(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Monday, February 24, 2014

My Job Translating English To English

I don't think I've told this story here, and it's a fun one - short, but fun.

I made the unfortunate mistake of quitting my (admittedly miserable) job in LA right at the start of the Great Recession.  This made finding new work a nightmare, and meant I took a few weird temporary jobs to help stretch out my finances.

The most fun of these temporary jobs was translating English to English for Japanese television.  A major Japanese television news station has a branch office in LA, you see.  They had an assistant out lengthily for medical reasons, and by one of those weird friend-of-a-friend situations I got the job to fill in.

The job itself... well, my main job really was to translate English into English.  The office was staffed by Japanese natives - a fact that unfortunately was the reason the office chief couldn't hire me permanently.  English was the second language of every single person in the office, and in most cases a second language they could barely speak at all.  In particular, the office chief was a highly intelligent woman, but her English was only okay.  Sorting through American news stories to see which ones were important enough to send to the office in Japan was hard for these folks.  The language is often either highly technical or filled with implications.  I, with my writing background, had the job of doing things like listening to CDC updates and explaining them to the office chief in very plain English.  I would also listen to or read general news stories, and explain not just what they said (which she usually understood already) but what they implied.  They also found it quite convenient to have a native English speaker to make investigative phone calls.  I even performed an interview once at E3 that supposedly made it on air in Japanese news.  The office chief was vocally pleased with my performance, and unhappy that she couldn't hire me permanently.  Hiring decisions were made at the home office.  I would have loved to have kept that job.  I remember it, and her, fondly.

(Her name and the network's name are withheld on the off chance they wouldn't like it.)

One interesting event in that job was the discussion of the word 'otaku'.  We were covering E3, you see - the major yearly computer gaming industry show.  Getting free press passes to that was pretty cool, by the way, although damn did we work rough hours during the convention.  While discussing the convention and how it was covered, my office chief asked me what the closest English translation to 'otaku' was.  The convention is, after all, of great interest to otaku.  I told her that the closest word in English is 'fanboy', but not to use it because it had strong negative connotations, and was generally considered an insult.  She and the other Japanese natives were baffled by why anyone would consider being otaku a bad thing.  The cameraman was otaku, she said.  She called out something to him in Japanese, and he answered similarly (he did not speak any English).  They apparently considered it a point of pride.  That has stuck with me as an interesting episode and cultural difference.

Also, in finding news stories for the Japanese audience, I was under strict instructions to pass along anything involving Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Apparently they love him in Japan.

Maybe that story wasn't as short as I thought it was.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Fictional Travelogue

Hylotl Exploration Log:  Pretty Bubbles
Date:  Meaningless, out here
Planet: X Theta Her Majoris VII a

Having worn out my nonexistent welcome with the apes, I decided it was time to take my beautiful alien art pieces and find a new star system to explore.  I had enough time to take one detour first.  Why not take a look at the nearby ice moon?

Oh, my.

 Humans must have an obsession with their reproductive anatomy.  This place is huge.  The original caretakers are gone, and the unfortunates left behind are so irritable one of them tried to hit me with a chair.  I employed the Hylotl Way of Peace, and built each one a Shame Box so that I wouldn't have to hurt them.  This guy will need a lot of time in his box.

A hand print scanner!  Would I have to drill my way- oh, wait, it was broken.  All the doors were open already.

Human architects understand the need for open spaces so that even criminals may enjoy nature.  Look at all those lamps.  This courtyard is much better lit than the insides of the buildings themselves.

Oh, humans.  Among all the non-Hylotl races of the galaxy, you are the closest to civilized.  You alone have discovered Shame Box technology.

If only anything else you did made sense.

And yet, here and there, hints of true wisdom.  At the exact center of the colony I found a giant room dedicated to pouring water on each other.  The shrine maiden offered to introduce me to a human custom called 'shanking'.  Perhaps someday, human, when you understand Peace and Beauty and emerge from your Shame Box, we may shank each other as friends.

The giant building behind the water temple was full of humans who had escaped their Shame Boxes.  Look at them all!  I admire the way you struggle towards enlightenment, humanity, but you rely too much on metal bars and computer locks.  My tiny wooden boxes will give these poor souls time to reflect.

Sometimes I think you're trying TOO hard.  What do these even do?  I don't want to know!

We can all use time out to reflect, draw wisdom, and see the world from another's viewpoint.  I sat here for a long, long time, but no one came to talk to me.

Wait.  That's the exit on the far side of the colony.  This horrible grey room is a welcoming center and rest lounge!  So close to civilization, humans, but so very, very far.  Ugh!

I never leave without a souvenir.  Sometimes a lot of souvenirs.  Look what the humans gave me!  Maybe it's used for shanking?  The local wildlife was not impressed, I can tell you that.

My visit with the human reproductive colony is over.  I'm getting out of this star system before the apes find enough spare parts to fix their spaceship.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


And now, a break from the twisted romances and gothic fairy tales, because...


It was supposed to be out yesterday, but Amazon happened.  Currently, the ebook is available from Amazon and from Nook.  Paper books and purchasing from Kobo are winding their way through the system.  The internet is much slower than you would think.

Easy purchasing link for Amazon:

Yes, it's this cool.  Buy here!

I hope I don't have to tell anyone what it's about by now.  Do you want to read a book about a middle school girl supervillain?  Then press Amazon's luridly inviting 'Buy Now' button, and get ready for a fun read.

For those interested in a quick 'behind the scenes peek' into the publishing process...

The book was supposed to come out for sale yesterday, and technically it did, late last night.  You would think adding a book to Amazon is a straightforward process - fill out the appropriate forms, send it in, and it goes on their list.  In fact, it normally takes about 24 hours, and there's no guarantee that it won't take much more.  Computers move at the speed of light, but bureaucracies don't.  Once the book was up, I had to go in and tell Amazon as an author that it was my book, and that took a few hours to confirm.  Can't blame them on that part.  It clearly needs human judgment.  Now the book's Amazon page is not finished, because only the author can set it up properly.  I'm waiting on instructions from Curiosity Quills as to what needs changing.  You can buy the book now, but the page will soon be prettier, or have useful cross-links, or... I don't know.  It's Sunday, and nobody's gotten back to me yet.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

So Many Photos

I went to an antique store today.  These words are utterly inadequate to describe the experience.  I will tell it mostly through pictures.  Be warned - the full size photos are huge, unaltered from where I downloaded them from my phone.  There is so much detail to see, I didn't dare shrink them.

The name of the store is Joe Ley's.  I've lived in Louisville most of my life, and I had no idea it was here.  Then again, viewed from the outside, I had no idea what I would get.

And the view of the other half of the front yard.

And the view of the closed off courtyard.

So, cool lawn sculptures.  Fair enough.  We go inside, and I am treated to this - which is more or less what I was expecting.  Absolutely crammed with pretty old furnishings.  The clown head is cute.

Here is the back wall.  Pretty old fashioned furniture.  Only the torch sconce was a hint of what I was getting into.

You see, that was just the first room.  That was the cashier's room, in fact.  There were more.  I take a little back door into the main hallway.  Note the reflection in the mirror of the giant Egyptian sarcophagus.

I turn right into another packed room.  By now, I'm a little impressed.  They've crammed a whole lot of antiques into this little building.  Yes, that is a mannequin of a security guard, and he is for sale.

I liked these little lanterns.

No antique store is complete without a man-sized column of cherub statues and a fake parrot.

Things start to get weird at the end of the room.  The back light kind of ruins this, but the rooster holding plates and rearing elephant really stood out.

I had to skip over the more-than-life-size Jesus statue, because the glare from the windows made it invisible.  Instead, have some of the classy ceramics and old paintings I expected in an antique store.

More statuary, including a large bird.  Also, Portrait Of The Artist Who Didn't Realize His Open Coat Would Make Him Look Like A Hippopotamus.  Those little tags are part of a complicated pricing system I never understood.

The Hall Of Merry-Go-Round Horses.  Like a fool, I almost did not go down this hall.

Instead, I stopped to look at this really pretty clock face.

And a photo of the whole clock.  $2000, but man, is it pretty.

Here I made a fateful decision.  I would go down to look at the warehouse after all.  The warehouse was why I came, technically, as a driver for someone who needed to pick out out-of-date tiles.  See, this is the store's actual business - they have big piles of antique building supplies, so that people owning old homes can buy replacement spindles for their staircase bannisters.  Stuff like that.

Stopped by the warehouse door to photograph these old advertisements, which were the most interesting thing I'd seen in the store so far.

And then I stepped into the warehouse.

I didn't know where to start.  Have some tools.

I'm going to call this 'Lucy Row'.  My friends will get it.

Oh my god, old fashioned typewriters.  Portable, even!  I am ancient and crusted with filth and remember the typewriter days!

No, I don't know.

The back wall.

Ha ha ha!  Oh, wait.  Did I say that was the back wall?  There's also this big section, where the tiles and other replacement house parts are kept.

And behind that an even bigger section.  Now I knew the truth.  The antique shop is a sham cover for this gigantic underground bunker.

Oh, and there's MORE house parts underneath that!

And a door into an even larger room that contained doors.  Hundreds and hundreds of antique doors.

Having recorded the sheer size of the warehouse, I felt free to hunt down the coolest things I could find and photograph them.  A box of stamps!

Ah, I wish this picture wasn't so blurry.  Antique coca cola bottles - unopened.  That black stuff?  Actual coca cola.  I sloshed it around.  These aren't display pieces, they're regular coke bottles.

I found the scythes.  Scythes, plural.  Sondra would have had hysterics.  My heart skipped a beat.  RUSTY, ANTIQUE scythes, even!

I could not photograph the locked room full of toys.  In fact, as I sort through these photos, I am now freaking furious.  Several of my photos have gone missing!  Where is the photo of the toy cabinet with the metal toy soldiers and the Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker books?

Fine.  I will leave you with the This Is Messed Up room.

(There is apparently an upstairs.  I did not find out until after I left.  Cripes, to think there was even more cool old crazy stuff I missed the first time!)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Writing Lesson I Learned From... Chowder?

Last night I had one of those little moments where you put 2 and 2 together.  I was giving writing advice, and realized where I learned that lesson myself.

The advice was 'turn it up to 11' and the source of that lesson was the cartoon Chowder.  I've been writing all my life, but my young aspirations were to write for cartoons.  Heck, I'd still leap at that in a second, even though it's considered unglamorous both in the writing and entertainment worlds.  This meant studying how to write scripts, and writing sample scripts and even submitting them once or twice.  Those are stories in themselves that must be glossed over here.

Writing scripts for other people's shows was some of the best writing practice I could ever get.  It teaches you voice, to hear how characters talk in your head.  It teaches you visualization.  It teaches you discipline, adapting your imagination to someone else's themes and the limits of their creation.

None of that is the point here.

One of the shows I practiced on was Chowder.  It won't go down as one of the best cartoons in history, but it was funny and it was cute.  Above anything, it had one strength:  It was ridiculous.  The show created a surreal world, and they packed weirdness into every second of the show and every corner of the image.  Someone in the background would have a pineapple head.  If they had to do an establishing shot of the city, expect one of the buildings to get up and walk off.  They were trying to be weird, so they turned the weirdness all the way up and broke off the knob.

That was a valuable lesson to me, and I recommend it to all other writers.  Don't hold back.  Mice and Men was a great tragedy because Steinbeck made you like his characters, sympathize with their small tragedies - and then murdered one and ruined the other.  The Neverending Story was a great children's fantasy because it painted silent forests of giant flowers and memory mines and an oracle who was just a song.  Raymond Chandler's stories were great because every word was chosen to reflect his hard boiled detective, and love and betrayal were packed into every adventure.

Whatever you are creating, don't hold back.  Don't dumb anything down.  Don't worry about 'too much'.  Turn that story up to 11 and blow their minds.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Chip And Dale Movie?

So, I found out that Disney has approved a combination live action / CG Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers movie.  (Link provided the one I could find trying the least to be witty.  Ah, entertainment news.)

I have mixed feelings, to say the least.  Have you ever seen a live-action-cg-exploit-an-existing-property movie that didn't suck?  Horribly?  And yet Disney is making it.  If they put it up on the big screen, at worst it's mediocre.  I am exactly the age where Rescue Rangers meant a lot to me.  80s cartoons were bad.  They were BAD.  They were horrific.  Tiny Toons and Rescue Rangers were a breath of fresh air, no matter how bad they seem in comparison to modern cartoons.  Gadget by herself was an astonishingly good character, combining brilliance, naivete, and a decent helping of insanity.  Odds are good that she won't be in the movie.  All they HAVE to include are Chip, Dale, and the name 'Rescue Rangers' to describe them doing heroic stuff - the least interesting parts of the show.  And yet, Disney does not produce much trash these days, and produces less trash by the minute.

You can see how my thoughts go back and forth on this, can't you?  Well, there is one more thing, something of more professional interest.

See, only a couple of years after Rescue Rangers was on, in the archaeological early days of the internet, I was on a mailing list about cartoons that included some cartoon professionals from Disney.  I learned about the hard truth of animation - executive meddling.  I read early versions of scripts that were brilliant and hilarious, then saw the cartoons that were painfully dull and formulaic.  I heard the explanation - a businessman had read the script and decided it was too funny.  You see, they wanted cartoons to be palatable to the morons they assumed were their audience.

This problem has haunted cartoons forever and is only letting go slowly, but it has an application here.  Rescue Rangers did not have to be as bad as it was.  Great writers came up with great ideas and made great scripts.  The show was dumbed down from the top.  Most of the Disney Afternoon shows were dumbed down from the top.  Tiny Toons and Animaniacs were dumbed down from the top.

There is no reason why a Rescue Rangers movie couldn't be amazing, and things have relaxed in the animation industry just enough that it's possible it will fulfill the potential that drew me to the show.  Or it could be a godawful piece of crap.  I find myself hoping, but not wanting to hope.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Hoard

Remember I mentioned stealing furniture in space?

This is why I like Starbound.

And the entrance to my hoard. Much less spectacular, but hey, Space Greenhouse!