It’s Thanksgiving, Again.

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

At least, in the USA.  (Canada has been thankful already.)

And speaking as a writer, here are a few things I’m specifically thankful for:

  • The personal computer revolution, which came along just in time to enable an epically bad typist like me to produce submittable manuscripts that didn’t shed white-out like dandruff and didn’t take roughly thirty minutes per page of final copy to produce.(Does anyone even use correction fluid any more? Or does it hang out with carbon paper in the Land of Obsolete Office Supplies?)
  • The internet, starting with bulletin boards and on-line services like AOL and CompuServe and GEnie, and moving on through mailing lists and blogs and the wonders of the world-wide web. No longer does an aspiring writer have to move to New York or Boston or Philadelphia in order to have a finger on the pulse of the literary world; anywhere with internet connectivity…

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A Spare Scene from Yet Another Unwritten Novel

“That was the first thing we noticed,” Dalmatia said. “The copy-machine was broken.”

“Broken? How?”

“The cover-glass was cracked. And when we opened the front cover, we found a photocopy of someone’s bum jammed in the fuser.”

“That would have been before you found Fred’s body.”

“Yes. He was hidden behind the coffee cart. We didn’t find him until mid-morning. Everyone thought at first it was odd that he hadn’t come in. Then … the look on his face. Horrible.”

“I understand,” Lieutenant VanDelven said, writing in his notebook. “Do you have any idea whose butt it is?”

“No. Not really. We thought at first that it might be Fred’s — he was always such a joker. And the phone directory on his desk was open to ‘Xerox Repair.’ But then … Sandy noticed that the butt was … female.”

“I see,” VanDelven said. He looked around the office. No less than fifteen females were within easy view. His next question would need to be asked very tactfully….

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I’ll be down in Bradford, Vermont, tonight, doing street magic for their Midnight Madness merchants’ thingie. Starting around six p.m.

See you all there. And when you see me, tell me what card you were thinking of.

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Yet Another Scene

The man ran for cover. As he approached the fence the author put out a hand to stop his flight.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the author asked.

“Up and over that fence, if it’s all the same to you,” the man replied, panting.

“You’re planning to confuse your motion, horizontal and vertical, in a single sentence?”

“I’m planning to avoid getting shot,” the man replied. He waved his hand vaguely in the direction whence he had come. “The whole bloody Tenth Guards Army is back there and they aren’t in a laughing mood.”

“You’re safe as long as you’re with me,” the author said. “This is first draft–I can do anything.”



“Then get me over the fence, pronto.”

Without seeming to move, with no consciousness of the passage of time, the man found himself on the other side of the fence.

“Wait a bloody minute!” he said. “How did you punctuate that?”

“Either with a comma, or without one, depending on the sentence rhythm,” the author said. “You were running–no comma I think. Just sprinting in a headlong pell-mell dash.”

“Do you mean to say that the rules of grammar–”

“Are just guidelines. Yes.”

“But which is correct?”

“The one that sounds right. Here, have comfit.”

“What’s a comfit?”

“Dried fruit, nuts, or spices enclosed in sugar candy. Like Jordan almonds. Why? Don’t you know the word?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“I’ll fix it in the second draft,” the author said. “Maybe I’ll offer you a nice slice of fruitcake.”

“But what about the punctuation question?” the man insisted.

“I don’t like the version with the semicolon,” the author said. “Of the others either could be correct depending on the sentences around them.”

“I just used a ‘said’ word that isn’t ‘said’ and you didn’t notice.”

“So you did,” the author replied. “I noticed but didn’t care. You want rules? Aren’t any.”

A bullet zinged by the man’s head; the author had vanished.

“At least I got over the bloody fence.”

The man ran for the safety of the trees.

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A Random Scene

From a Random Novel In Progress:

“There’s a scene here,” Maincharacter said. “Why the foo aren’t you writing it?”

“Because I don’t friggin’ see it,” the author replied.

“As if I’m going to take that for an excuse? Look, Lady McSwiggin is going to have to lose her necklace if Fred is going to find it in time for the action/adventure climax. So why not do that bit?”

“Because there isn’t a Lady McSwiggin in this book. Who the foo is Lady McSwiggin?”

“Hey, are you expecting me to do your job for you?” Maincharacter looked at the author with exasperation dripping from his mustache. (He had bought the exasperation at Al’s House of Nouns; it was his last bottle.) “I suppose I do. She’s the character with the necklace.”

“That didn’t clarify things. What necklace?”

“The cursed one.”

“Cursed one?”

“Is there an echo in here? The cursed blue one.”

“You just stacked two adjectives on one noun.”

“La-di-friggin’-dah. Look who’s going all English Major on me now. If you don’t start writing your book, if you make me write your book, you won’t believe what I’m going to do to the prose.”

“Okay, okay!”

Suddenly, without warning, a naked woman screamed!

It was Lady McSwiggin, and she was standing at the door. “Open up right now,” she screamed again.

Maincharacter turned the knob and pulled the door in. “My lady!”

Lady McSwiggin stepped inside, as Maincharacter shut the door behind her. “Would you like a pair of jodhpurs?” he asked. “I think I have some that will fit you….”

“Never mind that. I need you to hide something for me.” She reached behind her neck and unclasped the necklace that she wore. The blue pendant, a diamond the size of a dwarf hamster, lay distractingly between her breasts. “Take this,” she said, pressing the necklace into Maincharacter’s hand. “Lord Halfbaked must never find it!”

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Peeve of the Day


Rather than the Latinate “devastated,” I’d use the good old-fashioned English and say “forwasted.”

“For,” of course, is an intensifier, meaning “entirely” or “completely” (often negatively). You don’t see it much these days outside of “forlorn” (entirely lost), “forsaken” (completely not for the purpose of), and “forbid” (absolutely commanded against).

I’d far rather hear someone say “forbrent” (a good English word) than “incinerated” (used by those Roman guys).

Another great intensifier (not seen much these days outside of nautical use) is “dead.” As in “dead ahead” and “dead slow.” In the 19th c. the street gang the Dead Rabbits were calling themselves the Absolute Fighters (rabbit as in “rabbit punch,” not as in bunny).

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

Because it’s the grey tag-end of October, moving into the dreariest part of the year up here in the north country, when the fall colors are all gone but the winter snow-that-sticks hasn’t yet fallen, and this time of year always makes me feel peevish:

Listen to me, O People. Do not use “decimated” to mean “destroyed.” This is not what it means.

“Decimate” in its most literal sense means “to reduce by one-tenth.” It refers to the punishment used in the Roman legions when an entire unit had committed an egregious offense, such as mutiny or desertion. Rather than executing all of them, the offenders would be condemned to draw lots to choose one man out of every ten.  Those so chosen would then be clubbed and/or stoned to death by their unchosen comrades. Modern usage often implies a much higher proportion of casualties than one-tenth, possibly because of…

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I Think I’ve Finally Figured it Out

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More on the Bookstore Project

Here’s my process for finding Independent Bookstores for my TomTom Navigator set of Points of Interest:

1) Find the name/address of an independent bookstore.
2) Google it. (All too often, the most recent hit will be a local newspaper story about how the store has closed after twenty-to-forty years in the same location. I suspect that’s because many indie stores are one-person operations and the bright young twenty-to-forty year old who opened the store back in the eighties is retiring and unable to find a buyer.)
3) On the Google search result page, look at the “People who searched for X also searched for Y” results, to get the names/addresses of more stores.
4) Go to the store’s web page to get the actual address and phone number. Look for photos of the store and directions to it.
5) Go to Google Maps, to the “Satellite” view. find the approximate location, then go to “Street View” for the definitive location.
6) Having positively identified the store, read off its latitude and longitude, copy those, plus the name and phone number from the store’s web page, into the database, then move on.

I currently have 190 names/locations and expect to get more as this progresses.

As starting points I am particularly indebted to IndieBound’s Indie Store Finder, the New England Independent Booksellers’ Association’s member bookstores lists, and blogger Heather who, in her 1000 Words Project (among many other interesting things) heroically visited every independent bookstore in the great state of Vermont, took photos, and reviewed them.

Another fertile source of names of independent bookstores has been the perennial article in some local magazine or newspaper listing (e.g.) Bookstores: Best 5 in New England. Oftentimes I’d already have the stores on the list, but the comment threads, where people remark on stores that they think should have been on the list, are gold.

By the way, if anyone can tell me whether The Book Review of Falmouth, Maine, still exists, I’d be grateful. I don’t fancy driving three hours over there to check it out myself (but I will, if that’s what it takes).

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Finding Places

So what have I been up to?

Well, I’ve been creating data sets for my TomTom GPS navigator. I’ve already uploaded a couple to TomTom: Covered Bridges of New Hampshire (the covered bridges listed by the state Department of Transportation), Historic Bridges of New Hampshire (the bridges listed by either the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places or the US National Register of Historic Places).

Waiting in the wings (to upload pretty soon): Covered Bridges of New England and Historic Bridges of Vermont.

Bridges are easy; they’re highly visible from the air, so they show up well on the “satellite” view of Google Maps.

Waiting to be validated, I have Historic Places of New Hampshire. That’s all the sites in New Hampshire on the US National Register of Historic Places. This isn’t as easy as it seems; for example Goshen, NH, has an array of vertical plank frame houses dating to just after the invention of that world-changing device the water-powered reciprocating saw. They’re small. From the air they’re indistinguishable from hen houses and corn cribs. And they’re frequently obscured by trees.

Cheshire County, New Hampshire, is a maze of twisty little one-and-a-half-story Cape-style shingle-sided farm houses, all alike. All of them, it seems, are on the National Register. The location information in the National Register can be anything from yards to miles off (datum changed, among other things). Searching for a street address on Google Maps can give you … bizarre … results, particularly in more rural areas. So for those locations that are questionable, I’m scouting them out on the ground.

(For those sites that are “address restricted” I’m using the position of the nearest post office.)

In the course of this I’ve learned a lot about the historic places of New Hampshire (since in the course of locating the sites I’ve read all the approved nominations explaining why one or another place should be on the national register in the first place); for example, that the Catherine Fiske Seminary For Young Ladies (now the Keene State College president’s house), had the first pianos and the first pipe organ in their town.

Which brings us around to the point of this post. I’m trying to put together a database for the TomTom navigator of Independent Bookstores of New England. So here are some words of advice for merchants everywhere who might want people to find them:

  • Have a web page.
  • On that web page, have your address and phone number, but not just as a graphic; have it in a form that someone can copy and paste, and that Google can index.
  • On your web page include a large recent photo showing your establishment from the road.
  • On your web page include written directions to your store, including landmarks such as “next door to” and “across the street from.”
  • Depending on local zoning, have a big-enough-to-see-from-the-road sign on your store with your business’s name on it so that when the Google Street View Car comes by it’ll show your store.
  • Speaking of Google, go to Google Maps yourself and make sure (a) your store is marked, and (b) that it’s in the right location.
  • It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have your street address number prominently posted and visible from the road (if nothing else your local fire and ambulance squads will thank you).
  • Last: GPS units are cheap and easy to find. You don’t need to learn how to use a sextant or hit a U.S. National Geodetic Survey quadrangle map with parallel rulers and dividers to find your latitude and longitude. Step outside of the door of your shop, find your lat/long, and post it on your web page.

Come on, folks, make it easy for me.

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Zombies, Pandemics, and Other Disasters


I found Fear the Walking Dead to be extremely annoying. The soldiers were intensely incompetent; the 19th century British Army — heck, the 18th century British Army — could have controlled the situation far better than these folks did.

I don’t think the writers thought through what the situation was, either for the dead rising, or for the response by everyone else, leading to the classic Idiot Plot: the plot that only works because everyone involved is an idiot.

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

The Walking Dead is, of course, the standout show of the current televised post-apocalyptic lineup. What makes it good is that the showrunners have discovered how to convince the American viewing public to sit still for an extended meditation on the various approaches to living a moral life – or at least surviving – in an imperfect world: For every so-many minutes of debate by the characters on morality and philosophy, throw in an equal or greater number of minutes of zombie-smashing and gunfire. The genius lies in the show’s ability to determine just how long viewers will sit still for philosophy before a zombie needs to shamble up out of nowhere and go rarrrgh! (Also, they have figured out that philosophy is a lot more palatable when coming from bikers with biceps. Which is probably a sentiment that Plato could have understood.)

Fear the Walking Dead is a limp…

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