Monday, January 29, 2007

Squidoo Lens: MegaSudoku

One of my main passions is MegaSudoku, which everybody thinks I'm nuts to do because it looks so hard. But, I was looking for a way to perk my brain up in the middle of a long day of backbreaking labor over letters and grammar, and it turns out that if you play with MegaSudoku, you find it includes a number of tiny little logic puzzles that can be worked on a little at a time.

So, when I heard about Squidoo it seemed like a great place to trot out my theory of MegaSudoku. Here's my new lens:

MegaSudoku for Busy People"

Friday, January 26, 2007

Missing Scenes Competition: Oh Susannah!

This is my first entry in the Missing Scenes Competition, which at present is only in the works, but will eventually be on the Wasteflake Site. The rules are to write a scene based on an existing novel, using the characters and implying the situations in the novel. The scene must not exist in the novel, but must be events that are implied in the book, and may have occurred during the action of the novel, or before or after the action of the novel. The scene must include one or more characters in the novel. Additional characters who did not appear in the novel must be a minority; writing yourself in is frowned upon. As soon as Wasteflake gets our act together again, you too can submit a link to your entry, or if you don't have a blog or website, add your story to the Wasteflake wiki.

So, based on Kate Wilhelm's 1980 book Oh, Susannah!, here's my first entry:


On the fourteenth floor of an office building overlooking Central Park, a woman sits at a desk working on the galleys of a manuscript. One pencil is shoved into the untidy knot of her grey hair; with another she taps out a calypso beat on the desktop. She rests her chin in her hand, and peers microscopically at the blue printed words on the shiny fibrous paper in front of her. One expensively decorous shoe dangles off the end of her right toe; the other is lost beneath the desk.

The phone rings, and she snakes out one arm to answer it, dropping the pencil and marking her place with her finger.

"Berryman and Associates, this is Sylvia." she says into the receiver.

"Oh, hi Gavin, yes the galleys came this afternoon. I'm reading them now.... Well, I think he's in the middle of something, but let me check."

She punches a button on the phone, putting the caller on hold, and leans over behind her in what she has come to think of as the Rosemary Woods stretch, blindly finding an intercom button and pressing it down. She listens intently.

In another room, no corresponding buzz is made on the similar intercom, because the receiving button is being held in place with Roget's thesaurus for just such an occasion. Sylvia can hear a soft snore through the connection.

"Sorry Gavin, he's pretty busy right now, I'll have him call you back in about, oh 20 minutes or so. Okay, talk to you then."

As Sylvia hangs up the phone she catches the eye of the other occupant of her office; an orange cat, perched regally in the sunshine on a broad windowsill of the penthouse. The cat's ancient Egyptian demeanor is spoiled, somewhat, by the brown ruff of fur standing out awkwardly from its neck and the ninety degree crook in its tail. The cat stares at Sylvia, then jumps from the window sill and walks toward the door. The cat seats himself about two feet from the doorway and closely examines first the doorknob and then the faint light from the hall which glimmers beneath the door.

The phone rings again as Sylvia slews around in her chair and pushes the intercom open. "Mike, they're here!"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

There was this old man who came to see me

I have a very dear friend who is 94. And today I told her this story, and she wondered why I hadn't written it down. So here is the story, for Gusti.

Last summer I was approached by a young woman whose uncle had written a book. I do manuscript editing on the side now and then, to make ends meet, and the young woman said her uncle's book was a collection of Native American tales and he was interested in getting it published as a historical adventure novel 'some day' and would I meet them for coffee. I said sure, and when I got to the coffee shop, there they were, a young woman in her late 20s with a squirmy three year old and her 75 year old uncle, an old bachelor farmer who lives on his farm in one of the rural corners of my state. Lovingly, he passed over a copy of his manuscript. 450 pages long, it was, but on a CD Rom (not so bulky that way).

When I read this manuscript, or at least began reading this tome, at first I was horrified, because it was so far from what I know to be true about Native American history as to be laughable. On so many levels, this man got it so, so wrong. His book has the glacier retreating and the white men appearing in the space of a single generation (not 10,000 years apart as science tells us). He has Native Americans sitting around a campfire, swapping stories of the mammoth they killed that day and drinking corn whiskey while the women make porcelain tea cups. No. Sorry, no that's very very wrong. But the writing isn't bad, in fact it's quite engaging. And the stories, while not of any Native Americans I've ever known or heard of, and in some respects rather insulting of the true histories of Native Americans, are still stories written based on his life, on his fantastic melding of stories from his own experience and stories he created, whole cloth, out of his imagination.

You see, he'd collected artifacts since he was a little boy, looking for arrowheads and ground stone axes and telling himself stories about them; stories about Indian princesses and tragic love stories and great heroes and noble sacrifices. Except for the time he spent in France during WWII, he'd never left home, never really been far away from the farm on which he now lived, and his stories are deeply ingrained into him, part of the leathery skin and permanent dirty tan of an old farmer. I tried to tell him, gently, that his book was completely wrong in terms of science. But he would have none of it--this is a work of history, he says, and just because I have a fancy degree and work as an archaeologist doesn't make me an expert.

So, I could just say, I'm sorry, I want nothing to do with this error, this set of blunders you want to perpetrate on the public. Except that--the stories are wonderfully flavored elements of his own history, fantasies built of the stories his parents and grandparents told him, stories of his own experiences in France, and the stories that he told himself based on the artifacts he found at home on his farm. It's interesting writing, it's just... not science.

So what is a science-loving archaeo-writer to do? Stall and hope for an inspired solution.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The End of Mr. Y

This is really a terrific book, written by Scarlett Thomas and published in 2006 by Harcourt Press. I can't remember the last time I read a book that drew me in so securely I didn't want to stop reading. The plot is about a graduate student in Oxbridge named Ariel Mantu (except that's a pseudonym), working on a comparative lit doctoral dissertation, partly on an obscure science writer from the 19th century named Thomas Lumas. Lumas's last book was called The End of Mr. Y, and it disappeared shortly after being published. Lumas himself died the day it was published, and all of the people associated with the publication died shortly thereafter.

Ariel finds the book, of course. The rest of the plot is so unusual, mixing time travel and evolution and deconstructionism, and fantasy and all kinds of good and bad surprises with images from several. Lots of fun for fans of Jacques Derrida and Samuel Butler; and an interesting introduction to the ideas. There is a pun in the title, in fact there are puns and hints about what is going on throughout the book, and The End of Mr. Y is simply a fascinating puzzle that is thoroughly enjoyable.

, Scarlett Thomas, Harcourt Press. 2006.

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