Friday, June 30, 2006

End of June

Should be a good game this morning. Go Argentina! (Germany just had a really good chance on a header)


Here's another interesting scientific discovery: an Amazon Stonehenge. I just think it'd be pretty cool to be wandering the rainforest and find a grassy rise with these ancient stones on them. That's an image I might just use in a story some day. Most of my links here seem to have been from msnbc, which gives interesting articles, but probably not the most in depth. There must be a specifically scientific news site. Anyone know any? It's odd, I never really enjoyed science classes in school, but I love learning about new scientific discoveries and even just other scientific stuff. It must have to do with the presentation at least in part. In science class they have to give all the other details that never appealed as much to me, but in an article, even one that's more technical than these, it's just structured differently, and it's easier for me to simply pay attention to the things that interest me. I can also pick out the articles that interest me--genetics, environment, biology, astronomy as well as the more social sciences of linguistics, psychology, etc.


OK, quite a ramble. Enjoy the last day of June, all my faithful readers.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Instant Writing Prompts

You may notice something new here on the right (I typed 'left' first, but then I looked at my fingers and saw that the thumb and index finger on other hand make an L shape). I decided to add an instant writing prompt box there that I got from Oncewritten.com. They have other free things for people to put on their blog or website, but this is the one that interested me.

In other, unrelated news, I wonder if I praised Univision too highly and my local cable company caught on--I was able to watch the Brazil v Ghana game just fine yesterday, but when Spain v France came on, the reception was suddenly awful. I was able to listen to the game because the sound came in fine, but the picture was impossible to follow. I didn't know what to think until the game ended...and immediately my reception was perfect. We'll see what happens for the games tomorrow. And if you're reading my blog, cable people, arrrgh. You made me very angry yesterday.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Two unrelated links

I suppose I could make a separate entry for each of these, but I don't feel like.

First, there's Appalling Limericks. This is the same publisher that publishes Scifaikuest (where I have a few scifaiku coming up in the coming months). They want speculative fiction-themed limericks for a one-time anthology. As far as I know, this one never appeared on Ralan's...but I might have just missed it. There are only a few days left on this one, so get writing if you want to submit. I've been trying to come up with something, but I haven't been pleased yet with anything. They do specify that the 'appalling' is only the gimmick of the title--they actually want well-written pieces.

Next, in another article on a strange animal, there's this one about a color-changing snake recently discovered. I just thought it was cool animal. And always fun to learn about a newly discovered species. Wouldn't it be weird if humans had color-changing skin? I know, the romantic image of the chameleon changing to perfectly fit its surroundings isn't really how it works. But even if our skin made dramatic shifts for other reasons, it would be interesting.

Finally, congrats to Ronaldo!!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Quick followup

All right, so apparently that second shot actually went off the cross bar, which I hadn't noticed initially. I feel so sheepish. They only showed the replay once, and I could have sworn it simply sailed way too high. Oh well. But now I've seen the supposed foul for a penalty in the Italy v Australia game. That was an awful call! I'll definitely be cheering for Ukraine when they meet (though I'm sure they'll be the underdogs by a lot). And more importantly, I'll be cheering for good, honest reffing (refing?) the rest of the Cup.
More on World Cup

I haven't made any comments about soccer/football for a few days, but I wouldn't want my faithful readers (both of you) to think I haven't been watching the games. I missed England v Ecuador yesterday, but I got to see the ridiculous number of cards in Netherlands v Portugal. I was really pulling for the Dutch (being Dutch myself), and I thought they dominated the ball for most of the game...which could have something to do with outnumbering the Portuguese by one player for most of the second half. Oh well.

I was cheering for Australia this morning--partly just the wanting an underdog to win--but I was feeding my son breakfast when Italy got their penalty kick to win and haven't seen a good replay of it yet, so I have no comment on that. Now the Swiss dominated for basically the entire game (a game with only one yellow and no reds!! shocking!) but couldn't score...and couldn't even score a penalty kick for the final shootout. I feel sort of bad for them--I think the announcers said that they hadn't allowed a single goal all tournament, including this game. But that second kick that went high for them...unacceptable at this level. If you want to be chosen by your team for penalty kicks, you have to have better control than that. Maybe the camera angle made it look worse than it was, but it looked pretty bad. Of course, my problem was always that I had the control but not the power to make the shot fast enough. Well, since my little brother lives in Ukraine, I was cheering for them anyway, so Yay, Ukraine! Too bad he's in Mongolia now so I can't ask him how things are in the streets.

Looking forward to Spain v France tomorrow! And Brazil v Ghana as well, of course.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

More on JWP

I haven't played around with images yet on my blog, so I figured I'd put a few of the promotional images from Jupiter World Press here just to see how it works. I'll put the cover image for "Canyon of Babel" here later, closer to its release date, but you can see it already anyway by going to the coming soon section of jupiterworldpress.com.



These are the front and back of the promotional postcards I have to pass out to people. They look very cool, I think. Completely high quality, professional in appearance. I only wish they had a place for me to write in my name or the title of my story or something of that sort.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Jupiter World Press

The release date for my first story with Jupiter ("Canyon of Babel") is about a month away (or maybe almost two months--I don't know if it'll be released at the beginning of August or later in the month). But now I have another coming out with them! Just got the email this morning that "The Bridge of Lok-Altor" was accepted by them. An editor once mentioned that every story involves a stranger coming to town--either, the main character is someone in town influenced by this stranger (which in this case could actually be metaphorical as well--a new disease, a new weapon, a new object, even just news of something), or the MC is the stranger himself/herself, coming to a new place. So when I wrote this story I wanted to imagine a place where the simple fact of a stranger walking on the streets of the city is so impossible that it sets up the story by itself--not so much what the stranger does, but just the fact that there is a stranger. Of course the stranger does things, but his presence is the impetus for everything else.

Anyway, if you want to know more, you'll just have to read it when it comes out. Now I'd better go mow the lawn.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dutch fans must watch in their underwear

Rather than rehash the US disappointment, just thought I'd bring attention to this odd story:

Fans lose trousers to gain entry

Basically, a Dutch beer company decided to get some good publicity by making orange pants with their logo on it...but the company wasn't an official sponsor of the World Cup, so FIFA decided to make fans remove the offending pants as they entered the stadium. They called it ambush marketing. I don't like wearing the logos of any company on my clothing, but I think I'll side with the beer company on this one. It's just creative and funny. Actually, though, I'm thinking that FIFA making the people remove the clothing gives far more publicity to the company than simply ignoring it would have. Hmmm. Add to that that they're going against US's Anheuser Busch, and I definitely side with the Dutch beer. Just because I live near the Budweiser brewery doesn't mean I'll touch their awful-tasting beer. Hopefully the Dutch beer is better tasting, though I suppose it's not microbrewery quality either.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Grand plans for the day:

Visit the dentist. Usually visiting the dentist isn't something you really look forward to, but I chipped a filling recently, revealing the nerves beneath, so my jaw has been hurting. I just want to get it over with and hope the pain ends after today. Actually, I chipped the tooth next to the filling a couple years ago when we didn't have any dental insurance, but at that time, the nerves weren't exposed, so it wasn't a big deal. These past few weeks, though, haven't been fun. And trying to figure out someone to watch my son while I went wasn't easy either...but now my sister- and brother-in-law moved here, so she'll be watching him.

Play basketball. Every week during daylight savings time, people with some connection to my wife's work play basketball in the park behind the clinic. I haven't been able to make it for a couple weeks because we were gone and then my wife had to work late, so I was watching my son. Last time, I was talking smack about the Pistons having just beat Clevand to advance. Not quite as happy with them now as I was then. Today I should be able to make it though, and with the new interns in town and my brother-in-law joining us too, we should actually have a decent game instead of the 2 or 3 they've had the last couple weeks.

And of course, write. Actually, my plan is to work on rewrites today, which is always so much easier to procrastinate about...so I'm afraid it'll turn into following my curiosity around the Internet, learning about new things that have little if any connection to anything I'm currently writing. Oh well, we'll see.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Oh well

I mentioned a few posts ago about the Field Guide of Surreal Botany. Well, unfortunately they did not accept my specimen. I wish they would put an example on their website so I had a better idea what they're going for. Then I'd have an idea if mine just wasn't surreal enough, was too much like another they'd already accepted, or what. Well, lying in bed this morning I came up with another that's very surreal, so we'll see how this one does. I still love the concept, which is why I'd love to have my creation appear in it (if it gets accepted I get a free copy and other cool stuff). So we'll see.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sports and Society

I remember seeing awhile ago an article or essay or something comparing different sports with different types of societies. So baseball is more agrarian, with a leisurely pace not governed by a clock but by events (pitches, outs, innings). It's analogous to the seasons. And the players each have a (more or less equal) part in the production of runs and a role on the other side more like pre- or early-industrial farmer hands than, say, factory workers.

North American football (don't ever just call it American football), though, is factory work. Each player has a job to perform. Those on offense work directly under the quarterback, their supervisor, who answers to those higher up. Creativity for most of the players is unnecessary. The key is following your route or performing your task and relying on the system for it all to fall together. And the clock itself is so important to the game that everyone is constantly aware of the minutes going by. Now a good team does more than just that, but at least the metaphor holds up in a general way.

Basketball, in the essay, was compared to a more contemporary corporate setting. The players have their roles, but creativity is highly valued. The clock again is important, but in more of a frantic, deadline-meeting, business way than the work-hours feel in football. The coach is not so much a factory boss, but a consultant trying to balance the different skills and massage the different egos of the group. Again, this is not meant to be a perfect metaphor--the Pistons have built their reputation among local fans in recent years as a more blue-collar, factory team, whether they really fit that or not anymore after this year--but it's an interesting way of looking at it.

I'm sure the original essay said all this in much better, more systematic way, but this was the basic gist.

So anyway, this got me wondering how soccer would fit into this scheme. Soccer has some set plays, but even fewer the basketball. It's much more freewheeling and creative. The clock is there, but it's much less of a presence (and not even completely reliable because of injury time). In some ways these things put it in a similar position to basketball (at least more so than the other two sports), but certainly not identical. As a fan (and a creative writer) I want to say that it's more of an art, but art made be eleven people collaborating...I don't know. Maybe in the broader sense of the arts, it's analogous to a staged dramatic production or a musical. Perhaps a jazz performance. Yeah, I like that metaphor. Soccer as jazz. Creative. Improvisational. But I don't know that that really lines up with the society metaphors for the other sports. Hmmm. All I know is, I enjoy all four of these sports, but soccer/football is by far my favorite, both to play and to watch.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Random Babbling

Old news already (if that's not an oxymoron), but the US team played well yesterday. I missed all the excitement of the first half, but got to see most of the second half. It's interesting how much having fewer players affects the game. It really looked very different with the 10 and 9 players instead of 11 and 11. My first reaction on the first red card for the US when I saw the video was that it might have been a yellow card, and it was undeniably a foul...but it didn't look red card worthy to me. I'm quite willing to admit, though, that my bias my simply be influencing how I see it. I've read reports from sources I trust saying it was the right call. Oh well. We'll see what happens at Ghana.

Just saw France get robbed of a goal that surely crossed the plane of the goal before the keeper saved it. Unfortunately there were no camera angles to show conclusively whether it did or not.

Interesting question, do you call it 'keeper' or 'goalie'? In grade school we called it goalie. We also talked about full-backs, half-backs and forwards. Then in high school I think we were trying to be more European or something, and we were using keeper (or just keep), defense, midfield and strikers. Didn't use 'linkers' much for some reason, though I've heard others use that often. Then when teaching PE, people didn't seem familiar with the term 'keeper,' even those who were active in soccer circles and were probably more skilled and versed in the sport than I had been even a couple years older. So I got used to using goalie again, but I still like keeper better.

Well, I didn't plan on this being a purely World Cup entry, but looks like that's what happened. Here, we'll broaden it a bit by adding, 'Happy Fathers' Day, everyone, whether you're a father, you have a father, or you know one. I still wish a happy day to you.'

Friday, June 16, 2006

Escapism

World Cup sort of cuts into my writing time these days, and part of me just wants to write about Argentina's 6 goals or the fact the I just taught my son to say, "Gooooolllll!" or other soccer/football-related things, but I wanted to get down my thoughts on the whole debate about escapism, partly just so I understand what I think.

One of the criticisms leveled at speculative fiction by mainstream writers, critics, readers is that it's simply escape, an attempt to hide from the realities of the world. It's also a criticism some SF people accuse fantasy of. One response is that escape isn't really a bad thing. This was basically Tolkien's argument, using the example of a prisoner escaping from prison--in this case the real world is a prison, and books allow those trapped to escape. I'm not sure I completely buy that. I want to say his argument was a bit more nuanced than I just gave it, but it's been awhile since I read it. I guess, part of my problem with this is that, even when the world is at its worst, it isn't really a prison...and if it is, the only way to truly escape is death, not something I exactly long for.

But writing that, I think I was misapplying his example. I'll get back to that. Another image I remember a former professor using where he draws on a poem by Robert Frost. In the poem the speaker jumps up to catch a tree branch and longs to escape the world. But right away he says he doesn't want any god or power listening to misinterpret his wish and actually take him away. He only wants to be away for a brief time so he can return to the world refreshed. This image has always appealed to me. Even if fantasy does take us away from the world, it does so to return us to the world with a new perspective or a better understanding of the world.

So back to Tolkien's image, perhaps the prison is not the world. Perhaps the prison is a restricted mindset--naively positive or overly pessimistic, purely materialistic or hyper-spiritualized. All of these are prisons that bind our thoughts and views of the world around us. Speculative fiction, then, is an escape from those bonds that hold our perspectives, and ultimately it frees us to see our world in new ways.

I do have to say, though, that speculative fiction (as well as other forms of fiction, including the mainstream genre) do not always achieve this form of escape. There are works that really are escapist in a bad way, probably far too many, works that take us away from the world but do nothing to help us escape from the things that really do imprison us, that do nothing to bring us back to the world with new eyes or a refreshed spirit.

All right, that's just my attempt to think through this (while my son watches sesame street in the background, so I don't know how the Netherlands v Cote d'Ivore game is going), so no promises that it's all perfectly lucid or is even a final judgment on the idea. But it's helped me think through some things.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A rant about creating unnecessary walls

I found this essay where the writer is essentially lamenting the success of fantasy works over science fiction:
http://benford-rose.com/blog/?p=3
One problem I have with this essay is its attempt to build even stronger walls, not only between fantasy and SF, but between SF and mainstream literary works as well, and I've already said in an earlier entry how I dislike such attempts. I'm all for tearing down all those kinds of walls.

But more central is his naive dismissal of fantasy (and equally naive belief that science fiction novels automatically speak more to the real world...though there are hints that he realizes part of the problem may be that some science fiction works don't live up to his ideal). There are fantasies that merit dismissal, but certainly not all...and there are science fiction works that are equally as removed from human nature. Escapism in the bad sense (I want to address this idea of escapism, but I'm afraid this post will already be plenty long. Perhaps my next entry).

So in my mind, when speculative fiction succeeds (whether fantasy, SF, or something else), there are two ways it works. I dislike hierarchies of 'this is inherently better than that,' but if I had to explain why I tend to prefer the speculative mode over realist mode, this would certainly be a part of it. So first, speculative fiction takes away some of the familiar trappings of our world and lets us imagine what that says about what it means to be human. It directly addresses human nature, which is something speaks powerfully about our own world and our own actions. If a certain type of magic exists, how might people respond, and what does that say about humans? If AI advances or we meet an alien race or we don't meet aliens anywhere, what does that say about us humans? These questions do not rely on scientific extrapolation, but merely on the unfamiliar setting, whatever it may be.

Second, speculative fiction can invade our defenses to address issues of our day and the future. Things like caring for the environment or the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the morality of the death penalty all invoke strong reactions in people. A more realist approach in fiction, presenting things as they are in our world, will invoke all those defenses and readers are less likely to actually consider other viewpoints. In a speculative setting, though--again, whether fantasy, SF or something else--the fiction can present the same issues in subtle ways that break through those defenses. A reader may not even realize that they're thinking about matters in the real world as they read...but it will affect them. This is also possible in realist fiction, but I think speculative fiction has a unique power for this that, if not necessarily better or worse, is different.

When fantasy fails, it focuses too much on the trappings, the magic, the swords perhaps (if it's that kind of fantasy), the cool characters. When science fiction fails, it focuses too much on the science and the gadgets and gosh-wow of space travel. These are the failings he should be lamenting, not some artificial wall between genres.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Groan--World Cup Announcer's Pun

Well, this will only be funny if you speak Spanish, but prior to the Italy-Ghana game today (after the US debacle I was cheering for Ghana just so the US might have a chance) the announcer said, "Ghana tiene ganas de ganar." I won't try to explain why that's such an awful pun except to say that it means 'Ghana would like to win," and puns on two Spanish words that sound like Ghana. It's really the type of pun that makes you groan...but laugh despite yourself.

Or maybe I just needed some reason to laugh after the US game...
World Cup is not Sesame Street

When I brought my son downstairs this morning, I had the TV already on, watching the US game (which so far is not going so well...). My son didn't so much like that. Usually about the only time the TV is on is for the 45 minutes or so that he watches Sesame Street (we usually don't turn it on right at the beginning of the show). So he stood in the kitchen, pointing through the gate saying very sadly, "Gone Street." Now I can't watch the second half because Sesame Street is on, so here's hoping it will be less sad for both of us!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

God bless Univision

All right, not surprisingly, ABC's coverage of World Cup is subpar at best. I don't have cable or satellite or any such thing, so I have to rely on what comes in on my rabbit ears. Back in Michigan, I could get CBC from Canada, which was great for alternative Olympic coverage, and I found myself wishing I still had that, thinking they might offer better coverage. And then yesterday I remembered that we get Univision here--yay! Every game with far more interesting announcers anyway. How anyone can watch the golf that's on ABC right now over Argentina v. Cote d'Ivoire I have no idea. Well, how anyone can watch golf over anything I have no idea, but that's beside the point. Yay, Univision!

And while we're talking World Cup, have you heard of the Togo witch doctor predicting they'll go far? Intriguing enough for me to watch them play. Not only that, but their representative won the beauty contest against the other countries playing in the Cup. No, it wasn't a contest among the players. Here's a link from foxsports:

http://msn.foxsports.com/soccer/story/5673550

Friday, June 09, 2006

Good news

Anything positive in environmental news is worth mentioning, so here's an animal that was thought extinct in its original forest home (though some still live in zoos and a couple other parts of the Congo), but now they've discovered that some still live in the park/preserve where they were fist discovered a hundred years ago.

Read the story here, then come back.

OK, did you see that picture? Does this animal really exist? It looks like it belongs in some collection of fantasy creatures, maybe the animal companion to A Field Guide to Surreal Botany. So very cool news story, anyway, and very interesting animal.

Since I brought it up, if you haven't checked out the Surreal Botany collection, do so. I've been seeing it in lots of other blogs, so maybe you've seen it too, but definitely an interesting project. Sort of reminds of the Dr. Lambshead Guide to Discredited Diseases (or whatever that was called).
Introduction

Writing the twigs and brambles is writing unfettered that plays with words and plays with genres, that proses poems and poeticizes prose, that weaves in dreams and pulls in pictures, accepting images from every twig and bramble of my twisted mind.

For awhile now, I've been calling the various journals I jot down story ideas in "Twigs and Brambles." So I've decided to use that title for this new blog on writing. I have no idea where it'll take me (huh, sounds like most stories I write), but I'll enjoy the journey (and again).

So a very quick introduction to who I am: I'm a speculative fiction writer and a stay-at-home dad. I prefer 'speculative fiction' since I dislike attempts to create walls between the different genres. My writing tends to be fantasy and dark fantasy with occasional steps into surreal and science fiction...and generally on the more literary ends of those genres (or so I like to tell myself anyway). I'm originally from Michigan and now live at the edge of the Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado.