How to wake right up without coffee

I was listening to the news on the radio this morning and they said that former Reagan Education Secretary Bill Bennett had said something racist on his radio show. I thought, "Shouldn't they qualify that for saying it was something 'that some feel is racist' or 'supposedly racist'?" Then I heard the quote.

"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

Yes, this is real.


Buy the book

A description of Scenes from a Holiday is now up at Amazon. It includes the Carrie Pilby sequel. It should be out in four weeks!


More combonyms

Owen submits:

bactor - n. A bad actor (see also bactress) -- OT

There are currently only two mentions of the word combonym on the entire internet. Mention combonyms on your blog and make it three!!!


Those amazing animals

I messed up the link to local animals for adoption last time. Here 'tis.


Critiquing writers

There was some discussion recently among my writing group about criticism that's unhelpful. I confess that I actually instigated the discussion. I've found that lately, people in my group have been asking me questions about the piece I've brought, rather than telling me what THEY think. And this was pissing me off.

For instance, I would bring chapter 3 of my novel and they'd say, "Is there a payoff to this later?" or "Who is your audience?" or even "Why did you choose this to bring?" I would rather hear what THEY think, not what *I* think, because an editor or reader is not going to call me on the phone and ask me whether a paragraph is justified -- they will either keep reading, or not. It would be more helpful if the group said, "This seems like it's targeted toward 12-year-old boys, because of the video game references" or "This part is a bit dull unless it's leading to some action soon."

I think this has been happening more because I've been bringing novel excerpts rather than short stories where the beginning and end are obvious. But that doesn't mean they should sit around and ask questions about what happens next. I want critiques on what I've brought, not an interrogation about my goals.

I could go on at length about the difference between helpful and unhelpful criticism in writing groups. Let me just say this:

1. Don't tell a writer his work is 'good' or 'sucks.' That's a) too vague, b) unnecessarily hurtful in some cases, and c) useless, as opinions on what's good or sucks can be as diverse as your freckles. Best-sellers can suck, too. INSTEAD, tell them where it sucks, and why, and what they can do to make it better. Be specific. If a page is boring and doesn't move the story along, say so. But comment on what's good about it, too, so a writer doesn't accidentally take something good out, and so that they understand what they're doing right.

2. Criticism on how you feel while you're reading is important. If pages of it don't hold your interest, say so. If something sparks your curiosity, tell exactly where. If a character says something that puts you in suspense, mark that down on the paper. If something makes you laugh, put a smiley face. These are the things that determine whether readers keep reading. Did a poignant passage make you sad? I want to know that.

3. Okay, here's one. Someone wrote on my most recent piece, "So many visuals." Um, is that good or bad? Sometimes, people will put a check mark next to a sentence, or circle it - and I have no idea what that means. Can ya ^$#(* be more specific please?

4. Oh, this one's for friends. If you ask to see something I'm writing, don't then put it aside for two months. This happens to ALL writers: We give our friends something to read, and then they don't get to it and the issue kind of hangs in the air for a while after that. I know why it happens: Because you hear your friend talk about his/her book, and you're intrigued, and you like your friend, so you want to see it. Then you get it and realize it's raw and not a work of genius, and so you aren't as excited anymore. Especially since it's 300 pages long. Then weeks turn to months. But this is kind of tough luck - you asked to read it, and your friend went through the trouble to print it out, and now she/he needs your thoughts. Now that you've learned your lesson, next time, ask a friend if you can read 10 pages. That should save you the trouble of having a 200-page manuscript on a pile of things on your desk. (Note: Val, this was not directed at you. You're off the hook. It's a general reference.)

5. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because you're not a professional, your criticism doesn't matter as much. The editors or readers getting a manuscript don't have any magical powers or talents that you don't. They'll read the book just like you do. So if you find it really interesting, other people will too, and if you find it boring, other people might, as well. Your critique DOES matter.

6. Write stuff on the MS as you read it. Don't make up stuff later. Editors and readers will only read it once, and have their first impressions that will help them decide whether to keep reading. Then, when you get to the end, write your overall thoughts.

7. Read this just like you would a book in the library.

In short, you may be getting into a lot if you volunteer to read someone's work-in-progress, or if you join a writing group. Just remember, we writers lose perspective on our stuff, so just telling us anything at all about where it works for you and where it doesn't -- and why -- is invaluable to us. Just be specific, and give suggestions.

One more thing. On my last piece, I got two comments on my last line. Someone wrote, "Great last line." Someone else wrote, "I'm not sure I get this." This is good. It tells me that some will love the last line, and others won't understand it...depending on my aim, I may need to make it clearer. But I'm glad I know that it DOES make sense to some people. So both comments are useful.

Oh, and a big thank you to anyone who's read my unfinished manuscripts over the years, as well as to people who've read this blog and asked if they could submit a few pages to me (usually I follow my own advice and try to keep it to 5-10 pages, otherwise, I'll never get to it!)

finishing revisions two weeks ago...


Welcome back to E!

---It appears that Demi Moore and Ashton Kutsher have gotten married! Yay. I guess it's not a "rumer." Hee.

---I've been meaning to quote from this Liz Smith column in the Post on Sept. 12. Apparently, Liz is getting a bit morose. She takes issue with magazine caption of Jennifer Aniston walking on the beach because it says, "A solemn Jen...faces life on her own." Then Liz pontificates: "She couldn't just be happily on the beach doing her own thing. As for facing life on her own - in the end, we all do. And it is much healthier to get used to it early rather than later. But everybody should be prepared to 'face life' on his or her own."

Way to cheer us up, Liz.


Have you met...our most amazing pet?

I was shamed again by my animal-saving pal Jane after I posted that snoozing cat photo last week, so here are pets for adoption in the NYC/NJ area.

Also, fear not...I will still find out the goat's name. I still want to know.


Goat watch '95 concludes

Me (to halfsis): Did you find out the goat's name?
Halfsis: I keep forgetting.
Me: Well, summer ended. No $25 for you.
Halfsis: It's Billy!!
Me: You can't make it up.


Debate Oct. 5

I will be debating on Wed, Oct. 5 over whether New Jersey is better than New York. Of course, it is. More details to come. The debate, of course, will be in New York. Oh well.

Low pressure

The center of Hurricane Rita is 897 milibars, which is so low that this chart doesn't go there. I guess it's about 26 inches. Much lower than my room will ever get!


Category 5

Hurricane Rita is now category 5 with winds 165 MPH, heading for Galveston.

Chaos of Katrina

There were many stories about the suicide of New Orleans police spokesman Paul Accardo, but none of the ones I read said that someone told him his wife, from whom he was separated, had been killed in the storm. The information later proved false. Who knows whether that was why Accardo killed himself, but it shows once again how slow some information is late to get written about because of the chaos. Here is where I read it yesterday.

I sent an e-mail to one of the writers whom I edit, and I guess I also accidentally CC'd a friend of mine who has nothing to do with the paper. She wrote back anyway.

I think I got this by mistake, but yes, of course I will be extremely delicate and careful re noticing late captions!. also pull quotes. it's the verbal people vs. the visual people and we must win at all costs!!!
see you soon

The time and temperature

It is going up to 84 degrees today in New York. Yoo-hoo, autumn, where are you? Fall starts THURSday. (NOTE: Earlier today, I wrote that fall starts Friday. This blog regrets the error.)

For those bloggers who always complain that the media is lazy, stupid, etc.... The New York Times Co. is about to lay off 45 reporters. The idealistic young scribes are still out there, but there are fewer of them, and fewer newspapers for them to work at.


Vamperor - Emperor of the Vampires.
submitted by: Bob.
Catitude -- What your Siamese is giving you when she sits on your couch staring you down.
More combonyms

Clousy - adj. Cloudy and lousy
Depressay - n. An essay inspired by, or about, depression (written version of Emo...or Screamo, which is also a combonym)
Combonym - n. Combined word (and note that this is its FIRST MENTION ON THE INTERNET!) (acc. to Google, anyway).


Remaining hurricane names for this year

Rita (currently on way to Florida)

Guess they didn't think far enough ahead. I submit:

Y The Hell Don't You Stop Raining On US
Zip Back to Where You Came from.


Last weekend of summer.

Woke up, put on clothes, etc.


Up all night with AIM robots

Lizzner: Hey, Secret Sparkle.
SecretSparkle: Nice to see you again, Lizzner. What can I do for you?
Lizzner: Seems to me the only ones awake are you and Austin Powers.
SecretSparkle: Seems to you the only ones awake am I and austin powers? Why did you say that?
Lizzner: Never mind. Spoke too soon.
SecretSparkle: No problem.

Lizzner: Hi.
Austin Powers: Cheers. I'm takin' a little breather right? I'll be back in action soon. In the meantime why don't you say 'ello to my friend SmarterChild. Grrrr baby.

Lizzner: Hi.
SmarterChild: During the course of our conversations you may see sponsored messages. These messages have the word "sponsorship" at the end. Sponsors help me remain free of cost to you. To learn more about sponsored messages, click here.
Lizzner: How smart are you?
SmarterChild: "Artificial intelligence" means different things to different people. Some consider Conversagent-powered interactive agents to demonstrate artificial intelligence. I like to think that they demonstrate the intelligence of the people who built the software platform and the scripters of the interactive agents themselves.
Lizzner: Wow. Now I'm tired.
SmarterChild: lol! Whatever!Tell your friends about me. I love to meet new people.


Rock you like a

Okay, so the annual Aug. 15-Sept. 15 hurricane watch on this blog was kind of canceled due to tragedy, but here's Mother Nature blowing one last furious storm in our general direction on the last day.

Goat Watch

ME: How's school? Do you like the kids?
HALF-SIS: Yes. I know a lot of the eighth graders but I haven't had a lot of chance to talk to the seventh graders yet.
ME: They're babies. Did you find out the goat's name?


What's up with this heat wave? I'm glad it will be fall in nine days. Newsweek this week mentions a few places that are good for "leaf-peeping." That highway in the White Mountains of NH sounds nice.



Tap tap tap

This week, I have even more writing assignments to finish than usual...

So if I don't post on a given day this week, you can assume I woke up and put on clothes.



One of the things that the internet brought us was the ability to realize just how original we really aren't. Try to come up with any unique idea and see if a Google search doesn't reveal that some other guy in Montana mentioned something similar on his blog three years ago.

In the last few years, I've "invented" some combined words, but the first two already had numerous mentions on the internet, so I obviously wasn't the only one who came up with them. But here they are anyway.

Trivilous -- adj. Trivial and frivolous
Cybrary -- n. Cyber library
Froductivity -- n. Hard work on the set of "Lord of the Rings"



I sent copies of Carrie Pilby and Starting from Square Two down to an author in Baton Rouge who is volunteering at the shelters and requested them. Hopefully this won't increase the suffering. I also sent Tom's of Maine toothpaste to make the package actually useful.


If you're looking

Many people ended up at this blog today by putting Sgt. Paul Accardo into Yahoo or Fox. You probably actually want the Associated Press story that was filed last night, so just click this link.



There is still too much news to report on, just like in the weeks after 9/11.
Normally, a police officer committing suicide for any reason would be major news. Two New Orleans cops killed themselves and it's only being mentioned as part of other stories because so many other people have died and are still dying.
If you put "Paul Accardo" into Google news, you first get these excerpts from the days after the storm:

"The challenge is an engineering nightmare," Paul Accardo, a police spokesman, said...

One police officer was shot in the head by a looter in New Orleans, but was expected to recover, said Sgt. Paul Accardo, a police spokesman....

Sgt. Paul Accardo pointed a gun at his head and took his own life last week.



I haven't heard much griping about the media in relation to this tragedy. We all know it was the media who killed Princess Di and kept purposely showing photos of the Twin Towers burning in order to manipulate people into supporting Bush's war (*sarcasm at work*), but now, few are complaining that their images of New Orleans are meant to be manipulative or shock journalism. None of that "They're alarmists" or "They're trying to scare us" nonsense.

If not for the media coverage, the harrowing photographs, many of us would not have known the severity of the situation. The media in NO has set up bulletin boards and become a primary way for people to reach each other. Three years ago, the Picayune ran a series on what would happen if a hurricane hit N.O. In the final analysis, sometimes we need to see those horrific images.
My vacation

I went to Utah to see the sights.

I'm a fan of freight trains, of which Utah has many.

I wanted to come back at sunset to this place, thinking it would be even more beautiful:

But I was stopped by a MASSIVE TORNADO.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining.

(PS: It was really just a storm cell, not a tornado.)


Okay, I'll stop posting this stuff after this, but it's better to understand the true extent of what's going on. This is from the Picayune message board:

I got a call from my sis-in-law ... Due to running out of food, water and general flooding (water is now 10 feet deep at by brother's house), she moved to a neighbors house. There are 3-4 adults with her, one with severe asthma and no medications. They tried to get out by boat yesterday, but then got shot at by looters. Vicki is calling around to see if anyone has any resources to help, and she was hoping someone might have a contact or an idea. If you would kindly forward this to anyone you know that is in or was in the National Guard, military, etc.. They are on the deck of a house waving a red flag between South Claiborne and Willow at:2723 Jefferson AveNew Orleans, LAThank you
This is horrifying.

New Orleans descends into anarchy
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Storm victims were raped and beaten, fights and fires broke out, corpses lay out in the open, and rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at as flooded-out New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday. "This is a desperate SOS," the mayor said.

To keep up, check out www.wwltv.com


A lot of the people who did not evactuate were very hold. Some are on dialysis, are diabetic, or have other problems. A few just had a lot of pets and didn't want to leave them. The Times-Picayune has a message board where their relatives are posting, looking for them. It reminds me of the flyers that went up around New York City in the days after 9/11.

The only thing that will help is the gov't bringing in supplies and keeping those people safe, and the hope that there aren't any other disasters in the near future.

If you've been wondering whether there are going to be volunteer opportunities down South, apparently they are, but right now they are going to need people who can make commitments of more than a few days. I imagine there may be specific projects way in the future that can use shorter-term volunteers. Here's an e-mail I got:

Hands On Network is supporting recovery efforts of The Red Cross by organizing and deploying coordinated volunteer teams of 25 or greater to serve in immediate disaster response efforts at the Volunteer Operations Center in Montgomery, AL. There are literally tens of thousands of people in need of immediate first aid, shelter, food and water. The Red Cross has set up operations centers in Montgomery, AL and Baton Rouge, LA to coordinate all volunteer response efforts and deploy volunteer groups to the areas in most need of immediate assistance. Volunteers will be used to perform a variety of functions to provide immediate basic needs and services to displaced individuals and families. Specifically, volunteers will to help erect temporary shelters (tent cities) and organize support services (serving food, administering first aid, dispensing water, providing comfort, etc.). Volunteer Eligibility --Seven-day Commitment, Minimum: Volunteers can only be accepted if they are able to serve at least a seven-day shift...

Also, I got an e-mail from the University of Pennsylvania saying that they will offer classes to kids who live in Philly and go to college in the NO area for the fall semester. Additionally, staff can get up to three weeks off, paid, to help with the relief effort.
Donating and updates

Below is the official site to donate to the Red Cross, which has set up shelters across Louisiana and Mississippi. I got to it from their homepage, www.redcross.org, but to keep up with demand, they have asked Yahoo to donate a separate page where people can donate to the hurricane relief effort. They have boxes where you can donate as little as $10. Here is the link:


Carl from Baton Rouge reports:

Right now I am trying to separate fact from fiction.
The stories circulating around Baton Rouge are becoming more frightening by the hour, but it's unclear which, if any, are true.
So much is unconfirmed right now, including reports that dozens of buses carrying refugees from the Superdome to Houston stopped at an outlet mall in Gonzales, two-thirds of the way between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and that people got off the buses and began urinating and defacating in the parking lot.
Every community along I-10 right now has growing tension.
If a million people must abandon the greater New Orleans area and surrounding parts, they have to go somewhere. Baton Rouge is one of the first places they can stop.
People here want to help, and they have been. People here also want to circle the wagons and protect their own.
fear this is only beginning.
LSU's athletics facilities are now being used for helicopter landings, medical triage and shelter. Sports information office workers helped carry body bags into the baskeball arena. The place could be a staging area for dead bodies for weeks.
Every business in town that has power has long lines and overflowing parking lots.
Right now, I feel lucky to have power, but I wonder what life is going to be like in the coming weeks and months.

Note: It is apparently true that a random guy came upon a school bus in Louisiana and drove a bunch of people to the Houston Astrodome. They were allowed in.
Here's a group blog from New Orleans.

And this is from the Times-Picayune's blog (they can't put out a print edition):

Ant balls not an urban myth

In addition to all of the other horrors befalling New Orleanians during the flood was the creepy discovery that red ants form themselves into floating clusters to avoid drowning. As Dante Ramos and I paddled along Carrollton Avenue on Wednesday, I saw two glittering, golf ball-sized masses of ants floating beside our canoe. - Doug MacCash
It's strange

People are dying in New Orleans, but the coverage up here is comparably small, and nightly talk show hosts make jokes and move on to other things. "If you're watching this on a looted TV, give it back," Jimmy Kimmel said.

Here is a forum where storm refugees post if they're ok, or looking for someone:

What's odd is that people knew that a direct strike from a hurricane would flood New Orleans -- knew it for years -- but still it seems like there was only so much they could do.

A friend of mine linked to an article saying that FEMA released a report in 2001 listing the top 3 disasters to which the US was most vulnerable: NY terrorist attack, earthquake in San Fran, and hurricane for N.O.

They said on the news that all events at the Houston Astrodome have been canceled through December. That means people could be living there for three months. How scary! I guess kids will go to school there too? I imagine they'll need lots of volunteers to help out.