Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Memory of Chekov's gun

I've just published a new installment of Memory over at No Fear of the Future. This marks the 40th chapter (chapter being a loose identifier, since they're generally so short), but the first after an unacceptably long gap--it's been just about two months since no. 39 went up in late July. This one's a bit longer than average (does that make it "A Very Special Memory"?) but it's not two months' worth longer, unfortunately.

Maintaining even the modest publishing goal I set back in January 2008 of 1,000 words weekly has grown increasingly difficult to meet. For various reasons, the day job is consuming more and more of my energies, and family takes up a great deal of what's left. After that, non-fiction writing projects--such as the research-intensive Chicken Ranch work in progress, as well as paying gigs like interviews and book reviews--have muscled past my fiction to the top of the queue more often than not. I'm not a particularly fast writer to begin with, and I'm learning that outside of certain narrowly-defined parameters, I'm not one who can multi-task on several writing projects simultaneously. I started writing Memory as an experiment, a learning experience, and I'm learning a great deal. My production rate stinks, but I suppose that's part of the experience.

I am, however, no longer flying entirely by the seat of my pants. I started the project with very little set in stone: I had two characters, Flavius and Parric. I had what I considered to be a pretty nifty MacGuffin in ongoing assassinations of Flavius across the multiverses. And that was it. The setup allowed me some leeway in telling an origin story via shorthand introduction of a far more extensive history and relationship between the two protagonists, but beyond that I didn't know more than the readers. I didn't know why Flavius was being killed, although I do now. I didn't know why Parric refuses to use only a tiny fraction of his vast power, but I do now. I've yet to get a clear picture of the ultimate resolution, but I know how they get there. I see some of the events between here and there, and new characters who've yet to be introduced who are, for the most part, as vague and mysterious to me as they are to you, the reader.

What is particularly fun is that I'm just now getting into a part of the story where my subconscious was way ahead of me. Neil Gaiman mentioned this curious effect back in my 2002 interview with him, and the following exchange illustrates what I've started experiencing:
Your Sandman stories were essentially complex, serialized epics in a marginalized medium. As your stature as a writer grows, I can't help but see a parallel with the career of another product of Great Britain, Charles Dickens. Have you ever considered the parallels between your careers?

I don't know if I particularly considered parallels. I do remember, toward the end of Sandman, I was reading Bleak House for pleasure. There were points in there where I'd go, "Okay. You know what you're doing with this. You don't know what you're doing with this. This is just something that you're writing to fill in a few pages, but you're putting something in that may become important later. This is something where you think you've done something that isn't important, but actually it will become important to you later."

I recognized the beats. I recognized the technique reading that. There's a level on which you know something when you're going into a story, but a lot of the stuff will turn up on the fly and you'll use it. You have to sort of learn to be open to the infinite. You learn to toss balls in the air, not necessarily knowing how they'll come down, but knowing they will be descending at the point where you'll need them.

Terry Pratchett had a character in a book recently--the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, who quit before they became famous. His name was Ronnie Soak, and Terry had written him without knowing which horseman he was. He just named him Ronnie Soak, because it sounded like the right kind of name. There came a point where he was writing Ronnie Soak going past a shop window in which everything was reflected, and you'd see his name reflected in the window. And it said "Kaos." That was the moment where the penny dropped for Terry, who this character was. You can ask yourself questions: Did you know this unconsciously before? And when you're involved in serial narrative, you don't necessarily know.

So is that kind of sub-conscious, serendipitous writing unique to the serial form?

No, what it does is . . . In the serial form, you realize early on you are locked in. In normal writing, if you're working on a novel, and you get to chapter 11 and you realize you need a gun in the desk drawer, you just go back to the desk drawer when we saw it in chapter two. You make sure that you mention there was a gun in it, and when people read the book, they go "Ah yeah. Got a gun in the desk drawer." When somebody goes for it in chapter 11, it's there.

You can't do that if people have already seen that drawer, and they've already seen that it was empty in chapter two. So you learn to make decisions without necessarily knowing why you've made that decision. You'll put a gun in that drawer because something has to be in the drawer, and then in chapter 11 you'll look around and go, "Oh my god, I need a . . . Oh, I've already put it there." That is a very weird and specific kind of thing.

If anything, the whole serial nature of fiction taught me not to go for perfection. You know, perfection—you're heading for the horizon. You'll never reach it. Get to the point where you've done enough, you're willing to let it go, it's as good as it's going to be. Let it go. Move on. Do the next one.

The influence of Moorcock is obvious in Memory with the infinite multiverse setting. When I reached the point of the story where Flavius and Parric came to the Eternal Dominion and the Palace of Un-pic Ja’ab, I'd recently completed Jack Vance's mesmerizing Dying Earth series. I'd been enamored of the relentless parade of wonder Vance slathered his work in, taking Clarke's maxim that any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic. Vance's far-future Earth was pure surrealistic fantasy, but steeped in the conceit that our primitive minds simply couldn't comprehend the technology underlying the impossible inventions. I seized on that idea--inelegantly I admit--to throw the kitchen sink into the invention of the Palace of Un-pic Ja’ab. The peq, the em Naga-ed-der, the echoes of Mote in God's Eye reproductive issues amongst the Eternal... these were great fun to come up with. The most Vance-like invention, however, was Ketza’qua, the colossal, extra-dimensional serpent creature enslaved to hold the Palace aloft. At the time I first wrote it, I was simply trying for an absurdly incredible image through which to stress the separation of that alien cosm from ours.

I hadn't realized that I was actually writing the scene in which Chekov's gun is introduced. The Ketza'qua is a very, very big gun. Those of you who've read chapter 40 of Memory will understand that the trigger has just been pulled. I hope you approve.

This writing stuff can be fun sometimes, eh?

Now Playing: The Kinks Something Else

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another crazy questionnaire!

Got this from my boss' wife via Facebook, so I can ignore it only at my peril. And I'm not willing to risk it.

1. What was the last thing you put in your mouth?
My index finger.

2. Where was your profile picture taken?
Our kitchen.

3. Can you play Guitar Hero?
Ha ha ha!

4. Name someone who made you laugh today?
Today hasn't been one for laughing. Potential crisis seems to have been averted, though, so I'm sure the Bug will give me some giggles this evening.

5. How late did you stay up last night and why?
Stayed up 'til midnight or thereabouts, writing of course.

6. If you could move somewhere else, would you?
Australia's always had a certain appeal, and I've gotten along with all the Australian authors I've met. Plus, Flight of the Conchords with their "Crikey!" and "Billabong!" humor really appeals to me.

7. Ever been kissed under fireworks?
Not that I can recall. Now, I can vouch for kisses that have caused fireworks!

8. Which of your friends lives closest to you on FaceBook?
I live with The Wife and Monkey Girl, so they count, right? Aya and Chris, our next-door neighbors, would be next in line.

9. Do you believe ex's can be friends?
Depends on how ex they are. Also, psychosis plays a big role.

10. How do you feel about Dr. Pepper?
I feel it should be spelled properly, sans period.

11. When was the last time you cried really hard?
Probably when I learned Freebirds was canceling their secret shopper program and I wouldn't be getting five free Monster burritos every month anymore.

12. Who took your profile picture?
The Wife. She's crazy talented that way.

13. Who was the last person you took a picture of?
The Wife. We had a fun photo session a few nights ago.

14. Was yesterday better than today?
Yes. Today was nerve-wracking. Tomorrow is looking up, though.

15. Can you live a day without TV?
Can and do.

16. Are you upset about anything?
Not at the moment. "Relief" is the operative word.

17. Do you think relationships are ever really worth it?
What an asinine question. There are some that most definitely aren't, but relationships in general aren't just worth it, they're indispensable.

18. Are you a bad influence?
I try to be.

19. Night out or night in?
Looking forward to more nights out as the kids get older. Right now, they're all in.

20. What items could you not go without during the day?
Computer. Doesn't even need the internet. I suppose an actual typewriter could do in a pinch.

21. Who was the last person you visited in the hospital?
My mom.

22. What does the last text message in your inbox say?
I don't get text messages. I delete them unread. I am such a Luddite.

23. How do you feel about your life right now?
Whoo. Roller coaster of late, but the potential of a good, clear path forward seems realistic.

24. Do you hate anyone?
Hate is such a strong word. There are quite a few people who repulse me, however.

25. If we were to look in your FaceBook inbox, what would we find?
Lots of old, undeleted messages. I never clean that stuff out.

26. Say you were given a drug test right now, would you pass?

27. Has anyone ever called you perfect before?
If they did, I'd refer them to question 26.

28. What song is stuck in your head?
Nothing stuck in my head, but I'm listening to Jimmy Buffett sing "Pencil Thin Mustache."

29. Someone knocks on your window at 2:00 a.m., who do you want it to be?
The Texas Lottery Commission with a check for $20 million.

30. Wanna have grandkids before you’re 50?
Hell, I don't want grandkids before I'm 60!

31. Name something you have to do tomorrow.
Hopefully, buy a new shirt.

32. Do you think too much or too little?
Too much. I'm the king of over-analysis

33. Do you smile a lot?
When the occasion warrants.

Ok - if you have time - copy this - delete my answers and add yours. Tag me in your note so I can see what you said!

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads

Thursday, September 24, 2009

But I'm a Cheerleader

The Wife and I watched But I'm a Cheerleader last night, a satirical, lesbian-themed teen sex comedy. The basic premise is the parents and friends of a goody-goody cheerleader stage an intervention and ship her off to a gender orientation camp when they begin to suspect she's a closet lesbian. Which we thought would be great, except for the fact that the satire was half-hearted at best and we kept waiting for it to make with the funny. I haven't been so disappointed in a movie since I saw Steven Spielberg's milquetoast version of War of the Worlds.

That's too bad, because every minute of this movie screams "Potential!" Scripted by Brian Wayne Peterson (writer of many Smallville episodes) from a story by director Jamie Babbit, the narrative feels like a first draft. The situations are there, the plot is in place and the characters are fairly well defined. But it doesn't follow through on that promise. The satire of the "True Directions" camp is ripe, with a garish, monochromatic pink world for the girls and an equally garish monochromatic blue for the boys. Absurdly inappropriate phallic symbols abound, and the camp director is high-strung and overbearing, but there's no payoff. The audience, apparently, is expected to laugh at the same "Isn't this absurd?" setting throughout. The satire is very passive, never reaching for that aggressive, biting farce that could actually engage the audience.

Throughout the film, Babbit softpedals the humor, which mostly consists of occasional one-liners buried among endless minutes of ham-fisted dialogue. In fact, halfway through the film I realized I was sitting through a modern-day string of "very special" episodes from a second-rate Facts of Life knockoff. It's apparent that Babbit believes she's "saying something important," but this comes through in almost ever scene and gets in the way of entertainment. Instead of the absurd fun of The Birdcage or even the gentle, character-driven humor of Imagine Me & You, Babbit gives us the dreariest gay bar in history and a limp finale highlighted by quite possibly the lamest, most uninspired cheerleader routine ever. Which is doubly unforgivable, since the immediate buildup to the finale involved suiting up in camo fatigues in a way that brought to mind the gloriously over-the-top finale to Animal House. We didn't get Animal House. We didn't even get Revenge of the Nerds or Meatballs, which in many ways are the thematic ancestors of this film, dealing with issues of personal identity, societal rejection and discrimination.

As I watched the film, I found myself recalling those earlier movies--along with a few John Hughes spectaculars--and rewriting the script in my mind. All the elements are there (in particular, integrating the disco-dancing male clientele of the gay bar with the final cheerleading routine would be comedy gold. And even if it wasn't, it couldn't be any worse than the current ending). There is soooo much opportunity to make with the funny, and not get bogged down with serious issues. In other words, to entertain the audience rather than preach to them. If it couldn't be Meatballs or The Birdcage, then at least it could aspire to In & Out. As it is, But I'm a Cheerleader pretty much fails on all levels.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wither investigative journalism

The steady drumbeat of gloom and doom emanating from the nation's news media is a depressing thing. Folks I went to college with facing layoffs and budgetary cutbacks, shrinking coverage and falling newspaper circulations is unnerving and disheartening to me. Yes, I got out of the newspaper biz at the right time, but that was more dumb luck on my part than any kind of prescience. And the struggles of newspapers--and the growing difficulties of broadcast media--poses its own troubling challenges to media relations folk such as myself.

Back in my newspaper days, I was never much of an investigative journalist. For that kind of reporting, you've got to have tenacity of character, a keen, restless mind and a patient managing editor who's willing to wait weeks or months for a story to pan out, not to mention the backbone to stand up against the inevitable push-back. I had none of that, which explains all the spot news and sports reporting I did. But working on my Chicken Ranch book (and yes, I absolutely had to work a reference in for that project) has given me a newfound respect and somewhat deeper understanding for what investigative reporters go through. I've ferreted out obscure, curious and downright scandalous facts. I've encountered boundless encouragement from some parties, outright hostility and scorn from others. I've even received anonymous emails warning me not to revisit the topic (granted, the grammar left something to be desired, but still)!

Despite all the journalistic tools and experience I'm drawing on, I know what I'm doing isn't the same as what Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein did. Heck, I'm not even in Roland Kenneth Towery's league. The trouble is, increasingly, nobody else is, either. Television and radio "news" programs are increasingly driven by personalities and opinion, non-stop op-ed soapboxes that are incredibly profitable but short on fact or substance. Traditional dead-tree newspapers are rapidly dying off themselves. When I graduated with my journalism degree from Texas A&M University, the industry was bemoaning the loss of second dailies in metropolitan areas--the Houston Post, Dallas Times Herald and San Antonio Light all bit the dust within 5 years of my graduation. Now, Texas A&M doesn't even offer a journalism degree, and the largest-circulation dailies in the nation are filing for bankruptcy. To stay alive, budgets are being sliced to the bone and beyond. When CNN can't even cough up the resources to fact-check reports of a Coast Guard gun battle on the Potomac River, resource-intense investigative journalism is looked upon as an unaffordable luxury and is taking a huge hit.

Of all the Jeffersonian ideals of a free press, investigative journalism is the foundation of the Fourth Estate and protection against corruption and tyranny. Muck, for want of a better term, does not rake itself. Until somebody figures out how to make real money with online news content, I don't see the trend for shallower, more superficial news reportage reversing any time soon. Yet corruption and abuse aren't likely to abate in the interim.

Is there a solution? I don't know. The talent and knowledge is out there, undoubtedly. There are a shrinking number of investigative journalists still investigating for news organizations, there are former investigative journalists who have moved to other forms of reportage, and there are those who are out of journalism all together. Presumably, given the character of said reporters, the drive to kick over stones and expose the vermin beneath to the light of day still resides within them at some level. So why not harness this latent investigative potential? Could not a freelance bureau, alliance or guild-type infrastructure organize, connecting registered investigators with proven track records in various regions around the country--or indeed, even the world, since there's no need to restrict our vision in this era of online globalization--with media outlets in need of such singular talents? As newspapers and like media outlets reduce and eliminate support for investigative reporters, it is not unreasonable to envision situations--rumor, accusations, etc.--arising which promise significant payoff from an investigative standpoint, but for which the specific media outlet is lacking the skilled personnel and experience necessary to pursue effectively. Instead, said media could directly contract the experienced reporter with preexisting contacts and knowledge of the city/region via the freelance bureau/guild/alliance on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately, the media outlet would pay more on a per-story basis, but save money overall by not having the overhead of full-time investigative reporters on staff. And the investigative reporters, well, they'd have work. As a bonus, they'd still have terrible pay, work awful hours and get no respect from editors or the public, just like they did when they were full-fledged staff.

That's not going to happen, though. I'm not so much a Pollyanna that I actually think, given the choice to spend money for outside reportage on a critical investigative piece or to let said investigative piece die due to lack of personnel to pursue it, most newspapers and TV stations would guard the bottom line and choose the latter. Make no mistake, the news media has always been about profitability, but in the halcyon days of decades past, the smaller ownership groups occasionally allowed the quaint concepts of public good and idealism to take root in the newsroom and editorial offices. I don't see that in the corporate mentality of today's marketplace, with the emphasis on short-term returns and relentless profitability growth. Journalism is passe, and news is just another entertainment commodity, to be gussied up and sent out to cha-cha with Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars.

Now Playing: The Kinks Face to Face

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A little brag

The Wife taught her second photography class last night. Last week there were 14 students enrolled. This week there was 19. Wow. The students had dutifully done their homework and returned with photographs, and The Wife amazed and astounded all by correctly identifying the aperture and shutter speed used on individual photographs. To the students, it came across as some weird, prescient ESP. As a photography instructor, you can't buy street cred like that.

Turns out enough of the Intro to Digital Photography students have been impressed enough by The Wife to go ahead and register for the more advanced follow-up Digital SLR Photography course she'll be teaching later this fall. So many, in fact, that the Community Education people have placed an enrollment cap on the class. Apparently, that's unheard of. The Community Ed people seem ecstatic, and The Wife has a bit of a bounce in her step as well.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Monday, September 21, 2009

Drama queen

So, The Wife just got a serious inquiry for a wedding photography gig. This is good. She's also contracted to shoot a major event for Texas State University next month and delivered contracted images to the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce today. Did I mention the huge, gallery-wrap canvas art prints of her work that are being hung in the new Schobel's Restaurant in New Braunfels? Lisa on Location is one of the top Google hits for New Braunfels photography, and steadily climbing the charts for San Antonio searches as well. She's a member of the Professional Photographers of America as well.

Which is why I take umbrage at someone questioning her professional credentials. Particularly nincompoops.

We're actually getting a good laugh out of this, so bear with me, as I like to vent in grandiose manner on occasion. There is a person we shall refer to as Prima Donna. Prima is an aspiring model, and a year or so back, The Wife friended Prima on a social networking site as a friendly gesture. Prima curtly responded that The Wife wasn't professional enough for Prima to waste time with. Ouch. It's not as if Prima could've done a quick Google search and found The Wife's website and galleries that way... oh, wait. They could have, but chose not to. Fascinated by such boorish behavior, we decided to keep tabs on Prima. In the ensuing six months, Prima flaked on photographers (ie not showing up for scheduled shoots) then abruptly quite modeling all together, making the announcement with a mass email dripping with melodrama. We laughed and rolled our eyes. A short while back, however, Prima announced their triumphant return with an equally melodramatic mass email, inviting recipients to a networking event for models and photographers. It also encouraged recipients to invite like-minded folks along as well.

Fine. We've attended these things before. It's a good opportunity to meet models and discuss shoot concepts as well as network with other photographers and talk shop in a non-competitive environment. In short, it'd be a business-related date night for The Wife and I. We both RSVP'd.

Shortly thereafter, Prima sends The Wife an email asking to see her online portfolio, the not-so-subtle implications being that her professional status is suspect and needs Prima's personal vetting before being deemed worthy of coming. This comes, you'll note, AFTER Prima specifically included her in the original invitation list. The Wife, wisely, ignored such crass behavior. So Prima approached her again, this time more insistent. So this got us to thinking--Is Prima playing these petty games of palace intrigue with other people on the invite list? We knew several, so we made some discrete inquiries. Oh lordy! Other folks are getting messages from Prima far more insufferable and impudent. Narcissism and arrogance are bad enough on their own, but they are most definitely not two great tastes that go great together. Apparently, in Prima Donna's world, photographers and models live in isolation bubbles and never speak to each other under any circumstances, much less compare notes.

Fun stuff. What new and exciting dramas does the future hold?

Now Playing: The Gypsy Guerrilla Band Ernie's Pot o' Gold

For whom the gnoll tolls

For a variety of reasons, this weekend the girls and I only had time for one shortish session of Dungeons & Dragons. Fairy Girl actually didn't want to play at first, and it was up to Monkey Girl to handle all the treasure distribution and divvy up the earned experience points. Fairy Girl eventually did join the game, though, so the adventure was able to continue as before.

The party returned the rescued hostages to the keep safely, and were rewarded for their efforts. The merchant's guild gave them 100 gold and exempted them from any taxes and fees for a year. The rescued merchant's wife gave them a magical dagger +1. With a bit of money in their pockets, the adventurers spent about a week at the keep, resting and healing wounds in preparation for another expedition.

Returning to the Caves of Chaos, they elected to re-enter the goblin caves that started off the previous adventure. Inexplicably, they chose not to explore any of the cave complex they hadn't ventured into before, but instead stuck to the rooms they'd fought through previously, noting someone (or something) had cleaned up after the fight to some degree. The door to the hobgoblin's lair was locked this time, but Monkey Girl successfully picked the lock. They followed the same patter in the hobgoblin tunnels, eventually covering all the ground they'd previously explored and then venturing into new tunnels. They soon found the heavy door that led to the outside, and again, decided to leave with out exploring any further.

I found this somewhat puzzling, I have to admit. When I was playing--even at an ignorant, early age--once we started in on a particular cave complex or whathaveyou, the party would continue exploring until the monsters were all cleaned out. This whole approach of cleaning out a few rooms then venturing on to a different cave is new to me. But we'll see what happens.

Back outside, the party decided to look for a new cave, and climbed further up the hill until they espied a previously undiscovered opening in the hillside. They entered boldly, and immediately ran into four gnoll warriors. Gnolls, interestingly enough, weren't listed in my AD&D Monster Manual, so when the girls wanted to know what they were, I had to dig out the old D&D basic set rule book to find out they were large hyena-like humanoids. Big, powerful and ugly, particularly when facing a party of first-level adventurers. Remember how the girls (and my dwarf) were over-matched by orcs the first time out? Yeah. Gnolls are worse. Still, buoyed perhaps by their success against the hobgoblins, they pressed the attack and killed two gnolls as two others hung back shooting at the adventurers with bows. Then the bow-wielding gnolls fled, apparently to get help. The party charged after them, but lost sight of their quarry and ended up taking a wrong turn. Remember that scene from Star Wars where Han Solo and Chewbacca chase those stormtroopers through the Death Star, only to run into a battalion of the white-suited canon fodder (original or special editions doesn't matter--the principal is the same)? That's what happened to the party. They ran right into the gnoll's grand hall, with a bunch of warriors and many, many more females and the like. Bravado fled, as did the adventurers without a second thought. At which point they ran smack into the original two bow-wielding gnolls along with a handful of reinforcements. A sharp, pitched battle ensued, resulting in the defeat of the gnolls but also the quick exhaustion of my dwarf's healing spells to bring several characters back from the brink of death.

And that's where the adventure suspended for the night--with the party, weakened and battered, magic spells all spent, stuck deep inside the gnolls' tunnels with a bunch of warriors chasing after them from the grand hall. How's that for a cliffhanger?

Now Playing: Jim Croce Photographs & Memories

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Night Videos

This one goes out to The Wife, who's started teaching a community ed photography class that is proving to be one of the most popular classes offered this fall... for obvious reasons!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jimmy Buffett.

Now Playing:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Help me with this knife in my back, willya?

I found it extremely odd that so many people congratulated me on my birthday yesterday. Odd, in that previous years said even came and went with hardly a peep. I don't generally make a big deal about my birthdays, and that suited me just fine for the 40th. So the broad public knowledge of this event--both online and in my work environs--baffled me.

Turns out The Wife, devious, wicked minx that she is, "casually" mentioned said fact in strategic emails throughout the day. Not unlike spies in Kabul alerting the Taliban to troop movements. The woman is cruel and merciless, I tell you. I don't know of anyone else who could put up with such shenanigans.

On the bright side, my brother and his fiancée took us out to dinner at Los Cucos. I had the most excellent fajitas, and a good time was had by all. Except... my future sister-in-law presented me with a birthday "gift" that included denture bond and suppositories. Yeah, The Wife got to her, too.

Paybacks are hell, ladies. That's all I've got to say.

Now Playing: Beastie Boys License to Ill

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Canyon Lake Gorge

I mentioned the other week that I went on a hike down Canyon Lake Gorge. I haven't posted any photos before now because, well, I've been crazy busy. But The Wife processed some select images out of the several hundred I shot, and I share these with you now.






Now Playing: The Kinks Did Ya?

Friday Night Videos: Wednesday Edition

Submitted without comment.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... John Fogerty.

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I've come to the conclusion that my fruiting pomegranate bush growing beside the garage is not a "Wonderful" pomegranate. This shouldn't surprise me, and it doesn't--unfortunately. The pomegranates were some of the first plants I bought five years ago when we moved to the new house. At the time, the guy who sold them to me at the nursery insisted I had to buy two of them, since pomegranates were either male or female. Ahem. I've since found out otherwise. And one of the two pomegranates I bought--supposedly of the "Wonderful" cultivar--is nothing of the sort, since it produced double-bloomed flowers at an early age. In short, it is a non-fruiting variety, ornamental only. Grr. That leaves the other one. It's produced an increasing number of pomegranates over the past three seasons, but they'd always split or apparently go bad before ripening. This filled me with no end of consternation, since for some reason I still clung to the notion that it was the widely-grown commercial cultivar "Wonderful." Until yesterday. With suspicion growing, I picked one small fruit that seemed mature (ie it had a higher-pitched "thump" when I tapped it) and cut it open. All the seedy arils--the juicy, fruit part you eat--were still clear/whitish, and not the rosy pink of a ripe "Wonderful." Then I popped a few in my mouth. Quite tart, but definitely sweet and very juicy. That settled it--instead of "Wonderful," I had some random, unnamed white-fruited variety.

I have no idea if the guy who sold me them was a liar or a moron. I've had so much trouble in recent years with people selling me specific cultivars of fruiting plants that turn out to be nothing of the sort. They're supposed to be the experts, so why am I continually having to call them on it?

Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Lost Treasures

Monday, September 14, 2009

Of hobs and goblins

Over the weekend we found time for two more Dungeons & Dragons sessions with the girls. They're getting the hang of it, although Fairy Girl still giggles more than is entirely necessary.

The first of the two sessions picked up following their initial encounter with the orcs in the Caves of Chaos. After some gut-checks, it was generally agreed upon by the party that they were over-extended, with all magic exhausted and everyone sporting multiple wounds. A strategic retreat was then enacted back to the Keep on the Borderlands. With a modest amount of silver in my dwarf cleric's pockets for safe keeping (the girls are multi-classed thieves, after all) the group returned to the keep, exhausted. A couple of new NPCs were recruited to the team--a young human fighter and a gnome illusionist (don't you love gnome illusionists?). The next day, with wounds healed and numbers bolstered, they returned to the Caves of Chaos.

This time, the girls gave the orc caves a wide berth, instead exploring a different set of caves that turned out to be inhabited by goblins. Goblins proved a better match for the newly expanded party, and a rousing victory was had. I have to add at this point that Fairy Girl--a Wizard 101 devotee--had been particularly crestfallen when, against the orcs, she realized as a first-level magic user she was limited to only one spell per day. Since we're playing 1st edition AD&D rules, I invoked Unearthed Arcana and allowed her the use of three additional 0-level cantrips. I have to say I'm impressed with her use of them, particularly the "summon gnats" and "summon spider" spells, which she used to the party's advantage despite their incapability of inflicting damage. Thus ended our first session of the weekend.

The second session picked up where we left off in the goblin caves. The party, pressing ever on, found some stairs and eventually ended up in a warren of hobgoblins. The larger, more powerful hobgoblins proved a significant challenge, and several characters and NPCs in the party were at or near death before all was said and done. But they discovered and rescued a merchant's party that had been captured and tortured by the hobgoblins, fighting their way back out through the goblin tunnels to save the hostages. They also came out pretty nicely in the treasure department, with a bunch of coins, some chainmail and other assorted goodies. Monkey Girl seems to be particularly enjoying the game, using her thieves' skills (unsuccessfully for the most part, but still) and role playing her character to a good degree.

I'm looking forward to them eventually facing off against the skeletons lurking in one cave. We'll have a reenactment of Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts, mark my words!

Now Playing: Stevie Ray Vaughan The Real Deal: Greatest Hits vol. 2

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Night Videos

After a summer of blistering drought, we've had more than 5 inches of rain in the past 48 hours with more on the way for the weekend. There's been localized flooding in the area and low-water crossing road closures, but thus far it's been a good, soaking rain lacking any of the hard, driving downpours that lead to lots of runoff. So I'm not going to complain, not with the Edward's Aquifer getting a much-needed recharge and the Blanco River finally flowing again after months of dry river bed. Instead, I'm celebrating. Here's John Fogerty revisiting his old CCR classic, "Have You Ever Seen the Rain." Weather depending, I may be back next week with him performing "Who'll Stop the Rain," because Texas weather sometimes demands such things.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Flight of the Conchords.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Staying Home to Watch the Rain

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Keep on the Borderlands

I believe I've mentioned before how Monkey Girl and Fairy Girl have been enchanted by the siren song of the online MMO Wizard 101. Since their parents are cheap, they've only played the limited free areas, but have been clamoring for paid accounts to move beyond the limited arena combat they spend most of their online time playing. Hoping for a distraction, I showed Monkey Girl my old Dungeons & Dragons books and modules a few weeks ago, and the urge to play this strange game with books, paper and oddly-shaped dice grew until she was pestering me incessantly.

So, over the course of several nights this week, in between Girl Scouts and piano lessons and the like, we rolled up some characters for the girls. Monkey Girl is a half-elf fighter/thief. Fairy Girl is an elf magic user/thief (you can see they go for the elfin multi-class schtick). Yours truly, in addition to being the DM, rolled up a cantankerous dwarven cleric/fighter, because I like to be ornery and know full well that healing spells will be needed early and often. With all that out of the way, tonight we started our first campaign.

Remeber the classic old B2 module, "The Keep on the Borderlands"? Yeppers, that's what they're experiencing for the first time, much the same as thousands of gamers before them. The girls got to the keep, were challenged by the guards and made their way to the tavern where they rented a room and met up with my dwarf. Monkey Girl picked up on the DM's narrative clues right away and pursued the path to adventure with gusto. Fairy Girl took a bit longer to get into the spirit, standing in the doorway giggling a lot, hiding under her bed in the tavern room and generally trying to avoid any interaction with any of the NPCs. She loosened up a great deal once they reached the Caves of Chaos and barbecued a squad of attacking orcs with a "Burning Hands" spell. Unfortunately, after just two encounters with orcs in the first cave, my dwarf has already exhausted his supply of healing spells. Uh-oh. Once gameplay resumes, the party will likely beat a hasty retreat to recharge the old batteries and spells while recruiting additional fighters/cannon fodder to come along on future excursions.

Hopefully, Fairy Girl will keep the giggling down to a minimum.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Hell, thy name is Bastrop

I went with the family to the Bastrop vs. San Marcos football game last night. One of my brothers oversaw the construction of the new stadium in Bastrop, which also happens to be The Wife's home town. So we met up with my mother-in-law, brother-in-law and young nephew for a football family reunion of sorts. We were coming from the San Marcos direction, and traffic wasn't bad at all--we arrived maybe 45 mintues before the game, had free buffalo wings from Chili's and looked the stadium over.

It's pretty impressive for a high school field. Seating a maximum of 8,000 (I was told) it featured aluminum bleachers in two levels separated by a wide walkway. The visitor's side is of the same design, sans the multi-level press box. The field itself is artificial, the new long-bladed fake grass with granulated rubber particles simulating soil, so the surface will give and reduce the number of ACL and turf toe injuries such as associated with traditional rugs. And there's a jumbotron in the endzone, an very loud one. All in all, an impressive package.

The teams themselves played like it was the first game of the season, with fumbles being the defining feature of the night. IIRC, Bastrop was holding a 10-7 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter when the ordeal began. Lightning flashed to the south, and the teams cleared the field for a mandatory 30 minute wait before the game could be resumed. Only the lightning didn't let up. And the wind picked up. And rain started to fall. We were heading to the van even as the announcer told the crowd a heavy thunderstorm was moving our way. We cranked up at 8:20. At 9:20 we had moved exactly 12 feet from our parking spot.

I spent the entirety of the 90s as a working sports reporter. I covered--at minimum--more than 100 high school and college football games in that time, not to mention basketball, baseball (high school, college and professional), pro hockey, rodeo and untold numbers of other sports. Friday night in Bastrop was, without a doubt, the single most FUBAR traffic control I've ever seen. Even after the game had officially been canceled, the traffic cops continued to allow in a seemingly endless stream of latecoming traffic. WTF Bastrop? There were exactly two exits to the parking lot (a brilliant design, he says sarcastically), and they'd closed one to allow these other cars in, choking the parking lot up with many, many unnecessary cars as everyone else tried to escape through the one single exit on the opposite side of the parking lot. During all this the heavens opened up and poured, with the wind blowing so hard the rain fell sideways. And the lightning! All around us, flashing and crashing like the end of the world, with us stuck motionless through the worst of it.

Tempers, understandably, grew short. After an hour of not moving, honking horns, curses and angry gestures grew more frequent. I expected a brawl to break out at any moment, tempers were so frayed, and probably the only thing that kept that from happening was the monsoon washing over everyone.

Bastrop officials should really be ashamed by the incompetence on display Friday night. They weren't even dealing with a capacity crowd--at the the time the players left the field, the stadium (including the visitor's side) was only 1/2 to 2/3 full. So despite the relatively light crowd, it was 9:55 p.m. before we finally pulled out of the parking lot. Absolutely pathetic. I covered high schools at every level, and colleges as well, writing stories up after games witnessed by tens of thousands of spectators. I normally had my story finished and submitted to the paper within 45 minutes of the game's end, and vast, empty parking lots invariably greeted me as I exited the stadium. I'll wager dollars to donuts there were still cars desperate to get away from Bastrop's new stadium two full hours later.

It was a nice stadium, for sure, but you couldn't pay me enough to go back to that log jam again.

Now Playing:

Friday, September 04, 2009

To summarize...

We now have video of Bush I pitching his educational policy to school kids in a broadcast speech, and a transcript of Saint Reagan The Infallible telling kids criminals from San Quentin would come and murder them if California passed a gun ban. So obviously, in that context, President Obama going on the air to tell children to stay in school, do their homework, listen to their teachers and try hard will be the downfall of western civilization and indoctrinate our kids in the godless ways of Islamic communism. You know, because Hitler did the exact same thing.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Delicate Sound of Thunder

Friday Night Videos

I've heard so much about Flight of the Conchords over the past year from folks like Chris Roberson that The Wife and I decided to Netflix their HBO series. And let me tell you, these New Zealand pseudo-folk satirists are witty and funny as all get-out. They're like Dumb & Dumber, or perhaps Bob & Doug Mackenzie, only with musical talent and a lot more innocence. They've been around for a long time prior to the TV show, and part of their shtick is their constant failure as musicians. One bit involves how, as New Zealanders, they were invited to compose a theme song for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies--a theme song which was subsequently rejected. The TV series afforded them the opportunity to make a video for it, and the result is brilliant:

But the live concert version is well worth the time as well. Funny still, but in a different context. These guys are definitely recommended.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jimmy Buffett.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd The Wall

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Chupacabra thieves

This is interesting. It's an image collage of the so-called Chupacabra, a WikiCommons image produced by someone going by the moniker of Olvetigabor. The images is copyright Wikimedia Commons. The image collage accompanies an article by Sylvia Cochran regarding the possible origins of the creepy looking beasts:

Except that the majority of the images contained in the collage--namely, the good, clear ones--come from my blog, Gibberish. I published them on October 14, 2004, as part of a entry titled Return of the zombie chupacabra." And the images most certainly aren't the copyright work of Olvetigabor or Wikimedia Commons--they are the copyright property of Sharon Womack, published by myself with her explicit permission. Not only did this Olvetigabor blatantly pinch the images, they didn't even have the common courtesy to indicate where they originated from. That's just low.

I realized that as a professional journalist, many in the so-called "new media" look upon old-school ethics as passe and irrelevant. But no matter how you spin it, passing off others' work as your own is just downright sad.

Now Playing: Syd Barrett The Madcap Laughs