30 September 2010

NWDT: Planet Spankmenow

I’ve decided it is time to begin the initiation process, to get you all on board with the Naked World Domination Tour and its plans at creating a world that is peaceful, fun and covered in pudding. There are aspects of the NWDT that can be a little confusing, so I am going to break it into sections. Today I will begin with a little history.

The Naked World Domination Movement has a ‘Capital’ so to speak, and as your future Empress, it is my pleasure to introduce you to the Founder, choreographer and zany dominatrix of Planet Spankmenow. It is my delighted honor to introduce you now to Sketchie Skattergood.

*waves in a regal manner... for a penguin*

So Sketchie, how exactly did you FIND Planet Spankmenow?

Well, Your Tartness, that's quite a story. As a few of your readers may know, I'm a romance writer at heart, and I feel obligated to do intensive research on the subject (for authenticity's sake, don't you know). A few years ago, I was hunting down the legendary "bippy", a fantastic (and highly elusive) body part Goldie Hawn made famous in the last century. (Whoa. Feeling old now... and depressed... *cries*)

So there I was, hot on the trail of a wild bippy, when somehow I accidentally stumbled through a suspicious-looking window-treatment. I went right through the tattered material (really, someone MUST inform housekeeping about the sad condition of that drapery), and to my horror I landed face-first in the rugged, Alps-like abs of a charming boy by the name of Cristiano (you may have seen him; there's a delightful little snap of him on my FB Wall as we speak *fans self*).

After much drooling and unnecessary fondling (it is JUST so hard to believe those abs are real), the darling boy commended me for my bravery in crossing through what he called "the pantsy portal to the World of Uptightedness." After many hand signals and pantomiming, I was at last able to discern that the luscious lad was speaking of my own realm (I didn't bother to correct his grammar; when someone looks that good, who gives a damn what they're saying?). I then asked him where I was. That was when he told me: "This in Planet Spankmenow."

Can you tell our lovely readers about it? Topography? Activities? Entertainment? Small furry animals?

Darling, do I look like Christopher Colombus? I can give you detailed descriptions of the spa and the cabana boys and girls, the pools both manmade and natural, the beaches of every color, the twin-peaked mountains far off in the distance that the locals have named Dolly and Parton, and of course, Cristiano's six-pack. But when it comes to the general topography, the most I can tell you is that this wondrous little slice of heaven seems to be one gigantic island (wait... could this place be... AUSTRALIA?!?!? [<--interrobang, heehee!])

Oooh, but as for the activities and entertainment.... NOW we've got something to talk about. *smirk* First and foremost, one must learn the customs of Planet Spankmenow. There really is only ONE rule in this delightful slice of heaven-- off with your clothes (seriously, the natives have never even heard of a cotton-poly mix). As there is glorious weather year-round in this tropical paradise, the natives have never needed clothes. In fact, they giggled uproariously over my brassiere (I know what some of you are thinking: "Penguins don't wear bras." Well, this one does. How's that for a mental image? *snort*)

Did I digress there? Whoops. Sorry. Mari made me. :D

Where was I? Oh yes, bras. The natives found a MUCH better use for my brassiere. Come to find out, if you place tightly-packed Snow-Cones (sans the "cone" part and in any flavor you want) within the bra cups, you can fling those puppies around like David and his slingshot. We had a grape-flavored one sail nearly seventy feet before the brastrap snapped. I'm sure we'll be back in business soon, and with any luck, brassiere slingshots will become as popular as Planet Spankmenow's National Pastime, pudding wrestling.

And as for small furry animals... Have you forgotten the bippy?

So which pudding flavor do you most strongly endorse?

Excellent question, Tart. If you're serious about your wrestling, I strongly recommend pistachio. A little texture goes a long way. If you're more interested in the friendly, slap-n-tickle variety of wrestling, you can never go wrong with chocolate. The darker color is so slimming. :)

[here the Tart must chime in agreement, pistachio really IS a fabulous pudding for wrestling, and it doubles as body paint, so that is a bonus]

Can you tell me a little about the politics here at the Nakedest Place on… erm… off Earth?

*blinks* Politics? On Spankmenow? What are you trying to do, make this into the World of Uptightedness, Part Two?! The only thing that even smacks of government on this fantasy-island planet are the dungeons, run by a queenly lady named Rissa, The Watery Tart, Briony of the Ax and The Comfy Chair, JelE Bean, and when I can steal the key, myself. Our security man is a fun-loving, roguish bloke by the name of Sirius, who sniffs out those who are determined to wear clothes. After only a few weeks in the dungeons and several hours of dance-instruction later, our former scofflaws fall quite eagerly into the swing of things (it's amazing what a little Bend-and-Snap! can do).

And what are your plans to keep Planet Spankmenow a central force in the Naked World Domination Movement?

We of Planet Spankmenow need to lead by example. Everyone -- get naked. *waits a few moments* Thank you.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about Planet Spankmenow?

It is truly a place of freedom and beauty, where imagination rules and "limits" are an unknown entity. Those who make it through the Veil, whether by accident or design, never return unchanged (or in the case of Sirius, they never return, period, end of sentence *snort*). If YOU are a believer in freedom, the joys of the imagination, and in nakedness, Planet Spankmenow is the place for you. *wanders off to see what Cristiano is up to*

So there we have it, straight from the dominatrix penguin, and founder of Planet Spankmenow, bringing joy to anyone open-minded enough to enter.  For a visitor's visa, just see The Tart.
*images of Sketchie the penguin and the Watery Tart skillfully drawn by Queen Marissa

And on the off chance you DIDN'T know... Yesterday was NAKED DAY!  Sorry I couldn't give you a head's up sooner. *shifty*  So mark it on your calendar for next year!

29 September 2010

Random Wednesday: Four Overdue Reviews

Once upon a time, you were lucky to get reviews of a few novels and maybe a stray theatre production from your local newspaper. But thanks to the development of the World Wide Web, we can access a plethora of reviews for movies, t.v. shows, video games, computers, cell phones, and little things that look like cell phones but are really just more computers. Plus all that stuff got invented.

But in the rush to apply technology to talking about technology, a few things were overlooked. Today, I redress this.


sunlight sorted

Rain. Sun. Colors. End of story.

The value of a rainbow, like the rainbow itself, is a matter of perception.

The dull empiricist sees nothing more than a band of pretty colors, and is at best inspired to write a bad poem.

The more inquisitive observer sees a division of sunlight into various wavelengths and is inspired to invent spectral analysis.

Of course, we see only seven bands of the visible spectrum, but infrared and ultraviolet light are refracted by the same phenomenon. Birds' eyes are sensitive to the UV spectrum, hence they see rainbows with several additional bands of light, and are thereby inspired to poop on windshields.

Comparable to: The James Bond film series. They're colorful, devoid of substance, and all pretty much the same. Part of growing up is realizing that there's no treasure at the end, because it never actually comes to end.



First, I must confess that I'm not entirely objective on this topic, as I have a lot of personal experience using footwear. Frankly, I don't like the things. They make my feet itch. When I was a child, part of our nightly dinner ritual involved a familiar clunk, clunk and knowing smiles from the rest of the family as I kicked off my tennies so I could eat in peace.

These are my work shoes. Seriously. I'm still breaking them in.

But nothing in the universe comes close to the concept of "dress shoes" for pure, unadulterated stupidity. Mind you, I fully understand the concept of formal clothing and have nothing against, say, a necktie. It just hangs there and generally doesn't get in the way. Even a dress jacket or a full-blown tuxedo might be a little confining, but they don't make it difficult to get from one place to another.

Dress shoes? Dress shoes? I need my feet for walking. Encumbering them with inhibitive, formal gear makes about as much sense as slipping on a pair of boxing gloves and calling them "dress mittens". Ladies' high heels are even worse, and I've never understood the appeal; being a not-tall male, they just make me feel short.

But even with such horrible variants, I suppose the general concept has been more useful than not. For those who make a living playing basketball, stepping on bugs, or crossing broken glass to outwit criminal masterminds, shoes can be mildly useful.

Comparable to: Historia Regum Britanniae, Le Morte d'Arthur, et. al. Like early shoes, the earliest versions of King Arthur are brilliant inventions but still a bit painful to wade through. They laid the groundwork for later, less formal variations (The Once and Future King = tennis shoes) as well as a gross misinterpretations (oxfords & derbies = various film versions and SciFi channel originals).

* * * *

Spiral Galaxy M31, "Andromeda"

Talk about being overlooked. The Andromeda galaxy is home to some 1,000,000,000,000 stars, is 2,200,000,000,000,000,000,000 meters across, and has an aggregate mass in the range of 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms. I'd tell you more, but my computer just ran out of zeroes.

Seen from Earth, M31 (or "NGC 224" as its friends like to call it) is located in the constellation Andromeda, whence cometh its name. The central cluster can be seen with the naked eye on a clear night in rural areas, or with binoculars under less ideal conditions, and by birds with binoculars in any conditions whatsoever (go ahead and teach a bird to use binoculars if you want to prove me wrong).

That central cluster looks like a small, hazy star, but the span of the entire galaxy (in Earth's sky) is six times as wide as the moon. It can be seen in its full glory when photographed through a telescope, or by googling images uploaded by the nice folks who operate those telescopes.

Unearthly beauty: The Andromeda galaxy and
the Starship Andromeda's cybernetic avatar, "Rommie"

The Andromeda galaxy is part of a galactic cluster called "the local group" which, as the name implies, is so darned local that it includes our own galaxy. Andromeda and the Milky Way are by far the largest members, with most others being considered "satellite" galaxies (except Triangulum; but at a mere fifty trillion solar masses, Triangulum doesn't really warrant its own review).

But despite being the two heavyweights, it's not a competition thing. Andromeda and the Milky Way aren't rivals. In fact, the two galaxies are moving toward one another at about a hundred kilometers a second. Astronomers speculate that they might eventually come together, but at this point it's uncertain as to whether or not the FTC can get the merger approved within the next 4.5 billion years.

Comparable to: The Twilight series. It seems like a really big thing, and it's got some star power. It's something of a universe unto itself. But it's mostly empty space and over two million light years away from being relevant to the real world.

* * *

The Devil

Lucifer has long been lambasted as the antepenultimate evil, exceeded only by Adolf Hitler and saturated fat. The guy made some pretty bad choices, especially when you consider that, for him, the whole "Will and power of God" thing lacked any of the uncertainty that we ignorant, mortal humans have to deal with. Furthermore, the popular defense that "the devil made me do it" comes across as pretty disingenuous.

On the plus side, his fallen status serves a useful purpose. By suffering eternal torment in Cocytus, he gives a pretty clear example of what not to do and why not to do it. He also exacerbates the suffering of certain damned souls, which may or may not count in his favor, depending on how vindictive you feel toward someone who's already in hell.

Worst of all, he's wearing dress shoes

But his best quality, by far, is the one thing Lucifer himself couldn't make use of: blame shifting. If it weren't for the serpent's temptation in Genesis, then Eve would have taken all the blame; and we'd be lucky to reach 21st century levels of "moderate misogyny" by the year 3000.

Oh, and if you think I'm a sacrilegious jerk for saying positive things about Lucifer, be advised: The devil made me do it.

Comparable to: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, because everyone agrees that it's awful but we're still totally fascinated by it. Plus Tim Curry would be an excellent choice to play the devil on screen.

* *

28 September 2010

The Johari Window and Character Development

One of the more tangible things I have done as a student (not that the rest of it isn’t useful, but you know – it tends to get very theoretical) was my one semester with “work related, project centered, intern-ish” studies. Escaping the abstract academia one semester, I had the opportunity to do out-in-the-field research with a group of other students, and in the process we got a taste of what life working in a large government agency would be like (glorious! At least compared to our student standards… Did you know they serve hot dogs in the cafeteria on Fridays?!). The semester also included lessons on topics such as how to write a job application; or communication within work teams. All very useful things to bring with me for whenever I finally finish my master’s degree (which should be soon. Just keep swimming…).

One of the things that I didn’t see the immediate value of learning, though, was a little something called a Johari Window. It is a cognitive psychological tool created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 (Joseph + Harry = Johari. Cute, huh? They named their brainchild after themselves). I think the purpose in my class was to teach us how to improve communication within our teams, since the Johari Window traditionally has been used as a means of understanding interpersonal communication and relationships.

The window is a simple grid with four main “rooms”: arena; blind spot; façade; and unknown:

What I see
What I don’t see
What others see
Blind Spot
What others don’t see

When used as intended you are supposed to choose a given number of adjectives from a list that can be found here (or a darker version with negative words – the Nohari window [I can’t help but wonder – who is N? Did Harry cheat?]) that you feel describe you. Then, someone else (your peers) choose the same number of adjectives from the same list. The words overlapping will go into the room “Arena”, because these are qualities that both your peers and you are aware of. If your peers have mentioned traits that you have not, these go into the “Blind Spot”. If you have chosen traits that your peers have not, these go into “Façade”, which describes things you are aware of that your peers don't see. Finally, the remainder of adjectives, whether they remain unused because they don’t apply to you or because you or your peers are not aware that they do, go into the “Unknown” category.

To me it was never all that clear why this should help our in-team communication (in theory I get it, but in reality it only made for some raised eyebrows and unvoiced “so you don’t think I am dignified?”-accusations). What I immediately recognized this as useful for, though, was character development in fiction writing.

In fiction it is essential to create interesting characters. One way of adding extra dimensions to your characters is to allow layers. Perhaps they aren’t everything they pretend to be. Perhaps they are more? Imagine a whodunit with the following character:

Tom Killer (TK)
What TK sees
What TK doesn’t see
What others see

What others don’t see

By the way, I cheated a little. Since I’m using this as a fictional character development tool rather than an analysis of a real person, I figured it would be more interesting if I used traits from both the Johari and the Nohari variety.

The traits that Tom recognizes in himself, and the ones he chooses to display outwards, are radically different from those he does not see (falsely or correctly perceived by others), and from those so deeply hidden that no one can see them.

One benefit of doing this exercise in a fictional environment as opposed to a real-life one is that the “Unknown” category doesn’t have to be unknown. The character or any of his peers might not see these traits, but the author/narrator/reader might:

Tom Killer (TK)
What TK sees
What TK doesn’t see
What others see

What others don’t see

If you look at the first room separately, Tom isn't necessarily such an interesting character. He presents himself as a calm, able and organized man. If you add the traits he is hiding behind his façade, however, you are immediately triggered. What sort of man is this who appears to be calm, but underneath he is violent? If you further add that he can appear both trustworthy and needy, but that he is not aware of either of these traits, he begins to look like a complex type. The final room in this case gives an indication of why he is like this.

Further – what others see isn’t one thing – different people see different things. In Tom’s life there are a number of people. Perhaps he has a brother, Noel Killer. Noel knows his brother better than most people, so the Arena and Blind Spot areas of the Tom/Noel window will be radically different than that of Tom/Barry the Milkman:

What TK sees
What TK doesn’t see

What TK sees
What TK doesn’t see
What NK sees

What BtM sees
What NK doesn’t see

What BtM doesn’t see
Intolerant Able

To make this a little easier I reused the same traits for all the grids. But there is no rule saying that you have to. Barry the Milkman might be absolutely convinced that Tom is idealistic or shy or even witty even if no one else (including Tom himself) sees this. This way, the Johari Window not only can be used to make complex characters, but also character relationships (which, incidentally, is another important aspect in making your characters more interesting).

Creating a fascinating fictional character doesn't have to be more difficult than this!
Who says my six years as a student at the university hasn't paid off?


Speaking of the university... I am (as many of you will already know) in the process of finishing my master's degree. In an attempt to avoid blood pressure levels of a BP executive, I have asked my fellow Burrowers to excuse me from blog duties the next two months. Thus, this will be my last post here for a while. I will still post at my regular blog, The Giraffability of Digressions, and I will return here as soon as my offline life allows it. In the meantime I know that this blog will be filled with clever, witty, useful, entertaining and resourceful posts.

Aaand speaking of clever, witty, useful, entertaining and resourceful posts... If you want more tips on character development, I suggest you check out last week's initiative hosted by Alex, Elana and Jennifer. They carried out an experiment where they invited people from all around the blogosphere to give their insight on one common theme: how to create a compelling character? The response was overwhelming - close to 200 bloggers offered their thoughts on this matter. The list of all the participants can be found here, and I highly recommend you check it out!

With that note I'll have to say goodbye for now - looking forward to coming back (as a free woman, at last).

27 September 2010

Reading Monday

Technically today's post should be highlighting a book or two for your reading pleasure, but me being me, I'm not going to do that. What I'm going to do is ramble a little bit first (always a given when it's me writing a blog post), offer up a topic that probably isn't strictly within our guidelines (in other words cheat), then ramble a little bit more.

That's just so you know what to expect. I wouldn't want to be accused of not forewarning you, after all.

Anyway, reading. Isn't is great? I mean, what else can provide hours of enjoyment (I'm watching you, oh Watery Tart), make your imagination run wild (Tami! *glares*), and provide escapism of the highest order? OK, so some people would say that TV or the movies can do all of these things, but I disagree. Yes, visual stimulation (love that word) could probably do the trick, but they don't get any of those lovely creative juices flowing. When you read, you have to fill in the blanks yourself. You have to picture the scenes, the characters, everything.

Anyway, before I continue stating the obvious, perhaps I should get on to the particular bit of reading that I wanted to talk about. Books are obviously the best way to get your reading fix, but what if you have read every single book in your possession at least ten times? What if your local library should really be called a bookshelf seeing as how it only has about twelve books (or maybe that's just my local library)? What if, no matter how much you wish otherwise, you simply can't afford to go out and buy half a dozen books every week to feed your reading habit?

Thankfully, we have the internet. There are a number of ways you can access reading material on the World Wide Web, but one of the best ways to discover something new is to hunt through the fan fiction sites. It can be a bit of a hit and miss endeavor - a lot of fan fiction is pretty poor - but along with the bad is most definitely the good.

The best thing is, you can pick your subject. Almost everyone has a favorite TV show or book, and I'm betting that most of these favorites have a fan fiction archive. The best place to visit is fanfictiondotnet, where you can browse through the categories and have a very good chance of finding something that interests you.

For me, it was fan fiction that got me started in writing. My obsession with a certain boy wizard (well, not him personally, he's a bit young for me) led me to HPANA, a community-based website catering to all of your Harry Potter needs. Of the many sub-forums, the fan fiction section drew me in and introduced me to the (mostly) joyful world of writing.

The thing with fan fiction is that not only do you get to read the further (or past) adventures of your favorite characters, it actually teaches you to recognise good and bad writing. And sometimes you even discover a gem so shiny you wonder how the author hasn't managed to get published yet. Reading a few of these gems got me inspired to write something myself. So maybe my first few efforts were more rocks than gems, but still, I was writing, and that felt pretty wonderful.

So fan fiction is what I am recommending you to read if you ever get a spare moment. You may have to dig a little before you find something great, but even the poorer stuff is entertaining, on a So Bad It's Good kind of scale. And it definitely teaches you about what works and what doesn't.

And lastly - something you may or may not know - fan fiction is the common bond of every single Burrower. *nods* Yup, it's true. Every single Burrower has written a little (or a lot, in some cases) of fan fiction over the years, and it was these forays into the established Harry Potter world that drew us all together. By reading the various offerings, we were all able to get a little insight into the authors themselves, which is a difficult thing to do normally when you interact with folks on the internet. You can generally get a good feel for someone's personality by reading what their imagination comes up with.

Tami's works were easily the most planned out, but they always had a streak of fun running through them, just waiting to jump out and surprise you every once in a while. Rayna's efforts usually warmed the heart, and offered a little moral teaching in them more often than not. Jason's stories were always a toss-up between being the most clever or the most funny, while Mari's often quirky nature shone through in every chapter that she shared.

Anyway, what I'm trying to point out is that through the power of reading, I managed to find the best friends you could ask for, plus be entertained at the same time. You don't get any better than that as far as I'm concerned. *nods*

So fan fiction - whether you hate the idea of it or not - is definitely worth recommending. You never know what you are going to discover, and that is surely one of the best reasons to read after all.

Image courtesy of publicdomainimagesdotnet

26 September 2010

Sunday Catch Up

Those of you who regularly tune in on a Sunday will maybe be expecting an announcement of the latest Drabble Dare, but we Burrowers like to keep you on your toes, so today's post is going to be a little different.

First of all, you may have noticed that we extended the deadline for submissions for the latest Drabble Dare. People are busy, time is short, inspiration can sometimes be lacking, so we made an executive decision and decided to give folks extra time to get their writing juices flowing.

Of course, it did mean that our regular Sunday post subject was redundant, and typically this week's Sunday post was due to be written by Yours Truly - the Burrow's resident procrastinator.

No problem. No problem at all.

So what I thought I'd do is remind everyone of the latest Drabble Dare (picture to inspire multiple drabbles is located on the right hand side of the page), and to reiterate that the deadline for submissions is September 30th. So if you haven't shivered your timbers yet, or mangled your litany, buck up and get moving or it'll be a pirate's life for you! Entries to be sent to theburrow360atgmaildotcom with 'Drabble Dare # 10' in your subject line. Go forth and drabblefy!

So I've reminded you about the Drabble Dare (if I say Drabble Dare often enough, the message should become subliminal, therefore bending you to my will), and before I shoot off and try to create a superliffic post for tomorrow (that could prove difficult), I wanted to give a shout out to y'all about talking a peek at our Mother Website, interestingly called The Burrow, by some strange twist of fate. *coughs*.

We Burrowers are currently busy with finalising the details on our up and coming October feature (super secret, not giving anything away on that as of yet), but in the meantime our homepage is still displaying our recent Pay It Forward feature. Drabbles about passing an act of kindness on to a stranger, with contributions from Burrowers and friends, this feature I humbly believe was one of our best, and we all had great fun taking part. Before it disappears into the Burrow archives (which technically isn't actually 'disappearing', but I always like to add a hint of urgency to these things), go take a peek and discover how one tiny act of generosity can act like a ripple in a pond, and soon spread further than anyone could have imagined.

So there we have it, a quick Sunday catch up. See you all tomorrow! And don't forget... Drabble Dare... Drabble Dare... Drabble Dare...

24 September 2010

Why do you Write?

"I don't think I want to be a pilot", my nearly seven-year old asked me. "Pilots don't have much fun. Can I be a scientist instead?"
"You can be whatever you like, as long as you are having fun", I told my son. "Enjoying what you are doing is the most important thing. It doesn't make sense doing something unless you have fun doing it."

Pat came the answer. "In that case, I don't want to study. Studying is not much fun."
I don't think I need go into the long discussion we then had about how it was important to do certain things now, so you could have fun later - any parent or teacher would be more than familiar with that particular discussion - but it did set me thinking.

I am one of those lucky people who has always had the privilege of being able to allow her career choices to be dictated by whether she was having fun or not. Sure there have been periods where I have marked time doing what I did not particularly like in anticipation of getting the experience to do something more fun in future. But for the most part, I have been able to afford doing what gives me most pleasure. The things I do outside work are also things I enjoy doing - running, reading, writing, photography. There are also the necessary evils - dusting, cooking, cleaning, commuting - but those are things that need to be done in order to survive, we don't have much choice in the matter.

Which then brings me to the question of motivation, and more particularly finding the motivation to write. All of us are either writers or have aspirations of being writers (and if you don't fall in either category, please crawl back under the stone you came from). Quick question for you - Why do you Write? Or, more accurately, why did you start writing?

There would be as many unique answers as there are people reading the question, but all of them will boil down to some variation of, "I started writing because I love writing."

The next question may need you to be more introspective - Why have you continued Writing? Answers can range from 'because I want to see my name in print', to 'because I want people to read my stories'. From, 'because I have stories to tell', to 'because my characters do not let me be till I write down their stories.' The answer may even be 'because I want to make money from my skill'.

If it is the last, you should not be seeking motivation - you have defined writing as your job, and you better put your head down and do your job or else...

But, if the answer is any of the others, put a 'why' before your answer - 'why do you want to see your name in print' - and keep doing it till you get an answer that boils down to 'because I LOVE writing'.

And the next time you find yourself running short on motivation, repeat that mantra to yourself, "I write because I LOVE writing." Once you realise that the reason you continue writing is the same reason that got you writing in the first place - the fact that writing is fun - the motivation to keep pegging away will come.

And if it doesn't? Maybe then you need to take a break from writing till the motivation comes back.

Happy Writing!
Photographs- Author's Own.
Models - Would you like to borrow them for a couple of days, I promise I wouldn't ask for ransom to take them back?

23 September 2010

Nursery Rhymes

Hickory Dickory Dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.

Okay, seriously, what's so cool about the clock that a mouse (granted, a species not generally fêted for their brainpower, but whatever) had to run all the way up it? Did somebody put cheese up there? Maybe it wanted to play king of the world (or at least of the drawing room).

The clock struck one, the mouse ran down.

So he's easily scared, fine, that is normal mouse behaviour. But -

Hickory Dickory Dock.

All right, I'll just say it straight out - when's the last time you heard the word "dickory" in any other context? You didn't, of course. Honestly, making up words is all well and good *cough*Burrowictionary*cough* but when there's only one in there, it rather looks like desperation for the rhyme, ne?

Let's look at another one, shall we?

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet.

Tuffet, huh? It's rather hard to find a good one these days; they're too hard, or too soft, or too grassy, or too dirty - honestly, you start to feel like Goldilocks, who is a fairy tale, not a nursery rhyme, so we'll leave her to her porridge and check out some more nasty food, to whit:

Eating her curds and whey.

Curds aren't bad, really - Heluva Good makes some pretty yummy cheese curds, I like those, in fact they were a staple snack for me my first year of grad school - but whey? Yuck! Do you know what whey really is? It's the icky watery stuff left after you separate the curds out. Blargh...

Along came a spider and sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away!

Now this I am in total sympathy with. I never used to have a problem with spiders and in fact thought people who got wigged out by them to be total wimps - until I saw Arachnophobia. *shudder* I was about 8 years old, and holy arachnids they scare the crap out of me now. No thanks. Ugh.

Moving on.

Wee Willie Winkie...

Nope, can't do that one, laughing too hard at just the first three words. Next!

One, two, buckle my shoe

Why should I? Are you too fat to reach your own feet or something? 'Cause if so, you should really stick to slip-ons.

Three, four, shut the door

Is there a draft? I mean, it's really quite nice out today, sunny and bright and more June than September.

Five, six, pick up sticks

Look, who are you to be giving all these orders? And unless you're a Manhattanite dealing with that freak tornado, I don't think you generally need to be picking up too many sticks - like I said, it's a nice day, you couldn't possibly need them for a fire or anything.

Seven, eight, lay them straight

Then what did you want them picked up for?

Nine, ten, a big fat hen.

You know what, I was sort of humouring you before, but this is the last straw, that makes no sense AT ALL.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

What is it with the climbing-to-the-tops-of-high-objects thing? The mouse, HD here, and let's not get into the bloody cow who thought she'd take the biggest leap ever known.

Humpty Dumpty had a gr
eat fall

And this is exactly why you shouldn't go climbing the thing to begin with. Especially if you're an egg. I mean, duh.

All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

So, all right, no offense to the horses or anything, but they don't even have paws, let alone opposable thumbs. What help are they going to be? And while we're at it, which king?

I give up. It's just not working out. For further reading, may I direct you to Hickory Dickory Dock and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie, and The Big Over-Easy and The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde. You may not get answers to what the rhymes mean, but they're damn good reads.

Images: Public domain

22 September 2010

Random Wednesday- Questions and Thoughts

Things That Make You Go . . . Hmmmm:

  1. Why does Hawaii have interstate highways?
  2. How do "Do Not Walk On Grass" signs get there?
  3. What happens to an 18-hour bra after 18 hours?
  4. When arresting a mime, do the police tell him/her "You have the right to remain silent?"
  5. Before inventing the drawing board, what did people go back to? Stone tablets?
  6. What do chickens think we taste like?
  7. What hair color do they put on the driver's license of a bald man?
  8. How do you know when you have run out of invisible ink?
  9. Why are there flotation devices in airplanes, but no parachutes?
  10. If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy all of her friends?
Random Thoughts of the Day:

  • We had a tornado in Staten Island (borough of NYC). Scared the crap out of me. I was like Dorothy with no Toto (Wizard of Oz).
  • The image above contains randoms. This is what happens when you enter a general term into Wikimedia Commons thinking you will get a specific image. It is a random coincidence event for positron emission tomography (The Journal of Nuclear Medicine, Yamamoto, Amano, Miura, et al.). Not really sure what this means and that is why it is random.
  • Why did the movie "9" contain the song "Welcome Home," by Coheed and Cambria, in its commercial but not in its movie? That was just wrong.
  • I really wish we could find better, cleaner energy sources than fossil fuels and nuclear energy for factories and cars. I don't want us to end up like the post apocalyptic world of "Mad Max."
  • I love National Geographic. It has wonderful video clips, assessments and picture galleries. Great resource for your own educational learning or for use by teachers in the classroom.
  • Lots of movie references above. Must unplug now.

21 September 2010

The In Between

Since Tuesday is our writing blog, you may wonder what the heck I'm talking about, but I suppose if you knew right off the bat, there would be no point typing up a blog post on the matter, eh? I mean what I mean in two contexts, and they take a slightly different shapes. Let me e'splain...

In Between the Idea and the Writing

I call this stewing. I probably should call it fermenting, but frankly I hope I am simmering OFF the giddy drunkenness and bringing my 'out there' idea into a transmittable story... erm... it's not usually a plot... usually it is more of a set-up... that comes first. The best of my ideas need to stew about six months to really be ready to play with, and the VERY best stew six months only to meet up with a couple freshly inebriated ideas so that it has both structure AND whimsy.

Here are some examples of that early SET-UP:

Book 1 (CONFLUENCE): what if I lived in one of these houses that backs up to the woods, and there was a homeless guy living in them... what if he made friends with my DAUGHTER? (then age 5)

Book 2 (which turned out to be book 3, but never mind... part of a trilogy): What if I moved into a house and there were CHILDREN hiding in the attic because somehow their parents had disappeared?

Book 5 (DENIABILITY): What if there were an organization charged with making sure the secret service was paranoid?

Now those ideas are a little intriguing... you might SEE how they caught me. But what the heck do you DO with them? I've tried to force stories, and they end up canned. The characters are two-dimensional and I don't do them service. If, however, I let the idea work its way around my brain for a while, pretty soon the characters take shape... then I can write a scene and get a feel for their personality... then another of those odd ideas will come to me and FINALLY I am ready to write.

I am a solid believer that books don't get written because we are INSPIRED, but because we PERSIST. However, I ALSO believe you shouldn't write it until it is ready to be written--until you can get the bones of the plot down and a list of primary characters. When I started writing seriously, I wrote fan fiction in the in-between--I was writing... just not what I eventually WANTED to write. NOW, I have enough books written but not polished, that I EDIT in the in between {I will NEVER be caught up with editing... the idea always gets ready BEFORE I make a significant dent in my editing pile and HAS since I started that second book I finished (though there is a half-done book between one and two that got abandoned when that other idea finally stopped letting me be}).

So there we have the writing in between... for ME, a necessity.

The Editing In Between

This is about space and distance. If I can set something aside after the first draft is done, I will know I have transcended my human failings. But after first edit, THEN I try to set it aside for a little while. IDEALLY, I do a few critiques for OTHER people, so that I can pull myself far enough out of my story that my eyes don't automatically correct... that my BRAIN doesn't fill in what SHOULD be more explicitly said.

I've managed this, even on deadline, with my Cozy by taking the time to scan for just the main ideas by section, and write them down, and now I am READING it. Yes, I have a pen in my hand (I have not quite managed not editing as I go), but I am TRYING not to edit. I am using post-its to mark pages, and writing in margins things like 'good time to hint at...' and 'were they still fighting?' so I'm reading and note taking, not changing words (erm... if I was doing what I meant to be doing... that's what I'm TRYING to do).

And you know what HAPPENED when I did what I was SUPPOSED TO last week?! A twist on my ending that has repercussions through the story (will get me up to my word goal) and makes the whole thing just a bit more clever occurred to me... because I was ONLY READING, not editing. I needed to be far enough back, and moving through fast enough, to spot the twist that would make it better.

So that is this week's writing advice... allow yourself to take advantage of what happens in between

20 September 2010

Reading Monday: Adventures at Sea

Yesterday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day, as every civilized human on the planet surely knows. To ease the Monday morning holiday letdown, today's blog is devoted to seafaring adventures (with liberal interpretation).

So what, exactly, is the great appeal of these type of stories? Some might argue that ocean-going adventures involve saltwater, and, hey, everyone drinks water, and who doesn't like salt? But personally, I think it's an appeal to two of our strongest instincts: making tools and exploring the world. Exploration vessels are almost invariably the cutting edge of their day's technology, from the primitive rafts used to cross the Red Sea 50,000 years ago to the Apollo landing modules used to explore the moon. And such exploration itself is a necessary part of the equally important drive to colonize new living spaces.

Moby Dick

M. Dick is the Mona Lisa of literature. It's a quality work, but it's mostly famous for being famous, and not necessarily for standing head and shoulders above its peers. And I don't think whales have shoulders anyway. So if you fancy yourself a sophisticated reader, you need to pick up a copy, or at least skim the Cliff Notes so you can fake it.

By his own admission, Melville was writing a hybrid. One aspect of the book deals with Ahab's obsession for revenge, man's relationship to nature, and a host of rich metaphors that provide easy fodder for secondary school literature instructors.

The other aspect is an ocean-going adventure story. The crew of the Pequod don't really do much exploring, but Melville tells a great deal about the technology and techniques involved in whaling. Ever wonder what sort of supplies a whaling boat is stocked with? Or how long it takes to bleed out a harpooned whale? How to get the oil out of its head? What to do about all the sharks that show up to munch on the carcass? It's all there, all fascinating, and (be advised) pretty darned gruesome.

Foundation and Earth

We have an entry from the science fiction genre. These two novels are sequels to Asimov's famous Foundation trilogy, but all characters and events are sufficiently described so they can be read without prior knowledge of the trilogy. Foundation and Earth focuses on the continuation of one of the storylines from Foundation's Edge, namely, the search for Earth. Yep, that's right: a mere 20,000 years in the future, and they've misplaced the original planet.

Although the book is science fiction, and necessarily incorporates some far-fetched technology, Asimov himself was both a scientist and a big fan of science. His devotion comes through marvelously as the crew of the Far Star search for clues around several mysterious stars. The reader gets to learn about the formation of star systems, and the type of information that an astronomer could use to detect the presence of life or technology from a distance. All of this happens whilst a story of exploration and colonization is followed backwards toward its source.

Treasure Island


Okay, I'm sorry to be a negative navigator here, but this book is a basic bundle of overused unoriginality. It's got an adolescent protagonist who's "caught up in the action", a pirate captain named 'Long John Silver' with a freakin' parrot on his shoulder, a bunch of hype over buried treasure and a map where 'X' marks the spot. It's the worst collection of clichés since Le Morte d'Arthur and looks like it was written by--

Hang on. Incoming message from my editor.


Oops! My bad. Apparently, none of this stuff was cliché until other writers picked through Treasure Island and copied the ideas. But still, I think that gives you a pretty good idea of what the book is like.

Which leaves us a bit of time to talk about pirates. One Jane Yolen (in the commentary of my paperback edition) wrote concerning this most famous pirate, "every reader is most taken by the one-legged sea-cook Silver because he is a morally ambiguous man. That is, he is neither all good nor all bad, which was a first for this kind of adventure fiction." Yolen also notes that this was far from acceptable at the time, quoting a contemporary critic of Stevenson who said: "It brings the reader into rough company, among a good many horrors."

I'd like to agree and disagree. At the literary level, Yolen is absolutely correct. Long John Silver is not a melodrama villain; he is not dragged out with his worst side showing for the audience to boo, like a Snidely Whiplash, or the local thugs at the beginning of an A-Team episode. In that sense, he sets an excellent precedent, because his moral status is not dumbed down and spoon-fed to the reader.

At times, L. J. Silver may come across as morally ambiguous to other characters in the story. But is Silver himself morally ambiguous? Does he have some mix of good and bad qualities which, if not perfectly average, at least approaches normal?

Not hardly. And identifying him as such is making the same mistake as the unnamed critic above: namely, that a person's moral character can be equated with his outward behavior. But the worst of villains, thieves, murderers, and legislators often show a charming face; they might genuinely care for the comfort of their guests, as Silver did; often, their feelings for those within a select circle of friends are perfectly normal. The morally bad choices happen by creating distance between oneself and one's victims, making it easier to generate a spurious justification or to focus one's attention on personal gain.

[deep breath]

Okay, enough preaching. You get the idea. Pirates are bad. So are mobsters and highly-organized bands of professional thieves. Just keep that in mind, then, and you have permission to freely enjoy the most lurid pirate stories and mafia films without shivering your timbers.

19 September 2010

Drabble Dare #10 (enter by 09/23)

Shiver me timbers! 'Tis International Talk Like a Pirate Day, an' we be drabblin'! So drop anchor, me hearties, and pen a bit o' ye thoughts to yon beauty:

If ye be yet a landlubber, then I be tellin' yeh: A drabble ain't no fewer than a hundred words. And it ain't no more. Best way to remember, it be six an' two thirds words for each man on a dead man's chest.

When yeh've written yer bit, send it by email to: theburrow360 (at) gmail (dot) com

An' if ye want to send it smartly an' all pirate-like, then get yerself a parrot. Then have the parrot send yer email.

Me savage Burrowers will look at them drabbles as we got by 30 September, then scrap it out amongst ourselves. An' him or her that survives the scrappin' will show the favorite here, on Saturday next.

18 September 2010

Drabble Dare 9- Results!

It is that time of week again! The announcement of the 9th Drabble Dare winner. Oh yeah!

Rayna provided us with a wonderful image of the week.

Our winner of Drabble Dare #9 is . . . *drum roll*


Without further ado, here is her drabble:

I can’t believe that this was still happening to me. It has been three years since he died.

Three years and I still break into tears in public.

I see something he would like and then I remember, and it feels like he only died yesterday.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, I just got a speck of dust in my eyes.”

As soon as she looks away I’ll reach in my purse that I keep stocked for days like this. I’ll pull out my sunglasses, I’ll fake a smile, and try to remember the good I still have in life.

Congratulations, Katy!

I hope to read more of everyone's drabbles in the future. Don't be scared, just write! Tune in tomorrow for the next image for Drabble Dare 10.

17 September 2010

Take A Break

Normally, my best motivational advice would be “Just keep swimming”, but today I thought I’d go for a more counterintuitive tip: “Just give yourself a break, already.”

When working with a manuscript – whether it is the Great American Novel, a children’s book about sea lions or, Digression forbid, a master’s thesis about one of the world’s most depressive and persistent conflicts – it frequently happens that we end up taking ourselves and our work too seriously. We work up nerves and expectations, and all of a sudden, your manuscript is the most important thing in human history. Unless you get every sentence absolutely perfect, there is a chance the world as we know it will come to an end.

Relax. It’s not the end of the world.

In fact, it might not even be a sign that the apocalypse is near.

The ideal writer needs virtually no sleep
 The thing is, we (as in human beings – if there are any giraffes reading this, I strongly suggest you look away for the rest of this sentence, since you only need two hours of sleep each night to stay beautiful) need sleep. We need to eat. We need to smile, to laugh, to exercise, to breathe (shocker), to sing or whistle every now and then, and we need breaks.

Your manuscript won’t go anywhere if you take fifteen minutes off to go for a quick walk.

A weekend off can do more for your productivity than two weeks of diligent work.

One of the best things I ever do for my academic papers (even the ones on a deadline) is to go to bed, and then look at them with rested eyes in the morning. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “paper fairy”, but she sure seems to visit during the night. She doesn’t take a tooth from under my pillow, and she doesn’t leave a coin. She does take away some of my destructive self-criticism, however, and she often leaves a paper that seems much better than it did the previous night.

Did you know that studies show that 413% of writers are cursed by (light to medium) panic attacks over “terrible” manuscripts when in reality they only need a nap? Did you know that 0.000017% of all writers will eventually eat the paper they write on because they keep forgetting dinner? Did you know that 3 out of 17 books are rejected by publishers because they are stained by coffee since the writer forgot to take a real break and instead brought the coffee back to her work where she accidentally spilled the coffee all over the printed manuscript? Did you know that all the above figures (except the giraffe one) were made up by me in an attempt to get your attention, but that they nevertheless serve to illustrate a point?

Take a break. It’ll do wonders for you.

16 September 2010

Delusional Thursday - What Will I Blog About?

Yes, I know - the title is hardly inspiring, but it does exactly what it says on the tin (as we say here in the Kair of Diff). As usual I am having slight (major) palpatations because it is my turn to write for the Burrowers. It doesn't matter what the pre-selected subject is, I still panic when I have to come up with something for this blog. Being a bit of a nutter, Delusional Thursday blog posts should be right up my street, but I always feel a bit of pressure when I write for the Burrowers. I mean, if it was just my own blog, I wouldn't care - take me as you find me anallat (youknowzitmakezense!) - but I at least try to be a little bit sensible when I'm representing my writing group.

Anyway, regarding the subject for today's ramble blog. Yup, it's 'Delusional', which can cover a lot of things, but what exactly do I pluck from the plethora of silly subjects?

First I thought I'd do a bit of Taffing - you know, silly spellings and what-not - but then I realised that I always fall back on Taffing when I can't think of anything to blog about, so I should try something else instead. Which is a right bluddy shame ifyouknowzwharrimean, coz I loves Taffing, I do, I loves it.

Then I searched through the dusty corners of my brain and tried to find something that I haven't blogged about before (on my other blog, that is), but do you know what? I think I've probably covered most of the delusional stuff already (almost every single blog post I have ever written could be classed as delusional for the most part or, failing that, just plain old silly).

I mean seriously, I've covered lamonized limed lemons, wobbly sausages, asteriskisms, made-up words, talking beer bottles.... well, you get the idea. Even typos (which are the bane of my life) have been covered. What's a girl to do?

Of course, this is exactly what I am like with all aspects of writing. Unless I am struck by Inspirational Lightening, I'm usually stumped. When it's fanfic, I tend to read other samples to try and get me back in the fanfic mood, and it usually does the trick. With my original stuff I tend to - when not staring blankly at the screen - listen to mood-inducing music and hope that my fingers will do more than drum to the beat. With blogs, however, I do something different. Or several things different, to be more precise.

My first port of call is Google. Google is fab, it really is. You can find anything on there (which is just as well seeing as it is a search engine). I particularly like Google Images, because there's always that random naughty picture in there somewhere no matter what you type in the search bar, and it always makes me giggle. I'm just odd that way. *shifty*

Of course, when you are searching for a topic to blog about it can be tricky to use Google, seeing as how you need to type something into the toolbar to begin with, and if you can think of something to type, there probably isn't any need to search for a subject. Hmm, perhaps I should blog about overly long sentences. Or pointless Google searches. Anyway....

If Google doesn't help (which is fairly often if I'm really stumped), I start walking around the house looking for something - anything - that could be used to inspire a paragraph or ten. This can really work sometimes. Back last year I was having my usual panic attack one night when I spied my cigarettes and remembered the escapade involving missing cigarettes and possible sightings of Casper the Non-smoking Ghost - hey presto! A blog post! (And yes, I'm a smoker, shoot me now if you like. Though honestly, shooting me would probably kill me, and most people nag at smokers because of the effect on their health, so killing me seems a bit silly. Though if you would like to shoot me because you just can't abide smokers as it is a filthy habit, crack on. I can't stand smokers either, and truly wish I had the will power to give the bloody things up).

Anywho, today Google didn't help me, so I decided to clean (as you do). Going through each room I looked at books, clothes, random objects in the kitchen (the bananas seemed to inspire for a moment or two, then I realised that anything I said about bananas was probably already mentioned in my wobbly sausages post), and just about everything really.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

So there we have it. I still don't have anything to blog about. Maybe next time, eh?

Image courtesy of publicdomainimagesdotnet

15 September 2010

A 1.8 m-i-l-l-i-o-n word epic

What would you do if a sudden fancy to write a 1.8 million word epic strikes you? If you were even remotely sensible, you would first do the maths- at one word every two seconds, if you write 12 hours a day everyday, you would have the first draft ready in just under 14 years. Assuming you edit as fast as you read, and assuming a reading speed of one word a second, you would be ready to query a little over 20 years after you decided to start writing the novel. A couple of years and a sizeable chunk of the Amazon rain forest later, the manuscript would be ready to be delivered to the editor. Editors read fast, so five years to read the manuscript, fifteen more to go through two rounds of edits. Half a lifetime after you started the process, your book is ready for publication.

If you were sensible, you would not even attempt the process. But the Sages of Ancient India were not exactly known for being sensible, were they? When Ved Vyas decided to write the Mahabharat, he was less concerned about the time it would take, as he was about having ink-stains on his fingers. So, he approached a scribe to take down his work. Not any scribe- Ganesha, the Lord of Auspicious Beginnings.
"Why me?", he asked.
"Because nobody else can do it?", reasoned Ved Vyas.
"But why would I want to do it?", asked Ganesha. "What's in it for me?"
"Modaks!", replied Ved Vyas. "Once you finish, I will give you as many modaks as you desire."
"But I already have all the modaks I want."
"My modaks are better than any other modak you have tasted."
Ganesha couldn't resist. "Okay. I'll do it. But let me warn you- you have to dictate constantly. If you let my pen pause, I will not resume, and you have to keep your share of the bargain and give me my modaks."
"Done. But you must only write down what you understand. If there is some part of it that you don't understand, you need to pause till you get it."

Ganesha snapped off one of his tusks, dipped it in ink, and started writing. Ved Vyas dictated continuously, and when he needed to give his voice a rest, he would dictate a particularly complicated passage, so he had a few moments of rest while Ganesha tried to decipher it.

I do not know anyone who has read the Mahabharat in its entirety. It is unlikely I would attempt to read even a translation. But the tradition of oral storytelling is so strong that I doubt if there is even one among the billion citizens of India who would not be able to tell you the entire story.

Random enough? If not, too bad.
Images -
Ganesha, modaks - self
Page from the Mahabharata, courtesy Brooklyn Museum