Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Better shop around.

I love writing. I love everything about it. I love the inspiration of key ideas or characters or images. I love hammering out an outline, which feels very much like beating metal into useful shapes. I love crafting the introductions to characters, the twists, the openers, all the blocks that go into building a satisfying story. 

What I hate: Peddling.

I'm trying to find a new agent. I don't want to go into a lot of detail, but I spent much of 2015 working on a book based on an "understanding" that it would be just the right thing for the market -- and wound up with a pile of paper and no publisher. So I decided to give up on this writing crap.

But I can't, because I love to write.

But I hate to sell. If I could sell, I'd be a salesman and making some actual money.

If you've written and you're not from New York, you might think that someone like moi, who has lived and worked in the city, especially in and around the publishing business, for more than 20 years would use my connections and secret handshake to get my work published at the finest houses for huge advances. It doesn't work that way. I might as well be working in a gas station in Tugaske. Why? Because I've worked in the wrong end of the business -- copy work is the necessary but unglamourous side of editorial. Also because I spent a lot of that time at magazines, not book publishers, and there's not that much crossover. And because unless you're a real insider, you still run up against the gatekeepers. Just as in Hollywood everyone's writing a screenplay, everyone in the world is writing a novel, and editors don't want to see yours -- or mine -- unless it has at least gotten an agent to bless it. Even if they've known you for years. After all, if I show Editor Smith a novel that she hates, but then she makes a deal to publish a similar book, she might get hit with a lawsuit from me for plagiarism. That's where we are now in this litigious age.

I have lots of friends in the biz, but as the immortal Rodney Dangerfield once said, "My problem is that I appeal to everyone that can do me absolutely no good."

Part of my problem, too, is the stuff I want to write. This new book is a mystery novel about desire, but there's nothing X-rated -- as Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations," and I don't want to win the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Further, there are no scenes with naked, trembling women locked up in underground dungeons, and the overall body count is low. There's no massive conspiracy. In other words, I think the zeitgeist has passed me by.

But I do think it's a good book, a good story, and I think it's worth a shot. Will keep you posted if there's any good news.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Shouts and alarums.

It went all crazypants here last night, and I still don't know what happened. 

I was in a back room, but my wife was in the front of the house. She asked me if I saw all the flashing red lights. I had not. Sure enough, coming through the curtains were the unmistakable crimson lumens of commotion. 

Outside were a number of emergency vehicles, including at least three cars, possibly an ambulance, and two full-size fire trucks. 
A little bigger than this one.
None had made so much as a bloop of the siren when they pulled up.

Did a house burn down? I would have been sad, but not surprised. I think every house around here but ours has a fireplace, and I'm pretty sure most people don't follow the endless list of safety and maintenance guidelines for fireplaces. I did smell a little smoke when I stepped outside, but because it's chilly and people are tossing on the ol' Duraflames, so the neighborhood has been smelling a bit smoky for a month.

All these vehicles were parked all along the street, so I couldn't even tell which house they had been called to. You might have thought all the other nosy neighbors like me would have been outside being looky-loos, but I didn't see a soul but the shadowy figures of officialdom, and I didn't want to get in their way.

Eventually a guy in an SUV all flashing like Christmas pulled up, came out with some kind of light-up wand, and walked toward the hullabaloo. Maybe it was a device to detect carbon monoxide or natural gas leaks? Were the sewers about to blow from methane buildup? Would we have to evacuate? WHAT WAS GOING ON?

I still don't know. Twenty minutes later I went out with the little dog, and they'd all vanished without trace.

My suspicion was that someone called in a gas leak, and this being a fairly quiet town, the fire department just sent everyone. At least they'd get in some practice loading up and moving out. The guy with the light saber could have been with the utility company; it was too dark to see what was on the SUV besides flashing lights.

So it's a mystery, and I hate mysteries. Maybe I can find out something today, but I don't know if anyone around here was home when it happened. I don't even know which home caused the ruckus.

If necessary, I'll just make up a story in my head to explain it. Memory can play tricks on me like that. Decades from now in the old farts' home I'll be telling the nurse how the guy across the street burned down his house with his fireplace. Oh, it was a wild night, yessiree.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Snow diary.

Dear Diary: Today Michelangelo and I went for a walk
and we made snow angels.
Friggin' showoff.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Art rocks!

Apparently there is a fellow in the Hudson Valley who spends some time stacking rocks by the side of the road.

And he doesn't just stack rocks on each other; he will also stack rocks on tree stumps as needed.

Who is this mysterious man of mystery?

I have no idea, but a friend of mine says he's seen the man at work. In fact, those stacks of rocks were a good bit higher in the summer, but fall and winter weather have taken a toll.

To take a line from Weird Al, what on earth would make a man decide to do that kind of thing? Is it some kind of art project? A compulsion to impose neatness on a disordered world? Or just something to do while walking the dog?

My first thought was none of these; I wondered if he was a member of the Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.

But I am informed that there may be a spiritual side to the practice; as a Baptist News writer says, "The spiritual practice of stacking stones claims ordinary moments of life for God and invites those who pass by to notice the holy ground on which they already stand."

And yet in today's world, it is impossible to do anything without pissing off somebody:
“It’s not one or two stacks. It’s when you come across an area, particularly in national parks, when there are dozens or hundreds. … The builders don’t necessary understand the landscape around them and don’t understand that others might be bothered by it. When you have one cairn it’s fine, but all the sudden you have 60 … you can be degrading habitat in that area. These fragile ecosystems are being harmed by this proliferation of stacking stone.”
So the problem is one of volume, which I can understand; if one person stubs out a cigarette butt on my lawn today it's no big deal, but if a thousand people do it it's going to look a bit messy.

Besides, rock-stackers, other nature buffs don't want to see any evidence of you:
First, if they're set in a random place, they can lead an unsuspecting hiker into trouble, away from the trail and into a potentially dangerous place. Second, we go to wilderness to remove ourselves from the human saturation of our lives, not to see mementoes from other people's lives.
I'm not going to wade into this rock-stacking controversy -- yay! Another freakin' thing to fight over! -- except to say that a world that has no place for the Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things is a world that's gotten much too serious.

Meeting adjourned.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fluff and guts.

The big dog, Tralfaz, introduced us to the brutality of the canine world when he was a puppy, pulling the head off a stuffed pig and ripping out the fluffy guts inside.

The little dog, Nipper, has surpassed his brother in the category of proving that a toy labeled "indestructible" is just a toy that has not yet entered our house.

REE REE REE REE REE bomp bomp bomp
We spent some time and considerable money trying to find toys that Tralfaz would not reduce to garbage and particulate matter in minutes. I threatened to buy anvils. But there were some successes along the way. Toys designed to dispense treats usually got treated with the respect one might give an annoying maitre d' -- you could splatter him with one punch but you have to endure him to keep the delicious food coming in the future. Really hard plastic toys like the Unbreakoball survived. Toys that were no fun for him like the Goughnut survived too -- maybe he didn't like it because it was too tough, maybe it seemed too tough because he wouldn't play with it -- who knows?

Very few toys full of stuffing survived his first year. One that did was this red and green bone, stuffed to the point of firmness with enough white fluff to make a Santa suit. It didn't squeak -- Tralfaz might have roughed it up more if it did. However, it also seemed to be so tough that maybe this one really was dogproof.


The horror!
What you see is a very small amount of the fiber fill that Nipper got out of that thing. It was all over the room. It was enough to stuff a pillow, crammed into a bone that could easily fit in a man's hand. Fortunately the little pup knows it's not food; he just wants to rip out the entrails for the pack, I guess.

Which brings me back to one of my hobby horses, to turn a toy-related phrase; the evil sickness of the Toy Story film series.

Buster, the family dog who pops up at the end of the first film and is shown to be friends with the toys in the second, would either have behaved toward his own toys as no other dog ever has, or he would have been committing horrific murder on a scale that would have made Andy's toys freak out. Worse, since we know Sid's toys didn't die despite the horrible surgeries performed on them, Buster's toys would not have even had the sweet release of death. Those people at Disney and Pixar are sick, I tell you, sick!

I try not to think of these things when the boys tear apart their playthings. Also, I try not to see how little fun they get out of the money I spent on them. But to be fair, Tralfaz has outgrown the toy annihilation phase, and I retain hope that Nipper will too.

Woody and Buzz would be relieved.

Friday, January 13, 2017

20th Day.

Okay, the tree is still up. Hey, man, this is a Santa-Shaming-Free Zone. Don't hate me because I'm resplendent.

I've been really busy, all right?

As you may know, I'm a freelancer, and I didn't travel over the holidays. In fact, I took just one day off entirely -- Christmas Day. Several clients wanted me to have projects ready for them either right after New Year's Day or the week after, depending on when they came back from their holiday travels. I'd like to say they turned to me because I am indispensable, but I know it was because I was available.

But it was fine, because I have Christmas bills to pay. Of course, all these clients' accounting offices are still behind because they all went traveling over the holidays....

Never mind. It wasn't just work. We were also doing a good bit of dog training, and some socializing, and then we had a sick dog to nurse. And anyway, we don't take anything down until Epiphany, which was a week ago.

The tree is about the end of it, though. The porch has returned to its normal nude winter state, decorated only by a shovel and broom. Lights are out of the windows. We've sort of de-decorated from the outside in, and the inmost decor is the mighty tree. It's a fake tree, of course, or else by now it would be a withered matchstick. It's also the most complex feature of the whole Christmas presentation, with the lights and ornaments all coming from disparate boxes, destined to be returned to same. It takes a lot of effort in either direction, although less coming down because there's no aesthetic judgment calls being made.

I suppose I could have really gotten the push on this week and gotten everything put away, but I confess the whole thing is depressing. Holidays of all kinds, as well as other fun events like weddings, are sad when they're over -- and sad when things hang around and hang around after the event. It's like being stuck at the airport with interminable delays on your way out of a vacation destination. Yeah, the trip was great, and going home and back to work sucks, but GET ME OUT OF THIS FREAKING AIRPORT and let's GET ON WITH IT. (Why yes, that has happened to me! How did you know?)

Ultimately the Christmas season is a break from the 10.5 months of the year that are not, a period that doesn't generally require special projects and paraphernalia and jocularity, at least not on the same level. But it is also a holy time, which can make me feel at the end like I'm moving away from the source of that Light that shines even when the tree is dark.

Well, Ash Wednesday is on March 1 this year, so before you know it we'll be off on a different and different kind of holy period.

'The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
  And God fulfils himself in many ways,
  Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."

The candle lights a candle in turn; its wick fails but the flame endures. Our tree is dark this morning; it's also fake, but all about it is real.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wash your mouth out.

Every year Santa finds some weird bathroom product for my stocking. Last year, I'm sure you recall, I got a small bottle of Poo-Pourri, the stuff you spray in the toilet to stop it your deposits from shriveling the hand towels.

This year I got the Steripod

These little clip-on pods are like those protective covers you put on the head of your toothbrush when you travel to protect the bristles. You always want to protect your bristles, right, boys? But these little suckers do more than just protect your bristles. I'll let the manufacturer explain:
Enclosed inside each steripod toothbrush protector is a laboratory formulated thymol compound. The compound is encapsulated in plastic with small holes that allow the thymol vapors to escape and surround your brush bristles. It's the vapors that do all the work. The entire steripod is shipped sealed in a medical quality enclosure - ensuring that the compound is not activated [by air flow] before you unwrap. All you have to do is clip the steripod on your brush! - compare to other toothbrush products and you'll love the no batteries, no socket, no hassle of steripod!
The thymol pad is supposed to last for three months, which is about when you should replace your toothbrush anyway, according to the American Dental Association. The ADA page also has a lot of information about bacteria on toothbrushes: "Toothbrushes have been shown to harbor bacteria (including fecal coliform bacteria that can be released into the air when the toilet is flushed or can be spread to the toothbrush when the owner touches a contaminated surface before handling his or her brush)." Ewwwie! Now, they do say that "there is no evidence that these bacteria cause adverse health effects," so go ahead and enjoy the fecal coliform bacteria.

Well, not me, mister!

Here is my actual toothbrush, reposing in its new Steripod like the late Michael Jackson in his hyperbaric chamber:

I guess it would be better for it to be upright, so moisture on the bristles can come down the neck. It's not airtight, nor is it supposed to be. But it does prevent the easy airflow toothbrushes normally enjoy. In fact, the design of the pod may be a problem; the ADA, those buttinskis, have this to say (emphasis added):
Rinse it with tap water to remove any remaining toothpaste and debris. Store it upright and allow it to air dry. If you store your toothbrush with other toothbrushes, make sure they are separated to prevent cross contamination. And do not routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers. A moist environment such as a closed container is more conducive to the growth of unwanted bacteria than the open air. 
Hmm. So does the Steripod prevent that because it has thymol to kill all the bacteria? I suspect they manufacturers will have a long way to go to get the coveted ADA approval seal.

Well, the toothbrush certainly smells clean. My first thought when I unwrapped the pod was, "That smells like my pediatrician's waiting room." I guess he used thymol to disinfect the place, maybe among other chemicals.

I'm already thinking way too much about my toothbrush now. I'm going to turn into Adrian Monk at this rate. The advantage for my bathroom is, between the Steripod killing airborne fecal coliform bacteria and the Poo-Pourri proactively killing odors, it'll be like no one ever poops in there.