April 2007


As I mentioned the other day, I’m working on a story about my rat raising days. I remembered that I did rescue a lone rat from the mazes and made a pet of her, but at first I couldn’t remember her name. You have to remember that rats only live about three years, so she wasn’t a lifelong companion or anything. I now recall I named her Zelda. I was reading a lot of Fitzgerald at the time. I’m not sure why Zelda seemed to fit. She was small, pretty, and slender—the perfect flapper. I also remember that F. Scott ripped off pages from her diary and used them in his fiction. Not unlike the rat runners using up the rats’ lives to explain their own obsessions?

Everybody needs a good panda picture now and again. I was delighted to hear Tai Shan will be staying at the National Zoo a little longer than originally scheduled. Here’s hoping the INS doesn’t catch him and ship him back.

Compared to a lot of folks, I haven’t been to that many cons, but by now I’ve been to quite a few of all sizes, plus various similar events ranging from MLA tweedclaves to Romance Writer ginormous gatherings to marginal CritiCons to Book and Meet-the-Author Events of all species, but RavenCon is probably the best run, and considering its size, the most interesting.
Robert J. Sawyer was an outstanding GOH, though unfortunately I couldn’t see half of his events because I was at a competing event. His reading was outstanding, and the panel on social commentary was one of the best I attended.

David B. Coe was also on that panel (we were also on the Sniff-Sniff and Mediocre Characters panels together later), and I consistently found his comments interesting and insightful. Edmund Schubert, who moderated the Sniff-Sniff panel was also quite good on the Mediocre Characters panel, and I heard good reports on his contribution to the workshop track as well. I moderated the late addition Werewolf/Sex panel and it turned into a fun discussion of sex and sexuality in sf and fantasy. The panelists— L. Jagi Lamplighter, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and Pamela Kinney—were terrific, as was the audience.

Valerie Griswold-Ford who moderated the Death panel at 9 am Sunday morning was a moderator extraordinaire. She was reduced to a panel of me and Steve White and then a guy in the audience gets pissy and storms out as Steve was trying to answer one of his questions. She proved unflappable. Maybe a panel on ways of offing people wasn’t a good fit for first thing in the morning—or maybe some people just need more fiber in their diet.

Elizabeth Massie, who for my money “won” the Author Slamfest, did a great job moderating the Mediocre Character panel and serving as the lone woman on the Sniff-Sniff panel. I definitely intend to check out her stories. Her partner Cortney Skinner was my favorite audience member—calm, intelligent, with valuable questions and comments.

As for the Slamfest, it was a fun experiment that needs some sort of revision. It also would’ve helped to have a larger audience to embarrass ourselves in front of. I also enjoyed the work of fellow slammers CJ Henderson and James Maxey. Mike Allen bravely took on moderating duties, not unlike herding cats.

Once again, a large measure of the success of the con was due to Tony Ruggiero‘s outstanding programming and organizational skills. I never got a chance to talk to the guy—he’s always too busy staying on top of things—but he does great work, and I look forward to RavenCon 2008.

A great weekend. Now (sigh) back to work.

I hope to see you there. I’ve picked up an additional panel in addition to those announced earlier. It’s Saturday 1:00 PM. Here’s the description:

My Lover is a Vampire…or…Maybe A Werewolf…(I can’t decide they are both so hot!)
Are the mainstays of horror being turned into the sex toys of today? Not only women, but yes, men are writing them, and it isn’t just male and female relationships, but even male/male too, and lesser scale female/female. Why are these books being written? What is the attraction for men/women buying these books? What does the future hold?

I’m a little puzzled at the writer’s puzzlement that werewolves and sex would be linked, but we’ll see what my fellow panelists think. I’m moderating, but I don’t yet know who else is on the panel.

I plan to be around for most of the con. Say hello!

I’m working on a story about rats. Back when B.F. Skinner was a BFD, I had a job working for the psych. department raising rats. That’s where the action was then, animal studies. If we could just figure out rats, humans were right around the corner. I was an English major, but they couldn’t get a psych major to take the job. They used to buy their rats from a laboratory supply company, but that runs into some money, and they were going through serious quantities of rats. You couldn’t really reuse them. Once you’d messed with them in one way, they were pretty much useless for another. Next stop: The Ft. Worth herpetarium.


They were Long-Evans rats, the black and white kind. I was responsible for about 500 of them. There was a batch of gerbils, and one guy had a roomful of rabbits that were strictly off limits, but mostly it was all rats. My main job was producing more and more of them. This wasn’t hard. The gestation period was 21 days, average litter size 7, weaned at 21 days. We gave the females another 21 days before breeding them again. I also issued experimental animals with all their records to the experimenters, mostly students doing the work for professors looking for publication, tenure, promotions. The grad students, like the rats in a maze were just trying to get out of there.

I’ve joined Sarah who’s here for the national APA convention. I went through the fabulous Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday, and we had a wonderful time hanging out with Jeff Ford and his wife Lynn on Saturday night, but it’s been awful weather ever since. I have a great view of the nor’easter, however, from the 22nd floor of the Sheraton. The rain’s leaking in through the window. Ideal writing circumstances. I’ve revised a story Sarah read on the train coming up. She helped me identify some deadwood. I’m working on a novella today, Hard Luck Charlie, that just may turn into a novel if the storm lasts long enough. Stay dry and warm.

I caught a clip of some righteous politician intoning about The Rule of Law yesterday. The phrase always sets my teeth on edge. He was talking about immigration laws, but I’ll bet he, or someone in his employ, had already broken the law that day, perhaps repeatedly. Everyone who doesn’t regularly violate the posted speed limit, raise your hand. Don’t own a car? You’re tied up? The speed limit on my street, for example, is 25 mph. No one goes that speed. Typical is 40; 50+ is not unusual. The chance of these lawbreakers being caught and punished for violating the duly constituted laws of the Commonwealth, are practically zip. What part of “speed limit” don’t these people understand? They know they won’t be caught—the linchpin of the Rule of Law—so they do as they please. Laws are only obeyed when enforced. That’s what’s wrong with them. They separate people from their decisions. Good behavior becomes defined as not getting caught—like a little kid. More sophisticated moral principles like “Do Unto Others,” for example, simply atrophy.

What’s the harm in breaking a speed limit, you might say. They’re too low anyway. It’s a busy world. Your time is important, you’re careful, and you won’t get caught. Let me give you a little additional information. A study was done on car-pedestrian accidents and the relationship between the likelihood of the pedestrian’s death and how fast the driver was going. At 20 mph, the pedestrian made out pretty well, with an 80% chance of surviving. (The study didn’t say how many of the 80% were in a wheelchair thereafter). If the driver, in a bit more of a hurry, his time being no doubt more valuable, was going 30 mph, the odds of killing the pedestrian were roughly 50%. A slight nudge on the gas to 40 mph, and anyone the driver hits with his car has a 90% chance of dying. So, while laws are demonstrably useless in slowing people down, here’s hoping more information might help, since with knowledge comes responsibility. Now you know. If by chance you’re speeding along in a hurry, unlikely to get caught, and some poor schmuck steps out from behind a parked van and you kill him, you’ll know if you’d been going slower, he might still be alive.

As for the immigration debate, a little less rant about the rule of law, and a little more knowledge of the people and economics involved might produce more humane results.

How about neither? I spent part of the Easter holiday resurrecting a pair of jeans that never fit me right by turning them into a cloth shopping bag with big handles. Upon the astute advice of one Jan Andrea, I disassembled one of the many Kroger paper bags around the place and used it as a pattern—the right size rectangle. I disassembled the jeans and pieced them together for a piece large enough, plus seam allowances. The site gives excellent sewing instructions. If you decide to go patchwork like I did, I would recommend removing pockets and other thickness boosters where seams fall first, unless you have a large supply of extra strong needles. I didn’t remove the pockets, and several needles gave their lives in the undertaking, but it was a learning experience. I do all the grocery shopping, like my father before me—we’re a weird family that way—and I have a sentimental attachment to the paper grocery bag. When I used to go with my dad (to give my mother some peace and to educate me in the ways of the grocery store) groceries cost roughly $5/bag. I went grocery shopping this morning, for substantially more. Dad was a label reader back in the fifties. He would’ve loved all the additional info. now. How did the new bag work, you ask? I forgot it, of course.

     Donut

Dough
(in the shape of a zero
in the shape of a tail
in the mouth of a snake
in the belly of a whale)
Fried.

—D. H. Danvers

Newt Gingrich’s recent call to end bilingual education brought to mind the story of the Tower of Babel. Seems to me God weighed in on the multilingual nature of the species, way back when. You don’t want to buck God, do you Newt? There’s another bit about Do Unto Others too, but you long ago proved you don’t give a damn about that one. Somebody should totally immerse your linguistic ass in some refugee camp somewhere just to give you a taste. Where’s that God when you need Him? Here’s a picture of Newt (foreground) overseeing an ambitious project in the Monolingual America of the Future. I don’t know where he’s getting all the workers, since no Spanish speakers are allowed. (Maybe that’s why there’s no roof on the place).