Archive for the ‘Books & Writing’ Category
Friday, 15 November 2013 • 0 comments
I’ve been so busy I forgot to tout my latest assignment: writing a monthly column on dinosaurs for Dig.
The first column ran in the October issue. The November/December ish (at right) weighs the evidence of whether Triceratops was a separate species or just a baby Torosaurus. In coming months I will discuss why there’s no such thing as a raptor, T-rex’s teeth, if Spinosaurus actually had a sail-like fin on its back, and whether Pachycephalosaurus was a butthead.
Though you wouldn’t know it from the column’s title, Blogosaurus is only available in print or e-book. Alas, all of my suggestions for names were ixnayed; christening credit goes to the editor of Dig‘s sister magazine, Appleseeds. Some of my rejected titles included:
- Don’t Take That Bone With Me Young Man
- Do or Do Not, There Is No Triceratops
- Mr. Gorbachev Ptero Down This Wall!
- Diloph the Phone, Mom
- That Was No Lady, That Was My Rex-Wife
Friday, 23 August 2013 • 0 comments
If there is a single writer I owe above all others, it was Elmore Leonard. Some of his ten rules I had cadged beforehand from Hemingway — which is where he grabbed them too — like the distrust of adverbs or not lingering too long on descriptions. The one that has really stuck with me is not using anything other than the word “said” for dialogue. I will also use “asked,” which is similarly neutral. The teachers actually scold my sons for using “said” in their writing; they want melodrama like “cried” or “pleaded” or “demanded.” I don’t worry too much because a big part of writing is throwing away everything you learned in school and paring down your style into something distinct. They’ll do it like writers do.
Valdez Is Coming was his favorite Western, which is understandable; its twist ending could be seen, like Unforgiven was for Clint Eastwood, as a kind of love-letter criticism of the genre. I’m partial to Cuba Libre, his Western set on a Caribbean island. His crime novels? Probably Rum Punch but that’s a tough call since it’s difficult not to compare it with Jackie Brown. Get Shorty is good. Freaky Deaky is fun, about ex-60s radicals trying to dynamite their way to riches (I watched the 2012 film version with Christian Slater on Tuesday — small budget but definitely worthwhile).
Leonard was the last of the pulp writers, a World War II vet who went to Detroit to scrawl ad copy and wrote Westerns on the side. I’ve read most of his early books, though years later a lot of them bleed together. The plots are forgettable because they derive entirely from the characters — there’s very few MacGuffins. It’s usually: this person wants revenge on that person, or to scam or steal from that person, and then coincidentally this other person or persons becomes involved, and the whole thing becomes knotted. His plots are tangled but never confusing; and there’s only a handful of characters to keep track of. The women are always smarter than the men and the men — this is something I really like about Leonard — are often undone by their vanity and ego. There’s a graf in Riding the Rap (I think) where the character imagines how he should wear a do-rag or a hat or something and how bad-ass he would look if he did that. Because ladies, men are peacocks. Just one thing among so many others Leonard got right.
Thursday, 22 August 2013 • 0 comments
Over at the Journal of the American Revolution, I have an article on how the division of captured prizes undermined the Connecticut state navy:
All the sailors did the math and realized going on a privateer was the better option. That’s why Congress abandoned the two-thirds/one-third model and adopted a half-and-half system for merchant ships — they had to be competitive with privateers for recruitment.
Connecticut did not follow Congress’s example. They stubbornly stuck to the original two-thirds/one-third model. They wanted that extra sliver, that extra sixteen percent.
This greatly inhibited Smedley’s ability to recruit sailors for Defence. On his very first voyage, Smedley had trouble finding enough men. Just as they were prepared to sail from New London, the man Smedley thought was going to be his first lieutenant — a man by the name of Henry Billings — suddenly refused the job. Billings returned the commission in a letter to Trumbull in February 1777, writing, “I am offered the Command of a Burmudian Built Sloop fixing out as a Privateer — And I think to do Justice to myself & family I must except of the offer.”
Friday, 19 July 2013 • 0 comments
Despite some odd word choices (geezer), Kuhl vividly evokes a dissipated waterfront atmosphere… And, as a pipe-smoker myself, I raise my Peterson to the author who has written an authentic horror story which works through artifacts rather than artifice, and which delights and surprises throughout. This is the first Jackson Kuhl story I’ve had the pleasure to read and, I hope, not the last. Well worth investing in a copy of this issue of Black Static to read Barbary alone.
Much of the language used in “Barbary” was researched to prevent anachronism but apparently I didn’t dig deep enough. While “geezer” does hail from the early 1880s — the same decade in which the story is set — it derives from the word “guiser,” slang for someone who dressed eccentrically. Only later did it become a pejorative for senior citizen, which is how it’s used in the story. Mr. McEvoy is correct to bean me for it. Now somebody get me rewrite!
Friday, 5 April 2013 • 0 comments
Mrs. Kuhl expressed surprise upon seeing the fantastic cover of this month’s Calliope, in particular to the “POWs Meet Their Captors” blurb. The story examines three different experiences during World War II: those of German POWs in England, German POWs in the US, and of Japanese-Americans in American internment camps. Her shock is why I adore Calliope — it’s not the pablum like Time For Kids they shovel at my sons’ school.
The entire issue explores such differing perspectives of and within history. Also inside are letters from Pliny and Trajan regarding early Christians, a story about the racism that surrounded the archaeology of Great Zimbabwe, conflicting theories about the peopling of Polynesia, and the arguments that led to the Civil War. I round out the issue by describing some of the comparatively mild disagreements over which sports should be included in the Olympics.
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Saturday, 16 February 2013 • 0 comments
The theme of February’s Calliope is dictators and tyrants throughout history: men like Peisistratos of Athens, Shi Huangdi of China, and of course, Julius Caesar of Rome. There’s also a fun imaginary debate between Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau about what government students should choose if the adults vanish from their school, leaving them in a state of nature (the pig’s head was unavailable for comment). I have a feature about modern dictators, some of whom are still kicking and some — like Muammar Qaddafi — who are not.
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