Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Pacific Northwest Writers Conference

As advertised, I attended a great writers conference. The Pacific Northwest Writers Conference normally meets in SeaTac (yes, the city thought that would be a great name for a place between Seattle and Tacoma), but it was virtual this year. I paid $175 for just the Saturday sessions. Was it worth it? Yes it was.

Easily the best session was by Nicole Persun. She’s comparatively young, but she is a great writing coach. Think of going to a gym and finding out a trainer there is young but has a lot of experience. Nicole gave a very detailed presentation on editing at both the macro level and the micro level.

 Photo used by permission

I’m going to go over my manuscripts the way she said to.

Not to be ignored was Pam Binder. a very experienced writer who gave tips to energize the middle of a novel, which often sags.

A fascinating session was “Cop Talk and Procedures.” Officers from a number of different agencies shared their experiences. As everyone knows, police officers in New York City are visibly present and highly respected. In Seattle, they try not to be visible and are shown much less respect, though they have high standards for behavior. An important background feature for contemporary stories is the different levels of visibility of and respect for police in different cities.

Most realistic shows on police: The Wire is good for corruption and ethics, Southland has realistic characters, Barney Miller has realistic relationships, Breaking Bad has realistic cases, End of Watch gets the banter right. Hill Street Blues was also recommended for realistic relationships, but I know that commentators said they were consistently bad on how the law works.

I wondered if it was worth it to watch the awards ceremony, but when I tuned in, that was clearly the right choice. Aspiring writers had submitted their manuscripts in categories like science fiction/fantasy, suspense, memoir, etc. The looks on the faces of the winners, some of whom have presumably been more or less quarantined for a while, made it a joyous event.

It’s hard to explain how great the conference was. It was a relief, after so many things have been shut down.

Friday, September 25, 2020

New Printer—Part 2: Tricky Bit of Tech

 So I set my printer up with a USP cord, but how to make it work? The printer’s program on my computer demanded a PIN number. Why? I wasn’t signing on to some secret portal. It would be “on the printer.” The only numbers were on the back, and neither of them were labeled as a PIN.

Numbers blurry on purpose

So I entered the first one, and it was rejected. Then I was distracted by the printer screen, which had changed. It was displaying the PIN number. 

Screen blank on purpose

Who thought of this?! In what sense was this “on the printer”?

Okay, so it prints fine. Also, I tried the copy function.

Copy on the right

Some personal info hidden

As the saying goes, the copy is better than the original.

So, my gentle readers, you’ve been very patient (or you just skipped these two posts). On to the writers conference.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

New Printer—Part 1

My old printer died. It was about twenty years old. It used the old 45 black ink, which places like OfficeDepot don’t even carry anymore. There had been an ominous sign: Earlier this year, it stopped printing pdf files. What came out was a line of machine language at the top of a page, then it rapidly grabbed the next piece of paper and did the same thing. It might have done that for dozens of sheets of paper if I hadn’t deleted the print buffer. Then it just stopped working last Saturday, when I was trying to print out my copy of the order of worship for my church. (I guess they don’t want someone at the door handing out the orders of worship, since that would be some form of contact.)

The old printer was an HP. After some research, I decided on a new printer, which would also be an HP. I’m not wedded to that brand; they make good printers.

When I opened the box, there seemed to be filler in one of the Styrofoam forms.



When I lifted one out of curiosity, they turned out to be the ink cartridges! I understand the need to be compact, but I might have just ignored them.

There weren’t any instructions—just pictograms that were like hieroglyphics. They were too crammed to be clear. I can imagine some executive demanding they all fit in one sheet of paper. If they had just allowed themselves two sheets, I’m sure there would be a lot less complaints and one-star ratings. But no, that executive must be patting the flunkees on their heads for cramming it all into one sheet.

And why are there no words with the pictograms? I paid over two hundred dollars for this. They can’t afford to have one set with English instructions, one with Spanish, and one with French? 

So after watching other people struggle with it on Youtube, I have it set up.



This is an HP ENVY Photo 7855. It is sleek. It is stylish. It if it comes in some other color than black, I don’t care.

One eccentric feature is the output tray. In this picture, which was taken from the left of where the previous one was taken, notice the black rectangle protruding from the right, which is the front of the printer. That thing juts out when printing, to be the output tray. That is not included in the official dimensions of the 7855, so take that into account. It can be gently slid back in. 


So anyway, it just printed the one calibration sheet. I can’t get the Bluetooth to work. I don’t have WiFi set up. So I did an express order for a USB 2.0 cord. I’m fine with using a cord. But they didn’t include one. Did I mention how much I paid for it?

Stay tuned for the sequel. And after that, I should have a fascinating post about a writing conference.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Book Purge / Star Trek

So it was time to pack up some books that I either won’t need anymore or decided weren’t that interesting. Holding the box in front of the used bookstore, I was surprised by a sign that stated they were now buying books by appointment. Still standing there in front of the windows, I called the number on the sign. They weren’t taking any appointments at the moment since they were all booked up for August. Later I made an appointment for September.

Notice I put the Star Trek Encyclopedia prominently on top. Am I not interested in Star Trek anymore? No. It’s just that such printed reference guides for the shows and movies are obsolete. The online guides are more complete because they can be constantly updated.

Anyway, we are supposedly getting a new series, called Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. This might be good for your truly, since a long time ago Star Trek had a series of contests for amateur writers to submit short stories. I finally had a story accepted in the fifth year of the contest. And what was that series of books called? Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. People may get confused and buy the books (hopefully the fifth one), thinking they are related to the new series.

Not my fault.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Harry Potter vs. the Monsters Dream

I think it’s important for writers to write down their dreams. Here’s one I had on the night of July 4th.


Three of the Harry Potter characters were leading a group of children through a forested realm thick with monsters. Each monster was at least two to three times the size of a human being and were mostly bony on the outside, often with spikes.

Harry, Hermione, and Nigel paused on a knoll that was clear of trees. A hologram appeared of General Patton (who looked like George C. Scott). He congratulated them on making it this far. He ordered them to proceed to their destination as fast as possible, killing as many monsters as they could along the way.

The three agreed amongst themselves that the order was contradictory: If they killed as many monsters as they could, they would not travel at best speed, and they would not survive. (It’s possible they had lost some children along the way—the tone was quite dark.)

Harry led the way. They did not fly, but a couple of times as he held Hermione’s hand and she held Nigel’s hand, Hermione’s and Nigel’s feet left the ground.

photo by DavidDjJohnson 

They arrived at their destination without losing any more children. The three of them went into some kind of control tower. There, they toppled something as thick as a telephone pole onto one of the monsters, crushing it.

Harry read an instruction sheet that stated they were to wait until 2:00 am for everyone to arrive (they had arrived around midnight).

An adult sponsor appeared and asked Harry if he had read the instructions. When Harry said yes, the sponsor said the sheet indicated they were to wait until 12:30 am. Harry, Hermione, and Nigel realized they could not trust this sponsor.

The control tower turned into the cockpit of an airliner holding the three of them. Another hologram (not of Patton) congratulated them for arriving. Obviously, this was how the children would be evacuated. Hermione sat in the pilot’s seat and put a headset on.

photo by Zaheer12a

As an afterwards, I can’t say I’m a Harry Potter fan. But this is the second vivid, detailed dream I’ve had of the characters. The first one was posted here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Grant Imahara Passed Away

So the news came in that Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame passed away. He was only 49. He had a brain aneurysm.

I thought he was the smartest guy on the show. He was on what was called the “B Team,” but they tended to do the more inventive things. He was a pretty modest guy on the show, but as an electrical engineer, he built the robotics—such as a robot arm that swung with such force, they had to have a decapitation warning. He might be most famous for his robot cat, which was completely unconvincing, except for the dogs it was designed to fool.

photo by Gage Skidmore 

I knew he had early fame from designing Deadblow, a winning robot in the Battlebots competition. But I didn’t know he designed the arms of the Energizer Bunny. And he also updated the R2-D2 robots? He lived quite a life.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Christopher Tolkien Dream

I believe it’s important for writers to write down their dreams. Unfortunately I just have a stub of my most recent one. Everything else faded.

I made a phone call to the Tolkien Estate. To my surprise, Christopher Tolkien, the son of J.R.R. Tolkien, answered. He pronounced his name tol-ken, instead of tol-keen. Rather stupidly, I asked him if that was how the name was pronounced. He said yes and repeated himself.

That’s all I remember of the dream. I undoubtedly had it because of all the buzz about The Silmarillion. But it so affected me that while I was sitting at work I thought about how the name was pronounced tol-ken, then I realized it was just a dream.

So I was thinking at work about how J.R.R. Tolkien made charts of the phases of the moon for The Lord of the Rings. He remarked that he could not have Aragorn look up and see a full moon one night, then have Gimli see a full moon a couple nights later. He also kept charts of how fast Shadowfax, Gandalf’s horse, could run.

I’ve developed a spreadsheet for my novel manuscript Fairy War, a retelling of The War of the Worlds. Cylinders from Mars are landing in different major cities of the world, and this is how I kept track. Learn for the best.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Book Review: The Girl Who Sees

Sasha Urban is an illusionist—a stage magician. After doing her card tricks in restaurants, she finally gets her break to do her act on a TV talk show. Although nervous, Sasha manages to guess the card the host is thinking of, and a sealed envelope reveals her prediction of the day’s headline. All this is normal stage magician stuff. After all, Sasha knows the supernatural does not exist.

Then a zombie attacks her onstage—an actual zombie. The security people tear it apart as if they do this all the time. After being stared into a trance, Sasha is carried back to her apartment. She has a dream of another couple of zombies getting sicced on her. When this comes true, a friendly neighbor named Vlad destroys those two. Vlad doesn’t need to eat, and he doesn’t seem to age, so he’s a …

The Girl Who Sees by Dima Zales is a fun novel. Sasha keeps seeing impossible things, but because she gets put into a trance, and the people around her downplay what she sees, it’s a while before she knows for sure that the supernatural is real. As a stage magician who knows that magic is not real, this rocks her worldview.

This is written in first person, which is common enough for urban fantasy. But it’s also written in present tense, which I didn’t notice while I was reading it. First person present tense is best for a character who does not know what is going on, and that fits Sasha.

We also get an insight into how certain stage magic tricks are done. For me, this doesn’t ruin those performances—it shows the immense preparation that goes into them. And Sasha uses her mentalist abilities to try to get some clue as to what is happening around her.

Also, it is peppered with pop culture references--everything from The Matrix to Batman to Alice in Wonderland. And okay, Sasha Urban is a marketing kind of name for a character. But it works. Fellow writers should not be jealous.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Inception - Sources of the Movie

(Originally posted 8/14/10.)

Alice: I should sue for royalties. Too bad I'm not real.

The movie Inception is very pretty, but very boring, so while I was watching the movie I took the time to crack the code on where the characters came from.

Come on, you should know this. The characters are: A madman, a prim young woman, an authoritative person who hacks a lot, a nervous person who leads others on a chase, someone who smiles and changes appearances, an odd person who seems a little druggy, and a minor character who gets hauled off to punishment. As a hint, these characters are going down into a strange
realm where our laws of reality do not apply.

Let's start with the main character, Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. He's constantly at the point of going mad over his children and his dead wife, his hair is one big cowlick, and he has this wild idea of delving into different levels of dreams, with time running differently on each level

Yes, he's derived from The Mad Hatter. It might seem somewhat comical to compare Cobb's hair to the hat, but the resemblance is there. And The Hatter spoke in riddles about time, and said that time could be sped up or made to stay at the same point indefinitely. What can throw the viewing audience off is that it's some equivalent of The Hatter who is the main character, rather than --

Ariadne (played by Ellen Page). She is a comparatively proper young woman, who disapproves of the madness she sees around her. As the naive character, she needs things explained to her. Also, she uses a pawn chess piece as her link to reality.

She is obviously Alice, the young woman who constantly reproves the odd people she sees in Wonderland. And, of course, the odd characters she meets explain themselves and the surroundings to her, often in nonsensical terms. When she goes Through the Looking Glass, she starts out as a pawn and eventually becomes queen on a chessboard. And when you think of someone like Alice, you think of someone like --

Arthur, a very nervous character who warns Cobb his plans might not work. In a show-stopping part of the movie, he leads some characters in "a merry chase" through a rather claustrophobic hallway, then helps his friends in an elevator shaft.

This is none other than the White Rabbit. He is constantly nervous and tends to be a dis approving sort. He, of course, is famous for leading Alice down the rabbit hole.

The other characters in the movie have their tell-tale roles. Saito is the arrogant, high-ranking Japanese businessman who constantly hacks and coughs after being shot. He corresponds to the Duchess, who is very arrogant, and who sneezes a lot. Eames is the character with the smug smile who changes appearances. He's derived from the Cheshire cat, known for his smile and his ability to disappear and appear. Yusuf is the druggy-looking guy who fixes them up with the chemicals that allow them to descend to different levels. He's obviously the Caterpillar, who smokes a hookah and who tells Alice how to use a mushroom to increase or decrease her size. And the mino
r character of Nash who sells out Cobb and gets hauled off is the Knave of Hearts, who stole some tarts, and who is brought to trial.

What neatly ties this together is that Ariadne falls through some structures in the climactic scene of Inception as if they were a pack of cards, which is part of the jolt that kicks her team back to reality. And Alice in Wonderland ends with Alice upsetting the jury box and causing the card characters to fly through the air at her, at which point she wakes up.

(It's possible that Mal, the dead wife, is the Queen of Hearts, since Mal enjoys killing people off. And Fischer, the young heir they are trying to swindle, and who is so fond of a childhood picture of himself, may correspond to the real life Lewis Carroll. His real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and besides writing the Alice tales, he gained some fame for himself by taking childrens' photos. But these last two match-ups are more tenuous.)

Having said all that, I'm not maintaining that Inception is simply a retelling of Alice in WonderlandInception certainly is a different story. I'm saying that the characters were derived from Alice.
My work here is done.


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