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What’s In A Name?

The novel that I’m shopping around right now has gone through a number of titles. GUNPOWDER FANTASY was the original working title, which is clear enough, but was obviously never going to be the final title. SINS OF THE FATHER was the first candidate for a real title, and I was happy enough with it, until I hit on one that should have been obvious: TO LIVE AND DIE IN DIXIE.

The novel is set in an alternate US Civil War, in a timeline where there’s magic. The main character is a northern boy who get dragged to the south by his mother before the war and ends up in the Confederate Army. There are plots within schemes and a high body count and all in all TO LIVE AND DIE IN DIXIE works pretty well. There’s just one problem.

Someone just looking at the title might think it’s one of those books that glorifies the Confederacy, which it most emphatically is not. It’s about loyalty in a complex world, among other things. But I didn’t want to give that impression so I did all the usual brainstorming and came up with IN THE HEART OF HELL. A little Milton reference.

Now I’ve gone back to DIXIE. If anyone gets the wrong idea, well, they’ll learn better if they read it. This week, at least, I’m going with the strongest title. Next week, we’ll see.

La Storia

In Italian, the word storia means both story and history, which I think is interesting. As someone with a background in both studying history and writing stories, I often read something about the past and wonder about the story behind it.

Most recently, I came across this article on and was immediately filled with questions. The article talks about how nine of the fifteen peasant girls became servants, but what of the other six? I assume they went into careers like comb-maker and thread-maker, but did they all? Could one of them have become the arbalester? It seems unlikely, but what of the person who did? Who knew that arbalesters even went through an apprenticeship? What happened to those kids?

The past is such a rich field, with all of human experience to draw on, and it’s hard to look into it and not wonder, “What happened to them? What was it like?”

Down the Road

As I get ready to send The Novel of Many Titles out for another round of querying I figure it’s time to dust this site off a bit.

What will come first? An agent, Baen responding to a submission they’ve been considering for ages, or the heat death of the universe?


A friend recommended the other day that I watch SUCKER PUNCH. I’d mentioned how a certain violent nature in fictional women could make them more attractive (though even the violence in KILL BILL couldn’t do it for Uma Thurman) and he thought I might like it.

I only watched about the first fifteen minutes or so; just enough to see where the movie was going and decide that I didn’t like it. It was enough to make me curious how other people reacted to it, though, so I checked out quite a few reviews. The reactions to SUCKER PUNCH are actually more interesting to me than the movie itself.

My initial take on the movie, with its supposed overlapping layers of fantasy and reality, is that the last ‘real’ thing shown in the movie is when ‘Babydoll’ sits down in the lobotomist’s chair for her transorbital lobotomy. Everything shown after we see the orbitoclast (the pointy thing that looks like an ice pick) approaching her eye socket is her desperate fantasies in the few seconds before her higher brain functions are destroyed. It’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” with CGI and barely-legal barely-dressed girls.

Other interpretations are that the bordello/burlesque hall scenes and fight sequences are just metaphors for the real actions that the girls are taking for their escape. It’s not Babydoll’s story, it’s Sweet Pea’s. Some people even seem to think that the bordello scenes are ‘real’ and that the mental institution is just a front for high-class prostitution.

On reflection, all the various interpretations make an equal amount of sense, which is to say none. Even my own interpretation doesn’t make any sense. I found myself nitpicking the lobotomy scene, (The technique shown is wildly wrong; the orbitoclast was worked carefully between the eyeball and socket then given a gentle tap with a hammer to break through the thin bone at the back of the socket, not held inches from the eye and smacked like a railroad spike.) as well as its rationale, and just about everything else shown in the opening music videos. (There was no need for a massive bribe to get the girl lobotomized; in the 1950’s lobotomies were handed out like aspirin, if the girl is 20 and an adult, how come her stepfather can have her committed? Etc.) The bordello and fight scenes have been criticized as fantasies that few, if any, young women would have, but it’s even worse than that. The fight scenes are ones that no one in the 1950’s would have; they rely too much on 21st century memes.

The movie, in short, doesn’t many any sense at all, on any level. It really, truly, is a more-or-less random sequence of music videos and fight scenes. There’s no there there. It’s a 110 minute Rorschach test, a movie that’s so absolutely shallow, so utterly lacking in meaning, that nearly everyone is unconsciously compelled to create a structure for it, and fill that structure from their own imagination.

The people who don’t try to find any meaning in it, who just enjoy watching an hour and a half of hot girls fighting giant robot samurai and such, have the right idea. Alas, I found the fight scenes too emotionless, heavily processed, and CGI-dependent to even enjoy on that level, but it’s still a fascinating study in how our desire for story is so great that we will create one out of any raw material presented to us, no matter how nonsensical it may be.

Public Uneducation

Teaching to the test.

If, as a teacher, you want your students to do their best, you have to have them practice what is effectively bad writing— no introduction, no conclusion, just hit the points of the rubric and provide the necessary factual support.

Keep Your Eye On The Goal

Some hundreds of years ago, back when I was a lad in the ninteen-hundred and seventies, I was playing a wargame with a friend of mine, as I often did. In this particular game, though, I made a very bad mistake; I beat the crap out of his army, thrashing it all over the map.

Unfortunately, the victory conditions–what you had to do to win–in that particular game didn’t involved beating up the other fellow’s army so much as taking and holding cities. I was having so much fun thrashing his army that I forgot to do this. I won almost all the battles, but lost the war because I didn’t pay enough attention to what ‘winning’ meant.

Keep your eye on your goals. A success that doesn’t move you closer to those goals is not a success; it’s a distraction.

Gift Ideas For The Suicidal

It would seem that, for some mysterious reason (probably starting with “Affiliate links”) Business Insider has published a list of gifts that men can buy for their wives or girlfriends. (Particularly, I suppose, if the lady in question works at Business Insider.)

They polled the ladies around the office for ideas, then expanded on them. (More affiliate links that way.) My wife and I got a good laugh out of them. Some of the ideas are okay, but some, well, let’s just say that if you follow BI’s advice, you may need a good proctologist to dispose of the Christmas tree this year.

  1. “We could go out to eat at a nice restaurant — the memory matters more than something material”

All right; that could work. But this:

A nice dinner is a sweet thought, but you can amp up that evening out by signing up for a cooking lesson or wine tasting class.

Is asking for trouble. Guys, do not, I say again, do NOT buy the woman in your life cooking lessons for Christmas. You might as well say, “You’re not a very good cook, but I expect a lot of good meals out of you, so here’s some lessons.” Buy her an exercise DVD while you’re at it. And a big stick, so she can beat your dumb ass.

  1. An overpriced expresso machine. How romantic. Okay, sure, if she likes expresso.

  2. Cute Shoes.”

Do not do this. You don’t know her shoe size, you don’t really know what style of shoes she likes, (No you don’t. No, don’t argue; women’s shoes are a mystery beyond male comprehension.) or what she needs or wants. This is very hazardous territory, like buying a gadget for a gadget-geek. You’re out of your depth and the recipient either already has it, or doesn’t want it.

  1. Some fun jewelry, but nothing too fancy. Solid suggestion. Go for something classy, not flashy.

  2. I’d love for him to plan a weekend away, since I’d never actually do that myself

My first thought was that this meant for the guy to go away and leave her alone for a weekend. That’s a better idea than the hideous bag they suggest you buy her (affiliate link!) to go with the trip.

  1. A classic Chanel purse that I can use until I’m in my 80s

Like the shoes, this is very hazardous territory. Do NOT use your own judgement in picking out a purse for your lady. Wait for her to subtly hint at which one she would like. (For example, if she shoves a purse in your face and says, “You should buy me this purse for Christmas,” takes a picture of it and emails it to you, you might want to consider adding it to your list.)

  1. Tickets to Broadway

Okay, sure, if you actually live somewhere vaguely near Broadway. If you’re in, say, California, not so much.

  1. A new wallet

Yeah, right. My wife laughed and rolled her eyes at this one. Not only that, but the wallet they suggest is a checkbook wallet. So, yeah, I guess if your wife or girlfriend is an AARP member and still writes checks at the grocery store, knock yourself out.

  1. Cozy Ugg slippers

Hard to go wrong with slippers. Solid, conservative suggestion.

  1. I’d like him to cook a romantic meal

Well, it beats a checkbook holder. If you want to really score points, though, cook the romantic dinner for no good reason at all. Just surprise her with one some night.

  1. Spa treatments

Make sure it’s a classy place and you’re golden.

  1. An iPad

No woman will turn up her nose at a nice, purse-sized, iPad Mini. Best idea yet.

So, out of twelve suggestions, what are we left with? A kitchen appliance, jewelry, slippers, a spa visit, or an iPad. Nothing terribly original, but I can say, speaking from the experience of my many thousands of years of marriage (give or take a few; it’s hard to keep track), that they work.

Just don’t be the guy who got his wife cooking lessons.

Backwards Compatibility

What’s so great about Microsoft?

The Windows team invests a mind-boggling amount of time, hardware, and people into maintaining compatibility. There are bugs in Windows that could have been fixed years ago, but can’t be, because that would break applications that (deliberately or accidentally) depend on those bugs. Bug-for-bug compatibility is a problem, but breaking backward compatibility would be a much bigger problem, so even as the lowest layers of the operating system are revised and rewritten, the layers that applications talk to (the application programming interface, or API) are carefully tested to ensure that no changes are visible to the application.

At Microsoft, bugs aren’t to be stamped out; they’re carefully preserved. It sounds like a joke, but they really see that as a positive feature.