Month: September 2002 Page 2 of 3

Grey Hill notes. The title is “The Things You Do Are Magic,” but that’s just too damn long to write out all the time in your brain, let alone paper.

Ramble, ramble, ramble.

A little sketchy history:

South Dakota used to have lots of country schools. The government (I’m not sure what branch or branches) built schoolhouses and hired teachers for dozens of tiny school districts all over the state. My grandfather’s farm was the entirety of such a school district, called Grey Hill school district. Including the kids of farm hands, they were able to keep seven or eight kids in school there at any given time, grades K-8.

I don’t know how long the school lasted. By the time my father brought us back from the Air Force and Cheyenne, Wyoming, the school was empty. In fact, we used the teacher’s old house to “anchor” our trailer house. I loved going in to the old schoolhouse. Mom and Dad set up their woodworking shop out there, so it smelled wonderful. I practiced piano on an old player piano with the player mechanism broken and torn out — I played it with the window open so I could see the keys dance. Books, half-rotted toys, a collection of buttons, including pearl buttons and buttons from all sorts of military uniforms. A magic place with its own outhouse (boarded over).

I always loved the name, too. Grey Hill. Otherwise our farm was just known as Lambert’s place or the Hat Ranch (the name of our cattle brand).

When I got to college, I became annoyed that the only people writing fiction about South Dakota were straight fiction writers. No fantasy, no sci fi, nothing really fun that I could find. Some good writers, a couple of really good poets, but nobody…genre.

I decided to take on the role.

Whenever I get a chance, I set my stories in South Dakota. And I occaisionally attempt to write parts of the Grey Hill saga, an ongoing story that’s been in my head since I was twelve. The first story, “Beloved,” was about a girl who loses her parents — literally loses them. The farmland, acres and acres of wheat drying in the sun, just takes them, tractor and all. The next story, “Things…Magic,” is about an older woman, a sorceress, who leads a young warrior across a transformed landscape on a mission to wipe out resistance to the new, pagan order. “Beauty” is about a sealed religious community that becomes infected with a virus that destroys their humanity. And there are five more stories I haven’t even started yet, novel-length, about the interaction between the different cultures that exist after all the upheaval and transformation, one about science, one about magic, one about environmentalist/religous zealots, one about normal people, and one about a group of monks trying to live in the balance. No names for them, I just think of them as the Five stories, since there are five main characters and they all play different roles in each story, the main character in one, the villain in the next, etc.

I’ve never tried to really finish any of the stories, and I’ve certainly never tried to get any of them published. I haven’t felt that I’m good enough to handle the stories the way they need to be handled in order to be entertaining (instead of just a private project).

Well, like I mentioned, I’m working on “Things…Magic.” It looks to turn into a novel.

All the things I’ve been learning lately about writing stories don’t fit with this one. The first sentence doesn’t really grab. The action hasn’t started within the first three paragraphs. Conflict doesn’t drive the pace of the story: conflict exists, but the narrator is an old fart that likes to ramble.

Nevertheless, I’ve rarely been so pleased with a first draft as a read back on the prior day’s work. In fact, I don’t even think, “I’m pleased.” I just start reading and continue on until I realize I’ve come to the end and need to start making up some more if I want to find out what happens next.

Reviews. I’m behind the times. Sue me.

Monsters, Inc., Brotherhood III, The Wrath of Khan, and just to be insightfully perverse, a rambly pambly about Steven R. Donaldson.

Monsters, Inc.

I was so ready not to like this movie. I don’t know why. And I haven’t been in a mood to watch movies lately. But God, what a good movie. Not a great movie — it doesn’t transcend itself or anything — but a well-made, well-written, well-acted (you know) movie. Quality. Boo makes me think of what Ray might look like in a year or so — thanks to Lee for pointing that out, and thanks also to him for actually putting the DVD in the player, turning it on, and leaving for work. I cried at the end, when Sully’s face lights up: if there is a heaven, that’s it in a nutshell.

Brotherhood III

I didn’t watch all of this, but I wanted to pass on the word to all you gamers out there: this is a bad movie about gamers, so bad that Lee, lover of bad horror movies and a pest about the “So did you ever watch that movie with Tom Hanks in it about DnD?” question, hated it. You know how bad movies rely on pointless action sequences? Brotherhood III relies on…pointless non-action sequences. Heavy music, fog rolls around, people walk around the halls of their high school, someone appears and disappears out of the corners of their eyes…no, I can’t put it across. Maybe you should watch this movie, just so you can have a basis of comparison when someone pulls out some piece of crap. You could say, “Ah, but it wasn’t Brotherhood III.” The only campy part that I dug was the thing where the bad guy, dressed in pseudo medieval armor or something, corners the young students, puts his enormous hand on the tops of their heads, and shoves them down past the screen. Looks like the guy got a lot of blow jobs.

Hm…for me, the worst movie of all time is The Reflecting Skin. Good filmwork, catchy, very catchy, but such a…corrupt movie that it’s the standard by which I judge bad ones. I felt ill at heart.

The Wrath of Khan

Lee had this on the other day, so I sat and watched it with him. It isn’t my favorite Star Trek movie — the first one is mine — but it’s the fave of many people I know. And…I hate to tell you, but it’s a piece of crap. Check out the acting, the filming, the script, everything. Just bad. Kirstie Alley as a Vulcan, for fuck’s sake. But I understand: this is a mythic movie. It’s not the movie itself that you remember, it’s the things that happened, the unbelievably superreal things.

Stephen R. Donaldson.

Which leads into this ramble…

Stephen R. Donaldson sucks as a writer. You can’t count the number of adverbs on a two-page spread with both hands and both feet. He’s bombastic, perverse about witholding information, makes his characters so much larger than life that even their names are obvious fakeouts (King Joyse, Lord Foul, Reeve the Just), is obviously out of whack, etc. Neverless he’s one of my favorite writers. It’s that mythic thing again. Oh, yeah, did I mention he has no sense of humor in his writing?

Something I noted a long time ago but I thought I’d share here, one of the things that makes the Thomas Covenant series so powerful for me (yes, I know, the one where the main character rapes someone in the first couple of chapters — the first time I read it, I literally threw it across the room (at a library) and didn’t pick it up again for nearly a decade) was finding out that Donaldson was a peacenik. He went to Vietnam as a conscientious objector and got his degree at Kent state a year after the riot/massacre when he got back. His debates all over the Covenant series the first about the uses of power and the effects of despair made so much more sense when I figured that out.

I haven’t read that new, non-fiction thing he wrote, and frankly I don’t care to. It’s not going to be mythic, it’s going to be just the crap. That’s my expectation.

Ha! On the one hand, this is a no-brainer; on the other it’s very cool. I sent one of my younger sisters home with A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle, over the fourth of July weekend. This is the sister that says little and Never Ever writes email.

She wrote me an email saying she wanted me to find her more books like that.

Yeeee-esss! Reached a twelve-year-old.

Raynews. Cute bebe news is always apprectiated, right?

She’s sleeping through the night. In her own bed.

Ahhhhhhh. I’m catching up on 10 1/2 months of sleep loss. Uninterrupted sleep. Wow.

She’s getting steaily more steady. She can walk on her own and hold your finger for a little support, and she can walk all the way down the hall and into the kitchen on her own.

She’s starting to crave solid food more often. She will eat anything. I fed her about an ounce, ounce and half of Kung Pao chicken meat a few days ago. Her poop has become indescribably no longer bebe poop. Considering the smell, I’m a little sentimental about the old bebe poop.

I got her first pair of shoes. She’s not too thrilled yet, but when she gets steady enough with them to tear around outside…she’ll come around. Size 4.


I won’t celebrate Patriot Day tomorrow. I won’t dress up in red, white, and blue. I won’t light candles, I won’t pass on any chain letters. People died; I’ll be mourning.

I can’t say I haven’t been a bigot about Islam and Islamic countries in the last year. I can’t say I don’t think we shouldn’t use terrorist tactics against terrorists and the countries that support them. I can’t even say that I oppose the loss of some of our freedoms — but I can’t say I’m proud of these things. I lost innocence; I’ll be morning.

I spent a decade without the daily fear of worldwide holocaust. More people will die; more people will lose their freedom; more people will turn to fundamentalism and bigotry; more injustice and suffering will eat away at our hearts until we just want them all dead. Whoever they are. There will be no healing; I’ll be mourning.

The day after that I’ll have hope.

Weaseling around the edges.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been transitioned to a new position at work — to QC, actually. So far, everything’s fine with the people on the floor. My partner and I have been working our butts off to give feedback, do research on questions, even putting out a cute little newsletter so everyone, God Help Me, is on the same page.


The only problem is a couple of the supes. I won’t say everything I want to say here, because people at work may be reading this, but cripes already. If you have a problem with the process, don’t mess with the grunts. I don’t get to make the decisions — I only get to make recommendations. Everything I initiate goes through umpteen different people before it hits the floor. And I won’t sneak anybody in behind the lines.

Guess what? I have some integrity when it comes to the job. I hate the situations I get in when I don’t stick to it, so I stick to it. I’ve already had three different people try to push my limits on it. I do my job. I don’t lie, I don’t try to paint thing as better than they are (altough I’m melodramatic enough to try the reverse from time to time, alas), and I don’t tinker with the numbers to get something that looks good. I try to err on the side of kindness, but I’d rather be fair.

Get it?

Do you get it yet?

How about now?

I still haven’t changed my mind. Did you notice?


Dream, 09/04/02. Not in any way true. Disturbing.

My brother (just your basic brother, neither one of my real brothers) tells me, “Dad’s been beating Mom.” I go to my parent’s house, not their real house, and go into their bedroom. Mom’s moving out, but nobody’s told me about it. Everything of hers is in boxes, and there are a couple of packages (wrapped in plastic bags) with tags labeled with my father’s name. “Look,” says my brother. I open the bags. There are a couple of heavy leather belts, one black, one red with cartoon kittens. A kid’s play outfit, red and yellow, adult sized. I leave. I walk downtown and stop at a store (a jewelry store?) where my mother’s working now. I hug her. We walk outside and I ask her how long this has been going on. “Not long — a couple of months,” she says. “He said he wanted to try somehtin gnew, so I went along with it. But he lost control. There was something inside him, and it just came out.” I tried to picure my father — I thought I knew the day it’d started. I’d come over for dinner, and they’d given each other a funny look and went away in the van for a couple of hours. I stepped away from my mother and thew up on the street. I left.

As I walked down the sidewalk, I saw someone I know. She was crying: her grandmother, who was staying with her, had tried to feed a baby kitten its milk using an eyedropper. The kitten wouldn’t drink, so she’d taken the eyedropper and forced the milk up the kitten’s back paw. Somehow. The kitten was hurt and would probably die. I hugged the girl and walked on.

Lost, hopeless.

Editing(Warning: Language) (Warning: this is an ongoing draft of something it’ll probably take the rest of my life or a book contract to complete.)

(For Joe)

So you just finished descing your new character, typing your resume, or hammering out your latest essay for that #$@# required English class. You’re convinced it’s crap, but there’s something about it that keeps you from deleting it….hm…maybe it’s art, maybe it’s craft, maybe it’s…a deadline. What now?

You edit.


2. Take a break. Your love/hate obsession with this thing needs a rest, drama boy.

3. Grab your tools. OK, now grab your other tools. Dictionary, thesaurus, pencil, paper, English major…

4. Read it all the way through. Make no marks. Make no judgements. You need to see what’s really there, and not what you fantisize is really there.

5. Considering your audience, are you making a damn bit of sense? Go through and just try to make sense. Fuck grammar, fuck spelling. Pretend you’re an idiot and read what you’ve written. Pretend you’re an asshole and read what you’ve written. Make changes, save a new version of your stuff, and print out a new hardcopy.

6. Are you saying what you actually want to say? Explain out loud what you’re trying to say and then write it down. Break everything into sections according to what you’re trying to say, like, “First I’m going to say this, but then I’m going to say this.” Move anything that doesn’t match its section into the right section, make a new section for it (if you can make the new section fit in with the big picture you just wrote down), or delete it. Check to make sure you’re still making sense. Save a new version and print out a new copy.

7. Read your stuff without making marks or judgements again. After a minute, ask yourself if you noticed anything new and improved. The best part about editing is finding neat stuff that you didn’t realize was there. If you can, without sacrificing meaning or inviting confusion, stick more of the same in your stuff. (This is mostly for creative work. You probably won’t find any miracles writing your resume.) Save a new version and print.

8. Check your style. Is it appropriate for the people you’re giving this to? Are you too informal with something intended for professional use? (This doesn’t mean you can use “utilize” twelve times to a page, and I’ll slit your throat if you write, “I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here.”) Are you too formal with something intended for people who hate formal English? Save and print, buddy.

9. Read your piece out loud. You can get help for this. If it sounds terrible, then it doesn’t look good, either — if it sounds bad, then you probably have a grammar problem. The only exception to this is commas. Commas do not mean the same thing as pauses in your sentences. Commas connect ideas. Use them to hook sentences together and make lists. There are a few other purposes, but I’m not going to give you a freakin’ book here. Look it up yourself. And the it’s thing? IT IS = IT’S. Anything else is just an its. Check your manual of style or your English major. Save and print.

10. Finally, the proofreading. Spelling and stupid spellcheck errors (lingo for longing, etc.), capitalization, spacing, punctuation, and…FORMATTING. Formatting is very important, even for the most informal work. Especially if you put it on-line. Formatting includes HTML. I suggest you take another break before you mess with this stuff. If you need help, this might be the area where you should most desperately try to get it, because it’s the most objective area. Many things can be passed off as author’s perogative, but sloppiness ain’t one of them.

Fine. What’s on the page still doesn’t match the glory of the idea when you first had it in your head (never does), but you’re impressed. Better yet, other people are impressed. Best of all, other people are impressed, but they can’t tell you why. When someone says, “This is great!” and you say, “What did you like about it?” and he says, “Well, the whole thing,” it’s the best feeling in the world. Unless you get a critic, an editor, or another person that writes looking at it, what you do should be a lot of hard work that comes off like 20 year-old Johnny Walker.


Chick List

Call for help: if you happen to think of it, please send me an email at or leave me a comment.

I’m looking for writers to recommend to chicks. They can be male or female, of any genre, of any particular quality, but must have good female characters that chicks can relate to. Good female villains a bonus.

I want to start a list of such writers, specific works if necessary, and sorted by genre (sci fi/fantasy, mystery/crime, horror, literature, and fiction, fiction being the catchall). Why? Um, lots of the women I know read books. And they’re always on the lookout for recommendations. And they’re always more hyped when I give them books with good female characters than when I recommend somebody like Greg Egan.

Dream, 09/02/02

I met some people somewhere, three women and a man I thought very attractive. His hair was silk-soft. I sat next to him and played with it. It was a shopping center? A business complex? On waking, the closest thing I can compare it to is some of the indoor areas in Minneapolis, all glass, brass railings, and escalators. Good restaurants a few steps from an investment banker, human-sized angels dangling from the ceiling, jumping fountains with lazer lights, tourists, suits, and wild kids walking around with rollerblades dangling from their shoulders all mixed together, wandering the Skyway and collecting in places like these. If you know Minneapolis, the place I’m thinking of is the center with the Au Bon Pain in it, or used to be in it.

One of the women with us (she had strawberry blond hair, freckles, was about 6′ 4″ and built like a basketball player…in fact, I remember now who she reminded me of, a girl a couple of years younger than me in high school, in fact a big basketball nut, with the kind of character that makes you doubt she ever had a bad day off-court. Big smile, always genuine). She started crying and ran off. I got up and followed her.

“What’s the problem?” someone asked, and I knew this girl was going to try to kill herself. Part of me asked myself why I should care, as she wasn’t a friend of mine, and I wanted to snuggle up with this guy, but that part of me wasn’t in charge of the legs.

The building, as I chased the girl (and after a few seconds, everyone else at the table got up and followed), was coming apart. Not in bad condition, but literally coming apart. Drifting. Stairways, escalators, chunks of things would snap, float away, or bounce around, crushing metal and shattering glass.

I chased and chased after this girl, calling her name (I can’t remember the name I called her now). When I finally did catch up with her, she’d put her head under one of the loose escalators. She was waiting for it to come back down and crush her head.

I yanked her out of the way and screamed at her, “You could have been hurt!” Not the brightest thing to say to a potential suicide, but I was pissed.

She just sobbed. I led her away from the worst of the mess. The guy said something, but I ignored him.

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