Monthly Archives: February 2009

Coast to Coast

The Big Trees at Muir Woods

I think the source of my latest move can be quickly accessed by viewing the illustrating image. It’s from my 2007 trip back to the Bay Area to visit with friends.

I think that trip just triggered the inevitable – the longing to go home.

I love Vermont, but at heart, whenever I think of home it’s a warm balmy breeze with a hint of salt, eucalyptus, acacia, and bay laurel. It’s the cathedral vault of towering redwoods, a thick carpet of soft red needles under my feet.

Vermont is truly lush and green about 4-5 months of the year, and that’s a wonderful thing, but the rest of the year it is an exercise in survival.

I don’t mind the golden brown hills of Northern California at all – in fact I think they are beautiful. It’s the cruelness of the human factor that mars the yellow beauty of the California landscape with its billboards, malls, and boring Bauhaus inspired architecture, or worse the factory farms that leach all our water and ruin the fertile soils of the central valley.

When I tell people where I’m going there are is a diversity of reactions from sneering (everyone thinks of Hollywood) to astonishment that I would want to go someplace where “EVERYONE” else is leaving.

Everyone is actually a relative term. For those of us that are native all those folks that arrived from all over to take our jobs, raise our taxes, push up our property values, spread malls and ugly condos all over our once lush hills, and generally make it impossible for this Californian to go home for twenty years are welcome to their exodus. I’m going home to the land where I was born, the land where my father was born, and his father before him. I’ll be happy if I can be a fisherman, a farmer, even to work a simple but meaningful job, or better yet work from home on my computer while take some time to grow some fruit and vegetables. I don’t need a condo, an SUV, a boat, or a fat mortgage.

Oh, but I will be doing a few wine tours this summer. I’ll tell you all about it.

View of the sea at Stinson

Gnashing the Teeth: Wyatt’s Consumer Rant

I have to admit that while it troubles me to admit to less than altruistic emotions at times I have to desire that some businesses crash and burn under these hard economic times leaving the remainder to embrace some old-fashioned ideals: customer service and quality goods.

I am reminded of these things today because of my interesting and fruitless visit to first Staples and then Radio Shack. Several years ago I had occasion to buy my first digital camera on sale at Staples. Less than a year after I purchased the little point and shoot I went back to Staples to buy a bigger memory card for it because I was going on vacation to Arizona. I was informed my camera, less than a year old and used about six times, was obsolete and they didn’t carry that memory card any more (though I could special order it). I ended up buying film for my old camera and shooting about six rolls, which if course cost a fortune to develop as it was already becoming an obsolete technology.

About eight months ago I succumbed to my second digital camera, again on sale. Like the time before I didn’t even buy the cheapest or most basic model. This time I even upgraded to something a little more sophisticated. The battery, however, ran down on it fairly quickly. As I’m headed on another trip across country I headed over to Staples today to get a new battery.

“Oh no, we don’t carry this battery.”

I was close to baring my teeth when the guy said: “but Radio Shack will have it.”

Ah, right, now I remember: I bought it at Radio Shack in the first place. I headed out, mentally apologizing to Staples. At Radio Shack I walked in and the guy at the counter walked out back leaving me to wander the aisles helplessly for about five minutes. Finally a bemused and befuddled assistant came to help me. He didn’t know where the batteries were but we wandered around until we didn’t find the one I wanted.

“Try online if you want it fast.”

Online. Duh. Should have just googled the damn thing in the first place instead of expecting big chains to actually stock the parts required for their products.

My point is not that today was outrageous or even that big of a deal but rather that it was purely TYPICAL. If I behaved in a similar fashion in my own business, my online community, I would be a ghost town today, and yet these big businesses keep on trucking. Not only that but we, as consumers, just accept half-assed service, shoddy goods, and a throw away society where things aren’t made to last but to be upgraded every few minutes, fueling the economy artificially, and filling up our landfills and toxic dumps.

Ok, back to packing.

Romance Returns to Pan Historia

Romance returns to collaborative fiction site Pan Historia…

Everyone loves love so why did it ever leave? It’s really a problem of gender expectations and preconceptions I think. Romance has the reputation of being a woman’s thing, and yet, hey there blokes, you all know you love romance too. I have long suspected men of being the more romantic of the species, but I digress.

My original intention in removing Romance as a genre option was to tighten up the genres we have and make sure that each and every genre was active. It seemed, in the site design, that we were spreading ourselves too thin. We once had Comedy, Role Play, and World as genre options too. Last year I did a marketing survey of the members of Pan Historia and what I discovered was that many writers at Pan, male and female, loved Romance whether they were writing there or not. I also learned that many people come to Pan just to read. So it seems that a genre’s popularity shouldn’t be purely based on number of posts per day or number of novels populating the genre.

Having discovered that people often just like to read what is on offer at Pan has changed my thinking about the site design in a lot of ways. I used to be very fervent about cleaning up novels that had gone quiet, but now I think of them more like the books at the library that don’t get checked quite as often. It doesn’t mean it’s time for them to go in the sale bin quite yet. I’m looking at ways to highlight the reading at Pan in different ways than it’s been done so far. Right now it’s all about what’s the latest, hottest, and the newest, which is pretty much how it’s done all over the net. My earlier blog posts sink under the weight of my newer ones until they’re never read again. I’d like to find some way of bucking that system at Pan so that a novel that was written two years ago can still be a popular read now, and not just data languishing in the database.

With these thoughts in mind a genre like Romance doesn’t need to meet posting quotas or worry about novels coming and going. Popularity shouldn’t solely be judged on statistics. A good love story is timeless. It can be revisited again and again.

Writer versus Author

I have a concern that there is too much control being asserted over the writer as artist these days. It is true that, contrary to the image of the solo writer tapping away at his typewriter with an overdose of five o’clock shadow, writers need the assistance of an editorial eye, but do they need to be told what is art and what is not? I’m not referring to the fixing of grammar and spelling – or even some structural advice when it is sore needed, but it seems that more and more, and I’m not merely talking about online resources such as my very own blog, that the final say and the final cut comes from agents and then editors.

Of course the nascent and inexperienced writer seeks guidance from the more experienced, and that is correct. There is always a need for advice and mentoring in the arts, any art. What I’m seeing, however, is a molding of writers to one limited model, and a muscular leveraging of outside viewpoints on what is, ultimately, a personal art form. Let me give you an example in terms of painting.

As a painter I went to art school to learn my craft. I was guided by my instructors, other artists who were earning a living by teaching, and then finally at the end of my journey I was let loose in the studio. It was the goal of both me and my teachers that once I was finished with instruction that I should be alone in my studio, master of my media, and the artist. I wanted the critics and teachers out of my studio once I was ready to fledge. Imagine that the art agent and the critic entered my studio at this point and grabbed a paint brush correcting perceived errors on my canvas. Perhaps they even took scissors to the piece to reduce its dimension because smaller art was more easily accessible to the viewer than a large piece.

It would be shocking and outrageous and the finished piece would no longer be mine. Increasingly it seems that the writer is losing control of their art form. Novels are written to have cookie cutters applied to them by experts that seem to have more control than the writer, more authority. If you want to be a good writer and be published than submit your art to another’s scrutiny and final judgment is the message I read all the time. It’s the same whether it’s over the internet or the real life experience of my friends who are published writers.

Of course if you follow my thoughts in this you might well find yourself unpublished and unread. Many a painter has works of art languishing in spare rooms and dusty studios because no one wants to buy the art. Most art shows do not result in sales or a living for the artist. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I know that I would rather be a good artist than one that had compromised my art for what is currently considered saleable. When I think of the authors that are truly great very few of them conform to the well-worn maxims of today. Yesterday’s authors were authoritative and their art had authority.

My proposal is that there comes a time when the writer is no longer an apprentice, but an author. As an author they should be the final arbitrator of what is excellent in their own work; even if they submit to a helpful critical eye the final decision is theirs. That day cannot be measured by some sort of marker like being published by a major publishing house because that privilege becomes an unlikely goal, but if a writer truly wishes to make a mark on the world then at some point they must, finally, become the author of their own creation.

Burning Down the House

Ever since I can remember I have cared about wild animals and the environment. I didn’t get it from politics or ‘bleeding heart’ liberals. It was just fundamental to my nature. I don’t even remember politics discussed in the home or any form of activism being embraced. My home influences were always about art and literature more than politics and government. The themes that inspired my childish mind are still with me in much of my writing today. I was reminded of this when wandering through my list of blogs I follow this morning and I was presented with this video from YouTube at Historical Boys:

Even as a child I hated the killing of wild animals for no reason. I imagined a world where humans got in trouble from their wanton destructive ways and animals were relieved from the bondage, abuse, and killing. I would construct vast apocalyptic end of the world scenarios where only a few caring humans were allowed to survive but animals could finally live in the world in peace. Other imaginative games involved me taking on the persona of a wild animal and living in their world, far away from any human beings. I belonged to the WWF when I was in 6th grade.

Looking at the stories that I write today at the collaborative fiction site Pan Historia I realize that I haven’t changed all that much. It seems I still dream of the end of the world in my new collaborative novel The Bitter Sky or in my slightly more tongue in check zombie fiction FLESH. While The Bitter Sky is grim and dark, set in a very long nuclear winter, FLESH retains some of my childhood ire at humanity: none of the animals are affected by the zombie virus. My other story Turnskin, my werewolf horror collaboration, has a very strong environmental theme and streak that has been embraced by the other writers. I have been posting some of that story on my fiction blog if you are interested. In Turnskin there are good wolves and bad wolves, but all of them are united in their belief that humanity is destroying wildlife and its habitats. For a second there I thought I was done with my post-apocalyptic and environmental themes but then I remembered my other collaborative fiction, the modern fairy tale The Midnight People. In this concept I created a world in the future where the Fae have battled humanity to submission to take over because of our abuses of the environment.

It’s interesting how my childhood games have continued into adulthood via the media of the internet and online community. Thankfully I have an outlet for my creative visions, as well as a way to learn about, help out, and connect with other people when it comes to trying to make some real life changes for the better. To me I really feel that the protection of our environment and the other beings that share this planet with us should be paramount in our minds right now and should be outside of politics. It shouldn’t matter what you think about taxes, gun control, abortion, or how much government we have. Don’t burn down the house we all live in. It’s just simple common sense and survival. Otherwise dark visions like The Bitter Sky could well be a reality that would lose all the fun when translated into reality.

Burning up about the wolf slaughter? Head over here to help.

Passing Away

The death of a long time member of my online community this week has, naturally enough, sparked some thoughts about the nature of intimacy on the internet. Over the ten plus (and that’s a big plus, I just find it difficult to remember that far back) years I have been involved with community writing sites like the one I developed and those that preceded it there have been a few people that have passed away. In the case of some of our most stalwart friends we have been fortunate if the family remembers us, or if one of their online friends has bridged the gap between virtual and actual friendship. Other times people just disappear. With no word from the ether that is the great unknown of ceased communication there is no way to ever find out what happened to that person. They just vanish.

Of course people come and go all the time – that is the nature of what is essentially a hobby to most. For those of us that really love our communities and do not move away to a new neighborhood it would be more comforting to really understand and know where people go. I think many people, even people who frequent social media, forget the strange nature of the internet. Whether I know you as Wyatt at Pan Historia or by my Twitter moniker Panhistoria often all you have to go by is a screen name, a bit of personal history shared, and then poof one day I could be gone. All I have to do is not login again, wander off, embrace some other interest, and it’s like I never existed.

It’s a weird feeling because very often it means that online relationships do not have closure or even memorials, despite the copious feathery trails of chatter and correspondence, posts and images. Many people solve the issue by getting real and swapping names and phone numbers and taking the play off the stage and into the audience so to speak. But even for those of us that are very selective about making that transition, or who value the wonderful transformation from everyday to magical, we still value our online friendships just as strongly. It’s important to know what happened to our friends, why they vanished from our circle, from our daily routine.

With that thought in mind I thank the family of Meritites/Mirjam Nebet for remembering her online family and letting us know so that we, like any community, can mourn her passing.