Saturday, May 30, 2009

Good Writing vs. Bad Writing

It's very easy to spark a debate over writing quality. What makes it good or bad?

Throw a popular novel into the mix, like TWILIGHT, THE DAVINCI CODE, or HARRY POTTER and you are certain to stir the pot.

Now as fond as I am of the pot (wait, did that come out right ;-), I'm going to shy away from popular fiction and instead use an example I discovered today while I was watering my lawn. Someone from our home owners' association stopped by handing out flyers. It seem we have the option to convert our gas street lights to electric. That's not the critical issue. I'm all for the change.

The problem is this sentence:

"The builder with the intention of providing nighttime illumination, since we do not have streetlights in our community, installed these lamps."

What's wrong with the sentence? There are no misspellings. The comma placement is appropriate for an appositive, so the punctuation is correct. The information provided is complete, I can read it and understand what the implication.

The problem is the syntax. The information does not flow properly. Technically it is not wrong, but it could be better. It should read:

"The builder installed these lamps with the intention of providing nighttime illumination, since we do not have streetlights in our community."

All I did was move "installed these lamps" to after builder. The clause that follows, "with the intention of providing nighttime illumination," relates more to the installation of the lamps than the builder.

When people gripe about bad writing, issues like this are usually prevalent. This has nothing to do with the plot or characterization. It's the way the story is told.

For those of you that say "So what? I read this blog for your smart-ass observations on life and your family, not to learn about writing. Show me the funny, dammit!" Please do so in the comments section, so that I may dole out smart-ass replies in turn.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Novel Idea

As many of you know, I am writing a novel, FATE'S GUARDIAN. Or rather, I wrote a novel, and now I am re-writing that novel.

It is a process that I love and hate. I love the story. I love writing in general. I hate the thought of re-writing 100,000 words, though. It was tough enough the first time. For the past three months I've been stuck, re-writing the first 50 pages over and over, like I'm trapped in a writer's version of Groundhog Day. At least those pages were getting better each time, but I had this thought nagging at the back of my mind, saying, "Dude, there are 300 more pages, you know."

The other night I had an epiphany. I figured out a new structure for the novel and a new way of plotting (and some changes to the plot itself), and now the re-write is taking new shape and speed. It's about freaking time.

I also set a new mandate for my work time. I get up early and make my way to the coffee pot. That part hasn't changed (nor will it in the foreseeable future). Then I go to my computer. Now here's the clever part: I write for an hour.

Let me clarify that: I re-write my manuscript for an hour. No blogs. No email. No checking the weather online. The only application allowed is MS Word. Bill Gates must be proud.

So if you hear less of me in the blogosphere, that's why. I'm really hunkering down to knock this out of the park.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mothballs

We have a moth infestation in our house. For several weeks we've seen moths all over. Not a veritable swarm of them, just two or three of them here or there. Sometimes upstairs, sometimes downstairs, sometimes on the stairs.

Moths are incredibly dumb and easy to kill. Maybe that's why they procreate with such fervor. But on second thought, rabbits also procreate with fervor, and they are quick. And upon even further reflection, I realize that rednecks procreate with fervor, and they are slow and dumb. Not always - the NASCAR drivers can be pretty fast, at least when they are behind the wheel. But than again, maybe some moths are fast, too. I guess it goes to show that speed and propensity to procreate don't go hand in hand. Procreation obviously goes something in something, but let's not dwell on that now...

I didn't know what to do about the moths, so I consulted The Oracle (i.e. Google). The Oracle told me that moths usually set up shop in a pantry or a closet. That may be true, but it is not helpful. We have one pantry and many closets. As you may have surmised by evaluating the long stretches of time between posts on this blog, I am either very busy or very lazy (answer: both). Rather than hunt down the source of the moths, I chose to wait until an answer presented itself to me. As I noted before, moths are dumb and I knew they would give themselves away eventually.

Last week I saw three moths above the door of an upstairs closet. I killed them, and then out of curiosity I opened the closet door and found two more inside. This is more than enough circumstantial evidence to convince me that I found their lair.

I went to Home Depot (TM) on my lunch break and bought a box of moths balls. I work from home, so when I got back to the office (home), I gave the box to my wife so she could distribute them accordingly. By "accordingly" I thought she would read the directions, which said something about a number of balls to use per cubic foot. Now I'm no math major, but I do know that we didn't need to use the whole box for that single closet. My wife - God love her - is not a math major either, and she chose to use the whole box. She just opened it up and set it in there on top of a suitcase.

I didn't realize this until last night, when I retrieved my own suitcase from said closet to pack for a trip to Orlando. I noticed the Very Strong Smell coming from the closet. I did not notice how deeply embedded that smell was in my suitcase until I got to Orlando, where I was able to identify my luggage on the baggage claim carousel by scent alone.

It turns out that the mothball odor is highly transferable. In fact, it has fully permeated every stitch of clothing that I brought with me on this trip. I am quite amazed that I have been able to type so many words through the haze emanating from my t-shirt right now. I am very identifiable on the trade show floor, but not in the way I had hoped.

When I get back home, those f*&^%ing moths had better all be dead.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Race Day Review

We went to bed early last night, but we both had trouble falling asleep. When 6am rolled around, neither of us felt refreshed. But that's nothing coffee and adrenaline can't cure...

Over 7,000 people turned out to run and walk. I don't know the breakdown, but there was a 5k run / walk (that's 3.1 miles), and the rest did the half-marathon (and that's 13.1 miles). I think this qualifies as a "crowd."

Here's a view of the starting line before the race.

The signs on the right side were for the runners to line up based on their pace.

The 1:30 indicates people who expect to finish in 1 hr 30 minutes.

Elite is for steroid abusers, and for people who were bitten by radioactive spiders, or hit by gamma ray bursts, or come from Krypton.



Notice that this picture was taken from aways back...

At 1 minute to race time, this crowd tightened into solid mass. We were in the latter half of a crowd of 7,000, a dense throng crammed into a lane and a half of roadway. They gave the command to start and we stood still for over between five and ten minutes while those in front of us started going- one by one, it seemed. Eventually the crowd did move forward in an asynchronous waddle that was reminiscent of a March of the Penguins, just without the antarctic winds. Our weather was perfect. Thank God.

I crossed the start line, and I heard horns start playing the theme from Rocky. Literally. It was the first song on my playlist. The second group of horns stared to play when I pressed start on my GPS to track time and speed. I was pumped.

About a mile in we passed an on-ramp for I-670. "We should take the highway, it would be so much faster," I suggested to my fellow runners, but no one deviated from the course. I did get a chuckle out of a couple people nearby and we chatted for the next mile. It turns out running can be a semi-social event. A turn came up.

"Stay to the inside, the outside curve is longer, and there's not need to make this any farther than it need to be," I cautioned. They ran along the far side of the curve anyway. I followed like a retarded sheep.

Around 3 miles in, my wife and I were still running together. "Happy anniversary," I said. She smiled and returned the sentiment. Only 10 miles to go.

After the race my wife said that someone who overheard this exchange asked her it it was really our anniversary. She assured them it was.

"Ask him to take you o=t to dinner next year," was the advice they gave. Ha! This whole damn thing was her idea to begin with. She brought it up, I found a training schedule online and thought we could do it.

At about 4 miles in, I started to pull ahead of her. Or she purposefully fell back because she was embarrassed by by air guitar skills (which are, in fact, awesome). I told you I was pumped.

Miles 5-10 were fueled by a kick-ass iPod playlist. It's easier to run when you have good music. It's also motivating to be in a crowd of people, with spectators on the side of many of the streets, cheering on friends and family. All I had to do was pretend my name was Kate, Erin, or Mom and it was like they were cheering for me, too.

The final three miles were tough, but not as bad as I thought they would be. The worst part was the block and a half of cobblestone / brick road we ran over in German Village. This was about 11 miles in, and my feet were already hurting pretty bad.

The blisters on my toes were second generation - regenerated old blisters that had nearly healed before this run. As I hit the cobblestone, my feet cheered me on, encouraging me to quickly pass this nuisance.

"FU," my right foot said each time it hit the hard, uneven ground.

"FU2," my left said, a prefect echo of the right foot's sentiment.

I got past thirteen miles. Almost there. Up a hill, and then the final half-mile was down hill, and then (finally!) around a corner to the finish line. You bet you ass I took the inside track on this corner. As I did, I pulled my digital camera from my pouch. This is what I captured:

video

I was kicking it with all my energy. My average pace in the run was a 10 minute mile. For the first part of that video I was close to a 7.5 minute mile. I don't know what I was clocking as I crossed the finish line, but it was absolutely all I could muster. The camera recorded my voice, but it didn't pick up that much of the ambient noise. It was loud. People cheering, noisemakers, Andrea Campbern, a local news anchor, was to the left of the finish line cheering us on through the PA...

I think I finished in about 2 hrs 10 minutes. That's what my GPS said. The clocks at the finish line were based on the first people who started. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Here's a pre-race photo. The post-race photo is me and my wife, and she has not granted authorization to make that photo public:
















So what happened after the race? We had a busy damn day, that's what. My son had a soccer game. They won, 6-0. He scored two goals, and he saved all three shots the quarter he was goalie. Then i went to the store, then out to dinner with my in-laws.

May 2nd, 2009 is prom night here in Columbus. It took three restaurants to find a good eatery with less than an hour wait! But now we're home, and holy mother of God do my knees and toes hurt...

Race Day

It's 6am. I am up and dressed, sipping coffee and eating a bagel. Well, I was doing that. Right now I'm typing.

My wife and I are celebrating our 10 year anniversary by running a half marathon. That's 13.1 miles. The race starts in 1 hr 43 minutes. It's 45 degrees out, should get into the 50's. Clear with a chance of scattered showers. Little to no wind.

Should be a good race.

My goal is to finish, time is absolutely not of the essence!

I'll be back tonight for a post-race report.