Saturday, October 20, 2007

An unusual lunch

Yesterday, I spent my lunchtime with David Beaver, founder of the World Space Center and Mindspace Multimedia, and creator of the Magic Theatre Project. I'd seen an early demo of the Magic Theatre technology in the late 1980s during a Sycamore Hill Writers' Workshop, and it was interesting. I'm a believer in space technology, so I agreed to meet with David to discuss his efforts to use his technology to help bring the overview effect, the sensations astronauts feel when they view the Earth from space, to the masses. (Go here for Frank White's book on the overview effect.)

I didn't leave the lunch convinced that David's business plans would work, nor do I have enough current data about his technology to be able to form a solid opinion about whether it's truly compelling. I am convinced, however, of his own deep belief, both in his technology and in the value of making the overview effect available to a broader audience.

You can judge for yourself, at least in part, by visiting the various links I've provided and reading the available information.

I wish him luck.

Best brain fart of Slanted Jack

The award for the best brain fart moment in Slanted Jack goes to me, of course, for writing about gorilla groups seeking arms.

As Dave, who found this error for me (thanks, Dave!), noted, such behavior would certainly cut down on poaching.

I do know, of course, that I should have written (and will, in the final book), "guerilla" (the spelling variant I prefer), but somehow while focusing on the scene a homonym error crept in.

Now, I'm tempted to write a story about gorilla groups amassing weapons for a revolt--but first I'd have to find a way to avoid all resemblances to The Planet of the Apes.

Then again, perhaps this is one of those ideas that should go on the shelf, way in the back, in the dusty, never-cleaned areas where the dust rhinos roam.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Music and my writing

Many folks have asked me whether I listen to music while writing, so I thought I'd answer the question here. (Web Weasel, are you noticing that this is another potential FAQ candidate? Back off.)

I usually write in silence, but often because I forgot to put on music. I actually prefer writing to music, because it helps enhance the trance-like effect of intense concentration, but the music must meet one of two requirements: it must either have no words and a relatively consistent tone, or it must be music I have listened to so many times that the words fade away for me.

For example, over the years I have written many columns, stories, and novel parts to the sounds of Blue Rodeo's Outskirts, one of the best albums ever. I've also written a great many parts of my first two novels while listening to the two Smallville soundtracks, particularly the first one, and the lovely Snow Patrol album, Eyes Open.

If you don't know Eyes Open and you at all like emotional (okay, emo) music, you should check out this CD. It was, in my opinion, the best album of last year. (The Killers' Hot Fuss was the best of the previous year. I'm not sure about this year's best.)

I've amassed a number of albums that meet my requirements, and I am always listening to new ones and adding them to the list by giving them heavy rotation on my playlist. I like having a range of available music, so I can match the sounds to the emotions of what I'm writing at the time.

New albums, though, never qualify, because they distract me. I can't have that.

My thanks to The State of Things crew

If you didn't notice it on my home page, I spent about an hour today at the Durham studios of WUNC Radio, where I was the second guest on the show, The State of Things. Frank Stasio, the voice of the show, Lindsay Thomas, the producer who worked on my segment, and all the folks I met there were gracious, helpful, and generally good professionals. I enjoyed the interview, which took a different approach than most discussions I've had about One Jump Ahead, and I think it came off okay.

If you're interested, you can check for yourself via the link on my home page. I'd replicate it here to save you time, but the show is going to be moving around on their site as it heads toward their archives, and I don't want to have to maintain two links.

The experience there reminded me that I'm almost always impressed with and happy to be around professionals who are good at their jobs--whatever those jobs may be. Competence matters a great deal to me.

On an related note, the guest after me on the show was Bryan Zupon, a Duke senior who runs an underground kitchen at which I've had the pleasure to eat once and who writes about food. Bryan is a very good cook, and it was great to see him again. We exchanged restaurant stories, and I joined his segment to add my praises for his cooking. If you're a local foodie, you should be trying to eat Bryan's cooking before he graduates. I'm certainly going to try to set up another meal with him.

And now, as on most evenings, it's time for me to return to Slanted Jack.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The potentially pretentious middle initial

One of these days, the Web weasel will herd me into a corner and snap at me repeatedly until I write the FAQ for my site. Because I've successfully evaded her teeth and claws thus far, I've left unanswered a pair of related questions I hear frequently: "What's with the 'L.' in your name on all your publications? Isn't 'Mark Van Name' long enough?"

To answer the second question first, yes, my name is long enough without the middle initial. The problem is, without that initial my name provokes a comment that is the answer to the first question, the reason I always include my middle initial:

"Did you know your name was Name [heh, heh]?"

The chuckle is almost always part of the question.

This remark used to really piss me off. Now, I've grown to find it only annoying. If I'm not in a hurry, I try to answer: "Really? I'd never noticed." If the questioner believes me, I know we're unlikely to have a lot to talk about.

You might think this interchange would be rare, but it's common enough that I don't ever plan to drop the "L." from my byline.

(Note to Web weasel: Look, I've written what could be an FAQ entry. Back off.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The third Jon & Lobo book (revised)

Back on May 22, I announced here that I'd suddenly flashed on what the third Jon & Lobo book would be. Well, I later realized I was wrong: the idea I'd envisioned will not be the third Jon & Lobo book.

Instead, it'll be the fourth.

I didn't make this change in position arbitrarily; I had reasons, reasons I'll eventually make clear.

This switch, however, left me with a blank slate for the third book.

That slate is now full. I know what the third book in the series will be. Its story is already percolating in the deepest parts of my brain, those few neurons not currently obsessed with finishing Slanted Jack.

I'd announce the titles of the books here, but I probably ought to tell my publisher first. Seems prudent.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The big red binder rides again

I've finished the second pass of Slanted Jack, and I'm very pleased to have reached this point. I enjoyed the book quite a lot, and I believe I improved it greatly with this last pass.

My next pass involves printing it, which I have already done, and going over the pages with a red pen in my hand. Reading the work on paper is still, to me, very different from seeing it on the screen. Because the book is now fairly polished, this pass typically goes fairly quickly, but I expect to find plenty of things I want to change.

Slanted Jack now weighs in at over 118K words and, depending on the printer I use, 445 or 446 pages. Toting that much paper around has the potential be a hassle, and I take it with me most places, just in case I get time to work on it. To make the carrying task easier, when I reached this point with One Jump Ahead, I asked Gina if she could find me a large binder to hold the three-hole-punched printout. She did, and I'm using that binder again for Slanted Jack.

I've posted a few pictures of it here. I know: what a geek.

Still, with 445 pages and a weight (ms., binder, and two red pens) of six pounds five ounces, it represents, to me, quite an achievement.

I'll be even happier when I've finished it and sent it to Toni.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Helpless, helpless

When someone I love is in pain, emotional or physical, I can't help but feel helpless. I assume most people feel the same way. I also can't help but want to fix whatever is causing the pain. I used to assume most people felt the same way in this area as well, but a lot of books and conversations have claimed that my feelings are more a male trait than a female one; I don't know.

When the person hurting is one of my children, however, I feel doubly bad. I assume most parents do. Sure, your mind knows that in many cases not only can't you fix the pain, you shouldn't even if you could, because the pain is a necessary part of growth. Your heart, though, hates to see them suffer. When a friend is callous toward them, a schoolmate makes fun of them, they don't win the prize they wanted, whatever is hurting them, you wince and hurt for them and often get angry at the source of the pain. All the examples I gave are ones that often seem small to adults, but they aren't, not in the hearts of our kids and not in our hearts when we were kids.

I don't think the pain you feel for your kids gives you any right to make the subject of the conversation be you. The focus should remain on them. I do, though, think it's right and proper to let your kids know that you take their pain seriously, that you remember feeling similar pain, and that you will be there for them if they want your help. If they don't, we also have to give them space.

Which is, of course, hard, because you have to accept that aside from loving and offering, you really are helpless, but so it goes.


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