Not Quite a Shaggy Dog Story

February 14, 2017

border_collie_liver_portraitHello everyone,

I have reason to believe there is going to be a spike in traffic to this blog in the next few days. I will have more to say about about that after it happens, no doubt. In the meantime, I have not done much with this blog in some time. Now I have a very good excuse: I’ve written the first draft of another book since my last post, so how much time should I have put into this blog instead of that project? Still, I want to do a few posts between now and the arrival of a wave of first-time visitors.

I thought I would open with a joke, but for my own amusement it will be a long and rambling one that walks the edge of being a shaggy dog story. I saw a version of this on Reddit a few months back, and I enjoyed horrifying friends and family with my own rendition over the Christmas holidays. I encourage anyone who makes it all the way to the end to make this their own joke to torture people with: Put your own spin on it –make it longer or shorter as needed. This is a storyteller’s joke, so don’t be afraid to put some mustard on it.

Here goes:

There once was a farmer –well, a shepherd really. He was good at what he did, and he was fortunate as well. Over the years he managed to build up his flock from about forty sheep in the beginning to seven hundred and ninety-three sheep by his middle years through hard work, an abiding understanding of the fundamentals of animal husbandry, a local vet, and a faithful sheepdog. The shepherd and his sheepdog were damned near inseparable, and the shepherd gave the sheepdog equal credit in their shared success over the years.

Still, sheepdogs do not live forever, and when the old dog started becoming truly an old dog, the shepherd started thinking about how he was going to make do with seven hundred and ninety-three sheep and no sheepdog. To be honest with you, even one dog even in the peak of physical fitness really had its paws full running all over hill and dale all day every day gathering up all those sheep. The shepherd starts wondering if maybe he has to buy a whole litter of sheepdogs to replace his current sheepdog when the time comes. It sounds expensive and exhausting. If only there was a way he could make do with one new dog, but it seemed impossible.

One day the shepherd is talking about his problem with that local vet I mentioned earlier. “I mean, when I started, one dog and forty sheep made perfect sense. But how is one new dog supposed to round up seven hundred and ninety-three sheep?”

“It can be done,” the vet says.

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. You’d be amazed what the latest breeders are training their dogs to do. You wouldn’t even have to bring this new dog up to speed. It’ll cost a little more, but I can definitely recommend someone with a dog that will suit your needs.”

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Epigrams

September 20, 2016

epigramHello everyone,

I believe I have mentioned several times both on this blog and via Twitter that I am active redditor. I don’t think I would be surprising anyone by saying one of the subreddits I frequent is /r/writing, which puts me in touch with other writers all over the world to talk about our craft. Yesterday someone asked, “Do you have a quote/song lyric/poem at the beginning of your book?” The general consensus seemed to be it usually does more harm than good, but I do include a couple of quotes at the start of each of my novels. I read and write historical fiction, and the little extras like epigraphs, maps, and end notes from the author are pretty common in that genre. I went on to list the quotes I used for each book and why I chose them, and within six hours I had received a message from someone who bought one of my books based on my post.

Well, that certainly got my attention!

Several times on this blog I have talked about why I wrote something or how I wrote something, so why not take that random post on reddit and expand upon it here?

Cover_ImprovedLet me begin by saying for each of my three novels to date I have made a point of sourcing two quotes that I believe reference my plot and help fit my book into a larger literary space. For Inca I went with:

“Explain your words so that I can understand them.
They are like a tangled skein.
You should put the threads in order for me.”

— Act 1, Scene I of the Quechua play Ollantay

and

“Tempus edax rerum.”
Time, the devourer of all things.

— Ovid

I chose them because the book’s premise is an Inca bureaucrat translating his memoirs into Spanish before his story is lost to time. The Inca had a record-keeping system of knotted string called quipus, so using a line from an old Peruvian play about putting the tangled threads in order is a direct reference to what the narrator is doing as he tells his story. For a long time I toyed with the idea of actually calling the book The Tangled Skein, but eventually I decided that would be a very poor choice from a marketing perspective. Still, I know these two quotes have resonated with my readers. A couple years back I even received an email from one man saying he planned to get, “Tempus edax rerum” tattooed on his arm.

That was not an eventuality I envisioned when I first starting writing the book!

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In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every American President, Who Would Win and Why?

August 22, 2012

Hello everyone!

One of my most-visited sites on the web is Reddit.com, and one of my favourite subreddits is HistoricalWhatIf, an online community that debates historical hypotheticals. Earlier today someone asked the question, In a mass knife fight to the death between every American President, who would win and why? Someone beat me to the obvious answer that a final showdown would see Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt doing a dagger-wielding version of a Mexican standoff, so I took it too far and walked through how I thought every president would turn out. An hour later the result greatly exceeded the maximum 10,000 character limit for a post, so I’ve decided to blog about it instead.

To begin, here were the original conditions of the hypothetical, as suggested by the redditor Xineph:

  • Every president is in the best physical and mental condition they were ever in throughout the course of their presidency. Fatal maladies have been cured, but any lifelong conditions or chronic illnesses (e.g. FDR’s polio) remain.
  • The presidents are fighting in an ovular arena 287 feet long and 180 feet wide (the dimensions of the [1] Roman Colosseum). The floor is concrete. Assume that weather is not a factor.
  • Each president has been given one standard-issue [2] Gerber LHR Combat Knife , the knife [3] presented to each graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course. Assume the presidents have no training outside any combat experiences they may have had in their own lives.
  • There is no penalty for avoiding combat for an extended period of time. Hiding and/or playing dead could be valid strategies, but there can be only one winner. The melee will go on as long as it needs to.
  • FDR has been outfitted with a [4] Bound Plus H-Frame Power Wheelchair, and can travel at a maximum speed of around 11.5 MPH. The wheelchair has been customized so that he is holding his knife with his dominant hand. This is to compensate for his almost certain and immediate defeat in the face of an overwhelming disadvantage.
  • Each president will be deposited in the arena regardless of their own will to fight, however, personal ethics, leadership ability, tactical expertise etc., should all be taken into account. Alliances are allowed.

(Note: On February 22nd, 2017, the redditors who originally came up with this historical what if contacted me asking if I could update this post to reflect their authorship of the points above. Of course I am happy to do so. Thank you Zach Ehrlich and Luke Conley for creating this fun writing prompt.)

With the scenario set, here’s my take on it:

1) George Washington – Commanding presence, strong physique, military training, viewed as a hero by everyone asked to shank him: He makes Top 10 without question. Of the guaranteed top three (I’m going to call them the Holy Trinity for the purposes of this rambling rundown), my money is on Jackson being the one who murders him; he wouldn’t blink, either. They were closer in age, and the hero myth wouldn’t be quite as firmly set. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jackson didn’t blink when he sneezed…

2) John Adams is going out early. Nothing against the man, but portly well-spoken lawyers bring lampoons to a knife fight. It doesn’t end well.

3) Thomas Jefferson. I’d like to say he’d make a good show of it, but he was a bit of dandy… Middle of the pack, but his dying words would be incredibly quotable.

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