Survival requires flexibility

Hurricane Sandy is past and I'm OK. It was a tense night, with much
more wind than rain in my particular location.

I'm drinking coffee made with my camping gear - an open-flame espresso
pot, to be precise. I have no power and no heat, but it'll be a while
before either of those are critical failures. My cell phone still has
half a charge; when it goes, the roads are clear enough that I can
drive around a bit and use the car charger.

It's a dim, gray, chill day here, but I'm mindful that this could have
been much worse for me. I'm also aware that for many in the path of
Sandy, it *was* much worse. Those of you with internet access,
consider donating to the Red Cross or another charity of your choice.

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8 good ways to handle stress (and 1 bad one)

Hurricane Sandy is now whipping up the wind and rain. As you can see from this graphic, it's expected to be a direct hit on Philadelphia:

"Hurricane gusts" means 80+ mph (144+ mph)

As I write this on Monday morning, it's already an ugly, raw day. Some small branches have already come down and I expect more damage before this is all over. We're expecting 12+ inches (30+ cm) of rain, so flooding is a given, too. A slow moving storm, Sandy and its aftereffects are going to make life difficult for us for a while.

I don't expect my roof to be torn off, my trees to be uprooted and flung through my windows, or my family to be washed away. However, this is one of those storms to be taken seriously.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are 8 good ways to handle stress (and 1 bad way, which I do NOT advise):

1. Awareness I was shocked yesterday to talk to a friend who "hadn't been paying much attention to the news" and hadn't really thought much about preparations. Being informed and aware of what to expect is the first part of not getting stressed out when it happens.

2. Decisiveness If you are aware of what's coming, you can make decisions based on that knowledge. Maybe you decide to evacuate to Chicago, maybe you decide to batten things down and stay, maybe you decide to lay in an extra supply of limes and tequila. Whatever you decide to do, the act of guiding your own course quells a lot of stress.

3. Proactivity Acting on your decisions in advance lets you avoid that dreaded last-minute run to the store, only to find that they are out of limes and tequila. If you don't wait until circumstances force you to do something, it's much easier to embrace the action.

4. Forethought Even better than event-driven proactivity is forethought, i.e. the consideration of things that might happen in order to make suitable preparation. How does this reduce stress in the real world? Let me put it this way: I already had a supply of lime juice and tequila laid in, long before this storm came along. Lime juice isn't as good as fresh limes, but then I wasn't running out to the store at the last minute, either.

5. Equipment Since I like to go camping, I have a lot of the gear which serves well for when the power and heat goes out. Flashlights and lanterns, of course, but my go-to gadget this time is a combination flashlight/AM/FM/weatherband radio. It's powered by solar cells and/or a hand crank. Nicest of all, it has a side USB port that will put out enough juice to charge a cell phone. I also have a really nice cocktail shaker.

6. Creativity A friend from Florida asked if my generator was all ready. Floridians go through hurricanes a lot; down there, emergency generators pretty much come with the house. I don't have one, since it would sit unneeded for 998 days out of 1000. What I do have, though, is an inverter for the car - it lets me use the car as a generator. It plugs into the lighter and converts the car's 12 volts into regular 110 volts, delivering up to 175 watts. It's enough to run small appliances, charge phones, laptops, flashlight batteries, etc. That bit of flexibility is enough to widen my list of responses to difficulties. That helps alleviate stress.

7. Mathematics I've previously checked each tree around my house and measured their distances from the foundation. Using a bit of trigonometry, I also calculated their heights. Based on their architecture, I estimated where their above-ground centers of gravity are.  All of this is to answer the question, if the winds blow and the earth heaves up, will these trees crush my house? Answer: NO. Math doesn't lie, folks, and that's like a full can of Stress-Be-Gone.

8. Humor Hurricanes are only one kind of stressor. Illness, work, family crises, a bad review... all of these can be terribly stressful. When a crisis looms, it can seem like a horde of unstoppable zombies crashing the gates. A sense of humor is like a well-aimed hammer: it finds the weak spot in the monster and brings it down to a manageable level. I use humor as a defense mechanism because it helps to defuse stress.

Now... one really BAD way to manage stress:

1. Drugs and alcohol Self-medication is a pretty lousy way to manage stress, especially if it is your primary (or your only) approach. Any mind-altering substance interferes with your ability to make quick, clear-eyed decisions. There are hardly any stressful situations that will benefit from you limiting your response ability to a befuddled, "Wha... huh?" If you've already followed the first eight good ways to handle stress, you'll have structures in place to handle whatever happens. Under those circumstances, a moderate indulgence in your legal intoxicant of choice can help to pass the time. Rather than make said indulgence the main activity, though, this is best done when coupled with some other non-stressful activity, like watching movies, reading a book, doing crossword puzzles, or having sex.

Happy Hurricane, everyone!

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#FridayFlash: Precise Magic

The older witch sniffed. "I've always used charcoal for my cauldron fires. Charcoal gives a rich, even heating that gas-fired cauldrons can't match. I know people think I'm a snob about it, but gas flames give your potions a flat taste. Charcoal fires are so much more... oh, I don't know... organic."

The younger witch said nothing, but continued to sift powdered sparrow's brains onto the scale. The digital readout glowed: 1.873 grams... 1.941 grams... 1.982 grams... 2.110 grams.

"And electric cauldrons take forever to heat up properly," the older witch continued. "My mother got one back in 1963, thought it would be all the rage. 'Works just as well as a fire', she always said. 'So much cleaner than an open fire' she always said. Well, let me tell you, she stuck to that story through a hundred different potions that were either tepid or overboiled. She finally got rid of that thing in 1977. Or was it 1978? Anyway, she went back to charcoal fires. I've never used anything else. You just can't get any control with an electric cauldron."

The younger witch picked up an eagle's talon, sharpened to a fine point. She carefully scooped up a bit of the powder on the scale: 1.911 grams. Gently, she used her left hand to tap her right wrist; a minute sifting of material dropped off the tip of the talon: 2.000 grams. With a smooth motion, she lifted the little tray and dumped the contents into the mouth of the cauldron.

"I'm not one to judge," said the older witch, "and I'm sure you get good results, but just look at all those gadgets and dials! I don't want to have earn a college degree every time I want to make a potion! Every extra gadget is just one more thing to break. Give me the good old cast iron cauldron and a good old charcoal fire. I'd put my potions up against anything you young witches can make with these fancy things."

From a small refrigerator under the counter, the younger witch took a bottle of virgin's tears. After consulting the spellbook, she used a micropipettor and a sterile polypropylene tip to withdraw exactly 760 microliters. This she added directly to the cauldron.

"And I don't see the point of being so deliberately modern with your measuring. Every one of my spellbooks calls for so many pinches of powdered sparrow's brains, so many drops of virgin's tears, so many twists of rattlesnake skin, or whatever. I've never understood this obsession with grams of this and liters of that. It all seems so unnecessarily complicated."

"Potion making is essentially chemistry, Aunt Lilith."

"Potion making is an art, dear. I'm sorry to have to correct you, but I think you've gotten the wrong idea from that school you went to. I'm not surprised, since you couldn't have learned any magic there. Who wants to make a potion exactly the same way each time? The uncertainty is part of what gives magic such charm. The only way you can tell a good potion maker from a poor one is how well she can improvise, zing a little of herself into her potions while she's brewing them. I've done quite well with all of my potions, I'll have you know."

"Yes, Aunt Lilith, I know all about your potions."

"And what is THAT supposed to mean? My potions were winning awards since before you were born, young lady."

The younger witch wiped her hands and turned to the control panel. She turned on the coolant pumps for the copper jacketing around the high-voltage electrodes.

"Your potions are famous for the strength of their effects," the younger witch said, "but also for the unpredictability of their side-effects."

"You can't have strength without side-effects. That's just how it is."

"That may have been true in the past, but I aim to change that." She finished programming the high-voltage power supply for the induction coil elements, checked that the field lines were clear and turned on the power to the burst-discharge capacitors. They hummed as they began to charge up. "I'm going to make potions ten times stronger and a hundred times longer lasting, and I'm going to do it without any side-effects at all."

The older witch sniffed. "Well, you certainly don't lack for ego and ambition, my dear. I'm sure you're quite clever enough to do something no one else has been able to do in over a thousand years of witchcraft. Of course, no one would ever have guessed you had such potential after all those disastrous potions you've been brewing since you were eight years old. You never could simply read a recipe from a spellbook and follow it properly, but I'm sure that's all changed now, although I can't see any reason why it should have. It's just that I feel such pity for you, dear. And for your dear mother, as well. When I think of all the money she must have spent on tuition for that school, it's no wonder that you -"

"Mother didn't spend a single gold piece on my education. She was, if anything, even more opposed to what I'm doing with my potion making than you are. I was able to go to M.I.T. because I won a full-ride fellowship. My double major in chemistry and electrical engineering was my own doing, no one elses."

"Which proves my point exactly."

"And what point is that, Aunt Lilith?"

"That a bunch of useless studying at some school that never heard of magic can't possibly help you when it comes to witchcraft."

"On the contrary," the younger witch said. "I'm going to launch a new era in precision potion making. What I'm about to do will revolutionize the manufacture of potions, charms, wands, hexes, sigils and every other physical expression of eldritch force."

She set her finger on the button marked INDUCTION FURNACE: ENERGIZE

"My witchcraft will be a perfect marriage of magic and science. Within twenty years, my form of witchcraft will be the only form of witchcraft. And it all begins today... right now."

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While I wait for Sandy...

While I'm waiting for Hurricane Sandy to smack into a) a solid wall of sub-freezing Arctic air and b) the 170 mile-per-hour winds of the jet stream (said slamming, churning, and Frankenstorm Armageddon predicted to take place RIGHT ON TOP OF PHILADELPHIA), I thought I'd share today's XKCD:

About Hurricane Sandy... seriously, here's the storm track:

I'd better stock up on Ritz crackers and vodka.

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Poetry: dangle, labor, neatly

On Wednesdays, I compose a limerick based on the prompt from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: dangle, labor, neatly  (it's more fun if you read it aloud - try it!):

  I labor to make these words neatly
Fit in this meter, and sweetly;
Thanks to that wrangle
No syllables dangle,
Every line scans quite completely!

    ~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

A big congratulations to Three Word Wednesday on today's prompt, the 300th 3WW. That's 900 words of prompting - way to go, guys!

My book of limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday is FREE to borrow from Amazon:

"They made me laugh, they made me sad, they made me think and squirm and reflect. ... Tony Noland has a way with words that is nothing short of astonishing" - Jeff Posey, Amazon review

That's right, FREE. Of course, if you're not in Amazon Prime, it still only costs $0.99. That's less than a coffee. And I'm not talking Starbuck's, I'm talking about the burnt mud they sell at the convenience store. It's worth the buck - you'll love it!

Don't have a Kindle? NO PROBLEM! Get one of the free Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and a host of other devices. You can read "Poetry on the Fly" (or any of my other great writing) anywhere you like!
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What 115,085 words look like

Actually, this is only about 60,000 words. All 423 pages wouldn't fit on the screen at the same time.

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8 Things Hollywood Could STILL Make Creepy

Over on The Bathroom Monologues, John Wiswell lists 8 Things Hollywood Can No Longer Make Creepy. 
Challenge accepted! 
John's list:
1. Toys
2. Exterior shots of old houses
3. Non-threatening songs played suggestively
4. Children
6. The hero/heroine/stoner-best-friend leans into the unlit house and asks if anyone is there.
6. Any lone person standing still on the sidewalk/yard/street, staring up at us.
7. Festering piles of bugs.
8. Skeletons

Why did John have two #6 but no #5? I don't know... maybe the "anyone there?" and "lone person on the street" were tied for sixth place.

Anyway, here is my attempt to make these creepy:

Late in the day, when everyone in your new neighborhood has retreated to the glowing isolation of their big screen TVs and small screen online lives, a lone child sets up an old steel card table on the deserted sidewalk. A torn and rain-stained sign on the front of the table says, "Lemonad - 5 cents". Instead of facing the street, though, she sets the table facing you in the old house you bought. You wonder about the parenting ethos of the neighborhood you've moved into, but think no more of it as you get to work on what you hope will be your peaceful third-floor writing office.

Long into the evening, as you work on your fixer-upper she is there, staring up at the exterior of your old house - staring up at you. You ignore her as the fading light shrouds the street in misty blackness. It's near midnight that you, stupid with fatigue and dizzy with the fumes of paint stripper, finally turn off the halogen work light and look out the window. Only then do you realize that she is still down there, behind the table and lit by the full moon. You try to open the grimy window to call out to her, to ask her if she needs help, but the window is stuck, frozen solid under six generations of old paint. With a rag, you wipe the grime and cobwebs away from the glass to get a better look. In the dimness, she is still staring up at you, untroubled by the swarms of mosquitoes that cluster around her eyes, nose and mouth. On the table in front of her are two naked Barbie dolls... and four rat skeletons, neatly wired together. Without looking, she is having the rat skeletons mount the dolls in an unnatural display.

Shocked, you lock eyes with the girl. Through the glass and from a hundred feet away, you hear her whispered singing: "Isn't anybody going to listen to my story? All about the girl who came to stay..."

Behind you, the lights in the hallway go out, and the child's voice comes to you from the darkness: "Ahhhh, giiiiirrrrlllll...... giiiiiiirrrrrrrrlllllll......."

"Hello?" you say. "Is anyone there?"

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Self-deprecating humor: risks and rubber chickens

In light of last night's appearance at the Al Smith dinner by President Obama and also by that other guy, I'd like to point out that self-deprecation - the act of devaluing oneself and one's qualifications or achievements - has a long and storied history as a form of humor. In fact, as the wikipedia entry notes:
Many comedians use self-deprecating humor to avoid seeming arrogant or pompous, and to help the audience identify with them. In this way, the use of self-deprecating humor could be seen as an application of the rhetorical concept of pathos.
A lot of my own humor is self-deprecating. I bring this up because my sparkling wit, my innate genius-class brilliance, and my cutting-edge fashion sense can sometimes be off-putting to normal people. Self-deprecating humor helps me to remain humble in the face of my own obvious Übermensch superiority. It makes the people I'm with love me all the more.

Similarly, when the black void of monstrous self-hatred swallows the world in unending, Stygian horror, when I shamble across my dead landscape as the anti-Midas, corrupting and rotting everything I touch, self-deprecating humor helps me to weather the storms of psyche and find a safe shore through the darkness. It makes the people I'm with hate me just a little bit less.

Although the rubber chickens serve many purposes, the risk of self-deprecating humor is that I might do it so consistently, so effectively, that my interlocutors will come to believe (or come to believe that I believe) all the lousy, crummy things I say about myself. Or worse, that I don't believe I don't believe them, when in fact I actually believe what I believe I don't believe. That would be sad, wouldn't it? Of course, it also assumes I could do something consistently and effectively, and how likely is THAT?

Who can tell where the balance is? Humor is always a risk. The clown is not defined solely by the rubber nose and the thick layer of makeup that stands between him and the world, but without them, he doesn't exist, does he? Not as a clown, anyway.

Did you read the part up above about how "In this way, the use of self-deprecating humor could be seen as an application of the rhetorical concept of pathos"? It's like that, but with hashtags.

All of this unfolds on Twitter more than it does here on this blog. Mostly, this blog is about that book I haven't finished yet.

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Pity For The Trapped Man

Once upon a time, a man was trapped in a mandatory training seminar.

The presenter - who, in fairness, looked nothing at all like a sadistic fiend who delighted in slow misery - had begun his presentation by stressing the importance and significance of every facet of the 261 page report. He explained that the 261 page report was a major improvement over the previous report, which (including indices, addenda, and supplements) had run to several thick three-ring binders. These three-ring binders the presenter picked up from a table and held up for all to see, thus communicating the absolute truth of what he said.

The new version of the report (the 261 page version) was, therefore, a dramatically condensed and simplified version. It was, the audience was informed, a tremendous improvement over the older version of the report compiled by the presenter's predecessor. Every section, subsection and sub-subsection had been carefully and painstakingly revised, rewritten, and updated. Every section, subsection, and sub-subsection was, therefore, worthy of the closest scrutiny.

However, the presenter assured his audience, he did not intend to take up any more of their valuable time than was absolutely necessary. He would summarize the report as briefly as possible while still providing the relevant information so critical to everyone's daily tasks. After this assurance, he began to read from his slides.

The trapped man fought to stay awake. Slide after slide came and went with the slow, inexorable force of a glacier on the march. Each slide was a dense, bullet-pointed cliff face to be scaled, a craggy obstacle course heavily spiked with UTLAs and MFLAs (Undefined Three Letter Acronyms and Mysterious Four Letter Acronyms, respectively). Each slide held at least twelve bullet points. Each bullet point was between nine and fifteen words long, and each was explained by the presenter with a paragraph of dense legalese, read directly from the important, significant, condensed and simplified 261 page report. The trapped man concluded (correctly) that to the presenter, every word of every paragraph of every section, subsection and sub-subsection was a precious jewel, a beautiful child of his own creation.

In-depth explanations were read out on the roles, responsibilities, oversight, management, deputizations and chains-of-command of people the trapped man did not know, for jobs the trapped man had no interaction with, and for corporate locations the trapped man would never see.

White text on a blue background made the trapped man think of the light-gathering cellular structures of the human eye, and about how the human eye (relatively insensitive to blue light) worked with the human brain to interpret blue light as a cue for nighttime. The trapped man could feel the effects of the artificial twilight on the screen, how it mixed with the droning monotone of the presenter's voice in the overheated room. The sound was like the rustling of poplar trees, moving to and fro in a summer breeze. It was the sound of a slow stream sped to falling foam as it rushed on rocky rapids...

The trapped man walked along the riverbank, balancing carefully on the mossy stones, dim and indistinct in the fading light. The footing was tricky so close to the water and the trapped man considered each step before taking it. Mist rose from the water, obscuring the stars overhead, just starting to emerge in the purpling sky. The lulling sounds of the trees and the water were hypnotic at the water's edge. Tiny silver fish rose from the water to feed on the insects that buzzed and hummed and swarmed over the surface of the stream. With little flashes of reflected starlight, the fish rose up, showed themselves, and were gone again. His eyes on the silvery fishes dancing under the dark blue water, swimming in the dimness of the soft summer night, the trapped man slipped on the stones and fell forward into the stream.

When the trapped man fell out of his chair with a half-snore, half-cry, the presenter stopped, mid-paragraph. The general laughter of the room was silenced by a scowl of disapproval from the presenter. There followed a ten minute digression from his prepared slides, the presenter's intention of said extemporaneous digression was to once again stress to the captive audience the importance and significance of the 261 page report. The presenter was sorry that some people might consider the material to be a bit dry, but he assured the audience that the training was being conducted for a reason, and that everyone - and (he clarified) by "everyone", he meant "every single person in this room" - had responsibilities which had to be carried out in accordance with the standards laid out in this report.

The presenter stated, however, that he did not wish to take up any more time with such distractions. He trusted that everyone would recognize the need for the fullest possible attention to this important material. His digression complete, the presenter began again with the paragraph which explained and expanded on bullet 5 of slide 22.

And once again, a man was trapped in a mandatory training seminar.

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The Next Big Thing

Helen Howell tagged me in a blog post round robin called The Next Big Thing. It's a self-interview with ten questions, to be answered in a blog post.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book?
"Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel"

Where did the idea come from for the book?
This started in October 2010 as a tiny idea about the power of language and the restrictions of grammar. It led to a loopy FridayFlash story which was well received. The close proximity to NaNoWriMo prompted me to take this story as the germ of that year's effort. Over that month, I expanded the story to 51,000 words. It's now almost finished at 114,000 words.

What genre does your book fall under?
Superhero science fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Alex Graham aka the Grammarian: Martin Freeman
Professor Verbosity: Ray Liotta
Kate Hunter: Ellen Page
Walter McHenry aka the Avant Guardian: Brendan Gleeson

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Professor Verbosity threatens to attack Lexicon City with an unspeakable superweapon, the Grammarian is just the hero to save the day... assuming he can hire a sidekick first.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
That's an excellent question.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
First draft (51K) was written during the 30 days of NaNoWriMo 2010.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Grammarian is a superhero, and the book is a fast-paced superhero adventure. It has lots of explosions, fights, mysteries to investigate, red herrings, betrayals, a love interest, chases, escapes, and a hero who drinks coffee. Mix equal parts Batman, Iron Man, Reed Richards, Plastic Man, and Deadpool, then add a dash of Richie Rich and Ron Weasley. The jokes and wordplay about grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, etc. might be reminiscent of the Thursday Next books, or perhaps The Phantom Tollbooth, although I didn't consciously model the Grammarian on either one.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I'd written a few tragic superhero stories, but never one that was consciously funny. This idea came along at just the right time.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Allow me to introduce Kate Hunter, my female lead:
"Alex, come on!" Walter rolled his eyes. "Does she look like a Ph.D. to you? Besides, LPU is an engineering technology research school. I mean, really, open your eyes, pal! Have you ever seen anyone who looks less like an engineer?" He winked at Kate, all boyish charm.

In a flash, Kate's smile was gone as muscles clenched along her jaw line.

Uh oh, Alex thought. He glanced at Walter and winced. Even though Kate's changed expression shouldn't have been hard to read, Walter was oblivious.

She looked up at the big man and said, "You're right, Walter, I'm not a postdoc and I'm not an engineer."

"See, Alex? I told you."

"I'm a full professor in the Materials Science department. LPU was so eager to hire me away from CalTech, they threw in tenure. My undergraduate work at Yale was in organic chemistry, and my master's degree at the University of Chicago was in cryogenic electron capture. For my doctoral work at M.I.T., I invented a method for autoassembly of interphase semitransitional solids. Here at LPU, I’m continuing my work on quantum oscillation dampening fields. Lots of chemistry and physics, but you're right, no engineering degree."

She handed her empty glass to Walter, whose mouth was hanging open wide enough for his foot.

"Now then, if you'll excuse me, gentlemen," she said, "I think I've had enough entertainment for one evening."

Alex, pleased and surprised, caught the chagrined look on Walter' face. However, before Alex could say anything, a pistol shot exploded from the far side of the room, followed by a man's voice, shouting, "All right, nobody move!"

TAG: I'm supposed to tag three people. I tag:
Jodi Cleghorn
Jim Allen
Laura Eno

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So much for THAT idea

That book I kept saying was finished? It isn't.

I put all of my beta readers' comments side by side and re-read them. It's clear that I need one more little scene to help flesh out (and perhaps differentiate) a couple of the supporting characters. This will also give them a bit of screen time during a section where they are otherwise out-of-mind. For the sake of character development and intrigue, letting A say what a tedious grasper B is help to establish A as rather snobbish and judgmental and sets B up as someone who could be seen as a tedious grasper.

Plus, there's all the clunky sentences I need to polish.

The extra scene and the line edits will take this book to 115,000. As everyone knows, this is a ridiculous number of words for a first novel. I am nothing if not ridiculous, though, so it stands as is. The beta readers all said its pacing moved along at a fast clip, so my 115,000 should feel lugubrious.

If the Harper Voyager open sub window had come a fortnight later, I might have been ready for it. As it is, I'm going to have to concede the field to John Wiswell and all the others who have a book ready to roll for it.

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FridayFlash: Dust Devils

Dust Devils
by Tony Noland

'neath the boots of the mighty, 'neath the shoes of the proud,
'neath the soles of the flighty, 'neath the heels of the loud,
The dust devils lurk and they work darkling magic,
The truths and the lies in admixtures so tragic.

A step made too slow so the child lies a'bleeding;
A stride made too long so the lover cries, bleating.
Fate has ordained every step in your course
But the dust devils twist you, turn fine into coarse.
Fortunes are lost, wealth bestowed on another,
One minor false step and all hopes die a'smother.
A little bit slower, a little bit faster
One step is the difference 'twixt love and disaster.
Chaos and anger, hatred and fright
The drunkard's walk taken is a devil's delight.

'neath the boots of the mighty, 'neath the shoes of the proud,
'neath the soles of the flighty, 'neath the heels of the loud,
The dust devils lurk and they work darkling magic,
The truths and the lies in admixtures so tragic.

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Introverted Wife: All Hallows Read Posters 2012

Introverted Wife: All Hallows Read Posters 2012: Chills are creeping in. Ghosts and goblins are creeping out. It's once again time to get your spooky read on. Last year I made poste...

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What does "published" mean?

Today over at Write Anything, I talk about what it means to be published, given all the different possibilities open to authors these days.

Read, enjoy, comment.

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A miserable, cold, light-less hell

On Wednesdays, I compose a limerick based on the prompt from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: brisk, detached, miserable  (it's more fun if you read it aloud - try it!):

These brisk days of autumn foretell
Sure coming of winter's death-knell
Elm leaves detached,
The lawn choked and thatched:
A miserable, cold, light-less hell
    ~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

OK, "hell" might be a bit strong, but nothing makes you want to throw it all away and weep for the futility of life like the depressive onset of seasonal affective disorder in the first gray, chilly days of autumn. But at least I got a limerick out of it.

My book of limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday is FREE to borrow from Amazon:

"They made me laugh, they made me sad, they made me think and squirm and reflect. ... Tony Noland has a way with words that is nothing short of astonishing" - Jeff Posey, Amazon review

That's right, FREE. Of course, if you're not in Amazon Prime, it still only costs $0.99. That's less than a coffee. And I'm not talking Starbuck's, I'm talking about the burnt mud they sell at the convenience store. It's worth the buck - you'll love it!

Don't have a Kindle? NO PROBLEM! Get one of the free Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and a host of other devices. You can read "Poetry on the Fly" (or any of my other great writing) anywhere you like!

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This book is THAT good

With all comments back from beta readers, a couple of things are clear. I need one more tiny scene to flesh out a couple of supporting characters. This is to help differentiate them and give them both a bit more screen time.

No problem! I'll have my MC talk to Supporting Character A about Supporting Character B. A will say that B is a jerk, and MC will say, "Oh, you're only saying that because [B's backstory]. If you weren't [A's backstory], you'd like him."

Boom. Problem solved. Tony is a genius.

Also, I have a tweak for the ending. Fixes something that's been bugging me and will make you all swoon with delight. You will love me and my book.

How much will you love this book? Let me tell you: soon, "Tony" will jump up past Jacob, Jayden, and Noah to get back up into the Top 10 names for newborn boys. And "Noland" will suddenly rocket past Sophia, Isabella and Olivia to the Top 10 names for girls born in 2014.

I'm not kidding. This book is THAT good.

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I Found A Dead Alien Buried In The Sands Of Mars.

I found a dead alien buried in the sands of Mars.

No, I said a dead ALIEN. Not a dead MARTIAN. Mars was never capable of supporting life.

Bullshit. Bacteria don't count.

Fine. Mars was never capable of supporting extensive life, the kind of biomass density that altered the geospatial environment the way primordial life on Earth did.

Jesus, do you have to be such a picky asshole? What difference does it make? You know what I'm talking about!

Fine. The arespatial environment. Are you happy?

Well, it must make a difference to you or you wouldn't have insisted on it.

Yes, you did.

Fine. Whatever.

Yes, I'd love to get back to the alien. I was blasting a course for the heatpipe that'll connect Reactor Three to the new dome. This stretch of pipe runs through a long swale near Cravelli Crater.

I don't know. Somebody made the calculation and decided it was cheaper to put it underground than to lay it on the surface.

How should I know? I'm not an accountant. My job is to dig the tunnel, lay the pipes, and make sure they won't leak the molten salt. Another contractor will backfill with the aerogel insulation. I guarantee my work for thirty years. I can't vouch for the insulation contractor.

Because after the new domes at Landing and then again at Expansion grew out too close to Reactors One and Two, respectively, they decided to put Reactor Three way the hell out in the middle of nowhere and pipe the heat into the new dome. One and Two leak gamma rays and fast neutrons, see? So, instead of designing Three so it wouldn't leak, they just put it farther out in the wastes. It'll be safe enough to build, but after they turn it on, nobody is going to be able to get close to it for at least fifteen years.

Like I said, I'm not an accountant. Save on the reactor, spend on the long heatpipes. They must figure that the room for the new dome to grow is worth it. This alien, though... I gotta think that'll screw up some plans.

Yeah, OK. So, anyway, I blasted a course in the rock. It wasn't too bad... loose conglomerate, vacuum welded. It must have been a big sand dune back when Mars had water. Cravelli was a shallow lake, fed by a stream or two. This ship must have landed on the shore of the lake and then been buried.

Because it was a ship, that's how I know. Mars might have had some bacteria, but there was never any higher life here. None that evolved here, I mean. This ship was a product of a technological civilization, buried under a solidified sand dune at least twelve million years old. Just because I lay pipe for a living doesn't mean I'm stupid, pal.


I said, no. As in "no, I didn't blast the door". It was open. When the impact gel charges went off, the rock shiver-fractured, just like it was supposed to. When I first saw the open doorway, I thought it was a cave. Crazy, right? My last job was on Enceladus. You wouldn't believe the kind of caves that moon has got. Like cathedrals, or entire stadiums turned upside down. There was this one -

Well, because that's why I thought it was a cave. That was my first reaction, see? But Mars doesn't have any caves. It was because I spent so much time on Enceladus that I -


No, whatever. If you don't want to hear it, that's fine. I don't give a shit.

Because it looked like a cave, that's why. The open doorway was dark, and the rocks around it made it look like a natural opening. Until I shone a light in, I thought I was going to be famous for being the first guy to discover a cave on Mars.

He was right there, yeah. Sitting in a chair, facing the door.

No, none of the rock hit him. He was too far back.

He was just sitting there. No signs of struggle or fighting. He looked kinda ragged, but that's all.

Ragged, you know? Like he was threadbare. His clothing was worn, scuffed at his... at his... well, I guess where his knees and elbows would be, except he had two knees and a long, curving kinda elbow joint.

They were just worn looking. As though he'd been wearing them to do manual labor for a long time. Like how a farmer's overalls get worn at the knees. Like that.

No, but I've seen plenty of movies.

Fine, not like a farmer. Whatever.

I moved over to him and looked at him. Shone my light on him to get a better look, see? He was completely desiccated. The atmosphere on Mars will suck you dry if you leave your suit open. His helmet dome was on his lap, completely removed.

Hey, I don't judge. If Mr. Alien committed suicide, then that makes him as human as the next guy. It gets pretty fucking lonely out here. I've known guys that couldn't take it anymore and opened a vent. It happens.

This isn't about me.

I'm just saying that he didn't come from Mars, so he had to come from somewhere else, right? He looked like he'd been stuck here a long time. Whether he was marooned or on some kind of an assignment... it can get to you.

No, he was the only one. The ship wasn't that big.

Jesus, I don't know! I found a dead alien buried in the sands of Mars, and now you want me to speculate about how he got there?

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Why my novel isn't ready yet

Despite what I said about rushing to publication in order to meet Harper Voyager's open submission window, I now realize that the editing of this novel is NOT complete. I sat down to read over the first 1000 words, confident that they would be so ZOMG awesome that they couldn't fail to impress a publisher.

What I found was half a dozen things to fix. Inconsistent pronouns, poor word choices, word repetitions, muddy and unclear pronoun antecedents, physical impossibilities of position and sequence... clearly, this needs a full read-through, just like I originally planned.

This delay is, I hope, a sign of craft and quality. Believe me, I want this book to be finished and out in the real world. However, it's more important to me that this book be fantastic in every way possible before it leaves the nest. I want an editor to fall in love with this book (or at least with the success this book could be), not groan at the amount of work it would take to get it in shape.

My beta readers have worked hard (and in the case of Cathy Russell, still working hard) to get me great feedback on the book. It would be a shame for me to lose focus and rush the process at this point. After all, I don't want them to look bad by having their names in the acknowledgements!

One thing that is still true, though. I'm making all these changes in one big Word document instead of in the scene-based yWriter5. Since part of the problem was the abruptness of the transitions between scenes, this will let me smooth those over. Yet another thing to fix.

MORAL: Don't rush it. A book that's 99% has one lousy word in every hundred. That's two or three clinkers per page. Take the time to make it 99.99% done.

An excerpt:


At the foot of the airship, blood flowed through Verbosity's fingers where he clutched at his ruined face shattered jaw. Moaning and staggering, the supervillain half-climbed, half-fell into his airship and slapped at a control panel. The quadrotors roared as the craft lifted and launched smoothly jerkily forward, clearing the edge of the big doorway by less than a foot. The Grammarian saw his nemesis clutching at a seat belt through the open door, hanging on with manic strength to keep from falling out of the open door as the airship yawed around and began to climb into the night sky. Whatever kind of autopilot Professor Verbosity had for the airship was doing its job perfectly. The last glimpse the Grammarian had of the escaping criminal was him holding on onto a safety harness with one hand while clutching pressing at the ruin of his blood-soaked face with the other.

It was the only time he had ever known Professor Verbosity to leave without making some kind of speech.


For the record, that was "clutched", "clutching" and "clutching", as well as "ruined face" and "ruin of his... face" all in the same paragraph. This paragraph is just one among many that needs attention. Ugh.

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Wednesday limerick

On Wednesdays, I compose a limerick based on the prompt from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: dignity, lacerate, ripe  (it's more fun if you read it aloud - try it!):

  Dignity won't let me gripe
Or cut loose with blue language, ripe -
'cause I'd lacerate
your ears with such hate,
So I'll stick to "Golly! Gee! Yipe!"
    ~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

The fingers of my left hand were crushed in a door jamb last night. I did not say "Golly! Gee! Yipe!". What I DID say, I will not reprint here.

My book of limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday is FREE to borrow from Amazon:

"They made me laugh, they made me sad, they made me think and squirm and reflect. ... Tony Noland has a way with words that is nothing short of astonishing" - Jeff Posey, Amazon review

That's right, FREE. Of course, if you're not in Amazon Prime, it still only costs $0.99. That's less than a coffee. And I'm not talking Starbuck's, I'm talking about the burnt mud they sell at the convenience store. It's worth the buck - you'll love it!

Don't have a Kindle? NO PROBLEM! Get one of the free Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and a host of other devices. You can read "Poetry on the Fly" (or any of my other great writing) anywhere you like!

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Web serials: the video

Earlier today, I moderated a discussion of serial fiction with some publishers who've been working in this field. This discussion was organized by Claudia Christian and TuesdaySerial. We talked about pricing, publishing, reader feedback, mobile readers, serials vs. serialized novels, niche marketing... lots of great stuff. While I moderated the conversation on-screen, my TuesdaySerial colleagues PJ Kaiser and Larry Kollar were behind the scenes fielding questions and working out the technical details.

The panel consisted of: Claudia Hall Christian (author of Alex the Fey , Denver Cereal and The Queen of Cool, and co-founder of Cook Street Publishing); Yael Goldstein Love (novelist, co-founder and editorial director of Plympton, teacher of fiction writing at Boston’s Grub Street, and publishing assistant at The Paris Review); Angie Capozello (founder and moderator of The Penny Dreadful and a co-moderator for; and Jerry Fan (founder of JukePop, Inc.).

Due to technical difficulties, scheduled participants Kate Sullivan (founder of Candlemark & Gleam) and Jason Allen Ashlock (Co-founder and President of Movable Type Management) were not able to join us for this videochat, but will no doubt be brought back for a future roundtable discussion.

Later on, a transcript will be attached to this video, but for now, enjoy these 56 minutes of publishing industry professionals talk about this resurgent form of literature.

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The market for serial fiction

Reprinting the announcement from Tuesday Serial:


Serial Fiction Round Table: The publishers – Hosted by Claudia Christian and Tuesday Serial

October 1, 2012
Since Amazon’s announcement about Kindle Serials, the publishing community is talking about Serial Fiction. In fact, here at Tuesday Serial, we set a record for our highest page views ever in the days immediately following the announcement (Thanks, Amazon!).
People are asking questions like:
  • What is the market for serials vs. serializations of novels?
  • What kind of pricing structure will the industry settle on – an up-front subscription to the whole serial or a micropayment pay-as-you-read?
  • How much can reader feedback be expected to influence the arc of the serial as it unfolds?
Writers have been buzzing and publishers have been buzzing. So, we thought, why not invite some publishers and writers so we can buzz together! So, Tuesday Serial, in collaboration with Claudia Christian who has been instrumental in bringing all the parties together (and is also, coincidentally a bee keeper – get it, buzzing? ;-) ), is hosting a Serial Publisher Round Table on October 2 from 1:30pm-2:30pm EST.
The round table will feature the following participants from the publishing community (more complete bios will be available soon):

Claudia Christian – Prolific serial fiction writer and publisher at Cook Street Publishing.
Kate from the publisher Candlemark & Gleam.
Jason Ashlock, president of “Movable Type Management” literary agency.
Yael Goldstein Love, co-founder and editorial director at Plympton, a new publisher of serial fiction.
Angie Capozello, serial fiction writer and publisher at The Penny Dreadful.
Jerry Fan who publishes serial fiction at Juke Pop Serials.
The round table will be moderated by Tuesday Serial’s own Tony Noland. P.J. Kaiser and Larry Kollar will be attending the hangout and monitoring the Twitter feed (#serialchat).
How can you be a part of the round table?
  • You can send us any questions you have in advance of the round table  (either via Twitter @ or DM @tuesdayserial, via a Twitter post to hashtag #serialchat or via a comment on this post).
  • You can watch the round table via Google + hangouts “on air” streaming as it’s happening in the embedded box at the bottom of this post or on the event page.
  • You can use the Twitter hashtag #serialchat to join in the conversation. Ask questions during the chat (questions during the chat will only be taken if there is time at the end of the chat) or give us feedback or your thoughts on the conversation.
  • After the chat, the video recording of the chat will be posted.
So, tune in below at 1:30pm Tuesday, October 2:

{{ Watch this space for the live feed when it’s available }}


Nip on over to the Tuesday Serial page to watch the video live, tomorrow at 1:30 EDT.

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Insulted by a prosthetic nose

Problem: Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn't look much like a young Bruce Willis.

Solution: Give Joseph Gordon-Levitt a prosthetic nose to make him kinda, sorta, in-certain-ways be plausibly reminiscent of what a young Bruce Willis might have looked like.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and a latex nose

A better solution: Respect the audience's ability to suspend disbelief and have the actors use their voices, mannerisms, postures, emotions, etc. to sell it, i.e. let the actors do their jobs. The worst thing you'd have to do is add another line of dialogue in the diner:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (speculatively at Bruce Willis' nose): So... what happened to my nose?
Bruce Willis (rubs the bridge of his nose): It got broke.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Did it hurt?
Bruce Willis (shrugs): Not as much as getting shot.

... and you're done! Nobody needs to refer to the physical resemblance factor ever again. No prosthetic makeup, no sitting in a chair for three hours before shooting every day, no goofy pictures on the Internet, no smart-ass bloggers telling you how you should have made your movie.

In short, the prosthetic nose is a case of overselling it. It's a mistake. Don't do that.

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