Sunday, January 17, 2021

Wish for a crust of bread, be handed a banquet

I'm writing a thing, and it took a turn I didn't expect. (Several, actually.) First, it wanted to be a short story. Then, it kept going, and picked up two additional viewpoint characters. I thought I finally had a sequel on my hands, but it turned out I had written the first three chapters of a novel, and at least one needs rewriting to a different point of view. 

F*ck It, Drive On, as they say. I kept writing. Well, the problem with a military POV is that the guy in question is going to go off and do military things, independently of the rest of the cast (though they will matter to the plot later.) And those military things will include assaulting a terrorist compound. 

I'm not military. I will never claim to have been such. What's a girl to do in a situation like this?

If you belong to the North Texas Writers, Pilots, and Shooters Association, you spend a while grumbling on a mapping program, then print out a topo chart on a piece of the earth whose terrain matches kinds sorta what was in your head, and take it to dinner.

And then the guys decry your choice of both compound site and nearby town location, and move them, and then proceed to wargame the heck out of it. 

I am very grateful I have Calmer Half to provide love, support, direction, and I'm sure that was a snicker when I stomped to the tea kettle grumbling "The Appalachians are all folded the wrong way!"

I am also grateful for LawDog, "Your insertion site needs to be back here, and then hike at military crest... you are aware that's not ridgeline... to observation points here, here, and here..."

And Old NFO "You are not moving the LZ. Wheat fields were made for landing!" 

And Aepilot Jim "You're gonna have the mortar guy carry his equipment four klicks? What kind of second lieutenant plan is this?"

And Jon Laforce for the "Yeah, no, pack weight is now that much for regular soldiers." And 155m howitzers' guy viewpoint.

And John Van Stry for encouragement and chocolate cake, and Monalisa Foster for sympathy at the "where did that come from?" characters and POV recommendations...

And last but not least, Alma Boykin for geology help, and commiserating via text afterward on being assigned homework prior to next week's meeting. And laughing at me. 

Truly, I am blessed in subject matter experts, who also make great food. Now I just have to write the thing, to standards high enough to pass beta reading...

Old NFO's take here:

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Bad timing

 Some days, I have all my ducks in a row. Some days, I don't even know where my ducks are, and they might have been shot and are already being plucked by a happy hunter by the time I notice they're missing. 

Like yesterday. I headed out to the kitchen at 4pm to start cooking, only to find the leg of lamb I'd pulled out of the deep freezer to finally cook had not thawed, and I'd underestimated just how many pounds it was.

"Hey, hon?" I looked at Calmer Half through a haze of exhaustion due to piling doctor's appointment on top of being ambitious at the gym that morning. "Can you check my math?"

"Yes?" He looked up from his computer, with a patient "I was in the middle of something but you need help" look. 

"Thirty minutes per pound, for six pounds, is three hours, right?"


"And if we add half an hour of resting afterward, and thirty minutes for prep, that's four. And the directions say the roast should be at room temperature when it goes in the oven, but it's still semi-frozen despite being pulled out at noon, so that's at least two more..."

"You're up to six hours." He was still smiling, with the 'and this is why we have backup plans' sort of laughter in his eye.

"So it'd be ten o'clock before dinner's ready... how do you feel about going out to Mexican?"

He didn't miss a beat. "I'll drive. Let me know when you're ready to go."

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Background information

One of the difficult - but often entertaining - things about eating and conversing in public places is that I find it hard to mentally filter out the conversations that are taking place near me. (This is also why I don't like a tv on in the background.) 

This means I get to hear a lot of conversations whether I want to or not. And while it's certainly helped flesh out minor characters in stories, it also provides a very interesting glimpse into the tenor of places and times. Life has a rhythm to it, and there's a certain set of pitches and tones that come with places, an expected range of conversational topics that define normal. 

This weekend, Calmer Half and I went on a road trip. About noon, we found ourselves in a county seat, on the courthouse square. Not an especially big county or population for Texas, but not by any means one of the smallest, either. As I was desperately under-coffeed, we stopped in a nice coffee bar that we'd been in before. Lovely place, even if it'd be hard to get more hipster outside of Austin or Portland. 

The kind of place where conversations often are about designer this and coding that, about somebody's book club or what the article in the New York Times said. Or how terrible it is to be in such a small town compared to the action elsewhere, but cant be helped. Solar this, wind that, the unfortunate reality of oil revenues, always absinthe never whiskey...

There was something wrong to the atmosphere, and it wasn't the baristas being in monogrammed masks. No, that wasn't unexpected, nor were the overly-artisan sweets (that were delicious. They do great food and coffee.) It was the subtle change in body language among the people sitting at the tables. It was in the lowered pitch in the conversational hum, the startling absence of the hipster nasal whine in the background noise. 

It was the backpack slung on the seat near me when I sat down was pure military. In fact, the young man sitting next to his backpack was well muscled, ramrod straight spine, haircut clipped so closely I could see the scalp underneath below the ridiculous bowler hat that must have fit back before he gained 75 pounds of muscle. 

Across the table sat two weedy late teenagers... they might have been very early twenties. And conversation was clearly that one of the gang had Gotten Out Of This Place via the military, and was catching up with his hometown buddies. The kind of kids you expect to see working gas stations and pizza delivery and trying to figure out what they want to do with their life. Indeed, one was contemplating joining the military like his buddy. 

I sat, trying to be lost in my coffee, but pulled away from my conversation with Calmer Half by phrases that kept catching my attention.
"Man, the price of .223 is insane! I used to be able to find it for..."
"We're stockpiling supplies in case..."
"Yeah, she broke up with him, and you know how much it costs to get rid of the tattoo?"
"...against the principles of the constitution!"

If the hair on the back of my neck weren't already on end from the things leaking past the heavily censored and carefully curated national pravda, it would be now. Never, in my adult life, has the hipster nasal whine disappeared from a full coffee shop. And never has a low angry hum replaced it...

The last time I heard a crowd hit this low tone, they were on the verge of going from a mob to a riot, and I don't mean anything near as cuddly as the mostly peaceful protestors in DC. And this wasn't a crowd with any point or purpose beyond coffee on a weekend morning.

Stay safe out there, and I don't mean wearing any damn masks. I mean carry, and keep your head on a swivel.