Sunday, July 31, 2005

Everything I know about sex I learned from my tarantula

Karen mated her Avicularia metallica pair today, her first breeding effort thus far (not counting Jake), and I am happy to report success. This was a quiet male, not a Mr. Tappy-Toes like Karen's P. metallica. However, judging from the impressive menschlichkeit* of today's performance, he must have been tap-tapping away and setting up his sperm web. If tarantulas were humans, sex would go something like this. The man goes off into the bathroom, does the deed, and comes back into the bedroom with a loaded turkey baster. You're thinking: yup, not very romantic. Or perhaps you're thinking: eeeww. But you'd be wrong. Yes, the male ejaculates long before having sex. He does it into a sperm web, and then he charges up his pedipalps (anterior appendages, quite near the fangs) with a nice hot (cool, actually) load of spunk. Intercourse requires that the male insert his pedipalps into the female's epigynum. Without, mind you, getting eaten first. Karen placed our studly A. metallica into the female's cage and that bad boy crawled right on up to her. He signaled his interest by thrumming her web. She ran to the other side of the cage. He gave her a bit of space but never let up on the thrumming. Soon enough, he had her in the mood. He got beneath her and was so confident he didn't even bother to hook her fangs. (Males have hooks on their forelegs just for this purpose.) Then he started to work his pedipalps closer, closer, making small circular motions over her twitching epigynum. Okay, it wasn't twitching. I made that part up -- but only that part. One pedipalp found its way home, probing deeper. Deeper still. Then, no slouch he, he came at her with the other pedipalp! "Faster," she moaned -- Sorry. Bottom line, he did the deed and Karen got him out in one piece. She'll let him charge up another sperm web, and maybe bring them together again next week. For today, he's back in his cage, toweling off. I dropped a cigarette in his cage -- a reward for a job well done. D. *Manliness, for everyone out there who is neither Jewish nor Gabriele.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Curry County Fair

On my way home from the fair, I hallucinated that a tiny hologram of Yoda had appeared on my shoulder. Don't worry -- Karen was driving. "Not-so-young hack-writer, so bitchily you should not blog," Yoda said. "Bad for traffic it is. Rather, in light comedy your trust you should put, lest your readers full of venomous Sith decide you are."
"But Yoda," said I. "That was the crappiest county fair I have ever been too, bar none." "The positive accentuate," insisted Yoda. "The negative eliminate. With Mr. In-Between, mess not." "Oh, all right. It's a good thing I only had sixty dollars with me, since Jake would have blown through six hundred dollars in just as short a time. "And it's great no one has figured out to build a beach boardwalk here on some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. Because, you know, the wind would just blow sand into our Napalm Nachos. "I'm so happy we've picked up more unwanted stuffed animals and cheaply framed photographs of tigers, because, after all, winning prizes is great for the boy's self-image. "And, best of all, I'm tickled-to-pissing-my-pants that this was such a small fair that Jake has decided he has to go to the Del Norte County Fair next weekend. More quality time for me and the boy." Then, on my other shoulder, Evil Yoda appeared.
"Whining weenie you are," said Evil Yoda. "If father you did not want to be, pecker in pants you should have kept." (Ever notice how lines like that are only funny in Yoda-speak?) "Wait," I said. "If you're Evil Yoda, you should be telling me to speak whatever bile is on my mind." "Hell, no. Here for the crack whores at DeLancey's* I am." He darted out the window before I could recommend a good dermatologist. D. *Not the bar's actual name. And not that I would know such a thing, except by reputation.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Story link

In case any of my non-BBS readers want to see a bit of my SHORT fiction (875 words), here's a link to my entry for Keith's challenge. For a limited time only -- I'll delete it once the challenge is over. The challenge: in 750 words or less*, show your protag going through a substantive change. I have a massage scheduled for this afternoon. Yippee! I need it. Practically speaking, I'm checking out this practitioner before subjecting my son to her ministrations. It was the only way Jake would agree to it, after that disastrous foot massage experience. Guess I'll have to tough it out . . . . The things we do for our children. D. *See how well I follow directions?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hamachi, we hardly knew ye

Did you know we used to raise chameleons?
Meet Hamachi, a prime specimen of Chameleo quadricornis, the Four-horned Chameleon. In case you've never watched Jeff Corwin, here's what's neat about chameleons. Old World chameleons have opposable fingers, prehensile tails, independently mobile eyes, and personality to burn. They also despise one another, even while mating. Especially while mating. Imagine Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Liz Taylor and Richard Burton doing it on the living room floor. Chameleon sex makes that look civil. Chameleons do not change color to blend with their surroundings. They do change color to reflect their mood. Vivid colors indicate amorous interest. Black means, "Go away, I hate you." Chameleons housed together are black chameleons. Keep them together too long, and they die from stress. My abortive first novel Karakoram featured a race of intelligent, six-foot-long chameleons called the Amanu. By developing a variety of adaptations to their mutual loathing, they'd managed to develop a sophisticated culture, one with a complex (and, to an outsider, tortured) social dynamic. The male to female ratio averaged 10:1. Females controlled all wealth and property, and were polyandrous. Husbands engaged in all manner of high risk activities in order to attract their wife's attention. Here's a bit of hot Amanu sex, cribbed directly from my observation of the habits of Chameleo calyptratus, the Veiled Chameleon. Frank's a human (well -- sort of human) observer; Captain Leo is a Caravellier (kind of a space pirate); Vera is his wife. He's flown a long way for this. Frank felt a rush of air, then gaped in shock to see Leo viciously attacking Vera! The force of his tackle nearly knocked her from her perch, but she clung tenaciously with her back limbs and tail. The Captain’s jaws locked on her back, and dark drops of blood spattered the ground. Vera’s head and front limbs arched backward at an impossible angle. Her mouth gaped, she hissed loudly, and caught one of Leo’s back legs in her jaws. Now Leo’s blood joined Vera’s on the floor. Our chameleons never shed blood, but I do remember, with our first Chameleo calyptratus mating, Karen crying out, "Separate them -- he's killing her!" Followed shortly by, "Uh. Uh. Uh, he's not killing her." But I miss Hamachi. We kept him on a Ficus tree in a back room, and damned if he wouldn't march across the entire house three times a day to do battle with our male Chameleo pardalis, Thor. It was all Karen could do to keep them separate. Folks who raise chameleons either spend half a day misting their pets, dripping water on them, and hand-feeding them, or else they turn their homes into rain forests. We bought Thor from one such hobbyist. His carpets were moldy from the humidity, and crickets crawled everywhere. He, his wife, and several small children lived in their own private Madagascar. Eventually, we realized that the difficult part of chameleon husbandry was not keeping them alive, nor mating them, nor getting them to lay eggs. Hatching the eggs -- that was the problem. After incubating a dozen or more clutches (30 to 70 eggs per clutch) and getting perhaps 15 viable young, we decided we weren't cut out for this business. Good thing I had a day job. D.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sex is Proactive

Getting back to Michelle's question: . . . how about a post for female writers on what guys really think/feel/do [during sex]? This is proving to be a thornier question than I'd first thought. It would help if I were 100 guys instead of one; then I could spout off without my readers coming away with that "I've just learned more about you than I want to know" feeling. I mean, do you really want to know what kinks float my boat? Good heavens. My sister reads this blog -- my folks, too, sometimes. Michelle, I think Jeff's earlier reply contains a lot of truth ("Men think about sex when they're watching football, and they think about football when they're having sex.") Far be it from me to ever think about football, but I know I'm trying to think of anything except what I'm doing. It's a matter of pride and personal honor. Gregory Benford got it right in Timescape: one of his characters felt it was his duty to satisfy a woman during sex. If she didn't have an orgasm, he considered it his personal failure. The corollary to this: if anything is on our minds (other than rows of open graves, autopsy photos, maggots on roadkill), it's free-floating anxiety as to the job we're doing. Sure, some men go into it purely for their own gratification, and the only women getting pleasure are the ones that exist in their imagination. But -- BUT! That wasn't Michelle's question. Hers was a writer's question, with a writer's goals in mind. Do you ever intend to inhabit that sort of man's mind in order to write a scene? I doubt it. And if you did, the writing would be easy as can be. If the women writers in this crowd will let me make an assumption, it's this: the male-POV sex scene you're preparing to write features a man with whom you would love to have sex. The risk you run is that you may impute an inner life on your man which is the inner life you would like him to have. Still with me? So here's the reality, at least from this guy's POV. My parents and siblings are welcome to leave the conversation at this point. Thank you. Before sex, thoughts are wishful predictions of heightened sensation. I expect things to be softer than ever, saltier than ever, wetter than ever, louder than ever. I know from experience I'll be disappointed in that expectation, but I also know that afterwards I won't care. There are a lot of paradoxes in sex. Before sex, I picture myself doing more than I'd ever done before. Pushing the envelope. You can incorporate this into your character's thoughts however you like -- give him imaginary kinks, ones he never gets around to acting out. Why? NOT because of shyness or reluctance to risk rejection, but because, post-orgasm, all of these things will seem unnecessary and irrelevant. During sex, as noted above, my thoughts are mundane as can be. This is a job, and any job worth doing is worth doing well. And if you let yourself get swept up in thinking about what you are actually feeling, well, that's a great way to do a really shitty job. Other random thoughts:
  • I sure hope my son doesn't decide right now that he has a burning question that won't wait until morning.
  • I feel like Ed Koch: How am I doing?
  • How long before I get to do this again?
  • For something I think about constantly, this really isn't that special. I mean, it's nice, and it's necessary, but the invested emotional effort is way out of proportion to the pay-off. As often as I think about sex, my damned head should explode. Multiple times.
After sex, I wonder how many calories I managed to burn off, and whether I was so great this time she'll want to do it more often. I should know the answer to that one from experience, but I'm eternally hopeful. Moral of the story: sex is proactive. Sex makes us want to have sex (for obvious reasons, evolutionarily speaking) and doesn't give a damn about us afterwards. Sex doesn't even give a damn about us during sex, since it figures we're bright enough to turn the lock once we've got the key in the keyhole. Assuming you don't write humor, the only time your male POV character's internal life is interesting is before sex: the seduction (for married couples, we call it the begging), the build-up of tension, that first moment of physical contact, one naked body against the other. Everything else? You don't even want to go there. D.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

28,000-year old multi-tasker

Thanks to Scott for pointing me towards this BBC News story about a 28,000 year old phallus:
A quote: The prehistoric "tool" was reassembled from 14 fragments of siltstone. Ah, the British. So in love with their puns; so proud of their wit. He said tool. Heh heh. Heh heh. The author goes on to say that the "tool" may have been used as a sex aid, but "was also at times used for knapping flints," according to Professor Nicholas Conard, who knows a thing or two about knapping flints. Or sex aids. I figure they must have talked to an expert, for God's sake. I'd never heard of "knapping flints," but could figure it out from context. I pictured some Ice Age proto-person diddling herself/himself with it, getting bored, then turning it over to bang out a few flint arrowheads. Hell, it's not like you can do that with the real thing.
I must have a tapeworm, or maybe I'm pregnant. So far tonight, I've had a buffalo burger (no bun), slice of red onion grilled on the barbie, and a romaine salad. That was my Atkins dinner. Still hungry, I had more than a few pretzels, a bowl of Tasty Bites Madras Lentils (Tasty Bites sounds like cat food, no?) garnished with red onion and Swiss cheese, a Girl Scout cookie, a few of my son's Kit Kat bites (more cat food), and 9 Kalamata olives. Did I mention the chili anchovies (from the Chinese market) and sardines for lunch?
If you haven't figured it out yet, my muse has her head up her ass this evening. She pulled it out briefly this morning, allowing me to write this entry for the 'Worst First Sentence' contest at Writers BBS: P— was a dashing sailor, strong of biceps and large of groin, keen for his spinach, a fellow of few words and fewer letters. Okay, I'm pushing my luck. D.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Sorry. On drugs at the moment.

This summer cold's a bitch. Hacking cough won out over crushing fatigue last night, so I drugged up on Tylenol #3 (left over from my strangulated hernia operation two years ago) and Benadryl and still stayed up until 2:00. Karen forgot to set the alarm (yup -- I can't program a VCR, either), so I overslept and had no time to go a-bloggin' this AM to check up on my e-friends. I feel like a heel. A heel with a cough. But you learn toughness from residency. (For those of you not in the medical biz, residency = five or six years of indentured servitude, after which you may call yourself a specialist. In my case, a snot doc.) I didn't pull all-nighters in the OR with Maisie Shindo (one of New York's best doctors -- go Maisie!) to wimp out over a stupid cold. Or, as we used to say at Big County, "You're either in the hospital working, or you're in the hospital as a patient. Either way, your butt better be here." And here I am. I drew a blank on a topic, unfortunately. Best I can do is reminisce about my earliest memories of the Web. In 1994, Karen and I rented a house in Alhambra, California. We had two of the nicest landlords -- a Jet Propulsion Laboratory rocket scientist (no kidding!) and his wife. That's when I first remember truly surfing the Web -- getting my ears wet, wiping out. My favorite website was Mirsky's Worst of the Web. Nowadays, if you google Mirsky, you'll find (through a tee-shirt vendor. With a bit more stick-to-it-iveness, you'll find this site, where three latter day Mirskys pick their very Worst. However, this seems like a thin cover to sell stuff for something called I miss the old Mirsky. The Worst I remember Most was Slut Boy, a skanky young dude who had posted photos of himself in all his slutty glory. You'd feel cleaner just looking at him. Alas, Slut Boy is gone, too, although perhaps he's still out there, lost in Net Space amongst all the other Slut Boys. But if you know what's good for you, you won't try googling for him. It's a mean hard-fisting organ-piercing jungle out there.
Michelle writes: . . . how about a post for female writers on what guys really think/feel/do [during sex]? Great question, Michelle. So great I'm going to save my answer until a day when my comic super-powers are at their zenith. For now, let me end with this teaser of a reply: One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five, one thousand six . . . D. PS: Give poor Bare Rump a visit. Lately, she's endured more than an extraterrestrial should have to bear, what with having to watch Martha Stewart and Keanu Reeves make out, then having to eat Martha and drive cross country with Keanu. And not even the real Keanu Reeves -- some cheap wannabe. And now, to add insult to injury, the poor dear's blog has only been getting three hits a day. Since one of those hits comes from me, that's pathetic. Bare Rump hates to be thought of as pathetic.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Working title: The Brakan Correspondent Date I finished the first version of the outline: 4/27/03 Date I finished the first version of Chapter One: 6/16/03 Final word count: 301,280 A very public thanks to my wife Karen, my son Jacob, and my readers: Ben, Debi, Edwin, and Maureen. You too, Gabriele! Thank you all for your love and support. The rest of you can read the blurb here. D.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hey, don't be a girlie-man!

This weekend is the final push. One way or another, the novel ends tomorrow. I wrote 3400 words today (not a record, but close), and wept, or at least sniffled, through most of it. But I cry easily, especially when I have a cold (and I do). As a kid, I remember weeping over a rerun of All in the Family, one of the episodes where Archie and the Meathead have some sort of rapprochement. That I can understand; crying over commercials still baffles me. There came a time towards the end of my grad student days when my boss, Larry Kedes, insisted I do one last S1-mapping experiment before he'd let me defend my thesis. Hey, here he is right now!
Doesn't he look like a nice man? Well, I didn't think so at the time. Larry had just left Stanford for USC, so I had to spend winter break down in Los Angeles to get one stinking experiment done. That was the longest Karen and I had ever been apart -- oh, boo-hoo-hoo, enough already. Point is, I got the work done, and when I developed the autoradiograph and saw that pretty black smear right where it was supposed to be, I called Karen and cried over the phone. To me, it made perfect sense to cry. This little black band meant that the last seven years were drawing to a successful close. I'd get the damned PhD, for whatever that was worth (not much, as it turned out). I could say to myself: You didn't give up. You stuck with it. You made it work. For someone with self image problems, this was a big deal. As the title of this piece suggests, Karen's reaction was -- well, let me be polite and use the word 'incredulous'. I think the comments, "What's the matter with you?" and "You're crying over that?" came up a few times. Growing up, my wife emulated Mr. Spock. What else is there to say? None of this bothers me anymore. The way I look at it, I have two good reasons to cry over this novel. One, it has taken me over two years to write it, and I feel like I've accomplished something. Two, the ending is sad, and I feel like a total heel doing this to my characters. Okay. Think I'll go bawl my eyes out over a Britney Spears video. D.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Mark Tiedemann collection reviewed on Tangent

Other Ways: Three Tales from the Secant, by Mark Tiedemann SRM Publisher, LTD $10.00 Excellent trio of short stories from veteran SF author Mark W. Tiedemann. I'd never read Tiedemann before reviewing this collection, and I was delighted to make his acquaintance. Tiedemann has a keen sense of drama and doesn't shrink from (or oversimplify) the thorny issues. D.

Only thin white women have orgasms. News at 11.

I was leafing through the July '05 issue of Wired when I found Annalee Newitz's story about female orgasms, "The Coming Boom". The subtitle says it all: "Big Pharma has made billions pumping up the male population. Now neuroscientists are reverse engineering the female orgasm." You can read the story online here. The article itself didn't capture my interest, though. I'd recently seen something that covered the same ground on one of the health & science networks. No, what caught my eye was the very eye-catching photo-mosaic of twenty-four women caught in the throes of orgasm. If you follow the above link and click on the photo in the left margin, you'll see what I mean. I really don't consider myself a member of the Political Correctness Police, but what's going on with the racial mix in this photo? I count three Asians, one Hispanic, and twenty-one white women. I see one, maybe two women who look overweight. Oh, and nearly all of them are attractive. They must be beautiful women, because they're making that face (I'm having a twelve pound baby, and he's coming out sideways!) and they're still cute. If you follow that photo link, you'll find a second link at the bottom for Beautiful Agony, a website that sells mpeg videos of men and women experiencing la petite mort.
Now, there's an expression I'm familiar with. This face says, "Yes, I'm having an orgasm. Can't you tell? I mean, how many TIMES do you have to ask? God, why did I have to hook up with such an insecure son of a bitch?"
I imagine this is my typical expression. Not so much pleasure as shock and awe. Honestly, I don't see what women see in men, and I particularly don't understand what my wife sees in me. Hell, I wouldn't have sex with me if I had any choice in the matter.
To watch people (mostly white, mostly good-looking, and mostly female) making funny faces, it'll cost you $US14.95 for 30 days, or $US99.95 for one year. Best of all, if two of you join, I'll be considered one of their "friends", and I'll get a month for free! Not that I'm a voyeur -- I mean, I am, but that's not the point. This looks good for a laugh. What better way to start your morning?
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Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Third Alternative #42

Check out my review at Tangent Online. Contents: “Dying in the Arms of Jean Harlow (The Coming of the Autoscopes)” by Paul Meloy “The Word ‘Mermaid’ Written on an Index Card” by Douglas Lain “The Vegetable Lamb” by Matthew Francis “House of the Rising Sun” by Elizabeth Bear “Lago di Iniquità” by Darren Speegle “Reality Interrupted” by Jason Erik Lundberg D.

On Developing Character Depth

Here's a mini-article by writer-editor Lon Prater. Excerpt:
For me, the biggest ways to bring depth to characters are contrast, contradiction, and conflict. They are exponentially more powerful methods than just coming up with a collection of likes/dislikes/habits/tics and having people talk about your character.
I agree fully. In the comments, I made the point that building empathy for the character is also important, and that it's possible to have a well-rounded character for whom the reader feels nothing. Lon's article is short, sweet, and to the point. Check it out. D.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Our newest pet

I wanted to name him Rabies, but Jake decided to call him Meow Mix. He comes around nightly for a free handout.
Meow Mix imitating Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Meow Mix begging for more Meow Mix.
Elsewhere in Doug's blogiverse: Martha and Keanu carry their love to the next level, and Bare Rump has to watch; Karen ponders the question of why they don't love us in Iraq.

Wrong about one thing . . .

Your Blogging Type is Artistic and Passionate
You see your blog as the ultimate personal expression - and work hard to make it great. One moment you may be working on a new dramatic design for your blog... And the next, you're passionately writing about your pet causes. Your blog is very important - and you're careful about who you share it with.
". . . and you're very careful about who you share it with." Wrong! My one wish (aside from having an indie rock band named after me) is that my blog will spread like a case of multi-drug resistant gonorrhea. I could pursue that metaphor, but I just ate dinner. D.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Wherein I get a marriage proposal

"Dr. Hoffman, I'll bet you're married." "Well, yes --" "I knew it. All the good ones are married." Imagine my thoughts as I looked at my patient . . .
Me: Damn! I must still have it: that hint of danger, that raw sexuality sizzling beneath the surface -- Mysterious Woman: "Dr. Hoffman, are you listening to me?" So I blink, and see . . .
Me: Damn! Not bad, Hoffman. After all, you've been a very naughty boy. Nothing like Xena to kick your ass down to Trinidad and back, then kiss the bruises -- Mysterious Woman: "Dr. Hoffman! You're not paying attention to me. I said --" I shake my head. My cheeks make those comical floppy noises you hear in cartoons. I ball up my fists, rub my eyes, and see . . .
Me: Damn! Okay, so maybe I'm not that crazy about blondes; but if a blonde has to have a jones for me, it might as well be Gabrielle! Sure, I'd rather have Xena kickin' my ass, but Gaby had a vicious streak, too. And, hey, as long as I'm pulling blondes from Xena Warrior Princess, I wonder what Hudson Leick is up to -- Mysterious Woman: "I don't know what's got into you." (Knocking on my forehead.) "Hellooo. ANYONE HOME?" One last blink. Oh, baby, we're almost home . . .
Me: Damn! D. Note to my Bare Rump readers: sorry for recycling a sight gag, but this seemed like a natural. By the way: that's Jacqueline Kim in the first photo -- another Xena alumnus.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The horehound! The horehound!

From Likely Stories, enter the dark world of CHOCOLYPSE NOW.
Charlie Bucket journeys into the heart of darkest Loompaland to confront Willy Wonka. See? I'm not the only one obsessed with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I'd write more, but I had a dream last night which gave me an idea for a short story, and I'm still trying to figure out whether it's (A) a way cool idea, or (B) autism in action. Have I ranted here about autistic fiction? That's when your story means the world to you and nothing to anyone else. Phrased differently, you have an audience of 1. I've written the stuff. Be honest -- so have you. D.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

All wrapped up in a neat and tidy package

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I've had a night to sleep on it and a day to think about it. I didn't want to rush to judgment on something as important as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As you might guess from the fact that this is my second post on the Wonka Mythos, Roald Dahl's story means a lot to me. Here are my thoughts, as spoiler-free as I can make them.
The Good
Johnny Depp successfully conveys Wonka's essential sadism. Like other glove-wearers W.C. Fields and Michael Jackson, he despises children, doesn't even want to touch them. (Oops. Best not take that Jackson analogy too far.) And the only thing Depp's Wonka hates worse than children is their p-p-parents. It's safe to say that Wonka, like his creator Dahl, is a misanthrope. Casting shines. I never much cared for Peter Ostrum's Charlie (1971), or Jack Albertson's Grandpa Joe. I thought the true stars of the original movie were Gene Wilder and Julie Dawn Cole (the "I want it NOW" girl, Veruca Salt, cool enough to get an alternative band named after her -- my #1 goal in life, by the way), with an honorable mention to Gunter Meisner (Slugworth). Everyone else in that flick? Feh. In the new CCF, Depp creates a Wonka who is every bit as memorable as Wilder's Wonka -- not better, but decidedly different. This cast, however, has lots of merit. Helena Bonham Carter (as Charlie's mom) is looking less chimp-like with every post-Apes film; Noah Taylor plays Charlie's dad. Taylor might be most memorable from his parts in Tomb Raider and The Life Aquatic, but I remember him best from Max, a 2002 film with John Cusack, in which Taylor played a young Adolf Hitler. Freddie Highmore and David Kelly (as Charlie and Grandpa Joe) are likable without being nukable. This is an especially important quality for Charlie, since he's so damned squeaky clean he might otherwise be gag-worthy. The new CCF lacks Julie Dawn Cole; I was hoping she'd have a bit role. But Julia Winter's Veruca Salt isn't half bad. The other kids do a nice job, but nothing too memorable. Missi Pyle's a stand-out as Violet Beauregarde's mom; the way she looks at the men (even Depp, whose sexuality in this movie is ambiguous, to say the least) sez 'balls-for-lunch' to me. Her ferocious stare reminded me of the alien-prostitute in Mars Attacks. Tim Burton might be repeating his jokes, but I forgive him. Christopher Lee plays, well, Christopher Lee. You'll know what I mean when you see his performance. His discussion of the horrors of caramel and lollipops had me laughing. The Oompa Loompas? Big improvement on the original. The songs are funny this time around, not preachy (weeell . . . one of 'em is preachy), and Deep Roy is fun to watch. Finally, the set design rocks, but would you expect less from Burton?
The Bad
Screenwriter John August (Big Fish) has grafted a backstory onto CCF. While this does bring Christopher Lee into the movie (a good thing), it also turns the tale into something as two-dimensional as Mike Teavee. Good parents are good. Bad parents are bad. Get it? Let's repeat: Good parents are good . . . Indeed, I sensed a lot of effort to vet all ambiguity out of the original screenplay. Remember how, in the 1971 flick, you never found out whether the bad kids survived their squeezing/taffy-pulling etc.? Let's just say their outcome is no longer left in doubt. Just to make sure you understand the movie*, Depp begins the flick a nauseous shade of green, not unlike my son's undead warlock in World of Warcraft. By the end, he's warm and pink. Last kvetch: our expectations are repeatedly raised, with no pay-off. Missi Pyle's man hunger? It goes nowhere. Violet and Veruca announcing to one another, "Let's be best friends! -- Best friends, forever!", then walking off together, arms linked -- that's gotta lead to something, right? Nope.
The Bottom Line
On a one to four Wonka Bars scale, I give this a three. That's what I would give the original, too. Jake -- my nine-year-old -- would give this movie a four**, so take my crits with an everlasting gobstopper. Next up for Burton Watchers: Corpse Bride, an animated feature film in the style of The Nightmare before Christmas. D. *Wasn't it Woody Allen who had a film in which they repeatedly flashed "Author's Message" on the screen? **Jake has read this review, and he says, "Three-and-a-quarter Wonka Bars. I deduct almost a whole Wonka Bar because the movie ignores Charlie." So there. Pay careful attention to your protag, you YA writers!
Tonight on Chelicera: my lovely wife explains how to detonate weapons-grade uranium -- the easy way!
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Saturday, July 16, 2005

I'm sorry. Do I look like a white supremacist?

Sometimes I wonder about that swastika birth mark on my forehead. Most folks recognize it for what it is: a Harry Potteresque stigmata, proof of my postnatal brush with the ultimate anti-Jew. Others see it as a sign of shared values. It must be there, that swastika. How else can I explain yesterday's patient, a guy who felt it necessary to complain about the Mexican Problem in Southern California? Or any of the dozen patients who, over the years, have bitched to me about all the Mexicans and Asians in our state? What do I say to people like that? ("Mr. Dickwad, I'd like to introduce you to my Japanese-American wife and my half-hakujin son.") Once, back when I taught at UT San Antonio, a patient told me and my Chinese-American resident a Nigger joke. We were, no exaggeration, speechless. After he'd left, we looked at each other. One of us said, "What made him think he could say that to us?" and the other one scratched his balding head. The head with the invisible swastika on it. I'm reminded of that old Saturday Night Live skit in which Eddie Murphy, pretending to be an investigative journalist, gets made up to look like a white man. He then learns what life is like for us white people (such as, we don't have to pay for anything we buy, home loans come no questions asked, etc.) Sometimes I wonder if that world is really out there. Most of the time, folks see me for who I am. Occasionally they goof and assume I'm one of them. Example of the first situation: in early 1990, I interviewed for the ear, nose, and throat residency program at Baylor (Houston, Texas, for those of you across the pond). We had lunch at a great big table with several faculty members, residents, and other candidates. One of the residents said to me (out of the blue -- we hadn't even been talking to one another), "Are you a Jew?" Actually, he said, "Are yeew a Jeeew?" I said yes, and he turned to the department's number two man and said, "Dr. Coker! He's a Jew! That means we could have two in the program!" Example of the second situation: in 1998, we were living in San Antonio and dying of heat exhaustion. Though I loved my job, I could see my wife and son weren't doing well at all. Quietly, I began accepting calls from headhunters. One persistent dude kept telling me about midwestern small town opportunities that sounded, well, icky. (After all, we were trying to escape the heat. Missouri didn't sound like an improvement over Texas.) He called me one day with some Exciting New Opportunities. "This one here's perfect for a young family man like you. A quiet town in Kansas, they got six churches, no crime, wonderful schools --" "Next." "Oklahoma, only forty miles from a major metropolis. They got eight churches, no crime, wonderful schools --" "Next." "We have this one down in New Orleans, but you wouldn't want to know about that. But look here, this one's in Indiana, nice quiet town, no crime --" "No, wait! We like New Orleans." I'm thinking: okay, hot as hell, but we loved that vacation; maybe Karen will consider it . . . "No, Dr. Hoffman, you wouldn't want that one. Too many Nigerians there. Let me tell you about the Indiana job." Five, ten minutes later he tells me about an upstate New York job which wouldn't be right for me because -- you guessed it -- too many Nigerians. So I'm beginning to wonder about this odd ethnic group. I'd known a few Nigerians in residency training. They were nice people. They were -- Oh. Nigerians. It really took me fifteen minutes to figure out that Nigerian was the new code word. Just as my Bostonian grandmother and her racist friends had to stop calling blacks schvartzes (the blacks had figured that one out), this guy couldn't bring himself to say the word. What have we learned today? On the one hand, I get the "You're a Jeeew? We could have another Jeeew!" crowd; on the other, I get the folks who assume I'm one of them. Guess what: I like the first crowd far better than the second. I don't mind being the department's second Jeeew. I do mind being mistaken for a racist. D.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Rulez Part Deux

In 1929, Bronislaw Malinowski published The Sexual Life of Savages. Malinowski, a Polish anthropologist, was an early pioneer of ethnographic field work. He (or perhaps his publisher) also knew how to title a book to move it off the shelves, but that's neither here nor there. Malinowski's Trobriand islanders are gone now. Even in 1929, you could have legitimately asked how closely Malinowski's analysis corresponded to reality -- ethnographer bias, and all that lot. Nowadays, his work lies somewhere between history and fantasy. I mention this because I'm about to do a mini-Malinowski: report on the sexual mores of a culture as described to me by one informant (yes, I'm sure M had several) regarding a people long since transformed by time and history: the French, circa 1955. Furthermore, I'm remembering this conversation twenty-two years later. How accurate is this? The sexual proclivities of Tolkien's elves may have a firmer basis in reality. My informant: Jean Verdi, whom I introduced you to yesterday. Jean couldn't score with New York City women. He couldn't make up his mind whether American women followed different rules, or perhaps no rules at all. (That's my vote.) Here's how things used to work -- and work well -- for Jean. I'll invoke dramatic license here and concoct a bit of dialog. I'll spare you my attempt to convey a French accent. Imagine Peter Sellers doing Clouseau.
JV: You would find everywhere the game, the interaction. At market, in the park, at a bookstore; wherever men and women came together, always you would find assessment. A look, a meeting of eyes: that's how it began. DH: That first look meant a lot? JV: It meant nothing. The second look, that meant a lot. Would her gaze linger? Would she risk a half-smile? Would she look at you at all? The second look meant everything and nothing. DH: I don't get it. JV: Nothing, because the woman could abandon it at any time -- or the man. Everything, because without that second look, nothing else could follow. DH: I see. So when do they go out? JV: Not yet! Imagine that they are in a bookstore. Perhaps the man tries for a third look; or perhaps, emboldened by her smile, he chances a word or two. "Excuse me," he might say, "do you know where I could find the poetry* section?" Do you see? She can cut things off in a flash with a simple No. DH: Wait. What if she's interested in him, but she doesn't know where to find the poetry? JV (grinning broadly, since now he sees me for the dumbass I truly am): Simple. She would say, "I don't know, but I'm looking for it, too." So then they would talk -- DH: And he asks her out to dinner? JV: No! That would be assuming far too much. DH: Uh huh . . . JV: They would talk first about anything but dating. All the while, they ask themselves: is the other intelligent? Witty? A buffoon? And at any moment, either one can end things immediately. "I'm sorry, I have a bus to catch." DH: I'm still waiting for him to ask her out. JV: There are many meetings first, and these meetings need not be arranged as a 'date'. He might mention in passing that he's at this bookstore, at this time, every Thursday. "I like to come here on my lunch hour on Thursdays," he might say. "That's when they put up the new displays." Then it's up to her to show up next week . . . if she chooses. DH: And then he asks her out to dinner? JV: No! Then he asks her whether she'd like to go to the cafe -- DH: For dinner? JV: For coffee. Many, many coffees before dinner. They are getting to know each other. More conversation, more sharing of experience. It need never go past coffee, but it could proceed to -- DH: Dinner? JV: Lunch. And if lunch goes well, then he might ask her to dinner; and, if she says yes, then he knows that afterwards, he will fuck her for certain.
Okay, so maybe Jean didn't phrase it exactly that way. The point is, at each step of the way, both the man and woman knew where they stood. "Things are coming along nicely" meant something. There were rules. If there are any rules here in the US, no one clued me in. Well, that's not quite true. When I was nine, my sixteen-year-old brother informed me that if I could put my hand on a girl's naked ass, she would let me ball her -- that's what they used to call it back then. (I later found out this wasn't true, but that's another story.) Not long after, this same brother told his high school girlfriend they were getting too serious -- after they'd been having sex for a long time. So you can imagine what a reliable source of information he was. Have I given you the impression this is all about sex? Probably, because from a guy point of view it's more fun that way. But I suspect that if Jean's world really existed, some guys (and probably some gals) played the game with sex as the endpoint, while others sought love. I also suspect both types of players got very good at figuring out who was who. The French rules left little room for misunderstanding (assuming no psychos, naturally). Your turn. Think back to your courting days. Did you have any idea what you were doing? Did anyone give you guidance (however misguided)? Or did you, like me, pull the rules out of your ass as you went along? D. *These were Frenchmen, after all.

Review: City Slab, Volume 2, Issue 2

Editor Dave Lindschmidt serves up some fresh meat on the Slab. Six good stories, some real gems among them. Check it out at Tangent Online. D.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Rulez

A while ago, I mentioned how I broke some key rules when I courted Karen. My faux pas didn't trash our budding romance, and may have even helped things along. For me, that proves something: there are no rules. Rules are bullshit. At least, they were in 1982 when I came a-courting, and I can't believe things are any better today. But wouldn't it be nice if there were rules? What could be better than a universally agreed-upon code of behavior to ensure that no one would be humiliated, ever again? Or is it unnatural for men to think about the rules when we're used to thinking with our jewels? Sorry. Still in Carrie Bradshaw mode. Not long after I'd hooked up with Karen, I flew to New York City to interview for Cornell's graduate school and Einstein's med school. The worst of winter had passed. Manhattan was cold, wet, but not arctic, so when I arrived early that evening, I decided to see a bit of the town. I pulled on my Ludwig von Beethoven sweatshirt and started walking. I'd made it three or four blocks when something unusual happened. The sort of thing that our Kahlifohnian prejudices say should never happen in NYC: I struck up a conversation with a stranger. As I passed a coffee shop, some old dude on the other side of the glass saw my sweatshirt, pointed at it, pointed at himself, and grinned like he was my long lost uncle who'd raised me from a pup. What the hell, I thought. I stopped, went into the coffee shop, and sat down at his table. His name was Jean Verdi -- "Verdi, just like the composer, and I see your shirt -- you're a musician, no?" All because I had on the Ludwig sweatshirt my sister had given me sometime in the last two years. But I didn't know jack about music, so our conversation turned to something all guys can talk about, regardless of their age difference (and he must have had at least forty years on me): women. Jean was a French expatriate who had been in the States about ten years. He may have been an old dude, but he was a handsome and vigorous old dude. I wouldn't have been surprised to see him hitting on forty-year-old women. From the way he talked, he'd been doing plenty of hitting, not much catching. Jean was a lonely old dude. "I don't know what the rules are here," he said. "I don't think there are any rules. Not like France. Not like France at all." Over the next hour or more, he told me about the French rules, and I began to understand why your average Frenchman got more nook in one week than I'd had in a lifetime*. To be continued. D. *Mind you, this was 1983. No one had heard of AIDS; herpes was the big scary bastard back then. Also, I'd wager Jean was remembering back to the France of the 50s and 60s. So what's the point? I'm writing about the memory of a memory, a social reality hazed over by the passage of time and filtered through two unique (okay, odd) minds. It's fantasy. It's the Rulez.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Sex and the Single Wendigo

One of my favorite comic pieces is up at the Dark Krypt: "Sex and the Single Wendigo". What can be better than a sexy Carry Bradshaw-like heroine with a taste for men? And I mean a taste. Get it? (Wink wink, nudge nudge.) Here's a teaser. Trelyn and her latest victim Klaus are lunching with Trelyn's girlfriends.
"Besides," said Trelyn, "Klaus here has the imagination of a shrub, don't you, darling?" Klaus smiled dreamily, working his hand up to Trelyn's shoulder. Trelyn arched her eyebrows and whispered, "Watch." She gazed into Klaus's baby blues and said, "Gorgeous, in my West Side penthouse, the bed has rubber sheets. What do you think of that?" At the word bed, his hand dropped reflexively to Trelyn's ass. He gave her a squeeze, saying, "Whatever you like, Babe." "See?" Trelyn said. To Klaus: "Come along, darling. We'll eat at my place." "Pig," Noshmi said, once Trelyn had left with her Norse god. "Do you know she had a Jets linebacker all to herself last week? Three hundred plus pounds, and she never even offered to share."
Warning: something got messed up in transit to the Krypt, and there are a lot of typos in which the opening quotation mark has been replaced by an A. Very annoying. I'll email the editor, and we'll see what happens. D.

Review of Brutarian Quarterly #44

My review of Brutarian Quarterly #44 is up at Tangent Online. There's one great story (Megan Crewe's "Horns") and two good ones. See, despite what you might think from yesterday's post, I don't like to give unfavorable reviews.
Great news a couple days ago from Bill Rupp, editor of Continuum. He's back in action! Some time this summer, we should see the Continuum Spring/Summer edition, which will contain my short story "All Change", doubtless under a different name (since that one sucks). Also, if all goes well, he'll be publishing my story "Heaven on Earth" this Fall. For those of you into the American political scene, don't forget to visit the blog with fangs, Chelicera. For today, Karen has posted the second part of her Plamegate commentary. More later. I'm busy taking tonsils out today. D.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

An Open Letter to My Victims

Updated August 13. I've decided this post was too snarky to live. Consider it a humor-misfire. As for authors who take issue with my reviews:
  • I do my best to critique the story that was written, not the story I wanted to read.
  • I approach every story with an open mind.
  • If I gave you a negative review, I'm sorry, but your story must have irked me deeply. You can't please every reader.
  • And if you feel like I missed the point, by all means TELL ME. If you can make me appreciate your story, I'm not above changing my mind.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Shatter Manifesto

Note added 8/13/05. Lots of folks read this post without knowing me or being familiar with my blog. Guess what: they get the wrong idea about me. A great deal of this seems to hinge on the word 'Manifesto'. I'm a humorist. I liked the word 'Manifesto' precisely because it is so fatuous, overblown, and arrogant. The word tickles me. Unfortunately, some folks come over here and assume I am fatuous, overblown, and arrogant. Well, maybe I am. On the other hand, perhaps you don't understand my sense of humor, or perhaps I'm a crappy humorist. All I ask is that you consider these competing hypotheses. Back to the, erm, Manifesto.
Now that I'm writing occasional reviews for Tangent, I have a decision to make. When faced with a story I don't like, I can (A) write an honest review, or (B) write one of these:
In summary, if you're the kind of reader who enjoys impenetrable plots, artificially amped drama, liberal use of italics (and exclamation points!!!), unbelievable characters, and inconclusive endings, then you'll absolutely love Farley Turgid's "Overdrawn at the Sperm Bank".
Rereading this, I realize I may have strained the point with my hyperbole. The more common manifestation of this syndrome goes like this:
So if you crave axe-wielding Nordic demigods who speak in Ye Olde English whilst bedding fair naiads in between time travel jaunts to Edwardian England and Imperial Rome, you'll absolutely love Farley Turgid's "Not Without My Loki".
In both examples, the reviewer is trying to put a positive spin on things. But, I'm sorry. I can't do it. I know what I like, and I'm opinionated enough to tell people about it. I promise I'll try to find something good in every story, but sometimes it's damned difficult. Does that mean it's a bad story? No. (Well, maybe. Eventually, a consensus opinion may emerge.) It only means I didn't like it. Does anyone think a reviewer's opinion is anyone's but his own? In An Open Letter to My Victims, I have responded to those present and future authors whose babes I have spat upon. Here, I intend to discuss what I consider a good short story*.
The Shatter Manifesto
A good short story
  • entertains
  • puts the story first
  • makes me think
  • makes me feel
Let's take 'em one at a time. I'm talking to you, the author. A good short story entertains. I can forgive a lot, and I mean a LOT, if I have fun while reading the story. Is the story interesting? Amusing? Exciting? If you hold my interest, make me want more, and don't disappoint me in the ending, I don't really care if your writing doesn't sparkle. The editor in me may nitpick, but the reader (and reviewer) will cheer. A good short story puts the story first. That means it's about the story -- not about you, the author. I'm not interested in your feats of writerly legerdemain. Because it's about the story, remember? We're storytellers. Let me put it another way: anything that pulls me out of the story and makes me think about you is a bad thing. A good short story makes me think. . . . About my values, my life, my loved ones, my world. Not, by the way, about the mechanics of the story ('Now, who is that character? What just happened? Why did he say that? Who said that?'). I don't mind putting some thought into the bones of a story, but I shouldn't have to study it to get the point. A good short story makes me feel. Mind you, this is an open-ended requirement. The feeling might be awe, amusement, sadness, regret -- you name it. But your story should make me feel something. Do you have to satisfy all four criteria? No, only one; but in my experience, if you've nailed one, you've nailed them all. By the way. I had originally intended to have a fifth criteria: "A good short story should make sense." But I read a story today in Brutarian ("Horns", by Megan Crewe) which didn't quite make sense to me. I can guess what the story means, but I wouldn't swear I have the right take on it. And yet I enjoyed it -- it fulfilled each and every one of the above criteria. Perhaps that's how it is with poetic fiction. (Good poetic fiction.) It works at a sub-rational level; it doesn't have to make sense. D. *Look at the words: What I consider a good short story. As in, MY opinion. And even if I don't explicitly say so, it's still just my opinion.

I am such a geek

From Paperback Writer, by way of Holly Lisle:

You're The Dictionary! by Merriam-Webster You're one of those know-it-all types, with an amazing amount of knowledge at your command. People really enjoy spending time with you in very short spurts, but hanging out with you for a long time tends to bore them. When folks really need an authority to refer to, however, you're the one they seek. You're an exceptional speller and very well organized. Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Menagerie (Zoo) by Kenney Mencher
Kenney's into whispering these days. I asked him about it, and here's his response. Now I'd like to know how he's managed in one painting to recapture my eighth grade social studies teacher, Bud Camfield (that's him in the blue suit) and the chick from down the hall in my dorm. I thought the world of her back then because she'd hug you just for asking, and she felt like a full body pillow. But back to Bud Camfield. He'd gone a little goofy in the head, which is why the school district demoted him from principal to teacher. I thought the world of him, too, and not because he'd give us hugs. Even in the 70s, teachers weren't that dumb. No, Mr. Camfield rocked because he once took me aside and said, "Doug, you and I are the two greatest people I know. You're special and I'm special." Which would have been, you know, a real Mr. Rogers moment, except he followed it up with, "And don't leave your education to the schools. You're better than that. You have to look for culture, Doug. Listen to music, read the classics." And then he wandered off, talking to himself. I took his advice to heart. When I got home that day, I ransacked my parents' record collection looking for something that might qualify as a 'classic'. Hmm. Barbra Streisand? Petula Clark? Andy Williams? Finally, I found something that looked suspiciously high brow: George Gershwin's An American in Paris. All orchestral, no words -- this had to be culture. Shortly thereafter, I hit the library and somehow found Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography. In time, that led me to The Agony and the Ecstacy, as well as someone's biography of Da Vinci. I picked up a Shakespeare collection and forced myself through Julius Caesar. That summer, I read Crime and Punishment, The Stranger, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and a whole bunch of other great stuff besides. Thanks, Mr. Camfield. D.

This Godless Communism

This seems a timely post, given that I was just accused of being a 'pinko' over at the Writers BBS. From boingboing, this link to The Authentic History Center, which today features, in full, the 1961 Treasure Chest comic, "This Godless Communism". Here are a couple of good tidbits. From the first page: "Modern Communism got its first toehold in Russia through violence and bloodshed. A revolution was directed by a small group of men who urged the people to attack their representative government." Emphasis mine. Guess absolute monarchy was too tough a concept for the kids. From the next page: The US has been taken over by some sort of Communist coup. Ma and Pa are reading the newspaper. Pa: "And it says all the Catholic priests and sisters are being sent to a labor camp! Those who resist will be killed!" Ma: "They're doing the same thing with most of the Jewish and Protestant ministers!" Three comments. One: Jewish ministers? They must be mighty conflicted souls. Two: most of the Jewish and Protestant ministers? Do I sense the implication that some of them are collaborators? Three: dig the exclamation marks!!! *** It's still not too late to play the Resignation Pool -- it's free, it's fun. Many good dates are still available. Play now! D.

The Karl Rove Resignation Pool

It's fun! It's free! It's patriotic!
The writing may at last be on the wall for Rovewell. This morning, The Huffington Post has a link to this story, which nails Rove squarely as Matt Cooper's source. Rove may be going down -- soon!
Rules: Predict the date that Karl Rove announces his resignation to the press. It's that simple. Here are the nitty gritty details. 1. Give your prediction as a reply to this post. Use conventional nomenclature for dates -- i.e., 00/00/00, or April 14, 1999. "Tomorrow" or similar predictions will be disqualified. 2. Review previous replies to make sure your prediction hasn't already been taken by another player. If things start hopping around here, I'll post a running list of 'taken dates'. 3. If you accidentally choose a date that has already been taken, and that date becomes the winning date, the earliest contestant to choose that date will be the winner. 4. Prizes: If you pick the winning date, I will mail you a brand spanking new copy of Cory Doctorow's urban fantasy, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. (If you win, you'll need to email me with your shipping address.) If you pick the winning date, and if you hype this contest on your blog or website, I will also send you a $US 20 gift certificate to, and a copy (through Amazon) of George Orwell's 1984. 5. Hmm. Do I really need to mention that you can only enter once? 6. If Rove never resigns, we all lose. It's about freedom. It's about poetic justice. You can't afford not to play. D. For all the lovely folks at Technorati:

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Distaff Blog

Karen never does anything halfway. When she decided to raise chameleons, we bought sixteen Ficus trees so each adult could have his or her own tree. I imagine she used to spend hours misting the chameleons, hand-feeding them, cleaning up their poops. Nowadays, she has tarantulas, forty of them, and she fusses with them as though they were AKC-pedigreed poodles. I'm quite sure I'd get more attention around here if I had four extra appendages, but then, she'd probably go and sprout fangs. She has become a news junky, too. She used to be an Arachnopets junky (a bbs for spider people), but I guess that got boring after a while. Now she spends hours a day surfing the net, hopping political blogs and other news sites. I've been after her for weeks to start her own blog. As you might imagine from an intelligent person who spends hours a day, seven days a week at the same thing, she has become a fairly sharp analyst. Why blog? Why the hell not? So here's an open invitation: come check out Chelicera, Karen's political blog. No pretty window dressing -- Karen's into the Zen minimalist thing. D.

I can see the finish line, and is it ever depressing

I don't often indulge in one of those writers-writing-about-their-writing posts, and I promise I'll try not to overdo it, but I have to kvetch. If you had asked me a few moments ago how long I'd been working on my novel, I'd have told you, "Three years." But I just checked. I wrote the first version of the outline on 4/27/03, and I finished the earliest version of Chapter One in June, 2003. I've only been at this two years! It just seems like three. Here's the first paragraph from that very first outline: On Earth, it would be the 1960s. The action takes place two years following first contact between the Brakans (five-foot tall birds whose wings have evolved into arms/hands) and the Benevolents (classic aliens with a twist: scrawny, big-headed, big-eyed aliens with opalescent eyes and a mouthful of sharp pointy teeth, who carry themselves with all the supercilious arrogance of the British Empire at its peak. Benevolents have a desperate love for all things human, and have submerged their own culture in favor of a melange of human pop). It is the dawn of Empire for the Benevolents; they are currently holding tense contract negotiations with dozens of ‘Useful Planets’ (their phrase), in order to expand their wealth and influence. The novel's title back then: Freedom Fighters. This is on my mind because I finished the second-to-last chapter today. All that's left is the epilog. I suppose I ought to feel a sense of grand accomplishment (this thing is HUGE), but instead, I'm depressed. Is there a post-partum depression for novelists? Or am I sad because the material itself is sad? It's certainly not a 'what do I do now' sadness. The edit will keep me busy for several months, and I've long neglected my short stories in order to focus on the NiP. Time to ship out another eight or nine shorts and perhaps rewrite the few that need serious rehabilitation. If I want to start a new novel, I have a good idea where to go with the sequel, AND this morning Karen gave me a nifty idea for a whole new world to inhabit. Since that idea will take a good bit of research, I could waste a few months reading books instead of writing a word. Did I mention I'm writing a tragedy? I can't help but think I feel guilty for doing this to them (my characters). If this were metafiction, they'd rise up off the page and give me a dose of my own medicine. D.

Poor Judy Miller

I can thank Ishbadiddle for the link to this great LA Times piece by Rosa Brooks, which has a fine discussion on the ethically appropriate application of journalist privilege: The Judy Miller Media Hug-fest Honestly. When you see right wing slugs waving the banner for the First Amendment, that's when you know you're living in The Poseidon Adventure. D.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Gastronomy Domine III

High time we got back to food. For you relative newbies, I've previously discussed the Ultimate Coffee Experience (including Vietnamese Iced Coffee and Indonesian Crappucino) and the Joy of Liver. Today, let's visit the food that tastes you back.
Beef tongue. Glorious beef tongue. Why is that so many foods I despised as a child I now regard as delicacies? Tongue, chopped chicken liver, eggplant, pine nuts, cantaloupe: as a kid, these foods brought me to tears, but when I eat them now, I have happy memories of childhood. Where's the logic in that? A funny thing happened when I went googling for the above image. Fortunately for my wife, it never occurred to me I could surf the net to find attractive Japanese women who share my passion for tongue. This young woman could ask me for tongue, and by God, I'd give it to her. Just like this: Boiled Tongue (Adapted from Julia Child and Simone Beck, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II) A tongue bought fresh from the market is already several days old. Don't leave it around in the fridge for another few days -- it won't improve with age. Instead, scrub it under cold water and then soak it in cold water for two hours. Next, cover with a thick layer of Kosher salt and wrap in plastic. Store in the refrigerator for two days. If your tongue weighs 3 to 4 pounds, you won't need to soak it afterwards. Simply rinse off the salt and toss your tongue into a stock pot. Cover it with water -- Julia recommends five inches over the tongue. Add a bouquet of herbs. Garlic and bay leaves are essential; add juniper berries if you want a corned beef flavor (but if you come over to my house, I won't serve you that kind of tongue, nosirree). I add celery, onion, and carrots to the stock pot as well. You'll end up with a deliciously rich soup if you do. This is where people mess up. They don't cook it long enough, and they end up with a fibrous nightmare which, yes, licks you back when you eat it. Simmer it at least 3 hours, preferably 3.5 or 4. You ought to be able to easily pierce the base of the tongue with a knife. Plunge the cooked tongue into ice water. Slit it down the side with a sharp knife or razor, and then peel the tongue the way you would pull an undersized glove off a very sweaty hand. The end result should remind you of pot roast, but with far more richness. Well simmered tongue has a melt-in-your-mouth quality. If it's chewy, you screwed the pooch and undercooked it. Too bad. Classicly, tongue is sliced thin and served on rye bread with stone ground mustard, red onion, and pickles, but I prefer soft tacos. For that, you need a quarter-inch dice of tongue meat. Quickly stir fry it over high heat (only to warm it -- it's already cooked) and serve over fried corn tortillas with a garnish of finely chopped white onion and cilantro. Top with salsa.
Yup: If Ayumi had some of that tongue, I'd have her begging for more. What are your comfort foods? D.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Suffer the children

In her July 6 post, Demented Michelle* told the story of a dickwad psychiatrist who told her she didn't have sufficient life experience to be a writer (she was a teenager at the time). This jogged my memory the way a swift kick will turn over a Suzuki Samurai. Here's my tale. Summer after 6th grade, I decided to write a novel. This would be qualitatively and quantitatively different than anything I'd ever done before. I would research this one (five minutes with an atlas to figure out the names of a few cities and rivers south of Moscow). For a change, I would have a plot (stolen from Edmund Cooper's 1971 novel The Overman Culture), a theme (be brave and you'll get the girl), and an exciting climax (stolen from the movie version of Crichton's The Andromeda Strain). The title of my magnum opus, which worked out to be about 114 handwritten pages, was The Control. In September, I handed the manuscript off to my 7th grade English teacher, who was cute, and she handed it off to her student teacher, who was not. This bothered me right from the start. See, I'd developed a crush on my English teacher, and I'd come to see my book as a way of expressing my feelings to her. Did I mention the climactic sex scene, richly realized in ways accessible only to a not-quite-seventh-grader? Hot monkey love, as imagined by someone who hadn't even had his first wet dream. The student teacher hung on to the manuscript forever. Honestly, looking back on it, I feel sorry for her. I really do. That manuscript was awful. She would have been well within her rights to say, "Doug, I feel terrible about this, but my dog ate your book." Instead, she made two mistakes: she read my story, and she gave me her honest opinion. She took me into a narrow room. Harsh light glared from the window behind her, placing her in stark silhouette. I remember her breath so well that my overly educated nose now recognizes it as tooth decay halitosis as opposed to sinusitis halitosis. She told me that I should be very proud of myself for writing such a long story. She'd never read anything nearly this long from any of her students. ("So what?" I thought about saying afterwards. "You're a student teacher. You've been at this, what, a year?") Then she lit into it. Mostly, she objected to my inattention to details. In the action-packed climax, for example, the hero and his girl roll down a hillside in an electric car. They're thrown free of the car. Unfortunately, the car's vacuum tubes have all burst, creating a powerful suction effect sustained just long enough to make the scene work. Yes, vacuum tubes. This was 1972, after all, and a futuristic electric car had to have vacuum tubes, BIG ones, and scads of 'em. Our hero struggles valiantly to help his injured girlfriend up the hill, away from the car's irresistible suction. Because, you know, if he failed, they might both get sucked into one of those tubes. The student teacher also had a problem with the sex scene. "I think this is something you should revisit when you're a bit older. There's a lack of experience here, and it shows. Painfully." Well, I'm not sure she said 'painfully', although I am sure it's true. Unlike Michelle, this crushing criticism did not put me into an extended block. I had way too big an ego for that. I figured the student teacher was a jackass who didn't know anything about science fiction and didn't know how to, you know, suspend disbelief. Besides, I'd already gotten distracted by school politics, and my plans to run for student body president quite eclipsed my writerly ambitions. I wonder if she really did put a chill on my muse. Throughout college, I never could finish anything I'd started. Then med school happened, and then residency, and before I knew it I was middle-aged. So here I am: I've racked up a few life experiences, gotten knocked around a bit by Fate. Now that I've had a few wet dreams, maybe I could write that sex scene. D. *Michelle: aren't you ever going to get tired of people calling you Demented Michelle?


Since I'm not quite as big a jerk as I make out sometimes, I'm not going to bother tagging this one for Technorati. It's not like I have anything original to say about the London bombings, nor useful, nor insightful. Instead, I'll give you one trite thought, and one remembrance. The trite thought: as the Chinese curse goes, we live in interesting times. Lucky us. The remembrance: my thoughts keep returning to the movie Brazil. With its depictions of urban terrorism and government oppression, Brazil seems more prophetic than ever -- perhaps even more than 1984. And I'm wondering if there's any way out of this mess. Seems we're only managing to dig a deeper hole -- and we're all in this hole, every single one of us. D.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Gauging emotional impact.

Here are a few related questions for the writers in the crowd: How do you know if your story works at an emotional level? Rephrased: how do you know they'll laugh when you want 'em to laugh, cry when you want 'em to cry? And how do you know you're not traipsing off into the land of literary autism? Maybe you know that place: you look at what you've written; your inner voice says "YES!", but your readers all say, "Uhhhh . . . " I've been thinking about this for a while now -- ever since I got into the latter third of my novel, and more frequently as I close in on the ending. Thinking my way through the epilogue today, I made myself cry. Since this happened while driving, you might argue it wasn't a good thing. But I was tickled. It's not the first time I made myself cry. Trouble is, I get into moods where it doesn't take much to set me off. An old Barney Miller episode might do it for me. Since the stuff I write ultimately comes from my innards, it stands to reason it should have some emotional impact for me. I suppose that at a bare minimum, my writing should make me feel the 'correct' way. If it doesn't work for me, why should it work for anyone else? After that, I would hope it works for my handful of readers. The fact that my writing made a certain someone cry recently does, I admit, cheer my heart. It would be nice to have a few dozen readers vet the manuscript before farming it to the publishers, but I know that's not going to happen. So I guess I'll have to cross my fingers, knock on wood, and send it out, hoping that at least one publisher will see this book the same way I do. What else can I do? D.

Review of Lenox Avenue, #7

My review of Lenox Avenue, #7, is up at Tangent Online. Lenox Avenue is a bimonthly speculative fiction/art zine that pays top dollar -- 5 cents a word, up to $100. Max word count = 6000. Here's what they're looking for: Quirky, edgy, stylish, odd Exploration of cultural myths/traditions not well-represented in spec-fic Magic realism, slipstream, new weird, all welcome Stories in which the characters are immersed in the culture and events, not necessarily outsiders encountering it for the first time Here's a link to their guidelines. Based on Issue #7, they have a smart editorial staff with a good eye for talent. Check 'em out! D.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Deader is Better

Hellraiser VII: Deader
Something about Independence Day brings out the Pinhead in me. For those of you not schooled in the mythos of Lemarchand's puzzle box, here's the deal: open it and you'll go to hell, escorted by Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his entourage of lovely cenobites. See yesterday's post if I'm going too fast. Why do people open the box? In the story's original incarnation, Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart, Frank is a pleasure-seeker who has indulged in every flavor of perversion money can buy. He's looking for a new kick, and what little he knows about the box, AKA the Lament Configuration (which should, you know, tell you something about the nature of the thing), makes him believe This Is It.
The power of "The Hellbound Heart" -- and, too, the movie "Hellraiser" (1987), which followed it closely, thanks to Clive Barker's screenplay -- came from the interplay of dysfunctional family dynamics with fingernails-on-chalkboard nerve-wracking sadism. We get a cautionary tale of knowledge-seekers getting more than they'd asked for, AND a cool twist on the usual vampire schtick as well. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, anything else I could say would be a spoiler.
True Hellraiser story: for Halloween, 1994, I carved a white pumpkin to look like Pinhead. I riddled it with nails, the kind that have teensy heads so that they almost look like pins, and I set it on a folding table on our porch. From the eaves, I dangled chains, and next to Pinhead the Pumpkin I placed a Rubic's cube. (I'd have preferred Lemarchand's box, but I made do with what I had.) To the table, I pinned a note:
Take the box. It is yours. It has always been yours.
Karen and I put out some decent candy to act as both lure and reward, and we sat inside the house, right near the door to listen in as the kiddies approached. Then we waited. The night's best moment came when a 9-ish girl walked up with her 5-ish brother. 5-ish brother (reaches for the Rubic's cube): Hey, look! 9-ish sister: DON'T TOUCH IT! I doubt she appreciated our laughter. Post script: the box didn't last the night. Someone realized it was just a stupid Rubic's cube.
To bring you up to date, here's a quick run-down on the Hellraiser franchise. Movies are rated on a one-to-five pinhead scale. Hellraiser (1987) Rating: Plucky heroine Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) sends Pinhead back to hell. Too bad her family is toast. With excellent performances by Andrew Robinson as Dad, and tasty Clare Higgins as the naughty step-mom. And we all know what happens to naughty people in horror movies. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) Rating: Plucky heroine Kirsty shows up for a family reunion -- in Hell! Really, what can you say about a movie with the tagline, "It will tear your soul apart . . . again." They couldn't even come up with a new tagline? The only thing that saves this one from a one-pinhead rating: the wonderful hellscapes, particularly toward the movie's end. Otherwise, it's a muddled rehash. Skip it. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) Rating: Yes, four pinheads. Almost as good as the original. Plucky heroine Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell -- you SF-heads know her best as Jadzia Dax from ST:DS9 -- and isn't that a good enough reason to see this movie?) plays an investigative journalist. Her story leads her to a smarmy nightclub owner (Kevin Bernhardt, dripping hair oil), friendship, a trip through dreamland, and . . . Pinhead! This one loses a pinhead over the touchy-feely ending and the regrettable lack of skin. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996) Rating: 1/2 Yes, four-and-a-half heads to Bloodline, the most ambitious sequel yet, with its intricate storyline and devious plot. The extra half head is in deference to my wife, who has a stronger stomach for sadistic gore than me (this is by far the most graphic Hellraiser) and who also does a better job following intricate storylines and devious plots. In the 22nd century, a descendant of the original Lamarchand concocts a plan to put Pinhead out of commission permanently. This story is interwoven with the 18th century tale of the puzzlemaker himself, crafting his box for the decadent Duc de'Lisle (think Marquis de Sade crossed with Aleister Crowley), and the story of a 20th century architect, also a Lamarchand, who has unwittingly designed a building that may trap Pinhead and his gang. All three Lamarchands are played by the talented actor Bruce Ramsay. Hellraiser V: Inferno (2000) Rating: This one gets brownie points for capturing some of the flavor of the Hellraiser comic, but loses points for the predictable ending. Not terribly memorable, I'm afraid. Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker (2002) Rating: Plucky heroine Kirsty is back. She's graduated from the insane asylum (Hellraiser II) and has gotten herself a hubby. Guess what: you don't want to be hitched to someone with friends like Pinhead. Like Hellraiser V, Hellseeker captured the flavor of a graphic novel, but possessed a blood-bucketful of psychological edginess, winning it the extra pinhead.
Flash forward to Hellraiser VII: Deader (2005). Horror movie maven Kari Wuhrer, she of Anaconda, Eight Legged Freaks, and The Prophecy: Uprising fame, stars as investigative journalist Amy Klein. And oh, does she have a luscious Angelina Jolie thing goin' on, or what? See for yourself. Pinhead perennial Doug Bradley sits this one out, replaced by synth-pop-rocker Moby. (Hah! had you going there, didn't I?) Plucky heroine Amy Klein plays an investigative journalist (sound familiar?) whose editor sends her to Bucharest to hunt down the latest Eurotrash fad: suicide and resurrection at the hands of uber-creepy cult leader Winter (Paul Rhys). Amy's a smart, sexy ball-breaker. Dubbed a "skankologist" by her editor, she's just finished writing "How to be a Crack Whore" and she needs this new assignment. To me, Deader felt like the screenwriter had grafted a great horror story onto the Hellraiser template. Nevertheless, Deader kept me riveted by its fresh imagery and intelligent script. Brownie points for lots of skin. How this one escaped an NC-17 is beyond me . . . and to think, Angel Heart got its NC-17 (pre-cut) because of a little blood dripping on Mickey Rourke's ass. Or was it Lisa Bonet's ass? You know you're getting old when you get those two asses confused. Rating: 1/2 Minus half a head for a somewhat confused explanation of Winter's motivations. Coming soon: Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld. Pinhead discovers the Internet. No, really. Any questions? D.