Saturday, August 25, 2012


Is there a conspiracy by the dairy industry to ignore the woes of the lactose intolerant population?  Why, with more that 80% of the world's population lactose intolerant, isn't there more availability of lactose-free products?  Is it a production bottleneck or is there simply not enough interest in raising goats on an industrial scale?

I have been seriously lactose intolerant for years to the point I can't even tolerate soy products.  This has resulted in many unfortunate confrontations at restaurants where a cream sauce might not appear on a menu item, or they do not offer a butter alternative, and a request for a non-dairy creamer is responded to with a sneer.  I've also discovered that almost everything delicious in restaurants has some form of cheese - a cheap and simple texture enhancer.  Prepackaged meals are no better.  Worse, most people with a slight loss of the ability to produce the proper enzymes do not attribute gassiness to lactose products.  The sheer ubiquity of lactose containing products is mind-blowing but, for most people, completely unnoticed.

I wonder why, with more that 80% of the world's population lactose intolerant, there isn't more availability of goat's milk products.  Is this a conspiracy by the diary industry or is there simply not enough interest in raising goats on an industrial scale?

I've experimented with Lactaid in pill and liquid forms, unsuccessfully downed sheep, almond, soy, and other faux milk without success.  Worse, for most of my life I was an avowed chocoholic until I discovered that most chocolate produces contain milk.  I also find that nearly every dessert on any menu consists largely, if not exclusively of CHOCOLATE!

I thought I was doomed to live a life of privation while exposed on every front by the foods I loved until, in a blinding revelation, I discovered that I could tolerate goat's milk!  This discovery opened up vistas heretofore forbidden; I found goat ice creams and most wonderful of all - an entire universe of cheeses.  Varieties like creamy Gouda, veinous blues like Humbolt Fog and Verde Carpa, as well as a host of  cheddars, and mozzarella's introduced themselves and when I discovered the mushroomy delights of Triple Cream Goat Brie I was ecstatic. Then there were spreadable flavored and plain soft cheeses in their creamy packs for my bagels and crackers.  The only thing lacking so far is the discovery somewhere of goat Parmisian so can once again taste a decent pizza.

Life is good again. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Birth of a story

I wanted to write a specific short story and expressed the idea to an editor. When the editor accepted the possibility I immediately started writing a draft outline - you know, blocking the scenes, building the characters and environs, etc. What I lacked was the detailed knowledge of the technology involved, hence, Research!

It was fascinating as I uncovered  things I did not know, developments I was previously unaware of, and features that I hadn't thought of in the first blush of concept.  As each new piece of information was discovered I added a few lines of exposition to the developing outline. The more facts I acquired the more explanation was needed, it seemed.  But it was all so interesting.

After two weeks I had several thousand words of exposition and far fewer of dialogue and action. Worse, the new knowledge destroyed much of the original plot/concept so how was I to make use of all that information and still avoid excessive exposition?

Too much explanation takes the reader out of the story and destroys the thrust of the plot.  This isn't a new problem. One of the key issues with the SF genre is the need to frame a story properly so the reader is taken into the universe where the action takes place. In general fiction you can say "New York" and create an instant mental framework in the reader's mind. But if you say "L'teria, the faerie realm" you have to do a bit more work. The same thing applies to stories involving future societies or technologies.

After two weeks I had several thousand words of exposition and far fewer of dialogue and action. Worse, the new knowledge destroyed much of the original plot/concept so how to make use of all that information and still avoid excessive exposition?

Not wanting to remove out any hard-won facts (it was invested time, after all), I injected some dialogue or action to keep the reader involved with the emerging plot wherever a block of narrative ran for more than a page (about 350 words). The trick was to sequence the actions so the descriptive facts were relevant while maintaining a continuous plot line.

As expected, the piece ballooned beyond the limits I promised so some cutting and compression was needed, but that's the subject of a different post.

Friday, August 10, 2012


I've been meaning to complete this piece for months but, well, you know how it goes:  first there was that story that needed something I just couldn't put my finger on, so I put it aside for a moment and began to do some editing on another piece that was almost ready to go in the hopes diverting my attention momentarily would break something loose, except that the cats needed to be taken to the vet for shots, which led to getting the car gassed up on the way, where I thought of a new story idea as the dollars rolled by but, by the time I'd returned home, I could not remember what it had been.  Then it was lunch time and I had to do a bit a reading to keep up with the genre.  I'd hardly finished when I had to get the mail, which included some new magazines with really, really interesting lead articles and a few links to more interesting sites I could research, said research eventually led, as "research"always must, to watching a japanese cat in a box video.

By dinnertime I was so exhausted from writing that I had to stop for the day.  I don't know why I procrastinate.  I kid myself into thinking that I am "taking a breather" while my subconscious works through an issue, even though that fickle part of my mind always seems more interested in developing new material instead of solving the proximate problem.  Do I put things off because they are difficult or boring?  Maybe it's because of my self-doubts about my ability to forge anything worth reading?  Maybe it's because I'm unwilling to work hard at my craft?  Character flaws, all and all equally insolvable except with a personality transplant.

This habit of putting things off seems to be a dangerous affliction when all I want is to get my creations out there to be read.  Nevertheless this is something with which I have always been cursed. Despite my best efforts I can't seem to break the cycle of jumping away from things when I should be pushing ahead, of always choosing the road not taken.  I admire fellow writers who persevere, who seem never in doubt as they turn out words at prodigious rates, and who amass an endless stream of completed stories. They are heroes, praiseworthy beings I hold in highest regard.

But how do they do it?  Is it because I'm merely a hobbyist and am not dependent on writing to survive that permits me to jump away from things?  Is the difference between a hobbyist and a professional the fact that the latter's very existence hangs on their writerly income?  Do they persevere because they cannot afford the luxurious pleasure of leaving something undone?  Would that I had a similarly important goad to keep me pounding away at word-smithing at the anvil of my keyboard.

Like this post, which I started last April and managed to get done after diversion through a novel revision, five (incomplete) stories, two sales, and watching a LOT of cat videos!

Saturday, August 4, 2012


One problem new writers ask experienced professionals is how to tell a story. They have a great (to them at least) idea, have (hopefully) done their research, and (supposedly) possess basic skills in the English language or at least know how to use spell and grammar checkers. What they don't have is the  experience necessary to compose the story. A lot of the good experience comes from a lot of really bad experience that is a necessary part of growth.  Each time you try you learn a little more and, eventually you build up some successful structures in your mind, and it is these successful structures that let you get on with the story telling instead of worrying about which goes where.

Before starting to compose the story a writer should have a basic structure in mind.  Sure, you need characters, settings, some proposition or problem, and a solution or resolution.  Helps to throw in a bit of humor, maybe a few asides, and even some bit of knowledge or opinion you want to share.  If you only have those elements and nothing else you do not have a story.

Early in my writing journey I stumbled across Algis Budrys' explanation that a good short story was structured just like a joke.  I though that was a superficial observation but after reflection I realized that it was on target and, for a number of years I used that as the starting point.

Any joke begins with a setup in which you lay out a proposition that will eventually reach the punch line and should somehow tie to that line.  Good joke tellers do not give away the punch line at the outset, or at least do not make what is to come obvious.  This opening sets up the reader's mind to the joke's environment.

The next bit of stage business is to expand on the various story elements - all that research, characters, etc that I mentioned earlier.  This exposition explains the set up in more detail.  This part can contain flashbacks, flash forwards, exhausting narrative explication, and damn near anything you want. It's free form for the creative and the story can wander as far afield as the writers imagination, available space, and how quickly the deadline is approaching.  Eventually, the exposition part MUST eventually get to the.....

Epiphany! (You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?)  Of course, the epiphany is where the point of the set up is suddenly revealed, where all the blinders fall from  the reader's eyes, and where the true nature of the tale is almost, but not quite revealed.  This is the straight line that brings on the ....

Denoument, which is the punch line that crystalizes the entire dialogue. This part should be mentally as close to the opening setup as possible so that the reader's mind immediately bridges the gap, realizes that they have been missing the obvious, and, hopefully, feel that the effort of slogging through all those words has been worth it.

So there you have it:  A good short story (joke) is composed of just four elements; the setup, exposition, epiphany, and denouement. Use that framework and you'll have a decent story.

Of course, you still have to write the words.