Saturday, October 9, 2010

Man food vs. vegetarians

Early this morning, Scott had to take the SAT. As probably all of you know, getting up at six-thirty is not a great way to start your Saturday. It turned worse when they made him wait over an hour before he could begin the test, wouldn't allow him to get any tissue to blow his nose (he's fighting a cold), and then, of course, kept him a full hour late.

As we were driving away from the school where he took the test, we both agreed that one cure was in order: man food.

Thus it was that, quite a few miles and minutes later, we found ourselves sitting under an umbrella behind a local sandwich shop staring at this vision of loveliness.

(Click on either picture to see a huge image of it)

Two cheese steaks, one with three varieties of cheese, and, yes, bacon cheese fries fresh from the fryer.

Holy crap, it was good!

As we were shoving this ultra-high-calorie feast down our yaps, we were discussing vegetarians. Scott opined, and I agreed, that though in principle it would be good for both his health and the planet for him to be one, he couldn't make the change, because he loved the taste of meat too much. We then wandered into this bit of conversation:

Scott: I asked some vegetarians if they missed the taste of meat, and they said no. So then I said, "Not even bacon?" They still said no.

Me: That's clearly not natural.

Scott (nodding): That's when it hit me: vegetarians aren't people!

Me: Your wisdom is growing, grasshopper.
We went on to ponder how our many friends who are dieting madly (which, believe it or not, I am doing most days of the week, but not this weekend with Scott and not on trips) would react to this meal. We decided it was good that they could not reach us to try to kill us.

By the way, lest any of you accuse me of irresponsible parenting for consuming and/or providing such a high-fat meal, let me point out that I had all the angles covered: less than ten feet from our table stood this truck:

Semper parataus, my friends, semper paratus.

Damn, it was a good lunch.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: In case you missed it, this was a humor piece. I have many vegetarian friends. My daughter is a vegetarian. I'm just having a little fun here.

If you're still pissed, try some bacon. It would make you feel better.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

R.I.P., Greg

I learned yesterday that Greg, who worked at one of my company's clients, had passed away. He died quickly and unexpectedly from a fast-moving cancer. He was fairly young, I think in his thirties, though I don't know for sure. He left behind a wife and two children. I cannot imagine their grief. I've never met them, but they have my deepest condolences.

Greg's death hit me hard. It's still hitting me. I can't say we were tight, because we weren't. He was my client; I was his supplier. We worked together occasionally for a few years, then kept up from time to time in email--usually from me asking him if we could do anything for him, i.e., selling to him. Despite the superficial sound of the relationship, however, I always thought of him as a friend. I feel that way about many clients, but Greg was special.

Greg was a big guy: tall, strong, fit. He'd worked a lot of crap jobs and pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Our backgrounds were similar enough in that way that we could nod at each other's stories and know the other had really understood them. He'd put himself through a lot of school to get to where he was. He smiled easily and often. He adored his wife and kids. He loved his family and wanted to stay near them always. He was restoring an old VW bus, which I had the privilege to ride in.

He was a rarity: an American man in the classic mold, one who had worked to get what he had, who understood and willingly undertook his responsibilities, who behaved honorably in every single interaction we had.

My life was richer for knowing Greg, and the world is poorer for his passing. Damn.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eatin' man food

Scott and I were alone for much of last night, so I decided to make us some man food. I left work early (for me; late for anyone else), stopped at a grocery store, and picked up supplies. Then, we chatted a bit while I cooked:

* steak with Stilton, a joy I discovered in a small restaurant in the country outside Coventry

* "enhanced" (with a variety of stuff) penne Alfredo (No, I won't tell you all that I did to it, but I will say that the combination worked.)

While I finished the cooking, Scott did some more homework, and then we ate together and chatted about our days.

I had a great time. The joy of a simple meal with your son is hard to overstate. I am blessed to have an amazing, terrific son, and as his senior year charges ahead, I appreciate more and more every chance I get to spend time with Scott.

The food was pretty darn good, too.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Library Boy

Last night, the Cary Public Library had an SF in NC event that featured three local writers: David Drake, John Kessel, and me. Dan Brooks organized the event and led the discussion, which took place in the tiered reading place for kids' books. We got to sit under a small cover with a nice curtain; I had to fight the urge to throw a play.

Check it out:

Over two dozen people turned up, which was a nice surprise--even though quite a few were folks we knew. Dan asked several questions, which we took turns answering, and then we fielded questions from the audience. We discussed what drew us to science fiction, our earliest writing experiences, our writing processes, and other related topics.

The show ran almost fifteen minutes long, but no one seemed to mind, and several folks stayed afterward and chatted.

My thanks to Dan for organizing such a nice event, and to Dave and John for being swell fellow panelists.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Talking Boy

As I mentioned last week, while I was in Portland, the fine folks at the Intel Software Network's Take Five Videos filmed an interview with me. We talked about seamless, self-aware, and context-aware computing, and we also discussed briefly my charity work with Children No More. We filmed outdoors, which led me to squint throughout the ten-minute piece, but if you're interested, click on the video below and check it out.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I've written before about how much I like this silly Beatles movie. Last night, though, for no reason I can recall, I flashed on two songs from the film that affected me greatly at the time--and that still touch me.

You see, though I was only ten when I saw Help!, I was already having crushes on girls and convinced I was deeply in love with each one. None of those crushes turned out well, however. Being ten didn't help, of course, but neither did the fact that I was a poor, crewcut-wearing, overweight nerd with almost no filter between my brain and my mouth.

After a couple of deeply embarrassing fiascos, I decided the Beatles had been right to advise me to keep my love to myself, as they do so winningly here.

They also showed that they knew what would happen when I didn't.

Ah, hell, now I'm in a DJ mood. Fall is here, and as summer fades in the rearview mirror and romance wafts through my mind, I can't help but play this Bruce tune for you.

And that's enough, because I could do this all night, but real work beckons.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Writers are not their protagonists

I was talking recently with a new writer who was concerned that readers might assume that because a story's protagonist was in some ways similar to the writer, the writer was talking about himself/herself. Many new writers share that concern, so I thought I'd address it here. Four points are key:

1. Many writers create protagonists who are physically similar to them.

At Bouchercon, I've often heard the joke that mystery writers create protagonists who are exactly like them except a little taller, thinner, and in better shape. There's certainly some truth behind the humor, and the practice isn't limited to mystery writers, but it's also far from universally true. More importantly, a character's physical characteristics are usually their least important traits.

2. If you're doing a good job with your fiction, your protagonist is his/her own person.

Characters must be true to themselves. They must behave in ways that make sense for them, react as they would if they were real people, and so on. If every character in a book or story is just the author, then the piece is full of copies of a single person with many names and so will not be very entertaining.

3. You can't stop some readers from believing this.

Don't even try. Lee Child is a rangy, fit-looking, six-foot-five writer. Jack Reacher, the protagonist of his many fine novels, is a superhumanly fit, superhumanly strong, insanely great fighter and marksman who is also six-foot-five. I've listened to fans at Bouchercon confuse the two--while staring at Child. I don't know Child, but I'm pretty darn sure he's not Reacher.

No matter what you say, some readers will make this mistake--which leads me to...

4. Don't worry about this crap.

It's nothing but noise in the system. Tell your story the best you can. Make every character be as realistic a person as you can manage. Build real worlds. Stay consistent with the rules of those worlds. Do everything as well as you can, and ignore the rest. You can control what you write. That's all you can control.

Sure, some parts of you will seep onto every page. That's part of what readers want. There are no new plots, but there are constantly new writers delivering them. Trying to entirely hide yourself in fiction is a pointless, futile exercise, so don't bother.

Do your best. Ignore the rest.


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