Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lights in the night

While driving home after tonight's movie (War, with Jet Li and Jason Statham, pleasant and action-filled enough but too many bullets, not enough fu, and not as good as either of their best solo films), I was approaching a church school's soccer field cum playground. I drive by this field a great deal, and late at night it's always the same: empty.

Tonight, however, glowing lights flickered and bounced and swirled around the field in a magical dance. I slowed my car, opened my window, and, because I was alone on the road, looked closely at the field. A flock of kids were running, laughing, and waving glow sticks. Sometimes when you learn how a bit of magic works, the magic fades, but not this time; seeing and hearing kids providing the night lights only made it better for me.

I really wanted to pull over and join them, but I knew that a grown man approaching a bunch of kids late at night would at best alarm them and at worst lead someone to call the cops on me.

Sometimes it sucks to be a grown-up, but at least I got to see the dancing of the lights.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The first day of school

Today was the first day of the new school year for Sarah and Scott. For the first time, they're both in upper school, a situation that is almost certainly weirder for them than it is for me--and it's plenty weird for me.

As has been our tradition since the first time they went off to a school--pre-pre-school, a half-day, not-every-weekday affair--I drove them to school. When they were young, I'd hold their hands, walk them to their classrooms, and stand with them as they mustered the courage to wade into the milling crowd that would soon enough settle down into a class of students. My heart would hurt for them as they faced the rough emotional hurdle of confronting their new classmates.

As they grew older, they'd say goodbye from the car and walk on their own. The first time they did that, even though I knew the day would come, my heart felt as if it would break.

Now, of course, even though I am positive they're nervous, they hop out of the car, grab their incredibly heavy backpacks, and walk into school without a look back. And my heart still feels as if it will break as I drive away.

I'm really quite lucky, though. They don't act embarrassed to have me drop them off, nor generally do they act embarrassed of me. This morning, before we got in the car, I hugged them both, told each of them, "I love you," and they said the same. Those hugs and those words are the best gifts they could ever give me.

And still my heart hurts to watch them go. I suppose it always will, each and every time they leave, even when I know that leaving is exactly what they should be doing. I even suppose it should hurt.

I have the best kids in the world, and I'm grateful for them and my luck in having them.

Micro literary history

I started writing fiction by hand, and then on a manual typewriter, and then, when my budget permitted, I transitioned to what I at the time considered to be the greatest writing machine conceivable: the IBM Correcting Selectric II. (I still have that red metal beast, though currently its main job is to hold up graphic novels.)

Now, like most writers I know, I work on a computer (well, actually, on many of them). I've done that for over two decades. For most of that time, I worked the same way: open the file of the piece in question, work on it, save it, work on it, close it, and repeat the next day. I'd start a new file only when I started a new version of the piece. The result was that the online files and the paper files of any story were identical.

When I started One Jump Ahead, however, I knew I was invading foreign territory: the novel. I was afraid of losing an entire file and having to face rewriting a whole book. For that reason, and because I thought it might be interesting, I started saving every day's version of the file on which I'm working. For speed of file opening, I also broke the book into chunks of roughly 350K bytes each; for example, OJA comprises two full chunks and one partial.

The result of this process is that one could, if one chose, carefully reconstruct every change I made to that book and know on which day I made it.

For me, this is useful when I'm rewriting a section and want to look at earlier versions. Were someone to be interested in dissecting my work, however, it could prove to give an unprecedented level of insight into how I work. (I don't expect that to ever happen, but it is an odd thought to contemplate.)

A simpler and more automatic version of this practice would come from what's known as a journaling file system, one in which behind your back the operating system saves every version of every file. With disk capacities soaring, such file systems may well become commonplace because of the automatic data backups they provide.

Were such file systems to become common on systems writers use, writers would unknowingly be leaving on their hard disks complete records of their work.

I have to confess two reactions to this notion: discomfort at anyone seeing my work, and great interest in seeing that level of detail about the work of writers I adore. Predictable, of course.

Privacy is, I fear and mostly believe, rapidly becoming a thing of the past, so I suspect this small technical change is but one tiny aspect of that fading of a once-beloved aspect of life. It does intrigue and trouble my writer's soul, however; it really does.

But not enough to make me wipe out all those files. For whatever reason, I just can't do it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: Bill Watterson was right when via Calvin & Hobbes he commented that there's magic everywhere.

We set out to walk today a bit after 11:00 a.m. The temperature and humidity were both already in the 90's, with the heat index over 95 (all Fahrenheit). We reached the last downhill stretch of the half mile headed away from my house, and there at the foot of the small hill, standing in the middle of the road, were three deer, a mother and her two very young children. We kept walking but slowed our pace, and for a few magic moments they stayed there, oblivious of everything, paying us no obvious heed and staying still in the hot morning.

Then, quite correctly, they ran into the woods.

Made my morning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Burn Notice

If you're not watching this new TV show and you have any TV viewing time available, you should give it a look. It's smart, funny, full of accurate tradecraft, and generally good-hearted. The lead actors all do fine jobs, with Bruce Campbell's scenery-chewing antics worth the time all on their own. Dave turned me on to this show, and I'm thankful that he did.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Battling to the end

I'm in the throes of a battle for the end of Slanted Jack. I'm fighting the forces of complexity, my own vision's high expectations (the book is always at its best in my head), and the need to make every character behave reasonably given the data at hand. It's a tough fight. I think I'm winning, but I won't know until readers tell me much later.

Back to it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A hit and a miss

The miss: Rey's Restaurant in Cary. Trusting our local food critic, Greg Cox, four of us dined tonight at this place. Greg, who's usually quite reliable, let us down this time. Our meal was decidedly mediocre, with the sides--garlic mashed potatoes and au gratin potatoes--and the chicken and andouille gumbo being the strong points. Spend your money elsewhere.

The hit: Death at a Funeral. You know from a very few minutes into this movie exactly what type of film it's going to be, and you can guess most of the plot complications, but none of that ends up mattering. The film executes with enough style, the largely British cast is so good, and the grace notes plentiful enough that you'll find yourself laughing madly many times during the movie. Check it out.


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