Happy Halloween!! Blessed Samhain!! Woo-woo All Hallows Eve

What are you going to be for Hallowe’en? (If you’re going to dress up.)

(EDIT: I think I’m going to stick with the aging-hippie look, although I did get a neat-looking iridescent cape that’s probably so not fire-retardant that it would probably LOOK at a flame and turn to dust . . . so I could be a vampire hippie.)

What are you giving out? I’ll be answering the door with Tootsie Roll Pops and glow-in-the-dark packets of M&Ms.

Didn’t get to plug in my orange lightshow tonight, though, because. . . .

Our electricity was off ALL DAY today. They came to restore power at 10:02 PM after I called with my Sad Tale of Woe for the third time. It was MY fault. Hubby was quite pissed. I don’t know if I’m going to tell y’all about it. Finally, I called (for the fourth time) the outage number and told the person who answered that I had an elderly person who sleeps under oxygen in the house and that I really needed to know if they really were going to come sometime before midnight to fix things so that I could take her to a motel if not . . . somehow, I got a person who was easily guilted and/or was actually human, and he radioed the truck to come over and fix things. It took them only a second. There was a misunderstanding on my part and a dropped ball involved (not literally). *sigh* Everything I do is wrong.

Hurry: while the entry I’m talking about is still on the “top,” go read literary agent Jeff Kleinman’s “Reasons I Reject.”

He writes, in part:

[D]on’t come across as belligerent, or clueless, or desperate. Sound confident and comfortable – quickly and succinctly tell me about you and your work, and when you’ve done that, stop.

That was me. Desperate. A know-too-much who had too much to say about the various books and where they’d already traveled. Not submissive and potentialy too demanding. I think that’s how I blew it with the Big-Time Agent for _Camille’s Travels_ on the phone.

And:

Genre unclear. […] Go back to your bookstore and make sure there’s a clear, identifiable place on the shelf for your book, and be sure, in the cover letter, to tell me what it is. […] [T]he book needs to be true to what it is; but whether what it is is saleable is an entirely different matter.

Most of my other books have THIS problem. “I don’t know how I’d pitch it.”

So that’s why I wrote in the comment section of ‘s last entry that I wished I could believe what she’d typed–that if your book is good, it WILL be picked up by New York if you are persistent–and that I used to believe that, but I don’t any more. I had to grow up. I couldn’t remain the idealist and live in the real world.

(EDIT: ALthough the original post was regarding a guy who put forth the argument that he couldn’t get pubbed because publishing has a bias against men and towards women and he is getting blackballed ’cause he’s a guy–which doesn’t make any sense, really–Scalzi at WHATEVER adds this TNH quotation to my ammo. “All things being equal, it’s probably likely that what [the reject is] writing isn’t up to snuff, but even if it is, sometimes even that’s not enough; as Teresa Nielsen Hayden notes in her justifiably famous “Slushkiller” essay, sometimes a writer can do everything right and still not get their work taken.”)

Books and old movies are more real to me than reality. –apologies to , who said that about an acquaintance of hers, but it applies more to ME, I swear.

How can it have been 32 years already. . . .

Today is my daddy’s death-day anniversary. He crossed into the next world on the morning of October 28, 1974, when I was fourteen years old.

In some ways, it doesn’t seem as if it can have been that long. It doesn’t seem completely impossible that we’ve merely been waiting for him to return. But if you look around at Richardson, Texas, it’s very different now. The roads are paved (grin), buildings sit where cotton fields ruled, and the family farms and pastures have been replaced by shopping plazas. There’s so much more traffic and noise and pollution. The boonies has become a boomtown.

I do wish he could have been here for personal computers. He was actually a rocket scientist. No, really: he worked at NASA as a contractor through Schlumberger to formulate rocket fuels. We got an 8mm movie projector for home partly because he would bring home films to study, films of failed launches, and analyze them. He worked all the way up until the first Apollo capsule burned up on the launch pad (because of the pure oxygen atmosphere, something that he and several other engineers/physicists had warned against), and then he left to come here to Dallas and work at the fledgling E-Systems (same place I ended up working) to develop algorithms. After his first heart attack, doctors told him he’d need to be sedentary (this was pre-bypass, guys), and he became a math professor at UT/Dallas. He had taught at Oklahoma A&M (now OSU) and Mississippi Southern (now USM) in the 1950s while finishing up his Ph. D., so that worked out well.

I think he’d have loved to play with all the new electronic toys. He was an amateur radio operator, had a light plane, and bought that electronic organ (Estey two-console) on which I learned to play by ear. He built a “hi-fi” stereo back when just about no one had fancy audiophile stuff. And I was always there watching when I was a little kid, watching him discharge a capacitor so he could work inside one of the electronic gadgets we had. (This was pre-transistorization and solid state everything, so the stereo’s amplifier was tube. It was a HarmonKardon from a kit with a Garrard turntable and an early reel-to-reel deck and Jensen wall-mounted speakers that were five feet tall. That thing was the best-sounding stereo you’ll ever hear.)

He’d have loved to have e-mail! He had a time-sharing terminal in the house for a while. We had a hardcopy terminal for a few months, and I used up a roll of paper playing blackjack and golf and an early form of “Advent,” but got into trouble because I overran the time we were supposed to get to share. Nobody back then had even seen a terminal in a house or an acoustic modem. I suppose I was destined to be stuck working with computers, after all of that.

But anyway, he was supposed to stick around to take care of my mom. She did pretty well as an independent old crow until she got older and frail and started having health problems. Still, I think it would have been more fun to see the two of them going down the road together to old age.

I suppose they have math in Heaven. I suppose I’ll find out, by and by. I also know that all of his brothers and sisters are there with him now. I realize that this incarnation isn’t supposed to be permanent. Doesn’t make me feel any happier, though.

I miss him. I don’t know whether he’d be proud of me and my screwed-up mess of a life, of course, but I do know we could have great discussions (now that I’m not a mewling and puking teenybopper and actually know something about math and philosophy) and hold a few more really good chess games where he wouldn’t have to so obviously LET me win. Today has been tough, but then what day isn’t?

As the song goes, “Life is unfair. . . .”

Friday night and we rolled up the sidewalks at 9 PM

I was thinking that I need to do that post about why I wanted to do a genre mystery that didn’t do what’s expected . . . but that seemed too much like work, so I decided to link to on genre/commercial mysteries and some of the conventions in them.

All day tomorrow, hubby will be online in an online class all about how to play World of Warcraft mo’ bettah. This wastes his entire pre-weekend-before-Halloween preparation time. I’m getting tired of being a WoW widow, although it does keep him off the streets and means he doesn’t follow me around trying to make me do projects that he has thought up for me, the way my mother does. . . .

And perhaps I can put the finishing touches on my own costume.

Yes, it’s true that I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.

Never yell THEATER in a crowded fire

Whoa! Stop what you’re doing and go read ‘s
group dynamics rant for fictioneers.

Take care with language, as words have power. Remember, God created the universe with a word and invoked the light with a second. Meaning can change as one letter changes. For lack of an “r,” we lick ice cream off a CONE instead of a CRONE. A FIEND becomes a FRIEND when we borrow that same “r.” Don’t be one of those careless writers who pours (maple syrup?) over books one should pore over, or who “looses” things upon the world instead of merely losing them.

# # #
“Shinto emphasizes ancestor worship; praying for a bunch of unstable alcoholics to improve my life from beyond the grave seems like a recipe for disaster.”–science101, on why he has rejected various beliefsystems for himself

It is a dang shame that High School Never Ends for some people.

Now, go carve your pumpkin!

Checking in

Dashing off a brief entry here before running off to yet ANOTHER meeting (*YAM*) . . . “very unlike me, I must say.” (Imagine this being said in an uppity Martin Short voice.)

Last night’s meeting of the Writers’ League of Texas, Dallas chapter, was a lot of fun! I met several new people and reconnected with Janet Carter and her friend. I sat on a four-person panel and answered questions about critique groups. We also covered a few other topics, such as “Should I outline?” and “How long should a novel be?” (Of course, there are many answers to both of these questions.) I’ll link to the newsletter writeup of the meeting when it’s online.

The meeting was in the basement of the Richardson library. They’ve remodeled my library (sob)–and where are those heavy carved wooden “Zodiac” entry doors?! I hope they didn’t let some builder haul them away. They were so perfect . . . but considered too Pagan or too ’70s, I suppose. (sigh) Also, there are too many CDs and DVDs and such. Where are all the books? Where are those huge bound tomes of back issues of “Life” and other magazines that we used to pull down and go through all the time when I was in high school? (We used to do that for research on various time periods and for debate, because you had to have background material for debate.) I used to practically live there one day a week all summer and a couple of evenings a week during the school year. Thank goodness that the Internet has become a sort of library for everyone, so the knowledge isn’t completely lost. Or is it?

“Midlist writers today tend to write book after book after book and just sort of toss them over the side like tossing notes in a bottle into the ocean.”–

That’s me . . . message in a bottle. 5-cent deposit bottle.

GENRE: Mystery–cozy, or traditional

Mysteries are modern morality plays where justice is served and the wicked get their comeuppances. My husband doesn’t like them because he doesn’t think that there’s enough mourning or upset about the victims; some people see them as too stylized. But the genre is here to stay, at least for the left-brained.

I thought about this because of a question that Coneycat came up with (and I’m still going to go back and answer it in the comment thread; I’ve had trouble getting comments to post today, and when I bring up misssnark’s blog, it gives me an Internet Explorer error/crash, so *some* setting is wrong.) I was thinking about the agreement about the “fair-play with the reader” mystery that we now have. Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers were early proponents of this style, and S. S. Van Dyne made up a set of rules about it. (Before that, Sherlock Holmes and others didn’t necessarily play by those fair rules, and might not give readers a chance to solve the puzzles before the answer was given.)

A fair-play mystery generally follows a few rules.

* The characters involved in the crime (specifically, the murderer(s)) must be introduced early. Some say by chapter three. Most people like it when the baddie is there somewhere in the early chapters.

* Clues have to be there, though authors may use misdirection and other techniques to keep them from sticking out and being too obvious.

* The amateur sleuth or pro detective solves the crime using the same set of clues that the reader has been given. No fair having the sleuth “suddenly realize something” and rush off to solve the crime.

* The sleuth shouldn’t “make a lucky guess” or find out only when he or she is about to become a victim. That’s because the reader doesn’t get the chance to figure out whodunit.

Most Agatha Christie novels play fair, but there are a couple that don’t. (I think _Ten Little Indians_ and _The ABC Murders_ are the two that my professor in “Genre Writing” class railed against; the first is a locked-room mystery, and the second, he said, didn’t introduce the murderer until two-thirds in. He was very adamant about that being bad. And he also hated _The Murder of Roger Aykroyd_ because the narrator did it and he said that wasn’t fair. We must admit that it was clever, and she was one of the first to do the unreliable mystery narrator bit, along with my beloved Edgar Allan Poe. However, I can’t remember her books very well because the class was *ahem* a long time ago. If it makes any difference, the prof loved _Eye of the Needle_ by Ken Follett and wanted us to write one like that.) On the other hand, a number of Lillian Jackson Braun’s books don’t (IMHO), but they’re charming and well-written, so people still enjoy them.

“It is a hoodwinking contest, a duel between author and reader,” wrote John Dickson Carr (who was a mystery author under several pseudonyms.) “The author and reader operate according to the assumption that the voice of the author is trustworthy and that the narrator may underemphasize certain important clues or misdirect the reader, but does not lie.”

Dorothy Sayers explains: “That the writer himself should tell a flat lie is contradictory to all the canons of detective art” (Sayers, “Aristotle on Detective Fiction,” Unpopular Opinions, 1946). This would mean that the POV character is presumptively excluded as a suspect. I suppose that’s the reason my professor got his knickers in such a knot.

Some scholars say mysteries are genre, entertainment only, even lowbrow. Others see mystery fiction as “part of a serious effort to address and work out major literary and social issues, such as human consciousness and the nature of art, the precariousness of the narrative representation of truth, the workings of tragedy, the limitations of justice, traditional gender roles, and the capacity of human action and the extent of freedom of choice.” (At least that’s what a professor at Berkeley says.)

Now . . . MY little twist on the normal pattern of a cozy isn’t all that unusual. I took the rule “amateur sleuth finds the body and gets accused” and turned it on its head when I had my heroine fired from the company, made to turn in her cardkey/badge, and sent home to cool her heels . . . and then her ex-boss dies the next morning at work, victim of an allergic reaction to a beverage. Her prints are on the bottles because she had been in that break room fridge. A bottle of the stuff the man was allergic to got planted in her cubicle (where her stuff still sits.) Her badge (after she had turned it in) was used to click in the night before. And she’d had a HUGE public confrontation with the boss and with his wife the day before. She finds out about the death the next day through a comedy-of-errors scene that’s supposed to be witty or humorous. Could I have written it differently? Yes. But I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to use the cookie-cutter.

The newest member of my ex-critgroup had it right when she asked, “Couldn’t you rewrite it so that she has to go back in there or is there when the body drops?” I suppose I could change the story that much, but I don’t think I need to. She didn’t get to read the opening chapters that set all of this up, so she missed the way that I worked it. I think my way *will* be interesting to readers, but it remains to be seen. But she was right to question it, because there is such a strong tradition that mystery novels have to go A-B-C-Bob’s your uncle, not C-Q-X-ooo, shiny!

Can you write (and perversely like) a dislike-worthy protagonist? You can get away with writing Dortmunder (a hero/criminal) if you’re Grandmaster Donald E. Westlake, but can you if you’re just Newbie Unpublished Unwashed? I don’t know. I usually hear that people want to like and identify with your character from the get-go, or else they’ll toss your book into the SASE. On the other hand, some writers have been very successful writing serial killers and writing Mr. Ripleys. I prefer humorous stuff myself. I find enough angst lying around the consensus reality that we’re stuck in without making a bunch of it up.