Category Archives: News

Interpretation is Key

Something struck me today. No, not on the head. That’s happened enough. But I recently reread a Mental Floss article about whether or not famous literary authors intentionally put symbolism in their work, and that led me to the idea that a reader’s interpretation (within reason, of course) is at least as important as the author’s, and indeed, can sometimes be more important to the reader than any official meaning.

Case in point:  I’m going to dig into the archive of noted poet William Martin Joel. In his song “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” a song I grew up listening to (had no choice but to grow up listening to it, really… thanks, Mom…) he sings, in the first bridge

There’s a new band in town
But you can’t get the sound
From a story in a magazine
Aimed at your average teen

Gently cynical words, of course, and it adds a little depth to what is otherwise just an example of an adult contemporary pianist wanting to rock out for at least one album. (Later, he apparently dropped acid and angry pills and filmed the video for “Pressure,” which left a much different impression on me, but those stories will lead us back into why I like dark psychedelic fiction.) However, I didn’t have the liner notes when my Mom would play that song; I just had to pick out the words myself. And what I heard was:

There’s a new band in town
But you can’t get the sound
‘Cause it’s only in a magazine
Aimed at your average teen

Much more bitter, I think. And for years, that’s what I thought he sang. When I finally learned what the real lyrics were, I was disappointed. My version was what I held on while growing up, as something of an average teen, and reading about the important new changes in music that were revolutionizing the industry, and how important new bands (picked by the editors, and usually, conveniently, with a new major label album on the shelves) were going to enter my ears and change everything about how I hear and feel and even taste music. Somewhere in the back of my mind was that four-line phrase, what I thought I heard from a Billy Joel song, and I think that kept me from jumping all-in and marching right along with everyone else, rebelling in exactly the way we were all approved to rebel. Or at least it kept me from doing it too often and marching for too long.

Anyway, when someone tells you that your interpretation of a book is way off base, you can throw my Billy Joel story at them, or at least you can tell yourself that if it means something to you, everything is copacetic.

Oh, and today’s Billy Joel’s birthday. I’m not the biggest fan (and the whole time I drove through Pennsylvania, recently, I had that damn “Allentown” song in my head, playing on repeat for a good two hundred miles’ worth of I81) but he was still an influence.

Enjoy your day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Apologize for the Interruption

I’ve actually been a little sicker than I’ve let on, but I’m back and blogging today. Let’s see what I can pull out for inspiration.

Well, this is not inspiration so much as it is news and a hint of controversy. Here are the Hugo Awards Nominees for 2014, as republished on John Scalzi’s blog. There is also a little bit of controversy surrounding the shortlist, namely the fact that Vox Day has a novella in the running. I’d wager most of the people arguing against his inclusion haven’t actually read the novella in question. (I have, and one other one of his as well… they’re not bad, but they’re not on my Requested Reading List that I hand out to people.) After the flame wars and the debacle last year over certain actions in the SFWA, I think just one controversial nomination is not too terribly bad. Personally, I don’t like a lot of the guy’s opinion (‘don’t like’ is an understatement) but his stories are decent; in my mind, that’s what the Hugo Awards should be about and not about whether he or she voted for the wrong person or said something insensitive. So that is, I think, the biggest controversy with the awards this year.

Well… actually, there is also the matter of the entire Wheel of Time (all 15 books, counting the prequel) being on there. Not only do I think that nominating a series that took 23 years to be published is the most blatant exploitation of a loophole, it’s… well, listen, I’ve read some of those books three times, and I can’t say I don’t like them. But they’re bubblegum fantasy. Fun bubblegum fantasy, but not what I grew up reading in various Hugo-award collections. I really think there were better novels that they could have put up for this year.

More inspiration and perspiration later.


Edgar Allan Poe Bronze Coming to Boston

Just a random bit I picked up on bOING bOING whilst researching ways for people to die of third degree burns in the wilderness. (Yes, Kind Watchlist Monitor, I need that for a story. By the way, when you get off your shift, would you like to go hiking?) Not only is the statue awesome, someone needs to buy me this CD of spoken word performances of some of Poe’s best work. Christopher Walken reading “The Raven?” Iggy Pop reading “The Tell-Tale Heart?” Diamanda Galas reading “The Black Cat???” Sounds amazing.

Yuck, back to editing.

Edgar Allan Poe Bronze Coming to Boston


April Fool’s Spoiler Alert

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the idea of Internet April Fool’s jokes has long since jumped the shark, swam around the shark a few times, and finally made friends with the shark so the two could star in an elaborate song-and-dance number. (“I’m a shark” (“he’s a shark”) “I’m a shark” (“he’s a shark”) Every once in a while there’s a good one, like YouTube’s Viral Videos of 1911, or when a project at Google attained sentience and wrote its own MySpace page. But for the most part, they’re annoying and misleading and frustrating, and not really funny for anyone except for the people who worked on them. So, I’m linking to this Spoiler List from Lifehacker.

Oh, and the Star Wars:  Friendship is Magic? I’m next to positive that’s a joke. I’m also not a bronie. But I will say that the Boba Fett Pony is pretty damn cool.

Your 2014 April Fool’s Day Prank Spoiler

Science is Hard. Talking BS about Science is Regrettably Easy

An interesting article about the often-dangerous intersection of Science and Politics, one of my pet causes/ things to complain about, linked from Sarah Hoyt’s According to Hoyt blog:

Here’s a clue. If it gets called a science and the most important parts don’t have any math? It’s not a science no matter what it calls itself. Ditto if there’s no observation or extrapolation and testing against predictions from observations.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Abuse Science

EDIT:  I’ll be putting up my own version of these arguments, thanks to some commentary by a friend of mine.

Dangerous Minds: The Work of Jack Chick

I don’t have much to add to the write-up in this article except to say that while I never collected Chick Publications’ comic tracts, I did periodically look them up online, for much the same reasons they give in the article. Also, when I ran the Navy Chapel in Newport, RI, I would get rid of them when people left them in the Church. I had no problem with religious tracts (still don’t, even though I don’t partake of that flavour of religion) but I did have a problem with racist and homophobic screeds and the particular virulent stream of anti-Catholicism that ran through a lot of them. Still, they can be fun to read, sometimes. Also, one of my early favourite songs by the criminally underrated punk-ish band Alice Donut was their single “Lisa’s Father,” a bitter, cynical, and darkly hilarious summary of one of the comics. (Possibly NSFW.)

God’s Cartoonist:  The Ongoing Bizarre Cult Following of Jack T. Chick

Don’t Panic…

In the early 80s, several things came together at once:  the computer I was learning BASIC on in Middle School, the computer I learned Extended BASIC and Assembly Language on at home, my love of fantasy fiction, and the concept of text-based adventure games. I struggled for years learning how to make my own, and while they all sucked grueballs, I did learn how to program other things (especially after I plugged into the Internet in the late 80s) and, well, I like to think I learned how to write as well. Still, every time a new RAINBOW magazine came out with a text adventure inside (more often than not some sort of fantasy-based game) I’d put it on my computer, play it, and modify it. I didn’t have a PC, so I was a little behind the curve with commercial software; still, I was able to find a port of Zork, and the TRS-80 game Pyramid 2000 was essentially a stripped-down clone of Adventure. I shied away from graphics games back then, since I thought the graphics were nearly always disappointing (Dungeons of Daggorath is a quite blatant exception), plus they slowed down the game and limited the player interface. Also, then as now, my hand-eye coordination was, shall we say, lacking? Typing was easy. Doing anything as complex as walking and thinking at the same time always caused problems.

Then, in or around January of 1987, after a meeting of a computer club that I went to in Saginaw on the weekends (I was kind of a nerd back then, before I grew into the ultra-suave and sophisticated man of mystery and imagination that I am today), I was able to get my hands on a legend, a game I didn’t even know was available for my humble Color Computer 2. The minute I got home, I called a friend up and we spent the weekend working our way (somewhat) through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We had both read the book but had only heard rumours of the game… things like “it lies to you” and “watch out for the poetry” and “good luck with the babelfish.” If I hadn’t already been hooked on puzzle games, that would have done it.

Of course, I’m still more of a writer than a programmer, and I think anyone who hasn’t read at least the first book of the ‘trilogy’ should take a few hours out of his or her day NOW and read it. But if you’ve never experienced the game, well… courtesy of a link from bOINGbOING, here’s the 30th anniversary port.

Who Likes Short Shorts?

For better or for worse, I’ve decided to start up the 50 Story Project again. If you feel this is a bad idea, blame Charlotte Cuevas… not only did she encourage me to start up again, she is considering doing something similar when she’s finished with her project to write 365 poems in a year. I can’t quite let a fellow writer and friend do two things that I’ve always wanted to do, before I do them, so that became the final push I needed. It also helps that I’m in a awkward spot with my two long form writing projects… a novella series and a new longer novel… and according to WebMD, the best prescription for what they amazingly didn’t diagnose as a tumor is: More writing.

In preparation for this, I’ve been reading a lot of short-short stories. After the novella, I feel this may be my favourite form of fiction. An early, formative book for me was the Scholastic anthology Best Short Shorts, which taught me that even though I loved the complex worlds to be found in Terry Brooks’s and Tolkien’s books, it was entirely possible to create an entire world in a page or three. Add in later experiences with O. Henry and Isaac Asimov, and the well- crafted, near poetic short-short story was something that constantly bubbled up from the drain in the little room that my Muse writes in. 

Over the next few days, until I publish my first of 52 stories for this project, I will link to my favourite short- shorts that I can find online. If you have any favourites, send me a link. 

Up on deck today: the inimitable Donald Barthelme with his story “The School.” I can’t recommend enough his anthology Sixty Stories. He was definitely a master of this difficult yet entertaining form.