Thursday, March 26, 2015

Following a Well-Worn Formula For Success: Manufacturing Snake Oil With A Poison Pen

I've been watching the uproar that has ensued following Clay Travis's outrageous post on his sports website/blog Outkick The Coverage in which he claims that the Kentucky-West Virginia Sweet Sixteen basketball game tonight will pit the "two dumbest fan bases" in college sports. I'd post the link, but he's already made enough money off of clicks on that stupid 'article'. Let's not help him increase his bank account if we can help it. Do me a favor and don't run off to his site to look. Let me give you a sample:

It's an upside down world when it comes to Kentucky and West Virginia -- fans in single wides cheering for coaches in mansions, basketball fans without teeth cheering for basketball players with teeth, fans who have no hope of being admitted to academic powerhouse universities like Kentucky and West Virginia living or dying to the beat of a basketball's dribble. Like canaries in a coal mine without oxygen, these two states are where intelligence goes to die.   
They should give out a trophy to whoever wins this game.
It should be a gold basketball with a chin strap beard on it.
And this inscription: "Your number one!"  

Aside from the use of egregious generalizations for shock value, a time-honored tactic of zealots and bigots, as a sports fan I have to ask myself: what's Travis's angle here?  

Travis isn't really all that original. He's agitating with purpose. He has an agenda. His purpose is singular: he's manipulating the vast pool of sports fans in order to drive hits to his website by using the lowest common denominator he can envision--in this case, an absurdly arbitrary list of the "stupidest" and the "smartest" fan bases in college sports that he wrote about a year ago. So he uses that list as a reference and restirs the pot. In the process, he riles up the fans, who all immediately rush off to click on the darn website to read his bile for themselves, makes some appearances on sports talk shows--I heard him on the Paul Finebaum show this afternoon--which riles up more fans who click on the website and make him more money, then goes onto social media to talk about how awesome he was in insulting the fans of these two respected institutions, which, of course, makes him even more money. Rinse and repeat. Millions and millions of hits at a per-click payment rate, and every infuriated Kentucky or West Virginia fan is ringing Travis's cha-ching bill today. 

I know what Clay Travis is. I know where the Clay Travises of the world are coming from. Especially, when they come from Tennessee. 

Clay Travis is a pseudo-intellectual who feeds his voracious ego by belittling others. He makes himself feel smarter by stepping on others.  Although it's hard to believe that anyone who'd go on a 'pudding strike' to try and force Direct TV to add the Sunday Ticket to the US Virgin Islands available channel package is any sort of intellectual, bear with me for a moment and think about this. 

We have some things in common. Clay Travis, like me, grew up in the state of Tennessee. Clay Travis, like me, knows the sports world, and especially the fervor that fans of the Southeastern Conference have for their teams. Clay Travis, like me, understands the power of the written word. 

But here's where things start to get different. 

I am a product of the public school system in Clarksville, Tennessee--a town that Travis insulted specifically when the wife of a retired US veteran who lives there called the Finebaum show this afternoon. That education enables me to insult the Clay Travises of the world in three languages, including Latin. Caligas mater tua in legis gerit. (That's Latin for "Yo' mama wears combat boots in bed" in case you wondered.) I attended a small liberal arts college in Tennessee, where I paid for my education thanks to scholarships from the university forensics team. (Forensics meaning public speaking and debate, not CSI.)  

Unlike me, Travis attended the Martin Luther King magnet school in Nashville, and after a bachelor's degree from George Washington University, came back to Tennessee to get his law degree from Vanderbilt University. 

I married an IT security guy; he married a Tennessee Titans cheerleader. 

I am the author of 16 novels and novellas; he is the author of 2 nonfiction books about sports (I don't count his misogynistic Man: A Book as a real book, to be honest. Amazon lists it as 'humor', but it's only funny to the random Neanderthal or poison-penned sports columnist.), But those books are well-written and engaging, and--this is the important part--about sports in the south. 

There is no quicker way to garner the attention of any SEC fan than to call them stupid. Travis knows that. He comes from SEC stock. He was a sports radio talk show host in Nashville. He's made a fortune off the backs of SEC fans. He makes a living off of what he pretends to despise. He looks down on his roots and the people who represent those roots. 

And right now, he's sitting in his office, furnished with money he made from the American sports fan, tweeting about his brilliance, seeing the posts that come up on his search engine feed, and counting his money as the click count rolls up and up and up. 

And just to make it MORE fun, by referring to last year's stupidest fan base list, he got DOUBLE the clicks because, of course, anyone who read his Kentucky-West Virginia article had to click on that post to see which schools were named. If they cruise around the site and check out other articles, he could be looking at 5-10 clicks per unique viewer. That's bank.

Clay Travis isn't a snake oil salesman. Clay Travis is the man who makes the snake oil out of toxic waste and various unidentified substances and then writes blog posts in which he blasts his own product just to create interest in it. He knows that the more people who google "snake oil", the greater the likelihood that he can peddle his poisonous wares to the unwary. 

Ever hear this old saw? "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it." Apparently Clay Travis lives by this motto. It's made him millions of dollars, and today made him even more. The formula is simple: take a stereotype, like the ones today where he personified Kentucky or West Virginia sports fans as toothless, homophobic, uneducated bigots. Repeat said stereotype frequently from your platform. Travis has made a living stomping out that tired old generalization. For example, in July of 2014, Travis said in an interview with Nate Rau for The Tennesseean :

I take pride in ridiculing stupid people for being stupid regardless of what their beliefs are...My bigger issue is there are a lot of stupid people. And I feel like in our culture today we coddle stupidity quite a bit. And so I don't particularly care what your opinion is, but if it's a stupid opinion I think you deserve to be lit up for it.

Full transcript for the interview is here

So here's the question: who made Clay Travis the arbiter for what is stupid and what is not?

Realize, too, that in this context, Clay Travis's definition of 'stupid' is actually 'different than mine'. 

Every time we click on his site, read his articles, buy from his advertisers, buy his books, and patronize Fox Sports, we empower Clay Travis and other snake oil manufacturers to keep on twitching their poison pens. This isn't a big secret--master manipulators have been doing this crap for years, and we let them. Why? It's entertainment. It's funny to call the fans from your team's arch-rival names. We've all done it. God knows I've heard more about Michigan in the last twenty years than I thought possible. Thousands of people walk around Ohio with "Ann Arbor is a whore" t-shirt.  Sports figures egg that on, like Steve Spurrier's infamous "You can't spell Citrus (as in Citrus Bowl) without UT." Clay Travis is just that little bit smarter than Spurrier, though. Spurrier gives out those quotes for free. Travis charges us for them, one click at a time.  

It doesn't matter what Clay Travis believes. Frankly, some of what you find on his website is entertaining, and he has broken legitimately important sports stories over the years. In the end, though, what matters are Clay Travis's motives. His motives in this case are clear. 

It's the first day of Sweet Sixteen games in the NCAA basketball tournament. Kentucky is riding an unprecedented wave of success, undefeated and, if they make it through the tournament, a shot of being the greatest college basketball team of all time with 40 wins. The situation is unparalleled. There's a lot of excitement around the tourney this year as a result--more interest than usual in March Madness, which is a mainstay of American sports--and which makes a lot of money for everyone involved except the fans. So if you're a snake oil manufacturer, and you want to capitalize on the situation--if you want to get your share of the March Madness pie, what do you do? 

You insult every single person with a vested interest in the game. You belittle them. You make them feel stupid. You make them angry. And then you watch as they self-fulfill your prophecy and run off to leave comments on your blog, not knowing that every time they do they are putting money in your pocket. You make those fan bases so angry, that on the day of this huge basketball game you divert focus away from the game and onto your site. You go on sports talk shows, where you insult fans who call in because they disagree with you, knowing that every single person who expresses their outrage online about your post affects hundreds or thousands of people who didn't know about your article--and they run off to look and the clicks keep on coming. 

Snake oil. 

And the dollars he makes off this snake oil enables him to keep doing what he's doing, something he freely admits. 

Two girls get in a fight at Steeplechase, a cat fight, I think it's the best. It's awesome. The butt-chugging press conference at UT – almost all of our most popular stuff is not really technically sports. Our top-10 dumbest fan bases, millions of people read that stuff. It's entertainment and most people get it. I would equate it is running a site is a lot like on a tiny level being a movie studio. If you're going to do 'Shakespeare In Love,' what gives you the opportunity to do that is that 'Godzilla' is going to do $4 billion in revenue. It's not like 'Godzilla' is redefining what is possible with cinematic art, but it makes so much money it gives you the opportunity to do whatever you want.

But the real tell in his interview with Nate Rau can be found in this comment: 

It doesn't matter what it (content) is. If it's something I would want to read. It could be anything. We do a weekly "Bachelorette" column. I do a "Game of Thrones" review every week. It's just something I think people want to be entertained by. There's a higher quality to it hopefully. How big can it get? That's the question.

How big can it get--that's the question. Well, Travis knew the answer in advance. He was counting on it. 

Pretty damn big. 

It would be interesting to see exactly how much money Clay Travis has made just today from those click rates before he salts it away in some offshore account. Probably more than I could even imagine. But there's a benefit to today, a silver lining in the snake oil smog. Proof that some formulas for money or power still work, proof that Adolf Hitler was right when he said the maxim I quoted above. 

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.

The only way to end media manipulations like this stunt Clay Travis pulled is to hit him where it hurts. He can't be fired, since he owns his own site. He has just as much right to say what he did as I do to call it snake oil. First amendment and all that. I will steadfastly defend his right to be an asshat, because I, too, am a writer. His right. 

No, where you hit a snake oil manufacturer is his wallet. That would be his licensing with Fox Sports and his advertisers. As I said and Clay Travis gloats--he can't be fired from Outkick The Coverage because he's the boss. 

I just have to wonder, though, whether his opinions would change if he wasn't making any money off them. If, for example, people actively campaigned within the sports fandom to not patronize his site, to not patronize Fox Sports, to not purchase products from his advertisers and to publicize why that is, how long do you think Clay Travis would have the time and energy to devote to his elitist shenanigans? Because I don't think that his crusade against the stupid really needs to go much further than his own desk, his own laptop, his own behavior.  Anyone would can produce this jewel in an interview: 

It did well for a sports book. It was a regional best-seller in the south. It was a direct-to-paperback. It was a work of literary genius or anything. It sold well.

 Bolding mine. Lord help him, those Tennessee genes are starting to bring him down. As Forrest's mother used to say, "Stupid is as stupid does..."

Hope there's a cure.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Culture of Pain

Chronic pain is an issue I feel pretty passionate about. Aside from a debilitating back injury I received in a 2002 car accident, my body is now wracked with arthritis in all my major joints. I've already had one total knee replacement and am due for another. So yes--I deal with pain every single day, and I do my best with the cards I've been dealt. No matter how bad my pain gets (and some days it's very bad), I try to keep in mind that there are a whole heck of a lot of other people out there whose daily battle with pain is far, far worse than mine. So no--I'm not lying on my couch, eating bonbons and watching soap operas and whining about poor little me with enough metal in my back and knee that I have to carry a special ID listing all my titanium if I have to go through any kind of security checkpoint. I have fairly ambitious physical plans for this spring and summer that will hopefully result in me being able to walk at least 2-3 blocks, which is something I've not been able to do for a couple of years now. 

Today was my bimonthly appointment with my pain management physician. If you're not a chronic pain patient, you may not know that we have to sign a 'pain contract' with the doctor who prescribes our pain medication. The contract is usually pretty standard--can't get pain meds prescribed by another doctor, random urine testing and pill counts, can't get refills for 'lost' or legitimately lost medication, etc etc--all of which I've signed without blinking. Makes sense to me on all levels, especially with malpractice issues, the potential of accidental or intentional overdoses of narcotic medication, and the plethora of pill mills like this one in east Tennessee that was busted recently and included a former police chief on the arrest list. 

But understanding a physician's need to not only protect himself legally and to effectively monitor pain management programs for his patients doesn't make the life of a chronic pain patient any easier. For example, unless a bone is protruding from my skin, I'm not going to go to the emergency room if I hurt my back worse than it already is. Especially not the *insert name here* Medical Center in this town. Why? Because even though all my medical records are available instantly via the computer network that links all medical facilities in the area, if I go to the ER complaining of pain, I am treated like I am a drug addict looking for her next fix. Seriously. It's a humiliating exercise in futility, so why even bother? A friend of ours who is also a pain patient went to the ER with a serious illness, and they assumed he had overdosed on his pain meds and pumped his stomach! And God forbid your slow-release pain medication is something like methadone, as both our friend and myself are. Pain patients take minuscule doses of methadone--as in as little as 2.5 mg per dose up to 8 or 10, whereas addicts using methadone for withdrawal will take four to sixteen times as much. And yet, chronic pain patients are treated as if they are just like those recovering addicts, sometimes before they are even evaluated for new injury or illness. 

The reason I'm with the pain management doctor I'm with right now, despite the fact that his office is an hour away, is because at my first appointment with him three years ago he sat down with my husband and I and said--and this is a word for word direct quote--"You are not an addict and should not be treated that way. You have a serious pain issue, and as your pain medication physician I must respect that as I try to find a way to alleviate it." 

Hard not to like a doctor who talks to you like that. No condescension, none of the holier-than-thou aren't-you-exaggerating tone. Even harder to find a pain management physician who thinks that way. Although he's an immensely busy young doctor with a full practice, he still takes the time to sit down with me every single appointment and find out what's been going on since the last time I was there.  So singing his pain contract was no big deal for me--it was standard, and he knows I'm not the kind of patient to violate it. 

So back to today. 

Today, there was an addendum to the contract that absolutely blew my mind. The addendum is a warning that if a patient is loud, aggressive, threatening, or abusive to anyone on the practice's staff, they will be 'fired' as a patient. 

Wait a second. 



The situation I related above is 100% accurate--not just in Ohio, but in a lot of states--and understandably so. Even though it's a pain in the wazoo if you do something stupid like I did once and accidentally knock five days' worth of pain meds into the toilet, a pain contract spells out the requirements for a mutually respectful and positive relationship between the doctor and the patient. And as chronic pain patients, we NEED that respectful and positive relationship with our pain management doctors, nurses, and staff. 

So exactly how stupid do you have to be to jeopardize all that by yelling at the staff, bullying the physician's assistants, or cussing out the young lady who answers the phone and makes appointments? Apparently pretty darn stupid, and evidently there are a lot of those stupid people who seem to think they are entitled to their physician's time and attention. When I knocked my pills into the toilet, consigning myself to multiple days with no medication on hand, I didn't call my doctor's office and scream at his assistant, or bully his nurse, or demand that he drop what he was doing and write me a prescription to replace what I lost. It wasn't his fault that I'm a clumsy idiot. Nor was it his problem to solve. Instead of demanding replacement drugs, I called his office and asked to speak to a nurse, calmly informed her of what had happened (due to those random pill counts that contractually they are entitled to ask for), and calmly asked her for advice on how to deal with those medication-free days--what might help, what to avoid, what OTC medication would prove effective. 

Yes, a lot of chronic pain patients resent the culture that's grown up around our medical care. Yes, we have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to get the treatment we need just to get through the day--and no pain medication or regimen eliminates chronic pain, believe me. But we also have to remember why things are the way they are--the "patients" who were pill shopping, seeing multiple doctors and getting multiple prescriptions for narcotics, selling the pills for profit, going to pill mills, lying about the severity of their pain and going to the ER for a pain shot on a weekly basis, "losing" their prescriptions and asking for replacements. THOSE people are the reason I can't go to the ER when my back is so seized up that I cannot sit or stand for assistance. THOSE people are the reason why I have to sign a contract with a physician I trust and who has no reason to distrust me. 

And one thing I know for damn sure--I'm not going to be such an idiot, such an ungrateful asshat, that I'm going to abuse the people who are doing everything they can to HELP me. When I was tending bar, I occasionally had to let people know that they were not entitled to be served alcohol at my bar. Drinking was a privilege, and not a right. As patients with an ongoing medical problem, we are entitled to health care and we get that from our pain management doctors. However, we are NOT entitled to anything above and beyond what that doctor has already prescribed for us. We are NOT entitled to act like jackasses and bully that doctor and the caregivers in their practice. We are NOT entitled to anything other than what is laid out in our pain contracts, and to jeopardize that by being abusive makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

You'd think that adults would be capable of realizing that without being told. But since some cannot seem to figure that out on their own, another layer of contractual responsibility has been laid down upon the rest of us. Once again, medical care for chronic pain patients like myself is being impacted by people who don't know how to act. Our physician is one man, dealing with hundreds of patients, and the rules have to be the same for everyone. No exceptions.

I don't blame my doctor for adding that stipulation to the pain contract he requires his patients to sign. Not one bit. I'm just shocked that it was necessary to do that at all.

Thanks, ungrateful and abusive asshats. Thanks for your ridiculously idiotic behavior and choices.

...I can't wait until you're fired...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Getting The Writer's Mind Back on Track

Coming off of what I sarcastically have dubbed my "brush with death"--yes, I'm doing just fine save for the fact I got all of the pain resulting from any invasive procedure but none of the benefits considering my nerves were never ablated--I'm back in the writing studio today watching a new litter of kittens from our rescue mission and staring at a blank page. 

Writers share that experience daily. At some point, all of us sit at our computers and stare at a blank page.  It may be a new story, or a new chapter, or even just a break in the storyline rolling through our minds. And while some authors may not experience a hitch at the sight of a blank page, I'm willing to bet that most of us do. 

And why not?  We all have and friends...near death experiences due to anesthesia--why is it so strange that occasionally the sight of a blank page can throw us off-track?

(Darn page is still blank) 

With all of the distractions in everyday life and the ease of burning an hour or two on the Internet, it's a wonder that writers get anything done at all. And we do--once we get past that blank page staring us in the face. 

Over the years, I've developed a system of refocusing my writing energy that seems to work for me. I'm a pantser, not a planner; my stories play out in my head and I just type what my imagination dictates.  I always know where I'm going--the conclusion of the story. I just never know how I get there,or even how many chapters/pages/books it'll take me to do so. So when that blank page stymie happens to me, this is how I combat it. 

1--Stare at the wall. I can write anywhere, including poolside in the summer, under a tree in the fall, and in the kitchen during the holidays. I've even written while tending bar. But if I'm suffering from a momentary case of writer's block, I always go to my study and sit at my desk. My desk is in a corner of the room, facing the wall. The only things I see are what I have deliberately placed there--timelines, research, scene ideas, pictures that remind me of the plot/characters or inspire my world. There's no TV in my writing study, no books aside from research materials, and the only music available would be on my non-verbal classical music play lists--which I put together specifically to invoke a certain mood. The idea is to shut out the external distractions and immerse myself in  the world I'm creating. Nine times out of ten, this works for me. 

If you don't have a designated writing space, I recommend that you create one. You don't have to use it every single time, but if you have a no-interference spot where you can retreat, where there are no distractions and no opportunities to distract yourself, that blank page won't stay blank for long. 

2--Cleanse your writing palate. Sometimes, a major story needs a few days' rest to percolate, or that blank page is reflecting the blank spot in your story--one you can't easily surmount. If that's the case, instead of pressuring yourself to WRITE ON THAT DARN STORY NOW, take a trip somewhere else. Write something completely unrelated--a short story, a poem, a letter to an old friend, a blog post *coughcoughAHEMcoughcough*. Even a grocery or to-do list can shake things up enough in your mind to get you working again.  In the end, it doesn't matter what you write as long as you write something every day. 

I use my blog as a jump start to my writing blocks--kind of like a warm up exercise. Once the fingers are moving easily on the keyboard and the words are rolling out onto the new post page, I usually find that I'm priming myself to return to whatever writing task I'm working at the time. 

3. Research doesn't count as a distraction. That old writing maxim--"Write what you know"--? It doesn't mean that all your fiction must be based upon your personal life knowledge. What it means for spec fic writers is "Know what you're writing about." For example, I was watching an online documentary from the UK about a haunted inn, and the host of that show referred to Lady Jane Grey as Henry VIII's wife. 


Since Lady Jane Grey was ten when Henry VII died and his great-niece, and since she was literally in the nursery while he was still alive, how could ANYONE present themselves as an expert on ANYTHING if they make a factual error that egregious? 

Same thing goes for your writing. Sure, it's great to have two moons for your home world, but you'd better have a good idea of how that would affect said home world. Tides. Calendars. Seasons. Orbits. Giving your hero a six foot long broadsword sounds good and all, but if your hero isn't physically superb, he/she is going to have issues waving that sword around for hours--especially in full plate armor. And while it's fantastic that your heroine is a woman of power, you can't save her from the guillotine in 14th century Scotland--since the guillotine wasn't invented until the late eighteenth century in France by a doctor named Joseph-Ignace Guillotin.

So if the words just aren't coming, turn your mind to some other part of creating the best story you can. Research. Flesh out your world-building. Fact check what you've already written. Because believe me--at some point during this work (which is essential anyway) an idea will probably spark something in your mind, and words will go onto the page--whether those words are corrections of previously written scenes or a brand new scene doesn't matter. You're still accomplishing something positive for your WIP. 

4. Sometimes you need a break... Not everyone has the luxury I do, of having the ability to write at any time of day or night. Most of you have day jobs, kids to ferry around, hectic and agitated homes to deal with. And while your writing time might be sacred--mine was when I was working, ferrying kids, and dealing with a hectic and agitated house--sometimes you're just not able to turn your brain off and get down to putting words down on that awful blank page. 

Don't be so hard on yourself. 

The easiest way to suffer a serious case of writer's block, one that lasts for weeks or even months, is to beat yourself up over it. Sometimes, you just have to take a step back and recuperate.  So if you have to step back, what do you do? 

That's easy. EDIT.

Start on page one. Pull out your grammar book or website, and get rid of all those grammatical errors. Trust me--they're there. I would say that easily, 98 out of 100 submissions I received in the past six years was grammatically unacceptable. Some submissions were unreadable. I'd say that fully half of the submissions I received were deleted before I had read the first chapter for poor grammar/spelling. And as editors go, I was pretty lenient. (Reading abnormally fast is a big help.) Doesn't matter how great the storyline is, if your submission is riddled with grammar, syntax, usage, and spelling errors, your story will hit the recycle bin. Editors get so many submissions these days--they're overwhelmed with them. An editor may have 100+ manuscripts on their desk when they open yours. And that they're/there/their error on page one is probably enough for most editors to toss your book. You need to go through your story with a fine-toothed comb if you want an agent or an editor to bother with reading it. 

DO NOT RELY UPON SPELLCHECK OR GRAMMAR CHECK SOFTWARE. For one things, they're incapable of spotting homonym errors like they're/there/their or won/one or accept/except. Know when to use farther and further, or effect and affect. Believe me when I tell you that it doesn't matter how proficient you were in high school or college English. I've been a professional editor for a decade, and I will still find errors in my manuscripts to correct. You will too. 

Well, I think I've written away my blank-page-itis. I'm ready to start my second writing block of the day at 5 pm--so I have fifteen minutes to check on newborn kittens, get my bottled water, and pull up the research I've done on this particular chapter in my WIP. My writing blocks are four hours, twice a day--sometimes more if I'm on a roll. Today feels like a rolling day to me. And if you're not having the same luck, take a deep breath and figure out what might work best for you. Just remember--no page stays blank forever. 

You'll get there. I promise. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Something Funny Happened On The Way To...

Something odd happened to me on Wednesday, something that shook both me and my husband to the core. Something that's left me wondering about a lot of things.

Something that's hard to face. 

I was having a regular (for me) back procedure as an outpatient on Wednesday. No big deal, but  I would need to be sedated for the procedure. I remember being in the operating room, watching as the anesthesiologist slowly pushed on the big syringe of medication that would keep me sedated during a lumbar radiofrequency ablation. ( A LRA is when the nerves are destroyed around the injured section of someone's spine. For many people, destroying those nerves also kills off the pain. Since nerves regenerate, though, patients usually have to have two procedures a year for maximum pain relief. For me, this is the second round attempt of ablations, and the first didn't really help all that much. But I digress--) I woke up in the recovery room, confused and kind of panicked, only to have a nurse tell me that my doctor had cancelled the procedure because I'd stopped breathing and turned blue.

Yes,you read that right.I stopped breathing. WTF? 

On top of that, I was hurting like hell. I apparently was breathing long enough to get the painful part, but not the pain relief part. 

Best I can figure from what the nurses and my doctor told me, mere sedation doesn't keep me from reacting to pain while on the operating table. The past few procedures, dead unconscious, I would tense up and try to move away from all the sharp pointy things. So it seems that the anesthesiologist might have over-sedated me in an effort to keep me from moving. 

Bad decision. Apparently, it worked only too well. I certainly wasn't moving. 

Or breathing. 

Now, obviously, the last two days have been extremely unpleasant. Pain aside (because that, at least, I know how to handle) I've had to ask myself what in the world happened. I don't like anesthesia in the first place. I don't like sinking into blackness and waking up somewhere different with no memory of having gotten there. So now when I have a procedure--and this one we're going to try to repeat on next Wednesday--what am I going to be thinking about? Not writing, not football, not kittens, not my family---no, I'll be thinking about not BREATHING. And not having any control over how to rectify that situation. 

So I spent today doing all the stupid little things that people do when they've had a close call, or what they perceive as a close call. I looked over my will, my insurance policy, my living will--all that stuff. And,for the most part, I've not suffered any adverse physical effects aside from, strangely, a numb tongue and a sore throat. I don't even want to know why THAT would be; my imagination is supplying enough possibilities that I am trying to forget.  

I also realized that despite the seeming normalcy surrounding modern medical care, every time you go under the knife, you're seriously risking death. For real. Death. People die during wisdom teeth removals, and colonoscopies, and breast augmentation. And, apparently, lumbar radiofrequency ablations as well. 

My doctor and I discussed how we'd proceed on the second attempt on Wednesday. Apparently, I get to experience this next surgery while awake and under a local. To be honest, I'm not sure if that's any better. I've had discograms before, which are performed without any anesthetic at all, and they suck. My doctor was always so shocked that I could go through them without moving or yelling or cussing. Of course, he had no idea that I spent the whole procedure reciting the Aeneid to myself in Latin to keep my mind focused on something other than the sharp pointy things, but I guess Vergil is preferable to turning blue while having no control over what is happening to my unconscious body. 

And, to be frank, I'm kind of leery about going under any type of anesthesia right now. Yes, I've always hated waking up somewhere other than where I went to sleep.

But I think I hate turning blue even more. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Avengers Age of Ultron aka Celina Gets Her Geek On

Guilty as charged. I am a MOVIE geek, and particularly a Marvel Universe geek since the first Iron Man movie came out. I only watched it because I'm a fan of Robert Downey Junior and have been since he played an incredible, method-laced, Oscar-nominated Chaplin at an incredibly young age. Iron Man was his coming out party in his only-still-too-good-looking middle age (which I can say because he's older than me) and I loved every minute of the movie when Gwyneth Paltrow wasn't onscreen.

So the past few months, I've been in Avengers mode. I was stoked that James Spader would voice/act Ultron, and the Scarlet Witch was a character I loved when I was a wee little comic book geek girl back in the day. Every single teaser trailer that Marvel has released has done exactly that--teased. But today I discovered that some smart ultra geek on YouTube had dissected the trailers and put them back together--in chronological order. 

The result is a five-minute-long glimpse into what's in store for us on May 1, because I will be right there, standing in line with the much younger geek-contingent for the midnight showing of the movie. 

The great thing about this compilation is that we get a couple of actual scenes from the movie--but not one that gives the whole darn plot away. The 'are you worthy' drinking game involving Avengers and Thor's hammer has a couple of very telling moments--if you know what to look for. The Hulk vs. Hulkbuster Iron Man fight becomes extended--and way cool. And the Avengers' reaction to Tony Stark's experiments in AI crystallizes once Ultron crashes the party. 

Plus it looks like the Black Widow gets a more prominent role, continuing what began in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think it's a great wrong on the part of the MCU that she doesn't have her own feature film, but maybe an apparent relationship with Bruce Banner/the Hulk plus what appears to be some of her backstory (courtesy of the Scarlet Witch) will give her character the screen time she deserves. Especially since Scarlett Johannson, who is one of the best young actresses around, has the acting chops to take that character wherever she wants to go. 

There's a reason that 2015 is going to be a banner year. Potentially two, if Disney doesn't screw up Star Wars 7. And since Star Wars was my very first movie in the theater, I can honestly claim or blame it for everything I am now--geek girl, spec fic writer, and even my interest in the paranormal/supernatural. All of those "odd" interests that my parents deplored back in the day stemmed from two things--Star Wars and comics. 

How awesome that I am still geeking some *mumblemumble* years later. 

At any rate, I'm going to do something I NEVER do. Here's a link to johnnyB2k's Age of Ultron chronological mashup. Go check it out and tell me what you think. 

Oh...and around 4:30-ish there's a very brief glimpse of something unexpected--a quick blurp of video that clawed its way into my consciousness. I wonder....

Isn't that what's great about anything in speculative fiction, be it book, story, comic, or film? It makes you wonder...

I don't know about you, but I like wondering.

My Latest Guilty Pleasure

Nota bene: If you're not fond of college sports, this post might not be your cup of tea. However, if you're into smartassery, this is the post for you--

So every afternoon at three, my television automatically tunes into the Paul Finebaum show on the SEC Network. For people who didn't grown up in the America Southeast, fair warning: basketball is second only to football, and our college teams are MUCH more important than the professional ones. Living in Ohio was familiar to me from the beginning, because Ohio might as well be an SEC school judging from its *cough* occasional successes and rabid fan base.  But even Buckeye fanatics have no clue what a Saturday down south is like every fall. 

Football is king. Period. Until March, when basketball takes over for about four weeks. Then it's back to football. 

At  any rate, last year when I was recovering from wait, knee surgery, the SEC Network was about to debut, and ESPN put Paul Finebaum's show on one of their channels for a couple of weeks before the launch. Due to the paucity of entertainment to be found at 3 in the afternoon in Ohio, I started watching the show. 

And I got hooked. 

I knew who Finebaum was, of course. Any child of the South knows about Paul Finebaum--UT grad who worked as a journalist in Alabama, including a call-in radio show that became a staple for any SEC fan once it hit Sirius. The asshat who poisoned the giant, lovely old oak trees at Toomer's Corner at Auburn University called Finebaum to confess his crime. (Talk about hanging yourself! Confessing to that sort of crime on a nationally syndicated radio show? Dumbest move ever!) But having Finebaum on TV? In Ohio? Surely the football gods were on my side! Took me a few months to call in,  but once I'd called once that was all she wrote. Now I call in frequently. Not daily. Hell, some people call in more than once per day and STILL have nothing to say that's worthwhile. And that's what got me hooked. 

Ever hear the word "deadpan"? If Paul Finebaum's face isn't by the definition in the dictionary, it should be. He has mastered deadpan to such a degree that I'm not even sure the man blinks. But none of that matters next to his encyclopedic memory of collegiate sports, and especially the Southeastern Conference. After two decades trapped in the Big Ten swamp in which I currently live, the prospect of daily SEC talk was alluring. 

I never reckoned on the callers though. Or the Twitter wars. I've been blocked repeatedly by some good ol' boy in Alabama for pointing out the illogical nature of calling in to a radio/TV show and saying it's 'unwatchable'. I mean...if it's unwatchable, then stop watching. Stop listening. Stop calling. Stop monitoring Twitter. Just go watch the People's Court or some less challenging programming instead of tuning in every day to a show that bothers you so much. 

 Well, maybe that old coot doesn't like the show, but I sure do. I'm learning a lot--about other programs, other players, other traditions besides the familiar and beloved ones at UT. I enjoy hearing the debates between callers, the sweet, soft voices of Southern ladies that call up just to talk to Paul, the interviews with other journalists as well as coaches and players. And you gotta love a man who, after a couple of weeks commenting on how Ohio State was going to be trashed by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, turned around the day after and took a plethora of calls from Buckeye fans, eating his crow pie with a dash of Old Bay sprinkled on top and never losing his cool. 

That makes it especially fun when he DOES lose his cool. Words of advice: don't try to challenge Paul Finebaum on anything having to do with Alabama's legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant unless you are dealing with facts. Because if you do, he will verbally eviscerate you in a manner that impresses the heck out of me. 

Since verbal evisceration is one of my favorite hobbies. 

Today that same good ol' boy that thinks the show is unwatchable called not once, but twice. Both times, he was lamenting (read: yelling) that Paul Finebaum has changed. He's lost his purpose. He's apushover. He's a mouthpiece regurgitating the ESPN line. *sigh* Finebaum tried to explain the difference between TALK SHOW HOST and COLUMNIST, but that went right over the caller's head. After all, yelling is more fun, especially when you're watching a show that is allegedly unwatchable, right? 

But here's the thing. `The platform that Finebaum provides on his show is designed to embrace callers of all sorts: men and women, young and old, Tennessee and that other school whose name I will not mention. Sports fan and sports fanatic. There's a slew of regular callers that have been associated with Finebaum since his show was a local show in Brimingham. And yet, he is courteous to first time callers. He also doesn't suffer from the delusion that many sportscasters have of thinking that women just don't understand sports and certainly can't comment intelligently upon them.  Sure, he has a stable of cheerleader callers, but in the Finebaum forum they're always entertaining on some level. And when Finebaum turns serious, it's impossible not to respect the man for what he's done and for what he's trying to do. 

So in the end, the choice to have the Paul Finebaum Show on every afternoon for four hours wasn't a difficult one for me. I enjoy listening to whatever might turn up, and no one--not even Paul or his producers--is ever quite sure what that might be. Yes, I've gone back to writing full time, and I'm getting in my eight hours a day every single day. But I have that four hour block every day that take me home again--without the heat and humidity. Paul Finebaum can make me nostalgic for the South, and optimistic for the future. That's no mean feat. Straddling that line between entertainment and education is difficult for any journalist, and the fact that Finebaum can do so with the grace and class he exudes on camera speaks volumes for not only him, but his staff as well. 

So between 3 and 7 pm, Monday through Friday, don't call me, don't come by my house, and don't expect me to Skype unless you want to talk UT offensive lines and the respective values of the spread offense or 3-4 defense. I'll be back home, listening to the voice of the South, and getting mentally ready for football season. 

Thanks, Paul, for bringing me home.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Welcome Back! And Goodbye...

That welcome is not just for you. It's also, in many ways, for me. After over ten years, I am finally back on the writer's side of the publishing desk. ONLY the writer's side. 

And it feels good. 

Oddly, although the closing of Musa Publishing was heartbreaking for me on a personal level, I still feel a level of success. Heck, we NEVER missed paying our authors and staff. We NEVER had to make up bogus cover stories for why royalties would be late. And we NEVER shut our authors out of the process. Thanks to the Delphi system created by Musa (specifically Kelly and Micheal), our authors knew their sales numbers within minutes of our knowing them. We published good  books by great writers at all stages of their careers, from novice first-timers to NYT bestsellers and major award-winners. Unfortunately for Musa--and for all of e-publishing--the atmosphere in digital publishing has changed. The market is glutted with self-published books, cluttering up search engines and third party sites and making it impossible for a casual reader to just find a book. Browsing through titles on a virtual bookshelf is a thing of the past because there are just too many titles. Authors have to market themselves now, instead of their books, and not all authors are good at that. We had a great plan at the wrong time, which sucked for Musa. But I am proud of what our authors accomplished, I am proud of our outstanding staff. And regardless (note this: irregardless is STILL not a word) of our decision to close Musa's doors, I am proud of the amazing experience I shared with the other directors. 

And I will personally stand behind every single book we published. 

Honestly? Felt good to get that out. It's been a monster on my shoulders for the past few weeks, but the grieving process is over and now it's time to move on with my life. And my writing career, which after four-plus years on hold is in need of some recharging.

I have to admit--my study looks strange now with all my publishing/editing materials packed away and nothing but my laptop and printer on the desk.  The publication schedules are gone from my wall, replaced by storyboards and outlines.  The desk isn't facing the window anymore, since for some reason looking at trees always helped me to think my way through an editing passage that just wasn't reading right. Now it's facing the wall, because when I'm writing I don't like distractions and trees are, in the spring, able to pull my attention away from just about anything. The comfortable editing chair is gone with its upholstery and cushions, and the straight-backed antique parson's chair is back, with its hard wood and lacquered lattice work reminding me sternly to get my mind back in the game. 

It all feels weird. But it also feels good. All these stories that have been beating me in the face for the past few years will have their opportunity to breathe. And maybe I will too. 

So, Elf Killing lives again, and I'm sure some of those pointy-eared little twerps will be biting the big one before too much longer. In the meantime, you can expect what you have always expected from this blog: writing and publishing thoughts, sports, politics, the strange and unusual, rants (you know there'll be plenty of those!), cats from our ongoing commitment to rescue and foster abandoned cats and litters, and whatever else might strike my fancy. 

In the meantime, it's just good to be talking to you guys again. Let's do it again. Like...tomorrow.