Come to the Point
W. Shakespeare, called by his friends Bill,
Is said to have written his plays with a quill.
I mention him here, though, just on the way
To the topic I’d meant to hold forth on today,
The connection to which might not seem too plain,
But which I can maybe attempt to explain.
First, Bill had quills, though they weren’t on his back,
And he used his to scribble, not to attack,
Like these guys who always get up in your face,
Who thought up the notion of personal space.
But those little spikes that are used to protect,
When they roll in a ball and hold them erect,
Are clattering, rattling, “shaky spears” when
They toddle along with their porcupine friends.
– Tyler Tork
Fernella Inskip of Bald Knob, Arkansas asks:
What do stressed-out ostriches do when there’s no sand for them to bury their heads in? There are people around here who raise ostriches (for laughs, I guess?) and they run around on grass or at best, mud. The soil just isn’t very sandy in these parts.
You’re working from old information. Ostriches in a state of nature, in vast sandy places, might not have any other way to get away from life’s little nuisances. But civilized ostriches who live on farms, have other coping mechanisms available.
- Simple MP3 players have gotten so inexpensive that many birds can listen to soothing music when the world is too much. They don’t have fingers to work the controls, but fortunately they have short memories, so they don’t mind hearing the same half-dozen songs over and over.
The explosion of niche publishing markets means that ostrich-targeted “chick lit” is easy to find (e.g. from Savanna Press). Mostly audiobooks, because ostriches tend to be far-sighted and have no ears to hang glasses on.
- Small but growing professions of ostrich masseurs, beak buffers and pedicurists are ready to give them a little spa vacation right at home. Current economic conditions have driven prices for these services down to quite reasonable levels.
- At the better farms, poolside drinks are available. Mostly water, of course. Ostriches have no head for spirits, and little head for anything else.
Of course, compared to their primitive brethren, farm ostriches have what you might call “first world problems.” There are no leopards and hyenas or men with spears around, so they spend their time worrying about what other ostriches think of them, whether their feathers have that youthful sheen, and what happened to Ralphie after the farmer led him away.
…excluding anything tablet size and below.
Harry Padington of Newgate writes:
I run an opera company, and attendance has been flat. A rival company in our city’s been packing them in, though. How can I increase our audience share?
Harry, I’ve thought long and hard on your question (sorry it took so long to answer). Opera has a lot to offer. Beautiful singing, dramatic plots… but it needs an update to resonate with modern audiences. Here are a few ideas.
- Advertise the show as being in 3D. I don’t understand why anybody puts on a live show these days without highlighting this big plus.
- Add zombies. Everything sells better with zombies. They may be tapering off, though, so watch for the next big thing.
- Get big stars. Hollywood actors love to take a turn on the stage to prove they got culcha. Who the heck has heard of René Pape, much less anyone your outfit can afford? But get Nicolas Cage or Johnny Depp up there, and you’ll fill those seats. Of course, they can’t necessarily sing, but see my next point but one.
- More sword fights. I know it’s hard to sing well when you’re jumping around with a sword (or even without a sword), which brings me to my next point.
- Lip-sync. Having people stand around singing is static. It’s boring. But if they move much, it interferes with the singing. What you need is someone to jump around, while someone else does the singing offstage. Especially appropriate if performing Cyrano.
- Boost the cute factor. Puppies and little kids increase the aw-w-w-w of any show. Do you think anyone would’ve watched Frasier without that little dog?
- Do operas for kids. Think about it. If adults come to a show they often have to find a babysitter. If the kids come, they need an adult to accompany them. So, more seats filled, and you’re training the next generation of opera goers. Bright colors, simple lyrics, clowning, killer robots, and none of that damn foreign language stuff.
- Actually, nobody likes shows where they can’t understand the words. If you can’t do it in English, don’t bother. This also frees up the translation display for more important uses.
- What uses, you ask? Audience participation is key. Picture this: “SHOULD MIMI SLEEP WITH MARCELLO? TEXT TO 65001.” Or, “tiro4005: OMG this family needs help #elektraatthemet”.
- Join forces with a modern acrobatic circus, like Cirque du Soleil. More eye candy to keep things hopping.
- Do sequels. This is really a no-brainer, and I don’t know why we don’t already have Carmen II and Madame Butterfly Does Vegas. If something was popular, people always want more of the same. Yes, I know some operas leave the stage littered with the corpses of major characters, but these things can be worked around. Comic books manage it just fine. You might also consider combined sequels, like Faust Meets The Merry Widow.
- Popup opera. Like the music video show that flashed up fascinating facts about the band members during a performance, you can have assistants hold up placards with trivia about the performers and the shows (or use that translation board). Audiences eat this stuff up — “Joyce Didonato has 30 monkeys” or “This show was first performed in a barn, by horses.” It doesn’t have to be true, just entertaining. (Note: I have no idea whether Ms. Didonato actually has any pets. It was just an example.)
If you do even a few of these things, I’m sure you’ll sell out every night. Good luck! And if you want to thank me, a small commission on your increased sales would not be unwelcome.
I get mail… in this case from a reader who spotted a news story that reminded her of my recent proposal to eliminate Thanksgiving in favor of a holiday where people get to complain to their nearest and dearest, since that’s what it usually comes down to anyway.
I hadn’t really thought in terms of a light display for the new holiday, but a woman in Denham Springs, Louisiana, has come up with something that’s in the spirit of the occasion. This was originally intended as a message to a neighbor who, says amateur lighting engineer Sarah Childs, may have stolen her dog. However, the city has given her so much grief about it that she has now added a second decoration, similar to the first, to express her opinion of local government.
So, is Ms. Childs (some say Henderson) a low-class nutjob and horrible neighbor? There’s a case to be made for that. Is she within her rights? The ACLU feels there’s a case to be made for that. In any case, she is a decorating innovator.
The new flash fiction publisher Mustang’s Monster Corral just published a very short story by me! Which shows that the plans of evil geniuses are deep and scary.
Maybe when you went to summer camp as a child, you felt that there was more going on than you knew about. If you don’t know the secret camper sign language, you were right! In a series of posts, I’ll show how campers communicate without speaking. If you or someone you know will go to summer camp, it’s crucial to understand these signals, or you miss out on a lot.
We’ll start out easy, with just one sign. The diagram shows how to point out the location of cheese to another camper. With one hand, use your index finger to point to the cheese. The other hand makes a squarish curved shape with the thumb and first two fingers. You can think of this either as a letter C for cheese, or a grip appropriate to holding the curvy edge of a wedge of cheese. Either way, now you will recognize this symbol of cheesy deliciousness!
If you use this sign yourself, take care not to confuse cheese with soap. Before you direct your fellow campers to a tasty snack, do the test to make sure that’s what it really is. It takes only a few seconds and heightens your peace of mind.
If the cheese is soft, for instance if it’s cream cheese or marscapone, wiggle the fingers of the non-pointing hand, as if you were mushing the cheese a little. For practice, you might get a package of cream cheese, let it warm up, and massage it a little — still in the wrapper, unless you just like to make a mess. Pay attention to how your fingers move. This will help you give the motion a natural look.
This article, with its picture of an old Viking pendant in the shape of a dinosaur, has got me thinking. Could there be more surprises like this lurking in museums and attics? What else might our remote ancestors have known about that we never expected?
For instance, this little statue was made 7,000 years ago in Thessaly. And yet it bears a striking resemblance to something many people probably thought was modern. Could this be the Lost Tubby?
This is the sort of thing that makes Science fascinating.
Thanks to Gordon Bonnet for the link to this article.
The elegant and talented Dana M. Baird has tagged me to participate in a sort of chain letter of writers talking about their work in progress. Like all writers, I welcome any excuse to do this, though I wouldn’t dream of doing so uninvited. So, here are my answers to the standard set of questions.
What is the working title of your next book?
The Deep End is the title I’m probably going with.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The genesis was at a convention panel about villains, where someone remarked that “you don’t just wake up evil.” Contrary person that I am, I started thinking about ways that could happen. I’d already done some world-building on another project and had maps and descriptions of the cultures and so forth, and thought this story would also work in that setting, but 50 years later and in a different country. And once I start thinking of the milieu, I invent people in it. And it gets stuck in my head until I write it down.
What genre does your book fall under?
What is the synopsis or blurb for this book?
Marlee is suddenly thrown into a different body on an unfamiliar world, in the middle of someone else’s complicated and dangerous life. She’s hip-deep in plots and deceptions that she knows nothing about, with enemies both secret and public. If she lets on that she’s not who she appears to be, her piranha-like relatives will pounce. And the body’s previous inhabitant isn’t entirely gone; Marlee finds it all too easy to adopt her nasty ways. She struggles for her life and to define a new identity, trying to prove to herself that her old life isn’t just a fantasy, and to figure out how to get back to it.
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Since we’re talking hypothetically, I considered assuming I had a time machine, but I like the challenge of casting it with actors who are alive and the right age today.
- Marlee: I loved Jill Scott in No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I think she’d be good for the part and might enjoy being a bit evil for a change. She’s lost a lot of weight since then, but isn’t at all on the willowy side – and that’s exactly what I want.
- Marlee’s young maid Clora is initially the only person close enough to her to notice that she’s not who she seems to be. Clora helps out – for a price – and finds herself also out of her depth among Marlee’s devious, status-conscious family. Camille Winbush might work in this part, or Chitrangada Singh.
- Marlee’s main minion is Edsgar di Creza. Eddie is elegant and unscrupulous, but maybe not unscrupulous enough to carry out his role in Marlee’s schemes. Maybe Christian Bale. He can act, and looks good in sharp suits.
- Chalula, a torch singer of sorts and Marlee’s lesbian lover (a bit of a dilemma for Marlee who isn’t – well, wasn’t – lesbian): Freema Agyeman. I don’t know whether she can sing, but these things can be worked around, and yow! From seeing her in Doctor Who, I can well envision her dressed for battle, with a crossbow, straps, leather and stompin’ boots.
I’m getting into minor characters now, but when I came up with Miss Yrenn, Marlee’s fearsome dresser, I was picturing Octavia Butler. CCH Pounder could play the part. And Queen Latifah as Clora’s mom, a cook who takes out troublemakers with her rolling pin and, like her daughter, is ready to exploit any opportunity for advantage.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Are those the only choices? I follow kriswrites.com so I’m not trying to get an agent. I’ll try some publishers that take unagented submissions. I’m not a big fan of managing the entire production and marketing myself; I have limited time for writing and I’d prefer not to spend it on stuff that’s not fun for me. But I will if I have to.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I don’t really do drafts; I tend to do way too much editing as I go along. I’m trying to not do that. I’ve been working on it for more than a year and I think I’ll write “The End” in about 4 months. I haven’t been doing it without interruptions. I have too many projects.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Inspiration is for amateurs. I’m working.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’ve been enjoying the work of Martha Wells, and this probably shares some genetic material with her Ile-Rien books (The Wizard Hunters is the first). But I’ve been reading about the Borgias. And Lawrence of Arabia. And “The Idea of Poverty…”. It all goes into the hopper.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Lizard men make the best mathematicians. The mail glider to the capital fires off at 8 and 2 sharp, weather permitting. There’s magic, which is treated as a technology, so for instance, the steampunk computer has nine (nine!) enchanted registers. There are airships. Marlee “invents” pizza.
Who’s next in the Blog Hop?
- Gordon Bonnet, when he’s not puncturing the illusions of woo-woo believers or teaching critical thinking skills to the next generation, writes creepy little fantasies.
- Eli Effinger-Weintraub, because she has a classy hat and because I’m curious to know what is this novel she’s working on. She mostly does plays and short stories. Surprise, Eli!
- Conrad Zero, whose outlook is twisted, refreshing and dark. Conrad, if you like the Oxford comma, sorry.
Emily H. of Chilliwack, BC, Canada writes:
Dear Tyler, I would like to be able to walk backwards, but I keep tripping over things or bumping into people. Can you help?
Emily, Emily. Why must you walk backwards? Is it only for the joy of being unconventional? As someone who can’t help being weird, I have to tell you, it’s a lonely road. I was fortunate to meet and marry a weird woman.
Be that as it may. It’s said of certain people that they have eyes in the backs of their heads. Perhaps someone said that about you, and you took it too literally. I’ve never met anyone from this planet of whom it was actually true. Still, if you feel a need to check, use two mirrors — one in front and one in back. Or ask a friend you trust to tell you honestly. Or you might just notice whether you can see things that are behind you; it sounds like maybe you can’t. Perhaps, if you actually do have eyes in back, you just need a haircut. In that case, may I have a photo for my archives? And, if you die before me or for any other reason have no further use for it, may I have your skull? Thanks.
If you’re like most people, your eyes only point frontwards and your neck is perhaps not flexible enough to see straight behind you while walking, unless you are an owl. If so, this would be my first question from an owl or in fact from a bird of any kind, as far as I know.
If you are not so gifted, you still have a couple of options. One is to ask a trusted friend (these people have many uses) to walk forward while you walk backward, clearing people and other obstacles from your path with a large push-broom, and telling you when to step up or aside when there’s an obstacle too large for the broom to handle, such as a curb or a supermarket. It also helps to mount a bicycle bell on your finger, and ring it while you walk, so people will know that you’re coming (this does not help with supermarkets, however). Or, you can use the apparatus shown below.
This simple headband with two mirrors mounted on it, lets you easily see what’s behind you as advance contrariwise. It takes a little getting used to, and many people find it advantageous to block off the space between the mirrors, to avoid the distraction of seeing things in front. With a little practice, you should be able to walk backwards almost as easily as you walk forwards.
Indeed, if you use these enough, your visual cortex may become so accustomed to them that you’ll be unable to understand things you’re seeing straight ahead of you. Scientists have observed similar effects when they made test subjects wear glasses that turned everything upside down. After a time, their brains adapted (the subjects’ brains, not the scientists’), and then everything looked upside-down when they took the glasses off. If something like this happens to you, don’t be alarmed: the effect is temporary. But this experiment just goes to show how extremely cool Science is. It’s a wonder that not everyone becomes a Scientist (but it’s just as well they don’t, because then who would make my lattes?).