Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, January 31, 2011

Ode on a Grecian Murder Mystery

The Pericles Commission
by Gary Corby

I've never fallen asleep during a movie, nor whilst reading fiction. But for four years, high school history textbooks were my kryptonite.1 The writing was dry and tedious, and although I'd previously enjoyed the subject, I soon began to equate history with boredom. If only those texts had read more like Gary Corby's excellent debut, The Pericles Commission, I might not have vilified it in my graduation speech.

I studied ancient Greece in high school, but as you might expect, I retained none of that knowledge once the test was behind me. Yet, by weaving those same details into the context of his historical mystery, Corby has now ensured I remember many aspects of Athenian culture, from banking to slavery to politics.

The Pericles Commission begins with the murder of Ephialtes, days after he has helped bring the world's first democracy to Athens. He falls at the feet of Nicolaos, an enterprising young man whom Pericles soon commissions to find the murderer because, unlike everyone else involved, he has no political agenda.

Apart from Nicolaos, nearly every major character is pulled straight from the history books, but unlike the writers I was subjected to in my teen years, Corby breathes life into every one, imbuing each with unique motivations and reactions. And though some aspects of Greek culture are revealed through exposition, most are divulged as Nicolaos discovers them himself, for he starts off the book unfamiliar with much of higher society.

The history is great, but the story is where Corby really shines. Writers are often told to torture our protagonists, and he does that with aplomb. Nicolaos initially stumbles as an inexperienced sleuth, then slowly gains confidence and supporters. Yet, when his ultimate goal seems just within reach—BAM! The carpet is pulled out from under him.2 He regroups, and just as he attains his new goal—BAM! The tables are turned once again.3

The Pericles Commission is a thoroughly entertaining read, and I highly recommend it. All history should be taught this way.

(You should also check out Gary Corby's blog.)


1 Small amounts of exposure would leave me pained and weak; larger doses drained me of my energy completely. Also, no one recognized me when I took off my glasses.
2 It's not a literal carpet.
3 The tables aren't literal, either. Also, I apologize for channeling Emeril Lagasse for a moment there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Colon, Right Parenthesis

Back in September, I received my first blog award. To show my gratitude, I promptly redesigned it in Photoshop, and then ignored half the rules that came with it.

Today is no different.

This past weekend, I received the Making Smiles on Faces Award from Jeffrey Beesler over at World of the Scribe. I don't know how he found out I like to forcibly push the corners of people's mouths upward when they're unhappy, but just to be safe I've changed my locks. Or, maybe that's not it at all. Maybe he just remembered this picture.

Either way, Jeffrey's a great guy and a fellow writer, and you should check out his blog. Go, do it.

And behold! The Photoshop transformation:



I'm probably also supposed to pass this thing along to some other people, so if you've read this far, congratulations! You are the latest recipient of the Making Smiles on Faces Award! Feel free to add either of the above images to your blog's sidebar.

Don't have a blog? Even better! Just print out the award and pin it to your shirt.

Don't have a shirt? Even better! Just print out the award, lick the back of it, and stick it to your forehead.

Let's spread the smiles, people! Spread 'em wide.

Use your fingers if you have to.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gratuitous Cat Shots

This week I decided I'd increase traffic to my blog by a) actually writing a new post,1 and b) including photos of cats. We'll return to our irregularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

This past week, to fill the void left by Marcelle's passing (REMEMBER: if your cat starts drinking far more water than usual, bring it to the vet!), we went to the local Humane Society to steal a kitten. We were almost home free when a soft mewing from the lining of my jacket pocket alerted the staff to our plan. Luckily, they agreed to drop the charges if we would also return the two rabbits stuffed in my socks, and agree to adopt two cats. So, that's what we did.

Within ten seconds of meeting the five-month old pictured below, we knew he'd be going home with us. Much like Mykelti Williamson's character in the short-lived-but-excellent show "Boomtown," this little guy is fearless. In fact, the very first thing he did when he met our dog Sonya was head straight for her and rub his face on her nose. Because of his nonchalant behavior, she thinks he's a dog and tries to play with him. And the weird thing: he doesn't mind. He's an explorer and a lap cat and a theoretical physicist all rolled into one.

Readers, let me introduce you to Schrödinger:

A ladies' man who likes to chase some tail.

The family that took him in as a stray gave him up when their landlord found out. Personally, I'd have kept him and traded in the landlord. Eh, their loss.

Calypso (a.k.a. Callie) was a tougher decision, but only because her competition was a two-month old kitten. In the end, she prevailed when we learned the little one didn't believe in dog. So far, Callie's spent much of her time avoiding Sonya, but when the dog's away she'll show her affection by licking your neck. True story.

Plays hard to get, till you get her alone.

She's either four or seven, depending on whether you believe the vet or her previous owners.2 It doesn't make any difference to us. Although, while we thought she'd be a good lap cat, she's really more of a laptop cat. She's already helped me accidentally delete emails and open new browser windows. Plus, she beat my high score on Tetris. I expect she'll be friending you on Facebook by next week.

Quite the team.

New year, new kitties. And to all the people who arrived at the Humane Center after we left..................SUCKERS!

1 What a novel idea! Speaking of which, I have a fantastic novel idea: Jesus and the twelve apostles are vampire hunters. Judaism is up to its neck in vampires, and through experimentation, Jesus and his followers learn that holy water and the symbol of the cross are excellent weapons in their fight against evil. Of course, they have to keep coming up with excuses to keep Jesus' mom from finding out what's up, and thus, Christianity is born. (Ooh, and now Jesus' resurrection has a whole new meaning...) You know what, this idea's so good, I can't keep it for myself. I'm going to let you have it. I'll even give you the title: Our Savior. It's literary gold, I'm telling you. You can thank me later.
2 Who gave her up because "they were moving." What a flimsy excuse for an excuse! They should have at least tried to sound convincing, by saying their son was allergic or that she was smoking too much catnip. Eh, their loss.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Search Me

You may have noticed my time here at The Wheel has been sparse in recent weeks. In my defense, I've been working on a writerly pursuit far more important than my blog.

No, not my novel; don't be silly. Someone else's novel.

I've been beta-reading my friend Jen's manuscript, and I take my job seriously. Plot holes, stilted dialogue, info dumps... I ignore all of these and focus solely on characters' names.1

Anyway, today we'll be talking about how people get here. No, not how the birds and the bees have crazy monkey sex to make babies. How people get to my blog. Specifically, how people who've never met me, or who didn't find their way here through another blog, found their way here.

I'm talking search terms.

The top two picks, as you might expect, are ninja haiku and horrible puns. There are also variations on my name and my blog name, and the recent addition of zombie apocalypse christmas. All of these make perfect sense. More surprising is the number of people searching for fire puns, wheel puns, doorstep puns, and horrible fire puns.

But in my opinion, the ones that follow are the best of the best. The most amusing, the most bizarre, the most awesome. If I've figured out what page they ended up on, I've included the link.

Top 10 Search Terms That Led Someone Here
  1. cat bile too much water
    Judged on its own merits, this isn't even worthy of making the top 10. But if you consider the context, then what it means is I probably saved a cat's life!2
  2. Justice League belly-dance
    But really, who hasn't searched for this?
  3. how does aeneas charachter develop in book 7 in the aeneid show a change in tone, style and direction from the previous books
    My blog never provided the answer to this question... until now! In Book 7, I believe Aeneas was getting older, so therefore his tone became more curmudgeonly, his style more rife with flexible waistbands and oatmeal stains, and his direction more lost.
  4. humbert: i wish i knew how to quit you
    Oh, Humbert, you sexy beast.
  5. i am a ninja sometimes i walk on my toes
    Sorry, buddy, wearing tights and walking on your toes doesn't automatically make you a ninja. You're still a ballerina.
  6. daugher young lolitas
    Come to The Wheel for all your pornography needs! Get 'em while they're young! Get 'em while they're... your daughter?! WTF!3
  7. significant weakness in the lead up to feb 24th when it may back off
    Hold on—when what might back off?! And what weakness? I have no weakness!
  8. фильм колесо огня
    If I still had my Uzbekistani cat, she could have provided a translation for this. But alas, it's all Greek to me.4
  9. ninga ball on
    What the hell? How come I wasn't invited to the ninga ball?!
  10. sometimes...hello
    And, sometimes not.

1 "Edward sounds like a wuss. What if you named him Capt. Nathaniel von Doppleganger instead? And hey, Natilda would be a wonderful choice for the heroine."
2 Which would make it two saved cats! After hearing my story, a co-worker brought her cat to the vet, and his kidney failure was caught while still in the early stages. He's already been put on a kidney-friendly diet. I still miss Marcelle, but it's wonderful that through her death others will live!
3 Wow, That's Funny!
4 Yes, even the letters that are Cyrillic. Which is all of them.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Power of Three

Three pages.

That's all I added to my novel in 2010. Three lousy pages. My plan for the year was to finally polish off the first draft and start editing, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.1 All I needed was to write seven more chapters, probably no more than 20,000 words. And I couldn't even manage that. So, how do I feel about the state of my novel now?


Am I delirious? Yes, probably. But that's no different from any other day. So why am I happy about my lack of progress? Because, while I wasn't working on it, my novel got better.

To clarify, the story as it's written didn't improve one lick.2 But oh! how glorious is the story in my head!

I may have only tacked on 3 pages of prose to my novel, but I added 18 pages of notes. They detail new ideas to insert, old passages to discard, and plot holes to fill. I know which characters to spare and which adverbs to strike from the record. My revisions will let the humor fly and tie up loose ends. There will be — wait for it — actual character arcs.

I can now pick off poor prose from a distance of 20 yards. I can excise entire chapters without mourning the loss of a particularly delicious phrase. I can eat an entire half gallon of ice cream in a single afternoon.3

And it's all thanks to you.

Okay, not you. But people like you. And also, you.

For you see, I've spent this last year learning how to write. I mean, I've always known how to write, but now I know how to write. And I did so by immersing myself in the online writing community and reading your blogs.4 Sure, I also read non-online material on the subject and honed my craft by participating in a workshop, but it was the advice on writers' and agents' blogs that really helped me grasp best practices regarding plot, characters, dialogue, structure, etc. And I improved my overall writing by penning (and obsessively editing) 78 posts here on The Wheel, just for you.5 'Twas productive procrastination at its finest, and my novel will be infinitely better because of it. I thank you.

Because you've been so good to me, I want to do something for you. I want you all to have $20. So go find your wallet, and pull out twenty dollars. That's my gift to you.

You deserve it.

I wish you all the best for 2011!

1 I'm glad you know, since I sure don't.
2 Which is too bad, since, as everyone knows, it takes three licks to get to a story's chewy center.
3 This last one's not related.
4 Disregard this statement if you aren't a writer or don't have a blog. And by "this statement" in the preceding statement, I mean that statement. As in, the first sentence of this footnote. If you mistakenly disregarded the earlier statement in the main content, please undisregard it now.
5 Disregard if you aren't reading this blog.