Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Back in my young and crazy days, gone more than forty-five years now, I had a best-buddy I ran with. Brothers-from-a-different-mother kind of thing, I really admired the guy, would have gone to help him bury a body.

Make a long story short: He wasn't what I thought, and we went our separate ways. I'd say no hard feelings, but that wasn't so; I despised the man for a long time. Eventually, that passed, but much later.

For a while, I thought he was outright sociopathic; later, I came to believe he was probably just completely undeveloped emotionally. He was kind of like a brilliant two-year-old. It was always all about him, and he wanted everything he wanted right now, and fuck the consequences. 

And, really, don't we all know people like that … ?

So he went off and hooked up with a young woman in a band, and hung out with them on the road for a time. That didn't last long, and later, he bedded her sister. 

Of course, that didn't last, either. Dude ran through women faster than snowballs melt in Hell, and it wasn't until he was much older that he mellowed enough for one to stay with him for any significant period.

Turns out that the second woman in the band he hooked up with has written an autobiography, those early-seventies figure in her story, and my old buddy is featured.

When he hit the road, he was on the run from the law and using an alias. Bad boys always seem to find women who think they can save 'em. For her, for a while, he seemed quite the magic man.  

It was more than a little interesting reading about my old pal from the viewpoint of a young woman taken with his mystique. Some of the stories she told sounded awfully familiar, and some of them had me shaking my head. Yeah, that was him, all right. Guy lied reflexively. Every story he told was spun like an atomic-powered gyroscope ...

Karma took its time, but eventually it came round, and my old friend died young from his excesses. By then, we had reached a kind of deténte. Not friends, but not taking potshots at each other.

Reminds me that one man's floor can be another woman's ceiling. Plus if you are adept at fooling folks, you can do it for a while, but eventually, some of them catch on. And, of course, last one standing gets the last word, too ...

And so, as Vonnegut was wont to say, it goes ...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Musical Set Back

Notice that I am typing a little slower and more gingerly than usual? That's because I bought my wife a new knife for Christmas. She bakes us bread fairly often, and the old knife wasn't giving us clean slices on warm bread, even after it had rested properly, no matter how much I sharpened it. So, I got a Kai Wasabi 9" serrated. 

Not the top-of-the-line, but I have a couple other knives by Kai and they are well-made and useful.

The new one? It's really sharp. 

Anybody not-know where this is going? 

Yep. Play with knives, you get, well, you know. 

Yesterday, as I sliced a nice olive roll open, I decided it need a bit of seasoning, so I also sliced off the tip of my left middle finger.

It really is a sharp knife.

Fortunately, the amputation was only the very tip, angled slightly, didn't get into the nail bed. A nice little oval, a millimeter or two thick, mostly skin, but enough meat so it bled like a fountain.

 I put pressure on it, bandaged it up good, and that's pretty much all there is to be done. Not something that can be stitched together, and the medical term for the healing process in this case is "secondary intention." You keep it bandaged, wait for it to scab over and new tissue to grow from the edges. As long as there is no infection, this usually gives good results.

This takes a while, typically six weeks or so, and it will be tender for a time after that.

Playing the ook or guitar with a big bandage on the tip of a fretting finger is problematic. 

There are ways around this. Barre chords up the neck that need only the ring or pinkie, or open tunings (where you tune the strings to a chord and then just use barres for major chords.)

And probably once the finger scabs over, I can go to a smaller band-aid and alter the finger position a bit

I can type, albeit not as cleanly as normal. It does make me realize that somebody like a surgeon or violinist or watchmaker really needs to watch it when they chop vegetables or slice open their bagels …


Three days along:

Not so bad ...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Alien Creatures ...

Got a note from a fan, regarding the alien (Predator) language my daughter and I created for the AvP novelization we did a few years back. There was a Yautja word he wanted to know about, connected to a character in a video PS2 game, had we come up with a particular term … ?

No, I said, we didn't do a realized language, no dictionary, only a few terms to make the story flow, and I don't remember creating that word, sorry. Maybe somebody after us addressed it in a book or game, but we didn't.

Yes, yes, he understood that, but, well, um, maybe I could, you know, check out the book and see if it was in there, because he didn't have a copy of the book? Or if it wasn't, I could maybe make a word up for him?

No, I said, Fox is particular about such things and while they probably wouldn't give me any grief over one word, there were contracts and rights and like that, and I'd rather not go there.

He understood, he understood, but was there any way I could help him?

Not really, no. I answered your question, it just wasn't the answer you wanted.

Got a resend on the email today. Could I help him?

Actually, come to think of it, yes, yes, I can. Here, some advice: 

Look, I'm sorry, kid, but do your own research. Get the book, read it, see if it is there. I'm pretty sure it isn't, and told you that. Goest thou and find it thine ownself. 

I want to be polite to fans, but this is not in my job description ...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hurray for Hollywood!

Disney Studios has done a movie, Saving Mr. Banks, which is supposedly the story of how the screen version of  Mary Poppins came to fruition. 

It should come as no surprise that the studio who gave us Snow White has, according to folks who know, turned this story into a complete fantasy that Harlan Ellison refers to in his video review as "total bullshit!"

Pamela Travers, the creator of the character Mary Poppins in the late 1930's came to loathe the movie, and in the Disney-fied version of the story, they blow right past that.

I don't disagree with anything Harlan has to say about the subject, and I haven't seen the movie. However, I did, for the sake of balance, post a note about it on his site.

Hereunder, what I said:

Speaking for the Devil …

I suspect Pamela Travers was less upset about how Walt sugared up Mary Poppins than the brothers Grimm would have been, had they been alive to see what Uncle Walt did to their hard-edged material. Travers would have seen what Disney did to the pigs and princesses and wolves, et al, and thinking that she wouldn't be subject to that treatment was maybe something of a naive attitude. Give her that, but even so, she was loath to do it. Maybe she should have stuck to her guns.

Or not.

From all accounts, Travers was seldom a boring, mean-spirited woman, though that whole adoption business does gum up the works some, and she apparently made most of her major life decisions based on advice from astrologers …

As a scribbler of little note, I absolutely understand how the desire to protect one's work feels. I won't be going to see the Disney-fied version of how Mary Poppins came to the silver screen, and in no small part due to what I have heard here. A vote with one's wallet matters, if only a little bit.

But: (and you knew this was coming, right?) There are a couple of things I think maybe ought to be laid out, simply for balance.

As I understand it, Travers was not rich, but not missing any meals. Her books sold, the stage adaptions did business, and she was probably in as good a shape as most mid-listers. That she resisted Roy and Walt's drooling for two decades indicates she wasn't starving. But, in the end, she sold the rights. Got 60,000 pounds up front, and this was nothing to sneeze at in the late 1950's, but it was her five percent of the action that made her rich. And we are talking gross points, not net.

So you get the money. If, however, you sell somebody your cherry 1955 Chevy convertible and they drive to the end of the block and plow into an armored car? Sucks, but it isn't yours any more.

You can point out that Disney pushed and wheedled, but, in the end, she didn't have to sell him the rights.

As I understand it, Travers supposedly had script approval, and was an adviser on the project, right there, hands-on, came down from the suite and to the studio, inspected storyboards, listened to the music, and offered her input. That she despised the final project isn't a surprise, and that Walt probably smiled and told his editor to take out that and leave in this without her knowing would not shock me. But Travers certainly wasn't completely blindsided if she was there and part of it.

The Siren lure of Hollywood is great. Money, fame, a wider audience. If, however, you make a deal with the devil, you ought to know there's a reason he's called The Father of Lies.

Apparently the stars and planets weren't too reliable when it came to dealing with The Mouse.

From folks I know who have had movies or TV series made based on their books, there are two things that result. The perk is, your books suddenly come back into print and sell like ice water in Hell. Witness George R.R. Martin. The Game of Thrones did pretty well as a novel, but when the HBO series came out? Everything George writes in that series from now on hits the bestseller list and stays there. It doesn't even have to be a good movie or series. When True Blood cranked up on HBO, Charlaine Harris's original paperback books, all eight of them, arose from the out-of-print boneyard and shambled onto the bestseller lists, all at the same time.

Yeah, you get a nice fee from the production company for the media rights, but you are apt to make more from your novels afterward, unless, as Travers did, you have a piece of the gross. She made millions, and while she might have come to regret the sale, it was her choice.

It's sometimes attributed to Raymond Chandler, but should be credited to James M. Cain: When asked about what Hollywood had done to his book, Cain said that they hadn't done anything to his book, it was right there on the shelf. Mary Poppins the book is still what it is, and Disney's movie, and rewriting of the history about how it came to be, are what they are. That these latter are as much fantasy as Snow White? Shouldn't surprise anybody who has ever ridden the Pirates of the Caribbean boat.

The drawback is, of course, from then on, anybody who reads the books and sees the series will likely visualize the characters as the actors cast in the roles. I couldn't read Pat Conroy's Santini Dies without seeing and hearing Robert Duvall. I usually like my mental casting better, though you can never go wrong with Duvall. That was the joy of radio. (Who was the best character in A Christmas Story? Jean Shepherd, as the V.O. for Ralphie, hands-down. Can't imagine that movie without his unique voice.)

Some years ago, my collaborator and I pitched a novel to a publisher. The money they offered was much less than we felt we deserved. My co-writer ran into Harlan at a gathering in L.A. and whined about it. Harlan's advice was, Hey, take the money. If you are broke, there's no shame in honest work to get by.

Travers took the money, and I don't blame her for it, but when you sell it, they own it. I know a few folks who have sold stuff to the movies, had script approval, and likewise hated the results.

When you deal with the devil, you really need to read the fine print, and even then, you need to know that pitchfork is there somewhere ...


P.S. This is not a blanket condemnation of the Biz, merely a recognition that as often as not Shit Happens, and if you are unprepared to deal with it, you might have problems.

And, of course, there is an addendum that speaks to another factor that might or might not be relevant:

When Travers took the upfront advance for Mary Poppins, that £60,000 Sterling, (about $180,000, USD) circa 1960, the average income in the states was about $5000. 

To put that into perspective, today, that would be twixt a million and two million pounds, depending upon which of the various inflation indexes you use. The pound isn't worth what it used to be, so only a million-and-half to three million bucks. 

But, wait, that's only the anteroom of Uncle Scrooge's bin ...

The 5% she got of the *gross* profits in the mid-sixties would have been worth at least 4.5 million pounds, using the gross revenue figures, and, again, in U.S. dollars, the ratio then was about 1:3, bucks-to-quid, which would be $13.5 million, which inflation would pencil out today to, like ... $64,000,000, give or take a million. 

I'm pretty sure nobody held a gun to her head and forced her to sign. Let's be real: Her unhappiness about how awful the Mouse behaved is going to be viewed a tad askance by a guy who has to count his pocket change twice if he wants to get fries with his burger at Mickey D's.

Oh, poor, woman! Cry me a fucking river!

You sold your book for a fortune and you are pissed off because they make a bad movie from it? Crank up the violins doing "Hearts and Flowers," You made your choice, and you can buy a lot of hankies with that kind of jack. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Long John Baldry

Don't Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock 'n' Roll …

Lot of Americans might not know who Baldry was, but if you know who Clapton, The Rolling Stones,  and Rod Stewart are, you may have heard of him. One of the original white British bluesman, Baldry was the hot ticket in the early sixties, before the Beatles blew everybody else out of the water.

He knew everybody, everybody knew him, and if you ask Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart or Paul McCartney or Eric Clapton about the guy, they will all say he influenced them. At one point or another, most of them opened for, or actually worked in a band with, him.

Called Long John because he was 6' 7" tall, he was a seminal influence in the British blues/rock scene of the sixties. A lot of those he mentored moved past him, but he was considered to be among the best by his peers.

He was also a voice actor, and most notable among his creations is probably Dr. Robotnik, from Sonic the Hedgehog; he did dozens of TV animated shows, including one of the Conan incarnations.

Baldry eventually moved to Canada, and spent his last few years doing gigs there, and in the Pacific Northwest. He died from complications of a lung infection in 2005.


Back when we were studying meditation (the Ananda Marga Hindu-system, wherein one sits and silently intones a mantra for no-mind) I learned about an exercise that one does in a graveyard. 

The theory is, spirits are real–in fact, spirit is the only thing that is real, all else is Maya, the Grand Illusion–and some of them are good, others evil. A cemetery of any size will contain the good, the bad, and the ugly, and that to test one's ability to tune out distractions and maintain the no-mind focus during the meditation, one is sent to a boneyard to spend the night in quiet contemplation. 

The spirits, the evil ones, will attempt to invade your soul and do you psychic harm, but even the good ones will offer distractions, and like writers and book reviews, one is supposed to ignore them all …

If, the theory goes, one can hold the course through the night without giving up or being overrun and turned into a gibbering idiot, one has passed a major test and can move forward on The Path.

I've tried this, at least for a half-hour, and survived.  

I have what I think is a better version of it: 

Going to the mall just before Christmas. 

If you can hold to your equanimity during the annual madness, then surely you can also move forward on The Path …

I've done this a few times, and it is possible. That lemming-like frantic energy is all around and impossible to miss, have you any sensitivity to such things:


The monomania is unleashed, the dogs of commerce foam and rage, the thunder of panicked hooves echoes past the phone kiosks.

Ho, ho, ho!

I have managed to do this exercise and prevail, but I can't say it's something I willingly subject myself to every Christmas season. To manage it, you need the proper mindset before you go, and it takes a bit of work. Even my recent visit to Costco, I wasn't ready, as you can tell from the posting about it. Had I been pure of heart and calm of mind, the lunacy of shopping cart pushers and taste-samplers would have passed right through me without stirring any negative energies. Peace on, Sister.

Perhaps I am not yet ready to leave the temple; just call me Grasshopper ...

Truth is, given the choice between battling the evil spirits in the cemetery and the mad consumers at the mall? I'd pick the spirits every time; much easier ...

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Okay, so I put the outside lights up yesterday, and we got the tree today; we went for the spare look, a Noble Fir.

I guess it's time to post the link to the best Christmas (or in this case, Xmas) song extant:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Upcoming Story

Over the years, I've sold a few short stories to Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, mostly for Pulphouse, a couple to Kris when she edited F&S, and here recently, to an original anthology series they are doing, epub and trade paper print, Fiction River. 

This latter is a series of anthologies, all original material, each with its own theme. 

Good books, good stories, funded by a most successful KickStarter campaign a year and some ago. I heard they were doing these, I sat down and in a couple days, cranked out a couple pieces. They liked one, and they are kinda-sorta thinking about the other, which is much longer, and in the military SF vein.

The latest sale, which will be in the April '14 collection, is another wild hair story that will fit into the fractured fairy tales that comprise this particular collection. I just got the galleys and the cover, haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I am reading the current issue, Hex in the City, and it is boffo. There's a Jay Lake story in it that will knock you down, especially if you know Jay.

Um. Anyway, I read this piece, called "Generations" at the most recent Orycon, to a small, but appreciative audience, and outside of a short I did for Trent Zelazny and Warren LaPine for a theme anthology featuring the late Roger Zelazny's creations, it's the only short likely to see the light of day for a while. (There's one I did about a rat in a soufflé a while back, "A Few Minutes in the Kitchen and Dining Room of Hamelin's Restaurant," though I dunno what happened to that one; plus that AvP thing for the game rule book. Not much of a short fiction guy.) 

Fiction River is here, as well as in the link section of my blog. You might want to check 'em out, they have some passing good tales there. 

Civilization ...

… and Its Discontents …

My wife usually makes the Costco run, but she is under the weather, nasty cold, so I went to the Big Box after a visit with the youngest grandson. I am not by nature a shopper, nor do I like going to Costco twixt Thanksgiving and New Year's, since the place is almost always a cattle stampede during those times …

But I had a list, and I girded my loins and headed for the store. Got a dusting of snow as I arrived at the parking lot, so I wanted to hurry along.

And once inside, the recurring question arose: How smart do you have to be to push a shopping cart down a triple-wide aisle in Costco?

Answer: Not very ...

I mean, here is an aisle that you can literally fit three carts across side-by-side, albeit a bit snugly. And there, just ahead, a woman coming from the other direction who stops and with only one cart and herself, manages to block the passage entire. And stands there oblivious, deep in her examination of a display of granulated sugar, apparently completely unaware that there are folks queuing on both sides of her waiting to get past.

C'mon, lady, it's sugar, for God's sake, how hard can it be to, you know, pick up the bag and plunk it into your cart and allow the flow of traffic around your absorbed self?

Unaware. Or doesn't give a damn, either way of which makes me want to back off a couple steps and get a good run as I bang my cart into the front of hers and blow past …

But, no. Instead I stand there, smiling thinly, until she decides she really doesn't want any of that Organic White Death, turns her cart back up the aisle, and cruises on, never noticing those of us Who Wait.

Merry Christmas.

This same woman–and her numerous, yea, unto the multitudes, kin–will also stop cold in front of you, the figurative middle of nowhere, and stand there, blinking like an owl and looking around as if unable to remember who she is and why she came here.

Give a fucking signal!

Don't even get me started on the crowds that throw up roadblocks at the free sausage display to dine on microwaved tidbits, said display being right in front of the freezer with the shrimp I need to complete my list …

Excuse me, may I get in here for a second? When what I really want to say is, Move it or lose it, asshole!

Um. Yeah, yeah, a First World problem, but still. Some of these people drove to the store and will be out on the snow-dusted streets as I head home, and that idea is scary.

Reminds me of the old story: Ralph is driving, Bill is shotgun. They come to a traffic signal, the light is red. Ralph blows through the intersection, never slowing.

"Geezus, Ralph! What the hell are you doing?"

"Hey, my brother does that all the time."

Come to a second intersection, the light red, same-same.

Bill is coming unglued. "You are going to get us killed!"

"My brother does it."

Come to a third intersection, this one, the light is green. Ralph slams on the brakes.

Bill bounces off the dashboard. "What the hell did you do that for!"

And Ralph said, "My brother might be coming …"

Saturday, December 07, 2013

C-C-Cold ...

Yeah, yeah, we're pansies here in the Willamette Valley, but that Arctic cold front that blew through and iced down the country is squatting on us, too. You folks in North Dakota or Minnesota can laugh and talk about it being T-shirt weather here, but it's 15º F. at Steve's house, and that means I have to break out the heavy coat and big gloves to walk the dogs.

Which is a pain, because knotting the poop bag shut with the ski gloves isn't going to happen. Works fine with the thin gloves I usually sport, but they aren't up to the cold.

They were talking record lows,  we've already had a couple-three of those this week, but I don't think we got there last night. Coldest I can recall was in February of … '89, I think. Got into single-digits, I remember walking Roxanne the Chow-Chow at a balmy 8ºF. one ice-crusted morning …

Coldest I've ever experienced was in Chicago twixt Christmas and New Year's, back when I was a PI and had to go there. Right at 0º F. Got there just after the snow stopped, and saw snow sticking to the face of a stop sign, a thing I'd never seen. The wind coming off the Lake  would shove you backward on the frozen sidewalks. I had no idea and wasn't dressed for  it. Brrr ... 

Have to put the Thunder Shirt on the old Cocker Spaniel, I think. The Corgis are double-coated, they don't mind the cold, but the Spaniel hasn't completely grown out the puppy-cut she had when we got her. Got home yesterday after the walk and she was shivering. 

Weather channel says it's 22º F. in Beaverton, but my thermometer isn't agreeing, and while there are lots of things thing that might make it err upward, not too many give a false lower reading. 

Had to pull the hummingbird feeder in and thaw it, it was a block of ice. Soon as I refilled it and stuck it out, there was a female Ana's flitting around my hand to drink. (Ana's don't migrate, but stick around through the winter, and pickings are somewhat lean in December.)

Friday, December 06, 2013

Vastalimi Cover

Got the mock-up cover for Vastalimi, the spoken-word version. They have Kay wearing a hood, don't where that came from, but I like it. Very dramatic.

8 CDs, eleven hours, thirty bucks. Perfect for those long drives in traffic ...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Cold and Dusty

Been chilly at Steve's house the last couple days, down to 18ºF. this morning when I got up, going down a couple-three degrees more tomorrow. Dry, which is good, but you have to layer up to walk the dogs. 

We are pleased to have replaced our furnace last season for a high-efficiency one with a neato-keen thermostat that is smarter than I am. 

I mentioned here recently that I had contacted the city regarding my personal flood plain, due to the depressed section of concrete at the curb by my driveway. Lo and behold! the city actually sent a couple guys out to take a gander. Can I get a hallelujah?

No, come to think of it, probably that wouldn't be appropriate. Read on:

Looking at the standing water the city guys nodded and said, "Yep. that's a problem, all right."

And you want to guess whose responsibility it is to repair it? You there, waving your hand and grinning?


City will fix the section just east of it, because there's a utility box and that is their bailiwick  but it's my trees what have raised the concrete, and our neighborhood is responsible for the sidewalks and the curbing twixt the macadam and our houses. Part of the deal, apparently, when the original contractor built these houses.

So, I got online, found a local guy who does grinding, and even as we speak, clouds of silica dust blow past the window as the diamond-disk chews up concrete and rocks …

The good things are, this is what the contractor does mostly and he says it's not a problem. And business is a little slow in December, so he gave me a deal on the bid. Bad thing is I have to pay for it. But if it keeps our yard from turning into Lake Perry come the big rain, it's worth it. 

And so it goes …

Oh, yeah, now it's done. If you are local and need concrete grinding? The company is Centerstone, the contractor's name is David Eubanks. Thumb-up on his work. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


So, on the musical front, I find myself trying to learn a whole bunch of stuff at once. No rhyme or reason to it, just how, as these things sometimes do, it happens. I'm noodling along, something strikes me, I hear a song, then I need to figure out how to play it.

For instance, I've been playing "Hotel California" for a while. Got the chords down on the guitar, and then transferred them to the uke. Never worked out the intro, Don Felder's little riffs on the classical guitar, but because there is so much material on YouTube and in various forums, was able to find that, so I need to add it.

Hereunder, the current works-in-progress in the world of Steve's ukery:

Wagon Wheel (Darius Rucker's cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show tune)
Cakewalk into Town
A Summer Song
Hotel California
Political Science
Let it Be
Hey, Jude
Woke Up Dead Blues
St. James Infirmary
House of the Risin' Sun


Quigley Down Under
Something in the Way She Moves
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Ashokan Farewell
Theme From Titanic
Theme from The Game of Thrones

Currently, I can play about half of these without looking at the lyrics or tabs, and can get through them all with the cheat sheet. "Wagon Wheel," isn't hard to play, but I don't know all the words yet; "Dixie" and "Theme From The Game of Thrones" are the latest instrumentals, and farthest from being memorized.

Got an album's worth, easy.

Back to the woodshed ...