July 10th, 2006

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Independence Day Weekend Trip Report -- With Photos of Forest Hills!

What does it say that I post my July 4th trip report after Readercon? :-)

Earlier this year, I had been bemoaning our inability to take a trip to New York City this year. What with a new job and a limited number of vacation days, it looked like a summer trip to see my Mom just wasn't in the cards.

Until Nomi pointed out to me that because Independence Day (US) was falling on a Tuesday this year, both our companies were giving us Monday off as well. Furthermore, with my company's summer hours program I could also take the Friday before the weekend off, and by adding a personal day to the other end of the vacation, we could take the following Wednesday off as well. That meant a seven-day vacation surrounding a four day weekend, plenty of time to visit my Mom.

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Copyright © Michael Burstein; photos copyright © Nomi Burstein
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Family Entertainment Act, Revisited

Back in April of 2005, I mentioned the passage of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act and then gave my own opinion on the law.

To remind everyone, the Act created an exemption in copyright law that allowed companies to create filtering software for movies on DVD. So if you bought or rented a film that had content the company considered objectionable, such as foul language, excessive violence, or nudity, the software would cause those section to be skipped when you played the DVD.

At the time, we had a lot of good, respectful debate on whether or not this was a good idea, and I pointed out why I myself felt uncomfortable with the concept.

Well, I'm not the only one uncomfortable with the idea of companies "sanitizing" films.. So is Judge Richard P. Matsch. Last Thursday, in Denver, Colorado, he ruled that selling an edited version of a film is an "illegitimate business." However, his ruling seems to be aimed solely at companies that sell an actual new version of the film, rather than those that create software to used with a licensed copy. For example, ClearPlay, which creates software filters, issued this press release, which reminds people that what their company does is protected by the Act. The companies named in the lawsuit, such as CleanFilms and CleanFlicks, would buy a new copy of the movie for each edited one they sold, a way to avoid accusations of piracy.

I'm fascinated to see what happens next...

Copyright © Michael Burstein
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Story Recommendation: "The Welsh Squadron" by Margaret Ronald

I don't often recommend individual stories, but this one has an interesting background.

In 2004, I served as a final round judge in the NESFA Short Story Contest along with writer and well-know fan Tony Lewis. One of the stories we had to consider in the final round was "The Welsh Squadron."

I don't want to speak for Tony, but my memory of this story was that we both thought it had a really neat idea at the core. We liked it immensely, but it suffered from some basic flaws in story structure. In the end, we decided that it deserved an Honorable Mention, and we gave it such.

The Contest awards were announced at Boskone 41 on Saturday night, and it turned out that author, Margaret Ronald, was actually at the convention. (Judges in the contest have no idea who the authors of the stories are when we're judging.) Ms. Ronald was grateful for the Honorable Mention, and on Sunday, I took her aside to tell her what Tony and I thought of the story. This was a case of a story that I really liked, and wanted to see work better, so I explained what we thought were the flaws in the tale, and I made some modest suggestions for improvement.

I was delighted to discover a few months ago from Ms. Ronald that the story had been bought by Strange Horizons. The final version is much improved, for which she deserves full credit. To be honest, I can't even recall what I told her about the previous version, and I suspect the role of my advice was mostly to inspire her to fix the story.

To tell you what the story is about would give away the surprise, but by the end of the first part you'll know what it's all about, and I dare anyone to stop reading after finishing part one.

The first link below will bring you to part 1 of the story. Go read. Enjoy.

"The Welsh Squadron" (part 1 of 2) by Margaret Ronald

"The Welsh Squadron" (part 2 of 2) by Margaret Ronald
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Robert's Rules of Writing #52: Lose Your Form

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

With rule #52, Masello suggests that writers ought to try experimenting with new forms, especially if they have an idea that seems to lend itself to a new way of being expressed. For example, if you're primarily a writer of prose fiction, but an idea comes to mind that "wants" to be a play, go ahead and write a play.

On first glance, this piece of advice seems rather obvious to me, but I guess Masello has had many students who felt otherwise. He says that a lot of writers who come across an idea that requires a new form either choose to abandon the idea or spend so much time studying the requirements of the new form that they never get around to writing the actual piece of work.

And I must admit that although this advice seems self-evident, I can understand the paralysis that hits when a new form needs to be contemplated. I've commented before on how when I started trying to write, I found that I was more comfortable with shorter works than longer ones. And I can still remember when I was trying to revise "Broken Symmetry" to Stanley Schmidt's specifications, and I expressed my fear (yes, fear) that this short story was going to break the 7,500-word mark and become a novelette.

Stan's reply: "You're going to have to write one sometime."

When it comes to form, for the most part I do write mostly short stories. But I never let that stop me from trying something else, if I'm in the mood. So I've written reviews, articles, and essays that have been published, and in my "trunk" I have the beginnings of plays and screenplays, just because it was fun to write them. I've also experimented with "translating" stories from one form to another; I turned a comic book script I had written into a novella once, just for the fun and practice of telling a story in two different ways.

And, of course, in the past few years I've been experimenting with that most important form of all -- the blog post. As have we all.

Copyright © Michael Burstein