January 31, 2010

The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité

Here's The Chaos, a poem that is a catalogue of about 800 of the most notorious irregularities of traditional English orthography. Background on the poem and author here.

Here's the first 4 lines.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
  I will teach you in my verse
  Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

At 274-lines, it's long, but worth skimming. If you find this sort of thing amusing. Which I do.

January 30, 2010

January 28, 2010

Richard Thompson on recording

From Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo:

Thompson: I've never recorded anything piece by piece. I've always recorded as much as possible live. To try to get something at once. And to record as fast as possible. We usually only take a couple of takes on any particular track. Two takes, three takes.

Zollo: Your tracks always have the energy of a live performance. Are you singing and playing guitar live as well?

Thompson: Yes. Sometimes we'l fix the vocals later. But I'm actually out there doing it.

Zollo: You do the guitar solos live?

Thompson: Yes.

Zollo: You said recording fast is part of the approach?

Thompson: The approach is to have fun. In the recording process. And not make it a job or a chore. Or a perfect thing. We'll leave perfection to God. So we try to keep that spark and really have a good time doing it. I think there are people who can spend a long time making records and do it bit by bit and make it sound exciting and spontaneous. And that's a kind of gift. And I really don't have that.

Wodehouse: A Life ***

*** Wodehouse: A Life, Robert McCrum, 2004

I've had this for a long time, staring at me accusingly from the shelf. The thing is, I love Wodehouse. He's in my top ten, maybe even the top three. At least the top five. It's not like it's a official list or anything. I mean, I've never worked it out on paper, but the point is, I love Wodehouse. [Note: Despite how it's spelled, his name is pronounced Woodhouse.)

The reason it's been on the shelf for so long is that it has at least a rat-killing book on the BLCS scale. But I recently realized that books higher on the BLCS are perfect for reading on the elliptical, since they tend to stay open easier than a small paperback. So last year I pulled it down and gave it a go. It took me 3 or 4 months to get through it, in 40-minute sessions.

Thankfully, it passed the Elliptical Test with flying colors. In fact, I actually looked forward to working out because I wanted to read this book. [Perhaps I should create an Ellipitcal Book Classification System (EBCS) as well, indicating to what degree it distracts one from the unpleasantness of one's activity. If I did that, this book would be at the top, making me want to work out.]

Besides learning about the life of Wodehouse, which was the point of the book, it being a biography and all, there was the inspirational aspect of it. I'm in the middle of the first draft of a new novel (I tweet random choice lines as I write them.) and the more I read about Wodehouse and his writing, the more it made me want to go and write. Immediately.

Here's a sample P. G. quote about writing from the book:

The only way a writer can keep himself up to the mark is by examining each story quite coldly before he starts writing it and asking himself if it is all right as a story. I mean once you start saying to yourself, "This is a pretty weak plot as it stands, but I'm such a hell of a writer that my magic touch will make it all right," I believe you're done.

The funny thing is, that part in quotation marks kind of describes the Fred Books. The plot is not that structured but the writing makes up for it. One of the reasons I spent the last three years learning to write screenplays is to help me with plotting. And it has. The current work in progress is plotted to the nines. It might even be plot heavy, or plotty, as they say. I'm sure somebody says that.

So, back to Wodehouse, if you haven't read him, you should. You can find some of his stuff on Gutenburg.org (get Right Ho, Jeeves) and, of course, at the book store or the library. Check him out. And if you're a writer or a Wodehouse fan, this book is a great read, too.

January 26, 2010

Book Lethality Classification System

The BLCS classifies a book by the size of organism it can kill when thrown.

  • Bug-killing book
  • Mouse-killing book
  • Rat-killing book
  • Cat-killing book
  • Dog-killing book
  • Hog-killing book
  • Library

January 23, 2010

Olivia Newton's John covers Mark Heard

Holy cow. I was looking for the lyrics to Mark Heard's Big and Strong and came across this cover. Seeing Olivia smile as she sings it leads me to believe she doesn't quite get it. Lyrics below. Tell me what you think.

Big and Strong, words and music by Mark Heard

Strong man strangles universe--he drowns the stars
Blinded by the mission of a thousand wars
He's fit and dominant--no wonder why
He loves the battle cry

Strong man is survivor--he lives to pound
Little wooden crosses in the bloody ground
He's fit and dominant--his will is truth
His hand is absolute

And the world keeps on turning
And the sun keeps on burning
And the children keep learning
How to grow up big and strong
How to grow up big and strong

Strong man takes no prisoner--favors no plea
He leaves no gold in teeth of enemy
He's fit and dominant--rises above
He has no word that means love

And the world keeps on turning
And the sun keeps on burning
And the children keep learning
How to grow up big and strong
How to grow up big and strong

January 21, 2010

Morality for Beautiful Girls **

** Morality for Beautiful Girls, Alexander McCall Smith, 2002

I had a four-hour solo road trip ahead of me, and then the four hours back. I zipped to the library on the way out and picked through the meagre selecton of audio books. Some years back I read The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and found it amusing, but the head hopping annoyed me.

This book still had occasional head hopping, but the thing that made me reach for the fast-forward button was the tedious stating of the obvious in interior monologue. It was all a part of character development and sense of place, but I was not a willing participant.

I doubt I'll give the series another go.

January 14, 2010

Adventureland **

** Adventureland, Greg Mattola, August 5, 2007

Can't remember why I put this in the NetFlix queue, but there it was. When it came in I found a copy of the screenplay and read along. It took a lot of pausing as the draft I read was very different from the movie, which was much improved over the 122 page script. Nice elements, however, not so much my kind of movie.

January 13, 2010


Want to get in on the action? $30 gets you a page in the book. Proceeds go to Room to Read. I got my page. Hurry, there are only 100 pages, total and over half of them are sold.

January 11, 2010

Quotes From Stuff I Like - Franklin

This is a letter that I found interesting, from Benjamin Franklin to his parents, responding to his mother's concern that he might be straying from the One True Faith.

[Note: I added some paragraph breaks to make it more readable. Franklin was fond of paragraphs that ran a page or more.]

April 13, 1738
Honour'd Father and Mother

I have your Favor of the 21st of March in which you both seem concern'd lest I have imbib'd some erroneous Opinions. Doubtless I have my Share, and when the natural Weakness and Imperfection of Human Understanding is considered, with the unavoidable Influences of Education, Custom, Books and Company, upon our Ways of thinking, I imagine a Man must have a good deal of Vanity who believes, and a good deal of Boldness who affirms, that all the Doctrines he holds, are true; and all he rejects, are false. And perhaps the same may be justly said of every Sect, Church and Society of men which they assume to themselves the Infallibility which they deny to the Popes and Councils.

I think Opinions should be judg'd of by by their Influences and Effects; and if a Man holds none that tend to make him less Virtuous or Vicious, it may be concluded he holds none that are dangerous; which I hope is the Case with me.

I am sorry you should have any Uneasiness on my Account, and if it were a thing possible for one to alter his Opinions in order to please others, I know none whom I ought more willingly to oblige in that respect than yourselves: But since it is no more in a Man's Power to think than to look like another, methinks all that should be expected from me is to keep my Mind open to Conviction, to hear patiently and examine attentively whatever is offered to me for that end; and if after all I continue in the same Errors, I believe your usual Charity will induce you rather to pity and excuse than blame me. In the mean time your Care and Concern for me is what I am very thankful for.

As to the Freemasons, unless she will believe me when I assure her that they are in general a very harmless sort of People; and have no principles or Practices that are inconsistent with Religion or good Manners, I know no Way of giving my Mother a better Opinion of them than she seems to have at present (since it is not allow'd that Women should be admitted into that secret Society), She has, I must confess, on that Account, some reason to be displeas'd with it; but for any thing else, I must entreat her to suspend her Judgment till she is better inform'd, and in the mean time exercise her Charity.

My Mother grieves that one of her Sons is an Arian, another an Arminian. What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know; the Truth is, I make such Distinctions very little my Study; I think vital Religion has always suffer'd, when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue. And the Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin'd what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, but that we did GOOD to our Fellow Creatures. See Matth. 2[5].

[Stuff about the weather and family follows.]

I am Your dutiful Son


January 7, 2010

Pay Grades for Philosophers

The Wall Street Journal released its list of Best and Worst Jobs for 2010, ranked from actuary at #1 (best) to roustabout at #200 (worst).

Philosopher was ranged #11 with a starting salary of $33K, midlevel salary of $60K and top-level salary of $105K. Really? Who is it that pays a philosopher to sit around and think? And what would the measurable acheivements look like on his resume?

  • Improved global understanding of the nature of being by 27% in one quarter.
  • Developed a proposition that dentified 12% more pathetic fallacies than extant approaches.

By the way, technical writer ranked at #13, between meteorologis and bank officer. And if you're good at what you do and are willing to go freelance, their top-level number doesn't have to be your top-level number.

Pulp Fiction ***

*** Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary

I agree with Anton. The emperor has no clothes. Don't get me wrong. I enojyed Pulp Fiction, for the most part. But if I brought this script to any critique group I've ever seen or to any script consultants I've talked to, they would tear it to shreds. Too much talking, huge chunks of dialog. Confusing timeline. Strange structure.

But a great story told pretty well. The moral of this story is, if you want to do something unconventional, you better have the resources to film it yourself. And hope you're truly genius and not just a crackpot.

January 4, 2010

Pierce Pettis

From the Songs you won't hear on the radio files:

Like with most artists, I came to Pierce through albums, and what great albums they were. Produced by Mark Heard until his death, they showcased Pierce's incredible talent as a songwriter and a guitar player. In particular, Making Light of It blew me away. Here's the song that provides the album title.

I had a chance to see him live in Augusta, GA in 1997, but it conflicted with a my own gig, and I decided to do my own gig rather than cancel and see his. It was probably a mistake.

Five years later, The Woman and I got to see him at the Grey Eagle in Ashville, NC on our 25th anniversary. It was awesome, but I found his stage presence distracting, the left leg rocking on the quarter notes, his right on the eight notes. And when he played harmonica, his body seemed to undulate. On top of the legs pumping, it made for a spectacle. Here's another nice tune from State of Grace.

We got to see Pierce last year at a house concert near Manor. It was incredible -- a few dozen folks crowded around the fireplace, me sitting less than ten feet from him. I wasn't as distracted this time and he played some wonderful stuff. My only regret was that I already had all the albums, so there was nothing there for me to buy. We also got to hear his son, and his daughter, Grace, who is currently attending St. Edwards here in Austin.

The nice thing about putting these things together is finding stuff I haven't seen before. I haven't heard this story behind one of my favorite songs on Making Light of It.

I finally made it to hear Grace a month before her first CD came out, then again at the songwriter showcase at the Bugle Boy in LaGrange. She's an amazing songwriter with a great voice. Go figure. You can check out a few of the tracks from her new CD on her MySpace page.

January 2, 2010

Wodehouse on Screenwriting

Here's some consolation for The Wunderfool from a wildly successful novelist who lived for some time in Hollywood in the 1930s, getting paid $1,500 a week to tinker around with screenplays. He asked novelist Claude Houghton:

Have you ever done any picture work? It is quite interesting, but I hate having to condense my dialogue as one has to do. I can't seem to get used to writing a couple of lines for a scene between two characers, where in a novel you would be able to extend yourself to a page or so.

Having spent the last three years trying to make the transition from novels to screenplays, I can confess that it is painful.

January 1, 2010

NetFlix Queue 2009Q4

NetFlix 5-star rating

  1. Humble Pie **
  2. New In Town **
  3. Cinema Paradiso **
  4. State of Play ***
  5. The Tale of Despereaux **
  6. Joyeux Noel ****
  7. Home Alone ***
  8. Flash of Genius ***
  9. Frost/Nixon ****
  10. Three Men in a Boat **
  11. Waking Ned Devine ****
  12. Away We Go **
  13. Swingers ****
  14. Grosse Pointe Blank ****
  15. Inspector Alleyn: Set 1 ***
  16. Yes, Prime Minister ****
  17. Yes, Minister ****
  18. WALL-E ***
  19. Pan's Labyrinth ***
  20. Dexter: Season 1 ***
  21. Living in Oblivion ***
  22. Brick ****
  23. In the Electric Mist **
  24. Buddy (Norwegian) ****

2009 Reading List

  1. ** Benjamin Franklink: The autobiography and other writings, Benjamin Franklin, 1961
  2. ** While You Were Sleeping, Daniel G. Sullivan and Fredric LeBow, 1994
  3. *** Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), Jerome K. Jerome, 1889
  4. ** Weekend at Bernies, Robert Klane, 1988
  5. *** Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary
  6. *** Chinatown, Robert Towne, 1973
  7. *** Grosse Point Blank, Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. deVincentis , S.K. Boatman , John Cusack, 1994
  8. *** The Bookman's Promise, John Dunning, 2004
  9. *** Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, Blake Snyder, 2005
  10. *** The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd, 2002
  11. *** The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman, 2005
  12. *** Candide, Voltaire, 1759
  13. *** Marriage Lines, Ogden Nash, 1948
  14. *** The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan, 2009
  15. *** The Hero's Two Journeys, Michael Hauge & Christopher Vogler, 2009
  16. **** Story, Robert McKee, 1996
  17. *** Marriage Lines, Ogden Nash, 1948
  18. *** Blinding Light, Paul Theroux, 2005
  19. ** Writing the Modern Mystery, Barbara Norville, 1992
  20. ** Weird Texas, Wesley Treat, Heather Shades, Rob Riggs, and Mark Moran, 2005
  21. ** The Better Angels, Charles McCarry, 1979
  22. ** The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton, 1925
  23. *** Havah, Tosca Lee, 2008
  24. *** The Night Watchman, Mark Mynheir, 2009
  25. *** Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade--and How We Can Fight It, David Batstone, 2007
  26. ** Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyon, 1678
  27. ** The Last Templar, Raymond Khoury, 2005
  28. *** Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut, 1968
  29. ** The Miernik Dossier, Charles McCarry, 1973
  30. *** The Closers, Michael Connelly, 2005
  31. *** A Thousand Splendid Suns, Kaled Hosseini, 2007
  32. *** The Passion of Mary-Margaret, Lisa Samson, 2009
  33. *** Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens, 1865
  34. *** Mildred Pierced, Stuart Kaminsky, 2003
  35. *** Empire Falls, Richard Russo, 2001
  36. *** A Few Minutes After Midnight, Stuart Kaminsky, 2001
  37. *** The Mysterious West, edited by Tony Hillerman, 1995
  38. **** The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski, 2008
  39. *** Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki, 1998
  40. *** The Bookwoman's Last Fling, John Dunning, 2006
  41. *** Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl, 2008