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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

American love affair


Americans love their guns.
Like all blanket statements, there are more holes in it than cheese cloth, but it is absolutely true that compared to Canadians, Americans love guns. Oh sure, plenty of Canadians own something that goes bang, but owning something is not the same as cherishing it. Statistically few Canadians spend their Saturday nights stroking gun barrels, and it’s Axe body spray I smell out on the street rather than gun oil.
I’m reminded of this basic American obsession in the wake of the Colorado tragedy. Americans, however, aren’t thinking “Oh, those poor people.” They’re thinking “Oh Jebus, the gubmint might try taking away my boom-sticks.” Gun sales have (forgive the pun) exploded in the days after some lunatic emptied clip and clip into movie theatre crowd. According to reports, one of the primary reasons is a worry that politicians will curtail some of the gun access that Americans enjoy.
Here’s a few tidbits:
1. The state of Colorado does background checks for people who want to buy guns. After Friday’s shooting, they approved nearly 3000 checks post-shooting to Sunday. Three days, and they managed to sign off on 2887 new applications. That output represented a 25% increase from the average for the same three day period. For a government, this is speedy work. It makes me believe the “background check” is looking through the window of their office and making sure the applicant’s face isn’t on the “Colorado’s Most Wanted” bulletin board. Plus what government office works on the weekends? Only in the States, apparently, and only when it comes to gun ownership. Likely the applications just need to go through a certified gun store owner, and he just uses his own judgment to eye the future gun-owner up. “Only mild twitches, just one crazy eye, hair only partially pulled out, no thousand-yard stare… Approved!”
2. Applications for a license to “carry concealed” are also way up. This one makes me think the people are less afraid of government lock-down and more thinking “If I’d been watching Batman and had a gun, I could have shot that lunatic.” Movie theatres all over Colorado will soon be packed with quick-draw experts packing heat. Most shocking, at least to me, is the stringent requirement for gaining this coveted “I can carry a Glock while shopping” license: a FOUR HOUR COURSE!! You have to spend a whole afternoon being taught the proper way to slip a gun into the small of your back. It’s important, for instance, to remember to put the safety on before you put the .357 behind your belt buckle, as that caliber of weapon can easily make a man a eunuch. Clam-shell or shoulder holster? Ankle gun or under the sleeve, Desperado-style? Those are hard questions for any man to answer.
3. Traditionally, gun tragedies herald a spike in gun sales. Why aren’t the conspiracy loons all over this? That massacre was just an attempt to bolster the sad profits on the Smith & Wesson SD40 VE! (I had to look up a new gun model to use as an example. All my gun knowledge comes from spy role-playing games made in the 80’s. Incidentally, the S&W website also claimed their new gun was a perfect way to “shield yourself.” While it is a military axiom that a good offense is the best defense, I would never consider a gun to be a “shield” of any kind. Captain America would have deflected NOTHING if he’s used an Uzi instead of his big ol’ round shield. (Though any hero named Captain America should indeed have TWO guns, one in each hand, but absolutely “made in America” brands, like Ruger or Colt.))
I’m not anti-gun (though I am compared to the typical NRA member). But it was a bad, bad mistake to put the “right to bear arms” into their Constitution. And it’s the Second Amendment, for pity’s sake. Way before 8 (no cruel or unusual punishment, without which the “waterboarding” debate would have been a lot quicker) and a light-year before 19 (women’s suffrage). Prioritizing weaponry in this way has created a tradition that has no real benefit and an enormous down-side, and now the ability to take it away requires a whole lot more work than “hey, you know, maybe giving assault rifles out for the asking isn’t the best idea.”
Twenty-twenty hindsight.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Another story!


Some good news this week: I’ve been notified that the summer issue of On Spec Magazine will contain my short story “Village of Good Fortune.” On their current production timeline, that means about August. This will represent the second time my words will see print. Apparently I’m on a “once a year” schedule. If I can keep this up, given average Canadian life-spans, I should have a library of about 40 published stories before I cap off. That’s a couple anthologies!
Of course, that assumes we’ll still be putting words onto paper in 40 years. Some have their doubts. (Personally, I believe we’ll be publishing MORE, rather than less, though I will concede that the day of the Publishing House Giants is probably nearing its end. In forty years, I’ll have a printer in my house that can poop out a book, complete with binding and kick-ass cover art, in less than a minute. We have printers that can make gall bladders, for crying out loud, I’m sure a professionally-bound book isn’t out of the realm of possibility.)
“Village” was the first time I was subjected to the full editorial process. “Costumes” (in Tesseracts) was copy-edited, and that was it. Fix the commas, em-versus-en dashes, that type of thing. But “Village”… oh, that was another matter. When I saw the file with the initial corrections, I completely choked. It was a LOT of red. My editor, however, assured me that it was a relatively clean story (which meant some of the stuff she’s dealt with must have been nightmarish, to judge by the first round of suggestions I got).
My editor was great, professional, patient and helpful. We haggled over a few things (not many) and she never forced me to make an alteration I didn’t agree with. For the most part, her corrections did improve the story. She discovered some continuity things, some stuff that was obvious to me as the writer but opaque to the reader, and always, always, the cuts. Word count is a very important issue when you are using paper as your medium. Extra pages are extra cost, so you have to make sure that every word you’ve put down is necessary. I’ve heard dozens of times “every story can be reduced by 10%.”
My experience is still very limited. But I know math, and it’s clear the above statement is unsupportable. I submit 100 thousand words. I’m told to reduce by 10%. I submit 90 thousand. I’m told the same thing. You see where this leads, right? Eventually you end up with a story of a single word, and even then you try and make sure the word is a SHORT word. Like most expressions, it’s not to be taken literally. But I do get the impression some people in the biz pride themselves on slicing text to ribbons. It doesn’t make them bad people, not at all, they know what they need to do in order to keep the presses running (it IS a business, after all). It does make me wonder how long Lord of the Rings was before editors assaulted it. Or did they? Did Tolkien and his generation not have the same pressure to reduce?
It can’t be just a modern phenomenon. I look at some of the weighty tomes on the shelves and I find it hard to believe these authors have been subjected to the 10% rule. Or do they do what Scotty on Star Trek does? The crafty ol’ Scot inflated his repair estimates to give himself more time and make him seem like a genius when he gets it done in record time. So do these authors submit fat manuscripts, knowing they’ll have to trim the chub and therefore making sure there’s plenty of easy meat to cut?
More likely it’s because GRR Martin sold a bazillion copies of Game of Thrones (see? I really do know math!) and Stephen King sells a bazillion copies of everything he writes so what editor has the clout to say “Hey, George, maybe we could lose the nine-hundredth food description, whaddaya think?”
As I said, I know math, and publishing two short stories does NOT equal a bazillion copies. I’m sure I remember that from school. So maybe I should just shut up and be happy I got out there at all.