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April 30, 2010
The Happy Wanderer
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:40 PM * 215 comments

Summer is nearly upon us, so it’s time to talk about walking in the woods!

Everything will go well. Perfectly! You’ll have a great time!

Now to talk about the times when it doesn’t. We do a bit of preparation.

1. Plan your escape route. If you get lost, what will you do? An escape route is a direction that, no matter where you are on your hike, will take you to an unmissable boundary (e.g. a road, a river). If you always have an escape route planned, you can go bushwhacking.

A boundary is a long linear feature. If you aim in that general direction, even if you’re off by a point or two, you’ll still hit it, and you’ll know in general terms where you are and which way to head.

If I’m hiking around the Dixville Notch area, and I’m north of Rt 26 (east-west road, runs from Vermont to the coast of Maine), I know that if I head generally south, sooner or later I’ll hit route 26. On the other hand, if I head north, I may not find anything until I’m well into Canada. So south is my escape route.

Once you’ve decided on an escape route, how will you follow it?

A. Compass bearing. You do know how to use your compass, right?
B. Topographical feature. Is there a mountain peak you can always see?
C. Sun/moon relative to your body. Remember that the sun and the moon move.
D. Sounds (e.g. road noise)

Pop quiz: Which
way is the stream

2. Terrain Association. The night before your hike, while you’re looking at your topo map, visualize the terrain. Will you be going uphill? Downhill? Through a flat region? Along the side of a hill? (If so, will the slope go up to your right, or to your left?) Look for catching features (a road, a river, some other long and unmistakable feature that’s roughly perpendicular to your line of march) that will tell you if you’ve gone too far.

Know if you’ll be crossing streams. How many? Which way are they flowing? At what angle do they cross your path? Linear feature intersections are great aids to navigation. On a topo map, streams make little V-shapes where they cross the contour lines, and the V always points uphill (against the direction of flow).

3. Time. Know how long it should take you to reach significant features on your hike. If you have a good idea of how long it should take you to reach certain places (a river, a road, a saddle between two peaks), you may get an important early clue that you’re lost. (Determine your rate of hiking on flat terrain. Add 1 hour for each 600 meters of descent or 300 meters of ascent along your path.)

Before you head out, double-check your map’s scale. Is it in feet or meters? What is the contour interval?

Always take a whistle (I recommend a Fox 40) and more water than you think you need. It’s best to take a friend, too. Even if you are going with a friend, let someone (who cares) know where you’re going, when to expect you back, and what route you’re planning to take.

April 27, 2010
Pvt. M. C. Mayfield, A. Co. 356 Inf. 2189159
Posted by Teresa at 11:03 AM * 95 comments

This morning I was checking something on eBay, got distracted, wandered off, and wound up contemplating a Missouri antique dealer’s listing for a war souvenir: Old WW2 Silver Coin Soldier Engraved Germany LOOK. I scrolled down the page and looked. It was a silver coin from Germany that had been smoothed off and engraved on one side, like a primordial version of those souvenir re-stamped pennies you get at tourist traps. The rather elegant engraving on the coin appeared to say “Pvt. M. C. Mayfield, H. Co. 356 Inf. 2189159.”

I squinted at the lettering. Those were WWII-era letterforms? Sure didn’t look like it to me. Or was that lettering style still being used, twenty years after it was fashionable, by engravers of souvenir coins…?

I love Google because to think of a question is to begin to answer it. I opened a new tab and typed in H “356 infantry” mayfield. And lo, there was a listing for a book: “History of Co. A, 356 Infantry, 1st Battalion, 89th Division.” I thought it was a near-miss until I took a closer look at the sample text:

Marcellus H. Chiles, who had been in command of the Company for some time, …… Pvt. Maynard C. Mayfield, Oates, Mo. Pvt. Willie E. Long, Hinton, Alabama. …
Huh. I went back and looked at the coin again. Could that be an A, rather than an H? It could. I clicked through on the link to the book:
The World War with Company “A”, 356 Infantry, 89th Div., National Army:
From Camp Funston, Kansas to Schweich, Germany, via Canada - England - France - Belgium - Luxembourg
(Treves: 1919, Paulinus Druckerei)
Sometimes when you think you’re asking the internet an obscure question, the information falls right out of your screen and into your lap.

Company A went off to the Great War on May 23rd, 1918, saw their first action on August 19th at Montsec Hill, and took part in the Saint-Mihiel Offensive. They continued fighting in the Meuse/Argonne until they were relieved on November 13th, at which point their score stood at 10 dead, 61 wounded (three accidentally), four cases of shell shock, one guy listed as “missing in action” because he was never seen again after a shell landed directly on his position, and three Medal of Honor winners.* They expected to go home after that, but due to their good record were made part of the Army of Occupation, which is how they wound up hanging around in Germany, buying souvenirs and publishing their unit history.

Right there on their roster was Pvt. M. C. Mayfield: Maynard C. Mayfield, of Oates, Missouri, which is a dab of a town about 140 miles from the antique dealer. Is it the same guy? I think so. The only WWII-era 356th Infantry I can find was a unit in the Wehrmacht, and I can’t find any other Mayfields in the the WWI-era American 356th Infantry.

Writing to eBay vendors about their merchandise is starting to achieve the status of an old habit with me. This one’s my favorite so far:

Sir, I don’t believe that’s from WWII. I think it’s from WWI: Pvt. Maynard C. Mayfield, of Oates, Missouri, Company A, 1st Battalion, 89th Division. Here’s their history: Pvt. M.C. Mayfield is in their roster. You can pass that on to your winning bidder.
He hasn’t written back. I don’t mind. It’s not his problem. This is an editorial compulsion: sometimes you just have to query.

April 26, 2010
He was a genius, but he’s dead
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:21 PM * 501 comments

I’m neither. Shame, that, but it might just have its uses.

The happiest of birthdays to thee, Will!
(As happy as they are that come around
When once the honoree is underground!)
The wormy company has had its fill,
The water in the crypt has washed your bones
And bleached your gravecloth napkin snowy white.
The silver of your buttons, polished bright
Lie scattered in the casket ‘neath the stones.
But like a crowd of guests that will not leave
The half-cleared dining table, talking on
Until the night wears thin before the dawn,
Your readership remains, for we believe
Our dreadful sonnets might just raise your ghost
To raise a glass and join us in a toast.

Who’s with me?

(The point of this thread is that there is literally no sonnet too bad for it. Nor too good for it, neither)

April 25, 2010
A New Nigerian Scam
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:27 PM * 78 comments

New to me, at least. It appears to date back at least as far as 2008. I’ve found examples from as recently as this week.

This one seems to target ESL teachers who post their contact information on jobs boards.

Here’s a typical example:

Dear Teacher,

I am David Adrian from stockholm, Sweden and work as an Engineer at Chevron Oil Lagos, Nigeria. My wife and Kids recently joined me in Nigeria; she is Swedish and can’t speak English. I am seriously seeking for the services of an English Teacher.

I have reviewed you resume online and would like to know if you would be able to come and teach my wife and four kids Eleonora, Britta, Synnove and Arvid English most importantly is my wife; She would be attending an interview at a bank here in Nigeria soon. I want to know if you can come by first week of October 2008 to teach my family English.

I am willing to offer you US$6,500 per month with health insurance and return ticket. I have a twin duplex which I and my family occupy one of them at the moment, and if you accept this offer, you would be staying in the second Duplex. I will pay for a round trip ticket for you if you accept the offer.


The name of the supposed sender varies. Where he comes from varies. (While Sweden is pretty common I’ve seen examples where the sender claims to be from Germany, Russia, or other countries.) The name of the firm that employs him varies, and the supposed sender isn’t always an an engineer with an oil company. Sometimes he’s a medical doctor at a hospital, for example. Sometimes he has two children, sometimes four, and their names vary. What doesn’t change is the salutation, (Dear teacher”) reason the wife needs to learn English (“an interview at a bank here in Nigeria”) and the salary that would be paid: $6,500 per month.

The next step, for those who accept the job offer, seems to be the news that in order to obtain a work permit the would-be teacher must send $500. I don’t know the next stage after that, but I imagine, as with other advance-fee frauds, it’s infinitely expandable, as long as the mark is willing to keep sending money.

April 23, 2010
Open thread 139
Posted by Teresa at 05:33 PM *

APAthy. A type of lethargy to which all fans are subject from time to time, and which may in time result in the end of fandom as we know it. In the fannish continuum egoboo and fanac are related in much the same way as are matter and energy in the material universe. Fanac produces egoboo, and egoboo in turn produces more fanac, in a self-sustaining reaction. But it is important to note that it is not the destruction of one that produces the other, as is the case with matter and energy in the physical universe, but rather the creation of one leads to the creation of the other. Conversely the destruction of one leads to the destruction of the other. If the ratio of egoboo to fanac falls below the critical level the reaction will cease to sustain itself and die. This condition is known as APAthy and is the fannish equivalent of entropy. It is called APAthy because the terminal phase of fandom resembles a universal APA, in which everyone writes of his own affairs and ignores everyone else. There is no recruitment; activity requirements are continually reduced; everywhere the once bright lights of fandom dim and die; it is the Universal Heat Death of fandom.

It follows, I think, that the Law of Conservation of Egoboo is a moral law, not a scientific one. It is that if we want fandom to continue, egoboo must never be destroyed or withheld.

—Walt Willis, “The Harp that Once or Twice,” in Science-Fiction Five-Yearly #8, edited by Geri Sullivan.

April 22, 2010
TNH on web TV
Posted by Patrick at 09:10 PM * 23 comments

Tummelvision explores the art of social engagement in tech, business, and culture, live every Thursday at 7:00-8:30 PST (10:00-11:30 EDT) on It’s short notice, but tonight at 10 PM EDT / 7 PM PDT, Teresa will be there, discussing online moderation, community, and all that jazz, with hosts Kevin Marks and Deborah Schultz.

For those who miss it, I assume there’ll be some kind of downloadable archive; we’ll let you know. (Right now TNH is in the living room, being remotely initiated into the higher mysteries of Skype by their kindly tech.)

Some guy in a bear suit
Posted by Teresa at 06:59 PM * 519 comments

The Daily Mail says Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been warned by Islamists that they could face violent retribution for depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit on an episode of South Park. As the Daily Mail put it:

The creators of TV show South Park have been warned by Islamists they could face violent retribution for depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.
I don’t feel I understand this. How can they be showing the Prophet Muhammad if he’s wearing a bear suit? You can’t see him. All you can see is the bear suit. In fact, they could just be claiming it’s the Prophet Muhammad, when actually it’s someone completely different in the suit.

Is it still blasphemous if they’re depicting a bear suit worn by someone who says he’s the Prophet Muhammad, but really isn’t? How about if Matt Stone and Trey Parker know the guy in the suit isn’t the Prophet Muhammad? Do they have to say so in the cartoon? Does it stop being blasphemy if they do?

How about if everyone who sees it knows the guy in the bear suit isn’t the Prophet Muhammad, and the guy in the suit is crazy and doesn’t know what he’s doing so it isn’t his fault?

Is it more blasphemous if a guy wearing a bear suit and claiming to be the Prophet Muhammad does so in person, or is it more blasphemous if it happens in a cartoon?

Inquiring minds want to know.

New guy
Posted by Teresa at 06:10 PM * 60 comments

small fuzzybutt ham
sniff sniff sniff sniff sniff sniff sniff
new cage! — and hey! food!
Photos to follow.

UPDATE: Photos here.

April 19, 2010
Eyjafjallajökull erupts
Posted by Teresa at 11:28 PM * 89 comments’s The Big Picture has a breathtaking series of thirty-five photos of this most recent Icelandic volcanic eruption. Last week’s Big Picture had volcano coverage as well. It’s not as spectacular as the latest series, but it’s got some goodies.

I’ve been disappointed to observe the waste of this perfect occasion to teach everyone to say jökulhlaup, meaning “glacial outburst flood.” In Icelandic, it originally signified the flood that happens when a volcano erupts under a glacier, but geologists and broader usage have extended its meaning. It’s a useful word.

As usual with photos of the Icelandic countryside, there are pictures you could use as covers without a lot of retouching. So far I nominate this picture for The Fellowship of the Ring, and this one (with a bit more reworking) for The Two Towers.

NASA took a satellite photo of everything at once.


Rush Limbaugh has asserted that the volcanic eruption is God’s retribution for Congress passing the health care bill. He is mistaken. We have it on the word of a senior Iranian cleric, the Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi, that seismic events are caused by women who wear inadequately shapeless coats and excessively flimsy headscarves in public, and thus

“cause youths to go astray, taint their chastity and incite extramarital sex in society, which increases earthquakes. … Calamities are the result of people’s deeds.”
Neither fugghead mentioned that both Iceland and Iran sit on top of major fault lines, which guarantees that they’re going to be seismically active no matter what Congress does. Ayatolla Kazem Sedighi came off stronger on logic than Limbaugh did, since he at least assigned divine retribution to the country doing the sinning.

Limbaugh failed to mention why the Almighty would object to a law which provides care for the sick and the needy, or why He singled out Iceland to suffer for the United States’ sins. Limbaugh also failed to explain which Congressional sins were responsible for earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, and China, volcanic eruptions in Chile and the Philippines, and the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and Indian Ocean tsunami of 2006, or why the United States—which has perfectly good seismic hotspots of its own—has suffered far less damage from earthquakes and volcanos over the past several years than countries which have no Congressional representation.

Authors Behaving Badly, Brit Historian Edition
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:05 PM * 57 comments

Amazon reviews (both one and five star) based on (let us say) extra-textual criteria, sockpuppets, lawyers! Startling revelations! Yes, it’s Authors Behaving Badly!

According to The Daily Fail Mail, distinguished historians (and one distinguished historian’s wife) were engaged in a years-long snipefest amid the reviews of assorted published popular histories.

Oh, and The Daily Mail gives all of their real names.

Read the whole thing here:

I blame my wife: Top historian accused of rubbishing rivals in Amazon reviews… then his wife says SHE did it
By David Rose, 18th April 2010

Didn’t anyone tell them about the ABM? Haven’t there been enough examples?

There are no secrets in the world. Anything that goes over the ‘net is liable to turn up at the lead story on the Six O’clock News.

April 17, 2010
Dear Apple iBooks Store:
Posted by Patrick at 09:07 PM *

If you are selling e-book editions of public-domain classics like Great Expectations or Wuthering Heights—which to say, asking people to pay $5.99 or $7.99 for digital texts they can get on Project Gutenberg for free*—you are presumably hoping people will conclude that the editions you offer for sale feature a level of accuracy, editorial quality, and attention to detail that is superior to that found in texts keyboarded by random free-culture volunteers.

If this is indeed your value proposition, it really doesn’t help when your pitch is directly underneath a banner ad hawking The Sun Also Rises by “Ernest Hemmingway.”

In the words of the old sports-announcer line that’s become a favorite quote at Making Light: You hate to see that kind of thing at this level of play.**

* Indeed, even in EPUB-formatted editions readable by Apple’s rather nice “iBooks” app, alongside the other digital books you may have bought from Apple’s iBooks store.

** Yes, dear readers, I’m enjoying my new iPad; yes, I’m glad Apple is in the e-book business; yes, Apple has a bunch of policies and practices with which I don’t agree. If you absolutely can’t bear to not re-enact arguments over Apple And All Its Pomps that have been taking place online since there was a place called “online,” then by all means, re-enact away. There’s just one condition: you must do it in formal verse.

April 16, 2010
Patrick Roscoe, famous bad example
Posted by Teresa at 08:22 AM *

Agent Colleen Lindsay, in her blog The Swivet, has written up an outstanding example of things authors ought not do when they get rejected. I’m not going to quote it. It’s short. Just go read it. (Thanks to Jim Macdonald for the link.)

For additional fun, check out Patrick Roscoe’s website. Depending on your office’s mores, the main page may be NSFW.

Addendum: Jim points out that we’re not sure the Patrick Roscoe who’s corresponding with Colleen Lindsay is the same one who has the website and the Wikipedia entry. I hold that the front page of PR’s site is funny whether they are or not.

Further addenda: Colleen Lindsay confirms that they’re the same guy.

Beth sagaciously observes that every one of his novels has come out from a different publisher, and that in spite of his extensive career he’s blind-querying agents.

Heresiarch cuts loose in mysterious yet satisfying ways.

April 15, 2010
In the Interests of Safety
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:15 PM * 91 comments

It’s a known problem in air travel that people don’t listen to the safety briefings.

The airlines try, of course. I’ve hear flight attendants quoting Paul Simon (“There are fifty ways to leave your lover, but only eight ways off of this plane”). Delta’s current safety video rides the line between amusing and cheesy. But it’s just plain difficult to get people to listen to the standard wording.

I think they need to get some professional entertainers in. Surely it would be possible to get some famous directors to do videos. How would Merchant and Ivory tackle the brief? How about Quentin Tarantino? Or they could give the list of mandatory points to a variety of authors and ask for more varied scripts than the cabin crew generally have to work with.

Here’s one approach to get you started (don’t feel you have to be this comprehensive all the time):

Hey now passengers, look up here and listen,
Time for safety-talk, nothing to be missing!
First the safety belt, buckled up and pulled tight
Open with a latch-lift, steel shining moon-bright.

On this airplane, eightfold are the ways out:
Front and back and over-wings we point out.
Watch and learn, and may I just remind you
That your nearest one may lie behind you.

If the cabin’s dark, gaze you down at the floor
Lights will shine out, make a path to the door.
Leave all bags behind, take no stabbing heel-shoes
Jump, don’t sit down, or the slides as rafts use.

Now beneath your seat a life vest
Put on just so, double bows will hold best.
Light and whistle, tube to take a breath-draft
Don’t inflate it till you leave the aircraft!

Hid above you, masks in their compartments
But if air grows thin in these apartments
They’ll drop swiftly. Fit your own as I’ve shown
Then when you’re safe, help those only half-grown.

On this airplane, none may smoke their pipe-weed
And you must obey the crew as they need.
If there’s safety knowledge that you still lack
See the card that sits inside your seat back.

Now is time for you to stow your cases
Under or over, fitting in their spaces.
Seat backs, tables, all should be upright now
Toys off, phones off, ready for our flight now!

Nota bene: You, gentle readers, are also authors whose approaches are welcome. In other words, feel free to add original poetry and prose as well as pastiches.

April 12, 2010
Mike Ford’s Heat of Fusion
Posted by Patrick at 08:25 PM * 57 comments

John M. “Mike” Ford’s last story collection, Heat of Fusion (2004) is, alas, no longer reliably easy to find, but an outfit called claims to (as of this minute) have 56 hardcover copies, which they’re selling for $5.99 each.

Given Mike’s association with Making Light up until his death in 2006, it seems to me that some folks hereabouts might want to get over there and buy themselves a copy. It’s a terrific collection, featuring a great deal of Mike’s formidable range.

(Via apostle_of_eris posting in the LJ community nemesis_draco.)

ETA: It appears they’re all sold out now.

April 11, 2010
An unnerving silver-gilt combination epergne and candelabrum
Posted by Teresa at 08:07 PM * 183 comments

This is an ephemeral bit of fluff, because all too soon, the auctions will end and be forgotten. I will nevertheless observe that I’ve found a corner of eBay, “Antiques > Silver > Silverplate > Other,” that’s full of objects that ought not exist outside the works of Edward Gorey. For instance, the Victorian silver-plated grape scissors. I pasted the link to Patrick in chat.

“You mean to tell me the Victorians had dedicated scissors for grapes?” he asked. “They couldn’t eat grapes without their special grape-scissors?”

“High-end Victorian tableware had special utensils for everything,” I told him. And it’s true; they really did. The proliferation of specialized Victorian serving pieces was a perfect-storm-style collision of technological ingenuity, unbridled commerce, social insecurity, and conspicuous consumption. This is why we have items like the asparagus tongs, fish slice, tomato server, delicately pierced A-1 Sauce bottle holder, silver repoussé muffineer, and the likeable but undeniably Goreyesque hedgehog toothpick holder.

Serving dishes proliferated too, growing stranger and more specialized (or just more elaborate) to justify their existence. Pickle containers have never been more ornate. If I understand the nomenclature correctly (which I probably don’t), more complicated models can be pickle cruets. They reach their apex as pickle castors, at which point they look like they were intended to hold holy relics.

(Am I being unfair to the Victorians? I certainly am. The egg cup with a built-in internal egg-cutter and the Martian-spaceship-domed breakfast warmer with ram’s hooves are both Art Deco, and the deceptively steampunk-ish teakettle is Jugendstil.)

I think the original Miscellaneous Other category was invented for epergnes. I wish to nominate as the pièce de résistance the two-foot-high silver-cherub-supported centerpiece/epergne with a vigorous gout of Victorian art glass coming out of its top. There’s a compote that’s just crying to accompany it.

From The Unstrung Harp:

Mr. Earbrass returned from a walk to find a large carton blocking the hall. Masses of brown paper and then tissue have reluctantly given up an unnerving silver-gilt combination epergne and candelabrum. Mr. Earbrass recollects a letter from a hitherto unknown admirer of his work, received the week before; it hinted at the early arrival of an offering that embodied, in a different but kindred form, the same high-souled aspiration that animated its recipient’s books. Mr. Earbrass can only conclude that the apathy of the lower figures is due to their having been deprived of novels.

April 08, 2010
Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:53 AM * 162 comments

Speaking of urban fantasies with female protagonists and supernatural creatures (as we just were), and noticing how the Accountants Who Run Publishing are all for that, how would y’all like to learn how to write the red-hot sex scenes that fill those female protagonists’ time betwixt slaying vampires and astonishing trolls? I knew you would!

Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet Allow me to introduce Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet by Stacia Kane.

How this book came about: There I was, casting about for a new cat to wax, when the thought came to me that I hadn’t published a book through in quite some time. Atlanta Nights was a long time ago and was deliberately bad, A Mery Play Betwene Johan Johan, the Husbande, Tyb, his Wyf, and Syr Jhan, the Preest was done to see how fast I could go from ASCII text to a printed book (an afternoon, as it happens) but is a specialized taste (so far sales has been three copies) and again was years ago, and so was The Confessions of Peter Crossman. So I posted a public request elsewhere for a text to turn into a book, just as an experiment, to see how far I could go for free.

Stacia Kane (AKA December Quinn) stepped up to the call. She had a series of blog posts titled Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet. In the years since she’d written ‘em, she’d had folks asking if she was ever going to collect them into a book or ebook or something, and had always intended to do so, but didn’t know exactly how…. So. A problem, a solution!

I decided on the 4x6 mass-market size rather than the 6x9 trade paperback size, since I’d determined by the experimental method (by having both sizes available for Crossman) that 4x6 sold better even though it cost more to buy. (And the hard copies sold better than the download, even though they were all available on the same page, and the download cost the reader a lot less..)

I used WordPerfect. First was creating the page sizes I needed. Then dumping in text. Then massaging it in various ways, such as changing the font to Palatino Linotype, the quotes to curly quotes, fixing the bold and the italic, and such. Then, or at the same time, copyediting. Eventually, I had a book-shaped piece of text in .pdf format.

All this time I was flipping back and forth to the Lulu pages to see how they wanted it. It was more complex than the last time I tried, and at every step of the way, Lulu was throwing Options That Cost Money at me. Sometimes it took real persistence to find the link to the continue-for-free path, and faith that it really existed. That’s new. Perhaps they’ve learned, as so many have learned before them, that there isn’t a whole lot of money-from-readers in the Print Anything market. Since there are only two sources of money in publishing, the readers and the writers, they’re making it very, very easy and attractive for the writers to send them money.

Eventually, and using a public-domain picture for the cover, the book came together, and we released it. (The full text is still on the blog, and will remain there, if you want to read it for free.)

The experiment wasn’t as full as I’d like: Stacia decided that rather than going for the “free” ISBN (and in consequence nearly doubling the minimum cover price of the book), she’d leave it as available-from-Lulu-only. So it isn’t available in bookstores, over at the special order desk. Still, it exists, and now the people who write to Stacia and ask if she’s ever going to make an ebook version can get told “Yes, it’s right here.”

The back-cover blurb is mine, and I’m rather pleased with it:

Stacia Kane writes novels filled with “…flaming hot sex…” (Romantic Times), “…sizzling romance that heats up every page …” (Darque Reviews), and “…spicy sex scenes beautiful enough to make you cry and hot enough to steam windows at the same time…” (Michele Lee). She has published more than a dozen romances and urban fantasies, with publishers like Ellora’s Cave, Pocket, Del Rey, and HarperVoyager. Now she opens her bag of tricks to show you how you too can write the scenes that readers crave.

From setting the scene to consummating the union, Stacia takes you all the way. She reveals the tricks of the professional author, step by step (with examples taken from her own and others’ writing), giving practical advice you can use in your own books.

Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet is like a master class in erotic fiction.

And that’s enough cat-waxing for me: Back to the word-mines.

April 07, 2010
A simple, mildly incredulous philippic
Posted by Patrick at 08:40 AM *

Teresa sidelighted this opening paragraph of a book review yesterday, remarking “Why do reviewers keep recycling this stupid rant?”

Once upon a time in a world far, far away, publishing was run by editors. People who were interested in finding new talent, and developing that talent with the aim of building an author’s name, which in turn led to profits. Nowadays, publishing is run by accountants, and their sole interest is instant profit. Original talent still slips through, but mostly that is accidental. More likely, the accountants trawl for something vaguely like a book they know has already sold, then churn this out with a bit of fanfare in the hope of making a fast buck.
I have no particular interest in the book the reviewer goes on to slam; for all I know it’s as bad as he says it is. Or not. What interests me is how SF Site, a long-established SF and fantasy review venue run by people with plenty of experience in the SF world, would come to publish a set of, well, basically, insane lies about people they know perfectly well, as if it were somehow reasonable and normal to do so.

As a practicing SF editor working for a particular house, acquiring and publishing specific books by real authors—you know, as an actual person with a name—I realize that the standard instructions on my dance card admonish me to ignore outbursts like the above. And generally I do. But for once I’d like to pause and wonder. First, because it really is nonsense on stilts. Book publishing was never a heaven “run by editors”, and it is by no means today a hell “run by accountants.” If our “sole interest” was “instant profit,” not only would we never do any number of the things we actually do every day, we probably wouldn’t be in book publishing at all. Just thinking about what I did in the office yesterday, about a third of my time was devoted to putting together deals that will immediately put non-trivial sums of money into the hands of writers in exchange for books that we will publish months and years from now, realizing “profit” (if any) only after even more months and years have elapsed after that. In addition, I also spent over $2,000 on a piece of short fiction which will be given away for free on, making us no immediate “profit” whatsoever. This was not an atypical day. And I’m quite certain this is true of my colleagues all over town. Betsy Mitchell and the other Del Rey people make long-term investments every day of the week; they are not slaves to “instant profit.” Ginjer Buchanan and Susan Allison at Ace are not “run by accountants.” The folks at Orbit US show every evidence of being in the business of “finding new talent, and developing that talent with the aim of building an author’s name”; if they were interested only in a “fast buck,” they’d be commodities traders.

The people who run SF Site know this. So why is it okay to publish this kind of junk when its subject is the vaguely defined category of “publishing, nowadays”? Do they not notice that they’re sliming actual, particular people—you know, with names—who they know perfectly well and with whom they otherwise show every evidence of wishing to have cordial relations? Were they just asleep in class when the “do not bear false witness” instruction was discussed? I really don’t get it.

There are plenty of things wrong with book publishing, some specific to the industry itself and some endemic to corporate capitalism. You could write a book. Lots of people have. But claiming that it was once “run by editors” and has now fallen to being “run by accountants” who care only about “instant profit” is about as true to the facts as claiming that the contemporary industry is the result of a breeding program conducted by a race of reptilians called Anunnaki from the planet Draco, and about as useful as a jumping-off point for more detailed analysis. If I walked up to Rodger Turner and said things as fancifully abusive about, say, his closest friends and family, I doubt any jury would convict him if he punched me in the nose. Why is it okay to do this to us?

UPDATE: Mr. Steven “Tex” Brust nails it. “Of course modern publishing is run by the accountants. As soon as a guy gets an MBA today, the first thing he says, ‘I want to get into genre publishing, because that’s where the real money is.’”

April 05, 2010
Fighting them here so we can keep on fighting them there
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:59 PM *

So, apparently if you’re a bunch of goofballs with a fake language who are just talking about killing a cop, waiting for people to show up at his funeral, and then shooting them too, all in the name of freedom from tyranny, that’s a serious crime, and the government will raid you and the media will post all sorts of stories about how scary you are.

If, in the other hand, you’re a US military helicopter crew who actually kill a bunch of Iraqi civilians, including a pair of journalists, and then, when some people (including two children) show up in a van to help the wounded and collect the bodies, shoot them too, all in the name of freedom from tyranny, the government will spend two years blocking Freedom of Information Act requests for the video of the event, and when the story finally breaks on the Internet, the media will spend their time talking about Tiger Woods and the iPad.

Update, a couple of hours later: OK, the news media are starting to pick the story up:

Another Update: Link moved to avoid the appearance of chiding a co-blogger.

Space shuttle launch may be visible from the East Coast early tomorrow
Posted by Teresa at 12:57 AM * 22 comments


People in the eastern United States will get a great opportunity, weather permitting, to see the space shuttle Discovery launched into orbit early on Monday morning, April 5.

Should the launch come off on schedule, it will also give viewers a rare opportunity to see a shuttle launch during morning twilight, a very unusual circumstance which has happened very infrequently since the shuttle program began in April 1981.

The shuttle is due to launch Monday at 6:21 a.m. ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. This viewing map shows the areas where it will most likely be visible to East Coast skywatchers. …

And this upcoming launch could also be the very first one where a shuttle will take a track parallel to the Atlantic seaboard while much of the East Coast is experiencing morning twilight conditions.

On those occasions when a shuttle has been launched in the dark of night, its visibility was due primarily to the bright yellow-orange glow of its main rocket engines. But should the upcoming launch of Discovery—its next-to-last planned mission—go off on schedule next Monday morning, its visibility might be enhanced by sunlight reflecting off both the orbiter and its orange external fuel tank.

The weather’s clear. Assuming the launch goes off as planned, all you’ll need is to get up indecently early and have a good place to watch from.

April 04, 2010
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:38 PM * 37 comments

The Hugo nominations have just been announced, and you’ll note that not only are a number of Making Light regulars on the list, but Patrick is once again up for Best Editor, Long Form (along with his sometime assistant and paduan, Liz Gorinsky; always two there are.)

Inside baseball people will also note that one of the Best Novel nominees, the really excellent Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, by Robert Charles Wilson, was edited by Teresa.

However, I am certain that they would not let any professional rivalry enter their tranquil home.

(runs away now)

[Teresa adds: And Dave Howell is up for Best Fan Artist! Is that cool, or what?]

April 02, 2010
Hutaree video stars evil dildo-wielding man-duck
Posted by Teresa at 08:35 PM * 85 comments

This is Talking Points Memo’s story, but neither they nor I can improve on the version written by Harry Kimball at Newser:

Adjust your opinion of Kristopher Sickles—one of the Hutaree militia members jailed on suspicion of sedition and conspiracy to murder a police officer—according to a YouTube video dug up by TPMMuckracker which is super NSFW. In it, Sickles awakens in a field naked save for a picture of George W. Bush partially obscuring his genitalia. He finds a wounded guy lying nearby, and is himself attacked by a man in a diaper wearing a huge duck head, who roars: “May the mighty dildos of hell rain upon your wicked carcass, quack, quack.”

“Scar my tattered body no more with your punishing dildo mallet,” Sickles pleads. He is then rescued by a lisping passerby. In what appears to be a punchline for a joke that never really got told, Sickles’ naked character answers the question of what happened thusly: “I just woke up from a wet dream to a dead guy and a chicken who preceded to flog me with a rubber cock, and to top it all off, I’ve got a moron humming on my naked balls.” The clip has disappeared from YouTube, but TPM has a version.

To which I can only add that the remainder of the video features some seriously defective first aid, and that it ends with a picture of the duck head mask with a flashing “666” superimposed on it. I’m not sure there’s anything else you can say, unless it’s that if you’re suffering from an overheated brain, this’ll freeze it right up.

Addendum: There is more to say, and Dave Luckett knows how to say it:

#42 ::: Dave Luckett ::: April 03, 2010, 12:58 PM:

He wakes in a field, disoriented,
With Bush’s face taped to his private parts,
As if to an act George had just consented
That Monica did, when she won our hearts.
And George’s face wobbles so! Fits and starts
Quiver his phiz where the paper’s stuck.
For rolling-eyed crazy, it’s right off the charts,
That, and the quack of the rubber duck.

Some other guy’s bleeding, his head is all dented,
We see no use of the healing arts,
It seems quite amazing that death is prevented -
Reviving him seems to depend upon farts.
But right about there, the brannigan starts,
A guy in a diaper’s running amuck
With a dildo. He swings, and it certainly smarts,
That, and the quack of the rubber duck.

For the guy’s in a duck mask. It’s probably rented.
He clobbers our hero, and then imparts
Some gibberish ‘way worse than merely demented,
Then quacks, throws a smoke-bomb and swiftly departs,
When a stranger shows up and displays martial arts,
The wounded guy’s grappled. They drag the poor schmuck
Ignoring his cries as his pancreas parts,
That, and the quack of the rubber duck.

Prince, if you’re shopping, I hear the Wal-mart’s
Got a special on brain-bleach, so back up the truck.
I’ll need several tons for the whole and the parts,
That, and the quack of the rubber duck.

April 01, 2010
Amusing Times
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:43 PM * 20 comments

Come all ye good people
Who seek for a laugh
You’ll notice the papers
Don’t do things by half
Like a riddle that’s asked
By the new golden calf
That’s topical but confusin’
‘Bout an elephant, icebox, and now a giraffe,
For the times they are amusin’.

Come you fluorospherians
Who like to write rhymes
‘Bout the stories you read
In today’s New York Times
A villanelle, here,
Or a sestet betimes
You’d better to spend your hours boozin’
The reality now is tequila and limes
For the times they are amusin’.

Come present-day politics
Wake to the fact
That a nation of cellphones
Will have an impact
The pundits on Fox all
Are standing gobsmacked
By Republicans caught while out cruisin’
And the right wing is named for a sexual act
For the times they are amusin’.

Come people who think that
The world should make sense
Don’t take a look now
At current events
These are Chinese Curse days
That defy all pretense
That winning is somehow not losin’
The year of the jackpot’s about to commence
For the times they are amusin’.

I’ll have what Bruce is having
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:53 PM * 91 comments

It’s been observed many times that the commenters are the best thing about this blog. It’s still and always so. For proof, I direct your attention to this comment of great truth, gentleness and wisdom from the ever-wonderful Bruce Baugh, on the subject of guilt and responsibility:

One of the hardest lessons for me as an adult has been how little foundation there is for any of the versions of basic goodness that prevail in my stratum of American society (white, educated, home to many managers and many entrepreneurs and freelancers - in a word, bourgeois). All of the political ideologies common in this set of communities - liberal, conservative, libertarian, etc. - share the idea that there is a core of the community which, rightly understood, has nothing fundamentally wrong with it, and that social justice begins with building on that pure foundation.

But you know what? It’s not true. There isn’t any scrap of basically pure legacy anywhere in American society. There are some really good ideas, haphazardly implemented, but every single section of American life and practice builds on a foundation that includes theft, murder, pillage, systematic discrimination, unchecked and officially endorsed abuse, and other evils, right up to genocide. There’s no innocent heritage to recover, scrape off, and use as a starting point. Anything that could be called fundamentally good and untainted begins ex nihilo, in explicit contradiction to what has come before.

Take the case of someone I know not just disapproved of genocide but joined in war against its practitioners: my dad. Dad never backed a Jim Crow law in his life, nor thought the Native Americans savages fit only for conversion or death, and raised us to believe that equal consideration for equal merit was crucial, and also so basically smart that anyone opposing it had to be making themselves that bit stupid. But I have the life I do now partly because, well-anchored studies show, guys like Dad have always gotten better terms on deals of all kinds than equally talented guys who aren’t white - better mortgages, better job offers, better promotion rates, and so on. So a hard-working talented black or Indian guy my own age and general situation has an uphill struggle all his life that I do not, not because I am an evil-doer but because this is shot through the fabric of life.

Genocide leaves a legacy like that, too. People who would not commit genocide themselves, who would in fact oppose it given the chance, end up benefiting from an allocation of resources - including human labor and creativity - that is what it is because of the actions of those who did choose to wipe out whole communities, and of those who didn’t care whether they wiped out anyone else.

This is really just the principle of contigency that people have talked about in the study of evolution since, well, forever, but that folks like Stephen Jay Gould worked to popularize. We’re not morally responsible for life in an ecosystem with the legacy of extinction and survival we have, but it matters that we live because others perished or survived not just because of merit, but because of luck. The difference in human history, of course, is that human beings do have agency, and even when we’re not conspirators in great crimes ourselves, it’s really important to recognize that we do not inherit innocence or a clean slate, to see what’s actually on the slate as we get it, and act so as to pass it on better than we got it. This is sometimes described as wallowing in guilt, but I don’t think it is any more than facing up to any other body of ignorance, whether it’s the grammar of any language other than our first, or the structure of a logical proof, or the composition of the spaces between stars…or how much our lives turn out to be based on genocide’s rewards.

Open thread 138
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:39 PM *

There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we are ourselves incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real.
—G. K. Chesterton, Chaucer (1932)

As the lighthouse said to the aircraft carrier
Posted by Teresa at 11:53 AM *

I could wish this were a bizarre April Fool’s joke instead of an almost unbelievable screwup, but it’s real: this morning, about half an hour past midnight, in international waters just west of the Seychelles, three Somali pirates in a skiff attempted to seize the U.S.S. Nicholas (FFG 47), an Oliver Hazard Perry-class Navy frigate.

Versions: The Straits Times gives more context. NPR has a photo of the Nicholas. The Pentagon’s DVIDS site has the actual report posted by Chief Petty Officer Michael Lewis of the Nicholas, so they win:

USS Nicholas captures suspected pirates

INDIAN OCEAN, At Sea — USS Nicholas captured suspected pirates on Thursday after exchanging fire, sinking a skiff, and confiscating a suspected mother ship.

While operating west of the Seychelles in international waters, Nicholas reported taking fire at 12:27 a.m. local time from a suspected pirate skiff and returned fire before commencing pursuit of the vessel until the disabled skiff stopped.

At 1:59 a.m. personnel from Nicholas boarded the disabled skiff and detained three personnel. The boarding team found ammunition and multiple cans of fuel on board.

After taking the suspected pirates on board, Nicholas sank the disabled skiff at 2:59 a.m. An additional two suspected pirates were captured on the confiscated mother ship.

The suspected pirates will remain in U.S. custody on board Nicholas until a determination is made regarding their disposition.

“I know it was dark, but what were they thinking?” Jim said to me on AIM. “I’m sure the OOD thought it was an April Fool’s joke. Like, pinching the bridge of his nose, shaking his head, and saying, ‘You’re kidding, right?’

Me: “They went after it with a SKIFF?”

Jim: “They weren’t too good at silhoutte recognition? Saw running lights, the vessel was moving slowly, and they made a big tactical error.” He added, “Fig-sevens mount a 76mm OTO Melera. Which is the Navy’s only water-cooled gun. Water-cooled because it fires so darned fast. It’s essentially a 3” machinegun.”

Me: “How big a monster can you take out with one of those? Would you win a fight with Godzilla?”

Jim: “You could disassemble Godzilla at a range of seven miles.”

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