April 6th, 2008


[links] Link salad, Sunday mostly politics edition

Clockpunk ring — Mmmm. Tasty. (Thanks to princejvstin.)

80,000 jobs lost, well done George — Actually, I'm mostly linking to this for the photo of the president. It's my favorite of him since this one.

Health Database Was Set Up to Ignore ‘Abortion’ — The Bush administration tried to disappear the term "abortion" from a public database at Johns Hopkins. Market forces indeed.

Doonesbury on the myth of GOP fiscal responsibility — I've been asking this question for a long time. The answer, of course, is branding. And Bush 43 has done more to dismantle the Republican brand than any legion of opponents could have done. I don't really think the Republicans care that he has been just aboutt he worst president in history — if they did he wouldn't have been elected in 2004 — but I do imagine they care about the state of their reputation.

[audio] Podcast updated 2008-04-06

There's a new podcast up today. This is a recording of me interviewing Fairwood Press publisher Patrick Swenson (a/k/a tbclone47) about Fairwood Press, his work and his life. The interview was conducted Saturday, February 16th, at Radcon 5.

Direct link is here. RSS feed is here or here, depending on which one your reader likes better. The iTunes feed for my podcast is here. You can also simply search for "Jay Lake" or "Lakeshore" in the iTunes store, under the Podcast category.

This podcast and its contents are © 2008, Joseph E. Lake Jr.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

[process] The elements of style

As I was making my last editing passes (of the recent work effort) through Green, I became very self-conscious about certain story elements repeating themselves from elsewhere in my work.

In part, this is just my subsconscious' way of telling me I'm done working on a piece. (Not necessarily for good, but at least in that stretch of time.) It's somewhat related to the "muddle in the middle" — to misquote matociquala, call it "ennui at the end." That's a normal part of the psychology of writing.

In part, this is me becoming aware of my own style. Every writer has tics and tropes. That's a big component of auctorial voice. Some writers are so distinctive in this that you can tell who they are even without a byline — Hal Duncan, for example. Others go the opposite direction in being downright chameleonic — Robert Reed comes to mind. But the line between consistent style and repetition (let alone self-parody) is vague indeed.

Part of the satisfying reader experience is a comfortable familiarity. A Discworld book reads like a Discworld book, that's what draws us back again and again. But the dial is set differently for different readers, and for different (sub)genres. Perhaps the important aspect is whether the writer thinks they are repeating themself. So long as I like what I'm doing, and don't feel like I'm rewriting myself by parroting my own stylistic elements, I should be fine. I just need to duck the "ennui at the end." And remember to tell the difference.

How do you see the tension between consistency and novelty? Where you set the balance in your own work, or look for it in the work you read?

[process] The unbearable lightless of typing

I'm not sure I ever explained why my MacBook went in for repairs. The lower left corner of the portion of the case where the keyboard sits was splintering. This is apparently because I rest the base of my left hand too hard against the machine while typing. There was a discolored arc there from skin-to-plastic contact, and the boundary where the faceplate meets the edge of machine had broken into long slivers. This actually happened back in January while I was drafting Green, and I'd wrapped that end of the machine in Scotch tape to keep it from pricking at my hand.

lasirenadolce and I were discussing this over dinner tonight. She thought it was pretty funny. I've only had this computer since last summer (the repair was covered under warranty), but I figure I've already typed over 600,000 words on it. The letter on the "E" key was worn off, and the "S" key was almost gone. Apple replaced the keyboard as well, which given its recent orange juice bath at Norwescon was all to the good.

Which lead me to wonder why I have virtually no issues with RSI. I mean, I killed a computer faceplate in about eight months from writing so hard, what am I doing to my wrists and hands?

I've blogged about RSI and carpal-tunnel before, here and here. More to the point, y'all have contributed some excellent comment threads there on the topic. This is near and dear to writers, for very obvious reasons.

Increasingly I have become convinced that the reason I don't have such issues is that with the exception of being on airliners, I never write in a fixed position. Anyone who's ever been around me when I'm writing knows I sprawl, shift, wriggle, fuss, interrupt, get up, move around, in a never-ending kaleidoscope of twitch. I hit all the checkpoint on those self-assessments for adult ADHD, and I'm sure I'd have been a Ritalin kid if they'd been handing that stuff out like candy in the early 1970s, the way they do today.

So many writers have their 'writing place'. It's one of the most common pieces of writing advice, to set up a special place in your house where you can do that. Helps build habits, train your friends and family to leave you alone, et cetera.

But a writing place means a fixed position in front of a statically located keyboard. My writing place is in my head. I very rarely commit fiction sitting up in a chair with my computer on a flat surface.

Certainly I have no data whatsoever to correlate desktop computer use and fixed working position to RSI. My anecdotal experience is that if anyone should get RSI, it's me, and so far I've been blessedly free. Laptop computer and highly randomized working positions, that's me.

I don't get RSI, my computer does.

[personal|religion] Blind to faith

Here's me blogging a lot. Must not be working on a book right now, huh?

I've been thinking about my mental blind spots lately. I displayed one quite prominently recently, in the home schooling post. Another one is how I look at faith. It's very difficult for me to credit that people actually hold a deep, sincere belief in spiritual counterfactuals. To me at some level all preachers are Elmer Gantry. There's this voice in my head that sees faith as fundamentally an abdication of rationality, and likewise believes my fellow human beings to be rational people.

This is profoundly unfair of me. I am the first to recognize and talk about spiritual truth. (As any decent fiction writer must be.) In everyday life I know plenty of people of faith, both clergy and laity, whose sincere and serious belief I don't question for a moment — daveraines for example, or ellameena.

It's a prejudice, pure and simple. Yes, I am a Low Church atheist, but my quarrels with faith begin outside the temple door. The mysteries within the temple are just that — mysteries of the faith. I have to continually calibrate my thinking to avoid the easy traps my mental blind spot about faith leads me into, such as assuming that anyone who is a Young Earth Creationist is prima facie an idiot.

If I don't believe that the beliefs of a person of faith are sincere, how can I take them and their faith seriously? My belief in civility and human dignity requires that I do so. Even if my purpose is to argue against them (such as over school curriculum), I cannot argue successfully against someone I do not understand.

As with most such prejudices, this says far more about me than it does about anyone else. What I do about that prejudice says even more about me.