April 30, 2009


CJ Hastings dashed out the door and down the three steps of the townhouse, shouting, “See ya, Phyllis! See ya, Mai Li!”

Waiting at the end of the sidewalk, was his best friend, who shouted, “You’re gonna be late again if you don’t hurry!”

“I told ya to call me,” CJ complained as they dashed down the sidewalk and turned right down an alley between the townhouse blocks.

“I did call you! But you have to turn on your cellphone if you want to hear me calling you!”

“Crap!” CJ exclaimed, wishing he could say something with a little more punch. But Job’s mom and dad were super religious and came from Liberia – they didn’t understand simple American slang was supposed to make you feel better. He tried to watch it around Job.

“Your leaf isn’t turning over very fast, CJ,” Job called as he sprinted past his friend.

“Hey!” CJ shouted, “I’m not the super track star and Brainiac of the seventh grade!”

Job stopped suddenly and CJ shot past him. An instant later, he’d pulled up alongside CJ as they hit Neill Armstrong Middle School’s outdoor track. It wasn’t a great looking field, but it would do until they graduated to the high school track in ninth grade. Then they’d run for Coopman High School – one of the best track sprinting high schools in Minnesota.

They did a ninety-degree cut and dashed through the front doors just as the bell rang. “Hey! There’s still people in the hallways! That was only the first bell!”

Mr. Beidelman, the building principal was standing in the very center of the crowd of moving students. At two meters tall, he towered over the hundred kids hurrying to make it to Home Room in time for the first bell. Of course, he was looking right at CJ when he raced into the entryway, nearly trampling two little sixth grade girls. He scowled as he said, “CJ! I thought we had this all worked out? Your mother was going to make sure you got up on time and job was going to make sure you made good time from your house to the school.”

“But Mr. B! Mai Li was in one of her moods today! She had Mom by the hair and then Mrs. Dondelinger was late…"

Mr. Beidelman held up his hand and closed his eyes. He said, “No more excuses, CJ. We’re tired of excuses. We want to see a new leaf. That’s what you and your mother promised: you were going to turn over a new leaf now that it was spring and there were five weeks of school left.” He made a brushing motion. “Now get to Homeroom before you’re really late.”

CJ hung his head for a moment, but inside he wanted to punch Mr. Beidelman’s lights out. But the man was almost twice as tall as he was and weighed about a hundred kilos more. Mr. Beidelman had been in the Marines. He’d could probably chop a wimp like CJ into little pieces and feed him to the rats in Ms. Talented’s science room.

Job was tugging on his sleeve and he followed. They had just enough time to throw their backpacks in their lockers before dashing into homeroom.

He was lucky Ms. Talented was his homeroom teacher. She only sighed when he stepped into the room right after the bell rang. She just said softly, “New leaf, CJ. Let’s work on that new leaf…”

CJ stared at her, looked around at everyone staring at him then let his head fall to his desk.

Nothing was ever going to change. Especially him.

April 26, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Do the Movies Make the Book or the Book Make the Movies?

While there are a number of examples of book-to-movie and movie-to-book combinations, I’m choosing to look at one fantasy series and one science fiction series, that began as books and were later made into movies.

First off, I’ll point out that what makes a SF/F book into a movie is the magic of the SERIES. One-off movies of SF/F books don’t seem to make it well as movies. As well, if there IS only one book, moviemakers add movies to make it into a series (“2001”, “2010”, “3001”; “Starship Troopers I, II, III”; “Contact” and “War of the Worlds” are the exceptions to the rule I’ve made up – though WOTW has been made into 2 movies and a musical, so that sort of counts as a series…)

For now though, I want to stick with two book-to-movie combinations and mine those phenomenon for insight: Frank Herbert’s DUNE and J. K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER.

The first HP book was published in 1997 – with a print run of 1000 books. But it was well-reviewed, winning three awards given for children’s books. The world had not yet experienced Harrypottermania and while the book was undeniably good and critics were comparing Rowling to Roald Dahl, no one was really interested in the movie rights at that time.

DUNE came out in 1965 and won the Hugo and the Nebula (science fiction and fantasy’s Emmy and Oscar awards). Many people loved it and its sequels, but there was no battle over the movie rights at that time, either. It was eventually hailed as “the greatest SF novel ever written”.

It would be four years until the first HP movie hit the silver screen and Daniel Radcliffe was forever branded with the lightning bolt. It would be nineteen years before DUNE was made into a movie for the first time, with rock star “Sting” (Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner) cast as the nephew of the arch-villain Baron Harkonnen.

The HP franchise – books, movies, merchandise – is a tightly woven web and I wasn’t able to find direct figures to back up my guess. HOWEVER, following the release of the first HP movie in 2001 right after the publication of GOBLET, sales of all the books skyrocketed, ending in 2007 with the publication of DEATHLY HALLOW and a total of nearly 28 million books in print. In the past two years, the total number of HP books has reached 400 million in 62 languages. A two-part movie based on DH is slated for release in 2010 and 2011.

On Arrakis, a rumor that a new screen version of DUNE is in the works directed by Peter Berg recently received confirmation. Clearly, this will drive sales of both the original series of six books and the abundance of sequels and prequels written by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert.

My conclusion?

Not yet. I need to ask the question: what does all this have to do with FAITH? That should be obvious – to have a really popular SF/F books that are made into movies – you need a series and you need RELIGION. Specifically, you need NOT-Christianity. Harry Potter has his roots in paganism/wicca/witchcraft (duh). DUNE is intentionally Buddhist (specifically Zen Buddhist). Both promote their NOT-Christianity to a post-modern world dying for the spiritual.

Author Reggie McNeal in his book THE PRESENT FUTURE, prods the institutional church to get off its religion-club keester and reach the masses. He says: “…although intrigue with institutional religion is down, interest in spirituality is up…there is a spiritual awakening occurring in America. However, it is not informed by Christian theology, and it’s not happening in the church (p 11-12)…Left to their own imagination people will devise all sorts of…stuff about God, from New Age crystals to self-enlightenment. But this is also the opportunity of the current spiritual landscape. People are open to revealed truth of God if they can get it. Unfortunately, the North American church has lost its influence…lost its identity…lost its mission (p 18)...the church’s mission: to join God in his redemptive efforts to save the world (p 19).”

As a writer, my most important question is how can I incorporate this mission into my writing – because CLEARLY people are buying religion. I must become a writer so GOOD that I can sell mine!

My answer to the teaser at the top is that they make each other – but they need a deep religion to do it. I suppose you might say that any book aspiring to be a series or a movie needs to “look a little farther back, in the still and darkness before Time dawned…and read there a different incantation.*”

April 19, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Lin Oliver: Stay With Your Own Voice and Vision

Lin Oliver once wanted to write metaphysical fiction like Madeleine L’Engle’s WRINKLE IN TIME.

Well, duh! Who wouldn’t?

There was a little problem though: when she wanted to write like Madeleine L’Engle, Madeleine L’Engle was writing like Madeleine L’Engle. There really was no clarion call for another person to write that way.

When I was twelve, I wanted to write like Andre Norton because I loved his books. (Few people at the time knew that “he” was actually a “she”…) The second story I ever wrote was in cursive pencil and called “The Black Planet”. It was so clearly and obviously a ripoff of some one or another (or all) of Norton’s novels that I shudder even now. (Though the thought occurs to me that if it’s recognizably Norton, then maybe I was a better writer than I realized!) Besides grammar mistakes my problem was that I tried to write with Norton’s voice and vision.

L’Engle and Norton had voices that resonated down the corridors of time, echoing even today in my life and the lives of other writers and readers. They had clear visions as well – Norton showed independent, thinking young men and women who more-often-than-not had some sort of animal familiar who was sometimes as intelligent as they were who faced challenges and overcame them. L’Engle showed independent, thinking young men and women who were deeply involved with their families, faced challenges and overcame them. But these visions had roots in who they were, their pasts and their future hopes.

Lin – though talented and a totally awesome writer – can never, ever write like Madeleine L’Engle. They were and are different people. I will never write like Andre Norton because what I write will come out of ME – in my unique voice that speaks out of my unique vision.

Now, if only I could figure out what my vision is so I can begin to speak with the authority necessary to get published again…

April 12, 2009

SLICE OF PIE: The Resurrection of Jesus, Science Fiction and Writing

Newly hatched chicks and duckies, plastic eggs, chocolate bunnies, baskets, vernal equinox, flowers and spring planting appear to me as clear signs of Americans trying to defaith a holiday like Easter – just as they defaithed Xmas.

But because the Passion of the Christ and the Resurrection are neither cute nor popular, Easter has remained a true HOLY-day.

Maybe the reason it’s resistant is that there is the persistent mythos of humans “coming back from the dead”. In fantasy, there are vampires – I don’t have to say anything more than TWILIGHT. Science fiction has its fair share of “resurrection” stories from Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN to the movie, ALIEN: RESURRECTION to the sci-fi comic, RESURRECTION.

In the New Testament, Jesus resurrected at least three people from the dead. Two were young people and nameless, but the third person has become synonymous with the idea of bringing the dead back to life. Lazarus lent his name to a real medical diagnosis (Lazarus syndrome) as well as the title of Robert A. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long and Frank Herbert’s THE LAZARUS EFFECT and the “Lazarines” in Marc Steigler’s AnLab and Locus award-winning short story, “Petals of Rose”.

In addition, I think the concept of suspended animation has its roots in resurrection, too. The Egyptians embalmed their kings to “suspend” them between worlds so that they could enjoy the next life. In 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the suspended animation capsules looked suspiciously like mummies…Han Solo was frozen in “carbonite”, Rocket Man was supposed to sleep away the trip to Mars, and the Robinson Family had their animation suspended just before they got LOST IN SPACE.

Christians have always believed that after death, we will be resurrected into everlasting life. That’s the whole point of my celebration of Easter – Jesus died to settle my account of sin with the Father God. Jesus was obedient: He took on the sins of all Humanity and rose again after his death. By having a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, I am covered by His sacrifice that will end up with life after death.

Science fiction writers – and I suppose readers as well – continue to explore the ideas of life after death. Without Jesus, that life after death must still end with death somewhere along the way whether it’s a thousand years or a billion. With Jesus, life after death will never end.


April 5, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Men, Acts and Science Fiction

My International Baccalaureate physical science class is watching MADAME CURIE, the 1943 classic film starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Though heavily fictionalized for dramatic effect, it is nonetheless, a grand story. One note in it however, sounds terribly flat – the council (of men) at the University of Paris, Sorbonne in 1902 where the Curies met, refuses to fund further research. The reasons they give for the refusal is that the Curie’s have not proved their discovery of the element radium. They also believe that Madame Curie is young, inexperienced…and a woman and together all three preclude the importance of her research…

The book of Acts in the New Testament, is replete with men doing great acts for God – and as often as not, being martyred for their beliefs. All but one of the original twelve plus one disciples of Jesus (Peter, Andrew, James, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the Lesser, Thaddeus, Simon and Judas (by his own hand) and at the hands of mobs and crazed emperors. James was stoned; Peter and Andrew crucified in various positions; James was run through with a sword; Phillip was murdered in Phrygia; Bartholomew, flayed and beheaded; Thomas run through with a spear; Matthew murdered in Ethiopia; James the Lesser murdered in Egypt; Simon and Thaddeus crucified or hacked to death; Matthias (the thirteenth disciple) stoned then beheaded) met gruesome ends. Only John was arrested and exiled to the island of Patmos, where he received the visions that became the Book of the Revelations of John. Few women are mentioned and none of their writings are preserved.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is filled with men writing and women hiding their identities or changing their names because they didn’t think anyone would take them seriously with the name they had. James Tiptree, Jr. is of course, Alice Sheldon. C.J. Cherryh’s editor didn’t believe that anyone would take a SF writer with the last name of Cherry (her given name) seriously – and shortened her first two names to initials. Even today, the SCIENCE FICTION (protestors please note the capitals) has few practitioners who are women – Bujold, Cherryh, Czerneda, Finch, Slonczewski, Kress, Latner…and a very few others. (http://www.mikebrotherton.com/?p=1069#comment-32297) Even so, I might point out that the number of women writing SF is NOT 49.76% – which is of course, the current percentage of women in the planetary population.

All this to say that at least in the sciences, religion and SF – women have had little opportunity to show what they (now that my son has moved out for paramedic training, I live in a house with a wife, a daughter, and sundry female pets. I am in a decided gender minority ;-)) can REALLY do!

It’s quite time to see what will really happen – and what can we do to help? Encourage…no, INSIST…that the women we know actively pursue careers in science, explore religion and set down the laptop and type up the best novel that they can!