The only update you’ll see before thanksgiving

view from angelosMaybe.

Given my track record of late (I know that potato recipe was pretty awesome, but probably not two-months worth of awesome) and the fact that my summer involved working from home in pajamas while my current time is spent hauling books around with my back (literally) and my mind (not literally) in my first year of law school, I’d not wager on seeing a lot of content between now and study week.

So the thing about law school is that it is not, disappointingly, at all like I was led to believe by recent sexy advertisements for Shonda Rhimes shows.  It’s also not much like 88 Minutes which is somewhat less disappointing since that movie was insipid and also, I think, about psychology rather than law…  But anyway, none of my professors have so far given us advice about how to sleep with witnesses to influence testimony or the best way to lie to judges and avoid getting caught/disbarred.  I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or glad.  From the perspective of someone who wants to possibly be employable, I suppose glad.

The picture is the view from the window on the eighth floor of the law school.  You can see some off the po-mo affectations in the foreground and in the background the wildly unpopular Baltimore Person sculpture.  The building is distinctive, which might be a euphemism.

Law school books are heavy and I ought to do some reading, so maybe more later.

These potatoes are too much work!

But not anymore!  It turns out, you’ve been doing it wrong.

French fries, made at home, are sort of intensive.  To do it right you’re supposed to cut your potatoes and then fry them twice (at different temperatures), a process that tends to involve splashing oil and scalds and dogs trying to lick the oil off the floor and getting underfoot and swearing and fury.  At the end of it, you might have a tasty bit of potato, but you will also have a layer of oil clinging to your face and a somewhat diminished desire to enjoy your frites.

So I found this recipe for legitimately frying fries that was a bit easier, and decided to give it a shot despite the voices of Alton Brown and Bobby Flay in my head dueting about the proper way to do things.  It was awesome.

Here’s how it works. Cut your fries, throw ’em in a big-ass dutch oven or something, cover with oil.  Turn on the burner and wander away.  Come back every ten minutes or so to see if it’s boiling up too aggressively or if your fries are cooked.  When they’re starting to look fast food colored, fish one out and see if it’s crispy and delicious.  If it is, fish out the rest and drain them and salt them and eat them.  Shockingly, these are actually slightly healthier than regular fries according to Cook’s Illustrated.  And not just because they don’t result in fury and first degree burns.

Also, while I’m telling you how to cook a potato, next time you want to bake a potato, poke it with a fork a few times, rub it with oil,and salt and throw it in a hot oven for, like, 45 minutes.  When you can stab a fork through it and it’s the texture of a crispy-skinned balloon, it’s ready.  Split open, slather with tasty bits, and eat.  The skin that you never eat…?  You’ll probably want to reconsider.

hand-picked

Anthony Brown is the Lieutenant Governor here in Maryland.  The post is completely ceremonial, created in the 1970’s to avoid a scramble to replace a governor who has to leave office (specifically to avoid the awkward replacement of Spiro Agnew when he became vice president).  There are no actual requirements for the job, and it mostly involves traveling around giving speeches that parrot the governor’s positions.  Sometimes, like in the case of Anthony Brown, the governor will put his lieutenant in charge of a couple of specific things.  Brown was, for example, prominently put in charge of the Maryland ACA exchange and website, a task that was almost certainly meant to demonstrate his leadership skills.

The ACA rollout was a bit of a disaster on the federal level, but it was an even bigger disaster in Maryland.

Yesterday I heard a call-in show about the latest Maryland Gubernatorial debate, and many people were calling in defending Anthony Brown.  They said, essentially, that it wasn’t fair to blame him for screwing up the one thing he was put in charge of because it was a very technical issue and he wasn’t a computer programmer.

This is the worst argument I’ve ever heard.

It’s like saying that George Bush’s awful response to Katrina wasn’t his fault because he’s not a meteorologist or that Kennedy’s promise to get Americans to the moon was meaningless because he wasn’t a rocket scientist.

Again, this was a call-in show and I don’t know if this “he isn’t a programmer” thing is actually the Brown campaign’s position, but it sounds a lot like the shifty way the campaign’s handled a lot of things.  In the last debate, for example, the Brown campaign would not allow any questions from the station hosting the debate to be directed at Brown.  Apparently, some of the station’s reporters had been critical of the lieutenant governor and he wasn’t capable of answering critical questions.

Another debate, the only one in Baltimore, Brown didn’t even participate.  What seems to have happened was that all 3 candidates agreed to 3 televised debates, but when one was scheduled on the Baltimore Fox affiliate Brown backed out.  The campaign argued that they had agreed to 3 TOTAL debates and that a radio debate counted toward that total.  This allowed them to pretend to keep to their word while avoiding a potentially hostile debate setting — and to demonstrate something like contempt for the major urban center of the state.

And then there’s the way that Anthony Brown responded to criticism from his opponent Doug Gansler.  Gansler questioned Brown’s executive experience by pointing out that, though he had served in the military, he had been a lawyer in Iraq.  Brown’s response was to characterize Gansler’s comments as disparaging to all veterans.  He intimated that any military service was leadership experience without actually providing any evidence of his executive skills.   Maybe he handled it that way because there isn’t any evidence to be provided, though.  He’s got the backing of the current governor and seems to have been groomed for the job, but is he actually going to be worth a damn at it?

He’s evasive and shifty in debates, lacking much in the way of ideas and even more in conveying what ideas he does have.  The great executive triumph that was supposed to smooth the way for him was actually a colossal failure, and the way he handles attacks (to dodge or obfuscate) does not fill me with confidence in his ability to get anything done besides the easiest of tasks.  If he gets through the primary, I certainly would prefer him to whoever the republican challenger will be, but I don’t think Anthony Brown would have been able to even get this far had he not been the hand-picked successor to the current governor.

I find him uninspiring and petty and shifty and self-important.  If he gets through the primary, which I fear he will, I hope he will at least have enough of a scare to change the tenor of his campaign.  I hope, though, that he’s surprised on primary day and that Heather Mizeur is able to capitalized on Brown’s massive blowing of his hand-picked status.

Everything is a slippery slope

A sixteen year old can drive, so why not fifteen?  Why not twelve?  Sure, a nine year old can’t reach the petals, but there are plenty of adult drivers who can’t reach the pedals, and there are a lot of ways this can be worked past.  Who are we to set that limit, and who’s to say the limit we set won’t keep moving back?  This drivers license age is a real slippery slope.

You know what else is a slippery slope?  Gun control.  If we make people register firearms and allow state or federal governments to track sales and ownership of guns, well, it’s a matter of time before uncle sam is kicking down my door and taking my guns.

Oh, and abortion.  I mean, if abortion is legal and women have access to it, isn’t it inevitable that women will just get tons of abortions and the population will plunge while our nation drowns under a rising tide of aborted fetuses?

All these arguments are fucking stupid, but only one of them is more than a slight exaggeration of attitudes that define American life right now.  And I hear politicians and talking heads actually use the phrase “slippery slope” about these issues in ways like, “well, if we allow people to vote without state issued IDs what’s to stop them from committing voter fraud?  Repealing this voter ID law is a real slippery slope.”  It’s said with a straight face, but A) everything is “a slippery slope” and B) the slippery slope turn of phrase is well known specifically because it is a logical fallacy.

Arguing that X is a slippery slope leading to Y without any evidence is so stupid that it’s basically the first lesson in freshman philosophy classes, and yet drug policy, gun policy, taxes, and health insurance are all issues that it is impossible to compromise on because of this childish slippery slope notion.  And it’s worth pointing out that the reason the country keeps shifting to the right while the people of the country seem to be shifting to the left is that the conservative forces in government cling to this logical fallacy and refuse to compromise on anything.  After all, if everything is a slippery slope (and everything can be because the whole point is that you don’t need evidence or reason to argue that Y follows X) then you can’t compromise on anything.

early post-mortem

graphSo, the give-away ended on Sunday.  Obviously it’s early to see the impact of the give-away on my reviews, but the increased visibility certainly didn’t help my sales.  At one point I was ranked #14 in my category of FREE books, but at the moment my overall ranking is well over a million.

 

The graph shows the arc of my free books, which is also a helpful backwards graph of story:flip outline

But as you can see, I gave away a lot of books on day one and day two and not so many on the next two days.  Did it have an impact on my reviews or my sales?  Well, time will tell but A) my sales for the previous month = 1 so it won’t take much to make an impact and, B) the possibility of getting some reviews remains very real after just four days.

The same book experiment everyone does

The theory is that reviews and sales (even free ones) will move one’s book up the ranks and get you more readers and possibly actual money.  With that in mind, one gives away copies or one’s books and tries to advertise the hell out of it.  Behold:

And I managed to get my book featured here.

And I posted on facebook about it, too, but the embed feature doesn’t want to cooperate.  Basically the same thing as the tweet but, like all facebook posts, visible to more aunts and classmates.

If this actually leads to reviews or sales, I’ll let you know.

On Ending Well

Endings are hard.

I once read a series of fantasy novels that was 11 books long and ended with a violent football game.  Needless to say, this was not a good ending.

I’ve written before about struggling with endings as a reader, and rarely do I get to the end of a book and think the ending hits all the right notes.  Maybe this is one of the reasons I read a lot of series titles; if I know it’s not supposed to be THE end I don’t get hung up on how a book ends.  It’s okay if A Feast For Crows just sort of stops (I don’t remember if it actually did) because it’s not supposed to be THE end…  but when that a series wraps up, I’m positive that I won’t find the ending satisfying.  Some people might, but I really struggle with endings.

Which is maybe why the ending of my first novel is an issue with some readers.  It gets a little muddy, according to a review that I just got, and it’s probably accurate.  “Too many twists,” she says, and while others may disagree with her (I hope…), the ending was meant to be twisty and fast-moving and even a little confounding.  Execution might well be an issue, but I wanted the ending to be big and twisty and loud and satisfying.  Maybe I’m asking too much of endings when I read or maybe what I did with Highmark just didn’t work for this specific reviewer and the ending works great for other people…  but endings are hard.

And I speculate that endings are one of the places where the difference between self-published and traditionally published books differ.  A writer is going to spend a lot of time on the beginning of a book either way.  It’s the part you reread and rewrite a lot pretty naturally.  But the end, that’s where you’re so wrapped up in your story and so deep and coasting on coffee and momentum (and liquor) that what seems elegant and wonderful to you is quite possibly insane nonsense.  And no matter how much you reread it and work on it, you can’t get away from the fact that you’ve been living with that story for weeks and you may not be able to see the forest for the trees.

And in traditional publishing, there are people who aren’t you who might see it.  More importantly, they see what’s wrong and have actual money backing their argument.  They have expertise and track records behind them and the very real possibility that taking their advice will monetarily benefit you.

The beta reader or classmate or writing group, great as they may be, don’t have that clout.  They should, maybe, but when someone on the internet or your friend or your mom says, “I don’t know if I get the ending” it’s pretty easy to dismiss.  Oh, this amateur just doesn’t get it/isn’t sophisticated enough/is a suckah/wasn’t paying attention to the story because they were reading it as a favor.

Probably, it shouldn’t be so easy to dismiss, but I’m not sure it’s possible to do otherwise.  Barring being so removed from your book by time that you can look at it as a reader (which might require years and/or head trauma) you’re never going to see your book as A BOOK.  It’s in your head so much that what seems crystal clear to you might be completely impenetrable, and that’s where you have to trust readers*.  I imagine that most writers find it easier to trust readers who are working with them to get into Barnes and Nobles and get them paid for their work, though, than readers who offer nothing more than a willingness to read.

*note: I didn't get a lot of notes from readers about my ending specifically, I just saw the problems that this reviewer had with the ending and started thinking.  I appreciate Mati's review and would love to see if others have the same issues, but I definitely don't mean this to sound like I'm coming out and saying that I think my ending doesn't work.