Archive for March, 2009

FD: April

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Dear Everyone in Fiction Dailyland … This week is just looking terrible for deadlines and other obligations … not to mention the cats are out of food, Dewey needs to return to the vet and I haven’t gotten my taxes ready … in these uncertain financial times it’s a struggle to contemplate abstract topics and easy to get in the weeds about things … begging your indulgence as Fiction Daily pauses for a few days.

FICTION DAILY RESUMES IN APRIL!

SF: New Wor(l)ds

Friday, March 27th, 2009

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FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

Since we’re looking at Science Fiction, today FD turns to the words of SF.

If you’ve ever picked up a SF novel, you know there are going to be names you can’t pronounce, planets you’ve never heard of and words with more consonants than all the Slavic languages put together. In many cases, these languages are simply allowing the writer to establish an alien world.

In other cases, these languages serve as a commentary on our own world.

One of the best examples is taken from George Orwell’s 1984. In his own marvelous essay (taken from the book The Language Experience, Somer and Hoy, eds.), he examines how corrupt language is linked with corrupt politics … and the further we stray from clear, precise language, the closer we come to degenerate politics and evil rule.

He describes “operators” and “verbal false limbs,” which, he says, “save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns and at the same time, pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it the appearance of symmetry.” Such as: render inoperative … instead of kill … make itself felt or play a role in … instead of stop.

He also points out the use of passive voice as another way to rob language of its power … and in doing so, taking away our political power, as well.

We all remember how Orwell used his observations to excruciating effect in 1984 … the language he invented for that work was called “Newspeak” and it drained every experience of truth, leaving Winston and Julia and everyone else suffocating in a lying world.

At this site you’ll find an entire Newspeak dictionary, but here are some highlights:

Blackwhite … the ability to accept ridiculous ideas as true.

Crimethink … to consider any action not sanctioned by the party. Akin to Doublethink, i.e. holding contradictory ideas in mind at the same time.

Ministry of Truth … department of propaganda. Along with Ministry of Love (police) and Ministry of Peace (defense and war).

It’s interesting to note that not all SF languages are as bleak … for instance, there are people who actually speak the Klingon language that was developed for Star Trek, and other SF languages also have their own grammars.

SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!

SF Tech: In Dreams

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Since we’re talking about Science Fiction, today FD looks at fictional technology. Why not?

I’m sure there are infinite specific examples, and there may certainly be time in the days ahead to examine specific SF tech. But let’s start with the big picture — the philosophy if you will, of SF tech.

Here are the keys to Science Fiction tech:

Time Travel
Travel at Light Speed
Instant Transportation, or Teleportation
Telekinesis, or moving objects from a distance
Telepathy, the ability to communicate without speaking
Regeneration, the ability to heal spontaneously
Anti-gravity devices

As a starting point, let’s look at what these fantastic means say about us.

Time Travel. Indeed, wouldn’t it be nice. We could go back and undo our mistakes, see all the people we miss so profoundly. What’s more, we could go back in history, out of human curiosity, to see figures like Christ, Martin Luther, Julius Caesar, even, as in Dr. Who, Shakespeare. Not to mention going into the future. For better or worse.

Travel at Light Speed. It’s the only way we could ever get out of our solar system.

Instant Teleportation. Now who wouldn’t like to be there right now?

Telekinesis. Moving objects without touching them gives us power.

Telepathy. How else will we communicate with aliens?

Regeneration. The long-held human dream of being able to heal even severe wounds, instantly. Dr. McCoy, we hear you!

Anit-gravity Devices. How else can we travel and escape large planets?

SPECIAL NOTE: Read about WordPress “Summer of Code 2009”

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday looks at SF language.

SF: Literature, Beyond

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Today, just a few words about an often neglected fiction form.

Science fiction.

Most of the time this form is relegated to the back of bookstores, the bargain bins, or dusty boxes where these humble paperbacks languish. Rejected by mainstream literature, marginalized as “fantasy” or “role playing,” these story lines are nevertheless quite rigorous when done right.

Why is this so? Maybe it’s because of our national character, which emphasizes hard work, practicality and productivity. What could be less Protestant WASP-y than fantastic characters with strange habits on far away places that don’t even have gravity?

Yet, who can deny the power of science fiction? Star Trek has been with us for more than 40 years now. Let’s not forget 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain and other movies of those days, even A Clockwork Orange.

Can any writer, anywhere, top The Martian Chronicles? I place it among mankind’s greatest fiction, ever.

So for the next few posts, FD will take a look at this humble form, pluck out a few titles and open the floor for suggestions.

Take Time to Tap!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I finally made it to tap dancing class last night after a three-week absence. It’s hard to imagine a writer being so busy it makes the head spin … so when it happens I wonder just how busy those people must be who have real jobs … people who have constant demands, bosses asking for things, having to attend meetings all day, please the manager, arrange birthdays and sick days, deal with their co-workers who may be sitting beside them, meet deadlines for complicated reports, issue important memos and emails … make sure they checked the correct box on their income tax declaration form (I never knew, is it 1, 2 or 0?)

A writer must have uncluttered time … days and frankly weeks of it … to work. We must clear the appointments from our days … rid the hours of meetings or phone calls … lunches, office visits, even friends. That’s the only way we can work. Probably no one but another writer can understand this fact. And for those who don’t it can seem odd and even unnatural.

When my schedule is busy, that may mean one appointment. That’s busy. How else can a person put together 5,000-word articles unless they have lots of time. To. Sit. And. Figure. Things. Out.

With all this thinking, the writer would rather not talk for hours and days at a time, which is difficult when you’re part of human society. Unless you’d like to develop a reputation as a CRANK. Which I don’t. Though it may be true.

So on a day when I’ve had three meetings and other deadlines … emails … phone calls … and family situations … I couldn’t imagine making it to tap dancing. All that noise and effort. What I really wanted was to cover up in a blanket and go away.

Nevertheless, something inside drove me to do a single meaningful thing … and as absurd as it may sound … that was tap dancing.

So I turned up last night and there was Anna, my teacher, and classmate Catherine, and everyone was glad to see me … fearing I’d dropped out or something … I’ve been at it for 10 months now and I’m just getting somewhere, so I’m not going anywhere now!!

It was delightful and restoring to falap shuffle ball change my way through an hour and I was happy to see that I’d not really lost any of my ability. Of course it’s a pretty low baseline … but still I don’t want to regress!

Happy to report that today, no meetings … just my beloved words words words all day long … with a few dog walks and cat feedings in there. And a tap class next week.

Seen and Heard

Friday, March 20th, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

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Yesterday, I wrote a sentence that kept me awake last night. Now I’m a writer, but not so conceited as to imagine my words are worth losing a night’s sleep over. (Over which to lose a night’s sleep? Oh well … another post.)

What you ask did I write that rippled throughout my sleep? I wrote a simple closing thought in an email, one of those silly throwaway lines you create as you’re desperately trying to get out of that d* message and onto something else. I’m often writing people I’ve never met, and making fairly personal and complicated requests of them (How old was your daughter when you gave her part of your liver to save her life?) So in my emails I always aim for the stratified politeness level that’s generally required to write a proper email, since normal language comes off as rude or brusque.

Here’s the line:

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

As soon as I wrote it, I shivered. How the mighty fall! Penning (or tapping) a line like that one nearly knocked me out of my rattletrap desk chair.

Just look at it — it’s a fright!!

Look forward to … a phrase that relies on a visual metaphor. Implies you are literally peering into the future and searching for something, as if you could spy a response, like a ship, on the horizon.

Hearing … an auditory metaphor. Implies the writer is a sounding board, waiting for anything that comes along. This phrase by the way is especially useful for writers who must constantly submit their work for review. It offers no promise of commitment to rewrite or revise. As in, Here’s the new brochure on Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I will wait until hearing from you before sending to the designer, and really appreciate your suggestions.

(Writers secret: If you want to make a writer’s skin crawl, tell us you are sending “corrections” or “changes.” There is a special place in Dantes Inferno for people who subject writers to such things. You may, however, send your suggestions, recommendations or ideas. If you’re very very nice about it.)

And last in that phrase, we have … thoughts.

As something that is shared.

I know full well that thoughts are in the mind, known only by one person, the thinker, and then, only remotely. Thoughts are abstract, shapeless, vague things that can’t be pinned down.

Much less heard.

So we have a ridiculous proposition. A writer sitting at her desk, eyeballs at the window looking not to the side or back, but forward. With her ear cocked, on alert, to hear something that may or may not yet be there … something that may not make a sound … to hear … thoughts.

Obviously, working every weekend for the past five weeks has done something to my brain.

So this weekend I will not work, unless you consider a family trip work, which it may be in the end. But not work of the verbal variety. It seems to rattle the brain. See what I mean?

FICTION DAILY RETURNS TUESDAY.

A Tweet about Facebook

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Today, big — very big — news in the ‘Net — it’s a showdown of sorts between so many camps it’s hard to tease apart the battles. Yet it seems somehow the future of the entire human race rests on the outcomes.

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First up: Twitter.

OK, I admit it. I investigated Twitter for a simple reason — I wanted to find out WHAT ALL THE FUSS WAS ABOUT.

Once signed on, I felt was much ado about nothing … then again, quite often technology appears insignificant, irrelevant and unneeded at first … then we get hooked … then WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT.

So I check my Twitter feed and even Tweet from time to time. I have a few friends I follow. I also read Stephen Fry’s frequent (and frequently funny) Tweets. He was among the first and healthiest Tweeters. Or is that Twits?

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Next up: New Facebook

What is it with software developers and IT people? Sometimes they are just so … ON. Other times, it seems they’re hosting a wee fascist streak. Software and the ‘Net thrive when they’re open, lawless and flexible. Organic. People powered.

The new Facebook design is more intrusive and noisy. It pours everyone’s activity and status updates into a single feed, meaning that the interesting bits are buried under junk.

The status update — that one-line show of genius and minimalist poetry — is now reduced to so much static among too many boring items about what quiz someone took, which 80s movie they are, which rock song defines them, etc.

Just give me status updates, please! If I want to know which color defines their personality, I’ll visit their wall, thank you.

Last: Battle of the social networks.

If you haven’t noticed, here’s how the teams line up. MySpace seems to work for music and bands. Facebook has exploded among, well, us grown-ups. Twitter seems to be fashionable among movie stars and journalists.

I have integrated Twitter onto my Facebook page. You may have noticed Twitter is also on my Web site. Facebook is a major form of communication between my husband and myself during work hours. I have given more Facebook gifts than real gifts this year.

It’s interesting to wonder who will end up on top of the heap when the dust settles.

In the meantime, I’m just out here looking for a meaningful status update. One that will justify my very existence. Or at least all those hours on Facebook.

SxSW=Music!

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

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The Avett Brothers. Photo by Crackerfarm

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

Today marks the opening of the Austin music festival South by Southwest. Each year this festival churns up a bit of excitement, placing new music firmly in the spotlight, usually folks who don’t have the machinery of hype behind them.

Of course each year there are also old-but-goodies such as Beck. This year, not my favorite band Metallica is appearing, along with Big Boi, formerly of OutKast, who is promoting his solo recordings.

On a personal note, a favorite band of mine will be there, the Avett Brothers. Now if you don’t know these guys, they’re like pop-bluegrass-punk, just a lot of fun.

I happen to know about them not because I’m in the know, but by good fortune live next door to one of the band members. Who’s a great guy … and so is his wife. They’re animal loving tree huggers like yours truly. One of the band members graduated from East Carolina University, here in G-Vegas.

Today, the Avett Brothers are set to play at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in the NPR Showcase. (If you’re on Facebook, you got a surprise last week, when NPR sent a free SXSW sampler CD in your inbox to download from iTunes. Yeah!!!) They’re playing with the Decemberists and Heartless Bastards.

Tomorrow, the Avett Brothers will play at the Radio Room, at the Paste-Brooklyn Vegan party. With Daniel Johnson, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.

If you’re interested, here’s a full playlist from the NPR Showcase. I think anyone can download free from NPR, with an iTunes account. Enjoy!!

“Furr” by Blitzen Trapper from Furr
“Knotty Pine” by David Byrne & The Dirty Projectors from Dark Was the Night
“Lakeside” by BLK JKS from Mystery EP
“Go On, Say It” by Blind Pilot from 3 Rounds and a Sound
“Bag of Hammers” by Thao Nguyen from We Brave Bee Stings and All
“The Rake’s Song” by The Decemberists from The Hazards of Love
“St. Joseph’s” by The Avett Brothers from The Second Gleam
“The Mountain” by The Heartless Bastards from The Mountain
“Dreamer” by K’Naan from Troubadour
“Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” by Mayer Hawthorne from Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out

Unfashionable Times

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

A VAGUE REFLECTION ON THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

Today, FD turns again to the economy. As usual, expect indispensable insight and potentially paradigm shifting information.

First of all, let’s look at our own cost-cutting measures here at Fiction Daily. Because of our own budget shortfalls, we have decided to temporarily reduce entries. This reduction results from the needed reduction in our workforce of 13.4 percent, for a cost savings of at least several pennies.

That benchmarking reduction means I will have to lose about 17 pounds … so, well, we’re doing all we can to reduce expenses, and will have to reduce our workforce by some degree, in any event, because I really should lose about 5 or 10 pounds … but don’t expect me … er, my staff … to post on Mondays for a while until we get out of the woods … er weeds … er dark tunnel … of these challenging economic times.

Next, a word about fashion. Yes, fashion.

Depression-recession fashion has come back with a bang. Or is that a whimper? Looking through my advertising circulars over the weekend, I noticed two things: one, there were fewer of them falling out of my Sunday paper and two, the fashions inside them were more horrible than ever.

Last week, in a moment of weakness and mental abjection, I purchased several so-called “women’s magazines” and the fashions I saw scared me to death. These people look like ghouls! Pale white faces, dark pouts and eyes, feathers, rags and downright unbalanced appearances were a fright.

The trend has spread to mainstream retail, mixed with a strange longing for polyester and unnatural colors, with the exploding patterns, mixed-up skirt lengths and fake-gold chain belts and necklaces from circa early 1970s. (KC and the Sunshine Band, anyone?)

Those were the days of the other “recession,” when we turned off lights and conserved energy as a nation, because of the oil embargo, inflation and other poorly understood economic shudders.

Now we see those days’ fashions showing up again, as if we’re looking for comfort in them … we made it through those days so if we dress in a similar way maybe we’ll make it to shore again this time.

Of course, never, ever look to a writer to understand fashion. Writers dress in pre-Victorian ragware as a rule, and would hardly leave our pajamas at all except society requires it.

So remember, in these uncertain economic times, if you notice fewer posts, remember the FD staff has to trim its budget, too, and we can all make it through these challenges by simply putting off our obligations as much as possible.

Capital Offense

Friday, March 13th, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

It’s Friday again and time to take a look at language. Or something.

These days, I am a “friend” on Facebook. Not only am I friendly with FB, but I am downright hooked.

Now many people will say, Just what the world needs. Another way to goof off. And I agree.

Sure there are many ways to justify it. Such as
— I work alone and it’s only fair that I have a sense of camaraderie with others during the work day
— FB allows me to express my creativity
— We all need breaks from work
— I don’t really spend that much time on FB
— It’s great keeping up with my friends

This is rot.

I rarely need a break, since I’m quite good at taking time off during the day. Usually to snack.

As for keeping up with friends, well, I’m actually a hermit.

No, Facebook is just like any other diversion. Unnecessary distraction from something difficult. Mea culpa.

(Marion, you ask, why are you going on about Facebook so today … wouldn’t it have been a more fitting topic for yesterday’s Tech Thursday? Which, by the way, you failed to post ….)

Back to Facebook and language, then.

I am finding myself somehow tossing aside some language guidelines that I’ve always embraced, clung to, even relied on for sanity. Such as capital letters.

Lately, I’m finding myself writing email messages without them … just saying what i have to say and not worrying about dressing up my words in their formal attire. not worried about being judged. free

This trend has sometimes given me shivers, as I look at my words. I am reminded of an elementary school note, written hurriedly and passed in secret.

YEAH! THAT’S IT!

There’s something subversive about going without capital letters. A feeling that I’m part of an underground movement. We have our language and rules, signs and codes.

I run into an internal conflict, however, when I’m writing someone a message, or making a post on Facebook, using only lower-case letters and the time comes to end the sentence. i want to close it with an exclamation point!

But as we all know, to get that exclamation point, we MUST use the shift key.

Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

or maybe i’m enjoying playing a game with rules i have a part in creating (!)

!!!!!!

: )