Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Then We Came to the End

No, this is not a review of Joshua Ferris's first novel.1 I'm referring to the end of November. The end of my many NaNos. Here's how I fared:

  1. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)
    My final tally was a scant 1,724 words. I may not have reached the accepted goal of 50,000 put forth by "the man," but I call it a success. 'Tis a sad truth, I admit, but it's still 1,724 more words than I'd written since April.
     
  2. NanoRhino Awareness Month
    I may have only raised $2,020.07 for the NanoRhinos, and $2,000 of that was my own money,2 but I call it a success. With my meager donation, Dr. Heinrich von Heinrichsen was able to construct a high-tech habitat for these poor, endangered creatures. To me it resembled little more than a dollar store ant farm, but what do I know about science?
     
  3. NaNoRhyMo (National Novel Rhyming Month)
    I halved my output from last year, but my half-dozen rhymes garnered some epic praise, and for the first time ever we had two participants! Two! Most successful NaNoRhyMo ever!
     
  4. NaNoRyMo (National No Rye Month)
    Both Denise and I made it the entire month without consuming an ounce of rye! Neither the whiskey nor the bread passed these lips these past weeks. No Salinger, either. Never has success tasted so sweet!

Four noble NaNos, four success stories. I can only wonder what surprises December may hold.3


1 This is. Although Then We Came to the End was an intriguing and sometimes humorous look at the inner workings of a failing advertising company, it fell short in my not-so-humble opinion. I found its first person plural narration distracting, and at odds with itself when presenting the thoughts of a character who was decidedly not part of the "we." It has its moments, but the book isn't nearly as funny as it tries to be.
2.5 fiery wheels out of 5.
2 Denise chipped in another $20, either out of pity or to stop my constant begging, and the rest came from the always generous people at the local Take-A-Penny/Leave-A-Penny.
3 Hint: It involves velociraptors.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Be Grateful This Title Contains No Puns

Today I'm participating in the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest (hosted by Jeffrey Beesler over at World of the Scribe), which I'd hoped would allow me to celebrate Thanksgiving a day early, since it is my favorite holiday. Alas, no. All it means is I'll be gushing on about the things I'm most grateful for. Not that I gush; it's not really my style.

So, behold! Me not gushing:
  • I have a fantastic group of friends (and internet friends) who find me more entertaining than annoying. For this I am grateful.
     
  • As movies and television increasingly shy away from anything original and untested, books remain an outlet for creativity. For this I am grateful.
     
  • It's been almost two days since my cat last used the tub as her litter box. For this I am grateful.
     
  • I could have been raised by racists or bigots. Yet, thanks in part to a family with both straight white Republican Jews and gay black Christian Democrats in it (not to mention atheists and agnostics, capitalists and communists, lawyers and librarians, vegetarians and veal-lovers), I have no prejudice except against the Yankees. For this I am grateful.
     
  • On September 5, 2010, I was not killed by ninjas. For this I am grateful.
     
  • Last summer I fell 30 feet to my death but didn't die. For this I am grateful. (So so so very grateful.)
     
  • I have over a dozen ideas for novels and short stories, and not one of them involves a vampyre, færie, or wêrewölff. For this I am eternally grateful.
     
  • And lastly, Denise could have laughed or told me to piss off. Instead, she said yes. For this I am more grateful than I can put into words.1
     
I wish each and every one of you the happiest Thanksgiving ever, in the entire history of the world. Even if you're Canadian and already celebrated it last month. Or if you're not celebrating it at all. Or if you're a Yankees fan.2

There's so much to be grateful for, so be grateful. And have a wonderful holiday!


1 Yet, by saying I couldn't put my sentiment into words, I put it into words. Sometimes my talent amazes even me.
2 Especially if you're a Yankees fan. Of course, your turkey was cooked back in mid-October.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stopping for Another Nanosecond

Now that we're past the mid-point of NaNoWriMo, it's time once again to take a short break and celebrate its lesser-known brethren, NaNoRhyMo (National Novel Rhyming Month).

In last year's NaNoRhyMo, I shamelessly mutilated 10 nursery rhymes, one limerick, and a TV theme song. The gem of the 2009 collection (as decided by me, just now), was a mash-up of the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Stephen King's It:
In South Central Maine I was born and raised
At the Barrens where I spent most of my days,
Running, and hiding, being bullied by fools,
Sometimes constructing a dam when not at school,
When this one creepy clown who was up to no good
Started killing children in my neighborhood.
There was but one little death and we all got scared;
Instead of Pennywise we should’ve made a date with Linda Blair.
This year I'm submitting half as many entries, which is perfectly acceptable, because unlike the other NaNoWriMo, this one is about quality, not quantity.

(Of course, if you keep reading, you'll notice it's not about quality, either.)

Take me out of my dis-trict,
Take me out of my home.
Make me some dresses and tasty snacks,
All I care is that I make it back
'Cause it's root, root, root through my backpack.
If there's no knife, it's a shame.
For it's twen-ty-three deaths each year
In the Hun-ger Games!

Now I lay him down to sleep,
I pray the orcs won't take Helm's Deep;
Should Frodo die or never wake,
Sam holds the Ring, and thus, our fate.

Every sperm whale's sacred,
Every blue whale's great,
But if the white's not wasted,
Ahab's still irate.1

1 That's right: I used a song about sperm to reference the big Dick. Admit it, you wish you'd thought of it first.

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
Flashing a smile his way,
But along came Spider, to trick her (and ride her);
It just wasn't Fat Charlie's day.2

2 For those of you who assumed I'd use the whole "along came a spider" nonsense to tout a certain James Patterson novel by that name, there's something you need to know: When it comes to literature, Gaiman always trumps Patterson.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
But was it a fall? Or was it a push?
Jack thinks it's murder. (Don't ruin it! Shush!)3

3 They can't all be masterpieces

"Hey, Aeneas, what is this?"
"This, this... is Scylla and Charybdis."
"Do you think they mean us harm?"
"Undoubtedly. Sound the alarm."
"Which one, the glockenspiel or chime?"
"Never mind, we don't have time."
"Why are we sailing straight ahead?"
"Go left or right, we'll all be dead."
"We're gonna die! I know, I've seen it!"
"Anybody want a peanut?"4

4 Yes, I know The Aeneid is actually an epic poem, not a novel, and that it already rhymes. So what? Anything that leads to a Princess Bride reference is a win in my book.5
5 Not an actual book.


Well, that's all I've got: 2 nursery rhymes, 2 songs, 1 children's prayer, and a scene from a movie. But just because I was the only NaNoRhymer last year doesn't mean I have to go it alone this year, too.

So, dear readers, can you think of any other novels that need to be immortalized in verse? Share your own rhymes in the comments.6


6 If you're hesitating because you believe your rhyme is too silly or too stupid, take another gander at mine. Obviously, I don't have high standards. Have at it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How to Make a List

  1. Decide you're going to make a list.
  2. Determine the purpose of your list. Do you wish to entertain? To educate? To rank like objects? To have your husband return home with the correct groceries?
  3. Jot down all the things you might want to put on the list. Don't worry if you can't think of them all at once, or if you come up with too many options; you have an assistant for that you can make changes and additions as you go.
  4. Figure out how long you want your list to be. Ten is often considered the ideal number for lists, but any total between 5-10 will work. You may even be able to get away with 12 or 20 (although any other number between 10-20 will seem too arbitrary). More than 20 and your reader will begin to lose interest.1 Less than five and you don't really have much of a list, now do you?
  5. Organize your list.
    1. For ranked lists, order items according to your chosen criteria. Or even better, my chosen criteria.
    2. For educational lists, ensure your steps are in order, and try to highlight your most salient points by using short, concise statements like this one.
    3. For grocery lists, maximize efficiency by grouping similar items together, such as pasta fagioli and spaghetti squash.
    4. For entertaining lists, maximize your humor quotient2 by using lesser items to help build to the largest laughs, and always end with a kicker. Try to spread the funniest ideas out across the entire list.
  6. Start putting down your list, in order.
  7. Realize you don't have enough solid ideas to fill out your entire list.
  8. Come up with a new addition on the spot, and hope no one notices.
  9. Radishes.
  10. Double-check your list for spelling arrears and to ensure you've listed the items in the possible sequence best. And there, you've done it! Congratulations! You've made a list!
  11. Don't tack another item on at the end just because you didn't think of it until after the list was complete. You'll look like an amateur.


1 Even if it's a grocery list, and your only reader is you. Trust me on this. I can't tell you how many times I forgot to buy Brussels sprouts or asparagus just because they fell at around #23 on the list.
2 LOLs ÷ WTFs.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Attack of the Zombie Aliens!

Last night, for my brother's birthday, we went to see the movie Skyline. From both the previews and the reviews, I was well aware of what to expect: a film with some quality special effects, but little else of value. Knowing this, I decided I'd watch the film with a critical eye, to see what I'd have done differently had I written the script.

First off, I'd have written a script.

Not only is the dialogue poor and the action predictable, but the film feels like it was written by a couple of visual effects guys.1 Some of its other problems:
  • It begins with a little teaser scene, then jumps back 15 hours to introduce the characters (three of whom are visual effects guys!). Attention, movie people: If you want to start with the action, then stick with it and develop the characters as you go. If you want to build up to the action by setting the scene and developing the characters, do that instead. You can't start with the action, then build up to the same action. Lose the frakkin' preface.
     
  • It's a horror film, so as you'd expect, characters don't act like normal people. "Ooh, let's wait half an hour after the first attack to turn on the news and get more details!" "Ooh, let's all take the elevator when we try to escape from the building!"2
     
  • Even if you ignore the illogical logistics of the alien invasion (How'd they sneak up on Earth? How'd they know before they arrived they wanted our braaaaains?), when you find out their sole motivation (they want us for our braaaaains), it still makes absolutely no sense. The aliens looked good, though.
     
  • Along with the usual tension created by characters having conflicting plans for survival, the writers also introduced extra tension between characters (based on relationship issues) for seemingly no other reason than it's what they'd been told they should do in their screenwriting class.
     
  • You're given practically no reason to care about any of the characters, unless it's because you've enjoyed watching them in shows such as Scrubs (Donald Faison), Dexter (David Zayas), 24 (Eric Balfour), NCIS (Scottie Thompson), or Sweet Valley High (Brittany Daniel).
     
  • And lastly, the reason we get to watch the invasion unfold from the perspective of these characters is not readily apparent until the very end of the film. I'll give you a hint: It's not because they happen to be filming it (a la Cloverfield) or because they're the ones who figure out how to kill off the aliens (a la Independence Day, Mars Attacks!). I could say more, but I don't want to ruin the ending for you.3
So, yeah, what would I have done differently? Well, I'd have rewritten the thing from scratch to fix all those points I just mentioned.

And then maybe — just maybe — I'd have added a plot.


1 It was.
2 Spoiler alert: Nothing happens in the elevator.
3 I'll let the ending do that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sometimes, Hello is Unnecessary

This past weekend, Denise and I attended our friend's Halloween/housewarming party in his new 4,000 sq ft home. For those who aren't good with numbers, I'll make it easy for you: into his house I could fit two of my house, one large RV, three backhoes, and an industrial strength gazebo. Plus, an inflatable bounce-house in the basement.

Oh yeah, and they had an inflatable bounce-house in the basement.

This is the same friend who hosted the comic & cartoon-themed party last Halloween, where I lost the award for most obscure costume to a member of the Justice League. This time, however, there was no theme.

With no theme to inspire me, doubt about how weighted the party was toward housewarming, and not wanting to repeat my failure from Halloween night, I decided to go simpler. As in: one accessory.

I entered wearing this:
This led to a fine array of Princess Bride quotes, and culminated in the following exchange with a fairy nymph:
Nymph: You can't be Inigo Montoya without a rapier.
Inigo: A what?
Nymph: A rapier.
Inigo: You keep using that whord. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Half an hour later, I stepped away and changed into this getup:


People barely recognized me. I then proceeded to switch guises about every twenty minutes.


(2007 movie)

 

(Not what you're thinking; 2010 movie)

 

(Percy Bysshe Shelly sonnet)

 

(1st song on Weezer's 1st album)


(Saturday Night Live skit)

(Personalized birthday song in the '70s)


Okay, I'll admit I didn't stick with only one accessory the entire night.
At one point, I used three:


There you have it. In one night, I portrayed Mandy Patinkin, Jason Lee, Rivers Cuomo, Mike Myers, and Eminem.

But no, I never did use the bounce-house. Even Bruce Campbell has his pride.


So, tell me Dear Readers, what's the simplest costume you ever tried to pull off?
Did it work?



And just so Maureen doesn't complain...1

1 Foot.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Misremembering

I want to apologize. Last year, in my Guy Fawkes Day post,1 I misquoted the traditional rhyme for this day (which you may also recognize as the opening lines to V for Vendetta). Here's what I wrote:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot.
Something something something something
Should ever be forgot.
So it turns out my memory of the lyrics was a little off. Nor was my explanation entirely accurate, seeing how it was culled from Wikipedia. Anyway, thanks to new information from a reputable source,3 I can now present to you the original rhyme:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder trees, onion plot.
I see no Rhys in the gunpowder trees, and
Should Everard be for Gott?
I'll break this down line by line, so it's easier to understand.
Remember, remember the fifth of November
This one's obvious: Remember the fifth letter of November. Remember M. There is some conjecture as to whether M was the nickname for Sir Francis Tresham (the man some say wrote the anonymous letter that averted Parliament's destruction), or if it simply stands for Monteagle (a.k.a. William Parker, the 4th Baron of Monteagle, who received the letter). Either way, thanks to this line, both men shall always be remembered.
The gunpowder trees, onion plot.
This rumor has never been proven, but it is said that prior to their failed attack, the conspirators stored their gunpowder in a group of hollowed-out trees next to a plot of land where one of the men grew onions. This onion patch acted as an excellent landmark for them.
I see no Rhys in the gunpowder trees, and
Rhys is Rhys ap Gruffydd, a leader in uprisings in 12th century Wales. Historians believe this line was inserted into the rhyme by the Welsh to tout that no Welshmen were among the conspirators, in the hope Wales would be held in higher regard by the rest of Britain. It didn't work.

And finally...
Should Everard be for Gott?
Sir Everard Digby, one of the conspirators, won some supporters with his eloquent defense in court, and they believed he should not be given over to Gott (or God, in German). Of course, that didn't stop him from being hanged, drawn and quartered.

So, there you have it. You can finally recite the Guy Fawkes Day rhyme as it was always meant to be said. I'm glad I could help.


1 In which I managed to link Fawkes and The Goonies together. No joke. It's in the second footnote.
2 Not this second footnote. The footnote in last year's post.
3 As opposed to Cooks Source, which we should definitely oppose, since it is about as far from reputable as you can get. (By the way, the "reputable source" I mentioned is my brain.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

And She's Down for the Count

I rarely talk about politics on The Wheel, but I wanted to share this bit of news with you. Earlier this evening, Linda McMahon, U.S. Senate hopeful and former CEO of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, was crushed by the steel chair of defeat.

This makes me happy.


I'm registered as an independent here in Connecticut, and over the past week I dutifully reviewed the stances for every candidate in every race in my area. That is, except for U.S. Senator. That one I'd decided on months ago. And it had nothing to do with McMahon's political stances. Here's why:
  • Linda McMahon raised over $46 million for her campaign... in a state that has approximately 2 million registered voters. According to opensecrets.org, this was twice the amount of the 2nd highest total raised by any other U.S. Senate and House candidates this year.
  • Almost all of that was self-funded.
  • She sent out, on average, three mailings a week to every household. This started for us well before the primary, although neither Denise nor I are Republican and we couldn't vote in it. I suspect if we'd kept the flyers instead of recycling them, the pile may have reached up to my waste waist.
  • We received multiple calls from supposed pollsters, asking questions heavily skewed against her opponent (Democrat Dick Blumenthal).1
  • Despite this monstrous waste of funds, McMahon spent much of her campaign calling out Blumenthal for how much of the state's money he had spent during his time as Attorney General, and touting how she — as a financially savvy businesswoman — would be able to save the state money.2
  • And, regarding her financial savvitry: Her wrestlers in the WWF WWE had to buy their own health care, and the WWF WWE owns the rights to the names and images of every character they created. (See Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson)
Though my decision was already made, it was reinforced yesterday. At a rally on the University of Connecticut campus, a protester allegedly shoved one of McMahon's supporters. Her spokesman explained it thusly:

"A disappointing incident occurred this morning on the UCONN campus when a male protester at a pre-election rally shoved a young woman supporting Linda. She is fine and has declined to file charges against him, but it is disappointing that Dick Blumenthal's campaign has resorted to intimidation."

That's right: Blumenthal was behind it. Oh, and here's the kicker: The protester in question? He's with the Green Party.

Linda McMahon tried to buy the election with $46 million of her own money, and with more than half of the precincts reporting, that's the percentage she's got: 46%, compared with Blumenthal's 52%. The race was called in Blumenthal's favor within minutes after the polls closed.

So long, Linda. Don't let the ladder hit you on the way out.


1 Although, I have to admit this is a creative tactic. As an entertainer, she does know how to spin things to her advantage.
2 And as a federal employee, no less.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Scourge of Microbiologists Everywhere

 
Far too many writerly blogs have been talking about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this past week, so I'll relegate my thoughts on that topic to a footnote,1 and move onto something far more important:

The NanoRhino.

Of course, "NanoRhino" is somewhat of a misnomer. As you can see from the picture at right, the rhino isn't that small. Although it's typically 1/20 the size of most Rhinoceros beetles, it can still be seen with the naked eye.2

So, why should you care? Well, the NanoRhino (Rhinoceros teenitinius) is nearly extinct. In fact, only six known NanoRhinos still exist. In an ironic twist Alanis Morissette would be proud of (if she knew the meaning of the word), the species has been nearly killed off by the very people who should be trying to study them: microbiologists.3

The problem is rather simple: NanoRhinos are wee little bastards. Unless isolated, they run rampant through all nearby nanobeings and either trample them, gore them, or eat them.4 Yet, if isolated, they lose their will to live, and begin to waste away. Maintaining this delicate balance is a conundrum that microbiologists have long decided to ignore, choosing instead to separate the NanoRhinos and let them perish. This way, the scientists can examine the microscopic creatures they're actually trying to observe without nature's diminutive bullies ruining everything.

Only one man, the exceptionally gifted Dr. Heinrich von Heinrichsen, is doing what needs to be done to keep these poor NanoRhino alive. He has four in his Brussels lab, but needs major funding to continue his research (and to get them to mate — NanoRhinos are notoriously selective).5 And that is why, during the month of November, I will be trying to raise $50,000 for the Heinrichsen institute in Brussels as part of InSaNaRhiMo (International Save NanoRhinos Month). Who will join me?


1 I'll be participating for the fourth time, but I don't play NaNoWriMo by NaNoWriMo's rules. Instead of attempting to write a new novel of 50,000 words during November, I'll just write as much as possible on my current novel without sacrificing quality. Then, I'll do the same for December. And January. And February. (I might skip March.)
2 The naked eye? How scandalous! (That is, according to microbiologists. They don't get out much. Also, most of their kind wear glasses. (By the way, if you are a microbiologist, please know I meant no offense with my preceding remarks. No offense at all. And can I say? You look very sexy in those glasses.))
3 Very sexy.
4 Possibly all three, depending on how insulting the other nanocreature was to the rhino's mother.
5 No, they don't judge based on the size of their partner's horn. Shame on you for thinking so. It's the ears.