Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Joy of Punctuation

If words provide the meaning for writing, punctuation provides the cadence and nuance. Like words, if the meaning is not common, there is no understanding.

In a recent submission, the writer punctuated the entire ten pages using ellipsis ( ... ). She used ellipsis in place of commas, dashes, colons, semicolons, periods, etc. Every time I encountered one of her ellipsis, I was forced to stop reading to try to figure out what she meant by it. It was the equivalent of writing in English and occasionally throwing in a gratuitous word in Sanskrit. It breaks the flow of the story and pulls the reader out of the reality the writer is trying to create.

There is a purpose for standardized punctuation. It isn't just a foible of anal retentive people. Writer's need to learn the basic elements of grammar and punctuation if they want their work to flow. I don't do it correctly every time, but I am trying to learn the rules. In addition to style guides, Lynne Truss's funny and informative book Eats Shoots and Leaves is an excellent source for learning how to properly punctuate.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What is the Redwood Curtain

I live in far northern California. I'm not talking about San Francisco, that's central California, check the maps. Eureka is five and a half hours drive north of SF and still nearly two hours drive from the Oregon border. I5 in CA which runs from the Oregon border to the Mexican border is 797 miles long. CA is huge and, despite the large urban areas, most of it is only lightly inhabited. That includes Humboldt county. The total population of the county is just under 135,000.

The main reason the population is low is the isolation. Coastal Humboldt is a plain stretching out from the coastal mountain range to surround Humboldt Bay. To exit the county, you have to cross the mountains on one of four winding highways all of which narrow to two lanes at one or more points. I'm not talking about four major roads, there are only four roads period. We lost our railroad decades ago. There are scheduled flights, but it costs more to take a flight from Humboldt to SF than from SF to New York.

The area including the surrounding mountains are home to the Coastal Redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. Hence, we live behind the Redwood Curtain.

Luckily, we are a self-reliant lot. This weekend alone, there is a major Reggae festival, a folklife festival, dozens of other musical venues, a dog show, at least two plays, a green living expo, a rodeo, a minor league baseball game, several farmer's markets, numerous nature walks and that just hits the highlights. Even if we do have the highest gasoline prices in the continental U.S. (they barge our gas in from the SF Bay area), it's still a wonderful place to live. Maybe that's why we have more artists per capita than anywhere else.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The presence and absence of rain

To all my friends suffering through a drought in Indiana, I know where your rain is — we've got it, or at least part of it. This time of year it's supposed to be partially overcast with temps in the mid to upper 60s. What we have is heavily overcast with temps in the upper 50s and rain. Perfect March day, only it's mid-July. The rain should have stopped in May.

Summer behind the Redwood Curtain is often foggy. The inland mountains and valleys heat up and draw in the cooler air from the ocean leaving the coast socked in with fog in the early morning and overcast after that. Most days, it clears in the afternoon. It hasn't been clearing this year. The effect is oppressive. I might even say the affect is oppressive. I'm hoping that both the Mid-western drought and the overcast behind the Redwood Curtain lift soon.

Monday, July 16, 2012

7/10/2012 I'm number 3!

After three weeks of anxious waiting, I got the word today that my story is the third place winner in the Writers of the Future contest -- third out of a thousand or more. That's stupendous. I was bouncing off the ceiling when Joy came home. I immediately asked her if she wanted to go out to lunch with a prize winning author. We were both ecstatic. This is, without a doubt, the biggest thing that has happened in my writing career. I'm a paid author with one of my necessary publications toward joining the Science Fiction Writers of America and something for my cover letter that might catch the eye of an editor.

Lunch was great and then it was back home to reality. One of the bee hives needed inspection. It's having queen problems, so we had to do a shake-out to prepare it for requeening. The trash had to be put out, compost dug into the pile, and I had to get ready for one of my three critique groups which meets every Tuesday. I bring chocolate to tonight's group since I have good news. Life goes on.

I'll be polishing up some of my older stories in hopes that my change of status will result in a slightly longer look from editors. Good news is not an end in itself, it's the impetus to move forward.

6/22/2012 Cats

It is the first day of summer and, as seems normal in this neck of the tall woods, it is cold and raining. Technically, the rains should have stopped a month ago and we should be experiencing dry, if often foggy, weather. So I spent a good portion of the day with at home, with the cats. We have three. They are good trainers. That is not to say they are well trained, rather that they have trained us well. Each morning, Ben, our oldest and, at 16 pounds, our chunkiest, sits in my lap, disturbing me as I read the local paper (actually not much of a disturbance considering the woeful state of the Times-subStandard). He has managed to train me to do his grooming. I set aside the paper and take up a flea comb to prepare him for his day. He may deign to stay with me for a time after he has been groomed as a reward for my efforts.

Cats are much smarter than the average public believes. One of our former cats, Claudius (yes, I wanted to spell his name Clawdius, but Joy would not subject a cat to that indignity), learned how to open pocket doors. Since our bathrooms, at that time, had pocket doors, guests were told to lock the door if they did not wish to have visitors.

Ben has gone one step beyond Claudius — he can open regular doors. Our current doors have lever style handles and Ben stands on his back legs stretching his front paws until they surround the lever handle. Then he engages his considerable weight to pull the handle down and pushes the door open. This was a considerable feat, but he has even topped this, he has managed to open doors that must be pulled inward. He now accomplishes the feat regularly so we must keep all the outside doors locked at all times to keep the cats in. So if you think you know the intellectual capabilities of cats, think again.

6/21/2012 A Roller Coaster Week

It's been a week of extremes — a manic depressive kind of week. It started with confirmation that my wife, Joy, has a recurrence of her cancer. This is her fourth cancer. The oncologist used the term chronic disease for the first time. The realization that she had not whipped this disease and most likely never would was a blow to both of us. Over the years since the first occurrence we've always held that hope. And she seemed to be doing so well.

The manic portion of the week was the news that I'm a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest; one of eight people from a field of hundreds if not thousands internationally who submitted their work. The contest is probably the largest for unpublished SF and fantasy writers. The honor is amazing. This is the culmination of nine years of concerted effort since I retired and of writing part time since I was ten; a moment some 50 years in the making. Joy was happy for me and glad for some good news. Then we got back to the business of cancer.

Cancer consumes everything — time, money, energy and ultimately the life of the sufferer. I don't begrudge her any of the time, money or energy. I only wish we could still believe we had the luxury of time. Both victim and family become engulfed in the disease nearly to the exclusion of all else. It's hard to plan your life around treatments, side-effects and changes in the disease itself. Even a brief trip for our anniversary is on hold until we know when the latest round of treatments will take place and what the follow-ups will be. I get away from moment to moment with my writing. Within the worlds I've constructed, I have some control.