reading, writing, and commenting

1) I miss director’s commentary tracks.

One thing that I miss about DVDs is the director’s commentary tracks (or commentary tracks in general, although, in general, directors and writers are — in my experience — more interesting than actors to listen to). Not that DVDs don’t exist anymore, but in a lot of cases they no longer have commentary tracks, presumably because more and more people watch movies on streaming services and fewer and fewer on DVDs, so it’s not worth the effort.

So, it was pleasant to find that Rian Johnson recorded a commentary track for Glass Onion, a movie I enjoyed a lot. (I enjoyed Knives Out, too, and I have no interest in thinking about which is better, but Glass Onion is much more full of cameos and funny background details, so the commentary track is fun.)

2. Writing.

I’m holding off on starting a new story for the moment, since the four I’ve posted so far all needed a little sprucing up.

I’m not rewriting or anything like that — just a little tweak here and there. Mostly swapping out words for better words, and adjusting (and, I hope, improving) punctuation. “The Marvel Murder Case” and “The Town Hall Mystery” are done. I’m currently about halfway through “The Deacon Mystery.”

I know, that leaves out “The Heron Island Mystery.” That’s the longest of the four, by far, and it’s the only one which needs more than tweaking. I was constantly aware when writing it that it was going to end up much longer than I’d hoped. It’s 35,000 words, definitely a novella, and longer than “The Town Hall Mystery” and “The Deacon Mystery” put together.

But stories find their own length, and in worrying about how long it was becoming, I see now that I left out at least two small scenes which should be there. So, in addition to the tweaking, I’ll be adding a couple of things. Ironically, despite being, so I thought, “too long,” it’s actually been, until now, a bit too short.

3. Reading.

This article caused a bit of a stir earlier this year: “The End of the English Major.”

Here are a couple of responses from the New York Times:

I think this is interesting, but not, for me, personally compelling. Of the enduring cultural enthusiasms of my life, none of them were acquired at school. James Joyce comes the closest, since I did study that in college and I don’t think I’d read much Joyce before, but that’s not a top tier passion. My experience of formal education is that it has squashed more possible passions than it ever encouraged (to this day, I cringe at the idea of ever opening Moby Dick again).

That being said, I do like the idea of college as a way of educating people, rather than just training them for some future job. I had a friend when I was in college who wanted to become a doctor, and he said that a lot of his fellow future doctors had chosen a pre-med major very early on, but he’d chosen another major (I forget what), partly because he wanted a broader education, and partly because his research had shown that a lot of top medical schools were leaning toward applicants who had a more general undergraduate education, because there was a theory that they made better doctors.

I thought of this when I was considering the movie Eyes Wide Shut recently. I hadn’t liked it much when it was in theaters, but I’ve been watching some videos about it recently, and that’s made me think about it again. The central character is Dr. Bill Harford, a very successful M.D., and it suddenly struck me that he might be a perfect example of what happens when you focus throughout your higher education on the single goal of becoming a doctor.

Being a doctor is clearly his entire identity. He flashes some sort of medical ID card at everybody like it’s a badge, he barely interacts with his daughter, and it’s clearly never occurred to him that his wife is a three-dimensional human being. Has he ever read a book or seen a play? He treats the rich and powerful, but he has no idea how money or power actually work. He is amazed and alarmed to find out that his wife has a history and an interior life. He’s like a boy from junior high school who was yanked from the playground, given medical training and a degree, and who has been completely insulated from reality ever since by lots of prestige and cash.

So, yes, let’s focus some energy on the “humanities.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Movies, writing | Leave a comment

please, sir, i want some less

Some days, it seems like everybody is watching House of the Dragon, or The Rings of Power, or both. And it definitely feels, on most days, like everybody is watching Marvel movies and shows.

(Of course, some days it seems like a lot of people are watching one or two or all three primarily in order to complain about them, but that’s a separate question. That’s not what this is about.)

I’ve read Lord of the Rings several times, starting back in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Quite a satisfying end, actually. I saw the movies when they came out, and I’ve seen them since as well. Similarly: beginning, middle, and end. Very satisfying.

I don’t need more. I may have seen one of the Hobbit movies, but I don’t remember much of anything about it. There was a dragon, with the voice of a famous British actor.

I’ve seen a lot of Game of Thrones, including the end. Not as satisfying an ending as Lord of the Rings, but it was an ending. So, I’m done with that. Time for something else.

I was never as attached to the Marvel movies (except for Guardians of the Galaxy) as I am to Lord of the Rings, but Endgame was a big finale, so I’m mostly done with that whole thing also. (Well, except for Moon Knight, which was excellent.)

Once again, as usual, I have my finger very far from the pulse.

Even with The Witcher (which I’m still obsessed with), I’m mostly impatient for Season 3 to come out, but I haven’t seen the two spin-offs (one movie and one short series) yet, because they’re not about the same characters. Maybe that’s the problem in general. No Ser Davos or Ser Jorah, no Samwise (or Samwell), or Geralt or Yennefer or Cirilla? No thanks.

On a possibly related note, it occurred to me recently that I’ve never listened to the 10-minute version of Taylor Swift’s song “All Too Well.” I really like the original (especially this version from the Grammy Awards show), but I don’t need 4.5 more minutes of it.

Actually, that’s probably different. I wrote a lot of songs, way back when, and a big part of the art of songwriting is editing and paring down and ruthlessly cutting. Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” definitely applies to songwriting, as much as it does to short stories. I don’t need (or want) to read the stuff Hemingway trimmed from “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

I have been watching The Peripheral, which is good so far. It works because the present day (near future) stuff in rural North Carolina and the future-future stuff in London are both interesting. There’s never that feeling when you’re in one location and timeline, and you’re just impatient to get back to the other one (at least for me).

I also saw the movie Amsterdam, which was really good. I want to see it again. The first time I saw it I was constantly distracted by all the familiar faces which kept popping up (“Hey, that’s Taylor Swift… Okay, she’s gone.”). It was written and directed by David O. Russell, who also did American Hustle (which I liked) and I Heart Huckabees (which I liked more).


1) I thought of adding that nothing mentioned here compares to Doom Patrol, but it seemed unnecessary, but then I just read that the current season of Doom Patrol will be the last. Sigh.

2) I liked this article: “The Lore of the Rings,” particularly this paragraph:

This is an imperative of the contemporary franchise: everything must be connected somehow in an endless feedback loop (or ring). This is usually achieved through “fan service,” knowing winks and nods to characters and events the audience already knows, but an overreliance on such references seals the worlds off, and the air in them soon turns stale. There is no room for the organic happenstance of real life, for the inexplicable and strange, like Tolkien’s immortal weirdos Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, who were jettisoned from Jackson’s adaptation.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Movies, Television | Leave a comment

blogs are cool

(I thought I published this a couple of days ago, but apparently not. Whenever I write something, I like to save it and let it sit for a day or two. Sometimes I then forget about it until the next time I do something on the blog. Oh, well. Better that than publishing anything before I’m sure it’s ready.)

1) Happy Near Year!

2) Blogs are cool. They are not currently hip, but they are still cool. I liked this article: “Bring back personal blogging.”

I’ve had this blog since 2005 (August 21, to be precise — I never remember to celebrate the anniversary, but I don’t pay much attention to my birthday either). At that point, it was just a blog update of a regular website (hand-coded HTML) that I’d had since some time in the 1990s.

There were a few years, before social media took over, when I had a lot of comments and interactions with other bloggers. Those blogs are almost all gone now. (Well, except for Maggie over at Maggie Madly Writing. Hi, Maggie!).

Then that all ended, but that wasn’t why I’d started in the first place. I wanted to put my stories and my movie reviews and other stuff out there — I didn’t need (or even, at first, realize the possibility of) likes and responses and whatever.

I think I learned that from my parents. Creating things can be — in and of itself — rewarding.

This will be post #995. There are also 41 posts which are in Draft mode, I assume permanently. As I said, not all of the posts I write make it to being published. That’s fine.

Again, happy new year.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Blog News, Other | Leave a comment

glass onion & knives out: horizontal vs. vertical

I just watched Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story, and I enjoyed it a lot. It is similar to Knives Out in some ways, and different in others, but there’s one major difference that I haven’t seen anybody write about, so I thought I would talk about it here.

I will try to avoid significant spoilers. Both movies are recommended.

In terms of time, Knives Out was vertical. The victim was, if I remember correctly, in his eighties, and the suspects were his children and grandchildren. His mother was also involved in the story. The setting was an old house, obviously decorated to the owner’s particular taste. Inheritance was a major plot point.

It’s also pretty timeless. It could have been set decades earlier, and it will be just as enjoyable decades from now. The Agatha Christie influence, often commented on, includes the fact that Christie could easily have written it herself. The characters have cell phones, for example, but the story could work just as well without them.

Glass Onion is horizontal. The main characters are all roughly the same age, and none of them, as far as we know, have children. [Update: The governor apparently has one or more children.] One has a mother, who is clearly the most intelligent character in the movie, but he constantly ignores and shushes her, and she quickly leaves the story, probably to go get involved in something more interesting.

The story is also completely of this moment. It’s set in the early days of the pandemic lock-down, and several of the characters have jobs which didn’t exist ten years ago and may not exist ten years from now. The movie is full of name drops and cameos, all of which make sense at this moment in history, and most of which will probably need footnotes fairly soon.

The central character in Knives Out had a very long and successful career as a mystery writer. None of these people will have long and successful careers in anything, and in fairness they don’t seem to want that either. They just want clicks and likes and votes, and enough knowledge of the world to know whose names to drop when (and some of them fail pretty spectacularly even at that — like the [white] “influencer” and fashion designer who, we’re told, went on Oprah’s show and compared herself to Harriet Tubman).

Another difference between the movies, as I think about it, is that Knives Out was a mystery with some comedy elements, and Glass Onion is mainly a (very funny) comedy with mystery elements. In other words, Knives Out was Sleuth (the interior decoration was a clear homage to the earlier picture, in fact). Glass Onion is Clue. The mystery is in service of the comedy, not the other way around.

This is not a complaint, by the way — it’s a very clever way to keep a franchise fresh, similar to following Alien, a claustrophobic horror movie, with Aliens, a science fiction action movie. And, since I like comedies and mysteries about equally, a good combination is fine with me.

One thing that pleases me about both movies, as somebody who has written mystery stories, is that each introduces an element or two early on which seems ill-advised and cliché, but then it pays off by the end. I love it when a movie is smarter than I am. There’s a scene early in a Tarantino movie that switches languages in the middle of the scene, and at first I thought it was just the writer wanting to show off, but in fact there was a solid plot-based reason for the switch. I’m sure Tarantino was aware of, and had engineered, my incorrect initial assumption, and I enjoyed my being wrong as much as he did.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Movies | Leave a comment

the deacon mystery (part nineteen)

This story started here.

When my employer emerged from the bathroom, trailing clouds of steam, I reported, briefly, on my conversations with the sheriff and the reporter. She listened politely.

I did not mention my final visitor on the deck.

* * *

The back deck of the inn was pleasant, now that I had it to myself. I listened to two cars start up and drive off.

I drank some coffee, wondering if I'd have any assignments today. The cold breeze was a reminder that winter was now very close.

Mostly I was thinking about breakfast.

The kitchen door opened and a woman's voice, not Mrs. Jessup's and not my employer's, said my name.

I rose and turned, and I saw Miss Tamara Nelson, Esq. She was wearing a cream-colored trench coat and a pair of dark slacks. She had a teacup in her hand.

She motioned for me to resume my seat. "Ms. Nelson," I said as I gestured for her to join me, but she demurred.

"'Miss Nelson,' please," she said as she placed her cup on the glass table and sat down. "I am proudly unmarried." She sipped her tea. "Is Jan going to do anything about the Deacon case?"

I shrugged, "I don't think so."

She looked down into her teacup. "Does that bother you?"

I shook my head. "I-"

"That's not your role. I understand." She looked up, her eyes twinkling.

I laughed. "I do draw a salary, but my job description doesn't say I can't have opinions."

"Do you occasionally express those opinions, in the course of your typical working day?"

"I may take the Fifth on that-"

She rapped her spoon briskly on the glass-topped table. "Overruled. Please answer the question."

I was beginning to enjoy this. I leaned back in my chair.

"To be honest, my biggest concern, in very general terms, is getting paid. Getting her paid, of course, which results in, among many other things, me getting paid. That's my main concern – keeping the firm functioning."

"Is that challenging?" She was keeping a smile at bay.

I shrugged. She waited, and then she smiled as she let the question drop.

"I saw the sheriff and Kate Lane driving off a few minutes ago. I imagine they might have been here to 'grill' you about the Deacon case?"

I shrugged. "There was no intense questioning, since I have no information that the sheriff doesn't have, and I have no reason to give any information to Miss Lane."

She nodded, waiting to see if I would say more before she spoke.

"By the way," she said casually, "just in case you were wondering, I try to stay away from trials where sanity is an issue. The Crier will, I'm sure, have an article tomorrow saying that Julie Deacon is a 'sociopath' or a 'psychopath' or some other sensationalist and unscientific term which carries no legal weight. It's... It's messy, or it can be."

She finished her tea.

"So, therefore, in case you were wondering, it is not a problem that you and I are having this conversation now, and it's not a problem that I was present when your employer and the sheriff were discussing the case two days ago.

"Just in case you were wondering."

She stood up. "This was pleasant," she said. She left her cup and saucer on the table, and, after a brisk knock on the kitchen door, she re-entered the inn.

The End

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Stories | Comments Off on the deacon mystery (part nineteen)

“real” reading, hypertext writing (and reading), and semicolons

I saw a couple of interesting articles on the WIRED magazine website:

1)Is Listening to Audiobooks Really Reading? (WIRED’s spiritual advice columnist on bardic traditions for a modern age—and why book snobs worry about the wrong things.)”

(I had a whole rant written about this, but then I remembered that I don’t do rants. There are enough of those on the internet as it is.)

2)Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story

I’ve written about hypertext stories before, and I’ve written a hypertext story.

I’m sort of thinking of writing another one, not because I want to write a hypertext story, but because some stories naturally go in that direction.

So, here are the reasons that I think hypertext stories didn’t catch on:

1) In my experience, the only audience for hypertext stories is people who write hypertext stories. I’ve never written stories in Esperanto (obviously), but I think writing in hypertext is probably like writing in Esperanto, as far as the potential audience goes.

2) Writing hypertext is a lot of work. As I wrote before: “If you wrote a 5,000-word short story, with just one ‘fork in the road,’ that would end up being two 5,000-word stories, each of which has to work. From then on, for each new fork, you can do the math.”

So, compared to a regular story, more work and fewer possible readers.

3) Here’s another factor I just thought of. My first hypertext story was written back in the early 1990s, not long after the Web was invented — and before a lot of people (including me) had internet access (and when a lot of the “internet access” available didn’t even include the Web).

I downloaded a program from a BBS which enabled the creation of the hypertext story, and then you uploaded the text and a “reader” program to BBSs for people to download and run on their own computers. I even paid the guy who wrote the program to add one more feature to a special version for me.

This was a rather clumsy system, and I don’t think it had a lot of downloads, but one advantage was that it was not a Web page. Writing stories on the Web (which I do, obviously) means they’re just more Web pages. That may be one reason I make the HTML versions, which can be downloaded and printed, or loaded on Kindles or other e-readers.

A novel, for example, should be a discrete thing, maybe on paper or maybe as an e-book, but it’s not the same if it’s just pages scattered through the Sunday NY Times.

This is exacerbated in hypertext, because the way I’d want to do a hypertext story would require conditional links — where the same link would go do different locations depending on various conditions. (The Web is not designed that way, nor should it be, since I can only imagine the nefarious purposes for which it would be used. But if there was a hypertext system which wasn’t the Web, which could operate according to different rules, that would be interesting.)

(There was something called XML, which at some point was supposed to be the next step beyond HTML — the code behind every website — but it didn’t take off the way it was originally supposed to. It’s used in Web pages, but it has to be accessed by regular old HTML. You can’t just create Web pages entirely in XML and have browsers display them, so the parts of the XML standard which I wanted to use didn’t pan out.)

I use the Web because it’s there. It’s the easiest way to do something that’s like what I want to do, and it means I can concentrate on the writing rather than trying to figure out how to become a programmer, too.

And, of course, even if I did become a programmer and create the hypertext structure I’d want for a specific project, see the point above about audience.

You know what I do like? Books about punctuation.

I just bought the book, I’ll report back when I’ve read it.

Also, this is charming, and also sensible: “Game of Thrones author George RR Martin: ‘Why I still use DOS’

(Part of the enjoyment, I confess, is to read an article about using DOS written by somebody who obviously never used DOS and doesn’t really understand what it was.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in writing | Leave a comment