Saturday, March 17, 2007

What is an author?

Quick takes:

March Madness: It's on!
University of Illinois: Lost their first-round game!
My diet: Okay so far!

Why it's cool to order stuff from CD Baby

For one thing, you get this email:

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved 'Bon Voyage!' to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Tuesday, February 6th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as 'Customer of the Year'. We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you once again,
Derek Sivers, president, CD Baby

I like a company with a sense of humor. The world would be a happier place if more companies were like CD Baby.

My son the fencer

No, he does not install fencing. He goes to a military prep school even though he doesn't have any real interest in the military. I think he realized that he needed more discipline in his life and a military school would be a good place for that. At some point in his first year, he discovered fencing, the kind where people poke at each other with swords.

The season is over now and my son is home for spring break. He has been teasing me about a surprise and today he handed it over: a plaque announcing that my youngest spawn has won the Coaches' Award for best freshman fencer.

I am thrilled he has found an interest that doesn't involve blowing up aliens or otherwise staring at a TV screen. I am touched that he gave his award to me. Trouble is, he demanded that I put the award in a place where I would be sure to see it every day. The result:

I hope my agent will understand if the last few lines of every page I write are a little garbled.

Author! Author!

What is an author? Is an author different from a writer? If so, is one better than the other?

Beats me. I used to hang out with a woman who wrote instruction manuals for John Deere. She composed such epic verbiage as "Be careful not to engage the driveshaft during this operation or serious injury will result."

Technically, she's a writer. In fact, she's a technical writer. But is she an author? When you get down to it, there's no reason why this woman couldn't put on black clothes and a beret and hang out in bars, telling beatniks that people all over the world read her work, omitting the part that her best effort was a 22-page treatise on setting the proper angle of the deflector plates in the intake chutes of the John Deere RD-566T combine.

What about the guy who writes the blurbs on the back of baseball cards? "In 1994, Jim Russell pitched a one-hitter against the Houston Astros while wearing his pants backward!" or "Before joining the Cardinals staff, Elroy liked to stalk actresses!" That's certainly writing.

Of course, there's the unknown but brilliant person who created this breathless passage: "Lather. Rinse. Repeat." Terse, and yet evocative. A strong voice at a time when strong voices are desperately needed. But there is tragedy here, in the form of those who felt compelled to keep repeating until they had to be forcibly removed from their showers, so locked into their Sisyphusian chore that they begged to be put out of their misery.

That, my friends, is powerful writing. If the unknown creator of those words isn't a author, then none of us are.


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Orb of Doom/Flash Fiction

Quick takes:

Spring: Almost here!
Barry Bonds: Jerk!
Gino's East frozen pizza: Awesome!

The Orb

The object to the right is a gift from a dear friend. At least I think she is. This thing has caused nothing but trouble.

At first I thought it might be a disco ball. I tested this theory by hanging it from the ceiling and blasting Bee Gees songs, but it didn't feel right. None of us wanted to put on doubleknit clothes and platform shoes and do the Hustle. Plus, my neighbor Mr. Bushida called the police because he didn't want to hear Bee Gees songs at three in the morning, so that experiment was a wash.

It could be a badly made soccer ball, but when I kicked it I hurt my foot and the orb made a dent in the ceiling. I then took it outside to kick it, but that only resulted in another visit by the police because Mr. Bushida got mad about the hole in his picture window.

A flash of inspiration gave me the idea that it might be a bowling ball. True, it had no finger holes, but I took it into the street and gave it a good roll. Unfortunately, Mr. Bushida came down his driveway at the same moment, riding his new (and expensive) crosstrainer bike. He freaked out when he saw the orb coming at him and didn't see his wife pulling into the driveway. I mean, I'm sorry they had a head-on collision but I could hardly be blamed for that, even though the policeman who arrived shortly afterward got pretty red in the face when he yelled at me.

Finally I decided it was an Orb of Doom. It looks like an Orb of Doom, especially if you shine a red light on it. Certainly it had caused a fair amount of trouble since its arrival, what with the visits by the police and Mr. Bushida screaming death threats.

So what to do with it? I was pretty sure the trash collector wouldn't take an Orb of Doom. (They won't even take lawn waste!) I didn't want to put it the garage sale stuff because I didn't want to feel responsible if it turned one of the neighbors into an evil fiend or a Republican.

So, I'm stuck with the Orb of Doom for now. I put it in the bathroom linen closet, under a pile of guest towels. Even though I can't see it, I can feel its evil presence, which makes going to the bathroom a tense situation. Who knows when the Orb will next decide to spread its evil?

Email of the day:

Dear Dr. Missy,

What is flash fiction?

Linda (not my real name)

Dear Linda,

That's an easy one. Flash fiction is written about Ed "Flash" Steinmetter, an independent insurance agent in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Using sophisticated instruments, the workings of which are a heavily guarded secret, scientists have determined that Ed is, without a doubt, the most boring person in the world.

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, except that Ed's boringness is so profound that it began sucking "interest features," as the scientists call them, from other people. First, the people on Ed's street became uncommonly boring, then it spread to his neighborhood, and within a
short time, all of Cedar Rapids. Alarmed, the scientists pondered erecting an inpenetrable wall around the town to keep Ed's boringness under check, but no one took them seriously until it was too late.

With the effects of Ed's sheer lack of personality speading across the country, the scientists realized that the only way to stop the onslaught was to graft a personality onto Ed. This is done through the writing of short stories, in which Ed engages in such activities as wrestling polar
bears, making love to exotic Russian spies, traveling into space to fight two-headed extraterrestrials, surviving a knife fight with Martha Stewart, and so forth.

Of course, this method is highly unscientific, but the millions of flash fiction stories on the Interweb do seem to be working to keep Ed's dull aura at bay. Unfortunately, it's not a foolproof system. Just the other day, a man in Altamont, Illinois, screamed that his head had filled with images of horribly tedious insurance seminars. Then a woman in Flagstaff, Arizona had to be hospitalized when she began hearing the minutes from the Cedar Rapids city council meeting (the one where they voted on which color to paint the city fire hydrants).

It's too late to build a wall around Ed, as the genie is already out of the bottle, so to speak. Until scientists can create a laser of some kind that will keep Ed's boringness under control, the diligent people of the Interweb continue cranking out a vast amount of flash fiction. I have
contributed to the cause, with my story of how Ed went back in time and beat the snot out of Marshall Tito. We must all do our part! The consequences are too great to contemplate.