It was a typo. I wrote whorker rather than worker. I looked at the word. I liked the word. I’ve been savoring it for a couple of days now, searching for the best way to explain it.

Tonight, Soup Boy gave me the answer. I haven’t seen much of him lately, and moments ago I got a message from him about how working thirteen-hour days was beating him down. I nodded, understanding. That’s a hell of a long work day.

Only, I’m on hour thirteen as I write this. I’m tired, but although today was uphill, good things came of it in the end. I made some real progress, mostly identifying problems I will need to fix later, but you have to do that sometimes.

I am a slacker, apparently, simply because I love what I do. (True, I make almost no money at it, but when was that ever a measure of success?) I spend my days working, to the exclusion of my frustrated friends and bemused family members, but because I genuinely enjoy what I do to a degree that may not be healthy, to many of them I am not working. Today, part of my job was to read a fascinating piece by Milan Kundera about Franz Kafka. It was not an easy read; there was much to think about with each paragraph. It was fun, but it was work. I work every day. Enter whork.

If you’re watching the clock, pining for the whistle that marks the end of your shift, you’re not working. You are whorking. I had a blast building a software company, but eventually my work became whork. It took me a long, long, time to realize that, and in the meantime I whorked myself into a position where I can work for a while now, without worrying too much where the next slice of pizza is coming from. No, I am not in any way above whorking; I have done it and will almost certainly do it again. I simply wish working was given as much respect. Suffering on the job has been elevated to the point where your job can’t be worthwhile if you don’t feel trapped and suffocated. Suffering on the job has become a virtue. Somewhere along the way whork has become more meaningful than work.

That’s messed up.

And I probably have it all wrong. Blame Kafka. [Let us pause for the moment while the author clinches down really hard to repress the urge to compare Kafkan bureaucracy to modern America, where the state is granted the right to define existence, and privacy is unpatriotic. Must… avoid… insane… rant!]

There are plenty of days I don’t work thirteen hours. Every now and then there is a day I don’t work at all (not seriously, anyway—there’s no way to stop a writer from testing words and savoring phrases). The most magnificent part of my life is that I am not whorking. Not for the moment, anyway. When I find myself muttering, “ah, crap. Astounding wants another Tin Can story,” then perhaps I will discover my inner whore once more. (It’s there. Don’t let my pompous language fool you. My whole career is a campaign to sell out.)

Crazily, happily, there are accountants who love numbers, who work rather than whork. There are probably damn few teachers who are whorkers. I’d even go so far as to say that there are more workers out there than there are whorkers. And now, by gum, I’m one of them. It feels great.

Mail Call!

I got four things in the mail today. Two were good, two, well, not so much. Goodness was proportional to size.

Mail arrives on the first step of the flight up from the landlord’s place to mine. Today I was heading out to meet fuego to watch some hokej (rhymes with hockey) when I discovered a stack of stuff waiting for me. On top, two envelopes. Two rejection letters, one from an agent and one from a magazine. Neither came as a surprise, but of course I would never have sent them anything if I didn’t think I had a chance. The magazine is a forcefully independent one-man show with a good reputation. I like the way Brutarian thinks, and when I raise my game, he will be hearing from me again. I can run with those dogs. (My submission had been previously published over at Piker Press, which couldn’t have helped its chances. Brutarian will consider previously published stuff, but not with the same enthusiasm. Or something like that. Although I consider it a paying market, I would not have received any money for this submission.)

A bigger disappointment was the agency. These guys are big time, and they don’t take many new writers, but dang I wanted to be one of the few.

Of course, these folks send out thousands of rejections every year, and they have no time to give me a clue how to make my pitch more attractive to their competitor down the street. Forward, ever forward, is all I can do. Hone the message, sharpen the pitch, and try again. This is not a business for the fragile, as much as we want it to be. (Show us your inner heart, we ask of the artist. Lay bare your soul. Artist complies. Never mind. You suck. People wonder why Van Gogh cut his ear off.)

Next in the mail pile was a package from a Muddled friend. I now have in my paws More Booze Than Blood, by Sean Meagher. He posted here a while back that he would send people his book and I was not slow to take him up on the offer. I haven’t read past the cover yet, but the story is calling to me in a language that I don’t know, but understand. I’ll let you know. Perhaps it was some subtle way with words he showed when he posted here, perhaps it’s just that he paid the postage, perhaps it’s the striking cover, but I’ve got a good feeling about this.

At the bottom of the stack was the birthday box. Cans of green chile, a nice card, and a squirrel. Alas, the squirrel took some damage on his trip across the deep blue sea — the tail, which almost but not quite can be used as a beer holder, was forcefully and brutally separated from his butt. A team of mocrosurgeons is standing by to attempt what before has only appeared in science fiction: a squirrel retail. While they’re at it, they’ll see about beer-sizing the little guy.

Springtime in Prague

Spring is here! It has nothing to do with the weather, although it is warm enough today for me to wear shorts. There are other signs, the subtle indicators that the season has changed. I was too wide-eyed last year to recognize the signs for what they were, but now I am a savvy veteran of the seasons.

It is road destruction season. Some bureaucrat in an anonymous building somewhere in the city pushed a button on his desk and thus did spring begin. Across the city piles of stones have appeared next to the patches of sand that used to be sidewalks. Entire streets have been dug up, creating larger piles of larger stones. Trams are diverted from their normal courses while crews stand around watching one guy with an arc welder work on the tracks.

I walked through downtown and the number of tourists has jumped dramatically in the last week, as well. Old Cars, tops down, slowly move through the crowds while tourists in the back seat snap photos. Crowds gather on the hour for the crushing disappointment that is the astronomical clock. Even in Strašnice you will find befuddled-looking folks holding maps of the city. There’s not much to see out in the Haunted City, but there they are. Some of the tourist traffic may be related to Easter holidays; we’ll see if it keeps up.

And here and there the signs are appearing in the windows of bars and pubs: Garden Open. Once more beer is available outdoors, and the city celebrates another winter endured, even as they turn a wary eye toward the river. The water level is high and still rising, and there’s a lot of snow in the mountains this year.

Little Buddy

Any minute now, I will have a story going up over at Piker Press. It’s the April Fool’s issue, and for the occasion I decided to just have fun with an idea that could have come from the Weekly World News. I cranked out the story, and after a little tender loving care I must admit that this tale quite tickles me. I have not grown tired of reading it; I hope you enjoy it as well. (OK, it’s a little over the top, but you should see what I didn’t put in.)

This week’s Piker is an issue devoted to frivolity, and I hear there is some damn fine frivolity indeed. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Well, I’ll be Googled

Well, while I ponder beer, peanuts, and old pick-up trucks, while I muse over big dumb dogs and the world’s longest bumper sticker, I’ll toss up another episode with some of the search phrases that have caught my eye lately. What you see here is a list of phrases that people have typed into Google, Yahoo, or a cousin, and somewhere in the result list one page or another of this blog popped up. Usually Muddled Ramblings was near the top of the list, but occasionally a searcher passed up hundreds of other possibilities to come here.

In almost every case the searcher did not find the object of his or her quest on these pages. As always, to prevent the search engines from coming to this page next time the phrase is searched on, some key words are obfuscated with s p a c e s.

  • Predator Power Pantshere. Did the Predator in the movie have power pants, or was that Schwarzenegger?
  • sister-in-law porn – linked to an interesting night in Montana.
  • n e t o ‘s   p a s s t i m e  bar – scored high on this search – after all, how many people are going to be talking about that place on the ‘net?
  • no pants day – although we observe No Pants Day here, this actually linked to an episode mentioning Dr. Pants’ brief foray into Internet radio.
  • Pi day poster ideas – apparently the number has its own day now. MR&HBI ranked high because of the word Ideas in the title.
  • poor boy gyroscope – no longer are gyroscopes strictly for the wealthy.
  • whores in bahrain – apparently they have them there. Linked to the Bars Of the World category page.
  • loud phones – number 3 hit on yahoo. Links to a very brief episode about, uh, loud phones.
  • time warp shirt – not sure what they were looking for; they passed 33 links that had much more to to with time warp shirts only to wind up in a discussion of pizza and black holes.
  • why do eels have little teeth? – maybe I’ll answer that in a future episode, but probably not. Maybe it’s because they have little mouths.
  • lots of baby ocelot pictures – I have the top hit on google for that, despite the fact I have no baby ocelot pictures at all. What I do have is other episodes like this one.
  • nasty nun stories – linked to my Stories page, where the only Nun may have been severe, but she didn’t strike me as nasty.
  • my mom can kick my ass – my mom can kick your mom’s ass.
  • choose a character how did he change in the story the house of staris – lots of people stop by for my expert knowledge in the field of literature. They are always disappointed. Linked to Stories category page.
  • Drunk Women – notable mainly because the searcher went through sixty-one pages of search results to end up on an episode about a sober guy (and his drunk friend).
  • gravity sex trampoline – not sure what he was looking for, but I like the way he thinks. I’ll be sure to look him up when I have my hotel on the moon up and running. Linked to my reusable space vehicle idea that I wrote up before I did the math.
  • sum small pups – they add up.
  • “reactor scrambled” – MSN only came up with five matches, and mine had nothing to do with nuclear power, or even eggs.
  • picture of a giant half chicken half squirrel – oddly, there are other sites that provide just that.
  • “how to make an electric spark” – the only match on Google. I don’t think I ever explained how I did it for Pirates, though.
  • High King’s Chair – Yahoo connected this, improbably, to a nice bar I visited.
  • p i t c h e r s  of dogs – it’s a classic!
  • Japanese scalp message – is that like a head tattoo?
  • wolf eel ambush tactics – Linked to Feeding the Eels, of course, but now I’m wondering about the wolf eel, and how it ambushes… things.
  • neuromancer “case pollard” – different books, same author. I misspelled the name of the herione in the same way as the searcher, and that made me the top match.
  • Plato ex pats – an odd enough combination I have to wonder if the searcher was actually trying to find the ex-pat game
  • photo of god looking down – seems like every time I get a shot of God, he’s blinking. Linked here.
  • supermodels riding bulls – wow. Linked to the Stories category page, where I talk about my brief time as a supermodel, and also mention a horrible (if fictitious) painting.
  • antler dust and sick – Attracted to a recent chapter one.
  • RV instrument repair – somehow was attracted to my Get-Poor-Quick topic, after wading through two hundred other choices.
  • c o n s t r u c t i v i t i s  – it’s a plague the world over, so I’m surprised more people haven’t coined the phrase.
  • matador squirrel – Linked, of course, to the now-famous Suicide Squirrel Death Cult
  • Jerry Seeger – I mention this one because the OTHER Jerry Seeger’s IMDB listing is near the top of Google’s results, while mine is nowhere to be found. Maybe this link will help: Jerry Seeger (As of this writing, fifteen of the top twenty Google matches for Jerry Seeger were references to me, either as a geek, a writer, or (frighteningly) as a photographer. You see where this is going, don’t you?)

The usual suspects were all there: pitchers of things, various bars and taverns around the world, and lots and lots of eggs. We have a new major attractor as well; folks the world over want to learn more about sweet little  D o k u r u – c h a n  and her bristling club of death.

Big Numbers

Today I was idly wondering if there was any prefix for ten thousand, the way kilo- is the prefix for one thousand. Ah, Google, I love ya. In seconds I was on a page showing the accepted SI unit prefixes. I read that back in 1991 they decided they needed bigger numbers, so the prefixes could be applied in more areas. I had known exa-, but beyond that there is zetta- and yotta-.

So that got me to thinking, and we know nothing good can come of that. I like yotta- (1024 or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000), but pretty soon your mobile phone is going to have a YB of RAM. (Actually, it will have a yobibyte (YiB) of RAM, but the principle applies.) Before we know it, we’ll be needing bigger prefixes. To forestall any confusion and economic disruption, I, as a public service, offer to lead the crusade to go on beyond yotta-, much as Dr. Seuss did for the alphabet in his ground-breaking work On Beyond Zebra.

You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.

To begin the discussion, I offer the following suggestions for the next prefixes:

  • lotta- 1027 – (abbreviation: L) this number is especially significant when you are ordering at lottaburger
  • holotta- 1030 – (abbreviation: HL)
  • messa- 1033 – (abbreviation: Me) as in “I want one messapotato.” (abbreviated 1 MeTater)
  • homessa- 1036 – (abbreviation: HMe)
  • yottayottayotta- 1072 – (abbreviation: YYY)

I invite the scientific community to participate as well, and include suggestions in the comments for this episode.

Is there any hope of defining a prefix that is as big as we will ever need? For instance, is there any point in defining number prefixes beyond the number of particles in the universe? (Last I heard, the estimate was somewhere around 1084.) For that number, I propose alla-, so you could say, the universe contains one allaparticle. (Later, if more particles turn up in some dusty backwater of the universe, we would have to decide whether to change the definition of alla- or just say, “The universe contains two allaparticles.”

Finally, the reason I was looking up any of this stuff: visitor 40009 will be the myennial office holder. It’s not officially sanctioned by the SI, but neither am I.

Giving back to the writing community

Perhaps you’ve seen the link over there on the right side for writing.com. As the name implies, it is a Web site for writers, but it is really quite a bit more than that. There is a vibrant and active community there, a whole bunch of people dedicated to helping each other out.

I registered over there some time ago, but I haven’t been that active. Yes, the whole ‘doesn’t play well with others’ thing raises its ugly head again. Lately, though, I’ve been dropping by the site every now and then. An important part of the community is the system that allows writers to critique each other’s work. I posted one thing there a while back, some writing that was not in my usual style, and I wanted feedback on whether the new style was working. One critique gave me some very valuable feedback, and I subsequently improved the piece quite a bit. I also got several other helpful if much briefer comments. So the system works pretty well, and there are a lot of generous people online.

There is also a lot of bad writing there. (Of course, I’m sure people have read my stuff and said “Wow! That’s crap!” plenty of times as well. The difference is I’m crappy on purpose. Loathe it or hate it, my writing is the way it is by design.) Posting poor writing there is perfectly OK; the whole point of the site is to help writers get better, and no one was born a good writer. That the people are there, asking for feedback, is admirable. That they accept criticism gracefully and even say thanks after you pick apart their work is awesome. So, I have decided to find an inexperienced writer and critique their work once or twice a week. It’s kind of fun finding a bit that has a good story buried in it and an author’s voice struggling to get out, and provide concrete advice and encouragement. Keeping the number down allows me to spend some time on them and get really detailed, and hone the language of my posts to demonstrate my points.

I could not imagine grading papers that way, day in and day out. Hats off to those who do. If I make any impact at all, it will be tiny compared to the good a teacher can do. A couple times a week is all I have in me.

Although I think I may have put my foot in it this morning. Not too badly, but it’s easy when you are criticizing someone’s work to take on the “I know more than you do” tone. I find myself particularly susceptible to falling into that voice when the critique recipient (critiquee?) is a high school student. You know how well teenagers respond to know-it-all adults without any credentials. I think overall I balance my advice, but today as I wrote my criticism I made comments about “as you become more experienced” and stuff like that, only to later dig in and find out the guy’s 35 and has been writing for years. All the more important he sees that his prose has a ways to go, but perhaps the message could have been delivered differently.

I am also a little dismayed at the number of badly flawed stories that receive perfect scores from other reviewers. I suppose the logic, especially with younger writers, is that if you toss them a five-star they’ll be encouraged and eventually figure out their errors on their own. This strikes me as a violation of trust. Here is someone specifically asking for constructive criticism and instead being told that everything is fine, when it’s not. Someone’s tag line in another forum: friends don’t let friends write crap.

Oh, well. I can’t change the world, or even the rating inflation at writing.com. I can only make sure that any advice I give is wrapped with the proper balance of humility and authority, and hope it helps someone.

I hear those stunt men are crazy

I don’t want to give too much away (as if anything I’m putting in the script now will make it to the screen anyway), but I just wrote a new Most Dangerous Scene To Film. The old Most Dangerous Scene To Film involved two open cars tied together, speeding down the highway while people clamber all over them. Lots of people, fighting one another with cutlasses. Oh, yeah, there’s a big rig coming the other way. (I figure that part’s just a matter of editing magic.) The new MDTFS requires a convertible overflowing with people to jump over a sheer canyon, while other cars crash and fall in.

I’m sure fuego will wave his hands and say “No problem! We do crazier things all the time in this business!” Still, that seems pretty nuts. The stunt people are definitely going to earn their pay on this one. If, that is, we find a way to pay them.

Immediately after writing the above, I returned to the script and wrote the Most Impossible Scene To Film. Oh, but it would be sweet. The moment after the final credits that would just seal the movie, and reward those who stayed. Let’s hope for editing magic.


Tired… so very, very, tired

As any regular here is no doubt aware, I do much of my writing outside the house. This is especially true now that I have high-speed Internet in the home. I have a nice routine: tend to the media empire and do some coding in the mornings (online references are indispensable when programming), then head out somewhere to escape the Unlimited Information that is not conducive to creativity.

If there is a flaw in the plan, it is that I spend a lot of time in places that serve beer. I like beer. Even drinking slowly, over the course of an afternoon it adds up, and the writing suffers and the next day is not as swell as it might otherwise be. Still, I have to be drinking something while I sit there, so I have been ordering tea at first and drinking that until my movements are twitchy and birdlike, then switching to beer when I’m almost done anyway.

I’m not sleeping much at night.

Fringe Benefits

The waiter here at U Kormidla just took the afternoon round of Slivovice (plum vodka) up to the people working in the kitchen. Hopefully that means they’ll be in an extra-good mood as they fix my lunch.

Almost, but not quite

Around here you will often hear the word docela translated as “quite”, and the other way around. My textbook (gathering dust right now) translates those two words that way. Only trouble is, they don’t mean the same thing. Soup Boy brought it up again this morning; he had an interesting conversation with a girl last night, the confusion caused by this mistranslation.

For instance, in English, “quite good” is more emphatic than just good. It’s good-plus. Docela dobře is good-minus. “Sort of good” would be a better translation.

I think you can easily imagine the sorts of problems a misconception like that can lead to in a conversation between a guy and a girl. “Quite close” and “sort of close” are quite different.

A pre-thank you

On the subject of copy editors, One of my stories just went through one, and without any input on my part came out nice and clean, with my style (not always grammatically correct) completely intact. I do not know the name of this person who so naturally found the balance between correct and right, nor do I know the name of the person who laid out my prose very prettily for the upcoming magazine. There are probably many other people I don’t even know I don’t know the names of. Yeah, you’ve got your technology and all that, but there’s still someone hunched over printouts with a red pencil, making marks. And those anonymous and underpaid souls accomplish only one thing: they make people like me look better.

If I can find your names, I will thank you here personally in a later episode. In the meantime, hang in there, guys.

Synopsis Fever

A while back I worked up a synopsis to my novel. It’s about 25 pages long, and while I had to leave out some of my favorite nuances, it did a good job communicating the intricacies of the plot. It shows I have a good story, but it does nothing to demonstrate my skills as a writer. There’s the tricky thing—how do you condense hundreds of pages down into a quick read and keep it compelling?

You don’t.

The other day I needed to create a 1-3 page synopsis. Obviously my previous tactic of combing through the story and lifting out the most interesting events was not going to work. So I sat, blank page in front of me, and wrote a new story.

It was only a tiny fraction of the original story, really, but the little bits I did show, I tried to make compelling. I built to a moment that is only a fraction of the way into the novel, then skated the rest, but I did not hold back (as much) on the atmospheric language I love so much. I put in a rambling sentence or two, added a few details that in the grand scheme of things are small, not deserving of mention in such a drastic condensation. It still needs some (ok, lots of) work, but it is vastly better than the longer version. It’s a synopsis Jerry would write.

There are other writers out there right now saying, “Well, duh.” Thanks, guys, for making me learn it on my own. Really. It means so much more this way.

Today I needed a ten-page (maximum) synopsis. “Hot dang!” thought I, “I can take this little 3-pager and add the richness and detail to really make it rock!” I did just that. I developed the reasons Hunter must always be alone. I included a couple more moments that define how the characters are interrelated. Once I get this sucker just right (a ways to go on that score, to be sure), agents will faint dead away from the sheer power, the artistry, the raw truth that mankind has struggled for so long to find. With luck, it will even have a passing resemblance to the novel. But really, that’s secondary.

Four and a half pages. Five pages to burn, and I don’t need ’em.

Programming Note

On a happier note, I did get a bug fix release of Jer’s Novel Writer out today – and then, inspired by this site, immediately added a feature to my developmental version. It seems typesetters still want italic text to be underlined in the copy, so if you don’t do it the copy editor has to. The copy editor has a limited amount of time, and you want her to spend it on the important stuff, not underlining shit. To save us all some trouble, I added a print feature to replace italics with underlines. Now I have two print style presets defined, one for editors and first readers, and one for copy editors. Hey-presto! In seconds I can go from Times-Roman with italics to courier with underlines, and never have to change the way I have the text set up on the screen (larger, sans-serif). I’m looking forward to needing the copy editor setting.

The rest of the world will have to wait for the next release for the italic-to-underline feature.


In an earlier episode I said:

On the subject of getting published, I had a letter waiting for me when I got home last night. It was a slip from a large paying magazine, rejecting a story. The note was brief and said (in only slightly friendlier language) “We rejected you story either because it was stale, sloppy, or (most likely) it just plain sucked. Or there might have been another reason.” Obviously in my case it couldn’t possibly have been any of the three stated cases – I suspect it was just too long for a first-timer.

Yeah, too long, that’s the ticket.

Well, maybe it was too long, but I’ve been going back over it and it was also sloppy. Before I submitted it I read over the thing God-only-knows how many times, and then tonight I decided to go and tighten it up a bit before submitting it to the next place, and what did I find? Errors. Phrases repeated three paragraphs later, ambiguous pronouns, even a friggin’ spelling error. Advice to writers: Do not edit a piece and then submit it. Edit it, wait a week at least, read it over carefully, then submit it. Right after you edit, you already know what each paragraph says, so you don’t read it as carefully as you should. You need time to forget what you wrote.

I do, at least. Dang, that was embarrassing. The editor of that magazine is also an agent; I decided to give her time to forget about me before I send her a query.

Edited to add: It seems I had broken my spelling checker. Running experimental software may ultimately be the cause, but until I rebooted I had to check with British English – my American spelling list would accept anything. I try not to depend on those things anyway, but sure enough, I should have sat on my new super-short synopsis a bit longer before sending it out. (Sent before I discovered the errors in Old Town or I might have been more cautious.) We’ll see what happens.

The lesson is patience. I’ve been working on the novel for years now, and I couldn’t wait one more damn day to send off the queries. Part of it is that I set a goal for the day: hit up agents. I let little things stop me sometimes, so yesterday I was determined not to let that happen. I should have. The mistake was in setting up the expectation that I could produce the exact materials that each query required in a single sitting. (I now have 3, 5, and 20-page synopses, and the next agent will want a different size. More on that next episode.) I was going to send out a pair of queries today, but I’ll wait until my even newer 5-page synopsis has time to mellow.