by acknowledging and listening to your emotions.

Some people will say of themselves, “I am a happy person,” and mean it. That's 100% OK. Others will say the same hoping to make the statement true by dint of repetition. Burdening yourself with unreasonable expectations imposed from outside only brings you harm and self-rejection. Oh, and happiness does not confer special privilege --

Nobody has the right to demand you be a carbon copy of themselves. Period.

Nobody has the right to demand you fit into a specific psychological frame.

Nobody has the right to demand your obedience to standards they can change at whim.

As Yamamoto Tsunetomo dictated to his young secretary a long, long time ago, “By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?”

art flood after the jump

Feb 7, 2014

All Languages Die, I Just Didn't Expect it Would Happen to Mine

Look at the man, gray hair too soon, leaving delible prints in the dust of broken buildings. Look at the man who perseveres. He remembers his name, but has no one to speak it to. He is hungry for food and truth. Tonight he’ll have a little bit of both.

Inspired by this picture of Danish model Mads Broberg.

After the break: A few fashion statements for the post-apocalypse.

Feb 5, 2014

Do You Spell "Fate" with a Z

Sita held her breath and the drums rolled. The crowd became all eyes and Sita tensed her body like a wing in the tight cylinder of the cannon. And the drums rolled. And they rolled. And they rolled.

Boom. Sita took to the arc beneath the red and white canvas.

photo via vcephysics

At the age of 14, Rosa Matilda Richter became the first human cannonball. The year was 1877, the very year Victoria became "Empress of India." The cannon that launched her used a spring, rather than later models. These would resort to compressed air.

I named Sita after Hindu character Sita, avatar of Lakshmi. As personification of the good, bountiful Earth, and example of wifely virtues, the character exhibits courage and moral virtue -- which culminates in her refusal to undergo more than one test of purity just to appease her husband Rama and allay his fears concerning her chastity. Instead, she returns to the womb of the Earth.

Rama, Sita and Balarama in the Forest
Gouache, gold and silver on paper. India, Pahari Hills, Kangra, Circa 1810

Feb 3, 2014

Blogging with My Pants Off and My Heart on My Sleeve; Plus a Megaton of Wonderful Art

Not Your Average Monday Rant

Do you blog? Then you know how hard it gets sometimes. Do you write short stories? Novels? Then you know the pain of getting stuck.

Three years ago I started this blog to inspire people who had trouble starting their novels -- starting their lives, in fact. Three years ago, I was stuck.

I hadn't yet come to a fundamental realization: Nothing, not even "writing from the heart," substitutes for knowing your subject inside and out. Inspiration only carries you so far. This applies to life as well.

Now, I don't have a grand plan for this blog and if I did, it wouldn't include getting rich. Because mumble mumble artistic integrity and mumble mumble day job where I already am my own boss.

But this blog has a job to do, and I define that job as follows:

  1. Bring to your attention some of the great art, writing and thoughts out there.
  2. Lead you to the realization that you too are capable of great achievements and deep thought.
  3. Awaken the poet in you.
  4. Make you laugh and maybe even cry.
  5. Make you realize that the world is wider and stranger and richer than you think.
  6. Keep me producing, writing, communicating. 
  7. Keep you writing and communicating and connecting with others.

Money's not a part of it because this blog isn't a product. For that very reason I don't carry ads and turn away offers of publicity that would bring zero benefit to you. I may start other blogs and may want to monetize them; not Start Your Novel. This blog is one of the closest things I have to religious ritual.

You know what, I feel so good about having shared all of this with you, I think I'm going to make Monday Rants a regular thing. Check out the art flood after the break.