The practice of Haruspicy

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So, I’m trying out Nanowrimo again this year. It’s never worked out very well for me in the past, but what the hell? I need practice at writing consistently day by day, so I’m focusing on that and letting the 50,000 word goal for the month fall where it may.

I came to a point in the manuscript where a character was reading entrails. As you do. And it’s easy to find an article online about the history of haruspicy (hello, Wikipedia), but I needed a little more information on how it was actually practiced. For verisimilitude. I’m not planning on sacrificing any sheep or chickens. As far as you know.

And I came upon this nice explanation of the ritual and translation of the quadrants of the liver that were used for divination. Of course, it’s a little weird in that it suggests you use an egg instead of a sheep’s liver to perform your own modern ritual. I figured it was a pagan website of some sort, which is cool. But then I noticed the url. UTK.edu. University of TN-Knoxville. Apparently, it’s the website of an associate prof, although not in Classics as you might imagine, but electrical engineering and computer science. You just never know.

Anyway, it was exactly what I needed for research. So go, alma mater, you stay weird.

Killing the butterfly

This weekend on the drive to DragonCon, my wife and I were listening to an audiobook: Ann Patchett’s excellent essay on writing, “The Getaway Car,” in her collection This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I had heard it before, but wanted to share it with her because Patchett perfectly sums up my experience of writing:

The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling. During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its colour, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page… Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the colour, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.

When I tell this story in front of an audience it tends to get a laugh. People think I’m being charmingly self-deprecating, when really it is the closest thing to the truth about my writing process that I know. The journey from the head to hand is perilous and lined with bodies.

“That’s so sad,” said my wife. “Don’t kill the butterfly.”

“I have to,” I said. “That’s the only way.”

 

(Quote copied & pasted from here. Thanks for typing it up!)

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The guillotine is a more personal death

I’m reading a few pages of Jay Winik’s The Great Upheaval every morning at breakfast. It’s about the interconnectedness of America, France, and Russia in the years around the French Revolution. This morning, I read the following passage about the Russian Catherine the Great:

“[Upon hearing of the beheading of King Louis XVI,] for three weeks she was in mourning and wore black; when Marie Antoinette was beheaded, the despair cut even deeper to the quick: she wore black for six weeks.”

This is the same woman who was overjoyed at such atrocities of war as:

A battle with a Turkish battle fleet where fire from Molotov cocktails spread to multiple ships and left a sea of carnage afterwards. “For two weeks, the bloated, burned corpses, more than two thousand, were found floating in the Liman. The river eventually turned green.”

The storming of Ismail, “it was one of the most horrific massacres of the century, and, really of any modern century. By day’s end, nearly 55,000–a staggering figure–were dead: at least 12,000 Russians, which paled in comparison to the Turkish toll: about 40,000. By contrast, at Yorktown, there were just 80 American casualties and 500 British…. Though pained by the heavy loss of men (for her part, the empress, with her typical singleness of purpose, was not), Potemkin was ecstatic….”

What’s my point? I’m not sure I have one, but I find the contrast fascinating. Thoughts:

1. My first thought was that this was the surest condemnation of aristocracy that I had ever read. Any system of class which can make one set of people out to be more human than another is corrupt and, dare I say it, evil. I normally don’t even believe in the concept of evil, but maybe that’s what it is, a system that can blind us to the humanity of other people.

2. What is there about our own “modern” systems of government that will seem hopelessly and self-evidently wrong in a more progressive future? (Which is not guaranteed by any means. And even if history bends in that direction, it may not take a straight course. After all, the mess of the French Revolution did not bring freedom immediately, but Napoleon.) I recall the hair-pulling and bombastic rhetoric about socialism these last few years: once the emotion of the Red Scare has passed from that word, how will it be viewed in two hundred years? How about capitalism? Will it be the savior that certain parties preach or will we look back after the next big financial crash (in a few years?) and wonder what we ever saw in such a corrupt concept?

3. The battle between the “Turks” and the “West” (can one really call Russia the West? Probably under Catherine.) has been going on for a long time. And we still have disproportional responses. About 3,000 dead on September 11; anywhere from 150,000 to half a million Iraqis dead in the Iraq War. When will it end? Supposedly the West is Christian. Turn the other cheek already. Turn the other cheek.

As you can see, this makes for cheerful breakfast reading. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The good thing about reading even such grim history from this distance is that I know it all turns out for the best. Now to keep our current generations from fucking it up.

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Submit Bundle Wrap-Up

Here are my quick thoughts on the last ten comics in the 2015 SXSW Comixology Submit bundle. If you missed what I wrote about the first twenty, that’s here. And at the end, I’ll sum up the (not so) epic battle between this year’s bundle and last year’s.

And go.

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Submit Bundle 2015 review

Comixology did another Submit bundle for this year’s SXSW, but it was a slightly more manageable 30 comics instead of the insane number from last year. I read through 100 and gave my quick impressions, so I thought I could manage 30 this year. Although it seems like it’s taken longer than it did last year anyway.

I decided it would be fun to give them letter grades this year, too. A couple I rated as “Pass” simply because I didn’t feel like I should rate them poorly just because they didn’t appeal to me. (more…)

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100 Indie Comics part 5

This is the 5th part of my read-through of the Comixology SXSW Submit bundle. The previous parts are here: One. Two. Three. Four.

I knew that I would never finish reading these unless I had some accountability, and this blog has served that function. It only took about five weeks to finish the last fifth, and I was dragging my feet quite a bit. (In my defense, I did take a comic book break to read Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four which is so awesome go read it now.)

Somehow I missed listing two I read in the first batch, so after combing through the bundle three times I figured out my mistake, and so I start out with them this time. In case you were wondering what happened to the near alphabetical order….

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100 Indie Comics part 4

This is part 4 of my read-through of the 100 comics in the SXSW Comixology Submit bundle. One more to go after this, although it will probably be another couple of weeks before I can finish it up. Then I hope to do a wrap-up to sum up my thoughts, what I’ve learned, highlight the stand-out comics, and come up with a moral of the story to make us all better people.

But that’s in the future. Now, there are 20 more comics. (more…)

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100 Indie Comics part 3

This is the third part of my read-through of the 100 comics in the Comixology SXSW Submit bundle. Here are part one and part two.

Let’s get to it… (more…)

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100 Indie Comics part 2

This is the second part of my attempt to read through the 100 comics in the SXSW Submit bundle from Comixology. The first part is here.

I do have a new appreciation for editors. In college, I helped edit the arts magazine, so I’m somewhat familiar with what puts the slush in slush pile. (There was a lot of crap.) But in this bundle, there are quite a few technically competent comics that I simply do not like for one reason or another. So I empathize with the editor who gets good stories that do not match the tone of her magazine or fit his particular tastes. It still doesn’t mean I’m any more happy about the rejection when it happens to me.

21 more comics, below the cut… (more…)

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100 Indie Comics part 1

Comixology did a promotion for SXSW in which they bundled 100 of the comics produced for their self-publishing Submit program for $10. Helluva deal, if you’re not picky. And since I’ve been waving my flag for self-publishing, I thought I should support it. Usually, when I pick up something like this, it sits unread on a shelf or in a computer till I forget about it. But this time, I’m going to make a note of reading each of these comics to spur me on to actually sample the sampler, rather than just hoarding content.

I don’t promise to read them all cover-to-cover, but I will at least read the first few pages and glance through more. I also don’t promise to comment on all of them or give in-depth reviews. Mostly just a line or two, and I’ll mention titles with no comment if I have nothing nice to say.

Onwards to the 100 comics, after the break…

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