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Archive for the ‘Opines’ Category

10 Steps to Writing a Novel

Posted: Saturday, November 26th, 2011
  1. Plot bunnies become too treacherous to ignore.
  2. Bunnies are off’d with great alacrity (stir in fresh bunnies to make the plot thicken).
  3. Plot is almost finished (except for the most important parts).
  4. Cheeky muse vanishes (abandoned, time of peril and need).
  5. Rewrite (hate plot/publisher/agent).
  6. Rewrite (hate missing scenes).
  7. Revisit ill-fated decision not to study pre-law.
  8. Rewrite (put out hit on muse).
  9. Plot fairies visit and miraculously finish missing scenes.
  10. Solitary plot bunny spotted in yard.

The Best Writing Class Ever

Posted: Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

TCU

By Wynn Wagner

It was 1971 (give or take), and I was in a writing class at TCU. It all seemed innocent enough. This would be an easy A because I had been out in the world, writing as a professional journalist with a professional editor on a professional newspaper. What could go wrong?

The professor was the head of the English Department.

“Please take out paper and pen,” he said. Action: good for him. I like it when you get right down to the nitty and the gritty.

“Spelling doesn’t count in here,” he said. I was borderline in love with this man. “You’ll all have editors, and spelling is their job.”

What more can you want in a class?

“Take a half hour,” he continued. “Write an essay called ‘What I Did on my Summer Vacation.'”

The hell? He dropped his condescending little bomb and left the room. Are we not English Majors here? This was supposed to be an upperclass course on writing. We’d all seen all sorts of classes, but this was a cheap shot. What’d I even done for vacation?

I wrote and turned it in. The next class, the professor read a few papers. He read mine, and I had everyone holding their sides laughing.

“You like it?” he asked, and everyone said they did. There were a few hoops and a couple of hollers.

“It was funny, Mr. Wagner,” the professor said, “but it wasn’t an essay.”

Oops. I thought it was.

“Anybody want to tell Mr. Wagner what an essay is?”

Nobody was there to pour pepper sauce into the gash in my ego.

“An essay is a short work where the narrator learns something and changes,” the professor professed. “What Mr. Wagner did was clever reportage.”

And he went on and on, doing things to change my wound into scar tissue. Everything was good about my paper, except that I missed the point of the assignment about as thoroughly as a point could be missed.

He read a few more and then turned to the blackboard. The professor wrote about 15 emotions on the board.

“Write all these in order on the back of your essay (or report paper, in at least one instance).”

Did he have to add that? I already got his cruel jab. The School of Hard Knocks had moved inside an institution that would one day be awarded an .EDU domain. The professor knocked me down, and he was adding some locker room towel slaps. Wasn’t it? I was a slick commercial journalist with real world writing creds, but I wasn’t an essayist. I thought reports probably paid more than a stupid essay. They only pickup essays to stick into English textbooks, and that only happens after the author is dead. I was there to learn how to make more money from my craft.

“Got the emotions?” the professor asked. “Good. Now circle the emotion that best fits your essay. Mr. Wagner, please just circle the first emotion because slapstick isn’t really an emotion.”

I wondered what I could do to make this guy cut me some slack. (Hint: Nothing.)

The assignment for the next class was to write the same essay but make it the next emotion in line. We weren’t allowed to add any new facts. It had to be the same essay with the same storyline.

And that was our entire semester. We rebuilt and re-crafted our original paper using the next emotion on our list.

Horned frogIt was the most amazing semester that I spent in college. This professor (cold heart and all) took away the problem of lining up facts. We did that our first class. What happened for the rest of the semester is that we learned how to turn anything into whatever emotion we needed.

I hated the class, of course, because I had to endure a year of being picked on.

So bite me, prof. And thanks too.

Laurels and Tardies

Posted: Saturday, October 29th, 2011

This is kind of a big deal for me per­son­ally. This web­site. It is because the engine that does the squishy tech­ni­cal stuff is Word­Press, one of the amaz­ing soft­ware sys­tems that is avail­able on the inter­net. The con­tent is stored in a MySQL data­base. Here’s the amaz­ing part: Word­Press and MySQL are absolutely free. Word­Press is wran­gled by a bunch of scripts that will make the best com­puter pro­gram­mer go glassy eyed just before falling over in con­vul­sions. MySQ, but the scripts usu­ally get the job done. MySQL used to be some­thing of a joke around com­put­eroids, but the data­base devel­op­ers got them­selves a seri­ous case of whoop-ass which they pro­ceeded to pour all over Ora­cle and Sybase. The point is this: free soft­ware rocks. It is almost like they took a cue from… I don’t know… who? Fidonet? Opus?

It still gnaws at me. Because I spent years pro­gram­ming these sill silicon-based whooz­its, I have a deeply held belief that I could prob­a­bly do a bet­ter job. Belief? No: absolute knowl­edge that I could do a bet­ter job. It is the kind of cor­ro­sive knowl­edge that is bub­bles around every time I launch some­body else’s program.

That’s one side of it. The other side is that run­ning some­body else’s code is lazy. It is like the gar­den cen­ter at one local Home Depot. They actu­ally have a tree stak­ing kit. A what? No, really. It is a sharply pack­aged bag of wire and short wooden stakes, and there’s some kind of wrap to keep the wire away from the tree trunk. What’s more, they actu­ally printed instruc­tions for the kit. I’m sur­prised they didn’t include a ham­mer… unless the instruc­tions tell the pur­chaser to go to the tool sec­tion to buy the ham­mer of their choice. I mean, give me a plank and some wire. I’ll break off some wood strips to use as stakes, and I’ll have the tree aligned and fas­tened in less time than a Gen-X Green-jeans can read the damned instruc­tion booklet.

On the other hand, I’m retired from pro­gram­ming com­put­ers. I can rest on my … no, I don’t have any lau­rels. Where are my god­dam lau­rels? WAIT, do lau­rels have thorns? I’m not putting my tush on top of any thorns for any­body. I’m retired, for Pete’s sake.

Being nice [obsidian knife version]

Posted: Saturday, October 29th, 2011

I try to be nice to people. It’s a goal. Sometimes it is a “stretch goal.” Being nice is an uphill battle today, and They are winning. Damn Them (and you know who you are… we all know who you are… we know where you sleep).

Being nice to people is harder now. One Republication presidential candidate announced that corporations are people. That means our surface area just got enormous on being nice to people. There are thousands of corporations, and we ought to be nice to all people.

The Republican presidential candidate that made the big announcement is also pro-life. I suppose that means that this guy is also against bankruptcy court and forced liquidation. You can’t kill people, sir. Every corporation is too big to fail or too people to fail… or something.

Things get out of hand in a hurry when candidates don’t think through their positions. I think the word is “pander,” but I’m not sure.

I had a run-in with one of these newly-declared people. Just the other day, I was saying how nice it was to be using software written by others, hosted on a server that I don’t have to manage personally. There was a time I considered that kind of thing being lazy.

The server is a self-styled Virtual Server, operated by the “person” named 1 & 1. It’s a big company / person with lots of virtual servers.

I need to be geeky for a second to describe what happened and why I may need counseling or a hug or something. Computers have a permission bit: read-only. When this property is set, the operating system denies every attempt to create or change a file. To get my new website rolling, I had to create a folder: uploads.

The webserver needed to be able to create new files there. HELLO: it’s for uploads, new files sent to the server.

Every time I turned off the read-only bit (enabling writing), something automatic came through and reset it. I’d turn the bloomin’ thing off, and the server would slap it back to the ON position. Damnedest thing I ever saw.

I went out to Google and Microsoft and every other place that I could think of. A couple of blog experts said I ought to try a few things. The trouble is that I had already tried them. Every solution (even the ones from real experts at Microsoft) was tried and found lacking. Nothing worked.

This wasn’t a configuration option that I set. It was a shiny new virtual server and a completely new website. I am quite capable of muddling up a configuration, but I was innocent in this case. It came pre-broken without any help from me.

I called in my husband, Rick. He said it was the damnedest thing he ever saw. We tried some more stuff. We scratched our heads. I went and got my obsidian knife and was ready to go find a live chicken.

Rick suggested we call the hosting company. We didn’t do anything to cause the read-only bit to be glued in the ON position. Microsoft didn’t either (why give the admin the option of changing the property if your code is just going to turn it back on, infuriating the system operators who can crash your own servers if they are angry enough).

It had to be 1 & 1. Rick called their technical support people. As soon as he satisfied the techie that he was the account holder, Rick handed me the phone.

I explained the situation. This is the kind of call that I never make. You can count all the times I’ve used technical support on the fingers of one hand, and you’ll have fingers left over. I just don’t call support because I can almost always figure things out. I get baffled sometimes, but I’m tenacious enough to learn what the problem is.

In this case, the problem was a 1 & 1 configuration issue. If it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t Microsoft… the list of other possibilities is short: 1 & 1.

The guy said that he didn’t know what was the problem.

Fair enough. Annoying but honest.

I asked if he could get a 1 & 1 technical support person to look into the defect.

“That is not a service we offer,” the 1 & 1 representative said.

The hell?

The company (person?) that is eager and willing to take a monthly treasure from my bank account refuses to support their own product.

This guy used perfect English on the phone. It wasn’t like the techie was in Asia or Eastern Europe. Understanding English didn’t seem to be the problem.

The person (corporation) simply doesn’t support their work, even when it is broken. Not even when it appears to be their problem.

I used the only two recourses they left in my arsenal:

  • I fired their asses and got a virtual server from a different corporation (person); and,
  • I write the piece you are reading.

Why do companies annoy writers anyway?

And I thought the matter was settled. I felt good about the move, especially considering the new hosting company is considerably cheaper and has fewer restraints. Oh, and the product actually works.

1 & 1 didn’t think the matter was settled. You’re not going to believe what they did.

I opened my inbox this morning, and there was e-mail from 1 & 1. It asked me to rate their service.

I complied without hesitation.

Debates are Gotcha Ops [Perry]

Posted: Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Gov J Richard PerryI got a crick in my neck today, shaking my head at another one of Gov. Rick Perry’s announcements. He might skip some of the upcoming debates between Republican presidential candidates. He what?

These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates…. All they’re interested in is stirring it up between the candidates.
– Los Angeles Times

Well, yeah. Of course the country likes a good brouhaha between candidates. It gives us a way to see which ones have the wattage to handle, say, Iran and Red China.

Imagine J. Richard Perry in the White House, and the phone rings. It’s the North Koreans, and they want to have a few minutes with the prez. What’s Perry going to do? The communist Koreans are not our friends. They want to beat us up every chance they get. Should we put somebody so close to the nuclear launch codes who’s afraid of debating other members of his own political party?

Being president is a tough gig. Getting elected is almost as tough. IT’S CALLED THE VETTING PROCESS, GOVERNOR. You may have gotten a free ride in Texas over the past few years. That’s because you can’t go drop nuclear bombs on California, regardless of how appealing that might be to you. To be president, you have to have both courage and wisdom. Texas has proven over and over that those are qualities not required in being governor.

America likes to kick the tires on potential presidents. Governor, if you don’t want your shins bruised, don’t run for the Big One.

The sad part is that Gov. Rick Perry is the only governor Texas has right now. I wish he weren’t governor. I really really hope the GOP won’t be stupid enough to think Perry has the gonads to be president.