Sunday, June 29, 2008

Americans: we're not as wasteful as we seem!

Yeah, I totally stole this from another journalist. It's what we do.

LA Times Pressman Edward Padgett shares this gem: “A recent study conducted by Harvard University found that the average American walks about 900 miles a year. Another study by the American Medical Association found that Americans drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol per year. This means, on average, Americans get about 41 miles to the gallon!”

Rocket fuel!

I suspect I am a little inefficient. If only I could convert me to run on electricity....

Friday, June 27, 2008

More dreams of space

So this week I've been watching bits and pieces of the Discovery Channel's stellar miniseries "When We Left Earth." It documents the U.S. space program from Mercury to the Space Shuttle, and what can I say, as a lover of rocket porn, it really got my blood flowing.

Step 1: Strap man on top of ICBM. Step 2: Pull trigger.

It's amazing to think that barely a half-century ago, we basically willed ourselves into orbit. Set a goal and made it happen. Now spaceflight is so commonplace that hardly anyone seems to notice when we launch a Space Shuttle. And it won't be long before the shuttles aren't launching at all.

So what's next? I don't think we can afford to turn our backs on our exploratory nature. And the collateral benefits of space exploration are too numerous to mention. I'd love to see astronauts land on Mars in my lifetime.

But of course I think the first new NASA program should be Journalists in Space.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The lighter side of world history

It's been a rough week. But because man can't survive on merely grammar, news and self-promotion alone, I give you: Pope Comix. In which J.P. teaches us what being a badass is all about.

No, I didn't draw that. I can barely draw a square without having to erase a few lines. The brilliance posted above can be found here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The importance of being edited

I've mentioned before that feedback and revision are key elements of any writing project. Having a great editor is also a necessity--not a luxury. They don't just possess another set of eyes, but a mastery of the language that will make sure that you say precisely what you want to say (and probably in fewer words). Many of them are geniuses and strikingly handsome.

Full disclosure: I am an editor.

Here's an example of what can happen if you don't pay attention to stuff like grammar and punctuation (cribbed enthusiastically from Marda Dunsky's "Watch Your Words"):

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy--will you let me be yours?


Nice, huh? On the other hand, what if Gloria moved around her punctuation a little bit?

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?


So, to conclude: In option one, Gloria is going ring-shopping. In option two, she's looking for a restraining order. Love thy editor, lest your book about small-business men turn into a story of a diminutive capitalist.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Don't stop believing, even if you're the lead singer for a Filipino cover band

Journey. A band of psychedelic album covers, overly dramatic lyrics and vocals that would wreck the throats of most adult men.

Steve Perry's sound would be hard to replicate, you would think. And you would be right. In fact, it took the band more than a decade to track down someone who could hit those mullet-curling high notes with enough panache. The search was vital, too, because the appearance of "Don't Stop Believing" in "The Sopranos" put the ballad about small town girls and lonely worlds--and thus the band--back on the map.

So where did they track down their new singer?

The Philippines. Via YouTube, of course.

Chile witnesses the power of the fully operational rock band Journey.

And because I couldn't possibly tell the story of how they tracked down Arnel Pineda as well as some random TV show, watch this:

He does a pretty good Sting, too.

The lesson: Sometimes, the wheel in the sky turns in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What space needs is more explosions

Riding the CTA--and an iced redeye from my local coffee shop--it occurred to me that I would enjoy watching giant battles in space. You know, like the kind grandpa used to have back in the 18th Century, with square-rigged galleons circling each other, trying to line up a broadside and prevent the other guy from catching a favorable breeze.

What's not to love about that?

It's even more fun if you keep the laws of physics intact. Nothing can move faster than light. There's no artificial gravity. So you have giant ships of the line shooting giant cannons at each other--or maybe even high-powered lasers, if you're into that kind of thing. It would require massive computational power and a grasp of all three dimensions. More important, there's a lot of potential for big explosions.

A good start.

There was this board game I remember from adolesence, Renegade Legion, that set up these kinds of engagements. It was cool, but not as satisfying as seeing a million-ton battleship cleaved in two by a relatvisitic projectile.

Sounds fun, right? So who's with me? Anyone know any writers who could make this happen?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Epic Fail's good twin, Great Success

Good friend and detail-oriented Photographer of the Blog Christine sent along an interesting link.

It seems that "From the Depths," like Charles Lindbergh, has crossed the Atlantic. (and probably on an airplane.) Besides being in the Library of Congress, fighting for America's freedom, my book now resides in the British Library, which is just as cool but with a funny mustache and accent. Witness:

Jolly good!

What country will it surface in next? Maybe I'll cover that in the sequel.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why you suck, and why it won't doom your writing career

And so, dear readers, the time has come for us to discuss an important and inevitable part of writing.

Not death. A close second: rejection.

Every writer has to deal with it. In fact, I have a book around here someplace, probably buried under all my KU championship newspaper clippings, that's nothing but a collection of rejection slips sent to now-famous authors. It's humbling, and also a little gratifying, in a double-barreled Schadenfreude kind of way: Would YOU want to be the editor who rejected John Grisham's first manuscript?

A manuscript returns from the publisher (shipping is cheaper than airmail).

But back to the narrative. No matter how good your writing is, someone is guaranteed to dislike it. That means that if you've sent your book to an agent or editor who happens to be one of those someones, you're in for a soul-crushing response letter.

If you're lucky, they'll tell you what they didn't like. If you're not lucky, you'll get some kind of a form letter. If you're hit-by-a-meteor unlucky, you won't get anything back but your manuscript.

I've never gotten a hostile rejection slip. Once I got a form letter that was literally a slip of paper: One sentence typed on a strip about the depth of a fortune cookie message. It didn't even tell me what my lucky numbers would be.

So what is one to do about all this? Well, if one is a writer, one keeps writing. As I said before, rejection is guaranteed. But failure is only guaranteed if you listen to the voices (even the ones in your head) that tell you you're a hack. Perserverence will bring success.

And your lucky numbers are 8-16-12-9-2.