Welcome to Eureka (rhymes with Sligo)

You can say what you want about Denny’s, but it’s got one thing going for it: No door locks. I was wandering the blustery rustic streets of Eureka, and there was just one thing on my mind. Breakfast. I need breakfast the way a mole rat needs fur. (You see? would I have written that if I was not loopy with hunger and uncaffeinated?)

The historic downtown district has been prettied up for the tourists, and I was confident that I would find a nice little café where I could drink a nice cup of tea. The cold rain stung my face as I walked, and I was thankful for my beard. Not too far along I found a place. Closed. I passed some nice-looking places, but they all opened later. Ooooo-kay. Starting to get hungry. Ahead I saw a bagel place. Perfect! It turns out they are open six days a week, but not on Tuesdays. Tuesdays! Around a corner and another block toward the bay was a promising sign. Sorry, closed, out of business, thanks for your support.

So, Denny’s, for almost-right eggs over easy and toast oozing butter. Delicious!

Meddling Fool of an American!

I leave in a few hours. My procrastination skills have designated tonight an all-nighter.

Public transport from here to the airport is reliable, but not especially swift. Tonight I was sitting with MaK and she offered to drive me to the airport in the morning. I gratefully accepted. I said more than once, “you’re OK with showing up at that time?” She said that while she didn’t look forward to it, she was willing to do it. I was willing to incur the karmic debt.

Enter my brother. What had been a simple one-person-doing-another-person-a-favor transaction suddenly became complicated. Complicated to the point that I will not be getting a ride later this morning. He didn’t say they weren’t giving me a ride, he just revoked the commitment and said, “when do you need to know if we will be picking you up?”

Well, of course, given the relative speeds of the transportation involved, the difference is about an hour. What that means is that now in order to give me a ride to the airport MaK has to get up forty-five minutes earlier than she would have, just to tell me she’s coming. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. pL rewrote the rules to make it almost impossible for me to catch a ride.

Jerk.

The Tip of My Tongue

An hour ago I was writing, putting another layer of polish on a story I don’t know where to send. I was wrestling with a sentence. It was good, but I thought with the right tweaks to it and the paragraph around it, it could be great. Great doesn’t happen very often, not often at all, and I was going for greatness with everything I had.

I sat back at one point, distancing myself from the work for a moment, and thought about something interesting. Something essay-worthy. I mentally composed a few sentences and eyed the button that would bring my blog software forward, thinking that I should jot down a few notes. Before I did that, however, I had an idea for the story at hand, and back I went.

Now, I remember having the idea. I remember mulling the idea. I don’t remember the idea. I haven’t given up on it; ideally there will be an episode immediately after this one that is insightful and erudite, shining a literary beacon on the human psyche.

Right now, however, I’m pissed off.

Internet Explorer 7 is officially out.

Better, but not that great. It renders this page mostly correctly; the deficiencies are minor and overlookable. So that’s good. For Instance, the bottom of the ampersand in the logo is cut off, but while it’s not as stylish, it looks a hell of a lot better than it did before. That is where my adventure began. In the end, my first day with the new version of the software left me befuddled.

Then I noticed that my “Now Playing” section wasn’t working on IE. The way that content is generated is a bit hokey, so I thought it might be a good time to clean up the script. I figured that would probably fix the problem with IE at the same time.

Allow me to interject that the worst language for programming computers ever invented is AppleScript. They try to make it read like “real English”, like you’re chatting with your computer. As mentioned here many times, real English is about nuances, about color and shade, not black and white. As such, it’s not well-suited as a programming language. What Apple ended up with was a syntax that has the same old rigid rules, along with a hell of a lot of verbal clutter and words that don’t always mean the same thing. But I digress.

I cleaned up the script that generates the script that the browsers load to show what music I’m listening to at the moment, and I learned a couple of things along the way. The code is better than it was before, and I will be able to improve it further rather easily. So, that’s cool. I was mildly disappointed that the result still did not work on Internet Explorer 7. I suspected I knew why, but I wanted to see the IE error messages to make sure. I couldn’t find them. I was looking for some sort of window with a list of errors and any other output from the script. I went through all the menus, but could find nothing. I dimly remembered having to set a preference in previous versions of explorer to turn on the Javascript Console, so I…

Wait a minute… where are the preferences?

As far as I have been able to discern, there is no preference window in Explorer. Now, in one sense that’s a good thing. It’s been a design philosophy I’ve been using in Jer’s Novel Writer: put the settings next to the task. But what about the settings that apply to the program itself? Maybe the preferences are there and I just missed them. There were lots of cases where controls were in unfamiliar places.

Which brings me to a lament that is more about other software developers. There was a time when every program’s controls were different. One of the most revolutionary things that the mac introduced was providing a standard way to interact with software. Love the mac way or hate it, it dramatically reduced the learning curve for new applications, and you didn’t have to remember where everything was for each application. The Windows world followed suit, and for a long time computing was just a bit easier. That is breaking down now. I first noticed it on media players for Windows. They look slick, but in many cases important controls aren’t even visible until you move the mouse to a specific area. Menu bar? Forget it. Now it seems even Microsoft is sacrificing simplicity for slickness.

Right, then. One option I did find was to look for extensions for Explorer. The light came on over my head. Somewhere there would be a tool that would let me look at console output from a script. I went to the site, and there was Developers Toolbar. Hooray! I downloaded it, installed it, and discovered several useful tools, none of which were a script console. It was a nice addition, and absolutely free from Microsoft, but not the addition I was looking for. (Having this as a separate download is another design philosophy I agree with. Provide the core and let people add on the parts they need.)

About then I noticed the little error message down at the bottom of the window. Silly me! It was there all the time. I clicked the error icon. Nothing. I right-clicked the icon. Nothing. Now that is just bad design. Microsoft themselves led the charge to make “if you see something you want to interact with, right-click to see your choices” a standard. I concluded that the icon was for informative purposes only, and that somewhere else I would find the explanation of the errors. Only later did I double-click the icon to cause an error window to pop up. More bad design. Double-click is to perform the default action on a selectable item. This is simply a button, and nothing more. You don’t double-click buttons. (You also don’t put right-click menus on buttons, but once the single-click didn’t work I assumed it wasn’t a button, and tried to treat it as an item with more than one action. When the one-action behavior failed, then the multiple-action behavior failed, I assumed there were no actions.)

The window opened up and said there was a problem on line 2 of the file. Line 2 is blank. The “next” button in the little window was dim, so I didn’t realize for a moment that pressing “previous” brought up an error message dealing with line 700. “Object Expected” the error said. There was a “hide details” button, but what passed for detail wasn’t. Could I please just see a list of errors (instead of a little window where I have to click through them) and any debug information I might want to send out? The root error is ultimately my fault, but is it asking too much to make it easier to find, especially since the scripts work on all the browsers whose error reporting doesn’t suck? (Yes, I searched for other downloadable extensions. If anyone out there knows of a solution, I would be grateful.)

I guessed that there must be something wrong with the way I wrote the script tag. Luckily, one of the cool features of the Developer’s Toolbar is a validator. You can do this easily enough anyway, but right there was a way to submit your site to w3c and get back a full report card of your compliance.

I ran the report and had a bucketload of non-compliant code. I wasn’t that surprised, as the original blog template was done a while back by someone else, the comment system is someone else’s code, the Amazon links weren’t compliant, and so on and so forth. There were plenty of errors of my own doing as well, including some stray markup in a paragraph complaining about Microsoft’s non-compliance to standards. When I saw that error my mind was made up. Time to clean house! I went through the template, modifying (almost) all the markup to match standards, paying particularly close attention to script tags. Almost all of them were using syntax that was at best out of date. Not any more, baby! I brought them all into the modern age, something I would not have done were it not for Internet Explorer 7.

The result: users of Internet Explorer will have to use Firefox to post comments telling me what I’ve done wrong, because now all the Haloscan script tags are broken in IE. “Object Expected.”

1

Gender, my eye!

Many languages assign genders to all nouns. In czech, nouns are masculine, feminine, or neutral, and the masculine category is further divided into animate and inanimate. The gender of the noun can make a big difference throughout the sentence, and the rules for how to form the seven cases of each noun vary by gender and by whether the word ends with a hard or soft sound (although there are special cases for certain word endings).

Plural is another story, with the noun changing depending on how many things there are (in most cases there are three forms: singular, plural up to four, and plural five and up).

For pronouns, where English retains a few vestiges of declension (e.g., I and me), Czech is much more complex as well. So when I used a sentence with “my eyes” in it, and very carefully selected the form of “my” to match the plural of “eye”, I was taken aback to be corrected. “Hang on,” I said, flipping to the relevant table in my textbook. “I want to make sure I have this right. Oko is neutral, right?”

Here’s the thing. The singular for ‘eye’, oko, is neutral. The plural, oči, is feminine. The same goes for ears and children.

The oddest rejection to date

A couple of days ago I sent an essay to a national magazine. It was an account of my time visiting friends in a small town and going with the family to a Little League game on a hot summer afternoon. I’m pretty happy with the piece, so I’ve been sending it to larger magazines, which, as a side effect, tend to pay pretty well (relatively speaking, of course). Within hours of sending the story I had a reply. “That’s not a good sign,” I thought. It didn’t seem like it was enough time for anyone to read it at all.

Well, in fact, someone did read the piece. The message was a polite note from the publisher himself, and said, in part:

Thanks for this submission. It’s a very nicely-written piece, and I enjoyed it. However, it appears to be a fictional piece (although you said it was non-fiction) and we do not publish fiction.

[snip]

I was really anticipating that the trick play was going to work…nice twist.

Nice twist indeed. I’d be proud of that twist if it weren’t for the fact I didn’t make it up. In fairness, the style of the piece is, well, mine, and sometimes when I’m on a roll I can give the world a fairy-tale feeling. My favorite blog episodes are that way. Also, I must confess that I am quite flattered by the italicized “very”. It’s a bit of extra effort on his part for no other purpose than to pay me a compliment. It’s funny how much I cling to those things, these days.

And hang on a sec… was I even rejected? There’s no actual “no” in the message. Perhaps he just wanted clarification and now a check is in the mail.

The message also included a conversational question, so I used the opportunity to send a response assuring him that the piece is entirely non-fiction, but in the two days following he has not responded. I probably should have composed my response more carefully; I have (in my mind, anyway) put myself in an ambiguous position. If I can convince him it’s non-fiction, is he still interested, or does he feel that his readers will think it is fiction in any case? Maybe I can ghost-write an accompanying article with the coach of the team, diagramming the trick play.

Maybe he meant… gah! I have witnessed this phenomenon in the correspondence of other writers; I call it thinking too much. Writers have a lot of time to think, and the imagination to really spin things to preposterous conclusions. It’s our job. If only we could turn this power to the good.

Lost: one funny bone

I just read that Piker Press is looking for more of the lighter fare that is their signature. Apparently they’ve had a glut of heavy stuff in their in-boxes lately, despite the arrival of K. K. Brown and his well-written, whimsical stories. So if you have something lighthearted in you, now might be a good chance to give it wings.

I, however, seem to have run out of funny. I’m sure I had some lying around before I headed out to Spain; I suspect Soup Boy swiped it. He was heading off to Budapest when I came back; I bet he spread it around down there, while all the Budapestians slapped his back, exclaiming in broken English, “What a witty American are you!” (On a side note, the Hungarians really like their exclamation points. They even use them on their money.)

Maybe it’s the World Cup. I’ve probably watched as much TV in the last week as I had for the year to date — it’s just unavoidable if I want to go anywhere. TV certainly makes people stupid, perhaps it also makes them less funny. (An easy theory to promote — look how much TV Americans watch, and they’ve entirely lost their sense of humor.)

Or perhaps I, like Samson and his strength, did not realize until too late that all my funny was in my hair. Miss Adventure Delilah’d me, and now I must wait for the flowing tresses to grow back out before I can resume laying people low with the jaw of an ass.

Whatever the cause, I’ll have to find a way around it. “Elephants of Doom” is unfinished, along with two other short stories that are supposed to be humorous. Piker Press could use a chuckle, and Lord knows I need to do my part to address the world humor shortage. (As with all shortages, the Chinese are to blame.)

If you have any extra bit of funny lying around, throw it my way, would you? I’ll be the one in the corner writing about little girls in an orphanage dying of pneumonia while being exploited as slave labor. Whoo!

Why Writers are Neurotic

Ask any publisher, any literary agent, any writer’s family and friends, and they will tell you: writers are a messed-up bunch. They don’t know the half of it.

First, the obvious: rejection sucks. I get back the form letter saying “not right for us at this time” and I find myself wondering what to do with this work that is obviously crap. I liked it before, and even when I read it now I think it’s pretty good which just goes to show what a talentless hack I am thinking something like that is good because obviously it’s not. It got rejected. So I could submit it somewhere else but why the hell should I bother? Crap’s crap the world around.

Far worse than rejection is Limbo. I send something in, and they say they usually reply within twelve weeks. Now it’s been three months (do the math). Nothing. I don’t want to be that annoying writer that pesters the publisher, but thoughts start to pile up. Maybe it fell between the cracks. Maybe they never got it. The postage has changed since I sent the SASE; maybe the response is lost in a bureaucratic muddle. Hanging over me is the question: When is it all right to submit the work to another market? Do I check with the first magazine to get verification that I am not under consideration there, or does that just make me a pest? For a writer, there is no level of hell lower than limbo.

Another thing: Everybody has a friggin’ story. When I’m in a bar talking to the dentist on the next stool, I won’t mention my teeth, and I don’t want to hear his story idea.

Other writers. God we’re an insufferable bunch. Actually, that’s an unfair generalization. Writers who have branded themselves artists, I do not like to hang around. Strutting preening iceholes, intent on establishing their pecking order. They don’t have conversations, they have cluster monologues, working to establish their personality cults like they’re Kerouac or something. Most of all I hate the person I become in their presence; I join their game. It’s the Sharks and the Jets right there in the cafe/bookstore. At the bottom of this folly lies the assumption that “ideas” are not just redemptive but vital, and that writers are rescuing humanity by exposing these ideas. People don’t read ideas, and people don’t read most of the tumescent drek this crowd serves up. You want to inform humanity? Write about humans. The ideas will fall out of the writing or you’ve simply told a good story. It’s cool either way.

“Hello? Helloooooooo…” Just because I’m sitting at your table in the restaurant doesn’t mean I’m with you. When I get that distant look in my eye, I’m working, dammit. Leave me alone. I am working all the time. Sometimes I can turn down the intensity and pretend to be with you. Most of the time, not. If that bothers you, go chat up the dentist on the next stool.

Expectations. Some of the words I write may make you think I’m sensitive, or caring, or thoughtful. I am a writer. I make stuff up. That’s my job. The people I create, even the bad guys, are much finer humans than I am, unburdened by the need to act without months of deliberation; that’s why you enjoy reading about them. I am spontaneously awkward, and rather a jerk at that. Except when I’m not, which is most of the time. I just made that up to make a point. You see how it is?

The greatest source of neurosis of all (although Limbo is a very close second): great literature. Nothing fills me with the need to write more than reading the work of a master. I read something transcendent, lyrical and wise, and the moment of beauty is besmirched – I will never write that.

But still I write.

Selling Soap – This is How Stupid I Am

Apparently, the director for this commercial is slower than most. On day two of shooting, a van came and picked me up at my house and got me to the set at 7:15. At 3:30 I still had yet to be used. I sat and read near the little space heater in the room where the food was.

Sitting near me was a pretty woman, bundled up and sitting directly in front of the heater, reading a worn, cloth-bound book. It looked like literature. As other people were called onto the set occasionally, she never budged. She wasn’t wearing a lab coat, so I figured she wasn’t in the cast, but she didn’t appear to be part of the crew, either. After a while I figured out that she was the set medic. She didn’t speak much English, and she seemed a little shy when people came to ask for cold medicine or whatnot. Occasionally something amusing would happen nearby and we would exchange a chuckle. I tried to think of some way to broach a conversation with her, when we had so few words in common.

Eventually my name was called and I limped out onto the set. My shoes had given me a blister on my heel the day before. False alarm; I limped back to the waiting room. She looked up from her book and I shrugged and rolled my eyes and she smiled. I returned to my book, wondering what I could say to her. A while later the call came again, I limped back out, false alarm, and back I went. Smiles exchanged, back to the books.

Some of you, by now, may have already caught on. Let’s review the salient points:

  • There was a pretty woman sitting a few feet away from me for hours and hours
  • She reads old books
  • I wanted to talk to her
  • She was bored
  • She was a nurse
  • I was injured
  • It is her job to help injured people

You see it? The subtle opportunity I missed? To not only talk to her, but to get some relief for my heel as it bled into my sock?

Man, I’m stupid. I wonder, now, if I would have thought to ask for help if the nurse had been a toothless old man.

Sloppy!

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.

New Years Eve at Lucy’s

Oh, what a night. What a night indeed.

I rolled into San Diego early, before drivers were too drunk. Amy was bartending at a private party, so I was left to my own devices on New Year’s eve. I wanted to keep my activities close to where I slept. Amy said that Rose (rhymes with rocks) was having a New Year’s eve party in the neighborhood, but I felt funny about crashing it (I never hung around with Rose much except when she was behind the bar), so I went to Lucy’s, a friendly enough place outside the party zone in Ocean Beach. I found a barstool and appraised the beer selection and the beer slinger. The two graying barflies to my left and were flattering her with sincere hyperbole. She was good to look at, no doubt about it.

Her shift was soon going to be over, however, and the beers cost more than I wanted to pay. I began to consider a move to Tiny’s, just up the street, where Erica might be working. Then Christina showed up, and I decided to keep my butt right where it was. The new bartender was dressed to kill, and she had plenty of ammunition. We got to chit-chatting, and I learned that she was getting married in eight days. A pity, true, but her girlfriends were coming in later. I entertained the idea that perhaps the friendly barkeep could act as an ice breaker, overcoming my natural reticence (with all people except bartenders).

The final obstacle for the evening was cash flow. Lucy’s doesn’t believe in credit. No problem; there is a cash machine in the corner.

Um… big problem. I opened my wallet to find no card there. I was down to two dollars, and no way to get more before the banks opened on Tuesday. Tuesday felt a long, long, way away. I looked all over for the card, no luck. I called Callahan’s, where I had had lunch, and they reported no card there, either. Just bloody grand. Time to call the bank and stop the card. I walked back through the rain to Amy’s house. As I called the bank, my phone informed me that I was almost out of credit. “OK,” I said to myself, first call the phone company, then the bank. I dialed T-mobile, only to realize that without the credit card number I would not be able to add minutes.

Right then. The bank, and make it quick. I dialed the number (toll free but that didn’t help me one bit), only to wait and listen to silence. Getting more nervous, I called again and made my way through the menu system. (Note to any banks who issue credit cards – “put a stop on a lost or stolen card” should be right at the top of the first menu.) Next I needed to type in my account number. Quickly I punched in the digits. “Invalid Account number,” the soulless voice said. I started punching numbers again, only to hear the line go dead.

“Crap!” I shouted in Amy’s empty apartment. I checked my remaining time. Seven minutes. I dialed the bank again, and more quickly made my way through the menus to the “enter your account number” prompt. I punched in the digits again, and watched as my phone doubled up a number (my phone keypad has a very bad tendency to double-punch keys). Failure again, and once more cut off. I clenched my fists and looked up at the ceiling, jaw clamped shut, for the moment unable even to speak profanity. Four minutes left on the phone. I searched once more for the missing card, the one I knew would turn up as soon as I canceled it. No luck.

Out there somewhere, someone was buying the whole bar a round on my card. I called the bank one more time, and failed one more time.

That is when I did the pissed-off dance. No one has ever seen the dance before, and I have never mentioned it to anyone before. It is an unplanned and unchoreographed expression of primal rage, an anger that most of you who know me as a mild-mannered and steady kind of guy would not suspect. I don’t know what profanity I was shouting repeatedly as I jumped up and down, spinning in circles, in something like the Incredible Hulk’s posture.

The good thing about the pissed-off dance is that even as I do it, there is some part of me that knows how silly it looks. It is that realization that brings me back to earth.

I went to a nearby pay phone and canceled the card. The next day, New Years Day, was Amy’s birthday (six years to go…). We hung out, did fun things, and she had to pay for everything. I sure know how to show a girl a good time. Today I came back into Callahan’s, and the first thing Diane said was, “You left your card here the other day!” Arrgh.

Poker Online

I’ve got a crummy little head cold right now, one that isn’t serious enough to put me under but is enough to keep me from being able to concentrate on anything. I don’t want to spread it around, so I’ve been spending a lot of time at home. Yesterday I installed myself at fuego’s place to abuse his Internet for a while (and water MaK’s plants). I tried to write, it wasn’t working. I tried to work on Jer’s Novel Writer, but I just didn’t have the patience. I found myself drifting around the Internet, looking for something to entertain me.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled across an online poker place that had a mac.com/patible client. I had seen someone playing online poker in a bar a few days ago, and I was curious. What caught my eye was that you can play for fake money. Aha! thought I, here’s a chance to hone the old poker skills without any monetary risk. Soup Boy’s been talking about having a poker night, so I figured it would be helpful to be in top form.

I ventured over to PokerRoom.com and read up on how the whole thing works. It’s pretty straightforward limit Texas hold’em (there are other games as well, but not for fake money). Finally I entered my vital statistics and joined a table.

Playing poker over the Internet for fake money is not the way to learn the game. I watched, incredulously, as people did the most amazingly stupid things. Case in point: on one hand there were two Queens showing. I had another, and a ten. There were no straight or flush opportunities showing, so I was pretty happy with three queens, but a bit worried about the limited support from the ten. Three other people were bidding up the pot extremely aggressively. I looked again at the cards, to see what I could be missing. One of those players might have the fourth Queen, but what was up with the other two? At the end I saw their cards, then went back over the play-by-play to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. Two players had bid up the pot to the limit based on having a pair of queens. The hand showing on the table. I wanted to smack them upside the head and say, “Hey! Did it occur to either of you that with all these people betting, someone might have more than the minimum possible hand?

In the above account, an astute Texas Hold’em player wold ask, “But Jerry, why did you even play a queen-ten?” Indeed, I shouldn’t have, and I paid the price. I lost to three queens and a king. It’s just that when there’s so much “stupid money” on the table, sometimes you lose perspective. After that hand I reminded myself to be patient, to be the shark swimming deep under the silly people splashing above, and wait for my moment to strike. At one point someone else at the table noticed I had folded several times in a row, and posted a message, “When you play a hand, I’m folding for sure!” I played, he had a good hand, he stayed in, and I won. That guy was fun to have around, though. At least what he did made sense, in a loose and carefree kind of way.

I saw people do silly things over and over. People betting to the limit on a king high, with other people also betting enthusiastically. When four cards of the same suit are showing, people betting when they have less than a flush. People staying in the game when the junk in their hand should have been folded before it was even dealt. I folded far more often than anyone else, and I while sitting out I would watch the others play, hoping to pick up the patterns of my opponents, to try to learn what to watch for as the cards played out. There was no pattern. I would try to predict what people had before they showed their cards, but it’s tough to do when people who have no chance of winning continue to throw in chips. Time and again I would say to myself, watching two people run up the pot, the rest of the table blindly following, “Man, the one with the jack is going to be bummed when he finds out the other has a queen. I don’t know what the rest of these guys are thinking,” only to find out that the people raising and re-raising were not the ones holding the good cards.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Poker, at it’s heart, is a game based on greed. You want to take everyone else’s money away. I imagined that in the fake-money tables greed would be replaced by pride, but apparently the game is so well-focussed on pure greed that nothing else can ever replace it. Poker for play money, especially in the anonymous world of Internet poker, is not poker at all; it’s people throwing chips at each other. I wondered more than once if they were even looking at their cards.

I guess I’ll have to get my poker lesson somewhere else.

Too much

One thing about walking a couple of miles each day is it gives me some good thinking time. Tonight I was walking along and I thought of a great way to start a novel. It’s fantastic. Tantalizing and human. Its about a tortured soul that doesn’t even know it’s tortured. It works.

So I fired up the ol’ novel writer and opened a new document. I looked at the blank page, “Book Title Here” written at the top, and thought about what it meant. Another project. The Test is not shrinking down enough to fit between two covers, I’ve been neglecting selling The Monster Within, and my real passion, the novel with the road in it, is languishing. Then there’s the big update to Jer’s Novel Writer I’m working on right now, and I’m tweaking the first release of the slick little flashcard program I’ve been writing when I should be studying my czech. How can I possibly start another project?

I once worked at a largish company, and while in the end I didn’t like the CEO much, he did say something that has stuck with me. To paraphrase: anyone can start something, but almost no one finishes anything. The whole reason I am here, the whole thing I am trying to prove, is that I am one of the people who finishes things. I’m not some dilettante wanna-be dabbler flitting like a butterfly from thought to thought, easily distracted by the pretty colors of the Next Big Idea. I have discipline. I can do it. If I say that often enough maybe it’ll be true.

So I have to be careful when a new idea blossoms. I have to do something or it will eat away at me while I worry that I’ll forget it. I’ve been putting effort into short fiction recently, and that’s been a fun way to pay attention to new ideas without disrupting my flow too badly, but this new idea won’t fit in such a small space. I guess it’s time for another chapter one.

Aargh!

I’ve been working on The Monster Within and the section I was going over yesterday was just plain sloppy. I think you’ll know when you get to it. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone over that area, but it simply lacked polish. Lots of misspellings, awkward dialog, references to a character who doesn’t exist anymore, stuff like that. I also think there are a still a couple of chapters that are either redundant or distracting.

Overall, though, I’m glad I bucked up and sent copies to some of you guys. I wasn’t at all nervous about it until after I sent out the first few copies. Then I got more and more jittery as I realized how many people were reading it and now when I find a mistake or a problem I know you’ve seen it too. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to myself “How did I ever miss that?”

It’s an important step for me, though, to get comfortable sharing my work with others. (I think strangers will be easier, but less constructive.) I’m considering making a questionnaire that covers some of my concerns for the story and to help you provide feedback. The questionnaire would contain spoilers, so I certainly don’t want you guys to look at it while you’re reading. If you would rather provide feedback another way (or not at all—I have this awkward image of a friend feeling the urge to lie and say they liked it when they didn’t, which doesn’t help either of us) that’s fine, too. Remember, I want both the bad and the good. It probably goes without saying, but if you post commentary about the novel on this site, please be courteous to other readers and avoid posting any spoilers.

Late breaking news: The Epilogue makes no sense whatsoever now. Please disregard. Also, I have recovered from the really stupid idea that just like in real life, people you meet in books could have the same name. I had wanted to create a parallel, but let’s face it, that’s just confusing.

The annoyance of being Jerry

I’m sitting in a pizza place where they call your name when the pizza’s ready. So far there’s been Jimmy, Jim, Jane, Terry, Larry, John, and Jake. The “J” sound is enough to perk my ears and interrupt my so-fragile train of thought, and they called Jimmy for so long that I thought maybe the girl had heard my name wrong and went to check, but Terry and Larry are the worst. I’ve been up to the pickup counter three times, and I don’t have a pie. I used to use Zebart as my name in situations like this. I don’t know why I stopped.

Time has passed.

I have my pizza now, and it’s quite good. They just called another Jimmy, another Terry, and another Jake.

Hi, I’m Zebart. How may I help you?