plea to the Easter Bunny

Between studying and working on fencing club related stuff I've had no time whatsoever to:

work in the garden
but hey, it's been crap weather since Friday, a week early according to the historical wisdom of farmers and old witches: "maartse buien en aprilse grillen" is a Flemish saying about the weather of this season, but both statements are translated by my Dutch to English dictionary as "April showers", which is wrong.
Here, in the ancient granary of Europe, the showers come in March ("bui" meaning "shower", while "gril"should be "whim"). Translation should read: "March showers and whimsical April".
March was not so wet this year though, but since Friday April has begun: nice blue skies suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a black cloud and a 10 second shower, which magically disappears while you cuddle under a dry roof, you go outside because the temp's all summery again and then suddenly a gust of wind picks up your garden furniture and drops it at the neighbor's. Weird weather, during which I like to walk outside, but not work in the garden.

do writerly things
Except trying to keep up to speed with some blogs. Cow-watcher doesn't mind though: Sunday it handed a me a page of here's-how-to-fix-the-mess-you-made-of-Barynn2 notes which I scribbled down on the backside of the course I was studying. I really want to look into it, but hey, study and club first.

create order
because order is really needed in this workroom. I've really got to make work of the Barynn Companion because if I can't keep track of whoiswho, how's my reader going to? There's little papers with snippets and remarks for other projects, and piles of books, fiction and non-fiction that simply won't fit into the library. Library needs expanding before I fall and break something.

Dear Mr. Easter Bunny, please bring me this thing called time, because I need it more than chocolate.

Spring is also

Hard work in the garden. Which leads to pain, so I'm going to whine for a bit.

Since it's going to rain the next few days I went the extra mile with the revamping the rasp- and blueberry plot, and crapped out my cracked spondylus, which wasn't doing so great anyways the last couple of days. And with the snipping away at dead raspberry wood with the pruning shears, the sprained thumb is also back from being nearly gone. Stupid thumb is probably the only thing keeping the usual De Quervain at bay. Nagging posterior tibial tendon chiming in. And of course, because I've been accommodating the back and ankle in my sleep the last few days so now my lateral collateral ligament is acting up. Accommodating the sprained thumb in my sleep is still with me in the frayed tendons of my deltoid. All I need now is the good old ITBS rearing its head and this picknick will be complete.

I've strapped in my right hand with extra care, and taped the ankle, and will be wearing my knee support. Training is going to be ball! Mummy fencing, yay!

Customer Review: reviewing the customers

Nathan Bransford kicked up a bit of Amazon Review Controversy in his blog and the comments are still growing (161 and counting). About everything and all got said, but to quickly recap (damn those US types that blog while decent people are asleep and dreaming):

A lot of responses displayed the Calimero-complex: it's not fair! And perhaps authors getting penalized for publishing decisions (albeit foreign or electronic rights) isn't, but another lot of responses admits that as buyers they don't use the reviews as absolutes. One smartypants had the Ye Without Sin-reflex: authors have been begging friends and family alike to post multistar reviews which is about as fair. Most commentators have a Simple Solution approach to the problem: proof of purchase reviews only allowed. But then, what if you are given a book for Christmas you really really want to rave about on Amazon, or if a friend passes you the book, or if you've bought it in the shop around the corner and just want everybody to read this book?
Then there's the So Not Gonna Happen solution: make the rules clear, and then Amazon can remove all the "not actually about the book" reviews. Sure, excellent solution. We tried that decades ago with double parking, and we certainly taught those double parking assholes to never do that again, didn't we?

Of course, there's also those comments that seem to be inherent to any article generating lots of comments, i.e. Strange Statements (you'll go broke if you underestimate the American public), The Truth is Out There (Amazon won't delete worthless reviews about Kindle versions because [insert shifty glances and finger on lips] they have a different agenda), Evil Overlord Delusions (The Industry doesn't like getting hit by Amazon's amazing flexing muscles mwahahahaaa) which are all besides the point because:
- besides the strangeness of stating that you'll go broke if you think Americans are dumb, is not limited by US Citizenship. If you're going to make statements about group strength, get your group right. P.S.: the rest of the world doesn't usually like it when Americans speak for The World.
- I'm pretty sure the reason Amazon lets it slide is that they'll probably need to hire an army to weed out those useless comments. And hiring people = spending money, and they're there to make money. Not to bring the people what they want. Not to cuddle their cutesy customers. Not to make statements about economics or politics or even ethics. To make money, simple as that.
- as said above, I don't think there's a secret agenda. Amazon itself gets hurt too by selling less, because, surprise! They don't do what they do for free. How's about that!

If I really have to pick a camp, it'll be the Intelligent Solution: the "request a Kindle-version" button that was mentioned a few times in some form or other. But then, I don't really care about reviews either (or "yet", eh). The tools Amazon is trying to use to get "information" to the customer are on the verge of hoaxes anyway (I'm going to save my Procrastinating with Readability Scores for the next post), and reviews are just an example. Always distrust the tools someone gives you to "help" in your decision making. Distrust numbers given, especially if they are pulled from some poll (news-services have a knack for that too), because percentages only work when they tell you what 100% stands for, and people usually don't. At least with the reviews on Amazon you can see how many there are and pick the ones that might make sense.

I think most people involved in the ranting and raving about Amazon vs. The World&The Industry, forget it's all about money. They are customers. Yes, there's that silly thing someone once said: customers are kings! In my bartending years I've heard that one often enough. Proper response from the getting-paid-to-make-your-boss-money viewpoint: And I am empress. Get over yourselves.

After bartending, I worked in a restaurant, hotel, and museum shop and found, while the activities were different, customer categories stayed pretty much the same:

A small slice of customers is polite, usually because they want help in some way or other, or because they are just nice people and actually want to show you that they care about the way you care about your job. They tip. They say thank you profusely. They smile and make your day, even if it's been the crappiest of your whole career and you're pulling double shifts and your feet really hurt. The customer you want to invent awards for, but believe me: small slice. As it is for business (being in it for the money), customers are in it for the buying. Not cuddling the shop assistant. Not being all nice and amazed that someone paid to bring their food actually brings their food.

Another small slice are the assholes, of course, there's no escaping them but luckily they're about as rare as the nice customer. They want to get served first, no matter who was in line before them. When they do they'll find fault with at least one thing, preferably something you can't help. Seriously, once I had this major asshole on a very crappy day tell me the line didn't move up quickly enough and this is a stupid country and he's never coming back here to spend his precious money. I mean *shrugs* what do you say to that except for a well-meant "Well, bye now!"

But the big middle chunk of customers don't really care. They drift, aimlessly, are quiet but are usually somewhat in the way. They order food, eat, pay, leave. They're not especially nice, they just are. The grazing herd. Though mind, they are also swing-voters. Anything can suddenly arouse their anger. One asshole cutting the line and then giving you a hard time, if not managed properly, will incur the wrath of the whole line.

So why not give you people some helpful advice on properly managing assholes at the tiller:
- Make eye-contact with the herd, make sure they know you know they suffer while you help this idiot but that there's no way around it. You're sharing a boat, and let's not rock it, okay? Eye-contact is the first step of bonding.
- Don't argue with the idiot; this lengthens the time he'll be in front of the line, and the herd wants you to get on with already. They'll turn on you, it'll be your fault. Why? I wanna say because customers are idiots, but that's not true. It's because customers come for the buying, and somehow their catharsis involves them handing you money. Don't be a tease, get the asshole out before you have a bunch of assholes on your hand. Also, take care: if you don't have a perfectly good and short sentence to explain/excuse why asshole feels the need to be an asshole (customer's always right, remember?), just nod and agree and say you're sorry. If you place yourself in the position that you have incurred his wrath, you are in control, not him, and you'll actually be able to get him past the tiller and out of the door much quicker.
- It doesn't hurt to express your annoyance once he's gone. As in [too chipper to be heartfelt] "And a very nice day to you, sir!" after which you turn to the next in line with a genuine smile (and relief will help you with that, no need for acting lessons), a sigh of relief and a true "Can I help you, sir?" By this you will give the whole line's annoyance direction (it's that idiot's fault they had to wait), but also tickle their reptile brain with the notion that if they don't behave, they will be marked as asshole by the herd.

New and old

So a while ago I ordered a pile of books from overseas to fill the void of words inside. I ended up with a 50-50 split of fiction and non-fiction, and I'm up to my last fiction book. If I manage to read it by the end of next week (though I really have a ton to do) I'll have read 5 books in 4 weeks. Seriously, I haven't done that in ages. And then I do mean ages. Without checking, I think Zelazny was still alive back then, and Peter Hamilton had only one or two titles to his name.

I was apprehensive about the experiment, because normally my MO for buying books was pretty much: I like his/her writing, so whatever he/she touches I buy and read. New stuff = bad stuff, unless I can ... smell it. Feel it. Read it.
But then my favorites all died, if they weren't dead already, and this made me sad. But then there were treasures found in the vault, books published postmortem, and I was happy again. For a little while. A very short while.

The idea of buying only what you know is not fully my own choice, because see, if you read English in a non-native English country, you'll find your choices are limited anyhow. Back in the days the only way to find SF/F in English was by:

a) browsing secondhand shops
This exposes you to lots and lots of different things (authors, genres, styles,...). Back in the days a copy would cost you the equivalent of 50 eurocent to 1 euro, which was the price of a beer! If that's the cost, the book you buy doesn't even have to be particularly good. If it turns out the story sucks or the style is not you or non-existent, you can use it to prop up your desk, give it away or toss it in the recycling bin and not cringe or feel guilty for wasting money.
But secondhand bookshops have gone the way of regular bookshops: unless part of a chain, most of them had to fold. And that means the lowest you can get a decent copy for is 4 euro ('decent' meaning: still glued together and cover not eaten by someone's dog), and it has nothing to do with a beer now costing 2. These4 euro will buy you a book no one really likes because they have twenty copies who were owned privately (not remaindered, because different wear and tear, names scribbled inside,...) Obviously 4 euro will buy you a book you'll want to toss in the recycling bin. So let's not.
I get to know some authors that way, who were not available in the library, English or translated: Alfred Bester, Colin Kapp, and Tim Powers (who was too new).

b) taking a train to Brussels (which you don't do every day or week) and browse W.H.Smith and Sterling, and sometimes the small selection at Fnac. But WHS has become Waterstones and now carries a less ... adventurous range of SF/F. Sterling seems to do the job with more heart but alas far less room than Waterstones (SF/F/H all crammed together). Fnac has a smaller selection of what you'll find in Waterstones. These days, you always see the same books, whether in Fnac, Sterling or Waterstones. Duh, of course, best-sellers are best-sellers and will be in your face. But it's more... Only big sellers. Only big houses. Only no risk. It makes the shopping-for-books experience boring and bland.
We had a bit of thrill when the American Book Center opened a store in the city where I live. They were a godsend! No more train to Brussels, and they had a great selection of SF/F, not just the frontlists ofthe big houses, and also a great collection of secondhand books. But alas, they had to fold after a few years, so buying books became boring again.

So, how do you get to know new stuff then? With all my favorites dead or silent, I was in urgent need of new blood. And it was not because there was nothing out there. A trip to the UK always manages to put something new before the hubby and I, but then, oversea trips are even less common than going to Brussels for the sole purpose of shopping. And covers do matter, because between a series of all-polished-to-look-like-the-next-one covers the hubby lifted Abercrombie's The Blade Itself from the shelf. I would probably have done the same, if it hadn't been like 4 shelves over my head. But we need more. Mooooorrre, I say!

So I was becoming aware of another fact: I've never bought a book on a review alone. Half the time I can't read more then a paragraph of review anyway. I've never went to a movie based on a (printed) review alone either. I have a stubborn streak like that, always want to make up my own mind. I read the dazzling praise on the blurb, and my inner-reading voice trails off into " and blablablabla". I don't trust other people I guess.
More of the same problem: there are many authors I have not read, because everybody keeps telling me that his books are amazing and I "must simply read them! You'll love his books to bits!"
Inner-voice: "Must? Must I now? We'll see about that!" and then the books don't get read. Iain Banks used to be there, but one day everybody just shut up about him, and he was so kind to leave enough time between two titles for me to find the peace of mind to actually start reading.
It's a weird problem, isn't it? This is the main reason why LOTR was not read until after the movies. The ice was broken after the first movie, but I held off reading so I could keep my perspective on the movies. After all, I was the only one of our rpg-group that hadn't, and as long as the trilogy was unwinding on screen, we had interesting discussions on what worked or not. I mean, everybody had almost endless gripes about this interpretation, that character too prominent or not present. I, as non-LOTR infected, had only one moment where Jackson failed utterly and unforgivably, and that's the great battle: you have your well trained, daring, nimble cavalry and you send them into a head-on collision with giga-elephantors? Suicide, anyone?
Oh, now I got side-trackede.
Anyways, the books I sent for through the internet were chosen solely on samples, either through Amazon, the publisher's or the author's website. And it worked, and I still have a list for a new order.! New favorites added. Hopefully enough to keep me from pining for mooooooorrre! And hopefully those new favorites will keep doing what they're doing, because sometimes that too is the sucky part of trying something new. Sometimes great new things you like, just vanish into nothing.

Since I've worked for a book distributor, I've learned about two very important persons in the book publishing business that usually aren't mentioned in the blogs, but that I know are immensely important to getting a book on the shelf:

1) the middleman, being either a distributor's or the publishing house's own salesperson. This is the person who gets to talk the shop owner or 'chef de rayon' (as they say in French; the person who does the buying for a certain range/category, Wikipedia won't help me translate) to actually put your title on the to-buy list. Especially if you're from a smaller publisher, who cannot offer those great percentages and total return policies the big houses can.

2) well, the Chef de Rayon himself, of course, because most bookshops are too big for just one human to handle. They come in all fragrances, these people, and it is very important to have someone who is interested. Back in the days, it must have been a really good guy managing the SF/F list for the Fnac, because they had a very broad range of publishers and some quirky stuff too. It's where Sterling still manages to make a slight difference.

More shtuff

The next wave of invaders got in under the radar and were dying because I poisoned their favorite restaurant, so I was going to do the flea thing but lost my nerve for procrastination because of this alienesque image *shudders*

Things to do in Belgium
Another query shot out into digiworld, worked in the garden and finished another current read. One new(er) title left and a handful of resource books, before I'll have to send for more [I started writing some more shit here, but I'm going to keep that for a proper post next]. Furthermore, I have to read a course to brush up my knowledge of social law and all things personnel, and study the first 50 pages by next Thursday. And a ton of preparations that need doing for the fencing club board by next Monday. And also a visit to the dentist (first of a couple I'm guessing), because you can never have enough metal in your mouth. Ever.


Difficult weekend.

Stuck at fencing training doing no fencing: chronic tendinosis acting up and teaching me about a couple of tendons I never knew I had. I just love my genetic heritage.

It sort of sucks extra when you can't do any fencing and the next day you're stuck at an epee tournament (designated driver). I can only appreciate epee if I've had my saber training. Seriously. Epee goes on forever. And ever. Especially if the organization got surprised by the turnout of women which screwed up the timetables on the men's competition. Also, for some reason they put all the real judges on the women's poules, which meant the men had to judge their own matches, which is pretty usual for local tournaments, but dudes. Epee fencers. Not in a hurry. At least with real judges they'd had someone to keep some tempo.
So it went on forever. And ever. And then some more.

Okay. Done ranting.

I did finish another book from the pile and started a new one when we arrived at the tournament and I'm already halfway through. Might finish it later, in the tub.

Saturday evening, whilst coming back from the city with the hubby after dark, we noticed the Trek of the Toads has begun. There they were, sitting in the roadside grass, pretending to be rock and leaf. Some of them had already tried to cross to the ponds of the castle on the other side, and a whole lot probably made it. Others try to pass through our house when I leave the backdoor open.

The Trek of the Toads is an annual event (though this year it was huge, must have been a good toad year), and an even surer proof than ladybugs and fleas that spring has begun. I'm already looking forward to the bundle of fun which happens later in the season when cats meet young toads on their way to new territories. Remember to not go barefooted through the house.

Other annual events are the Trek of the Grasshoppers (end of summer, grasshoppers migrate through and over our house towards the busy road) and the Trek of the Polecats (start of autumn, sadly, known by roadkill). And no, end of summer does not equal start of autumn.

Okay, time for those ice-packs.


Exposed to it on Nicola Morgan's blog, I just have to reiterate the youtube here because it's just so witty that *head explodes*

Mark C. Newton's Remix Project ::Update:: and ::Spring!::

Wahay, my story's up at Mark Newton's blog, go check it out here!

See, now I'm nervous and fight the urge to find me a big dry rock to crawl under.

Okay, moment passed. I can breathe again.

I think we've got a poltergeist here. Cats roam around, find a corner in an empty room (like the cellar, or the bathroom, far far from where I am) and start mewling. No, mewling doesn't sound like the sound they're making. "Maowing" should do it. So they maow maow at the wall. And just when I think I should go look at what's the matter, they scurry in a flurry through the house, find some high ground where they do a fast paced "The Exorcist" dance, and then they scurryflurry to somewhere else, usually outside. Psychocat, in all the confusion usually ends up on the table, before she realizes that that's the one place cats are not supposed to be in our house. At least when the twoleggers are home/standinrightbesidecha. So see, poltergeist.

Hold on, that can't be right. *snaps fingers* I know what this is! It's: nothing says spring like:


Oh my lovelies, are we going to have a fun day of Advantage rubbing! And making fun of your punk hairdos. And laugh at your all-wrinkly "ooh this smells baaaaaaaad" faces.

Quick Notes continued

Also, last year, whilst browsing a second hand bookshop for Christmas gifts (we usually find some quirky theater play for muminlaw that way), the hubby found a book of which he said: "Here, that's one for you!" Well, actually he used a Flemish/Dutch expression which, translated literally, gives: "It's written on your body."

The Games People Play, subtitled The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis, is a quite readable manual in which the way we people talk and act around eachother is analysed into handy formulaic patterns. You can read more blahblah on it on its Wikipedia page.

I found the book eerie, as I always do when complex human behavior is revealed to be quite simple programming. Never fails to catapult into the past, many many years ago, where I sat in front of our C64, typed in the code given my a computer magazine, and presto: had my own version of Pong. Wow! That's how easy it is!

But it's also interesting, because the simple patterns are an excellent tool to look at dialogues and other human interaction from a writer point of view.
Up till now, whenever I wrote anything from a pissing contest to venomous green-eyed spitting match, it has always been the inspiration of the moment, and not necessarily what the plot required. Nothing so angst-inspiring as knowing I have to make my characters angry at each other. Very very angry. And there has to be dialogue.
Over the years I managed to get a better feel for it; it helps to crawl into the character's skin and annoy the crap out of him/her until he/she finds her angry voice. But still I'd rather find a way around my characters having a hissy fit on the page. Fake verbal fights are ... so fake.

Luckily now (well, quite some time ago but for me just a few months ago) the mechanics of such "transaction" are revealed with absolute clarity. Very helpful for writing. Also, very helpful for realizing how my own hissy fits work and doubt the hubby finds that a bad thing, 'ey.

So, Games People Play. Look it up. Cool stuff.

Some quick notes

Whilst procrastinating with website stuff, I came across this list of webpages. It's student reference materials for lectures given by one Sandra Shaw, pictures with just a remark, no text or explanation. Cannot say whether her lectures are interesting or not, but the juxtaposition of old art versus quick sketches (like here) and the historical overview in images got my visual muse all aflutter. So there.

The story between the story. As in comic books (the narrative existing literally between the panels of a page and not in the panel itself, like in the space between panels, and drawing inter-"textual" lines from one panel to another). Also in TV series. Lately, been re-watching old series on DVD in high speed; and no, not as in increased frame-rate, but in increased episode-rate. Dark Angel vs. Buffy, averaging on two weeks per season, which is of course not the way they were meant to see. As it happens, it has some strange effects, concerning story-telling: Dark Angel just creeps along its uphill romantic struggle with some ass-kicking thrown in. There are temporal leaps between episodes, but not really. Seen back-to-back, the string of episodes become this one long-assed story, and also... boring. And here I liked Dark Angel so much back in the days, even if the plot suffered from floppy-hat syndrome. But hey: things were coming together towards the end of the second season! I remember being very pissed when they scrapped the show.
Buffy on the other hand makes these subtle little jumps between episodes. The hubby and me often frown and mutter: "This happens already? I thought it took at least five episodes longer before [Angel shows up, Angel leaves, whatever]" See, that's because we're remembering the narrative of the series, which isn't congruent with the actual story told in every episode. The narrative is more than a plain sum of the episodes. Good trick, that. Well done.

I was going to add how this applies to writing, but see, I'm just going to let y'all fill in the narrative yourselves.

Mark C. Newton's Remix Project

What's it about? Well:
Mark C. Newton offered a story for remixing, look here and here.

Already three remixes are up. I'm done fiddling with mine and I've sent it off. Don't know if all the samples work, but there. Hacked, shaken and stirred. Not polished to perfection, so there will be stupid typos. Always are, aren't there?

So there: find my version in pdf here. Edit: also, Mark posted it on his blog HERE.
You think it works?

So, what did I do, how did I do it?

Naturally, I read the original first. Tried to keep track of the links my mind made up as I read, jotting down a Possible Sample list.
Kipling's Jungle Book was an obvious choice. To make it easy I downloaded a .txt version from Project Gutenberg and scanned through it searching for key words. For some reason my mind also felt the Sex Pistol's No Future was a dead given. Must be Britain, class issues, stuff like that. I googled up the lyrics, because I wouldn't want quotefail while sampling, right? Then again, who knows how right those online lyrics are?
Grabbed my completely read-to-pieces Immortal Poems of the English Language from the shelf, because it's been way too long since I memorized Blake's The Tiger.

I let everything simmer for a few days, then read the original again, this time indicating what words in the original prompted for what samples. Taking note of what I wanted the flow to be, the new rhythm of the story. Checked out those cultural references that don't belong to my ready knowledge. Got some more sample ideas jotted down.

Okay, so now I have the annotated original, and a file with snippets of samples I might want to use. The samples aren't just text, but also idea samples, because writing is more than just stringing up words. For instance, upon the second read, the image of Baseema's angry father in blue shirt and hands moving about mixed in my head with the Mahakala image I saw some years back in the V&A and remember thinking "scary blue dude".

From the top, I hacked away at the original words, compressing the story into a different rhythm. Sometimes rewriting a word or two, making the text my own. Google at the ready to hunt down some idea sparks for other samples, rejecting or adding as I saw fit. Sampling the new version itself, like self-reference, which is something I just like to do when writing. There's this resonance build-up when you do that. Echoes. I like 'm.

Then the first draft was done. I didn't change much after that, just tightened up some prose in the corners, added some more (new) samples. I could probably go on, adding, revising. But I'm going to end here, and refrain from further polishing, because I've got books to read and other stories to write.

I think it works, hope it works if you're not me. Not sure whether the Kipling samples, being ye Olde English, blend in well enough. I thought about adapting them to modern English, but feared the samples might get lost that way, and that would defeat the purpose of sampling, since, well, covering Madonna and using my own version as sample in a song just isn't the same as sampling Madonna. Though, I did adapt samples to fit tense or a sentence's subject, but somehow that felt less intrusive, because that's just speeding up the sample to fit my beat. Hmmm. Who knows?

Ideas I threw in, apart from Mahakala:
  • a reference to the deer of the Three Senseless Creatures in Buddhism, representing love sickness
  • red ballerinas, yellow brick road. If something needs fixing, you need to see the wizard. Or witch, in this case. It just unrolled like that when they stepped off the bus and I could see the blind strip twisting into the suburbs. I'm not even sure if blind strips exist in London outside the city. But hey, we writers make shit up.
  • apparently there was a movie made in 1997, title of Chudail. Which I didn't see, but there. Couldn't help it.

... continued

Or read some more blogs, of course.
Reader Request week coming up chez Whatever, and skimming through the list of previous years' topics, came across RR 2008 # 10: Meeting Authors (and Me). Remarks on the inequality of "knowing you, knowing me" between famous people and their fans resonating with yesterday's Angina Irretis post. Because it's not just famous people. It's you, it's me, right here, right now. It feels like whole parcels of pick-nick, but it are just crumbs.
Storing these remarks and feelings away in a dark cranny beneath the skull now, like yesterday's post, like flamewar PST, and other brushes I had with this "it looks real but it's just digital blips on the radar" thing called online life. See, Cow Watcher works with those little bits, creating a thing of beauty. I know it. I feel it. It hovers in the dark there, an unformed blob of wet clay, a painting under a dust cover, like a cat in a box with a bottle of poison. I can describe the outside of the box all I want, but I know nothing of what goes on inside without a peep. And Cow Watcher don't like me peeping.

Nothing says spring like


First draft of the Remix Project done. Getting colder again outside, so I just as well might use the afternoon to finish it instead of gardening.

Angina Irretis (or Interretis?)

Online presence is good, right? You're there, airing opinions, being Someone. Though I must confess seeing how there's no comments, followers, yaddayadda, makes me feel ambivalent.

Then suddenly there's: Train-wrecks! Implosions! and while they are interesting from a voyeuristic viewpoint, the thing I'm seeing hits me with some weird PTS. Because, a long time ago I got into a serious train-wreck. It was emotionally devastating and the worst part was: those idiots were too far away! In a bar I would stomp off in a huff and have them look at my shiny hiney/you can't touch this. I'd pour my beer over their stupid faces, or better yet, steaming hot coffee. Eat this mofos. If necessary I'd kick them in the gonads and give them strife and then some!
But online, you're helpless like that and I don't cope well with helpless. Helpless makes me cry, then the tears make me even more angry and then I cry even harder. Angry snowball of snot and tears. Not pretty.

So back then, I concluded online presence is not good. Don't get me wrong, I met some great people through online life, and funnily, it's hard to stay in touch with them online once they've migrated from an existence as digital blip to real life persons. Also, I have this thing where I have to overcome a great feeling of "bother" to meet up with people in real life. It's not a life-impeding angst or something. Just, *le sigh* such a bother.
Anyways, I want to be a published author, not a columnist. I'm not looking to go out into the street and voice my opinions to strangers. I want to sit at home, with a safe distance between me and the strangers, and write my shit. That's all. Strangers are scary. Unlike people I know, and people I think up, I don't know how they'll react. They're scarily ... strange and alien like that and very exhausting.

I had some point I was going to figure out while I poked at it, about how if you're the center of flame it is more intimate and personal than being paraded through the streets in peck and feathers. It's so in your face, all over your little window into digiworld like a firewall. And the only thing you can do to stop it, is pull the plug, put the computer to sleep. Which is sort of like poking your eyes out because some discussion derailed into the flames of hell, which is kinda overkill.

But I think instead I'm going to finish the Remix Project first draft and do real life stuff, like cleaning and groceries.


Through SF Tidbits and an article on the Role of the Artist, I came across this 2008 movie (in a Nick Mamatas' comment) featuring a lot of urban fantasy covers to prove how alike they all are.
Besides pointing out advertising trends at work in cover design, what I sort of expected the movie to point out was not only how the heroines nearly all being bare backed, tattooed,... but failed to do, is that those heroines all hold their knives in that psycho-killer way that is, erm, only useful if you're going to do psycho-killing and don't really mind stabbing yourself in the leg or guts if you miss (or if you're holding a stake because, you know, then you need the staking force to do some vampire killing). Now, I'm not a card carrying member of Emancipated Caucasian Chicks Inc., yet it struck me as strange that for creatures having lived in the kitchen with sharp knives for so long, we still can't figure out how to hold them...

That said, I feel the need to rant away some on emancipation:
I consider myself an emancipated person. "Person" and not "woman", because emancipation should not care about gender or color. Besides, I don't like the crowd of emancipated women (ECC Inc.) out there. A lot of them always try to tell me how I should be emancipated, and how to dress, speak and act, and dude, that even usually didn't even work for my mom.
You think that funny? I'm rather wary of them, for a few reasons, like:

Modern Age Working Woman is still discriminated against!
They mean: they try and have this career, and also a family, and in the end they take up more sick leave and other social benefits (maternity leave for starters), and at the end of the road they'll have earned less in the Belgian Social Welfare State, because they have less days of real work. That's like, discrimination!
Now, I disagree, vehemently. I don't mind if some benefit to support The Mom is created, but this should be for The Mom, whether she has a job/career or not. But how would it be "levelling the playing field" if women get this special treatment that they don't even need to get the same amount of days of real work done to get the same paycheck? And hello men? Who got you all so pussy-whipped that you just nod and applaud at those Emancipated Women?
Besides that, I find it thoroughly insulting when Emancipated Women, in their enlightened emancipated way, are pushing forward some weird biological imperative that women are made for breeding and they just can't help getting pregnant. Nothing against getting pregnant, but in this day and age, it is a choice (yeah yeah, accidents and bad things happen to women, but overall speaking). If you want kids, you think long and hard about it, and if you're not sure, get a puppy. Because I made my choice, and I don't mind my hard earned tax-euros going to your maternity leave, your child support, the sick days you take to look after your sick children, your children's education, because socially speaking, in the end I'll be needing your children to take care of me in my old days because I'm not having any. But don't pretend it's discrimination if you don't like the choices you made, else I'll be wanting my money back.

Veiled = oppressed
A lot of those Emancipated Women are now focusing on liberating the oppressed third and fourth generation muslimas from their hijab here in Europe. Now the hijab discussion is a difficult one. Separation of state and church can lend arguments to banning the hijab from public office etc, but then, as I understand it, the hijab is not quite a religious symbol.
Banning it from school, or what some people would even prefer: from the street!, makes me rather squeamish of the current trends in society. I grew up in the late eighties/early nineties, and have vivid memories of how black was banned from school because black = drugs&sex&rock'nroll and no good can come from it! Unless it's NafNaf black, of course. Like "proper" black. Else, it's a life of addiction and welfare coupons, dudette!
Some years ago the discussion on the hijab was still about public office and limited to a more political view on things, now my hackles are raised seeing it are mainly Emancipated Women trying to liberate these oppressed young girls and giving them a chance on a real future by:
1) singling them out in a discriminatory way. You'll notice nobody cares that the young boys' cultural dress code makes them look like gangsta rapping car-thieves, I mean, they're boys, they're stupid anyway, and a lost cause. No, these girls are smart, the learn well, and if our economy is to be saved, we'll need more of those. Not those car-thieving idiots that fill up our prisons and get free meals with our hard earned tax-euros.
2)teaching them how they have to adapt to our reality, even if that reality is illegal. In my book, no discrimination means no discrimination. A whole lot of these girls are more mature and have a stronger will or voice than the average whitie kid. I don't mind if you teach them how to roll with the punches life can and will deal them, but seriously, teach 'm to stand up for their rights first. Imagine if they'd said back in the days: look sweetie, I know you have the legal right to vote, but seriously, they're just going to be mean to you when you go to the polling station. So, better stay at home. What's for dinner?
3) creating peer pressure wars between those young women who believe the hijab is a sign of decency and comply to tradition, and others that are really willing to comply to our twisted standards (mini-skirts, y'all, and no veils damnit! show those boobs!). A lot of these hijab-wearing girls are so smart, they use the veil to throw a shadow over all those things girls do in puberty. In bilingual Belgium, it's even so funny that those smart girls, who speak a North-African language and French as natives, eagerly learn Flemish because their parents don't understand it. I mean, what bunch of friends needs codes to speak about boys while parental units are near, if you have a whole language! Especially if talking that language is good exercise to land you a job! See, mom, dad, I'm a good little girl. Change the hijab into knee-length skirts and other nerd-girl signatures, and you'll see how, if not handled with calm and subtlety, you might end up with some really twisted girls.
This cry for burn your bra veil lately feels to me like the last stand of Emancipated Women trying to get a hold on girls who threaten to find their own path to emancipation. And that simply won't do, because for them, emancipation is about control. Trust me, I've been at the wrong end of their stick once too often.

More Women Needed at Top Levels!
Personally, I'd settle for: more competent people needed at top levels, man or woman. Competence is what matters.
I especially loathe the discourse in which more women up there would make the world a better, warmer, fuzzier place.
Seriously, people who want women in powerful positions at all cost:
a) are card carrying members of ECC Inc. angling for a seat of power or supporting their local chapter's hot potato
b) if male: never had their dicks pounded into the dirt by an ex
b) never went to an all-girls school, or have never seen a cat fight up close. Laugh all you want about "hair pulling" as fighting skill, what you don't see is the months of crippling but very warm and fuzzy bullying that follows. Take it from one: women are vicious and a woman scorned, yadda yadda.
c) ehem, Thatcher anyone? Very warm and fuzzy. Yup.
I don't mind if women get power as long they're competent. But just because they will inspire the world with love and warmth: not a valid argument.

Okay, end rant.

In it for the money, or in it for the art?

Interesting article by Ursula Le Guin over at the Book View Cafe on the Axolotl Roadkill/Strobo incident of last month. I'm not sure which blog directed me to the New York Times article at the time, but seeing how little heated debate it has actually generated, except for articles that nearly dismiss the issues at hand (here and here for instance) in a sort of been there, done that tone. And I guess, if you look at the Axolotl Roadkill/Strobo incident from the plagiarism angle, it is just that clear and cut (hammer/nail anyone?). That's why I found it refreshing to see one of the real issues pointed out by Le Guin: literature is not information.

I've added my fist full of euros in the comments section. I swear it was just going to be two cents, but then I stumbled across the differences between the industries that are compared, and got sidetracked. I decided the main difference is the money involved, in the business end as well as the legal end of the matter. Can we trust the suits to defend our artistic value? Do we need to? Are we in this for the money or for the art?

While there are legal limits to what is and is not plagiarism in most countries, I remain by my conclusion that it is up to the writing community itself to come to a code of conduct.

But, the whole nature of the publishing business (i.e. copying your manuscript) adds another layer to the issue, I realized. Does "not complaining" about the violation equal you giving your copyright away? Would a publisher urge you to defend your copyright, or even do it for you, if your sales have been miserable and the media storm helps them sell copy? What if, after let's say the two years stipulated in the contract, the copyright is about to revert back to you? Would you be able to sue the publisher for devaluating your work? Hmm, let's find someone who can answer those questions...

Other news: yesterday the reading I've been doing this week has paid off, though you'd think tearing through a cyberpunk novel or two would urge me towards my own cyberpunk WIP. Ha! The cow-watching part of my mind moves in mysterious way. I'm itching to continue the work, but for now I'm gonna give Newton's Remix Project story another look and see what Cow Watch has done with the first two iterations.

Writer's block

First of all, let's be clear: I don't have it.
Or let's be even clearer: I'm not currently experiencing it.

But I have been thinking about it lately, mostly because some article or blog where it's mentioned. And while there is no real consensus on what writer's block is, I find the term used inappropriately all too often. My writer's block is years old, but it's only the last two or three years that I'm able to really think the process through, confident I won't get sucked back in. I've come to terms with the beast.

See, at least in my humble opinion (which of course could just be colored too strongly by the severe nature of said block), writer's block is not "some blockage" of muse or linguistic capacities. Nothing like a bout of constipation that can be solved with fiber or medication. Not every symptom points to the same condition, not every headache indicates a brain tumor.

Inspired by an old post by Juliette Wade on writer's block, I'd like to list what I (once again: humble opinion) see as fakes, adding to her (paraphrased) three:

1) no time to write (equals frustration and leads to eating too fast, not enough munching, bad for the innards). I'd like to addendumate Ms. Wade's list here with: too stressed to write. Whatever the reason for your stress (work, deadline, bad hair day) make time to eat. The stress itself is already enough, err, stress, on your system; you don't want to add flatulence, constipation, hiccups, acid burn,... to the list of stress-causers. Stress can snowball like that.
2) no energy to write (if you come home each night from work , too starved to reach the fridge, you seriously need to think about snacks. snacks can save your day. keep snacks in the office, the car, your purse, pocket,... eat a tidbit while you can, and it will tie you over)
3) no story to write (if you feel bored eating, ask yourself why, and differentiate your diet. there's no rule that says you have to eat potatoes every day, you know). Again I addendumate: nothing GOOD to write (water is healthy, even if fish fuck in it. salad can be yummy, even if you're not a cow. and everybody needs fiber. Sometimes you just need to get through the boring stuff to get to the chocolate mousse.)
4) page fright
That moment where you stare into the blank page and the blank page stares into you. I've had it happen, and I doubt I'm the only one on the planet, but I wouldn't call that writer's block. More a sign that my mind isn't finished with fiddling with the scene, plot, words, whatever. Or that it hasn't grabbed the story by the tail firmly enough to commit it to canvas.
I leave the blank page be, go and do something else. The words will come eventually, no surgery needed.
5) other anxieties
This covers all sorts of things, that usually lead to much procrastination. Feeling anal about wordcount? Are your infodumps to big? Does that skirt make your ass look fat? Do you have a milk mustache, spinach stuck between your teeth or did the wine color your teeth and tongue?
Take a deep breath and a step back. There's no kick like putting a fear to rest, especially when you've wallowed in them for quite some time and then find yourself able to fix them in a snap. Go ahead, allow yourself to wallow. Count those words and count them again, and fear each time there too many/not enough of them. Pull your hair, sob and moan. Then get yourself a mirror and a toothbrush, and fix it.

All in all, above problems concern time, willpower or ego, and given experience any writer will learn how to deal with those hiccups. I know I did, and I'm not even published yet. And it's a continuous process; I'm developing new hiccups regularly. But stress and anxiety management problems are just that: hiccups and farts. Hot air. It blows over.

Now, to me, writer's block is something else. A serious condition, and while its origin may be in- or external, it comes down all the same to a serious existential nervous breakdown. It's not that the ideas or words stop coming, but that, for the love of God, you can't think of a reason to put them down. If you start questioning words and their meaning, you're in as much trouble as a writer, as a priest who starts doubting the existence of God.

One moment you'll be so utterly depressed by the thought of writing anything (yes, even nonsensical crap, or your shopping list for crying out loud!) that all you can do is sit and stare at the wall. The next you'll turn into a lightning spitting ball of venom, shredding whatever you find in the drawer because it's all meaningless anyway. Luckily I found out that my impulse to hang on to old crap and spend afternoons huddling it with fierce nostalgia is unbeatable. If it hadn't been, I'd faced a tabula rasa from which I might not have recovered, because I needed that old crap to nurse myself back to health. After three years of block.

Take heed: deep down humans do whatever they do for one reason only, and that's to find reason in their existence. And it's not just "what you'd like to be when you grow up". Man cannot do something well if his heart isn't in it, and the heart only gets to go in, if he finds reason. Digging pits and filling them up the next day makes people go insane, unless somehow they can believe it is a good thing they are there every day, digging and filling. Watch them doing it for a year and then tell them it was for nothing, and be ready to either hand out lots of beer/chocolate or dodge the angry mob.

The trouble with this (my own) definition of writer's block is:
in all the experiences I've had in this life, it only equals quitting my nicotine habit. You can quit smoking, but the cigarette never leaves your system. Thirty years from now it will still be there, in my dreams, in every unguarded moment.

Now there's a scary thought.

Spring, please

Or maybe not.
Weather-wise, we don't have much to complain about in Belgium these weeks, in comparison to the storm damage of last month in France, and the snow surprises in Germany and Spain. It's not even all that cold anymore, and spring is definitely sneaking closer. But with the treacherous cold wind, I keep getting attacked by some snot bug, with which I'm terribly fed up after the last couple of weeks. Especially since when I'm not all snotty because of a bug, I'm getting all snot-nosed because of allergies, even when it's still far too cold for anything to be in bloom.
Only last week I found out exactly why the damned condition is called HAY-fever --the fencing judge course took place on a sports accommodation domain where they also give horse riding courses. And who'd have thunk that hay is involved in the upkeep (or that it's not the manure that is the hardest on the nose).
I was recovering nicely from the damage all the sneezing and snottering had caused (the snot bug's always ready to take advantage), but yesterday I went to a info-session which took place in a small room above an indoor swimming pool. Now, I've been staying away from such places for decades for reasons of dermatographia, but it appears I've managed to develop a fabulous sensitivity to the reek of chlorine. More sneezing and snot followed, and I'm not out of the woods yet.
So bring on the spring, but please be gentle. This year is promising to be horrible on the allergies.

In other news:
- lots of fencing. Competed on Sunday and was pretty impressed with my own legwork. Now if I could actually get a grip on how to make it a good legwork day, I'll be doing okay in the Belgian Championships next month.
- writing, not so much. Gave the inhabitants of the attic a small peekaboo, to remind the cow-watching-and-plotting part of my brain of what elements are important so it can continue its swell job while I concentrate on: reading! I ordered a shitload of new books two weeks ago, of authors old and new but all none I've read before, and I've dug in. What can I say, words need to go in before words can come out.

Loose ends

Last week and next week most of my time will be devoted to fencing; this weekend I followed a course to become juge, and I passed the theoretical exam. And next week is the annual general assembly of the club and I have to get the financial report in order.

Because of the judge course I completely missed the fabulous new evidence that the biggest problems in Belgium are all invented or created by the government:
The government decided on holding a memorial in Brussels where almost none of the survivors or family members came. Images show the Bozar hall with hundreds of empty seats. This happened because:
- Buizingen/Halle is one of those "difficult" communities in the belt around Brussels. You must speak Dutch over there, so according to the cabinet of Internal Affairs it was impossible to hold a bilingual service there (a lot of French speaking victims) without exploding the language issues between the Flemish and Walloon. Hence, Brussels. Belgians, from both sides of the language barrier, blinked in mute consternation.
- another reason for holding it in Brussels was that the cabinet interpreted the protocol concerning a-religousness very strict. The first plan was to hold the service in the church of Buizingen. The Catholic Church, who has no problem with inviting other religions to join in such services of national import, kindly declined when the cabinet demanded that there would be no praying whatsoever of any kind during the service. Like all Belgians, I'm pretty proud of our strict divide between church and state, but like most Belgians, again: blinking in mute consternation.
- about 700 tickets were sent to family and survivors, and they were invited to come to Brussels by train. A train driver died in the crash; the NMBS (the national train company) got only 25 invites for execs and employees combined. Talk about a cock-up.
- most of the victims found the memorial way too soon: the debate on how and why the security of the train network still isn't up to specs after the last great train disaster in Belgium is still raging, there are still many unanswered questions. I should mention that only last week a train performed an emergency stop after missing a red light: there is a shortage of personnel, for years now, meaning extremely stressed drivers, not enough resting time between trains/journeys, and a witch hunt on tardy trains only adding to the stress of the drivers.

Totally unrelated: time for another query.