Weekly status update [0041/????]

This one’s a day late, but there’s a reason for that.

  • I did it!  My sixteenth(ish) NaNovel, Ex Urbes, is done, as of about three minutes ago.  I wrote 50,214 words according to wc, and a few more than that according to the official NaNo word counter.  (They actually used to use wc as well, so it kinda bugs me that they don’t any more.)  It was an interesting experience, writing while retired, quite different from the way I’ve written NaNo before; I didn’t feel a lot of time pressure, so found it hard to do much more than 2-3K a day.  Yesterday put me at 38K, though, and I decided that I was gonna finish this weekend come Hell or high water… and when I woke up this morning I went, no, I’m finishing today, dammit.  And so I did. 12,369 words in one day is less than half of my peak, but it’s a pretty sizable chunk, roughly fifty pages or so of a typical book.  Not bad.
  • What is bad?  The novel.  It’s terribad.  But I’m glad it’s done.
  • Ways I’ve wasted time this week while not doing NaNo:
    • I continued to watch an episode of both Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine each day.  I’m almost at the end of the first series and the end of the last released season of the second, so that’ll be over soon.  I… should probably watch more Sabrina, but as an hour-long show it felt like too much of an indulgence this week.
    • I also did a bunch of puzzles.  I got another order in from Japan on Monday, and it included the latest Nikoli “Penpa” magazine, a superb variety mag they put out once a year that’s always my first recommendation to anyone who says they want to branch out and try things that aren’t sudoku.  I’m doing the book in round-robin format, doing the first puzzle of each type, then circling back to the start of the book to do the second, and so forth.  It’s been a nice variety.  (I skip Numberlink, though.  I hate those puzzles.)
    • Lastly, I’ve been watching Twitch sporadically.  I no longer really watch Landail, due to some creepy sexist stuff that goes on there that I decided I couldn’t really be part of any more, but catsonurhead is still awesome, and I’ve started watching some native Spanish-speaking streamers who also manage English better than I ever will their language.  The number of watchers on their channels are low, so it’s got a nice community vibe.
  • We also had an extended game night this week at Fercott Fermentables.  We played Antike II, and I won, although for most of the game I was strictly mid-pack.  That game is absolutely fantastic, and it sang with five players.  I look forward to bringing it home for the holidays and playing it (along with Spirit Island) with my next-door neighbors.

I still have a stack of books to read, many of which are close to being unrenewable, so I’m going to get cracking on those tomorrow.  But for the rest of tonight I plan on vegging out and watching Twitch.  I think I’ve earned it.

Rolling down that hill

As of last night, I’ve written a bit over 25,000 words on Ex Urbes.  That’s the halfway point in terms of NaNoWriMo, although I don’t feel that I’ve reached the halfway point of the story itself at all.  Given how… not very good the story is, though, I’ll probably be pulling it to a stop at the 50K mark, wherever that ends up landing story-wise.

I’m not much of a plotter or outliner, and so my stories tend to be written very much “in the moment”: this happens, then this, and oh, this other thing as a consequence.  This style of writing has its upsides and downsides.   First, a few of the negatives.

  • Complicated plots are hard.  If there are a bunch of stories interacting, with characters moving between them, you’re going to want to have at least an outline to work with, tracking where everyone and everything is so that you don’t have massive continuity issues.
  • It’s easy to get lost in the weeds.  My stories have a bad habit of turning hard into tangents, as some idea takes me away from the actual thing that is happening for a while, until I fumble around and go, “oh yeah, I’m supposed to be writing about that.”
  • Length ends up being pretty random.  Sometimes what feels like an epic story gets told rapidly, because I haven’t thought up enough detail to make it the length it should be; other times, what should be a short bit of detail ends up a rambling diatribe.  (See above.)

There are quite a few positives, though:

  • My stories surprise even me.  For example, I thought this particular one was going in a very specific direction; I even “stacked the deck,” so to speak, in an attempt to make that happen.  But as of this most recent chapter, the main characters involved basically told me: No, that’s not what’s going to happen here.  Instead, this.  Which is fascinating.  There are several stories I’ve written where I put something in early, for whatever reason, and then it ended up vital to a later part of the tale through no conscious planning on my part.  That feels like magic when it happens.
  • The plot tends to feel organic.  Oftentimes the parts I have planned beforehand have to be tinkered with because, once you get to them, it turns out that they don’t fit; characters have revealed their motivations to be different, the world is turning out slightly differently than that particular beat needs, and so on.  Because I do as little of that as possible, though, the path through the story ends up feeling very natural on rereading.  Which makes a lot of sense, because it matches what I was doing in the moment when I was writing: following the most natural path for the story itself.
  • It is very well suited for NaNoWriMo.  I expect that I can write a well-plotted lengthy story, but that sort of thing takes care and effort that I don’t really have to give during a month-long sprint to the finish.  Making it up as I go along?  That I can do.  I’ve only ever managed to write one heavily plotted NaNovel in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, and it was terrible.  The plot also ran out less than a third of the way through, so I ended up having to wing a huge chunk of the story anyway.

Every writer is different and every story is different.  I mostly write for myself during NaNo; I know that the quality of my output is hampered by the constraints, and so don’t concern myself overmuch with how consumable the end product is.  I think that’s a smart decision, but I can also see how it’s holding me back.  I really need to work on a story without those constraints, one that holds together from the start, and NaNo just isn’t the place for me to do that.

Maybe next year.

Weekly status update [0040/????]

Writing, huh?  This is writing, right?  This is gonna be a short one, given what’s going on.

  • It’s NaNoWriMo.  As of just a few moments ago, I cracked 16,000 words on Ex Urbes, the cyberpunk thriller I’m writing instead of Sharp because I had a lot of trouble with that story, as I wrote about.  Ex Urbes isn’t any good, but it is easy to write, so that’s been working pretty well.  I haven’t yet had one of my typical “amazing days” that help me knock out the novel sooner rather than later, but I’m ahead of the standard month-long pace, and am likely to continue pulling ahead even if I never have a burst-writing day.
  • One of the problems with NaNo, though, is that I feel like I can’t do the other things that I like to do, because I should be writing.  I still have a big stack of books that I need to read, but I can’t read, because I should be writing.  I’ve barely touched my puzzle books, because I should be writing.  What that actually means is that I end up watching Twitch and browsing too much stupid stuff on the Internet, because those are lower commitment, but wasting more time than I would if I allowed myself the other things.  Ugh.
  • have been watching a bit of TV, though.  I finished up Orange is the New Black, and intentionally haven’t added another drama to the list.  I also haven’t watched Sabrina past the fourth episode.  Mostly I watch a single episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth each day, plus The Good Place on Hulu the day after it airs on TV.  That feels like little enough to be messing with NaNo.

I need to finish up this novel so I can put books back on the agenda.  I’m going to aim to do that over the next week, but we’ll see if that happens.

Dull the blade, busy the city

I’m afraid I won’t be sharing Sharp,

I started it on the first, as I almost always do.  The writing was in a heightened literary style, which made it extremely slow going, and after a few paragraphs I realized that it just wasn’t going to work.  I re-read them, and they came off as juvenile, a kid trying on their parents’ clothes rather than something worth reading.

(Side note: I should have known better.  My attempted Banksian novel several years back had the same problem, although I found that tone a lot easier to imitate than the one I was attempting with Sharp.

On the second I rewrote the few paragraphs I had written in my own style, and it seemed a whole lot smoother.  I finished off the first chapter, happy to have found a bit of a groove.

That died on the third.  I’m not sure what it is; maybe Sharp

On the fourth, I decided to start all over with a different story, one that had been tickling the back of my brain for a while.  And I wrote over 3000 words with almost no effort, and another two thousand and change yesterday.

Ex Urbes is not good; it’s full of infodumps and sidelines that go nowhere.  But it’s easy to write.  I won’t be sharing it either–because it’s terrible–but I’m also no longer worried about NaNo.  Disappointed, sure, because I still really like the core idea behind Sharp and was looking forward to sharing it… but c’est la vie.

Anyhow, sorry to those of you who were wanting to read along.  Next year, perhaps.

Weekly status update [0039/????]

Oh, hey, it’s November.  Gulp.

  • I kept reading aggressively through November 1st.  I wrote about The Orphan Master’s Son here; it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.  I also knocked out another Christopher Priest novel, The Separation.  I still like him, but I feel that he really basically writes the same novel over and over again.  Each one has begun to feel a little too same-y compared to the rest.  Timothy Zahn’s Spinneret was the last book I read; I finished it on the morning of the 1st.  Some of you may recognize his name from the Thrawn trilogy of Star Wars novels that really kicked off the Extended Universe back in the ’90s.  Spinneret was fine, if slight.  I’m taking at least a brief hiatus, even though I still have way too many books sitting on my sofa to read.
  • November started, which means NaNoWriMo started as well.  I began writing Sharp on the evening of November 1st, and after getting ~300 words into it I stopped.  The literary style I was affecting simply wasn’t working.  I should have known better, honestly; the last time I copped a style that wasn’t my own, it was for a Banksian pastiche, and I had similar troubles putting words to page at any reasonable rate.  This time, though, the words weren’t just slow.  They were awful, as I discovered when I reread it.  So: I tossed it and started over today.  I’m a little over 1500 words in now, and those words came at roughly 6-10x the rate of the original 300, so that’s good at least.  I’m not sure yet if the story is any good, though.  I’ll keep you posted.
  • The first of November was also the first day of open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (AKA “Obamacare”).  I had to finish on the phone, because COBRA is complicated, but the end result is that I should have insurance next year… and it should be free.  That was a surprising discovery, but it’s because I make a lot less money now that I’m retired.  On the one hand, it feels kinda weird and wrong that there isn’t means testing to go along with raw income.  On the other hand, government stuff like this never, ever breaks in my favor… so I’ll take it.  I’ve still got to contact my COBRA coverage company and get it to terminate on December 31st, but that can wait until I get at least the beginning paperwork for the ACA stuff.
  • Let’s just say the diet didn’t hold and leave it at that.  I’ll try harder this coming week.
  • I’ve been trying to actually stay on top of TV for once.  Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine continue; I’m in the last season of LMoE.  I just finished season 2 of Luke Cage tonight (it was fine but not great) and am close to finishing season 6 of Orange is the New Black.  I started watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Hallowe’en, for obvious reasons, and that’ll take the place of Luke Cage for the time being.  It’s cheesy but fun.
  • Boy, this was a down month for the stock market.  And there’s likely more on the way.  Those numbers used to be a lot more hypothetical in terms of affecting my continued financial health than they are now.  Gulp.

I’m gonna keep cracking on this novel for the next few days, at least, to see if it’s got legs.  If so, I’ll try to assess whether the writing is worth sharing or not.  If it is, well, I’ll be linking it here, which should provide something a bit different to read, horse story notwithstanding. 

Certainly not showing

NaNoWriMo approaches, and I grow more and more apprehensive with each passing day.

I’ve been doing NaNo ever since 2004; see this earlier post for a breakdown of what I’ve written over the years, but basically it amounts to a novel a year, two each in 2005 and 2006, and failure in 2012 when I was getting ready to move cross-country for a job.

As time goes on, the actual act of writing has gotten easier, which isn’t too surprising.  What hasn’t gotten easier is writing something good, something worth reading.  NaNo operates under a tight time constraint, so my default response when the first story I try to write in November starts to stumble is to write something else, something easier, something that I know I can bang out over a week or two.

It’s, inevitably, garbage.

In the past I’ve had the excuse of, well, life. I had a full-time job.  November is never exactly a calm month with the holidays approaching.  There were other distractions, other events, that made taking the easy way feel less like a cop-out and more like a reasonable coping mechanism.  It’s either garbage or I don’t write anything

This year is different, though.  The excuses are much more evidently just that: excuses.  I’m not going anywhere next month.  I don’t have a job to distract me.

If I fail, I have no one to blame but myself.

It doesn’t help that I’m actually excited about this particular story idea, in a way that I haven’t been since I wrote Rewind

The readership of this blog is tiny but non-zero, and I feel some level of obligation to that readership, an obligation to provide something interesting to read.  NaNo seems like it could be an excellent source of that material… but it could also be an excellent way to watch my attempt crash and burn.

It’s not that I’m worried that I can’t pump out 50,000 words over the course of the month.  It’s that, this year unlike all the previous ones, I feel it’s important that those 50,000+ words actually be somewhere in the vicinity of good.

So: I worry.

I still plan on sharing the story here, but I’m going to wait until I’m far enough “in” that it doesn’t seem like I’ll be tossing it aside.  That seems like a reasonable compromise, to me, and it’s still no promise that it’ll actually get finished.  Or be any good.  We’ll have to see.

Wish me luck.

Weekly status update [0037/????]

After several quiet weeks, this one ended up pretty much jam-packed from start to finish.

  • But first: the deluge of words doth continue.  I read my first Christopher Priest (of The Prestige fame) and enjoyed it enough to make an exception to my “no more holds before December” rule so that I could get… well… The Prestige.  John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, about the Theranos debacle, was a sobering (and fascinating) read.
  • Most of the week, however, was spent with my cousin from Louisiana, who was visiting the area.  She stayed in Asheville through Tuesday, then headed my way Wednesday until Friday.  It was a pleasure hanging out with her, driving around to the various sights, eating a bunch of food I probably shouldn’t have had but, y’know, guest!
  • Monday I rode a horse for the first time in my life.  I wrote about it here.  We also visited downtown Asheville–yes, I made the obligatory stop at The Chocolate Fetish, although I forced myself to only get one thing there, a single dark chocolate and sea salt caramel–and I spent time going over a bunch of puzzle types with her, as she’s new to the whole paper-puzzles thing.
  • Tuesday was game night back home, but I took the opportunity to write up the horseback outing.  I decided to do something different stylistically, treating it as a story rather than the looser form of a blog entry, and inasmuch as that sort of thing “works,” well, it seemed to work; a couple of people were surprised to learn that “Along for the ride” wasn’t just a short story of my own devising.  Which, I mean, I guess it is?  Just not a fictional one.
  • Said game night was spent playing Spirit Island, which was fun and frustrating and fascinating in roughly equal measure.  We lost, although I feel we hung on considerably longer than I felt we would after a terrible start.  I’ve already decided that it’ll be making the trip back home for the holidays; I want to get more plays in.
  • Wednesday was mostly spent in and around town, starting with lunch in Hickory (Vietnamese, yum) and including a stop at a local antiques store so that my cousin could pick up some knick-knacks to bring home.  We went up into the mountains for a bit, hiking a scrap of the Green Knob Trail before the sun got too low.
  • An early start Thursday had us back up in the mountains.  We hiked Linville Falls and Mount Mitchell, which was… perhaps a bit more than we should have done, given that neither of us are at peak levels of stamina.  But it felt good exerting myself in a way that I basically hadn’t done since I retired, and my cousin was duly proud of her own efforts.  The day closed out all the way down in Charlotte at The Glow, which was fine if a bit underwhelming.  The carvings were amazing, but they had to all be at a distance behind ropes to keep kids from messing with them, which made the experience feel rather detached.  Still, it was the sort of thing I never would have done on my own, and I’m glad my cousin dragged me to it.

I slept like a rock most evenings this week thanks to high levels of physical exertion, and although I had a great time, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to next week being a quiet one.

Weekly status update [0034/????]

This is another hell of a week, but at least (mostly) not for me?  Thin comfort.

  • The trilogy that started with Ninefox Gambit stayed mostly excellent, although I wasn’t completely enamored with the conclusion.  Still, worth a read.  I also read a bunch of other books too.
  • Other book notes the first: I actually quite liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is apparently Not The In Thing, but whatever.  (I’ll freely admit that its core “schtick” is one I’ve thought a lot about, which alters my judgment.)
  • Other book notes the second: Fortune Smiles is a fantastic short story collection by Adam Johnson.  One of the stories is very dark, but it warns you pretty close to the start, and if you read the book in chronological order you’ll be warned earlier anyhow.  This was another one of those “pick it up at random in the library” books that I almost certainly wouldn’t have ever picked on my own, so: yay library displays!
  • Other book notes the third: I’m in the middle of reading Harlan Ellison’s seminal sf collection Dangerous Visions; I can see how it would have been pretty damn transgressive in the late Sixties, although with the benefit of hindsight it occasionally has a whiff of Trying Too Hard.  Most of the stories are excellent, though, and as a whole it holds up impressively well.  My favorite bit so far isn’t one of the stories at all, but Ellison’s introduction where he tears into the whiny Old Guard and their complaints about how the new sf just isn’t the same as the old.  The fact that it could be taken almost verbatim as a tear-down of the modern “crisis” in sf that, for a while, centered around the whole Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy/etc. thing is delightful.  Everything old is new again, kids.
  • Despite continuing to read at a rapid pace, I also continue to check out library books at an even more rapid rate.  Half of my couch is covered in them.  I have thirty-five checked out right now, many of them huge tomes full of short stories that will take me forever to finish.  what am I doing
  • We had an extended game night Tuesday.  We played Concordia, one of my favorite games, and I did very poorly, coming in last.  Part of that was an idiotic play on my part in one of the final turns that cost me something like fifteen points.  I acted like a complete jerk at the end, though, so… I’m afraid I’m not a lot better about that whole situation than I was when I wrote about it last.  Ugh.  I’m not happy with myself about that.
  • Finished up Bojack Horseman season 5, which was amazing, and Jessica Jones season 2, which was… fine… I guess.  Started on Luke Cage season 2 and Orange is the New Black season 5.  I may actually drop that last one, which is veering dangerously close to the sort of “everything is miserable and you get to watch” modern take on TV that I just can’t handle.
  • I weighed myself on Thursday for the first time in, uh, almost a year, I guess?  I’m at 271 pounds; my best guess for how much I weighed when I started on this diet in late April is somewhere between 330 and 360 pounds, so I’ve lost something in the 60-90 pound range over a bit more than five months.  (In case you’re wondering, my goal weight is 180, which is technically overweight from a BMI standpoint but is actually on the line where I go from looking healthy to looking less so.)  That’s pretty damn good progress, even though I’ve got a long way to go.  I was also reminded that I should never, ever own a scale.  They ruin my  will with the irregular ups-and-downs.
  • Lots of puzzles, too; I’m finally getting to a point where I’m relatively confident in my Kakuro solving, and I continue to work on several other books and magazines on a one-off basis.
  • No prose, although I did finish up my Guide to the Cardpocalypse series.
  • I also came up with the core idea for my NaNoWriMo novel.  My current plan is to share that here as I write it (although probably not as body text, which would be overwhelming).  We’ll see if I still feel that way come November.
  • Mostly just the usual on the videogame front, although the launch of Hollow Knight on the PS4 made me buy it (again) and play it, since I find that sort of game way more suited to a big TV and recliner than my computer.  If you like Metroidvanias, I strongly recommend it.

Well, that was excessively long, so, uh… until next time!

Absence of thought

I realized that it’s Wednesday and I haven’t yet done my now-pretty-regular “post that isn’t a weekly update” this week.  The thing is: I don’t have anything particularly exciting to write about, at least not that fits the loose format that I’ve established here.  No one wants to read me rail about the current political situation here in the US; there are much more cogent thinkers out there who are doing that work better than I ever will, and “screaming into the void” has never been my favorite pastime.  (I will, however, leave this here.)

So instead you get a meta-post about the act of writing these things in the first place.  Exciting!

I have to admit that sometimes (often, really) I just don’t have it in me to post something.  I think it’d be easier if I were more willing to dash off thoughts, Twitter-style, on the regular, but I feel that the blog format almost always warrants something of more substance.  And I don’t always have that substance to give.  I mean, yes, I could start going through my book and video game collection, writing reviews for everything I’ve finished, but that’s not the core concept of this blog–at least, not in my mind–and that also sounds a lot like work.

I suspect that a lot of people would have no sympathy for that argument.  I’m retired, after all; what else do I have but time?  As much as I have, though, that time is still fundamentally limited, at least until the techno-Rapture that will make us immortal.  (Immortal slaves to the machines, mind you, but immortal nevertheless.)  And as vapid as it may seem, most of the time I’d rather just play more Diablo III or watch some more Twitch than come up with a slightly-cheeky take on something that happened in my life (spoiler: nothing really happens in my life) or banging out a review of a vaguely food-related product.  Each day is still a day closer to the end, and I want to spend them doing things I genuinely enjoy.

And yet.  I think I’ve gotten a lot out of writing these blog entries, even though I’m writing for an ever-shrinking audience.  That last part doesn’t surprise me, as the number of people likely to read this was at its largest the moment I retired and will only fall off as people figure out “huh, not much going on with that Phil guy’s life, is there?” and phase out their readership.  And that’s fine; while ostensibly this exists as a way for people to keep up with what I’m doing now, it’s just as much a way for me to exercise my writing muscles on a regular basis, something I’ve always meant to do and never actually got around to in my prior life.  Well, I finally got around to it, and got around to fixing my typing with Colemak, and got around to playing at least a few games and reading a few books that have been hanging shamefully over my head for years, so this retirement thing seems to be helping me make at least some headway on years of inaction.

And, hey, look, by rambling on about my lack of material to ramble on about, I’ve managed to gin up an entire blog post worth of content!  Thanks, meta-writing!

It’s something I can’t do too often, though, or it’ll get just as tired as anything.  And while I often find it hard to find something to write about–and often don’t want to write at all–I do think that it’s the right thing to do, at least now.  I think I will appreciate being able to look back at these posts in the months and years to come and see what I was thinking about, how I felt, how early retirement was going.  So: I’m gonna keep on keeping on.  But this week you’ll have to put up with this very meta post as your additional content.

Sorry.

The reality of irreality

I recently finished reading a very good book, The Moon and the Other.  This isn’t a review; instead, I wanted to point out something it did that I found both interesting and actually a little distracting due to its rarity in science fiction.  Fair warning: very, very mild spoilers ahead.

One of the main viewpoint characters in the novel is a man who was banished from the “Society of Cousins,” a matriarchal society that made me think (at first) that the book was going to be some sort of weird inverse of The Handmaid’s Tale.  The person–another man–who convinced him to do the deed that got them both banished?  He goes by the pseudonym “Tyler Durden.”  (For those of you that don’t immediately recognize that name, it’s a character from Fight Club, played memorably in the movie by Brad Pitt.)

Later, there’s a very minor plot involving a theoretical virus that would have done damage to that self-same society, proposed by Mr. Durden.  The name of the virus?  GROSS.  (If you don’t recognize that, get yourself to a copy of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, stat.)

Both of these references startled me when I came across them.  That’s because, for most science fiction, the authors work pretty hard at pretending that culture past, say, Mozart or Bach doesn’t really exist.  It’s very rare to see modern things referenced directly in a work.  Obviously I’m excluding borderline-fanfic stuff like Ernest Cline’s novels, which exist as an explicit love letter to ’80s pop culture; I’m talking about otherwise “normal” science fiction.  At most, they’ll occasionally do one of those sets-of-threes things where the first reference is classical, the second modern, and the third fictional, something like:

Genndy sat down at the ancient piano and plinked a few tentative notes, then launched into a whirlwind tour of the canon: Mozart, Joel, Oda-Wheeler.

That’s a made-up example, but you see such things littered across much of science fiction.  Usually the references end there, though.

When a work refers to a real-life thing, it’s often changed in some way; I’m currently in the middle of reading The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., where it’s not the Pentagon but the Trapezoid.  Sometimes that sort of thing works, but given the fact that D.O.D.O. is all about history–and a couple of sentences later it specifically refers to George Washington–this sort of off-brand filtering can be, in its own way, even more distracting than just using the real name.  (On the other hand, given the core conceit of the novel, it’s possible that the building is the Trapezoid for Reasons.  It’s a Neal Stephenson novel, so I might not find that out for another six thousand pages or so.)

Going back to The Moon and the Other, I can kind of get why this sort of thing is rare.  For one, you risk dating the novel; references to Lorena Bobbitt (as a random example I’d never actually use in a story) already risk falling off the comprehensibility cliff, so if you don’t pick your target well you risk making it completely opaque to the reader.  And given my reaction to seeing contemporary references in a modern novel, the smart money may be keeping it all the way back to Mozart.  But I actually think that “Tyler Durden” is the sort of reference that will stay relevant for a surprisingly long time, and while I sadly suspect “GROSS” will age poorly, as kids don’t grow up reading Calvin and Hobbes, it also wasn’t crucial to the plot.

Still, it makes me think how such things apply to my own writing.  In Rewind I explicitly explore a couple of close-to-our-own realities that turn out slightly different, so these types references are actually fairly important to the story, but I also carefully never placed the novel in a specific city or precise time to avoid some of those selfsame issues.  Having read The Moon and the Other, I’m going to be giving even more serious consideration to the real-world references in my own works.  A mild shock is good; pulling a reader out of the fictional world is not.