Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Raw Trip Report


Dear Diary,

Yesterday we got up at 4:30 AM to get to the airport by 7:30 in order to catch a 9:00 flight to Chicago.  After three hours waiting in Chicago, we caught a 4 hour flight to Seattle. I’m glad I paid extra for the slightly more leg room seats.  We needed it.
When we got to our hotel, it wasn’t quite four, and we were already starving. Four in Seattle is Seven at home.  After we got dinner we fell into bed and collapsed.


And woke up this morning at three. Went back to sleep. Got up at five and got dressed, and went downstairs to breakfast at six, but the restaurant didn’t open until six thirty.
We went back and packed up, and then, with still time to spare, walked two blocks to catch the monorail. It took us straight to the Space Needle, so after peeking through the fence into what we could see of the Chihully garden, we went up the Space Needle.  Spent some time looking down on Seattle. Mount Rainer and the Cascades look like watermarks in the sky behind the city.
At noon we caught the shuttle to the boat, and took an hour to get processed and on the ship.  Then we had to wait for the cabin to get ready.  Spent the rest of the day relaxing and eating and watching the boat sail out of port. Watched a police boat chase a Catamaran out of our path.
Watched the sunset, an orange line on the horizon to the west with dark mountains all around.


Dear Diary,
Woke up again at three.  Forced myself to sleep until five-thirty, when I rose and watched the sun rise while eating a smuggled bagel.  (Well, I didn’t know until I walked onto the ship that we weren’t supposed to be bringing food on or taking it off.)
Today was a sailing day.  We sailed in the open sea beyond the coast.  Sometimes we could see the cliffs and peak of the coast line, dark or gray with streaks of white. Mostly we saw fog, as we sailed in and out of fog patches.  We hit the first right at noon, and it was a like a wall of fog.  It was so thick that we could see nothing beyond the rails, and the ship blasted the fog horn.
In the morning we went to a lecture by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the history of his profession. They were originally created to deal with the problems arising from the alcohol trade.  It was called Whiskey, but “Kickapoo Juice” from Fort …” Which had little alcohol, but a lot of other stuff, including tobacco.
The upper deck was very windy and cold, especially after we went into the cloud bank.

In the afternoon, I slept while Steve worked out.
Tonight we gain another hour.  I’m likely to be awake even earlier.
In the late afternoon the sea got rough, could have been worse. That’s the price of going up through the open Northwest Ocean.
Dinner was formal, with photos and the captain’s address afterwards.  There was free champainge for everyone, and at the end, male dancers performed inside the chandeliers in the concourse. A lot like Cirque de Soil.


We arrived at Juneau two hours early. We’ll have to tender in, as the dock space is taken up by the bigger Cruise ships, such as the Radiance of the Seas and the Island Princess. Celebrity’s Milleniun. The weather is foggy and moist, a bit rainy. (It turns out that we had to tender in because the cruise ship extended its stay by a month, but too late to reserve wharf space.
The mountain on either side of the harbor are tall, covered with fir trees, and streaked by fast mountain rivers. Juneau doesn’t seem like a large town, after the Ohio towns I’m used to.
After an early lunch, a bacon salad – the breakfast menu hadn’t quite turned over to lunch, we took the tender into town and walked around for a bit. We saw the state capital, a squat brown building about the size of Dayton City hall. The rest of the government buildings covered a short city block. The town library sits on the top floor of the town parking garage. We tried to visit the Red Dog saloon in Juneau, but it was too crowded to admit us. We looked at other things, fought the crowd to visit a few shops, then caught the bus to the Mendenhall Glacier.  Our tour guide was friendly, telling us all about the town and inviting us to her house for dinner.
The glacier was impressive, even if it was well broken up with deep crevasses. It was indeed a bright blue color, which comes from the crystalline structure of the compressed ice. Some chunks were out in the glacial lake, just sitting. Apparently glacial ice does not float as well as regular ice. Good that we saw it before it was completely gone. We saw no one trying to slide down it on their raincoats.
Driving to our next event, there was a porcupine curled up by the road.
The salmon bake was in an outdoor camp.  Good food, but by that time the rain had turned steady, and the singer – a mellow tenor who looked a lot like a friend I knew in college – sang accompanied by the drum of raindrops.  In the gift shop, a pair of two year old twins were attacking each other with stuffed “killer salmon.” Brought back memories. Afterwards, we went and looked at the river and waterfall.
We went back to the ship and vegged for the rest of the eveing, except for a drink in the high lounge.


Dear Diary,
When we got up at 5:30 this morning, we were already in Skagway, a hour and a half ahead of schedule. And it was still dark.
We grabbed an early breakfast and went out on the dock to catch the bus to the train. That was a wee bit absurd, since the train depot was a block away from the end of the pier – but it let the tour guide introduce us to the driver for the second half of the trip and to put us on the correct car of the train. We rode the train up the White Pass to Frazier, BC, passing through a glacial valley on the way. Then we boarded the bus and went on into the Yukan, and visited a suspension bridge over the river. There was a log cabin on the other side. Then the bus went back down the pass, and we saw the same things from a different perspective.
One unique feature was a suspension bridge, suspended from only the south side. It crosses the intersection of two active fault lines, and thus is only anchored to one side so that the other side can move away from it. I could see where the road had been mended several times, and there was already a one-inch crack at the edge.
The mountains folding up around me made me feel very sheltered, very secure. The tops were snow-streaked, the first snow of the season. The snow was solid in the mountain valleys, scoops along the craggy tops, and in the furrows between the sawtooth mountains. The mountains below were dark and rounded, then below that, covered with the temperate forest.
The glacial valley was windswept, strewn with boulders, craggy. Fireweed (red with pink flowers) and yarrow (white flowers) grew in abundance. Yarrow is good for repelling mosquitoes, some which seemed to be the size of small Cessna aircraft. Fireweed is good for honey.
We also learned that Spruce tips, while edible and vitamin C rich, are bitter – unless made into beer. 
I took a lot of pictures.
After the drive, we went to a place with a buffet lunch that included barbeque ribs and fried salmon, and then had us all pan for gold.  I got about six flakes worth. It was difficult work for six flakes.
Afterwards we shopped, and I bought two pairs of gloves to replace the glove I lost yesterday. I had to use my silk liners as gloves today, and it was cold and my hands are chapping. Then we came back and ate dinner, and as the ship left dock, again, after dark, we watched an aerial artist show. The best were the synchronized bungee-jumping dancers.


Dear Diary,
Today we saw glaciers and I saw a whale.  Finally.
We woke up early as the ship was just turning into Endicott Arm Fjord and rushed to get into Windjammer along with all the other early risers. It was like a land rush when the doors opened, and I staked a claim near the very front of the ship. Since the Windjammer has glass walls, this gave me one of the best views as the ship worked its way up the Fjord.  We were supposed to go up Tracy Arm Fjord, but there was too much glacial ice in the water. Glacial ice is very dense, and while it floats, it doesn’t move very well. Hitting it is like hitting a boulder, so going into that would bang up the ship.
We were allowed to go into Endicott Arm and approach Dawes Glacier. After breakfast, I went back to the cabin and watched the trip from my balcony. We actually got very close, and with the binoculars I could bits and chunks falling off the face.  I could hear the glacier crack with booms like gunshots, or cannon shots.
Glacier ice is very blue and streaked with grit. The grit shows the path of the glacial ice as it curves to the sea.
The captain was excited to get so close, and went out with the rescue boat to capture some of the 10,000 year old ice. Afterwards, he put it on display on the pool level.
It was indeed cold and windy near the glacier. I’m glad my sister recommended that I bring long underwear. The ship was selling hot chocolate spiced with alcohol, but I got a virgin. It tasted like cinnamon or nutmeg had been added, and was delicious.
After turning about to see the glacier, the boat went out
I saw several seals sunning themselves on the ice floes. And flock of birds. Auks? The one I could see through the binoculars was short winged, black on the tips, with a duck like body and a short beak.
After lunch we went out into the inside passage, but the clouds were low and the fog was thick. I ended up napping for a bit during the afternoon, and then running about doing errands.
We dressed up for dinner. “Formal night” is pretty much “Wear a shirt and a nice shirt night.” I don’t mind. Then we went to a talk by the Canadian Mountie on the Mountie training school. On our way to dinner, I paused to look out the window, and saw a curving head, I think there were knobs, then a spout, then a curved back, and then a nice dark whale tail!  Apparently a pod was swimming past, and I caught the one.
After dinner we got pictures taken.


Dear Diary,
Today we visited the largest of the Alaskan cities, Ketchikan. We arrived at sunrise, in the fog, and conditions deteriorated during the day. Rain, not mists, and up to 35 mph gusts meant that all the air and sea tours were cancelled.  That included ours. Instead, we went shopping for souvenirs and collecting harm tokens, which became shopping for jewelry. Then we ate lunch and visited two of the three museums in town.
One was a national parks museum, a Tongess Forest discovery center, and the other was the Ketchikan town museum, which shared a building with the public library. The Ketchikan creek ran behind the museum, and it was raging, too rough to see the salmon.
We missed the Totem Heritage Center, because the rain was really pouring by then, and we were cold and wet.
We left the port at sundown, and now it is pouring again and the boat is shaking.


Day at sea. Packing. Humpback breaching. Orcas or dolphins by the boat. Dudley Do-Right and Due South Mountie talk. 560 feet deep – and two inches.
Ice cream cups on the deck with an Australian named Rodney. He was handicapped, and asked me to get him an ince cream cone, as the ship had finally opened up the machine. It was out of cones, so I put the ice cream in a cup, and then had to walk the entire length of the ship to find spoons. But then I got a cup and we sat and talked, and it was nice.


Dear Diary
It’s going home day. We woke up with the ship pulling into the Vancouver Port. The Radiance was already in port, and the Celebrity ship was just pulling in. I took some picture in the dawn light, and we got breakfast, packed our carry off bags, and went to the “Shall We Dance Lounge” to await our time off the ship. When our time came, we went off – and into mass confusion.  Three cruise ships disembarked at the same time, with all the people struggling to get somewhere. When we finally made it onto the shuttle bus to the airport, the driver said, “Welcome To Mass Confusion.”
We arrived at the airport with three hours to make our flight, and needed almost all of it. First we had to check in at a Kiosk, and then we had to go to the desk to get our luggage tags, but the printer had jammed, so the clerk printed a new set.  We then went to the line at next place, where we put our bags on the security belt. Then off to the next check station, where we were asked how many bags did we have? Apparently the security system takes pictures of all the bags, and there were no pictures for the first four. We explained, and were told, be sure to tell customs. Then we went to another room and stood in another long line. By the time we got through that, we had to walk about a mile to get to our gate, and had only half an hour to get lunch. The lunch selections for the people flying to America are much poorer than those for people flying within Canada.
On the flight over, reality returned. We were shoehorned into seats, each of us with a tv screen on the seat in front of us. We could pay for programming, just swipe the credit card, but since we didn’t, we were treated to non-stop commercials and the same half hour sitcoms repeated over and over. We were allowed a drink, gratis, but had to pay for the snacks. After a week of luxury, to be common cattle once again…
We made it home, finally, just after midnight.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Unique Business Proposal

In my inbox this morning, I received the following letter:  


I would like to discuss a business proposal that has the potential for significant earnings.

I am currently employed with a privately held manufacturing company. My company has demand for a specific material that is vital to its processing operations. We are currently purchasing this material at a price well over the manufacturing cost.

I would like to explore the possibility of having you stand-in as a new supplier, providing this material while retaining the same profit margins. My role would be to introduce you to my company, as the supplier, and to obtain a contract between you and my employer. I have already discussed sourcing possibilities with the existing manufacturer, leaving room for attractive profit margins. What is still required in order to materialize this venture is an individual who is at arm's length to oversee these supply chain transactions. The required capital to purchase our initial order from the manufacturer will be funded strictly from myself and no additional investment will be required from yourself. With that said, we can discuss terms and commission structure in the near future.

I understand that your experience with does not directly relate to my field. However, this venture is more in line with your personal capabilities rather than your professional experience.

Please send a return email to verify your contact number and to schedule the most convenient time to discuss these possibilities in detail. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Kindest Regards,
Barry Crawford

I don't need anyone to tell me that this a scam or phishing. That much is, well, obvious. Even if the errors hadn't cued me in, or the vagueness of the offer, I would still know that it was bogus in that it appeared to be directed at me, yet didn't have my name in the letterhead. However, it is still an intriguing letter.

What is this "specific material?" Unobtainium? Raw blood for vampire chow? Human organs for wealthy donors? Parts from stolen alien spaceships? What do you think? What would be the most far-out item that a mysterious businessman would want "laundered?"


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

De-whiching Work

The process sounds simple. One, cancel the iUniverse contract for Silent Runners to remove it from the catalog. Two, put the manuscript into Word and give it a quick polish. Three, put it up on Amazon Kindle Select. 4) After ninety days, publish it through Lulu and Smashwords for the rest of the world.

I'm stuck on step two. Someday I will learn that a "quick polish" does not exist. I have now removed over 2000 words, and I suspect that another 1000 will leave before I'm finished.

I have found I have found misspelled words. I have found misused words, particularly which for that. It is an old and very frustrating problem of mine, knowing when to use which and when to that. Is which the limiting word, or that? My current rule is: if you can the word that, and there is no comma, do so. After all, a comma looks like a cliff and witches fly off of cliffs, so you need a comma to use which.

The largest bulk of missing words, however, are Tom Swiftys. "I've got to go," she said hurriedly. The adverb restates what is shown in the quotation, and is therefore redundant. Further, one doesn't need the attribute she said as it can be replaced with something I call an action tab -- an action which is linked to the quote. "I've got to go." She balanced the files in her arms.

You can properly use either an attribute or an action tab. However, I found that I was using both.

Nope, not a quick polish. Not at all.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Put Down the Eye-liner.

In the art of fiction, characters become very real to the reader. They love, they hate, they laugh, they cry. Even though they live in a two-dimensional world, that of words on paper or images on a screen, the characters live in three dimensions in the reader's mind. They love, they hate, they laugh, they cry. How can the author let the reader know how the character feel?

Stealthily, says Ben Marcus, writing for Wordcraft in the January 21, 2012 Wall Street Journal. You don't show the character having an emotional reaction, and you don't state that the character is feeling an emotion. If you do, you risk letting the reader feel manipulated, and nothing kills the relationship between the reader and the character faster than the feeling of manipulation. You show emotion by not showing it. Just describe the sadness of the situation and let the reader infer the emotions.

I don't quite agree with what Mr. Marcus states, but I do agree with what he is trying to say. New writers do put too much emotion in their stories. Too much emo, as the teenagers like to say. Too much drama. Why? It's not because new writers are trying to hit the reader over the head with emotions, or to manipulate the reader's feelings. For the most part, the new writer is merely trying to describe the depth of emotion that he himself feels.

Emotion in a story, however, is a lot like Chili powder. To make a dish taste good, you should add some, but for heaven's sake, don't throw in handful after handful. Don't upend the bottle. Don't even think, "one pinch makes the dish good, so a palm full will make it better." A little spice goes a long way.

A little emotion goes a very long way.

Mr. Marcus seems to argue that the writer shouldn't put in any emotion, but that would be like chili without any spice. And there are stories where the characters move through events, seemingly untouched, very wooden. Those stories leave the reader quite detached. Bored.

The trick, no, the art, is to put in just enough emotion, and to blend it into the story so that it doesn't seem to be there. Like spice, it adds to the flavor, but does not stand out on its own. Don't describe how a characters feels--but say how the character thinks about an object. Give the character responsive actions, such as, "He turned the picture facedown and did not look at it again."

Am I an expert at this? I think I'm getting better. I picked up a novel I wrote decades ago and found that the first few chapters dripped emo. The main character might as well have circled his eyes with kohl and auditioned for a role in a Japanese manga. Too much emotion. I've been slashing it out right and left.
Leaving room for something that all that emo was drowning out--tension.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Cake is a Lie

The GPS in my car is names GlaDOS, after an evil computer in the games Portal and Portal 2. GlaDOS uses the promise of a reward, cake, to lure her victim, you, into one dangerous situation after another. Just like GlaDOS, my GPS appears to be helpful, but will kill you if she gets the chance. She often routes me right past intersections with lights and turn arrows, and then demands that I make a left turn at a dangerous intersection with no traffic lights and a stream of oncoming traffic.

In truth, however, my GPS is not evil--she's just programmed that way. She calculates her route based on the shortest possible distance, and simply doesn't have the computing power to weigh the safety of one intersection against another. All roads are the same to her, so she is just as likely to route me down a narrow, two-lane, shoulder-less road as down a four-lane highway. I can't put my brain on hold while using the GPS. She's a tool, but I'm the one who thinks.

Spell-checkers and grammar checkers are the same way. They are programs, but they are tools, and you can't put your brain on hold while using them. Often, a spell-checker will not distinguish between a word and its synonym. I once read a story where the characters were horrified to come across a scull. I tried to point out to the young author that she had misspelled the word, and she assured me that the spellchecker had said it was right. Well, scull is spelled properly--if you are talking about a small boat.

The spell checker might help you find misspelled words, especially if you are slightly dyslexic, like me, but it can't replace your brain.

Grammar checkers are worse, I've found. Grammar checkers don't like stylistic writing. An author may use sentence fragments for emphasis, and when writing dialog, both sentence fragments and bad grammar can be deliberate. When the word processing program calls your attention to everything it considers an error, it becomes easy to turn a blind eye to it. The Little Grammar Checker calls wolf once too often, and then you miss something you should have caught. Grammar checkers do not replace proofreading.

Another problem with grammar checkers is the ability to miss grammar problems. For example, in Word, the error in this sentence is caught: "Although the great Depression was the most severe, there has been others." A wavy blue line appears under has. But in this sentence, "Programs like this in the New Deal led by President Roosevelt helps the U.S. recover from the worst depression in its history in 1933," the error goes right past the spell-checker. Although the program can look for subject-verb agreement, or see that a helper verb is the wrong form, it can't see that a sentence should be past tense. Computers are tools, but you should never put your brain on hold.

The cake is a lie--never trust a computer to think for you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Worst Advice

After my mother read my latest first draft, she said those words, the words no writer should take to heart. The words which are the absolute worst advice that a writer can follow--with one exception. Now, these weren't bad words, or mean words. My mother is a great fan of my work, as mothers should be. And she was quite pleased with the story. She offered me praise, and as praise, they are very nice words. But followed? Never. Well, hardly ever.

The one time that the advice should be followed, the only time that any writing advice should be followed blindly, is when it is accompanied by the words: "I'll get a contract right out to you."

And the advice? "Don't change a thing."

Never, never assume that your writing is so perfect that it cannot be improved upon. Never, never assume that you have written your story the only way that it can be written, or that your words are the best you can do. Writing is an exercise in creativity, and creativity is best found in flexibility. You should shift things around, experiment with more words and less words, and even examine scenes from other points of view. And if you keep backups of your work, you need not fear losing anything.

Spend some time working with the story.

Yes, at some point you will have to declare it finished and stop fiddling with it--if not out of consideration for your readers, then so that you may move onto other projects. Declaring a project finished too soon means that you will not get a chance to grow, explore, develop. Don't waste the opportunity. Tell your readers "Thank you," assure them that will you stay true to the vision in the book, and get back to work.

So if saying "Don't change a thing," is such bad advice, why do readers do it? Because they aren't giving you advice. They are giving you praise. They are telling you that the big picture worked well for them, that they enjoyed it. But they really don't mean, "Don't change a thing." After all, even my mother's statement was followed by, "And I've made up a list of corrections and questions that I have."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Starting a Story

Evey week the Wall Street Journal has an article on writing, titled "Wordcraft." Different authors weigh in on topics which range across the field, but all have to do with writing of some sort.  Sometimes it covers word usage, sometimes it deals with the professional side of things, and sometimes it covers non-fiction writing.  I highly recommend looking for it if you have access to the Wall Street Journal.

Look in the Saturday section with art, book excepts, and stage reviews.

This week's article, by Darin Strauss,  "The Fine Art of Where To Start," dealt with the opening of a story.  One does not, precisely, start at the beginning.  One starts as late as possible, when the action is already moving.  You draw the reader aboard the train which is already pulling out of the station, thrust him into a bar fight, or have him struggling for his life.  Or just as he has turned into a giant insect.

Once the reader is hooked, then you go back and explain how things came to be the way that they are.

This article reminded me of a Writing Panel I attended at a convention, I do forget exactly which one, but the speaker was Barry Longyear, and he was verbally critting a story by one of the participating hopefuls.  He read aloud the first page and a half, which showed a spaceship crew dithering about what to do with a robot which was floating in the ether before them.  Then they fired on it--and their ship was destroyed by the weapons that the robot carried.

Mr. Longyear, who was turning in an entertaining performance, told the author that she should give us more background on the crewmembers, have us get to know them so that we cared when they were killed.  The author objected to this, claiming that they really weren't important.  The story was about the robot, not the people.  He held his position that she should make them important.  She argued.

I turned to the person beside me and muttered, "It should start with, They fired on the robot, and that was their last mistake."

Go right into the action.  If the story focuses on the robot, then by all means, focus on the robot doing something.  Something lethal, preferably.

Lethal is always a good way to start a story.