CONTESTS: All is forgiven–mostly

I got a letter from Bob Newhart today.

It was sent to me along with my certificate for winning fourth place in that Robert Benchley Society essay contest. I am pretty thrilled at getting his comments (all four winners got letters.)

He writes, “Originally I had ranked you number one because you used my name. But then I discovered that everyone knew I was the judge, so I had to move you to fourth [for sucking up].” *grin*

I *think* he’s kidding.

Yep, that was a gamble mentioning him at the end of the essay. But I do think he was teasing. Anyhow, there must be a Larger Purpose in having me not win #1. I need to figure out where to concentrate my efforts.

All is forgiven–well, mostly. *grin* I shall restore my DVDs of the Bob Newhart show to their place of honor alongside Mary Tyler Moore, Dobie Gillis, and MTV’s Daria.

No money is awarded to third/fourth place winners. The award letter said they’d still like me to come to the party in October and speak if I want to, but there’s no way we could get up there. If I spend money on going anyplace, it’ll be to see what is left of Big Sur. *SIGH* And now Yosemite is threatened with a ring of fire 12 miles away and moving forward. Caused, they think, by an idiot shooting targets in the woods!

We must stop the heat wave. The pavement is melting.


Good Thinks request again

Need some general good thinks over here on the topic of health. I’ve been waking up with blurry vision–it seems as if I can’t focus my eyes together on things for a minute or two. Then that gradually goes away and things get fine. The doctor’s office said I need to get the stress off of me and that I also appear to be allergic to something, as my face is swollen around my eyes and cheeks. They took my new makeup away (alas) and I changed my pillow out, but I probably need the entire house cleaned and checked for black mold and less scary allergens. I also have some dizziness when I stand up too fast or see flashing stuff on TV. It’s scary. Anyhow, not a big deal, but since my mother is just about on bed rest from her COPD/asthma (it’s 106 every dang day and frankly we are sick of it), and I need to be able to wait on her, it IS a big little deal.

We’re also sending healing thoughts to that Unitarian congregation where the shooting took place. And to the flood victims across the Midwest and Southwest. (Who thought that El Paso was built on a few inches of sand on top of rock? That means that the ground couldn’t absorb the hurricane rain that came across it, and so they had muddy flooding. Ick!)

Today hubby and his posse from work arrived at Bennigan’s Grill and Tavern for lunch, only to find a note on the front door thanking their customers and saying goodbye. It turns out that all the restaurants across the country were closed today around 10 AM–permanently–and the corporation is going bankrupt! Employees were told early this morning to come and get whatever they wanted out of the fixtures; some people got televisions or tables/chairs. I suspect this means they’ll never see their full final paychecks. *sob*

I was afraid that would happen with our Plano Bennigan’s, as that location had been very empty the last few times we went (and tried to burn down once already–see previous posts), but I hate to see it. It may be a symptom of the broken economy, and there could be more to come. *sigh* The corporation that owns Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale is based in Plano, in fact . . . and is closing down all those restaurants that are franchises. People will be out of work–oy!

And hubby loves that pineapple-cream cheese salsa stuff they made to go with their Southwestern Eggrolls. Now I’ll never figure out what it was made of. (It wasn’t JUST those two things smashed together. It was some kind of cream sauce/dip.)

This is all very depressing.

Tell me something good!

i WASN’T Tagged, but my shift key seeMS to be post-postmodern

(I’ve simply got to dig out that old keyboard to see if it works better than this one. We swapped video cards, which seemed to fix the repeating keys . . . but still, this one isn’t quite right.)

Two random rants before we start:

WHY is it that they always write, “I’m afraid your premise didn’t grab me the way I hoped it would,” or “Your premise didn’t appeal to me”? They have taken on authors whose novels have the most ridiculous and copycat and overdone premises. Premises–man, there are only so many of ’em, and they’ve all been done before (as those singing boys put it), many times. So just give my TREATMENT of the premise a chance, bubbeleh. I suspect it’s not the premise at all.

And I still can’t get enamored of most humorous essays about why somebody doesn’t like opera, although there are SO MANY of them out there. I mean, they all end with “the fat lady sings,” and could we have predicted that? It is such a cliche, and offensive to boot (oh, yeah, that’s right, people are supposed to mock FAT people, it’s the last allowable hate-crime prejudice), and not original. And most of these essays don’t even TWIST the cliche (“the fat lady swings!”–SC). But I do love the Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny take on the topic, “What’s Opera, Doc?” Because Chuck Jones uses the famous arias in his cartoon and all along displays the respect he has for the genre. He doesn’t just whine that they sing all their lines in Italian and he doesn’t understand Italian, for example. I wonder why this particular thing is still bothering me. . . . *wink* And BTW, these grapes taste like Uncle Grandpa’s Whizfactor. *flush*

Okay, so the meme. I didn’t get tagged, but I don’t give a s**t. I’m doin’ it anyhow.

People who have been tagged must write their answers on their blogs and replace any question that they dislike with a new question formulated by themselves. [I like this part; it is the major reason I decided to do the meme!]

1. What are your reasons for having an LJ? To have an audience and a bully pulpit, of course. What other reason could there BE?

2. What do you do before bedtime? I stay awake. (Duh!)

3. Last book you read, and did you like it? I want to lie and say I re-read something literary and worthy, but actually I was researching “what sells” and just finished choking my way through a mainstream women’s fiction thing with a romance. I just don’t GET it. There wasn’t anything special about this one. It also violated all the rules of openings that I have been lectured over and over about: it began with her waking up and hitting the alarm clock (yawn) and discovering she’s late (so she sets the clock wrong?), and walking around to wake up hubby and children (*YAWN*), and making breakfast as the pets and kids do “funny” things (**STRETCHHH**), and then getting them all off to work and school. THEN she settles down on the couch with java to watch “Oprah.” And THEN the viewpoint character has the GALL to say that her HUSBAND is boring. !!! !!! !!!

4. What is the city of your dreams and why? Carmel/Pacific Grove, California. I don’t know how long I could take the bucolic serenity and the extreme coastal beauty and the bay with pods of whales playing in it and beaches with sea lions sunning themselves, but I’d like a shot at it.

5. Are you an introvert or extrovert? I am an extreme introvert. However, my mother is and always has been an extreeeeeeme extrovert, and the moment I was born she started shouting, “Don’t be shy! That’s a sickness! Where are the psychologists?” In the early 1960s when I was an egg, shyness was considered a Disorder to be Cured. Therefore, I had to develop my shadow functions or else be endlessly beaten up about Unnatural Shyness. I did this by creating a character I could play when out and about. I was already an aspiring actress, so this was up my alley. *I* wouldn’t want to walk down the hall greeting everyone and pushing myself on them to talk to them, but my character could. It also made my mother and counselors stop talking about how I had to come “out of my shell.” This act I called my “Melanie routine,” named after a popular cheerleader type who was friends with everybody and could cross from clique to clique and still be adored. I wasn’t popular, mind, but I did run into fewer problems. I have to charge my batteries with solitude after an extended run of this act, although I can go a lot longer than I used to be able to. My co-workers at my last job were completely shocked when the results of our teambuiding MBTI exams came in. (It’s a test that sorts people for introversion/extroversion, thinking/feeling, and so forth.) I knew I had been totally nailed by the test. They all said, “We know YOU are an extrovert.” I laughed. Of course I am an INTP. iNxP, really, after all these years of exercising the shadow functions. I think every writer should start out as an actor in order to understand how to be another person.

I’ve never been shy as a writer. Something about the page not having crooked teeth, not being fat, not being dressed funny, and all that–it’s almost like having a level playing field.

6. Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone? To be a giver is better, morally. Love that you send out unconditionally is a gift you can give the world. It’s always wonderful to be loved and to feel it, but if you can give love without having to have it returned, you become a saint.

7. Do you trust easily?
“I don’t ask for much–I only want trust, and you know it don’t come easy.”
No. It’s not a survival trait. My college boyfriend used to lecture me about how “you and your mother are so suspicious and distrustful. You have to trust people! People are good!” He thought I was a complete nut not to want to walk across campus alone at midnight to meet him at the computer lab, and not to be willing to drive through tough neighborhoods at night, and to make sure my purse wasn’t sitting where it could be stolen easily. My answer has always been the one I put into the mouth of one of my characters in a book: “Hand me that mirror. I wanna see if I look like a fool.”

8. If you could have one superpower, what would it be? I’d like the ability to make myself LOOK and SOUND like whoever the person viewing/hearing me admires the most. That way, I might get somewhere with my ideas and attempts. If we can’t do that, then of course it’s miracle healing and flying without wings or airplanes.

9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days? *mmph* *snort* ah-ah-hahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *falls out from laughter*

10. What is your best quality? I’m smart. NO, really.

11. Is being tagged fun? I wouldn’t know *pout* I never get tagged.
New question: Do people know who you are?
No. I am very forgettable in real life. More than once I have hailed a past co-worker or someone I knew in school, and have had to MAKE them recognize me, and even then when I explained how I knew them and asked after others, the person has said, “Oh, we had a reunion a couple of months ago! So-and-so is doing A, and Whatsis is doing B.” I always say, “Oh, I would have loved to come!” They don’t even look sheepish as they say, “I guess we forgot about you.”

12. How do you see yourself? Through completely delusional filters covered with rose-colored gauze. It’s the only way I can survive.

13. Who are currently the most important people to you? *This is a dumb question, IMHO. Who’s gonna answer “the little people of Zartog”? We shall replace it with:*
What is your current earworm (the song going through your head endlessly)? “Suzanne” by Weezer, as played in the film “Mallrats,” because I just caught the film yesterday on TV when they pre-empted “Cash Cab” and I had to find something else to use as background noise for dinner. Before that, for several weeks it has been “Stranger in Paradise” as swung by Jack Jones, alternating with “Wabash Cannonball” as sung by Johnny and June Carter Cash.

14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is? *I SAID I DIDN’T GET TAGGED* *So here is our replacement question.* Do you sleep in the nude? I can neither confirm or deny.

15. Would you rather be single and rich or married but poor? Well, I’m married but sorta poor. I wouldn’t wanna be single again. There are so many lonely rich people. Still, I do need SOME money. I don’t need TEN million, as that would ruin anybody’s life. One million will be fine. Why are these always either/or questions? “Would you rather drown or starve?” Neither, thanks!!

16. How many children do you want to have, if any? I couldn’t have children. I wanted them. I expected to have them. I always said I didn’t want an only child because I was so lonesome . . . but nowadays an only child has the ‘net, videogames, and everything you can think of, plus is brought up as a mini-adult and included in adult gatherings and conversations (we were always shooed away and ignored as kids when we tried to talk as an adult.) So it would’ve been OK just to have the one, after all. Still, I couldn’t have ’em, and every time I got us signed up for adoption things hubby would refuse to go to the meetings and so forth, so I wasted a lot of cash on those things. Now I’m too old and cranky for kids.

17. What’s better, to give or to receive? It depends on what you’re offering.

18. If you could go back in time and change one thing about your life, what would it be? There isn’t any ONE thing that wouldn’t derail a lot of other things. I would have preferred not to have the serious illnesses that I’ve had . . . if Daddy hadn’t died one morning when I was fifteen . . . if Mama hadn’t had a nervous breakdown when I was eight and caused a lot of trauma . . . if I could have published a novel sometime in my teens or twenties (and thus become Worthy and Legitimate, and perhaps even An Amazing Young Talent) . . . if I hadn’t managed to drive away my first two serious boyfriends (meaning that we’d still be friends and I wouldn’t have the little voice that says in my mind, just as they did, “You aren’t good enough–get away!”) . . . see, there are too many choices. Maybe the thing to change would be who I get born to (eliminating genetics and environment in one fell swoop), but I can’t think of anyone else I would be able to stand as a parent, either, so forget that, too.

19. What would you do if you became pregnant unexpectedly? Rejoice. “It’s a miracle!”

20. What is your biggest fear? The same as everyone’s. We don’t want to disappear.


Sonogram morning

This morning Hubby goes in for a sonogram on the arteries on the sides of his neck. We appreciate any and all good thoughts!

Also, he’s working on his resume. Rumors abound up there at PlaceOfNoDarkness[TM] that a layoff looms in September, and his current project is finishing up–to the point at which he says he has “nothing to do.” Eep!

Anyhow–good thoughts appreciated.

[EDIT: Cardiologist says he has only a 20-30% blockage on either side, which he says is okay and that he’ll just watch it . . . apparently it isn’t unusual to have that much blockage when you’ve had a stent placed or other symptoms. Whew! His EKG looked good, and he has lost 32 lbs since March. *green with envy* Yay! See, those good thinks work!]

And the winners are–

Bob Newhart has selected the Winners of the 2008 Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor.

FIRST PLACE Madeleine Begun Kane of Bayside, NY, for GUIDE FOR THE OPERA IMPAIRED;
FOURTH PLACE Shalanna (Denise G.) Weeks of Richardson, TX, for HOW TO START YOUR OWN BAND. *this is me*

Fourth place out of ten finalists isn’t anything to write home about, but at least I didn’t completely escape mention. I’ll be looking forward to getting the judges’ comments in writing later on this week.

So I won’t be going to New York in October for the annual banquet and awards presentation, as I would’ve had to be in the top two to consider that. (Fourth place doesn’t win you any money or a plaque, and that trip would cost a lot of money and time.) In a way, it’s a relief, as I won’t have to coordinate the travel and dog-sitting, and Hubby won’t have to stir out of his easy chair. Maybe it’s for the best, as we really wanted to go to California this fall. Probably won’t do a dang thing except sit on the front porch and watch the world passing us by, but I’d rather hit Carmel/Monterey and whatever’s left of Big Sur than New York, given the choice.

I won’t say I’m not disappointed. I always get all delusional about these kinds of things as deadlines approach. Still, even if they didn’t think mine was the funniest, I contend that mine is the most Benchleyesque. None of the others even used the word “goodly,” and they had hardly any parenthetical asides. *hmph* Newhart probably got stuck and let Don Rickles rank us, anyway. *GRIN* (They’re said to be best friends, freaky as that sounds.) HOWEVER, all ten of the finalists’ entries are funny. You should go read ’em, if you haven’t already!

This keyboard seems to be dying . . . when I scroll, it keeps going to the bottom or top of the window, and now it’s repeatinnnnnnnng letttttttters. Uh-oh *

CRAFT: The Wrong-Nuts Are At It Again! Asides are FINE!


The Illiterati–those indefatigable promulgators of wrongheaded notions about writing–are at it again. Do you suppose they make this crud up to fill their “writing advice” newsletters, or is it a test to see how fast misinformation spreads? If the latter, it always spreads quickly. There is endless enthusiasm among these advice-givers to “pass along a tip” that is actually quite inane. I’m already seeing this newsletter forwarded around to Yahoo! groups, and I am certain that the next wave of critiques I see on some public forum will emphasize the following WRONG WRONG WRONG “point.”

In a writing newsletter, in an article titled “Author Intrusion #1 – Brackets” credited to Marg McAlister, she claims that parenthetical asides violate point of view. (Implying that this is ALWAYS or at least MOST OFTEN the case.) Wrong! I don’t know who told her this, but that instructor was mistaken. The article says, in part:

“Author[ial] intrusion” […] happen[s] when the author uses BRACKETS to explain something in more detail.” [She means parentheses, but perhaps this is an Australian or British usage, like “biscuits” for cookies.] The problem with using brackets is that the author almost always starts TELLING the reader about the action, rather than letting them experience it for themselves.

Example: Maria reached for her coffee and sipped slowly, savouring the new blend. (She missed her chocolate biscuits, though. The minute she was down to her goal weight, they’d be back on the menu.)

The author thinks we should know Maria misses her chocolate biscuits, but for some reason thinks that this doesn’t belong in her stream of thoughts.


No, dear. If we are in a close-up psychic distance, as we usually are in most commercial fiction published today, this is IN Maria’s thoughtstream. It’s merely phrased as an aside. This does not violate POV, nor is it “not in her thoughts.”

The pitfall of authorial intrusion is most dangerous when you’re in an omniscient POV, with the camera pulled way back. Most fiction today is written in a far more personal “close psychic distance,” meaning that when we see sentences like “She needed him to back off,” we know that this is inside her mind. Fiction can be a tour of a character’s (or the author’s!) mind. Just know what you’re doing, and you’ll be fine.

Who can say *what* they’re teaching them in school these days, but this “RULE” is bullcorn. Don’t fall for it. It’ll probably become another of “Da Roolz” that people pass around endlessly, right alongside “Anything with a ‘had’ in it is in passive voice, and passive voice SHOULD NEVER BE USED.” (That rule breaks itself, anyway, in the second clause, and it’s a damned lie that ‘had’ has anything to do with passive voice–typically, it has to do with past perfect tense. You would be better served to watch for “be,” although that doesn’t always signal passive voice, either.)

Now. Let us all take a deep breath. In postmodern thought, parenthetical asides are not welcome very often in fiction. You see them in humor (especially Benchleyesque stuff like Dave Barry’s columns), but you don’t see them as often in fiction. It’s merely one of those postmodern trends. Most of the time, you can put in the info without an aside, and then you won’t get complaints. However, asides do NOT necessarily violate viewpoint.

Here’s an aside that DOES. It’s something you might have seen in Victorian times.

Jo lifted the bouquet to her chin. (Little did she know that she would soon collapse from an allergic reaction. She had no idea, Dear Reader, that the bouquet was full of goldenrod!)

That sort of passage probably engendered this crazy notion about asides being evil. However, don’t dismiss the idea of a parenthetical aside on the basis that “it is authorial intrusion,” because it d*mn well ain’t. Not always, anyway.

And as far as “had”: The rule is that when you are going into a mini-flashback or reminiscence about something in story past, you use “had” to go in and perhaps to bring us out, but not in the entire paragraph. That’s not passive voice. It’s the past perfect verb tense. Please do not fear it.

It reminded Marge of that time in Mexico when she had found a turquoise necklace for half price. She’d seen it on a rough table in the _Mercado_ between two pieces of cracked pottery and snatched it up out from under another tourist. The other tourist turned out to be her minister’s wife. She ended up apologizing and letting the other woman have the jewel. But she hadn’t been too happy about that.

No passive voice there. The past perfect takes us into the mini-flashback and lets us know that this action is in story past.

That said, I don’t see why you would ever need to have such a paragraph in a story *unless* it transmits story information. In other words, if the minister’s wife is going to show up again and give Marge the necklace, and then the necklace will prove to be filled with illegal Viagra capsules, and Marge gets into a legal fix because of it, then the passage is setting up a situation. Or if the minister’s wife is going to be a problem later, and this foreshadows it, that’s probably OK. But otherwise, don’t insert a bit of chat like this just for the hell of it.

That’s what that example from the article strikes me as–chat just for the hell of it. Unless there’s some reason to talk about the new blend of coffee beans, or to remind readers that Maria is on a diet and isn’t eating the cookies today (perhaps preventing her from being poisoned like the ones who DID eat them), then don’t put chat like this into your stories. It’s easy to recognize it when you go back through to revise. You can get away with a little of it to inform readers of character quirks or set up stuff, but not pages and pages of it. THAT is the reason for taking out such a passage, not because it’s an aside.

But you KNEW that.

I’m not attacking the article writer. I simply want to dispel a rumor before it gets widespread. I don’t want this “RULE” to be ingrained in the minds of new agents and contest judges such that they mark you down for any stylistic tendencies toward parentheticals. If you want to laugh your head off, go read some of Robin McKinley’s older blog entries, which are practically made of footnotes (another “verboten” thing in postmodern fiction style) and parentheticals. Classic techniques for humor.

NOW!!! If I’m wrong, please, Sherwood or Pamela or some other grammar maven come and correct me. I can be shamed into recanting if y’all believe that every parenthetical aside is actually authorial intrusion. Feel free to start a discussion in the comments. I want to be as famous as William what’s-his-name who is currently fandom’s favorite doody-head! (But I don’t wanna have to call anybody a pantytwisthead or whatnot. Although that does strike me as a fantastic new playground epithet!)

I need a Schoolmarm icon.