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Inspirational Reads

My Son the Jedi, Part II

May 31, 2007

In keeping with the Star Wars theme this week, I thought I'd share this story. It probably should be called "My Jedi Children", but I've already got one post about how my son has started his training, so I figured I'd continue it.

We're a family who unabashedly shops at Target. I love the store. I loved the store before it went through it's big make-over. When I was a kid, the store in Huntington, IN, always had the best selection of Transformers and G.I.Joe figures going, additionally their CDs were about a dollar cheaper than anyone else's. Plus, for a while, my girlfriend in high school worked there, and I could go see her under the guise of "shopping for stuff" as my parents didn't really like the notion of me dating, whether it was in general or just her, I'm not sure (they weren't too keen on the girl from Lafayette, either, so I'm thinking it was a general thing). For some reason, they thought a 16-year-old boy would be more interested in hanging with his annoying little brother than with a nubile young woman. Life in small town America can be so quaint from time to time.

I'm sorry. I should change the title of the blog to "A Crown of Digressions".

The other night, I needed one or two things from Target, so I packed the kids in the car and we headed out. I picked up the band-aids that I needed (or sterile, self-adhesive bandages or whatever they must be called in order to avoid copyright infringements) as well as some boys pull-ups. My children then asked if we could go look at toys. From the description above (minus the parts about girlfriends and dating), you can tell that I myself always enjoyed the toy aisles at Target, and so I feel the need to allow my children the same little joys in life.

We rarely buy them toys just for the hell of it. Usually, they get big hauls for birthdays and Christmas, and then the occasional Easter/Valentines small present and maybe something in the fall. They have a lot of toys, but they don't get swamped with them, which is good, because we're already outgrowing the house (there I go, digressing again). So, a trip up and down the toy aisles (and I do mean ALL of the aisles) is a treat for them.

We were traveling down the aisles when we were fast nearing the end. We start with the outdoor toys and work our way forward, skipping the baby toys and heading right for Thomas the Train and Bob the Builder, working through Barbie and Disney Princesses, and finishing up with Matchbox and Action Figures. There's something for everyone in there.

Well, upon the final aisles is the Star Wars merchandise. One thing that they've come up with is a small lightsaber where you can press a button and flick your wrist to "eject" a plastic blade. Oh, how I wish they had had these while I was a young lad and wouldn't be called nerd for owning one. Perhaps it would have helped keep away the Townies in college (man, you're nice to those people once and the next thing you know, you're drunk, in the back of a van, playing truth or dare with them...sheesh), or at least I could have had more fun tormenting Giles/Captain Rummy on tequila nights.

One of these new-fangled lightsabers was out, as in the blade was extended. It was a replica of Mace Windu's, and my kids both marveled at its purpleness. I then grabbed an Obi-Wan model (I assume so, due to the color) and flicked it to extend the blue blade. Again, they thought this was pretty cool. They then both grabbed one and started fighting one another. Nice. After a few seconds, I made them put them back. Now they both want lightsabers for their birthday. My daughter, of course, wants the purple one (I did not check to see if "BAMF" was inscribed on the handle anywhere...and if it isn't, I'm sure as hell doing it myself) and my son wants a red one (which, of course, makes him evil). I'm all for arming them with the elegant weapons of a more civilized age (and not one of those clumsy, random weapons that every hack can use), but I don't know if Mrs. Jedi Master (aka the little woman) is for it. Since their birthdays will be spent with my in-laws, this doubles the desire to arm the children with presents they wouldn't approve of.

Incidentally, one of the things I would have done to make the Star Wars prequels better was to have a wider array of colors of lightsabers. That's just me, though. I appreciate variety. Green, blue and red, while all nice colors, just don't cut it. And, of course, purple. I always thought orange would have been a prime color.

And Then There Were Three

May 29, 2007

Chapters that is. Chapters Twenty Three and Twenty Six are finished now. I meant to finish earlier this week, but I've been delayed by a thousand different things this week it seems. Whether it's life in the lab or dealing with the kids or whatever, it just has seemed like everything has been drawing my attention away from focusing on the writing.

As I'm writing this, it's just flipped past 12:00, so I obviously am not going to finish by the end of May, but there are only three chapters left, and all three of these are the battle scenes at the conclusion of the book. As I've said, I have those hashed out already, and I've pushed forward some of the work on those. I just wanted to really focus on dealing with another one of the story arcs and wrap it up, which I managed to do with these last two chapters.

I wrote earlier this week about the use of poetic language in epics. Well, this isn't an epic, not in my mind, at least. It is a very fine story, and I love it, but it's just not the same as my other works. So, I used a little bit of that poetic language that is supposed to appear in these epics. In the second of the chapters I finished up, I used the "We will have war in the morning" refrain. I worded it slightly differently, but it's the same sentiment, and it works very well with the characters involved.

So, there you go, only three chapters to go. I will finish chapter 30 first and then probably do chapter 28 and then wrap up with Chapter 29. I'm leaving at the end of the month to go to Indiana for a week, where I'll have no computer access, so my goal (and this is a hard goal) is to be finished by then. I'd really like to finish before I go off on a different trip, which I will talk about closer to the time I actually undertake the journey.

The Run Down:

Word Count: 156191
Page Count: 512

America's Epic (???)

If there was one thing I learned while I toiled through the labors of my sophomore year at St. Joe's, it was 'What makes an epic'? In fact, that could have been the subtitle for the classes designated Core III and Core IV. St. Joe has a requirement that you must take a certain set of core classes (cleverly referred to as the 'core system') which helps a student become more rounded and eliminates the need for a science major to take art history to fulfill the degree requirements at the school. Many colleges around the country have adopted a similar style (I think Notre Dame might...but I'm not certain) of requirements for their undergrads, and on the whole, it's a very worthy, very nice class system. Everyone is tossed in together, so you are going through this with your classmates and friends. At the same time, Cores V and VI (the Science Cores) are easy three credit hour As for people like yours truly, who were science majors to begin with and basically phoned in the course.

But, I digress. This is not a discussion of the merits of the Core System as applied by St. Joe's (although, I will take one last chance to wander off topic and mention that the on-campus bar is called Core XI, the core you take AFTER you've taken all the others...very clever, those undergrads). This is a discussion of the epic saga type of story.

One of the things we studied in Core III and IV was how nations and people could identify (and be identified) by their epic stories. The Babylonians had Gilgamesh, the Scandinavians had Beowulf (who introduced it to English when they invaded), the Greeks had both the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Jewish people had the Torah, the Romans had the Aeneid, the French had The Song of Roland, and the British (including both the Angles and Saxons as well as the native Britons, Scots and Picts) had King Arthur. There are others, but you get the point, and I don't need to continue naming them all.

With one exception, and I'll toss that in here: in the early Twentieth Century, an English scholar by the name of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien decided that Beowulf and King Arthur weren't sufficient enough for the English people, and so he undertook the task of writing a modern epic for the Brits. Nearly a hundred years later, it was set to film, grossed millions, pissed off several fans who felt the stories needed to be translated to the screen verbatim, and allowed bumper sticker makers everywhere to relate the works of Tolkien to the current regime in power in America. I, of course, speak of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The notion that we can still, in this modern age, relate to epic stories is very important, especially relating to this post.

There are certain core themes that appear time and time again in epic stories. There's, of course, the brave hero: Odysseus, Aeneas, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Arthur... The hero, most often reluctantly, will undertake a task that seems greater than themselves, often with the aid of a mentor or advisor in the beginning, but later has to go through the trials and tribulations by themselves. The task usually involves the destruction of a great evil, and more often than not involves a long, arduous journey for the hero before he ultimately arrives victorious in the end. And, of course, there's the question of morality. At some point, the hero must make a decision, and it's usually an internal struggle, as to whether they will ultimately do good or take the easier, quicker path and turn to evil. This is often referred to as the "tragic flaw".

There are also a few other things that go into the story: mystical powers, enchanted weaponry, heavy symbolism, and poetic prose/poetic language. These don't necessarily factor into the story, but are ways of devoloping the plot and describing the action and characters in the epic. One should remember that these stories, more often than not, were told around a campfire or sung by a bard for all to hear, and were often recited from memory, thus the need for symbols and poetic language and all.

I've pointed out how several nations and peoples can be identified (and identify with) the epics that are tied to their cultures. However, in America, we do not have an epic saga that we can identify with. Or do we? This is one of the questions that was raised during my sophomore year classes, and the argument was laid forth that the tales of the Old West were as close as we'd ever get to having our own epic story (indeed, the Western is a uniquely American film genre; despite the rise of the Spaghetti Westerns, the action was still set in the American West). Is this true? Is this the only epic story that we'll ever get here in this country?

Let me try something here. I'll write a brief description of the epic of Beowulf: Beowulf took his sword and struck down the evil Grendal, the embodiment of evil, and thus freed the world of his darkness. Good, right? Concise, gets the point across, and pretty much has all the makings of an epic story right there, no?

Let's try substituting some more familiar names and see what happens.

Luke took his lightsaber and struck down Darth Vader, the embodiment of evil, and thus helped bring about the fall of the Galactic Empire and its oppresive reign.

Yep. That works, too, doesn't it?

Now, I've been pretty critical of George Lucas in the past for the vile things he spewed forth onto the screen starting in 1999. I felt that the Star Wars prequels could have been done a lot better (and I still contend that). It was the completion of the epic, however, and so those stories were important. Still, they could have been done a lot better.

Last night, the History Channel ran a program about the things that influenced the making of Star Wars and how it fits into the epic story category. It was, over all, a very fascinating premise and it was very well done. We saw how both Annakin Skywalker and Luke played the roles of the heroes, but where Annakin failed at his internal struggle of good versus evil, Luke succeeds. Ultimately, it is Annakin who destroys the evil in the galaxy, and then opts to die and thus eliminate all of the darkness from the galaxy (as we see it). While Luke is the Epic Hero, Annakin turns out to be the Tragic Hero who spends a long time as the embodiment of evil in the galaxy (the same relationship exists with Frodo and Gollum).

As I watched, it was evident that all of the pieces were there for the epic story: the hero, Luke and Annakin; the great evil, the Empire, Palpatine and Vader; the mystic power, the Force; the mentor, Obi-Wan and Yoda; the enchanted weapon, Luke's lightsaber(s); the symbolism, Vader's mask and outfit, Palpatine's cowl. All that we're missing is the poetic language.

The only reason we don't see the poetic language is that we aren't reading the story, we're watching it. However, I defy anyone to dispute lines such as "Do, or do not, there is no try" or "I am a Jedi, like my father before me" or even "I love you"/"I know" are not poetic in their nature (especially since the last showed up twice in two different points in the story). They may not be written or delivered in iambic pentameter, but that doesn't make them any less poetic.

Overall, the comparison of Star Wars as the modern American epic versus the ancient epics holds up. One important thing that I felt was done very well was that people outside of the Star Wars universe made all the comments on the films and their role as the American epic. George Lucas' image from college was seen once in the show. None of the cast or crew were interviewed, either. Everyone who commented on anything was from outside of the making and the presentation of the story, and this lent an extra bit of credence to the claim that this is America's epic. All of those interviewed found roles for all of the characters in Star Wars as applied to traditional epics. The fact that they could even find a role for Jar Jar really impressed me (and amused me, as he was related to the Parasite often seen in Greek theatre). Kevin Smith was inciteful and funny, and I wish that there would have been more of his interviews, but I won't complain. I will say that Peter Jackson did a good job of not relating any of the symbols, characters and themes found in Star Wars to the Lord of the Rings, although they are clearly there (as there are with all epic stories).

Once the show was finished, I turned the tv off and sat there in my chair for probably a good thirty minutes, reflecting on my own works. I began to immediately start classifying all of my characters into the archetypes listed during the show (I focused more on the Hundred Kings Saga, as this is uniquely my own epic...although my wife might claim that Zumsticks would be my epic). The only thing that I could not find in my story was the comic relief characters, and I began to realize that the inclusion of someone who provides emotional relief could help make the rest of the characters seem more real. That being said, I could pick a couple of characters who might best be the C-3PO/R2-D2 or Merry/Pippen of my story, but even they play ever-increasingly dramatic roles in the story. I still haven't made a decision, but it is something that I will have to think about as I wrap up The Boar War (where Skulk the fox is my comic relief), ship it out for review and pick the Hundred Kings stories back up.

Okay, I'm rambled too much, but I've been quiet on the blogosphere recently. I will post again later tonight to explain more about the silence. And yes, it does involve a video game, but no, that's not the main reason. By the way, if you're a Star Wars fan or just interested in what I've blogged onto the screen here, I highly recommend watching the History Channel program. As I said, it was very well done and rather insightful on many accounts.

The Beauty of Dreams

May 24, 2007

So, yesterday I told you the tale of Tammy Pfaltzgraf and how this related to my elementary school girlfriend, Maria Ramirez.

Well, last night I had a dream about Maria Ramirez. I'm sure this will make my wife jealous, but I found it amusing that she popped up in a dream for the first time in, oh, 20 years or so. I'm easily amused by things such as this.

Anyway, the dream wasn't juicy or saucy or anything. It was basically me if I hadn't met my wife. I was a 31-year-old loser (so far, nothing is a dream) without a wife, kids, family...the works. I think I still lived with my parents (but still worked in North Carolina, because a couple of my friends from The Old North State showed up) and I was desperate for a date. Well, I ended up asking out Maria Ramirez...but she was like this South American princess or something...or that's what I told my parents because...well...they're not the most tolerant people on the face of the planet.

Anyway, I remember going this whole big way to end up at the airport in Indianapolis where I could pick up Ms. Maria and take her home to meet my parents. In the end, we just stopped at a bar halfway between Indy and my parents' home (so, I'm guessing it's somewhere around Muncie...) and going to a bar and me telling her "You know what, screw my parents, they don't deserve to meet you."

That was pretty much the dream. As I said, nothing flashy, nothing saucy, but amusing nonetheless. At least to me.

Hungry? Try a Zumstick!

May 23, 2007

For some time now (well, ever since she started working in the bookselling business, at least), my wife has been trying to convince me to write a story about down-home life in Indiana that I experienced while growing up. Being in tune with the shit books people buy on a daily basis and what their tastes run toward, I trust her in this enough to entertain the idea. It doesn't involve massive battles or new ways to work mammoths and terror birds into my stories, but it does entertain me to think about all the things that currently have shaped my being and how they relate to a little forgotten corner of Huntington/Wells county, Indiana.

Her vision is to call the book "Zumsticks", as that seems to embrace the downhome nature of what it is she's urging me to write. A "zumstick" (it might properly be "ZUMstick") is the creation of some brilliant mind at Zanesville United Methodist church (thus, ZUM). I don't remember all of the ingredients, but it consisted of apple slices, pineapple chunks, maybe some cantelope (or, as we in Indiana called it, "musk melon") and those bigass marshmallows which are perfect for making smores and/or setting on fire and flinging at your friends around ye olde campfire (nothing says downhome like flaming balls of fast-carbonizing sugary goo flying at your eye). These were carefully impaled on a long, wooden skewer, refrigerated, and then dipped in magic shell chocolate sauce. I'm not sure if it actually was Magic Shell, or if it was some other concoction that got hard after drying, but to say the least, biting into a Zumstick was a little bit like taking a sip of a thirty year old novelty drink modeled off the Beatles: it took you to a different realm altogether.

Now, every year in the midwest, which is littered dotted with thousands of towns and burgs that can only be described as "podunk" (not even "one horse' captures the absurdity of naming a wide spot in the road) will celebrate some aspect of their heritage. In my hometown, it was the "Wildcat Festival". In the town where we had our lake cottage, it was the Mermaid Festival. There are blueberry festivals, apple festivals, and even, somewhere in Michigan, a Sausage Festival (no word on what kind of movies they show there...) The good people of Zanesville United Methodist chuch would show up at all of these with their cart full of Zumsticks, ready to sell them to the general populance who wandered through. And, if you've ever seen the general populance at one of these festivals, you'd understand why they'd go right for the Zumsticks. In fact, they might just suck the chocolate off, eat the marshmallows, and use the fruit as bait for the fishing contest.

And there you have it: the derivation of the title of my memoirs.

Not that I've decided to give up working on my current opi (I assume that is the proper plural of opus), mind you. However, sometimes, I'm struck with a touch of inspiration. Most recently, I was touched by the finger of inspiration and jotted down this little story. I'm not sure if it's the sort of shit story that my wife's customers are clamoring for, but it does amuse the hell out of me. Enjoy.

"Back when I was in the first grade, I was still naive enough to think that the whole world needed to like me. For some strange reason, I was a likeable kid. Sure, I got picked on, had my ears flicked, got teased and all the stuff that playground kids go through. As I matured, this whole likeable kid stuff stuck with me. I guess I was, for some strange reason, inoffensive enough that people would look at me and say 'There's a decent fellow...he doesn't stink...he's not necessarily popular...he doesn't piss me off. He's ugly as hell, but he doesn't piss me off.' When I graduated, people applauded me, and it struck me as odd, because only the popular kids got applauded like that.
"So, when I was in the first grade, I thought that I should try and carry this whole thing out to where everyone in the world should like me. This was all well and good, because my friends liked me, my teachers liked me, even people I didn't think of as being great friends liked me. Everyone liked me, except for one notable exception: Tammy Pfaltzgraf.
"I don't know what I did to Tammy Pfaltzgraf, other than the fact that I simply was. She was rude to me, she ignored me when I talked to a group and she was in it. She sneered at me--sneered!!! Now, in the first grade, sneering is the equivalent to insulting your manhood, and so I never quite understood what the deal was. So, I went out of my way to start making Tammy Pfaltzgraf see through the veneer of unlikeableness and to see the true, likeable me. In my grand design for the universe in which every single person liked me, she was the final cog and she would be subjogated.
"With that in mind, I set off on my merry task. I began going out of my way to talk to her. I gave her cuts in line at the drinking fountain. I even sat beside her one day at lunch, which was a big deal because the whole table was full of girls, and frankly, at that age, I was a little intimidated by such a wall of double X chromosomes. It would only be later in life when I would figure out why it was that I was so intimidated. But, I digress
"Again, in my naivite, I did not realize that what I was doing was akin to courtship. I just thought it was what friends did: they were nice to one another. Besides, I was already 'going with' Maria Ramirez (exotic, I know), so I didn't think anything of it. However, Tammy Pfaltzgraf thought something of it. Tammy Pfaltzgraf thought I was crushing on her.
"Now, this would have been all well and good, except for two notable exceptions. One, the aforementioned Maria Ramirez, who was very cute and very nice and very sweet to and on me. Two, Tammy Pfaltzgraf was really none of these. In fact, Tammy Pfaltzgraf kind of looked like a pig. It was unfortunate that the Pfaltzgraf family was comprised of a long line of pig farmers, so sometimes one would question the true nature of Tammy's mother.
"Eventually, it came to be that Angie Musterman passed me a note telling me that Tammy Pfaltzgraf liked me, in true first-grade style: Do you like her? Yes, No, Maybe So (circle one of them). I was aghast. My master plan had finally come to fruition, and yet, it had gone too far. I had to end this immediately, lest I upset the sweet, cute, friendly Maria Ramirez and thus end up womanless.
"I ended up not answering the note and thus began to ignore Tammy Pfaltzgraf. I wasn't outright mean and rude to her, but I no longer went out of my way to speak to her. I said hi to her on the playground only after she said hi. I didn't give her cuts. I didn't sit with her anymore. I didn't share my intimate thoughts on the letter 'c'. In fact, I pretty much went back to living life the way I had, hoping that my plan to get everyone in the world to like me would revert back to everyone in the world except Tammy Pfaltzgraf would like me.
"And so it was. Tammy Pfaltzgraf soon fell out of like with me, and my relationship with Maria Ramirez lasted well into the third grade (when she dumped me, ironically, to go with Tammy's older cousin, Shawn). I went on mostly avoiding and not speaking to Tammy Pfaltzgraf, even to the point where I didn't say hi to her in the hallways. When we got to high school, I lost all contact with Tammy Pfaltzgraf; in fact, I was not certain that she still existed at all. I'm not even sure if she graduated with us. I just know that she was largely a non-entity in my life after the first grade. Tammy Pfaltzgraf could have grown up to be a beautiful supermodel for all I know, and be rich beyond her wildest dreams. I sincerely doubt it, as they don't take on many supermodels who look a little bit like pigs, but there's always that possibility."


And just so you know, the names have been changed (even Maria Ramirez', even though was just as exotic in real life...oh spicy!).

EDIT/UPDATE: I changed a couple of things in the story (like, switching the word "face" to "fact" so that it no longer read "in face, I was not certain...").
I also looked up Tammy Pfaltzgraf (the real name, not her pseudonym) on google. Turns out she's a porn star! Just kidding. She's a lunch lady at an elementary school near my hometown (in fact, the elementary school that my cousins attended). And she pretty much looks exactly the same as she did in the first grade.

"We Will Have War in the Morning"

May 16, 2007


That's the line I just finished writing. It's the last line of dialog one of my characters says at the end of Chapter 27. I added about two pages after that dealing with other characters, but it pretty much captures the same image as those words uttered by the Regent as he tells the other nobles to prepare themselves: "This storm will blow itself out by the sun's first light; we will have war in the morning."

I dunno. It probably could be more powerful and gripping, but we're getting to the end of the book and so something has to take place, right? There can't be any more talk about the ensuing battle; the battle has to be fought at some point. (By the way, if you google "battle" under images, you get a lot of pictures of Transformers from some server at Ohio State...and a lot of scantily-clad ladies hanging out around yellow cars). The battle had better take place, especially since I've already started writing one of the three chapters that this battle is spread over.

I wasn't sure about that in the beginning when I mapped out the book, but it's pretty clear that the battle needs to take place in three stages and, mostly, from three different vantage points (since I have three main story arcs going). See, this will all make my wife very happy, since she feels that three is a perfect number (when we really all know it is 42)--in fact her favorite number is 27 (based on it being 3^3).

Speaking of 27, that's the chapter I just finished. Since I refused to trade off grading final exams in organic for someone else writing it, I felt the need to write it. That leaves only 23 (two pages written), 26 (zero pages written), 28 (zero pages written), 29 (zero pages written) and 30 (seven pages written) to go. What's that down there? Why it is, it's the light at the end of the tunnel.

By the numbers:
Word Count: 148,398
Page Count: 485

I'm not sure what chapter I'll work on next. Logic would say 30, since I have the most done on it, but 23 is a short chapter and it has work done on it, 26 is a short chapter, but has no work done on it, and 28 is a long chapter, has no work done on it, but is the natural continuation of chapter 27, and I have momentum coming out of 27. Maybe this will be another work on three or four chapters simultaneously type deals. Since those have worked out so well in the past. Look for more news at the end of the week. In the meantime, I'll try to make an actual post about something other than the world I've crafted (or one of them).

A Thousand Gross

May 12, 2007

Some of my progress this past week was stalled by the line into my refrigerator that delivers water to the filter and the ice maker. Seems as though the nigh-on-thirty-year-old connection was a touch corroded and needed replaced. Having never done this before in my life, and really not having much of a clue about plumbing other than the word comes from Latin and has the same root for their word for the element lead (plumbum...hence the symbol Pb), I had some issues getting everything sealed up right fine. I thought I had it Wednesday night, but there was still a tiny bit of water leaking out, and (this is one of those things that didn't make sense to me) tightening the connection made it leak more...huh. It got to the point where I had to shut the water off for the whole house (because no one thought to have a shut off just for this connection) on Friday. I came home Friday evening and--gallantly, I might add--fixed the issue. Let's hear it for PTFE tape!

Anyway, last night I sat here, sweating, writing like a mad fiend, working to finish up chapter 22 (you know, which I alluded to doing earlier in the week). The chapter, for various reasons, turned out a touch longer than I intended, but it's for the better. A little character development never hurt anyone, right? No matter the reason, it's the ends that are justified, and the ends are that I am finished with the chapter. I'm still working on 30, however, and I'm also working on chapter 23. 23 is in its infancy because I know how to finish the chapter, but the first part is awfully slow.

With that out of the way, I thought I'd toss some numbers out. I realize that it looks like I set this one up, but it is honestly the word and page counts I had when I finished chapter 22 last night.

Word Count: 144,000
Page Count: 470

It looks like I'll end up around 160,000 words, which still might be a lot, but it's a big book. You might be able to see why I hardly ever try to write short stories.

More updates forthcoming.

X

May 7, 2007

X is a funny letter. Very few words begin with it. It has a half dozen sounds, it seems, from /cks/ to /z/ to its own name. In Latin, ex- means 'out of'. In some modern day pop culture, X means edgy and tough, in others it means a certain gene that codes for superhuman powers. It marks the spot. It's labeled an entire generation. We all have an x-chromosome floating in our nuclei. The letter x makes an appearance all through the biotech industry, especially in the names of companies. String three of them together, and you've got something naughty.

The Romans used X to designate the number ten. That's how we're using it tonight. I won't go into the number ten and the fascination that mankind has with it. It makes sense, though, since we have ten toes and ten fingers. Being a scientist, metric systems make lots of good sense and are easy to calculate in your head.

However, I'm here to say that the oft-referenced chapter ten is done. I can put a big red x over it now (see, x can also be used in puns!) and slide it into the complete pile. It's a very nice thing to not have any orphaned chapters laying twenty behind what I'm currently working on. If it took longer than it should have, I apologize. However, I am currently (or was until about fifteen minutes ago) working on three chapters simultaneously. One of those I should finish in the next couple of days, and I'll be one step closer to sealing off another story arc for another main character. It's all very exciting (no pun intended there...honest...I wouldn't have written out the ex part if I meant it).

So, the only ones left to complete are 22 and 23 (22 already about a third done), 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 (30 about a quarter to a third done). Both of the started chapters should be finished this week. This would make it very attainable for me to knock this thing out by the end of the month (especially with a day off toward the end). Things are still on track in other parts of the book.

The numbers:
Word Count: 139,137
Page Count: 455

I think this week I'll start putting the headers and footers that are required for submission purposes on all the pages. I should probably start boiling down a quick synopsis for the submission letter.

So, that's my update. It's not much, but it is something, and it takes care of one less orphan I had floating around. Hopefully you'll hear more from me tomorrow night.

Happy Free Comic Book Day!!!

May 5, 2007

Today was Free Comic Book Day. I guess in order to help with their lagging sales (and don't forget the negative stigma that everyone who reads comics is an overweight bearded geek with glasses who sits in front of his computer and blogs and has an unhealthy fascination with fantasy worlds and the sciences...oh wait) the comic book companies put together a bunch of free books for mass distribution. Half on a whim, I stopped by the local comic shop to see what they had. I also wanted to try and find Aquaman 50, since a personal writing hero, Tad Williams, is now writing for the book. It's no small task, taking over a book with a guy who talks with fish and who now basically hangs out with Spongebob and making it into a "hot title". If anyone can shuffle off the mantle of pop-culture punching bag that is Aquaman, it's Tad Williams.

I was also searching for another two books by Williams, but I couldn't find them. My quest continues. I should have bought them while I had the chance.

Anyway, I was shocked to see the amount of people trying to get free comic books. I guess the recent successes of movie adaptations for Spider-Man and the X-Men (I've heard not so good things about Fantastic Four, bad things about Daredevil, and really, really, really awful things about Ghost Rider) as well as Super Man Returns, Bat Man Begins and V for Vendetta (supposedly, the guy who made 300 is working on an adaptation of the Watchmen) have helped reawaken interest in comics. I'm not sure what it is, but there were lots of people there. And, surprisingly, there were lots of free titles. Two of the ones I picked up were print prequels to Spider-Man 3 and the Transformers movie due out later this summer (Spidey opened this weekend and dropped some hurt on Pirates of the Carribbean's record for opening day). I have yet to read them, but they both look interesting, at the least.

Now, I mentioned earlier about how my kids haven't seen much in the way of Star Wars, yet. But, they have seen Justice League Unlimited on Cartoon Network (which was pulled before it's time and filled with craptacular kiddie anime) as well as Teen Titans. After tutoring today, I decided to go to the other comic shops as they had this promotion going: if you visit all three area shops, you can get your name put in for a drawing for a $100 shopping spree in the store as well as get a "real" free book from off the shelves. So, after tutoring today, my wife swapped the kids with me and she went to work and went off to geek it up. I hit the other two stores, and the second store said that we could take three free books since there were three of us (me, the girl and the boy). So, I grabbed a futuristic Justice League story and shoved it into my daughter's hands so I wouldn't feel guilty about getting three books for me.

Well, we went out to the car and she sat down in her seat and, as we were driving off to the final store, she read the comic. Like, cover to cover. She's turned into quite the voracious reader recently, but I doubt that anyone (especially my in-laws) would think this a good idea. I didn't ask her if she enjoyed it, but her attention couldn't even be swayed from the book for the fleet of Punch Buggies that we passed on the drive home. I fear I'm creating a monster; she asked me for a gameboy the other day...

Anyway, one of the better books that I did pick up (for free) was something called "How to Draw", a series featuring lessons in drawing comic book style (and I add, not Manga style) produced by the writers and editors of Wizard magazine. Being that I enjoy drawing and I've talked about producing an indy comic to take place after all the events unfold in the Hundred Kings Saga, I thought this would be quite valuable. So, that means I'm one step closer to developing that (it's called 'Chivalry'), but, I promise, I'll finish my other projects first (more on that tomorrow). Plus, the chick on the front reminds me of my wife, if she was rendered into comic book form. And had glasses that weren't twisted and mangled by a certain, unnamed 2-year-old.

So, happy Free Comic Book Day. And Happy Cinco de Mayo. I hope you went out, got a free comic book, and drank a Corona *shudder* while you read it.

Ok...what's a ketone?

I tutor for a little extra money. It's mostly beer and video game money, and it's all tax free since I mostly free-lance (I do also work through an agency, which is shifty as they come...it took me 18 months to convince them that yes, indeed, I do have a master's degree from a university you might have heard of once or twice and I should be getting paid for that level of 'expertise'). A while ago, I started tutoring a friend of my wife's. She's enrolled at NC State and, after going through general chem and analytical chem, we've been doing organic since January. Thusly, my comfort level with the material has gotten much better, understandably.

Well, today we were reviewing for the final on Monday, and (of course) the best way to review for a final in organic is to go over all the reactions. Well, we hit up alkynes and went over the reaction using mercury to transform the alkyne into an enol and then tautomerize into the ketone. I got her to the point of drawing out the enol, and then gave the little lecture about how they're unstable and drew out the mechanism for the tautomerization, and I finished with "...and so you'll get a ketone as the final product."

That's when she responded with, "Okay...what's a ketone?"

Pardon?

Here now, let me backtrack a bit. This girl is anything but an idiot. I've never seen anyone (your's truly included) who could translate a Newman projection into the line model so quickly. She's quick to pick up on any concepts and is good at applying them. This is anything but her problem. The professor hasn't told them what a ketone is yet. We're halfway through the book and we haven't hit on ketones??? I came out of high school knowing what a ketone was, it's true, but my organic prof in undergrad taught us all the IUPAC nomenclature in the first week of the course. I think it's inexcusable to allow your students to not know the difference between a ketone and an aldehyde at the end of the first semester. But, this goes beyond that. They don't even know what a ketone is! Ridiculous.

Later, I was going over the difference between activating and deactivating substituents on a ring (since he couldn't be bothered during class...but it will be on the final!) and I was trying to list off what the o,p-directors are as opposed to the m-directors. I said "Ethers are very ortho-, para-directing, and they'll usually go para- first due to sterics."

"I see. Now...what's an ether and what are sterics?"

I realize this is a young professor in his first teaching position, but I think maybe, just maybe, you got your eggs in the wrong basket when you spend half a lecture period telling about how chlorofluorocarbons are bad for the environment and why (because THAT hasn't been hammered into our heads since the 80s) and yet you haven't explained a simple thing like sterics.

Now, I realize I shouldn't complain; so long as this guy keeps "teaching", I stand to make a pretty penny. I can keep myself in long, drawn-out RPGs for years. The other is, I'm not teaching, so I'm not doing the work of preparing the lectures, the homeworks, and dealing with all the students who come in and complain about how nothing in the lectures and homeworks prepared them for the exam. I realize that, as much as they're dogged for being inept and lazy and glorified babysitters, teachers DO actually work and work hard. It's just not usually seen as being hard work because they're sitting in their comfortable chairs bleeding red ink all over some kid's proposed mechanism featuring six bonds to carbon (sometimes known as hedgehogane). But still...you could, possibly, touch on some of the more important aspects of the subject you teach, such as what certain functional groups are, how to describe them, and what happens when you have a t-butyl group on cyclohexane. Yep, you guessed it: never heard the terms "1-3 diaxial interactions".

I think out there, somewhere, Marye Ann Fox just shed a tear.