Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Art of Baby

The following is a post for one particular reader who was asking me about baby rearing. I'm far far FAR from an actual expert, but thought I'd use my blog for a bit of an info dump of what I do know (or what I think I know).

Disclaimer: The following rules are in no particular order, and only seem mostly true to me over the past six months. Also keep in mind that my wife does about 99% of the real work, while I hover on the perimeter, picking up things, fetching items, like a modern day Igor.


Rule Number 1
Anything can and will strangle your baby in a deathless grip if you let it. Strings, toys, fluffy blankets, pillows, a well intentioned greeting. Babies seem intent on some suicidal pact to off themselves with any available item. Therefore you should try and keep items away from baby, unless you are watching them like a hawk. A hawk on ritalin. A hawk on ritalin with a keen ambition to join the NSA.


Rule Number 2
Babies suck at conversation. So they cry when they need help. Try not to attach too much emotion and attachment to the cry. It's the only option they have. I'm sure if they could, they'd tap you lightly on the shoulder and say "I say old chap, mightn I bother you for a spot of breast milk. That's a good show." But they can't.


Rule Number 3
They don't really want to be here. They just came from a really groovy place that was warm, just humid enough, close to mom, where they never, ever felt hunger. Everwhere else is a downgrade. So it's pretty easy for them to get uncomfortable. Be it too hot, too cold, hungry, gassy, wet (diaper), or whatever. These are pretty intense sensations when you take into account their previous experience was warm, nourished, comfortable, ALL THE TIME. See rule number 2.


Rule Number 4
Babies suck at sooo many things. Eating, sleeping, waking, keeping their head up, commenting on current affairs vis a vis the IMF and it's seditious involvement in the WTO. Therefore they need help. So much help. Gigantic, patient, heapings of help.


Rule Number 5
There aren't many things that bother a baby. The thing is, they are pretty senstive, and they have absolutely no recourse if something is wrong. Try and imagine if you were hungry. And you were locked in some cell. Not much recourse except to holler eh? Or if you were sleepy, and didn't know how to put yoruself to sleep. See rule number 4.
The things that bother a baby are, off the top of my head:
HUNGER
SLEEPINESS
OVERSTIMULATION (something missed by many middly grandparents)
WET/DIRTY DIAPER
LONLINESS
LACK OF STIMULATION
DISCOMFORT too cold, too warm.
GAS


Rule Number 6
Whatever you have tried might work 10 seconds from now. So you've tried feeding her, you've tried changing her diaper, you've tried putting her to sleep, she's totally comfortable (no sweat on the back of her neck, she seems to have enough layers), she's not interested in toys or songs. Well guess what bucko, try feeding her again. Suddenly it's like she has been hungry ALL THIS TIME AND WHY HAVEN"T YOU BEEN FEEDING HER!?


Rule Number 7
Improvise- Adapt- Overcome. The Marines were obviously fathers at some point. See rule 6. Especially the adapt.


Rule Number 8
The world and indeed otherwise pretty friendly folks are here to make you feel like the worst parent since child sacrifice had been outlawed.


Rule Number 9
All rules are rubbish, given the right circumstance.


Rule Number 10
To mitigate the guesswork of Rule 6, one school of thought (there are many) on the issue of baby minding suggests a certain order to activities. The book is The Baby Whisperer, the order is
E : eat
A : activitiy, songs, being held and chatted to, a brisk game of gin rummy
S : sleep
Y : you, or also known as Sleep Damnit, While You Have the Time. Sleep!

You'll notice this makes a nifty acronym to put first time parents at ease. You'll also realize that acronyms never helped anyone. They are lazy like that.

It is, however, a good rule of thumb. If you keep a log of what is happening and when, you can prety much guess what's going on. If they have just eaten,

Rule Number 10
You can meet the needs of your baby pretty simply:
HUNGER
Feed. Bottle, breast, whatever

SLEEPINESS
quiet, dark, and swaddled

OVERSTIMULATION
quiet and dark, soft soothing voices. Sometimes you'll need to get out of whatever public area you have braved to bring your baby to.

WET/DIRTY DIAPER
the ultimate display of parental love

LONLINESS
hang out with her, just chill

LACK OF STIMULATION
depending on age, but it can be as simple as looking at you, ro something new. It graduates to toys, songs, books. It can vary from 20 minutes of activity to much, much longer.

DISCOMFORT
add and remove layers as needed. Note that the baby loses most of (70%) of their heat through their gigantic oversized head.

GAS
Burp them. Rub them gently or pat them on the back.

There are lots of specifics for each action. Read a book, most any book on child rearing for the details.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Still. Fricking. Editing.

It's one thing to write. To just pump out those words everyday. It's quite another to have to read the atrocious swill you churn out and try and make it presentable. I know at least one beta reader is waiting for her copy (Hi Grace!) but it looks like the editing is going about as fast as the writing went. Well, slower, actually. Around 2000ish words a day, every other day or so.

It's a bit of a shock to get to some scenes and find they need almost a complete rewrite. Sure, it's a pleasure to get to a scene that just flows, but those are few and far between. To add insult to injury, all of these scenes have already been edited at least once. Ugh!

Oh yeah, I got my article all printed up nice and purdy on the department news letter. That was exciting. Very very first article printed. Evar!

I'm also working on some short stories. That's a tough go. Hard to trim down a story to be interesting as well as have suitable pace for 2-15,000 words.

Uhm, sorry about no entertainment on this blog post. Er. Uhm. Feeling the pressure to do a little song and dance here. How about I show you how I edit a piece. I'll keep it short.

In general, you want to clarify and pare down. The rule is 10% cut per edit.

So here is a scene in Chapter 13, from 430 words to 380. Hopefully you, the reader, can tell the difference.

BEFORE

Of all the minor annoyances Harold had to endure, this was the one he hated the most. Informing - The - Would - Be - Supreme - Evil - Ruler - That - Their - Best - Laid - Plans - Had - Hit - A - Snag. Luckily, he was only a contract worker for this Would Be Evil Ruler, otherwise, Harold would be buying some Violent and Inexplicable Death Insurance that were all the rage with henchmen and sidekicks the world over.
Edward's lip quivered, "This.. Insatiable, that can't be the one of legend. The one with the.. the.. soap named after it?"
"The very one!" Harold liked to remain chipper during these tasks. No need to let his employer know just how much danger their plans were in. He bared his teeth in the most convival way he could think of, "That's just a tale though. To keep dairy farmer's children in line! The very thought of a cheese pirate being mad and powerful enough to take on a small city! It's, it's pure fantasy. This is what Maarea told me, I'm only the messenger" Harold wondered if his theory on the relative safety of contract evil doers was sound. Edward was no strong man by any leap of the imagination, even an alcohol induced one, even an alcohol and hallucinegenic mushroom induced stretch of the imagination, not even a an alchohol and mushroom induced, look - that - guy - is - totally - staring - you - down - and - calling - in - question - your - sword - play - abilities - you - can - totally - take - him - and - his - battallion - of - ogre - friends stretch of the imagination. In short, Edward was a weak man, even his sense of smell was stronger than his brawn. But that didn't stop him from being a very real menace to Harold. Brawn, in his experience, had nothing over a sly understanding of poisons, a will to do evil consistently, and an evil cackle that could freeze the blood.
Edward cackled evilly freezing Harold's blood. He stopped himself, and looked around his office (this didn't take long, as Edward's office was a repurposed chamber pot closet). Dumb dumb dumb. He should never let his evil cackle of eventual worldwide oppression (and yes, the slow torture and killing of Xor), be revealed at work. As far as everyone was concerned, Lord Ablequarm, Gregor, even Xor, he was a bumbling, forgetful clerical fool with no ambition at all. Well, he would show them, he had ambition. Great gobs of it. Great heaping sloppy ambitiony gobs of it!
"How could this happen? What a utterly random event to put a hamper on my plans. I have no time for this. Did you not see them on the Plains of Light and Magic? They are all here. On time. Bloody well always on time. Can't even be late for The Faire, can they? My plans MUST be into play before they get here!"




AFTER:
Harold hated informing the Would Be Evil Ruler that their Best Laid Plans had Hit A Snag. Luckily, he was only on contract with Edward, otherwise he would have to buy some "Violent and Inexplicable Death" Insurance that was all the rage with henchmen.
Edward's lip quivered, "This.. Insatiable, that can't be the one of legend. The one with the.. the.. soap named after it?"
"The very one!" Harold liked to remain chipper when breaking the news. No need to get his employer more nervous and uppity. He bared his teeth in the most convival way he could manage. "That's just a tale though. To keep dairy farmer's children in line! The very thought of a cheese pirate being mad and powerful enough to take on a small city! It's, it's pure fantasy."
And with that, Harold flapped away into the night.
Flying safely in the night are, Harold wondered if his theory on the safety of contract henchmen was sound. Edward was no strong man by any stretch of the imagination, even an alcohol induced one, even an alcohol and hallucinegenic mushroom induced one, even an alchohol and mushroom induced, look - that - guy - is - totally - staring - you - down - and - questioning - your - sword - play - abilities - you - can - totally - take - him - and - his - ogre - friends stretch of the imagination.
In short, Edward was a weak. But that didn't mean he was wasn't dangerous. Brawn, in Harold's experience, was nothing compared to a sly understanding of poisons, a penchant for evil, and a blood freezing cackle.

Edward laughed a blood freezing cackle. He stopped himself, and looked around his office. Dumb dumb dumb. He should never let his evil cackle of eventual worldwide rule be revealed at work.
As far as everyone was concerned - - Lord Ablequarm, Gregor, even Xor - - he was a bumbling, forgetful clerical fool with no ambition at all. Well, he would show them, he had ambition. Great gobs of it. Great heaping sloppy ambitiony gobs of it!
Edward thought about The Snag he had hitm and muttered under his breath, "How could this happen? What a utterly random event to put a hamper on my plans. I have no time for this. Just look at the Plains of Light and Magic. They are all here. On time. Bloody well always on time. Can't even be late for The Faire, can they? My plans MUST be into play before they get here!"

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Editing

I'm not sure how many of you are interesting writing, either as a hobby (as it is with me), or as a casual observer (much as say, I take interest in someone who might collect the odd 1960's era Brazilian Pogs issued by the Oscar Myer Corporation), or quite possibly as a pie in the sky hope of one day doing it for a living (also me).

To have more blather, I thought I'd talk about my process. As an unpublished fiction writer. I realize that this is like a carpenter who has never been paid for his work, discussing his woodworking technique. While theoretically it may be correct, its most likely is complete rubbish.

But that's not going to stop me.

So right now I'm going through my final edit (I hope) of my first book. The entire book has gone through at least one revision/edit. Parts have gone through as many as four. The thing about revising and editing is that it's a completely different beast than writing. At least it is for me.

When you're writing, the old adage is "you're allowed to write crap", meaning that you should just pump out that first draft lickety split. Otherwise you procrastinate, take an avid interest in orchid cultivation, start blogging, and in other ways stop yourself from getting those words to hard-disk. So there is a certain freedom to it. You write the most horrid and awkward phrases. You just keep chugging along. You tell yourself, like the hollywood director who has just had a Honda Civic drive through his pastoral setting of 1895 England, "I'll get it in post".

The editing phase is for honing. There is no amateur hour here. You have to write as well (if you are talking genre fiction) as a Stephen King or Terry Brooks. Your lines have to be clean, your meaning clarified from it's current state of murky "coffee pot been sitting for 23 hours" to "something that one might consider drinking" to "as transparent as the Bottled Water cash grab Industry is". Characters have to materialize, plot has to move along, dialogue has to flow, descriptions have to sizzle. There is no net.

This is where the real craft is, I believe.

This is also where you can simply freeze, staring at your words, with no idea how better to rephrase the clunkiest sentence ever put to paper.