Monthly Archives: February 2013

Something Really Old V: Adventures in Pig Roasting

From the AOL years (1996 – 98).

—-

Last week I mentioned to a co-worker of mine at America Online that I was going to attend a pig roast that weekend. This being the first time I had been invited to one, I was unsure of what exactly was going to happen. My co-worker, apparently a veteran of the pig roasting genre, was only too happy to fill in the details.

“It’s the only way to cook a pig,” he declared, negating thousands of years of bacon, pork chops, Spam and potted meat food product with one imperious sweep. “What you do is you take a pig, stick a rod in it from mouth to tail, and cook it in an open pit for several hours.”

“So you even cook the head?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “In fact, you can tear a chunk right off the pig’s forehead and eat it while it’s still cooking.”

“That sounds sort of disgusting,” I said.

“Disgusting?” he appeared shocked. “Man, that’s the best part!”

I came away from this discussion with two thoughts. The first was simply the observation that there’s a certain class of folk who seem drawn to eat the most disturbing parts of an animal (“Pig forehead/orangutan lips/fish genitals? Man, that’s the best part!”).

While one can appreciate this in that sort of Native American, “use all parts of the animal” sense, it’s still unsettling. If God had truly meant man to think about the fact he was eating pig forehead/orangutan lips/fish genitals, He wouldn’t have invented the hot dog. My second thought was that this pig roast thing might be more complicated than I originally suspected.

Indeed, it is. The flame-broiling of an entire mammal is not something to take lightly. You don’t approach the task of cooking a whole pig like you would approach a hamburger. You can’t just slap it on the grill, flip it over a couple of times, lay some cheese on top, and then accidentally drop it into the flaming briquettes and end up trying to fill up on potato salad. There’s some serious planning involved.

Here’s what you need to cook an entire pig:

1. The Pig. This no doubt to the great displeasure of the pig itself. Our pig was neither one of those polyploidal monstrosities that show up at county fairs, looking horrifying like the farmer that brought it, nor one of those toupeed piglets that were so darn cute in “Babe”. It was medium-sized, which in human terms is about the size of Macaulay Culkin or Labor Secretary Robert Reich, take your pick.

Our pig came without the head, which meant we had to forgo the forehead-gnawing portion of the day, but which also made it easier for most of us to get through the food preparation process without thinking of Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web.” Our pig was also spared the indignity of having a metal rod pinioning it through its anterior and posterior orifices. On the other hand, it was split right down the middle and halved like a red banana, so I wouldn’t suppose from the pig’s point of view that that was any better.

2. The Cooking Apparatus. Entire pigs are generally cooked over a pit, which is dug in the ground, filled with some sort of long-burning flammable object (charcoal briquettes, mesquite logs, Kenny G compact discs) and set ablaze. For our pig roast, digging a hole in the ground wasn’t practical, so we had a huge, industrial-strength grill, large enough to grill a Ford Explorer, if one were in the mood (“The alternator? Man, that’s the best part!”).

3. The Pig Roastin’ Guy. Unless you’re itchin’ for a Family Fun Pak of trichinosis, you want the guy who’s roasting your pig to have some experience, a Pig Roastin’ Guy who comes from a long and proud line of Pig Roasters. Our Pig Roastin’ Guy was “J.D.”, whose pig roastin’ skills were not in dispute: Every July 4th, J.D. would roast three entire pigs over a pit and invite most of the county for a party. Pigs were known to run squealing if he came within 30 yards.

J.D. came complete with seasonings, barbeque sauce, and a dazzling array of electric utensils, but the most interesting things about J.D. were his gloves — thick, black galvanized rubber monsters, glistening with grease, just the sort of thing you’d want to wear if you were handling live high voltage wires or planning to strangle the mailman.

For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what they were for until J.D. put them on, hopped over to the grill, grabbed the pig with both hands and flipped the entire thing over in one disturbingly graceful motion. This was the Greg Louganis of the pig roastin’ world.

Once you have all these things in one place, the pig roasting pretty much takes care of itself — all you have to do is stand around with the other guys, drink beer, and every now and then nibble on the steaming hot chunk of flesh your Pig Roastin’ Guy offers you in advance of the formal pig devouring.

Each time you get an advance pig chunk, you should chew appreciatively, gazing out into the distance, as if lost in thought, then turn to your Pig Roastin’ Guy and say “now, that’s damn fine pig!” It’s the standard response. Any deviation from the norm will cause your Pig Roastin’ Guy to look at you with suspicion; the next time he offers you a pig chunk, it’ll probably have come from some part of the pig you’d’ve rather not known about.

Take it anyway. Because, man, that’s the best part.

The Big Idea: Jamie Mason

The “whydunit”, is arguably the more intriguing of questions asked along a literary journey suggests Jamie Mason, author of Three Graves Full.  In today’s Big Idea, Jamie explains the method and mentality that went into polishing her debut novel.

Jamie Mason:

I’ve never written anything that went theme first, story second. Probably someone could do it. No doubt someone has – or likely many someones. Lord knows maybe even I could do it if I wanted to or was paid a million dollars to do it that way. It’s just that neither of those scenarios has presented itself yet.

So, I got a Big Idea: There is a man, a mild man, not a bad guy, but a guy prone to doing the wrong thing. Then he kills somebody. In a panic, he plants the problem a little too close to home, if you know what I mean. And because, in fine non-psychopathic form, he can’t stand doing any yard work after that, he hires a landscaper to keep the front of his house − just the front – nice and presentable. He’s concerned that that the neighbors will start looking at him funny if his grass grows up to the windows and the hedges jump their beds.

Wouldn’t you know it, those landscapers discover a buried body on his property – only it’s not the body this guy buried.

And then this guy has about 300 pages of problems after that.

Since the foundation of Three Graves Full is one hell of a coincidence, I realized as I went along that the characters were going to need to be latched onto this ridiculous ride with some thematically very sound bolts. I noticed that, within the bounds of this story, everything seemed to turn on how inclined each character was to take the bald truth full in the face. The more they lied – and there were little lies and great big whoppers in the spectrum from omission to full on fabrications – the more the breadcrumbs fell to lead me back to why they were the way they were, and why they did the things they did.

I became fascinated with the idea of what I called “The Liar’s Margin” which was, in fact, the original and working title of the book. Here’s a little of what I had to say on it:

“Every event is boxed in by a set of facts; the truth as it were. There’s the what and the when of a deed; there’s where it happened and how it was done. But it’s at the why that the liar’s margin begins. It’s from this border that we launch the justifications for everything we do, and for all that we allow to be done to us. Only our distance from the hard truth and the direction of our push—toward or away from it—is the measure of our virtue.”

What I’d set out to do, and hope I’ve managed, is to take one fictional character’s worst nightmare, and gild that nightshade flower with a caper at the intersection of a few more fictional character’s worst nightmares. Then, as we seem more readily able to do with someone else’s problems, I wanted to find the humor there − and most importantly, to find the why. For me whodunit is almost always less interesting than whydunit.

The Big Idea of the liar’s margin is that it is the perfect laboratory for distilling ‘why’. If we know that she won’t face her reasons for putting up with a cheater, or that he’s not entirely ashamed of the murder he committed, or that another person is unwilling to admit how very like his father he really is – well then, we’ve done more than solved a fictional crime. We’ve earned ourselves a Diploma of Advanced Amateur Anthropological Studies from The University of Armchair.

And that’s not too shabby for just the price of a book.

Three Graves Full: Amazon|IndieBound|Powell’s|Barnes&Noble|Simon & Shuster

Read an excerpt.  Jamie Mason can be found via:  Website|Blog|Facebook|Twitter

The Human Division, Episode Five: Tales From The Clarke is Now Live!

It’s Tuesday and by now, you know what that means! The Human Division, Episode Five: “Tales from the Clarke” is now live. (Oh, a rhyme!) Links to this week’s piece are below and the description blurb is as follows:

Captain Sophia Coloma of the Clarke has a simple task: Ferry around representatives from Earth in an aging spaceship that the Colonial Union hopes to sell to them. But nothing is as simple as it seems, and Coloma discovers the ship she’s showing off holds surprises of its own…and it’s not the only one with secrets.

You can also continue to read along with Ron Hogan over at Tor.com.  As Ron cleverly teases for the future installment:

Join us next week, when we meet a familiar face from The Last Colony, and get to see a character from Zoe’s Tale in a whole new light, in Episode 6, “The Back Channel.”

Reviews are always appreciated, so if you do like the episode (or even if you don’t),hit your favorite social media or online bookstore to leave your thoughts and stars. Above all else, thank you for riding along on the journey thus far.

Tales from the Clarke: Amazon|Barnes & Noble |iBookstore | Google Play |Kobo|Audible (Audio) (all links US)

Something Really Old IV: Flaming Babies!

Another take from the AOL years (1996 – 1998).

—-

My friends Lisa and Michael gave birth to their first child last week (actually, Lisa did the birth-giving while Michael participated in a less active advisory role), and although I’m sure they didn’t plan it this way, their blessed event was well-timed with another baby-related milestone: last week, the disposable diaper celebrated its 35th anniversary.

The disposable diaper was created by Vic Mills, a chemical engineer at Procter & Gamble. In 1961, Mills was apparently sufficiently turned off at the prospect of changing his granddaughter’s poopy cloth diapers that he created the disposable diaper as an alternative. This created what would eventually become the Pampers brand of diaper and proved, once again, that the greatest engine of invention in Western Civiliztion is man’s single-mided determination to avoid real work. Mills went on from Pampers to work with Jif peanut butter and Pringles potato chips. Presumably he washed his hands first.

Procter & Gamble now maintains that 94% of today’s parents use disposable diapers exclusively. This is good news for Procter & Gamble and Kimberly – Clark (which makes Pampers competitor Huggies), whose brands between them account for two thirds of all disposable diaper sales in the U.S. But I found that figure mildly disturbing, because of an event that occured with a disposable diaper during my own diaper wearing days.

What happened was, I was wearing a diaper and I decided that it wasn’t the sort of lifestyle choice I wanted at the time. Showing a sort of manual dexterity that would soon abandon me to a childhood of nearly lethal clumsiness, I managed to disengage the diaper from my body and, after smearing some of the contents on a nearby wall (an action which, unbeknownst to me at the time, qualified me for an NEA grant), I placed the diaper on a dresser near my crib. Sometime thereafter, the diaper exploded in flame. Fortunately, mom happened to be nearby and the situation was handled before major property damage occured. I also survived.

To this day, we don’t know exactly what caused the diaper to spontaneously combust (the best guesses are that sunlight hitting the contents heated them to ignition point, or that mom had been feeding me the Gerber Mashed Habanero Chile Dinner). Since then, however, I’ve wondered if Spontaneous Disposable Diaper Combustion happens with any frequency. Since my friends are now reproducing, and it’s likely that I and my wife will do so in the next few years, I wanted to get this settled now.

So I called Procter and Gamble’s Pampers hotline and told them my flaming diaper story.

“That’s highly unusual,” the Pampers hotline lady said, in the careful tone of voice that they’re probably trained to use whenever they’re dealing with a nut case. “Did your mother contact the diaper manufacturer at the time?” she asked.

Immediately I got an image of my mother as a young woman, crackling diaper in one hand, a phone in the other, trying to get through before the flames burned through the diaper and started charring her fingers. Meanwhile, she’s put on hold and made to listen to “Mandy.”

I admitted to the Pampers hotline lady that I don’t think my mother thought about it at the time. “Well,” the Pampers lady said, “We’ve been making diapers for 35 years and this is the first time I’ve heard of this. It’s bizzare.” To double-check, we went through the ingredients that make a modern disposable diaper: polypropylene fabric, wood pulp, a special polymer gel. The back sheet is polyethelyne, and the leg elastics, synthetic rubber.

“None of which have been known to spontaneously combust,” I prompted.

“No, sir,” The Pampers lady assured me. I got another mental image, this time of Procter & Gamble research scientists, dressed in asbestos suits, schottzing napalm through a flamethrower at a disposable diaper. The diaper lies on pedestal, impervious to flame, inclining slightly towards the scientists as if to say “Have you SEEN what comes out of a baby? Have you?!? This is nothing!”

The lady who answered the line at Kimberly – Clark also maintained that her company had no spantaneously combusting disposable diaper stories. “It’s definitely an unusual story,” The Huggies lady said, mirroring almost exactly in words and tone what the Pampers lady said (did the Pampers lady call ahead to warn the Huggies lady? Is there some sort of weird diaper lady cabal? My suspicions, though well-founded, went unanswered). However, the Huggies lady did allow that a diaper could, theoretically, catch flame if it were placed too close to a “heat source.”

What kind of heat source? “Like a open pit fire,” the Huggies lady suggested.

Parents, if you were thinking of gently toasting your disposable diapers on a Homecoming bonfire to give them that comfy, hot-from-the-dryer feeling, don’t. And if you’ve already begun, stop now. Nothing good can come from it. We have it on authority from the Huggies lady herself.

In the main, it appears that our national supply of disposable diapers is as safe from spontaneous combustion as it has ever been in its 35 year history. The only threat from a disposable diaper is the same threat that helped create the disposable diaper in the first place: what your own little angel puts in it.

Something Really Old III: Cute Adorable Extortionists

Again, from the AOL years (1996 – 1998).

—-

Yesterday was the last day of summer, and what day it was. Here in Virginia, where I live, the sun dappled the trees in golden light, and it was just hot enough to remind you that was still summer, even if only for one more day. Looking down the road, I could see two lemonade stands, children on the standby, ready to sell their last tangy glasses of the season. It was perfect, and I decided to get myself some lemonade.

“Hey there,” I said, to the youngsters, a boy and a girl, sitting behind the stand. “Got any lemonade left?”

“Sure!” said the boy, smiling up at me with an adorable, gap-toothed grin. “I squoze the lemons myself! You want a cup?”

“Absolutely,” I said, and the boy grabbed a Dixie cup, while the girl poured the lemonade. They were so cute you could just die. I was wisked back to my own days as a lemonade proprietor — I felt, now as the customer, I was helping continue a generations-long summer tradition. An American Tradition.

“That’ll be $1.15,” the boy said.

“What?” I said.

“That’ll be $1.15,” the boy repeated.

“Wow,” I said. “$1.15 is kind of steep for a Dixie cup’s worth of lemonade.”

The boy and the girl stopped smiling and looked at me sort of strange. I immediately felt guilty. “You don’t want the lemonade?” the boy asked.

“I didn’t say, that, ” I said. “It’s just that….”

“We’ll have to throw it out,” the little girl piped up, her voice catching just a little bit. “We already poured it for you, mister. We can’t just put it back.” Now they both looked like they were about to cry. It was terrible, an obvious let-down for what was heretofore the most perfect day of the year.

So I figured, what the heck. “All right,” I said. “Done deal.” Their adorable faces immediately perked up again, and I fished in my pocket for the change. I was then presented with another problem.

“I only have 65 cents on me,” I said.

Their puckish faces darkened again, and this time there was suspicion in their eyes. And who could blame them. Two times, a deal had been struck. Both times, at the end of the deal, I backed away, citing previously undisclosed reservations. Clearly, I was an unreliable customer. Clearly, I was messing with their delightful, cowlicked little heads. I felt slimier than a salted banana slug.

The two went into a huddle. After a minute or two of whispers, the boy turned to face me. “All right. We don’t normally do this, but we’ve decided to extend you a line of credit.”

“Great,” I said, reaching for the Dixie cup.

The boy kept his grip on the lemonade. “You just have to answer a few questions,” he said. The little girl, reaching under the lemonade stand, pulled out a clipboard.

“Have you ever defaulted on a loan, or have found yourself involved in bankruptcy proceedings?” She asked, the slightest of lisps in her voice no doubt brought on by the absence of a front tooth.

“Uh….no.”

“Do you rent, or do you own?”

“I rent,” I said. “Hey, all I wanted was some lemonade.”

“And you’ll get some, as soon as we’re satisfied with your credit history,” the boy said. “And you’ll love it! I squoze the lemons myself.”

“That was cuter before you asked if I rent,” I said.

“How much to you pay in rent?” the little girl asked.

“I’m not going to answer that,” I said, putting my foot down. The two looked at each other, and then at me. Once again, I was imposing deal-breaking conditions. “Oka-y-y-y,” the little girl said, in a tone of voice that expressed, in no uncertain terms, who the jerkwad was in this deal. “I’m phoning this in to the credit bureau. It’ll take a couple of minutes.” She left, leaving me and the boy.

“So, selling much lemonade?” I asked.

“Some,” he said. “Well within our sales projections for this month. Lower summer temperatures have depressed the lemonade market in general, and last winter’s citrus freeze meant higher overhead. We’ve had to pass some of the cost on to the consumer.”

“No kidding,” I said.

He shot me a look. “Fortunately, we have some leeway thanks to a subsidy from a regulatory entity.”

“The Department of Agriculture?”

“No, our mom.” The little girl came back. She didn’t look happy.

“You missed a payment on a JC Penny credit card in 1990,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell us about that earlier?”

“What’s the big deal?” I said. “I made a double payment the next month. And anyway, it was over six years ago. You were a gamete in 1990.”

“Well, I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to offer you a line of credit,” she said. “You’re just not an acceptable risk for us.”

“Fine,” I said. “You know what? I’m going to that other lemonade stand. You kids are about to learn a lesson about the free market.” I walked down the street to the other stand. There was a cheerful little tyke there with an appealing smile.

“How much for the lemonade?” I asked.

“It’s just a quarter,” he said.

“Great,” I said. “I’ll take a cup.”

“Oh, you want a cup?” he said. “The cup is $2.50.”

Something Really Old II: Pepsi Points and the Jet

From my AOL days (1996 – 1998).

—-

 

How much Pepsi would it take to get a Harrier Jet?

 

The question has relevance because someone, specifically John Leonard of Lynwood, Washington, is suing PepsiCo, the makers of Pepsi. PepsiCo won’t give him the Harrier Jet that he says they said they would give him if he collected 7 million “Pepsi Points.” Pepsi Points are credits that PepsiCo gives you for consuming their brown beverage — drink enough Pepsi, and you can get various trinkets from a catalogue they provide. They’re like Green Stamps, only carbonated.

 

One of the ads for Pepsi Points featured a 13-year-old kid who racked up 7 million Pepsi Points and redeemed them for a vertically-launching Harrier Jet. The kid was using the Harrier Jet to commute to school, which admittedly would have had some advantages (no traffic except for the occasional, very surprised helicopter; also, coming to school equipped with Sidewinder missiles tends cut down on the amount of homework teachers are willing to assign you).

 

Most folks who saw this commercial showed a rather un-American lack of initiative in pursuing the 7 million Pepsi Points, but Leonard, full of the moxie that made this country great, saw a golden opportunity. After all, Harrier Jets generally go for $70 million. Oh, sure, occasionally you can get a million or two chopped off the asking price, but you usually have to be an ally of the US, and have fought a war or two on the same side as us. The average Joe, on the other hand, presuming he could even get his hands on a Harrier, would have to pay the full dealer markup — which of course doesn’t include tax, title and delivery, or things like air conditioning or a cassette stereo.

 

But PepsiCo, who had apparently somehow managed to acquire a Harrier Jet (presumably the Cola Wars have taken on a new and more violent aspect), were getting rid of it for a mere 7 million Pepsi Points, which aside from drinking Pepsi can be bought at 10 cents a point. That’s just $700,000, still a lot of money — it takes Bill Gates almost 12 hours to make that much off of interest! — but a fair markdown from the Harrier’s listed sticker price. Leonard got some investors, got the $700,000, and approached Pepsi for the jet. Though we can’t know exactly what the exchange was between Leonard and PepsiCo, we can assume it went something like this:

 

Leonard: I’m here for my jet.

 

PepsiCo Representative: You’re nuts.

 

Leonard threatened to sue to get the jet. PepsiCo responded by filing for a Declaratory Judgement — basically asking a judge to tell Leonard to take his Pepsi Points and buy a clue instead. Leonard followed through with his suit, and that’s where it stands at the moment: Leonard on one side, PepsiCo on the other, and a Harrier Jet in between.

 

Ignoring the reality-based issues of this suit — such as the fact that PepsiCo never had a Harrier Jet, that its commercial was clearly meant for humorous effect, and that even if Leonard some how miraculously won the suit, the Pentagon would never give him a Harrier anyway — let’s deal with the theoretical aspects. I say that PepsiCo should give Leonard the Harrier Jet — if Leonard earns his Pepsi Points the way they were meant to be earned: by drinking his way through them. Just him, without help from anyone else.

 

Which brings us back to our original question: how much Pepsi would it take to get a Harrier Jet? According to an Associated Press report, it’d take 16,800,000 12-ounce cans — except in August, when points are doubled. So he’d only have to drink 8,400,000 cans, presuming he could drink them all in August.

 

It takes about 12 seconds to drain a can of Pepsi; the limiting factor is the mouth of the can. You could speed up the process of getting the Pepsi out of the can with something like rubber tubing (a “Pepsi Bong”), but then, there’s the set-up time getting the rubber tubing in the can and into Leonard’s gullet simultaneously. 12 seconds per can is as good as it’s going to get. That’s five cans a minute, 300 cans an hour, 7200 cans a day.

 

Assuming that Leonard, cathetered and with a nutrient IV drip to fulfill his basic life functions, did nothing else besides drink Pepsi 24 hours a day, it would take him one thousand, one hundred sixty six days and 16 hours to drink all 8.4 million cans. By which time, obviously, August would be over. He’d have to drink another 8.4 million cans to make up the difference. All told, Leonard would have to spend about six years and three months of his life doing nothing but drinking Pepsi to get enough Pepsi Points for the Harrier Jet.

 

That’s fair. If he can do that, I say he’s earned the jet. He’ll need a couple of other things as well (for example, a new digestive tract), but if you’ve drunk that much Pepsi, you can probably tuck a couple more cans of the stuff away to cover the medical expenses. I think it’s a solution that both PepsiCo and Leonard can agree on. I called PepsiCo, to see if they might be amenable to idea: Pepsi spokesman Brad Shaw declared, “I can hardly think of a better way to spend six years than drinking Pepsi non-stop.” So, John Leonard, get cracking!

 

Now, there’s another Pepsi Points ad in which these guys are drinking Pepsi, and every woman around them has turned into Cindy Crawford. I recently quaffed a Pepsi, and all the women near me persisted in being themselves. I think I may have a case.

 

Something Really Old I: Drill, Sergeant

From my AOL days (1996 – 1998).

—-

My wife played softball on Saturday and spent Sunday wobbling around the house like Weeble. She had odd-shaped bruises in weird places (a thin, streaky one on her ankle, a splotchy Rorschach blotch on her shoulder and small but nevertheless real bruise in the cleft of her chin — the Kirk Douglas special) and stiffness in her joints. Lactic acid, produced in bursting moments of athletic activity, leaked through her muscles, making them achy and sore. She debated whether or not to be fed intravenously.

Don’t feel too bad for her. The pain my wife was feeling was brought about by her own doing. It’s a subset of the entire “Feel the Burn” philosophy that dictates that unless you exercise your body until your neurons misfire, you’re not really exercising at all. This is in turn a subset of a larger philosophy that embraces pain, and how much of it you can take, as an indication of character and internal makeup (Not REAL pain, mind you. Real pain is brought on by circumstances that you cannot control, like car wrecks, or food poisoning, or Charlie Sheen popping up in a movie you’re watching. Real pain is random. Real pain is scary. Real pain hurts).

On one end of this philosophy, you’ve got my wife and her softball aches. On the other end you’ve got G. Gordon Liddy barbecuing his hand, taking “Feel The Burn” rather too literally. Somewhere beyond Liddy’s finger food, however, is a story that my dentist told me earlier in the week, while he was shaving down my teeth.

My dentist had his medical schooling paid for by the Navy, and in return was stationed at Parris Island, tending to the dental needs of the Marines there. In all respects, my dentist said, the Marines were fine, upstanding men, both officers and gentlemen.

But the Marine officers also had this thing about anesthesia: they didn’t want any. They would come in to his office, salute and say “Sir, I request not to have Novocain. I would like to test my endurance to pain.” Then they would sit down in his chair, their uniforms neat and freshly pressed, to await the dentist’s ministrations.

This freaked out my dentist for a while, until he was pulled aside by some of the other dentists who had worked on the base longer than he. “Look,” they said, “If they’re dumb enough to ask, you might as well give them what they want. Just tell them not to move.” He did. They didn’t. After the work was done, my dentist said, the backs of the Marine officers’ neatly-pressed uniforms would be drenched with sweat from collar to seat.

The payoff for the Marine officers (other than quality dental care) were the bragging rights they got out of it: someone was tooling around in their mouth with a high speed drill, and they TOOK it. Like a MAN. Like a MARINE. At social functions on base, my dentist would be approached by his patients, who would have a friend in tow. “Sir,” they would say, “Please communicate to my colleague here how much pain I endured in your chair.”

“We drilled right on the nerve,” my dentist would invariably reply. Everybody went away happy.

If I were a dentist, I don’t know that I would want to have a reputation as a master of nerve pain, but my dentist didn’t seem to mind, and now we have a corps of Marines ready for whatever feats of dental malice our enemies may hurl against us. As an American, I sleep better at nights knowing this.

How do I feel about this “No Pain, No Gain” philosophy? Well, ask my dentist. He drilled right on the nerve, and I didn’t flinch once. It’s because he numbed my face so thoroughly there are parts of it I still can’t feel.

And Now, An Announcment

Effective midnight, I’m taking ten days off from the Internet.

Because I want to, that’s why.

The Fabulous Kate Baker has the Mallet while I’m gone. Heed her.

I may schedule some really old stuff here to keep you amused while I’m away. Be afraid.

Oh, and some Big Ideas. Don’t be afraid of those.

See you later. Behave. Thanks.

Signed ARC of The Human Division Up for Auction

Yes! The whole book! Signed and everything! For the Con or Bust drive. Go here if you want to bid on it. And while you are there, why not check out all the other very cool auctions? You’ll likely find something else you’d want to bid on.

Update: D’oh! I jumped the gun. The auction opens at midnight. Sorry.

The Big Idea: Laura Lam

Sometimes, in the telling of the life of a character, it’s not just what the author reveals that’s important, but also the when — that is, when in the life of the character the author focuses her attention. So Laura Lam learned while considering the main character of her novel, Pantomime. She’s here now to give you the fuller picture.

 

LAURA LAM:

A caveat: I hmmed and haad for a time on the subject of the post, wondering whether or not to discuss the “twist” of the story or hedge around it. I could discuss my fascination with the many interests that fed Pantomime and its world—the circus, the Victorian era, a dying empire, the line between technology and magic—but the world was not the initial “Big Idea” that led to writing Pantomime. It was the character of Micah Grey and his story. So instead of skirting around it, I’m going in: HERE BE SPOILERS (of something found out 25% into the novel).

The character of Micah Grey appeared first, in around 2007, and the world of Ellada and the Archipelago grew around him. I was apprehensive and scared that I wouldn’t be able to do the character justice: I didn’t know much about the experience of being intersex.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, intersex encompasses a spectrum of sexual development conditions. Some call these Disorders of Sexual Development/Differentiation (DSDs). There are more than a dozen types of these “disorders,” and some say that it is about as common as red hair (source: The BBC documentary Me, My Sex, and I). People who are intersex should not be called hermaphrodites, as it is considered a politically incorrect and misleading term.

For quite a while, I didn’t write about Micah Grey. I wrote some other stories and some poems. But I kept thinking about him, niggling at his background, hopes, and dreams like a loose tooth. I researched a lot, from the history of intersex people in the Victorian era to the present. I watched documentaries and I read interviews. After a year, I knew he wasn’t going to go away and his was the story I needed to tell, so I tried.

But I didn’t start with Pantomime.

I started with Micah Grey as a 27-year-old, and I have about 80,000 words of a manuscript with a more mature, world-weary person that I will re-visit one day.  I was 19 at the time, and kept struggling to tap into his voice. In December 2009, when working in a very boring filing job after I’d graduated university (I’d studied creative writing after all; it was all I could get), I started thinking about Micah’s backstory as a teenager. I decided to write a short story about Micah Grey before he was Micah: when he was the daughter of a noble family named Iphigenia (Gene) Laurus, and how he would leave that life behind to become Micah Grey, the newest aerialist of the circus.

As you might have guessed, it didn’t stay a short story.  As soon as I started writing 16-year-old Gene/Micah, it all clicked into place. That’s not to say that the first draft of Pantomime was perfect—it was far from it—but I had found both sides of Micah Grey: both his and her voice. Micah was a teenager trying to find himself, walking the tightrope between childhood and adulthood and between genders.

Initially, I wrote the book chronologically, but during a rewrite I split the narrative. In spring, Gene’s life of afternoon tea parties and debutante balls is contrasted against  Micah Grey’s rougher life in summer as the newest member of the circus, where everyone is hiding a secret or three.

Pantomime is set in a fantasy world, with a pseudo-Victorian setting and advanced technology left behind by a long-vanished civilization, called the Alder. The Alder and the mythical beings they created called Chimaera are long gone, or are meant to be. Pantomime is set in a circus with aerialists, fire eaters, equestriennes, a ringmaster, and a freakshow with a four-legged woman and a strongman who reads philosophy.

While Pantomime is set in this world, the big idea is that every character in my book at some point feels like an outsider, or a freak, but they can also find a place they call home, if they can find the courage to take it.

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Pantomime: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Follow the author on Twitter.

Procedural Notes For a Fund Drive

Now that people have pledged a whole stack of money to the “Counteract a Bigot” fund drive — we’re up above $60,000 in pledges at this point and I have to actually count out how much before I can say for sure what the precise amount is — there are some questions about how things will proceed from here. So: A quick rundown.

1. First: Look at that adorable Gamma Rabbit, drawn up by Greg Pak, who is awesome. Click on the picture to go to his site.

2. Right now, here’s what everyone who has pledged has to do: Nothing. Don’t send me money, don’t worry about anything, just go on about your lives. Dedicated volunteers will keep track of the number of times I am invoked over the year. In late December I will release a tally and tell you how much I am donating, based on that. I’ll post it here and I will probably send out a one-time e-mail. Those of you who are donating per invocation, as I am, will likewise add up your donation sums at that time. Then you will donate it to the organizations/charities I’ve listed, or the similar organizations/charities you’ve chosen. That way, you will get the benefit of any tax deduction (if applicable). And I don’t have to handle any money aside from my own. Everybody wins!

3. Speaking of the “team of dedicated volunteers,” I have yet to make a selection for that because this week got crazy hectic between work and the media interest in the fund drive. If you volunteered, trust me, I have your name and I will let you know. Probably not next week but definitely the week after. Don’t worry. The reason volunteers are needed will still be there, I assure you.

4. Remember that no matter what, you’ve promised to donate 5% of your maximum donation. So tuck that away now. Put it in the bank and earn interest.

5. However, if you don’t want to wait because waiting is boring, go ahead and donate as much of your pledge now as you would like, or donate it at any time during the year. The organizations/charities you’ve selected won’t mind if you jump the gun.

6. Some people have asked me: Okay, you have all this money pledged, but how can you be sure that people will follow through on their pledges at the end of the year? The short answer is: I can’t be sure, but I believe they will. The slightly longer answer is: well, look, it’s easier to lurk and watch on something like this than to put yourself (and your money) out there and say, yes, this is something I believe in. I think people who did say that will be good for it. Maybe some of them will have a rough year and can’t donate all they promised, and that’ll be fine if it happens. On the other hand, there are some people who said, hey, if things go well, I’ll donate more. That will be fine, too. In the end it’ll all even out and these organizations/charities will see the benefit.

7. On a personal note, wow, this little thing went off in directions I genuinely did not expect last Saturday, when I decided to use my money to bring some good out of someone else defaming my name on a regular basis. I was surprised when people asked to join in and genuinely amazed both at how many people came along and how much money has been pledged. At this point, I’m pretty sure it’s not about me and my name anymore. It’s about people in the science fiction and fantasy community, and in the online community, saying where their values stand — and what bigotries they as people stand against. And to that, all I can say is, genuinely and humbly, thanks, folks.

No, Wait, I Do Have Another Thought Re: Used eBooks

Which is this:

In the event that Amazon (or anyone else) gets into the business of selling used eBooks without compensating me (the author) for them, and you decide that you don’t want to buy the book new (i.e., I’m not going to get paid anyway), you know what? I would rather you pirate the eBook than buy it used. Because if you’re not going to pay me, the guy who wrote the book (or also the folks who edited it, did the cover art, marketed it and put it out there in the first place), why the hell should Jeff Bezos get paid? He doesn’t need the money; he’s a billionaire. Amazon doesn’t need the money either.

To be clear, what I would like for you to do is pay for the eBook new, at the very least if it’s your first time buying it. We don’t charge an arm and a leg for the things, and when you buy the book, I get to eat and keep a roof over my head and pay for my daughter’s (hopefully) eventual and no doubt ridiculously expensive college education. There’s a direct correlation between me getting paid to write novels, and me writing them. Just so that’s out there. But if you’ve determined you won’t, please don’t give Amazon (or whomever) money you won’t give me. That’s just mean.

Update: good point in the comments: The other option is to borrow the eBook version from the library! Yes, I totally support that.

Update 2: I just brought up a point in the comments that’s worth noting here: Amazon is among other things one of my publishers (they own Audible, which publishes most of my recent audiobooks), and in that role I’ve been very happy with them — heck, they pay for the shiny ads with my book in them on billboards and such — and they make me lots of money. The key here being that when it gets paid, I get paid. But if Amazon is getting paid for my work and I’m not, then I’m not happy about that. The real world! With its entangled business practices! It’s complicated!

Second-Hand EBooks

Yes, folks: I read about this. My first impressions: a) I’m awfully suspicious that it means nothing good for writers who want to get paid for their work using the current compensation model, b) If Amazon actually wants this to work they are going to have to become strikingly transparent in their processes, which they hate, or be slammed with class-actions suits from writers from day one, c) if I were a lawyer I would already be salivating at the class-actions suits to be filed the very first time it becomes clear that Amazon is reselling eBooks that are not, in fact, the sole versions of that specific, originally sold copy (i.e., buyer takes eBook file, copies it, takes original file and resells it to Amazon), d) if I were a publisher I really wouldn’t have any doubt Amazon wants me dead. These are only first impressions; further impressions may be more subtle.

Go ahead and discuss this in the comments. Do me a favor, please, and actually discuss this topic, rather than, as so often happens in any discussion of digital rights or publishing, pulling out your cue cards of standard talking points about ebooks and/or the field of publishing, either pro or con. Your cue card talking points are boring, and I might just Mallet you out of the boredom you will induce in me.

Today’s Very Cool Thing What I Got in the Mail

No, not the awards. I’ve had those for a bit. I’m talking about the fabulous artwork, from John Harris. Does it look at least slightly familiar? It should. Here, this is where you might have seen it before:

That’s right, it’s artwork for an upcoming episode of The Human Division. I’ve really enjoyed all the artwork Harris has created for the epsiodes, and this one especially, so I inquired whether I might be able to purchase it. Happily, the answer was yes, and now I have it and it is mine. One of the perks of being an author is sometimes you get to own the artwork that graces your work. I’m truly pleased to have this in my home, and soon on my wall.

SFWA.Org Currently Under DDoS Attack

Reposting this here by way of getting the word out to SFWA members:

For those who don’t know, a DDoS attack basically means someone is hitting our web site with automated  frequent requests with the intent of blocking access to it. We’re not speculating on who or why; what we’re focused on is getting the site back up. Our Web folks are fixing it as we speak.

Update: We’re back up.

The Human Division Episodes: Official Bestsellers

No lie, it seems both The B-Team and Walk the Plank hit the USA Today best seller lists in the last couple of weeks. Sweet! I have no idea if a serialized novel has had individual portions of it hit that particular list before, although I imagine (so long as this particular list existed then) that The Green Mile did it. So maybe it’s possible I’m the first person since Stephen King to do it? Maybe? I could find out for sure but then I might learn someone else did it and I don’t want that, so HEY EVERYBODY ME AND STEPHEN KING ARE IN A SPECIAL CLUB AND YOU CAN’T JOIN NYAH NYAH NYAH. We’re gonna sit around and talk baseball and writing and classic rock bands, and throw ice cubes at Joe Hill while he cuts the lawn with a manual mower. It’s gonna be great.

(Also: thank you, folks. Really.)

My Poor Stoned Puppy

Daisy has developed a nasty cough and the vet gave us some cough suppressant, which she warned might have the side effect of making Daisy drowsy. Well, it has the side effect of making her stoned, is what it does; after I gave it to her, she sat one of her beds, head wobbling, and just, like, really looked at her paws, man. For hours.

Poor puppy.