Warning: Cleanliness Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

This has been a wheezy week for me, replete with headaches and extra fatigue. (Which I need, by the way, about as much as an extra navel.) And the reason is a bit of overly enthusiastic housecleaning down at the church where I’m organist.

This is Holy Week for Christians, and within such traditional denominations as the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian Churches, it is a Very Big Deal indeed. As a corollary, this means Eastertide calls for a copious amount of musical preparation. Even though I started several weeks back, I’ve still been swamped. Continue reading

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Superman/Batman #57: A Very Short Review

Say what you will, there is something classic about teaming up Superman and Batman.  Complementary in characters and strengths, stories with both heroes can do things and go places that are quite different from the individual titles.  sb A case can even be made, that it is when the characters become like each other — when Batman goes to outer space to fight aliens, for instance — that quality dips drastically.  In difference is strength.

DC has been well aware of this for decades, naturally.  The old World’s Finest comic was in publication for decades and had an entirely different dynamic from the various team titles, Justice League of America and so forth.  The current incarnation, more simply titled Superman/Batman, often suffers from many of the modern comic book ailments like decompression and the four or six-issue straitjacket dictated by the need to republish in trade paper.  Another persistent flaw is a weakness in the endings — why does a great start frequently tail off into mild disappointment?  A kick-ass ending should be as essential as spandex.  I wonder if this does not stem from how the story is sold to the editorial staff; are the writers hoping that a great ending will just appear as they go along? (When will they learn that this happens about as often as a new roof spontaneously generating from the rafters of your house?  You want a roof, you have to plan it, support it with the proper framing, and pay for it.)

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My Year in LA: The Sci Fi Channel Interview, or, Vonda Encounters Makeup

The Moon and the SunThe Chesterfield Company called me at more or less the last minute to tell me I’d been accepted into the Writers Film Project, a year-long screenwriting workshop at Amblin and Universal. Perhaps they had somebody drop out, or possibly they just took a while to make up their minds about accepting a genre writer into the group.

We did joke about “Chesterfield Time” over the course of the year.

I had to pack up a few changes of clothes and my laptop and find a place to live and get down there in a hurry, with my current project wagging its tail behind me.

Before I heard from the workshop (which I didn’t expect to get into), I’d contracted to write a Star Wars novel. The deadline was quite tight. For the first few months I was in LA, I was working on the novel as well as going to daily WFP sessions.

This was all made somewhat more stressful when the powers-that-be started rumbling about an “unacceptable” plot point, which happened to be the point the entire novel balanced on. Once I was so upset about the situation that I put my head on Jacques Cousteau’s desk and cried.

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Everything I Need to Know I learned from American Folk Songs

Awhile ago, I was pointed towared the magnificent Everything I Need to Know I Learned from British Folk Ballads.  I have since come to feel we need the American version.  This being the new world, we learn quite a different set of lessons.  Here are some:

1) He don’t love you.  He never did.
2) She don’t love you.  She never did.
3) Because he/she don’t love you, he/she will do you wrong with an unspecified 3rd party.
4) Killing the 3rd party will not help anything.
5) Neither will killing the stranger that she says wants you dead.  See 1).
6) Caliber of gun used to kill 3rd party is immaterial.
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Measuring Failure

Measuring Failure:

Recently I received a fan letter from a 16 year old high school student.  Unlike most of my mail from readers, this was hand written and sent snail mail to my publisher, then forwarded to me.  Most people contact me via email through my website.  I’m sending a copy of this blog back to her with a personal letter.

This student confessed to me that she wanted to become a veterinarian.   Not just normal small pets.  She wanted to work with exotic animals.  But all the adults in her life told her not to bother.  She’d never succeed. Continue reading

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What I Didn’t Say in My Broadsheet Essay on Outliers

OutliersMy essay reflecting on Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success is now up on Broad Universe’s Broadsheet, and as often happens when I write nonfiction, I find I have something else to say.

Gladwell’s book is about people as “outliers” — those who are so successful in their fields that they outshine almost everyone else. He gives the lie to the idea that these people must be extraordinarily bright or ambitious, pointing out that other people as bright (or even brighter) and ambitious do not reach the same level of success.

Perhaps his most important point is that no one gets there alone. Success has a lot to do with family, culture, community, and even generation, according to Gladwell. Being born at the right time, with the right kind of family and community support and culture, will give the bright person who works hard a real opportunity to become successful on the world class level.

The other concept he talks about is hard work. Continue reading

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Calling All Amateur Scientists: Project Budburst Wants You

Q: And what exactly is “Project Budburst”
A: National Phenology Network Field Campaign for Citizen Scientists.

Q: Er…
A: Project Budburst engages the public in making careful observations of the phenophases of trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses.

Q: And phenophases are what, exactly?
A: Phenophases are the life events of a plant: first leafing, unfolding of the leaves, first flowering, first fruiting. You know, the highlights in the life of a young, nubile forb.

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Live, From Arkham, It’s…

This is a BVC Blog “exclusive” – my good friend Alan Rodgers is a horror novelist, Stoker Award winner, and has written a lot of stories set in the H.P. Lovecraft mythos.  I think that’s the right way to say it – “Lovecraftian”?  I was never too up to speed on Lovecraft, and found his prose so ornate and heavy that I never realized that the 5-minute short segments on one of my favorite childhood shows, Night Gallery, were set in various Arkham locations and the “monsters” in them were Cthulhu and his pals.

A Friend From Arkham

Isn’t he special?  Now where did these monsters come from?  Are there real-world things like this, the sources of the nameless and not-so-nameless creatures detailed by Lovecraft?

I’m of the opinion that the best horror has some basis in reality.  It may not seem as though Cthulhu has any basis in reality – or does he?

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The Velveteen Writer

Here comes another installment of the Resurrection of a Writer. I’ll continue these at intervals if there’s interest…and possibly if there isn’t. I find, rather to my surprise, that these posts have been amazingly cathartic, and I hope to be able to look back at them in a year or so as mileposts along the road to my recovery as a creative individual.

One of the best-known of Peanuts cartoons (I’ve seen it as a poster, greeting card, and assorted other items) involves Linus depressed because he had gotten a B on a report card, instead of the straight A’s that were expected of him. After listing the various people who were disappointed in him because he had such great potential, he cries aloud to the heavens: “There is no heavier burden than a great potential!”

Damned straight, kiddo. I don’t remember what age I was when I first saw that strip, but it immediately rang a whole carillon for me. In fact, I can still quote it word for word, but won’t due to unminor matters such as copy right. Continue reading

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Superman #686: A Very Short Review

Writers spend a great deal of time discussing and thinking about how to introduce a major character.  Have them walk in and sit down at the bar with the rest of the cast, as in many roleplaying games?  Resort to the hoary Marvel Comics template (which in fact dates all the way back to the epic of Gilgamesh), in which the characters fight before settling down to be best friends?    The ‘meet cute’ of romantic movies is popular– but it is possible to be too cute, and it is crucial to select a ‘meet’ that illuminates character all around and hopefully kicks the plot further down the road too.  superman

Unfortunately, a quite good example of how not to do the job can be viewed in the latest issue of Superman.  The backstory: Supes is leaving town on an extended mission off planet.  Metropolis being totally incapable of managing by itself, Superman has lined up a couple of pinch-hitters.   First among them is Mon-El, featured on the cover.  Mon is best known as a member of the undying Legion of Super-Heroes, but his appearance here is very complicated; essentially he is here before he was a Legionnaire.  Pay no attention to this; with luck it will not be important.

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