Wednesday, July 01, 2015

You're never as original as you think you are...as I'm sure someone else has said.

A while back I read an article that talked about what a trope it is to put a close-up of an eyeball on your horror book cover. Which is exactly what I did on the cover for my collection of horror stories, "The Scariest Things, You CAN'T Imagine." 

I'd tried to put out of my mind how UNoriginal I was when it comes to cover design, because I still thought myself something of an artiste, like, say, when it comes to photographs.  Such as photos like the one on the right, a picture of an American flag I took outside of what used to be Mr F's kindergarten.

I love that picture; it's one of my favorites.  I was proud of the way I'd gotten it just right with the sun and the way the flag looks tattered and it's kind of see-through, etc. etc.

This morning I went to read Gawker and noticed that the picture on the top of the story about Greece missing an IMF payment blah blah blah Europe was this picture:


And I thought oh man someone totally copied me.  (In this case, the someone is the AP.)  But before I dashed off an angry email to Gawker, the AP and Greece (Dear Greece, Please do not place your flag in front of the sun anymore, I have a copyright on that) I thought about that eyeball-cover thing and googled images of flags in front of the sun and realized I'm not the only one who thought of that.

It's actually not that new of a thing, to realize I'm not the only person who thinks something is picture-worthy, but it happened twice in the last 12 hours, so I'm reeling a bit here.  We were at the library last night, and as we sat in the teen section (better, comfier seats and there's hardly ever teens at the library plus the teens who do go to the library are generally not the kind that scare me) I noticed pictures on the wall for a photography/art contest.  And in that series of pictures by teens were pictures of boats lined up outside the UW down on Lake Mendota, a couple sitting on a pier at sunset, and a bridge in the nature preserve taken from a low angle.

Those are all pictures I have taken, too.

It all reminded me, too, of the kerfuffle over the iceberg picture.  Maybe you already heard about this: a woman was accused of plagiarism after her photo of an iceberg:

won a contest, and another woman noticed that contest-winning photo and accused the winner of plagiarism and photo theft.

But it wasn't. Instead, the accusing woman had taken this picture:


Turns out they were on the same cruise at the same time and took the same photo from slightly different angles on the ship.  No plagiarism, a weird coincidence.

Also at the library, I walked past a book about a person who died and is now stuck in her afterlife until a guy comes along and offers a way to get her out of there.  The details are different but it's sort of the same them as my book the After.

And all this is going on while I have to keep hearing about The Martian, which is a book about an astronaut alone in space, and which is being made into a movie, unlike my own Eclipse, which continues to not be made into a movie despite obviously being perfect for making me rich.

Finally, there's this: I recently (as you may have heard) wrote this book about how a corporation has been cloning people and the clones are roving among society many of them without knowing they are clones, and there's a group of people trying to stop the cloning practice.  Maybe I mentioned it before?

Well, I heard about this series Orphan Black and thought boy a lot of people are talking about that, maybe I should hate it before I ever see it? So I checked it out on Wikipedia, and read this:


The series begins with Sarah Manning, a con artist by trade, witnessing the suicide of a woman, Beth Childs, who appears to be her doppelgänger. Sarah takes on Beth's identity and occupation as a police detective after Beth's death. During the first season, Sarah discovers that she is a clone, that she has many 'sister' clones spread throughout North America and Europe, and that someone is plotting to kill them and her. Alongside her foster brother, Felix Dawkins, and two of her fellow clones, Alison Hendrix and Cosima Niehaus, Sarah discovers the origin of the clones: a scientific movement called Neolution. The movement believes that human beings can use scientific knowledge to direct their evolution as a species. The movement has an institutional base in the large, influential, and wealthy biotech corporation, the Dyad Institute. The Dyad Institute conducts basic research, lobbies political institutions, and promotes its eugenics program, aided by the clone Rachel Duncan. But it also seeks to profit from the technology the clones embody. It has thus placed "monitors" into the clones' personal lives, allegedly to study them scientifically but also to keep them under surveillance


Anyway, I'm not complaining even though every single idea I've ever had was also had by someone else and all those people are making millions of dollars and living luxurious lifestyles in tropical islands.  HA HA I AM NOT BITTER AT ALL. *looks at desk held together by duct tape* NOT AT ALL.


Monday, June 29, 2015

10 Minutes About "It" by Stephen King

I've been listening to "It" on audiobook off and on this spring & summer.  "Off and on" because I borrow it from the library on audio and you only get it for fourteen days, tops. If someone else has requested it during that time you have to wait until your turn comes around again.  So the last time I listened to the book was at the end of April during my trips to and from my trial up north.  I got about 1/3 of the way through and continued this latest time, when I got through another 1/3 before my time expired.

I'm enjoying the book pretty well; I like Stephen King, and King has become sort of the de facto horror guy for me, to the point where I don't think much about other horror authors at all.  I like King's stuff so much that many horror books suffer by comparsion -- even those of his son, Joe Hill.  (I like Hill's collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts much more than I liked his novel Heart Shaped Box, which I found to be pedestrian in concept and execution.)  King tends to go for the gross-out too much (his "shit weasels" almost made me give up on Dreamcatcher) and when he's bad he's really bad (Dreamcatcher, again) but when he's good he's worth all the bad stuff.

Bad stuff like the current, interminable, part of It that I was slogging through when my turn expired for the book.  And bad stuff like the 'flashback nature' of the story.

First the slog: I'm at the part of the book where one of the main characters is recounting a story his dad told him back when he was fifteen (so it's the guy telling the story telling a story about how someone else told a story, which is never a good way to tell a story. You've heard show don't tell? If you're three removes from the action, it's always boring.)  But this story goes on FOREVER. And EVER AND EVER AND EVER. Seriously, I was on it for about three days of audiobook time (audiobook time is when I go for my occasional exercise walks, or driving).  And the point of the story apparently was to get to the part [SPOILER ALERT!] where the guy's dad saw the same "it" monster the guy did, only 60 years ago or something.

YAWN.  The whole point of the story has been that this thing is making the entire town evil, etc., so to say oh yeah it was around sixty years ago too? We get it.  If this part of the story is going somewhere, I can't see it.

PLUS, the other part of this flashback to a flashback that really stuck me -- jarred me right out of the story-- was that the kid listening to his dad had, about 4 years before, encountered the monster himself.  Then he's listening to his dad tell this story, and when dad gets to the I saw a monster part, the kid says how he had totally forgotten that he'd seen a monster until then.

Now, I am willing to suspend my disbelief to read a story and believe that there will be a monster haunting Derry, New Hampshire.  But 'suspension of disbelief' doesn't extend to "believe any old stupid thing thrown in for narrative purposes."  Am I supposed to think an 11-year-old has a run in with a giant monster that tries to kill him and he narrowly escapes and he forgot it entirely within four years?

Back when I was 18, I had a car accident in which I had a near-miss with a tree: a guy cut me off and I swerved and I skidded on ice and I nearly hit a tree off the road and came this close to dying.  I remember it vividly, 28 years later ... and there were no giant monsters there to help keep things fresh in my brain.

I'm assuming King was going for something there, with the Oh yeah I forgot until my dad mentioned a monster that I'd seen one too, but whatever it was, I don't get it and it was annoying enough that I can't believe it survived into the final version of the novel.

PLUS, another [SPOILER ALERT!]: the kid was sent to the place where he saw the monster by his dad.  So when dad spills the beans about having seen the monster earlier, the kid thinks oh yeah hey I saw a monster too, I forgot that! but not HEY WAIT DAD YOU KNEW THERE WAS A MONSTER AND SENT ME THERE?

That's 10 minutes, but I don't want to risk forgetting about the other part of the story that bugs me: the telling it in flashback part.  This has been bothering me all year, since I read The Last Summer Of The Camperdowns, which otherwise was a very good book, and now when I read It, and both of the stories do the same thing: they present a story in which the main character faces mortal danger, but the story is being told by that character in a flashback.

In Camperdowns, the main character is an adult and remembers when she was 11 and various terrible things happened, including a guy trying to murder her.  A kid goes missing in their neighborhood and she suspects the guy and the guy is harassing her and tormenting her and we are seemingly to believe that he means her no good, but the fact that she is an adult looking back removes every bit of suspense from the story.  And I thought well maybe suspense wasn't really the point except I'm pretty sure it was.

Then there's It, where I am sure suspense is the point.  The story is told in flashbacks back-and-forth: present day (i.e. 1985) Derry, and 1957 Derry, when the main characters first became aware there is a monster.  Each kid in 1957 is introduced also as an adult, and then we flash back to 1957 where they all ran into the monster, and there are plenty of scenes where the monster is after them, scenes which could be very suspenseful and terrifying except that we already know each of these kids survives their own particular brush with the monster in 1957, and now have to come back to fight the monster in 1985.

I keep thinking, as I listen to it, how much better the book would be if I didn't know the kids survive.  I mean, it's bad enough when you're reading a horror story or watching a movie and you know, intellectually, that the main character will survive, because they are the main character, but at least your face isn't rubbed in it by telling the story in flashback.

Anyway, this all makes it sound like the book is no good, and in fact it's really very good. I'm enjoying it a lot.  That's kind of a testament to how great King is when he's on, because a book with those kind of significant flaws has to be really awesome to make it over those hurdles.  Still, how much better would it be if I didn't have to work so hard to get to the parts of the book that don't suck?

That's 10 21 minutes.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I thought Mr F would like the one where they said he had to spread out like a starfish, but it turns out he'd rather not spread out like a starfish. Who knew?

Today we took the boys to yoga class.  It was Sweetie's idea, the yoga class, but (as we agreed on the way over there) it would be hard for her choice of outing to be less fun than two other loser trips I'd picked out this year, Festge Park and the trolley.

Festge Park was supposed to be a lot of fun.  Scenic overlook, playground, nature trail, the guide said, and also I'd driven by the park, which sits up on this bluff-type area, many many times over the last 17 years since I became a lawyer, and in particular a lawyer who had to drive periodically to Richland County, which is due west of us and which passes by the bluff where Festge Park is.  That trip -- to Richland County -- also used to include driving over my favorite bridge ever, only now the route has been moved to a new bridge, which is not my favorite.  You can still see my favorite, from the new bridge as you drive over it, but that is dangerous to do in that if you are driving over a bridge while trying to peer up the river at the other bridge, you're likely to drive into the Wisconsin River, which is one of the deadliest rivers around.  In all seriousness: people die in that river almost on a weekly basis.

Anyway, the real fun was in driving over the bridge, not in driving past it from miles away.

Festge Park actually had all three of those things. But the 'scenic overlook' was being monopolized by two teenagers who were making out, and that was hard to overlook.  (Get it?) while the playground was mostly under construction, except for an amazingly old set of horse-glider swings and a Merry-Go-Round, which you don't see much at playgrounds anymore, probably because of lawyers.  The nature trail, meanwhile, dead-ended in a cornfield and after that you had to walk back a half-mile along a road which led by a house that appeared to be all boarded up but which housed one of those dogs that emits bloodcurdling barks the entire time you walk by the house.  The kind of bark that sounds like the dog wants to kill you but has the last victim's femur bone stuck in its throat.

Not a great choice.

Yoga went better.  For Sweetie and Mr Bunches, anyway. It was yoga for special needs kids, and I was teamed up with Mr F despite Sweetie bragging that Mr F tends to listen to her more than to me.  It's true.  But she got Mr Bunches, so she got to do bridges and tree pose and "dragon," which is a real pose, while I got to try to wrestle Mr F into the roof pose and then chase him back when he wanted to go get his breathing ball again.

I am pretty sure you're not supposed to sweat as much as I did at yoga. You're probably also not supposed to wear plaid shorts, but we all have to make choices in life and I have made the choice to lead the kind of life where I only own one pair of athletic shorts, and those were still wet from swimming in Lake Mendota yesterday with Mr F and Mr Bunches when we walked out on Picnic Point, on a nature walk that was blessedly short of killer dogs, teens making out, and merry-go-rounds. It did have a beach labeled DANGER DO NOT SWIM, but that was okay because we found another beach and there were no warnings there, so SWIM AWAY.

Mr Bunches liked yoga, a lot.  He was not terribly good at 'tree pose,' where you have to hold your hands up in a "V" while balancing on one foot and tucking the other against your ankle, but he was able to do lots of them, and the rest of the group seemed to like Mr Bunches' sheer enthusiam, calling out the names of each pose and getting all excited.  Mr Bunches loves everything.  Even yoga.

We decided we'd go to the next one.  I can always use the workout, eventually Mr F might calm down and let our team do more than three poses in a row, and Mr Bunches liked it so much that we'd have signed him up for classes, if you had to sign up for them.


Friday, June 26, 2015

I've been really tired all this week which is why I haven't posted.

Here are some pictures.

Mr Bunches walking to the park with me, carrying his mango:




Mr Bunches with the doughnuts we bought last Friday morning, because we were going to have coffee WITH DOUGHNUTS.


 Mr Bunches learning to ride his bike:




Mr Bunches splashing in the river:




Mr F, enjoying some dirt:



Mr F climbing the slide at "Tall Park." He tried three times before he got the courage to go down, but boy was he proud when he finally did.




Mr F on the trolley ride last week. I'm with him: it was way more boring than I expected:



Mr F at the pond.




Crayons.

Monday, June 22, 2015

10 Minutes About Sad Science Fiction

I just finished reading CivilWarLand In Bad Decline by George Saunders and it might have been the saddest book I ever read and definitely included one of the saddest stories I think could ever exist, "The 400 Pound CEO." I read that story while I was sitting at a table next to the Milwaukee River, taking a lunch break, last week. It was sunny and windy and after I read the terrible (great but so sad) ending to the story I had to just sit and stare at the ducks for a while until I felt like I could stand up.

You don't read many sad scifi stories, and CivilWarLand In Bad Decline is full of scifi stories that are at the least speculative fiction and at the most full-on scifi with mutants and ghosts and stolen memories via mechanical devices and the things. As I read them, one a day only because too much of them would wear me down further (and I was already very down last week) I wondered now and then why it is that you don't see so many sad science fiction, or sad speculative fiction.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote very very sad stories.  I read most of his books one summer when I lived in Milwaukee, over two decades ago. It was the summer I worked at the Grant Theater and at Subway, and I was a sophomore or junior in college, living in a studio apartment on 22nd and Clybourn, near where one day Bill Clinton would stop at a diner. He didn't go there until 1996, when I was already living in Madison and going to law school, and I never went to the diner that he would later visit; back then I was poor enough that I had to work at Subway, because one of my meals each day was the free meal I would get eating at Subway. I ate a sub sandwich a day for nearly two years. Not that I was complaining, although I was very poor.

I would go get my books at the used bookstore near the Grand Theater, picking up paperbacks for a dollar.  It's funny; I realize now that I walked by the library nearly every day and yet I never went there to get books, even though I was so poor.

I read all the Kurt Vonnegut books that summer, working 60+ hours a week and not getting more than two days off the entire summer, and by the end of summer I was pretty depressed.  I always attributed it to reading so much Vonnegut, but now I see maybe it was just that I worked a lot and didn't make a lot of money and didn't have very many friends, and wasn't really sure where I was going in life.

But the Vonnegut didn't help.

Reading George Saunders was different.  I've got a really full life now, and even though last week wasn't great, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as when I was in my 20s and reading all that Vonnegut and walking nearly everywhere because bus fare was expensive.  But still, the stories were very depressing -- albeit, as I've said, great, well worth reading.  Maybe that's why I remember that summer so much, out of all the summers (46, now!) of my life: because of the sadness that stuck with me through the memories of Vonnegut.

David Sedaris wrote, in Leviathan, about remembering sad things:

Honestly, though, does choice even come into it? Is it my fault that the good times fade to nothing while the bad ones burn forever bright? Memory aside, the negative just makes for a better story: the plane was delayed, an infection set in, outlaws arrived and reduced the schoolhouse to ashes. Happiness is harder to put into words. It’s also harder to source, much more mysterious than anger or sorrow, which come to me promptly, whenever I summon them, and remain long after I’ve begged them to leave.
He was talking about how his memories of sad times stick to him, even in the  midst of good times.  Science fiction tends to be an optimistic field: the future, even when its an apocalyptic scenario, ends up being so bright we have to wear shades. The good guys win, the bad guys lose, inventions make lives better.  I think even Blade Runner had a kind of happy ending, although Phillip K. Dick could vie with Vonnegut and Saunders for the saddest writers around.

There's a place for sadness.  I used to like to listen to sad songs when I was down, letting the songs pull the emotions out of me, shape them into something.  Now, I sometimes use stories to do that -- my own stories, in part.  Over the last year, as I wrote a lot of short short stories, many of them came out sad.  Not all of them, but many of them.  Who could blame me? I had a lot going on last year: my dad got sick, I saw the end to 14 years of building a law firm, we had a lot of stresses going on.  Taking any stress, any sadness, any worries, and putting them into the mouths of robots and cowboys and dinosaurs, is a form of control.  I think that's what reading sad stories does now, too: it helps take an emotion that's too immediate and distance it a bit.  Oh that sadness, that's just from the story, I can think, and blame Vonnegut or Saunders or Dick and then later, from a safer distance, examine it and take it apart and put it back together.

That's 10 minutes.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Today we went and made pirate craft things at the library

And I took this picture afterwards when we went walking



It was a pretty fun day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Here are some pictures of bugs I took the other day.







This spider was about 1/2" long. It was crawling along near the river and when I put the camera down in front of it to take a picture it reared up in an effort to frighten or attack me.