All posts by Richard S. Crawford

Just Some Random Ramblings of an Earthling

Cover of Carl Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World"
Should be an all-time bestseller, but isn’t.

Just for kicks, I’m re-reading Carl Sagan’s wonderful book, The Demon-Haunted World. I’m loving it, as I always have every time I’ve read it, which has been every couple of years or so.

One thing that struck me this time around is how much time and space he spends debunking alien abduction stories by putting them into a larger cultural/mythological context. I side with him on the issue: while hundreds of thousands people have reported being abducted by aliens, there is no physical, undeniable proof that it has actually happened. No mysterious “implants” have been analyzed by MIT or other reputable university and found to be made of alien metal, memory is fallible, and so on. But the alien abduction/UFO culture were tied up with conspiracy theories in the 90s involving the government; such conspiracy theories have fallen to the wayside in favor of modern antisemitism, racism, and the bonkers “Q” conspiracy theory, which encompasses them all. If Carl Sagan were around today, he’d be sickened, I’m sure, by what passes for the modern conservative movement.

Ahem.

So this year, for Earth Day, I committed myself to spending a year learning everything I can about this amazing, beautiful, endangered planet that we live on. I haven’t really started that yet because I’m still taking my MLIS degree seriously and thus taking classes for that, and it’s eating my time. But I am reading Sagan’s book, so I’m counting that as a step in the right direction. I’ll keep you all updated on what I learn, and I plan on updating my blog, The Penguin Scientific, with various facts and things.


In other news, my depression and anxiety have been kicking my butt recently, and have convinced me that I’m never going to get anywhere with my writing. I’ve talked back to it but it refuses to listen. Stupid brain. My brain and I are supposed to be on the same side, I don’t know why it won’t cooperate.

But I continue to persist with the writing and submitting anyway. I’m on track to submit 100 manuscripts for the second year in a row. Stats so far:

Submissions: 32

Rejections: 29

Waiting on: 8

I haven’t quite worked out how those numbers work out, but I’m not worrying about that.


That’s all for now. What are you learning?

More Piratical Talk

Blackbeard
Edward Teach, a.k.a., Blackbeard the Pirate. Looks friendly, doesn’t he?

A couple of years ago, I posted about the myth that pirates always said “Arr”. Today, I address another myth: that of walking the plank.

Many pirate adventures show us pirates forcing their prisoners to walk a plank out off the boat and into dangerous waters, presumably to drown or be eaten by sea anemones. We are always meant to understand that the plank came from the ship itself, leftover lumber that had gone into the building of the boat.

This cannot be true, though, since pirate ships were built from LOGS, not planks. It’s true! Examine any pirate ship from the Wydah to the Queen Anne’s Revenge to the Beauty (the one in my upcoming Pathfinder game), and you will see that the ship looks more like a log cabin than any naval or merchant vessel. I don’t know the specifics of how they kept these boats together in the oceans or prevented leaks, but the most important question is, Would I lie to you about this sort of thing? The answer is no.

Moving on.

After losing so much work on my writing last month, I decided to take a break from And the Devil Will Drag You Under, then decided not to take a break after consulting with Facebook and Twitter. Friends in both places pointed out to me that, given my frequent bouts of guilt surrounding my writing, I would regret not finishing that novel. And, so, I’m back at it. I’ve rewritten about half of what went missing, and am well on my way to recovering all of what I’d lost. I don’t know if I’ll finish the novel by my self-imposed May 12 deadline, but if I don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.

I also started revising “Anamet”, a giant monster story, and I started pondering a new short story which does not yet have a title. Usually the title comes early on in the process of writing a story, but so far that hasn’t happened for this one.

Submissions Report:

As of today (April 4), I’ve submitted twenty-six stories in 2022, received twenty-two form rejections, and four personal rejections. Some of these rejections were for stories I’d submitted in 2021 that hadn’t gotten back to me before the new year, so I actually still have five pending submissions. In addition, I actually withdrew two submissions from markets that had held on to them for over three hundred days with no communication from them in spite of requests for updates.

Zero acceptances.

Ah well. Maybe someday.

 

Novels in Recovery

Mind = blown
Mind = Blown

No break-taking for me.

I put it out there on Facebook and Twitter, running a wee little poll asking whether I should get back into working on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, the novel I’d lost two months’ worth of work on (see previous post), or work on something new entirely, coming back to Devil at some point in the future. I’d had a couple of ideas for other things to work on, so I would certainly be busy.

Overwhelmingly, people advised that I should keep up with And the Devil Will Drag You Under, even if it means going back and re-revising the whole thing all over again to get back at the two months’ worth of work that I’d lost. A couple of people pointed out that if I didn’t go back to it, I’d regret it, and that’s probably true. I’ve been working on this novel for a couple of years now. Heck, more than a couple; I’d written part of the first draft for NaNoWriMo in 2017 (the last year that I really participated in NaNoWriMo), but I gave up on that until just before the pandemic hit, and started in on it from scratch. If I don’t finish it, I will be angry with myself for having yet another unfinished project. So… I’m committed. I’ll finish this novel of devils and demons and hapless humans in love, send it to my critique group, and continue revising it, all while working on other projects on the side.

My yet-to-be-named pirate trilogy will just have to wait.

My biggest problem in life in that I tend to regret those things that I don’t finish, and I wind up not finishing a lot of things. So I’m going to finish this novel.

My friends are wise.

 

The Heartbreak of Writing

The Jolly Roger from Peter Pan
Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger

Writing has plenty of heartbreak, and plenty of hazards. You may be speed-reading a text for research, then slam into a bookmark and go flying across the room. You may find that you’ve written yourself into a corner with your characters planning to do one thing, and you planning on them doing something else. You may end up in love with your main character, Pygmalion-style, and not know what to do with yourself.

Or, if you’re like me, you might suddenly lose two months’ worth of work on your novel.

For years now, I’ve been using a type of version control software called Subversion (usually meant to track software source code) to save backups of all of my desktop files, from stories to novels to homework, on my main Linux desktop as well as on my Windows laptop and my Dropbox account (I used to store a repository on my hosting company’s server too, but for some reason I stopped). This setup has served me very well for most of that time.

Until now.

Last night, I launched Scrivener and put in a few words on And the Devil Will Drag You Under for the first time in a couple of weeks (I’ve been busy with work and school), and then went to save my work. Then I used TortoiseSVN (a Windows version of the Subversion software) to add my new files and check them in to my “everything Richard has written” repository on my laptop. I got an error telling me that it couldn’t do the update because the files needed to be cleaned up or something. I ran the cleanup script, mindlessly checking all the options — which included deleting all “unversioned files”. And since I hadn’t actually committed any of my work to the repository for a couple of months (I know, that’s bad practice on my part), TortoiseSVN merrily deleted two months’ worth of work on that novel, representing approximately 10,000 words, two critical scenes, character sketches, and plot point outlines. I also lost some homework (fortunately I’d already turned it in), the latest version of my resume, and three short stories that I’d drafted earlier this year.

If I’d been saving my files properly, adding and committing them to the repository, or even just saving them on Dropbox regularly, this wouldn’t have happened, so really I have no one to blame but myself and my bad file management practices. I was able to recover some of the work because I upgraded my Dropbox account and now I have access to their “Rewind” feature, but I’m still out a lot of work.

The resume, homework, and short stories… Meh. They can all be found elsewhere or rewritten (honestly, the stories were begging for rewrites anyway), but the novel… Yeah, I’m bummed. I’m honestly not sure I have the energy right now to rewrite those critical scenes as well as the revisions to earlier chapters I’d done in order to make room for the scenes.

So, I’m going to take a break.

Not from writing. Heavens no. The last time I took a long break from writing I ended up a quivering mess on the floor, begging for a word processor or a Scrivener license. No, I’m just taking a break from Devil, and moving on to another project. I think I shall draft The X of Doom, the first novel in my vaguely-outlined pirate trilogy. I have characters, I know the name of the ship, I have plenty of notes and plenty of research material. I’m also planning on running a Pathfinder game which will act as a sort of prequel to the trilogy (though the Pathfinder game will likely feature more elves and whatnot than there actually were during the Golden Age of Piracy).

I’m happy I’m not on a deadline for And the Devil Will Drag You Under. That’s one of the joys of being a terminally unpublished writer: You can write whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s no contract stipulating that you must have the manuscript in by a certain date, and no language saying that you have to return your advance if you don’t finish the work at all. If I did have a publishing contract, I’d have to suck it up and get to work anyway. I’d ask the agent/editor/publisher for an extension to the deadline, and all that, and that could get messy.

I’m not happy that I’ve lost the work.

So off I go. I’ll read various books about piracy and the high seas, and go from there.

So how’s your day?

The State of the Richard

The palm of a hand painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag
I stand with Ukraine

Boy, ain’t the world something these days? Between the pandemic and the war in Europe, the world’s pretty messed up right now. The Russia/Ukraine conflict has the potential to spread further, and despite wishful thinking among politicians (especially on the Republican side of the aisle), the pandemic really isn’t over. In both arenas, there’s a long way to go to achieve a peaceful and appropriate outcome.

In my own little world, I’m stressing about school and work and writing. While I’m learning about Information Literacy Instruction in school and producing videos and critiques of other students’ videos, in addition to reading and writing discussion posts, I’m also trying to complete 508-compliance training for work. 508-compliance, in case you don’t know, is making sure that all documents prepared for public consumption are fully accessible to people with visual, hearing, and learning disabilities, as well as to people with limited fine mobility. There is actually some overlap here, because the videos we make for school need to have captions and need to be accessible to people with visual impairments.

Writing-wise, I haven’t been able to get much done. I set a goal of 500 words per day on The Devil will Drag You Under, but over the past week, I’ve written less than 500 words total. This doesn’t bode well for completing that revision by May 12 as I’d hoped.

I have, however, been able to keep up on my target of submitting two manuscripts to various markets per week, which is a relief. Here are the stats for the year so far:

  • Submissions: 18
  • Rejections, form: 15
  • Rejections, personal: 2
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Pending submissions: 8

Some of those rejections were for stories that I’d submitted last year. One of those rejections was for a story that I thought was a sure thing, but alas, was not meant to be. I have hopes that this will be the year I make my first professional sale, but I’m not optimistic about ever achieving that goal.

I’m also far behind on my reading. While for fun I’m reading The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan (as well as a couple of others), I also am reading two novels for my writers’ group, which is meeting this coming Thursday. I’m looking forward to the meeting — I always do, because my fellow writers are a jolly bunch — but going in without having read the works under consideration is not a good look.

On the other hand, though, my blood pressure is averaging lower than it has in years, and my resting heart rate is lowering as well. This is probably, in part, due to the fact that Jennifer and I are both participating in the Outbreak challenge, a silly virtual game where you walk a given number of steps per week to outrun a zombie horde. The game syncs with our FitBits, so we don’t even have to track our steps manually. This week, we’re aiming for 10,500 steps per day. That’s a lot, and trying to squeeze those steps in while working on everything else is a big challenge.

All in all, I’m doing pretty well, given everything. I hope you’re doing well too.

About Those Rings

Gollum
Actual image of me reacting

I like The Lord of the Rings. I really do. Granted, I haven’t actually read the trilogy since the early 2000s, and I only re-read The Hobbit back in 2017, but I do own the DVDs, which I recently ripped to our Plex media server so I can watch them whenever I want, and I listen to the soundtracks frequently. I own the books written by Tolkien and many other books besides, as well as books like The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, and Defending Middle Earth. Every now and then I pick up The Atlas of Middle Earth and browse through it delightedly.

So when I learned that Amazon will be airing a new series based on the history of Middle Earth, I was… sort of excited? I mean, it’s a great setting, great epic fantasy, and there’s so much about Middle Earth’s history — the Second Age, the coming of Man, and so on — to explore. And while J. R. R. Tolkien may not have written much of his lore for popular reading, his son Christopher certainly did. I watched the teaser trailer for Amazon’s series, and enjoyed the look of the show. I’ve included the teaser below for you to watch.

But today I learned that while Amazon owns the production rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, they don’t actually own any of the rights to anything beyond that. They do not own the rights to The Silmarillion or The Histories of Middle Earth and so on. So their vision of the Second Age of Middle Earth,  the time period where The Rings of Power takes place, is based purely on their own imagination and wee gleanings from the books the Tolkien did write. So, it’s all up to whoever writes the series, and I’m so skeptical of anything that comes out of massive media empires these days that I’m just not sure I’m going to enjoy this.

But what really bothers me, actually, has little to do with The Lord of the Rings and the One Ring and Middle Earth. It has to do with the fact that there is so much good material out there to work with to make sprawling epic fantasies. Yes, N. K. Jemisin is writing the screenplays for her genre-defying Broken Earth series, which is a good thing, but other fantasy and science fiction worlds exist that can be made into movies. There’s racial diversity in The Rings of Power, it looks like, which I’m happy to see (there was precious little in Peter Jackson’s films), but still… Let’s see some diversity in storytelling, in settings, in characters.

And yes, I’m well aware that there are some good non-Tolkien-inspired films and TV shows out there.

Maybe, though, I’m just Old. I don’t get that excited about superhero films (the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so vast that I’m tired just thinking about where to start, and DC’s Batman films are getting progressively darker and darker, and frankly I haven’t really enjoyed a superhero film since 1980’s Superman II). I don’t go on and on about how movies were “better back in the day” because many of them weren’t, and I know this objectively.

Still, though.

The world’s a big place, and the actuality of what we have in the way of storytelling is much vaster than anything Tolkien conceived of. Let’s see some more of it.

 

Vroom! Vroom! Bang!

Writer with dragon
Me, writing, under close supervision from a dragon

We made a thing!

We subscribe to Hungry Root, which is a weekly mail delivery service like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, and each week we get a fresh new cardboard box full of good, tasty, easy to prepare food. We also end up with a lot of cardboard boxes.

And, of course, we also get Chewy shipments for the cats on a fairly regular basis. Which means MORE cardboard boxes! Hooray! Usually this means that we just have a full recycle bin each garbage day, but today we decided that we needed to do something a bit different. Behold!

Cardboard Tank
A tank! Made of Cardboard!

It’s a tank! A Sherman tank! With a cat named Sherman (purely coincidental).

Want proof?

Cat in tank
It’s a Sherman tank!

 

Here’s a real Sherman M4 tank for comparison:

M4 Sherman Tank
An M4 Sherman tank for comparison

 

See? The resemblance is remarkable, isn’t it?

That’s all.


Probably my only contribution to Thingadailies this year

2022 so far…

Writer with dragon
Me, writing, under close supervision from a dragon

It’s February 1st. It’s the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Tiger, and it’s the first day of Black History Month. And so far, aside from Rupert dying, it’s been a decent year so far.

A writing update follows.

I’ve written 3.5 short stories (.5 because “Meep” will be a two-parter) so far, and I’ve managed to write 500 words per day for 29 days on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, which means I’m on track to finish this draft before I have to turn it in to my writing group on March 10. Go me! I also had a wee anxiety attack about my writing career, but I won’t go into that here.

My next writing project, after Devil, is to revise one of my oldest projects, The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster (formerly Fred Again). I’ve set myself a goal of June 9 for that one.

But I also want to work on my pirate novel, which is demanding to be a trilogy. It’s tentatively called The X of Doom, for various reasons, and I have titles for the second and third books in the trilogy, as well as paragraph-long outlines for them. I’ve done a lot of research about the so-called Golden Age of Piracy. Wikipedia has been  a good resource (all hail Wikipedia, as long as you don’t cite them as a source in your academic papers!), but I’ve also read some actual books. Here’s a pile of the ones I’ve gotten, that I’ve either read or will read:

Pile of Pirate Books

(Click to embiggen.)

A word about a couple of them. The Republic of Pirates, by Colin Woodard, is a brief history of piracy, focusing primarily on the so-called “pirate republic” in Nassau in the 1700s. This topic is fascinating, so I am glad to have found this book.

Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, is a collection of modern pirate stories. That is to say, a story about pirates that have all been written recently, and not stories about modern pirates.

The bottom two books — The Pirate Ship 1660-1730 and The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing — are just schematics of various ships and boats the pirates and others used throughout history.

School has also started! I had to record an actual introductory video of myself for the class I’m taking, and that was pretty stressful. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of that happening in this class, which is about teaching information literacy in a library setting. Information literacy is something of a passion for me, so I’m looking forward to this class, despite my stage fright.

One last thing: If you know my writing at all through stories and novels I’ve written, how would you describe my writing style? What are the things I shine in? I’m curious, and would love to get some feedback. Feel free to send me an email or to comment on this post. Thanks!

Excelsior!

RIP Rupert (2009-2022)

“Gray ones are trouble,” we would say to ourselves, watching Rupert climb the Christmas tree or jump up on top of the refrigerator from the counter.

And he certainly was trouble. He was a feisty gray tabby from the minute we first saw him and his sibling Ingrid at the foster home in 2009, where we’d gone to adopt a pair of kittens. He (and another gray tabby) were careening about the room, literally running sideways on the wall, bouncing off furniture and each other. He was super cute, so we adopted him and Ingrid together.

Tiny kitten Rupert
Rupert as a kitten, six weeks old, 2009

 

We knew that Rupert would never fill the void in our heart left behind by Tangerine and Sebastian, who had died within weeks of each other not long before, but having him in the house certainly brought us joy and laughter. When we put up our Christmas tree in 2009, he zoomed up like nobody’s business. We would look at each other and comment that he’d slow down in a few years.

And eventually he did, though he was always a lovebug. When he wasn’t tearing around the house, he was likely sitting on our laps and purring. Every day at suppertime, he would yell at us about how he was starving and the other cats were starving, couldn’t we see how starving he was, how he hadn’t eaten in eight years since the day before. He wasn’t a big fan of being held, unless it was in a very specific way, and would squirm and let us know that he had things he had to do! Like run up and down the stairs.

He was a good friend to the other kitties when he was at his prime, and would put up with a lot from the foster kittens. (When we got Sherman a few years later, we joked that Rupert had taught Sherman all about being a troublesome gray cat.)

He started vomiting regularly a year or so ago, and wasn’t feeling too well. The vet would give him shots of cortisone every month or so, and that seemed to do the trick for awhile. Then we put him on a daily steroid medicine, and that helped as well. But he continued to lose weight, he started peeing outside the litter box (a good sign that a cat is not happy), and he had horrible diarrhea. He stopped eating some days, would eat more others, but he wasn’t yelling at me at supper time anymore. The vet had initially diagnosed him with inflammatory bowel disease, which can lead to GI lymphoma, which is likely was Rupert had at the end. It’s difficult to detect, but he was clearly not happy, so we knew it was time.

The vet was compassionate and kind. Rupert did not like the first shot, but he went to sleep quickly and calmed down for the last time.

Now, his legacy lives on in Guffaw, who was a foster kitty that we wound up adopting a couple of months ago. Guffaw is a gray cat and therefore trouble, and he learned a lot from his mentor.

Thank you for the laughter, the love, and the memories, Rupert. You were a really good guy, and I will always love and miss you.

Rupert and Guffaw together
Rupert (on the right) with his latest protege Guffaw

Personal Choice and Societal Ethics

LRRR!
LRRR, ruler of Omicron Persei 8

TL;DR: If you are able to get the COVID-19 vaccine and do not do so, then you are responsible for the consequences.

Now, before I get into this, may I remind you I have a degree in Philosophy and I’m not afraid to use it? Because I do, and my sense of ethics, particularly in relation to societal terms, was heavily influenced by some pretty heavy-duty thinkers, including Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, and, to a lesser extent, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Practically, I’m a utilitarian by nature, but I find the hedonistic aspects of the Good as defined by Mill and Bentham a bit tricky. I like Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and while I find Rawls a little too optimistic about human nature, I still like his notions of justice as fairness.

So, having said all that to establish (to some extent) my philosophical bona-fides, let’s go.

I’ve been concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic from the very beginning, when I first heard about a new SARS-related disease spreading rapidly through the Wuhan district in China. Given the international connectiveness of the world, it was only a matter of time before it reached the States, starting with New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles, the big port cities. The first community contracted case was, I believe, seen in UC Davis Medical Center here in Sacramento. To be perfectly honest, I was less concerned about it until then-President Donald Trump announced that he had it under control; at which point, I knew we were screwed.

Politics aside, I figured we’d see the pandemic and vanquish it fairly quickly; within a couple of months at most. I figured we’d find a vaccine and people would rally around it and we’d all be better and this thing would go away soon. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The vaccine didn’t come into nearly a year into the pandemic, and the newest (at this time) variant of the SARS-COV2 virus, the Omicron variant, is blazing through our population like wildfire. All told, we have nearly one million people dead in the United States, millions more are sick, our hospitals are overrun, and the health care system is on the brink of collapse.

It didn’t have to be this way.

The pandemic and its mitigation measurements have become politicized, which is a shame. Conspiracy theories surround the vaccine, and notions of mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccine mandates have been decried as socialism and tyranny by certain parties (never mind that said parties probably don’t actually know what socialism is). There is one refrain that bothers me the most, and that is that getting the vaccine and wearing masks are individual choices not to be imposed by the state.

I have Thoughts about that.

Vaccine mandates do work. People who get the vaccine are less likely to come down sick with COVID-19, and if they do catch it, they are less likely to require hospitalization, and far less likely to die from it. They are also less likely to spread the disease to other people. And where vaccine mandates are in place, more people definitely get it. Sure, some people resist the mandate, but employers (such as hospitals — and it blows me away that there are health care workers who refuse the vaccine — and government services such as police departments) report that less then 1% of their employees quit over the mandates.

“But it’s all about personal freedoms and individual choice!” say the ones who (maybe) recognize the utility of the vaccine but who do not believe in vaccine mandates.

And they’re right. Whether or not to get the vaccine is a personal choice. But it’s one with societal consequences. As I said above, getting the vaccine significantly reduces the probability that you will spread COVID-19 if you catch it. which is a good thing. If you’re unvaccinated and contract the disease, then you have a much higher chance of spreading it, even if your symptoms are mild or simply nonexistent. If you do exercise your personal freedom to refuse the vaccine, though, and then you contract the virus and spread it to someone who is unable to get the vaccine because they are too young or are immunocompromised or some other legitimate reason (and I don’t believe in religious accommodations here), then you are responsible for the consequences.

Society has a responsibility, I believe, to protect its most vulnerable members: the elderly, the very young, the injured and sick. This comes right out of my Christian value set. If you are a member of society, then you have the responsibility to partake in that protection. My utilitarian mindset is in favor of the greatest good for the greatest number, and that greatest good means good health.

This is also why I believe governments have the authority, nay, the responsibility, to restrict travel to those have been vaccinated and test negative for the virus. If an athlete from another country tests positive for the virus, or has publicly refused the vaccine, then the government has the responsibility to keep that person out.

“YOU CAN’T FORCE ME TO GET THE VACCINE!” yells the societal libertarian. This is true.

But you should be held responsible for the consequences of not doing so. And if, say, your elderly grandmother, your immunocompromised neighbor, or your child’s playmates, if any of them contract COVID-19 because of your own anti-vaccine position, then you are responsible for the outcome.

If you disagree, feel free to let me know. I’m not likely to change my mind, though. I’ve done my due diligence in informing my opinion and philosophy here, so I believe my conclusions are sound and valid.