Consuming Media in an Age of Bullsh!t

The opinion section is the chocolate cake of journalism; it tastes good, but you can’t eat it by itself for long and stay healthy. 

I spend too much time on social media. Because of that, I’ve developed what I feel is a reasonable set of filters to tell the difference between plausible news and bullshit. 

I start with what the insurance industry calls “knock out questions.” These are questions an insurer asks upfront to see if the potential risk is so high that they can skip the more-detailed assessment, saving everyone time. These are things I can assess in a few seconds to decide whether I’m even going to click the link.

  1. Is this a link to Youtube? If it is, it’s out. While I tolerate Youtube for entertainment, I don’t for news. The site’s goal is not to help you find facts; it’s to keep your eyeballs on the screen and feed you advertisements. I feel the same way about cable news, though I’ll at least entertain the idea that cable news might sometimes show actual news.
  2. Does the website name contain any of the following words: patriot, tea party, liberty? If so, I ignore it. Let’s be honest with each other: the tea party movement was a reactionary backlash against a black president. America is now paying with the lives of doctors and nurses for having a government full of incurious science deniers. 

With the knock out questions out of the way, I look at a few general things to help me understand the potential slant of what I’m reading.

The first thing I do is look at the publication. Is it a known news organization? I’m going to give national newspapers with actual news departments far more credence than an entertainment outlet. Does this organization have a known bias? My skepticism is going to be much higher for organizations with naked political agendas, and I’ll look for corroborating stories at other outlets. 

Is the article an opinion piece? I immediately slide opinion pieces further toward the bullshit side of my internal scale. The opinion section is the chocolate cake of journalism; it tastes good, but you can’t eat it by itself for long and stay healthy. 

Then I look at the author. Is it someone I recognize? If not, what else have they published? Is this article trying to appear neutral when they have a history of writing things that otherwise have a clear bias? That’s a sign this is bullshit in disguise. Do they have a publishing history? If not, I’m immediately skeptical unless they are experts in their field and are speaking to their expertise. 

If it’s an article about verifiable science, I like to see the sources the authors are citing. Does the article even have citations? Are those citations coming from reputable journals? Is this a contrarian view of a hot topic, and if so, what new evidence is on offer to support this view? I don’t need to understand the science, but something that is based on peer-reviewed journals is more believable than something that is plausible but untested. A contrarian opinion is just that: an opinion, not science.

Similar to the verifiable science, I like to know if this is a press release in disguise. Are the people being cited the public relations arm of some company? If so, I maintain a healthy skepticism about whatever is being claimed. If there are sources in the article, are they named? If they aren’t, I’m skeptical. How many sources are in the article? If there’s only one, this isn’t news, it’s gossip. If there are none, it’s an opinion piece. 

Is this method perfect? No. Are there things I’m forgetting? Probably! Does this enormously cut down the level of bullshit I consume? For sure. 

Better In Every Way

When you decide to have a go at being a professional writer you either learn to embrace rejection or you quit. The writing business beats you down far more often than it lifts you up, and if you aren’t ready to hear a hundred “nos” for every every “yes,” then this isn’t the career for you.

But sometimes, an editor says “yes.” And when that happens, you get to walk on clouds for a few days.

Another thing about the writing business that you don’t realize at the beginning is that it’s a waiting game. Short story submission sometimes take months to return a response. Novel submissions take a year or more. Even when you sell a story, the publication can take months, and you have to keep quiet while the gears of the publishing machine grind away.

But sometimes you submit a story and the editors says “yes.” And even more rarely, they want to publish the story next week.

Well, friends, lightning struck. Flame Tree Press had a submission call, I had a story, and we hit it off like a lightning strike in a stand of ponderosa pines.

My short story “Better In Every Way” was accepted last Friday, and it came out yesterday. You can read the handy user’s guide to your new clone on the Flame Tree Press website and learn how it will improve your finances, your relationships, and generally make you better in every way.

Fair warning: it gets real dark, real fast.

Enjoy! And remember: be good to yourself.

The Tourist’s Guide to London Sports

London is a darned good sports town. Not so much for baseball or hoops, but if you’re into the sporting vestiges of a colonial empire, I have some good news. London has all kinds of weird sports for you.

  • Football (soccer)
  • Rugby (football plus soccer minus pads)
  • Cricket (baseball if it were as long as a golf tournament)
  • Netball (basketball without dribbling or backboards)
  • Tennis (tennis)

As a colonial myself, I grew up playing soccer football. I’ve tried to blend in with the locals, so I’ve been to see rugby a few times, and I’ve done some research on how many unicorns have to be sacrificed to get tickets to Wimbledon.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – club talisman Harry Kane about to score a penalty

Football

The average Englishperson loves their local football team as fiercely as an American college football fan loves their alma mater’s team. The crowds can be large, the fans can be intense, and the tickets can be a challenge to find. There are 20 teams in the top league in England, the Premier League. There are 24 in the second tier, the Championship, and there are “who’s really counting, anyway” in the two professional leagues below the Championship. If you’re a football tourist, you know who you want to see, and it’s probably one of the top six teams in the country. 

“Cut to the bloody chase, mate. How do I get football tickets?”

The Premier League

For the Premier League, it can be tricky, expensive, or both. Many clubs require you to be a member to purchase tickets, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get a ticket for a given match. If you want to avoid dodgy resellers, you have a few options:

  • Pay a few hundred pounds and get a “hospitality” ticket. This gets you a good seat in a box overlooking the field, a meal, and whatever extras the club includes (drinks, tour, etc). Available from the club website or by calling. In football, money solves most problems. 
  • Join the club as a member and buy a ticket through the club website. Membership is 25 to 35 pounds for the Premier League clubs I’ve checked, and if you’re not trying to go to a local rivalry or a match against a top 6 side, tickets are usually available. They range from 55 to 350, depending on where you sit. 
  • Go to a League Cup or FA Cup match against a lesser opponent. This is variable depending on who the team are playing, but Carissa and I saw a League Cup match at one of the top 6 sides for 10 pounds per ticket with seats on the second row

Can you buy a ticket from a reseller and have a nice time out? Probably! Can you buy one from someone you know or a friend-of-a-friend? Probably! In fact, if this is an option for you, it might be the least expensive, safest way to go, but I recognize that this isn’t going to work for the average tourist. 

If you don’t know what club you want to see, here are the options:

  • Tottenham Hotspur – a good-but-not-terribly-successful team in a working class neighborhood that also happens to have the best sports stadium in the world. The captain of the English national team is a product of the Spurs youth academy and is the Spurs starting striker
  • Arsenal – Tottenham’s biggest rival. A once proud club fallen on mediocrity that play football in a soulless concrete bowl that’s honestly easier to reach than Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but ride two more tube stops and walk the extra 3/4 of a mile and just go see Tottenham
  • Chelsea – Another Tottenham rival. Historically the club favored by England’s fascists, then purchased by a Russian oligarch who proved that with enough blood money, you can buy trophies. The stadium itself is old, but enjoyable to take in a match, and it’s easily reached by tube. The best American player in the world, Christian Pulisic, plays for Chelsea. 
  • West Ham – A mid-size club that plays in the former Olympic stadium in east London. You could watch a football match here, but unless you grew up a supporter, why would you? Easy to reach, at least
  • Crystal Palace – See above, but in south London and harder to reach

I am not biased, at all.

The Championship

So you couldn’t get tickets to the Premier League. Don’t panic! You can always go to the next tier down in football and see a team from the Championship. You’ll go to a smaller, more intimate ground, the tickets will be less expensive, and the drunk guys in front of you will be even more passionate about the club than the drunk tourists at a Premier League match. Honestly, if you’re into football, and you’re going to be in London with time to spare, go to both a Premier League and a Championship match. 

Tickets for Championship matches are generally available from the club website. They may ask you to register, but they probably won’t ask you to pay to join as an official member. Good tickets can be had for 20 to 30 pounds. 
Local options are: 

  • Brentford – they are named after me, I’ve been a few times, and it’s a great day out in West London. Do recommend, and if you go before June 2020, you’ll be at Griffin Park, notable for having a pub on every corner. I took my family to a match last season, and they had a great time. Good atmosphere, and the family section is truly family friendly
  • Fulham – Recently relegated from the Premier League, former home of several American players, including Clint Dempsey. Great location on the Thames. 
  • Queen’s Park Rangers – West London. I haven’t been yet, but intend to go
  • Millwall – Southeast London. Have a reputation as the roughest fans in football. I’ll go at some point, but I probably won’t take my family.
  • Charlton Athletic – I honestly didn’t realize this club was in London, and I don’t have a single (other) snarky thing to say about them

The easy answer here is “go see Fulham.” It’s pretty easy to get there, the ground is fairly large, and tickets will very likely be available. I also have to throw in Brentford as a brilliant ground with a new stadium to be finished in the summer of 2020 that will probably also be worth seeing. No offense to the other three clubs, but I haven’t personally been yet. (Dear club directors, I will come watch if you send me a ticket)

If you want to go to a lower league match, power to you. Tickets won’t be a problem.

Rugby

Rugby is what would (did) happen if the rules of American football diverged, no one ever thought to wear pads, and the players were all basically linebackers, safeties, and running backs that can also kick.

The Southwestern London village of Twickenham hosts both the national rugby stadium and the Twickenham Stoop, home of Harlequins, the local Premiership Rugby club.

If you want to see rugby, probably go see Quins? Tickets are fairly easy to buy from the team website and cheaper than the Premier League. Plus, you can drink your beer at your seat at rugby, which you cannot do at football. 

My major complaint about rugby is that it prospers on the destruction of human bodies. A friend explained that those are mostly the bodies of posh boys, so I shouldn’t feel too bad about their destruction. I’m not entirely convinced, but that did help.

Tennis

It’s literally a lottery. If it’s September when you read this, congrats! Enter the lottery. Otherwise, how much do you feel like camping? Because the option for walk-up tickets is to join a queue at 4am early in the tournament or camp for literally a couple days later in the tournament.

I entered the lottery for the first time in 2019, and I should know in the spring if I am able to get tickets. I’m not holding my breath. 

Everything Else

Beats me, but probably less of a pain than getting tickets to the Premier League or Wimbledon. I plan to see a cricket match in 2020, so I’ll have a better idea then.

London eats

London Road
Borough of Twickenham – London Rd

We’ve been in London for a year-and-a-half, and we’ve tried enough restaurants that I feel like I can offer an informed opinion. Before going any further, you should understand my biases. My favorite meal is my next meal. I like good food, and I don’t care where it comes from or how “authentic” it is. There is no particular style of cuisine I prefer, and there are few things that I dislike. (Mushy peas are one of those things.) I have settled on four different places as my “favorite,” all for different reasons.

Dishoom

If you really, truly wanted me to name my absolute favorite place in town, Dishoom might win it. I even bought their cookbook. The food is Bombay-style street food with an Iranian influence. It’s basically a little slice of heaven on a dinner plate. My favorite items on the menu are the chili chicken and the cheese naan, but don’t sleep on the chicken ruby or the lamb biryani. Dishoom works best if you treat it as a family-style restaurant, order a couple dishes per person, and share around the table. Which is fortunate, because that’s my favorite way to enjoy dinner.

There are multiple locations in London, and they almost always have a queue. Definitely do reservations, and if you’re making them on short notice and struggling to find a table, check the South Kensington location. It tends to be the easiest to get into, in my experience. The restaurant is a short walk from the South Kensington tube station.

Din Tai Fung

There are plenty of excellent Chinese restaurants in London, and if you know me, you’ll know that I avoid chains whenever I can. I’ve made an exception for Din Tai Fung. It’s a chain with limited locations, and their London location is one of their most recent. They’ve been in Covent Garden since the autumn of 2018. I wandered in with my girls one day when we were out in the city, and we were blown away at the quality of the food, the quality of the service, and the quality of the atmosphere. Typically you get to choose two out of three at a Chinese place in London (and in China, in my experience), but Din Tai Fung delivers across the board. Great food, professional service, and a spacious interior. They are best known for their xiao long bao, and I can confirm that they are excellent. I also enjoyed the shrimp and pork shaomei and the hot and sour noodle soup. This is another place where family-style dining works well, though it can be harder to share the bowls of soup. 

Shrimp and pork shumai
The shrimp and pork shumai at Din Tai Fung

Steins

I understand that there are two locations for Steins, but I’ve only been to the one in Richmond. The food is excellent, the beer is excellent, and the location is superlative. The bratwurst and pretzels are both worth trying, but the weinerschnitzel is my personal favorite. The enormous cutlet would be enough on its own, but it’s served atop a mountain of German-style potato salad that is :chefkiss: I’ve long been a fan of German beer, and there’s something to be said about getting a full liter stein the size of your head that’s full to the brim with hefeweizen. And then the location. Stein’s in Richmond is right on the Thames path, a quarter mile from Richmond bridge. The seating is all outdoors, so if you’re there on a warm, dry day (and there are plenty of those, contrary to London cliches), it’s one of the best places in the city to sit out and eat and drink until you’re stuffed fuller than my cat. It is not family-style, but it is family-friendly.

Wolkite

This is a small, family-run Ethiopian place near the Emirates Stadium in North London. I’m not sure if there’s any Ethiopian food in the state of Missouri, but there certainly wasn’t any in Springfield when we made the move. Which is a shame, because it’s amazing. We’ve tried a few Ethiopian places in London, and we’ve settled on Wolkite as our favorite. This is 100% a family-style place, and if you aren’t accustomed to Ethiopian food, get ready for a (pleasant) shock. I suggest asking your server about the sampler. It will come with a huge platter of injera (bread) and vegetables on top. Then add some doro wot (chicken), godin tibs (lamb ribs), and whatever else catches your fancy. If you want something wild on the beverage front, try a berele of tej, the Ethiopian honey beer.

Platter of Ethiopian food
The sampler at Wolkite

Bonus recommendations

I travel a good bit for work, so I’ve found some go-to places in various other cities. If you’re in Dublin, check out Klaw for amazing seafood (oysters and Jamaican Rundown) and The Pig’s Ear for equally amazing farm-to-table food (pork belly). If you’re in Lisbon, I’m a fan of Butcher’s for phenomenal steak and Da Prata 52 for Portuguese-style tapas. If you’re in Leeds, don’t miss Iberico for Spanish-style tapas that hold up extremely well to the tapas I’ve had in Barcelona. 

A plate of oysters
The oyster sampler at Klaw

Fix Democracy in America with this One Weird Trick

Photo by Ian Baldwin on Unsplash

Turn off cable news.

That’s it. Cable news has no redeeming qualities. They stretch a 5 minute sound bite into 4 hours. They parade opinions as if they are facts. They try to gin up outrage in order to keep you on your sofa and watching advertisements. 

If you want to save democracy in America, turn off Fox News. Turn off CNN. Turn off MSNBC. 

But Brent, you’re saying, how will I learn what’s happening in the world? How will I know who the bad guys are? 

The bad guys are:

  • Accumulating most of the wealth in the country while your wages stagnate and your health insurance and college tuition keep sky rocketing
  • Telling you that brown people / gay people / Muslim people are your enemies
  • Engaging in voter suppresssion

Okay, fine, you’re thinking. Maybe Scooby Doo villains aren’t really the political and religious leaders we need. But I still want to know what’s happening in the world. 

Great! Me, too!

I have two easy suggestions. 

  1. Subscribe to your local newspaper 
  2. Subscribe to a large national newspaper

Do the digital subscriptions and read on your phone. You get to save trees and it’s cheaper.

Subscribe to your local paper because you want to know what’s happening in your community and because baby reporters need jobs. A strong, independent media is the guardian of democracy, and it starts with the gal down the street going to city hall and school board meetings and letting you know what’s happening. 

Subscribe to a national paper because good investigative reporting is what keeps your representatives and the companies that govern all our lives accountable. The largest papers in the country do much of the investigative reporting. But Brent, you’re saying, the New York Times is a trash fire. It’s Fake News. Well, yes and no. It is, indeed, a trash fire in its opinion pages. But this is the beauty of reading a paper–you can just turn the page or scroll down. Read the news parts and skip the op-eds!

2016 called and wants its meme back

And also, that Fake News thing? Fake news is junk Facebook pages feeding you political propaganda from Eastern Europe. Fake news is a talking head peddling opinion pieces as facts. Fake news is anything originating with a state-sponsored propaganda organization. But NPR, the BBC? I love Nina Totenberg and Gary Lineker, too. Both organizations have their faults, but they are at least trying to be news orgs, most of the time. Xinhua? Be dubious. Russia Today? Be dubious. The key, in my book, is the motive. Are they trying to peddle advertisements without any investigative reporting component? Probably crap. Are they sponsored by a totalitarian state? Probably crap. Are they paying reporters to read financial records, ask politicians and businessmen hard questions, and generally hold power to account? Probably decent.

Well, fine. But I still don’t want to give Jeff Bezos any more of my money. You need to take baby steps; I get it. It pains me to say this, but consider the Wall Street Journal. It has plenty of warm, snuggly conservative bias, but at least it tries to present plenty of actual news from actual reporters, which is more than can be said for the Murdoch empire and the cable channels. (Maybe avoid the op-eds.)

Please join me in turning the page on trash fire media outlets. Now that you’re saving all this time not listening to some overpaid schmuck spout nonsense, you can spend it reading my books!  

Autumn Has Arrived

You can rely on two things in England: delayed trains and punctual weather. Both come to a head in the summer as the heat creeps toward 30 (mid-80s for you colonials) and the industrial actions (strikes for you colonials) commence every fortnight. You can rely on a third thing here in the summer, though it’s not English–my American pals trolling me on July 4. Nothing like having your phone blow up in the middle of a meeting with a dozen memes about the king. Love you all! 

After the non-holiday, we had a family trip to The Globe Theatre and saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Globe in London does some amazing work with sets, and when Titania rolled in on a golf cart that looked like a Mardi Gras float, my jaw dropped. It was a heck of a spectacle. The Globe continues to be one of my favorite days out in the city. You may have to book a few months in advance, but it’s sooo worth it. One of my favorite outings in the city.

Titiania on Stage

July also marked The Great Packing. We packed our entire house (all 1050 square feet of it) over a couple weekends just before we flew back to the US on holiday. On the final Sunday of packing, English television was airing both the Wimbledon men’s final and the Cricket World Cup final. I had the cricket on most of the day, but for about an hour I had to abandon the packing and flip back and forth between tennis and cricket. The tennis was compelling (Federer should have won, but Father Time catches up to everyone), but the cricket was phenomenal. Now, you have to understand, I didn’t know *anything* about cricket a week before the final. I barely know much now. 

https://www.cricketworldcup.com/video/1279178

Click through for cricket highlights

England were down 248 runs, and after a few outs, they didn’t have a hope of catching up. Through a sequence of events that would not have been believable in any work of fiction, they managed to get even 248-248, which took the final to a “super over.” At the end of the super over, both sides had scored 15 runs. England won on a tiebreaker because they had scored more boundaries through the match. It’s basically like getting to the end of the World Series with a tie game in the bottom of the 10th, but instead of continuing on, the team with the most home runs wins. I started the match mostly in ignorance, and now I’m looking for a T20 (aka 20 overs, aka 3 hours) match to attend sometime. Carissa can call me a traitor all she wants.

And then there was the trip to America for two weeks. 

Moment: clearing Customs in Dallas, the kids asking for Chik Fil A as their first meal in America, and DFW having a Chik Fil A 50 yards from us. 

Moment: driving a carload of teenage girls to Silver Dollar City while they played BitLife in the back seat and made some extremely dubious life decisions

Moment: Ollie (the family poodle that remained in the US) running to the girls after a year of not seeing them

Moment: The first bit of sugary-sweet General Tsos chicken on a rainy Friday night 

Moment: Sending my first-ever agent query for the completed and revised novel

Sub-moment: Receiving my first-ever agent rejection for said novel

Moment: Walking down a country road with no cars and no people in sight

Many Moments: seeing all the friends and family I hadn’t seen in a year or more

While we certainly missed seeing everyone in America, we were all ready to get back to our home in London. 

Empty Missouri road

Speaking of our home in London, we arrived back on a Friday, accepted keys to our new house that afternoon, and moved the next day. It was intense. But the new place is wonderful. It’s further from work (though paradoxically a shorter commute) and more space. We love it, especially the kitchen with an America-sized refrigerator. The granite countertops with plenty of working space are amazing. I’m thinking about homemade pizza again, which was impossible in the last house due to lack of space and unfinished wood counters. 

Our new garden, complete with escaping cat

After the move, it was right back to work for me, though I did get to spend the weekend at Worldcon. I was able to hang out with some of my classmates from Viable Paradise plus meeting a bunch of other VP alumns and Codex (writing forum) members. 

After what amounted to basically a month of travel, it’s been good to be back home and have some lazy weekends. We’re now mostly-settled into the new house. Still a few boxes that need unpacking, and we probably need another bookshelf in the living room since we don’t have the built-ins the old house had, but it feels like a home.

The weather, punctual as ever, has turned from summer to autumn as the calendar has turned from August to September. The kids are mentally preparing themselves to go back to school later this week, and we’re all looking forward to seeing Nonna and Papa in late October at mid-term break. 

It’s Been a Year

Barnes in the Spring

Carissa and I arrived at Heathrow one year ago today. So far, so good. It’s not so much England vs America as it is London vs Springfield. All due respect to the Queen City of the Ozarks, but it has as much in common with London or New York as it does with the moon.

I walk more now than I ever have. Any given day I go to the office is 6000 to 8000 steps. A day out in the city is anywhere from 8000 to 20,000, depending on our schedule and how everyone’s feet hold up.

Not having a car–or at least not needing a car to get everywhere–is amazing. Looking for parking isn’t that much of a pain in Springfield, true, but it’s nice to not even have the worry when going out on the town. Also nice to not have to worry about who’s going to drive us home if we want to have an extra drink or two with the meal.

Springfield has musuems. They are twee and lovely. London has museums that people travel from across the world to visit. They are vast and amazing, and some are also twee and lovely.

I love that Springfield gets an off-Broadway touring show through town every season. I appreciate that Springfield has a lively local theater scene. The West End is phenomenal. The Globe is amazing. I feel like I’ve hardly sampled what London has to offer in the theater department, and I’ve been to more shows in the last 12 months than the previous 12 years. We’re off to the Globe again in two weeks to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

There was a lockdown drill at the local primary (elementary) school a few weeks ago. They do one a year, just in case. The school sent a notice to parents:

We just wanted to let you know that we have practised our lock down procedure at school today. The children were told that this was a practice drill and there was no real danger. Their class teachers have explained to the children that just as we have to practise getting out of school quickly and safely during a fire drill, we also need to practise what we should do if we needed to stay inside to keep safe. We have given an example of needing to hide because zookeepers might be trying to recapture an animal and that by keeping quiet and out of sight we would not upset the animal and the zookeepers would therefore be able to catch it easily.

It absolutely breaks my heart that America is still suffering a shot-up school multiple times a year and mass shootings practically daily. It’s just not a thing here. It’s amazing to send my kids to school every day and not worry “what if this is the day a shooter comes to my school?”

The barbeque is suprisingly good.

The Mexican food is unsurprisingly bad.

I still miss General Tso’s Chicken. And Andy’s.

It annoys me that vendors at football matches don’t go around selling snacks and beers like they do at games in the States. It especially annoys me that I can’t even have a beer at my seat. Drunk assholes ruining it for everyone else.

Rugby is weird. I can almost understand it through a lens of American Football and soccer. The atmosphere is lovely. The fans are polite. The food is great. You can even drink beer at your seat. But I hate, hate, hate how destructive the sport is for the people playing it. It’s hard for me to get behind something that profits a few people via the destruction of other people’s bodies. America isn’t exactly on a moral high ground here, either, with the NFL.

Driving here is bananas. Roundabouts everywhere. Cars on the wrong side of the road. Steering wheels on the wrong side of the car. We’re thinking about getting a car this winter so Carissa can get around the borough to teach gymnastics again. I’m told to expect to spend about 15 hours in paid lessons just to get a license. I’m sure she’s going to love that.

The first year has been great. We’ve all enjoyed it, and we’re looking forward to more to come. We’re not looking forward to the inevitable hard Brexist on Halloween, but we’ll deal with that when it happens. The oldest is planning to stock up on peanut butter when we’re in the States in a few weeks, so she’ll be ready. The rest of us will just have to do without rioja and camembert for a while.

Oh, Spring, Where Have You Gone?

I realize you’re all here for London photos and stories, but first you get the writing updates:

The never ending novel-in-progress is still in progress. I’m in the middle of the third major revision. After this it goes on submission. Perhaps it sees the light of day in a couple years. Perhaps it ends up in a trunk after a hundred rejections. I have no idea. Once I start sending it out, I’ll start writing another book. In the meantime, I’m still writing and submitting short fiction. 

It’s been 8 months since Viable Paradise. I am fairly sure I learned some things, if only because the writing comes harder than ever now. I more easily see things that aren’t working in my stories, but then when I think things are working, I get feedback that no, they aren’t quite. Writing is beautiful and terrible in that it’s a never-ending journey of improvement, but that improvement stalls out and splutters backwards and forwards. 

Yes, but what fun things have you been up to in Europe? 

Well, a few. Mom left in February, so we didn’t do a tremendous amount in March and April. In March I took the oldest child to The Globe to see Romeo & Juliet. The theatre was brilliant. The cast was excellent. We stood two meters from the stage for the entire show. For 5 quid a ticket, it might be the best value of anything (paid) in London. 

The Globe Theatre, as seen from the second floor balcony

In April I went to Eastercon on the Saturday before Easter and chatted with one of my VP instructors and a VP alumnus from a previous year. For Easter dinner I made a roast leg of lamb for the first time. It’s a traditional English thing to make for Easter, I’m told. It was good. Carissa might have preferred steak, but she definitely enjoyed the lamb. 
In May a big round of visitors came. My brother and his wife were here for a week early in the month, and one of my board games pals from Missouri and his wife came for a week late in the month. Oh, the places we saw. Oh, the food we ate. Oh, the walking we did. 

The birth of the tank

Highlights included:

  • The cliffs at Dover
  • London Bridge and Tower of London
  • The Spirit Tour at the Natural History Museum
  • A day in Richmond to watch football and consume schnitzel and hefeweizen
  • Kebabs x2
  • The Churchill War Rooms
  • The HMS Belfast
  • The Tank Museum in Bovington
  • The League 1 playoff final where Charlton scored in the 90th minute to gain promotion
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor at The Globe 
The white cliffs of Dover. Missing iPhone not pictured.

We rented a car and drove to Dover to see the cliffs. It absolutely gushed rain on us on the way out, but when we arrived it was a beautiful day with scudding clouds and a nice breeze over the English Channel. My colleagues were not impressed with our plan to visit the cliffs, but the way I see it, if something is a Wonder of the World in Civilization, that means it’s worth seeing. The highlight of the trip was when the girls and I decided to sit at the top of the cliff pictured above. My eldest was sitting quietly, taking pictures of France, when I heard a screech and looked up. Her iPhone tumbled forward, bounced once, and went right over the edge. It seems she encountered a spider, and her response was to panic and toss the phone. Over. The. Edge. Of. The. Cliff. Kids these days. On the plus side, she’s fine other than a bruise to her pride.

London Bridge on a sunny May afternoon
London Bridge

With all that behind us, the summer will be no less busy. We’ll be in America for two weeks to see friends and family. The day after we get back to London we’re moving to a new place a little further from the city center. We’ll be a few minutes’ walk from Twickenham Station, so my commute will actually go down due to the faster trains, but the biggest thing is that we’ll have more school options for the girls. 

A storage room at the London Natural History Museum.

Amongst all that, I read a few books. Kameron Hurley’s “The Light Brigade” was brilliant. It’s a vicious deconstruction of military science fiction and neoliberal capitalism. It’s science fiction using the elements of wonder to shine a light on the present day. 

I also did something unusual for me: I watched television. Not just a little, either. I binged seasons 2 through 7 of Game of Thrones so I could watch the final season with the rest of the world. After watching them all in about a month, I think the series peaked in episode one of season seven. “The north remembers” was such a brilliant line and the culmination of years worth of character development for Arya. After that, it felt like a rush to the conclusion. A series defined by the characters turned into a chess match of moving pieces into place, and the resolutions for Brienne, Cersei, Jaime, and Daenerys didn’t work for me. Dany’s felt rushed, but it might have worked with more time to setup. The others I just plain hated. The Starks, at least, seemed to do okay out of the deal. 

January & February Update

Unrelated to the travel journal parts of this blog, but I have a new short story out in the “Gorgon: Stories of Emergence” anthology published by Pantheon Magazine. My short story “Of Talons and Teeth” is included along with fellow Viable Paradise alumnus Aimee Ogden’s “Psalms.” “Of Talons and Teeth” even includes an illustration!

You can find a list of my publication history on this very website.

On the travel journal portion of things, we’ve been up to our usual shenanigans. The big family highlight for January was our trip to see Hamilton.

I didn’t go to the theater much when I was a kid, and the handful of times I went in high school and college it didn’t really stick. (I have never forgotten the production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” that I saw at Drury as an undergrad, so I’m not sure why it didn’t stick.) It took listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for me to find an interest. The combination of whip-smart lyrics, history, and musical style caught my attention and never released it. I had to wait for it for three years, but I was finally able to see the show in person in London this year.

It was excellent. The production, the staging, the choreography, the costumes were all *amazing.* The cast was really good. They weren’t the same as the cast album that is seared into my brain, but they were all highly talented. I especially loved Rachelle Ann Go as Eliza in “Burn.” My favorite song of the show, and it doesn’t make my top 20 from the cast album.

If you’re into theater, you should see Hamilton. Period. Listen to the cast album a few times, read the Wikipedia entry on Alexander Hamilton’s life, and go when the opportunity presents itself. It will blow you away.

Also in January, I made it out to Griffin Park to see Brentford FC (named after me, obviously) take on Stoke City. It was a chilly afternoon, but a good result for the club. I had a great time visiting some of the local Brentford pubs and talking football with a bunch of people that have been following the clubs for decades.
And… I saw these two delightful street signs.

I was shocked this was the name of the street…
…and then I saw this one a block later. Well played, England.

In February, my mom came to visit, so we took her into the city to see some attractions. We made our first trip to the London Eye.

It was a typical February day in London.
We were back near the Eye a week later, and the weather was *perfect*

We visited the Museum of London, and it remains my favorite museum in the city. It’s the narrative that really does it, I think. I love that you walk in the entrance, start in the Paleolithic era, and make your way chronologically forward through the history of the city.

We also made it to the Sky Garden. It’s a three-story garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie in the City of London. From 35 stories up, you can see much of the city. We had a fairly clear day (by London standards) with wonderful views of the Shard, the Tower of London, the City of London, and St. Paul’s. The Walkie Talkie, you may remember, was the building that was melting cars after it was built. Sadly for us–but happily for the vehicle owners below us–the problem was successfully resolved with metal slats on the southern face of the building, and there were no unsightly lumps of plastic stuck to the pavement.

Back on the writing front, I am finishing a second pass of edits on my novel-in-progress. I started it in late 2017 and have worked on it off and on since then. The move led to some interruptions, but I’ve been working on it steadily since Viable Paradise. I have a few willing alpha readers lined up, and I’m aiming to have it out to them by the end of March. It’s part steam punk, part space opera, with a heap of revolution, and a twist of betrayal. This will be my first novel that I send out to agents and pursue the traditional publishing route, so it will likely be years before it’s available to a broad audience. Hopefully you’ll see some more short fiction from me in the meantime.

Celsius Temperatures, A Scale for Americans

  • Below 0 – Stay inside
  • 0 – Wear a coat, scarf and gloves 
  • 5 – Wear a coat and a scarf
  • 10 – Wear a jacket. Or a coat. Your call.
  • 15 – Wear a jacket
  • 20 – Wear a jacket if you’re standing around
  • 25 – Leave the jacket at home
  • 30 – Wear shorts. Stay hydrated.
  • 35 – We definitely need air conditioning now
  • 40 – What is this, Arizona?
  • 45 – Leave Australia, return in 6 months