Weekend Update 3/17/2018: Did no one see this coming?

Things you find in a closet (click to embiggen:

Another entry in my series on news that either came in after I posted my Friday Five, or new development in previously posted stories, or things that didn’t make the cut but deserve some commentary. This is also another in my series of posts pointing out that public figures who are most adamant about policing, judging, and criminalizing other people’s sexual behavior seem to always have some kind of immoral skeleton in their own closet.

Deputy Australian Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce resigns over sex scanda He’s a family-values politician, described as one of the “most staunch opponents of same-sex marriage” and gay rights in general, et cetera, has been having an affair with a staffer. Not only is he resigning his post, but he is leaving his wife (the mother of his four children) for the younger staffer who his pregnant. Did no one see this coming?

Last month in Utah we got first this headline: Rep. Jon Stanard resigns abruptly with little explanation followed up with this: Utah Rep. Jon Stanard, accused of meeting call girl for sex, used public money for hotel rooms. Before you ask, yes Stanard was also a typical family-values politician, pro-life, anti-gay politician: “Family values” politician Jon Stanard of Utah hates gay people… but he sure loves prostitutes!. Did no one see this coming?

Let’s not forget the governor of Missouri, arrested last week on charges that while he had his mistress tied up in bondage gear, he took pictures of her against her will, threatened to release the pictures to her family and the public if she told anyone about the affair they were having, and then did send the picture to someone. That’s three separate crimes under Missouri law. He’s refused to resign and had been blaming the whole thing on a jewish billionaire that the Republicans keep naming whenever they want to claim that protests aren’t genuine and so forth. Apparently somehow this guy forced him to take the pictures and store them on his computer and make the threats that were secretly recorded by the mistress’s husband? Well, things aren’t looking good for the family values, anti-gay, pro-life governor, as more bad news piles on: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ nonprofit is an example of ‘secret cash’ trend, report says. So, the pro-family, anti-gay guy was cheating on his wife, blackmailing his mistress, sending revenge porn, and is breaking campaign finance laws. Did no one see this coming?

The headline on this one is true, but leaving out a lot: Anti-gay discrimination just cost this judge 3 years of pay Vance Day is a state judge in Oregon, and you may recall that Oregan legalized marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. This guy repeatedly had his staff construct an elaborate system that included lying to any same sex couple that came in to get married that the judge wasn’t there, and so forth. As the state Supreme Court ruled when handing down the punishment: “That screening process demonstrated to respondent’s staff that, in exercising his statutory authority and judicial duty to solemnize marriages, he would not treat all couples fairly.”

But that’s not all he’s being sanctioned over. Day also had a strange relationship with a veteran suffering from PTSD whose case in Veteran Treatment Court had been presided over by Day. Despite the veteran being under orders not to have guns (because of previous felony Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol convictions), Day provided him with a gun on at least two occasions, and promised the man that Day would somehow get his other legal restrictions lifted. These details make very little sense, at the moment. Day invited the veteran to dinner at his house before this things happened, and this was after the veteran had appeared in court in front of Day, and at some point after that the gun incidents took place. One reason we don’t have details is that Day has been indicted on three criminal counts over these incidents (all separate from the judicial suspension). Until this goes to trial we won’t know what was going on. Oh, and also, after some altercations with referees of his son’s soccer games, he lied and claimed a ref assaulted him. So, the pro traditional values judge who went to extreme links to deny some gays equal treatment in his court, has been making false criminal allegations against people he disagrees with, circumventing laws to give guns to a convicted felony, and committed other yet-to-be specified in court (when those indictments are unsealed) official misconduct. Did no one see this coming?

But I have to ask, why, oh why would a vehemently anti-guy official suddenly take a peculiar interest and start offering big promises to another man? I’m just asking.

In other news, Maine House candidate who attacked 2 survivors of Florida shooting drops out of race. Leslie Gibson is (again) a so-called family values, pro-life, traditional marriage supporting politician. He had called one of the teen survivors of the Parkland shooting a skinhead lesbian (whatever that means), and another a bald-faced liar. When members of his own party called him out, he issued an apology to the young woman he called a skinhead lesbian, but left the comments about the other student standing. This all happened when he was running unopposed for reelection to his state legislative seat. A few days later, on the last day to register, a young woman registered as a democratic candidate for the seat, and another republican registered to run again him. And that’s when he dropped out of the race.

Listen: you can’t simultaneously dismiss these high school students’ protests and such as meaningless because they are merely children and don’t know anything, and also attack them as if they are public figures involved in the process. That’s super hypocritical. And an asshole move. Anyway, he did the usual claim that he’s not dropping out because he did anything wrong, but because this controversy is a distraction.

Yeah, right. Good riddance.


Friday Five (everything old is new again edition)

(Click to embiggen)

It’s the third Friday of March!

Things have been happening in the lives of a bunch of our friends. Work is being insanely stressful. I have not been in the greatest of moods. But enough about that.

Once again I bring you the Friday Five: The top five (IMHO) stories of the week and videos (plus notable obituaries and a recap of my blog posts).

Stories of the Week:

Using an AIDS-activism slogan to protest gun violence.

Donald Trump Is the New George W. Bush.

Jesus Taught Me How to Play Soprano Saxophone While I Was Dead, Says Christian.

Generation Z Is Less Religious Than Ever, and Evangelicals Don’t Know Why.

Depth Of Russian Politician’s Cultivation Of NRA Ties Revealed.

In Memoriam:

Pioneering Scientist Stephen Hawking Passes Away at 76.

How Stephen Hawking Transformed Our Understanding of Black Holes.

Stephen Hawking’s life was made possible by access to great health care and social support.


Things I wrote:

Weekend Update (3/10/2018): Another homophobe arrested for being a sexual predator.

100 years of Daylight Saving Time, and most of what you know about it is wrong.

Pseudo spring arrived, time for flowers and to assess our plans for the veranda!.

…and the darkness comprehended it not.


Spider-Man’s Tom Holland crushes Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in lip-synch challenge:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Which Trump Cabinet Member Will Survive The DCAA Tournament:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Jimmy Kimmel’s Shocking Discovery About Trump Merchandise:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Conor Lamb’s Win, Trump’s “Space Force” and #NationalStudentWalkout::

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Ireland’s Adorable Gay Eurovision Song Entry May Be Banned By Russia:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

…and the darkness comprehended it not

I have a longer, rambling post about my feelings after seeing the movie A Wrinkle In Time last week. There’s a long digression about what the book meant to me as a kid and so forth. And I will finish it and post it soonish. But there are stressful things going on in the lives of people I love, and I’m in a weird headspace.

So, my quick review is this: The movie is awesome, it is glorious, it is moving, it is sincere, and it absolutely sells the truth of the book. There are many dissenting reviews I have seen, many from friends, so I will offer the following caveats:

  • If you’re a cynic, you will not like this movie. Don’t bother. I’m giving certain cynics of my acquaintance serious side-eye when they claim, while griping about this movie, to be fans of the book. If you’re a cynic, you completely missed the point of the book.
  • If you’re the kind of fan who complained that Tom Bombadil was left out of the Lord of the Rings movies, you will not like this movie. Don’t bother. And if you did see it, don’t post long lists of things they left out. You sound like a small-minded pedant shrilly complaining that they got the stitching wrong on the tunic of that background character from page 76…
  • There’s another kind of fan that I don’t know of a way to warn they won’t like it. But their reasons for not liking the movie were summarized best on Twitter by Matt Santori (@FotoClub): “It is earnest and it treats a girl who has low self-esteem with respect instead of ridicule. And I think that bothers a lot of men.”

There was a point, early in the movie, and not when anything that you would expect to make you cry, when I found myself crying so much I kept having to wipe my eyes to see. It was a beautiful scene that was giving me all kinds of feelings, and realized that the people making the movie had captured the wild sense of wonder and joy that I, as a 9-year-old when I read the book the first time, felt at several parts of the book. It’s a feeling that L’Engle herself described at one point:

“It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Adaptation requires elliding things, simplifying things, and in a book that was written 56 years ago, updating things. The movie is only a little over an hour, which is a perfect length for a kids movie. And there are things that work in text that don’t work so well visually, so sometimes directors have to get metaphorical.

One last note: one of the authors I follow on Twitter is Saladin Ahmed. Last Friday he saw the movie with his daughter and a whole bunch of her classmates. I’m going to paraphrase his review: “I don’t usually say ‘screw the critics.’ I will simply say, If you possibly can see A Wrinkle in Time with some kids, do so. They will love it, and you will love being there while they watch.”

Pseudo spring arrived, time for flowers and to assess our plans for the veranda!

“It's like winter is really mad and keeps storming out of the room and then coming back yelling, 'And another thing!'”

(click to embiggen)

While some parts of the country were experiencing unseasonable warmth punctuated by intense winter storms in a weird whiplash effect, here in western Washington we were experiencing colder than usual temperatures. A lot colder for a while, there. And while we were getting rain, we were also having more dry days than usual. For most of my life the wet part of the year as been more about drizzly or non-raining but cool and overcast than intense rainstorms. Lately, thanks to climate change, our rainy season has been about more intense rain storms punctuating longer stretches of dry-but-overcast days. Then this weekend it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned on spring all at once. No rain, almost no clouds, and temperatures climbed from the forties into the 60s. Then Monday they soared (relatively speaking) into the low 70s!

Now the temps have dropped, but not all the way back to the 40s. Forecasts indicate that temps are going to be in the 50s all week, which is statistically more typical for this time of year. While that isn’t as cool as it was last week, it’s still a drop of about 20 degrees from Monday!

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

One of the things I accomplished this weekend was getting the veranda ready for spring. Which meant planting new flowers in my planters. And that meant a lot of cleaning, repotting, pouring off excess water, dumping of old potting soil and the dead remnants of last fall’s final flowers. My various lavender plants were already budding, so it is arguable that I should have started working on the other pots earlier. On the other hand, it was only a couple of weeks ago that overnight low temperatures were in the 20s, so this sudden temporary spring was a great opportunity to get things started out there.

My hanging planter had to be converted to a regular pot. I had fuchsias in it last year. At the old place I used to take the hanging planters down as soon as the plants wilted then stuck them in the basement until the next spring. Since I have to use completely contained hanging planters here (don’t want to drip muddy water on my neighbors downstairs!) I only had the one. And every time I thought it was time to take it down, I would notice not just that one of the fuchsias was still green, but it had a new flower! All through December and January it kept putting out new flowers. And a local hummingbird kept visiting it to eat, so I felt guilty thinking of taking it down.

So one evening about a month ago I was outside refilling the birdfeeder with seed, and I banged my head into the hanging planter. As it was swinging I thought I should take it down, now, because the very cold weather seemed to have finally done in the last fuchsia. As I was raising my hands to take hold of the planter, its hanging mechanism broke.

I caught the pot. Barely! The super saturated soil made the whole thing a lot heavier than I expected, and I wound up dumping about half the potting soil onto the deck, but I didn’t drop either the pot or any of its contents over the side. I set the whole thing down and figured I’d sort out what to do about the hanging bit later. This weekend I cut of the reaming bits so the plastic suspension system, planted a couple of pansies in planter, and put it at the end of the row of pots next to the railing. A new plastic hanging pot just like this one is less than 5 bucks. In a few weeks fuchsias starters should be available, so I can set up another hanging planter then. I just need to remember that before the heavy rainy season begins next fall to take the planter down, no matter what state the flowers in it are in. If one of the plants is still blooming, I can put the planter agains the rail so the flower hangs out. The hummingbird will find it.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Another issue we had was the otter planter. The cute terra cotta planter survived about 8 years outside at the Ballard place with only a few cracks. But she didn’t do so well this winter. I think the problem was she isn’t shielded from the rain as much at this location and we had a lot more hard freezes this winter. The super-saturated potting soil froze, expanded and broke the terra cotta in a bunch of places.

But with she can still hold a flower!

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is whether to try to grow tomatoes or some other edibles out there. Last year, since we only signed the lease on this place in mid-April, and didn’t finish clearing out the old place until the end of May, I didn’t even try tomatoes. I’m still a little ambivalent in no small part because most years I’m not sure the number of tomatoes I managed to grow were worth the expense and effort. On the other hand, when they’re perfectly ripe right off the plant they do taste so, so, so much better than the ones bought at the store. And there are possibilities for growing things other than tomatoes. There’s certainly room for more planters on the veranda!

We’ll see. I still need to get more of grandma’s irises planted. And right now the pots just have a minimum of spot color flowers. Once everything is going, I may decide that what I have now is taking up all the time I have available to pseudo garden.

Oh! I ought to mention the tree. Last year a single stalk of something came up in one of the smallest flowerpots I had, and when leaves started growing, I realized that it was a Turkish Filbert (there were a couple of yards in our old neighborhood with Filbert trees). The squirrel at the old place must have put it in the pot, and when I posted about it last year, the consensus was that we should try to keep it alive, lest we anger the squirrel god. Anything, I’ve moved it to the larger planter with the irises. If it keeps growing, I may eventually be asking around whether anyone who has a yard wants a Filbert tree.

We’ll see what grows and what doesn’t!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

100 years of Daylight Saving Time, and most of what you know about it is wrong

“We just sucked one hour of your life away. Tell me... How do you feel?”

At least he was doing it for science… (Click to embiggen)

I was going to write a post about Daylight Saving Time, specifically the many myths that get thrown around by people trying to explain it. I think the fact that almost no one understands why we do it is one of the best arguments for why we shouldn’t do it at all. Let alone the problems the switch causes: Heart problems, road accidents and mood changes are associated with the DST time change. But while I was searching for a good image to attach to such a post, I found this Buzzfeed article and includes a section that hits all the notes I wanted to:

In 1905, a British architect named William Willett invented daylight saving time. Willett was out for his regular early-morning horse ride when it he noticed that 1) it was rather light outside, and 2) he was the only one up. Like Franklin, he thought this was a waste of perfectly good sunlight. And it ~dawned~ on him that instead of getting everyone up earlier by blasting cannons, they could simply shift their clocks forward to take better advantage of that sweet daylight. So, in 1907 Willett published a pamphlet outlining his formal proposal. He suggested that people turn their clocks forward 20 minutes every Sunday in April at 2 a.m. (And then they would set the clocks back by 20 minutes every Sunday in September.) He argued that this would get people outside and exercising, and that it would save on electricity, gas, candles, etc. (He also estimated it would save $200 million in today’s dollars. This was…again, a wild exaggeration.) A member of parliament, Richard Pearce, heard about Willett’s idea and was into it; he introduced Pearce’s Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons in February of 1908. The idea of changing the clocks four times in a month didn’t go over well, and the bill was eventually revised so that the clocks would be set forward one hour at 2 a.m. on the third Sunday in April (and then set back in September).

The bill was endorsed by merchants, banks, railroad companies, and the guy who created Sherlock Holmes, but was opposed by most astronomers and scientists. And one newspaper wrote “that if a man were going to a 7:00 dinner, under the new arrangement of daylight he would appear on the streets of London in evening dress at 5:40, which would shake the British Empire to its foundations.”

You know who else opposed the bill? FARMERS. They argued from the start that they couldn’t perform their operations at a different time — for example, they couldn’t harvest grass for hay while it was still wet with dew, and the dew wasn’t going to disappear earlier just because the clock had changed. And there were other activities that they couldn’t do until temperatures dropped after the sun went down. Basically, they hated DST from its inception.

Despite the association with farmers, daylight saving time actually came to the United States thanks to business owners (and war)
If you feel like garbage this week, you can direct your curses toward Marcus A. Marks, a clothing manufacturer; A. Lincoln Filene, a department store owner; and Robert Garland, a Pittsburgh industrialist. These three were very pro-DST, and were able to get labor organizations on board, along with the US Chamber of Commerce, the president of the National League of Baseball Clubs, and other prominent business owners. Even President Woodrow Wilson wrote a letter expressing his support for their efforts.

Less than two weeks after the US entered WWI, a daylight saving bill was introduced in Congress. It was heavily opposed by farmers, and also railroad companies, who were concerned about anything that could mess with the standard time zones (which had only recently become A Thing — a story for another day), and who said that 1,698,818 (!!) clocks and watches along their routes would have to be changed if DST were implemented. Because the fewest trains were running at 2 a.m., that became the proposed hour for the change-over. And because the most coal was consumed in March and October in the States, the bill was expanded to include those two months. On March 19, 1918, daylight saving time was signed into law in the United States, and took effect on March 31 of that year.

—“9 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Daylight Saving Time” by Rachel Wilkerson Miller, for Buzzfeed

The energy consumption savings argument was difficult to back up with numbers in 1918. The energy consumption argument at least had some slight possibility of being correct in 1918, when the vast majority of energy use was in factories, retail businesses, and the like. Residential energy use was limited to cooking, heating, and providing light usually with oil- or gas-burning lamps.

But in 2018 the argument doesn’t hold up. For instance, residential energy use thanks to all our computers, TVs, sound systems, game systems, refrigerators, microwaves, et cetera is a larger fraction of the total national energy consumption. And the amount of that home energy consumed for lighting is much smaller than all those other things. Also, a much larger proportion of businesses run 24 hours a day than did back then. Setting clocks forward or back has negligible impact on how much energy is used per day on a 24-hour business.

What I’m saying is, there isn’t much reason to justify the effort, the impacts on people’s health, and other costs of this twice annual fiddling with the clock.

Besides, I’ve always agreed with the one reaction, usually attributed to an elderly man on a Native American Reservation after first getting an explanation of Daylight Saving Time: “Only a fool would think you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, then sew it to the bottom to get a longer blanket.”

Weekend Update (3/10/2018): Another homophobe arrested for being a sexual predator

“I refuse to take gun control suggestions from people who ave never touched a gun, eat soap, and get confused about which restroom to use. Merica.” “'How can you talk about gun control when you're never fired a gun' how y'all anit gay and you've never sucked cock?”

(click to embiggen)

Once again stories that didn’t make it into the Friday Five, or new developments in stories that did, have come to my attention. So I’m going to share them with you, along with some commentary and context. Dan Savage used to post this irregular feature on the blog of the Seattle biweekly newspaper, The Stranger called “Youth Pastor Watch.” He had a Google news alert looking for the key phrase “youth pastor” and he would post stories about youth pastors being arrested or charged with molesting girls or boys, having affairs with the wives of congregates, and occasionally other crimes. And there were always concern trolls asking why he only posted news of youth pastors committing crimes. So he started occasionally throw in a story about a Youth Pastor who was in the news for doing something good. And half the time the youth pastor who hadn’t committed a crime would be shown the post with his story in among all these horrible crime stories and he would post a comment to the blog to the effect, “Not quite sure what I’m doing in this post.” You can’t please everyone, I guess.

The point of his posts and my referencing the now is merely a subset of a bigger problem. The evidence of the hundreds, nay, thousands of virulently anti-gay pastors and politicians who have turned out to be hiding some sexual shenanigans of their own has reached the point that I seriously think it should be required of journalists and police to start sniffing around in the background of the vocal anti-gay folks. In hopes of stopping things like this for going on for years: After Threatening Suicide, Anti-gay Pastor Ronnie Gorton Indicted on 47 Charges of Sexually Assaulting Boys. One of this guy’s victims was under 13 years old when the sexual assaults started and went on for more than seven years. At which point he found another teen victim. For some more details Munford pastor indicted on 47 counts of sexually assaulting teens.

I don’t want to deny anyone due process. But this stuff is crazy.

Other pastors have similar secrets: Pastor was ‘counseling’ the young, naked man tied up in his car, he says. Please note that’s what he says, now. When the police first came up to the car parked on a well-lit residential street that neighbors had called in for suspicious activity, the pastor had a different story. The young naked man was bound in nylon rope, sitting in the front seat. The minister was sitting in the back and had to “re-arrange his clothes” when he saw the police walking up. That pastor didn’t identify himself right away, and tried to assure the cops nothing wrong was happening because “We were just playing. We meet up from time to time to play.”

Playing is not counseling. Clearly, the pastor was afraid he was going to be arrested for kidnapping or something, so he told the truth. Sexual play. The young man probably has a humiliation/exhibition kink, and the pastor like to jerk-off while making naked young men do whatever he says. Mostly technically not illegal (public nudity laws being a thing), but when you rant from the pulpit about the supposed sexual immoralities of other people, encouraging your congregation to oppose gay rights laws in order to stamp out perversion, et cetera… well, no one at all should be surprised when it turns out you have more than a bit of experience with that perversion.

And I’m going to have to remember this the next time:

“If you insist that ‘How can you talk about gun control when you’re never fired a gun’ is a valid argument, then I’m free to conclude that the only reason you could possibly have a legitimate opinion about gay sex is if you have a lot of experience with it.”

(In addition to that fact that this liberal queer blogger used to be a card-carrying member of the NRA, has owned guns, has used those guns to hunt various game animals, and so forth, as I explained here. So by their logic I can indeed lecture them about gun control.)

ETA: And then I saw this story after posting: Medical Board Finds Ex-Gay Torture Psychiatrist Guilty Of Having Sex With Male Patients. It wasn’t just having sex. Two of the patients thought the groping and such was supposed to be therapy at the beginning. So there was some coercion/deception going on. One of the patients was an 18-year-old sent to the doctor by his parents…

Friday Five (from jedi to joker edition)

“Let's get a few things straight: You Trump voters are NOT 'half the country.' You're not even a third of it. You're not a 'Silent Majority.' You're a Vocal Minority, and in truth, you lost the Presidency.”

(click to embiggen)

It’s the second Friday of March!

The weather is warming up, which is nice. Though it also means that my hay fever is ramping up.

Once again I bring you the Friday Five: The top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five important storis about queer rights, and videos (plus notable obituaries and a recap of my blog posts).

Stories of the Week:

An OurTime.Com Con Man and the Women Who Busted Him .

Deadly Connection: Neo-Nazi Group Linked To 3 Accused Killers.

Former Ohio Republican AG says he regrets ‘devil’s bargain’ with the NRA: ‘I had abandoned my principles and sold my soul’.

The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’ .

MSNBC’s Ali Velshi refutes NRA talking point that people are safer with more guns around.

News for queers and our allies:

There is No Such Thing as a “Homosexual Lifestyle.”.

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Religious right defense of ‘ex-gay’ therapy is doomed to fail.

Was It Right for a Gay Escort to Expose Dozens of Catholic Priests Who Saw Him? Yes.

Roy Moore ‘Struggling to Make Ends Meet’ – Urges Supporters to Help Him Fight ‘Gays, Lesbians, and Transgenders’ –.

Ontario AG reviews call for inquiry into Toronto police handling of missing persons cases linked to Gay Village serial killer.

In Memoriam:

David Ogden Stiers, Major Winchester on ‘M*A*S*H,’ Dies at 75.

David Ogden Stiers, ‘M.A.S.H.’ actor who became voice of Disney movies, dies at 75.

Alan Alda pays tribute to M*A*S*H costar David Ogden Stiers.

Lewis Gilbert, director of three James Bond films, dies.

Things I wrote:

Sunday Funnies, part 27.

A writer writes — where do characters come from?.

Subplots, plots, and resolutions — but what about the denouement!.

Unnamed faces in old (and not-so-old) family pictures.


Pastor Jeffress talks evangelical reaction to Stormy Daniels:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Stormy Daniels Sues, Gary Cohn Quits, Trump Talks North Korea: A Closer Look:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Alt-Right Killers | March 7, 2018 Act 2 | Full Frontal on TBS:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Legion | Season 2 – Official Trailer:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Mark Hamill’s Walk of Fame Award Acceptance Speech – Star Wars The Last Jedi:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Unnamed faces in old (and not-so-old) family pictures

One of dad's cousins and family came to visit Great-grandma, and everyone eventually ended up at my Grandparents' house.

One of dad’s cousins and family came to visit Great-grandma, and everyone eventually ended up at my Grandparents’ house.

A friend expressed a particular family dysfunction really well: inherited baggage. This is the phenomenon where, because of some issue one, two, or more generations back, there are relatives you know about, and maybe even hear about frequently, but you never really get to know them. Frequently you also are never told why is it that Great-uncle Glenn will never visit. Nor why, though we very frequently visited Great-grandma who literally lives next door to Great-uncle Glenn, yet we almost never stopped in at Great-uncle Glenn’s house.

That isn’t a made-up example.

Whenever we went to visit Great-grandma on her farm, we would also drive a couple miles down the road to the farm owned by Great-uncle Lawrence and see all of his family. To get to Great-uncle Lawrence’s house, we had to drive right past Great-uncle Glenn’s farm. While we were visiting, often Great-uncle Glenn’s wife, Dorothy, would come to either Great-grandma’s house or to Great-uncle Lawrence’s house to see us. But Great-uncle Glenn wouldn’t.

The picture above was a similar visit… Read More…

Subplots, plots, and resolutions — but what about the denouement!

“My subplot... has no resolution”

(Click to embiggen)

When I wrote previously about subplots, I searched for other blog posts and articles about it to link to for other perspectives, and was surprised to see a few pieces of what I considered bad advice being repeated in a lot of them. For instance, many such articles insist that subplots must be resolved before the main plot. A few allowed an exception for a subplot that is intended to carry across multiple books (perhaps to become a main plot of a later volume), but most didn’t even mention that. And that’s simply wrong.

Let’s review a few definitions: the main plot is an obstacle, puzzle, or problem which confronts the protagonist at the beginning of the story, is resolved by the protagonist’s own actions at the end of the story, and is the thread that ties everything else together. A subplot is a subordinate plot taking up less of the action than the main plot, having fewer significant events occur, with less impact on the “world” of the work, and often occurring to less important characters. A resolution is the point where the outcome of a plot or subplot is revealed (or sometimes only suggested). And remember that a resolution isn’t always a solution in that the character can fail to solve the problem; which makes your story a tragedy.

Now, subplots can end before the main plot. In a novel many of them will as a matter of course, because some subplots are literally distractions and additional obstacles your protagonist encounters while pursuing their main goal. In order to rescue the enslaved knight, your protagonist may first need to get information from a mystical oracle, which may involve enduring some hardship just to consult the oracle. Then the oracle may tell her that she has to find a magic artifact, an ancient spell book, and a blood relative of the enslaved knight. Obtaining each of those involves a mini adventure and thus a subplot and resolution along the way, and so on.

But some subplots can also be resolved at the same time as the main plot. In the same fight that the protagonist frees the enslaved knight, a supporting character may rescue his children also captured by the main villain, while another supporting character avenges himself upon the minor villain who is a minion of the main villain, and so forth. Several subplots all being tied up at the same time. Pulling that off with a lot of the subplots, getting them to converge on the main plot, makes for a very satisfying climax to your novel.

However, a few subplots can also be resolved right after the climax, in the part of the novel known as the denouement. Time for another definition!

The denouement is that portion of the story where all the loose ends are tied together. Side note: the word comes to English from the French dénouement meaning to untie something—isn’t language funny? To get back to the main point: in most modern novels, the denouement is usually a single chapter at the very end, after the outcome of the main plot is revealed. It’s the time to assure the reader that the characters who survived and triumphed have actually gotten their happy ending, to show that the villains are indeed suffering, and so on. One of my university literature teachers described it as the time for the reader to catch their breath after the excitement of the resolution and say good-bye to their favorite characters.

I think the reason so many of those other blog posts and articles think that the subplot has to resolve before the main plot is because their authors conflated the resolution with the denouement. Which is easy to understand, because in short stories the resolution and denouement often happen in the same sentence. In plays and movies the denouement is usually in the same scene, comprising only a few lines of dialogue or the like after the resolution.

I mentioned above that most modern novels accomplish the denouement in a single chapter after the resolution. But that hasn’t always been the case. A great example of the old school way of doing it is found in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, in which the denouement goes on for nearly a third of the final book!

Some of your subplots will be those loose ends tied up during the denouement. Loose ends don’t always require an entire scene for a resolution, they can sometimes be handled by a couple of lines of dialogue. “But what happened to the elephant?” “I found him a good home with that druid we met at Gobsbridge.”

And yes, some of your subplots will be left unresolved, carrying over into a future installment. They can even, technically be introduced in the denouement! That moment when a supposedly minor sycophant of the main villain is shown to somehow have survived the explosion and is clinging to some floating wreckage down river, perhaps. Horror movies and the like often have the cliché of a single hand reaching out of the smoking wreckage, indicating one of the supposedly dead villains isn’t. You get the idea.

If you decide to emphasize that a subplot is going to continue into the next story, don’t lay it on too thick. You don’t want to overshadow the happy endings for those characters who got one. Remember, the denouement is a time to let the reader catch their breath. It’s a way to ease the reader out of the excitement and anxiety of the main plot. Yes, you want the reader to be interested in what happens in the next book, if you plan to write one, but they’re most likely to do that if they feel good about the ending of this one. That isn’t to say that everyone always has to get a happy ending. I’ve set denouement scenes at literal gravesides of heroes, as well as the bedside of two children being read a bedtime story by their grandfather who is taking them home to their mother with the news that their father was killed saving them.

So bittersweet and tragic endings are fine. But any indication you give that there is another adventure ahead for some of the characters shouldn’t leave the reader feeling as if the protagonist accomplished nothing.

Readers may not remember everything that happened during a story. They won’t remember a lot of the lines, scenes, plotholes and such that you worked hardest on. But they will always remember how you made them feel.

For another perspective on subplots, you might want to check out this blog: Writing and Such: Tackling Subplots

A writer writes — where do characters come from?

“Yes I am writing you into my book! You're gruesomely butchered on page 76. You're welcome!”

“Yes I am writing you into my book! You’re gruesomely butchered on page 76. You’re welcome!”

I have written more than once about my annoyance with an oft-used trope when portraying writers as characters in movies, TV shows, on the like: specifically, that the only reason a particular novel or series of novels has so enraptured the readers is because the author has secretly based the story on real life and real characters. My annoyance with that is multi-fold, not the least because I truly believe the old adage that the difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. You can’t tell a compelling story by slavishly recreating something that you experienced in real life. You weave an illusion that feels real from a combination of observation, interpellation, and omission. For example, dialog isn’t about exactly transcribing the real way that people talk—we omit parts that don’t move the story forward, or don’t flow easily off the tongue, or that will confuse the reader without the context of nonverbal cues.

Which is not to say that characters we put in our stories aren’t or shouldn’t be based on real people. Many characters are amalgams of many people that the author has encountered throughout their life. Quite often the author can’t name all of the sources of a character because many were people we encountered without getting to know well, plus half assembling of the personality quirks happened in the writer’s subconscious. Other times, we knew exactly who we got a particular mannerism or figure of speech from. And sometimes it’s a lot more than one or two things.

I made a conscious decision with one of my novels to (in most cases) loosely base characters on specific people or characters from other works. It started out as just a whim, and for a while was kind of a fun game, and then it became something I did without thinking. I’d need a new supporting character for a particular scene or subplot, and start writing them, only to realize many paragraphs into the first scene that I was basing some aspects of the character on that person.

Some people don’t want to do that, at all. And I’m sure that you can find someone out there who will adamantly insist you should never base a character on a real person that you know. They will list off several good reasons for this advice. One of the things those annoying shows I mentioned earlier do get right is that if friends and acquaintances guess or suspect a particular character is based on them, and that character if portrayed in a less-than-flattering way, that can cause a bit of resentment in your real life.

My counter argument is that certain people in your life will, when they read something you wrote, sometimes think that you have based a character upon them whether you consciously did so or not. And if they take offense, whether you meant to base the character on them or not isn’t going to matter. You can attempt to explain the way every character in fiction is, to an extent, a pastiche built from your imagination as well as observation of real people, but it may not convince them.

One of my favorite villains in my current WIP is a character named Mother Bedlam. Parts of her personality, mannerisms, and relationships are based on at least three real people I have known in life, all of whom have since passed away. Other parts of her come from a variety of crass, conniving, and criminally depraved characters and historical figures. She’s intended to be a comedic villain, despite also doing some vile and violent things and propelling serious plot points along. Many of her traits are exaggerations for comedic effect. If any of the people I have consciously based her on were to read my stories (which they never will, because they’re all dead) and recognize themselves in her, I might have an awkward situation to sort out.

As it is, one time when I read one of her scenes to my writers’ group, another member of the group who had laughed a lot during that scene, told me later that if he didn’t know better, he would have been convinced I had somehow spied on his childhood and one particular despised teacher he had in grade school. At subsequent appearances of the character he would bring that up again. One time another person’s critique of some new scenes was that Mother Bedlam had been over the top—that no person would really treat one of their underlings that day. The other guy jumped in to say that his teacher had done almost exactly the same thing to one of the children in her care.

There are at least two lessons to take from this example. First, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, there are only actually a few people in the world, we just meet many of them again and again. The other is that this illustrates why some character you think of as wholly original to you might make someone you know insist that the character is based upon them.

And I know I am hardly the only writer who has ever based a minor character whose only purpose is to die brutally to further the plot on a real person who gave us some sort of trouble at some point in our lives. My most vicious middle school bully has leant his name and or personality to a number of characters who have met such brutal deaths. Then there is one person who caused so much trouble for both myself and several people I know, that I made him into a character who is brutally killed in one book, brought back as an undead creature, and variously maimed, burned, re-killed, and so forth a few times in subsequent books.

Some people call it petty. I call it do-it-yourself-therapy.

%d bloggers like this: