Lesson from dogpiling on PETA: Words do matter

Snarkmeisters and others have had a whale of a good time mocking PETA‘s latest effort to change public discourse and appetites, but the group reinforces an important concept here:

Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Here’s how to remove speciesism from your daily conversations. pic.twitter.com/o67EbBA7H4— PETA: Bringing Home the Bagels Since 1980 (@peta) December 4, 2018

Words do matter. So does the evolution of language.

Words express what we think, or in some cases what we want people to think we think. As language evolves, it reflects changes in our culture, in technology, in how we think or don’t think about religion and justice and politics and pretty much everything else. Our use of language reveals what we think about other humans and about animals, as well. What we think about them and how we treat them are closely related.

dogpile

Speaking like you always have is easy. So is mocking those who advocate for change that you don’t like or that you don’t think is necessary. So is dismissing certain words and phrases as “politically correct,” a stale, overused term that we all would be better off without. (Evolve, dammit!)

Surely PETA expects mockery and denigration. Just as certainly, they know how to use words to provoke discussion and to make people think. May we continue to evolve toward a civilized society once our present backslide is over. It will require some thinking and careful choosing of words, and maybe a little less barking past each other.

B.J.

What to write next?

Deciding what to write or edit or otherwise work on next has been a simple matter throughout my day-job career. As a general assignment reporter for daily newspapers, of course, there were daily assignments and clear deadlines and, when I filled in on the police or courthouse beats, I had other stories to chase down and photos to shoot.

Pixabay image. Some may recognize this as a typewriter.
Pixabay image. Some may recognize this as a typewriter.

Deadlines these days are more flexible and often self-imposed if they exist at all, but the priorities are usually pretty obvious.

Writing on my own time is quite different. Deciding what to write next, what work of crime fiction or other story to tell over the next several weeks and months, has been a mystery lately. My first two crime novels were done in fits and starts and stops and restarts over a longer time than I care to admit. Since sending the second one out into the world not long ago, I’ve been lost, without creative purpose.

Now I know I have to start something new. Not writing is not an option. Many other writers will relate to that.

Some people have asked if there will be another book in the Detective Red Shaw series. I honestly don’t know. It won’t be what I write next, but in the past few days I did decide what the next thing will be.

I will let you know when it’s done.

Read on,

B.J.

Learning Gutenberg over a beer

So this, apparently, is Gutenberg. It’s time to learn something new in WordPress world. I can’t say I’m excited, but at least it will keep me out of trouble for a little while. An ice-cold Dale’s Pale Ale will be my companion for now so don’t been surprised if my typing deteriorates as we go along.

hot air ballloon
Caption goes here, something about balloons.

Everything in this new Gutenberg editor is a block, or goes in a block. My first challenge is/was to insert an image aligned right, with text wrapped around it. As you can see, I managed to figure that out. It took a couple of tries, but now that I know how to do it I’m feeling pretty good about it. (Any reason we can’t celebrate even the smallest of achievements?)

My first mistake was inserting the image on the page before I did anything else – I guess I was just being contrary, because who would do that, right? – and then trying to drag the picture into place after I added some text. There may be a way to do that, but now I see that it’s simpler to create some text and then position my cursor at the beginning of a paragraph (or somewhere else in the text) and then find insert before or insert after on the More options menu that magically appears when I move my cursor. It’s the little box with a vertical row of three dots. I imagine there’s an actual term for that but don’t really care in this context of just typing stuff to fill up space.

Each paragraph is a block on its own, as I see now after paying attention to what happens when you hit the Enter key.

Nobody I know uses drop caps, but I can see how the ability to drop a cap now and then might be worthwhile. Getting it to stay dropped takes a little experimenting, or at least it did for me. Who would have guessed that you don’t really see the effect until you move along to the next paragraph/block?

Even headings are in their own blocks.

There’s a special block for inserting quoted material, too. Nifty.

Copyright 2018 B.J. Smith

The beer can is empty now so I’m going to wrap this up. Maybe another time I’ll tell you about how I learned to set lead type by hand and printed a small book of poetry. Or maybe not. I think of that whenever I see or hear Gutenberg’s name. Same thing happens whenever I’m in Guttenberg. even though it has an extra t.

Bonus beer fact

The best place in the world to drink Dale’s Pale Ale is the Tasty Weasel, which is just a short bicycle ride from where I’m sitting right now. It don’t git no fresher.

Cheers,

B.J.

Fiction and the old neighborhood

No one has asked me yet, but I have the answer.

The question has to do with the title of my new Detective Red Shaw novel: North of Grand.

Why that? I’m glad you asked.

Much of Des Moines, Iowa, is north of Grand Avenue. It cuts through the city east to west – or west to east, depending on your point of view.

I was born there, grew up there, and lived there for a long time. I worked there. Mrs. Smith and I bought our first house there, a block north of I-235 in a neighborhood known as North of Grand. We lived there when our son was born.

soda-jerk-713089_1920
Not me. Pixabay image

South of Grand was another world. It’s where my mother took me and my five siblings on occasion to marvel and gawk at big, beautiful, expensive homes when we were kids. They were especially awe-inspiring when lit up for the holidays. She took us to a different neighborhood on the southeast side sometimes, too, to see how the truly poor people lived.

We were somewhere between rich and poor, a family of seven in a three-bedroom home on Merle Hay Road. (Why seven? One divorced woman plus six kids. She slept on the sofa.)

In high school I worked at a pharmacy just a block north of Grand Avenue, delivering prescriptions to old ladies in the neighborhood, driving a car with a manual transmission that I learned to drive in a panic on my very first day on the job.

The same little store housed the best soda fountain around, with real ice cream made right in the store. I served malts and shakes and cherry cokes and lime phosphates and great sandwiches and other treats to pretty Catholic girls from the nearby high school, to the friendly florist from across the street, to other people that I don’t remember quite so well.

I was a drug-running soda jerk.

The people and the crimes portrayed in North of Grand are purely imaginary. Really bad things do happen in Des Moines, of course, but none that I’ve witnessed.

A young guy did threaten to kill me and a friend when we were in high school, but we managed to talk him out of it. One night years later someone reached in our son’s bedroom window at our little house on Iola Avenue and took off with a diaper bag, but that’s the closest thing to crime that came our way.

All things considered, Des Moines is a pretty good place to live or to be from. We’ve been away for years now, but it never seems that long ago.

North of Grand is in my blood. It’s in my bones.

Read on.

B.J.

“Detective fiction meets the peloton”

First the Kindle ebook, and now in paperback! Just letting you know that.

Special note to my dear cycling friends: here’s some of what an Amazon reviewer had to say about the new Detective Red Shaw novel:

North of Grand is also a really interesting experiment in genre–detective fiction meets the peloton, resulting in “bicycle noir.” Read it!

Can’t argue with that.

Pedal on,

B.J.

 

In search of good bicycle fiction

Something prompted me to search for “bicycle fiction” and “cycling fiction” this weekend. (OK, the prompt just might have been this book review.)

My search turned up some short fiction but not many exact matches. I did find A Simple Machine, Like the Lever on Goodreads and tagged it as a book I want to read.

Movies about bicycling are easy to find, often in lists like this one:

The 26 Best Cycling Movies of All Time

time lapse photography of man riding bicycle
Photo by Stepan Kriz on Pexels.com

If there are 26 “best,” that leaves me wondering how many cycling movies there are, and how much time I’m willing to put into watching.

I’m more inclined to read, if anyone out there can recommend some good novels that you consider bicycling or cycling fiction.

Pedal on.

B.J.

P.S. I read Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike when it was considered nonfiction, so don’t bother.

 

Thrillers and “engrossing bicycle noir”

People who write for a living always look forward to finishing things and getting paid.

If some of those finished things are works of fiction, some writers also anxiously wait to see what readers think.

bikepixabayThe insecure (that may be all of us) wonder: Will this be a dismal failure or will there be some good reviews and lots of stars? Will there be royalties?

Only the dreamers and the famous think about screenplays and movie deals.

After releasing my second Detective Red Shaw novel last month, I have to say I’m feeling pretty good. Just today, readers had terrific feedback on both BLOOD SOLUTIONS (Red Shaw #1) and NORTH OF GRAND (Red Shaw #2).

#1 was called a “gripping, compelling thriller” soon after publication and won five more stars this morning.

#2 so far is a “riveting thriller,” “a real page-turner” and, maybe my favorite, “engrossing bicycle noir.”

If you haven’t read them, consider those reviews and others and start turning pages.

Read on.

B.J.