Author Archives: Noah Baird

Naming Whales

Imagine if we learned how to communicate with whales. And then imagine if they learned what we call them.

The research vessel gently bobbed off the coast of California. The mid-afternoon sun reflected off the water, blinding anyone facing west. To the east, spouts of different sizes and shapes erupted like cacophonous blasts. Each exhale marked a different breed of whale, and they all had fish breath.

The first whale to approach was an enormous creature, over 100 feet in length. The behemoth rolled onto its side. An eye the size of a manhole cover fixed on the humans in the vessel. With an intake of breath that would have filled 2,000 balloons, the creature spoke.

“I am the largest creature in the ocean.”

Humans: “Yep. In fact, you are the largest living thing to have ever lived on this planet. You are even larger than the largest dinosaur.”

“So, you have named me something fitting for my size? Maybe ‘Mega-Whale’?”

Humans: “Nope. We named you ‘Blue’.”

“‘Ultra-fluke’?”

Humans: “Just ‘Blue’.”

“I’m not even blue!”

“Doesn’t matter. You’re Blue”.

Another whale approached. This one with long pectoral fins.

“And what of us? We are the singing whales you’ve studied for years.”

Humans: “Yeah, those are nice songs. We call you ‘Humpbacks’.”

“What? But we don’t have humpbacks!”

Humans: “Hate to tell you this, but you have a humped back”.

“But what about our songs?”

Humans: “We sell them to hippies in New Age stores.”

“Our songs tell the story of the history of the Earth from the beginning of time until now. The songs become longer with the passing of each generation.”

Humans: “You’re still Humpbacks.”

“We sing hanging upside down!”

Humans: Probably why you have humpbacks. Next!”

A larger whale approached.

Humans: “We call you ‘Right Whale’.”

“Because we are so intelligent and wise?”

Humans: “Nope. Because you were the ‘right’ ones to kill.”

“What?”

Humans: “Yeah, we used to hunt whales more. We thought you were the best kind to kill.”

“That’s barbaric!”

Humans: “Well, according to the historical documentation we wrote, you didn’t even try to run.”

“Because we are peaceful creatures!”

Humans: “‘Peaceful creatures nearly hunted into extinction.”

“Well, that explains why it’s so hard to find a date.”

A whale with a blockish head approached.

“I am the largest carnivorous whale in the ocean. I am feared across the Earth.”

Humans: “We named you ‘Sperm Whale’.”

“Why would you call us that?”

Humans: “We used to think your head was full of sperm.”

“I have epic battles with giant squid!”

Humans: “It was that or ‘Frankenstein-Head Whale.”

“So, we’re just giant swimming testicles to you?”

Humans: “That’s right. The good news is you are in an epic novel.”

“As a wise and noble creature?”

Humans: “As a metaphor for a penis.”

“What! Who would write a novel about a whale penis?”

Humans: “Human penis.”

“Dammit!”

A smaller, black and white whale approached.

“We hunt in wolf-packs and mate for life.”

Humans: “We call you ‘Orca’ or ‘Killer Whale’.”

“Oh, those are both great names. We heard what you named the other whales . . . “

Humans: “Well, you aren’t whales.”

“But we are whales.”

Humans: “Nope. You’re dolphins.”

“What’s the difference?”

Humans: “If you are really big, you are a whale. But you have to be really big because we always compare whales to the size of buses. If you are smaller and cute, then you are a dolphin.”

“What if you are small and not cute?”

Humans: “Then you’re a porpoise. We decided you were dolphins with a really cool paint job, so we call you whales but you’re really dolphins.”

“That sucks.”

Humans: “You’re famous.”

“We are?”

Humans: “Yep. We keep you in giant aquariums where people pay to see you.”

“And watch us hunt and kill? Is that why you call us ‘Killer Whales’?”

“To watch you give a woman a ride and jump through hoops.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“You also splash children.”

Noah Baird, the author of Donations to Clarity, spends too much time wondering about the names of things.

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Double Talking Jive and the Language of Women by Noah Baird

I’ve noticed recently that women have tricked us. I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know how. All I know is they’ve subtly altered the lexicon without anyone noticing. It all started when a woman asked me if I had “ . . . deleted the text or deleted-deleted the text?”.

In case you’ve never met a woman; here’s a decoder ring:

What she says

What she means

Did you delete the text? Did you move the text to the trash folder?g
Did you delete-delete the text? Did you move the text to the trash folder and then empty the trash folder?g

g

This a uniquely feminine way of speaking. Men do not walk around asking each other if they drank the beer, or if they drank-drank the beer. Yet we understand what it means.

After conducting some in-depth analysis (and by “in-depth analysis”, I mean I thought about it while I was in the shower), I concluded there were two ways women double talk.

The first, is to minimize an action.

What she says

What she means

I went shopping. I didn’t go shopping-shopping. She went window shopping. Just a word of caution, this does not mean she did not buy anything. It means she did not purchase anything in excess of an arbitrary amount she considers to be “shopping”. Note: This arbitrary amount varies from model to model.g
I went shopping-shopping. She went shopping.g

g

The second way double talk is used is as an intensifier. In this case, if you hear a woman say the word twice, she is intensifying the meaning. For a man, this is the same thing as saying “really”. For example, she may ask you if you ” . . . love it-love it.”. She’s asking if you really love it.

What she says

What she means
We need to talk. She is going to list, in detail, the things you are doing wrong.g
We need to talk-talk. It’s a long list. Run.

g

The problem occurs with the usual differences in understanding between the sexes, as with the case below:

What she says

What a man understands

Do you like her? Would you sleep with her?g
Do you like her-like her? Would you sleep with her?g
Do you like her-like her-like her? Slow down, psycho! I only want to sleep with her.g

g

Double talk may also be used as a subtle warning. In this case, she’s trying to be nice for your benefit. However, she’s a rattlesnake with a silencer. Extreme caution is advised.

What she says

What she means

I’m so happy your old college roommate is coming to visit.g She hates him.
I’m so happy your old college roommate is coming to visit. I just love him, love him, love him.g She hates him-hates him.

g

If you want to understand-understand a woman, you need to filter-filter or you’ll be in trouble-trouble.

Noah Baird usually does not understand women. He is also the author of Donations to Clarity.

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Raising Readers – Maurice Sendak is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself

I was lying in bed reading a book one night, when my oldest son came in.

“Dad, I can’t sleep. Can I read in here for a while?”

The answer wasn’t even out of my mouth before he dashed out of the room to fetch the book he had just started reading; the first book of The Spiderwick Chronicles series. He returned to my room, and I set up a pillow for him to lean on. After he had adjusted himself into a comfortable position, we made some small talk about the books we were reading – prompted by his stealing glances at me reading. And I, in turn, stealing glances at him reading.

“Dad – You read books, and mom is Catholic.”

I sat back and looked at my son. “What?” He clarified, “You read a lot of books, and mom is Catholic.”

As funny as it may be; the kid was on to something. When my son made this declaration, I had been pondering how to get him to be more interested in books. Not that he’s uninterested in books. He is. We just hadn’t found the books he was really interested in; books he had a magnetic attraction to.

Last summer, he and his brother discovered Star Wars, and like most little boys; they became completely brain-damaged by it. Every word spoken was about Star Wars. Every synapse that fired sounded like a laser bolt inside their little melons. So – what do I do? I pick up every Star Wars book I can find – Star Wars novellas for young readers, character encyclopedias, spacecraft manuals. I even bought them a Star Wars cookbook (I’m not kidding. It’s called Wookie Cookie. The Boba Fettuccine isn’t bad). The problem was, as much as he enjoyed the books; I got the feeling he just wasn’t crazy about the Star Wars novellas like he was about pretending to be in a galaxy far, far away.

When he was younger, I used to pick up the heavily discounted encyclopedias from the front of the bookstores. I bought books on snakes, primates, helicopters, dinosaurs, sharks; anything I thought they’d be interested in. I would leave the books around the house for him and his little brother to pick up. The goal wasn’t to have them read the books; neither of them could read at this point. I wanted them to get used to books; to become comfortable with them. I would also rent documentaries on dinosaurs or sharks, whatever they wanted to watch- we then would look up in the books the animals we had seen. We watched a dinosaur documentary every Sunday night, and we would place post-it notes on the pages of the dinosaurs we saw in the documentary. I then read the pages to them for their bedtime story. This went on for a year or two. We went through a spider phase, shark phase, and venomous snake phase. It worked out for me because, let’s face it, you can only read Goodnight Moon so many times before you want to hurt someone.

But that didn’t matter as much to my children as what I was doing.

I think I have a healthy appetite for books. Going back through my Goodreads.com and Amazon.com accounts; I estimate that I read a book every seven to ten days; approximately 45-50 books a year (not including the books I read to my children or work). I don’t know if that qualifies as a voracious reader. We’ll just say I like books.

What my son had cued in on was not the books I was gently introducing him to, but the family attribute of being readers. It was interesting to me he likened being a reader to being Catholic. It was a way for him to categorize the family based on a strong, identifiable trait.

Similarly, my five-year old told me this weekend that he and his brother don’t believe in God when they are with me, and they do believe in God when they are with their mother   (Which was never my intention with them. I always told them to pick the path that was right for them). He tells me this as he poses his Star Wars action figures on my large, wooden statue of Buddha. I can only assume he is referring to the one-true-god who looks like Barry Gibb, and not any of those weird, foreign gods. But he’s only five years old, so I couldn’t really argue with him. I did tell him to get his gun-toting Star Wars bounty hunters off Buddha or he’ll release the flatulence of a thousand vegetarian curries under his covers as he’s falling asleep. To which he replied, “Cool!”, and quizzed me on exactly how bad that would smell.

My ex-wife, the Catholic, isn’t a prolific reader. So it’s only a matter of time before they think atheists are readers, and Catholics – not so much. I could head them off and correct them before they make the connection, but why spoil the fun?

On March 27th, USA Today ran an informational snapshot which stated 18% of 4th grade boys felt they did not have enough time to read, while 10% of 4th grade girls felt similarly. In comparison, 40% of 8th grade boys and 24% of 8th grade girls felt they didn’t have time to read.

Without getting into the disturbing gender disparity (I mean, 76% of 8th grade girls have the time to read and kiss their Justin Beiber posters!), our children are not reading or getting enough time to read. The really sad news is, the children are reading more than many adult Americans. An MSNBC poll showed 27% of adult Americans had not read a book in a year. In 2004, a study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts found only 57% of American adults had read a book that year. Of those 57%, the median number of books read per year was 9 books for the women, and five books for the men (Come on, guys! Why so low? You can read more than five books a year if you only read while sitting on the toilet!). I am willing to bet the children who aren’t reading are raised in households where the adults also do not read.

When I was in the Navy, I had the benefit of having some very good leaders, as well as some atrocious ones- and I learned from both. One of the good ones taught me that any failure on my crew was ultimately my fault (and subsequently his fault, etc.), because we had not identified the weak link and given that person the necessary training they needed to do their job. The goal was never to punish the person for not meeting the standard, but to give them additional attention. I also had a boss who we could not beat in our qualification tests. For years, I struggled and studied to beat him in one of those tests. His ability to stay just out of our reach was indicative of his lead-by-example style of leadership. He was far senior to us and it wouldn’t really matter if we scored higher than him on a qualification test, but he did it because it motivated us. Years later, after he retired, he told me how hard he had to work to stay ahead of us. I can say I eventually did score higher than him on an exam; I beat him by two points. I had studied for months for an upcoming exam. Then the night before we were to be tested, I got him drunk and sent a hooker to his room at 3 in the morning- which is something I learned from those bad bosses I mentioned earlier.

I think we can take the same attitude with children reading (Maybe skip the hookers, but if that’s what it takes to motivate them. Right?). We can lead by example and be their role models for reading. We can blame the internet and texting, but ultimately the failure falls on us. I have zero evidence to support this rant, but it would seem that if we want to raise readers, then we need to be readers ourselves. It’s like when people say to not go on a diet, but make a lifestyle change. Make reading one of your traits; a part of your personality.

We also need to provide better examples of readers in books, television, and movies. The people with books in any movie or television show are either rich, white people who have expansive libraries nobody believes they read; liberal, white people who have books stacked around their loft as part of their decor; or the crazy, mad scientist. Not exactly the typical American family.

In books, there are only two characters holding the book pennant up for our children: Klaus Baudelair of the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events series, and Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. Both are avid readers fueled by a thirst for knowledge. For both characters, the ability to apply the knowledge gained from books is their super power. However, neither character seems to read for the simple joy of reading.

I believe movies can also play a role in raising readers. I recently let my kids see the first Harry Potter movie to get them interested in reading the books. We then began reading the series after their approval of the movie – and by “We”, I mean “I” am reading the books to them. My oldest can read the Harry Potter books, but he can’t read it smoothly as a storyteller. His little brother also wants to hear the stories, so I do the reading.

The annoying thing about reading the book after seeing the movie was they knew what was going to happen. For the second installment of the series, I read the book to them and then rented the movie. The book-then-movie path seems to work better for us. The movie becomes a sort of reward for finishing the book, and it seems to make them look forward to the next book.

I decided to continue with the trend of renting movies based on children’s books series as an introduction to new series. I rented Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as The Spiderwick Chronicles. Along with the movies, I picked up the first couple of each series to read if he was interested.

I presented the boys the first two books of The Spiderwick Chronicles,  along with two supplemental stories to the second book. I picked up the books at a used bookstore for roughly $.75 each, so even if they don’t like the books, I’m only out a couple of dollars.

An interesting thing happened with The Spiderwick Chronicles series. My oldest began reading the first book on a Thursday night. When my alarm went off the next morning, he hopped into my bed and stated he read the entire book. Saturday morning, the same thing happened; he had read the second book in the series. After his baseball game on Saturday, he hopped on the couch and began reading the supplemental stories. By the end of the weekend, he had read all four of the books; roughly 300 pages total. He then took off reading The Lemony Snicket series.

I don’t know what it was about The Spiderwick Chronicles series that captured his attention. He didn’t pretend to be in the story or reenact a scene; all of the cues I had been using to pick books I thought he would be interested in. It seemed he just needed to be introduced to enough books to find the ones that he liked.

Although I am no expert on the matter, I do have a few pieces of advice for raising readers:

  • Treat books as regular entertainment for children. Too many children just get books as gifts. Make it a rule that your children can come and ask for a new book just like they do school supplies.
  • You don’t have to buy children books to get them to read. I pick up comic books for my kids whenever I’m grocery shopping. Reading is reading.
  • Ignore the reading levels printed on the cover of some children’s books. When I was first began introducing books to my son, there was a book he really like. However, the book was emblazoned with a large number 3 on the cover, indicating it was a Reading Level 3 book. Some well-meaning, but moronic adult had told my son he should be reading Level 1 books. I had to promise him I’d help him with any difficult words in the Level 3 book if he would read it. After that, I have purposely shied away from books with the reading levels printed on the cover. I have used the reading levels as positive reinforcement. The Scholastic website has reading levels for several children’s books. After he read The Spiderwick Chronicles books, I showed him how he, who is in 2nd grade, was reading at a 3rd-4th grade reading level.
  • Give them books to look forward to. I set aside a stack of books for the boys to read when they are ready. The stack includes non-traditional books- Peter Benchely’s Jaws, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Richard Matheson’s I  Am Legend; as well as the traditional- Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. It’s just a stack of books that will knock their socks off when they are old enough to read them.
  • You don’t need to spend a fortune on books. I picked up many of the books at used bookstores. I have bought grocery bags full of children’s books for under $20.
  • Stop caring what they read. My kids could read The Satanic Bible and I wouldn’t care. We need to stop pushing the books on them. You can – and should – introduce books to them, but you can’t force them to read a book you picked if they aren’t interested.

For more information on raising readers, check out these links:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/table-talk_n_1476274.html?ref=topbar

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-boy_b_1473167.html

http://www.burningthroughpages.org/

Unfortunately, as fitting as he would be to this blog; I would like to call for a moment of silence in the wild rumpus to mourn Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are is, and forever will be, the coolest children’s book. To this day, when someone get’s in my way when I am in the mood to make mischief of one kind or another, I still threaten to eat them up.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity, which should not be read by children.

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You Don’t Know Easter by Noah Baird

Hi, everybody. It’s the time of year when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or as it’s known in my house – the spontaneous zombification of a religious figure day. The kids don’t care either way – candy is candy. For this month’s blog, I thought I’d drop some Easter knowledge on you.

Why doesn’t fall on the same day every year? Easter is known as a “movable feast”. It falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (or “Spring” to the rest of us). Lent is determined by counting forty days  back from that date (Not including Sundays. Lent is really forty-four days; you have to read the fine print.). Which is also why Mardi Gras is also not a fixed date.

That’s right – JC had a fixed birthday, but the day of his death is determined by celestial mechanics. It’s a good thing Christmas isn’t also a movable feast. As a child, I felt Christmas took far too long to get here.  I don’t think I would’ve handled a shifting date.

The full moon probably worked out in JC’s favor. It would have made a nocturnal exit through the desert easier. Son of God or not – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t eager to run into any more Roman Centurions.

So, why the egg? I tell my kids the rock used to cover JC’s tomb happened to be shaped like an egg. Presto! Tradition! The reality is more mundane. Christians didn’t eat meat or dairy during Lent. Back in JC’s day, eggs were considered . . . dairy. Dairy was any animal-derived foodstuffs rendered from an animal without shedding its blood. This is way before we had a FDA or a congress to tell us what food is. Considering congress classified pizza sauce as a vegetable, things haven’t improved much.

So, for forty-four days, nobody is eating any eggs. Because the chickens refused to also observe Lent (all poultry are atheists), they kept laying eggs. What do you do with a nearly a month and half worth of eggs? If the Jews had met any Chinese caravans traveling along the spice routes, we’d probably bury our eggs for a month or two to preserve them. Don’t ask me why the Chinese bury eggs; they’ve got some strange ideas about food over there. Apparently, the eggs are still edible, which is the exact same rationale my vet gave me when I asked him why the dog eats poop. We avoided that bullet, and just hard boil the eggs to make them last longer.

Eggs were also considered a fertility symbol by the early pagans, who liked to wind up their sexy-time festival in the spring when all of the other animals were also busy mating. Then the Christians show up with a brand-new holiday they want to create celebrating their newly-minted undead deity. The Christians lift a few ideas off of the sexy-time pagans, who were pretty groovy and not too worried about what the Christians were doing. Two thousand years later, the Easter Egg is here to stay.

What’s with the bunny? See the paragraph above with our friends, the sexy-time pagans? Insert “bunny” everywhere you see “egg”. Exact same story. Think of it like when a kid is born near Christmas. The kid’s birthday ends up being rolled into one hybrid Christmas/birthday. If the kid were to live two thousand years, then eventually the two celebrations would morph into one holiday.

Historical records that I made up state it went like this:

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Hey, Christians. Why the long faces?”

Christian 1: “Oh- hi, heathens. The son of our god died.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Bummer. Listen, we’re having our annual Love Fest. Why don’t you guys come in and . . . “

Christian 1: “Well, he came back to life.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Really?!?! Your god is a zombie?”

Christian 1: “JC wasn’t our god. He was the son of . . . “

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Yeah, yeah. You guys have to stop badgering us for being polytheistic while claiming to be monotheistic . . . “

Christian 1: “We are monotheistic. We only worship the one true . . . “

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Which is personified by a holy trinity of . . . “

Christian 1: “You heathens will never understand.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Anyway. So, your semi-deity is a zombie? Why don’t you bring him around. I know some of our ladies might be interested in . . . “

Christian 1: “He isn’t a zombie. He’s risen from the grave with the love . . . “

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “So, he’s undead?”

Christian 1: “Well, that’s an over-simplification of . . . “

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Look, bring him around. We’re having our annual Love Fest (wink, wink). I know a girl at the fest who will make you forget about all of that.”

Christian 1: “We can’t. The son of our god died for our sins. We’re supposed to think about the sacrifice he made for us. I imagine that includes not adding more sins to our list.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Listen. Just get your guys to stop thinking of intercourse as a sin, and you’ll be set.”

Christian 1: I wish. It’s harder than you might think. It’s written on a rock.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Ungh – that’s a bummer.”

Christian 1: “So, anyway, we were thinking of starting a new holiday to commemorate the death and resurrection of the son of our god. We’re all tapped out of ideas, and we were wondering if you guys could help.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1:  “Sure. Go on into the fest. We’ve got massage oils, lubes, toys – help yourselves.”

Christian 1: “Umm, we were thinking of something more . . . Wait, are those Roman Centurions partying at your fest?”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Them? Oh yeah, the Roman gods suck, so they hang out with us. They’re cool.”

Christian 1: “Anyway. We were wondering if we could use the eggs and the rabbits.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Well, we keep those around to entertain the kids so the adults can participate in the Love Fest.”

Christian 1: “Okay. So you don’t mind if we use them?”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Seriously, Christians, go into the festival. There are these swings that attach to the ceiling. Your partner gets in it and . . . “

Christian 1: “No, no – the rabbit and egg will do.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Okay. So what are you going to do with them.”

Christian 1: “We are going to paint the eggs red to remind kids of the sacrifice JC made for all of us, and then we’ll make the rabbit the size of a human. The rabbit will then sneak into the kid’s house at night and hide eggs.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1: “Yeaaaaaah – that sounds much better than Love Fest. Okay, see you later, Christians.”

Sexy-Time Pagan 1 to Sexy-Time Pagan 2: “Their religion will never last.”

And that’s how we got stuck with a rabbit and an egg instead of religiously-sanctioned love fest.

So, why did the pagans celebrate the bunny? Because they are horny little fuzz balls. Not only are they constantly mating, rabbits can get pregnant while pregnant. The phenomenon is called superfetation. The rabbit can have two separate embryos at different development cycles in their uterus at the same time.

Thankfully, superfetation doesn’t occur in humans.

Why do rabbits go ass to mouth? Remember the old Cadbury Egg commercials when a rabbit would squawk and lay a chocolate egg? That commercial always freaked me out. Probably because rabbit poop looks a lot like chocolate cereal. Turns out, rabbits eat it – not their poop; their cocetrope. Rabbits have a hindgut digestive system. When a rabbit eats, most of the nutritional material is separated from the vegetable matter after it’s passed through the stomach and large intestines. The nutrient-rich material, called the cocetrope, is passed as mucous pellet. The rabbit then eat it again to get the full nutritional value. The hard pellets really are poop, and you shouldn’t play with them.

Now, I’m from the school of thought where anything that comes out the rectum shouldn’t go back in your mouth (the dog and I disagree on this point).  However, rabbits need the nutrients from the cocetrope, and will die if they don’t get their preprocessed meal.

I think if anyone has an argument against intelligent design, it is Mr. Rabbit.

A few more things you may not know:

  • Chocolate is popular during Easter because it represents the wood of the cross (Not really. I just tell my kids that).
  • Chocolate Easter Bunnies are hollow so you don’t break your teeth. As disappointed as I always was with getting a hollow rabbit, at least someone was looking out for us. Now I’m a cynic and realize you won’t have any lifetime chocolate fans if we all break our teeth when we were five.
  • The word “Easter” comes from the name of a fertility god, known as “Ostara” or “Eostre” (Thank you, sexy-time pagans!).
  • Easter Island was discovered by westerners on Easter. The Polynesians had already discovered the island and named it, but we didn’t ask them.
  • Cadbury Creme Eggs are 5 oz smaller now.
  • Kids love the idea of hard-boiled eggs, but you can’t get them to eat them.
  • If there is snow on the ground at Easter, then you don’t need to dye the eggs. Just toss them out in the snow for the kids to find.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity.

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What Writers Can Learn From Playwrights by Noah Baird

I was recently invited to sit in a local playwright group. They were working on an original comedic play, and asked me to help polish some of the humor. While sitting in was great fun; something occurred to me- all writers should sit with playwrights. Why? I’ll tell you why:

  • They make every scene count. Playwrights don’t have time to waste describing how the grass feels under a character’s toes. They get to the point.
  • It’s dialogue driven. While most of the dialogue comes in the form of monologues; the story moves along through characters speaking to each other. Because of this, they tend to have a great ear for how people speak.
  • The group includes actors. If you want to see how your dialogue flows, have the actors read it. Most are happy to help, and you get a sense of how a reader may interpret your words by hearing it spoken. I thought differently about the dialogue I had written after hearing how the actors said my words. I began to think of dialogue in lyrical terms- focusing not on just was said, but how it flowed.
  • They use visuals to describe the characters. Pat Bertram wrote a great blog on using color to symbolize and describe a character. Playwrights use costumes, gestures, tics, etc. to define their characters. They don’t have time to say how a character grew up in a conservative, middle-class background. They need to show those character attributes through dress and mannerisms.
  • They are aware of how the characters occupy space. I read an article once on how we should allow children to build forts because it helped them see how they fit in the world. They learned – sometimes the hard way – that they couldn’t use cardboard for the floor of their tree house, or that they couldn’t fit through a six inch hole. Playwrights also have to be aware of how each character fits into the scene. Characters aren’t just talking in the kitchen- they write where each character is in the room.
  • They aren’t afraid to let the audience tell the story. Mark Twain said “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it”. In a one act play, the background and motivations cannot be developed enough to tell the story. It’s up to the audience to fill in the gaps.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity, and has no intention of writing a play.

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What Your Favorite Punctuation Says About You

Colons:
List creators of the world unite. Colons are used after a main clause to list off a series of items (For my birthday, I want: two monkeys jousting on the backs of Golden Retrievers, a stripper dressed as a clown, and a carrot cake). Colons can also be used to clarify the main clause (Buddy Guy and The Rolling Stones played a Muddy Waters song: “Champagne and Reefer”.

What it says about you: You’re a woman.

Dash-
The dash – formally called the Em Dash because it is the width of the letter “M” – is generally not recommended for formal writing. Probably because the dash can be used instead of commas, colons, and semicolons. Dashes are used to give emphasis to the content between them.

What it says about you: You are a rebel who can’t be bothered to learn the different pauses associated with other punctuation.

Ellipses Points . . .
Ellipses points are used in place of omitted text from a quote (I see a red door . . . paint it black). This is the equivalent of saying “Blah, blah, blah” in the middle of a long paragraph. Ellipses can indicate an incomplete thought or dialogue trailing off (My keys were right here . . . ), or can also be used to indicate an alternate meaning to the stated text (I never drove . . . drunk). This implies you probably did a lot of other things drunk.

What it says about you: You lose your train of thought easily.

Exclamation Point!
The most excitable of all the punctuation. Exclamation points are used to indicate excitement (A puppy!), an imperative (Duck!), or strong feelings (You’re pissing me off!). Typesetters referred to the exclamation point as a “Dog’s Cock”, which only proves typesetters have no respect for a dog’s privacy.

What it says about you: You are five years old.

Period.
The full stop. The no-nonsense end to a declarative sentence.

What it says about you: You probably also love vanilla ice cream.

Semicolon;
The comma that went to college. Semicolons are used to separate two independent clauses without using a conjunction (I’m going to the bar; I need a drink). Semicolons are also used when two main clauses are separated by a conjunctive adverb (I am going to bed; however, I’m not going to sleep).

Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway shunned semicolons. Stephen King doesn’t like them either.

What it says about you:
If you are under 30, you use them to make winking happy faces in your text messages.
If you are over 30, you never quite outgrew writing run-on sentences.

 

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity.

http://noahbaird.com/index.php?page=about_book

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Not Seen in Bookstores by Noah Baird

I recently read an article on the plight of the independent bookstore. The point of this particular article, similar to other articles I’ve read, was independent bookstores were having difficulty competing with Amazon.com. Our local bookstores are turning into Amazon showrooms. People (I’m not referring to them as ‘customers’ on purpose) are going into bookstores, browsing books, and then buying the books off of Amazon at a lower price.

I have to admit I am guilty of this also. However, I usually make a point to buy a book in the store; partly because I feel guilty, but mostly because I won’t get the book from Amazon for another week and Daddy needs his fix.

As a first time author, a counterpoint to the fall of the independent bookstore is it is often difficult for new writers to get their book on the shelves of an independent bookstore. The explanation I’m given usually covers one of the following reasons:

  • There is not enough shelf space for every new author. Translation: “We are only going to carry books we think are going to sell.” Which means they are going to carry the same books Barnes and Noble sells, but don’t have a Starbucks.
  • New authors don’t have a large enough fan base to warrant carrying the book or hosting an author event. This is a b.s. excuse. People pick up books from authors they’ve never heard of. Most people don’t care if it’s the writer’s first book or fifteenth; if the book looks interesting, then they will buy it. Secondly, I realize a very small percentage of a bookstore’s customers are writers. But there is a larger percentage of customers who want to be writers. People who are interested in writing will go and listen to writers, regardless of genre or popularity.
  • They won’t carry books from a particular publishing company because of return policies. I don’t know enough about return policies between booksellers and publishers to write anything intelligent. However, it seems like the bookseller knows which publishers have return policies they like. Usually, if your book wasn’t published by one of them, then you are out of luck. In my experience, they won’t investigate what your publisher’s return policy is; they just deal with the one they know about. I am not a publisher nor a bookstore owner, but this seems like a navigable obstacle. Both parties are in the business of selling books. It seems logical that a compromise could be made to aid in that goal.
  • Sometimes they are willing to take the books on consignment in return for a larger percentage of the purchase price. Translation: “I want you to write the book, get it published, haul it over to my store, and give me a larger portion of your royalties for your work.” This is always my favorite.

I have to admit, I was surprised by the responses I was getting from my local, independent bookstores. I wasn’t deluded enough to think they were waiting for me, but I assumed there was more of a symbiotic relationship between the stores and the writers. In hindsight, I was under the impression bookstores liked writers. And I think most of them do, but they are more interested in making a profit than establishing relationships with local writers.

I realized my impression that independent bookstores were kindred spirits to independent writers and musicians was wrong. I’ve been to countless indy music stores, and they were full of music by artists you’ve never heard on the radio. This is an interesting parallel; discovering an indy musician not heard on the radio, or before they became big (aka – sold out) is considered a testament to your taste. The same is not true for indy or small press writers. If a writer is not carried by one of the big publishers, then you aren’t truly vetted, and therefor aren’t worth reading. Regardless of the fact that there are countless books by independent writers which are excellent, as well as some really crap books published by the large presses. The reality of it is, some independent bookstores have become arbitrary gatekeepers; Saint Peters of Nightstands. My issue with this attitude is our work isn’t measured for quality, but weighed for the popularity of the writer and the size of the publisher.

The irony of this attitude is studies indicate the reason potential customers pick up a book is the cover. Most people decide if they are interested in a book within 10 seconds of picking up the book. Within those 10 seconds, a customer decides to make a purchase based on two pieces of information: the cover and the synopsis. Reviews and blurbs are also influential, but really confirm the customer’s impulse to buy the book. The price of the book is a distant 4th. The author’s name does influence the decision if the author is well-known; a Stephen King fan will pick up a new Stephen King book. Otherwise, an author’s popularity or the publishing company are not considered. Interestingly, when asked after making a purchase, a customer often does not know the name of the author of the book they just purchased. It isn’t until they have read the book that they commit the author to memory. Yet bookstores behaving like high school girls ordaining popularity based on factors transparent to the customer remains pervasive.

I think this the wrong attitude for bookstores to have. Several years ago, I went to Florida for a business trip. My flight had a long delay in Philadelphia, so I finished the book I brought with me faster than I anticipated. After I checked into my hotel, I wandered out to grab a bite to eat and pick up a new book. The hotel was in a funky beach town with several shops across the street. As I cruised around enjoying the sights, I noticed one street had two little bookstores. One bookstore was hosting an event for a local writer I’d never heard of. I went into the bookstore hosting the author event only because it had something more interesting going on than the other store. I bought three books- two by the author the event was being held for.

I was going to buy a book that day. I bought more books than I planned (which isn’t unusual), but I bought them from the store that had something going on that day. All things being equal, one of those stores was going to make a profit that day. The store with the author event got it. I would like to reiterate I had not heard of the author before that day. He was local author with a regional following. Since then, I have bought every book that writer has published to date, several from a small bookstore that will order books for me. A sale, is a sale, is a sale. A win for the writer translated to a win for the bookstore. That win transferred to another bookstore who made sales on books it didn’t carry.

I’m a bibliophile: I love books, I love bookstores, and I love writers. As a reader, I am concerned with what is happening to local bookstores. As a writer, I’ve embraced Amazon. I may be just a number at Amazon, but at least I’m acknowledged there. And for a first time author, that gives me a fighting chance.

By the way, the author in Florida was Tim Dorsey. If you’ve never heard of Tim Dorsey; mix Carl Hiaassen with the TV show Dexter and give it a bunch of Red Bulls and vodka.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity, which often is not found in an independent bookstore.

Donations to Clarity

Donations to Clarity

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A Jerk’s Guide to Comedy Writing or Rubbing the Four Humors

I was recently asked to contribute a chapter on comedy writing for an upcoming book on writing. As I was figuring out what I want to write, something occurred to me: I have no idea how to explain what I do. It probably sounds funny that a comedy writer cannot explain how to write comedy. So as I’m trying to figure out how to explain comedy writing, I thought I share some words of wisdom.

Comedy is an outlaw. In that, it doesn’t have to follow any rules except one: be funny. Comedy, like love and fear (the other two outlaws), is personal and defies explanation. Just as someone prefers one mate over another, or fears snakes and not heights; what is funny to one person is not funny to someone else. This explains my trouble with writing a chapter on comedy writing. I know what I think is funny, but it’s harder to understand what the audience thinks. I recently posted this very question on Facebook and called friends for their opinions. Every person responded with a different piece they felt was the funniest.

Do a Google search on comedy and you will find dozens of articles on comedy writing (Trust me- I’ve been reading them to try to figure out what I do). Nearly all the articles cover mechanics and structure. What they don’t tell you is how to become funny.

Here’s the part you don’t want to know: comedy is work. Stop laughing, it’s true. You have to train yourself to see the humor in things. I need to warn you: the training will make you an asshole. Once you’ve learned to make a joke out of anything, you won’t be able to quit. You’ll become the smart-ass. The kind of person who asks the urologist if your semen will be clear after the vasectomy. On the other hand, your partner won’t try to drag you into too many let’s-talk-about-how-you-feel conversations anymore. So, you’ve got that going for you.

Part of that training requires reading; a lot of reading. This includes the news. There are a couple of reasons why you need to read the news everyday:

  • People are stranger than you think. If your zany characters are eclipsed by the news, then you aren’t pushing hard enough. As soon as you think you’ve developed a character that is going to be your comedic vehicle to drive your jokes, someone will do something even crazier. Herman Cain quoted the Pokemon movie in his farewell address. If I wrote that a year ago, you would’ve thought I was insane.
  • You have to remain current. Humor has a relatively short shelf-life. The edgiest material is what is happening right now. You are doing really well if you can begin to predict a funny situation before it happens.
  • You need cultural anchors. What I mean by cultural anchors is your references have to be widely understood. Prior to 2009, the tea party had a different meaning than it does now. Before the tea party movement, we weren’t debating the merits of the Boston Tea Party (maybe historians were, but nobody listens to them). Today, the tea party has had a polarizing effect in our culture. Your humor has to consider that. Dennis Miller gets away with dropping obscure cultural references mixed with a robust vocabulary; you can’t. I love Dennis Miller. I think he’s a brilliant comedian, but you need a dictionary and an encyclopedia to follow along with him.
  • Language trends change every few years and the news typically reflects it. Remember a few years ago when the media merged celebrity couple names to make one name? Now every political incident is a something-gate. In the ‘90s, there was a period when we dropped Jewish words into normal conversation. The good news is, keeping up with language trends doesn’t require any effort. Just by reading you will pick up the trends organically.

Here’s an exercise if you want to start writing comedy. Pick up the paper, find and article, and write a joke about it. The object of the exercise is to find the humor in something that is not funny.

Here’s a link to an article I had published doing this exercise. The article is dated, but is still relevant for the idea of the exercise. The idea came to me as I was cooking dinner and listening to the news. I don’t remember the focus of the news piece; I remember George Bush had just done something which had implications against Iraq. I remember thinking when are we going to stop screwing these people? That was it. I sat down and wrote this article.

http://www.thespoof.com/news/spoof.cfm?headline=s2i41779

The exercise nearly paid off. Years later, I was interviewing for The Onion to be a staff writer. As part of the interview process, I was given a list of fake headlines and I was to write a newscast for each headline on the spot. Ultimately, I didn’t get the job, but it was a personal victory for me to be able to write a funny newscast without any preparation. Here’s an example of one of the articles I wrote:

http://www.thespoof.com/news/magazine/panda_wants_abortion_3227.htm

You may have noticed based on the two articles above that I talk about sex. I have news for you, folks: Comedy isn’t pretty. Psychologists have described humor as the sudden release of tension. On a physical level, laughter is our body’s response to surprise of an unforeseen stimulus. One of the tools a comedian uses to create tension is to discuss something uncomfortable; enter the sex, fart, and poop jokes. Pushing the audience into an uncomfortable area raises their tension levels. The punchline is the release valve to bleed off that tension. In the Panda Wants Abortion newscast, I wrote dialogue for an artificial insemination protester. Here I’ve brought the audience into a slightly uncomfortable situation. The joke is we know what artificial insemination is, so the audiences’ brains are creating a framework of what that means. The punchline is the protester was objecting to the use of artificial semen. This is one of the mechanisms of a joke: build tension, put their minds on a specific path, and nail them with a left hook while they aren’t looking. This isn’t the only comedic style and you don’t necessarily need to make the audience uncomfortable, but it illustrates a basic framework of a joke.

A question I get from aspiring comedic writers is: How do you know if you’ve gone too far? You don’t. The concept is subjective because what is funny is personal. It’s the same argument as what is pornography and what is art. In my book, Donations to Clarity, I wrote several chapters with questionable content. I wrote a character who was a homophobe and a character who impersonated a homosexual. These are two subject areas I needed to be careful of. In the ‘80s, comedians could beat up homosexuals all day long. Eddie Murphy made a career out of roasting homosexuals and Richard Simmons. That doesn’t fly in 2011. You can still make fun of Richard Simmons, but not because he’s gay. The hair and the striped shorts are still free game.

One of my rules for comedy writing is to not to insult anyone- directly. Offended? I don’t care if they’re offended, and you shouldn’t either.  You don’t want to insult. In this case, making homosexuals feel like I’m picking on them. And it’s not about gay rights or embracing everyone. To me, comedy is about enjoyment. My goal is to take the audience out of their lives for a small time, and give them something to laugh about. That does not include abusing a subset of the population. Along with this, I was worried about how I portrayed women. I’d never written women before, and I was concerned I was too degrading to them.

I could get away with writing a book without the homophobe and the homosexual impersonator. I couldn’t really write a book without any women in it. Because I chose to write the characters anyway, I did a couple of things to protect myself:

  • I wrote the homophobe and the homosexual impersonator as idiots. In the case of the homophobe, the way I developed the character, it made sense for him to dislike gays. It would have been incongruous if I’d written him any other way.
  • I asked a few homosexual friends and women read the chapters. I explained what my concerns were and asked for their honest opinions. A funny thing happened: not only did I get their blessings, but they gave me insight to develop the characters better.

Now that doesn’t mean I was completely protected from criticism. I recently had a female reader email me claiming I degraded women. If you read my book, you know I made the guys idiots and the women were the only sane characters. Normally I don’t respond to these emails, or I send a quick note with several suggestion of what they can do with their opinion. This particular woman hit a sensitive button for me; I wanted to know why she felt the way she did. And wow, did she! I got a page and a half on how I degraded women because I had a female character pee a little when Bigfoot scared her.

Which brings me to my next point: if you’re going to write comedy, you’d better have a thick skin. You need a thick skin to be a writer. It needs to be thicker for comedy because you are going to piss someone off. Comedy isn’t pretty. No matter how careful you are, you are going to offend someone. And they will write you and tell you all about it. The good news is they’re just giving you a new character to put in the next book. It’s the circle of life.

The last point I want to make in this article is dialogue. As a comedic writer, most of your  jokes will be between characters talking. There are other styles you’ll use, such as situational and environmental. You could even write physical comedy (slapstick). I wrote some slapstick in my book. Slapstick is a unique style that requires a muscular writing style, which I’m not going to get into in this article. What were we talking about? Dialogue! Here’s my advice for dialogue. Go to your neighborhood bar; not a nightclub or meat market, unless you are specifically seeking something from that element. I mean a nice Irish pub; blue-collar, middle class. Hit it at happy hour for a couple of weeks and just watch. You’ll begin to see trends. There’s a group of regulars. They usually get there as soon as the place opens, and they stay after the happy hour crowd leaves. Some times they go home to eat, and then come back to the bar. These are your tickets. They are golden fountains of verbal diarrhea. Get to know them. They will tell you the funniest and strangest stories you’ve ever heard. My idea for the weight of the human turd conversation in my book stemmed from this.

In reality, the guy I was talking to thought we were all going to die by being binged in the melon by rocks falling from space. It was a surreal conversation. This guy was really worried about being knocked off by space pebbles. Although I didn’t use the space rocks in the book, it inspired me to add a similar conversation to the book.

Also go to cop bars. Police officers have fantastic stories. I’ve gone into cop bars, explained I was a comedy writer looking for material, and I would buy a drink for anyone who told me a funny story. I have never walked out of a cop bar with less than three hilarious stories.

Before I let you go, I’ll give you another comedy trick. One way to keep your comedy and your dialogue current and relevant is to use the internet. I’ve attached several links to websites full of ideas. One website, Overheard in _______ is just conversations people have overheard in public places. Part of comedy is the examination of the human condition. Because you, the writer, can’t be everywhere; use the internet to expand your research.

http://www.overheardeverywhere.com/

http://overheard-lib.livejournal.com/

Another great site is Texts From Last Night. This is a website of texts between people. Most of the people are young, maybe college age. It’s a great resource for picking up attitudes and dialogue from the 20s to early 30s age group.

http://www.textsfromlastnight.com/

One of my favorite sites is Shit My Dad Says. The site is run by a 30ish comedic writer who posts the shit his dad says. His father, a retired doctor and veteran, is this grumpy, tough-as-nails, no bullshit kind of guy. If you don’t think this site is funny; comedy writing may not be for you.

http://twitter.com/shitmydadsays

Now, I am not telling you to steal lines from these sites. Use the sites to develop your character’s dialogue, pick up new terminology, and inspire you to write something funnier.

Now, go away and write something funny.

Noah Baird, author of Donations to Clarity, is often thought of as funny by dogs and small children. Women also laugh at him, but only when he’s naked.

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A Writer Looks at 40 by Noah Baird

I’m in a little bit of a holiday savings time warp. I’m beginning to think Thanksgiving is only a grocery store holiday. Every other store goes from Halloween to Christmas.

Here’s something you don’t know. I will be turning 40 this month. There’s no punchline. 40. That’s it.

I remember my older brother, a heavy metal fan, confiding to me that he was listening to mellower music. At the time, I was shocked. I was a rock ‘n roller. Always was. Always will be. Getting older was not going to change that. Now I’m noticing there’s more country than Motorhead on my mp3 player. The rest of the bands on my mp3 are so mellow, Saturday Night Live did a skit on them.

I was thinking back to my tastes in music over my life time. Here’s a brief history:

  • 1984: Ratt- Out of the Cellar. In hindsight, I probably looked pretty silly singing “I’m a wanted man” at 13. I was a killer with an air guitar. Little known fact: air guitars never need tuning.

  • 1988: The Pursuit of Happiness- I’m an Adult Now. I really wanted this song to be my high school graduation song.

  • 1988: The Godfathers – Birth, School, Work, Death. 1988 wasn’t painting a pretty picture of adulthood.

  • 1991; Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit. So, as a teenager, I was listening songs about how it sucked to be an adult. As an adult, I was listening to music about deodorant.

  • 1992: The Black Crows Sting Me. One great line: “Yes I’m young and don’t like getting older”.

  • 1995: Ramones – I Don’t Want to Grow Up. This was originally a Tom Waits song. I didn’t get turned onto Tom until later.

  • 2008: Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers – Captain Suburbia. “I’m not too young for anything, anymore.”

  • 2008: Jack Johnson and Dave Mathews – A Pirate Looks at 40. I’ve come full circle. The artists I listen to are playing the music my parents listen to.

I figured out it’s not the number that bothers me; it’s the body. I used to only have two gray hairs – I named them after my children. Now the gray hairs outnumber the kids. I thought I had a zit on my chin the other day, but it turned out to be a gray hair. You may be relieved to know I’m not losing my hair. It’s just not growing out of the top of my head. They decided to start growing out of my ears, my nose, and my back. It’s like they’re just too lazy  to go all of the way to the top of the head.

Maybe I mellowed out too. In nearly 40 years, I’ve learned to have better control over my proclivity for self-destruction. I think the kids have something to do with that. I don’t mind shooting myself in the foot, but you can’t do that with mini-werewolves around. I used to end up in the emergency room at least once a year. Now I worry that they’ll end up there.  I think that’s where the gray hairs come in. That’s okay. It’s a small price to pay. I saw an interview of John Cougar Mellencamp. In the interview, he said men weren’t good fathers until they were 40. I hope that’s true.

The goods news is, I’m already planning my midlife crisis. It’s going to be epic: Monkeys jousting on the backs of golden retrievers. I can’t wait.

Author’s note: I would like to point out I did not curse or make a crude comment once during this entire blog. Don’t think I’m growing up. I’m very immature for my age. I don’t plan on that changing. My teeth may yellow and the scars on my face now hide inside wrinkles, but I won’t grow up.

“It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage” – Indiana Jones.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity.

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Genre And Your Swim Lane by Noah Baird

My publisher asked me what project I was working on. I replied I was working on two children’s books. After some discussion, he suggested I may want to publish the books under a pseudonym. A pseudonym is publisher code for “You’re a foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass, and no parent will read a book to their children written by you”. If I wasn’t such a “foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass”, I may have been insulted.

I started to write a children’s book because my two half-werewolf children asked me to write a book they could read. If you haven’t read my book, Donations to Clarity, it is a comedic fiction/satire which isn’t appropriate for children (It’s full of foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass-ness!). Trying to write a children’s book taught me something: It’s really hard to write outside of your genre. Writers are told to write what we know. A key component of writing what you know is to read works of your genre. The main idea is, as a writer, you will begin to intuitively know what works for your chosen genre.

The problem is, I don’t want to just read humor and satire. I also like to read nonfiction and thrillers. We need to explore and to test the boundaries of our comfort zones. Think of what of what you watch on TV. You probably don’t just watch comedies or thrillers. You probably have a fairly wide range of interests from history, to sitcoms, to documentaries, to sci-fi. My reading also reflects my interests.

When I was trying to find a publisher, I submitted several articles of flash fiction to different literary magazines. If you aren’t familiar with flash fiction, it’s extremely short fiction. Typical word count can range from 55 to 500 words. What flash fiction teaches is to write concisely and with brevity. It can make your writing very muscular by forcing you to chop out the fluff. As part of my research into writing flash fiction, I turned to an unlikely source: songwriters. Makes sense, right? Songwriters paint stories and pictures in very few words that resonate with the audience. Think of Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle. The song is a cautionary tale which has left an indelible impression on millions, and it’s only 440 words long if you include all of the choruses. It’s 314 words long with only one chorus. This is a great example of making a powerful impression with relatively few words.

As I was writing flash fiction and sending out query letters for my manuscript, I read Cormic McCarthy’s The Road. The novel inspired me and influenced much of my writing at the time. I didn’t realize it then, but writing outside of my genre was challenging me. As writers, we develop plots, characters, and themes, but writing in another genre forced you to pay attention to the subtle tones and textures of your writing.

The next time you are at a crossroads in your manuscript, try writing some flash fiction in another genre. If you write science fiction; try to write a romantic scene. If you write romance, try writing a satire which doesn’t include a saucy sex-pot rolling in the hay with a dark rogue with a sculpted chest. For me, it was trying not to be a foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass; which is harder than you might think.

Here’s an example of a short thriller I wrote:

Uncle

I woke with a start; disoriented in the darkness.  My hand tightened around the grip of the .45 pistol, and I thumbed the safety.  I strained to hear beyond my tent.  Tinnitus irritated me and I cursed myself for listening to my headphone volume too high when I was a teenager.

A twig snapped behind me; a bad position.  I was on my back so an attack on that side would be hard to defend.  I slid the pistol to rest on my chest; finger on the trigger guard.

Every movement caused a rustling sound against my canvas sleeping bag.  The wind was blowing through the trees, masking sounds.  If whoever was out there kept their noise below the ambient noise level, I wouldn’t hear the attack until it was too late.

I couldn’t tell if it was animal or human.  I hadn’t made a fire or used a light after dusk.  I was careful to make sure I wasn’t being followed; circling back off trail several times.  I could’ve been seen by lookouts. Getting water was always dangerous. I could’ve been seen by the small stream filling my water jugs.  Some tribes placed lookouts near water to catch the stragglers. Like me.

All my precautions wouldn’t add up to much with animals on the hunt.  They could follow my scent long after I passed.  I didn’t have any food so it wasn’t poor housekeeping.  It was the smell of flesh.  Me.

Something was moving through the brush to my right.  I switched the pistol to my left hand; tracking the barrel along with the sound.  A smooth brush of fur against leaves.  No self-conscious pause.  Animal.

Then came the sniffing at the tent flap.  I was surprised at how quiet the animal was.  Able to approach the tent without making a sound.  The sniffing moved left to right.  Not the same animal I heard to my right.  A pack.  Wolf?  Coyote? Not stray dogs.  Formerly domesticated dogs weren’t this quiet.  They hadn’t been raised in the wild so their stalking lacked finesse.

I aimed at the sniffer while sitting up quickly.  I pulled the KA-BAR from its sheath.  The sniffer snorted at the sound, then a guttural growl.  My left index finger moved to the trigger.  I slowed my breathing and tried to hear where the rest of the pack was.  I didn’t want to shoot.  The sound would let others know I was here.  A tribe might come looking for me.  I hadn’t eaten in . . . how long had it been?  I needed the protein.  The sniffer would do.  Not if I shot him.  I would have to pack and run before someone came looking for me.  Before the rest of the pack regained their nerve and came after me again.  I wouldn’t eat it raw on the run.  The blood scent was too attractive. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The sniffing started again. The night was cloudy, moonless.  No shadows to help my aim.  A nose pressed up against the tent wall.  Protruding inward in the shape of the snout. An obscene image.  A phallus growing out of nylon.

I struck fast, sinking the blade directly into the snout.  I dropped the pistol and grabbed the snout with my left hand; removing the blade from the struggling animal.  I pulled the snout towards me and sank the blade into the base of its skull.  It twitched momentarily and then all struggling stopped.

Picking the pistol back up, I went for the tent flap.  I climbed out and circled the tent to defend my kill.  I knew the rest of the pack was there but I couldn’t hear them.  I pulled the rope from my pack and went back to the kill.  Coyote.  Big one.  I tied the back feet together and pulled out the flashlight.  Scanning for a suitable tree limb and eye shine of the pack.  I found them.  They’d moved back from the tent; cautiously observing.  I found a suitable tree limb and returned to my pack.  I pulled out the baseball. The one I had drilled a hole into.  I fed the end of the rope through the hole and tied a knot in the end.  I tossed the baseball over a branch and hoisted the kill out of reach of the pack.

I used to say I preferred animals to people.  Animals were more trustworthy than people.  People were unpredictable.  Animals were unpredictable in a predictable sort of way.  Animals attacked and we were always surprised, but it happened predictably enough for multiple television shows to be made which captured this unpredictable nature every week.    Mother Nature is a stern teacher.  You could bet on it.  You just couldn’t bet on when.

That was naive of me. The noble predator.  The majestic prey.  The fierce beauty of the kill.  The idea that somehow those animals were somehow better than us.  Living wild and free.  Eating where the food was and mating where the mate was.  More in tune with the earth.  Moved by primordial urges. Guided by diurnal variations and seasonal migrations.

What I preferred were animals that were controlled by people. I was fully comfortable with our position of dominance over the animals.  The earth was ours to do with as we pleased.  Oh yes, we would look out for the dumb animals.  Fight for tracks of habitat for them to play in.  Even better if we could do it and make a profit at it.  Do the evolution, baby.

That was until they rose up against us.  Not in the Orwellian sense.  When we lost the technology, we were faced with the harsh reality of our own weakness.  We buffered ourselves with our own consumption and the latest celebrity gossip.  Technology became a moat separating us from them.

When we lost the energy crisis.  We lost the technology.  We lost the moat.  Finally we lost our humanity.

The animals we were shepherds over had waited for centuries.  Their wait was over.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity.

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