What is wrong with you people?

Why are you not flocking to my blog, re-blogging all my fantastic posts, and flooding me with comments and requests for more of the First Novel?  I am the Next Great Novelist!

Well, maybe it’s not entirely your fault.  Maybe I’m not all that interesting. . . yet.  Or maybe I just totally suck.  Okay, well I pretty much suck most of the time, I guess.  But every time I post I get better, right?  Right?  (listens for the sound of nodding heads)

I actually have something worthwhile to discuss rather than just complaining (which is still complaining even though I do it tongue-in-cheek).  First, I have finished Chapter 11 of the First Novel (with a Zeppelin!), and have begun on Chapter 12, wherein the female protagonist lands her first Hollywood role.  Which will lead to. . . oh no you don’t.  No spoilers yet.  It will lead to the end of the story!  So there’s that.

And, I’ve also done some work on the Second Novel.  I’ve realized that while the First Novel is great, the greatest greatness of the Next Great Novelist will be in subsequent novels.  So I worked on my new protagonist and actually put in some effort on creating the character first rather than just banging away at the keys in some naive hope that the story will magically coalesce out of the vast ether of unexpressed ideas into a brilliant, coherent, and marketable story.

I’ve also been working on improving my craft by reading what those who are much farther along the path of authorship than I have to say about it.  Today I came across a post by Karen Lamb titled “The Bookpocalypse” which rather bluntly explains why the First Novel is likely to be childish scribbling compared to the inspired masterpiece which the Second Novel will surely become and how the First Novel may be destined to become nothing more than tiny bits of ash once I finally realize that explosives are a more fitting end for it than the humiliation of publication.

Before I break out the dynamite, however, I’m going to at least finish the first draft of the First Novel and solicit some feedback from a few beta readers.  Then I’ll put some strong effort into a rewrite.  Once in a while, to give myself a little break, I will plunk away on the work for the Second Novel, for which I only have the vaguest notion of a plot so far.  It will be GREAT though!

One Step Closer

I thought I’d take a crack at the Weekly Writing Challenge this week.  Here is my story:

On this particular day I was flying back from a trip to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.  The nearest sizeable airport is Kansas City, which despite its clever name, is really located in Missouri.  Oh sure, there is in fact a Kansas City in Kansas, but when you sing about how you’re “going to Kansas City… Kansas City here I come,” you’re talking about the one in Missouri.

Earlier in the year, I’d done quite a bit of flying on business and had racked up a fair amount of frequent flyer miles and some other perks.  One of the perks was a handful of 500-mile certificates.  Having discovered that I could use the certificates to upgrade from Cattle-Car-Coach to Actual-Customer-Service-Business-Class, I decided to upgrade my flight from Kansas City to Denver, and then the connecting flight from Denver to Palm Springs.

I’m not really a huge fan of flying as transportation.  I don’t think anybody is.  One jackhole decides to try putting a bomb in his shoe and now the rest of humanity is doomed for all eternity to walk through security in our stocking feet.  Given the option, I’d much rather take the train.  But business is business and when you’ve got to travel quickly, you fly.  When I can make it a little more comfortable, and get a genuine smile from a Flight Attendant instead of the airline’s equivalent of shoving a tray of food under my cell door, I upgrade.

It was wintertime, and Denver was a mess.  My outgoing flight from Denver was delayed about an hour.  The plane was a Boeing 737 which is not huge and so it doesn’t have Business Class.  It does, however, have a First Class cabin so my upgrade got me all the way up to where royalty and movie stars get to ride.  Nice.  As one of the privileges of flying First Class, you get to use the “red carpet” to board the airplane, and don’t have to go up the regular cattle chute.  You also don’t have to wait for your zone to be called.  You can just get on whenever you want.

Most people prefer to board early.  It doesn’t matter all that much to me either way because we’re not going anywhere until we’re all on board, but getting on sooner allows you to stow your gear and sit in a nice comfy seat.  Plus, they usually serve a drink while you are waiting, which is not only nice but it sets you apart from the lowing slabs of meat who’re being herded into their stalls behind you.

Some people are in a dreadfully urgent hurry to get onto the plane first.  I don’t really understand this compulsion.  Maybe they like to sit and wait longer than anyone else.  These are the same people who will jump lanes in front of you in traffic so they can be the first to arrive at the next red light one block away.

So when the announcement came that we’d be boarding in a few minutes, several of the First Class passengers began to move up to the red carpet.  I stood and gathered my things too, but I didn’t feel a great sense of urgency.  We weren’t boarding just yet.  I moved into the group of people who were waiting in front of the red carpet.  We were in that sort of undefined mass of people that eventually coalesces into an organized queue.  I didn’t feel a need to get personal with anyone just yet, so I stood back a few paces and waited.  We could all see that the agent at the gate wasn’t quite ready.  She was dealing with a couple of people up at the front of the red carpet and hadn’t actually begun the process of checking boarding passes and letting people through.  There did seem to be a general air of expectancy among the passengers.  We’d all been waiting for an extra hour and we were anxious to get going.  Seeing that the line wasn’t yet moving, though, I felt no need to collapse anyone’s bubble of personal space and move right up to where I could smell his after shave (or lack thereof).

As I’m standing there waiting for the small logjam on the red carpet to break loose, a man taps me on the shoulder and says, “Are you going to move forward?”  I do a slow double take.  I look at him, look at the line which clearly isn’t moving yet, and look back at him.  I smile.  It was supposed to be a friendly and conspiratorial smile, but it was probably half sneer out of derision for his stupid question and half grimace because I was tired of waiting.

“Eventually,” I say.

“But not right now,” he blusters and proceeds to shove his way past me in order to stand one step closer to the spot from which no one was yet progressing.

Less than a minute later another fellow politely asks me, “Are you in line?”  That is a much better question so I simply say, “Yes.”  I say so loud enough so that Rudely Shoves Forward can hear me.  The polite fellow says, “Oh.  I couldn’t tell where the line was.”  He is making a gentlemanly reference to the fact that I hadn’t moved to within impregnation distance of the person in front of me and thus boldly established my place within the pack.  I nod towards Rudely Shoves Forward.

“Apparently it forms behind this gentleman here.”  He hears me, because I have passively-aggressively made sure he could, and shoots me a look.  I pay him back with a smirk.  I am not intimidated, but I am still nonchalant about crowding forward in order to wait one step closer.  Had I been in a darker and bolder mood, which I sometimes am, I would have fought for my place in line and refused to allow anyone to punk me.  I’m not in that sort of mood today.  I’m on my way home, this is my last leg, and I’m patiently waiting to enjoy my luxurious seat and friendly service.

The line begins to move.  Rudely Shoves Forward now feels the need to establish that he isn’t a total dick, so he steps back and gestures that I should precede him.  I protest with mocking politeness, but he insists.  He now wants to win this contest too.  I briefly consider accepting this challenge, and doing a version of the old Alphonse and Gaston routine:  “After you,”  “Oh no, after you,” “Oh no, please I insist, after you,” but there are other people waiting and I have no desire to hold up a few innocent bystanders just to prove that I can out-dick the dick.  I proceed to board the airplane.  As I walk down the ramp, I wonder what motivates somebody to be such a colossal ass.

I find my big plush armchair and stash my carry-on in the roomy compartment provided for upper crust travelers such as myself.  I adjust my position and relax with a smug sigh.  In the aisle seat across from me, Rudely Shoves Forward assumes his position.  The herd of weary mortals now begins the slow march past us, wearing their Death March faces and gazing longingly at we privileged few sitting upon our thrones.

A fellow with an amazingly large bag slung over his shoulder makes his way along the aisle.  The line comes to one of its frequent halts.  Behind him, a woman with whom he is obviously traveling says something that clearly requires a response.  He spins around quickly.  I watch an old fashioned slapstick comedy as the heavy bag whips around and smacks dead full into the face of Rudely Shoves Forward.  To this day I still see in my mind’s eye a slow motion shot of his distorted features, like a close-up of the knockout blow at a boxing match.

It was a very pleasant flight all the way home.

Hizzen and Hern

I am sick to death of butchering the English language in the name of gender-neutrality.

No, I’m not a misogynist (as long as you keep makin’ them sammiches! – sorry, I couldn’t resist).  No really, not a misogynist at all.  I absolutely understand and completely agree that English could and should evolve to reflect the fact that approximately half of humanity is female.  I have no problem with that.

Here’s what I do have a problem with.  I was reading one of the blogs I follow and the author concluded with this sentence:  “A writer that can create this kind of epic and heartfelt rivalry between their characters has all the conflict they need to drive their story.”

The subject of the sentence is “a writer.”  He could have chosen “the writer,” but he opted for an indefinite article.  A singular indefinite article.  Not all writers, or some writers, or even two writers.  Just one single indefinite writer.  Later in the sentence he mentions two things that belong to this indefinite singular writer: characters and story.  To indicate that these items belong to the singular indefinite writer, he uses a third person possessive pronoun.

Now this singular indefinite writer, being human, must be either male or female.  Doesn’t matter.  We have a singular third person possessive pronoun in English for males and a different one for females.  However, because we’re afraid we might offend half of the population, we refuse to use either singular pronoun, and instead choose the plural third person possessive pronoun, because there is only one of those and it isn’t gender specific (because, being plural, it must include both genders).  So, “a writer has their characters and their story.”

Which is just fucking WRONG.  Singular subject and plural pronoun.  Wrong.  Always wrong.  Forever wrong.

Now if we look at this not as avoiding insult, but rather as an attempt to respect and credit all humans, then it does make a bit of sense.  Still wrong, though.  Nice gesture maybe, but bad English.  And it just irritates the living hell out of me.

The “fix,” if you will, is to change English.  Since we actually have three third person possessive pronouns in English, and the third one is gender neutral, we could say “A writer has its characters.”  But this is more wronger, because “it” is never used to refer to people.  So that option is out.

We can agree that “their” is okay because it is gender neutral if not numerically correct, and this is generally the hand wave of acceptance that the PC/GN crowd uses to justify this grammatical departure.  And I can’t stand it.  Makes me want to kick holes in things.

Or, we can use both the masculine and feminine pronouns together, “A writer has his or her characters and his or her story.”  But that gets pretty annoying pretty fast.

Or, we can create an additional pronoun which, while singular, is gender neutral.  Such as… I don’t know… hox.  A writers has hox story.  We can make up words if we want.  We’re not stuck with the old ones.

Or, and this is the option I will choose, if the author is male, and the subject of the pronoun could be male or female, use male.  If the author is female, use a female pronoun.  So I could write,  “A writer has his characters,” and you (if you’re female) could write, “A writer has her story.”

Now, y’all (there’s another fun pronoun) can do what y’all want, but I happen to be a male.  I’m not going to apologize for that, nor am I going to attempt to minimize or diminish the other gender.  But from now on, when I need a singular third person pronoun to refer to a single person of unknown gender, I’m going to choose the male version.  After all, a writer should be able to choose their pronouns, right?

Am I really an asshole?

Yes, of course I am.  Anybody who knows me wouldn’t argue with that.

The question arises because the story in this post is similar to the last one, in that I, The Next Great Novelist, got pissed off at someone over something and decided I no longer wanted to spend any virtual time in the presence of this person or his group of friends.

The best place to begin would be at the beginning.  The year was 1985 and I, not yet the Next Great Novelist (I was much further back in the line at the time) was a Corporal in the Marines, stationed in the garden spot of the Mojave Desert, the beautiful oasis of Twentynine Palms.  I found myself on the outs with the First Ex (and oh so thankful for that) and had a bit of money saved up, but no car.  I decided that since I’d soon be independent and once again on the prowl – I used to be even more handsome than I am now – that I ought to treat myself to an automobile worthy of my free and independent status.  I started shopping for a Corvette.

I found a Corvette that was in my price range, but the dealer turned me down for the loan.  That was how I found out that the First Ex had skipped three payments on the car I’d given her, which she had neglected to put in her name, thus trashing my credit rating while leaving hers intact.  Awesome.  So the Corvette was out of the question since I needed to find something for which I could pay cash.  I had a couple thousand saved up.

Then… she came into my life.  She was a 1971 Mustang Mach 1, dressed up to look like a Boss 351.  The Boss 351 Mustangs were quite rare, with less than 2,000 of them ever produced, and she was not a “real” Boss 351.  You couldn’t tell by looking at her though.  She had all the right decals and best of all, she had the 351 Cleveland Boss motor, which was not the same as the regular 351 Cleveland, and completely different from the 351 Windsor (except for bore and stroke).  She became mine.

As the years moved on, I spent some time on deployment and the Mustang aged.  I was overseas with the family – the Second Ex and the two spawn – and the poor Mustang sat first in Louisiana and then in Florida.  Without proper care, she wasn’t doing too well.  So, when a guy offered my father twice what I’d paid for her when she was in running condition – in CASH – I let her go.  I hope she went to a good home.  I still have my father’s Mopar, but that is another story.

Now flash forward some more years.  It was time to get the Second Ex a car, and there was this flashy red – retina searing red – 2000 Mustang on the lot.  We bought her.  Still got her.  She took me to work this morning.

Now go backwards in time again, to when Spawn One was waiting to be born.  It was December and I promised her if she exited the womb in December and became a tax deduction for that year, I would buy her a car when she turned 16.  I kept the promise and 16 years later, I bought her a Grabber Orange 2004 Mustang.

So that makes three Mustangs so far, and I think that qualifies me as a Mustang fan.  So when the fellow next to me in the office bought himself a cool ’05, we were Mustang fans together.  We noticed that here in the garden spot of the Sonora desert, there were lots and lots of Mustangs.  A great many of them are just the standard V6 base model Mustang – which is cool.  Those models are pretty affordable, they’re good solid cars, and they’re cool to drive.  Ford sold buttloads of them.  And probably because there are so many buttloads and they are a pretty cool looking car, lots of people like to customize them – which is also cool.

So, the two of us, now both Mustang fans, decided it would be fun to have a local Mustang club.  There’s already a Camaro club in town, which is irritating.  Then one day, as we were walking to lunch, we saw a Mustang cruising through the parking lots.  Every time it came upon another Mustang, the guy would jump out and put a flier on the windshield.  We grabbed one.  Aha!  A Mustang club!

We did the obligatory liking and joining on Facebook, and the Founder/Owner/Pres – it was a very informal organization and I’ll discuss that more soon – even friended me which meant I got to see all his personal posts as well as the Mustang club stuff.

That takes us closer to the whole point of this long winded (is it still wind if my fingers are talking instead of my mouth?) post.  The first thing I noticed was that this fellow had about as much command of the English language as a 6 year old.  Not because English wasn’t his first language, but because he chose to speak with a mixture of willful ignorance and textspeak.  Most of the words that were more than three letters were spelled wrong, and it seemed that while many of those mistakes were simply because he didn’t know any better, the others were because he didn’t care.  He eschewed the use of capital letters – because it takes two fingers working in unison to do that – as well as punctuation.  His Facebook posts were usually just one long conglomeration of sentence fragments.  It was pretty difficult at times to glean the message – a thing we writers call “communication.”

There are several reasonable excuses for poor spelling and grammar.  One might not be a native speaker of English, for example.  Or one might, in fact, actually *be* a 6 year old.  Or perhaps one might be mentally challenged to the point where this sort of writing is the best one can do.  None of these were the case, however.  This individual was a qualified aircraft mechanic and that is not a position one can attain if one falls into any of the above categories.  So in his case, it was definitely willful ignorance.  I will probably write on this topic later, but for now it is enough to know that people who wear their ignorance as if it were a badge of honor make me want to pulverize their skulls with a three pound hammer.

It was worse than that, however, because aside from the horrible spelling and grammar, he wrote with an affected “street” patois as if he was some black underprivileged inner-city gangster thug rap artist.  Now I realized that there are some white people who happen to grow up in underprivileged inner-city black neighborhoods, and thus speak English after the fashion of everyone else in their area.  In his case, however, this was clearly an affectation.  There is a portmanteau word for this sort of white person, which, having mentioned, I do not have to type.  It is normally a highly derogatory term and I certainly mean to use it in that fashion – except that I won’t use it here.

So, the unscheduled and unplanned “meetings” of the club were announced in the fashion and language described above.  The announcements usually consisted of a variation on the theme of “I don’t know.  What do you want to do?”  A decision was normally reached a few hours before and the meeting was usually a few Mustang owners hanging out in front of one of the local fast food joints.  Sometimes two or three of them would drive to some greasy spoon joint about 25 miles away (there are plenty of closer joints but they wanted to “cruise”).  I thought about attending at first, but I was pretty busy with other stuff (like writing my First Great Novel!) and as time went on I was less inspired to hang out with these guys.

Then one day, the fellow posted something really tasteless on his Facebook page.  He thought it was funny obviously, but I thought it was not only disgusting, but completely inappropriate.  No details are necessary and I won’t soil myself by describing his post.  I just quietly unfriended him, although I remained “in” the club at least nominally.  According to him, joining the group on Facebook made you a full fledged member of the club.

So then one day, using the club’s Facebook account, he posts something of a personal nature that had nothing to do with Mustangs, or the club, or even any of the members.  So, I asked – politely… I do know how to be polite – if his post had anything to do with Mustangs.  He allowed that it did not.  I then asked if he thought it might be more appropriate to post the information using his personal account.  That was when he became upset and accused me of “drama.”  He went on to explain that since he founded the group on Facebook, he could therefore post anything he wanted from that account.  He next indicated that since I had never attended any of the “meetings,” that I had no right to criticize him.  Then, a couple of his friends joined in, and indicated that because the picture of me in uniform on Facebook doesn’t have enough medals, that I must be unworthy.

I really wanted to start an online battle with this whole group of idiots.  I could have explained, for example, that the picture was taken long before any of them joined the Marines and that, because neither Iraq or Afghanistan had happened yet, most Marines only got one or two personal awards and a couple of service awards, and didn’t have a whole stack of “I was there” campaign ribbons (which you “earn” simply by virtue of arriving in the same country where the fighting is going on).  I could have explained that I now rate several more awards (because I did go “there”).  I could have ripped through them with logic and reason and spit them out like the crud on the edge of your lips when you wake up in the morning.

Of course, being the veteran of far too many online battles, I realized the absolute futility of a response.  I hated to disappear without a fight, but I knew it was a fight I could not win.  All I would have done would be to lower myself to their level and indulge in the modern online version of a third grade playground shouting match:  “AM NOT AM NOT AM NOT!”  “ARE TOO ARE TOO ARE TOO!”  Nothing I could possibly have said would have scored a single point in their eyes, so I just left the group and went my virtually merry way.

So with two recent events where I left a group in disgust, I have to wonder if maybe I’m just being kind of a dick about the whole thing.

Voting with my wallet

So I’m generally not a generous guy.  I make okay money at my day job.  The usual stuff.  You know:  house, cars, mortgage, &tc, but I don’t like to give it away.  And, I’m a big fan of the Blues.  Since the early Naughts (which is what I’ve chosen to call the decade from 2000-2009), I’ve enjoyed listening to a few streaming internet stations.  Streaming internet audio is the next leap forward from what I’ve heard called “terrestrial radio.”  Some of the stations are fully commercial, just like their 20th century radio ancestors, while some of them operate under the “user supported” model.

So, several years ago, I found a great internet stream that played some ass-kickin’ blues 24/7.  And I listened to it a lot.  Finally, at one point, I decided – and this is *very* *very* rare for me, that I’d go ahead and become a paid supporter.  So I set up an automatic monthly check to be mailed to the fellow for $5 every month.  Now five bucks really isn’t a lot of money.  Hell, you can’t get coffee and a doughnut anymore for five bucks, so I know the guy wasn’t going to get rich off of me, nor was I going to make the family starve because I was squandering the fortune.

I paid him his five bucks, month after month, for almost four years.  Now, while his station could rightfully be called commercial free, it wasn’t devoid of numerous “spots” where he would explain – sometimes cleverly – that his station was user supported and relied on donations to pay the bills.  They showed up about as much as regular commercials showed up on regular radio.  But, as I said, some of them were clever, and I didn’t really mind him asking for the donations, since he needed them to keep the station on the “air.”

He had a pretty slick little website too that I sometimes visited.  Right on his main page the first entry was usually a request for donations where he showed how much money he needed by the end of the month in order to keep the station running.  I felt bad that he had to struggle so hard to keep the station on the air, and it was clear that it often frustrated him as well.  But I felt no guilt, because I made my monthly donation.

Clearly, however, the strain began to build up for him, because his posts began to become quite negative in tone.  His monthly post became a threat.  “If we don’t get $XXX by this date, we’re going down for good!”  Now, it may be a bit old fashioned, but it seems to me that if you’re asking people for money, you generally ought to be polite to them.  Calling people “dickheads” – which he did this month – for not supporting him doesn’t really fall into that category.  In fact, I find it downright rude.  Of course, it didn’t really apply to me, because I was a contributor.  Still, it irked me.

I had the phones on my head, blissfully digging me some blues while the creative juices flowed and I was writing away at my First Great Novel.  And then the music quit.  I visited the web page.  There was nothing on the first screen, so I figured it was maybe a software glitch and the music would be back on shortly.  Then I hit his little chatbox thing, where he and listeners could chat back and forth.  There was a very angry entry in there to the gist of him turning the music off until the pace of the donations picked back up again.  Some pretty crude language in there too.

And that *really* pissed me off.  Again, it wasn’t directed at me, because I was a regular contributor, but it still got me mad.  So I told him he probably ought to just leave the music off if it upset him so much.  Next thing I know, I’m getting fired on by him and a couple of his buddies about freeloading assholes and so on.  At which point I told them, “Hey, it’s user supported.  There will always be a large number of people who won’t pay, no matter what.  I don’t think calling them names is going to win any extra support.”  I really was trying to be sympathetic, but there was a group dynamic going on there, and because I wasn’t taking their exact position, I was one of *them.*

I explained that, in fact, I was a paying supporter but that I wasn’t feeling particularly well appreciated at that moment.  They told me what I could do with my donations.  So I pulled the plug.  I told them I wasn’t paying $5 a month for silence and attitude.  And then, they started jumping all over me because I *only* pay $5 a month.  Wow.  I pay about $150 a month for my satellite TV and I get way over 150 stations.  $5 a month for ONE internet radio station is a very reasonable sum.  Especially considering – I counted – I’d paid a grand total of $225 up to that point.  Then one of the guys told me he’d pay the $5 for me, because he knew I’d be listening for free anyway because, he explained, it was the ass-kickin’est blues station on the internet.  Except that, almost simultaneously, the owner of the station banned my IP.

After I logged onto my bank website and made sure there would be no more donations flowing toward the ass-kickin’est blues station on the internet, I went to find the second ass-kickin’est blues station.  There are thousands upon thousands of streaming internet radio stations.  Within about five minutes, I found another station – commercial free and listener supported – that was playing some excellent blues.  Within the first hour, they played one of my favorite versions of one of my favorite songs:  Key To The Highway, done by Little Walter.  Bliss.

There’s not a single negative word anywhere on the website, nor is it filled with reminders to “donate, donate, donate.”  There is a link at the bottom for donations, but no mention of how much or how often, or how tired the operator is of asking, or how many days until the station is off the air for good.  Just great support for the blues and a decent little website dedicated to the station.  And great music 24/7.

I’ve been listening for a few days now, and I haven’t once heard a request for money.  Think I just might send him some.