January 25, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Lin Oliver – “Be Brave In Getting Your Work Out There”

(For all of my WRITING ADVICE, go right to Labels and click on WRITING ADVICE...)

OK! Even before I heard Lin speak, I’d started doing this one. NOT the contest thing, though I’ve entered my fair share of them in the past, I prefer the grants, works-in-progress and guest blogs.

Example – I’ve been working on three story lines in my blog here. Three VERY different story lines.

First is a YA science fiction novel – HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES that I’ve been writing in various incarnations for the past five or six years. After eight months of writing flash fiction in this universe, I’ve gotten comments and have grown much, much closer to having a clear image of what I want to say and how I want to go about saying it. Readers of all ages have offered up commentary and suggestions. I’m SO comfortable with HEIRS now that this summer, the flash fiction will come down and I’ll get to work on the novel that I’ve been practicing for!

Second is the middle grade flash fiction for my fantasy, THREAT OF MAGIC (which is, in fact, the name of the SERIES of books I’m planning). This has been a larger adventure for me. I am very selective in the fantasy I read. For example, I read the original SWORD OF SHANARRA by Terry Brooks, tried to read the second and gave up because of overwhelming déjà vu. I’ve avoided the series ever since despite the sprawling breadth of the story. I’ve never read Jordan’s THE WHEEL OF TIME; read the first nine books of Katherine Kurtz’s DERYNI books then stopped because of serious déjà vu there as well; Donaldson’s UNBELIEVER books; CHRONICLES OF NARNIA; LORD OF THE RINGS…well, I guess I have read some fantasy. Anyway, THREAT OF MAGIC is intended to answer CS Lewis’ question “…to some Maryland fifth graders in 1954: “[What if]…there were a land like Narnia and…the Son of God, as he became a Man in our world, became a Lion there…what would happen.[?]'" I’ve created Heartland. Qii, the sorcerer has revived Magic to overthrow technology that has made life better for everyone and brought peace to Heartland. Two kids from our world, both of whom are alive because of our science and technology, are called to Heartland to join with the lampmaker and become part of the quest to stop Qii before he subjugates everyone to his magic.

Third is my adult inspirational fiction, THIRTEEN SQUARE MILES. These stories take place among the people who attend Shingle Creek Community of Christ. They are decidedly varied and deeply committed to the Great Commission of Christ. I think of it as a collision between the kind, rural world of Jan Karon’s MITFORD books and the life most people live on the outskirts of large metropolitan areas – like North Minneapolis. I love the peace, kindness and enduring commitment to Jesus of the MITFORD books – but wondered what would have happened if the characters lived in a big city. THIRTEEN is my exploration of the lives of characters like that.

Oh – a few years ago, I accepted an invitation to write an essay in a blog administered by Bruce Bethke. He’s an old friend of mine as well as winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for his humorous science fiction novel HEADCRASH. He’s written other things as well and has maintained a blog for four years. He is letting some of the readers of his blog, THE RANTING ROOM (http://rantingroom.blogspot.com/ ), lead the Friday Challenge and post occasional essays (like the one I posted there on December 13, 2008 (http://rantingroom.blogspot.com/2008_12_01_archive.html )). I received and accepted the invitation to be a regular (unpaid!) contributor to the new site.

Finally, I’m blogmaster and occasional blogger for my church’s website as well: http://discoverchurchcommunityblog.blogspot.com/ and http://www.discoverchurchnetwork.org/index.php/blog/ .

The upshot of this is that if I can be brave and get my writing out there (the above is in addition to working on novels and short stories and submitting them in the usual fashion!) then anyone reading this can follow Lin’s advice and do the same!

January 18, 2009

Slice of PIE -- Acts 16, the Demon and Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Weird connections, I know, but bear with me for a few moments as I outline the bits of data drifting into my head and I’ll see if I can make my case. It all started as I read the following verses from the MESSAGE:

I. “One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone's attention to us by yelling out, ‘These men are working for the Most High God. They're laying out the road of salvation for you!’ She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, ‘Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!’ And it was gone, just like that.” (Acts 16: 16-21)

II. The Recession is on my mind as well, now that one of the Big Three/Four/Five/Six science fiction and fantasy print magazines, Fantasy &Science Fiction is going from a monthly magazine to bi-monthly. Newspapers are closing down right and left (the Star Tribune of Minneapolis is now officially bankrupt and the Pioneer Press is a shrinking interest…). Book publishers are declaring acquisition freezes (except for Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Jodi Piccoult and other blockbusterwriters). Borders is either gonna get bought by someone or go totally belly up.

III. Even so, people are reading more according to The New York Times online (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/books/12reading.html?_r=2 ).

IV. Add to the mix the clarion call from sundry publishers, web mavens, writers and agents that bellow: “Books are dead! Long live the Kindle – or whatever takes its place! Viva la Presse sans rédacteurs en chef!” (That last part, for those of you who don’t read French, was “Long live the Press without editors!”)


Isn’t this what the whole “revolution” is all about: people getting rid of the editors? Without realizing it, we’re looking at the total democratization of the publishing industry. I can go online and read whatever I want – ANYONE can publish ANYTHING they want and they do. At long last, the publishing industry is free of those pesky editors – the demons have been exorcised! Writers with important things to say and publishers who have the equipment to publish a zillion books or a single book can get together, exchange their dollars and publish or print anything they want to with no one to gainsay them.

I'm not talking about the disappearance of copy editors – we’ll still need those people to read and make corrections when writer’s who don’t know where to place apostrophes’ make miskates. We’ll still need agents to make the cash arrangements with the publishers. What I’m talking about are the men and women who look at a “submission” (don’t you hate that word and what it implies?) and decide most of the time to send back notes saying, “Dear Contributor, Your attached/enclosed submission does not meet our present needs. Thank you for submitting…”

Editors who say “No, thank you” are no longer necessary in the New Publishing Order. With the internet, anyone can create a niche for those who are writing what they want to read and welcome contributions from like-writing people. Together they can run an online magazine that’s slick and cool and very, very focused.


I predict that with the casting out of the editorial demon, awards will disappear as well: the Hugo, the Gandalf, the Lovecraft, the PKD, the Rita, the Stoker, the Edgar, the Seiun, Locus Readers, the Newbery, Anlabs – all of them will be gone. The reason might be summed up in the querulous voice of individual writers, “Who do They think They are? Our writing is just as good as Theirs! We’ll make an award and give it to ourselves! Who is ANYONE to tell Us what is good or best or award-worthy?”

"Years Bests" will also disappear enmasse: A recent casualty of the recession – I believe a result of the exorcising of editors – is the anthology, Years Best Fantasy and Horror (http://lcrw.net/wordpress/?p=768). If anyone can select stories that me and my niche like, print it and slap a slick cover over it and call it the Year’s Best, then who will gainsay us?


By the way, the end result of the exorcism of the demon from the girl is outlined in verse 22 of Acts 16: “When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square.”

Without them demonic editors, I believe that publishing might degenerate into tiny, tiny cliques of self-congratulating writers who break their arms by patting themselves on their backs as publishers, who are open to any deal involving cash, willingly publish whatever said writers want to be published.

I’ll leave the interpretation of verse 22 as it applies to writers and publishers to your imagination…

January 11, 2009


God gave us humor to make us Human…and we play with language in order to make ourselves laugh. Take for example the silly words we create.

HOBBIT: The vast majority of those of you reading this know that this word is a pronoun denoting a very specific imaginary being as depicted in JRR Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS novels.

NARNIA: A large number of you know that this is a proper noun attached to an imaginary land found in the works of English author, C. S. Lewis.

GROK: Nowhere near as many of you would know that Robert A. Heinlein made up this Martian word to explain a process or state of being somewhat related to “knowing” or “understanding” and the laughter its use engendered in the early 1960s.

FOIPIARGNAAADI: None of you will recognize this as a word meaning something like “the humorous power of made up words”. That’s because myself, my wife and four young adults (two of them related to us, two of them not) invented it one night playing an impromptu game of SCRABBLE®. We even invented grammar! The triple “a” pluralizes the word and the suffix “di” feminizes the noun. Why did we do this then conclude the game with gales of laughter?

I think it’s because on Earth, language (and the humor it creates) is innate and perhaps even unique to Humans. Don’t get me wrong. Every living thing communicates. There are levels of communication as well. Few people would question that flax plants and flatworms communicate differently than orcas and octopi. I think I’m safe in saying that two adult chimpanzees with four young adult chimpanzees in a safe environment at a Primate Research Center somewhere would be unlikely to make up a word, create a simple grammar then find the whole thing amusing.

I contend that it is the “spark of the divine” in us – or bluntly, the hand of God on us – that gives Humans the ability to use language of extreme complexity. In the Bible, Numbers 22 tells the tale of a man who was beating his donkey who had refused to walk past an angel because it recognized that the angel was about to kill the man. The man’s name was Balaam. In the end, the angel granted the donkey the ability to speak to the man. Even the rankest “animals-are-the-same-as-humans” activist and those who believe that animals deserve all the protection granted humans under law, would find it hard to credit this story as fact. So even they must grant that there are more complex ways to communicate and simpler ways to communicate.

Humor is communication at its most complex and least understood. “What makes us special is the range and amount of laughter we seek and produce, which in large part stems from our unique evolution, as well as our culture. Indeed, as Martin writes (p. 3): ‘…being able to enjoy humor and express it through laughter seems to be an essential part of what it means to be human.’” (Evolutionary Psychology www.epjournal.net – 2008.6(1): 90-95 Book Review Survival of the Funniest: A review of Rod Martin, Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. Elsevier Academic Press, Email: Humorology@gmail.com)

It is the complexity of humor, given to us by God that separates us from the animals. While it’s been said that “a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.” (The Infinite Monkey Theorem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_monkey_theorem ), the same article goes on to explain that the obvious meaning isn’t the significant meaning of this statement. Monkeys aren’t going to write “Much Ado About Nothing” because monkeys aren’t Human.

All this to say that God gave us humor to make us Human…and we play with language in order to make ourselves laugh. Which is of course, ancillary evidence for this statement as well: God has a sense of humor… ;-)

January 4, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Lin Oliver – Set Goals With Deadlines

(For all of my WRITING ADVICE, go right to Labels and click on WRITING ADVICE...)

No truer words were ever spoken – again, and again, and again. This is because I need to hear it again, and again, and again!

I’ve been published (look to your right for a partial list), but I need to be continually reminded that I have to set goals for myself. For example, this morning I finished Draft # 2 of my YA novel, VICTORY OF FISTS. I’m following the advice of one of the few articles I saw in THE WRITER that I took to heart and became part of my writing canon. (January 2006, “Get your novel written in 3 drafts” by Kelly Jones-Enger, referenced here http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2008/10/writing-advice-first-report-on-flash.html ). I approached the agent who sparked the novel and was horrified when he referred to it as “FIGHT CLUB for YA”. I wanted to scream. So in “The big cleanup”, I’ve rewritten the first chapter to emphasize my main character’s struggle: to transform his fighting rage into poetry as Muhammed Ali, King David and Sri Aurobindo did.

My deadline for submitting a complete MS to either an agent or editor is January 31 – and YES, I know the publishing industry is in free fall, but someone will be publishing books in the next two years and I might as well be one of the ones published, right? The deadline for submitting my adult SF novel, INVADER’S GUILT to an editor or agent, is May 31, 2009.

At any rate, I also maintain goals for this blog: publish something every Thursday and Sunday. My “flash-fiction” pieces (THREAT, THIRTEEN and HEIRS) are all explorations of worlds I’ve created and practice in, developing character and setting. Once I am finished with the third draft of VICTORY and INVADER’S, I will pull all of the HEIRS pieces off the blog and begin the YA novel of the same name. I’ll begin a new set of flash-fiction pieces called THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS with the view of writing that novel…well, you get the idea.

Lin pointed out that for her, GOALS = dreams + deadlines. I agree. My dream has been to get published and with the deadlines above and ones still to come, my goals will be met!