In which NaNoWriMo makes me feel bad

I was talking to a woman at work today.  She’s had some health problems, but she’s feeling better and has a bit more energy. As a result, she told me, she just participated in National Novel Writing Month.  How did that go? I asked her. Great! she replied. I wrote my 50,000 words.

Fifty-thousand words in a month.  From a woman who’s working full-time and has health problems.

Where did I go wrong? My novel Where All the Ladders Start (which I swear is coming out real soon now) took me two years to write and contains about 85,000 words. In case the math is not evident to you, that’s less than 50,000 words per year.

The key to success in modern publishing, I am told, is to publish a lot, but make it high-quality.  Here’s a post making this point, written by a guy who writes 7-10,000 words a day. I’m pretty sure I’ve never written as much as 2,000 words in a day. I’m pretty sure writing 7-10,000 words a day would kill me inside a month.

But as an experiment, I’m going to see if I can write my next novel — a sequel to The Portal — in under a year.  I won’t lessen the quality, but I’m going to try to get it out in 2015.

Er, wish me luck.

The New York Times proclaims “Love, Actually” a Christmas classic

I guess this is my annual Love, Actually post.  The New York Times  ran an article recently contemplating which recent holiday movies were classics.  And Love, Actually makes the cut:

The director Richard Curtis fills the cast with nearly every great British actor, and they make even ridiculous moments — Mr. Grant’s dancing to the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (for My Love)” through 10 Downing Street — seem like master classes.

Thanks to the way-back machine that is the Internet, we can see what the Times had to say about the film back in 2003, when it first came out.  You don’t see reviews of major movies much worse than this one:

”Love Actually” is a patchwork of contrived naughtiness and forced pathos, ending as it began, with hugging and kissing at the airport (where returning passengers are perhaps expressing their relief at being delivered from an in-flight movie like this one). The loose ends are neatly tied up, as they are when you seal a bag of garbage — or if you prefer, rubbish.

Yikes. (Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 63%, slightly over the line from rottenness. Audiences like it much better, coming in at 73%.)

Speaking of hugging and kissing at the airport, the latest episode of The New Girl features the cast at the airport heading to various places for the holidays. It plays a cover of “God Only Knows” at one point as it cuts from character to character, clearly a reference to the soundtrack of Love, Actually.  Does a movie become a classic when a sitcom pays homage to it?

Us lefties earn less because we’re more stupider

This is the finding of a study by some Harvard guy reported here.

In the data, around 11 to 13 percent of the population was left-handed. And when broken down by gender — that is, comparing women to women and men to men — those lefties have annual earnings around 10 to 12 percent lower than those of righties, Goodman writes, which is equal to around a year of schooling. (That gap varied by survey and by gender, however.) Most of this gap can be attributed to “observed differences in cognitive skills and emotional or behavioral problems,” he writes, adding that since lefties tend to do more manual work than right-handers, the gap appears to be due to differences in cognitive abilities, not physical.

These problems only appear when the left-hander is the child of a right-handed mother. Like me.

Another study, reported in Wikipedia, came to a different conclusion:

In a 2006 U.S. study, researchers from Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University concluded that there was no scientifically significant correlation between handedness and earnings for the general population, but among college-educated people, left-handers earned 10 to 15% more than their right-handed counterparts.

I am not smart enough to figure out why the two studies came up with different results..

The Vox article does throw us this bone:

Data has also shown that lefties, for example, are highly represented among high SAT-scorers and people with high IQs. What it may mean, Orszag notes, is that lefties are overrepresented in the intellectual stratosphere, but that for the population as a whole, it’s better to be a righty.

The “intellectual stratosphere” — I like that. On the other hand, there’s this, from Wikipedia:

There is a general tendency that the more violent a society is, the higher the proportion of left-handers.

There is presumably some advantage to being left-handed in hand-to-hand combat, because your opponent is less likely to have trained against people like you. (There’s a comparable effect in baseball, where left-handed batters are often helpless against left-handed pitchers, because they mostly face righties. This has led to the ultimate in baseball specialization, the southpaw who comes into the game in the late innings to face one critical left-handed batter, get him out, and then head for the showers.)

All in all, it’s a hard world for lefties. Now, in addition to being sinister, turns out we’re also cognitively impaired and doomed to earn less than our right-handed friends. Unless somehow we find ourselves in the intellectual stratosphere.

We’re on Google Play! And Scribd!

When Google started selling books, their site was a bit of a mess, and my publisher stayed away. Now things look much better, and my publisher is onboard. You can see my books here, along with all the other stuff that comes along when you search for my name. The one weirdness is that their list prices are much higher than you see on other sites, but the prices are discounted so that they end up around those standard prices.

My publisher is also onboard with Scribd, the book subscription service that competes with Kindle Unlimited.  The idea, as we’ve discussed before, is to be a Netflix for books. For $8.99 a month, you can download as many books as you like from their catalog. They have fewer books than Kindle Unlimited, but they’re better quality.  From the author’s perspective, they pay better royalties than Kindle Unlimited and, most important, they don’t demand exclusivity.

Finally, their interace is really nice.  Here’s Scribd’s page for The Portal:


Happy belated birthday to William Blake

I seemed to have missed it by a day.  Here is his great poem “London”.  Did anyone ever write a better phrase than “mind-forg’d manacles”?  And did any two words ever pack more of a punch than “marriage-hearse”?

I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

Birches at sunrise

Let’s give thanks for birches!

2014-11-25 07.03.29While we’re at it, let’s also give thanks for poetry:

. . . Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Frost wrote the poem “Birches” just about a century ago.  How time flies!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Is this the greatest novel in the English language?

Middlemarch, I mean.  Wikipedia tells me that this is the opinion of Martin Amis and Julian Barnes.  It also quotes Virginia Woolf, who calls it “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”

I first read it back in high school or college, when I read pretty much everything.  I doubt that it was assigned reading — it’s about a billion pages long.  So I probably spent a chunk of my spare time devouring it one summer.  This time around, almost out  of the blue, I decided to have my hero Walter Sands read it in the course of Where All the Ladders Start (coming soon to an ebook store near you!), and I decided I’d better take another look at it myself, to make sure the things I said about it were true.

It surely is a novel for grown-ups.  I can’t imagine subjecting a middle schooler to it, the way we make them read Oliver Twist.  I can’t imagine what I would have made of the book in high school.  A few more thoughts:

  • Middlemarch has its moments of rustic humor, but Eliot is never as funny with her rude mechanicals as Dickens is with his working-class folks.  And she even doesn’t try to be as funny as Jane Austen when it comes to relations between men and women.  That is serious business.
  • There’s a bit of social commentary in the novel.  I didn’t recall this from my first reading, but it’s actually a historical novel — written in the 1870s but taking place in the 1830s.  So we see the railroad about to make an appearance in the area, for example, and the Reform Bill is in the air.  But that material seemed fairly bland to me.
  • Where Eliot is great — and maybe unequaled — is when she deals with love and marriage, and the complexities of serious relationships in a serious world.  Dorothea and Casaubon, Dorothea and Will Ladislaw, Rosamond and Lydgate — by the end of the book, we are so deeply inside these characters’ heads that we seem to know them as well as we know ourselves.  That’s a pretty impressive achievement.

That is to say, I re-read the whole damn thing, which used up a large chunk of my reading time for the year.  It was worth it.