Sunday, December 28, 2014

Class Assignment: Character

I'll put the assignment here, in progress:

Part 1: Physical description, one page.

Kallo had been twelve years old for twenty years now. She would always be twelve.

When her Earth father had mapped her with Adapted features that he would never have: her silver irises that reflected radiation, her smooth, thick copper skin, her fine bones and coarse black hair, he was thinking of more than her comfort. He wanted her to have the advantage of self-selection. At twelve when her gift for flight was clear, he offered her the chance to stop growing. She could stay at optimum size, weight and build for flight. Kallo had said yes to the gene modification immediately.

She stood, and would for her entire life stand just over four feet, with long, ropy legs and large feet, and arms that were too muscular to be gangling. Her face was appealingly triangular; her mercurial eyes were wide-set, her nose a classic wide, flat Adapted nose with broad nostrils, her cheekbones broad and rounded and her chin a delicate point. She kept her blue-black hair, the texture of a cleaning brush, chopped short for convenience but it would never be neat. It was always frilled at the crown where her helmet jammed it upwards, and matted at the temples where the helmet strapped down. When out of her suit and on the ground she gave off a faint funk from having no time to shower, and she walked with a hesitant, pigeon-toed mince on her wide feet. She moved, in “ground clothes” a bit like a tiny black bird that had fought its way out of a storm-ruffled, lost and vulnerable.

In flight she was a ballerina, a gymnast, a wonder. Her spiraling ground takeoffs, her precise glide form, her gravity-defying banking skill, like a slow-motion pause in the air just before descent, were all the very best on the world. No other flier was her equal. Her father made sure of that. Kallo knew that half of her grace came from the suits her father designed and her wings, her always-improving wings.

At first they were polymer prototypes, smoothly opening and closing on a series of ball joints, but they were fragile and shattered in sand storms. Her next set were made of biocomposite, lab generated feathers and bones derived from bird DNA and engineered over sized, but these also were not strong enough. Finally her father devised a matrix of overlapping electrostatic and gravitational fields so dense that it could support weight, steer through air currents and generate thrust. These wings were powered by ambient radiation, the main source of power for infrastructure on Mars and limitlessly available. With the wings made of shimmering electrical fields came the cloak, and with the power of flying invisibly and silently using electrostatic fields came the realization that she could hear thoughts from the ground.

Part 2:  What Kallo thinks about when she's alone:

Weather is alive. It's one thing nobody understands. Ground people see pieces-one dust devil, one storm at a time. They aren't pieces. They're parts of one thing, like one great mind that's always changing, with thoughts always churning and dancing. Weather never stops dancing, we just jump in and out of it.

I can smell the first breaking of the ground, if it's a mine or another trench steppe or even just a foundation. I can tell how far away and what it is. Daddy designed my mask so I can harvest and taste unique particles as soon as they enter atmo. I know when a lab has shipped waste off to reclamation and I know whether it's silk worm waste or ore tailings. I know when half a herd of sheep was electrocuted on the steppes. I'm so used to the dung ovens starting up at sunset and sunrise that the scent is familiar and marks out the day.

But I have to be within the right altitude range to hear them thinking.

Usually I stay just above the frequency range. Hearing too many thoughts can make you crazy. Sometimes, though, I dip down just to catch a few.

I have my favorites. There's the Bowl, with all the universities and art colonies. There's a lot of petty conflict in the Bowl, but they know how to give themselves to fun. Welcoming Days are my favorite, when Bowl citizens are born. On those days there are love feasts and drunken memory parties and the baby pictures and action captures are all around; on those days you hear everybody’s life stories and they get all sentimental and cry and laugh and sing. They have nice life stories in the Bowl. And there's a shepherdess on the steppes in New Khan. She's a weaver, so her mind is always chatting about colors and textures and designs. One day I listened to her thinking about rain drops, and what if each one was a being and how would she weave their faces. I could have listened to her all day, but I had work to do.

Daddy and I decided it's time to start a Guild of fliers to keep the people of Mars safe. It's a very great responsibility to be able to hear thoughts and to do it unseen, so we must set down regulations for ourselves and for those we recruit. We need to protect our independence, and we need to protect the vulnerable. The Bowl military is fierce but they can't always interfere-or intercede, as Daddy would rather say-when they should. But Mars needs this. Aside from Earth interference we have our share of predators of every kind, so the vulnerable especially need protection. And we must be the ones to do it.

Part 3:  Kallo in interview (250 words).

My father gave me the mutation at twelve. I will never be older than twelve. I wanted it then and I never want to change it. I'm exactly the right build to fly and I can fly better and longer than anybody and I don't miss any of the stupid stuff people think I should miss. How is growing up so great?

My mother died on the ground. She hated me flying and I will tell you, she didn't like me. And I didn't like her. She was mean to me and mean to Daddy and she killed herself in a stupid ground accident.

Sometimes people pity me. They look down on me, well, guess what? I'm the one looking down on them. I look down on them from so many kilometers up they stop even looking like bugs and they're too small to see. That's all I want. I want to be so far up that they disappear.

Well, not everybody. Especially not my Dad. And my flying, that's mostly Daddy. He made me. He gave me the mutation at the perfect time. He's always building me better suits and better wings. My Daddy is a genius like no one else will ever be. He's such a genius that he made himself even more of a genius. Who else on both worlds ever designed their own brain upgrades? Nobody.

We don't know how long I'm going to live. I might never even die.

All I want is to fly.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

On Being a Time Lord

Jocks who track radio shows (that is, to record them ahead of time) might as well be referred to as Time Lords.  Even the chicks.*  We sure earn the title.

On Wednesday when I went into work, I had already recorded the first two hours of that show the day before.  This was a strategy to help me keep the energy up and stories as fresh as possible for my Christmas show on Thursday (which is a tracked show rather than live for the holiday) and sustain the energy for the first two hours of my day-after Christmas Friday show, since I had to record all of these in a six hour period if I wanted time off on the holiday weekend.  Also, with a winter storm coming in on Thursday night, I wanted to avoid driving to work in up to eight inches of fresh snow and icy roads, and the possibility of a wreck or not making it in to work at all.

When I leave for work, it's 1:00 AM.  Snow plows don't hit the road until about 4:00 AM.  So the driving conditions when I must leave for work are always the very worst of the whole day and night, and my vehicle is not great in the snow.  Due almost entirely to these factors I wrecked my truck last year.  So I'm jittery about driving in snow storms.

After tracking the last two hours of my Wednesday show four hours early, it was time to track my Christmas show.  I had pre-loaded a folder with links and audio clips for bits; I opened the folder and my document titled "Christmas Show" with links to news stories like the stolen "leg lamp" (a replica of the lamp from the essential holiday movie "A Christmas Story", which was stolen from a liquor store couple days ago).  I built the story into a bit that ended with an audio clip from the movie: "It's a leg!  It's a lamp!  What a lamp!" and other similar topical bits with added value from holiday movies and TV shows well known and well loved by my audience.  Hopefully it made entertaining, relevant, fresh and compelling listening.  This is my dearest hope every single day. 

For the time you are tracking a certain day, you put yourself in that day.  You imagine that you are there.  You open the mic fresh on the day after Christmas (in your imagination) and announce, "Well, we survived another Christmas.  I dumped the leftover eggnog in my coffee.  Should have checked it for rum, though.  Well, hey, this will be a fun show if I don't pass out!"  It's crucial that the show sounds real and grounded in the very day and time the show will be heard.  We are exacting about our topics, our references and our energy and mindset.  We want it to be real.  So we have to be time travelers. 

It's not unusual to travel ahead in time to cut two shows and then backtrack to do the first couple hours of a show that occurred three days prior to that.  It's very common on holiday weekends and during snowstorm season.  As a result we're in a constant state of disorientation.  Most tracked air personalities have no idea, on any given day, what day it is. This is a time traveler problem.
And-all this is a dirty secret.  We must never let the curtain blow back to show the pulleys and levers. Nobody wants to hear that radio personalities pre-record shows or worse, pre-record in bulk.  We're not just Time Lords-we're undercover Time Lords.  And, we have limited time in which to execute all this genius.

Unlike The Doctor, we Undercover Radio Time Lords are at the mercy of snow storms, the news cycle as we delve for topics, busy engineers who forgot to send shows into the system or to send us the codes to access those shows so we can record them, sudden overloads of extra production work which put us even further behind, and crowded studio schedules. In the winter months when weather broadcasters throw the dice, we have to ride the numbers.  Will we get four inches of snow or eight?  Will we be able to make it to work, and/or make it without losing life and/or limb?  Should we record the first two hours of Monday on Friday?  Can we get enough studio time to do the shows when we can get into work?

We don't have spinning blue police boxes, but we do have temporal vertigo and generalized anxiety.  It's all part of being an Undercover Radio Time Lord.

It sounds so cool.  But, that's radio.  While it is a very cool job, it sounds cooler than it feels.  And it would be a lot easier with a TARDIS.

*According to wikipedia: "...the Lord of Mann, a title currently held by the Queen, and female Lord Mayors are examples of women who are styled Lord."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

500 Word Setting

Kallo stepped off the edge of the mesa. She pitched head down, hitching her left shoulder to engage the cloak; her shadow on the cliff face flashed and then blurred, rippling before it disappeared.

She held the fall too long before inching open her wings and pulling up, barely clearing the final foundation of the construction site in a failed attempt to catch an updraft. Wheelmules and ore carts to the east of the ring of circular foundation digs zipped away under her; she stalled for a ponderous second before her feet jammed into the mound of gray sand at the very end of the tailing piles. Her knees screamed as she went onto her face.

She rolled down the steep dune, throwing herself off a ledge, and finally thudding into the deep shadow of a rock shelf.

She looked up, gasping. The exchange winds surrounding the mesa howled and tore at the true Martian desert, lashing ribbons of rusty sand, but here it was calm. The storm currents dropped off under the field of a centralized atmospheric processor, or CAP, as they were starting to call them. The CAP's kilometer-high stalks loomed, barely visible in the haze as they poured the moist nitrogen/02 mix, but she could make out the rims of the stalks glittering with the new radiation harvesters, like metallic petals. Through her mask she tasted the acidic humidity of expensive processed water; this would be a posh installation.

"Puffin?" her father's voice shrilled in her ears.

Kallo watched overhead, trying to spot mirror-sparked edges of cloaked fliers. She'd counted five chasing her before diving into Hematite Canyon. "Daddy, can you get a bio count from a construction sensor? There were five-"

"No, just four,"

Kallo coughed, looking down from her ledge into the deep layers of vermillion shadows, edged with delicate crystals of frost. She smelled the dank tang of...native moisture? She lifted her mask, drawing a gulp of the frozen atmo into her air mix and huffing on it like a lioness, nose and mouth open to get a real taste.

"Puffin, what have I told you about raw atmo in these impact sites? The radia-".

She ticked her head to left, muting the comm so she could think. She'd apologize later. She rolled the stinging alkaline, and some grit, around her tongue with saliva. It was Mars water.

She began creeping along the edge of the ragged little shelf;  just below, green fluorescent markers outlined what could only be a site for another new cistern. A hidden, illegal cistern. She looked back up at the gray sky bordered with the russet wall of rushing sand. She did not want to be cornered here.

She lifted her mask again to spit and crawled to her feet, crouching.

"Daddy, I gotta go,"

"Kalleano, no. Let me send-"

Kallo pushed off the ground, wings humming with the kick of takeoff. She slammed into something invisible and was thrown back onto the rock, unconscious.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hard Sci-Fi and a Girly Plot

I've recommitted to writing practice by signing up with the first of  David Farland's writing courses.

So for the next week (at least), I'll be working on the first assignment: Setting.

Though I'm dropping "The Shepherdess" (and compulsively going back to it now and then) for now, this work will help me finish it. 

I've chosen a setting that requires a decent amount of hard science, so it looks as if I'm heading toward Hard Sci-Fi, which is defined on TV Tropes as, "...firmly grounded in reality, with only a few fantastic flights of fancy not justified by science, or with the technology being nonexistent in today's world but probably scientifically possible at some point,"

I LIKE hard science, so this will probably end up being my direction, and I'll stick to it.  My world building sessions are half spent on NASA and other science sites.  I want to get a plausible picture of Mars in 350 years.

I'm going to post my work, assignments and feedback here.  It's a good place for it.


In 350 years Mars has several human settlements, mostly nestled in craters, but the next stage of creating a viable atmosphere on the Martian surface is also in progress.  CAPS, or Centralized Atmospheric Processors, are the hub of every established human population.  As the processors were set up, weather was created by the changes in density, humidity and temperature, and wind currents began cycling between communities, creating an ever-changing and sometimes violent system of jet streams called the "exchange winds".  These winds are violent, laced with sand and ambient radiation and create a hostile territory between borders. 

The CAPS are central installations of ambient radiation harvesters, atmospheric processors, and shields.  They are constructed of stalks a mile or so long that are flexible enough to move slightly in the exchange winds without shattering, but are grounded centrally so they provide the community below with a constant supply of processed air.  While the ends of the stalks pour the processed air, on the rims of the stalks rotating and shifting ambient radiation harvesting cells greedily draw on the limitless supply of various forms of radiation from space and from the surface of Mars.  Other cells, also located on the rims of the stalks, emit a shield wavelength that reflects even greater amounts of radiation. Below ground batteries store the energy to run the energy grids of the communities.  Also below and above ground, all over Mars, a system of cisterns and aqueducts keeps and continually cleans the water supply. 

Above ground for over a century colonies of bacteria and lichens enjoyed an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide and populations of those organisms exploded; the next stage saw adapted Earth organisms of the high desert environment begin to establish.  Soon after, the trench steppes were constructed, developing adapted grasses as the first grazing crops for the first herds of Adapted sheep.  With them came the first nomadic surface settlers, an alliance of Navajo and Mongolian herders bent of creating a new, intercultural civilization combining the strengths and resiliencies of both.

More soon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Krampas and Accountability

The world is in a dearth of accountability.

Corporate CEOs abscond with entire economies, but we don't punish them.  We refuse to even control them.  We protect their freedom to siphon funds from the entire world like pampered giant ticks.

Rapists and domestic abusers are excused and their victims blamed for their crimes.

Terrorists change the way we fly, watch the news and shop; their movements spin our lives.

We love our bullies and sociopaths and celebrity offenders.  We love our "baddies".  But the human moral soul can't exist in this mire of victimization forever.  We require something that resembles an authentic human code.

I think this is why we also love revenge movies.  Most of our action movies and many of our drama stories are about revenge.  In a culture where serial killers sell paintings and their victims and victims' families get no justice, there's a deep stirring, a need for the real, the true, and the just.

For decades our winter saint has been the jolly businessman in Coke can colors.  But this was willfully ignoring the other half of the paradigm.  We shut our eyes and forgot about Krampas.  We left him back in Europe, came to America and told ourselves everything would be perfect now.  Everything is jolly and sparkly and technology will fix everything eventually.  We don't allow people to die when they want to because that would be sad and we don't talk about it because it's icky.  Our celebrities are all starting to look alike in an eerie, Barbie-doll way.  We've cleaned up the fairy tales.  We've fallen into a worship of physical and philosophical safety, and that has made cowards of us. We are so cowardly that we allow human predators to dominate our culture.

But wait...still in the dark, northerly countries of old Europe, here comes good old Krampas, his horns swaying as he thumps past in parades, his fur flopping in the snow as he rushes children with threatening roars.  Krampas comes to punish you if you're bad, if you act wrong, if you refuse to be kind or close the door to keep the heat in the house.

You may get away with acting like a complete demon at home, but your parents have a helpmate at Christmas time.  They've got the scary punisher to remind you that being alive isn't enough.  You've got to act right.  You've got to participate in society to enjoy the benefits of society.

The Hopi have a similar kachina figure who goes out around the winter solstice and shows up at pueblos and other homes to scare the kids.  Kids with conscience have nothing to fear except owning up to mistakes.  But little sociopaths are food for the punisher.  

We need this force on planet earth right now.  We need internet trolls to be prosecuted.  Rapists need to serve real time at the very least.  Predators need to be taken out of the human context completely.  The vulnerable, the victims and the poor are the ones who need kindness and help.  Not the assholes.

That's why I love Krampas.

Krampas won't let you be an asshole.

Krampas card from

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What I learned on Day 7 of NaNoWriMo

I learned that there's another writer inside me, like a forgotten final Russian nesting doll, resting in the deep dark for a few years.

This tiny forgotten voice in the dark still believed in a humanity that does not exist.

I kept unconsciously writing an ending of redemption with empathy, with remorse, coming from the rapist.

Then I did one of my last-minute double-check research binges, and realized the whole thing was based on a fallacy of mine.

I read interviews with pedophiles and rapists.  I read psychological profiles and statistics.  I read reports and articles.  I couldn't find the one thing I was looking for: WHEN THEY HAVE REMORSE.

Because they never do.

They have regrets, they talk about how they "Wish things had been different," and how they've learned to love themselves and how they can't guarantee that they'll never offend again when they get out but they think it's society's duty to keep a "Better eye" on them.

They never mention remorse about their actions or the pain it caused.  They never talk about their victims. They never express the hope that their victims will recover, they never hope to make it up to their victims.  They only hope to pay their debt to "society" so they can get out of prison.

Elderly priests who raped dozens of children, teen offenders, scout masters, serial college rapists, every conceivable profile, they all say the same things.  They all talk about themselves and never mention their victims unless asked to recount.  And when they recount there is no remorse.  Just reporting, just talking about how much they wanted it and liked it.

I thought I had a grip on this.  I don't know now if I ever will.  I thought I was such an expert on this issue,  I've worked so hard in groups and journaling and with every kind of therapy including cognitive and trauma therapy and getting smudged by a shaman and doing my three day vision quest in the Utah desert without sleep and food, I worked with EFT therapists and even a faith healer.  I thought I was DONE.

How can this still break my heart?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jack and The Morrigan

Story 1 of Halloween Retellings For The Telling:
Jack and The Morrigan

Lifetimes upon lifetimes ago on the Emerald Isle, everybody knew Jack; by his gleaming eyes and pointed little nose and gap toothed grin, but most of all by his filthy dirty tricks.

If a farmer found his hand tangled in a plow horse bridle just before the giant animal spooked, if a milkmaid found her labors curdling in the bucket as she ran to the kitchen, or a lad found himself with ten apples for the price of one and each with five worms in it, Jack was to blame. And by the time he had become infamous among the living and was running out of victims, he had become a legend among the immortals.

Even the Celtic goddess of Death and Life, The Morrigan herself, was curious.  So when the veil between the worlds was thin as a spider web and just as fragile, she walked out on the Samhain in disguise of course, as do mortal, immortal and dead on that night.

Now, the Morrigan most often appears as an old woman in a cloak of raven feathers, unless she's giving passage to the souls of the dead, whom she cradles in her lap, chomping down their sins bones and all, then launching those souls, now free and clear, through a shaft of blinding lightening into the next life.  But on that night she wore a plain hood and cloak, grey as mist. And she walked down the road to meet Jack.

Well, the king of dirty tricks greeted everyone with what rudeness he could muster.

"Ugly old woman!"  He yelled, realizing he did not know her face, and that she was fresh meat for a trick, "Come and have a drink with handsome young Jack!"

"You're neither," she said.

"To you I am, well enough.  Come share my bottle.  Warm those crumbling bones,"

Jack was arrogant, but so was the goddess of death and life, who on a drunken dare from Jack got herself tangled high in the branches of a tree, and nodded off, snoring like a bear.  And Jack then set to bellowing for all living and dead and undead and immortal to come and take a look.  Well, the Dearg Due, the Dullahan, the Bainshee all knew better than to laugh and looked away, hands over their mouths as they hurried off, but humans laughed so loudly that they woke the old woman stuck in the tree with her skirts far above her head.

Jack lived a few more years and tricked as he was able, but he had bitten off a hard time.  No farmhouse caught sight of him without sending out the meanest dogs to chase him off, no pub would let him darken the doorstep, no boat would bear his feet.  And so starving and freezing and absolutely alone, on a winter's night in the driving sleet, Jack lay his head down on the side of the road and died.
And woke a minute later on a stone floor at the foot of a clawed stone throne on which sat the Morrigan.

"Well, if it's not my old friend!  It's Jack, is it?"

Jack, now afraid for his soul, put on his rudest manner.  "Shut up you old bag of bones!  I'll be taken my passage now.  It's my right,"

The Morrigan laughed.  "That's what you think is it?  You're in my house now, Jack, and you have naught but what I give ya.  I think you won't be moving on.  For I want to hear all the cruel stories of all your dirty tricks, which gave me many souls as you know.  I want you to stay.  You'll be my entertainment,"

"You fool old bag!  I can't supply fresh tales for eternity if I stay here!  You'll have to let me out!"

"Hmm..." thought the Morrigan, clicking her black claws on the arm rest of the clawed stone throne, "Yes.  I think one night a year,"

"One night a year won't furnish tales for a year, you daft old harpy!"

"Hmm..but on that one night, I could give you a hundred heads to watch all the mortals and their half hearted tricks, nothing to match what you could do.  I'll give you a thousand thousand heads. And that will furnish tales for each year.  But you.  No more tricks for you. You'll light up the night on Samhain, and give everyone a grin.  But then you're mine for the year again,"

So when Jack casts his flickering grin on Halloween night, give that old trickster a wink.  After all, the trick was on him.

Story is Manipulation

Damn right, Ken.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


My novel is titled, "The Shepherdess".

Here's my synopsis:

The rape of a shepherdess threatens to tear apart more than the young girl's life.  The delicate balance of relations between the nations of Mars is thrown into chaos when she refuses to take "steel retribution" as demanded by law.  With the help of Altan, her philosopher-in-training little brother, Lady Jewel of the wealthy and learned nation of The Bowl, and Anma, the deadliest warrior on the world, can the young shepherdess heal herself and find a solution to save peace on Mars?

Here's my sample:

Bayan's mothsilk robes were alarmingly light compared to the heavy wool garments she wore at home; she still felt a bit undressed going about in the halls of the palace, even though the layers of softness danced over each other when she walked.  She plodded up the wide, carpeted steps behind Anma to the great tower, where shimmering windows in deep casements lined the armory.  They shimmer from enforcement fields, she remembered.  Yurts had no windows.  Everything in the palace was luxurious, grand and overwhelming.

Anma stopped, waiting for Bayan to catch up to her.  Anma's silver eyes pinned her.  "You are walking better every day, little one. Your hip is healing. When do you plan to take your retribution?"

Bayan's heart dropped in her belly.  All the late night talks with Altan came back, about compassion and karma and the natural righteousness of human beings.  She took a breath.

"How could anyone kill even a rapist?"  she answered, although she knew how.  Even the words, now spoken, burned deep in her gut, her bones.

Anma laughed.

"You're asking in earnest? Many women through history have killed their rapists. Men have killed their rapists as well. Many,"

Bayan looked up at the cases of gleaming weapons, swallowing past a pounding in her throat.

"But what is gained by answering violence with violence?"

Anma grinned, pointing to a gold plaque that read, "The golden rule must be enforced by steel,"

"That is what The Lady calls the 'paradox of human justice',"

Anma opened a case and took out a sword nearly as long as she was tall, running a finger down the blade as if she were caressing the cheek of a baby. She flipped the sword with a lightening arc of her wrist, then returned it to its mount. She looked back at Bayan.

"When you leave an injury unanswered, the victim then carries the burden of that injury. This is wrong. The burden belongs with the offender. Offenders must be held accountable and victims must be cleansed of blame, recover from the injuries and go free to live fully.  Recovered victims," she added, "Are very valuable citizens,"

"You are the steel that enforces the gold," said Bayan.

Anma shrugged. "I am only one blade," She took an axe from the case in a two-handed grip, weighing it and swaying as if she were about to dance with it. She twirled the handle in her palms, watching the light flash on the razor edge.

Bayan stood back.

"You are the deadliest blade,"  It was not a compliment.

"I am," She returned the axe to its place. Then she turned and frowned at Bayan, her mercurial eyes glinting. "You should never fear me. You are under our protection. Even I cannot kill children,"

Bayan said nothing as the words spun in her head.  

But you think me old enough to kill.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Promise, The Hand Grenade and The Brush Off

June 2013, PBS:
Julian Fellowes: “…I think that it is possible to make entertainment that is not offensive, is not horrible, that can be watched by all age groups…I’m vindicated by Downton because a lot of times people say that you’ve got to shock your audience. I don’t think that. I think you’ve got to make your audience think…but you can do that in a way that the whole family can enjoy…”

Dec 28 2013:
Nigel Harman who played the rapist:  “…what we wanted to do was to try and not signal about what was to come. We went for something – as it would be in real life – that was very shocking.”

May 6 2014:
Joanne Froggatt:  “But it was done in a very delicate way,”

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Good Pain

There is such thing.

It's death.

To not moan.  Not to wail and gnash in anger.  Not to crunch up one's face in agony of the heart.  To shy away from pain of death.  To run.

That is bad. 

I grab my heart with both hands and throw myself in.

He was far away, almost always.  He only came close a time or two and then he disdained me.  He strong-armed against what I had for him, what was deep in my heart.

I learned to silence myself.  To stop asking for things.  I learned to act happy.  I learned when to be somber, when to do nothing, when to be glad.

Later, much later, he became softer and craved my company.  My own armor was on too tight by then.  I chipped away at it, but he still did not want what was really under it.  Finally I gave up and only offered what would be wanted, outside my shell, calculated to smooth things.

I've treated most men like that-friends, coworkers and others-keeping my distance, putting on a show.  I knew the dance.

Over more time, we both got softer.  We both tried.  The last time we had a week together, the last time he could fly and came to see me, he said as he left, "We met on the plumb and parted on the square,"  As a Mason, to him that meant we were good with each  other; no harm, no foul.

But there had been harm.  A lot of it.  I could only get past it so much.

I sent him videos on his last day.  He smiled.  He knew I loved him.  I know he loved me.

It was fine.  Just fine, once I knew how not to be myself with him.

And now I don't need that.  He is gone.  I had a Daddy, now I don't.  I am in pain.  It's the purest kind.  It's clean and clear and right.  It's pure.  We were never square, but now I can be past that.  Now I can love him as just My Daddy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


If, for you, "school" was imprisonment with a bunch of toxic control freaks who wasted your time and tried to ruin your life, this is for you.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Serpentine Coil, 19

Just under the blaring heat the snake soaked cool quiet.  The desert had been still as stone all morning so she had stretched long and longer for a long lazy time on her way under the sandstone, her vertebrae thrumming one by one from her spine in perfect tune and time like scales on a concertina, the music of her bones singing back through her muscles and guts, making her scales shiver.

She was peaceful under the rock but slept only as every hunter sleeps, half her brain scouting.  She put out her tongue in a dream, tasting hot sand and rabbit scat, baking sage. 

Then, smoke.

She drew down tight in the shadow of the rock, scales sliding one under another, bones folding in her flesh.  Her intestines contracted, released waste, then contracted tighter.  Her pupils expanded.  Her tongue went searching, over and over, slipping out and up, out and down, for more.

She waited. 

Then, the uneven pounding. Not so many of them today.

''Careful, Mom,"

"Well, I want to walk in back of you.  So if a snake comes you can yell or push me out of the way,"

"Mom, I've never seen one in fifteen years of hiking out here,"

Then another voice, deeper.  The one the snake knew well.  Sometimes other voices called him "The Indian guide".  Some said "Miguel".

"We got snakes out here.  Lotta snakes," said Miguel.

"But-well, my Mom is scared of snakes, so-"

The pounding came to a stop.

"Well," Miguel said, "You better come up one in line, then.  You don't wanna be third,"

"Why not?"

"See, I'm the guide.  So I'm first.  The first person wakes the snake up,"

There was a brief silence.

"Then the second person pisses the snake off,"

"Oh, my God,"

"Mom," this voice was laughting, "He's just trying to-"

"Then the third person gets bit,"   Miguel was near.  His feet shifted, grinding in the sand as he looked back and down.  The snake watched his eyes dancing over the stones around her.  She put out her tongue, tasting the brain-tanned leather of his boots, his stinging soap, the tang of his blood sugar.

"But, it's pretty rare out here.  I mean, when was the last time-"

"See these hiking boots?  That's why we wear tall boots," said Miguel.

"Should we go back?"

"We're almost to the Eagle's Nest, Mom,"

Miguel's eyes found the snake's.  He blinked slowly, licked his lips.  He breathed out.


The snake put out her tongue.  Coffee, aspirin, tobacco.


They went on.

The snake loosened her coil and slept, but only as a hunter does.

This is a flash fiction piece inspired by a prompt from one of my writing gurus, Chuck Windig.  Here's that link.  I was also inspired to choose the number 19 from my horror gurus, Drew Daywalt and Joss Whedon.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Magic Five Syllables

Reciprocation is a long word.

It's an under-practiced human virtue, too.

When someone lets you through in traffic and you wave thank you, when a friend calls to check on you when you're having a rough night and you make sure to find out how she is as well, when you return communications within a day or two, when you're on time, when you say thank you in return for a thank you, that's reciprocation.  It's magic.

Reciprocation is magic because it closes the loop.  When someone reaches out, you reach back.  The circle is drawn. Connections build new worlds, molecules, strength, sound waves, community, light, hope, DNA strands, words, sentences, meaning, safety, honor, healing.  Connections are the Legos of the living universe.

The circle is not created when a gift is not met with appreciation, when a kindness is not returned, when questions float in the ether unanswered.  These are mere reaching tendrils of potential that never find support.  

So many people float unsupported and unanswered, longing for connection.

Reciprocation is the magic trick.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Love in the Crisper

A writer who has a great female character brutally raped and then gives her no healing time on screen and no resource for that healing has tossed her in the crisper and left her there to rot like a 2-month-old cucumber.  Rape poisons relationships too and that character's relationship will follow, just like the 2-month-old tomato melting next to the cucumber.

Fridging a great romance throws the relationship dynamic into the shit storm that careens around the trauma of a rape, because the healing work has not been done.  Under this kind of narrative neglect the whole thing falls into chaos.  The center cannot hold unless you restore the center.

Then the romance itself becomes a twisted, rotting thing. 

The thrill that used to come from courage and tenderness of a great romance now is marked by the danger of a new sensationalistic thrill, for those who are not survivors of rape.  The "nail that has never seen the hammer" thinks the hammer is exciting and thinks itself unsmashable.  

A writer using rape as a shock device is counting on that double whammy: on the thrill aroused by fear, and then the righteous high of denial.

Fear and denial are the ingredients of rape culture.  We want to believe that we live in a just world and that we will never be victimized, meaning that victims must be at fault for their own horrors.  Stamping the fault for rape on the victim keeps us safe, because we will never screw up like they did.  We're in love enough with this denial to allow rape victims to be subjected to that attitude in our courts.  That's how rape culture is sustained.  

But rape culture is created over and over again in the public mind by writers, producers and media professionals who make a cheap device out of it.

Meanwhile, for survivors, the romance becomes permanently tainted by echoes of their own trauma and the injuries that never completely heal.

Now, the cheap thrill has left a deep scar in the subtext of a great romance. There is no way around it; you have to write the way through the trauma and darkness and back into the light of a functioning relationship.  If you don't make the journey to emerge, the shadow  taints everything.

Sick.  Chilled.  Twisted. 

Decaying in the dark. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Only Sticks and Stones

On KHOW this morning Mandy said that if anyone's words cause you pain, "That's on you,"

Sticks and stones, blahdy blah.

The "just words" myth will never die because the human brain requires it at a certain stage of development in order to cope with the knowledge that you will get hurt. It seems empowering to declare yourself above verbal injury, but that comes at too great a cost for most people. For healthy people, human vulnerability is worth it.

The myth of "sticks and stones", the idea that nobody's words can ever hurt you, is a denial of humanity.  Words have power with human beings and words can hurt human beings.  There's no such thing as a one-sided coin.  If no one's words can hurt you, then how can a poet move you?

What an intoxicating ideal, a demigod ideal.  Imagine walking through life like that - never injured by anything that you've decided won't hurt you.  When a loved one is cruel, it rolls right off.  When trolls photo shop your father's dead body being raped by animals and put obscene captions to it, it doesn't phase you at all.  Human cruelty in the form of mere communication doesn't touch your soul.

There are such demigods, who look upon verbal cruelty as a poor excuse to "whine", who can brush off cruelty, who blame the injured for being injured.

Bullies, narcissists and sociopaths.  They don't see pain as valid unless they see bruises. 

And they've got a bit of wisdom for you: your pain is "On you".

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to Make and Keep P1s.

A P1 listener will fight with uniformed officers at your sentencing.  They know the names of all your goldfish.  They bring you Earl Grey with 2 1/2 squirts of buffalo milk when you do public appearances.

But P1s don't just love you.  They love how you speak for them.

Radio personalities treat every fan and every assailant as a potential P1, and here's how:

1.  Say thank you when people support you and compliment you and try to help you promote your stuff.

2.  Recognize your biggest fans and converse with them when they show up.  Just Tweet, "Hi!  Thanks again for reading my books.  I'm going to be posting a lot today but I wanted to take a minute to thank you again,"

4.  When possible, a Follow-Back means respect.  You don't lose stature as a celebrity by following a lot of people.  You look magnanimous.  And Maximus.  You look like Maximus the Merciful, and you create a bond with your followers. 

Your followers want your work, but they also want a bond with you.  Even just a slender one made of gilded buffalo hairs.  They deserve that much.

By those slender strands they will follow and support you, and on dark days they will remind you why you bother.

Starve the trolls, but feed the P1s.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Love du Jour

I fall in love with  something new about every week and a half.  It's the natural consequence of "filling the funnel" all the time.  To continually "put out" you've got to keep stocking the inner shelves; when you're what one of my bosses calls a "cultural curator", you need to consume culture in bulk, and steadily.

But then there's process; it's all also about smashing content into fundamentals and crafting it into a show.  We have pretty massive bulk to process and very little time to do it in.  Any tibits of advice are welcome. 

So I LOVE Oblique Strategies.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Hollaback

This is my response to a posting by the revered Mark Ramsey.  I didn't post it in the comments, because I love having a job: 

1989:  "Shut up and play the hits,"
1999:  "It's about the music,"
2009:  "Be a real human being,"

As long as I've been a jock, the value of a human on a microphone has been in question. 

Through all of these changes in the industry, humans on microphones continued to bring the humanity anyway.  We were told we were "just barking dogs" but we kept being real humans anyway.  We were told to keep it short because PPLs made consultants nervous, and we continued to speak in complete sentences and to finish our stories, crafted for listener satisfaction, anyway. 

While I appreciate such a unique posting that actually respects the craft rather than throwing sales-manufactured bullet points at us yet again, I'd still find it even more refreshing to read a comment about what jocks are doing right.  Right NOW. There are so many great air talents who don't need to be told how to be.

Since over a million people were jettisoned from the industry over the last couple of decades, the people who got to stay brought our very best game.  We kept the industry alive because you cannot take the human out of the human being.  As often as we were told to be something else, we continued  to be real.

And we worked like Boxer to make it happen.

It's nice that our humanity is finally approved of, but what Mark is doing here is demonstrating once again that the industry cannot accept humans as we are.  He is saying once again, in a different guise, that we need to change to measure up to his radio. 

In the guise of telling the humans to really be humans, he is telling the workhorses to REALLY BE HORSES.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spoilers and Triggers

I just saw this article come up on Twitter in Den of Geek.

A friend and I were discussing the possible future of a GoT character in normal, inside voices.  Since we'd both read the books, we were talking a season or two from now (I love the show as well).  A man from across the room (a decent, non-audible distance) interrupted our conversation to tell us we were rude because Spoilers.

He left his OWN space to interrupt us in OUR space.

I respect story lines from authors and would also protect their audiences from Spoilers, but if I'm in a private conversation, that's over the line.  Sometimes the sensitivity to Spoilers is extreme, and sometimes the power of waiting for a story to unfold is disrespected.  Generally I will tread carefully around Spoilers, just because I don't want to be a dick.


I would argue that Triggers are just as important.  Many Survivors got bashed in the head and heart and nervous system during last season's Downton Abbey, in part because the producers wanted the audience to get the full effect of the shocker, so there was a warning of "violence", but no Trigger warnings, which would only have been basic human decency concerning that plot turn.

This is one of those nebulous areas where only natural human decency is going to save us.  There is no other code. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Robbie Verbosity E1. Warning: Vertical Video

Dag nab it.

I went and did it.  I thought the iPad was more forgiving but no, a vertical video is still a vertical video.

It's my first in the Verbosity series.  I'll re-cut it someday.

Don't Kick the Grasshopper

"I wish I had a fun job,"

We hear that a lot from people who are not content, at the moment, with their lives.  They wonder if they should have taken a different direction.  They have regrets. They think they should have done something fun and easy.  Like radio.

It's an ancient idea that those who create art for a living are swinging in the lazy hammocks of leisure, that we're just people who didn't want to work for a living.  The grasshopper in the fable was punished for the sin of playing his violin all summer (and probably getting really good by that point) by starving in the winter.

Working for food does give people something to live by, but working to create music, or any art, gives people something to live for.

I was invited to a political luncheon a few years ago; I was seated at one of those round, 50-seater tables next to a prominent business man who had done outstanding charity work over decades.  I was pleased to meet him and hear of his work.  He was fascinated by radio and spilled questions through lunch.  Finally I could sense he was winding up for the Big One.  He leaned in.

"Tell me the truth," he said, "With an easy job like that, where you don't need any skill, what are those people like?  Do they just drift around all day and not really care about anything?"

Your average disc jockey is a master storyteller. Although storytelling does come naturally to the human animal, great storytelling does not.  Great storytelling can only come from the obsessive pursuit of the skill. This skill tends to be invisible because everyone imagines himself to be a master of it; it's a common delusion among people who are not master storytellers, since they can't even hear the finer points of what we do.  Most people in audiences nurture a secret belief that they too could sing the song as well as the artist, could be as funny as the comic, could tell a story as well as some chick on the radio.

When these people moan at me that they wish they had a "fun job", I save them with one question:

"Would you be willing to be poor to do what I do?"

The response is always shocked amusement.  "Are you kidding?  Of course not!"

"Well, then," I say, "That career in business really was the right choice,"

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Failed Silencers

This break is based on a true story.

What I didn't add, because it would have weighed down the break, was the fact that the guy interrupted a private conversation to tell me not to talk about something that he didn't want to know about, which seems to me to be a bit invasive.

I've been told to shut up in public a lot.

One day at a Chili's I said "Fuck" in a conversation at a table with friends.  A man several tables away stalked over to our table to rage at me about his children possibly hearing that kind of language.  I replied that I'd try to keep my Turrets in check for him.  He turned purple but he went away.

Another day I was having lunch with a friend when an elderly man came to our table to thank me "Very much for sharing the conversation with the whole room," but would I mind speaking more softly.  I wanted to keep things nice for my friend, so I capitulated.  My voice DOES carry.  I studied opera and did lots of live theater as a kid.  I sang Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance when I was seventeen.  As an asthmatic my ability to project was hard-won, but it's also an occupational hazard.  In retrospect I should have told him that the sarcasm was unnecessary.

Just last week I was at the UPS store, fighting with a copy machine.  This time I was very sotto voce, but the man behind me was also hearing a nonstop dialogue from his seven year old daughter, who had to proclaim the cuteness of every card on the rack.  She was trying to connect with him but he, having a male brain with half the language wiring of hers, was suffering from frayed nerves.  I said to the copy machine, nearly under my breath and for the third time, "Oh!  Nonononono!"

He wheeled on me and spat, "You know, talking to the machine is not going to help!"

I got all smooth on him.

"Dude," I purred, "In case you haven't noticed by this point in your day," I nodded in the direction of his daughter, "Women are going to talk whether it helps or not,"

He lowered his head in what resembled defeat but what might have been a cringe against his own urge to strangle me, and left me alone after that.

For me, being a public target of so much male frustration is hilarious.

They sure listen to me when I'm on the radio.


I was voicing a spot this morning and realized why a certain recurring character has become so tedious to me every time she appears in a script, which is about twice a week.

She is a radio trope.

This female character is a product encyclopedia and she's just a tiny bit cunty about it. This character is a narrative device to get the information into the spot, and she usually does so with a cheeky put-down to the male in the scenario who's only crime is that he doesn't know what products the client carries or their address and hours of operation.

This morning I named her Vaginapedia.

Men loved that, but the women I consulted were a bit repulsed, as I was (I am frequently repulsed by my own ideas, which doesn't make them less funny to me).  My friend Joni suggested we shorten it to Vagipedia, which is much easier to swallow (sorry).

So I did the intellectual property check.  Funny Or Die seems to have attempted to Bogart every possible use of the term.

But they haven't used it as a character trope.  So I get to.

Hi!  I'm Vagipedia!  In the first two lines of this commercial you'll hear me posing questions that I will magically have the answers to, just a few seconds later.  ALL the answers!  The address, the phone number and everything that's GRRREAT about this client! And if I can get the male character to feel like an idiot in the process, so much the better! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Classic Rock Breaks from 4-7-14

What I tried to do in the first break was ease my way into the morning with a death announcement.  I think Mickey Rooney had a great run and I think the ending of a life is cause to celebrate that life.  The audio was meant to create a theme and atmosphere, so all I had to do was keep the announcement short.

In the second I was melding two current topicalities and hopefully for a bit of comic effect.  The punch line was a recognition of how crazy that line of thinking is, and to emphasize the flawsome.   I felt very comfortable sharing my fangirl, since GoT did shut down HBO GO last night.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why Women Don't Watch Glove and Boots

Well, I DO watch Glove and Boots.  I love Glove and Boots and when it's going to be on the air I'll talk about it.  I will tell my listeners to watch it. I'll probably pull clips from it to share.  It's great. 

It's also sexist.

Asking men in general to not be sexist is asking a lot.  Many men experience great struggle even empathizing with each other, much less the "alien" sex, and it wears them out quickly.  This does suck for women but we just live with it, because for the most part that's easier than trying to get them to even perceive the situation.

Also, in my experience a great many men are NOT sexist.  Nearly all the men I deal with on a regular basis are raging feminists.  In that setting many women, like me, will tend to drop the sword and just get on with the fun things in life.  This is probably incredibly lazy of us.

I think most women aren't watching Glove and Boots because they don't know about it yet.  I know many who would love it.  But I also know why Family Guy will always rate higher with me.

Family Guy is sexist.  It's also homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic.  It's violent.  It makes fun of disabled people.  It also makes fun of politicians, celebrities, eating disorders, animal cruelty, and even features a somewhat sympathetic pedophile.  These are not things I like.

But - Family Guy makes fun of men in a way that resonates with me.  It 's pretty much how I see the stupidest men, so I get my laughs in a way I rarely do on any other show.  Peter Griffin is the perfect stereotype of the immature, idiot male and I rarely see men being the brunt of jokes in that way so consistently.  Women who watch Family Guy are putting up with the usual sexism, but they are getting a lot more for it than usual-they get to see males skewered for pretty much the whole half hour.

If the lack of female demographic for Glove and Boots is due to any element of the show, it isn't because it's sexist - it's because it's a bit too male-sensitive.  For instance, using the word hag to describe an older woman is hilarious in the "Facts of Life" parody in Glove and Boot's "History of Television"...but Fafa might just think it's bullying to use the word fag.  

I'll be watching, though.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


I should put my breaks from the air on here occasionally, so I'll start with one from Tuesday morning on Rock 2.0.

This was a true story.  There was a lot more to the story.  Dave was also in the road when I drove up, flagging me down, which was the first thing that made me laugh.  But breaks are best when you tell just one story and go straight through beginning, middle and end.  Still, I wanted to play with it. After five or more takes I decided to drop the other elements to make it work. 

The punchline was one of several I tried out.  At first I wasn't sure that it was direct enough.  Then I wasn't sure it was fresh enough, that it might be too predictable. 

Sometimes when hear a break back and your delivery is what you wanted, an iffy story can work.  Delivery is a great polisher.  But you can't lean on it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flyin' Like Felix

Jocks remind me of Felix Baumgartener.

Remember Felix Baumgartener's heroic jump from the edge of space? He was on the radio with Joseph Kittenger, the former record-holder, all the way up. On an average of once a minute Joe gave Felix encouragement, or praise. “You're good, buddy, everything's on schedule,” or “That's great Felix, well done,” came about every 60 seconds. Joe knows about being way up with the big jump to come, about the hypoxia, the vertigo, the fear of failure and the pressure that can assail a person who's isolated and performing a daring feat. Joe supported Felix. Felix's flawless landing owed something to Joe.

And we radio personalities owe a lot to our support.  We do need support, because we deal with similar conditions.

We create in a vacuum.
  We're in sterile studios, we have limited contact with each other and we have a very limited ability to hear each other or our stations.  We have to take special steps to be able to hear ourselves.

We make high-pressure decisions.
  A creative person makes the best choice out of a million other choices and we do that about 50 times a shift, give or take. Some choices are better than others, but with our names, our voices, and our visions for radio on the line 250 times a week, we never lose the burning desire to make each of those 250 jumps worth a listener's time. We have a need to stick each and every landing.

We must protect ourselves in a hostile environment.  Felix monitored the plummeting temperatures and oxygen levels outside and kept his cool. We have to do a similar thing all the time. The internal critic blathers a constant dialogue in a jock's mind, and listener lines are peppered with critics. Technology tosses us roadblocks and delays when we least expect it.  That's the basic level of adversity.  If you also work in a hostile atmosphere or with a nonconstructive PD (I am lucky enough to have only constructive PDs at the moment) that's another element of adversity. 

We deal with variables all the time.  Content is a variable. We ride the gain of the news cycle and content services to feed the gaping maw that is three to five content breaks per hour for at least four hours, in my case on three formats. To find fresh, compelling, relevant and memorable pieces of unique content per day is rigorous, but that's not where our job ends.  We need to customize it for our listeners and ourselves, write it up in a way that is even more compelling and fresh and memorable, and then voice it with just the right delivery - up to thirty-six times in four hours. 

Any creative person who is under pressure to create compelling original content in that bulk rides into the stratosphere with name, and voice and reputation on the line every moment.  All of these things mean the world to us. The world, in the same way that Felix's little capsule was his world, his protection in a vast, sometimes hostile environment. We are strapped to our craft and will always be, because our craft is the love of our lives.  The thing we cling to is in the stratosphere.

That's why we need that support.  We need a friendly voice from the ground. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shock is not Surprise

Spoilers, if you haven't caught up with Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey for the past year.

Aristotle said that the best endings are "Both surprising and inevitable,".  As are many plot turns.

The S4 premier of Game of Thrones is just eleven days away, which brought back the Red Wedding episode, which brought back the way Julian Fellowes had tried to have his own Red Wedding on Downton Abbey by having the best character of the show brutally raped as a shock device. Julian double-fridged: he raped Anna in order to create a revenge scenario for her husband Bates (that's fridging), then promised viewers a follow-up to "explore the damage" and blatantly did NOT follow up, creating the second fridge phenomenon, fridge logic, described this way: "By the time you figure out what was wrong with that, it won't matter anymore!

Some people waited till the end of the season to form an opinion about the rape and felt a delayed sense of disgust over it, because the follow-up never happened.  But by then most had forgotten the impact of it and wanted others to "Get over it,".  They wanted to pretend that rape is a romantic and dramatic plot turn rather than a life-eating, soul-shredding shit taken all over someone's humanity. Most viewers wanted to forget the event and move on to the important business of Rose's new frocks. Most reveled in the "drama" of the rape - the same species of blood-thirsty most who scurried to the front rows during the French Revolution, breathless with excitement, handkerchiefs at the ready.

The Red Wedding on Game of Thrones had to happen because a deal was broken with a very vengeful guy, and he took his vengeance.  We all saw it coming.  Like the family who were wiped out, we tried to tell ourselves it would be fine but we had a creeping sensation of danger which was fulfilled.  The ending to their lives was surprising, but also inevitable since it had been set up in the story structure.

Anna's rape was not inevitable; it was a shock. It was an open-handed slap from nowhere in one episode that served to reduce and denigrate the best character permanently and to change the characterization of her husband in one season just to create a plot device.  It was sloppy writing because it was not built into the story armature and because the rest of Anna's story was not told.  She was chained out on the rock and then just seemed to wander back home, a pale wraith of her former vibrant spunky self, with no depth or insights or reveals given to her character.  "There," the story seems to say, "Now we've done with her,"

Anna was fridged.

The very point of all this, of Anna's neutering, wasn't even used as a climax point; we didn't even get any vengeance for it.  The death of the rapist was referred to off-screen after the fact, robbing the audience of the climax scene which is the very point and satisfaction of a vengeance story.

The more I learn about story structure the more flaws I see with the Downton plot from last season and the more I admire the way Game of Thrones is being told.  But we'd best keep a sharp eye.

TV production companies like money, and shock makes money.  Therefore money trumps story.

And the mob loves bloodshed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The First Draft

The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. 

After that, the craftsmanship comes in...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lucy and The Chocolate Factory

We've seen it a few times; Lucille Ball is shoving chocolates into her apron pockets and her mouth to hide the fact that she can't wrap them fast enough as they spill by the thousands off the conveyor belt.  When I mention this analogy to people in radio, there's always a laugh and I never need to explain further.

We want to be perfect chocolate-wrappers.  We hold ourselves to writing standards that we admire.  This is inevitable.  We watch Jimmy Kimmel or Family Guy and we think, "Why can't I be that funny?  Why am I not that witty?  Why didn't I think of that?"  We forget that those jokes are written by teams, TEAMS, now, of writers.  Family Guy has around 25 writers.  Even comparing ourselves to stand-up comedians is apples to pasta - they have days, weeks, months to prepare and process.  We bite right into the raw material every day and have, at most, hours to prepare.

It's a great thing to aspire to be at the top of your craft.  It can also exhaust you if you never reach the brass ring and exhaustion is discouraging, which does not feed creativity.  Excitement, pleasure and peak experience feed creativity.

Shortly after deregulation in the late 1980's the philosophy that "Fear is good," seeped down hallways from sales offices and cubicles like waves of toxic gas, wafting up into microphones.  We were told to "Shut up and play the hits,"  Concert tickets started going to clients; we were no longer invited.  We heard all about how we were now "Barking dogs" and we were expected to sing "Amen!" at evangelistic meetings praising the technology that would put millions of us out of work. 

These are excellent tactics to use on bullet-proof egos in sales departments.  They were devastating to the creative atmosphere of radio.

Despite the fast-and-more setup of radio that's been humming along for the past 30-something years, creativity lives anyway.  It can't be killed.  It is the human compunction responsible for our existence.  Building a shelter, making boots and planting crops are all creative endeavors.  Humans are here because we are creative, we are social, and we tell stories. Disc jockeys are still here because we have such a love for stories and communication and reaching out to an audience with heart and soul that we can't stop. We can't stop, and we can't be stopped.

The conveyor moves along at speed and we keep wrapping, but we must remember that our wrappings are the value.  We must never allow the hum of the machine to drum that knowledge out of us.

We must never forget that radio starts with us.

From the Storytelling Group, The Moth

I think this is a golden age of romantic radio, radio that is based in bringing the listener up close and personal.
—  Brooke Gladstone, This Is Radio

From the poet Muriel Rukeyeser

"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,"

I also love the quoter, my very favorite deconstructor, communicator and journalist.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's International Story Day

What a great holiday.  Beats the crap out of International Happiness Day.  Celebrating International Story Day will not burden you with pressure to be happy, but stories will make you happy.

Stories are essential to human survival.  They are soothing or cathartic or instructive.  They are the tracks by which we can stalk the depths of the psyche, and the blades of the Great Processor, the human brain, make story-shaped marks on history and science and even mathematics.  The brain is not a passive recorder.  The brain processes information through story.

To quote one of my story heroes, Chuck Windig, on Twitter today, "Storytelling isn't about markets or trends. A day's worth of wordsmithy is about the You-Shaped Hole in the narrative. Walk through. Own it."

This is my own guiding story proverb, from Mary Oliver:

1. Pay attention
2. Be astonished
3. Tell about it

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

About This.

If you're sniffing for gossip or meanness, here's why you won't catch it on this blog:

A. Despite my very best efforts, I've done plenty of sucky radio in the past, I'm probably doing some sucky radio now and I'll undoubtedly do some sucky radio in the future.  If there's any moral ground from which to insult other jocks or bring them down, I'm not standing on it.

B.  I know what it takes to hunt down and trap the skills, weather the stresses and endure in radio.  Anyone who's done it gets a chest thump and devil horns of respect from me. 

C. Brain stoplights. The brain stops on a dime for the negative, but it also needs to get back in gear to move on again.  Positives and green lights keep things in motion.  It's more fun that way.

I reserve the right to relate facts of the past if they serve a story, but just the facts, and no names attached if it would bring somebody down.  No thinly-veiled versions of names, either.

I also reserve the right to snark on TV writers with abandon.  They regularly fuck up great stories and everybody needs a target once in a while.

Vitamin S

In one of my favorite books, The Golden Theme, author Brian McDonald (renowned story guru, author of all the books that Pixar interns are required to read before they even begin internship, award-winning screenwriter and producer) describes what he calls the story nutrient.

Stories are essential to survival and have been ever since the first primate slapped berries out of another primate's hand with added gestures and monkey sounds that said, "Make you sick.  Killed my cousin!  Don't eat!"

Bleeding leads on the news because we want survival information.  We are evolutionarily programmed to crave it and seek it.  What happened, we wonder?  Somebody was going too fast on an icy road.  Somebody did some bad drugs.  Somebody got on a plane that was stolen by terrorists-this one especially horrifying because there's no advice that will help you; you are powerless in that situation.  But no matter how horrible, we want to know. We need to know. 

That piece of survival information in a story is the nutrient.  We think of it as the takeaway.  But it's not just scary news or lifestyle advice.  Jokes, music gossip, candid moments with the listener and a billion other things jocks come up with are all nutrients.  They make life bearable by shoring up the listener's psychic immune system.

The way feral stories come together with on-air chops is one of my obsessions.  I love hearing how jocks do it.  It's still a very unique form.  When people post on social media it's always slanted for mass consumption. Radio jocks customize content for a very specific audience and to push that audience's buttons in a way that has nothing to do with sales or mass consumption.  It's designed to engage, sure, but also to fuck with their minds just a little.  You can't get away with that in social media or even in a vlog posting, because you risk being misunderstood.  Jocks have a far more masterful hand with their art form and they are unhampered by the rules that tie other forms down.

It's voice to ear, pure and feral.

No other media can deliver the same variety of nutrients.

The Story Hiding Behind The Dumpster

My story guru Brian McDonald talks about the feral story.  Like the flea-pocked, matted and snarling kitten behind the dumpster, the feral story is pure; it comes out of human mouths spontaneously and with no consciousness of the fact that it is a story.  It has not been edited or cleaned up and it's not comfortable.  It has no home.  It is story sprung from and operating on pure story instinct.

I stalk feral stories.  Coffeehouse conversations are great for that.  Almost every exchange in a coffeehouse or a break room is a story. I love to deconstruct feral stories, because they almost always follow the rules of story; there's almost always a beginning, a middle and an end, and usually other great components as well.  I heard this one in a coffee house down the street from the station:

Chick 1: "How's work?"

That's the beginning.  We're at a known time and place.

Chick 2: "You know that new skank I told you about in accounting?"

That's the end of the beginning.  It's the first question that launches us into the first act conflict.

Chick 1: "Yeah?"
Chick 2: "You should have seen the shoes today.  And in the snow.  I mean..."

The conflict is jacked up by the shoes. This takes us into act 2.

Chick 1:  "Desperate."
Chick 2: "Oh, my God.  So desperate,"

But the skank and the shoes were not the nutrient.  Here comes the nutrient:

Chick 1:  "She'll get promoted,"

That's the crisis point at the end of act 2- that the skank will get promoted.

Chick 2:  "Yup.  But when the new management comes in-"

That's the climax, which hinges on the crisis but takes it to a new level. Now the reader or listener knows we're in hot water.  Now what?

Chick 2:  "-well...that will be the fun part,"

And there's the denouement and the resolve.  Things will be OK again.  Aristotle would have approved of that ending, too, because as he said, "A great ending is both surprising and inevitable,"

In addition to the nutrient (don't be a skank in desperate shoes or it won't end well for you) there was tragedy, foreshadowing and even a cliffhanger.  The "fun part" is coming in a future episode.

I can't get enough of these.  It's like feeding feral cats.  But greedier, because I can use them on the air.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Tragedy Tightrope

I listen to MacKenzie Rae regularly anyway, but this morning I heard a break that was so cleanly constructed and so genuine that I had to deconstruct it.  It reminded me how well tragedy can be done.

Doing tragedy on the radio SUCKS.  We've all heard Dick Clark's raging tirade over coming out of a cheerful record into a story about dead puppies, and we know he had a point.  I was live on The Fox during the Columbine shootings.  The moment seared into slow-motion nightmare for me, the moment that returns at four in the morning, is snatching a Tanner Gun Show spot from the cart deck as Taking Care of Business was fading, as my PD shoved an update from KOA into my hand confirming that another two children were dead.  I didn't implode in that moment, of course, just later over a few shots of tequila. 

I don't remember how I did that break.  I wasn't fired that day, but that doesn't mean I did it well.  Tragedy is really, really hard to do.

In McKenzie's break, the construction was pristine and the delivery anti-tabloid.  She had a reason for telling me about Mick Jagger's girlfriend L'Wren.  It wasn't just the backsell of a Stones record; she gave me a tour update as well. They had to reschedule a tour date because Mick is having a very bad day.  His girlfriend not only died, but she appears to have killed herself. 

There were just enough words to give me all the information and also enough feeling, because McKenzie didn't shy away from the feeling.  She allowed her voice to go heavy with sadness and to leave that on the end of the break.  It was a genuine amount of sadness as well.  It's sad news, even if we didn't know the lady.  I liked another thing about that break, too; it reminded me that Mick Jagger, one of the heroes of our format, is a feeling human being.  That point has been in question in my mind more than once. 

McKenzie used one other dynamic in execution that I admired; she kept it brief.  It reminded me that when you're walking on a loose, wiggly tightrope with no net, it's best to keep the walk short.  It lends more dignity, and you're safer that way.

Cold Beginning

I sat in my truck one morning breathing frozen mist on the inside of the windshield as the heater blasted sub-zero air into my face. I was punching the buttons on the radio. 

The guys on The Fox made a gross joke about women.  I punched a button.  The guys on KBPI made a gross joke about women. I punched a button.  Somebody on KOA remarked that "Women can't do math,".

I'd already had a crappy weekend with my ex and was not feeling strong, so the morning barrage of misogyny transported me to a hostile universe.

I punched over to KTCL.  Sabrina said, "Hey, it's Sabrina, and man, is it cold,"

I threw up my mittened hands.  "THANK YOU!"  I yelled in the ice-coated cab of my truck, "It's cold.  Thank you,"

Sabrina then told me that her dog Ryker was under her chair, she had her feet up and her mug of coffee was hot.  She reminded me that, with the usual luck, I would soon have a nice cup of something hot and not have to drive anywhere for a while.  Things were most likely going to be OK.  The universe was not an entirely hostile place anymore.

I was bored by the next three songs she played, but I didn't punch another button.  She had me.  I wanted to be in that cozy world she was in, where dogs and coffee made life good.  More than that, I wanted to be loyal.  She had bailed me out and I wanted to return the favor by staying with her.  That was the first time I'd ever listened to radio like a listener, and I had been in the business for over ten years. 

That morning I finally got it.  We each bring an entire microcosm with us when we start a break.  That's one magic of the beginning of a story.  Jocks are sitting on one end of the mic, our brains churning over content and delivery and added value, while on the other end the listener soaks up the thing we're no longer conscious of: the organic magic that we bring just by being present and being in context. 

To share context, to let them know you are in the same place and time or just listening to the same song or just being another actual human being on the planet with them, is the grounding and founding of a story.  It's the beginning.  And if you are truly present and truly go to ground with them, share a world with them, even make the world they're in a bit less hostile, you have given them something very valuable, for free.  Just by being where they are, and by being you.

If you give them that, they'll be back.