December 30, 2014

Quick Tip On Writing A Thriller

I'm sure 99.99% of us have heard of James Bond. Well, famed 007 agent creator Ian Fleming wrote an essay in 1963 on how to write thrillers, including the following tip:

We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn't enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.

As a bonus, here is another quick tip: 
[N]ever correct anything and never go back to what [you] have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where [you] have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? ... If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following [Fleming's] formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren't disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks."

So keep your eyes peeled and your ears unplugged for any information or tidbit you might want to swipe and place into your own writing!

For more tips from Ian Fleming, refer to MI6

December 23, 2014

Les Poissonnnades Or How An 18th Century French Cinderella Was Seen By Her Rivals (And The Regular Populace)

What a mouthful of a title, eh? I apologize for not finding anything more pithy (blame it on my inherent laziness). OK, now...

I am talking today about Madame de Pompadour. But let not the noble name fool you, this lady's maiden name was Poisson.

Is anyone else reminded of The Little Mermaid?

Can anyone tell I've been on a Disney spree lately?

Anyway, Madame de Pompadour is better known for being THE mistress of none other than the King of France, Louis XV. Considering that she got to that exalted position after having been born the (illegitimate) daughter of a financier exiled for fraud, I must say I'm really impressed at her (ahem) dedication, but also her intelligence. Because the more one rises in society's ranks, the more enemies one makes. So if your past isn't immaculate-conception clean, they're going to find something to criticize you about (and even then, you're not safe). Add to that mix the fact that the general population's lost complete faith in the royalty and anyone doing business with it (even if it involves opening your legs for them), and you've got yourself a fine target stuck to your forehead. 
In that essence, many a song deriding her was created and sung in Paris in those days, which came to be known as the Poissonnades

Here is a (most of a) song that targets Madame de Pompadour and her low birth and physical attractions:

Les grands seigneurs s'avilissent,
The great lords are making themselves vile
Les financiers s'enrichisent,
The financiers are making themselves rich,
Tous les Poissons s'agrandissent.
All the Fish are growing fatter.
C'est le règne des vauriens.
It is the reign of the good-for-nothings.
On épuise la finance
The state's finances are being drained
En bâtiments, en dépense.
By construction, by expenditures.
Le Roi ne met ordre à rien, rien rien.
The King does not put into order a thing, thing, thing.

Une petite bourgeoise
A little bourgeoise
Elevée à la grivoise,
Raised indecently,
Mesurant tout à sa toise,
Judges everything by her own measure,
Fait de la cour un taudis;
Turns the court into a slum;
Le Roi malgré son scrupule,
The King, despite his scruples,
Pour elle froidement brûle,
Feebly burns for her,
Cette flamme ridicule
That ridiculous flame
Excite dans tout Paris ris, ris, ris.
Makes all of Paris laugh, laugh, laugh.                     

Cette catin subalterne
That lowly slut
Insolemment le gouverne
Governs him insolently
Et c'est elle qui décerne
And she is the one who awards [with top positions]
Les hommes à prix d'argent.
The men...for a price.
Devant l'idole tout plie.
Before this idol everyone bends [the knee].
Le courtisan s'humilie,
The courtier humiliates himself.
Il subit cette infamie,
He submits to this infamy.
Et n'est que plus indigent, gent, gent.
And yet is even more indigent, gent, gent.

La contenance éventée,
A stale composure,
La peau jaune et truitée,
The skin yellow and speckled,
Et chaque dent tachetée,
And all her teeth stained,
Les yeux fades, le col long,
Her eyes insipid, her neck elongated,
Sans esprit, sans caractère,
Without with, without character,
L'âme vile et mercernaire,
The spirit vile and mercenary,
Le propos d'une commère,
Her talk that of a village gossip,
Tout est bas chez la Poisson, son, son.
Everything is lowly with the Fish, ish, ish.

Si dans les beautés choisies,
If among the chosen beauties,
Elle était des plus jolies,
She were one of the prettiest,
On pardonne les folies
One pardons the follies
Quand l'objet est un bijou.
When the object is a treasure.
Mais pour si mince figure,
But for so inconsequential a figure,
Et si sotte créature,
And so silly a creature,
S'attirer tant de murmure,
To attract such ill words,
Chancun pense le roi f, f, f. [fou, fou, fou, [ou] fout, fout, fout]
Everyone thinks the king mad, mad, mad.

~Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. fr. 13709, ff 29-30 and 71.

I don't know what you think, but I would probably like to get to know the one who engendered such jealousy (if only going back in time would be a riskless and possible venture...), especially considering she also loved the arts, fashion, architecture, and literature, and was the patron of many a great name (Voltaire, the , while also getting not only herself but the rest of her family ennobled. In fact, she was such an amazing woman that, despite ceasing to be the king's lover after 1750, the two remained good friends.

For the rest of the song and many others: Harvard website
Wiki bio
Madame de Pompadour via paintings at the National Gallery
More on the history of the times and the songs sung against Madame de Pompadour via the Guardian

December 16, 2014

Humanity's Tipping Point

I've just finished reading a(nother) fantasy book--Midnighters #3: Blue Noon--where one of the characters, Rex, considers the potential end of the world. For humans at least:

In the darkling part of his mind, Rex thought for a moment that perhaps this wasn't such a bad thing. Without predators to cull the herd, humanity had spread across the earth unchecked, crowding the planet beyond its resources, prideful and arrogant.
Maybe one night a year of being hunted would do them good.

Though one night a year may not seem like a lot, in this book it equates to thousands of deaths, if not millions. Granted, out of 7+ billion people, that's a pretty small number, but still.

Anyway, I know that end-of-world stories, or at least end-of-humanity stories have been quite popular lately (with zombies only being one aspect of them), and I think they do bring up an interesting point: considering we're at the top of the food chain (with nothing to cull our population growth), then how long can we continue on this path before we've outgrown our environment?

Population growth is currently at 1.14% per year. Granted, the rate has supposedly started to decline again (thanks to developed countries), but just over the 20th century the world population grew 264%, from 1.65 billion to 6 billion. Now that's not chump change.

So, since as Harvard University sociobiologist put it, "[t]he constraints of the biosphere are fixed," how many humans can our little Earth sustain? About 9 to 10 billion (according to some scientists). That's not much higher than our current level and, according to predictions, is a number that should be hit between 2040 and 2062. So in 25 to 47 years. Or relatively soon and, in most people's case, our lifetime.

Exciting news, isn't it?

So what are we to expect then? Short water supply (better start stocking up on those bottles!), short food supply (makes us feel bad about wasting 1.3 billion tonnes of food every year, doesn't it?), To make the picture a little bleaker, the 10 billion sustainability mark is assuming everyone becomes a grass-eater (vegans FTW!), so a more realistic picture would bring down that mark... Although, considering the current specie extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate (aka background extinction rate: rate of extinction without human involvement), that means between 200-2,000 (on the low end) or 10,000 to 100,000 (on the higher end) species are becoming extinct, I have a feeling this constrains our biosphere parameters even further. Robot bees just aren't going to be enough to make a difference...

So all you zombie/apocalypse fan boys and girls there might get to experience survival scenarios (who knows how people would react in such a world?). As for everyone else, well, let's hope we figure something out, and soon. (I'm totally for colonizing Mars, btw!)

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy my time with my family and friends that much more and appreciate my Christmas dinner fully (with no wastage!).

UPDATE - 2015.01.22:
Just read this article about humanity tipping the earth's ecological and weather patterns into unsafe zones, with already two large "dead zones" reported, and more to come if we keep up with our current activities (especially the production of the chemicals phosphorus and nitrogen). The scientists in charge of the study stated that we've hit 4 out of the 9 "safe operating space" boundaries, getting closer and closer to the point of no return where life won't be as friendly as it has been up until now...

Live Science - How Many People Can Earth Support?
World Population Clock (with amazing charts!)
UNEP - Food Waste Facts
WWF - How Many Species Are We Losing?
Center For Biological Diversity - The Extinction Crisis

December 9, 2014

It's All About The Numbers

Here's an interesting factoid for you I just found out:

Traditionally published books come out on Tuesdays because that's when the bestseller week starts.

Now back in 2012, it's been postulated that it took 20,000 sold copies of a book before one could potentially think about hitting a bestsellers' list. But that's not all--what is important, is also the velocity of those sales. Therefore, the traditional publishing industry will think a book that sells 20,000 copies in one week then never sells another copy again is a better book (think best seller) than one that sells 1,000 copies per week for 20 weeks, even if it keeps selling 1,000 copies/week for 20 years!

And in these times where all big publishing houses are on or owned by companies on a Stock Exchange where profits are supposed to increase every year (never mind being happy with simply being profitable every year), best seller lists can make or brake many a great/fun/[insert cool adjective here] author.

Anyway, all this to show that it's more of a numbers game than one of true talent (though talent could help tip the scales in your favor).

Really great and detailed article by Kristin Kathryn Rusch.

December 2, 2014

Map Of The Land Of Tenderness

Penelope and her suitors by John William Waterhouse
Hear, hear!

Of the land of Tenderness, a magical land where amazing cities such as those of Sensibility, of Constant Friendship, Kindness and Sincerity can make a man rich! 

To reach this land, a man must cross the Dangerous Sea, cross the River of Gratitude, and continue south parallel to the Inclination River.

 But be wary not to tarry in such towns as those of Complaisance, Negligence, or even Perfidy, for those are towns filled with evil and brigands! Drift too far East and you may get yourself lost around the banks of the Lake of Indifference.

Though the obstacles be great, the rewards are worth the risk, and every man (and woman alike) should tempt the adventure!

OK, so technically this 17th c. map (Carte de Tendre) shows three ways for an adventurer to gain a lady's affections, and all start in the Town of New Friendship, then the wooer may proceed north:

1. via the River Inclination (the fastest route) to Tenderness Upon Inclination;
2. via the towns of Love Letters, Little Trinkets, and many others to end at Tenderness Upon Esteem; or
3. via  the towns of Patience, Faithfulness and Constant Attention to end at the town of Tenderness Upon Gratitude.

Straying from these routes leads one either towards the Lake of Indifference, or the Sea of Enmity. And going beyond those three Cities of Tenderness one reaches then the town of Passion, on the edges of the Sea of Danger, beyond which lie unknown lands...

Either way, there is no more enchanting land than the land of Tenderness that has made every single human being dream...