The Last Drop

The following piece started life as an exericise in mood, atmosphere, and tone.

I’m waiting for some first readers to get back to me on it. One first reader offered, “I got a sickening chill when I got to the end.”

Hurray! I won!

Let me know what you think.


The Last Drop


People use to come from miles around to watch my father pour gas. He could pour gas through the eye of a needle into a siphon-tank without spilling a drop. They’d come, their near empty gas cans on the back of their buckboards, the cans braced all around so they wouldn’t fall over, spill, slosh around.

There were special gas pouring days back then and dad was the only one in our country who had a license to pour.

It was a wondrous thing to watch. He’d put one can on the ground in front of him, walk around it a few times, maybe put his hands on his hips or cross them over his chest and lift one hand to stroke the stubble on his chin, considering. Real difficult pours, he’d get down on his knees and hands, put his head down at ground level, looking around the can, checking for balance; would the can teeter as it filled? Would it slide as it neared full?

Then he’d start with a single, small, drop. A “test drop,” he’d call it. Everybody held their breath. He’d check the neck of the can after the test drop, make sure there was no spillage.

Warm days were the worst. Everybody’d have to stand back lest the fumes got inhaled. Couldn’t have that. Other pourers weren’t as careful as my dad. The fumes would escape and everybody’d have to go see the magistrate, explain what happened. Why weren’t proper precautions taken? My father never had to face that, never had to worry about asking the community to make a decision; make them decide what value would this person bring us? Is their contribution moving forward worth the gasoline fumes now resting in their lungs, in their blood? We can extract the fumes, reconstitute the gasoline, but the person would die.


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Ruminations Part 5 – Joseph Carrabis (was/could be/might have been) (Personal Pronouns in Fun and Earnest)

My first rumination can be found at Ruminations Part I – “Your eyes are completely healed”
My second at Ruminations Part 2 – Numbers lead to informed decisions
Rumination Part 3-1 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 1
Rumination Part 3-2 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 2
Rumination Part 3-3 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 3 – I Take a “Writing the Other” class
Rumination Part 3-4 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 4 – Is your character POC or POM?
Ruminations Part 4 is Ruminations Part 4 – I can’t talk to women anymore


A friend is writing a story with a host of LGBTQPOC (what am i missing? these things are so fluid i must be missing someone. i learned today about hobosexuals. those are people who enter relationships just to have a place to stay) characters. Several of these ruminations stem from my wanting to understand her work.

But I can’t tell one character from the other. Sometimes the name gives it away, sometimes not. One of the major problems for me is that the reader is told a character’s LGBTQPOCism, not shown, and I don’t mean shown via a love or sex scene. Identity markers can be revealed through dialogue, setting, by other characters’ responses and reactions, et cetera (as noted in Ruminations Part 4 – I can’t talk to women anymore).

But such character and story issues deal with craft. I’m not invested enough as a reader to care about the characters’ LGBTQPOCness. It hasn’t been demonstrated as a relevant story element so why is it in the story? Nothing I’ve read of my friend’s work so far directly requires LGBTQPOCishness, and as I wrote in Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 1, if something can be edited out of a story without affecting the story, get rid of it!

You need better readers
No, you need to write better.

A reader’s inability to care about some story element is a weakness in the writing. People who’d never pick up my The Augmented Man give it high marks and start their reviews with “Military thrillers are not my go-to genre, but…,” hence such weaknesses are in the writing, not the reader. An interesting story told well will capture a reader regardless of that reader’s genre tastes.

I’m X. I’m a gay male.
A fellow I knew introduced himself with “I’m (name). I’m a gay male.”

Stating he was gay was the second piece of information he offered about himself. To him (it seems), his sexual identity was a public identifier.

Somehow I can’t imagine myself saying something like “Go down the hall and look for X, he’s the gay guy.” I can imagine myself saying something like “Look for a guy, mid-thirties, blond beard, glasses, really close cropped hair.” More likely I’d say something ilke “Go down the hall and keep saying ‘Is X here?’ until you find him.” I’d choose the latter method because it’s more efficient.

I’ve heard others making similar statements about themselves; elevating some aspect of themselves to the single most important piece of their identity.

Such behavior fascinates me.

Imagine someone announcing to someone they’ve just met some aspect of themselves as being paramount, the core of their existence, to the exclusion of all other aspects of their being. It’s like some bizarre Twelve-Step meeting; “Hi, I’m Joseph. I love Bach.” “Hi, I’m Joseph. I love mathematics.” “Hi, I’m Joseph. I’m boring and dull.”

Which is why I never succeeded at Twelve-Step meetings except to research them; they make one single aspect of one’s self the thing you most want to be identified by or as. I appreciate the need to do it in specific situations (working Twelve-Step being one, with “working” being operative).
Continue reading “Ruminations Part 5 – Joseph Carrabis (was/could be/might have been) (Personal Pronouns in Fun and Earnest)”

The 3x Rule

Note: This material originally appeared on a marketing site and dealt with branding. People who know what they’re doing recognize all branding is an application of neuroscience, hence neuromarketing (which may have been a part of neuroscience at one point and now is a buzzword and poorly degraded from its original).
I’m resurrecting it for a friend who’s curious about
The 3x Rule.
The 3x Rule has broad applications – everything from education to marketing to branding to military training and for the purposes of writing, creating memorable characters. You can use The 3x Rule to have your children, partners, peers, et cetera, remember to do something when they need to do it.
I use the
The 3x Rule rule in my writing to lock characters and scenes into reader memory.
Enjoy!


The 3x Rule has six elements:

  1. Memory
  2. Touch
  3. Mirrors
  4. Words
  5. Sentences
  6. Voice

Let’s explore each element separately then put them together.


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Ruminations Part 4 – I can’t talk to women anymore

(This post originated as “Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 5 – I can’t talk to women anymore”, but I’m tired of the sensitivity reader thread, aren’t you?)

My first rumination can be found at Ruminations Part I – “Your eyes are completely healed”
My second at Ruminations Part 2 – Numbers lead to informed decisions
Rumination Part 3-1 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 1
Rumination Part 3-2 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 2
Rumination Part 3-3 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 3 – I Take a “Writing the Other” class
Rumination Part 3-4 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 4 – Is your character POC or POM?


It started long ago, I’m sure. A slow dawning, a creeping awareness.

I’ve thought about it for a while. It started innocuously; a character in one of my works-in-progress knows what other characters think, how they’ll respond, what they’ll do.

Study consciousness and this ability shows up as Theory of Mind. The literature is full of it. While not calling it telepathy or mind-reading or whatever, most people do it automatically because it’s part of how we function in society; we hear something in someone’s voice and know they’re having a bad day. The truth is we’re assuming they’re having a bad day because having a bad day would cause our voices to sound the way theirs does (if you’re ravenously interested in exploring this, read my Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History. It’s rife with this stuff).

This works pretty well as long as you’re in the same cultural group as the other person.

Fails miserably when you’re from different cultural groups, which is why well done First Contact stories are wonderful reads.

The Foreigner, the Other, the Stranger
I mention off and on about the technology Susan and I created (it’s documented in that Reading Virtual Minds book I mention above). Give it a some digital communication – an email, a company organ, a business brief, whatever – and it can determine how psycho-emotively close the author feels to their reader (just one of its many abilities). One thing we discovered quick was lots of business communications authors viewed their audiences adversarially at best and as completely alien at worst (the technology provided suggestions for both tightening and loosening that bond).

The technology broke social distance – the bond between author and audience – into five degrees of separation: Otherness, Strangerness, Difference, Sameness, and Selfness. Phrasically these would be:

  • Selfness – I/me
  • Sameness – We/us
  • Difference – I/we, you/them
  • Strangerness – Us, Not-Us
  • Otherness – I/we/us, WTF?

Most fictional aliens are variants of recognizable earth lifeforms. That’s why most StarTrekTM aliens had two arms, two legs, a head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth… Didn’t matter where the aliens originated, they pretty much had the same bilateral symmetry humans have. Want to indicate the alien was nasty? Make him bilaterally non-symmetric. No Borg (except the Queen Mum and 7of9) had bilateral symmetry. They all had some kind of projection coming out of them somewhere or a huge prosthetic attached somewhere (simply put, they were out-of-balance). The Queen Mum and 7of9 were exceptions because their purpose (scriptwise) was to interact with and/or seduce humans (a different kind of assimilation, if you will).
Continue reading “Ruminations Part 4 – I can’t talk to women anymore”

Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”

I’ve been using the so-called Little Book for years but only as a reference, not a resource. That changed recently when I’d finished editing a work-in-progress, The Inheritors, and had some spare cycles.

 
Definitely keep The Elements of Style handy as a resource. Keep it right next to your keyboard. I have physical copies near all my workplaces and electronic copies on all my devices. Because my memory could drain wet freshly cooked pasta, I pick it up several times a day and often for the same things.

Hopefully things will stick now that I’ve read it. (adding this note two days after writing this post. happy to report yes, things stuck. yeeha!)

The Elements of Style is rich in examples. My ninety-two page edition (complete with index) is now half dog-eared with notes waiting to be transcribed.

Yes, most people I know are familiar with Section I: Elementary Rules of Usage; when to use a comma, when to use a semicolon, how to form possessives, participle phrases, and all that grammar stuff.

Good! That’s what I used it for. Until this reading.

Please give yourself the opportunity to read the Introduction (it’s short and rich). Take a tour through Section II: Elementary Principles of Composition. Meander through Sections III and V: A Few Matters or Form and An Approach to Style respectively. Stroll through Section IV: Words and Expressions Commonly Misused (made myself an autocorrect list out of these).

Go slow, look around, and enjoy. The Little Book is a book mechanic’s toolchest. Get your hands dirty. It’s worth it.