Thursday, December 27, 2012

Some year-end writing statistics (and thoughts)

I began writing short stories in April of 2012. Since that time, I have composed 19 short stories. Ten of those stories are retired--either I've stopped submitting them or I never submitted them at all.  Four need to be revised before I can submit them (in some cases, before I submit them again). Four are ready for submission now, three of which are currently submitted. One story is not suitable for submission because it has already been accepted. 

My first submission came on May 9. Of the 30 submissions I've made for which I've received responses, 29 have been rejections. My 30th and most recent response, received on December 11, was my first acceptance.

I've accomplished a lot as a writer in the last 12 months. Beside the tangible result of an acceptance and impending publication, I've improved in measurable ways from the writer I was a year ago. I mentioned above that I've retired 10 stories. Those stories weren't retired because they accumulated some number of rejections. I retired them because they are written poorly. Honestly, I'm a little embarrassed by those stories. I wouldn't want anyone reading them. My standards have risen.

My ability to see (and judge) my own flaws as a writer is light-years ahead of where it was last year, and I might venture to say that I'm now capable of writing compelling stories in competent, readable sentences. In short, I'm a much better writer than I was last year.

Part of realizing that my writing is measurably better now than it was six months ago is realizing that my writing has a long way to go to compare with the best stuff out there. Though I can write competent sentences, I have trouble writing more-than-competent sentences, the sort that make prose sing. I often have trouble with characterization. My characters can feel flat instead of round and real. And I always have trouble with plot, though it's more a constitutional defect than an issue with writing mechanics. I have trouble converting my ideas into stories with plots and characters. I find myself thinking in terms of settings instead of stories. I'll imagine a place, or a set of rules, without any idea of who is in that place or what that person might do there.

Despite the fact that I have a long way to go, I feel great about my writing prospects for the future. I think I'm on the right track. 2013, here I come!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, and "character"

I'm in San Francisco for Christmas. One of the hot button topics on sports talk radio here is the impending vote to determine whether Barry Bonds (among other suspected or known steroid users) will enter the baseball hall of fame. Most sports talk jockeys around here think he should get in.

From the Baseball Writers Association of America guidelines for electing players to the baseball hall of fame:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
The electors might deny Bonds based on the integrity and character criteria, because he used steroids and was subsequently convicted for obstruction of justice.

The counter argument, which I heard several times in the last few days on KNBR, is that the "character" clause is meaningless. If someone like Ty Cobb, a known racist jerk, is in the hall of fame, how can anyone else be denied on the basis of integrity or character? Many would argue that Barry Bonds accomplished more in his career than Ty Cobb. So, if Ty Cobb is in, in spite of his "character," Barry Bonds can't be denied.

The whole argument strikes me as absurd, and it's a little disorienting to listen to. Ty Cobb was elected to the hall of fame in 1936. That's only 21 years after The Birth of a Nation, 12 years before desegregation in the U.S. Army, 18 years before Brown v. Board, 28 years before the Voting Rights Act, etc, etc. A racist, especially a racist from Georgia, might easily have been viewed as a man of great character or integrity in 1936.

"Character" means something different now than it did in 1936. Judging Barry Bonds by the standards set by Ty Cobb and the hall of fame 75 years ago does not make sense. That Ty Cobb is in the hall of fame does not mean that the hall of fame is racist or that its current electors are racist. It does mean, however, that the electors in 1936 did not find Cobb's racism enough of a mark on his character to bar him from the hall. Perhaps we should hold Barry Bonds to a different standard of character than the one Ty Cobb was held to in 1936.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I sold a short story

It's true!

I've sold a story, "Fidelity," to Daily Science Fiction, a professional market for science fiction and fantasy stories (mostly flash fiction, or short short stories). They publish a lot of great stuff by a lot of great authors, both well-known and unknown. I'm really excited to have a story in DSF, especially since it's my first publication.

I don't know when my story will appear, but I'll keep the blog updated with information as I learn it.

In the mean time: woah! I sold a story! To a good market whose stories I read almost every day!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

History is a battleground

The forever war to command historical memory rages in Salinas, California. 

I'm still in Big Sur. But this morning, on the front page of the Carmel Pine Cone, I read a news item headlined "Salinas elementary school named for murderer," by Kelly Nix. The provocative title caught my eye.

The murderer is Tiburcio Vasquez. I'd never heard of him before, but this is what wikipedia says about him:
Even today, Tiburcio Vásquez remains controversial. He is seen as a hero by some Mexican-Americans for his defiance of what he viewed as unjust laws and discrimination. Others regard him simply as a colorful outlaw. A more balanced view is that he was indeed a robber, but became a folk hero in his own lifetime to Mexicans and Californios, who were oppressed and would grasp at anything to give them hope, even a bandit.
Nix writes that the memory of Vasquez is contested territory. Some (mostly whites) argue that he was a convicted murderer and notorious bandit. Others (mostly hispanics) argue that he was a revolutionary, fighting against the new government of the United States. The position of the paper seems clear, given the headline.

I don't know anything about Tiburcio Vasquez, or the racial politics of Salinas. But this controversy is more evidence that history is a battleground. And once the battle is over (to the extent it can ever really end), won history is a weapon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

More big sur

Big Sur image dump:

 Artichoke Seafood Platter at the Fish House in Monterey. It was delicious.

Point Sur lighthouse on top of this big rock

 Point Sur lighthouse.

 Debris at the beach 

 Emily on top of a mountain

We love nature

It's green out here

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A week in Big Sur

I'm in Big Sur for the week. Today was our first full day here.

We found McWay Falls:

(Note that I didn't take this picture. We arrived too early and the falls were in shadow. My crappy phone camera had no chance.)

Around the corner from this:

It was all quite spectacular.

More pictures to come.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Che Memorial in Havana

My Dad traveled to Cuba recently, where he visited Che's tomb. This is it.

He's buried underground, with 30 other revolutionaries.

I may be way off base here, but it strikes me that Cuba must deploy Che in much the same way America deploys Abraham Lincoln. As a revolutionary martyr unblemished by post-revolutionary politics and difficulties. (I know that Che lived for many years after the Cuban revolution, but he has become the face of Cuban idealism.)

This memorial, with Che elevated on a pedestal, strikes me as a little weird for a communist revolutionary. It seems like the tomb itself, in which Che was buried with 30 other soldiers, is more fitting. But people need icons.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tubin' Tuesday

Part of the fun of browsing youtube is the thrill of discovery. When you find a great video with a low view count, you might be seeing the next big thing. Or, at least, your friends will think you spend way too much time watching videos online.

Anyway, on to a few videos:

Herzog on the obscenity of the jungle:

Dinosaur Jr. - Just Like Heaven

Lincoln Assassination Eyewitness (Feb 9, 1956)

That last video is a bit of a doozy. Note that Lincoln's assassination is not identified as related to the Civil War. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

"The word government means coercion"

In a post last week, I wrote that the immediate cause of the Civil War was a Northern desire to maintain the Union. The following passage helps illuminate the philosophical quagmire that cause poses for people like me trying to judge the rationale for war.

From Lincoln and the Decision for War, by Russell McClintock, on Stephen Douglas:
Douglas...rejected the argument that the use of force was incompatible with free, republican government. "Sir, the word government means coercion....The necessity of government is found to consist in the fact that some men will not do right unless coerced to do so." However, "coercion must always be used in the mode prescribed in the Constitution and laws." Illustrating just how much Northern Democrats had come to appreciate Buchanan's fine distinctions of a month earlier, he avowed that the use of force in order to reduce the de facto government of South Carolina, a government whose legitimacy none of its own citizens questions, would be a perversion of the law, not its enforcement.
Coercion is an important word. Coercion precludes consent. Any consent given under threat of coercion cannot be thought legitimate. So, how do we judge a government's right to do anything? A familiar phrase from the secession crisis, and from states' rights arguments throughout history, is that government exists due to "the consent of the governed." But is consent really possible, or has it simply been coerced?

If "the word government means coercion," does that mean that government has a right to use force as it pleases, so long as it can? Does that mean, so long as the United States wanted to fight, and had a population to fill its armies, it was justified in pursuing civil war to enforce the laws in the seceded states?

I'm not sure there's much morality here. It would be easy to point to the secession declarations of the southern states* to argue that secession was immoral, because it was done to protect slavery in perpetuity. But then one must also point out the Corwin amendment, which Lincoln supported in his first inaugural address. It reads:
No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.
In other words, Lincoln supported an amendment to protect slavery in perpetuity.

How do we judge the beginning of the Civil War? Buchanan and Douglas thought that secession was illegal, but should not be reversed with force. To do so would be to invalidate the very idea of the republic. Buchanan's view changed as the secession crisis wore on, but his administration became an embarrassment because he had not acted quickly enough. Douglas' power in the senate waned, and he died in June 1861. People in the North knew how they felt about the war: they wanted it. I'm not so sure.

*Take Mississippi's, for instance: "a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization"