WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

All around you are invisible people. The toilet paper doesn’t magically refresh itself any more than the dirt on the floor disappears on its own. There are people that scrub toilets and take out trash and clean floors, doing all the shit jobs that people don’t want to do and it’s amazing to me how many people completely ignore them when they pass in the halls. On a good day, your average janitor might get a nod from a suit or a muttered good morning as they breeze past.

This is unfortunate and, frankly, pretty cold-blooded.

Fortunately, it’s not always the case. In Tullahoma, TN, a group of kindergartners not only told their deaf janitor, they learned to sing the entire “Happy Birthday” song just for him. The result of this is obviously a good thing for the janitor, but also a good thing for the kindergartners who learned a valuable lesson about why kindness can be a wonderful thing. So, while the immediate benefit went to a guy who spends his whole day cleaning up after everyone, the long-term benefit went to a group of kids who might be able to change the world for the better in some small way.

Go check out the original story. Your homework is to notice a janitor and give ’em a happy, “Good morning” tomorrow. Just remember the only philosophy you really need to make the world a bit better:

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are:
Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Uppal, Shilpa Garg, Mary J. Giese and Roshan Radhakrishnan

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.

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Information Density

Information density refers to putting more information into a single statement than is readily obvious. Think of it as a process of layering key pieces of a story on top of, or underneath, other things that are happening. Oftentimes it gets revealed through dialog, but there are other ways to accomplish it.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Show, don’t tell.” In fact, you’ve probably heard it enough that it makes you want to strangle a manatee in the nude every time someone says it.

It’s a bit of cryptic phrase. This is, after all, writing we’re talking about, not cinema; showing stuff in prose seems like the antithesis of telling a story. I’ll admit, I struggled with getting my head wrapped around it. But, like all things, once you come at it sideways, it makes a bit more sense. The path to understanding was a long, strange trip, but I finally had an epiphany that made it click into place.

Supposedly, Anton Chekhov once wrote “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass”.

This is all about scene building and adding poetic license to the grim details of monkey knife fighting in dimly lit alleys surrounded by drunken, toothless rabble chanting broken prayers to empty gods. Imaging the scene in your head. Freeze the frame. See the guy with the eye patch and his fist raised in the air. He’s screaming, lost in the ecstasy of the moment while the woman in the tiny dress leaning on his arm is staring at her phone. She’s focused on a single text and smirking.

The monkey on the right is in the air, about to ram a narrow gleaming dagger into the skull of a gray and black beast with wide eyes and his arms crossed in front of his face.

Now, read between the lines and see what’s lurking in there. The guy with the eye patch bet on the monkey that’s about to kill. He’s happy because he’s gonna get some soda water money. His girl has someone else on the side, someone she’d rather be with. The monkey about to get stabbed knows exactly what’s about to happen because he’s done it to others before.

That’s information density. That’s showing not telling. In a nutshell, you don’t have to be explicit about every little thing. Let the reader make up their own mind about the detail. Give them just enough extra information beyond the scene taking place that they can fill in the details.

The first thing to understand about showing not telling is it doesn’t have to all-encompassing. There are plenty of places where simply saying, “The damned light was blue” is all it takes and there’s no hidden information you need to divulge beyond the blueness of the light.

So, how about some examples?

In 1986, Aliens was released. Some people will disagree, but I still think it was the best in the series and set the tone for everything that came after it. If you’ve ever read the novelization, one of the things that gets brought up is how the aliens are showing signs of growing intelligence, probably due to the age of the hive. In Alien, the critter wasn’t too bright. It was in pure survival mode and, of course, hopelessly outclassed its prey so it didn’t have to be too smart. In Aliens there was more at stake, there was a hive and a queen and relative safety and the aliens had the luxury of moving beyond pure survival.

Even though the movie never explicitly states this, it hints at it in two places. The first is the fact that aliens found a way around all the locked doors and security and generally showed they had an intellect beyond pure animal instinct.

The other place, and the one that should have stayed in the final cut, was more obvious. Unfortunately, you’ll have to scrounge up the director’s cut to see it. In that cut, there’s a scene where the marines set up automated sentry guns. The first gun runs out of ammo and the aliens overrun it with pure numbers. The second gun, however, stops firing before it runs out of ammo. The aliens recognized the threat and retreated to find another way around. That way turned out to be crawling through the ceiling and dropping on their unsuspecting prey. Clever bugs.

Again, information density. Even though both scenes moved the story along and were pretty damned fun to boot, there was another layer that wasn’t as obvious. Even though that layer didn’t necessarily serve to push the plot along, it added something important to the characterization of the antagonists and also ramped up the tension. Now the marines weren’t just fighting a horde of killing machines, they were fighting a horde of smart killing machines.

In the beginning of this post, I alluded to the fact that information density is often revealed through dialog. Imagine a character with a recurring drinking problem. He’s trying to get his shit together, but has a long and storied history with alcohol. At various points in the past, he’s gone so far into the arms of mother booze that he’s made up crazy stories. You could spend a paragraph or so detailing his many times on and off the wagon, or you could hit in one line.

“Are you back on the sauce again, Colton, because that story doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

Your readers are smart. They don’t need everything spelled out for them. Don’t just let their imaginations soar, encourage it.

Got any other tips, drop ’em in the comments. I love comments.

Book Review – The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 5

I love short stories, especially clever sci-fi short stories. There’s something about the genre that lends itself to looking through at the world through the lens of what could happen and that makes for some amazing story-telling.

A number of years ago, I got interested in Japanese horror, primarily Koji Suzuki. I wanted to see what The Ring was like in its original incarnation. Awesome, if I may say so myself. I found Suzuki’s work to have a more subtle feel than a lot of traditional American horror. It was a breath of fresh air after blood, gore, and violence of our native horror stories.

None of the works in The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 5 would be classified as horror, but that doesn’t mean that subtlety and sense of another culture was lacking. Maybe it’s just me, but that adds a lot to a story, especially a science fiction story where it should feel like there’s another culture at play. That’s where the magic happens.

As a collection of stories, some resonated with me more than others, but that doesn’t mean they were lacking anything, it just means they didn’t have the same impact as others because reasons.

All in all, if you’re looking for a good collection of sci-fi stories written by international authors and you’re willing to stretch your wings a bit, you might find some absolute gems in here. There are authors representing, among other countries, Japan, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Bolivia, and the US and each brings their own culture and ideas with them when they write.

The landmark anthology series of international speculative fiction returns with volume 5 of The Apex Book of World SF. Cris Jurado joins series editor Lavie Tidhar to highlight the best speculative fiction from around the world.

Cyberpunk from Spain, Singapore and Japan; mythology from Venezuela, Korea and First Nations; stories of the dead from Zimbabwe and Egypt, and space wonders from India, Germany and Bolivia. And much more. The fifth volume of the ground-breaking World SF anthology series reveals once more the uniquely international dimension of speculative fiction.

Featuring:
Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Singapore) — “A Series of Steaks”
Daína Chaviano (Cuba, translated by Matthew D. Goodwin) — “Accursed Lineage”
Darcie Little Badger (USA/Lipan Apache) — “Nkásht íí”
T.L. Huchu (Zimbabwe) — “Ghostalker”
Taiyo Fujii (Japan, translated by Jim Hubbert) — “Violation of the TrueNet Security Act”
Vandana Singh (India) — “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”
Basma Abdel Aziz (Egypt, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette) — “Scenes from the Life of an Autocrat”
Liliana Colanzi (Bolivia, translated by Jessica Sequeira) — “Our Dead World”
Bo-young Kim (South Korea, translated by Jihyun Park & Gord Sellar) — “An Evolutionary Myth”
Israel Alonso (Spain, translated by Steve Redwood) — “You Will See the Moon rRse”
Sara Saab (Lebanon) — “The Barrette Girls”
Chi Hui (China, translated by John Chu) — “The Calculations of Artificials”
Ana Hurtado (Venezuela) — “El Cóndor del Machángara”
Karla Schmidt (Germany, translated by Lara M. Harmon) — “Alone, on the Wind”
Eliza Victoria (Philippines) — “The Seventh”
Tochi Onyebuchi (Nigeria/USA) — “Screamers”
R.S.A. Garcia (Trinidad and Tobago) — “The Bois”
Giovanni De Feo (Italy) — “Ugo”

I love this cover.

Get your copy on Amazon

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

I just realized I managed to post absolutely nothing during the month of September. This isn’t because I hate September – I’m actually ambivalent about it – it’s because I’m lazy and didn’t really have anything interesting to say. Also, I figured I had more time. In my mind, it’s still mid-September, not almost October. Some would call that being behind the times, but I prefer to think of it as being fashionably late.

Then, of course, I get that monthly reminder from WATWB High Command, reminding me that there are things in the world that aren’t me and I have to suddenly fast-forward myself to the present day. Anyway, I’d apologize for missing the entire month of September, but let’s face it, this ain’t exactly the most hip-hop-happening blog in the world.

So, in the midst of all the wacky hijinks going on in the world these days, it’s good to see there’s still some stories out there that don’t suck or make you want to carve your brain out with an ice cream scoop.

I’ve always been a proponent of equality. In my eyes, either everyone is equal or everything we’ve built our societies on is a lie. Inequality of any kind chips away at the structure of society and the next thing we know, we’ve got tyrants running all over the land pointing at people and saying, “You know what, all those problems you have? It’s because of those guys over there.” Doubt me? Ask history about all the times equality has broken down and holocausts have happened.

That’s why, every time I see someone treat women as second-class citizens (this post was almost about FGM) or refuse to bake cakes for gay people and hide their bigotry behind religious freedom, I shudder a little. I’m not saying it’s a slippery slope to Nazi 2 – The Electric Boogaloo, but it ain’t exactly helping things, either.

It’s nice to see that not everyone is a bigoted fuckwad, though. For instance, there’s a church in Scarborough that has a digital sign out that’s controlled by a company that refused to post a gay-friendly message. St. Paul’ United Church terminated their contract over the fiasco. Another church in the area has also terminated their contract with the mobile sign provider after the sign provider refused to post a message that basically said “Be cool to your Muslim neighbors”.

Bad press and losing customers has got to sting.

So, it’s beginning to look like the best way to handle bigoted assholes is to stop giving them money. Don’t order the cake, don’t pay for the sign messages, and don’t give them your vote.

Check out the original article here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are:
Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Uppal, Shilpa Garg, Sylvia Stein and Peter Nena

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

The normal process for WATWB is to find a news story that shows off good people doing good things, talk about it a bit, and then hand you a link for more information. It’s a good way of doing things and supporting the little bit of good news that’s floating around out there, and it’s always nice to show that world isn’t populated entirely by complete dicks. Surprisingly, it’s not hard to come across something good during a normal week of perusing the news. Take, for instance, this picture of witches protesting racism.

Given the state of the world, you might think it’s a dicey proposition at best to find one positive news story a month, but it’s actually pretty easy. All too often we tend to perseverate on the negative stuff out there and ignore the good stuff, but all that does is harsh our collective mellows and give voice to the assholes of the world. Trust me, the assholes have enough of a voice as it is, don’t give them any help speaking louder.

For all the crazy, racist crap we’ve had this year, we’ve also seen counter-protests dwarf Nazi rallies, bad guys getting locked up, and all manner of folks helping out after the devastating Kerala floods. So, the world’s not all bad, it’s just a little tweaked right now and will eventually work itself out. We sometimes just need a little nudge in the right direction to remind us that it only looks like the world is going to Hell in a handbasket. With that in mind, I’ll remind you of two important things: 1). not everyone is a flaming asshole. Most people are actually pretty good if you give them a chance. And 2). There are still dogs in the world.

So, I’m not going to post a link to an uplifting story, you should be seeking those out on your own if you want to maintain your sanity. Instead, I’m going to show you what I get to come home to every night and remind you that there are plenty of dogs out there and they’re all pretty good critters to have around, even if one of mine is snoring on her chair right now.


So, share ’em up, folks. Drop some dog pics in the comments and brighten someone’s day. Also, I’d like to remind everyone, there are plenty of great dogs out there that needs homes, so check out your local animal shelter and find a furry friend who’ll always be happy see you. Doubly so if you have food.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are:
Simon Falk,
Andrea Michaels,
Shilpa Garg,
Sylvia Stein, and
Belinda Witzenhausen

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.

Real Men Don’t…

About fifteen years ago, I was working as a trainer teaching networking, system administration, programming, and database stuff to corporate IT folks and other folks who just wanted to try something new. One day, as I was walking out the door, I stopped to chat with the front desk attendant and some of of the other instructors. Somehow or another the concept of real men came up and the front desk attendant – a young woman with high standards – said something to the effect of “Well, there are no real men around here.”

I nodded, smiled, refused the urge to pat her on the head, and walked out the door.

For the most part, I’d largely forgotten that little interaction until a certain jackass had to drag male responsibilities back into the forefront of my head. It was just one of dozens of interactions every guy has throughout life that all boil down to the confusing and often contradictory rules of being a man. Now, I know women have similar issues to deal with and I’m not trying to demean anyone by saying guys have it harder. That’s not the point of this post. Now that I’ve gotten the legal boilerplate crap out of the way, we can continue and realize that women are better suited to discuss women’s issues than I’ll ever be.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been told by everyone that this is what men are supposed to do. It’s a baffling field, running the gamut from stop crying even though there’s a gash the size of Missouri in your knee to my dad’s sage-like wisdom when I got my first car. It was a ’65 VW Beetle, if you must know, a real classic bug with no headliner, torn up seats, and a back seat that would flake to dust if you looked at it wrong. His advice? “Don’t get anyone pregnant in the back seat.” Of course this is the same guy who once told me I should ask out some girl we saw at a McDonald’s in Tempe. When I explained to him that I lived in New Mexico and would only be in town for a couple of days, he gave me another piece of sage-like wisdom: “You’re thinking buy; you need to think rent.”

Sigh. Perhaps if I’d had my ’65 Beetle with me at the time.

So, so far in life I’ve been told crying is unmanly, not crying is unmanly, women are apparently helpless in the back seats of Volkswagens, and I apparently have certain responsibilities as a man to watch my language so I don’t corrupt the youth of tomorrow. Certain kinds of coffee aren’t masculine (espresso comes to mind), certain drinks aren’t for men (Manhattans), certain colors are off limits, I shouldn’t each quiche (good thing, too. I can’t stand the stuff), emotions are a sign of weakness, and maps are for pussies. And don’t even get me started on asking someone else for help. That’s totally a sign of not being a man. Don’t get in fights. Don’t be afraid to punch someone who needs it. Guns are good. Guns are bad. Real men love Jesus. Real men don’t need Jesus.

Blah, blah, blah.

If you do a search for what it means to be a real man – even on Google (who knows all and sees all) – you’ll find a bunch of rhetorical nonsense about treating women with respect, being honest, being truthful, being responsible, being born in August (no joke, I saw a shirt with that once), loving God, not buying girls, balancing his checkbook, and apparently not letting women do things for themselves.

You thought I was joking about that, didn’t you?
Doing the stuff you promised to do is a good thing? You don’t say!

I guess no GIS for real man would be complete without Rambo.
Sorry, I’m not growing a beard. Too damned itchy.

Okay, so I’ll admit, some of these are good ideas. Not flying off the handle at every little thing is a good way to approach life, but that’s not a “real man” thing, that’s a “I’m a grownup” thing. Most of the advice about being a real man that I’ve seen comes down to interactions with women and, again, while some of it’s good advice, that all drops back into the “I’m a grownup” category because that’s how grownups are supposed to behave.

With all this crap circling us it’s no wonder no one knows what to do anymore. So, rather than give my own list of things that define what real men are, I’d like to start a movement where we chuck all that crap out the window and start fresh with “don’t be an asshole”. That alone should suffice. It’s simple, easy to remember, and doesn’t take much effort to put into place. You’re hurt? Go for it and cry, just don’t punch the belt sander because that’s asshole territory. Yes. My dad once punched a running belt sander. He lost most of his knuckles. He was basically a good guy, but he also gave me a lot of experience about what not to do.

So far, my son hasn’t asked me what it means to be a man. This is a good thing since I don’t have any concrete answers for him. I’ll probably make something up about waking up in the morning, waiting for the morning wood to subside, taking a long leak, and then drinking a beer while rebuilding a carburetor on a ’66 Impala. And then, after he looks at me like I’ve grown a second head or explains to me why no one in their right mind would want a ’66 Impala, I’ll take him aside and tell him the honest truth: Do what you feel is right and don’t be an asshole.

Crap. I’ve already doubled the rules. Better stop now before I start making up more nonsense about what makes a real man. Got any comments, recommendations, or ideas? Drop ’em in the comments. I dig comments and I’ll try to not be an asshole.

Book Review – A Hell of a Christmas: Dear Satan by Padraic Keohane

Padraic Keohane has a wicked sense of humor and a clever wit. He always has, at least as long as I’ve known him and that’s been quite a while now.

I reviewed one of his books – a collection of short stories – back before I had this blog up and running. That book, Stories of Sagacity and Wit, was a fun read and I highly recommend it. Padraic’s latest work departs from the adult level short stories and splashes head-first into the kids’ books department. True to form, he approaches his story from a different perspective than most and has given us a children’s book that would actually be fun to read to a kid. In fact, were my son still of that age group, he’d probably think it was a hoot. Nowadays, unless it’s King, Matheson, or Horowitz, he just ain’t that into it.

Which is a pity, because A Hell of a Christmas: Dear Satan was a fun read. The general gist is Billy sends a Christmas wish list to Santa, but transposes some letters and hilarity ensues. Without digging too deep into the weeds, what you get is a story about the ultimate force for evil making the ultimate force for bike riding and giving it away because he’s really not that bad of a guy.

Aside from the obvious spelling lesson, there aren’t any treacly lessons about this, that, or the other thing snuck into the story, it’s just a fun little story about a kid who accidentally asks Satan for a bicycle. If you have young ones – and they have the right sense of humor – you’ll likely find this book is a blast to read to them.

“Billy is a good boy, but not a good speller. He wants a bike for Christmas, so naturally he writes to Satan. Will the devil and his crew get into the Christmas spirit? An illustrated storybook for the older kids and adults.”

Get your copy on Amazon