Reader Request Week 2017 #10: Short Bits

Happy Easter! Let’s close out Reader Request Week by running through a bunch of questions I didn’t otherwise get to, shall we?

Tracy Benton: If you were falsely accused of a minor crime that would ruin your life, what would you do? (By ruin your life, I mean cause you to lose the trust and respect of your family and friends, as opposed to put you in jail.)

Well, I mean, I’m regularly falsely accused by malign dopes of a major crime that would absolutely ruin my life, lose me friends and put me in jail, so being falsely accused of a minor crime at this point would be an upgrade. And I would respond to it like I do with this other nonsense, which is to point out it’s entirely false and that the people who promote it are assholes, and then move on with my life.

Catherine N.: Have you ever considered running for office? We definitely need more POC and WOC but we also need men who are willing to listen and learn and admit when they are wrong.

I have no plans to run for office, no. One, I think I’m more effective politically doing what I’m doing. Two, I live in a highly conservative part of Ohio and it’s unlikely I could get elected. Three, Krissy doesn’t want me to. Four, I have contractual obligations for the next decade. Five, I would have to take a pay cut. Six, the constant cycle of having to suck up to people for money would depress the shit out of me. Seven, I suspect the job would make me unhappy. Put it all together, and, no. Probably not a thing I will do.

Sam: What are your thoughts on assisted dying?

For me: Not yet, please. Otherwise, I think it’s fine for other people to decide when to check out, and to do so without violence, and with the help of others, if they so choose.

YuriPup: How do I take a good picture?

Take about a hundred pictures of whatever you’re aiming at. One of them is likely to be pretty good. This is how professionals do it (and me too). There are other things, too, but this is a pretty big part of it.

Topherman: Have you ever participated in meditation or mindfulness practices, or did you do some other something to cultivate such a strong sense of your own emotional range and how to manage or direct it?

Well, one, remember I look like I have it together all the time because you’re seeing me through this blog, which is (generally speaking) a highly mediated experience — I can edit to make it look like I’m a cool and composed cucumber. In real life, I’m a bit messier. Two, in a general sense I have enough life experience to know what things are going to have an actual impact on my life, and knowing that makes it easier to calibrate my responses (after any immediate emotional flush). So no, no formal meditation or mindfulness exercises, but I am mindful in an overall sense. Which I think helps.

Jayglickman: Are we Americans, as a population, significantly dumber than we were 50 years ago, especially since we started relying on increasingly sophisticated machines to help us think?

I don’t think we’re dumber, no, although I do think there’s been a decades-long push, particularly from the political right, to make us less critical of fact and more reflexively tribal in our political affiliation. That makes us feel like we are dumber than we might have been otherwise, as reflected in who is our current president. I don’t think the complexity of machines have anything to do with it, although the machines have made it easier for those who wish to spread disinformation (and therefore distrust in actual fact).

Jill Q: If you could witness one historical event, not interact, just witness, what would it be? So you can’t kill Hitler, but you also won’t die if you go back to the Great Fire of London.

It being Easter, it’s a fine day to note I’d be interested in seeing Jesus’ final week, to learn, among other things, if the resurrection was an actual thing. To be clear, I suspect very strongly it was not; Jesus had many fine qualities (at least as reported, and assuming he actually existed at all), but I doubt that actually being divine was one of them. I suspect he stayed dead. Be that as it may, as an agnostic I have to admit the possibility that I don’t know and that my opinion, based on actual physics as it might be, could nevertheless be wrong. I’d like to know.

Captain’s Quarters: Ahoy there matey! When I hear Walk the Moon’s song “Shut up and Dance,” it makes me think of how you met yer wife. Any particular thoughts on this specific song? Do ye two scalawags even have a song?

In this specific context, ours would be “Friday I’m in Love,” by the Cure, that being the first song we danced to when we met. I think the “Shut Up and Dance” song is pleasant enough, and otherwise its general lyrical content is not inappropriate to thinking about how Krissy and I met. Although, honestly, Krissy doesn’t really have to tell me to shut up and dance. We like dancing.

Don Gilstrap: Is the accepted disdain for the Star Wars prequels a bit over the top?

Nah, they’re actually pretty terrible movies and they deserve their criticism — and more to the point, George Lucas deserves criticism, because he did a terrible job with them. I disagree they’re rewatchable; I don’t particularly have an interest in doing so. I should note that my problem is not the general story line, which is fine, or the overall design of the prequel universe, which is cluttered but fun to explore. The problem is in the execution of the films themselves, which is leaden (and that rests on Lucas’ shoulders as writer and director). The smartest thing Lucas did was sell the universe to Disney and walk away; it clearly wasn’t fun for him anymore, and Disney is doing a much better job with the universe than he was doing the last several years. So, yes. The disdain is earned. Fortunately the new films are pretty darn good and all the ancillary material (novels, games, etc) is chugging along nicely too.

Meg Frank: What do you think is the most urgent domestic threat facing the US population?

At this very moment, I think an administration of corrupt, incompetent bigots and its enablers in both houses of Congress is a clear and present danger to the well-being of the country, held in check at this point mostly by the fact that they have no idea how to actually do things. But that’s not a great restraint, if you get my drift. Mind you, they are just the end-game manifestation of other, more existential threats to the commonweal of the nation, but those would take more than just a paragraph to talk about. So yeah, right now, I think Trump and his pals are an actual threat that needs to be addressed and dealt with (through legal, non-violent means, to be absolutely clear).

Mike Marsh: How do you feel about the increasingly prevalent use of anonymous sourcing in news reports? Do you think it damages the credibility of the newspaper? Do you think it is necessary for getting to the “real news?”

I dispute it’s “increasingly prevalent”; it’s been a common practice for decades. I don’t think it particularly damages the credibility of a news organization to use them if the information is accurate (and the news organization otherwise has rules about how they are used, and when). And yes, they can be useful in terms of helping the press perform its role. Now, I’ll additionally note that there are particular news organizations I would trust more than others when they report using an anonymous source, and (perhaps against expectation) that trust is not necessarily along the axis of perceived political orientation of the outlet.

David Foster: Why do you seem to be enthralled with cuss words in your novels?

I don’t particularly think I am. I have at least a couple of novels (Zoe’s Tale and Fuzzy Nation come to mind immediately) that are pretty low on the cuss meter, the The God Engines, which is my bleakest and most graphically violent story to date, I’m pretty sure has no cussing in it at all. Otherwise, I have cussing in my books roughly analogous to the amount of cussing I hear in my life, so, I don’t know. Maybe I know people who cuss a lot (note: Kiva Lagos in The Collapsing Empire is definitely an outlier).

Vonneanton: Your thoughts on Journey’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Steve Perry’s decision not to sing with the band. Classy and humble, or persnickety?

I’m pleased with Journey’s induction and I think it’s entirely appropriate; Journey represents a sub-genre of rock (specifically, album-oriented rock) that was often critically maligned but undeniably popular and influential in terms of pop music. As the most popular band of that type of rock, they deserve a spot in Hall. As for Perry’s decision not to sing with the band, well, you know what? The dude is 68 years old, and as far as I know (indeed I think as far as anyone knows), he’s not been singing regularly for at least fifteen years. Anyone who’s expecting a basically retired near-septuagenarian to be at peak form for one night — a night where people would be expecting him to be perfect — may have been expecting too much. I trust Perry’s instinct not to sing in that case. I do think Perry’s induction speech shout out to Arnel Pineda, who has been singing with Journey for the last decade, was super classy, and I’m glad he did it.

Sistercoyote: Do you consider yourself a Hamilton (“I am not throwing away my shot”) or a Burr (“I’m willing to wait for it”)?

Burr in the streets, Hamilton in the sheets. More seriously, I don’t think the two concepts are mutually exclusive; I think there are some opportunities that require immediate action (i.e., not throwing away one’s shot), and others that are better cultivated until they are ripe (i.e., worth the waiting for). The secret, I suspect, is knowing which are which.

Aaron Dukas: If you were to do your life over on the condition of not being a writer (in any form), what career do you think you’d like to explore?

I used to say “history teacher” for this, and it’s still a top alternate life choice, but in the past decade I’ve really been into photography and I think maybe I’d do that. I think I’d be pretty good at it. Recently I took a bunch of photos of the final concert of this year’s JoCo Cruise, and I think that they’re some of the best pictures I’ve taken, in terms of capturing the moment and energy of the event. Between stuff like that and portraiture, which I also think I’m pretty good at, I think I could be reasonably artistically happy as a photographer.

(Also, to answer another question that was asked: Currently I’m using a Nikon D750, usually without flash, and Photoshop and Camerabag 2.)

Patrick V: Which Scamperbeast plants its butt in your face more?

Spice, and it’s not even close. Sugar likes to be cuddled more, but she doesn’t do a lot of early morning butts in face.

Sam Brady: How do the celebrity and fame parts of your career affect your family? Meaning–people say things (both positive and negative) about you on the Internet, you travel quite a bit and devote a lot of other time to your career apart from just the writing, and I’m sure people recognize you in public from time to time. How do your wife and daughter react to all of that? How do they feel about it?

My fame is specific and low-wattage, so on a daily basis it doesn’t affect the family at all. Krissy once got recognized in an airport, which was odd for her, and from time to time outside the specific venues of my fame (conventions and book fairs), someone will connect Athena or Krissy to me (the unusual last name helps). So far, both of them have taken it in stride and with some amusement. In general it’s low key and not too much to worry about.

Lym: Have you and Krissy given much thought or made any preparations or plans for your upcoming empty nest?

Well, Krissy has a job, and I have to write books, so I expect immediately our day to day lives won’t change too considerably (also, Athena will be an hour away, so we’ll probably still get to see her more than if she went to school across the country). As for the rest of it, well. We’ll see! If suddenly we adopt sixty more pets, you may assume it’s gotten to us.

Thanks everyone for another great Reader Request Week. Let’s do it again in roughly a year!

23 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2017 #10: Short Bits

  1. Wow! I didn’t know Arnel Pineda was snubbed by the R&RHofF! Now, THAT is tacky! However, he and Steve Perry embracing each other is really cool! Thanks!

  2. Funny, my current goal in life is to stop being a history teacher and be a writer instead. You got the better of the life choices on that. It’s a satisfying job when you have good students, but those are so vanishingly rare that mostly it’s frustration.

  3. Vonneanton:

    I think Arnel Pineda’s case for inclusion (in the eyes of the Hall) is diminished because during his run as singer Journey has mostly just played the hits; they’ve put out a couple of albums with him but they’re not exactly essential albums in the band’s canon (and he’s also not a significant contributor to the songs on those albums). Steve Augeri (who was the singer prior to Pineda, and for as long) and Deen Castronovo (drummer for two decades and four albums) are also not in the Hall, for largely the same reasons. Basically the band’s “Hall of Fame” run was between 1978 and 1983 (Infinity to Frontiers); pretty much anyone who wasn’t in the band during that run isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

  4. Well, one, remember I look like I have it together all the time because you’re seeing me through this blog, which is (generally speaking) a highly mediated experience — I can edit to make it look like I’m a cool and composed cucumber.

    Okay, this made me laugh.

  5. Just a few days ago, I subjected myself to “The Phantom Menace” again for the first time since 1999, when as a callow youth of 27 I saw it four times in the weeks following its release. Even with the Rifftrax commentary, which was the reason for the re-watch, it was pretty rough going.

  6. YuriPup: How do I take a good picture?

    Take about a hundred pictures of whatever you’re aiming at. One of them is likely to be pretty good. This is how professionals do it (and me too). There are other things, too, but this is a pretty big part of it.

    Okay, as a professional of some 35 years experience, this idea of just shoot an obscenely huge number of pictures of the same subject and you’ll get something good is insulting. Now, I must admit I love that digital pretty much allows me to never run out of “film”, but I don’t shoot to just shoot and hope for the best. Professionals weigh a lot of factors, such sharpness, motion-blurred or sharp or best balance, color temperature, decisive moment, where the light is falling, HOW the light is falling, emotional impact, compositional elements, etc. On a typical assignment, I can shoot about 125 images and come out with generally 40+ usable and two or three “Oh yeah!” images. And I usually only have one body, two zoom lenses and an on-camera flash (well, a second body in the car just in case.) Most jobs I don’t have an extensive light kit or do much direction.

    I also know a lot of professional photographers who will shoot a hundreds exposures when ten will do. That’s one of the downsides of the digital age; lotsa people think if they just shoot enough they will make something good. (Monkeys writing Shakespeare syndrome.) And where you see a photographer shooting a lot of a single subject, examine their take and see the smaller, subtle but impactful changes between exposures. See what they are chasing.

    There is a reason why Jackson Pollock displays in a museum and your 3rd grader doesn’t.

    *Sorry for the rant, but it hits a nerve.

  7. Athena will be an hour away? In what alternate universe? Google has it as almost 60 miles away, and that’s back roads. Plus you gotta go through Greenville and (probably) Eaton too. And there are Amish folks on the roads in their carriages. Are you recapitulating Death Race 2000 or something?

    Jeez, remind me not to be out and about when you’re driving around there.

  8. The Star Wars prequels aren’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but they put up a good fight for that slot.

  9. Regarding the Journey rock hall inclusion: imagine us Yes fans trying to agree on who should be inducted. They’ve had something like 17 members across a nearly 50-year career. But the eight members the rock hall picked were the ones that were present during their time of biggest influence, whether it was the proggy 70s or the pop 80s. Others who were around at other times, even some who had long tenures, were on albums/tours that didn’t significantly add to their legacy.

    And now there are TWO bands with apparently legitimate legal claims to the name “Yes,” both of them about to embark on tours. So confusing.

  10. Blind Prophet:

    “On a typical assignment, I can shoot about 125 images and come out with generally 40+ usable and two or three ‘Oh yeah!’ images.”

    Thanks for making my point for me even as you deny it! That’s helpful.

    You know, inasmuch as I’ve had professional photographers with decades of experience suggest to me to take lots of photos of a particular thing and then pick the ones I think are best, allow me to suggest that this may be a philosophical discussion between photographers as much as a practical one. Personally, I suspect that for a novice photographer, starting out taking a large number of photos and selecting the best from there will help them learn how to take a better picture, so that as they advance they don’t have to take as many pictures to get the one they want. Which is not a bad way to learn, which is why I suggested it.

    Now, as you note that some other pro photographers do in fact take hundreds of photos and select from those, your pet peeve sort of boils down to “I do my creative job this way, and anyone who does it differently is doing it wrong.” That’s a bit like me saying anyone whose writing process isn’t exactly like mine is doing it “wrong.” They’re not, they’re doing it differently. You’re dismissive of different processes, clearly (I note the “monkeys and Shakespeare” crack), but if that other process means that other pro photographer is doing well enough to be a “pro” at the gig, meh. It works for them.

    So yeah, I stand by my “take lots of photos” advice; it was given to me by pros, and I think for beginning photographers it’s not a bad way to start learning to get better (and thus eventually take fewer pictures to get to the right one). It’s not complete advice, but I never said it was.

    (However, if you’re insulted at the suggestion that taking a lot of pictures might result in someone getting a pretty good one in the mix, I mean, maybe toughen up a smidge. It can happen. It does happen. Being insulted by it seems a little silly to me.)

  11. Blind Prophet:
    “On a typical assignment, I can shoot about 125 images and come out with generally 40+ usable and two or three ‘Oh yeah!’ images.”

    Thanks for making my point for me even as you deny it! That’s helpful.

    You know, inasmuch as I’ve had professional photographers with decades of experience suggest to me to take lots of photos of a particular thing and then pick the ones I think are best, allow me to suggest that this may be a philosophical discussion between photographers as much as a practical one. Personally, I suspect that for a novice photographer, starting out taking a large number of photos and selecting the best from there will help them learn how to take a better picture, so that as they advance they don’t have to take as many pictures to get the one they want. Which is not a bad way to learn, which is why I suggested it.

    Now, as you note that some other pro photographers do in fact take hundreds of photos and select from those, your pet peeve sort of boils down to “I do my creative job this way, and anyone who does it differently is doing it wrong.” That’s a bit like me saying a published author whose writing process isn’t exactly like mine is doing it “wrong.” They’re not, they’re doing it differently. You’re dismissive of different processes, clearly (I note the “monkeys and Shakespeare” crack), but if that other process means that other pro photographer is doing well enough to be a “pro” at the gig, meh. It works for them, and they’re not obliged to care what you think of their process.

    So yeah, I stand by my “take lots of photos” advice; it was given to me by pros, and I think for beginning photographers it’s not a bad way to start learning to get better (and thus eventually take fewer pictures to get to the right one). It’s not complete advice, but I never said it was.

    (However, if you’re insulted at the suggestion that taking a lot of pictures might result in someone getting a pretty good one in the mix, I mean, maybe toughen up a smidge. It can happen. It does happen. Being insulted by it seems a little silly to me.)

  12. Well, if a random person asks how to be a better photographer, the odds say they dont have a lot of talent (sturgeon’s law). So, any long, meaningful, in depth answer will be a waste of your time and energy. And if they DO have a natural talent, then they will seek out the information they need anyway, and “take lots of pictures” will be heard by them as “practice”, which will actually be useful to them.

    Put another way, I dont think Anne Liebovitz has any professional training to be a photographer. She went to school to study painting. And just practiced photographing things on the side. But she also sought out the logistics of what makes photographs look the way they look, how focal length can make a portrait head shot subject look fat or skinny or balding with a bulbous nose. And she had gobs of natural talent. And the result is she’s the best portrait photographer on the planet.

    So, if it happens that a young Anne Liebovitz asks photography advice, then “practice” is all she needs to hear, cause she’s going to figure it out herself anyway. And if it’s Uncle Larry who asks for photography advice, then anything more than “practice” is a waste, becuse Larry cant seem to get a shot in focus, let alone compose a great photo.

    For most people, photos are just a way to help them remember something that happened in their life. The trip to disneyland, little Cindy’s birthday party. And for those events, mediocre photography is just fine. And the lack of training can sometimes be made up with lots of random shots and maybe you get lucky. It wont be something that ends up on the cover of Rolling Stone. But everyone is in the shot, their eyes are all open, and they’re all looking at Cindy’s cake.

    But if you want to achieve the level of what might be considered “art”, then “practice” is insufficient. On the other hand, what is required would fill volumes of books, and would be lost on most readers becauze they arent interested enough to read that much.

    It kind of like the go-to advice for new writers is “keep writing”. It’s the low-energy advice that doesnt really help anyone overcome their specific, individual writing problems. Its more like fishing with dynamite. Its not a lot of work. But it covers a large volume, so its bound to get a hit or two.

    There is no advice that will take any person off the street and turn them into a nobel winning author. So, “practice” is the most common advice. If you have the talent and keep at it, you may eventually succeed, and the advice was basically just encouragement to find your own way.

    So, “take lots of photos” isnt the secret that will turn anyone into an award winning photographer. There is no advice that is capable of doing that. So, just give encouragement, and those who have talent and luck will find their own way.

    And remember folks, keep writing!

  13. I’ll second you on the Star Wars prequels (or third you, as the case may be.) I recently rewatched Revenge of the Sith and reviewed it.

    The TL;DR summary: Hayden Christiansen appears to have been chosen for his pretty face and not his acting ability, and George Lucas was a terrible director who did not bother to get good performances out of otherwise good actors. They all sound like they are phoning in the terrible dialogue. The one exception is Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Darth Sidious, who is excellent.

  14. Pixlaw, an hour to drive roughly 60 miles sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I’ve never driven in Ohio, but here in Nebraska (short on Amish buggies, but we get the occasional combine on the road and they’re not exactly fast) highway speed limits run between 60 and 75 MPH. I’m actually one of the slower interstate drivers, because my personal comfort limit is 70 MPH — I get passed a lot.

  15. My personal theory on how to redeem the prequel trilogy is to have them re-released mostly unaltered, save for the removal of all dialogue. The story is actually pretty grand in scope, the character development and conflict are pretty substantial, and the soundtrack is solid John Williams fare. It’s just all that … “acting”. One can’t realistically remove the actors entirely (without redoing everything in CGI, at least); axing the dialogue is about the furthest one could go to minimize the particular pervading awfulness without a complete reshoot of everything.

  16. Dear John,

    I just gotta chime in on the photography question (surprise!)…

    Short form:

    1) Your response to Blind Prophet was spot-on in attitude (and they are being rather profoundly wrong-headed).

    2) Your specific advice to novices is nowhere as universal as you suggest.

    3) Yes, if you wanted to make it your “thing” you would develop into a rather good photographer.

    Long form:

    1) There is no one right way to do photography. What you said about the silliness of feeling insulted? Sooooo right. I am not intending to diss BP, who I don’t know in real life, so I have no knowledge of their work or creds. (If they want to reach out to me via email, I’d be happy to engage. Always fun to converse meaningfully with other photographers.) But the implication that suggesting ANY approach is an affront to professionals is, well, ridiculous.

    2) Professionals don’t work the way you think they do. SOME do. Probably even many. Possibly even most. But not overwhelmingly most, and the reason most do usually has far more to do with clients and “buying insurance” than making the good photograph. One *must* deliver on the assignment. I may be convinced that the very first photo I make is exactly the right one. It frequently is– my “wow” (which is one grade above “oh yeah”) rate in the film days was rarely below 10% and on occasion exceeded 25%. My style was usually to make exactly one considered photograph and then walk away. Which is fine when I’m photographing for me.

    But, if I’m photographing for someone else? I make a whole shitload of photos, because what I think is best may not be what they think is best. I am going to try to hit all the angles, and I’m going to want considerable redundancy in case the otherwise “perfect” photo turns out to have some flaw, technical or otherwise, that isn’t evident until later. So, even more photos. The assignment doesn’t care how much film (or electrons) I burn, it only cares that I deliver the goods.

    Those hundreds of photos insure a pro against failure. Most pros can make just as good a photograph with very small fraction of that number of exposures… but it ups the risk of blowing the assignment. Unacceptable risk!

    It’s still a good training tool for folks who want to improve to make lots of photos. But not because (many) pros do it. They’re doing for different reasons.

    Except… when they’re not. Different processes work for different photographers, just like writing, as you said. When Laurie Edison and I were developing our Collaborations portfolio, I’d be doing my “make the right photo and walk away” thing and she’d burn through 30-100 frames, Not for insurance, but because she HAD to. She made exposures the way a painter makes preliminary sketches to figure out what artistic approach to take. Her first roll of film was almost always a waste when it came to the final selection. Still, she needed to make those exposures, instantiate each of several dozen “sketches,” to develop the right concept in her mind.

    Objectively, her final selection was entirely as good as mine. But trying to work her way would have been impossible for me and vice-versa.

    3) Ya gots talent kid.

    In particular you’ve got a good eye for people and a good sense of composition and what constitutes the critical moment. I don’t get as positive a sense from your landscapes, which feel kind of easy, even lazy. But I think that’s more lack of effort than any inherent inability to improve.

    What I mainly don’t get from your photos is your “voice.” It doesn’t come through for me very well, yet.

    Obviously, all of this would get MUCH better if this were what you really wanted to be doing. So, yeah, you could be a good photographer, if it were your “thing.”

    I don’t know that you could make a living at it, though. In many ways it’s easier to pay the bills as a writer!

    pax / Ctein
    ==========================================
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery http://ctein.com
    — Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com
    ==========================================

  17. Leah

    Actually, the trip between Bradford and Oxford (lots of fords here) is all 2 lane back roads, no highways. and although it’s been a while since I was in the area of Bradford, the Oxford Ohio area (where Miami is located) is full of rolling hills and weird curves, and farm roads.

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