Monday, 23 November 2015

Lev Butts Gives Thanks

I am going to interrupt the countdown of metafictional comics this month to say a few words about one of my favorite holidays: Thanksgiving (I'm afraid, though, that Groundhog Day has pride of first place in my holiday hierarchy).

I don't know if they celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK. Maybe the Canadians do (Any Canucks out there want to chime in here?). Maybe y'all were thankful for the extra space once we left. Maybe you were thankful for all the cool stuff we sent back. I mean, you have to admit that potatoes, corn, and kidnapped Indian maidens are pretty damned awesome.

Or maybe you were just thankful to have us gone.
Either way, I suspect that even if Thanksgiving is observed over the pond and beyond, it probably isn't given the gluttonous extravagance we make of it over here. All day eating all the turkey and dressing you want. Turkey sandwiches galore until yuletide? It's a gourmand's dream. Sure it's no Christmas or Halloween, but that's a feature, not a bug if you ask me: There's not a whole lot of commercialism driven by Thanksgiving, or at least what there is of it is really Christmas encroachment.

No. Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays where we are asked to just stop and spend time with family and friends. It's a time, not to buy more useless crap, but to give thanks for what we already have.

The day before we trample each other
for the privilege of buying ourselves
more cheap crap we don't need
I like the holiday because it forces me to pause, take stock of my life, and give thanks for things I all too often take for granted.

Since the holiday falls this week, I thought it might be a good idea to give a list of all the things reading/writing related I am thankful for. So here, in no particular order, goes:

The Borden Dispatches:  Many years ago, I was a copyeditor for a small publishing company in Atlanta. One of the first books I copyedited was the first novel by an as yet unknown Tennessee writer, Cherie Priest. The novel, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, would eventually be the first in a trilogy of stories about a girl named Eden Moore who sees ghosts and tries to set things right in the spirit world. Think The Sixth Sense or Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas novels with a literary and Southern flair. I loved the book, and when she placed it with Tor later, it got even better.

The Borden Dispatches, however, are even better. this duology follows Lizzie Borden in the aftermath of her parents' murders as she protects the world from eldritch Lovecraftian horrors. This unlikely combination of alternate history and the works of H.P. Lovecraft, is incredibly good; it may be her best work. The first novel, Maplecroft, is set shortly after the murders in Borden's hometown of Fall River, Massachusetts, and owes much to Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The second, Chapelwood, and alas probably the last, pulls from Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu and takes place thirty years later in Birmingham, Alabama, during the historical string of axe murders that occurred throughout the early 1920's and the killing of a local priest.

I love how Priest is able to weave history and Lovecraftian mythology so seamlessly throughout these stories. I only hope she is allowed one day to write a third, and if you read them, maybe she will. Fear not, both stories are truly slf-contained and have a full sense of closure at the end.

Google Drive: No single tool has proven more useful to me and my writing in recent years than this one. I am able to save all my drafts, research, notes, and reference images in one place online and can access them anywhere I have an internet connection.

This has freed me from being chained to my desktop computer when I want to write. I can now take a laptop (or even my iPad, see below) to work, to a coffeeshop, anywhere with wifi, and write without fear of having left some important reference material at home (or worse, in a coffeeshop across state). Seriously, I cannot say enough about this tool.

Bluetooth Keyboards: Another tool I have come to rely heavily on is the bluetooth keyboard for my iPad mini. Where the Google drive has freed me to write anywhere I can lug a computer, this has allowed me to expand where that is. I can drop my iPad into my satchel and go just about anywhere. I only thought having a laptop was convenient, but that's just peanuts to the convenience of being able to type on my much smaller and lighter tablet.

Additionally, having one with backlit keys allows me to write in bed while my wife sleeps without disturbing her. Words cannot express my gratitude for this marriage-saving feature.

Word for iPad: I recently found that Microsoft had ported its main word processing program to Apple's iOS system, and I couldn't be happier. No longer do I have to write in whatever free word processing program I can find in the app store and then convert it before saving (though WPS office is the best one I found before Word for iPad. I can now save my documents directly to my online Dropbox as a .docx file and open it again in Word on my desktop later.

My only wish is that it would save directly to my Google drive, but maybe someday...

PagePal: Next, we have the PagePal. A wooden reading aid that allows you to read a paper- or hard-back book comfortably with one hand. You slip it over your thumb and position it in the crease of your book. The thing is tapered on both ends, allowing you to hold the pages down with only one hand.

More importantly, it allows me to read with my weaker left hand as I take notes with my right. As a writer and scholar, this alone makes it well worth the expense. There are cheap plastic tools out there that are similar, but this one is much sturdier and therefore, the better buy as far as I'm concerned.

Me: I am far more thankful, though, for my ability to write what I hope are interesting stories and articles. Without this talent, there aren't enough tools in the world to help me (except maybe a ghost writer, but who can afford that?).

You: Most importantly, I am thankful for the people who read and enjoy my stuff. I cannot express how much it means to me that the stories I make up to amuse myself actually find an audience outside my own circle of influence. That truly is what writing is all about. And without you people, I couldn't do it.

Thank you.

And yes, I am uncomfortably aware that on one level
this post manages to commercialize the very holiday
I praised for being noncommercial.


Sandra Horn said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Lev!

Lydia Bennet said...

Happy thanksgiving Lev! We don't have it here in the UK. Interested to read about google drive, puzzled by your mention of microsoft word processing on apple, there's been Word for Mac for years - is this just for ipads? Anyway, it does no harm to be grateful for what we have once in a while so thank you for this!

Leverett Butts said...

I just discovered the iPad app a couple weeks ago, and then discovered I could use my faculty sign in to use it instead of paying a god's ransom.

Happy Thanksgiving anyway. Have some turkey or chicken or spotted dick or haggis or whatever y'all eat for special occasions on me!

Dennis Hamley said...

Spotted dick? For God's sake NO. But if there's any haggis around I'll be there. Glorious stuff. I know that Googledocs is the answer to everyone's prayer, including mine, but I'm still trying to get everything synced between PC, laptop and tablet and there must be something simple I haven't cottoned on to yet.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Happy Thanksgiving Lev. No - we don't really celebrate it here - in fact it's only really on our radar via American friends, and now on Facebook! We do celebrate Hallowe'en, but then we always did in Scotland, at least. Called it 'guising' instead of trick or treat. Haggis tends to be reserved for Burns Night or even Hogmanay - New Year, which is also a big thing in Scotland. Is it true that haggis was banned in the US for while, but might be allowed back? Counting blessings is always a good thing, especially in November when there doesn't seem much that's right with the world!

Chris Longmuir said...

Happy thanksgiving Lev. Great post even though it's left me frustrated. The reason? I thought the PagePal was a great gadget, particularly because I find holding print books painful because of my wrists, but Amazon in the UK doesn't stock it? I used to get things called butterflies, much the same shape but made of plastic, and they always broke after a short time. Stamps feet in frustration!

Leverett Butts said...

Let me see what I can do about that PagePal thing. I know a gal who knows a guy...