Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Friday, August 27, 2010

One Turn of The Wheel (plus a CONTEST!)

** This contest has ended.** (view the winners)

Today, The Wheel turns one. To put this in perspective, I present to you a short list of just some of the activities I've given up on before a year had passed. (All lengths are approximate.)

WhatFor How Long
Do photography with a basement darkroom(equipment never used)
Be an airbrush artist4 days
Attend weekly pick-up games of ultimate frisbee2 weeks
Take karate4 months
Plan to transfer to Dartmouth5 months
Play bass guitar & violin in a band6 months
Search for a job as a computer animator7 months
Be a fetus8 months
Go to Sunday School9 months
Plan to use the temporary timeshare I purchased, rather than let the money go to waste11 months

As you can see, that I've kept The Wheel going for a year is quite the accomplishment. To mark the occasion, I'm giving away two $25 Amazon gift cards! (And perhaps, the prizes might get claimed this time around, unlike with my ninja haiku contest.)

In honor of my win on her blog last month, we'll be doing it Janet Reid style. To enter, write a story (or poem, or whatever) in 100 words or less using each of the following words at least once, and post it in the comments:


The deadline for entries is next Friday, September 3, at 11:42pm (Eastern Time), a time I have chosen at random and for no discernible reason.

Be creative. Be funny. Be eloquent. Be witty. Be insane. I'll pick my two favorites and bestow upon them the honor that is the Amazon gift card.

I'd also appreciate it if you'd spread the word about this contest. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Tell your friends on Facebook. Send out flyers in the mail. Put on a chicken suit and hold up a placard at your local mall. None of this will help you win, since I pick winners based on merit (or, at least, my skewed perception of "merit"), but I'd be ever so grateful. And if you do wear the chicken suit, take pictures. That alone might be worth a prize.

Alright, enough of my babbling. Let's see what you've got. Wow me.

Contest Rules:
  1. Rules will be written in small type and numbered, so they look more official.
  2. To enter, use the five words listed above in a story (or poem, or whatever) of no more than 100 words, and post it in the comments section of this blog. If you go over 100 words, I will randomly remove words until you are down to the maximum. If you don't use the five allocated words, I will randomly insert them in place of other words. In either case, your entry will be disqualified, and as a result you will not win.
  3. You may submit a maximum of two entries. If you submit more than two, I will deem all subsequent entries as inadmissible, and you will be found not guilty due to lack of evidence.
  4. You must provide a name. Anonymous entries will be stricken from the record. I won't actually delete them, but they won't win, either.
  5. Pandering is completely acceptable. Bribery is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
  6. The contest is open until September 3, 2010 at 11:42pm, Eastern Time. If you post an entry after the deadline, it will instead be entered in my next contest. It won't win that one, either.
  7. I will act as sole judge, and select the winning entries based on criteria I make up as I go along.
  8. Two (2) winners will receive an Amazon gift card in the value of $25. Huzzah!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Vermont Vacation: By the Numbers

Last week I stayed at the same Vermont campground my family's been going to for the past twenty years. Here's the breakdown:

Length of vacation, in days: 7
Near-death experiences: 0*

Ben & Jerry's flavors consumed: 8
Total flavors of ice cream devoured: 12
Cider donuts completely and utterly massacred: 6

Days I wrote for at least an hour: 4
Days I napped for at least an hour: 1
Days I read for at least an hour: 6
Books finished: 4**

Moose Crossing signs passed: 13
Times I sang the phrase MooOOOOoose Crossing: 31
Times I was alone whilst doing this: 31

Years since I last played a round of golf: 2
Holes played: 9
Birdies: 1
Triple bogeys: 2
Times my hat blew off on the first hole: 5

Games played: 24
Evil Trivial Pursuit teams vanquished: 1
Croquet mallets brandished menacingly: 2
Shuffleboard sticks wielded malevolently: 1
Frisbees knocked away maliciously: 11
Adverbs hurled malignantly: 19

Shooting stars witnessed: 6
Stars visible in VT that aren't visible in CT, in gazillions: 2.7

Photos taken: 230
Photos taken using my snazzy new tripod: 54
Photos of wildlife: 20
Photos of people: 10
Photos of random plastic monkeys: 2***

Days until I go back: 352

* That makes one year in a row!
** Not a serious book among 'em:
The Light Fantastic, Terry Pratchett
The Sea of Monsters, Rick Riordan
How Did You Get This Number, Sloane Crosley
The Big Over Easy, Jasper Fforde
*** Technically, one was a random plastic ape, but that's not important. Also not important: I happened upon two other random plastic monkeys I didn't photograph. True story.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fallin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

One year ago today, I fell 30 feet to my death but didn't die. If you're unfamiliar with the details of The Great Plummet, go back and read about it in my inaugural blog post. It's okay, I'll wait.

All caught up now? Wonderful.

Earlier this week, I returned to the scene of the climb, and against Denise's wishes I went alone.1 I planned to take photographs and more precise measurements of the spot. Yet, as I peered down into the gorge from the once-mossy precipice, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of vertigo. No, wait—not vertigo. What's the word... joy. I was overcome with an immense feeling of joy. As I pictured my rapid descent and miraculous survival in my mind's eye,2 I openly wept.

Then, I began the document process. As I've already hinted, the mossy precipice was no longer mossy. It was, however, even more precipitous than I remembered it being. Honestly, what was I thinking getting so close to the edge?3 Likewise, my escape route was much, much steeper than I recalled, and I have no idea how I made it out of the gorge without slipping back in once or twice.

I pulled out a ball of twine, and lowered a small weight into the gorge until it hit water. By measuring the string, I learned that I'd only plummeted 26 ft 8 in (not 30 ft, as previously estimated). Thus, I had only been in freefall for 1.3 seconds (not 1.4 s), and hit the water going 28 mph (not 30 mph). I also noticed that the gap I fell through is about 5 ft wide (not 3 ft). Clearly, these findings knock my survival down a notch in terms of miraculousness. But I'm not complaining.

Computer issues prevent me from sharing most of my photos until I return home from my vacation, but I'll leave you with one. Unlike last year, when my camera and lenses succumbed to a watery death before I reached the base of Bingham Falls, this year I was able to take some shots of the main attraction. I managed a few pics at varying shutter speeds before dozens of high schoolers in bathing suits descended upon the falls. This was only the first wave (click to embiggen):

A far, far better place to plummet than where I did.

Perched on a rocky ledge by the falls, I put my camera back in its bag and then, within seconds, I no longer had solid ground beneath my feet.

The water was cold, crisp, and invigorating. Submerged in that cold mountain stream, I felt an exhilaration I'd only experienced once before. This time, however, my camera was safely tucked away back on the ledge, and I had jumped, not fallen.

I was exactly where I wanted to be.

1 After all, she's not the boss of me. Not for another couple weeks.
2 My mind doesn't actually have an eye. It's an expression, people.
3 For the record, I believe it was: "Ooooh, waterfall. Preeeetty."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How I Listen to Popular Music

Recently, it occurred to me that the way I react to music is rather unique. It goes a little like this:

Listen #1
If I like the song, my toe will begin to tap in time with the music. My head may bop. As long as the melody doesn't vary too much from verse to verse, humming along is also a distinct possibility.

If I don't like the song, I may still unconsciously tap, bop, or hum. Consciously, however, I only give the song one more chance to win me over. If it's no better the second time around, from then on it will fall on deaf ears.1

Thus, the rest of this guide is only applicable on songs I do like.

Listen #2
The toe-tapping becomes more enthusiastic. If I'm alone (or wtf),2 my humming turns to singing during the chorus, and I may hum the bass line or insert backup vocals in other spots. My fingers tap on the closest available surface, miming the fingering on a violin. Strangers start to give me funny looks.

Listens #3-4
Instead of singing along, I harmonize. My fingering now mimics a potential violin duet. I've got the chorus pretty much memorized, and have started to pick up the rest of song. If I'm alone or wtf, I may dance with reckless abandon.3 My fianceé starts to give me funny looks. Strangers back away slowly.

Listens #5-7
I try out different harmonies, sometimes matching up with the singer, sometimes with a guitar or another instrument playing a melody. The finger-tapping becomes faster and more complex, and I may do some percussion with my other hand. My dancing is recklesser and more abandon-y. My fianceé backs away slowly.

Listens #8-10
Here's where it gets interesting. Although I've sung along ever since listen #2, only now do I begin to actually pay attention to the words I'm singing. Only now do I start to realize what the song is about. My fianceé, on the other hand, has known ever since her first listen.

There are exceptions, of course. I may catch on earlier if the lyrics are peculiar, insightful, or peculiarly incite-ful. But typically, it takes much longer than it should for the lyrics to find their way past my tongue to where they can penetrate my skull.

You might think it's odd for a writer to notice the music long before the words, but the explanation's simple: I've really only been a writer for four years. I've been a musician since I was four.

You do the math.

But enough about me. What about you, dear readers? How do you listen to music? Do you hear the lyrics first, or the notes? Are you a toe tapping, head-bopping, singing, dancing fool? Or do you just lay back and let the music wash over you?

Inquiring minds want to know. And so do I.

Enlighten me.

1 Unless I'm holding an umbrella.
2 With the fianceé.
3 i.e. Like a white guy, but with rhythm.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The One-Letter Sex Change

I have a dilemma: My nip1 is too male-centric.

I have no misconceptions about my audience; this book will always appeal more to men than women.2 My problem is that it’s currently weighted too far toward the y-chromosome side of things. I’d prefer a little more balance.

Though my nip3 features some strong women who are integral to the plot, they are primarily secondary characters. The book has an ensemble cast of sorts, but by the time I finish my first draft, only 4 of the 40 chapters will be from a woman’s (third-person) perspective. Even worse, only two of those will remain once I begin the rewrite, since I’ll be demoting a superfluous character to an extra and relieving her of her narration.

Perhaps my fears are unwarranted, but I feel I need a prominent female character the fairer half of my readership4 can connect with. I toyed with the idea of introducing a new character, but I might have already reached the saturation point. Giving a secondary character more page-time was another option, but I couldn’t figure out how to do so without bloating or completely changing the story. In the end, I hit upon a simple, elegant solution.

I use a police detective’s perspective for five of the chapters, and he plays a significant role in some of the pivotal scenes. That’s going to change, though. Not the importance or the number of chapters. The he. With one stroke of the keyboard, I shall forever alter the detective’s worldview.

I’m already beginning to see the possibilities: A newly minted detective trying to prove herself, her motivations and reactions — and others’ perceptions of her — defined in part by her gender. Not only will this add nuance and depth to a character who until now was rather one-dimensional, but I also believe my novel will be better for it.

Instant improvement.

Just add S.

1 Novel in progress. And yes, that’s the last time I’ll call it that.
2 It's the possibility of political assassination they go for. That and invisible monkeys.
3 Yeah, I lied.
4 Women and Swedes.